Monday, October 09, 2023

Keep it burning through the night, until the end of time: Ironman Lake Placid 2023 Race Report

Well, I am an Ironman again! Not entirely sure how that happened lol. This entire training cycle, up to and including the race felt like an insane fever dream - I was half convinced I was going to wake up midway through the bike and discover it was actually a Tuesday morning at the very start of training. I signed up for this race basically when it opened last July when I was just starting to crawl out of my injury pit and train with any sort of consistency again. It had always kind of been on my list as I'd heard about the race from several people I follow on Instagram that it was beautiful, it was HARD, and it had a lot of history. The race's contract also ends next year and there have also been rumors that it may not return after 2024 (although IDK based on the support I saw for the race all over town I have to doubt that somewhat), plus I could DRIVE there and not have to deal with flying with my bike, so it was kind of a no brainer to sign up. Obviously between July and now many things occurred - I also made the somewhat idiotic decision to run Boston in April, thinking to myself that I would *definitely* be able to keep the focus on the Ironman as opposed to dropping swimming and riding like they were hot in favor of building up "high" (not even really that high) marathon mileage...but I was definitely lying to myself. Yes, I did some trainer riding and some swimming over the winter but it was definitely the first thing to get dropped in favor of a run as I kept telling myself that I needed to "respect the marathon". That was all well and good, however when I finished my post-Boston recovery week and realized I had essentially 10 WEEKS to train myself up for an Ironman....I may or may not have panicked a little (a lot). Talk about respecting the distance?!! This is an Ironman we're talking about here, people! It quickly became clear that I was going to be cramming what probably should have been 6 months of structured training into 3 months, while also juggling an insane schedule that included work, the busiest season of my dance teaching side job, multiple mountain races that I refused to back out of, and the most ill timed bout of pool renovations I ever did see. Sounds fun, right?

All in all though, it WAS fun, even if I wished I could have spread things out a bit more and gotten myself up to a better level of fitness before the race. Reversing roles, I decided to rest on the laurels of having just completed a marathon cycle and REALLY deprioritized a fault, I would say. My long runs really took a hit particularly as we got later into June and July, between a bunch of races, an entire month of the absolute SHITTIEST weather, and the global fatigue of the abbreviated cycle itself. I only ended up getting in 1 16 miler and 1 18 miler, with a couple of 14-15 milers in there but a decent stretch of weeks where my long run only made it up to 12 miles for several reasons (got sick...did a half Iron tri where the run was only 12 miles...wanted to do a fun long run with friends instead of running solo...). On the flip side, I did not miss a SINGLE bike workout and really made the long rides a priority, no matter if the weather sucked or not. Swimming was a mixed bag - I really tried to get in the water 2x/week but between BOTH of my pools being closed for a period of time and the constant rain making OWS a challenge, my volume wasn't as high as I would have liked. Training completely solo was also pretty weird - I did one long run and some mountain races with my running friends, and one long ride in New Hampshire with Gwen, but otherwise I was flying solo the whole time which was a very different vibe than the IMWI cycle. As race day approached, I felt confident that I could complete the distance but not so confident of how strong I would be. Truthfully, between the difficulty of the bike course, the prospect of summer weather, and the above mentioned less-than-impeccable training cycle, I suspected my time was very likely to be closer to 13 hours than 12, and had zero aspirations of a PR. But up until the very last second, I wasn't actually NERVOUS about the race - maybe because the training had been more a matter of putting my head down and bulldozing my way through each week as opposed to feeling like some epic quest, or maybe just because now I've done it and I know I can.

