26 July 2012

Race Report: Ironman Lake Placid 2012

Take a seat and pop open a cold one - this is long.  I was full of anticipation and excitement for Ironman #6.  I went into the race feeling well-rested, well-fed, and tapered as all heck.  I'd had the most fun ever in my training this season because I had so many fantastic training partners.  The notes and facebook messages and e-mails were overwhelming in such a good way.  I've never ever felt more excited and ready to race an Ironman.  I was also looking forward to see how I did on the Lake Placid course this year compared to last year since this was the first time I've done the same course more than once.

View of the Adirondacks from Vermont 

My parents were awesome and watched their grandpuppy Miles for us while we were up in Lake Placid.  This meant a bit of a detour into the Motherland (New Hampshire) on our drive up to Lake Placid; while this added a bit of extra time to the drive, it afforded us the opportunity to drive through some rural roads of Vermont and take in some beautiful scenery.  Thanks to some wonderful friends, Kate and Nelson, Mark and I had the chance to stay right in town, mere steps from Transition.  This has converted us for future races, never again will we stay far from the race site, the convenience factor is just too great.
Snow!  In July!  It's almost like Christmas!

Stacey and I ready for some fun!

Friday and Saturday were spent soaking up the Ironman atmosphere.  On Friday I did packet pick-up with Mindy and Bart and then we drove the bike course.  We took a refreshing dip in Mirror Lake and I took my bike out for a spin on the run course (the hills were just as big as last year).  I chatted for awhile with Jen on the race execution plan.  Both days I stuffed my face with pasta and pancakes in a valiant effort to top off the energy tank for Sunday.  I was also sleeping a bunch.  Saturday I got my pre-race brick over with first thing in the AM.  Then I headed over to the high school to sign up for Ironman Lake Placid 2013 (why not?!)  Saturday afternoon I had a chance to catch up with Melanie for a few hours and then suddenly it was time for dinner.  Mr. Sweetie and I grabbed some ice cream from Ben and Jerry's after an early dinner (because ice cream = good luck) and I met up with Stacey from tri camp for a little bit.  She was going to be volunteering in the women's transition tent the next day because she planned on signing up for IMLP 2013 too (hooray!).  All of the time I was able to spend with my friends up at the race really put me at ease and helped get me excited for the race.  It was such a boost to know I'd be seeing them throughout race day and Sunday couldn't get here fast enough.
Driving the Bike Course!

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I'd spent much of the last week before the race reading motivational race reports, thinking back to positive race experiences I've had, re-reading letters and notes and e-mails from friends (like you, Sarah Shaulis and Julia Weisbecker!!) to get mentally ready for the race.  On Saturday afternoon Mindy stopped by my hotel and dropped off a card she'd made for me (because she is the sweetest person EVER!!).  Mindy - I read that card over and over for the rest of the day.  And I thought about some of the quotes in it during the race when things were NOT going the way I'd hoped.
YES to putting in the miles while the rest of the world is asleep.
To doing what I want, when I want to do it.
To pushing through the pain because giving up hurts more.
YES to not being afraid to fail.
YES to self-belief, knowing that I'm good but I can always be better." (Thank you Mindy and Nike for the inspiration, you have no idea how helpful some of these quotes were).

Transition Before the Storm
Race morning finally, FINALLY arrived and would you believe that I leapt right out of bed when the alarm went off at 4:15 and jumped on Mr. Sweetie yelling It's race morning, it's almost like Christmas!!!  Poor Mr. Sweetie, he puts up with alot.  I dressed quickly and thanks to the Justin's Hazelnut Chocolate nut butter, I was able to stuff down both of my bagels (this never happens - any other day of the year I can eat two bagels no problem but race morning I suddenly lose my appetite and the loss of appetite is proportionate to the size of the race).  My stomach had been bothering me since we arrived in Lake Placid so two Immodium went down the hatch as well as a precaution.  Our hotel was super close to transition so I took my sweet time getting ready.  This was great until I realized it was 5:45 and transition would be closing in 45 minutes and I was paranoid that it would take me all 45 minutes to hook my bento box to my bike, add my water bottles, and drop off a few more items in my gear bag.  This was when the pre-race nerves made themselves known.  I don't like the last hour or two before the start gun goes off - too much nervous energy and nowhere good to channel it.  As I walked back from dropping off my special needs bags, I saw Melanie and gave her a good luck hug.  When I wandered into the water after putting on my wetsuit, I was desperately searching the pink caps looking for Mindy since I hadn't seen her yet that morning.  I finally saw her and Bart and our friend John, hugs and good lucks all around, and then Mindy split off from the rest of us and went out front since she is a super speedy swimmer.  The rest of us floated around a little to the right, a few rows back from the front, waiting for the cannon to go off.  And then... BOOM.

