Ironman Lake Placid 2013: It would be my third go ‘round in LP (’01 and ’02) and my fifth attempt at the distance, the most recent of which was the colossal failure of Ironman Coeur d’Alene 2012. My previous best Ironman had been LP in 2002, where I just missed the 12 hour mark, finishing in 12:03.
CDA weighed heavily on my mind all year. Those of you who see me regularly knew it impacted me quite hard. Needless to say, I had some demons to slay from that one.
I did the mental and emotional work. It took all year, and it was hands down harder than the physical work. It took me until June to figure out (1) that I definitely wanted to do the race, and (2) what my goals would be, although they remained a little fuzzy around the edges. First and foremost, I wanted to get through the day with calm and with strength, and to unleash the physical ability that I had on that day -- whatever that turned out to be. I believed that if I could achieve that stated objective, I could PR. Doubt lingered: 2002 was a long time ago -- 11 years, 10 pounds, 2 children, and two career moves ago. Was I crazy to think I could go faster?
I had near flawless buildup. I was consistent. I spent a week at altitude. I found the best training partners a girl could ask for. I diligently practiced yoga. I sought help with diabetes. I got an insulin pump; a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). I experimented in training. I experimented in racing. I changed my diet. I sought therapy. I sought guidance from diabetes educators, endocrinologists, friends, and even the Internet. I sought quiet in my otherwise frantic life so that I could reflect. I knew that if I adhered to my original goal – stay calm, stay strong – I could do it. I. Was. Ready.
Of course readiness does not exclude nervousness. CDA had been a major life event for me. I still dreaded the swim of Lake Placid. I thought about getting a flat. The weather. The Keene descent. Blowing up on the run. Nutrition. Blood Sugar. Blood Sugar. Blood Sugar.
As race week approached, I tried to steel my nerves. Having friends and family surrounding me made a big difference. I also tried to draw on the advice of my extended racing family that I had collected through the years.
“This is not life or death. This is not even a career. This is for fun. Keep it fun.”
I am paraphrasing the words of my genius coach, but his voice kept echoing in my head until finally I believed it. No reason to dread. This whole day was to be a celebration. I had arrived at the start line in tact – no injury, no illness, no issues. I felt privileged to be able to physically, mentally and financially be able to take part in a day like this. I just wanted to enjoy it. And so I did.
I frolicked with friends. I relaxed with the boys. I relaxed on the beach. Did my final/warm up ride with Parksy. Went to a Smashfest Queen event with Hillary Biscay. She’s as beautiful, genuine, and lovely in real life as I had imagined. I was planning to wear one of their kits, and she knew me by name. Fun.
The night before the race I hardly slept. The demons loom large in the dark. Their eyes glow and they growl. As my heart raced in bed, I willed morning to hurry and arrive.
Because of the new swim start, with amateurs rolling at 6:30 am, I was to rise early. I had to make sure the breakfast insulin had cleared my system before the cannon sounded. I awoke at 3:40, just one minute prior to my scheduled alarm. Calm but appropriately anxious.
Our friend Rick was also racing and staying next door. He graciously included me with his entourage for our morning walk to town. The sky was dark. Clouds were billowing. The thought of the cold, stormy day in CDA popped into my head, and I quashed it just as fast. Rick and Josh – class acts, and the literal top of the amateur ranks – were great company. I said my goodbyes to them as we all started to hustle with the business of the morning. By the time you drop your stuff, visit transition, visit the porta potty, zip up the wetsuit, etc,… you are lining up before you know it. And so there it was.
The Big Dance
“It’s a long training day. You just pop it into grind mode and you go.”
Again a paraphrase, but the great Brian Lovett mentioned this a time or two. He also said, however: “You have years of base built up and two solid years of hard training. Don’t sell yourself short.” With these words in my head, I took my place in line for the swim. My sugar registered an ideal 125.
In my two previous IMLP’s, I swam 57 and 58 minutes. Knowing I was not in quite the same swimming shape, I thought I could go between 1:00 and 1:02 without effort. Robin convinced me to line up in the sub-60 corral. As I stood there, I recognized people around me that normally swim around the same time I do – so I felt okay.
The cannon went off with little fanfare and we were off. It took me about 30 seconds to cross the line, and I went outside. Way outside. I did not want to be anywhere near the dudes, the linebackers, the strong. I steered clear of the line.
I swam fine. It was not without some anxiety – sky was dark and cloudy, water choppy. Despite the rolling start and my going far outside, bodies still blocked the way. But for the most part, it was uneventful. It took me the entire first half of the first loop to calm down. By the second half of the first loop I started to warm up. As I approached the beach, I saw I had swum the first lap very calmly in 30 min. Perfect. I heard Mike Reilly announce my name as I ran over the beach and thought: Good. Let Brian and my peeps know I am doing fine. I am fine.
