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Today I did my first run at altitude (aside from the one four miler I did back in May when I was visiting to get my apartment set up). I’ve been in Boulder for a week now, so I figured I would have acclimated at least a bit.
It felt great!
I took the dogs out with me and the three of us did a nice fun 2.25 mile run on the bike path. I didn’t wear a watch, or a garmin. We just ran and enjoyed it. We ran on some dirt trail for a bit (I tripped a lot), the dogs got taunted by some gophers, and went in the creek a couple times, and we had a great time. They did better than I expected too! But they were definitely wiped out by the time we got home. They’ve done nothing but sleep since we walked in the door.
I felt really good on this little run. My legs felt fresh (rested!), and I could breathe just fine. I wanted to run more (I originally typed that as “I wanted to fun more” – I think my subconscious is trying to tell me something!), but the dogs couldn’t handle that – not only because of the altitude, but it’s also hot and dry. So we just stuck with a short one today.
I’ve got some longer runs mapped out that I want to try. Perhaps I can do one tomorrow?
I can see why everyone loves Boulder so much. I miss NY and everybody at home, but I’ve only been here a week and I’m already in love.
I came out of the transition area just elated that I had made the bike cutoff, and with time to spare. The crowds of spectators were thickly lining both sides of the road, and it took me a minute to remember that my name was on my bib. So many people were cheering me on by name and it threw me off for a minute.
Starting the run, my legs actually felt really good. Way better than they had at Beach 2 Battleship in October. I started out on the run course around 4:40 pm. I knew I had until right around 11:40 pm to finish, which gave me just about 7 hours to complete the marathon. That was doable. I felt slightly relieved knowing how much time I had, but I was also feeling good, and didn’t want to cut it close – so I ran my way down the hill and out of town. Somewhere just after coming out of the transition area, I spotted my support crew. I had asked them to be nearby to make sure I made the cutoff, and sure enough, there they were, cheering away.
At this point in the day, most people were on the run course, so the roads were crowded. At this point, most of the people I met were starting out on their second loop and were a whole 13.1 miles ahead of me. It was humbling, but I was just happy to be off the bike, and not pulled from the course. I know I’m slow, I made my peace with it.
For nutrition, I started out with some strawberry Gu chomps – my personal favorite. But at this point in the day, my stomach really can’t take much sugary stuff. It just doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest. So after a few pieces of Gu chomps, I switched to nothing but water and pretzels from the aid stations. The salt was spectacularly delicious, and it was a nice change from all the sugar I had been downing all day.
I made my way down the big hill just outside of T2, out of town, past the ski jumps, and down the other big hill (both of which we had to come back up later – twice). Then it was time to turn left onto River Road for the nice peaceful out-and-back. The scenery was beautiful through here, and I was still feeling really good. I was doing the same run/walk system that I had done at my half iron a few weeks before – walk the uphills and aid stations, and run everything else. At this point, I was pretty surprised with how good I felt. Sure, I was tired, but I wasn’t in any pain. For the first 8 miles or so, my pace seemed to be hovering in or around the 11-12 min/mile range, which I was very happy with. One of my favorite signs at this point of the course was “You win. Andy Potts never did a 17 hour ironman.” (If you are unfamiliar with ironman, Andy Potts has won Ironman Lake Placid two years in a row now.)
I continued on with my run/walk out to the turnaround on River Road, just before mile 9. Coming back, I chatted with a guy near me who had just graduated college, and was in a similar field as me, and was considering moving out to Boulder, Colorado after the race (which I just did – hence the delay in posting this part of the race report). We had a lot in common and ran/walked along together for a few miles. He was very sweet and encouraging and pushed me to run just a little farther, and just a little faster than I would have otherwise, and I really appreciated the company.
On out-and-backs, I’m always keeping my eye out on the other side of the road to see who’s around. I spotted several friends from my tri club, kicking butt and taking names. One of them, Jeff (who raced Lake Placid with a broken collarbone last year), actually lost all his nutrition off his bike early in the day, and ended up having to spend an hour in the med tent getting fixed up. And he was still doing amazing. We exchanged a quick hug and some encouragements, and then ran off in opposite directions. Also at this point, I saw my other favorite sign of the run leg. It said “Prancercise the next 1/4 mile to loosen up.” I especially enjoyed this one because I had just been talking with people about prancercise the day before. I laughed for a long time about that one.
