Thursday, August 1, 2013

Ironman Lake Placid 2013 Race Report

Long story short, I am an Ironman!  For the past year, I waited for that title and it was worth every bit of work I have done.  It wasn't easy.  I had highs and lows in the race but for the most part, I spent every second on that course moving forward to finally cross that finish line.

I could talk forever about the days and moments leading up to the race, but I will lose you all as this will be a long report.  So have a seat and here I go...


I got to the race venue, early on Sunday morning.  I got to my bike which I racked the night before.  I pumped up the tires, put my Garmin on it and turned it on, and got all my bottles in their racks which were full of EFS.  I still had over an hour to go before the cannon went off so my husband, the kids and I all walked over to the swim start.  Once I saw the swim start, my anxiety was way too high.  Up until that point, I had been calm, the entire weekend.  I wasn't scared until that moment.  I knew with 45 minutes to go that I was about to start my 12+ hour day and there would be no stopping until I crossed that finish line.  That thought alone caused me to start crying as I finally let my nerves show.  I didn't want my kids to think I was scared so after they questioned why I was crying, I quickly brushed away the tears and had Eric take a quick before picture before I headed to the grass where all the racers were hanging out before they let us into the coral.

Just after my minor freakout.

The back of my amazing race kit from VOMax.

On the way into the starting area, I ran into Michele which was a huge blessing.  Michele and I went to the athlete's dinner on Friday and she was a source of calm for me.  She is incredibly inspiring so to have spent so much time with her talking made for a an even better experience.  We chatted before the start about how nervous we were and how neither of us could eat anything.  (I got up at 2am to eat 500 calories and consumed another 400 calories at coach advised me to try Ensure as it was a easy was to get calories in.  While it tasted gross, I knew that I had my calories I needed to race and the right amount of carbs and protein to get me through the day.)

Once they let us into the corals, Michele and I said our goodbyes and good luck wishes.  The new Ironman start had us lining up in corals based on the swim times we thought we would swim.  My coach wanted me in the 1:00-1:10 group as she figured I would be swimming between a 1:08-1:12.  I lined up at the very back of that coral and got ready for the canon.

All the swimmers lined up.  Green caps were the men, not many of us pink caps in there.

The swim start was very calm and peaceful.  They flowed people into the water but would stop us in order to not crowd up the water.  Luckily, I got stopped just after a group had gone in so I would be entering the water with no one in front of me.  When they finally let my group go, I started my watch and dove into the water.

The Swim

I am the pink cap in the middle of this picture...Notice no one in front of me.

As easy as a 2.4 mile swim can be, it was.  Every time I tried swimming near the wire in the water, I got clobbered or swam over so I swam pretty wide.  This was not in the race plan.  This would cause me to swim more than the 2.4 miles, but I wanted to remain calm for the entire swim.  The first 1.2 mile loop went pretty quick and very easy.  I sighted and just kept swimming.  Every once in a while I would hop on someone's feet and draft a bit until they went back into a group and I just continued along.  I made it to shore where we would get out, run over the timing mat and run back in.  When I exited I felt good, but if I had more time to think I may not have wanted to get  back in.  I quickly dove back in for my second lap.  This time, I did try swimming closer to the wire, as the kayaks were closing us into a smaller space.  Within the first 1/4 of a mile of that lap I got elbowed in the lip.  Flustered, I stopped, made sure I wasn't bleeding and then continued on. My plan to shut out pain for the day had already begun.  This lap was definitely more crowded than the first lap because we had caught up to the people that were still on their first lap.  I pushed and pushed and was finally to the final stretch and when my fingers touched sand, I stood up and started running.

Swim Time:  1:10:11  (Exactly what I had hoped for though I was still surprised I was able to swim that fast.)  22nd in my age group


Once I exited the water I saw the lineup of wetsuit strippers so I ran to an open group and was trying to get my wetsuit off my arms.  They saw no problem that I wasn't ready for them as they quickly pulled my wetsuit down to my waist, told me to lay down, and ripped my wetsuit off my feet.  My goggles went flying so I had to turn back and get my goggles and start my run into transition.  And this is when I noticed it had started to rain.  UGH!

Just left the wetsuit strippers and headed to transition.

The run to transition was all on a carpet (about a half mile run total) but I still took it easy as it was slippery and I was barefoot.  I made it to my bike bag, grabbed it, and ran to the women's changing tent.

