One year ago, I spent 4 hours standing in the infield of the Olympic speed skating oval in Lake Placid New York, shuttling bicycles to their waiting racks so that I could have the opportunity to get up really early, and sign up to do something a bit crazy. As I left my bike handling shift I climbed to the highest point by the oval and watched the finish for a bit. Mike Reilly, the voice of Ironman, called out each and every athlete as they finished telling them in his classic voice “You are an Ironman”! Each time, it sent chills through my body. I wanted to hear him tell me I was an Ironman.
In the ensuing year, I continued training for last year’s “A” race, said goodbye to Dad, and went through a cold, hard winter with life’s ups and downs along the way. Somewhere in there I started training seriously hard for Ironman race day. Free time evaporated as all moments were consumed by swim, bike and run. I spent grueling hours on cold winter days cranking away on the trainer watching videos on Youtube. Each time I began wondering if it was worth it, a video of the Ironman finish line would pop up with Mike Reilly’s voice . . . “You are an Ironman”. I am not ashamed to admit more than a tear or two ran down my cheek watching the last minute heroics of a new Ironman crossing the line with only moments to spare. I wanted that. I wanted Mike Reilly to tell me I was an Ironman.
Spring and summer brought a variety of weather conditions to train in. Wind, cold, wet, heat. I swam, biked, and ran through them all having good days and bad. The good days were great. The bad days were tough but Mike Reilly’s voice in my head kept me moving forward.
If you know me as a triathlete or have followed my blog, you know that my most difficult task in a triathlon is keeping my head on straight in the swim. I CAN swim. Coach Erica has done a great job with making me a better swimmer. Okay, I’m not Michael Phelps but I can keep up with most in my age group when I’m not making a fool of myself floating around on my back in the wounded jellyfish stroke. Needless to say I was only a little terrified of the required 2.4 mile swim with 2500 of my closest friends. Even with the new rolling start format of Lake Placid there was still going to be a bunch of swimmers hitting the water together and plenty of opportunities to create panic in my little pea brain. This concern had grown in me throughout this year as each opportunity to race or swim in open water presented itself and each time I was more and more helpless against the swim demons. It was depressing and demoralizing to the degree that after a bad swim in the pool I almost pulled the plug on the whole Ironman dream. But I wanted to hear Mike Reilly tell me I was an Ironman.
Determined to press on, I made the switch from a restrictive full sleeve wetsuit to a sleeveless wetsuit which helped tremendously. I also visited with sports psychologist Dr. Mitch Greene who helped me develop a plan for what to do when the demons strike. Thusly armed, I suddenly felt like I had hope, and a strategy for enjoying the swim.
Janice and I traveled to Lake Placid for race weekend on Thursday the 24th. Travel was, thankfully, uneventful and we arrived around dinner time stopping at the Cascade Inn on the way to town. The Cascade Inn doesn’t look like much from the outside but the food is quite good and it is way less expensive than any of the restaurants in downtown Lake Placid.
Once fed, we finished the trip to Lake Placid, noting that the infamous Keene descent was now mostly paved including the rather rough section near the bottom that was a bit bone jarring during our July 4th training camp. I have to say kudos to the State of New York for working with the town of Lake Placid, and the WTC to accomplish this terrific safety measure for the race. Little did I know at the time how important having a smooth road surface here would really be come race day.
With a last minute change in plans we went from camping at the KOA up in Wilmington, to staying at The Lake House in Lake Placid. This hotel had been recently completely refurbished and reopened just a month before Ironman weekend. Ironman weekend is huge for Lake Placid and according to every business owner I talked to, their busiest weekend. You can imagine what hotel rates are like. That said, the Lake House was less expensive than many lesser hotels and really, really, nice. We quickly settled in to our nice room with a view of the swim course.
Friday morning, after a brief walk for some coffee and a bit of breakfast, I nervously grabbed my wetsuit to go join the masses for a practice loop of the swim course. After donning the wetsuit, I immersed my face a few times, and experienced the swim-calming effect of clean, clear mirror lake. Suddenly, I pushed off and headed out along the course with a relaxed, distance swim stroke. About 40 minutes later, I came back to shore, completing a calm, relaxing, practice loop. this was good. I decided no more swimming before race day.
