Ironman Lake Placid Race Report
Race Date: July 25, 2021
I woke up at 4:00 on race morning to the sound of pouring rain and pounding in my ears. Resting heartrate: 111. Nice to see that in the right circumstances, I can reach my fat burning zone without getting out of bed.
I put on my race gear and my dad’s dog tags. I carry my dad with me for every long‐distance event. I made my usual pre‐race breakfast of oatmeal, peanut butter and banana and swore as I mixed it that after the past seven months of training, I never wanted to eat another banana for the rest of my life.
Went to transition to prep my gear but it was CHUCKING down rain. All my gear had been out since the
night before. It was in ziplock bags inside of garbage bags inside of IM gear bags. I decided not to open any of the bags. The rain was supposed to stop and I figured it was better to be a little slower in transition and have dry gear. I topped up my tires, apologized to Eloise for the fact that she was sodden, and headed back to the house to wait for the swim start.
I nibbled on (read: choked down) an oatmeal bar and sipped on some water as we made our way to the swim start. I was cold so I put on warming cream and wrapped up in a NYC Marathon cape. I love that cape. Oh, so cozy.
I found my coach (total lie – I was walking through the crowd in a mildly panicked daze and he literally grabbed me by the arm) and hung with him until it was time to go into the water. It was a self‐seeded, rolling start, and I expected to swim an hour and fifty minutes or so, so I seeded myself near the back.
The start was more chaotic than I expected. Lots of kicking and flailing. There were people doing the breaststroke and the backstroke right from the start. Rich Barkan has been working on the swim with me, so I tried to be calm and to remember what he told me about body position in the water and long, smooth strokes. My right goggle was a little leaky but I ignored it.
Between the first and second (I think) buoy, somebody kicked me wicked hard in the right eye. My whole head rang and I saw stars. I gasped and promptly sucked in a lungful of water. Panic hit fast and I started a swim move some have heard me refer to as “climbing the ladder to Jesus”. You can picture what I mean.
I pulled out of the course started trying to float on my back. Then I flipped over to tread water. I alternated floating and treading while I tried to get a grip. I really thought the day was over. This was going to be the world’s shortest Ironman.
Then I remembered Andrea German Kay telling me about a rough swim start she had a few years back. I thought about my dad. I thought about all the training I’ve done. I have no idea how long I was on the side of the course before I decided, no, this was not the end. Arty Oberle didn’t raise a quitter. I didn’t have to swim the whole course, but I had to swim to the next buoy. Maybe I’d calm down... or maybe I’d drown... but to be honest, it’s really hard to drown in a wetsuit. All that neoprene makes you bob like a cork. Just in case you were wondering.
I started swimming – doggie paddle – and then started to put my face in the water. I realized that the kick had pretty much fused my right goggle to my eye socket, so the leak was gone. Yay for little blessings.
I made it to the next buoy and decided to go for one more. Then one more. I played the “just one more” game for a while, and then I decided, “okay, we’re in it for the long haul.”
That’s when my right calf cramped. I’ve never had a leg cramp. I had a moment of pure panic (again) and then I got really annoyed at myself. Like SUPER over it.
I can’t kick. So what. My kick probably slows me down anyway. Rich taught me about streamline position in the water, so I just tucked the crampy leg in against the other leg and focused on my pull. I kept that focus all the way to the swim exit.
Leaving the water, I hit the lap button on my watch and headed for Transition. It’s really confusing when you come out of the water. You’re discombobulated by the shift from horizontal to vertical.
There are lots of people and lots of noise and if you’re like me and you need distance glasses *and* readers, you’re pretty much fumbling blind.
Jeff must have yelled for me, because that’s the only way I would have seen him. When I did, I squealed like a pig caught in a barn door and BOLTED to him. This meant running the opposite direction from transition. I really didn’t give a damn.
After I’d given him a hug that probably bordered on an assault, he peeled me off of him and sent me back toward transition. Then I heard my name... LOUD. I froze. Looked at the crowd. Squinted. There! It was my MBTT family – with a megaphone. That explains the LOUD part. There was a barricade and I was afraid to cross it, so I blew them a kiss and headed up to transition.
