27 July 2011

Ironman Lake Placid 2011: The Race Report

I know, not the most creative title. Actually, there are several race report titles that would've been appropriate:
- Saltstick tabs, where have you been all my life?
- The rest of America may have been melting, but it was a perfect day in Lake Placid!
- Volunteers and cheering spectators are the best!
- Who needs a Bento Box when you have a half-empty sports bra?
- How I gave up being a vegetarian at mile 24.5 of the run.
- But the most fitting would have to be this: Not a perfect race and not my best time, but by far the most solid Ironman performance I've ever pulled together.

IMLP 2011 was my 5th Ironman race. My first two were flat, flat, flat courses - Florida and Beach2Battleship. Both yielded times that would be hard to top. My third and fourth Ironmans were hilly - France and Wisconsin. I also fell apart on the run at both of those races and was very disappointed in my finish and overall effort.

So far, this year had been different from previous seasons. I've set PRs and reach time and place goals. I believed in myself and in my abilities. Things were... different, in a good way. So, going into IMLP, I felt calm, confident, excited and ready to race. My number one goal was to put together a solid race plan, stick to it, and have a consistent, strong race. There would be no "balls to the wall" racing; I'd actually keep tabs on my HR, be conservative on the bike and start the run off easy. I'd try to be smart and patient. I'd actually have to turn my brain on to do some thinking so I could pull off a smart race.

There is something almost magical about the week before Ironman. The hard work is done. You have your race plan in hand and you think about it during every spare moment of the day. You visualize the perfect race (and the perfect post-race meals). The possibilities for a perfect race are endless and untainted by any realities of race day (flat tires, bad weather, nutrition blunders). You can't wait for the race to get here so you can see if your aspirations become a reality. You try to eat right, sleep enough, and mentally review your race-day packing list every hour. You arrive at the expo and get that race bracelet slapped onto your wrist (which you later will not want to remove, even days after the race has passed). You are surrounded by 2500 other athletes who are just like you, an exclusive club made up of only people dedicated enough to spend 15-20 hours/week training. You see the finisher's chute and imagine what it will be like to run down it. You sign up for IMLP 2012 the day before the 2011 race - and cross your fingers that you really, REALLY like the race the next day because you and your bank account are fully committed for another 365 days.

We stayed about 30 minutes away from Lake Placid on Rainbow Lake (thanks Aunt Vicki and Doug for being wonderful hosts and letting us crash at your vacation house!). We discovered that swimming is our dog's favorite sport (he swam after dragonflies for 50 minutes straight on Saturday) and I (tried) to learn how to drive a motorboat (disaster! I think I will stick with biking). I got my practice swims in, took the bike for a quick spin to show off the rented wheels and make sure all was right, and tried to stay off my feet in the days leading up to the race.

Race morning dawned early, 4am. I actually slept well the night before, after I made Mark take the top bunk on race day eve (on the first night I had enthusiastically claimed the top bunk, only to realize shortly thereafter that I was deathly afraid of plummeting off the edge of the bed and ruining my race before it had even started. I slept the whole first night crammed against the wall, using a pillow as a railing against the abyss). I toasted two Dunkin Donuts bagels and topped them with peanut butter, just like I planned, only to find that I wasn't in the mood for peanut butter at all. I managed to choke down 1.5 bagels and part of a PowerBar for breakfast, along with some water. There wasn't much to do race morning once we arrived besides double-check the gear bags, have the bike techs pump the rented Zipps since I was too chicken to do it myself, and set up my nutrition on the bike. Saw the rest of the Team Z'rs/Strike Out MS group before the swim start, pilfered some sunblock since I had forgotten my own, and opted not to wear a wetsuit since it was wetsuit-optional and I dislike wetsuits anyways.

The Swim:
Kerri Kramer and I entered the water together. I decided I'd try to be brave and start a little closer to the middle than I had initially planned, take full advantage of the draft. So, the swim was a bit more crowded and violent than I would've liked, but it thinned out much faster than IM France did and I quickly managed to get myself into a rhythm. I wasn't going to go all-out on the swim and I figured I'd finish my swim around the usual time, which turned out to be true. I did manage to get myself on the cable line for parts of the second loop and I focused on a good pull and smooth stroke. I love the swim, and even though I'm not fast at it, I think it's the most relaxing part of the whole race. When I started the second loop, I was amazed at the draft as I re-entered the water - it just sucked me out to the buoys!

I've had my Garmin for 10 months and still haven't mastered the MultiSport mode. I fiddled with it for awhile, gave up trying to make it show me HR (if anyone knows how to do this, TELL ME), and just switched it over to Bike Mode instead. This made for a longer-than-ideal transition time and I think my volunteer was puzzled by slowpoke-ness.

