Ironman Lake Placid, the longest-running American event in the Continental US, took place on Sunday, July 26. Read the following accounts of these three athletes--ranging from first-timer to experienced Ironman--as the day unfolded for them at this iconic race.
Stancie -- A Long Day
When I expressed concern about maintaining my sanity during the anticipated 14-17 hours it would take me to complete my first Ironman Triathlon, my friend offered this advice: “Just think to yourself, ‘It’s gonna be a really long day.’” This may have been the single most useful bit of wisdom I took with me that morning on my 1-mile walk down to the Olympic Oval. As I dropped off my sports bottles and Special Needs bags for the day, and checked my tire pressures, my belly rumbled with anticipation. Fortunately, I had “evacuated” 3 times already that morning, so there wasn’t much left to give me problems. I walked over to a friend’s condo to drop off my shirt and tire pump, and looked at the clock. 6:15. Time to head down to the swim start. I kissed and hugged my kids and husband—as if I were about to leave on a long trip overseas—and headed down.
Standing there in a sea of pink and green caps (mind you, I am 5’2”, so I can’t see a thing except other athletes in either pink or green caps) I experienced a slurry of emotions. Excitement at first, to actually be getting started with the final leg of the journey I’d begun 8 months earlier. I recalled a time in the not-so-far-off past when I couldn’t make it through a 400 meter open water swim without panicking and flipping onto my back to keep from drowning. I remembered trying on a wetsuit for the first time, and, after wiping the sweat from my eyes and waiting for my heart rate to drop below 200, wondering how on earth I would ever be able to move my arms enough to propel my body through the water. Standing there at the start line at Mirror Lake, slowly moving forward like herded cattle, I realized that I barely recognized myself. It felt so strange to no longer wonder if I would drown, but to know that, no matter what, I would make it through this first leg of the Ironman. I felt strong and confident, knowing I had done my best to train, and that for better or worse, I would make it through this very long day. Tears welled up in my eyes as I soaked in every sound, every look on other athletes’ faces, knowing that this day would change the way I viewed myself and the world around me. At that moment, I stepped into the beautiful water of Mirror Lake, and began to swim.
The beginning of the bike course in Lake Placid is beautiful and deceivingly easy. I felt great coming out of the water, feeling victorious that I had conquered the first leg of the race. In a state of euphoria, I left the transition tent and felt like a queen as my bike was handed to me by one of the wonderful IM volunteers. The first few miles are downhill or “gently rolling”, and the cheering of bystanders really makes you feel as if the next 100 miles is gonna be a piece of cake. After a one-mile uphill comes my favorite part—the descent into Keene. I’ve discovered that I have little fear of going downhill fast, so I try to make up time by speeding down at 30 or 40mph. Exhilarated by this speedy descent and the feeling of fresh legs, I pushed myself a bit on the flats out of Keene, giving me an average of over 19mph for the first 30 miles. I remembered my training and pushed nutrition on the first loop, taking in 750 or so calories, and lots of water.
Things went so well during the first 56 mile loop, the part that followed sort of took me by surprise. At about mile 80, the sun came out and things started to heat up. I also found I couldn’t stomach another sip of my carbohydrate –rich drink nor my blocks. With every sip of anything but water, I thought I might vomit. My legs began to hurt and feel heavy. And my neck and shoulders—which I struggled to condition over the last 2 months of my training—hurt like hell. Let’s just say that, starting at the turn onto Route 86 in Jay, the conversation in my head changed from one of victory to one of survival. My main concern during the final 20 miles of the bike was actually how to convince myself to get up from a sitting position in the T2 tent and start out on the run course. A 2.4 mile swim and a hard 112 mile bike made for a perfectly wonderful day’s workout. It would be about 4:00 when I finished—plenty of time for a shower, rest, a nice dinner, and a gorgeous glass of wine. What a perfect way to end the day, no? Honestly, as I approached the Olympic Oval to drop off my bike, the only way I could conceive of finishing this thing was to walk the entire marathon. I had 8 hours, after all. I could walk 26 miles in 8 hours…
Walking out of the transition tent and into the warm sunshine, (Despite the reports of a terrible heat wave in Lake Placid that day, it was a recorded 78 degrees at 2pm. Though warm for that area, it certainly was nothing compared to the 92 degrees at Ironman 70.3 Raleigh a few months prior.) I noted that my legs didn’t feel god-awful. My neck and shoulder pain was beginning to subside now that I was in an upright position. But still the nausea. I knew that my run would suffer with less than optimal nutrition on the final 30 miles of the bike, but I figured I would check it out. So I began to jog through the run start. Still struggling to wrap my head around starting a 26.2 mile run at 4pm after a 112 mile bike ride, I resigned myself to walking through every water station. Soon, however, I realized that even that was an unsurmountable feat. The sun felt hot, and I was running on an empty tank. Walking became my primary mode of transportation with short bursts of running. I popped two blocks in my mouth and began to chew, then promptly spit them into a cup. The wave of nausea was too great. It wasn’t until about 1 1/2 hours into the run that my stomach was settled enough to sip on some chicken broth. I’d heard that it was delicious on a long race, and new I desperately needed the sodium. It activated my reflux a bit, but stayed down. A few more water stops, and my nausea had subsided. At this point, I knew I needed some calories. While chatting with one of the other athletes along the course, I mentioned my battle with nausea and my need for calories. She responded “Coke. It worked for me.” Well, I was totally open to anything that might get me through the next 3 hours. Next stop, I reached for chicken broth, Coke, and water. I sipped on all three cups, throwing the remainder away at the end of the stop, and resumed my slow jog.