The Swim: 1:07:02
It was a washing machine for the first 400m per usual.  My stomach was also feeling unsettled, but I figured it was remnants of race-morning nerves.  There were a few moments where I was thinking, wow this is NOT fun at all but as I made my way a little more to the right, I was able to find clear water and I started bridging the gaps between groups of swimmers, constantly in search of clear water.  I wore a wetsuit this year and hoped this would help me get a better time than last year's dismal 1:17.  I'm not a swimmer and ALL of my Ironman swims (except for Beach2Battleship which doesn't count because we had a current) have been between 1:15-1:17 so I was prepared to be thrilled with anything below 1:15.  Anything below 1:10 was a pipe dream.  Once I found clear water I also fell into a rhythm with my stroke.  One of my big issues during the Ironman swim is the fact that I lose focus because 2.4 miles is simply a long time to stay totally plugged in to my stroke, my breathing, my pull, etc.  I've gotten better at focusing in the past year and this time around I REALLY wanted to break the 1:15 barrier because I haven't been swimming 90 minutes multiple days a week, getting up at 4:30AM to bike to the pool, for nothing.  I could feel the "aha" moment during my pull when it felt like I was moving easily through the water, especially when I had clear water.  Once I reached the turn buoys things got crowded again, just as they always do, but they thinned out again once we were headed back to shore.  During the first loop I drafted off of feet here and there, but nothing serious.  I didn't look at my watch at all during the swim - don't want to waste any time - and I was a little worried my first loop was a bit slow because of the crowds at the beginning and around the turn buoys.  You can't imagine my elation when I got onto the sand after my first loop, looked at my watch and saw a 32:xx staring me in the face.  HOLY COW!!  I could completely implode on the second loop and still probably come in under 1:15 (not that I wanted that to happen, but at least I had a huge cushion of time).  This was faster than any of the half Ironman swims I've done and I couldn't have been more thrilled as I jumped back into the water and was sucked out into the water for the second loop (the draft at LP is pretty awesome).  The second loop was FULL of clear water and I was able to swim without any impediments.  Nobody bumped into me, nobody jostled me, nobody grabbed my feet.  I did minimal sighting, just to make sure I was still headed in a straight line, and pulled like my life depended on it - a sub-1:10 was suddenly in the realm of possibilities and why not go for broke?  After the turn buoy (much less crowded the second time around), I found a pair of award-winning feet to draft off of.  She was just a smidgeon faster than I was so I had to work to stay in her draft, but this meant I was definitely going faster than I would've been able to go alone.  She was sighting every so often and never went off course.  Believe me, I would've fought tooth and nail if anyone tried to steal these feet.  I followed them all the way back into shore, coming out of the water in 1:07.  As a non-swimmer, I was flabbergasted with my time.  I never, EVER thought I'd be going under 1:10.  Ever.  This was a ten minute improvement over last year.  Swimming is finally less of a liability (and even when it's a liability, I still love it and see it as one of the most enjoyable parts of triathlon).

T1: 6:21
It's a decent run from the lake to transition.  After a brief foray with the wetsuit strippers, you run off the beach onto the street and down the road into the speed skating oval.  The whole way is lined with spectators and this is such an awesome part of the race (especially if you are over-the-moon thrilled with your swim time, like I was).  I grabbed my bike bag, ran towards the changing tent, waved at Mr. Sweetie, and Stacey and I squealed like a pair of sorority girls when we saw each other.  I gave her a giant hug at least twice, still gushing about my swim time.  She brought me over to a chair, dumped out my bike bag, and I yammered on and on while putting on my bike shoes, helmet, and stuffing my bra with various bags of NUUN, salt tabs, and Hammer Gels.  I ran out of the tent, around the transition area, grabbed my bike from a nice volunteer, and jumped on my bike.