However, all of a sudden around the Tuesday before the race, my anxiety spiraled into something really quite nasty - every doubt I think I've ever had about myself athletically came bubbling up to the surface. I had only done like 3 swims over 3000 yards and all of my open water swims were slow, how was I even going to finish the swim in a reasonable time? The Keene Descent was a nightmare and I was going to be the loser riding my brakes on the side, wasn't I? My bike was going to be so slow because there was no way I had done enough hard climbing! The situation was not helped by the fact that on Wednesday Topper decided he would help himself to my packed container of cinnamon RAISIN bagels (this is what I get for trying to be prepared)...raisins can cause kidney failure in dogs, and so his delightful need to be an obese animal turned into a trip to the emergency vet on our way to Lake Placid on Thursday...don't worry, the raisins didn't cause him any problems, he was just bloated from all the carbs, lol. Having dealt with our pathetic animal there was a bit of a weight lifted and by the time we actually made it to Lake Placid on Thursday evening I was definitely feeling better about life. It was also super helpful having been up there for the weekend back in June, because I felt like I had the lay of the land and knew where I was going at all times which was one less thing to worry about in terms of nerves.

Our Vrbo was in a great spot in my opinion - right on the bike course where the climbing really starts in Wilmington, a really beautiful and secluded spot but also not too far from town where everything was happening. I did a quick 4 mile shakeout run when we arrived just to stretch out after the car ride and stumbled upon the cutest little local lake/park where a bunch of people had gathered to listen to some live folk music. As I was heading back up the road the band started playing a song that had something to do with loving life or living like it's the last day of your life or something like that, and I kind of liked the vibes that carried going into the weekend. We ate dinner at the Twisted Raven where I had to choose items based solely on the number of carbs that they contained. True carb loading DEFINITELY works, but wow do I kind of hate it haha. 

I enjoy the fact that you have to do a lot of your check in stuff for Ironman 2 days before, as I think that the day before the day before the race is the best day to get excited and enjoy the vibes of a big race without having to freak out about the race actually being the following day. We ended up walking down the road from our cabin to Up a Creek for breakfast which was SO great - cute little spot, great food, and dog friendly. I went a bit nuts on the carb loading train and ended up getting pancakes, breakfast potatoes, AND fruit...the pancakes were gigantic and both Andrew and the server were cracking up at how much food I had in front of me. I'm normally not a sweet breakfast person so this was really a sacrifice for me to not get like a breakfast sandwich or an omelette and go for the pancakes instead lol. We drove up to Placid via 86 and I got to point out all the sights of the bike course to Andrew, which, thanks to my training weekend in June I felt like I already knew super well. The bike course is just so unbelievably gorgeous - I genuinely don't think I ever got sick of the sights driving/biking into and out of town. 

In my opinion we nailed the timing getting to athlete check in right as it opened at 9, and after a short wait I once again had an Ironman wristband on and a bib number assigned...apparently, this was really happening!? Whenever I think about the entire weekend, "surreal" is really what comes to mind. I was really trying to be present and take in the whole experience but my brain was really having a hard time believing that said experience could possible be real. I bought some swag at the Ironman store and then roamed around the village, which was a giant puddle on the speed skating oval because there had been a big thunderstorm the night before. I wandered into the PlayTri area looking for an extra Co2 canister and walked away with more miscellaneous flavors of Gu and a bottle of chain lube...I think a snake oil salesman could have convinced me I needed about a thousand different things at that moment. Andrew and I got coffee at Origin (quite possibly my new favorite coffee shop in all the land) and then grabbed bagel sandwiches to go from Soulshine Bagels. Then we beat it back to the Vrbo...honestly, while I can definitely see the convenience of staying right in town for the race I actually loved being able to completely escape the insanity. We spent the next couple of hours just relaxing in the yard behind our cabin, eating sandwiches (and I even had a beer!) and I could *almost* completely forget the purpose of this whole endeavor was for me to go cover 140 miles under my own power on Sunday. 

