Friday, October 12, 2012

IronMan Lake Placid 2012 Race Report

It has take me forever to finish writing this race report.  I wanted to capture as much detail as I could remember so I could use it to help with my next ironman race, and because I wanted to capture what it felt like to finish my first IronMan.
Race preparation
I knew going in to this race that it would take a lot of preparation to be ready to complete 140.6 miles under my own steam.  I found it hard to finding enough time for training and balance that with being a father and husband, and of course work & travel. Looking over my training logs I did about as much as I could – averaging under 11.5 hours per week for the last 12 weeks of training.  I was very lucky to have had wonderful support from my family during the process.  For anyone contemplating giving it a crack – it is doable, but be prepared to juggle your time.

Swim:  1:16:13 – 1:58/100m, 1:48/100y
pre-swimThe swim portion of the race was the one that I was concerned about the most.  It wasn’t the distance of 2.4 miles that was the problem, it was the chaos at the start with 2,500+ people cramped into a narrow area that was my biggest concern.
The photo here was taken not long before the start.  I was with foof – we were both happy and surprisingly relaxed.  I was so happy to see Annabel and the kids before the start.  It really helped to put me in a good mental state to start the day.
We were actually fairly late to get to into the water.  I positioned myself less about 1/3rd from the dock and about 10 people back.  I had heard that there is usually a lot of people trying to get on the cable (inside) and many others go to the far side. My goal was to stay away from that. As I moved away from the dock I could see a gap.  With only a few minutes to go I figured it would be as good as anywhere to start.  I was close enough to clearly see Mike Riley getting everyone fired up to race.
With a minute to go before the start, I was feeling good, and surprisingly calm.
As the gun went off it was complete chaos.  I really felt like I was in a washing machine – people were everywhere.  It was hard to get a complete stroke in without hitting multiple people.  After a few minutes, I looked down and could see the underwater cable – this is a permanent fixture and is used to set the buoys for the course.  Most of the faster swimmers want to swim on/next to the cable for the most direct route.  There is no sighting needed there either.  I guess the field in front of me headed directly for the cable after the start, and I just got pulled along with them.
Usually when I am racing, I don’t let anything get to me.  This was different.  I felt very claustrophobic.  Just about every stroke I would bump into someone, and many were bumping in to me.  My heart rate was very high.  In the first 15 minutes I stopped 4 times to catch my breath, breast stroke a little and try to calm down.  I found it very difficult to get into any sort of a rhythm.  I did catch myself thinking “what am I doing here!” a couple of times. 
Any sense of trying to complete the swim in a given time was out the window at this point.  I tried to re-focus an get back “in the box” - a small space around me where I can control what is going on.  At this point I moved to inside of the buoy line and got a little room to move.    Much better.
As I came to the first turn mark there were a lot of people.  I managed to get around without too many problems and soon found myself on the return leg to the beach (still lap 1 of 2).  I glanced at my watch at the turn around markers ~19 minutes.  That wasn’t far off what I had expected.
On the leg back to shore my quads started to cramp up – I think this was from the initial stress of the start, kicking more than normal with all of the carnage in the water.  At one point I was unable to straighten my legs because of the cramping, I was also having trouble pointing my toes – not the most streamlined position to swim in!
As I reached the shore I was wondering how I would go on the second lap – would I have more of the same traffic and worse, cramping?   I looked at my watch – 38 minutes (official time 37:45).   With the way the swim started, I was very happy with that.  This meant that a 1:16 swim was within range.  Before the race I had told my family and friends that I would be in the 1:15 timeframe.
Before I started the second loop, I took a few seconds to stretch out my legs.  As I tried to stretch they just cramped more, so I figured I should just get in the water and swim easy   for a while.
The next outward leg I focused on being steady, breathing every 3rd stroke and tried my best to be efficient.  This really helped – the cramps got less and less and I was making some decent progress.
There was a lot less traffic on the second lap – I continued to swim inside of the cable where there was not too many people.   As I made the turn for the final (long) leg back to the shore someone hit me pretty hard, at right angles to where we were all heading.
The rest of the leg back was ok, however the shore just couldn’t come fast enough.  I was sighting a fair amount and I did not seem to be getting any closer.