The Bike: 6:15:45
Oh the bike.  I love the bike, but I love it more when things go my way.  My plan for the bike was to pay attention to my cadence (thank you Mr. Sweetie for installing my cadence monitor, it worked like a charm on race day!) and my heart rate (Zone 2 - low Zone 3).  I didn't want to destroy my legs and leave nothing for the run so I planned on shamelessly using my easy gears to spin my way up the hills.  As I headed out of town on the bike, I was getting passed left and right by guys on fast bikes and a few fast girls.  The first four miles were fast and easy - wow, look at me, I'm making 19mph look and feel easy!!  Then I hit the first hill and had my first reality check as my speed dropped dramatically.  I kept my cadence within the 85-100 range and the legs felt pretty good going up the hill.  Then again, it was just the first few miles of the race and it would be a bad, bad sign if the legs were not feeling pretty good - that sign would be pointing to LONG DAY AHEAD.  I started right in on my nutrition plan.  A gel every 15 minutes for the first two hours, a sip of water with NUUN every 10 minutes and a salt tab every 30 minutes.  Unfortunately, by minute 45 of the first hour, my stomach wanted NOTHING to do with another gel.  Or a PowerBar.  The thought of any nutrition was making my stomach turn.  I decided to give it a few more minutes and just have a gel every 20 minutes instead, listen to my body and try to work with it as much as possible.  Up until race day, I've never had an aversion to gels.  I gagged down more gels every 20 minutes, I tried to take in small amounts at a time because the gag reflex was worse when I tried to down larger quantities of gel.  I wasn't feeling super nauseous, per se, but my stomach just felt off.  The rest of me felt good during the first loop, the descent into Keene was fun, though I did tap my brakes a few times and kept a hawk eye out for potholes.  Once I hit the bottom I settled into my aerobars and enjoyed the 15+ miles of flat.  If there was ever a part of the Lake Placid Ironman that was a confidence booster, this out and back past Jay would be it.  I watched my speed creep up and started doing the mental math, thinking that a sub-6 hour bike ride was a possibility if I continued to feel as good as I was feeling 1.5 hours into the race (HAHAHA).  I kept an eye out and yelled hello to Melanie and Mindy who had already gone past the turnaround.  I made it around the turnaround unscathed (in fact, I made it around all 4 turnarounds unscathed, proof there is a God).  I hit Jay and the first major hill back into town, spinning up it in an easy gear to save my legs.  My stomach still wasn't feeling super happy but the rest of me was, so all was right in the world.  There was more climbing than I remembered to get into Wilmington, but we were rewarded with some downhill and flats before going into the final 10 miles of the loop, which were mainly uphill into town.  These last ten miles are the hardest part of the loop, in my opinion.  It's a steady uphill - nothing steep but it doesn't need to be steep to be soul-sucking.  There were some great volunteers and spectators out there cheering us on.  I saw Mindy at this point and we exchanged a few words of encouragement as we continued forward.  The highlight of this section is hitting the last of the three bears - the uphill is lined with people Tour de France style, and you feel like a rockstar as you spin up the hill.  As I came through town in just a hair under three hours, I saw Mark and other friends and waved and smiled my way through the streets.

I started the second loop with high hopes that I could negative split the ride and end up with a sub-6 hour time.  As I climbed up the first hill of my second loop, I felt noticeably more fatigued than I did three hours before (I don't know why I was surprised seeing as I'd had 56 more miles on my legs at that point).  I think I was sweating more than I realized because the elbow pads on my aerobars were soaked with sweat and I felt like my right elbow was getting chafed.  Lovely.  I saw Melanie at this point in the race and it was nice to exchange a few encouraging words on the course.  As I hit the flats down in Keene, I was quickly aware of how hot it had become.  The forecast had called for low to mid-80s, but I had heard a number of people saying it was closer to the high 80s - there wasn't any humidity so the heat simply crept up on me.  My stomach was still feeling sour and I was forcing the gels down.  NUUN was no longer appealing so I stuck with straight water.  As I hit the third turnaround, I was becoming a little less certain that a sub-6 hour bike split was going to happen.  I was feeling significantly less fresh, even though I'd been keeping my heart rate and cadence under control, a little bonky perhaps because eating was so unappealing, and I was facing the uphill part of the loop.  Oh and let's not forget about the fact that the wind had picked up.  Significantly.  Making the last 15 miles of the second loop last forever.  My average pace for the last 26 miles was a dismal 14.6mph.  Talk about soul crushing.  The headwind on the second loop made this year's bike leg more challenging and slower than last year's bike leg.  The bonky feeling was getting worse at this point and I was sucking down water and trying to cram down gels in an effort to stave off trouble.  At this point I was counting down the miles to the end of the bike.  I felt more tired and spent and I don't think I could've gone much faster on the bike course.