Andrew took a nap while I set about organizing THE BAGS, that very uniquely Ironman situation that requires you to split up all of your transition and special needs gear and bag it separately. This was kind of a zen project but also a stressful one, as I'm always convinced that I'm going to forget *something* (I'm looking at you, run special needs seltzer from Wisconsin). But eventually I felt like I had the key components sorted out and the special needs ones could be saved for later, as those couldn't be dropped off until race day anyway. I then went for a shakeout ride which I decided to do out on the Haselton out and back which was WONDERFUL - my bike and I felt totally in sync, the road was beautiful and empty, and I was riding fast without much effort. It's amazing how I can be so deep in my head about these things and really the only thing I need to do is DO something, and I will feel better every. single. time. When I got back from my ride even though it was early we decided that for lack of anything better to do we should go early to dinner at Big Slide, where I knew they had good pizza and just as importantly, good beer. This turned out to be a great decision, as we were able to get a table right away but by the time we left the place was packed and there was a decent wait. We got a delightful appetizer called "the 3 needs" which was basically a sampler of 3 different breads, cheeses, and beers which also added to my carb total! I got a bolognese pizza which was ridiculously good, and we ordered a 3rd pizza to take home so that I would have something to eat when we got back after the race on Sunday. Pleasantly full, we drove back to the vrbo via the run course on River Road, which is, like everything else on this race course, beautiful, and I said something to Andrew along the lines of "how do people not like this run course? Like, they say it's BORING. How can you think this is boring?" Ohhhhhh little did I know boring would be the least of my worries on River Road on race day...but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Saturday morning was definitely where the anxiety started to set back in, and I found myself feeling horribly nervous as I got my bike and run/bike bags ready to take downtown for gear check in. I literally could not stop thinking about the Keene descent, the enormity of the distance, just the whole thing. But just like the night before, I knew that if I could just go *do* something I would feel better, so I got my stuff together and actually enjoyed the drive downtown - again, just soaking in the beauty of the road in the calm before the storm. I got to the lake for my little shakeout and once again felt a little overwhelmed by the buzz of energy. It's just so easy to look around at everyone around you when getting ready for a race like this and think "they're so much more prepared, so much better than me, so much stronger, do I really belong here?" Even though I think I've more than proven that I am a decent triathlete (and not that it would even matter if I weren't) I still have such imposter syndrome when I show up especially to these big Ironman races. But, as always, as soon as I got in the water all of that disappeared, and I thoroughly enjoyed my 1000 yds of shakeout swimming. I sort of impulsively bought a sleeveless wetsuit a couple of weeks ago because I realized that the water temp at Placid was probably going to be close to the wetsuit line anyway and I'd prefer not to be hot...that turned out to be a GREAT choice as I think having more freedom at my shoulders definitely makes a difference for me. I came out of the water feeling happy, but also like an idiot as I didn't think to bring an extra change of clothes *or* a towel, so I ended up getting to practice transition a day early as well by walking back up to my car in my wetsuit and then pulling a full car change in the public Lake Place parking lot, lmao. Honestly, it was just what I needed - to laugh at myself and to remember that all this is supposed to be fun! I was kind of hungry and there was still a bit before bike check in opened, so I went back to the bagel place and got a breakfast sandwich, which I ended up eating in the car because it was actually kind of COLD out?! After existing in a perpetual land of heat and humidity for the last month being in a place where I actually felt like I wanted to have long sleeves on was shocking and also absolutely magical. 

I headed over to bike check in and was one of the first few in with every event along the way this weekend, the ratio of men to women was wild - there were just over 450 female finishers out of over 1600 competitors, which is just WILD to me! I wonder if triathlon will ever catch up the way running seems to have, or if it's just the long course races (it was a similar ratio at White Mountains). I definitely think it adds a special bit of sisterhood with the other women you do see out on the course, though! Bheithir was the first bike on his rack in a spot with a great view of the finish line, and after checking that everything was set with his placement I took a moment to just take in my surroundings. I was saying to Andrew later when we toured the Olympic museum and the 1980 ice rink that I have a fondness for empty stadiums and arenas...I feel like without the fans and the music and the chaos they just have this energy about them, this sense of great moments past but also of such potential. Obviously there was plenty of chaos happening, but standing there in the middle of the Olympic oval, with still mostly empty racks surrounding me, I felt the potential in the moment, the possibility...I get a little chill thinking about that now.