The walk to transition was LOOOOONG. I saw Celeste Gandolfo as I got there, which was awesome, and I jumped on her and gave her a huge hug before I realized I was still SODDEN from the swim and now she was probably sodden as well. Sorry, Celeste.
We had to run the perimeter of transition to get in and while I was doing that, I suddenly had a flash of the numbers on my watch when I came out of the swim. I hadn’t gotten a good look at it (because I can’t wear my reading glasses while I swim) but I thought I’d seen 23 minutes. Knowing I can’t swim a 1:23 total time, I realized what it meant. I’d done a 2:23 swim.
The swim cut off is 2:20. I’d missed the cutoff. I was a DNF.
I slowed my pace as I came into the bike racks.
I expected someone to approach me for my chip, but nobody did.
I walked over to my bike and sat down. Defeat washed over me. I must have been treading water for a really long time, I figured. I looked at all my stuff, still tightly sealed against the morning rain. I looked at the other racers heading out on their bikes. I felt sorry for myself.
Then I got annoyed.
Then I got a little bit determined.
I’d done so much work. I’d sacrificed a lot to get to this day. I wanted to ride the course one last time.
Eff it, I said. Arty Oberle didn’t raise a quitter.
I got up and grabbed my poncho. If I was going to ride the course as a DNF, I might as well be
comfortable. I pulled on the poncho, stripped down beneath it (thank you, Catholic high school days – you taught me the changing skills I needed in T1) and got completely dry. Then I got into dry bike gear. I unwrapped Eloise and promptly dumped the water that was pooled on her seat onto my nice, dry bike shoes.
I started digging through my bags for my nutrition. The downside to leaving everything wrapped up was that I had to sort it all on the fly. My gear turned into a jumbled mess as I tried to pull my stuff together.
I couldn’t’ find my peanut butter and banana sandwich, which I planned to eat at Mile 35. I started getting frantic. If I didn’t get out of T1, somebody WOULD come for my chip. Found the sandwich.
Stuffed it in my jersey. Found my bike box baggie and stuffed it in. Gloves, shoes, helmet on. Grabbed my girl and headed out of T1.
The bike course out of the town of Lake Placid is full of climbs for the first 8 miles or so. There are only a few descents. It was on the second descent that I realized the tube to my lower speedfill was missing. It is wound through my handlebars so it’s easy to access, but when I leaned down to drink from it, it was not there. What the...? I was totally confused. Looked down and saw a tube attached to the bottle, so it had to be somewhere. I’m on a bicycle, not in a house. There aren’t that many places to lose something. So where the hell was it? Still descending at speed, I followed the tube with my eyes. Up from the bottle... along the stem... down the fork and
OH MY GOD IT’S WOUND IN MY FRONT WHEEL
I’M GONNA DIE.
Jesus. Mary. And. Joseph.
My brain: Don’t panic.
The rest of me: That ship has sailed.
My brain: Right. Okay then. Let’s stop the bike so we can panic in a safe space.
I pulled off the course at the bottom of the hill. Got off the bike. Laid her down and took stock. The tube was hopelessly entangled in the fork and the wheelhub. How I didn’t go over the handlebars, I don’t know. I breathed a prayer of thanks to my dad as I pulled the front of the bike apart and started untangling the tube.
Then I reassembled the front of the bike.
Then I inspected the tubing. It was kind of mangled but overall, functional. I rethreaded it and double secured it with a ziptie.
Back on the bike and now I had to get going from a dead stop.
A W E S O M E
I got back into a rhythm and fell into thinking about the swim. I couldn’t believe I was so slow. I didn’t notice the race photographer, who caught me looking... bummed. Not my finest race picture, that’s for sure.
