Ironman Lake Placid July 23, 2017: One of My Toughest Races

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Ironman Lake Placid is one of the oldest and most historic Ironman events. It is also a beautiful race set in the New York Adirondacks. Lake Placid, New York is also home to the 1932 and 1980 Olympics, so it is steeped in rich sports history.  It is a special place for so many athletes. And being mountain people, we felt right at home. 

We signed up for the 19th annual Lake Placid Ironman after our first Ironman in Mont Tremblant Quebec last summer. While we had a very successful first Ironman in Canada, we wanted to do the Ironman that many of our local friends love and rave about. We have friends who have done this event 3 to 11 times, so that says a lot. Lake Placid is a special race with an incredible atmosphere. We both love this area and hope to be back someday.

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Scott and I both had a tough race in Lake Placid, but I was especially disappointed with feeling sickly on the bike with stomach issues and a very bad headache. And then I had escalated stomach problems on the run. I later learned that there might have been a virus going on during the Ironman weekend. That would make sense with my symptoms during the race. I also got very sick after the race on Monday night into Tuesday with flu-like symptoms, another severe headache, diarrhea and major dehydration. So perhaps I was affected by a virus.

My last 7-8 miles of the run were very rough and I had to walk for the first time ever in a marathon. It was more of a combination of walk/run, but things got dark and ugly at the end. I almost didn’t make it to the final run around the oval. I did cross the finish line, but it was so tough just to get there. I learned a lot about myself that day. No matter how miserable and bleak things feel in a race, I can always push forward. And that was what I did in Lake Placid. I soldiered on until I eventually crossed the finish line! It was a long day but I did it!

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I knew going into this Ironman my shot at a Kona qualification for the Hawaii World Championship was going to be tough with a very stacked field. My age group F45-49 had over 165 women on the initial participant list. But I was still hoping to come into the top 5. That did seem feasible if I had been healthy on race day. But on the last 3 miles two women in my age group ran by me and left me in 8th place overall. The shocking statistic was that I still had the fastest run split in my age group even with being passed at the end. Those women must have started ahead of me in the rolling start swim. But a top 10 finish out of 149 women who finished is still a solid accomplishment. An 11:30 Ironman time at Lake Placid is still respectable.

Scott had some stomach issues on the bike and run as well, but it was the warm sun that caused his Ironman marathon to unravel. But he did finish strong and persevered like a true Ironman. That day we both became 2x Ironman finishers.

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We stayed at the Lake Placid Club Lodges which are older ski-style condos right on Mirror Lake Drive. Our condo was shared with our good friend Seth. Jamie who organized the condo was supposed to be our other condo-mate that weekend but an achilles injury left him side-lined. The condo was spacious and had the potential to be a great place. However cleanliness was the main complaint. We arrived to find potato chips and pretzels all over the rug. After walking around barefoot for an hour or so we both were shocked to discover both our feet were black! I don’t think the floors or carpets have been cleaned in over a decade! The main positive aspect about the condo was that we were just a few minutes walk from the swim start and about a 10 minute walk from transition. It was super convenient. We left our car parked all weekend.

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We brought Carin’s magic lasagna and vegan donuts and pastries like we normally do for a big race. We also followed the same nutrition plan that brought us both success in Mont Tremblant last year. So what went wrong? I have done a lot of speculation. Scott thinks I ate too many shot blocks too fast on the first few miles of the bike. Lisa felt that I didn’t have enough water with the carbs/sodium in my drink mix and shot blocks. Perhaps I did have that virus that was going round. Either way, I will be looking closely at my nutrition plan for my next Ironman. It’s very tricky to get nutrition right during such a long race. But I did it last year and I’ll do it again.

The Swim

The swim was the big surprise of the day! While it was still a stressful and difficult swim for me, I did better than expected. Based on what I have been swimming in the pool and our open water swims, a time of 1:15 to 1:20 seemed realistic. While these are not competitive swim times, I was thrilled to make that goal. And my time ended up being a 1:16:53 which for me was almost a 10 minute PR from last year. I was 37th in my age group but I am usually far behind when I get out of the water in a triathlon. I was still pleased with seeing progress in my Ironman swim!

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My coach, Lisa wanted me to start up front with the hour to 1:05 swimmers which felt very aggressive for me. I wanted to start with the 1:15 to 1:20 people but I decided to listen to my coach as she has so much experience! It was a bold move but it might have made my time a bit faster as I never had to swim around anyone slower than myself like previous triathlon swims. But I did have constant contact, causing me to stop several times and it was extremely difficult for those 2.4 miles!