I dropped off my gear bags and in doing so remembered a little trick that I had forgotten about putting something that stands out on the top of your bag to make it easier to find - made a mental note to figure out something of that nature for later. Then I headed back to Origin for more coffee and was feeling very self satisfied with how early I had completed all of my tasks; I was pulling out of my primo parking spot when I suddenly realized that I still needed to go to the athlete briefing at 11...derp. I went and found a new parking spot and walked myself back to the least now I had coffee! The briefing didn't really explore anything I didn't already know, although it was helpful to hear the specifics of the bike transition (someone takes your bike back to the rack at the end of the bike, whaaaat?) and hear that the current official water temperature was 72 so wetsuit legality was all but certain. Now that my work in town was ACTUALLY done, I headed back to my car and decided to drive back to the vrbo the long way, via the Keene Descent.

Let me pause here for a moment and just talk about the Keene Descent, which has been living rent free in my mind since I signed up for this race. I am NOT a descender - I tend to be a pretty cautious cyclist, even more so after my crash last year, and there is something about how out of control going downhill on a bike can sometimes feel that just freaks me out. When I rode the course at the beginning of June it was in really bad conditions (fog, crosswinds, low visibility, and cold) and I was terrified to the point of having to stop halfway down to collect myself, so I felt like I needed to see the thing one more time before race day to mentally prepare. I think it was a good idea - it definitely wasn't as bad as the image I had in my head, and I was able to kind of give myself a pep talk as I was alone in the car. The rest of the drive honestly helped to calm me down overall and by the time I made it back to the cabin I was in a way better headspace. 

We went back to Up A Creek for lunch (turkey club, you can never go wrong) and then pretty much lounged around for the remainder of the afternoon - I read a bunch, took a nap, and went out on my little baby shakeout run but otherwise pretty much stayed off my feet. One of the huge perks of staying in a cabin vs. a hotel in my opinion is being able to cook your own food the night before a race; not only not dealing with the stress of finding a place to eat but also knowing that you can eat exactly what you want and are used to. So I ate the same thing that I've eaten before who knows how many races in the past 10 years: pasta with homemade butter tomato sauce and breaded chicken, and it was perfect. I also had a pack of poptarts for dessert because #allthecarbs, lol. We watched Miracle on my tiny phone screen (kind of had to, given the setting) and I had my customary prerace beer and painted my nails, and then we were in bed by 8:30 with the alarm set for 4 am...setting the alarm that says "IT'S IRON DAY" that I haven't deleted from my phone since that first solo venture back in 2020 made me feel a whole lot of feels. I tried to push back the nerves and kept telling myself the same thing I've been telling myself all training cycle: to push away the part of me that wants to focus on all the things I didn't do or could have done better, and to focus solely on what I DID do, and believe and trust myself that it would be enough.

I woke up before my alarm race morning, judging the fact that it must be getting close by the fact that I kept hearing more and more cars driving on the road past the cabin. I gathered my swim and special needs bags, braided my hair, ate first breakfast (a banana, juice, and graham crackers), and we drove through the dark up 86 one last time before I would be there on my bike. I swore as I do every time I'm in the mountains at dawn that this would be the day I saw a moose (it wasn't) and I toggled my playlist to all of my favorite pump up songs as we made good time to our "secret" parking spot off Lake Placid Drive near the top of the lake. It was a little farther away from transition than I'd hoped, but honestly the walk was good both for my nerves and to wake up my legs, and Andrew kindly carried all of my crap until we really got into the zone where things were too chaotic for him and Topper to continue. Dawn was breaking over Mirror Lake and the water was like glass. I once wrote in a piece of fiction that "it was like the sea was holding it's breath" and it felt a little bit that way, in the calm silence, like the lake was patiently waiting for the day to come.

The hour or so before transition closed felt like it passed very slowly and very quickly at the same time. I went and dropped off my bike special needs bag, giving me a good mental map of where that bag would be, and then went down to fill up my bottles, fill up my bento box, and check on Bheithir. I somehow had the foresight to bring a towel from the cabin in the morning because I was worried about my brake levers being wet and slippery (we will laugh at my fears shortly), but sure enough it had been a dewy evening and so everything on my bike was wet - it was nice to be able to give it a full wipe down before the race. I also went and attached my silly half paper plates to my run and bike bags to make them easier to find and began the work of attempting to force a of the stupid goddamn bagels that I had purchased way too far in advance and my dog almost poisoned himself with...down my throat, which some days goes OK but today was not going smoothly. I guess that should maybe have been my first guess that my stomach was going to be a diva but I tried to keep it out of my head and just focus on getting the fuel I needed in whether I wanted it or not. I felt like I walked in and out of the bike area of transition 15 times, first convinced that I'd forgotten something and then waffling back and forth over whether I should find someone with a pump to make absolutely sure that my tires were at the perfect pressure. In the end I decided it wasn't worth the possibility of somehow screwing up the correct pressure I'd already created the day before, and so I finally realized that I needed to stop creating things to do in transition and get myself down to the swim start to warm up. 