Eventually, my buddy and I parted ways, and then it was time to climb back up the big hill by the ski jumps, and head into town again.
At the top of the big hill, there was a woman at the end of her driveway. She was cheering through a construction cone and was completely awesome. Also, possibly drunk. But damn entertaining.
Past the ski jumps, there was another awesome cheering section that had a table filled with beer. There was another “free beer” sign, and, while I’m sure it would have tasted delicious, I figured now probably wasn’t the best time. Some people were taking them up on it though. Shortly after the free beer, I passed my hotel, where I spotted my support crew again. And they had gained a person! I saw her from waaaaaay down the road. My best friend had planned on coming up for the race, but I really didn’t expect her to make it through all the traffic. From about 500 yards away I screamed “YOU MADE IT!!!!!” and ran for a hug. I was so happy she was there.
Heading back into town, the cheering crowds were everywhere. The other big hill of the run course is just as you’re coming back to swing past the Olympic oval. On this hill, there was a guy with a bullhorn, yelling at people who were walking. I told him I would run up it on the second loop (I may have lied there…). Just at the top of the hill, I finally saw my student who I had been looking for at the top of the Keene Descent earlier in the morning. I gave her a big sweaty hug, and headed on my way.
When I got to the top of the hill, I was right in front of the Olympic oval, which functions as the transition area, and the finish line. The party was raging, and I couldn’t wait to get there. But first, it was time to turn right onto Mirror Lake Drive for the next out-and-back.
Running down Mirror Lake Drive was great. The roads were lined with barricades, and the crowds were jam packed in along them. People were cheering my name everywhere (which I still found weird, but nice). Also in here, I kept bumping into several people from my tri club, most of whom were about to finish their second leg, and the entire thing. I was a bit jealous. But they bust their butts to be that fast. One day, I will too. For now, I’ll keep slogging away at the back of the pack, and having fun doing it!
I ran my way down Mirror Lake Drive, past all the crowds, tents, parties, DJ’s, and the aid station. One mile down the road, I hit the turnaround, and started back towards the oval.
Coming back down Mirror Lake Drive was awesome but hard at the same time – for no other reason than at the end of it, you either go right or left. Right to finish, left to do the loop all over again. And I had to go left.
13.1 miles to go!
I turned left and started out on loop 2. My student was nearby, and jogged along with me for a few minutes to chat, and then headed back to her friends. By now, the amount of people running was significantly less, but I was never alone. I ran out of town, past the ski jumps, down the hill, and turned left to do my second out-and-back on River Road.
The hardest part at this point was that no matter where you were on the course – even all the way out at the end of River Road – you could hear Mike Reilly echoing through the night. It was such a tease! It was starting to get dark, and I was doing obsessive race math to constantly know what was the absolute slowest I had to maintain to finish by the cutoff. At this point, I knew I could walk the rest and be just fine, so I decided to take a little walk break for a couple miles to stretch out my legs and re-energize myself. I walked from somewhere around mile 15 to somewhere around mile 18, and then it was time to go back to my run/walk system again. It was working well for me, and I was still feeling great, which was shocking. The only slightly unpleasant thing was that I knew I had a bit of chafing going on, but it was tolerable, so I just gritted my teeth and tried not to think about getting in the shower later.
By the time I got to the turnaround at the end of River Road, and mile 18.something, it was dark. At some point, someone handed me my glow necklace, which does little to help you see, but they’re still fun. I went around the cone, and started heading back towards the village. There were still several people behind me on the course, and I really wondered if some of them would make the cutoff. I was still worried about making it myself, even though I knew the math all worked out. I was paranoid.
With paranoia as my fuel, I ran as much as I could back down River Road. At one point, I passed a guy. We exchanged our hellos, and I muttered something about running because I was just trying to make sure I would make it in in time. His response was “don’t worry, you can walk and finish at this point.” It was reassuring to hear it from someone else (I never trust mental math at this point in an ironman), but I still wanted to bank as much time as I could. So I kept running.
