Ironman Lake Placid (2014)

Race Morning

I awoke at 3:50am, having hardly slept (go figure). I quickly found myself eating a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of coffee (black). Then I mixed up my bike nutrition bottles with UCAN. The first was a mix of unflavored UCAN, peanut butter, and coconut milk which required a quick hit in the blender. The other was made with orange flavored UCAN a small amount of water and loaded with ice hoping that it wouldn’t get warm and nasty by the time I needed it.

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I got the rest of my gear together and along with Leigh Ann, Jacob, Ethan, & my wife’s cousin Maddie. We caught a ride to the Olympic Oval courtesy of the professional Sherpas I brought in, Jamie & Sarah. There I made quick work of setting up my bottles and bike computer, as well as pumping up my tires. I couldn’t figure out how to work the first pump that I had borrowed as it seemed like some sort of antique. Found a second pump and given the likelihood of wet weather for the day, I dialed down my tire pressure a touch to ~100 psi.

From there it was back out of transition, meeting up with my family and delivering my Special Needs bags. Arriving at the beach, I found Pat Sommo and Keith Murray both waiting in Keith’s ez-up, looking for their chance to start the swim warmup. 10580263_10202488806038196_6523871499517413616_nEveryone seemed calm, cool, and collected. I noted the energy level in the crowd rising, but wasn’t having any trouble controlling my own emotions. Donning my wetsuit I hopped into the water and quickly got comfortable. At that point Mike Reilly was requesting athletes to line up, so I made my way to the swim start queue. The swim start was a rolling self-seeded start, so I lined up halfway between the signs indicating an expected finish of 1:10 and 1:20. Scanning the crowd nearby, I quickly found Steve Nicoll, Jennifer Elliott and my training partner Greg Rashford. After the National Anthem, Greg and I celebrated the age groupers swim start with countless high fives as we expected to hit the water very quickly. That moment, waiting for our turn to start, seemed to last forever as we crept closer to the archway designating the swim start line. The race officials were only letting about fifty people into the water at a time before holding the rest of the queue for 15-30 seconds. This wasn’t quite the mass rolling start I had often pictured in my head over the past year. Finally we made it to the front and I found myself with a sense of calm, just quite happy to be there and excited to finally get this thing underway!

Swim (1:17:09)

Entering the water, I found that there was plenty of room to swim early on but that the course was oddly full of traffic at random spots along the way. I started wide to the left, with the bulk of the bodies being towards the underwater cable over on my right side. Eventually I did somehow end up drifting to that side, into view of the cable. Exactly as I had expected, as soon as the cable came into my view I was promptly pummeled. This was largely due to the number of people swimming on/around the cable, and also due to the fact that I just don’t swim straight (which explains how I started wide and ended up on the cable all in the first length of this swim). Roughly 0.5 miles in, as I was rounding the first turn buoy was by far the most congested spot in the water as everyone swam the corner very tightly. It had hardly cleared up by the time I reached the next corner, and I quickly decided to take that second turn buoy wide. That helped, but again left me on the outside searching hard for some feet to chase.

Throughout the swim I experienced people crossing over me at strange angles and found myself in constant battles for position with others that were swimming almost exactly my speed. My strategy was to swim comfortably, at a steady-state pace drafting someone whenever possible. On the occasions when I had found someone to draft from, I found it quckly turned into a battle for position with another swimmer laying claim to that spot in the draft. I found myself swimming stubbornly, holding my ground, but eventually I would get rubbed off from my desired position and forced to look for some other feet to follow. It wouldn’t take much to get bumped off from following someone tightly and as a result I wasn’t able to hang on another swimmer’s feet for long at any point.

Fighting for a draft did occupy my time heading back in on that first swim loop. Before long I was nearing the beach and ready to make the required trip out of the water, over timing mats, and back in at the start for the 2nd lap. I didn’t wear a watch during the swim as I didn’t expect any information from the watch to be helpful and I certainly didn’t want to receive negative feedback. It was going to be a long day and I didn’t need to obsess over going a few minutes too fast or slow during the swim. Still, I found the clock after the first 1.2 mile swim loop and quickly did the math on my estimated time at that point. Not knowing when I had actually started, I estimated that I was right on pace and did a quick evaluation that things were going quite well despite being jammed up in swim traffic here and there.

Prior to race day I was pointed to a race report from 2013 where the author made a point of celebrating each little victory along the way. “Holy crap, I just finished half of the Ironman swim”, I thought, quoting this other guy’s race report. I applied that mantra throughout the day, and I must say it made quite a difference. There were times when the whole experience began to feel overwhelming, and this trick was quite handy at readjusting my attitude looking at the day’s accomplishments rather than the long distance still to come.

