RACE REPORT: IRONMAN Lake Placid. Just a bad day.
Welcome back masochists and insomniacs! Here's a short read of facts and feelings generated during and after IRONMAN Lake Placid. As usual, that might mean STRONG LANGUAGE.
This one was kind of hard to write.
Let's skip the 2+ year process of delays and deferrals that got me from St. George in May, 2020 to Lake Placid in July, 2021. Training buddies told me that Placid has a great swim and a beautiful bike course; the Adirondack version of St. George that fit my love of big bike descends and running hills.
Trained with a coach for much of 2020 before going self-coached for the last six months. I track the relative success/failure of my workouts using a hockey standings method--any given day is either a W or an L, but there may be some Ties as well. Depending on whether I only count W's or split the ties 50/50 into W/L, I properly completed 84% to 88% of all training.
However, one critical facet of training I had to take out of the analysis was resistance training. I just could not program it as I would have liked--let alone completed--although I did improvise some body weight techniques when I could.. As a 52 yo male, while I considered this a huge yet uncorrectable problem over the past six months, ultimately... eh, whaddayagonnado.
Thursday = travel day. We had to connect through Chicago to Albany from Phoenix, so that was 8+ hours of stuffy, uncomfortable tedium. I am never comfortable on an airplane. Nobody has ever been comfortable on an airplane ever.
Checked into our shared Air B&B with four athletes (names redacted for their own protection, though they wouldn't be too hard to suss out on social media). Like a John Hughes or Judd Apatow movie, it was a real ensemble:
the grizzled, veteran campaigner
with his wife and two boys
the "naïve" young first timer
the super laid-back, Legacy dude
the "this is my last one" guy
I sincerely and genuinely enjoyed reconnecting with those training buds. While I was and am very grateful to get back to racing, I was even more grateful to reconnect with other racers/competitors/completers. Good energy in the house.
Friday = was mandatory check-in. At the Briefing we were told that we'd have to take two connecting shuttles to reach Transition on race morning before needing a third to get back to the Race Start. The housemates agree to be on the first run of Shuttle #1 by 4:30a (scheduled start time for the shuttles), to allow enough time to transfer onto Shuttle #2 in time to set-up in Transition and get to Shuttle #3 back to Race Start.
Forecast was for pouring rain early, with mild temps and sunshine likely later. Upper 70s.
While the house energy never really soured, I felt an odd resignation. As if I knew race planners' choices just barely made sense. I imagined every status meeting ended with, "well, I guess that's all we can do about that." And everybody in the house--heck, everybody racing--just tacitly agreed, "ok-but-let's-not-let-expectations-get-too-high-here."
Sort of the difference between a M.A.S.H. unit and a hospital. Or how a slip-n-slide is a weaker version of a water slide.
I can't really explain it better than that. Hope that makes sense.
Race Day Thirty(!) months since my previous race. Lots of micro-adjustments to keep in mind: masks, shuttles, racing with the self-sufficiency of a 70.3... on top of regular race-day variables like changing weather conditions, changing race conditions (wet, wind, roads, turns, etc.).
We got to our stop on time, but the shuttles fell behind schedule. So instead of transferring quickly from Shuttle #1 to Shuttle #2, roughly 300+ racers waited in heavy rain for the ride to Transition.
This seems like as good a place as any to remind you that I'm a Chicago-trained
and experienced theater improviser. The militaristic version is "Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.' but I prefer the more artsy version. Control is an illusion. Accept what
happens in the present. Make a choice and move on. Be comfortable in ambiguity.
Now, y'all who always go back for dropped nutrition can cast the first stone... As I got off Shuttle #2 I realized I'd left three bottles of nutrition at the house.
With zero chance of getting them. I improvised what I could from my T1 Bike/T2 Run bags. Instead of 22oz x 4 bottles of fluid nutrition, I had about 2 x 18oz. I'd make up the roughly half-gallon, using the 8 redundant gels I had plus water. Net result should be nearly comparable calories plus water, supplemented with BASE salt, of which I also had plenty extra. Once I got halfway through the bike to Personal Needs, I could make up the difference with the extras I'd put in there for just this kind of situation.
Set up the bike best I could and had to get to the start line.
Turns out the shuttles were still out of whack and the line was absurd. While four short-bus/shuttles were getting loaded up, a guy on a scooter, possibly the RD himself, rode up an announced, "if you don't make it onto one of these shuttles, I advise you to walk to the race start."
Instead of getting a shuttle ride from Transition to Race Start, we walked the 1.5-ish mile.