I quickly realized I must have been in a large group of swimmers as I had no volunteers to help me but no worries.  I knew to I was to get dressed and throw all my stuff on my bag for a volunteer to pack up and get back to my rack.  I threw on socks, my shoes, helmet, and gloves.  I sprayed myself with some sunscreen and put my fuel in my back pockets as well as my sunglasses as the rain took away our sun, but I had hope that it would eventually come out.  I stood up and ran out to find my bike.  The bikes were all lined up and you just yelled out your number as you ran to your rack so that they would have your bike ready to go.  I got my bike and ran to bike out where I mounted the bike and headed out for a fun little bike ride.

T1 Time:  7:13


You all know me from the blog as a runner, but this past summer, I fell in love with my bike.  A short summary of my bike is that I had a blast out there and felt like I could go forever.  But, I also have to admit, the only time in 140.6 miles that I thought about quitting was on the bike...

Not a great picture on bike out as it was raining and Eric had to use his cell phone.

Leaving bike out my heart rate was so fast.  It was pouring rain and we had turns and some steep short hills to get out of town on.  There were riders all around me and I was scared.  I got to the right and went slow.  (The first 5 miles of my bike took 22 minutes!  This is super slow for me but I needed to be slow in order to gain some composure and get ready for my day.)

Once I calmed a bit, I settled in and started the climb out of town.  Now let me tell you, Lake Placid is a tough bike course.  Everyone talks about the 3 Bears at the end of the course, but the climb out of town was in my opinion one of the tougher hills.  Climbing out of town, I kept my legs spinning and began passing people who weren't as good as climbers.  I started to have fun and finally started calming down.

I was calming down but my anxiety was building.  Not long after the climb out of town there is a screaming descent into the town of Keene.  I never rode this course before nor would I let myself ride it in a car.  I was scared for this part of the course so didn't want to make my nerves worse.  Unfortunately, it was still raining going into the downhill and the roads were wet and slippery.  This was my worst nightmare coming true.

When I saw the first "Truck Low-gear Sign" I braced myself and began the descent.  The downhill was steep and fast.  Not only did I not get into aero for the descent but I white knuckled the brakes down those 9 miles.  It sucked like you wouldn't believe.  People were flying by me and I was squeezing and petrified.  And this, my friends, is when I thought about quitting.  Yes, 10 miles into the bike of my Ironman I was ready to be done.  There was NO way I could do that downhill again.  My hands hurt and my heart was beating too fast.  Curving and down I went.  I finally made it down to the bottom and saw a sign that displayed your speed.  I was going 18 MPH at that point.  Ha!  18 at the bottom of a hill, my brakes were probably going to have to be replaced after I finished the race.

And then, my day got better.  We made a turn out of Keene and started the rolling hills and out-and-back portion.  I flew at this point and saw my speed increasing.  I was getting comfortable passing people and grabbing water at the water stops.  I was taking in my nutrition and felt great.  And so I just rode.  At around mile 30 you go over a timing mat and turn around and head back the other way.

A short time later you make a right turn and begin your exit from the the town of Jay and the hills began.  (If you track anyone doing Lake Placid you will notice two totally different splits for the first 30 miles and second 26 of each lap.  The second 26 are obviously loaded with hills.  This hills started much sooner than I had anticipated.)

The hills began and I got into a small gear and spun and spun.  I didn't want my heart rate to get too high during those climb so I focused on staying calm and not pushing too hard.  I passed a lot of people on the hills.  My little road bike seems to climb much better than all those tri bikes around me.  I may not be as light as those other bikes but I was a climber.

While I was going up and down those 26 miles, I really started to enjoy my ride at that point.  The scenery was beautiful and the rain had finally stopped.  You could finally appreciate the beauty of the Lake Placid course.  You do one more short out and back just before Wilmington and then you start the 11 mile climb back into Lake Placid.

I stayed at the campground in Wilmington so had driven the hills back into town for the past few days.  I never thought they looked bad, but had heard stories, so mentally I was prepared for a tough ride.  You would climb and then it would level out and descend a little.  Then you would climb again.  Nothing was steep at this point.  Just gradual, easy climbing.  That morning I had seen where the 3 Bears began and I was ready.