The second swim loop was more of the same as space in the water never really opened up. I can’t remember exactly when it started to rain, but I do remember noticing the rain and realizing that I didn’t have reason to care about a little rain. I also saw some flashes that I realized must be lightning but I never heard any thunder. At first I thought the flashes might be from photographers, but then I quickly realized that just couldn’t be true. I’ll admit that I didn’t take lightning as a very serious threat, ignorant to the risks of my situation. I also didn’t consider what might happen if the swim was cut short by the race officials as a result of lightning, which did happen eventually, but only after I made it out of the water finishing the swim leg. I figured the lifeguards would react and throughout my swim I didn’t see any response from them so I just kept paddling. I came out of the water and quickly hit up my favorite stripper, Jeremy McNamara. I dropped to the sand while Jeremy and another guy pulled my wetsuit off and then I was on my way to T1.

T1 (14:23)

“Holy crap, I just finished the Ironman swim!”

I ran down to the transition area spotting my wife only after I ran past her. The route was covered in outdoor carpeting, but that didn’t soften things up at all. I jogged while most of the folks around me were walking briskly. I think I was heel striking here as, later in the day, I noticed a bruise on my left heel. In the future, a brisk walk here would be the smarter choice.

I grabbed my gear and entered the changing tent to find quite a bit of chaos. Everything in there was wet and a large portion of the chairs were sitting in standing water. For some reason I found myself reluctant to get my gear wet – in my defense, it was hard enough to get dressed already as I was still wet from the swim. On the other hand, it had started raining very hard outside and I was in slow motion tiptoeing around the giant puddle inside the tent. Naturally I was about to get soaked as soon as I stepped outside, but there was no need to accelerate that process. I performed a full costume change, getting decked out in my nearly brand new HRRT gear, including my wind/rain jacket. I also paused for a minute to swap out the lenses in my sunglasses to the clear option. Both of those choices would pay off in spades during the early portion of the upcoming bike ride.

During these events it seemed like all hell had broken loose with that storm, I heard loud cracks of thunder directly overhead and the rain was at full intensity at this point. Looking back, it was likely at this point that the lifeguards kicked everyone out of the lake and told them to move along directly to transition. I exited the tent and called out my bib number repeatedly looking for assistance in retrieving my bike. There was no answer to my call and I ended up grabbing it myself and making the long hike to the bike exit as my steed was located in the far corner opposite of the “Bike Out” gate.

Bike (6:54:45)

I mounted the bike and immediately took it easy. Thanks to my bike course recon I learned that descending the opening hill right outside of transition could be treacherous. While I rolled out of town and began the first climb of the day, I drank a bottle of nutrition (UCAN). I followed my strategy of taking this portion very easy since there was still a long way to go. I watched my power meter and did my best to keep my numbers relatively low and even given the terrain. My target power for the race was to be 195W (normalized power). Naturally it was wise to avoid spiking my power above that on any climb, especially the first one of the day heading out of town.

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The rain was coming down very hard at times, and the lightning/thunder were still quite close, but I wasn’t bothered, as the race was not being interrupted by the weather (or so I thought, ignorant of the situation at Mirror Lake). I spent the early portion of the ride seeking out a coworker and fellow triathlete Alan, who was working today, taking official race photos. Eventually I found him and his camera hiding under a giant umbrella and seemingly multiple parkas, somewhere near the ski jumps.

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I was rather nervous when I made it to the early portion of the Keene descent as that is a section of the ride that I have always struggled with. However, for some reason, on this day I wasn’t bothered in the least to ride down the side of a mountain. I was able to ride down the side of this mountain, in the rain and cold, without fear for the first time ever. I can only think that it must have been a combination of the lack of vehicle traffic, the newly paved road surface (so smooth!), and the biggest factor…the competition, which made the difference. Watching others ride with reckless abandon helped get me to stop squeezing my brakes and ride. Despite the driving rain and lightning sitting all over the surrounding mountains, I felt invincible rolling down that hill. It was incredible. I ended up hitting 39+ mph on this stretch, remarkable as my previous best speed there was just 31 mph and even that was frightening at the time. Hitting that speed in the driving rain, it really began to sting. I continued to ignore the weather and pushed onward. Again, the choice of grabbing my wind/rain jacket as well as the clear lenses for my sunglasses made a tremendous difference at this stage of the race. I learned later of many athletes struggling with hypothermia on the descent, unable to feather their brakes due to lack of dexterity. I was told other stories of athletes being removed from the race due to hypothermia, though I didn’t see any of that first hand.