T2: 4:41
I was thrilled to both hand off my bike as I entered transition and see Stacey as I switched over to my run gear.  I swapped out a visor for my helmet and run shoes for my bike shoes. Even though gels were ridiculously unappealing, I stuffed five gels in my back pocket.  I made sure my arms had Aquaphor in strategic places (thank you Melody for the lifetime supply!!).   Some very nice volunteers smeared sunblock on my shoulders, neck, and arms as I headed out of transition.  I saw Mr. Sweetie on my way out and gave him a thumbs up, trying to stay positive about the run.

The Run: 4:39:04
The run is where it can either all come together or all fall apart.  Or its where things don't go quite as planned but you figure out how to do some damage control and still salvage some semblance of a respectable finish.  My plan (which always seems easier when writing it down than when executing it) was to start with nine minute miles and try to maintain that until I hit mile 18 and then I'd try to pick up the pace.  Sounds easy and this usually is easy if I haven't biked 112 miles beforehand.  Sigh.  The first mile ticked by at 8:44, which was surprising because I felt like I was moving at a glacial pace.  Must've been all that downhill out of town.  My stomach was still feeling off, but there wasn't much I could do but move forward.  I grabbed a little water at the second aid station and kept trucking along.  Right before the mile 3 marker I took in a little gel.  And right after the mile 3 marker, I was suddenly on the side of the road, dry heaving like never before and hoping SOMETHING would come out so I would feel better.  I wanted to hit the reset button and hopefully get a do-over with my sour stomach.  It was about this time that my friend Tom came by and he nicely waited for me to finish my date with the side of the road.  I'd walk a few steps, retch on the side of the road, jog a few steps, retch on the side of the road, repeat.  You get the point.  This went on for about a quarter mile or so.  By the end, I was feeling better and got back to running.  The thought of gels made my stomach curl so those were out of the contention for consumption.  I was in damage control mode - I didn't know exactly what was causing my stomach issues (maybe dehydration?) but I knew I needed to keep drinking and somehow get calories down or the marathon was going to be an ugly event to behold.  I opted for coke and water and I started taking some at almost every water stop.  Walking the waterstops was not part of the plan, but neither was my nutrition fail or getting sick on the side of the road.  Ironman is all about flexibility and figuring out alternative plans.  I wasn't very chatty at this point, but Tom kept up a good stream of conversation and it was a good distraction from the sour stomach.  Around mile 7 one of the aid stations had chicken broth.  This stuff is like crack.  I grabbed a cup and a few minutes later, I felt a surge of energy, my stomach felt more cooperative, and I settled into a slightly faster pace for a few miles.  I suddenly felt more positive about my run - maybe this wouldn't be a total loss, I might not make sub-4 but maybe I won't be that far off.  I was feeling proud of myself for not giving up, for realizing that Ironman is a long day and the peaks and valleys are an inevitable part of the race.  I reached the first big hill on the loop back into town and managed to continue the Ironman shuffle up it.  I kept grabbing water and coke at waterstops, knowing that the run was not quite halfway done.  The hill back into the center of town looked ridiculously huge and steep and I just focused my eyes on a point just ahead of my feet and kept trucking forward.  I saw Stacey at the top of the hill and it was the boost I needed to keep going forward.  I saw Mark and told him to text Jen and tell her I was doing OK.  I saw some of the pro women finishing their marathon and enter the speedskating oval as I was reaching the halfway point.  I headed back out of town, feeling as decent as could be expected.

