Friday, November 13, 2009

Ironman USA, Lake Placid, 2008

I'm working on my write up of the Manchester City Marathon from 1 1/2 weeks ago, but thought I'd share another race story that until now hadn't been shared except with a few friends and family members.
Some of you may have seen the results and a few of you have heard some of the details, but here is the full length account of Ironman Sunday.
We got up 5am Sunday morning had a quick breakfast, grabbed our special needs bags (1 bag for each the bike and run that we can get midway through each leg that we can put whatever we think we may need during the race, usually food, sometimes extra clothes, tubes, etc) and our swim gear, went down to the motel parking lot, got on the shuttle bus and headed for the start line.
As soon as we got off the bus we walked to the area where we dropped off our special needs bags, then headed to the transition area. In transition we pumped up the bike tires to proper levels, slathered on the body glide to help w/ wetsuit removal and prevent chaffing, made a quick visit to the good old porta-pots and then put on the bottom half of the wetsuits. The sun was up and peaking through the partly cloudy sky which made me glad I’d decided to put the polarized lenses on my sunglasses for the bike ride and we walked out of transition and headed to the swim start.
Once we got to the beach we put on the top portion of the wet suit, zipped up and entered the water to await the start. The morning was cool, the sun was shinning and it looked like a great day for the race. Floated around for a while waiting for the actual start w/ the prerace jitters churning up the stomach. Fortunately we didn’t have long to wait before the gun went off and Mirror lake became a churning frenzy of human bodies all scrambling away from the start turning the calm waters to a boiling froth that resembled a B-movie piranha attack and off we went. I started as close to the far shore as I could and away from the roped line where the majority were swimming in an effort to avoid being pummeled to death before I even completed a single lap.
I got off to a good start with minimal bumps, thumps, kicks, punches etc and got a fairly clear area to swim in. I swam strong to the first turn where things got congested a bit going around the two turns (the swim course was a very long narrow rectangle, a little over a ½ mile long and no more than 20yards wide that we swam around with the last corner hitting the beach where we exited the water briefly and ran back to the reentry point) and then I somehow managed to find another clear pocket of water to swim the rest of the way in to the beach in. I got to the beach and exited the water to complete the first of the two swim laps and saw the time on the clock at 46 minutes. I quickly ran to the across the timing mat to the swim reentry point dodging around other racers, the majority of which were walking, as I went.
When I got back to the water I quickly ran in dodging more of the other racers until I found an opening big enough to dive in and start swimming again. I quickly found an open area to swim in right along the underwater cable connecting the swim buoys which made things very easy. Normally in an open water swim you periodically have to look up (sight) to see where you are going since you don’t have the nice line to follow like you do in a pool, but Mirror lake has a cable system set up for a kayak course that the Ironman attaches their buoys to. Everyone likes swimming along the cable because they don’t have to sight during the swim, which is why I started way to the outside to avoid being pummeled by the masses, but for some reason I get lucky and find a gap to safely swim in for the second lap. Shortly into the lap I notice that I’m getting splashed quite heavily which is odd since I don’t detect anyone near me. I swim for maybe 100 yards puzzling this out and trying to figure out if my swim was really my slowest swim ever by 6 minutes for the first lap or whether the clock showed the time for the pro’s which started 10 minutes before the rest of us. After a couple minutes I sighted to see how far I had to the turn and realized I couldn’t see very far. It took a moment to realize that I hadn’t been getting splashed it was now pouring rain. No big deal for the swim, but I quickly dreaded what I might be facing on the bike. The rest of the swim went well and as I exited the water I saw the time on the clock as 1:15 and I received a quick adrenaline boost as I realized the time after the first lap was in fact incorrect and instead of swimming exceptionally slow compared to what I’ve done in the past I had actually set a new swim PR for myself.
Surging out the water with this rush of adrenaline I quickly peeled off the top part of my wetsuit as I ran to the strippers (not the kind I needed a bunch of $1’s for, but volunteers who help the athletes pull off their wetsuits). They rapidly stripped me down and off I went running for transition with a big smile on my face from my PR and splashing through the puddles that were rapidly growing from the rain accumulating on the ground. Volunteers quickly helped me find my swim-to-bike transition bag (transition bags and bikes were put in the transition area the day before) and I dashed into the changing tent. Unfortunately, even though it was my fastest swim ever, I was still clumped in with the majority of the athletes and so the changing tent was very crowded. It took me a while to find a spot with enough room to change, but I finally did and proceeded to change from my swim suit to my bike gear. Volunteers were helping as best they could but even if one were available I still can’t bring myself to let a man help me get undressed and dressed so I struggled through it on my own. I say struggle, because if you’re not familiar with the clothing, spandex and cycling clothes don’t come off or go on very easily when you’re wet. I finally get dressed and then realize that with the pouring rain I need to change the lenses on my sunglasses. I won’t be able to see anything with the polarized lenses so I lose some more time changing them to my yellow lenses. Finally I exit the changing tent and run off to get my bike.