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The rolling start had 10 swimmers go off every few seconds and this still made for a crowded, chaotic swim. I started on the right side and got to swim along the famous cable for most of the first lap out. For the first few minutes it was great swimming along the cable and not needing to sight much. But then came the people behind me swimming faster and wanting that line as well. I constantly had people hitting my feet and lower legs and swimming all around me and passing me. These were the faster swimmers and I felt like I didn’t belong there. I dealt with this for most of they way down before turning. I only got punched in the head once and luckily was OK. I did deal with a lot of other body contact mostly from being surround by more aggressive males in the green caps. It got so bad that I decided to swim left and stay more on the outside.

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Swimming away from the cable and line of buoys did help but there were still a lot of people and chaos around me. I felt the swim was also very choppy with all the swimmers. No smooth sailing on this swim. But I was doing OK and kept pushing along. Getting around the buoys at the end was also messy and crowded with lots of feet in my face and more contact but I stayed out of trouble. At one point I noticed the mountains in the distance and thought it was such a pretty swim. But then I had to get around the last turn and buoy before heading back. After this I found more clear water. There were times heading back where things weren’t so congested and stressful. But then I’d have more people catch up to me and pass me. I don’t think I ever passed one person on this swim!

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I was happy to finish the first lap, get out of the water and “re-set” myself. This time I started on the left away from the cable as I just didn’t want all the body contact. I didn’t want to fight to be close to the cable. It was still hard and I was still anxious. I was not enjoying one minute of that swim. Again there were a few times I’d get surrounded, hit hard and have to stop just briefly, but not as bad as the first lap. Again I made it safely around the last turnaround buoys.

On the last lap back all of a sudden a large group of faster swimmers swam right around me and past me. But it was very distressing getting stuck in the middle of them and they swam very close to me with plenty of body contact. I’m guessing they were from the next wave after mine. Eventually they were gone. I would sometimes find some clear water and kept going on the final lap back to shore. I would try to stay on feet when I could but I’m still not good at that. Closer to the finish it got really crowded again. The last few hundred yards were a mess with bodies everywhere wanting to finish the swim like myself.

I was so happy to get out of the water and find the wet suit strippers. I finished a very tough Ironman swim and was looking forward to getting on my bike. I didn’t know my time, but did stop my Garmin watch. I preferred to find out later after the race so I didn’t have any added anxiety during my bike leg. But my time was almost 10 minutes faster than last year so that is a win for me!

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Scott had a very tough swim as well but still swam a solid time. He also lined up with swimmers that were just a little faster than him since I was instructed to do the same. He described his swim as a “scrum”. It was violent and aggressive and he got hit hard a few times where he had to stop and re-group. He would have been faster without these incidents that caused him much anxiety. Scott is a strong swimmer and pushed through a really tough swim. I’m so proud of him. He still had a good swim time and was almost 7 minutes faster than me!

The Bike

The Lake Placid Ironman bike course is famous for being very hilly and challenging. The Ironman website states the total elevation gain at 6,898 feet. We spent a weekend in Lake Placid riding the bike course a month before the race so we were prepared. It’s actually a great bike course with a lot of variety so it was easy to break up in chunks mentally. However most of the climbing comes during the last 19 miles of each lap.

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For me the challenge came when I got a screaming headache in the back of my head on the flat section after the long descents. And this very distracting headache stayed with me the rest of the bike leg. I also noticed I wasn’t feeling right and something was really off. I was riding on 4 out of 5 cylinders (metaphorically speaking). And to make matters worse I had a few waves of minor nausea and threw up in my mouth several times, even on the second lap. It wasn’t bad enough where I considered pulling out of the race, but I did wonder many times how I would get through this Ironman bike!

Considering I was unwell on the bike I didn’t have a bad bike split but I was still about 13 to 18 minutes slower than I had hoped and expected. My bike time was 6:13:16 hours. Out of 149 women who finished I had the 14th fastest bike split. That is definitely a disappointment since I had the second fastest bike in Puerto Rico last March. And I used to be a solid hill climber back when I was a competitive cyclist 20+ years ago. So I was having a very off day for sure! Even my coach was surprised I didn’t at least do the bike in 6 hours.

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The climb out of town wasn’t bad and I was riding as expected. I was conservative up the long climbs but steady and strong. It was cooler with plenty of cloud cover but the climbing kept me warm. The new one mile out and back section was flatter and fast and uneventful. The aid station at the end was in a good spot and I picked up my first bottle of clear water for my front bottle.

After the beautiful iconic Cascade lakes, I was ready for the descent which I took conservatively. It was cold, a bit windy and not very enjoyable. I stayed out of trouble and rode to the right hand side avoiding the guys going down the hills at dangerous speeds. There will always be a few riders who take crazy chances like that. Once I got into Keene after the long descents I felt so cold and my hands started to get a little numb. So I worked hard on the flat section heading north towards Jay. Much to my dismay it started to rain and I had trouble getting warm. Luckily it wasn’t a long shower which ended before Jay. That was the last of the rain for the day. I did warm up but started to feel ill as I mentioned above.

