Jul 26, 2007

LP Race Report Part 2 - Ironman

Sunday morning didn't start very well... I heard a weird buzzing noise in the fog of sleep and couldn't figure out what it was. The bathroom was directly behind my room, and apparently something was wrong with the toilet. All of a sudden I realized that it was the alarm buzzing and not some random noise. I had set the alarm to radio and the knob was turned so just a low buzzing static was coming out. I whacked the radio and started to get out of bed then realized the time was 4:45, not 3:45. Transition opened in 15 minutes, and I had a 45 minute ride plus no one was awake. I freaked out completely, running into the kitchen to double check the time and saw 3:45! Now I was half asleep and totally confused. I started frantically turning on cell phones to see what time they had and started to wake my 2 brother's in law when my uncle Eric came down the stairs wondering what the heck was wrong with me. Apparently I had changed the time forward an hour when shutting off the alarm and everything was okay, I still had plenty of time. In any case, I had my standard race breakfast of yogurt with granola and a Clif Bar and we headed out the door for Lake Placid and my 140.6 mile journey. Ironman is definitely a journey... a couple years of training and then a very, very long day. I would cover 2.4 miles swimming, 112 miles biking and 26.2 miles of running in a single day, and I had to be finished by midnight for it to count. 17 hours is a very long day... but would it be long enough? That's the question all first time IM'ers have to ask them self. I would find out very soon.

Eric joked with me on the way that we had two vehicles just in case something happened and we could switch to the chase vehicle and still get there on time. Sean and Kevin drove separate as they planned to head straight home from LP after watching most of the race. We pulled all the way into town and Eric dropped me off right next to transition, traffic was not that bad yet.

I dropped off my remaining bags, checked the bike to make sure everything was all set and headed to get body marked. I talked with a very nice guy who wished me luck and told me to take it easy all day as he wrote the number #534 on my arms and legs. Heading to the porta-potty I ran into Eric, Sean, Kevin, Matt and Danielle. It was a bit of a wait, but we chatted for a bit. I was considering calling John Whalen, a coworker who was also doing the race but I was feeling a bit nervous and rushed and decided not too. Then, as I was getting out of the porta-potty, I noticed John trying to get in the one I was vacating!

I was a bit surprised as you can imagine, but waited for him and we wished each other well as we headed to the swim start. I pulled on my wetsuit, and said goodbye to the family at the entrance to the chute, smiled for a quick picture and headed down to the water.

My brother Matt and his wife Danielle at the swim start waiting for the race to get going.

I walked across the timing maps and heard the comforting chirp from my chip as it was registered and headed into the water. There is a bit of a beach where we would run in from our second lap to the left of the start, and a beach all the way in the back. The water area was already crowded, and I just stood there out of the way a bit and tried to take it all in. It was a pretty incredible feeling as I realized I was on the brink of really doing it. I scanned the crowd looking for family, but there was no chance, the banks were jammed with spectators.

If you look at the picture here, you can see a bit of a beach just to the right off the dock in the middle of the water. I was standing there, nervously swinging my arms and trying to breathe deeply and relax. The women pros had started already, they would have a 25 minute head start as IMNA was trying to showcase them in this race, and I watched the first leaders come running through the arch and head back out on the second lap. Hearing the announcer and listening to the crowd cheer was an incredible feeling as the clock slowly counted closer to 7 AM. I planned to stand on the beach and head out towards the start line when it was close to start. The faster swimmers were treading water right at the line and jockeying for position. I had not intentions of trying to get to the front, my goal was a relaxed swim.

BOOM! The cannon went off without warning totally surprising me.

The Swim 2.4 Miles

I jumped in and headed towards the start line, already feeling relaxed. The start was incredible, with bodies everywhere and everyone jockeying for position. I never really got hit hard though, when you are swimming in a crowd of people, 2100 or so in this case, you tend to get bumped, a lot!

I managed to just stay focused on

swimming easy and not worry about my surroundings. I'm used to the bumping in the swim at this point, so it never really bothered me. Even though you are swimming with soo many people, it's just the four or five right around you that matter anyway.

Here's a shot just before the cannon went off, you can see a couple women pro's that have just started there second lap in front of the announcer stand following the kayaks.