Second loop went fast. On the way out, I was finally warmed up and cruising. Feeling happy, calm, controlled. As we rounded the corner for the final stretch home, I hit the masses. We caught up to the back part of the group and had to swim through them. Water was very choppy – wind had kicked up, plus the masses of bodies made it very swirly. Squashed the panic that had arisen, and calmly soldiered on.
When I reached the shore, I started to grin. This feeling of accomplishment was already with me. I had slayed Personal Enemy Number One, and I had done it pretty much in the exact time I thought I was capable of doing: 1:02, 8th in my AG (which is 35-39).
I grabbed my CGM off the medical table and heard my former neighbor (from LP) call my name. She always volunteers as a wetsuit stripper. I spun around and let her get my wetsuit off. As I ran through the chute full of screaming people, I smiled the entire way. I was elated to have gotten this far already. Heard training partners Cari, Ashley, and Heather (and Parksy’s daughter Laura) screaming for me. I gave them the thumbs up.
I hustled into the changing tent and immediately appreciated the difference in my mental status between this year and last: I could actually focus here. I led out an audible cheer. I just couldn’t help it. Everyone looked up, sort of surprised, but went back to their business quickly.
Volunteers were great, of course. I tested my blood sugar: 125. PERFECT. I shoved my stuff in my pocket and went to collect Scotty, who was waiting for me like a trusty steed. We were off for a little ride through the Adirondacks.
“The second lap does not easily forgive the sins of the first”
--Stolen from one of the Old Guard, Sean Robbins
“When you think you are going easy on the bike, slow down”
--Some random dude on FB
“Do NOT try to go under six hours”
It rained as I hopped on my bike. For those of you not familiar with the course, the Keene descent is about seven miles of downhill, that ends with a section that is fairly steep, somewhat curvy, and full of potholes. Add in the legions of other athletes whizzing by you and know this: rain does not make it better. But I survived.
I could break down every little section of the course, every climb, every emotion, every weather condition, all the beauty, all the things I saw. But I can sum it up pretty easily: I rode well within my limits on the first loop, and felt outstanding the entire way. So many people passed me on the first loop – it seemed like every single female had a “38” on her calf. It was hard to tell where you stood because of the rolling start. But honestly, I was fine to let them go. As I climbed the back half of the course on the first loop, I realized I felt calm and strong. I felt easy. I was in control.
Another Brian Lovett truism: “When your feeling about the race changes, eat something”. When I started to feel a little weak, I tested my sugar, rolling, right on the bike. Sure enough, it was a little high at 265. The CGM in my back pocket was completely not registering at all, so I wasn’t sure which way the sugar was heading, up or down. Just to be on the safe side, I took about .25 units of insulin, which was about 1/10 of what I would normally take. That would be the last insulin I took all day. It worked perfectly.
People line the final big climb back to town. I was grinning from ear to ear. I saw a few people I know cheering and then heard my name screamed. Don’t you know it was Hillary Biscay and her business partner, Michelle Landry, out in the rain cheering. Cheering for ME! I was positively beaming!
I don’t know if it was truly that fun, or if it was fun by sheer contrast to how miserable last year had been, but I loved every minute of that bike. By the second time down the Keene descent, the rain had stopped and the road was somewhat dry. There was some wind, some climbs, some discomfort, but I know the course so well – I had trained there so many times – I was easily passing many people on the way back into town.
That little bit of insulin had served me well. Throughout the bike, I ate 2 powerbars, 2 rice krispie treats, 3 gels, 6 Clif shot blocks, a packet of gu chomps, and drank 8-9 bottles of fluid (1 gatorade, 2-3 perform, 3 water with electrolyte tabs, and 3 waters). I took five salt tabs. The only other time I had tested my blood sugar, I was 116.
For the first time in any of my Ironmans, I was not itching to get off the bike. I felt too good. I knew the run was waiting. I knew the run was where it would get real. I had ridden a 6:06 and enjoyed every minute. Despite all those people who seemingly passed me, I had lost one place in my AG, bringing me into 9th.
I handed Scotty off to a volunteer and found my land legs. Transition 2 was seamless, and my sugar tested at 147. My first error of the day happened here: I took only one small bottle of salt tabs instead of grabbing a second. But I was off in a flash.
“Don’t get happy feet on the way out of town”
“You just make up your mind that you are not going to walk and don’t.”
The run was my wild card and is always my Achilles heel. I really believed in my heart of hearts I could run 4:20. Although that number was in the back of my head, my real goal was to run calm and to run strong – whatever the pace may be.
Of course when you start the run in an Ironman you feel sort of gross. I was prepared for it. Luckily, I know this run course like the back of my hand. I decided to not wear a GPS, and, in fact, to not pay attention to the mile markers. I didn’t really want to know how fast – or how slowly – I was running. I just knew I had to get out of town, past my house, down past the ski jumps, out to the turn around on River Road, and back. Twice. There was only one way to do that as efficiently as possible: run at a pace I felt like I could run at all day.
