I was intimidated all year about this distance. I will be the first to say that I had no idea what to expect. I got a coach. I trained hard and I trained smart. I put full trust in my coach and my training. I worked on becoming a mentally strong athlete. I analyzed my nutrition on the bike and run every single training session. I totally changed my diet. For the better. I asked questions because I knew I didn’t know the answers. I leaned on my training partners who became more like family. They have become my very best friends and I can’t thank them enough for their advice, guidance, support and most of all for believing in me.
A year ago I set my phone to tick down the days, hours, minutes until the big day. From the day I signed up, until race day, I can say that Ironman Lake Placid was pretty much all I thought about. I trained, ate and slept thinking about IMLP. The year flew by as quickly as I could snap my fingers. I couldn’t believe that I was in Lake Placid and it was almost time to party. I knew I was ready because despite all the hype and commotion, I was very relaxed. I put in the training. That was the hard part. The race would be the celebration of all those 5am wake-ups, 100 mile rides and 14+ mile runs. Finally, I made the decision to stop fearing the distance.
“Fear is only as deep as the mind allows.”
A 6:30am race start meant an early wake up! I had my alarm set for 3:45am but I was wide awake at 3:30am. “Today is the day,” I thought and I couldn’t help but smile. Brian and Parksy were already in the kitchen, coffee in hand, checking the weather. Huge patches of heavy rain surrounding Lake Placid. Great, it may be a wet day.
Jack was staying next door to us and we all agreed to meet outside and walk to town together. It was a dark walk. The roads were wet. The street was quiet. It was the calm before the storm. Until we made the turn onto the main street. Athletes everywhere. It was race day!
Parksy and Brian went directly to transition while Jack and I walked to the bike special needs drop off. I decided to be on the safe side and packed a bike special needs bag. After a few days of stressing over whether to pack one or not I decided it wouldn’t hurt. I would only stop if I absolutely had to. I packed a few extra pop tarts, a vanilla Powerbar and an extra container of salt tabs. The drop off was painless and I made my way towards transition for body marking. Time certainly flies race morning. Before I knew it, it was go time.
Before the gun went off, I remembered Mandy, my great friend and training partner, telling me, “You. Are. Ready. This is nothing more than a long training day. You have put in the training now go have fun.” I knew she was right. This race was months of hard work put into one day. I decided to think of it as such. A long swim, a long bike and a long run.
I quickly got across the timing mat and into the water. I thought the rolling start meant that 25-30 athletes would go into the water at once, a short pause and then 25-30 more after that. However, I am pretty sure that was not how it went. I was in the water with 3000 fighting athletes. I was told time and time again to not fight for the cable. Everyone fights for the cable. So, I made the decision to swim to the left of it. 300 meters into the swim I still found that there were athletes everywhere and I was fighting to survive. I had a lot of anxiety as I was fighting to find clear water. Little did I know that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. I was hitting arms with other swimmers, had kicking feet inches from my face, got my goggles knocked around from someone’s arm which put water in them. There were some athletes I was flying by, swimming over, some that were flying by me and some that swam my speed. I tried to remain as calm as I could, but I knew my heart rate was through the roof and I wasn’t holding good form. The buoys seemed to be flying by though. I’m sure the draft that 3,000 athletes created was substantial but my first loop swim time didn’t prove that.
Coming into the finish of the first loop there was a lot of traffic. Athletes were walking up and out of the water towards the second loop. I chose to swim as far as I could until my fingertips hit the bottom and then I stood up, ran to shore and back into the water for loop two. I thought for sure I would have clear sailing by now. False. I still had traffic on the start of the second loop too. At this point, I remembered Kenrick telling me to stay positive. So rather than stressing out, I told myself to relax, if I found clear water to pick up the pace and/or if I was stuck in traffic to just settle in and keep swimming. After all, I had a “long training day” ahead of me. The swim was only a small part of that day.
As I was heading back home on the second loop I happened to notice the sky. It was dark. I thought I felt rain drops but wasn’t sure if it was just all the chaos going on in the water. I made the final turn for home, ran out of the water and into the swim finish. I found a wetsuit stripper who ripped mine off without incident and I gathered it up in my arms and ran towards T1. By the way, it was raining. Hard.