By this time enough rain has fallen and with several hundred athletes already having run in and out of the transition area the ground is a muddy mess. I get to my bike as fast as I can, but shoes are fully mud caked by the time I leave the transition that I lose more time stomping my feet on the ground once I reach pavement in an attempt to dislodge the mud from my cleats so that I can fasten them onto my peddles. As soon as the mud is cleaned away I’m on my bike and headed out on to the road. There are several short, steep down hills and a number of sharp turns so everyone is riding very slowly and cautiously out of town.
Once we are out of the town the road straightens out and I start picking up speed. It’s still pouring rain so I still need to be somewhat cautious but I’m off and rapidly gaining speed. There are several big hills coming out of town that I strongly ride up and slowly move past a number of other riders. I’m getting passed by a few cyclists but passing more than pass me. About 7 miles into the ride there is 6 miles of down hill parts of which are very steep and when dry I’ve reached speeds well over 50 mph on. The majority of the riders are going down them very slowly, but I open things up a bit and ride them between 38-42mph and occasionally get passed by several people even crazier than I that are probably topping 50. Shortly after the downhill we make a turn and I feel a slight pop on the bike and about a mile later I realize something is a bit off w/ my seat. It’s nothing major, but the seat just isn’t quite right.
Anyway, I quickly ride through the first 40 miles of the course averaging over 20mph (official time is slower because it has the time I lost demudding my cleats) and catch my girl friend about 50 miles into the ride. She is having a good ride to this point as well.
At this point everything is going well, I’m sticking to my nutrition schedule, riding comfortably (well, as comfortably as one gets in a pouring rain w/ wet bike shorts and a bike seat shoved up their a$$) and I’m ahead of expected time to this point. Shortly after passing my girl friend I start into the final 5 hills of the lap: little cherry, big cherry, mama bear, baby bear and papa bear. They are not the worst hills on the course, but because it is a tough course and they are at the end, they are tough. I’m quickly over the top of the first 4 and as I’m cresting baby I see papa and I’m quickly puzzled by what I see. The top half of papa bear is covered w/ people and I fear that someone has had an accident and that on a rather steep hill I’m going to be forced to come to a stop to get around them. I charge down baby anyway and start pounding up the base of papa when I realize that the crowd is just fans cheering us on. I reach the first of them a third of the way up the hill and their enthusiasm carries me the rest of the way up. They are loud, they are crazy, they are obnoxious and they are having a blast and give us an incredible boost up the hill. There are people w/ drums, w/ horns, w/ cow bells, and dressed in various costumes. They are running up the hill w/ us, yelling at us, screaming, cheering and just plain going nuts. There are fans all over the course cheering us on, and the volunteers at the aid stations/bottle exchanges are fantastic, but this is insanity at its finest.
I’m quickly over the top of papa and make the turn for the final 2 miles to the special needs station to pick up my nutritional stuff for the second loop. I’m riding faster then expected and my legs are feeling loose, but I’m starting to feel a bit off.
I arrive at special needs, dump my empty bottles, reload the bike and take off. As I take off and start cranking away at the peddles I feel another “pop” and now something is really wrong w/ my seat. I stop and get off the bike grab my bike tool and quickly adjust and tighten the seat and take off again.
As I get back out onto the course for the second time I realize from the way my legs feel that I may have gone too hard on the first lap because they it is starting to become a struggling. I did feel like I was pushing the pace on the first lap, but evidently it was still too much and as each mile progresses I realize I have another problem developing. I’m steadily become sick to my stomach and can no longer eat or drink and even more than a sip of water at one time makes me feel nauseous almost to point of purging my stomach, in addition I’m starting to feel some intestinal cramping which steadily gets worse as the ride progresses. I’m still riding well, but slowly losing some speed and some of the places I picked up on the first lap. I’m still passing people on the hills (up and down) but overall losing ground. About mid-way through the lap I give up and discard all my nutritional supplies since I can’t stomach them there isn’t any reason to carry the extra weight. I’m not sure if my breakfast or my nutritional stuff from the first lap is causing the problems, but intestinal cramps are getting steadily worse. I just hope that I’ve taken in enough calories and fluids to get me through.
With about 25 miles left on the bike I feel another “pop” and just miss wiping out as I suddenly slide off the back of my bike seat and just barely manage to keep from landing on my rear wheel. The front of the seat is now pointing almost straight up and even though I managed to stay on the bike I have to pull over again. I quickly readjust the seat and tighten it so hard I’m afraid I’m going to either break the tool or the seat post. I get back on and take off again. The seat is still not right, but not bad enough that I’m willing to stop and try and make another adjustment. At this point I’m steadily getting more and more discouraged. I don’t think the stomach and intestinal issues, as uncomfortable as they are, are slowing me down, but the drop in pace, the weather and problems w/ the seat are starting to get to me.
Finally I reach the base of little cherry and I start digging in for the final stretch in an attempt to save as much time as possible. I charge over the first four hills and as I top baby bear again the sight of the crowd that is still cheering everyone on despite the weather on papa gives me a surge of adrenaline and I charge down baby and up and over papa and carry my momentum the last couple miles back to the transition area.
