Mirror Lake was warm, calm and clear as we lined up at the start. After chatting with a few competitors to make sure I was lined up properly, we listened to the national anthem and the race started with the sound of the cannon. Within seconds, I was struggling for breath and hyperventilating. As strong of a swimmer as I am, there is nothing that can prepare one for this mass chaos at the start of an ironman swim.
I fought for position and was clobbered both from the left and right – but thankfully no one was attempting to swim over me. For a few seconds I wished I could swim over to the side and quit. I can’t breathe. I want out. WHY AM I DOING THIS? After about 100 yards or so, I found some open space and attempted to get my breathing and heartrate under control. I heard myself gasping for breath more than once and wondered if I was drowning. Within about 60 seconds – there was peace. A nice, open stretch of water in front of me, the mass of elbows and flailing bodies all to the left of me. I was back in control.
In the practice swim just 2 days before, I remember commenting on how Mirror Lake is probably one of the nicest lakes I ever swam in. It was a nice, relaxing start to an otherwise long, torturous day. Out of the water to cross the timing mat, I noticed I was on pace for about an hour swim. Very nice – I jumped back in the water and noticed it was now raining. The chilly raindrops hitting my arm and face as I turned to take a breath. I found the most absolutely perfect person to draft off of – I liked his line, I liked his pace and he didn’t kick much! I smiled and relished the fact that I was barely working. In fact, I was thinking that I was breathing with about the same effort as I would be if I was just sitting on the couch watching television! Out of the water in a nice, solid 59 minutes. I’ll take it!
Into transition, I grabbed my bag and headed to the changing tent. I took my time, put everything on comfortably and jogged to get my bike. Lots of craziness at the mount line with eager Ironman-wannabes with just a little too much gusto starting off on to a 112 mile bike course, but this is not surprising to me any more. I carefully stopped, got on my bike, hit my watch and rode off, careful to GO SLOW!
Lake Placid is the most challenging Ironman bike course I’ve ever done and I knew using too much energy going up those hills would cost me later. I rode stupid slow up the hills, taking my time, watching guy after guy fly by me – most of them out of the saddle. I tried to focus on myself – work my own race. It was chilly – cloudy and sprinkling rain on and off. The first big downhill was fun, but scary! At one point, I looked down and saw 45mph. That’s it, I’m not looking at my computer any more.
The gusty winds caught my disc wheel a couple of times and I worried a little about being blown over! The second half of the loop is a lot of slow uphill. It’s hard to put forth consistent effort – either you’re riding too hard or you’re flying downhill really fast. The time was going by quickly however, until about mile 90 when I realized I was about out of fuel. Then my legs started to cramp, something I’ve never experienced before in training or racing. My legs were seizing up and I thought I was going to fall over. I didn’t bring any salt tablets – I mean, it wasn’t going to be hot enough for that.
I started to think ahead of what I could do to rectify this situation if I could manage to make it off the bike. The last 10 miles or so were much slower than anticipated, but I needed to keep the cramping under control. Giving up a few minutes on the bike wouldn’t be the worst decision I could make.
Off the bike and into T2, I grab my bag again and head into the changing tent. I sat down and went to take my bike shoes off and my calf seized – I screamed and the volunteers were staring at me. I felt pretty stupid. I tried to put my running shoe on, but every time I pointed my toes, the calf would cramp up and it was excruciating. I tried to hurry through and get everything else done, hoping this would pass quickly. A volunteer asked if I wanted sunscreen. What? It wasn’t even sunny out. In fact, I left my sunglasses in transition – first time I’ve done the Ironman marathon without sunglasses.
Spent a little too much time in transition but headed out on the run careful to go slow. The first few miles are downhill and it’s easy to get carried away with the pace. The toes on my right foot were numb. My left toe, where I’ve been dealing with Turf Toe, hurt almost immediately. So much for the cortisone shot.
The pace was on target for the first 6 miles, but my legs still hurt from the cramping and seizing up that was happening in the last 20 miles or so of the bike. So instead of being able to pick up my run pace, I had to throw some walking in. Then the toes started to thaw on my right foot and it burned! There was a section, furthest out from town, that was just beautiful. Thanks to the Comiskey family for putting up a message for me at Inspiration Station!
The entire run seemed to have hills with some of the hardest ones on the way back toward transition where all the spectators were hanging out. Some of the best volunteers I’ve ever experienced in a race – very nice, helpful and did their best to get you what you needed. I saw our other Team Tri Smart racers on the out and backs – mostly with smiles and still moving forward!
So not a great race for me, but definitely an experience. Now it’s time to take some time off and let this turf toe recover. And think about the race plan for next year!