Friday was packet pick-up and registration day. Janice and I went to athlete registration which was far more complex than any packet pick-up I’ve been to with no less than 7 different stations to process through to get registered, weighed, chipped, shirted, and goodie bagged. Oh . . 8 if you count the strategic move by WTC of having you go to the Official Ironman store to pick up your back pack. While there we browsed a bit with no intention of buying anything. There was neat stuff in the store but the Ironman brand comes at a considerable price.
We wandered back to the hotel and I began sorting through the array of bags that I would need to do my race. There were 5 of them: Morning Bag, Bike Gear Bag, Run Gear Bag, Bike Special Needs, and Run Special Needs. These would all get filled with the appropriate stuff for their intended race stage and placed either in transition or strategic places along the course for my convenience. As I filled these bags with miscellaneous tri gear collected over the last few years, I had to chuckle at all the critics of WTC’s switch to the rolling start for Ironman Lake Placid. All the so-called purists would rather have the mass start where 2500 athletes fling themselves into the water simultaneously with the weak and slow getting trampled and the fast pushing themselves along on the heads of others. They scream that that is how an Ironman is supposed to be! Yet, we are pretty much coddled the rest of the way with aid stations, medical staff, bike handlers, volunteers to help you change in the tents, bike tech support, etc. Wouldn’t a purist insist on heading out there on their own with cutoff jeans and some cash in your pockets to buy food along the way? This is the way Dave Orlowski and the other founders of the sport did it. Or maybe the sport has and will continue to evolve based on participation and safety.
Ironman requires you to pre-rack your bike on Saturday. I guess this is to avoid some form of chaos on race morning but bikes must be racked by 3:00pm Saturday. You also take your Bike & Run gear bags at the same time. You get to go back to them race morning to put in last minute additions, inflate tires, add nutrition, etc. so I’m not quite sure why you can’t just take everything race morning . . but whatever. Dems da rules. I decided to air up the tires before taking my bike to transition. I inflated the front tire, screwed the presta valve shut and . . . . psssssssssssss. Damn. Go figure. Bad valve. I swapped the tube, re-inflated it and did a quick ride down the road and back to make sure I wouldn’t get a pinch flat and off we went.
A block from the hotel, we bumped into someone we had met at dinner who was from Malvern, PA. He had just come back from transition. He was also doing his first Ironman and saved the day by recommending to take a couple plastic bags to put over the transition bags to ward off rain. Hmmmm. Good idea. I scooted back to the hotel room for two big ziplock bags. The gear bags have a drawstring they hang from so you snip a hole in the bottom of the bag you are covering it with, slide the draw string through, hang the bag and pull the covering bag over the opening. (I had a picture but my phone became a victim of race spectating.)
Anyway, where was I? Oh . . right. Bike racking. Needless to say there was a crush of people in town in general and the steady movement to and from transition for bike racking was not fast. I’m not sure how people that do this alone manage all the bags and bike. Thankfully Janice was with me to help me carry stuff. I bumped in to Craig Durant and Stephanie Burke from our Endurance Multisport club and they said things were crazy in transition. They also recommended listening to the walk-through discussion. I was there in the last hour or so and things had calmed considerably by then. I had little or no trouble getting through the entrance or getting my stuff racked. I will say Ironman runs this like a Swiss watch. On the way in they photograph your bike so that it is identifiable. Presumably some less than scrupulous characters have swapped bike numbers in the past? I don’t know. The great volunteers quickly point you to your rack and then a volunteer walks you completely through the transitions from swim to bike, bike to run, and run to finish. As Craig and Steph said it was definitely worth listening to.
Once completed, I exited transition and found Janice waiting where I left her. (Only participants allowed in transition.) She waved me over and wanted to take my picture in front of a sign I had failed to see before.
Race prep done, we headed back to the hotel room stopping briefly at Goose Watch winery to pick up a cold bottle. We sat on our veranda enjoying a glass of wine to take a final deep breath before race day. As I stared out at the swim course, I thought “Just get through the swim. The rest is easy”. I wanted to hear Mike Reilly tell me I was an Ironman.