I quickly jump off my bike and pass it on to a volunteer who puts it away for me, grab my transition bag that another volunteer hands me and head to the changing tent again. It is still chaos in the tent, but things have thinned a bit and I’m able to find an area a little quicker to change. As I start changing the intestinal cramps worsen and I realize I’ve got another issue to deal w/. So I finish changing as quickly as I can but unfortunately in my rush I forget to change my shorts and have to take my shoes and socks (for some reason I’m trying to keep them dry) and change shorts and then put my shoes and socks back on. A volunteer comes over and takes my bike stuff and puts it in the transition bag for me and I run out of the tent and ask directions to the nearest porta-pot only to find out I have a choice of fighting my way back through the changing tent or waiting until I’m 1 ½ miles into the run. Another cramp makes the decision for me and back through the tent I go.
Business taken care of I plunge back into the tent, charge out of it and out onto the run course. First mile goes by at a quick 7:30 pace which I hold until mile 4, with about a 10 yard walk at each aid station to try and force in a little water. Shortly after the mile mark I’m sent scurrying for another porta-pot and my 7:30 average now becomes an 8. Fortunately my stomach starts settling and I’m starting to get more and more fluid at each aid station. Still walking about 10 yards at each one so that I can drink as more than I’d be typically able to do if I ran through them and I am now able to start eating some gel (a carbohydrate packet). Still maintaining even with the short walks about an 8-8:15 pace. There are two big hills on the run at towards the end of each lap and I fight my way up each of them passing people as I go, many of whom are walking them. Finally I reach the special needs area for the run and I grab a few more gel packs from my bag and keep going. They have gels and other food on the course, but I prefer my gel packs which have carbs, protein and caffeine and theirs are just carbs.
Shortly after starting the second loop I suffer a now all too familiar sensation and start my search for my smelly, plastic buddy. Pass several occupied and/or unusable ones before finally finding one. Other than the pit stops and the realization that I have huge blisters on both arches the run is going well. My pace has slowed some, but I’m still running under 9 minute miles even though my elapsed time shows differently. About 17 miles through the run I have to stop briefly and stretch the ham strings, start running again, only to give it up and walk the next 100 yards where I stop and stretch the hamstrings again and give the quads a quick stretch and then set off at a run again. A mile later I’m on another search and make one last quick visit to the plastic pit.
As I take off again I find I’m still running at a sub 9 pace and as I hit the first of the two hills in the closing miles I run strongly up it and start pushing the pace. I walk only a couple yards at the next couple aid stations and finally reach the last climb and charge up it. This hill, like papa bear, has been lined with cheering and enthusiastic fans all day and they give me another adrenaline boost that pulls me up the hill and around the corner where I can now hear the fans at the finish line, which even though it is a short distance away, is still almost 3 miles off for me. At this point the distance becomes unimportant as even more adrenalin is released by the roar of the crowds and the realization that I’m almost there. I steadily keep picking up the pace and don’t even pause at the next two aid stations. The run from the mile 24 to 25 mile marker only takes me 8:05 to run and I keep picking up the pace. I start to feel a familiar twinge and ignore. The fans along to road are going nuts for everyone that goes by, I start slapping every hand that is stuck out for me, my smile keeps getting bigger and bigger and before I know it I’m entering the Olympic speed skating oval and have less than 100 meters to go. As I come around the final turn, I see that I’m coming in just over 12 hours. I know the crowd is going nuts and the announcer is saying “Douglas Sawyer you are an Ironman!” but I don’t hear a thing. The adrenaline, the emotions, the pain, the fatigue and everything else just overwhelms my senses and all I notice is the finish line and the young ladies scrambling to put up the finish tape for me to run through and then I’m across the line and into the arms of a volunteer who helps me through the finish area where other volunteers quickly put my finishers medal on me, then my finishers hat, give me my finishers t-shirt and take my timing chip off for me and then w/ a final check to make sure I’m ok points me off in the direction of the food tent which I temporarily bypass for a less pleasant but often frequented destination.
Oh, and one last thing, it was still raining!
And that’s the rest of the story…
Thanks for all the well wishes and congratulations!
As for post race, I stuck around in the rain waiting for my girl friend to finish. She had a strong race despite not being able to do much training for the run until June due to some knee problems. We collected our bikes, clothing, etc and walked then (uphill of course) back to the motel, quickly changed and went back to cheer on a friend and to cheer the last finishers in as the race closed at midnight. The fans and volunteers were fantastic and despite the weather were still going crazy at midnight as we cheered to last couple finishers in.
The next day we got up a little stiff, had breakfast and went back to the transition area to look at the finisher merchandise and then drove home. Shortly after getting home I went to watch my softball team’s game and due to short numbers ended up playing and of course the game went into extra innings before we finally lost. I pitched for our team and on offense I struck out once, walked twice, scoring both times and had two deep fly outs that forced me to run to first and round for second before they were caught. So all things considered, I’m doing pretty well.

1 comment:

  1. I read your post with great interest! I'm signed up for Lake Placid 2010 - it will be my first ironman. I really appreciated the details about the course. We were there in 2009 to volunteer, and were on the course - but it's great to hear the perspective of what the course is like in the middle of the race. Thanks! (@maslife)