The pictures tell a little bit of the story about the chaotic nature of the swim start, but it seemed to me like the easiest and most relaxed part of my day in retrospect although I do remember feeling that way during the race as well.

I took it easy, found the inside loop about halfway through the first outbound stretch and just swam. In the water just below the buoys that mark the course you can see a cable that anchors the buoys in the correct position. This cable represents the shortest distance around the course, and enables you to swim straight without every having to look up to sight. Naturally, everyone wants to swim right on top of it, and while I knew about it I didn't really focus on getting there, assuming that it would be too crowded. However, halfway down the opening stretch, I spied the cable to my left and was able to angle over and swim right above it. I held my position in the bumping, with swimmers all around me. I got to the turn and ended up getting pushed out a bit as I went around. I kept trying to work back to the cable, but couldn't not get through the traffic until the first lap was almost complete. I could hear the distant roar of the crowd still cheering as I got closer to the end, and then loudly as I stood up to run under the arch and back out into the water for the second lap.

Starting the second loop, I stayed to the left to ensure I would keep the cable in sight and again focused on relaxing and breathing easily . I knew it would be a long day, and I didn't want to lose my rhythm early.
I had decided not to wear a watch and just go by feel the entire day so that I wouldn't obsess over times, my goal was just to finish. I had no idea how fast I swam the first loop, but knew I was feeling good, so I was happy.

The second loop was uneventful, we were much more spread out as you can see in the picture, and there was quite a bit more room. Being on the cable line, I could swim straight and directly behind another racer, saving some energy by drafting off of him. Around the end buoys again and I headed home. I still felt good, but was ready to get out of the wetsuit and onto my bike. Once again, I could hear the roar of the crowd as I got closer to the swim finish, it was truly incredible to hear and see so many people there watching.

I stood up, ran through the arch catching a glimpse of a 1:20 something time and feeling totally rested and not strained at all. My goals for the swim were met! I jumped on my back in front of the wetsuit strippers, they yanked off my suit and I headed to transition. It's a pretty long run through a chute lined with screaming people, again just an amazing experience.

I heard my name partway down the road, saw my family cheering and turned back for a quick picture. Not the most flattering of photos, but as you can see I'm smiling, still feeling great. Looking back, the swim was the most relaxing and enjoyable part of the day, not a prediction I would have made ahead of time.

Swim Results

1:23:08, good for 1626 out of 2208 and a 2:12 per 100 pace

Transition 1

I grabbed my bag off the rack and ran into the tent to get changed. Ironman transitions are different than any other race I've done in that there is a tent for you to get entirely changed if you wish and you get ready before going to your bike. Usually you leave all your stuff by your bike and get ready right next to it. I threw on my bike jersey, made sure to pick up the Mojo bars I was planning to eat after they fell on the ground and put my shoes on. I buckled my helmet and then asked a volunteer to put some sunscreen on my arms and neck for me. There were a bunch of volunteers running around collecting bags, and helping with whatever you needed. They took all of your swim gear, stuffed it into the bag that I had my bike stuff in, and I would find it waiting on the rack for me to pick up later. Heading out of the tent, I stopped to go the bathroom quick at the urinal in the tent! Yes, there were 4 urinals in the tent, not something I expected to see!

I ran out of the tent, and around the circle to get to my bike, again seeing the family on the way around.

Transition 1 Results


Bike - 112 Miles

It was good to be on the bike. The course starts with a downhill through town, the streets lined with folks cheering, and just exhilarating. Heading out of town I passed the Cyclonauts HQ and a second group of 'Nauts cheering, including some of the guys I've been swimming with at Crystal Lake. After you get out of town, you climb a medium hill towards the olympic ski jumps before the major downhill towards Keene. I took it easy up the hill, ate Mojo bar and a gel and tried to stay comfortable. My goal on the bike was to take it easy the first loop, pick up the effort on the second loop and get off the bike within 9 hours of the race start. That would give me a little over 7 hours to finish the 112 miles.

Approaching the descent into Keene, a huge, long hill, I let it fly. Going downhill is the one spot where being a heavyweight helps a bit, and my speedometer hit 50 mph at least once and stayed in the 30's and 40's for the 6 miles of descent. Needless to say, this was my favorite part of the course.

