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RACE REPORT: IRONMAN USA - Lake Placid

written by: Christopher Cavallerano
posted: 08/03/2005

Pre-Race Training- Through the generosity of many before me and the kindness of fellow Boston Triathlon Team (BTT) members, especially Gregg Tucci, I culled together an Ironman plan for the IronDad. Much of this plan involved sleep deprivation and 4:30 a.m. starts. This part of the plan doesn't come in the Joel Friel or Gale Bernhardt Ironman materials but like I said my plan was "customized". Per Bill Reeves I tried to keep my weekday workouts to such a level that I was hopefully improving during my long weekend workouts. Additionally, I tried to find hills that didn't exist around my house because just looking at the course profile I didn't need any more warning that the bike portion of this race was going to be tough (http://www.ironmannorthamerica.com/comparebike.html). I got in one century ride and plenty of Arlington Hills, Trapelo Road, and CRW routes near my house. Plenty of laps at the Charles River YMCA and probably not enough running though I had started well at the beginning. The increased mileage and intensity often left me tired out for the runs.
Arrival in Lake Placid- I stayed at the BTT house in Lake Placid (LP) and my family came up late Friday night. Spending time with the team and getting in a couple of pre-race warm-ups was a great way to meet some of the regulars on the Ironman tour as well as learn from their experience. I wasn't able to ride or drive the course but I got in a short ride and swim prior to the race and received plenty of suggestions from Maggie O'Toole and many great BTT team mates. I got a chance to hang out with the family a bit and take the whole Ironman scene in. Electric! The night before the race I joined other athletes at a service celebrated by the Iron Friar (who has done LP every year). Amazing!
Race Day- Had an early breakfast of an almond bagel, banana, Gatorade shake and water. Just enough to fill me up. I left plenty early with other BTTers to get any last minute details taken care of and was thankful I covered my bike seat and handlebars as there was a heavy morning fog that soaked everything. Another tip I noticed was tying a slip knot in the transition bag the night before to keep the bag contents dry. One of the things with Ironman races- there are little details that will either distract or interrupt a good race so I tried to leave none of this to chance. BTW, pick up all transition/special needs immediately after the race. Many tend to disappear post-race.
Swim- The swim is 2.4 miles consisting of two loops of super clean / super comfortable Lake Placid. As I got to the water I realized I had developed to monster blisters on my feet from sandals I had worn the days prior to the race. When they touched the water it was like stepping on hot coals. The only thing I could think of was that the little thing may have gotten me and my wheels would be on-fire all day. How do I get the blood out of my shoes/sneakers?? I had been warned about the mass swim start at LP. Lots of hands, feet, arms, and sometimes fists coming your way (more about this later). I was also told about (and saw on my warm-ups) a white rope four feet under the water that connected the various buoys that marked the course. I warmed up and treaded water. I positioned myself a bit back and in the middle of the start line. Folks around me were generally going the same pace and we had some space so I was comfortable I wasn't going to get beat up. A few minutes before the start all is well until another racer decides to do egg beaters with their feet with my body acting as the egg. After a few kicks too many I suggested they move up and there would be plenty of time for physical contact soon enough. Little did I know… The race began and it was anarchy- imagine being in your bath tub with 2,000 of your closest enemies. Ever see fish pulled out of a fishing boat?… substitute the fish for crazed triathletes. It was ridiculous. About 1/4 of a mile out my heart rate was around 165 bpm (should have been 155) so I headed toward the safety personnel in the kayaks. At least I was just getting swum into as opposed to hit from all sides. I took a minute to get my heart rate down and get back into things. It seemed things had settled down a bit and I could actually swim when about 1/2 into it I got hit so hard in the face my goggles went flying off my head. Luckily my head went the same direction as my goggles so I sighted them in the water and grabbed them. I didn't know "The Contender II" was part of this race! After a few slaps to the head I was back into the swim again. (This must have been the Ironman's equivalent of saying "Aday boy, you can do it! Nice Day Mate!") As we rounded the first buoy I met a sea of humanity again. Either you are fast in the swim or you aren't. Anything in between and you should be ready for a 2.4 mile water polo match. As I rounded the second buoy it was still bedlam and I could see the scuba divers "pushers" below. I had been told about this but seeing it and being a part of this chaos really sunk in. Apparently when they see someone going down beneath the water line they actually "push" them back to the surface. No sooner had I passed the comfort of the pushers and I now feel a swimmer coming over my hips from the side. As my hips and legs drop in the water I feel their hand on my head (like palming a basketball) and my head being pushed under. What the hell was that!! I get the whole water polo thing but it shouldn't be on purpose. Is that why wet suits are black… to protect the guilty!! Here's a general rule, touch feet, legs, trunk… look up and swim left or right... not over!! Things never seemed to thin