Finally I got close enough to see the bottom, as I exited the water I glanced at my watch and it said 59minutes.  Hmmm – no way did I swim that fast.  It took a few moments to register that my watch had stopped near the last turn mark when I was hit.  I wasn’t worried by this and started it again.  I could see the 1:16 on the official clock and was happy to be on dry land as I headed for the wetsuit strippers.
I quickly got the wetsuit off and headed down the chute to the transition area.  As I turned the first corner I heard my name.  I turned around and saw Oliver and the rest of the family cheering for me.  that gave me a real boost, and even makes me a little emotional as I am writing this.
My swim times were fairly even for both laps.  37:45 & 38:28.  The 2nd lap is a little longer – because you have to swim about 20 meters/yards to the end of the dock, and I also stopped for ~ 30 seconds to stretch.  So my 2nd lap was probably a little faster for actual swimming time. 
Overall the swim was decent – within the range of what I had expected, given my ability level and how I had been training.
If I do this race again, I would definitely line up more to the outside.  Others who started  there who finished in a similar time had far less chaos to deal with.
T1 – 7:02
I got through transition as efficiently as I could. imlp-t1 It is a long run to the transition area from the lake.  My watch measured it as .38 miles.  I found my transition bag and made my way into the changing tent.  Wow – it was completely packed, people were everywhere, many were completely undressed.
I found a empty space close to the edge of the tent, very close to where the T1 bags were being tossed.  I did not have much to do, put on my helmet and sunglasses, grab my bike shoes and put my wetsuit in my T1 bag.  My goggles and swim cap were inside of the left arm of my wetsuit so I wouldn’t lose them.
I got out of the tent as fast as I could.   Not only was it very crowded, I remember it being very hot.
I picked up my bike from the bike rack, put on my shoes and headed for the bike mount area.  t1
There wasn’t much more I could to do to get through T1 any faster.  I am sure with a faster swim time it is much less crowded which could save around 1 minute.
Bike – 5:56:47
I was very happy to finally get on the bike.  I had a solid plan for the 112 mile bike ride.  I wanted to finish without burning up all of my energy.  Since this was my first full distance ironman race, I was going to err on the conservative side.  My pre-race goal was to finish in the 5:50-6:00 range. 
I had all of my race nutrition already on the bike, and only needed to get water at the aid stations.  My fuel of choice was EFS Liquid Shot (vanilla).  I filled 20oz into a 26oz water bottle, mounted horizontally between my arms, and filled the rest with water to make it flow a little better.  I had my bike computer setup to beep every 15 minutes, reminding me to take a mouthful.  Using this strategy should get me through the whole bike course – for a total of 1,600 calories.  Figuring in a 6hr ride – that would be 267 calories/hour.
The mount area was pretty crowded, but as I made my way out of town it wasn’t too bad.  I settled in to a easy pace.  My plan was to take the first 30 minutes easy and then settle in to my pace/watts for the rest of the ride.  To understand the effort/watts I was planning to ride at, here are my details leading into the race.
Height:   5’ 10”
Weight:  175 at time of race
FTP:         296 – tested about 3 weeks before the race
Target Watts:  207-222  (70-75%)
The first 2.5 miles of the bike is mostly down-hill.  I took this part easy and started to drink some water.  From there the next 5.5 miles is mostly up-hill.  648 ft of climbing vs 212ft descending.  I got through this section before the big downhill section in 27:30 for an average power of 191watts (NP 205w, max 452w, avg speed 16.5mph) well inside of my target pace range and exactly as planned.
The descent down the the town of Keane was awesome.  The next 13 miles were practically all down hill, for a total of 1,667 ft of descending and 146ft of climbing.  My average speed was 28.4 (max 47) – for 163w average power (NP 182w).  That was the most fun I have had in a race.  I stayed as aero as I could and passed a lot of people.
At the bottom of the descent, there is a nice flat/rolling section before the up-hill begins on the way back in to town.
I was sticking to my plan as best I could.  I broke the bike leg into 30 minute chunks.  For each 30 minute segment I was watching my power.  This made it easy to focus only on that segment and not let time skew/flatten the averages. As an hour passed by  I assessed how I was feeling.  At that moment I was feeling great.  I was riding very easy and I had covered 22.9 miles – this was awesome (I realized later that we had a tail wind on the flat section, so the speed was higher than normal).