Then I had to pay attention because it was time for the plummet to Keene. I rode the Keene descent (top speed: 44 MPH) and saw a gnarly crash on the way down. The cops had the race lane closed and we were diverted to the other side over the rumble strip. I was pretty sure I was going to be a smear on the asphalt, but I made it. I said a prayer for the racers who crashed (there were two ambulances and the scene was scary) and talked to Eloise the whole way down. I basically told her, “you’re in charge. You hold onto the road. I’m just gonna steer.” I think she thought that was best for both of us.
Got to the bottom (YAY!) and made the left to head toward Jay. Excellent. Time to relax for a bit and grab my cookie from the bike box on the top tube. Opened the box. Reached inside. Pulled out... a
tampon and breath mints.
I have no clue what I was thinking when I grabbed my stuff in T1, but somehow I’d put my food in my flatkit box, which is sealed and not reachable while I’m moving, and put my *ahem* personal needs items *ahem* into the top tube bag.
My brain: Don’t panic.
The rest of me: DO YOU THINK WE ARE GOING TO DO THIS RACE BY EATING A TAMPON AND SOME
MINTS BECAUSE TRUST ME WE ARE NOT AND THAT MEANS WE ARE PANICKING.
My brain. Fair point. Let’s see what else we have within reach.
I dug around in all of my pockets and in my sports top and came up with a bunch of chews, a gu and a backup cookie. That plus the nutrition on the course should get me through. Crisis averted.
Somewhere around Mile 25, I started to feel the weight of my head on my neck and shoulders. I realized it must have been the swim. I’ve never gone that distance just by pulling.
Nothing to be done for it, but ugh.
At Mile 35 I pulled out my peanut butter and banana sandwich. I was so looking forward to it.
Unwrapped it and... what the heck? Eggs? Wrong sandwich.
My brain: Don’t panic.
The rest of me: This is getting old.
My brain. Fair point.
You really need the potassium and the salt in the sandwich. Take a banana from one of the aid stations, and take some salt, and you’ll be able to approximate the same nutrition as your plan.
Which is what I did, except it’s difficult to peel a banana while riding a bicycle. I ended up gnawing one end off with my teeth. When the banana was done, I had nowhere to put the peel. I didn’t want to drop it, because it’s dangerous for the other cyclists and it’s also against the rules. With no other options, I stuffed it in the cables in my cockpit and it rode along, flapping merrily, as I continued my ride.
Each time I leaned down to drink from my front torpedo or my speedfill tube, the peel smacked me in the face.
A lot of people warned me to be conservative on the first loop. “Ride like you’re with your grandma,” I heard over and over again. My grandmothers are dead, so they ride really slow. I did the same. At the top of the biggest hill (Papa Bear) I saw Harry Weinblatt. It being that I don’t wear my glasses when I ride (I don’t wanna hear it), I didn’t realize the rest of the Ohaha team was there too. I just saw Harry and that made me happy enough.
I finally hit the last hill on the first loop – it’s short but wicked steep ‐ and as I did, I heard a woman mutter, “this hill is BULLSH*T.” I laughed and then realized I knew the voice ‐ it was my friend Ashlyn from training camp. That was perfect. Every hill for the rest of the race, I heard Ashlyn in my head saying, “this hill is bullsh*t.”
I came through personal needs, reapplied sunscreen and tri slide and swapped out my food. Finally got my PB and banana sandwich. Also grabbed the special treat I had planted for myself – a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich and an iced coffee. I chatted with other racers and the volunteers, including a now blue‐wig‐wearing Celeste, and then headed back out on the course. One of the racers, seeing my sandwich and coffee, asked if I’d swung through Starbucks and if I’d gotten enough for everyone.
The second loop was mercifully uneventful and is best described by my attempts to stay on my nutrition plan. The conversation went like this:
My brain: Eat the cookie.
The rest of me: I don’t WANT the cookie.
My brain: Eat the chew.
The rest of me: I NO WANT DA CHEW.