I got to the end of River Road, and made the right to go up the hill near the ski jumps. Lo and behold, the drunk construction cone lady was STILL THERE. I would bet she hadn’t stopped cheering all day. She was awesome. As I ran past her, I gave her a high five and told her as much.
The free beer table was quiet, but there were still a few cans out. I didn’t take one (I would be drunk off one sip at this point in the day), but there didn’t seem to be many left. Clearly, it was a popular pit stop.
I got back into town, and it was time for the last uphill of the day. I didn’t really have the gas to run it (it’s pretty steep), so I walked – quickly. As soon as I crested the top, it was back to running. The crowds were amazing. The closer it gets to midnight, the crazier the party gets. People were everywhere! I passed the oval, made a right, and headed out for the out-and-back (essentially the victory lap) down Mirror Lake Drive.
Since 6:40am, I had completed 138.4 miles. I had 2.2 miles to go.
I ran down Mirror Lake Drive, got a couple high fives from some kids along the barricade, and exchanged many “congratulations” with others around me. A few minutes later, I reached the turnaround point, and the last 1.1 miles of my day.
I told myself earlier that I HAD to run the entire thing once I hit that turnaround. It was a slow run (11:03/mi pace), but at that point in the day, I felt like I was flying. Congratulations were being cheered back and forth from one runner to another, and everyone was smiling. As I approached the oval and the finish line, I could hear Mike Reilly getting louder and louder.
I reached the end of Mirror Lake Drive, and it was finally my turn to go right and enter the Olympic oval.
The crowds were amazing. The lights were blazing (which can be a bit of a shock when you’ve been out on the dark course for the last few hours), and everyone was cheering. The moment I turned and entered the oval was such an awesome feeling. The curve of the oval was laid out in front of me, just begging me to go around the corner and see the finish.
Entering the oval, I felt awesome. I was running strong, and passed three other people who had also just entered it. We exchanged congratulations, and they told me to go ahead of them. Everyone wants their own moment at the finish line, and they appeared to be waiting until no one else was coming in around them.
On the curve, I saw my support crew. I was so happy to see them.
Then it was the moment I had been working for. I rounded the last curve of the Olympic oval, and there was the finish line. It was a huge sea of people on both sides of the finish chute. Everyone was cheering, music was blaring, and somewhere in there, Mike Reilly said “Sarah, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”
(My friend took a picture of the jumbotron since they couldn’t be right at the finish.)
Run time: 5:54:35 (still slow, but significantly faster than B2B!)
Final time: 16:02:36
As soon as I crossed the finish line, I was met by two catchers, who grabbed me by my elbows, wrapped me in a space blanket, put my medal around my neck, gave me a bottle of water, and steered me toward the table to get a finisher’s shirt and hat. Those ladies were efficient. After getting my medal, shirt, and hat, my one catcher stayed with me (to make sure I didn’t pass out, etc.), made sure I got some food (best watermelon EVER), and got my finishers picture taken. Once I had done all that, and she was sure I wasn’t going to fall down, she headed back to the finish line, and I headed off to find my support crew.
Just beyond the finishers area, I saw my student again. I gave her a big hug, and we chatted for a few minutes until my crew appeared. Then it was time for sweaty hugs all around.
They are the BEST!
They brought me my post-race bag, so I had a chance to change into flip flops and put on warmer clothes. When I sat down to take off my shoes, it felt so nice, I didn’t want to get back up.
They collected my bike and gear bags, and I hobbled slowly for a few blocks to get back to the car. (Come on guys, get it together! The car should be on top of the finish line!) Then it was time to head back to the hotel, shower (ow, ow, OW), and SLEEP!
At this point, I have finished the brutal swim, and am about to mount my bike and see what happens. My biggest worry going into the race was whether or not I would make the second bike cutoff at 5:30pm, so that was really the only thing running through my head at this point. Just get in by 5:30.
I crossed the mount line with a big pack of riders, clipped in, and headed down the first downhill of the bike course. We rode out of the Olympic oval and down the ramp that goes up to the high school. Then it was a few blocks of fairly steep downhill, until you turn onto the main road to begin the ride out of town. So far, I was hanging with the pack much better than I anticipated. My swim had been a bit slower than I had hoped for, but overall, it was still a fairly average time, so there were plenty of people around me.