Long swim, check! 1:05:23
I ran into transition and found my bike gear bag without an issue and ran into the women’s changing tent. The volunteer was great. She opened my bag, dumped everything out, gave me my towel to wipe my wet feet, helped me buggle my helmet strap, helped me out of the chair and wiped my back dry of water, sweat and sand. I booked it out of the changing tent and around the oval only to find that my bike wasn’t waiting for me. The volunteers getting bikes couldn’t seem to find mine. I wasn’t sure if I could grab my own bike or not so I waited for them to give it to me. I would have been faster if I hard fetched it myself. Oh yeah, I forgot. I have a long day ahead of me. Those extra thirty seconds didn’t matter in the long run.
Total Time: 5:21
My coach, Kenrick and my dear friend, Mandy, gave me a few pieces of advice about the bike which definitely all held true:
“If you think you are going slow enough on the first loop of the bike, slow down.”
“People will fly by you on the first loop of the bike. Let them go. You will see them on the second loop and later on the run.”
“Drink more than you think you should on the bike.”
“Stick to your plan.”
“Use what the course gives you. Spin up the hills. Use the downhills to your advantage.”
It was raining, in fact it was pouring when I got on my bike. I tried putting on my sunglasses but they fogged up so I took them off and tucked them into my tri top. Without my shades on, I could barely see because of how hard it was raining. It was a no win situation. I also made the safe decision to stay out of my aerobars and kept my hands close to the brakes. I had the Keene descent looming in my mind. As I spun my way up the climb out of Lake Placid I thought I saw lightning. I took notice to the other athletes who just kept on riding like it was normal to bike in thunder and lightning. Another lightning strike. Thunder. Hail. I felt like my body was getting stabbed over and over by needles. Nah, it was just rain. Everyone around me was clearly racing. So I kept on.
The Keene descent was pure chaos. Seven miles of downhill on a normal day is awesome, but on a day like today, it was a total nightmare. Guys were flying down the descent in aerobars. I chose to stay out of my aerobars and brake down the descent. I stayed away from the paint in the roads since that can be like ice when it’s wet. I stayed alert to what was going on around me. I didn’t want one of those speed demons to lose their line and clip my back wheel. I was freezing. I was shivering. My hands were cold. I could barely move them. But I made it down without incident and I didn’t see anyone crash, thankfully! I remember hoping that the weather would clear for the second loop. I didn’t want to go down that descent a second time in those conditions.
I feel that I rode every climb with little effort. I paid close attention to my breathing and heart rate. I don’t wear a heart rate monitor. If I felt like I was huffing and puffing, I slowed down. If I thought my heart was beating out of my chest, I slowed down. I let everyone pass me and I didn’t get worked up about it. I felt fantastic the entire ride. I never cracked. I never felt like I was hungry or thirsty because I never strayed from my plan. In fact, I think I ate and drank more than I normally would have. I never felt like I couldn’t wait to get off my bike. Rather, as I approached Papa Bear on the second loop, I couldn’t believe the 112 mile bike was almost over. It was almost time to run and I couldn’t help but smile.
Total time: 6:36:26
As I approached the bike dismount line I heard a familiar voice yell “Go Ashley!” It was my college swim coach. It meant a lot to me to have her out there on the course, volunteering and cheering. Thanks Lisa!
I gave my bike to a volunteer without even giving it a second thought. For those of you that know me well, know that I only allow a few people to touch my bike. But on this day, I didn’t care. I had work to do. The run towards my gear bag was a little shaky. I was running in my bike shoes and my legs just spun for 112 miles. Back into the changing tent I went and sat down, took what I had in my tri kit pockets out and geared up for the run. The volunteer had to help me out of the chair and hold me as I stood up. My legs were a bit wobbly. After standing for a few seconds I grabbed a cup of water, chugged it and made my way out of transition.
Total time: 3:12
When it comes to the run I have a tendency to put it into grind mode and block everything/everyone out. Those of you who have raced with me and have seen me on the course know exactly what I am talking about. I barely hear anyone/anything. This race was no different. I knew that in order to run the entire marathon I would have to block things/people out. In an Ironman run there is chaos and carnage. Athletes suffering everywhere. I did not want to get caught up in someone else’s sufferfest.