This also seems like a good place to remember that Race Director could
easily be the most thankless job in the world. Second only to Volunteer Captain,
SO. With rain pelting us like paintballs, I spent that walk trying to relax about nutrition and remind myself that this wasn't my "A" Race. For the first time in years I was surrounded by hundreds of incredibly amazing people. As crappy as this was, it beat training alone and not racing.
average pace 1:38/100y
technically a PR by a few seconds
The swim line is every bit as awesome as advertised. Much less sighting required. Sure there's some bumping, but none of the scrum-like conditions or douchebaggery that might have taken place. Rather, I sort of inadvertently faced a fear of swimming under the big triangle buoys. A few times as needed. Without issues.
It was a half-mile from water-edge to bike racks if it was a foot. Long, ugly, stupid, muddy, squishy. No wet-suit peelers so I just pulled the top down to my waist and stripped the rest off at my bike. Handled.
6:10 elapsed,6:00 Moving
AVG power 178, NP 211
Avg. speed 18.2
This bike course is a vampire loan shark pimp who dresses like he shops at Orvis. It whispers, "Enjoy the beautiful gift of this view," then, "Bitch, you gotta climb to pay me back." I'm gonna quit. "Chill baby, here's the aid station."
Lovely crowd support in towns
lush, green hills
Olympic bobsled run
charming, babbling brooks
Predominantly silky smooth roads
Keene Descend! an 8+ mile screaming downhill with relatively soft curves. I hit 49.7 mph max despite wet conditions on first loop.
The climb(s) out of 4 Corners
Whiteface Ski Area (I get that the name ain't about cyclists, but still went a little mental here. "Whiteface? I guess because I can't talk. Like a mime. Whiteface? I guess because all the blood drains out my face to keep legs from falling off. Whiteface? I guess because I'm going clownishly slow." You get the gist.
The 4200 ft elevation gain is absolutely punishing, despite my ultra-conservative approach
Nasty headwinds during brief climbing reprieves
Poppa Bear. Yeah, sure. But nobody seemed to mention Momma Bear (not what anybody else calls it, btw) slapping the starch out of me ten miles waaayy before Poppa
Executed the Power Management Plan
As planned, I was maintaining 70% of FTP +/-5%. Given the hilliness, holding 178 Avg Power/ 211 Normalized Power suggests I was properly managing effort. I was being conservative, patient and intelligent by following my plan to prepare for the run.
Truth is the course didn't cause my real problems. ("You brought this on yourself, baby.") We've already talked about the hole I dug myself by forgetting my first half of my bike nutrition. Though I maintain, yes even now, that I had pretty much handled that.
No. The truly murderous aspect of this day was the number of times I dropped my chain.
I fucking dropped my fucking chain--or nearly fucking dropped my fucking chain--so fucking often I fucking lost fucking count. Fucking no fucking exaggeration.
One of the first things they teach new Jiu-Jitsu students is to "tap early" when
rolling. With lots of practice, it's possible to learn how to improve a bad position.
By learning what's vital vs what to ignore, to think ahead, to anticipate moves and counter moves, it is possible to learn how to escape a seemingly inevitable submission. However, because there are so many submissions, so many ways a bad choice can make things worse, so many ways to get really hurt, tapping early is the smart choice. Of course, as practitioners gain experience and knowledge of moves and counter moves, tapping out becomes less shameful, more insightful. Less a failure than an accepted part of the learning process. The more mature option.
I've never taken Jiu-Jitsu.
SHOULD HAVE TAPPED OUT
An offhand examination of speed data shows nine obvious drops. NINE! First two were early. (My thought, Okay, maybe some wet got into the shifters.) Then a couple more heading into Haselton Road. Then a bunch more during the last 30 miles.
Moving Time - Elapsed Time = 10 minutes.
Since I didn't stop at any aid stations and subtracting four more minutes spent in Personal Needs resetting and reloading, we get about 6 minutes spent fixing dropped chain.
40 seconds per dropped chain.
Now I'm not saying those six minutes would have gotten me on the podium, but stay with me here--try holding your breath for forty seconds. It's enough to increase your HR. I'm making an analogy here between the physiological reaction to the stressor of holding your breath and the mechanical stressor of dropping my chain.
And let's just skip the gymnastic calculus needed to precisely recalculate average speed--a respectable, though not stellar 18.2 mph.
We can agree that it's typical triathlete bullshit to add two mph to average speed because, [insert hairbrained theory why data must be off.] So let's just not.