Following the descent, you turn left towards Jay and a flat, quick section. Pre-race scouting had showed me that it was a good spot to get into the aero bars and try to cruise. I got in the habit of grabbing a bottle of water, taking a long swig and dumping it into my front aero bottle and then grabbing a bottle of Gatorade for on the bike frame. This, combined with the gels and mojo bars I had with me would serve all of my nutritional needs for the bike leg.

After reaching Jay and Upper Jay, we turned left again to start heading back towards Lake Placid. This was where the hills started, beginning with a long ascent up to the out-and-back section. I remember thinking on the pre-ride that I would not like this section since it would be mentally taxing seeing the entire hill stretching out before me. I tried to relax and spin up the hill as much as possible, and it felt okay after I finished the climb. The out and back section was nuts, with tons of bikes going both ways. It was crazy to see that many riders out on the course.

After the out and back section, the main hills climbing into Lake Placid began. Even though there was a lot of elevation to gain, it was never that tough since there were breaks in all the hills. The last section was the five hills you climbed after crossing over the river, getting progressively harder until you reached "papa bear" the final hill. Turning the corner and seeing that hill was a bit intimidating but immediately I could see and hear the crowd! One of the best parts of the race, climbing the hill through screaming crowds was unbelievable. The people were lined up on both sides of the road crowding in until there was only 5-10 feet of road left just like at the Tour de France. Some guy was beating out a rhythm on a drum and the adrenaline rush that went through me was amazing. I remarked to a competitor next to me when we got at the top that if that didn't get to you, you must be dead. Just an unbelievable rush!

The next section of the bike was riding through town, with still more people crowding around the barriers. A very cool feeling as we flew through town, most of it flat with a few up and downs. I spotted my two brothers in law, but didn't see the others on the first loop. It turned out that they missed me, and spent a very worried 45 minutes wondering when I would show up before hearing from Kevin and Sean that I had already gone through. The pictures on the left here are from my second trip through town, when they managed to catch me.

After going through town, again spotting the Cyclonaut cheering section and climbing the hill I was ready for the downhill again. I passed a guy on the way up the first hill with a can of Pringles in his rear bottle holder and had to joke with him about it. I definitely felt a craving at that point, as I was starting to get sick of gels a bit. I had to content myself with eating another salty Mojo bar instead. My legs didn't feel quite as chipper as they did when I started, but I still managed to crank down the hill.

The turn towards Jay came and with it the nice flat section, but something was not quite right. I quickly felt the headwind and slowed down quite a bit from my first trip through. It definitely hurt a bit more to push, and I couldn't make as much time as I had before but tried to relax and focus on just turning the cranks. I got a bit down mentally and started feeling poorly so I told myself that I would get off the bike on the out and bike to pee and stretch for a minute. Mentally, this seemed to help me as I could focus on the next section ahead and not worry about where I was at that moment.

Going up the hill from Upper Jay the second time didn't feel so good, and I started to feel a bit of fatigue in the legs. I did manage to spin up again and headed out on the out-and-back section. It wasn't nearly as crowded, although we were derailed a bit by an ambulance trying to get out to the end of the road. I stopped on the way out, jumped of my bike and peed and stretched. It felt pretty good to take a short break! Back on the bike, around the turnaround and I felt headed for home.

The final stretch was coming, and I was ready to be done. The hills were still there, and beginning to take a toll on my legs. Overall, I felt pretty good, I was now pretty confident that I would finish the bike in pretty good shape and I just wanted to get it done. I caught a glimpse of a Cyclonaut jersey ahead of me, and was a bit surprised as I had figured all the 'nauts were much faster than me. The fresh road rash on his arm told a bit of the story as I caught up to Sean Smith, a teammate. He had been cut off going into an aid station and taken a spill. Fortunately he was okay, although a bit sore. We chatted for a bit before he eventually pulled back away from me. At this point I was looking forward to "papa bear" again, the last big hill and the crowds that lined it. The crowds weren't quite as big the second time, but it felt pretty good to get up it and head back into town. I passed my cheering section again and cruised into transistion feeling pretty happy with my bike nowing I had paced it pretty well and ending with a time just over 7 hours.