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I was still riding steadily but remaining conservative in my efforts on the Au Sable Forks out and back. This is a longer section with some gentle rollers. The road conditions are a bit rough but the potholes and large cracks were filled in with tar. I was playing leap frog with one woman in my age group. I was also trying not to ride with any packs which did happen a few times on the Rt 9N flat section. I always did my best to get through the packs or just stay back. I eventually lost that woman on the final climbs up the Notch.

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Once I turned right on route 86, the climbing began and I just rode steadily and conservatively. I was still feeling badly with my headache and having minor bouts of nausea but just kept soldiering onwards. My legs were doing pretty good which was a nice surprise but I just couldn’t get the rest of myself to feel good. The climb through the Notch had a nice tailwind and I was thankful for that! I was riding steady and smart for my current state. The bear climbs finally came and even those really didn’t feel that tough. Mamma bear and baby bear were fine and I enjoyed all the crowds and support on Papa bear before heading towards Mirror Lake Drive. Before turning off Mirror Lake Drive I was so happy to hear some friends of ours cheering me on!

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I got my special needs bottles after completing the first lap near the oval and this was a very smooth, efficient process They had my bag when I pulled into Special Needs! The volunteers are amazing! I wasn’t feeling terrible when I started my second lap but knew I was still not feeling 100%. My headache was still going strong and I was feeling the first lap in my legs on the climb out of town.

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The wind picked up a bunch going by the Cascade Lakes. And the descent was windy and long! Again I stayed out of trouble riding conservatively on the right hand side. And again there were more crazy dare-devils riding dangerously fast down the descents. There is about a mile of rough section and both times I was very conservative on this section. I was actually surprised there were no lost water bottles here.

There was a head wind on the flats heading to Jay and Au Sable Forks. But I just kept pushing onwards and trying to maintain a decent pace. It was again crowded on this section but I never really felt stressed out like I did in Puerto Rico or last year on the Mont Tremblant bike course.

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Again I did my best to be strong yet smart on the final 19 miles of climbing. I was trying to appreciate all the signs and crowd support along the way. I also tried to appreciate the stunning views of Whiteface Mountain. My legs were still doing OK but I was feeling the fatigue of the final climbs. And my headache was still persistent. I only had maybe one more wave of minor nausea and then it seemed to subside on the last 12 miles. I was actually surprised that I was still cruising along on the Notch section. I wasn’t killing it, but I wasn’t dying either. My legs were actually feeling better than last year at the end of the MT bike course. There was still a nice tailwind so that did help my bike speed!

I was so happy to get up the three bear climbs and make that right hand turn on Northwood. Again the crowds were really awesome on the Papa Bear hill. I was pretty happy cruising along Mirror Lake drive as I’d soon hand off my bike to a volunteer. It was exciting to hear my named called out as I was riding through the last few turns in town just before the transition area. The crowds were really cool! The whole town comes out!

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Scott was a good five minutes faster than me on the bike similar to last year’s Ironman. But he also suffered a few bouts of nausea as well. So maybe he had a touch of the virus like myself. He still had a strong bike split and paced himself well. I’m proud of him for riding so well in spite of a tough day.

The Run

I was very happy to be back in the transition tent and very pleased to see there were very few women in there. I had a wonderful volunteer take care of me during my transition, helping me sort out my stuff, spray on sun screen and fetch me water after I ate a gel. She was a gem and even packed up my bike gear. The volunteers are truly some of the best in Lake Placid!

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I was a bit worried to discover that I was feeling rather badly starting my run. Last year I felt good starting my run and was thrilled to be finally running. Running is what I do best! This year I was feeling rough right from the start. It also felt very warm and humid this year as the sun was shining  brightly. But I was very concerned that my whole stomach hurt and felt crampy. It was almost like I had a small bowling ball in my stomach. I was hoping this would go away but it never really subsided causing me much discomfort during this run. My headache seemed to be gone so that was a plus!

My goal for the Lake Placid marathon was to run a pace of around 8:10 to 8:20 minutes per mile which felt realistic especially since I ran so well last year in Mont Tremblant. Lake Placid is a very hilly course with two good climbs on the end of each lap. Overall I was running well until about the last 7-8 miles when things fell apart for me. I’ve never had to walk during a marathon until this one and it was really tough mentally. I ran a 3:47:03 marathon which is still a good time for such a challenging course. And I was shocked to discover that I had the fastest run time in my age group. Even with two women in my age group passing in the last three miles! They must have started ahead of me in the swim as mentioned above.

