Race Report: Ironman Lake Placid
I woke up with a sore throat. Not a “you’re getting sick” sore throat just a nagging sore throat. I performed my morning rituals (eat/coffee/bathroom/dress) and by the time I had a few sips of coffee it had subsided.
My race morning prep went well. In transition I prepared my bike, added bottles to my transition and special needs bags, and left my glasses in my bike bag (I added this to my checklist. I hadn’t accounted for it before). My pump became the pump for about 15 people and eventually I just said to the last guy that had it “leave the pump at the end of one of the aisles.” I wasn’t sure I’d get it back but I found it after the race.
The only thing I would change next time is leaving for transition 20 minutes earlier than I did. I had plenty of time but it would have been nice to have a few more minutes to reduce stress.
Mark Twain said:
If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.
My big frog was the swim. I’m a challenged swimmer. I can cover the distance but it is ugly.
I started in the back of the pack thinking it would give me some room to get into a groove. It didn’t. Most of the experienced athletes I’ve talked to post race felt like the wave start was as violent as any other year when they did a mass start.
I don’t know if that’s true but it was awful for me.
I panicked in the water almost immediately. I just could not get settled and started to hyperventilate. I thought my race was going to be over after five minutes. I prayed a lot. I also gave myself a talking to: shut up, put your face in the water, breath, let people hit you, but whatever you do you are not getting fished out of the water.
Thankfully I was able to pull it together. By the end of the first leg, about 1/4 of the swim, I was starting to feel settled. Unfortunately because of the wave start by the time I felt settled the fast swimmers were lapping us. They were having to claw through all of us back of the pack swimmers so the end of the 2nd leg felt just as rough. Numerous times I had people grabbing my feet or arms. I felt bad for them and bad for us.
The second lap thinned out considerably. There’s a cable under the water that all of the course markers are attached to called “the line.” I literally swam on top of the line for my entire second lap. It was much more comfortable than the first lap. Slow but comfortable.
The big frog was eaten. Thank God.
- Swim time: 1:45
- Goal: 1:30
T1 went well. My wetsuit was stripped coming out of the water by a few volunteers then I trotted slowly to the transition area. Elise was there on the way (she was as relieved as I was that I was out of the water). I grabbed my bike bag, went to the tent, dumped out my bag contents and got ready. This was so rehearsed in my brain that it was an easy process. I grabbed my bike from a volunteer and trotted to the start line.
- T1 time: 10:21
- T1 goal: 15:00
I love to ride a bike. My favorite tshirt in the world says: I want to ride my bike. The bike was smooth and consistent. I didn’t let myself go too hard because I knew I would want it for the run but I also didn’t chill completely. My hear rate was typically pegged in the middle of zone 3. All day pace.
I had two minor challenges on the bike. They were annoyances really.
The first was a gel flask mishap. At mile 25 I pulled out my gel flask and tried to open it with my teeth. The entire cap came off dumping gel all over me. Imagine nine ounces of maple syrup being poured down your chin and you get the experience. I tried to touch as little as possible for the next 7 miles and at the next aid station I took a bottle of water and tried to wash face, chest, thighs and bike off as much as possible. This worked ok but it also moved the gel from the front of my legs to the back of my legs so now under my knees was super sticky.
The second bike annoyance was a flat around mile 33. Fortunately there was a guy on a motorcycle providing course support that was also a cyclist and he helped me change it. I probably lost five to ten minutes.
These were minor annoyances. In a 12-14 hour race you’ve got to expect problems and I was hoping that between my swim panic, gel mess, and flat I had gotten my share of race problems out of the way.
I pedaled on. My first loop was 15 minutes longer than I wanted (3:45). Second loop was right on pace (3:15). All things considered my bike was great. I’d heard a lot about the hills on the course and how challenging it was. I guess if you do a lot of triathlons and are used to flat courses that is true. I ride hills all the time, train on very tough hills in Western Maryland, and race endurance mountain bike events. I didn’t really notice the hills.
- Bike time: 6:45
- Goal: 6:30
T2 was as smooth as T1. I grabbed my bag, dumped the contents, got my shoes and socks on, lubed up, put on my race belt, grabbed my visor and trotted out the door. I made one game day decision in transition that turned out well. I was planning on taking a bottle of Infinit Jet Fuel and a gel flask with me for my run. My body felt very good at this point. I decided it would be nice to not carry anything on the run. I had trained with Ironman Perform and Roctane gel and hadn’t had any issues so I left my nutrition in transition and decided to rely on the course support.
- T2 time: 6:22
- Goal: 10:00
I felt good leaving transition. Elise and the kids were there and I stopped and gave each one of them a big kiss. My support crew rocked all day and I wanted them to feel loved in it. It’s our Ironman not just mine.
I stuck with my race plan and didn’t let myself go out too fast. I averaged 9:20’s for my first 3 miles. 9:50’s for the next 5. Then things got tough. Miles 8-17 were just a drag. I was moving ok but it was mentally challenging. There are also two big hills on the course. Both are in this section. Normally I love hills and accelerate up them. These took everything I could to shuffle up.
The run was the strangest part of my day. In a marathon I usually feel very strong until about mile 18 or so and then know I have 8 miles to hang on and endure. I didn’t know what to expect in an Ironman but I thought the pattern would be similar: feel good for a while and then endure. Having a rough spot so early on was mentally tough. I was not looking forward to enduring for 18 miles. I was close enough to my goal that I wanted to run strong and finish close to my goal.
There are times in races that things just click and you go along without thinking about the pain you are feeling. It’s a strange, awesome, magical thing. It’s the zone. I was incredibly thankful that I was in the zone from mile 18 through the finish. I just went. No thinking. No struggle. Just step after step pushing forward.
Mentally I could just smell the finish. I knew it was close. My miles got faster. I switched to coke, maybe that helped. Whatever it was it was awesome. If you could bottle that you could make millions. But you can’t, you have to put yourself out there to experience the zone.
I finished the last hill and had two miles left to go. I saw Elise and the kids at the turn toward mirror lake and I just screamed to Seth “I’m almost finished!” The best part of my day was seeing them every lap of the bike and the run. I would just scan the crowd in town looking for them. They usually saw me first and were waving their arms wildly. They had a great day also. Ironman is a fantastic spectator event (at least according to Elise and the kids).
The crowds were awesome. Your name is on your running bib so people are chanting as you go by: Greg, Greg, Greg. At one point a guy pointed at me and said, “I don’t know what’s gotten into Greg but he’s running strong!” I was. I knew it. I could feel it every breath. Every step felt awesome.
I didn’t feel any pain the last few miles. It was unbelievable. I sometimes get a kick at the end of races but this was over the top. My last two miles were 9:09 and 8:40. My last quarter mile was at a 6:32 pace. I just kept running.
I cried early and not at the finish for this event. After making the turn on mirror lake drive I spend the next half mile with tears streaming down my face. I knew I had done it. Conquered something that I couldn’t have imagined two years ago. I was thanking God for every step. Thankful for Elise, my kids, for all the friendships I’ve made in pursuit of insane events, for bodies that can do nutty things and thrive, for every person that helped along the way. I started visualizing all of those people.
I’d list them here but I can’t stand the idea of forgetting someone. There are too many.
I crossed the line and heard my name:
Greg Rittler YOU are an Ironman
- Ironman Goal: 12:55
- Time: 13:13
Keep moving forward,