Bike Results

Transistion 2

Heading into the tent for the second time, I was pretty happy to be back on my feet. I yanked my stuff out of my bag and got changed. I was doing a complete change, again something I haven't done at a triathlon before, but it felt pretty good to put on dry clean clothes. A little more sunscreen, and lathering up the feet with vasoline to help prevent blisters and I headed out on the run course

Run - 26.2 Miles

Ahh... the run, my favorite part... or not really. As I left transition, I saw my cheering section immediately, and gave them a quick wave. The course takes you mostly downhill or flat for the first couple of miles, then a steep descent to the out and back section along river rd. The out and back is the longest section, about 8 miles total, then you return back the way you came, coming up that steep hill, passing through town, and another really steep, but short hill to the second out and back section. This section heads along mirror lake where I swam many hours ago and then returns to town where you start your loop over again, or when you're really lucky you turn into the Olympic oval to finish.

My plan all along for the run had been to run as much as possible, and walk the aid stations and hills to conserve energy. Entering the run course, I had 8 hours before the race cut-off so I could almost immediately eliminate worries about finishing the race for the most part. Of course, I still had a marathon to run but I knew that if I had to walk the whole thing I could probably still finish.

I actually felt pretty good for the first few miles. I passed the Cyclonauts camp and got a few high fives right before the steep downhill to the River Rd turn, and began heading out along the river. It was at this point where the race changed pretty drastically for me. My stomach was rebelling, I suspected at the time, and looking back it's pretty obvious that I had put too much into the last portion of the bike and the first couple aid stations. I have trouble digesting a lot while I'm running, and I was getting really close to losing everything I had put in there. Any attempt to run for more than a few minutes, and I could feel the bile rising in my throat. I didn't have any choice, I had to walk for a while and hope that I could get in front of the problem. I took water or nothing at all at the aid stations to drink, and grabbed cold water sponges to squeeze over my head. Did I mention it was really hot?

The main out and back section along the river is a pretty spot to run, you have the olympic ski jumps in the background as you can see and it's somewhat rolling but mostly flat. You do have shade for a lot of it, but it was still really hot. I made sure to run a bit when I saw the race photographer, and was ultimately rewarded with the first ever photo where I actually look like I'm running. Both of my feet are even off the ground, an amazing feat for me. I think I may just buy this photo :)

Mentally however, this was a low point for me as it seemed like forever to get to the turnaround. I wasn't quite sure how far out it was on my first lap, but keep thinking it had to be soon. 6 miles passed, then 7 and still no turnaround. Finally it came and I felt a bit better but was still struggling with my stomach. At this point in the race, there were a lot of folks running past me, many fast people on their second lap, and some just catching me after a slower swim and bike.

Still feeling pretty low, I approached the huge Ford trailer truck and billboard on the way back from the turnaround. The day before at the expo I had noticed that family and friends could enter a message to a racer and it would be shown on race day. At the time I wasn't sure what they meant, but I could now see that we were running over mats which read our chips, and then the message would scroll on the giant electronic billboard attached to the truck. Suddenly I was disappointed that Eric and I hadn't stopped and entered something, knowing I could really use some help at this point because I was feeling very low. I ran over the mat and watched all the messages, trying to take inspiration from others. Then, at the last second before I ran past the board I saw my name! And then the message "Go Daddy, we love you! From the girls!" I was totally taken aback, I didn't expect it at all and I could feel the emotions well up inside me. I came very close to sobbing out loud! With the way I was feeling, and the suddenness of the message when I wasn't expecting it, the emotions threatened to overwhelm me. I guess when you are racing on the edge of your limits, you can be more affected by small events. Well, this was huge, it totally changed my attitude. Immediately I decided I could run again and I would. My stomach had mostly calmed down, and now I just had to battle my exhausted legs. I spent the next few miles wondering who and how that message got there??

I did take a walk break to get up the steep hill after the turn back towards town, but I felt good again, and was able to run the flats and just walk the hills and aid stations as I planned. I went back past the Cyclonauts and got a big cheer, thanks again to those guys, it really helps when you're racing and into town. The crowds were still amazing as I hit the turn out to the run along the lake. I saw my family waiting at this point, and wanted to tell them about the message I saw but I actually got too choked up to even talk. It was pretty weird, but I would be back by in 3 miles and so I kept going and tried to compose myself. I decided I would have to wait for after the race to explain it.