Compared to Wisconsin, LP felt pretty small and friendly to me, but the area by the swim start was still, as it always is, chaos. I was trying to figure out the perfect timeline to get my wetsuit on and get in the water without having to stand around for too long afterward, as the temps were still in the high 50s and I didn't want to get cold. I chatted with a tall, younger guy who said it was his first Ironman and I wished him an amazing day, then went off to hunt for the morning clothes bag dropoff which was somehow more challenging to find than it needed to be - myself and several other confused looking athletes finally found it up on top of the hill. It did make sense - there wasn't exactly extra room to spare on the beach - but it was one extra thing to stress me out. All of my connections to the outside world placed on a truck somewhere, it all started to get real. There was a moment of levity getting into the water for the warmup, where I sort of blindly followed a few other people into the water and we ended up in this area with a bunch of gigantic rocks off a steep bank...not exactly a smooth entry into the water, lol. I did a few strokes out towards the end of the warmup area and then paused and just floated. The sunrise was absolutely beautiful, with mountains rising out of the clouds at the end of the lake, mist hovering over the water, the sun turning everything gold. I remembered my promise to myself to take each moment as it came today, to "feel it when you feel it", as I put it to myself, not to think about how it might feel in an hour or 10. So I let myself take this moment to just feel it - the calm of the water, the way I felt floating watching the sun come up over the lake, the anticipation and possibility and gratitude for what I was about to do. It was just one of those wonderful moments where the universe feels locked into place and you have this sense that you are exactly where you are supposed to be. 

All too quickly the moment was over and it was time to get out of the water and head towards the starting corrals. I took my pineapple Gu and headed into the bottleneck of the chute, immediately finding a roadblock. I befriended a random woman as we worked our way up to our appropriate start time area together, and wound up discovering that she was from New Berlin, a couple towns over from my hometown ("Woodland Conference, baby!" I said, like a loser lmao). We wished each other luck and I made my way to what seemed like a good looking spot in the middle of the 1:10-1:20 area just as the pros started their race. And then seemed to take a LONG time to get into the water, but luckily the playlist that was bumping at the swim start would have been just as suited for getting ready to go out in 2010. We had "Poker Face" followed immediately by "Timber" which I started dancing like an insane person to and was cracking up inside when the only other person nearby who was dancing was a ~60 year old man next to me who was shaking what his mama gave him. I'd like to believe my energy was contagious lmao. The woman whose job it was to just keep talking and trying to pump us up as the race got underway was no Mike Reilly, but she did say a couple things that hit me just right - one of them a rephrasing of one of my favorite sayings "you have everything you need inside you", and also something about being courageous, which has been my word that I've turned to as an anchor throughout this training cycle. We drew closer to the starting corrals; "I've Gotta Feelin'" was now playing as I stepped up to the line. The staring thing beeped and I ran into the water, literally yelling "LETS FUCKING GO" (yes I'm serious) before I dove in. Yes indeed...let's go.