I have to take a moment to give props to the frequently unnoticed/underappreciated piece of this race that, after all the training, preparation, prayers, and nutrition plans, may be all an athlete has to get him or her through those last 10 or 12 miles of an Ironman. And it’s not the beauty of the Adirondack mountains, nor the wonder of the Olympic Training Center. At this point in the race, I found myself so entrenched in my own physical misery, that I couldn’t see anything around me other than the next water stop. BUT…hearing Katy Perry blaring “Baby you’re a firework!” off in the distance, watching the antics of the Air Guitarists along the out-and-back, and receiving high-fives from a row of under-8 kids while running back into town…that lights a fire under your ass. That makes you remember why you started this journey in the first place. I mean, what motivated that loan woman to park her bike along Route 86 in Wilmington, about 10 miles from the bike finish, to climb up onto that rock, and to sit ringing her cowbell, cheering on the cyclists for hours? And she was there as I passed on BOTH LOOPS!!! It was for her, as well as scores of other volunteers and spectators, that I couldn’t quit. I HAD to emerge from that transition tent. I HAD to run on the downhills and flats once my nausea had subsided. I HAD to run past the crowds of spectators along Mirror Lake Drive, if for no other reason than to say “Look, it CAN be done. If I can do this you can too!”
I felt great as I ran (“good form, quick cadence, arms at 90 degrees” echoed through my head) down toward the Olympic Oval. Night had just fallen, and the air was much cooler. My legs didn’t hurt, my neck felt fine, and I felt like I could –but wouldn’t choose to—run another few miles. A wave of emotions washed over me as I entered the Oval—relief, joy, exhilaration, and, to some extent, disbelief. It still seemed surreal that I had completed such a feat. It was, indeed, “a long day”. At 14 hours and 27 minutes I threw my fists up in the air and looked up into the sky, hoping to create a finish line pic that captured what I was feeling at that moment. I couldn’t believe what I had done that day, what my body complied with despite some protest. Ironman truly is more of a test of will than of fitness. Obviously, you must have a baseline level of fitness. But it’s the mind that tries desperately to convince the body to stop moving forward. Once the mind is convinced of its ability, and resigns itself to the task at hand, the body will fall into line.
Of course, my body did have the last word that night. I ended up in the finish line medical tent for IV fluids, warming, and anti-nausea meds. I was able to choke down a few spoonfuls of pasta that night before collapsing into bed. The post-race celebration I had envisioned would have to wait as the thought of a beer made me want to dry heave. The next morning I was awake early and nibbled cautiously on an English muffin. It stayed down, so I shuffled back into the kitchen to look for something more substantial. I glanced over by the kitchen table where we had dropped our baggage the night before and stared at my finishers hat, shirt, and medal. My Run and Bike bags were carelessly strewn on the floor, and I wondered how bad the smell would be once I finally found the strength to open those bags. As this thought crossed my mind, I smiled noticing a fluttering in my stomach. This time, it was not from the calorie and electrolyte-depleted state of yesterday, but from a certain lightness and awareness of what I had done less than 24 hours earlier. I was different. Different today than I’d been just yesterday, as I had completed what most people never even dream of completing in a lifetime. The words “You are an Ironman!” echoed in my head, making me feel slightly dizzy, like a 12 year-old girl struck for the first time with puppy love. The feeling of confidence and strength started to well up inside me again as I pondered the contents of my refrigerator. A bottle of chilled prosecco caught my eye—I had bought it for my post-race celebration. A carton of OJ next to it. Mmmmm…the perfect way to toast my victory. Sitting on the back deck gazing onto Lake Placid, and sipping that mimosa was the best post-race celebration I could have imagined.
Lauren -- Lake Placid Ironman
Lake Placid Ironman 2015 is now in the books. Looking back on it over the past week, I cannot help but to feel a sense of total accomplishment at finishing the event for a second year in a row. I can still feel the bloat from the countless number of blocks, gels and bars swishing around in my stomach, and at the end of every race I swear I will never touch Lemon-lime Gatorade ever again…and then I have a wicked hangover and that thought goes out the window. From the beginning of the swim until the finish line, it was a fantastic day, I could not ask for a better day, even with a few hiccups along the way.