The Bike:
In the weeks leading up to Ironman, I'd been silently fretting about how I would carry all of my nutrition. I was going to eat mainly gels, with one or two powerbars mixed in. The plan was for 3 Hammer gels per hour, with one or two of those hours eating a PowerBar instead. So, this amounted to about 18 gels (in case I didn't want any PowerBars) plus a couple of extras (because you never know) plus some PowerBars. And a flask of gel, for insurance. There was no way 18 gels and a gel flask and two PowerBars were going to fit inside my Bento Box. I also forgot electrical tape to tape anything to nutrition to my bike. I also had saltstick tabs and Nuun tablets to tote along as well. Fortunately, my sports bra is quite roomy and in went the gel flask, salt tabs, and a tube of Nuun tablets, with room to spare (I don't know if I should be happy or saddened by that). And off I went on the bike, with the full intentions of sticking to my race nutrition plan. The first hour went by quickly - I was taking it easy, trying to ignore my slow average speed staring me in the face from the Garmin. An Ironman is about patience and the slow bike speed was testing that patience, but I knew it had to pay off in the end. I started taking salt tabs immediately, every 30 minutes. I sipped water with Nuun every 10 minutes and I took in a gel every 20 minutes, for about 280 calories/hr. When the second hour started, I was feeling hungrier than usual and decided to take in a gel every 15 minutes for about 360 calories/hr. I continued that trend during the 3rd hour, just to be safe, frontloading the calories. The salt tabs seemed to be working well, this was my first time using them in a race and I felt strong and alert and better than I usually feel on the bike during a race. I was aiming for about 500mg of sodium/hr Mentally, I felt like I was in a good place, I saw the other Team Z/Strike Out MS girls on some of the out-and-backs, as well as my friend Brian who was doing his first Ironman. I focused on keeping my HR in check, in the 130s for the downhills and flats and letting it climb into Z3 for the hills. My legs didn't feel fried after the first leg and I actually came into Lake Placid after the first loop a little sooner than I had anticipated. Passing by the Team Z tent was great, hearing everyone cheer. My parents were out watching their first Ironman so it was great to see them. Tim, Matt and Jennie were rockstars and I saw them all over the bike course cheering. I started the second loop feeling just fine. The second loop was pretty uneventful, besides the fact that I found I was only craving the Hammer gels and had no interest in the PowerBar (which I had to eat anyway since I fumbled around and lost a gel late in the game). I probably should've drank a bit more water, as I started the run feeling thirsty, but overall I am happy with how my nutrition panned out. Those salt tabs were MONEY. I finished the bike, happy to have avoided any flats, and was ready to run.

Faster than T1, had already given up on MultiSport mode.

The Run:
In my previous two Ironmans, I wasn't looking forward to the run at all. I simply wasn't in the mood to do it. At France, I remember yelling out to my family that I didn't feel like running. Not the best attitude to have when a marathon is staring you in the face. France and Wisconsin showed me that a total implosion on the run can ruin any good feelings you might've had about your race prior to that point - it showed me that you can feel good one mile and terrible the next. It showed me that the Ironman marathon doesn't give a crap if you are a good runner or think that running is your strongest discipline. All of this was in the back of my head when I headed out - I would take the run one mile at a time, running absolutely no faster than 9:15's, drink water at every aid station, take a gel every 35-45 minutes, and stay mentally focused on the positives. I cracked mentally at France and Wisconsin and my number one goal on the run was NOT to crack this time around. The weather was perfect for racing and it was about 2:45ish by the time I made it out to the run course. I didn't want to run the risk of overheating, so I took cold sponges, dumped ice in the sports bra (which was also carrying more Nuun tablets and salt tabs, ditched the gel flask though) and pour cold water over my head. The first few miles felt OK-ish. They were downhill, so that helped with the pace. But I quickly discovered I needed to exert some self-control when it came to fluid intake at the aid stations. I would've drank every cup I could get my hands on, I suddenly felt that thirsty, but I knew I'd feel terrible after with all that fluid just sitting in me. Some aid stations I was more disciplined than others. I started walking the aid stations, just so it would make taking in water a bit easier. I usually felt icky after drinking the water, but I didn't want to run the risk of dehydration. I took in the gels at the times I had planned. The turnaround for the out-and-back down River Road felt like was never going to come into sight. My pace was slowing and I knew before the first loop was out that I probably wasn't going to get my goal run time. However, besides the aid station walks, I was running everything, including the hills, and that was something to be happy with. There were a few mentally low moments on the run (you know you've hit bottom when you find yourself feeling pangs of envy for people who dropped out of the race and were now being driven back to the start area on the back of a 4-wheeler - at least they were done RUNNING). That was probably the lowest moment and once I started the second loop, I felt better and better. My stomach was more settled, I didn't need to take in as much water, I managed to wait to go on the Coke until mile 18. I had hoped to pick up the pace at mile 18, but that didn't happen - I just managed to keep things consistent (consistently slow), mainly in the 10's, with a couple of 11's mixed in when I came up to the steep hills. But there was no unplanned walking, no pity-party, and no negativity on my part. I was no longer focused on time and after awhile it didn't seem like I was out there all that long. Time stood still. I was enjoying being out there, I savored the cheers and the music blaring from the houses and spectators as I made my way back into town towards the finish line. By the time I hit mile 22, I knew that I could make it to the finish without imploding. Unfortunately, I didn't have much left in me to go any faster, it was just a slow shuffle for those last 4 miles. At mile 24.5, I conveniently forgot that I was a vegetarian and enjoyed some hot chicken broth (SO GOOD). I saw a guy riding a stationary bike that was somehow hooked up to a margarita blender. It took alot of willpower not to steal the whole pitcher of margarita and down it right there. The last 3/4 of a mile to the Speedskating Oval seemed to take forever. And then, right as I was coming down the last hill towards Main Street and the entrance to the Oval, it hit me: I was about to be an Ironman. People had their hands out for high fives from ME. I was 3 minutes away from a cold soda and any kind of food I wanted. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I had spring in my step. I couldn't stop smiling. No, I wasn't about to cross the finish line under my goal time, but I had put together a solid race and I enjoyed myself until the very end. I hadn't savored any of my other Ironman finishes besides my first one (too hungry in Florida to care that I was an Ironman, too dejected and disgusting-feeling in France or Wisconsin to care) so I was going to savor this one all the way to the end... until a girl in my age group whipped by me in the last 30yds. Dammit! My planned finish line stroll became a sprint as I passed her back. She yelped in surprise, ran harder and caught up to me, and we crossed the finish line neck-and-neck. Neither of us had any idea who actually crossed first, but there was a hug and congrats to each other anyway because it really didn't matter (OK, it did - first thing I did when I got home and had internet access was check). I crossed first by one second. Hardest I've ever worked for 32nd place in my age group - and probably my proudest moment in the whole race. Though, perhaps the sprinting is a sign that I had enough left to work harder earlier in the race?