The swim (1:10:03) - 14th AG, 87th F, 324th OA

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the piece of triathlon that has always been my worst event was my HIGHEST PLACEMENT OF THE DAY. This is completely insane to me. Call it Mirror Lake magic, call it whatever you want, but this was far and away the best swim of my triathlon career so far. I got in the water and as always, I was so happy because I didn't have to think about doing the thing anymore, I was doing it. I initially had told myself that I wasn't going to try to stay on the cable, which runs under the water directly under the course and basically means you don't have to sight. The first 500 yards or so I was off to the left side of the cable but eventually found myself right on top of it, and then something funny happened: I decided, you know what, I BELONG here. I had noticed I was passing people pretty consistently from the moment I got in the water and I just decided, well, fuck it, I deserve to get on the cable. I was honestly expecting such carnage - my memory of the swim at Wisconsin was just this extremely violent and chaotic time - but honestly I found things to be pretty tame overall. I find that my general response to chaotic swimmers tends to be *annoyance* more than stress or anything else - I definitely had some instances where I felt totally stuck behind a cluster of people who were moving slower than me, but I couldn't see why I should have to go all the way AROUND them to get through. At one point I was also near some girl who just seemed insistent on trying to swim over me and at one point I literally muttered "I fucking hate you" under my breath while sighting before putting in a surge to get past her. There was also a man (it's always a man) with the most AGGRESSIVE, no need to create a tidal wave here, my guy. I took a couple nice gulps of lake water as a result in these things, but all in all things were going pretty swimmingly (heh). The turn buoys were a bit of a cluster as they always are because everyone seems to think they need to come to a dead stop to turn, but after that I found myself in relatively clear water as we headed back to the end of the first loop. Not that I could see said clear water, as my goggles were completely fogged up and between that and the sun helpfully popping out on the left side of the lake I was essentially blind. But I could see the cable, and I was swimming in a straight line, and everything seemed alright, so I told myself I'd deal with the goggles when we came out of the water before beginning our second lap. 

We got to the turn to come up onto shore before starting our second lap, which required going around a dock and was a little confusing because I actually didn't know what this turn looked like, but I was able to at least make out the swim arch and so figured it out from there. I have a bad habit of trying to check my splits while I'm racing to get a sense of pace but I actually did not do that during this race, so it was quite shocking to come up on shore, quickly defog my goggles, and glance and my watch and see 35ish minutes there! "Well, THERE'S a PR at least," I laughed as I dove back into the water, and I pretty much didn't think about anything except laughing about my half iron PR during the second lap. I was hoping I would be able to find some feet to draft off of, but as it always seems everyone who I would end up behind ended up being slower than me and so attempting to draft quickly became frustrating. I definitely got more bold on the second lap, bulldozing my way through a line of several men creating a blockade on the line, and not being afraid to surge a bit if someone was in my way. Somewhere on this lap someone literally clawed my foot (I confirmed later that they cut me, CUT YOUR NAILS PEOPLE) and I got punched directly in the goggles but otherwise there seemed to be less contact. I did run straight into at least 3 of the small round buoys that the line is set on which was sort of comical, but in each case I was able to get back into my rhythm quickly. I felt relaxed and well within myself the entire time and really never felt tired or sick of swimming, and as always seems to be the case I got a little sad as I approached the end of the second loop. The swim is just such a nice place of consistency for me - I don't think I've ever had a really *bad* I just get in, I do it, and I move on. It's really a part of triathlon that I adore. What I will say I did not adore is running into the back of the pack, however, I thought about how they were literally going to be in the water for double what I just had and I found that to be pretty incredible. I kept stroking until I touched sand and then popped up to run through the arch, looking at my watch almost as an afterthought, and saw a 1:09 THERE, and literally yelled "HOLY SHIT!"

Truly, I couldn't believe it. With all of the pool closures, OWS challenges, and honestly just not that great swim training over the past couple of months I had NO aspirations of swimming under 1:15 - hell, I would have been content with a 1:20! So this was just absolutely beyond. I honestly have to give all the credit to this random guy at the pool back in February who offered me some form tips and apparently straight up changed my life! I decided to skip the wetsuit strippers and made my way up the blue carpet, grinning from ear to ear. I vaguely heard someone yell my name and gave a thumbs up before continuing along. I did notice as I ran that my left quad was cramping up pretty aggressively, which was concerning, but I tried not to think about it too much and hoped that I could shake it out once I got on the bike - not sure if it was from running in my wetsuit or what, but it never bothered me again after T1. 