With only a few miles left to get into town, I finally hit Mama Bear.  I thought to myself, let's do this and started climbing.  Well that short little thought was all I needed to push me up that short little hill.  Baby Bear was next and I don't know if you can really call it a hill but rather a bump in the road.  I flew over that one.  And then it was time for Papa Bear.  You saw it coming because it was lined with people.  It was amazing and fun!  :)  I again passed so many men on the hill and enjoyed all the cheers and waves and clapping I got.  I got up the hill and made a turn to head into town.  There were a few more little hills after this climbing into town, but nothing worth noting.  (I am guessing they were the Cherries--but I have no idea where the official Cherries hills are so I will just say you climb a little bit more.)  At this time the streets are lined with people.  I have no idea how far I was from the halfway point but I just soaked in my ride into town with people all around me.

After a few turns, I made it to the Bike Special Needs area but rode on by as I didn't feel like I needed to switch out anything.  I rode around the high school and made it to the split for the second lap and headed on my way for loop 2.

Loop 2 was just as fun and easy as the first lap.  If anything it was better because the roads were dry.  I headed out of town and the climb out of town was slightly harder than the first time.  I expected this but took it easy and started getting prepared for the descent into Keene.  Since it had stopped raining, I knew the road was dry and hoped that I would be calmer on the downhill, and thankfully I was fine.  I hit the downhill and rode it pretty well with minimal braking.  At one 5 mile increment I had averaged 30 MPH so not as fast as some people on that downhill but I was proud of myself for remaining calm.

After the downhill was over I did a fist bump in my mind.  I still had 40 miles to go, but I knew I was done with the hard part of the bike.  I hit the rolling hills hard.  I tried my hardest to get into aero as much as possible on Sunday, but at mile 70 my back was starting to get mad at me.  I knew I wasn't really hurting my time much by riding up on the bike, but some jerk decided that my non-aero riding wasn't ok with him.  He made a rude comment to me but I brushed it off as I was riding quite well even if he didn't agree with how I was riding.  (I passed him on the uphills on the way back and didn't see him again, ha!)

The rest of the bike literally flew by.  I couldn't believe how six hours could go by so quickly.  I did start getting a stomach ache at one point and took some pepto bismol.  The stomach ache did go away pretty quickly, but unfortunately that was only the beginning.  After climbing back into town, I did my final celebrations on the bike and headed to the bike finish line.

Bike Time:  6:12:18  (18.05 MPH)  19th in my age group


T2 was much faster than T1.  I got off the bike and someone immediately grabbed it from me.  I saw some people bending over taking off their bike shoes and I thought, what a great idea.  For me, it wasn't a great idea.  As soon as I started running my feet felt cramped up.  I immediately thought about how I was going to run with cramped up feet.  I ran/shuffled to get my run bag and headed to the change tent.

The change tent was much less crowded than T1 so I got 2 volunteers to help me out.  They took my bag and emptied it out.  I started removing my socks to dry my feet and put Body Glide on.  The volunteers put my race number on me, filled my pockets with more fuel, and got my hat on my head.  Before I knew it, I was throwing my stuff in a pile and heading for run out.

T2 Time:  4:09

The Run

And so it began, the marathon that just about kicked my butt.  I ran out of transition and took off.  My feet and legs felt so good.  I immediately got excited and looked to my Garmin for my pace to make sure I wasn't going out too fast.

My goal was to hit mile 1 in 8:15 and then slow it down.  Mile 1 came in just under that and I felt amazing.  I ran to the first water stop and had them fill up my handheld water bottle for me and kept on moving at a pretty good pace, around 8:25.  When I went to drink my water, it was already gone.  The darn thing wouldn't stop leaking.  I kept moving along and would fill up more and grab water to drink just incase.  I took my first sip of my gel shot at mile 4 and thought I was doing great.

Mile 4...Still feeling ok.

Mile 4...

Mile 4...

And then mile 6 hit and my stomach was done playing for the day.  I started getting nauseous and slowed it down because I kept remembering "stomach hurt, slow down and drink".  So I did, but it wasn't working.  The only think that kept the stomach cramps away was walking.  But walking at mile 6?!  That was not in the plan at all.

Mile 8 and beginning to not feel good...