So, to keep my mind occupied on the task at hand (run the entire marathon) I decided that I would break the course up into segments. This was great advice from Mandy and Kenrick pre-race. Get to River Road, then to the turn around, then back to Route 73, clear the two climbs into town, turn around on Mirror Lake Drive, repeat again. Piece of cake.
I made my way out of town and looked down at my watch and thought, SLOW DOWN! I think I told myself that over and over for the first 3 miles. But I couldn’t slow down. It was downhill, but I also felt great. I made sure to grab something at each aid station and to keep moving. A few days before the race, I made a promise to Parksy that I was not going to walk the run. No matter what, I was not going to walk. When I set my mind to do something, I do it.
Before I knew it I was already at the turn around on River Road and running back towards town. I grabbed an orange at the last aid station on River Road before heading up the climb to town. It’s amazing what holding something in my hand does for me when climbing. It has worked wonders for me in the past and it worked well for me here too.
Next came Mirror Lake Drive. I was warned about this section of the course since it’s so close to the finish. You can hear Mike Reilly calling in the finishers. This part of the course takes lots of mental strength and I had it. I blocked it out and just kept trucking. I only had to run down to River Road and then back to town one more time to become an Ironman and I was going to do it.
At the Mirror Lake Drive turnaround I started grabbing cold sponges. One for each hand. I was starting to get hot. As with the aid stations on the bike, one the run I grabbed everything I could. I slowed my pace and went right down the line for volunteers.
The race doesn’t start until mile 18 of the run. If you feel good at that point, then bring it home.
Mandy told me this quite a few times leading up to the race. I kept it in my mind as I was running. I swear before I knew it, I was at mile 18. I smiled thinking of what she said. I felt good and knew I was going to bring it home. But I realized at this point that I was not able to pick up my pace at all. I tried. My legs screamed. So I made the decision to keep it strong and just maintain the pace I was already holding. At mile 18 I started grabbing coca cola from the aid stations. I even went out of my comfort zone and grabbed a handful of grapes. Popped a few into my mouth and threw the rest into the bushes. That little change did wonders for me. I didn’t feel like I was cracking, I just wanted something different.
Then came mile 23. Only 3.2 more miles to go. Mile 23 was just before the Lovett’s driveway. As I rounded the corner I could see Rachel and Laura were waiting for me with their beautiful smiles and cheers. I gave them a thumbs up, a smile in return, and made my way to Mirror Lake drive for the final turn around.
Run time: 4:11:12
Leading up to the race I was asked many times what my goal was going into IMLP. I simply responded with, “to just finish.” I would be lying if I said I didn’t have any goal times in mind. I did. I just kept them to myself. I didn’t even tell my coach. I thought I could swim somewhere around 1:05, bike around 6:30 and run 4:15. I told myself I would be happy finishing in 13 hours. And now, sitting here writing this, I think it’s fair to say that I exceeded any and all expectations that I had of myself on that day. Not to mention, a top 10 finish in my age group. (I finished 8th)
Overall time: 12:01:40
There are so many people I want to thank for all their support this past year. It would take pages.
To my coach, Kenrick Smith: He not only is my coach, but a training partner and friend who I leaned on a lot this past year. I owe much of my success to him. He has helped me to become a stronger runner and overall a stronger triathlete. I have put my full trust into him. He is such an inspiration to me. I hope I made you proud my friend!
Mandy: My inspiration and dear friend. I confided in her. She has encouraged me, traveled with me, trained with me and most of all believed in me. It means a lot to me that she was on the course supporting me throughout the day. She was the first person I saw as I headed out on the bike. The first one I saw as I ran towards River Road. The first person I saw cheering me up the toughest climb on the course. Seriously, to hear her telling me that I am “killing it” while running the final few miles of the marathon has meant so much to me. It is something I will never forget.
Thank you to my support crew!! My parents, my sister Rachael, my co-worker Jodi, Laura Parks and Rachel Becker, Brian Lovett, Jack and Marcie, Nancy Puckett, everyone at Rodale, the K-Krew, and everyone else who encouraged me and supported me through this journey! THANK YOU!