For some reason, in the moments before the start of a long race like Ironman, I am not nervous. I am excited but overall I experience a sense of calm. It might be because I know it's going to be a long day and there is no reason to look too far ahead. And in Ironman where the swim is usually a dogfight, I would need to conserve energy from the start.
So, it was in this state of being after seeing and spending time with my family, I entered the water at 6:45, swam across the end of the lake and stood waiting for the race to begin on the far side. The temperature of the water was perfect, about 70 to 72 degrees but it had started to rain. I was fearing a repeat of 2008 when Lake Placid experienced biblical rains that lasted all day long. I wouldn't have minded rain during the swim or the run but not the bike.
The gun went off and we were off. I started wide right but quickly cut into the line of swimmers along "the line." In Mirror Lake, there is a bright yellow cord below the surface of the water, 8 feet down (?), that lines the course. It's great if you can follow it because there is less swimming off course but it's a dogfight to stay on it. Everyone wants to be there. I got on it about half way down the first side of the rectangular course and stayed there for the rest of the race. But I paid the price. I was hit, poked, rammed, had my goggles knocked off more than once and stopped in the water several times. Usual fare in the IM swim. Around the first turn, a woman competitor actually stopped and said to me "Can you quit doing that?" Doing what? I mean if she meant hitting her with my arms as I swam, I thought to myself, "Is she serious?" I was constantly being hit and hitting others but not on purpose. When 2200 swimmers are packed like sardines fighting for space in the water, you expect this. She had to be a first timer. I paid no attention to the remark and just kept going, trying to get away from her.
I did the first loop in just over 35 minutes which I was happy with. I thought I was faster on the 2nd loop but was actually slower completing the entire swim in 1:17:51 about 2 minutes faster than my previous attempts. I exited the water feeling good, had my wet suit stripped, ran down the red carpet to T1, saw my family along the way and was happy the swim was over. On to the bike and 112 miles.
The rain that had fallen earlier in the morning didn't play a factor in speed especially during the great 6 mile downhill. This stretch occurs at mile 10 and mile 66 of the bike. It's a lot of fun and a brief break from peddling all the uphills at Lake Placid. My maximum speed topped out at 46 miles/hour but there were a lot of people that got it well over 50 going. My bike started to shimmy and I just didn't fell like crashing during the race.
The first loop went really well I thought. I did the first 56 miles in 6 hours 13 minutes and thought I had a great shot at coming in at 6:35:00. I felt good stomach wise so that is the other reason I felt so optimistic. However, around the 60 mile mark, it was strange as if a switch was turned on. Suddenly, I wasn't feeling great. As I started to climb hill, my quads tightened a little, it got hotter out and my stomach felt queasy. I pushed the nutrition thing trying to keep with the Heed, Cliff bars and Powerbar gel blasts. But as I rode it got worse and worse. Still i didn't think I was that far off in terms of nutrition. I still felt much better than in 2007 when I was sick coming into T2. I finished the bike 6:58:32 much slower than I planned. The last 10-12 miles coming back into town are like driving through hell. The scenery is beautiful. The fans are great. But the body is screaming to finish. It can't wait to run a marathon which just sounds down right demonic.
I wasted only 5 minutes in T2 although I wanted to stay longer. My family was right outside the tent as I exited so I spent some time with them before I started my journey. Leaving town is great because everyone is cheering and the energy just carries you. But just past the first aid station as you climb a short hill, reality sets in. I didn't want to walk this soon but I couldn't help myself. I started to notice my hunger for the first time realizing that once again I didn't eat enough on the bike. I passed on the orange Gatorade instead going for the water and some grapes. The grapes tasted good and I kept throwing them down until I reached Mile 10. It was there that one grape thrust my entire race into jeopardy. When it hit my stomach, my body suffered from violent dry heaves. At first I couldn't control them. I stopped walking and bent over. I was still getting them when I knelt down and waited for them to pass. A Someone ran by and shouted to "keep moving. You know Cola settles the stomach." I knew this but was going to put off the cola until later in the race. Unfortunately, I had to re-adjust that plan. Thanks to that racer for reminding me that I had to do what I had to do. And that was to save my race. For the rest of the race all I had was cola, water and cups of ice. I dared not go near the chicken broth or anything solid. I still had some nausea as well.
I met a lot of great people out there. In Ironman, everyone who is at your pace is typically suffering right along with you. So you swap stories as you run, walk and run again. I met a guy from Austin, Texas who was not only doing his first IM but it was his first triathlon! In those later hours as the sun sets, it's like a brotherhood out there. We are all after two goals: to finish and to finish respectively. I picked up some untapped energy with 4 miles to go. I started to put together some strong pushes and came sprinting into the Olympic oval to finish the run in 5:55:03. Not what I wanted but I'll take it.
My finish time for the entire 140.6 miles was 14:29:50. It was about 1 hour longer than my goal time but 10 minutes faster than my previous PR. All in all it was another great day. I said all along that this could be my last but it's not. I will take a few years off because this one was tough on the family. At least the training was. Training and completing three in the last four years takes a toll. But when it comes to Ironman, I'm an addict. And I'm coming back again. Someday.