Reaching the bottom of the hill, the rain continued for quite a while still. Finally, after an hour and a half the rain finally stopped and the sun quickly came out. Now the temperature quickly began to warm up and I found myself overdressed with little options to shed my jacket. My clear sunglasses were now pretty much useless too. At mile 36, I jumped off the bike at “Aid Station #4″ for a pit stop. Coincidentally this was the station where Jamie & Sarah were volunteering. The both gave me an earful for trying to socialize, reminding me to get going. In my defense, I had a lot things to talk about already, and no one to tell it to.

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The IMLP bike course is pretty much a rather constant climb from miles 35-56. As I neared the end of the first loop of the bike course, I discovered the energy and excitement of the crowd waiting at the “Three Bears”, a series of hills just before the course turns back into the village. The biggest and last of The Bears is, naturally, known as “Papa Bear”. Given this is just a short walk from Mirror Lake, this is a popular spot for the crowd to gather cheering on cyclists….as if this race was instead the Tour de France. I can hardly find words to describe that part fo the ride. Here I have just spent three plusIt was an incredible feeling to have a cheering crowd lining both sides of the road — all cheering for me. I even got a compliment for my high cadence climbing from a random guy wearing a jacket labeled “Coach”….high praise and I figured he knew what he was talking about to have earned such a fancy jacket.

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Staring at my bike computer, as usual.

After a not-so-quick stop at the BTC-heavy Bike Special Needs station, where I reloaded my bento box, ditched my rain/wind jacket, enjoyed a bite to eat, and chatted with Frank for (quite) a while, it was time to ride through town before starting a second 56 mile loop. I did not expect such intensity from the crowd cheering me on. IT WAS AMAZING. I can still hardly describe it as I write this many months later. With the course lined with barricades, and the crowd cheering loudly as I swooped through the wide turns around the Post Office and Olympic Center….my heart was in my throat with emotion. I felt like I had won the Super Bowl….twice…..all at once. It was tough to keep my composure and I had to keep reminding myself that there was still another 56 miles to ride before the true work was to begin. Twice during this part of the ride I heard someone in the crowd call out for me simply due to seeing my HRRT kit. That was a boost, though I doubt I’ll ever know who those folks were. All of a sudden I found myself riding over the timing mats near the backside of the school and heading out to do it all over again.

Holy crap I’ve already finished one 56-mile bike loop! The process of tracking what I had done vs. what still lay ahead was already having a healthy impact on my mental state.

Over the next eight miles I really felt the climb heading out of town, which is effectively a continuation of the climb that started back in Ausable Forks, back at roughly mile #35. Despite the fatigue, I was managing to keep my power numbers right where I wanted them, as I snuck up on my 195 watt target (NP) for this ride. I was doing my best to avoid going too hard early, hoping to leave plenty in the tank without sacrificing much time (naturally).

Per Coach Maddie: “(F)or your power numbers on the bike. I want you aiming for around 65% to 68% of FTP. So an NP of 195-205. You did your pre-ride at 189 watts. You will do race day a little higher, but start conservatively around that 195 to 200 and only work up to 205 in the second lap if you are feeling really spectacular. I would love to see you do the course in between 7 hours and 7:15 minutes. “

At this point in the ride, my power numbers were lower than the target, but I was heading in the right direction.

The climbing to get out of the village didn’t seem to last all that long, next it was time to ride the descent into the Keene Valley once again. However, this time the sun was shining, the roads were dry, and the other cyclists were much more sparse. This time down the hill I was able to really let go and found myself flying down to Keene. Along the way I passed a training partner & well-grounded-influence and let out a loud “JENNNNNNNIIIFFFFERRRRRRRRRRR” as I zoomed down the hill, maxing out at a personal record of 42.3mph!

The stretch from Keene to Ausable was unremarkable except for the terribly annoying squeak which had developed from my chain. The rain had washed away my chain lube and I will happily admit that I flagged down neutral support to get more. The girl who stopped to help, a bike mechanic of course, completely understood and was quite helpful. From there I worked my way through the out & back section in Ausable and soon made the turn on to Rt. 86 for my second round of climbing back into the village.

Soon after I pulled into Aid Station #4, quickly hit the porta john, and then found Sarah & Jamie who happily provided some much needed sunscreen as the clouds had finally given way to an Adirondack summer day. I was really excited to see these two and wanted to stay and chat for a while, but Sarah was having none of it and forced me to get back on the road.