A few minutes later I went through an aid station and did my usual grab a bottle of water take off the top and empty the water into my speedfil.  This means I can sip water whenever I want without getting up to hold a bottle. 
Just after I cleared the aid station something did not feel right.  I looked down and noticed that my back tire was flat.  It took me 7:26 to change the tube.  I took time to be careful to make sure that there was nothing sharp in the tire.  I couldn’t find anything.  Changing a back tire usually takes a longer than the front.  I haven’t really practiced changing a tire/tube fast – but I have changed tires many times over the last 6 months so I was comfortable with the procedure.  Losing over 7 minutes was not what I had wanted, but I did not let it get to me.  I think this is one of the things I was very proud of throughout the day, I maintained my focus and controlled what I could.  A flat tire was out of my control, so I just continued on.  One of the worst things I could have done was to get frustrated and then try to make up for lost time.
A few miles after I got going again we hit the turn-around at Jay, this is when I realized how much wind there was on the course.  I had made a decision before the race not to show any speed readings (current/avg etc) on the main page of my bike computer.  This meant that I was not trying to chase a given speed, I was focusing on the effort I was putting out and would let the speed take care of itself.  I think this was a good decision.
Shortly after the turn-around I passed Rich, he had a much better swim that I did (~1:11), we chatted for a little while, which was a nice break.
For the climbing sections going in to Wilmington and Lake Placid I was focused on maintaining a steady effort.  a lot of people around me were pushing pretty hard, I spun up the hills maintaining a consistent effort.  I kept my average power in the 210w range for each 30 minute section.
112 miles is a long way on a bike.  I like to play mental games while I am riding to pass the time and to help stay focused.  As the 2nd hour passed by  I was 40 miles in.  Ideally I wanted to get through the first loop in 3hrs – that  meant I had to cover 16 miles in the next hour.  Usually that is easy enough to achieve, but the last 16 miles on this course is mostly up hill.  Looking at the data for that 16 miles – it took me 58:40, with my official 56 mile split being  2:57:50 marginally under the 3h mark.  Since I took over 7 minutes to change the flat I was happy with that. 
Coming through the town of lake placid was a lot of fun.  Large crowds and a lot of noise.  Here are a few pictures of this section. One picture here for each lap.
For the first 56 miles my average power was 185, normalized power was 202.  This was a little lower than I had wanted but still close enough to my range.  I was happy with the effort and coming in a little under before the run certainly could not hurt.
I was feeling great as I headed out for the second lap.  I continued my pacing strategy and didn’t really have any problems.  I stuck to the 15 minute fueling strategy with the EFS Liquid Shot.  At around mile 80 I picked up a bottle of perform on the course.  I felt like a change of taste and since it was hot thought a few extra calories and electrolytes would be a good idea.  Over the next 20 miles I consumed 1.5 bottles of perform, for an extra 200 calories.  the taste at this point in the race was pretty good.  I did not stop with the EFS during this time.
As I was coming back in to Lake Placid from Wilmington I started counting down the miles. The wind had picked up even more than the first la which slowed things down a little.  I stayed on my aero bars for all of the climbs (for both laps), only rarely sitting up.  I had trained a lot in this position, so I was comfortable enough to stay there all day.
I was very happy by the time I got to the final two climbs of the day – Mama Bear and Papa Bear.  These hills are really not that bad and relatively short.  Coming up papa bear was amazing with lots of people getting up close and cheering.  This continued through  town into the hot corner just before the transition area.
bike_startAs I came around the back of the school I started to take my feet out of the my shoes and got ready to dismount the bike.  This picture was taken close to the dismount area  You can see that I have one foot out of my shoe.  I was feeling pretty good at this point.  Happy to have the bike leg behind me.
Final bike statistics:
Time:                      5:56:46
Average Power:       186w
Normalized Power:   200w
TSS(training stress) 294
Intensity Factor       .704 (using a ftp of 284)
Variability Index:      1.07 (pretty good)
Average Cadence:    92rpm
Average HR:           145bpm
Average Speed:      18.6 mph
Considering the headwinds and the time taken for a flat tire, I was very happy with this.  I finished the bike feeling really good – far better than I felt for the 1/2 distance race I had completed only 6 weeks before.  This was the result of good pacing, and respecting the distance.
