When I think about Ironman and why I signed up for Ironman Lake Placid, I shake my head at my stupidity, or maybe I’m shaking my head at my setting of goals in areas that hurt so much. And with my previous Ironman, you would have thought I learned, but in truth I block out the pain of that damn marathon run, because that’s the sucker that get you every damn time. Today included.
Today, going into Lake Placid, I had the perfect race plan, and I executed it perfectly. Never did I let my ego get in the way, and pick up pace because someone else passed me, and never did I stray from my five-times revised race plan. The coach in me made sure of it.
So the basics: On a day where it poured rain half the day, and the other half it rained steadily, except for a stray five minutes somewhere on the run, the course, because of the wet conditions, was even slower than it normally is. There’s this one 5K steep down hill once you’re out of Lake Placid that zips down to the town of Keene. The descent is so fast that triathletes and cyclists alike enjoy comparing how brave others are by bragging — or askng — about just how fast you got.
With today’s wet conditions, the course was so slick that instead of cresting 45-55 mph, common for that descent, most riders were on their brakes, fearful of slipping out, and barely going 30 mph. It was actually dangerous whenever you came upon a too-cautious rider, because them being more on their brakes meant everyone else had to navigate around, and try doing that when you’re approaching someone on a steep descent at break-neck speed on very slick roads. It made for a slower than normal course.
For me, that actually helped me even though it required the most focus I’ve ever needed on the bike. It helped me because it played into — moreso than I called for — my race plan of going very easy on the bike. I wanted to do the first loop and look back and say, “That was easy!” And that’s what I did. Hectic and nerve-wracking it was, but it was also easy from a bike perspective, but only because, on this tough course, I seriously approached it as if it were my first Ironman, where the goal was only to finish. So where this was by far the hardest course I’ve ever done, it was also the easist. And I have to thank the infamous Sagamore Hill for making it so.
Loop 2 of the bike course was approached the same way: easy. But when you have 70 miles of hilly biking under your slick tires, it’s never eary. And this wasn’t. But by mile 70 I was flying by riders left and right who, I’m guessing, went out too hard. I suffered but was able to pretty much hold pace. In the final 13 mile climb back into Lake Placid, the hardest on the course, I was probably slower on the ascent but was within myself. Whenever I found myself exerting too much pressure on the pedals, I dialed it back a touch in hopes to run.
Speaking of which…
The run. Oh, the run. What fun. What pain. What a race plan. It’s the only thing that enabled me to kick ass on the run and come in sub-11 hours.
The run started amazing. The first mile my legs were pumping with more pace than I have ever experienced. In any triathlon, including Sprints. But just beyond the mile marker, I realized that the marathon would not be easy. In fact, I realize it would be just as hard as any Ironman marathon run. The fatigue in my legs reared it’s ugly head.
And so I got back to my race plan. Over the entire first loop of the run course, I kept dialing back effort so that my breathing was under control. When I’d lose focus, something that’s all-too easy when you’re intensely fatigued, my pace would shoot way too fast, and finally when I’d recognize it, I’d dial it back, get my breathing back under control, and remind myself that the real run starts at 20 miles. I promise myself that I could hammer it out at 20 if I could.
Loop 2 of the run got incrementally harder, but my pace only fell slightly, and since I was still sticking to my race plan, I figured I was still too many miles away from 20 to clock watch and perhaps blow my race because of premature calculations. We as triathletes love to crunch numbers and see what our high end is, but you can’t do this in Ironman. Ironman is one thing and one thing only. Ironman is patience. You need to be patient, pace yourself, keep it easy as the number one goal, and if you can steadily make progress, pace yourself good, results will follow.
By mile 16 I was too focused and too hurting to even look at splits. I told myself to stay focused, stay in that zone, until the bitter end. Only if I survived the last two big hills would I look at the running clock to see if I were near the 11 hour mark. So when I say I had no idea where I was, even what my first half split on the run was, I’m not kidding. I was going by feel, and I was staying focused. Crunching numbers would only make me blow up. So I ignored clock time.
Although the pain was deep, I made it all the way to the last hill that rises into town at mile 24 before seriously feeling like death. Before hurt, this utterly sucked. I think I put in a 10 minute mile or slower on that hill, but to give credit to it, it is steep and way long, even for a non-Ironman run. It’s one of those that you’d avoid. And even run an extra mile to go around.
With the pain getting near too much, I fought to mile 25. My reward for making it that far was to look at the running clock. I couldn’t believe it. It read 10:48. At my current pace I knew I would not make 11 hours. But being so close, I played mind games, I energized myself through different methods, and then to cap it off, as I approached the aid station, I down Coke for the first time all day. I knew by then the caffeine would do something for me. It would either give me a kick, or it would kick me in the pants and knock me over, sub-11 just a dream.
Within a minute of downing the Coke, my pace picked up considerably. I slipped back to focus, and hammered the out and back by the lake. My pace was so fast that I passed at least 20 people or more in that little 1.2 mile stretch. It had to be my fastest mile of the day.
So when I entered the Olympic Oval for the finish chute, I knew I had it. I just knew. And I started my celebration early, over the entire loop on the Oval. I took off my hat and waved it at the crowd while jumping up and down for what will forever more go down, on a very wet day, as a smart but very perfect race.