I had turned my garmin on when I got my bike, but it took a while for it to find satellites (about 3.5 miles or so). The ride out of town and past the ski jumps was pretty uneventful – mostly just a chance to warm up and find my bike legs after swimming for a while. Right after I passed the ski jumps, I flew down a nice little hill, over the bridge, and began the climb up to the top of the Keene Descent.
The climb out of town is a bit rough, but I’ve found it’s been getting easier the more I ride the course. I put my bike in the easiest gear, and just chugged away, one hill at a time. Many people passed me like I was standing still, but I also passed a fair number of people too, so that was nice.
At the first aid station, I had nearly exhausted one of my water bottles, and decided to chuck it and get a new one. At B2B, I got off the bike at each aid station so I could fill my bottles, but this time I didn’t want to go racking up precious minutes that I might need later. So I went for it. Coming into the aid station, they had actual goals for us to throw bottles and trash into (some had giant bullseyes). I chucked my bottle (they’re cheap), made eye contact with a volunteer holding water, slowed a bit, and held out my hand. He jogged along with me for a second while we did the handoff, and then I was on my way. Beautiful!
Nearly to the top of the climb, I passed the house of one of my students. She wasn’t out yet (still asleep – college kids!), but her parents were. We said some quick hellos as I rode past, almost done with the first big climb.
It’s always a great feeling to get to the top of that climb, because you know the Keene Descent is next. I crested the top, switched to a higher gear, and began my first descent into Keene.
Another benefit I’ve gotten from riding the course often is that I feel very comfortable on this descent now. Because of that, I flew down the entire thing, passing tons of people (who – even as I was flying past them – I knew would be passing me again very, very soon). I hit 42 mph at one point – not my fastest ever (49 mph), but a good speed. And I’ll take all the speed I can get on this downhill. I need it to balance out my slowness on the uphills.
Coming off the descent and into the turn at Keene, there was a decent crowd cheering. I made the turn onto Route 9, and headed off to Upper Jay.
Around now, I was starting to get hungry. Following my century ride bonking debacle, I had decided to commit race sin #1. I changed my bike nutrition for race day. I stayed with the Clif Shot drink mix for the bulk of my calories – it seems to sit decently with my stomach. But I can’t eat Gu gels anymore, and Gu Chomps, while I love them, don’t seem to work for me on the bike like they do on a run. I decided I needed more “real” food – less straight up sugar. So I had stuffed a few peanut butter and honey Uncrustables in my jersey pocket. I was taking a gamble here, but I figured it couldn’t be worse than my horrific bonk on my “century” a couple weeks earlier.
On the flat to Upper Jay, I decided it was time to bust into my first Uncrustable. It was delicious. So far, I was happy with my decision to bring those along. I couldn’t help but wonder if I would remain happy with that decision as the day went on.
I stayed in aero most of the time I was on the flats, and it felt pretty good. I’ve gotten to the point that it’s actually fairly comfortable, and bothers me a lot less than it used to. Many of us were riding at similar paces through here, and we chatted back and forth for a while. We cruised through Upper Jay, and made the turn to follow the river out to Jay and Ausable Forks. This section of the bike course is a nice reprieve from the big climbs, but it can be deceiving. There are plenty of rollers and false flats along the way. I still seemed to be in with the pack – maybe towards the back of it, but I was holding on better than I expected.
I rode out to Ausable Forks, made the turnaround, and headed back to Jay.
The ride back to Jay wasn’t bad. One thing I always do when I’m coming back from a turnaround is scope out how many people are behind me. There still seemed to be quite a few. I was clearly not in the middle of the pack, but I was still doing alright.
By now I had gotten into a rhythm with the aid stations. I wasn’t going to stop and get off my bike until the second loop. So for now, my system was:
- See aid station coming up
- Chug as much of whatever is left in my throwaway water bottle as I can before hitting the aid station
- Bottle exchange at aid station and be on my way
Coming into Jay, you can’t help but think ahead to the huge climb ahead. The last 20 miles of the bike loop are mostly uphill, and it’s a long slog to get back to Lake Placid.
I rode into Jay, and made the turn onto Route 86 to start the long climb.
This was one of those points that I was so thankful I had been riding the course. I knew that I could do it. If I hadn’t had that experience, I honestly don’t know how I would have done on race day. But I just put my bike in the easiest gear, and plugged away at it a little at a time.