I hit the second turn-around and came back sadly having to take a left towards my second loop instead of heading into the finish line :) Right before the turn I spotted John Whalen my co-worker, and exchanged quick good luck greetings. I thought about how lucky he was to be almost done since I assumed he had to be ahead of me and therefore on his second lap. I was still feeling pretty good at this point as I headed out of town and past the Cyclonauts again. Once again loud cheers helped me keep up the solid pace.

Making the turn onto the River Rd the second time, it all began to catch up with me. My legs were pretty tired at this point, and I was starting to count of the miles slowly. This was around mile 16, and although if felt pretty good to get into the single digits of miles left, I didn't have too much life left in my legs. More walking and less running as I tried to keep moving. I was taking hot chicken broth at the aid stations now, and it tasted great. I stayed away from gels or anything too solid since I didn't want to re-upset my stomach. Energy wise and nutrition wise, I was in pretty decent shape, but my legs were definitely very tired.

Suddenly, I felt a tap on the shoulder and there was John! It turned out he was behind me, and only now on his second lap. We walked together for a bit and chatted, both fairly happy with our races so far but feeling the pain. It was great to see him, and I wanted to try to stay with him, but his run pace was just a little too quick for me. I could feel my legs cramp up if I tried to push them too much and I said a quick good luck... I'll see you at the turnarounds.

I hit the first turnaround... counting down the miles, around 8 to go. Passing by the scrolling billboard and seeing my message again really made me smile, but I couldn't pick up the pace too much. I walked up the steep hill and cheered on those coming the other way wondering to myself which ones would make it and which ones wouldn't. It was getting dark and the lights were starting to come on. I saw the Cyclonauts for the last time and stopped to thank them for coming up and cheering me on (Thanks again Kevin and Mike... and the rest). Heading into town the second time was a relief, but I just wanted to get it done. I saw the family again, and spotted my wife and youngest daughter who had just arrived on the course. I gave Rachel (my daughter) a quick kiss and told her I would see her soon. Hearing my wife yell for me was pretty nice, thanks Heath!

I'm actually reaching up for the kiss in that picture, Rachel was on my wife's shoulders.

I had 3 or so miles to go at this point, and they headed to the finish area as I ran along the lake for the last time. I figured I was getting close to 15 hours and tried to push a bit to try and get under the 15 hour time, but wanted to make sure I could definitely run the last little bit into the finish. Coming down the slight incline where I had to turn left for the second lap was when it started to feel real. Instead of going left, I turned right and towards the entrance to the oval. What a great feeling... except my legs suddenly started to cramp!

I slowed a bit but just pushed through it and came around the corner all alone. The cheers were great, and I was really happy but it's hard to remember much of it. Breaking the tape and finishing was fantastic, and I heard the announcer talking but I wasn't listening too much. It was quite a journey but I was done!


Run: 6:06:22, pretty even split on the 2 1/2 marathons.

Overall 15:00:23, you can see the clock 2 seconds later when they took my picture. It would have been nice to be under 15 hours, and I probably would have done it if I had a watch to let me know how close I was... but oh well, it only matters that I finished!

Volunteers grabbed me to keep me upright and walked me towards the back of the chute giving me my medal, finishers hat and a t-shirt as we went. Let me tell you, I earned them! I felt a bit shaky, but really not too bad. I spotted the family and got some hugs. Grabbing my daughter and wife I had the photographer take our picture.

I grabbed a few slices of pizza, sat down and tried to relax a bit for a few minutes. Then a quick massage to try to calm the legs a bit and we were ready to head back to Long Lake for the night.

Thanks for reading!


John Whalen,  9:16 AM  

DM - Excellent report. Definitely captures the essence of the day - although I don't think you mentioned it was "hot" enough times. It WAS hot! See you at the next one!! JW

Keith P,  11:42 AM  


"WOW". Great job on the report and on the race. Being a little girl's hero is a great thing. The message board will probably be one of your fondest life memories.

Joe Steele 12:49 PM  


Awesome story, inspirational, especially the part with the message from your daughter. Truly a great accomplishment, one to be proud of and that you'll lkely never forget.

James Butler,  7:59 AM  


Really happy for you.. Great story..Thanks so much for taking the time to share. Morgan and Kendall will read this when they get back from Vacation. What a great example you are for your girls.

James & co.

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