So the next 14 miles were all about trying to fuel and make it to the next porta potty.  I had more gels.  I drank a lot of water.  I walked when I was in pain.  Nothing was calming my stomach down.  I would go to the bathroom but nothing was happening.  It was so frustrating as I knew if something would just come out I would feel better, and maybe avoid some stops, but it was all for nothing.  I stopped at least 9 porta potties throughout my entire marathon.  Probably more.  Coming back into town was mentally a little bit better as there were crowds but I was just feeling like crap.  I tried smiling and just kept moving.  You do an out-and-back to run by Run Special needs, where again I skipped because the candy in that bag did not sound at all appetizing at that point.  At around mile 12.5 I had a porta potty success and I was in the clear, at least for a short time.  I ran out, grabbed some water and an orange and took off with a little bit more of a smile on my face.

My relief only lasted about 2 or 3 miles.  By mile 15-16 I wasn't feeling great again.  I literally would run hard, get sick and walk and talk to the other runners.  Then repeat.  Every time I ran, I felt great.  My legs felt amazing.  I was so mad at my stomach as I knew I had so much more in me.

Mile 18...

Mile 18...

This part of the race is normally when I would have thought about quitting.  Fortunately, quitting didn't cross my mind once during the marathon.  I used the energy and kindness of the other runners to keep me moving.  A few times, rather than go to a porta potty, I went to the side of the road to dry heave and try and make myself throw up.  I had runners stopping to rub my back and make sure I was OK.  The people out there were AMAZING and made my day so much better than it could have been.

At mile 18ish I ran into a Massachusetts man and we talked a lot.  I never make it a point to run with someone because I don't want someone to walk for me and vice versa.  We were both on about the same pace with our walk breaks because we kept running into each other.  At mile 20 I made my final stop at a porta potty and I had another success.  It was definitely a long stop and I saw my time ticking away but I finally felt ok after leaving that stinky thing.  I ran into my friend and he talked me into drinking Perform.  (Perform is like Gatorade and I did not practice drinking before the race.  I tasted it at the beginning of the marathon and I didn't like it so avoided it.)  I didn't want to drink it but figured, what the heck, I was already dying, maybe that would help.

And, by mile 21, I started to finally come back to life.  The first few miles were still slow once I started feeling better but I was just completely exhausted.  I knew I was so close to that finish line.  With 4 miles to go I looked at my watch and saw I had 44 minutes to go sub-12:30.  I knew I had been well over an 11 minute mile at that point so was a little worried.  I wanted to be under 12:30.  I walked through a water stop and looked up and saw a friend from my gym.  I hadn't seen her the entire race and here she was at the same point of the race as me.  She had been running a pretty steady marathon so I thought I would try to latch on and hold on for as long as I could.

She told me she was walking through water stops and running the rest of the time.  She was planning on running up the final hill into town.  Yeah, I wasn't running up that hill, but I told her I would hold on for as long as I can.  Well, I did hold on and those final 4 miles were amazing.  We chatted until the crowds got large distracting me from any stomach pain that wanted to slow me down.  We hit the crowds and I started smiling.  I was in the homestretch.

We got into town and we ran up the hill.  People were cheering for us as we weren't just running, we were killing that final hill.  We got up the hill and she saw her family and told me to go ahead.  I had 2 miles to go and I had begun my victory celebration.  People were cheering and I just kept moving.  I made it to my final water stop with 1.5 miles to go and I walked to take in my final drink of Perform and my friend caught back up to me.  We were ready to finish.  After the turn around I knew I had less than a mile to go.  I was at mile 139 of my day.  I could not believe it.  And so I got a bit faster.  My friend told me to just go as she could tell I was ready to run fast.  (My final 1.2 miles were at a 8:38 pace, so not fast but my legs obviously felt good.)

I am the one next to the yellow flag with my arms in the air.

Blurry one headed to the was raining again thus the cell phone pictures.

Heading into the finish line.

I got to the entrance of the arena and I was ecstatic.  I was cheering, screaming, and so so so happy.  I was almost done.  I entered the arena and people were yelling for me.  I ran, I cheered, I headed toward the finish line.  With less than 100 meters to go I heard Mike Reilly:

"And another first timer, Robin Nichols from Westford, Massachusetts.  You are an Ironman, Robin!"

The words I had been waiting for.  The word that had pushed me through 14 miles of stomach cramps. I was an Ironman.  I crossed the finish line and got my medal.  My day was over.  My year-long journey was done.  I made it.  Ironman.  140.6 miles in under 12 hours and 30 minutes.

Run Time:  4:49:29 (11:02 pace) 26th in my age group

Overall Time:  12:23:20
Overall Rank: 783/2536
Gender Rank: 129/644
Age group Rank:  26/102