The best spectator in the climb from Jay to Wilmington was a guy sitting on a 4 wheeler at the end of his driveway. Next to him was a cooler and a sign that said “free beer.” Spectators were pretty spaced out here, but the ones who were out there were very enthusiastic.
Eventually, after what felt like an eternity of slogging away, I finished the final climb (of this section) and cruised down the small downhill into Wilmington. At the bottom of the hill, I made the hard right onto Haselton Road for the short out-and-back. The aid station here was hopping, with tons of volunteers, a loud DJ, and many spectators. Before I knew it, I was at the turnaround (it’s only one mile down the road), and heading back towards the aid station and Route 86.
At the end of Haselton, I turned right to get back onto 86 and finish the long climb from Wilmington to Lake Placid. A few hundred yards down the road, 86 hangs a left, and then you’re on your way to Whiteface, and beyond that, Lake Placid.
For me, the worst climb of the entire course is the one just past the driveway to Whiteface Ski Resort. It’s a category 5, and it’s just steep as hell. I feel like I’m dying. What made this hill bearable this time was the spectators at the top. There was a group of 20-somethings at the top with signs like “Honey badger don’t care.” and “Wheelies are aero” (also yelling for us to do wheelies – which some people did), and “We’re drunk.” One of them was also holding a sign in front of himself that said “I’m not wearing pants.” They were great. I was looking forward to seeing them again on loop 2.
After several painful minutes, I made it to the top, and began the long section of rollers that goes past High Falls Gorge (beautiful!), and along the river. At this point, I really didn’t feel terrible. Heck, aside from the searing pain in my crotch from the stupid bike seat, I would go so far as to say I actually felt pretty good!
I finished the section of rollers, and passed River Road. For me, passing River Road is the sign that I’m pretty much done with the loop. All that’s left after that is a few climbs known as The Cherries and The Bears (Mama, Baby, and Papa), and you’re in town.
Climbing the Bears was pretty fun. Somebody had re-marked them, which was nice. When I got to the top of Mama/Baby (Baby is really just a tiny bump on the top of Mama), and looked ahead to Papa, the crowd looked awesome. I had heard that spectators lined Papa and made you feel like you were in the Tour de France, and I had been looking forward to it.
I got to the bottom of Papa, and was joined by a cheering spectator who ran alongside me with a big flag just like the nutters at the Tour de France. It was great. I loved that guy.
At the top of Papa, I made the right onto Northwoods Road, and the FINAL section of uphills. At the top of the second hill on Northwoods, I knew I had a nice ride into town, and I enjoyed every second of it. The crowds were thick and loud, and it was a great feeling to have the loop done.
Now I just had to go back out and do it all over again. And then run a marathon after.
I came into town and made a quick stop at the bike special needs station to get my bag. This was the first time my feet had hit the pavement since I started the bike course 4 hours ago, and it felt great. I decided there was nothing I needed from my bag, so I got back on my bike, got a push start from a volunteer (those guys are amazing), and rode through town.
I was feeling really great riding into the center of town and past the Olympic oval. Then it was time to ride back down the bus ramp, and out for loop #2. By now, it was a little after 12:00, and when I was riding out of town to start my second bike loop, I passed people already running. Granted, they were the pro men, but still! Gah! (Related to that – how cool is it that in this sport, I can be three feet from the pro men? Little nobody me. It’s awesome!)
Riding back out of town, I passed my support crew camped outside our hotel and cheering. I had an empty clif shot bottle that I didn’t want to lose, so I tossed it to them and took the other one out of my jersey pocket to use next.
The second loop went much like the first: Chug chug chug up the climb to the top of the Keene Descent, fly down the Keene Descent, try to hold my speed on the flats from Keene to Ausable Forks, and then start busting my butt on the climb back to Lake Placid.
At this point, my lady parts were on FIRE from the saddle. I started stopping every other aid station or so to re-lube, which provided some temporary relief. Other than that, I felt great. But no matter how I sat – aero or not – I was in pain. Oh well. It would be over soon.