Nutrition-wise, as I had meticulously planned, I had begun to descend the ladder from super complex carbs to regular carbs, planning to move to simple sugars on the run. On the second loop of the bike I had two bottles of Hammer Perpetuem and ate one or two PB&J “Uncrustables”, as well as things such as a Honey Stinger waffle, peanut butter crackers, two Powerbar Harvest Energy bars, and roughly six or so Roctane electrolyte capsules (complete with ginger, to settle one’s stomach).

Turning towards Wilmington, Jennifer caught up to me on the short out & back section. We played leap frog for a bit as we passed the A&W and neared the Whiteface KOA where I saw Team Rashford out in full force. Just after that we got nailed by a quick but significant rain shower, which left me questioning whether that was the end of it or not.

The grind in front of Whiteface didn’t seem so bad this time, especially framed with how this section of steady low-grade climbing has chewed me up in training. I kept my cadence high and my power in the appropriate range. Before I knew it I was climbing the Bears and making the turn for Mirror Lake for the final time, realizing that I had survived the bike leg. Even better was the realization that no mechanical failures would stand in between me and announcer Mike Reilly at the Ironman finish line.

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Sweeping past the lake, just before making the turn at the post office I spotted my wife, Jacob, Ethan, cousin Maddie, and my parents. The pride in each of their eyes at that moment immediately got me choked up. I had to take a moment to relax, but I was suddenly very much looking forward to the run.

Bike summary, see here for details: http://tpks.ws/MKgh

Avg. Speed: 16.2mph

Avg. HR: 143, Max HR: 166 (max at Papa Bear #1, & climb out of town #2)

Power Target (NP): 195-205W, Actual: 192W

Avg. Power: 165

T2 (11:10)

Dropping into transition, I happily hit stop on my bike computer and grabbed my Garmin 310XT from its holder. An awesome volunteer wrangled my bike for me and I moved into the racks. I grabbed my Run Gear bag and did a full costume change out of my HRRT cycling bibs and jersey and into my CDTC tri top and CWX tri shorts (determined to make sure I looked like a triathlete and not a runner in my race photos). I don’t remember taking a significant amount of time, but apparently I was the opposite of fast, keeping my streak alive of terribly slow transition times.

Run (5:28:44)

Loaded up with my running belt loaded with two water bottles and six gels while heading out of T2, I made sure to visit the sunscreen applicators. My wife was waiting at the T2 exit and I made sure to stop and give her a sweaty kiss, enjoying that she suffers through that moment in nearly every race. From there i tried to settle myself down and take it easy for the first 5K.

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Taking it easy lasted all of one mile before I got my first inkling of the trouble that was brewing. The rain came back for one more short round, just enough to soak my shoes. At just about mile one I started to get some stomach cramps, nothing too bad, but I was caught off guard. I don’t typically have digestive issues when racing. I decided I would attack this problem head-on and made a stop at the first porta john I saw. That didn’t solve anything. So, back out on the course I found myself quickly beginning to suffer…and it was still quite early in the run. This was suddenly looking like it was going to be a very long marathon. Anytime I started to get into a comfortable running pace (ie. anything at the 10:00 mile pace or faster), my stomach would rebel and I would be forced to slow down. I was basically experiencing gut rot from a day of eating on a bicycle while riding at a pace that didn’t let my body prioritize digestion. As a result I was feeling wicked gas pains, and despite visiting nearly every porta john on the course, I couldn’t solve the issue. My only option was to take time and apply proper pacing (ie. lots and lots of walking / death march jogging).

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I also learned a hard lesson here, having never properly scouted the IMLP run course. I had talked about it plenty of times. I had even watched Matt N. run the River Road leg back in the 2013 Ragnar ADK. But I didn’t really take a long look at it on foot, or even by bike (as I had often planned). Instead, I found out just how long and far away from the village that River Road felt. Despite the discomfort, the countless porta john stops, and the complete lack of desire to eat anything along the way, I carried on. I had received some highly useful advice, particularly for this moment, from a friend “Ultra Ed” who told me “There’s going to be times when you feel amazing and times where you feel terrible, just know that neither of those will last.”

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My spirits were lifted when I ran past my many friends and training partners, easily spotting the CDTC logo amongst the crowd of runners. First I saw Keith heading back into town as I was heading out, realizing that he was just a few miles from the finish line and, it turns out, a Kona qualifying finish at that. Pat, Patrick, and Greg were all looking strong. Jennifer was the most relaxed, quickly breaking stride and veering to the middle of the road to meet for a short pep talk with each of us when we crossed her path. I should add that my CDTC jersey got me plenty of love and support from countless spectators along the way. The club did a spectacular job of rallying support for its members that day.

