It is done. In the record books. A solid piece of myself given to the preparation for and effort towards Ironman Lake Placid (IMLP). The feeling is grounding; something forever. For those reading who are taking a large sighing breath in previewing the length of this report, here are the short gritty details: a daylight finish, fantastic electric storm with hail and heavy rain, 47mph downhill in driving rain, 2 half bananas, 15 gels, 3 gallons of fluids, 1:07hr swim, 6:19hr bike, and a 4:50hr marathon, total time 12:30, family and friends with me the whole way, and an easy-feeling finish, still standing, and ready for pizza, French fries, and hugs.
Goals per my plan: To compete in and complete IMLP using a specific plan of nutrition, hydration, and appropriate pacing as practiced over the many months of preparation for this largest of “A” races yet to be tackled. To execute a process that will reveal my potential and dedication up to this date. To finish and not end up in the medical tent. All goals met or exceeded; fantastic.
Mikaela Boley and I left Easton at 0400 on Thursday and arrived in Lake Placid (LP) just after noon. The objective was to get a prime tent-site for the Cambridge Multi-Sport (CMS) team tent, the one that would shelter our families and friends as we do the race. We hit it just right and put the tent exactly where I wanted it to be: on Mirror Lake Drive, 5 feet from the swim course lake and 5 feet off the road where both Mikaela (Mik) and I would each pass six times over the course of the Ironman. Only hours later that evening did we see folks putting tents on the sides of hills, over rocks, and up embankments, not prime real estate. The CMS green of the tent stood proudly for the event.
With the race being on Sunday, we both thought arriving Thursday would allow for lots of down-time to relax before the race. Not so. Thursday was filled with setting up the tent, lunch, packet pick up, a short run around the lake, and one lap of the swim course. We checked in at the hostel, ate our dinner at Lisa G's, grocery shopped for our pre-race meals, and went to bed.
Friday was a "do nothing" day. We both leisurely cleaned our bikes out in the bright sunshine (we thought, wouldn't race day be great to have this weather); it took forever, especially me. After a little lunch snack, we drove one lap of the bike course, 56 miles. This was an excellent idea. We got a sense as to where the aid stations were, where the pot holes were, and a feel for the elevation gains and losses. Though we had biked the course in other years, Friday's reconnaissance was well worth the ride. Upon our return to the hostel Mik's family had arrived. We cooked and ate our carbo rich dinner pasta and sauce, salad, and bread, then we all headed to the LP Ben and Jerry's for ice cream. I was in bed by 9pm.
Saturday saw Mik and I headed out with the bikes and car to the top of the 5 mile descent into Keene, New York, the largest descent of the course. Mik first with me following in the car...40+mph. She continued along the river to make a 30 minute ride, nice and easy. I felt like the driver of one of the team-cars in Le Tour de France. When Mik stopped, we threw her bike on top then returned to the top of the descent for my turn. The road had been mostly repaved with fresh asphalt except for a few mysterious sections that still contained tire-popping potholes. The new parts were awesome; the old portions were treacherous, but were marked with flo-orange spray paint. The rest of the families and friends arrived at some point over the day. Mik and I scrambled to pack our Bike and Run Bags. We were focused, but still had zero time for relaxation. We had to drop off our bikes and bags at transition, finish our light workouts, and cook and eat our dinner all before 3pm. We nailed it. With the arrival of our fans, things got easier as they all chipped in to help us, even if that meant to give us some space or to do some cooking for us. The hostel was perfect for the 14 of us, especially the huge commercial kitchen for us to use.
As I was preparing to go to bed on race night, my daughter Olivia asked if I could give her 20 minutes of my time. We went up stairs where everyone had congregated. There I received the most touching gift ever: a birthday/ironman video made for me by my family and friends. It contained segments of video from many of my friends and family who gave birthday wishes and Ironman encouragement. It was awesome. I was awestruck, teary-eyed, and totally blind-sided. But, it was that video that made my race, made my day.
Race morning found both Mik and I in the kitchen shoving carbs down our gullets at 0330. We left the house just after 0415. We parked close to T1 and began our morning race preparations: filling liquids, taping gels to bike, putting last minute things like my prescription sunglasses in our Transition bags, body marking, and preparing for the swim. Oh, did I mention that it was raining? It was 58 degrees? My difficulty was figuring out what I was going to wear on the bike, especially if the weather was foul. I was prepared with options.
Mik and I left transition with my bike pump in hand and us both in our wetsuits at 0550. We walked the swim chute (1/4 mile) to the beach. We could not find our families to hand off the bike pump and things, so we shanghaied a young couple who put all but Mik's flipflops under the CMS tent for us. Next thing I knew Mik and I were getting in the water for warm ups. It was that moment that I thought, "I might not see Mik again until after the race". But, I did and we stood in the starting line up within sight of each other.
Unfortunately, for Mik, she had two head-on collisions with other athletes while warming up for the swim. She was shaken, badly. Good thing she's tough. The unexpected happened, but Mik, luckily, was okay.
Tracy told me to seed myself faster than I thought I would be, so I started very close to the front of the crowd near the 60 minute swimmers. Mik was in the front. This little bit of encouragement from my coach saved my Ironman experience. I was later to find out that a large portion of the swimmers were pulled early from the water because of lightning. Luckily, I finished the whole swim. Had I started near the middle or back of the athletes, I would still not have completed a "whole" Ironman distance.