out in terms of swimmers until the second lap but then I was more the wiser which brings me to the white rope. This thing was like the ring from Tolkien's Lord of The Rings. On the one hand when I saw it I knew I was going straight and on course but what I quickly learned was that it drew people to it like a demolition derby magnet. One minute I was going fine plenty of room, the next I was near the rope and here come the arms, legs, feet, and hand brigade. And so it went rope=straight/traffic jam - no rope=not straight/open water. All in all it was a mixed back but my feet didn't hurt!! As I rounded the buoys this time I came up with a novel technique (at least it was until someone reminded me Joe Kurtz told us this in a swim clinic). Basically, my arms were getting tangled with others so I actually just used my right arm only and it turned me around the buoys nicely without hitting others or getting hit. It actually proved faster during these highly polluted sections.
Swim Finish- 1:16:00 (Goal 1:16:00) I was right on target!! Swim-Bike Transition- The great thing about Ironman races is how organized they are and the number and enthusiasm of the volunteers. They even have strippers after the swim. I wonder how many people race just to experience that or lose time because of it… In fact, these strippers help take off your wetsuit and literally strip, pull, yank the thing off. Sort of like getting "shorted" but voluntarily so. Fact or Fable- I was told one fellow actually didn't have a suit on beneath his wetsuit making for a very interesting transition to bike. I myself thought the covered torso rule was the one to watch out for (right Rip!). I merely held on to my shorts and came out just fine. It was wonderful to come out of the swim to such cheers from the spectators and to see my wife, children, and other family and BTT supporters. This really got me pumped. I got settled, used the bathroom, and went out to get my bike. As I called my number out the volunteer (runner) could not find it so I ended up grabbing it myself. No big deal.
T1- 11:00 (Goal 10:00) Still on target! Bike- The bike is 112 miles consisting of two 56 miles loops with rolling hills, some flats, and some challenging climbs- especially heading back into town when you are tired. As I headed out on the bike course I didn't really know what to expect. I had been advised to "spin out" the first section of rolling hills leaving town. I don't know which was worse the hills or the silence. Leaving the cheers and energy of Lake Placid I was now out on the course with 112 miles ahead of me. Luckily I could recharge at 56. There were aid station every 10 miles but I kept things light until the decent into Keene. This was great for those of us who are normally gravity challenged. Though I was a Clydesdale for a while I could feel like a member of Team Discovery. I got up to 47 mph and the ride was awesome!!! The course flattens out a bit so I could snack on some pretzels (salt and substance) and other goodies I packed in my swim to bike transition bag. My plan was also to have a few sips of Gatorade endurance every 10 minutes and a power gel every hour. The bike course, though challenging at times, is one of the prettiest and safest I've ever ridden. The roads were in great shape with some frost heaves but really scenic river and mountain views. Lots of fresh air, which was great because you'll need it for the climb once you reach Jay. If I could tell you the distance to this point I would but the cadence sensor on my bike stopped picking up so I had to go by the race signs. I want to say 40 miles into it?? For me this was one of the toughest (if not THE toughest) parts of the course. It is a long climb of perhaps 2-3 miles. I really dropped into a high gear and spun up the climb. Next came the "lollipop" which I found challenging as well because it seemed mostly flat but had hills to climb and especially on the return to the main course. Next up were some flats and a few miles out of town around mile 50 or so came the little cherry, big cherry, momma bear, baby bear, papa bear series of hills/climbs. I had heard much about these set of hills prior to the race, more so then the lollipop and Jay climb but they were not technically significant but where challenging because they came late in the ride so you were a bit tired once you hit them. Sort of like a boxer in the 8th round versus the opening one. Not as much juice to expend. Now along the course people had placed signs supporting folks and I noticed that BTT had its own road marking crew as well (Thank you!). This was a nice added oomph! to see my name on the road along with other BTTs during this section of the course and coming up Papa bear for the first time there were crowds of folks and BTT members and supporters. So many it is hard to thank but Mike Hollywood and his crazy BTT cape and the Reeves and Davenport families really cheering everyone on was just wonderful. Regina O'Toole seemed to be all over the course cheering folks on. As I entered town I stopped at my bike special needs bag and got some Gatorade shakes and half a bagel to snack on, no need for the spare tire- so far so good.) Well, I had given my family my goal splits and indicated when they should be looking for me. I think my sons played miniature golf or napped during the first portion of the bike and I woke folks up coming into lap 1 of 2 at 15 minutes ahead of schedule. The family was pumped and so was I!! Nearly wiped out on the turn up into the hockey rink but the crowd was going nuts and I really soaked it all in shouting "let's make some noise!!". They were definitely up to the challenge the only question for me was whether I had gone out too fast on the first lap and would pay mightily on lap 2.