I went from  237th to 98th in my age group, and from 1,210 to 489th overall. 
T2 – 3:18
T2 was very different to T1.  Since I had a decent bike leg, the changing tent was almost empty, a stark contrast to the chaos from T1.  A volunteer came over to see if I needed any help, but I had things under control.  It took a little while to get my compression calf sleeves on, the rest was easy. 
I didn’t realize until I was out the run that I forgot to remove the spare tube and co2 from the bike let that I had picked up in bike special needs . 
As I exited the change tent I passed through the sunscreen area and was off for my first marathon.
Run – 4:01:25
Since this was my first marathon I was not sure how my body would handle it.  In the last 2 weeks leading into this race I had been dealing with some recurring calf pain. I wasn’t at all confident that I could run much at all.  Thankfully a friend staying at our house is an ART doctor and was able to perform a little magic (thanks Dr, Stu!).  n the end I was able to run without much pain/discomfort.  During training, my longest training run was around 19 miles in 2.5hours.  As I left transition my legs felt great, except for some pain in my right foot right near the knuckle of my little toe.  I think this was caused from a cut that was not completely healed.  The discomfort went away pretty quickly.
As you head out of town towards the ski jumps there is a fair amount of down hill running.  My goal was to take it easy and settle into an easy pace. 
Mile 1: 8:27, cadence 90
Mile 2: 8:25, cadence 92
Mile 3: 9:03, HR 145, cadence 92 – including a bathroom break
run_skijumpsAt each aid station I slowed to a walk, picked up some water and put ice into my hat.  Some of the aid stations had water sponges.  I put some in my top (front & back) to help keep my core temperature down. 
the next 6 miles was the out/back section on river rd.  I was able to maintain a steady pace, walking 20-30 steps at each aid station.   I was feeling fatigued, but was still making steady forward progress.  You can see in this picture that I look pretty happy.  You can just see the ski jump in the background too.
Mile 4: 8:39, HR 142, cadence 92
Mile 5: 8:24, HR 143, cadence 91
Mile 6: 8:59, HR 142, cadence 91
Mile 7: 9:30, HR 140, cadence 88 (starting to come back up hill after the turn-around)

About this time I made an amazing discovery.  Chicken Broth at the aid stations.  It was the best thing that I had ever tasted!  It is hard to imagine that warm chicken broth while completing a marathon on a hot day could be that good.  Trust me, it is.
Mile 8: 9:08, HR 142, cadence 90
Mile 9: 9:22, HR 142, cadence 89
As you make the turn from river rd to head back into town, there is a pretty decent hill.  I shortened my step and ran up this the first time.  On the second lap I walked the steeper sections.
The next major section were the hills coming in to town.  I stayed steady and walked one of the small steeper sections.  As I approached the court-house I spotted Annabel, Oliver and Ruby.  This gave me a great mental boost.  Annabel was able to get a few great pictures, which helped capture the emotion of the moment.
Mile 10: 9:37, HR 145, cadence 90
Mile 11: 9:47, HR 143, cadence 89 – biggest hill
Mile 12: 9:55, HR 143, cadence 89 stop to see the family
Mile 13: 9:09, HR 142, cadence 91
these next two were on the way back out of town – 13 miles to go.
as i  passed by Annabel and the kids on the way out of town  I told them that I could finish in another 2hrs and 10 minutes.  I was factoring in how tired I was feeling and that I would most likely slow down for the 2nd half of the marathon.
Mile 14: 9:28, HR 136, cadence 89
Mile 15: 9:35, HR 137, cadence 89
as I entered river rd for the second time, I was really feeling tired.  My pace was still similar but it was getting to be a grind.   I was running past people who were on their first lap – I was so happy to be well into my second at that point.
Mile 16: 9:42, HR 136, cadence 89 – including bathroom break
Mile 17: 9:14, HR 141, cadence 88
Mile 18: 8:53, HR 143, cadence 92
Mile 19: 9:27, HR 141, cadence 89
As I passed miles 18 and 19 I started to count down the miles from the end.  At each aid station I continued to walk for 20-30 steps.  I had to make a conscious decision to start running again.  It was very easy to just keep walking, like so many others were at that point.