I ran out of salt at mile 13. I was hoping the fact that I had taken it regularly for the first two hours would carry me through. I think made it through the first loop in about 2:05. I actually don’t know for sure and didn’t really care. All I knew is I had to make it out of town, past the house, down to the ski jumps, to the turn around on River Road, and back. That was it.
I started choking down the gels. I didn’t really feel like eating. I suspected I was not getting enough fluids, but it is such a hard balance – the sugar, the salt, the water; the strain of digesting it all.
Second loop on the run is when it gets real. I knew this. I urged myself to stay calm. I drew on the strength of my training. I thought about my rides with Parksy and the Hammer. I thought about running off the bike with them and how strong I had felt. I thought about climbing the 14er in Breckenridge, and how weak I had felt. I thought about the long runs I had done, and how it was just about putting one foot in front of the other. Mostly, I thought about nothing. Just focused on steady forward progress.
I noticed people out there. I saw the Pros making it look easy. I saw Rick just crushing it. I saw Scott, having a PR day and looking strong. I saw Parksy, not as close to me as I wanted him to be. I tried to send him some of my strength, but only a mumble came out.
Robin was on the side of River Road on the way to the turnaround. She looked happy with how I was doing. She told me I looked good and that I was going to go way under 12.
By the time I made my way back, things had changed a bit. I was starting to struggle. I could tell when she saw me that she knew it too. Her tone changed. “Okay, Mandy…Steady Eddy. Keep moving. Even if you have to run slowly, keep moving. Do not walk.” I think she was more concerned than I was. I had no urge to walk. I knew I had the fitness. I knew I had the strength. I was not tired in that way. I was, however, cramping badly. My energy was being sapped a bit. In retrospect, it is very clear to me that the dehydration had caught me, but at the time, I just figured that 19 miles into an Ironman run you are tired. I pressed on.
I checked my sugar. To my surprise, despite my eating a gel nearly every mile, it was 116. I was begging for salt. I missed a couple of cups of water because by this time, the course was crowded with people – and lots of them were stopping at the aid stations and inadvertently blocking the way.
No matter, I thought. This is where it gets real. You make a command decision down on River Road to dig in. It’s all mental. This. Is. FUN.
And then, lo and behold, there it was. The 22 mile marker. It never even dawned on me that the longest training run I had done was 19 miles. By that point in the day, you are operating on a somewhat primal level. I still had no urge to walk. Instead, I thought this: That’s it. Four miles to go. This whole year of anxiety. Of worry. Of excitement. Of anticipation. Of confidence. Of doubt. Of weakness. Of strength. This entire day is going to be over in four miles. That is too soon. This has been almost too easy. Relish. It’s almost gone.
I ran up the ski jump hill, past the house, up the hill into town and onto the final out and back. I was really, really suffering by this point. Cramping really prevented me from going any faster. But I knew I could do anything for a mile.
I could hear Mike Reilly (“The Voice of Ironman”) calling the finishers in. They were waiting for me. I started to smile again. I could not believe I had done it, and done it the exact way I wanted to. I had executed my race and I had done it right.
My run time was 4:29.59. I had only lost 3 places in my AG, for a final place of 12th. My total time: 11:48:16 – my PR by 15 minutes. Really, more importantly, I had loved every single minute of my day.
Immediately after I crossed the line, I needed assistance. I went to the med tent and received three bags of IV fluid and IV Zofran. I did underestimate while out on the course how dehydrated I was. Regardless, I had a fantastic race. I had finally slayed the demons.
I could spend pages thanking people. But I will simply and sincerely say thank you for all of your love and support. Special shout outs to:
--The early morning crew at Rodale: BEST swimming partners ever
--Everyone who rode longer than they needed to on any given day so I could get my miles in
--All my girls who slogged through runs and slowed down their own pace to run with me
--My yogini goddesses, who helped me find quiet in my life and build strength when I was down
--Jack and Marcie, for the best pre race dinner ever.
--Robin, for counseling and believing in me when I did not believe in myself
--John and Kevin at Cyclefitters, who spent hours getting Scotty to a point where he shifted flawlessly and without fail – and for getting Scotty to fit me like a glove in the first place.
--Gretchen Perilli and Jerry, for getting me physically and mentally back together after my fail.
I would be remiss to not mention and give huge and special thanks to Parksy. This strong and humble man rode every single long ride with me. We crushed them together. Best. Wingman. Ever. I owe a huge part of my race to you, my friend.
As always, a gracious thank you to my genius coach and guiding light, Todd Wiley, who always keeps me fit and strong, but most importantly, keeps it all in perspective for me.
And last, but certainly not least, to the three loves of my life. And you, the big one – you are my idol and my hero, and I love you.
Coach is right. This is not life or death. It’s just for fun. But it feels damn good when you nail it. And this, my friends, is why they call it addicting.