Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ironman Lake Placid Report From a Spectator's Perspective

This past weekend was yet another Ironman Lake Placid.  The big difference this time was it was the first time I headed up there not to race.  In 2004 I went up, scared to death with no clue if I'd finished based on my own training plan, and I finished my first Ironman.  In 2005 I thought maybe I could qualify for Kona and I did.  In 2006 all I really wanted to do was break 11 hours.  Which I did... by a little over 48 minutes with a 57-minute PR.  In 2007 I returned as some pseudo reigning champ and actually got recognized.  Then I went and flipped over the handlebars before turning for the second loop, causing amazingly minimal damage, and I just kind of phoned in the rest of the race since I already had my Kona slot.  In 2008 I went in as a shell of my former self thanks to a series of injuries that kept me from doing lots of my training.  I limped to a new personal worst.  In 2009 I was in a new age group with a new coach and I saw some semblance of my old self and a finish I was finally proud of again, if a tiny bit disappointed that it still was nowhere near where it was.  After a dismal race in Utah last year, I sneaked into the race at the last minute and managed somehow to once again go much slower than I ever had there before. 

So, due to recent history, you can see why maybe I wasn't all that upset that I would not be racing there.  That, and the fact that the swim start gets more and more dangerous every year as they try and stuff more and more people on the course.  Once again, for the love of God, just because you can accommodate 3000 bikes in the transition area does not mean that it is safe for all of them to be in the water and out on the bike course!  This continues to drive me insane and I have a horrible feeling that at one of these races someone is going to die because of it.  I hope that's not what it takes for them to finally cap registration at a much more reasonable number. 

But anyway, that's not the point of this post...  So this year I headed up with my friend and athlete I coach, Kris.  My good friend, and Kris's boyfriend, Trent would be racing his second Ironman and his first Lake Placid after completing St. George last year.  We all knew that Trent was going to have a good race, and he did well as being the only one in our little group who was racing.  His parents also came to watch.  We did not arrive until late Friday afternoon, which was very strange for me having always arrived earlier, although of course when not racing, there wasn't much point in arriving sooner.  It was literally 97 degrees most of the drive up, but got much cooler as we approached Lake Placid.  By much cooler I mean like mid 80's, but still.  I swear that happens every year though, it's really, really hot and humid when I drive up, then a front moves through and race day is quite pleasant. 

Almost immediately upon our arrival we went out to dinner at Jimmy's on Main Street which overlooks Mirror Lake.  I have eaten there on every one of my trips to Lake Placid and always enjoy it.  It's just that this time I didn't have to go out of my way to stuff my face full of carbs in preparation for the race.  The following morning was the QT2 breakfast, but not before Kris and I headed down to the water for a swim.  We'd heard it might be too warm for wetsuits this year, and it certainly felt toasty in there, but nice. 

Breakfast was nice considering once again, I did not have to eat until I felt sick.  I also got to sit and talk with my athlete MaryBeth who was racing.  She lives far enough away that I hardly ever get to see her, so it was nice to get to have a face-to-face chat before the race.  I played coach some more while I went back to another hotel after that to give another one of my athletes, Shaun - who was there supporting his wife - a threshold test.  I'm sure he quite enjoyed that... or at least is glad that it's now over. 

After a quick trip to grab lunch I headed back to the Crowne Plaza to meet with MaryBeth and go over her race plan.  It was good because she didn't seem nervous at all, so we were able to just focus on what needed to be done throughout the race.  I finally made it back to my hotel at 4 and thought to myself, wow that was a long day.  Then I realized that tomorrow I'd be up earlier and certainly would not be back to the room by 4 and I felt a bit silly.  But at least I got to lie down and rest a bit before dinner. 

It was nice on Saturday night to not have to worry about what I was eating and how it would feel in my stomach in the morning and to not have to get up at 3:30 in the morning to shove ungodly amounts of applesauce down my throat.  I'll admit that after seven races in a row there, I really didn't feel as though I wished I was racing that day. 

As is almost always the case on race morning in Lake Placid, it was overcast.  It felt humid when we started walking down to the water, but while we waited a cool, dry breeze blew in and took the humidity away.  We heard that wetsuits were optional but required for anyone who wanted to qualify for Kona or get any age group awards.  If the numbers I saw were correct, roughly 20% of people actually skipped the wetsuits while 80% went ahead and wore them instead of shooting for awards.  Now, to me, if it's going to be a non-wetsuit swim, shouldn't it look like one? 