Bike Loop 1- 3:23:00 (Goal- 3:30:00) 7 minutes ahead! I kept the same nutrition/race plan as lap 1 and new my goal was to hold my pace if possible. At this point my new Polar Heart Rate Watch had filled with data so I couldn't get splits just heart rate (HR) and total time. I kept busy working the numbers to make sure I was on track. The crowds had thinned considerably but I kept pushing along. Amazingly I had planned to stay below 155 bpm (my lactic threshold on the swim/bike) throughout the race but I never got over 139. I was worried about this at first as I wasn't sweating either but I think a really great taper (Thanks Gregg!) and spectacular race day conditions kept things comfortable. The climb out of Jay was a lot tougher this time around and around 85 miles or so my 20/18 mph turned into 15/12. My body would only put out the power that my mind would allow not knowing what was in store for me on the run. I didn't push it but this is the difference between a finisher and competitor at this distance. A finisher stays well below the "danger zone" while a competitor stays on that edge the whole race and sometimes pushes beyond it. Amazing! Often times the body overcomes the limits of the mind. When I reached the cherries and bears folks had really thinned out so the road messages really helped keep me going. Coming into town my leg started to cramp but thankfully went away when I got to the flats in town. Again, the energy and excitement was awesome. I lost some time but I was generally in good shape heading into the run.
Bike Loop 2- 4:03:00 (Goal- 3:30:00) 00:33:00 behind on Bike Loop 2 Bike Finish- 07:26:00 (Goal 7:00:00) 00:27:00 behind overall Bike-Run Transition- Grabbed my bike to run transition bags with new gels, hat. Used bathroom and took an extra 5 minutes getting a lower back and leg massage. I figured I wasn't going to start a marathon with bum wheels. Hey! My feet never bothered me?? Strange… I guess the mind focuses on other priorities. Got some extra sunscreen applied. The volunteers were amazing. My race bib broke so I putzed around with that for a minute or two. Not the best move. Headed out onto the run course I saw my family and crowds cheering away. Soaked it up again.