Final Thoughts:
I loved this race. And while there was some initial disappointment about my overall time, I got over it quickly because IMLP is not a PR course (unless you are Jackie McCarthy :) ). I had stuck to my plan, had a Plan B for when things weren't quite right, and executed a solid race that I can be proud of. I didn't bonk once. I'm also super excited to race Placid next year and hopefully blow my 2011 time out of the water. I've been enjoying my recovery period (probably a little too much judging by the amount of crap I've been eating) and my post-race indulgences have lived up to all of their pre-race expectations and dreams :) Did you know that there is something better than chocolate ice cream? I didn't until I went to Ben and Jerry's in Burlington and had their Chocolate Therapy ice cream. I haven't been the same since. A big congrats to all who raced on Sunday, especially Brian, Annie, Harriet, Jen, Kerri, Jackie, Aileen, Mike, and Kate. Watching all of you run your way to the finish was the best part of the day. My parents had a great day, so hopefully they will be up for Placid in 2012. My dog still hasn't recovered from the 19-hour spectathalon, and Mark and Aaron were sherpas extraordinaires. And Mel, Iwan, Tim, Jennie, Nelson, and Matt were super awesome for giving up their weekend to cheer for us racers - any chance you want to do it again in 2012?

Now, some recovery time before ramping up for Timberman and Galway! So glad the season isn't over yet!


Chelsea said...

"I managed to wait to go on the Coke until mile 18" tsk tsk.....back to rehab for you!! :P So proud of you!! If you do a race in Europe again, count me in! (as a spectator)

tri-ing races not cases said...

So you beat me with your race report :). Loved reading about your race and cyber cheering you on. So glad you loved Placid and you were happy with your race! Congrats!

Lauren said...

yay, Caroline! You kicked butt! This report made me super excited for Cozumel! and I think I need to hook a margarita blender to my tri bike for Cozumel- it would be how I get my salt :)

congrats again!

Catharine said...

Way to go, Caroline! You have such a great attitude. Glad you had a great race.

Tim said...

Great work Caroline! You're racing really well and I'm excited to see you blow past me at Timberman. Now that the bar exam is over, I have three weeks of training ahead of me. Your race reports are great and I enjoy reading them. See you in a couple weeks!

Katie said...

you know what, this is a great report. i'm so glad you were able to enjoy the day, i read so many reports that were like, decent swim, decent bike, DEATH MARCH and it sounds like you were nice and steady on the run. congratulations on your race!

Caroline said...

@Chelsea - hahaha! And yes, I'm going to need to look into races in Germany - how long are you there for?
@Bethany - thanks so much for tracking me. And I am WAITING for the rest of your race report, you Ironman rockstar you!
@Lauren - thanks! Love the Margarita blender idea, super appropriate for Mexico, the home of tequila! I hope your training is going well and you haven't been melting in this hideous heat!
@Cat - thanks so much! And CONGRATS to you! You will be doing a 9-month Ironman, followed by a double-trouble 18 year Ironman, I'm so happy and excited for you and Ollie!
@Tim - huzzah for the Bar being over! I'll keep fingers and toes crossed until October that you passed (but I am confident that you did). Can't wait to see you at Timberman, you are going to rock that race!
@Katie - haha, loved your comment "decent swim, decent bike, DEATH MARCH." That's totally how I felt last year in my two Ironmans. It's all about the nutrition. Now that you are training for IMCdA, go buy stock in Saltstick tabs and whatever your nutrition of choice is!

JV said...

Way to go!!!!! Loved reading your report!