Aside from the fact that each and every year I did this race the swim got scarier and scarier, I hadn't really considered that anyone without a wetsuit in the middle of all of these buoyant people was likely to get shoved under with no life-preserver effect to bounce them back up.  Honestly, I get short of breath just thinking about it as I can certainly recall that feeling from prior years.  There is not enough room in that lake for that many swimmers.  Sure, the super fast people are going to get off the front no problem and the lousy swimmers or those who simply don't want to get caught up in the craziness are going to wait off the back, but for your average-ish swimmers who need to be aggressive enough to be in a good spot for awards but maybe aren't top age group swimmers, it's downright dangerous in there.  This was another reason I really didn't wish I was in the water with them.  It was nice to be able to breathe whenever I wanted. 

Anyway, after some waiting and watching a whole lot of bobbing heads, the cannon fired and the race was off.  It was crazy to see from a spectator's perspective.  It looked scary even from 200 yards away.  Except for the two or three people who zoomed off the front, vastly far in front of everyone.  I wonder what that feels like?  Oh, and they were wearing wetsuits.  It took several minutes for everyone to really "start" the race and cross the line, and a few people were off the back so far I swear it was like they weren't even trying to swim forward.  And literally 400 yards into the swim someone bailed and got hauled out in a boat.  I have no idea why, but that seems awfully early to quit the race.  At least try one loop. 

After watching some of the faster swimmers continue on to their second loop we decided to head over to transition to watch people come through.  I got separated from everyone as I made my way down to the fence surrounding transition so I could really see people and get some good pictures.  There was nobody there, so it was great. 
That would be QT2 teammate and coach extraordinaire, Tim Snow heading out to get on his bike in his tenth race in Lake Placid.  After that I moved to watch people come out of the tent in droves.  Everyone I expected to see earlier came out much later due to the whole wetsuit vs. non wetsuit thing.  I have heard some pretty rough stories about the whole ordeal and hopefully it is not something that will happen again.  Anyway, I kept my eyes open for all of the QT2 people and was still pretty much by myself except for this one other woman.  After literally about 45 minutes of spectating there some security guy told us we had to leave.  I have no idea why it mattered at that point, but I went out onto the street and ran into my friends Kevin and Leslie, AKA the rest of Trent's supportive fan club. 

We did some sitting and some more sitting and I started to see how this whole spectating thing might be a better deal than racing.  I was sporting my awesome boot over my broken-foot-that-will-not-heal and got to stumble around lopsided all day long, but it was far less uncomfortable than I expected.  The sun was out and eventually we abandoned our lovely couches inside the Golden Arrow and went up the hill to where the bikers would come through to turn for the second loop.  Eventually we got in touch with Trent's parents and Kris and had to describe where we were.  Our easiest frame of reference is, "Okay, do you know where Molly crashed her bike?  Yeah, we're up the hill from there." 

 Here are Leslie and I spectating at the top of the hill.  Kevin was nice enough to leave the boot out of the picture. 

Here is Trent looking all serious and focus before he hit the second loop.  Apparently he didn't even notice us even though there were six of us and we were all screaming for him, but whatever. 

We got to watch everyone come through, looking good.  Trent was right on pace.  After watching the throngs come through, we decided to go and get some lunch.  Again, why did I not think of this spectating thing before?  Instead of Powerbars and gels on the go while riding and running I could sit down and eat a sandwich?  Yes, please.  After that it was hard to believe that runners would already be coming out.  Me and the boot started walking back to the run start.  That was my nickname all weekend - Boot.  Did I mention I'm tired of having a broken foot?

The lead runners were far and away ahead of everyone, due to both the fact that of course they're pros and faster than most, and that they had a 10-minute head start. 

We snagged a nice spot on the run course that was both where the run started and where they came back around mile eleven, and above is TJ Tollakson in the lead and on his way to his first Ironman win.  It was fun to get to see the different ways people run out of T2.  It's very apparent who is going to have a good run.... and who probably isn't. 

This is Trent smiling and waving as he begins the run... way too fast.  If not for the uniforms, a QT2 athlete can always be spotted by the banana in their hands out of T2.  He was pretty much on even pace for the second half of the bike from what we could tell and looked to be in a good spot.  Actually, any and all QT2 athletes we saw coming down that road looked good and not at all like any of those people who had obviously biked too hard. 

This is my athlete MaryBeth, running her way to a Kona slot in her second Ironman. 

We stayed in that spot for a while before we decided to move on to somewhere a bit less crowded where we might be able to sit down for a bit.  Trent's parents and Kris stayed there and Kevin, Leslie and I wandered over to where the QT2 tent was on the short out-and-back by the lake.  Or to where we thought it was.  After a very convoluted route and lots of crossings, we discovered that the tent was on the other side of the road from where we thought it was.  There were serious fences preventing us from getting over there so we had to walk way down to cross and then come back by going up and over this hill.  It seems silly to be irritated by that sort of stuff while these people were doing an Ironman, but come on, I was in a boot and Leslie is recovering from brain surgery, so give us a break! 

