Missed part 1? Read it here!
The day has dawned and a few thousand Ironman hopefuls are crammed in to the swim start area. All I can see in every direction are wetsuits, swim caps, and anxious/excited faces hidden behind goggles. Mike Reilly, the voice of Ironman, pauses for a moment, and then
The third and final cannon sounds. The age grouper race is starting.
Check out this great video of the swim start here. I can’t seem to get it to start at the beginning, but you can scroll back. The age grouper cannon goes off around 5 minutes in.
After the cannon fired, we continued to stand there for a bit. Then the mass of people started slowly shuffling forward. We inched closer and closer to the starting arch, and after a few minutes, I could see the timing mat and the water was in front of me. From my quick glance at the clock on the building nearby, it was 6:42am. That meant I would have until 11:42pm to finish. Very important mental note.
I stepped over the timing mat and into the water. I could see the wide line of swimmers stretching out in front of me, and there were still a ton left standing behind me. It was a big group. A few steps into the water and it was time to swim.
This swim was BRUTAL. Absolutely brutal. Worst I’ve ever had in terms of contact. Right from the start, there were people crammed in around me. I kept getting grabbed, smacked, banged into – you name it. At one point I got kicked in the chest. There was just NO open space to be had.
Now, in hindsight, 1:20 is a very common swim time, and it would probably have been better to seed myself further back where there were less people. I would take swimming past someone who was slower than me over dealing with this crap any day.
The swim course goes straight out from the beach – 9 buoys down, and 9 buoys back – then rinse and repeat. Before I even got halfway out to the turnaround on the very first lap, I wanted to quit. I had had enough of this contact bullshit, and my nerves were shot. It’s very stressful being in the water with a ton of people who want to pull you under and swim over the top of you. My automatic defense mechanism is whenever I feel someone grabbing my legs, I kick – HARD. Sometimes it was just a little accidental brush of a hand. No big deal. Other times it was a straight up GRAB on your leg. That’s the start of someone trying to pull you under. That’s when I start kicking like a crazy person. If someone grabs my leg, and I kick them in the face, maybe they shouldn’t have grabbed me and tried to pull me under. Assholes. Swim around me. There’s space.
Clearly, I have no patience for this bullshit. At one point, I pulled my head out of the water and yelled “GET THE F&*$ OFF OF ME!!!” to some jerk who wouldn’t stop. They stopped after that, so I win.
Initially, I tried to stay close to the buoys, which was part of the contact issue. Everyone else was trying to stay close to them too. Many people like to do this for Lake Placid because there’s a bright yellow cable that runs the whole length of the swim buoys (it’s what they’re anchored to), and it’s easy to see. If you can get on the cable, you have absolutely no need to sight. You KNOW you’re going perfectly straight down the buoy line. One thing about this that I found highly amusing was that you could tell who was doing this (not looking up out of the water at all), because every time they got to a buoy, they swam straight into it. It cracked me up every time.
Eventually, I swung a bit wide and got away from the cable line, and some of the jerks. Things started to open up a bit, but it didn’t last long. I would have a few minutes of calm where I would get in a zone, and then all of a sudden it was like a swarm of douchenozzles coming to pull me under again. I couldn’t understand it. It happened for the ENTIRE swim.
After 22 minutes or so, we made the turn to head back in toward the beach. By now, it had started to rain. It was barely noticeable if you were swimming, but I felt bad for all the spectators. As I got closer to the shore, I started to hear snippets of crowds cheering, music blaring, and the ever-present Mike Reilly. It was a weird mixture of silence/bubbles/water and then one second of horns blaring and “YAY!!! ANNNND HERE’S SO AND SO!” and then back to silence and bubbles.
43 minutes after entering the water, I made it back in to the beach. I stumbled out of the water (I’m always a little disoriented and off balance coming out of the water), ran across the timing mat, and went back under the arch to start lap #2. As I was on the beach, I heard Mike Reilly announce the first female pro coming out of the water. It’s amazing to think that she did two laps in a just a hair more than the time I did one.
Before starting lap #2, I paused for a second to gather myself. All throughout the first lap of the swim, I had thought about getting back to shore and packing it in. I had had enough of all the contact, and really didn’t want to do another lap. But I told myself I had to at least start it. So I dove back in.
The second loop was slightly better than the first. There was still just as much contact, but at least this time I knew I was done swimming after this. I was so angry and worked up that I had gotten to the point where if someone grabbed me, I would just SHOVE them away from me as hard as I possibly could.
Lap #2 went much the same as the first. Lots of contact and shoving, lots of frustration, and a few moments where I found my groove. Eventually, I was coming in to shore for the second time. It seemed like a lot of people were coming in around me, and it was a mob scene in the last couple yards to get to the beach. There was a lot of grabbing and banging into people, and I was just happy to eventually put my feet on the bottom and find solid ground.
I came out of the water 1:31:57 after entering it for the first time. My overall swim time was a few minutes slower than I had hoped for, but considering I had barely swam in my training, and the physicality of the swim, I was happy with my time.
T1 (Swim to Bike)
I crossed the timing mat and unzipped my wetsuit. The first wetsuit stripper was free, so I went up to him. We struggled for a few seconds to get my arms out, but he worked his magic quick enough, and then it was time to jog to the oval and get on the bike.
Running right after coming out of the water is always tough for me. I’m always dizzy and lightheaded and it takes a couple minutes for me to get my land legs back. Running through the chute to the oval was a really neat experience because it was just so jam PACKED with cheering spectators. You really feel like some big shot running through it – even little nobody me. I tried to keep my eye out for my support crew, and I did manage to catch them on the way down the hill into the transition area. I yelled out a feeble “yay! I didn’t drown!” and kept on going.
I entered the oval and was directed through the gear bag racks. I grabbed my T1 bag, and went into the changing tent.
The changing tent was packed! I was still reasonably in with the crowd, so that was exciting. I managed to work my way around the outside of the tent and found an empty chair, where I promptly dumped my stuff. Volunteers were everywhere, ready to help with whatever you needed. They were awesome. Boobs and butts were flying in their faces everywhere, and they didn’t bat an eye. I stripped down, toweled off, put on my bike gear, and chugged some water. Then it was time to throw everything into my bag, which I handed off to one of the excellent volunteers (they return it to your rack for you).
I ran out of the changing tent and down the row of bikes. There were still a decent amount of bikes left on the racks – not a ton, but more than I’m used to seeing. Volunteers were waiting in each row, with others yelling upcoming bib numbers over a megaphone. When a number was called, a volunteer would run down their rack, grab the bike, and have it ready and waiting when that athlete got to them. It was quite the efficient machine.
I grabbed my bike from my volunteer, and rolled out of transition with quite a crowd. You’re not allowed to mount your bike until you get past the mount line, which is marked on the pavement outside of the transition area (this prevents people from riding in the crowded transition area and causing accidents). A whole mess of us got backed up for a few seconds waiting for those ahead of us to mount their bikes and be on their way. But it didn’t take too long. I crossed the timing mat exiting the transition area, and mounted my bike, ready to see what would happen next.
Transition time = 12:42 (slow, but this also includes a 1/4 mile run from the beach to the oval)
To be continued…