I took the marathon one mile at a time.  Thinking about all 26 miles at once was overwhelming.  After I left town again, I just tried to stay positive.  There was no walking, except here and there at the aid stations.  I desperately wanted grapes but I didn't know how well they would sit in my stomach.  I was also craving more chicken broth - the energy from the first cup a number of miles back had worn off but, sadly, no other aid stations were carrying it yet, so I stuck with coke and water.  I saw Mindy and Melanie a bit after the turnaround, giving encouraging words and hugs.  At this point I knew I would magically need to run substantially faster if I was going to go even close to 4 hours.  Suddenly at mile 20, the sour stomach struck again and I was on the side of the road again, getting sick (one way to make you NOT feel better: hearing people going the other way say, "what is that sound" as you are hunched over, making awful noises.  Lovely).  After this episode, I felt a little better again and decided that I only had 6 miles left and I was done taking in any water or calories - I didn't want to risk getting sick on the side of the road again, especially once I got back in the town swarming with spectators. Just 10k left, I can do 10k in my sleep.  I kept running (though at this point it probably looked like an old lady doing the Ironman Shuffle), back to the beginning of River Road, up that first big hill, past the aid stations, with each step just retreating more and more inside myself and focusing on points just ahead on the road.  By this point my legs were feeling the cumulative effect of the day and walking sounded so, so tempting.  Fortunately my stomach was holding itself together at this point.  As I crested the big hill back into town, Stacey suddenly appeared next to me, waving a purple bag of Mini Eggs like a carrot in front of me.  Just two more miles and these are yours.  Stacey is awesome and even though all I could do was point and huff out "Mini Eggs", I was so, so thrilled to see Stacey out there cheering for me.  I saw Mr. Sweetie again as I made the turn to do the small out and back before the finish.  The last two miles were all grit, no pleasure, and an exercise in mental toughness.  All I could think of were grapes and how much I couldn't wait to eat grapes at the finish.  I entered the speedskating oval utterly spent.  I had nothing left as I crossed the finish line, my race coming to an end 12:12:53 after the cannon went off that morning. I came in 23rd in my age group and 555 overall (out of men and women).  The very nice volunteers draped me over the fencing where Mark was standing and I eventually wandered over to the food area in search of grapes.  I walked out with grapes and four containers of drinks - chocolate milk, water, and soda.  I settled on the hill by the oval, slowly sipping my drinks and eating grapes, hoping my stomach would hold out.

Final Thoughts.
Am I disappointed in my final time of the race?  Yes, a little bit.  I went 12:12 this year, six minutes faster than last year's 12:18 - all due to my faster swim time this year.  My bike and run were both slightly slower.  It's difficult to compare two races, even though they were on the same course, because there are so many different factors at play - weather, nutrition, wind, heat, etc.  I feel like this year's race was much more difficult for last year's - it was warmer and the wind on the second loop of the bike was brutal.  I've never had the stomach problems on the run that I had on Sunday - gels have never bothered me before and I've never felt the way I did at mile 3 and mile 20.  Looking at the fact that I didn't need to go to the bathroom until that evening (I didn't pee on my bike even once, Uncle Charlie!!), I think dehydration could've played a role in my stomach issues.  I thought I was pretty well-hydrated, but I think it was warmer than I realized.

BUT - the final race time isn't everything.  While I wish it had been faster (who doesn't feel that way about their race time), I'm happy with the way I handled myself on the bike and run, constantly listening to my body, enacting a backup plan, implementing successful damage control, and NEVER GIVING UP.  I never considered walking the marathon.  I never considered backing off my effort on the bike.  And as someone who hates anything having to do with stomach issues and I've done my best to avoid those like the plague in races, opting to walk instead of risking the effects of nausea, it was good to see that I can bounce back from stomach issues and they don't spell instant doom for my race. Two years ago, feeling the way I did during the marathon, I would've walked the whole thing (in fact I did just that in France and Wisconsin).  I'm proud of the fact that I sucked it up, toughed it out, and ran instead of walked.  It's the little things. I finished the race feeling more spent and exhausted than I've ever felt after an Ironman, leading me to believe that I could not have swam, biked, or ran faster than I did.  In the middle miles of the marathon, I found myself cursing the fact that I had signed up for Ironman Lake Placid 2013.  What was I thinking??  But a few hours removed from the race, I was glad for the chance to have redemption next year, especially since so many of my fantastic training partners are signed up as well!

IM Finisher Cake!