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Keeping one foot moving in front of the other, I slowly made my way through the grind back into town. At the aid stations I was grabbing only water and ice, being sure to try to cool myself as much as possible, holding ice in my hands, inside my jersey, and even against my neck.

Having chatted with Dan Shyne shortly before the race, I was influenced to place a frozen Snapple peach iced tea in my run special needs bag, and knowing it was waiting for me did help pull me up the hill. But make no mistake, I was in full zombie death march mode for most of the first half of this run. That is, when I wasn’t sitting in a porta john wondering if the pain in my gut would ever subside.

Arriving at Special Needs I was ecstatic to change into fresh and dry socks and shoes (thanks to Ziploc for keeping the rain out all day long). My wife, family, and Frank were all waiting at the CDTC tent along the lake. My wife then gave me her version of a pep talk, summarized as “Get it together, Gilson!” I also *finally* found success in my battle against the porta johns (trying not to be too graphic here). I found myself carrying that Snapple for nearly a mile, knowing I wanted it, but not wanting to actually drink it yet.

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Looping around Mirror Lake Drive, I came back to my family, stopping to take a moment to enjoy the Snapple while walking with my wife for a short ways. The drink and the talk were every bit as enjoyable as I had hoped, though I couldn’t finish either one before heading back out and realizing “Holy crap! I felt completely terrible but I finished the first loop of the Ironman run!”

This was all very important in turning my day around, but the most important piece appeared in the form of Greg Rashford who caught me just as I was running out of town. We caught up on the adventures of the race thus far, and I told Greg how I was coming apart at the gut. Greg wasn’t going to take pity on me, and also told me that we would enjoy the rest of this day as Ironman medals were ours for the taking in just about twelve miles. From there we stayed side-by-side the remainder of the way. Greg was the perfect influence at the perfect time in this race, even having the patience to stick around grazing at the aid stations when I needed to make still *more* porta john stops.

We quickly settled into a rhythm, running consistently to each aid station, making quick and efficient stops. I even managed to start eating some food along the way, grabbing a handful of pretzels here, a cup of gatorade there, grapes, and anything else which suddenly seemed appealing. Having picked up the pace, we tried to bring others into the fold, hoping to grow our crew with each athlete we ran past, but only a few managed to stick with us for any appreciable distance. Dusk had also arrived and at this point volunteers had begun handing out glow bracelets and necklaces. I refused to take one out of principal, as taking one meant I was not going to finish before dark. Each mile eventually started to click past as Greg had gotten me through to the other side and I had started to enjoy the event.

Pace, Pre-Rashford, miles 1-14: 13:00 / mile

Pace, With Rashford, miles 15-26: 11:00 / mile

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Run Details: http://tpks.ws/fliR

Together we climbed back into the village, listening to the excitement of the finish line grow louder and louder. We took the turn away from the Olympic Oval for the final out and back with under two miles to go. At this point the course flattened out and we each couldn’t help but push for the end as the euphoria took over. We entered the Olympic Oval together where I expressed my deepest thanks to Greg for what he had just done, and I paused to walk to the finish line drinking in the moment of that final two hundred yards, trying to make it last forever. I scanned the crowd over and over, searching for my wife, my kids, cousin Maddie, and my parents. I couldn’t locate them, nor could I hear Mike Reilly announce my name. However, I did get noticed by the finish line race photographer, my coworker Alan. Having not found my family, I was completely psyched to see a familiar face and found myself doubling back from the finish line to celebrate the moment. The advice “act like you’ve been there before” might be applicable here, except I had really only ever dreamed about being here before. Finally crossing that finish line, “catching” me was none other than Jeremy who was grinning from ear to ear about how much I had just hammed it up. I got my finishers medal and could not have been happier at that moment.

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[Note, it turned out that my wife and kids had made their way as close as possible to the finish line to see me cross, and they were in fact right behind my photographer buddy Alan. However, due to the blinding light on the finish stanchion I never stood a chance of seeing them in that location.]

Finish (14:06:09. 260/378 in my 40-44 age group)

Super short race analysis:

I swam well for my skill set, despite the crowded lake and poor weather conditions. Having that jacket on the bike made a huge difference early on. I blew it by making my nutrition much too complicated with my fancy approach of: uber-complex carbs –> complex carbs –> regular grub —> sugar. I suffered early on the run due to a variety of factors, namely nutrition and uneven pacing. The early part run was miserable, but it was all made worthwhile when Greg showed up and inspired a rally all the way to the finish line.

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Post-Race with Greg

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Day-after group dinner with Jennifer, Patrick, Pat, Keith, and all of our families.

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