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The run started with the steep down hills out of town and some flats and then a good downhill before turning onto River road. These two miles were my fastest, but I still tried to have a nice controlled conservative pace. During mile 3 on River road I noticed I my stomach was still feeling crampy and bloated, but I was running at a good pace. On these miles heading out on River road I kept slowing down my pace a bit since I was concerned about not feeling well on the run so early. Again I was feeling really off. But I just kept running steadily and smart. My paces heading out and then back on River road averaged about 8:09 to 8:21 pace. I felt like I could maintain this but it would be very difficult the way I was feeling. I would have to dig deep! I was taking ice and putting sponges down my jog bra to keep cool. This helped a bit but didn’t help my stomach. I was taking gels every 30 minutes and water at each aid station.

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Running back up the first hill towards town after River road didn’t go that badly and I even ran slowly and very conservatively up the steep hill into town and up to Mirror Lake drive. I was able to run about an 8:35 pace on this section from River road to Mirror lake drive. Heading back on Mirror lake drive I managed to do an 8:10 pace which was surprising. My legs were getting fatigued and tired but was still running well even if I wasn’t feeling well. It was great to see Chris and Jess on the course in town. Chris yelled out that I was crushing it. The down hills out of town were slower this time with a pace ranging from 8:12 to 8:20. I knew I was slowing down and my body was heading into survival mode.

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The next couple miles on River road felt rough and warm. My stomach still felt really badly like I still had a small bowling ball in there. Miles 16 to 18 were the last miles where I was purely running. My paces were slowing a bit to 8:23 to 8:32. I decided I would walk the aid stations when I was almost at the turn around. This was a good idea and I drank more water and even started drinking a bit of coke (just a few gulps in each cup).

I remember feeling really awful at the turnaround but kept running. However about a mile or so heading back I just had to walk a little bit. And then I got to an aid station which allowed me to walk again. I was trying to run to each aid station but eventually I had to walk/run in between the aid stations. I was trying to run very slowly instead of walking, but my legs would not let me do that. I either had to run my normal cadence or do a power walk. It was awful. It was almost as if my legs would hurt trying to run really slowly. I would try and run the same pace as a slower runner but either had to pass them or just walk. Very frustrating! 

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Once I left River road, I had to power walk up the first steep hill. Many other people were doing the same. I started to run again on the flats and a woman in my age group ran with me for a bit. She said I was in 5th place. That gave me some spark but then I had to walk the steep hills heading into town. She passed me running very slowly but I was in agony. My body was shutting down and I couldn’t stay with her. With less than 3 miles to go it was pure survival mode. Even power walking through town and up the little Mirror lake drive hill was rough. I was power walking almost bent over. It was so ugly. The crowds were kind and encouraging. So many people were cheering me on! I was humbled by the kindness I received when I was suffering so much out there.

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I did more of the  walk/run on Mirror Lake drive. My body was still shutting down. I was so happy to see the turnaround on Mirror lake drive. I knew I just had about a mile to go. Another woman in my age group ran by me on the way back. At this point I didn’t care anymore. I was getting worried about just getting to the finish line. I was deep in the pain cave!

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Once I got onto the Oval I was so relieved I didn’t have to run around the entire thing! I knew I only had a few hundred yards left. I was stumbling and in sheer misery. It was hard to appreciate the final red carpet hurting that badly. I heard Mike Riley pronounce my name wrong and tell people to “help this one in”. I almost ran into the photographer, but did cross the line. I fell right into Marty and Kristen’s arms (both volunteering as catchers). What a relief. I made it!

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Scott had a tough run once the sun came out in full force. But he was smart about doing a combination of walking and running. He is a hero for finishing after he had such a tough day as well.

Overall it was one of the hardest and most challenging races I have ever completed. But I am so proud of myself for finishing and not giving up when things fell apart at the end. It was a crazy, hard day but we both did the best we could that day. I personally left it all out on the course. I had nothing more to give when I crossed that finish line!

I do feel this is an amazing  race. They do an incredible job with this Ironman in Lake Placid, NY. It’s so well organized and the volunteers are amazing. Thank you to everyone who made the day possible. Someday I will return to Lake Placid and redeem myself. I am not done with this Ironman. I will race these hills again when I am ready. Next year we are looking at doing an Ironman in Europe. Life is short and we want to do this while we can!

Next for 2017 is the Worlds 70.3 in Chattanooga, Tenn in early September. This will be my first age-group world championship race. It will be interesting and a great experience!

Thank you Lisa for getting me to the starting line and helping me through a minor injury the last three weeks heading into the race. I could not do this without you!

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Thank you Kristen for the plaque! Means so much to us!

Happy Birthday to Scott who turned 49 at midnight of the Ironman!

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