Mile 20: 9:30, HR 140, cadence 89
Mile 21: 9:42, HR 138, cadence 87
Mile 22: 9:36, HR 140, cadence 88
Mile 23: 9:41, HR 140, cadence 86
getting closer now – only 3 miles left.  I had started picking up the pace after running up the hills into town for the last time.  Along the flat section along mirror lake I was able to run faster.  the lure of the finish line was getting closer.  I felt a mix of emotions at this point.  Part of me just wanted it all to be over.  The racer in me was trying to get every bit of speed I had left to finish strong and break the 4:00hr mark for the marathon.  Around mile 25 I knew I was going to miss, but not by much.
Mile 24: 9:46, HR 141, cadence 86 – steepest up-hill section
Mile 25: 8:59, HR 148, cadence 92 – picking up the pace
Mile 26: 8:12, HR 152, cadence 93
Mile 26.2, avg speed 7:25, cadence 93
Heading into the finish line the pain and fatigue all but disapeared.  I charged in to the oval.  At the turn I saw Annabel and the kids again, I was so happy to be almost done.  As I approached the line there was no-one in front of me.  I heard Mike reiley say the famous words – “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”! 
The finishing pictures showed the sense of relief that I felt after making it to the finish, but did not capture the intense high I felt after finishing within my goal time, finishing strong and finishing in front of my family!
I had done it – 11:24:44! 
I finished 49th in my age group, 249th overall.  I went from 92nd in my age group after the bike to 49th, and from 485th overall to 249th. My run was actually the best leg of all 3.  Usually the bike is the better leg for me.  I am sure I can run a faster marathon next time with some better preparation.
After I had finished I felt remarkably good.  I found Annabel and the kids and was just happy to have put in a solid effort.
The run/walk strategy – walking through each aid station I think really helped regulate my heart rate.  The following charts shows how consistent my pace/cadence/hr were– you can clearly see the aid station stops.  The 2 big dips in cadence were the bathroom breaks.  what is most noticeable from these charts is my HR stayed the same throughout the run, it did not spike during the up-hill sections, and clearly dropped during the aid station walk breaks.
I was proud of the effort that I had put in.  I managed to stick with my plan and execute a good race.  I was steady for the whole day which meant no major problems.  I can build on this for next time.  After analyzing the day, I think I can safely go harder on the bike and still run as well as I did,   It may be a couple of years before I decide to complete another race of this length.   Next year we are planning on going home to Australia for a few months during the summer, and I want to focus on some shorter races and have more free time.
Thank you!
this report would not be complete without me thanking my wife Annabel, and my kids Oliver and Ruby for supporting me throughout the process of finishing this amazing race.  At first I am sure they thought I was crazy, after spending 3-4 hours riding my bike in the basement, or going for a 2hr run.  It is easy to get caught up in the process of the training and forget about many other things.
I could not have gotten to this point without their support and understanding.  I hope that their experience of the race shows why I went through with it.  Spectating at an ironman race is a very difficult thing to do.  They were all up for the 7:00am start, and still around at the finish area as it got close to the midnight cut-off.   I really can’t say enough how much I appreciate them being there for me.

Final Thoughts

what would I do differently for next time.  This is important to document now, while it is still fresh in my mind.
  • Swim
    • get stronger, learn to kick like a swimmer (no cramping).  ideally shoot for the 1:10-1:12 range
  • Bike
    • I was conservative here, My intensity factor was .68 (using correct ftp) – I think I can safely shoot for .7 – .75 and still run well
    • do more longer rides in preparation.  For this race I had 1 ride over 5 hours (100 miles in 6rs with 8,000ft climbing) 3 or 4 rides over 4 hours.  I need to up the volume here and complete several 6hr rides to build a little more endurance
  • Run
    • continue to improve running.  Aim for a 3:45 of better next time.  I am still very new to longer distance running.  I am sure I will improve with time.
    • after analyzing my mile splits I ran surprisingly well for the last 6 miles.  Comparing laps 1 and 2 for the last 6 miles (lap 1- 1:59:40, lap 2 2:01:45) shows that I paced myself well
It is going to take a lot of work to get fast enough to qualify for Kona – that would be a dream come true.  I’ll get there one day!

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