So #IMLP2021 actually started in Couer d’Alene about a month before. My plan was to use structured training right up to IM Couer d’Alene and then use some of the fitness gains from that race to carry me to IM Lake Placid. For reasons still mysterious to me, I was not able to complete IMCDA and so in terms of training I just sort of made it up as I went along for those last few weeks. I did do a bit of hill climbing rides but I can honestly say I was super tapered going into this race.
So all I can say here is that it was exactly what I expected. It was a full contact swim with lots of zig-zaggers, sighting boobers, and pace over-estimators. I am not a fast swimmer but if you are faster than me you really should have learned to sight by now. Pretty much the same exact experience as 3 years ago with the exception that from the start I was really focused on staying in my comfort zone. Just really really comfortable in my breathing and exertion level. Much like Couer d’Alene I was surprised to be in the low 1:20s in terms of completion time! I have not really been training the swim. Mostly just a weekly OWS and the occasional pool. In fact, after IMCDA I don’t think I hit the pool once! The swim has just been super steady for me for the last couple of years! Not much improvement, not much decline! Just kinda mailed it in!
Came out of the water feeling pretty good! I did not feel spent and energy was high. I popped 2 gels and a strupewaffle just before going in which topped off the energy stores. The unique thing this year was the uphill run to transition. It seemed long to me but I was ok to run it. It always feels like a victory to be out of the water so I was in a good place to move on to the next phase.
I took my time in transition trying to keep my socks dry, and getting on my aero sleeves which were a bit of a pain to put on. I had agonized all week over what vest to wear on the bike since the weather was calling for rain and I knew going down the Keene descent in a wet flimsy kit as your only layer would likely mean I would be cold. I popped another quick gel, put on my lightest vest and I was off. I made my way through town, rode past River Rd, and as soon as we hit that first hill I immediately felt hot. Only a few minutes into the ride and it was time to discard the vest! Luckily at the top of the hill was the house we were staying at so I was able to drop off the vest in the mailbox to be retrieved later. The guy behind me was a bit perplexed but I told I was just dropping off something in the mail…
The Keene descent was as sketchy as ever! Same as 3 years ago it was wet and dangerous. I chose to ride my tubeless 28s with 70 PSI and I was super happy with that decision. I felt really glued to the road and while I can’t say it was a “full send” type of ride, I was comfortable enough to break into the 40s something MPH as my top end in some sections.
Unfortunately the treacherous conditions did catch up to some athletes and there was an a pile up of bodies and bikes right in the middle of the road. I was able to avoid it in a very controlled manner to which I credit my disc brakes. I am a big believer in disc brakes and this is the perfect example of how much safer they are in comparison to rim brakes (especially on wet carbon). I recognized one of the people on the road as a friend of mine and while she seemed unhurt, my heart dropped to my stomach. At the bottom of Keene there was a bunch of medical personnel and I yelled at them to alert them of the accident which they replied that they were already aware. Later in the race I did see my friend back riding her bike during a section where riders go in both directions so that confirmed to me she was ok.
The most impactful thing of the whole bike for me was the headwinds on the back side of the course. While the wind was at our back going down, it was right in our faces coming up. The wind felt worse for me on the first loop than the second but it made an already challenging course just that much harder. The course is 112 miles which often means a steady energy decline throughout, but both mentally and physically, this very much felt like 2- 56 mile bike rides where I was depleted at the end of the first loop, got put back together by a mini coke and a few bites of an uncrustable, and then a second ride with an equally steady decline. Overall it was a measured ride. If I really wanted I probably could have a shaved a few minutes here but I would have certainly paid for it on the run.
So the run was where things got interesting! After another longer than normal transition, I was off running downhill with nothing but salt and water bottle! The usual bandolero of gels was missing and I admittedly was a bit nervous as this was the first race I was truly going to completely depend on the on-course nutrition. I had bought the Maurten gels they were giving out on the course and tested them out with good results but it is nearly impossible to duplicate race conditions. The plan was actually pretty simple… Take 2 gels per hour and just drink everything but the Red Bull as I go through the aid stations. Gatorade, coke, chicken broth, yes please! Fill the water bottle with ice when needed and use most of it on over my head, arms, legs, and genitals (because if the genitals are fresher you run faster)!
This actually worked fairly well for me! I don’t think it is an understatement to say my run fitness was lacking going into this race, not to mention the achilles tendonitis I had to rehab, so I thought maybe 10, 12 miles if I was lucky of actual running (with the exception of walking the aid stations for proper nutrition intake). I did my run by feel and I used my HR zones mostly as a validation. I kept it very dialed back at the start until I got into a rhythm I felt I could sustain, and for the most part did sustain, which I actually attribute to experience. This resulted in a slower pace than I have performed in the past but again looking back I think this was a smart thing to do. Also the nutrition plan was working pretty well which I think is why I keep the pace pretty steady ’till just about mile 20. Between the taste fatigue and the leg fatigue, I did lose track of when I took the last gel, and when I should take the next, and how to time it all to coincide with running by an aid station. It was between mile 20 and 21 when the wheels came off…
It was around that time I also noticed the top of my right fibula was hurting quite a bit. Perhaps it was hurting before and I was blocking it out but it became hard to ignore at that point. I sort of shuffled my way forward from that point trying to muster an ugly run and a little bit of energy for the finish line which was the equivalent of squeezing water from a rock. Looking back I probably should have had one or two more gels during the second half but all-in-all I did ok considering the run fitness I brought in. I had zero stomach discomfort consuming the $3 Maurten gels!
So my total time was 15 hours and 2 minutes. My immediate thought after finding this out while eating some shitty pizza was that I should have moved faster in transition and I could have easily come under 15. The other thought was that had this had been Frankfurt I would not have finished by 2 minutes. I did just complete an IRONMAN which is something to be proud of, but in the moment those were the thoughts that came to mind.
When compared to that last time I did Lake Placid, I was about an hour and 15 minutes slower this time around. I would say the wind played a small part here but it is clear to me that my body did not adapt as well to the training stimulus. The root cause of this is yet undetermined but while my leg strength feels the same, my ability to process oxygen seems compromised. Perhaps it was covid, perhaps stress, perhaps inconsistent training, or perhaps all of the above.
The ultimate measure and overarching thought coming off of Coeur d’Alene was can I even still finish an IRONMAN?!? This was ever present in my mind both during, and leading up to the race, so when assessing the result from that perspective it was an unequivocal success. There are things I wish I had done better but I am happy with the result.
As always, it takes a village to get through an IRONMAN. I would like to thank my amazing sherpa Monika, my parents, my friends, training partners, and triathlon tribe for the amazing support. IRONMAN #6 is in the books so let the off season begin…