Post-race I hobbled back to the hotel (thank you Mr. Sweetie for grabbing my bike and gear bags and hoofing them back to the hotel earlier in the evening!), laid face-down on the yoga mat because I was far too tired to do much else, and finally mustered up the energy (or was simply tired of feeling stinky and gross) to take a shower.  Grand plans were in the works to meet at the speedskating oval to watch the midnight finish.  I got dressed in warm clothes (after the hot, hot summer in DC, I was taking advantage of every opportunity to wear a sweatshirt), grabbed the chocolate finisher cake Mr. Sweetie ordered for us finishers (yet another reason he is the best Iron-Sherpa ever), and headed over to the oval.  There's nothing like the Ironman finish line in the last hour of the race, especially when you are surrounded by amazing friends who raced with you and cheered for you and made your race unforgettable.
IMLP Racers at the Midnight Finish

I wanted to say thank you to everyone who sent good luck vibes my way.  The notes, messages, letters, e-mails, EVERYTHING were such confidence boosters and it meant so much to me that so many people were thinking of me and rooting for me.  Thank you to Mr. Sweetie for being a fantastic partner all race weekend, making sure I was full of pancakes and pasta and, post-race: chocolate.  Thank you to my parents for watching Miles for us.  Thank you to my fellow racers and training partners - Mindy, Melanie, Bart, Kristin - seeing you guys out there, knowing we were all racing together, made the difficult parts of this race bearable and the fun parts more enjoyable.  And thank you to all the spectators and volunteers for making this race an amazing event.  Thank you to Stacey for your cheers and THE MINI EGGS.  I can't wait to race with you at IMLP 2013!!  And finally, thank you to Jen for being an awesome coach and helping me reach race day more fit and ready and confident than I've ever been.


Calli said...

Congratulations Caroline!! You are such an inspiration. I'm so proud of you!

LoveOfShoes said...

I can't wait to see you when you get back and give ou a huge hug!! I feel so lucky that my race is last so I get to learn so much from you guys and about how much the race is about GUTS bc we all have te fitness. Enjoy the rest of our vacation!!

Mindy Ko said...

Seeing you on the bike and run course was amazing! Eat lotsa Four Seas ice cream and come back sooon so we can hammer out our 2013 race schedule!

Jon said...

What a race report!

Awesome job on another finish. Kinda jealous you did IMLP again. I could totally envision EVERY point of reference you made on the course.

And nice swim! Holy crap what an improvement!

Sorry you got sick. The one thing I hate about Ironman training is that my stomach and taste buds want something different EVERY long ride I do, including the race itself.

Way to grit through the sickness and finish faster in some hotter conditions.

Congrats again!

Beth said...

Oh Caroline - reading of your retching on the side of the road brings me back to SOOO many of my races. I have the very same issues. Makes for a VERY long marathon when you can't keep anything down or are too afraid to eat for fear of more...retching. YUCK! BUT, it shows so much gumption that you finished that darn race off AND you went faster than last year! Ironman is such a tough, tough race but you were tougher. I have no doubt your big breakthrough is coming soon!

beingcat.com said...

Huge congrats! I absolutely loved your race report.

Reading it made me [GASP!] want to get back in the game. Even swim again. Heck, maybe even do another Ironman. I so admire your awesome attitude and spirit. I am so proud to call you a friend.

Enjoy your recovery and the ice cream! See you when you get back!

Damon Taaffe said...

Congrats on another one in the books! I thought your performance was terrific as I was following along on Sunday; I was surprised to hear that you'd had so much trouble along the way, given the outcome. But way to stick it out! You'll be an inspiration for me in three weeks up in Quebec.

Karen said...

This makes me miss racing with you!!

Way to hang in there! Anyone can PR when everything is going perfect, but you really stuck it out and didn't give up. Means much more I think.

worldofhina said...

Congrats, Caroline, you're amazing! :)

Beth said...

Congrats!! I'm really impressed with the way you pushed through. It must be so rewarding to know that you gave it everything you had!

Jennifer Harrison said...

YOU truly are a CHAMP, Caroline. VERY proud of you and well DONE.....:) Hope you are enjoying your R&R! :) And, chocolate!

Ben said...

Caroline - I enjoyed reading the race report. I know it's disheartening to put so much training in at camp and the build to not have the race you want but it sounds like you are handling it just fine! Peace out!

Katie said...

DItto what Sarah said about the huge hug. I'm so proud of you! You pushed through a tough day and still PRd - yes, of course it counts.