BUT! It is fair to imagine deleting those nine vertical drops to zero from the above speed chart. Imagine erasing each little downward hitch that precipitated every drop. Imagine if I hadn't lost all that momentum and flow. Not to mention a half-dozen or so "saves" that we can't see.
What effect did those drops have on Avg. Power and/or Normalized Power? Well, the whole point of relying on Normalized Power over Average Power is to more accurately read output on hills.
So how accurate was NP? Hmmm. Considering that the drops/near drops occurred randomly during flats, ascends and descends, over 6 hours, the NP data is likely spot on.
Can we agree that I'd have spent way, way, waaaaayyyy less time under 10mph? Yes. Would the course have found a way to keep the average mph about where it was anyway? Mmm... maybe.
So, yeah. After four drops and less-than-planned fueling, I could have tapped out at Personal Needs without shame. In fact, I should have.
This was definitely another missed opportunity to tap out. To much walky walky. Felt everything slipping away.
One small victory: I did get a chance to give some salt to a racer-bro who was cramping terribly just beyond T2. Always help when I can.
aka: an hour struggling to walk/run for an 11:33/mile pace
The only value I can imagine in crafting and publishing this race report is the examination of why I quit this race.
The Keep Going chatter went kinda like this...
I had a great swim. The bike time was terrible but the course was beautiful. Not unlike many IRONMAN bike courses. I'd managed my power and knew I'd be dealing with a hilly course...even if I walk the marathon, I'll finish. The sun is out. What else do you have to do today? What if this terrible pain in my legs goes away? I might be okay... any... minute... now... give it another aid station...Have some Coke, that'll make it better. Have some more. Have a gel. Have another.
You won't get that over-the-top-pimp-throne medal.
What will your wife and kids say? What will the athletes you train say? What will the coaches you no longer work with think?
The Tap Out chatter went kinda like this...
Dropped chain. Shoulda quit when the bike mechanical problems kept popping up. Not enough resistance training. Long plane ride. Dropped chain. Inconsistent and/or inaccurate information from race organizers. Forgot nutrition. Crap shuttles. Rainy morning wait and subsequent rainy walk. Dropped chain. Nutrition. Dropped chain. Dropped chain. Why is that guy yelling? Oh, he's on his second dropped chain and doesn't know which dropped chain to follow.
You won't get that over-the-top-pimp-throne medal.
...there's a medical tent... right there...
Honestly, during the course of that hour-long slog, it was impossible to objectively assess facts without feeling stupid, ashamed, wasteful. A shitty loser on a lonely road thinking, "look at all these people passing me," and "everybody that finishes is better than me."
I wish I could say the clouds parted to reveal a Holy Grail filled with heavenly inspiration and the sun poured out a magic elixir that lifted me onto marshmallows and rose pedals that floated me through the remaining 20+ miles.
The objective truth is much less dramatic. The truth is much simpler.
Bad days happen.
Most of the weeping and gnashing of teeth is due to off-the-charts stress hormones (cortisol, adrenaline, norepinephrine, glucagon, etc.) boiling over after 7+ hours of being ignored. Much of the mess was my own fault and most of it was truly out of my control.
Bad days just happen.
I still haven’t yet done my best race. I haven’t yet DONE MY BEST. But there was a certain maturity and wisdom to tapping out. No improvements would have come from continuing to fight on that day.
OVERALL RACE GRADE:
F as in DNF
OVERALL EXPERIENCE GRADE: C-
Lake Placid is absolutely stunning. The Keene Descent alone is worth the price of registration though not quite worth the two day round trip and connecting flights from Phoenix. Not when Lower Lake Mary, Mount Lemmon and Saint George and the Grand Canyon are all within a day's drive.
See you in November, Tempe. Home field advantage. Heck, home bed advantage.
WITH GRATITUDE FOR…
Maximum gratitude for my lovely wife Susan and my wonderful kids, Peter and Veronica for their support. Susan, you are my salvation.
I’m grateful to have the expert professionals Coach Robbie and Mike at C26 and before them, Coach Keith and Coach Sharone and the entire Well-Fit staff and athletes who generously share their wisdom.
Enormous gratitude to Moxie Multisport and special thanks to Blake and Corbin.
I’m very grateful to my inspiring and impressive housemates in Lake Placid.
I’m grateful to anybody willing to excuse my terrible smell, deplorable language and barbaric sounds during training and racing.
Thank you to all the on-course maniacs cheering and making signs and wearing all sorts of crazy outfits to show love and support. For strangers exercising.
I’m grateful that I’m able to race triathlons. I’m grateful to you for reading.