T1 - 7:43 (includes ~1/4 mile run to transition area)

Having only ever done the COVIDish edition of Wisconsin, I'd never actually experienced a changing tent before, and wow what a freaking luxurious experience! CHAIRS in transition!! I ended up sitting down next to a girl wearing the same trisuit as me, which I found delightful and we both complimented each other on our good fashion taste. I got my wetsuit off and then tried to figure out what to do - I swear my brain short circuits in T1 and with all the bags and stuff in an Ironman it just becomes even more confusing. Thankfully, the changing tent volunteers (all of the volunteers, truly) are angels and someone just appeared in front of me and began pulling things out of my bike bag, asking if I needed them, and putting things back into the bag so I could drop it off before I headed out. I crammed all of my gels into my sports bra (Tracksmith pocket bra FTW) and my waffles into my suit, hoping I had all the calories I needed for my first loop.  I found a random thing of sunscreen on the chair next to me and sprayed it on the back of my neck (and only the back of my neck lmao, way to go), said a prayer of thanks that my janky bike shoe clip appeared to be holding, got my helmet on, crammed my oatmeal cream pie into my mouth, and ran off to go find Bheithir. I always feel so wildly disheveled after the swim, like my socks are always crooked and there's some sort of food hanging out of my mouth and my zipper is half undone, and then I'm trying to run carrying my beautiful bike and it's just all so nonsensical. Triathlon is SO ridiculous lol. There was another wonderful volunteer, an older woman, there at my rack to help me with my bike and she was SO lovely - she took my bottles out for me and replaced them when they wouldn't fit under the rack and was just so kind as she got me on my way. Ironman volunteers are truly on another level - I have never felt so much like all of these individual people were committed to my success as I did during that race. Finally I was at the mount line, time to face the demons. I gave Bheithir a little pat, mounted my dragon, and set off on the bike!

The bike (6:19:39) 21st AG, 100th female, 489th overall

The bike starts off with a sharp downhill out of town that I remembered from training, and I made a concerted effort to get my adrenaline down and keep things chill in the early going. But I couldn't stop smiling. "Remember when you swam a 1:10? A 1:10?!!" I couldn't stop thinking about that ridiculous swim, and it put me in a great mood heading out onto the bike course. There were some lovely spectators heading out of town, including a girl wearing a Ricky Bobby outfit to whom I screamed "SHAKE AND BAKE BABY!" Apparently adding baby to the end of various statements was one of my themes of this race lol, not sure why but I couldn't help myself.

I had broken the loop in my mind into sections: Climb Out of Town, Keene Descent, The Flat Part, Jay to Wilmington Is Rude, Haselton, The Notch. In my opinion "Climb Out of Town" is kind of the worst part of the whole thing - I remember when I rode this for the first time I recalled someone mentioning "some warmup hills" as you left the town. Um, try 750 ft over 5 miles? It's extremely rude. However, doing this so early in the race was kind of pleasant because everyone was obviously conserving energy, just spinning up in their low gears, and the mood was generally pretty jovial. I began leapfrogging back and forth with a guy - I would pass on the climbs, he would pass every downhill - and after about the 3rd time he said something like "we've gotta stop meeting like this!" I responded "right, I don't even know your name!" Turns out his name was Chris, we exchanged pleasantries and wished each other a good race. I could already tell how my place in the field was going to work in the early going as I was passing a lot on the uphills without feeling like I was straining at all, but I knew (and joked with a few people) that everyone was going to be passing me on the descent.  At some point we passed a sign that just said "TIN ROOF: RUSTED", a quote from the song Love Shack and I assumed an inside joke meant for someone, but it made me think of my senior year college house which we called the Love Shack, and I started singing the song a little bit - always a good sign, because singing on my bike means I'm happy on my bike! I made a point to try to get some fuel on board early coming out of the swim and drank a good chunk of a bottle and had a couple of rounds of 3 chews before the weird little out and back at the bobsled mountain. The bobsled mountain had a great German themed aid station with signs that were cracking me up..."Beer   Gatorade"  "Strudel Bananas", etc. We did have to do this strange little rollercoaster section with a bunch of turns which I was not expecting and after one of the turns I got this weird sensation and was completely convinced that my brakes were locked up. Obviously this was concerning a) so early in the race and b) right before the screaming downhill, so I pulled over to check on them, a moment that was of COURSE captured on film lol. It turns out I was apparently just being ridiculous; there was absolutely no issue, and so I continued on. 