It had stopped raining and as the dawn approached bits of blue sky were peaking through the clouds. The age groupers started 10 minutes after the professionals. It was a sea of elbows, hands, feet, green and pink caps, and black rubber. Mirror Lake has two parallel stainless-steel cables that are strung five feet underwater and are 100 feet apart. It is to a swimmer's advantage to be "on the cable", to be able to see it. See the cable and there is no sighting needed, which means a faster swim time. I was determined to be on the cable, and I was the entire time. But, this meant I constantly had to fight to keep the cable. This was the most difficult swim of my life. Who invited all those people???? I was constantly sandwiched between two swimmers, I was touching the feet of the guy ahead of me, and my own feet were being tapped all the time. It was tough to get in my own swimming groove, but I did.
On the last leg of the swim I felt extra splashing. It was then that I realized that it was raining heavily. The swim exit was weird. I was made to sit in the sand for the strippers to rip my wetsuit off of me. I don't like sand on my butt, especially, when I know I need to sit on it for the next six hours. I grabbed my suit and ran up the chute to T1. The chute was lined with people, including my wife, family, and friends cheering wildly; it was exciting. Luckily, the rain washed most of the sand away.
In the changing tent I had to decide whether to put on long sleeves or not. I looked around and chose to go with just my new CMS cycling jersey. After running out of the tent I heard my number yelled and by the time I got to my aisle, my bike was handed to me. I saw Olivia and Nat at the bike mount, then off I went carefully, down the hill around the slick wet switchbacks to the main street. My glasses were in my pocket; too wet and foggy to use them (but they came in handy later). On the way out of town I remember seeing women holding babies under umbrellas in the pouring rain. If felt more sorry for them than my own predicament.
There is a long slow ascent out of town; about 10 miles. Then there is a quick steep 5 mile descent, the largest of the race, down into the town of Keene. I remember flying down this descent with an inch of rain on the roads, saying Hail Mary's. I pedaled, even on the downhills....steady efforts up and down. My speedometer later read 47mph. I missed all the potholes and knew when to pay attention the most. Somewhere between LP and Keene there was a series of close violent thunder claps; they were scary and I remember talking to the riders close to me while we're humping at 10mph up a hill, "Are we having fun yet?" Did I mention the hail, too?
After an hour and a half of rain, it stopped and blue sky was on the way. My fingers were numb and I was pretty cold. I had to pee, so at mile 27ish while it was still raining I stopped and let it rip; this would be the first of 5 times I needed to pee on the bike. I learned that if I stopped at an aid station, I could use the port o pot while the volunteers would top off my fluids. None of these stops were more than a minute.
Eventually, the sun came out and I warmed up. Then it got really hot. I was soooo thankful to not have a long sleeve on. Coming by the CMS tent for the first time at mile 55 was exciting. My family was there with hands sticking out for me to slap as I went by. They looked like they were having the time of their lives. The second loop was less eventful, but not eventless. I dropped the last two hours of my nutrition and had to turn around and pick it up (thank you Tracy for that advice). At ten miles before returning to LP a particularly boisterous group of fans had one fellow stripped naked except for a green sheer ribbon that went around the back of his neck, down over his chest, around the undersides of his privates (all enclosed, thankfully), then back up to make a loop. Luckily, ha, I got to see him on both laps.
I thought it would be fine for me to stop a minute at the CMS tent and hug whom ever was there, so I did....couldn't take more than a minute, right? I hugged my mother, Olivia, and someone else. They were stunned and shooed me away. Only, I kicked my chain off while trying to get away. The chain wedged between the frame and the front small chain ring. A volunteer was there to hold my bike while I yanked the chain free and set it right again. Visions of pushing my bike the last mile to Transition went through my head.
All the while on the bike I am systematically fueling and hydrating to plan; perfectly to plan. I treated myself to two half bananas, one in each lap. Each hour I consumed one gel with caffeine, 8 ounces of water, and 20 ounces of GU Roctane energy drink. I came off the bike ready for the run.
Despite Tracy's reassurances, I was not confident in my run. I've never had a great run in any of my Eagleman races. My longest training run was disappointing at 17.5 miles after 195 minutes, and I felt like crap during that run (it was also 100 degrees). So, I was amazed at how good I felt at the beginning of the marathon for IMLP. I kept it slow which was easy. I kept it that way for the entire time. Even in the last six miles, I wasn't convinced that I could finish with this amount of energy and composure. I found myself RUNNING up the last large hill coming into LP with throngs of fans cheering me on. With my name written on the front of my bib, everyone was calling out my name, "Way to run up this hill, Michael! You can do it, Michael! Michael you are awesome!" All that helped a great deal to get me to the finish.
In the final mile it was hitting home that I was about to finish. I did most of my crying in that mile before the finish. I thoroughly enjoyed the victory lap in the Olympic Oval slapping hands of strangers and seeing Olivia and Nat on the way to the finishing arch. Then it was over....too soon on one hand, and not soon enough on the other. My finish was half hour off from what I wanted to do. It was spot-on with what I expected; no surprises.
Each finisher gets a volunteer who stays with him/her until the volunteer is assured his finisher will be okay on his own. My fella got me water, a space blanket, and two pieces of pizza. I was happy. I had him give my finisher's hat and shirt to Olivia. Then Mikaela found me and we had a celebratory hug. We went over to my family then went and got massages together. I got an hour with my women in the massage tent. First they warmed me, rubbed me, flipped me, then allowed me to change my clothes. When I left them I was in my jeans, eating French fries, and walking very normally. Mik and I found our bags and bikes and walked out of there holding our heads high. Our families were eating dinner somewhere in town. Our problem was getting out of town with the Jetta. Having arrive to T1 before they closed the roads, left us unable to easily get to our hostel. By 11pm we made it home to the open arms of our families. I think we partied until 0100 the next day.
The last presentation of the day was a four-pack of locally brewed beer acquired by my underaged daughter, Olivia. As she presented the beer, she said it was just too perfect to pass up. The beer was called....IronMike.