We had the tent to ourselves as apparently most of the rest of the QT2 crew was down at another spot.  We got a lot of good cheering in there, along with a lot of good sitting in the shade.  Mary Eggers stopped by briefly to say hi and introduced us to a friend of hers.  He asked me again what my name was and I told him, and then he said, "This is going to sound really weird, but do you kind of kick your heel out when you pedal your bike?  I think I went back and forth with you a bunch of times here two years ago."  Yes, recognized for my funky pedal stroke.  I really need to fix that.  I've probably been remembered for much worse.  Although I used to get remembered for having "won" there.  I swear, walking around town now in the state I'm in I feel so far removed from that it's as though it wasn't even me or it happened in another lifetime or something. 

Anyway, the spectating continued and we had a great view of the athletes from there.

This is Trent about to start the second loop.  He ran the first one a tad too fast but fortunately still held it together for a great marathon.  This was just before Leslie asked him if he peed on the bike and he had to admit that he pulled over twice.

There's Brian Hughes, owner of Fast Splits in Newton and another member of the QT2 team.  I didn't really want to leave our lovely little spot, but eventually it was time to make our way back toward the finish line.  At least this time we knew the more direct route.  We had seen the winners come through, TJ and then Heather Wurtele for another win.  You know, the last time she was an age grouper she finished 20 seconds in front of me in Kona.  We seem to have followed different improvement paths since then. 

We caught Trent coming up the hill just past mile 24, definitely looking like someone at mile 24 of a marathon, and then we headed over to the finish line to watch him come through.  This is where the boot got tricky, when trying to walk on slopes.  Trent finished in 10:19 which was pretty much dead on his goal time.  Tim Snow of course had been the first QT2 athlete to come across.  A whole bunch of others followed soon after, pretty much everyone having great races.  I waited and saw MaryBeth come through, also pretty much right on goal time.  Her run was questionable going in because she's had some issues but she toughed out a 3:55 marathon after running like four times in eight weeks and getting 6th in her age group and that Kona slot. 

We made it back to the hotel and went down the road to the Dancing Bears lounge to sit outside and enjoy a celebratory meal.  Trent was still getting around pretty well.  Then I got to actually enjoy some sleep after an Ironman race.  If I race I can never sleep because I'm so pumped full of caffeine and sugar from the day.  Not much to do the next morning except head over to rolldown which seemed almost more chaotic than usual.  All of the slot allocations were changed because of the wetsuit wearers and non-wetsuit wearers.  Your slots would be determined by the number of eligible athletes in your age group.  Far more 40+ people wore wetsuit than those younger, and even though those age groups had the most participants they lost a bunch of slots.  In the end I think my age group had something like six slots, which is crazy.  I don't think any women's age group ever gets that many anymore.  Anyway, Trent did not get his slot, but a slot in the women's 35-39 age group rolled way down since they told everyone rolldown was over and then came back ninety seconds later and said they had one more.  Someone is very happy they stuck around because a whole lot of names were called before it was claimed. 

Anyway, then it was time to leave Lake Placid behind for another year.  I did not sign up for next year.  It was strange to be there under such different circumstances.  I had lots of fun and just enjoyed the moment, but looking back it's interesting to think about all of those other times going up with my parents and finding them in their little spot before the race, seeing my mom when I went to get my bike in transition - and last year making sure I did not continue down the wrong row.  The two of them at the top of the hill by the lake as I came around to finish the first loop, my dad always right there when I got off my bike and headed into T2.  Then of course seeing them on the run course and at the finish line.  Of course I can especially remember seeing them in 2006 and their reactions then.  Even though I've enjoyed being a spectator and gotten used to it at this point, I do hope someday to get out and race to my potential again.  Unfortunately another x-ray on Tuesday showed that my foot is healing incredibly slowly.  So you can imagine the frustration.  So if anyone has any secret special ways to make bones grow back together (isn't there some Harry Potter spell or something?) that would be great.  I've been bad enough at running the past two years even when I was training.  It's been two months without running now.  I may be 45 before I get it back again.  I don't think I have the patience for that.


  1. It was fun to see you at rolldown and to meet MaryBeth! We are going to have fun at Kona.... I hope you come too.

  2. keep the faith my friend, its not so bad being forty something. Your foot will heal and you will gradually build back your fitness and have many stellar races in your future. Your too young to say its over, no way, I don't believe it. I think your best races are yet to come you just have to believe.

  3. You will heal (and kick some ass in Texas).

  4. Also I posted a pic of you and Shaun doing the threshold test in my blog. He looks super happy.

  5. Just catching up on your blog! I raced lake placid also! Probably saw your crew, definitely heard Mary's voice coming out of the crowd (she is very distinct, and knows just what to say!). I wish I had more advice on the bones but when I broke my collarbone I just took calcium, and waited, and waited, and um.. waited.. and then did PT & more PT :) Until I finally got the go-ahead. Hang in there Chica! It's not fun, but you'll make it!