The day started like every other race day—entirely too early with not enough sleep. I was at the transition area before sunrise, and the air still smelled of smoke from the massive fire on Main Street the night before. Rumors of a cancellation of the swim due to water quality were the topic of conversation amongst most athletes that morning. Secretly, I was hoping for a swim cancellation. I had not been in the water swimming in weeks, and my left shoulder was killing me. Surfing and throwing the football pre-race was not the best idea I have ever had. The swim went on as planned and despite a few war wounds, I finished a little slower than I would have wanted. One third of the day was done.
As I ran through T1, the sun was shining and I could not help but to be thankful for the beautiful day. Flashbacks of last year’s bike in the pouring rain with thunder and lightening were still fresh in my head and I was not interested in going 40 mph downhill in a storm again. The first loop of the bike was absolutely beautiful, until I dropped my chain—not once, not twice, but three times. By the time the second loop came around I was more than annoyed, especially when at miles 62, 74, and 80 I dropped my chain three more times. Thoroughly irritated, I could not wait to get off that bike. One hundred twelve miles was more than enough. I was tired, hot, my pubic bones were bruised—it was just time to get the f*** off the bike.
With two thirds of the race done, I had absolutely no interest in running 26.2 miles. The only thing that kept my mind going was the challenge of catching my friends who blew by me on the bike, especially after my chain dropped. By mile 5, I was pissed that I had not caught them, but after seeing them on the out and back I knew I was at least within reach. For the next 7 miles all I could focus on was how much I wanted to finish. The crowd was fantastic, but I was done. I finally caught my first friend at about 12 or 13 miles. So nice to see a friend. I continued for the last leg of my race, filling my stomach with more sugar than I ever want to consume again. All I could think was “Oh my god. There is no way in hell I am doing this for a third year in a row.”
As the sun began to set and the temperature dropped, I began my last out and back down Mirror Lake Drive. I passed my friends on the sidelines for the last time and kicked up the speed. In my head I was rocking 7 minute miles, although in reality I am sure it was more like 9:30s. The adrenaline was flowing through my veins. Now completely dark, I could hear the finish from a half mile away. I finally reached the finish line and heard the words every triathlete loves to hear: “Lauren, you are an Ironman.” The second time around was just as sweet as the first. It made it all worth it. I swore I would not do Lake Placid for a third year in a row—registration is still open…
Cindy -- IMLP 2015 Recap
Last week I completed my third Ironman triathlon at Lake Placid. There is something very special about this race for me. I love the scenery, the people, the town and my teammates and friends who race and support the team. I was never an athlete growing up and I still struggle with the term. But on that day, I get to play one. There are those who finish before me and those who finish after me, but it's how I stack up against myself that is important. Did I do everything that I could? More importantly, did I have fun?
The training this year was challenging. The Northeast had a winter to beat all others and children and life have a habit of getting in the way. So I didn't have the training season I wanted. But I knew I would finish no matter what.
The swim was fine. It was slower than I wanted and I got a few more knocks to the head than I like! And then on to the bike, which somehow this year became my favorite discipline. I know the course well and so know where I'll be challenged and where I can relax a little. But it also holds a little emotion for me. Last year, there was lightening and rain and the famous "Keene descent" was as terrifying an experience as I've ever had. So this year was about getting down with as little fear as possible. My first two miles on that portion I was averaging 32.5 mph. For me, that is absolutely flying! So I was excited. I was so happy I was fist pumping at the end of my first loop. The second loop was slower but still felt really good. However, the run is where it unraveled. I have never run well off the bike and this year would not be any different. The first loop was ok but I was having challenges with my nutrition - I didn't want it anymore!! About mile 16, I had to stop for a little dry heaving. But as one of our coaches told us, when you get sick, you puke and rally! So that's what I did! When I passed the girl who had asked me if I was ok, she said "glad to see you're back!" At mile 22, my training partner, who was out for this year, jumped in to take me "home". She walked with me for a bit, talking and singing to me as she always does. And then we hit my team's cheering section. Seeing my family and my team screaming my name and encouraging me on, we ran for a bit. Then it was time for the Oval. One of the best finishing lines in Ironman - the Olympic Oval, which, when you come in when I do, is filled with screaming fans. It is impossible to walk past that crowd. And so off I went, running towards the finish to hear, once again, "Cindy Aiena, you are an Ironman".
This year I was fortunate to have friends racing with me. It was amazing to see them out on the course, cheer for them and know they would finish their first (and hopefully not last!!) Ironman. It is truly a journey and experience unlike any other.
So, did I do everything I could? Maybe not. Did I have fun? ABSOLUTELY! And I'll be back next year to do it all over again.