The single biggest thought going through my head during the bike was that 5:30 cutoff. I really didn’t know if I would make it, and I was seriously worried. I kept trying to do race math (calculating paces, and what’s the slowest you can go to make it in time), but when I get that deep into a long course race, I don’t trust my math. It seemed like I could make it in time, as long as I kept going the way I was.
Eventually, I made it into Wilmington for the second time. I finished the out-and-back on Haselton Road and then turned back onto 86 to finish the long climb back to town. Just before making the left to start riding out to Whiteface, I heard a loud “pffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff” coming from my front tire.
“Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit!!!!!!!! NOT NOW!!!!!! NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!”
Yeah, I believe that’s verbatim.
I pulled over and inspected my front tire. Sure enough, there was a hole. I could see it. I had a flat. AGAIN. SHIT. By now, I was physically and emotionally exhausted, and this just pushed me over the edge. I had already been worried about cutting it close with the cutoff, and now I had a FUCKING FLAT. I was sitting on the side of the road, pulling my front wheel off, swearing and muttering (not so quietly) to myself, and crying just a little.
As required by race karma, everybody that rode by checked on me and asked if I needed anything. I was just trying to change my flat as fast as I could.
A really sweet and well-intentioned volunteer came across the road to check on me. I didn’t need any help (changing a flat is kind of a one person job), but he stood there and kept me company for the few minutes I was working. I vented to him a bit about being worried about making the cutoff, especially now, and then he said the ONE thing no one in this situation wants to hear.
“Andy Potts finished about two minutes ago.”
I wanted to punch him.
“My son is racing today too. He’s out on the run course and he’s halfway done.”
SERIOUSLY???? Are you shitting me right now? ARE YOU REALLY TELLING ME ABOUT ALL THE PEOPLE WHO ARE SO GODDAMN FAR AHEAD OF ME WHILE I AM SITTING HERE FREAKING OUT ABOUT EVEN MAKING THE STUPID BIKE CUTOFF????
I know he was just being a proud dad and meant well, so I didn’t actually say anything except “Nice!” and “Mmmhmmmm.” but MAN, I wanted to throat punch that guy.
After a few minutes, I got my tire changed and back on my bike. The flat had taken quite an emotional toll though, and I was NOT HAPPY. I rode off toward Whiteface and started the long climb back into Lake Placid, all the while thinking “Screw this. What if I just give myself another flat on purpose and then I can be done?”
I busted my butt hard to get back to town in time, but I was also resigned to the fact that the flat may have ruined it. Once I passed River Road and only had the last bit of climb into town, I started to realize that not only was I going to make the bike cutoff, I was going to beat my anticipated bike time by quite a bit. Wouldn’t you know it, my mood started to improve. Go figure.
When I got to the bottom of Papa Bear, the crowds were still there, but had thinned – I was clearly slipping further towards the back of the pack. There were a couple young-ish guys at the bottom of the hill, who I pointed to and told them that I needed them to run to the top with me. And they did. They were awesome.
I hit the top of Papa, turned onto Northwoods, and felt like I was home free. I started cheering to myself, and telling spectators and volunteers that I loved them (I seem to do this at the end of long bike legs). I mashed my way up to the top of the very last uphill on Northwoods Road, fist pumped, and then started pedaling as hard as I could to get to the oval and T2.
Turning on to Mirror Lake Drive, I rode alongside part of the run course, which was already full of people on the run leg. The road was jam packed with spectators, and I positively flew through town and into T2. The bike cutoff was 5:30pm. It was around 4:30pm. I was so thrilled with making the bike cutoff that I felt like I could run to the moon if I needed to.
Bike time: 8:15:38 (Anticipated bike time: 8:45 – beat it by 30 minutes! AND I got a flat!)
T2 (Bike to Run)
I crossed the dismount line and handed my bike off to a volunteer. I was directed around the outside of the oval towards my gear bag. I popped off my shoes and tried to jog for a second, but that didn’t last long. Instead, I walked to my gear bag, grabbed it, and went into the changing tent. I was met by a fabulous volunteer, who opened my bag, organized all my clothes and gear, packed up everything I took off, and helped me change into my run clothes. She was awesome.
I took a few last swigs of leftover bike water, changed my garmin over to “run,” and headed out of the changing tent to start the run.
T2: 7:44 (slow, but hey, I made it!)
To be continued…