T1- 15:00 (Goal 10:00) Now 32 minutes behind. Run- Amazingly I never thought about the fact that I just completed a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and was now facing a marathon run. All I thought about was what a great experience this was and how am I doing mile to mile. I really think this made all the difference for me and any first timer at the Ironman distance. There are plenty of folks who go all out and blow out in the process. Someone told me- race to finish and you will, race for speed and you won't. For me I just dialed into the pace that kept my HR low and adjusted my race goals. A sub 14 wasn't likely but maybe I could make it close. Julie Jones (Kona Qualifier) pulled up along side me on her bike to check in and wish me well. That was the sort of thing that pushed me along so I never lost momentum. I walked every aid station (one each mile) and took in soup, pretzels, just regular stuff. I caught up with a guy named Sam on the run (Barber/Day Trader) from Buffalo who had nearly crashed into me on the bike. Now one thing about the run, it can be lonely but also a place that finds unusual bonds. Sam had just had back surgery so shouldn't be up and about let along racing his first Ironman. If this wasn't enough, he had told his wife he was going to Lake Placid to volunteer and told his tri buddies he was just doing the swim and here he is on the run course. Unbelievable! I made a deal with him, he could stick with me and he'd make his goal of finishing but if I saw his wife I'd run like hell and I had nothing to do with his mis-adventure. Well, as chance would have it, much like my body breaking down on the bike after a certain amount of pounding my left knee was going nowhere at mile 10 of the run. I had to say goodbye to Sam and my sub 14 hour Ironman but that was fine. 14:30:00 still sounded great and I wasn't going to wreck myself. So I did a 2 minute run 30 second speed walk routine for many more miles and walked the hills to keep my HR low. I eventually caught up to Sam who thought he had seen a ghost. Amazing what the run/walk can do when folks are running up the hills slower than you speed walking! The mental game/strength is really an important part of a successful race. At the run special needs station I didn't need my long shirt but had another Gatorade shake. My wife's sister, Nicole, ran along side me shouting encouragement. Sam nearly ran into other runners and oncoming traffic he was so thrilled with his new adoring fan until I told him she was my fan and sister. At which point Nicole almost got taken out by a spectator on his bike. Ironically, I was now the fan for a bit. Half way into the marathon I had dropped to 12:33 miles when my goal was sub-12. This added another 14 minutes to my 32 minute deficit so I was 46 minutes over my overall time goal. Strangely I didn't think at all about this but rather if I could hold onto sub 13 minutes miles. I soaked in the LP crowd one last time during the daylight and hoped I could finish before dark. The Iron Friar had now passed me but hey... God's his co-pilot! How could I compete with that! One of the coolest things is that out on the run when things are pretty remote there is a guy who won the gold medal in the 1964 Olympics and you can touch the medal, kiss it, rub it- whatever for good luck. That was very cool indeed! I wonder how many Pros do that during the race?? I saw the signs my sons Jackson and Nicholas made and that was very cool. No monsters chasing me today. They often write "Run fast daddy the monsters are chasing you". Funny how the unknown or fear is like the chasing monster but I would have none of that today. I was going for the finish with no fears and a strategy for success. By mile 20 or so my knee felt better so I decided to run. Bad move. Though my legs were ready my stomach wasn't. Too many gels, or something, and I was nauseous. I thought to myself I've got 6 miles to go and if my body is craving nourishment after 13 hours out here what happens when the tank is empty?? What happens when I car going 55 mph runs out of gas?? So I stuck to the run/walk thing and tried to lengthen the running side of the equation. The skies began to darken and many of the crowds had disappeared. Folks had told me you may have moments of reflections, clarity of thoughts, mental/physical challenges while competing but I was clear on my plan and taking it all in stroke by stroke, pedal by pedal, stride by stride and now step by step. I guess I was in a "zone" for finishing. As I came into town I caught up with a couple of fellows I'd met the night before. They had done several Ironman races and you could tell this race was one in which they were taking everything in. One even stopped to dance with a lady cheering by the road. As I got into town there was a downhill that made running easy not to mention the run took you into the speed skating oval where Eric Hyden blew everyone away at the 1980 Winter Olympics. The music was rocking and fans were making lots of noise. Folks had told me to go slow and enjoy this moment and so I looked over my shoulder saw no one and just looked around as I jogged in. As I was thanking the crowd and encouraging them to make more noise a racer came sprinting from behind me and toward the finish. The classic finish line dash. To each there own. I was finisher 1505 and he was 1504. Neither of us were going to Kona so I'd just assume enjoy the moment and the company of my wonderful wife Jenny at the finish. And so I did. I was now officially an IRONMAN- Fourteen hours, forty-seven minutes, and ten seconds later; 140.6 miles traveled.
Run Loop 2- 2:55:00 (Goal- 2:30:00) 00:55:00 behind. Total- 14:47:10 Mission Accomplished!
At the finish were more BTT volunteers Laura Brink and David Mak who had worked all day making this race so special. I finished 23rd in the Clydesdale division and promptly retired from being an Ironman to my role as IronDad. Check out the finish at http://liveupdate.ironmanlive.com/ppv/athlete.php?rid=56&bib=434 or via t.v. on Sunday Oct. 23 at 3 p.m. on the Outdoor Life Network.
Props- I could not have accomplished this without the love and sacrifice of my wife Jenny who to me tops everything as a truly inspirational IronMom and my best supporter. My dear friend Gregg Tucci, Jeff from tri-zone.com, and all the BTT members, family, friends, and unknown supporters along the way.