Over and over again. Each time, I had to talk myself into it, but each time, I ate the cookie and the chew. The loop was pretty much crash free. One girl had a slow‐speed fall on a turnaround and I stopped to see if she needed help, but she was okay. I felt good all the way through the loop, even as the wind stood up in my face and the Notch loomed. I was passing people as I rode to and past Whiteface and up the bears. People were off the side of the course. Some were throwing up. Some were on the ground. Two needed rides to town. I sent help back to the riders who needed it and I kept pedaling and before I knew it, I was back at the original, “this hill is bullsh*t” hill and then I was done. I felt pretty good. The
conservative approach had paid off.
I swung into T2 prepared to face the music. NOW they would take my chip and that was okay. I was tired. I asked if I was DSQ for the swim. Got a blank stare. Then a head tilt. Then I learned I’d had a personal best swim by 35 minutes. I’d done the swim in ONE HOUR and twenty‐three minutes ‐ not two hours and twenty‐three minutes.
I was elated until I realized that meant I had to do the marathon and in truth, I was kind of ready to be done.
I racked Eloise and gave her a kiss. Good girl, Eloise. You get a bath and a nice clean chain when this is done. I changed gear (back under the poncho) and had to take the time to put on calf sleeves – I’d forgotten them in the morning. I’ve literally never done that in my life.
Then I headed out on the marathon.
Credit to my racewalking coach, Coach Carmen of Reshod, for teaching me to racewalk (I call it my wog because it’s like a walk/ jog) in a sustainable manner and for doing it in about 5 weeks. Racewalking is tougher than it looks – you really have to focus on form and on rolling the hips. Carmen analyzed video of my stride and had me doing drills going into the race. When it’s done right, a proper racewalk is so fast, it looks like a jog but the shoulders stay level and there is no up/down movement. I racewalked all but about 0.10 of that course and then I jogged the finish chute. The one time I jogged on purpose, it was because I had stopped to speak with someone and the person I was pacing had gotten ahead of me.
I jogged to catch back up. Of course, I got spotted by JoJo Bennett, who yelled at me not to run. She was right and I begged her not to tell on me as I caught my partner up and dropped back into my wog.
I was tired by the time the second half of the marathon rolled around. I’d stopped at Personal Needs and reapplied tri slide. I’d also sprayed myself with bug spray and grabbed my headlamp and my eyeglasses. It was getting dark on the course. I wondered if I had the last 13 miles in me. Then I told myself I was 127 miles into a 140 mile adventure. Did I want to stop at 127? Hell no. I most assuredly did not. I wogged on.
I saw lots of people I knew on the course, including Andrea Adams, who got directed off course and added 4 miles to her IM, Elizabeth Hornak, Rich Barkin and Eugene Davoli. It was fantastic to see them. I kept reminding myself that I just had to keep moving forward. I didn’t need to be fast – just fast enough. Someone asked me what kind of “non‐traditional run” I was doing. I explained the wog. “Your wog is relentless,” he said. I liked the sound of that so I clung to it. I’m relentless. I’m going to be an Ironman because my wog is relentless and so am I. Right foot left foot repeat. One more step. One more mile. Stop at the aid station. Drink the water. Drink the coke. Eat the potato chips. Sip the chicken broth. Right foot left foot repeat. And on and on. At mile 24 I paused and contemplated my cracked leg. “What’s it gonna be, punk?” I asked. “Are you in or are you out?”
The leg was in. We wogged on, my cracked leg and me, as the darkness fell and the air cooled and then the sound of the finish floated out over the roadway. It reeled me in.
The IMLP finish approach is one of the crueler finish approaches out there. You go up a steep hill, make a left turn and keep climbing. I made the turn and was so happy I was wearing my glasses. There, next to the finish chute, was the Olympic flame. The chute itself is brightly lit and so very loud. It’s overwhelming. I thought I would be able to see my friends on the sides but I couldn’t see anything but the lights of the finish. I pulled my dad’s dog tags over my head, looked around, said “eff it,” and broke into a jog. I jogged the red carpet and as I crossed that finish, I said a prayer of thanks, kissed my dad’s
dog tags and spiked them high over my head.
We did it, Dad. We are an Ironman.