As I headed back to the main road I took a deep breath, because I knew this was it. The Keene Descent. It was about to happen for real. "OK, psych up and spike up," I said to myself as I made the turn back onto 73. But as I made that turn towards the thing I feared most, I found, wonderfully, that I actually wasn't afraid. Somewhere in the last 24 hours I had acquired a belief in my ability to do this, and as I rode towards the runaway truck sign that signaled the start I said it out loud: I can do this.

What I did NOT expect was for the next 10 minutes to be some of the most joyful, cathartic, and special minutes I have ever spent on my bike. I found myself with open road, these spectacular alpine lakes and cliffs beside me, the sun shining, barely a breath of wind, and the knowledge that somehow none of this was that bad and I was in control, and I was somehow, impossibly able to let go and just. have. fun. It was that part of biking that makes you feel like a kid again, and it was absolute magic. Sure, was I in aero on the super steep parts? No. But I was in aero on the less steep parts, and more importantly I was NOT riding the brakes, I was not slowing myself down, I was flying. I literally shouted at the top of my lungs "YOU'RE DOING IT!!!" Maybe that's what it would be like to ride a dragon, feeling totally in sync with your mount and just simply flying. When I hit the speed limit sign I saw 39 and I was so damn proud of myself, and when I reached the bottom and the bridge I was actually almost in tears of joy. It sounds so, so stupid to write it out - like, you were scared of going down a long downhill that, compared to some things you've ridden, isn't actually that steep? But you know what, I was. And not only facing that fear head on, but giving into it, laughing in its face, feeling that silly little drawing I made on my water bottle of myself riding down the descent saying "Just kidding I actually love this!" come to life, was one of the most special moments I've had in my entire cycling career. It felt, without a doubt, like magic. 

We turned the corner at the bottom of the descent and I screamed a pretty aggressive thank you at the course marshal down there, such was my excitement. I was ready to get into the meat of the course, starting with the lovely flat section between Keene and Jay. The day I rode this in training I had to deal with almost a direct headwind, so the fact that there was pretty much no wind on race day was absolutely lovely. I got down to the business of figuring out where I was at in my fueling, taking a Gu and then pretty quickly a waffle as I was still feeling kind of hungry - I think the adrenaline of that first descent did throw me a little bit, to be honest. But once I'd eaten I locked into aero and just cruised - the small rollers through this stretch are nothing crazy and it's really just a lovely stretch of road. It was around this time that the song that titles this blog, the song that would never leave my head for the remainder of the bike, appeared in my head:

I want your love/to roll the dice/I'll put it all on you and I/until the end of time

I want your love/to start a fire/and keep it burning through the night/until the end of time

Na na na na, na na na na na, na na na na, na na na na na

As is my custom when something is stuck in my head, I have a tendency to just go ahead and share it with the world, so I continued to roll down 9N intermittently just singing aloud "I WANT YOUR LOVEEEEE", I'm sure to the delight of everyone around me lol. I'd only been passed by a few people on the descent and I could already tell that I'd sort of found "my people" for the race - sure, a slow swimming man would go blasting by on the outside from time to time, but for the most part you could tell everyone was kind of on the same wavelength. I do have to say that I experienced what I viewed as behavior at times on the bike, mostly by men but there were a few women as well who just had terrible passing etiquette. I certainly don't expect every single person who passes to say something (although it's generally a nice thing to do), but if you're going to creep up on me silently at LEAST pass with more than 6 inches of space between us, geez. My favorite was at one point when I was in the midst of passing a guy, this random woman literally came blasting BETWEEN the two of us to pass us both without saying a single word! Like, WTF, lady? Dangerous, and very not cool!  I do think I'm always taken aback by people who are just so dang *serious* when they're riding because I am not that way...I want to sing out loud, look at the scenery, smile, thank the volunteers, and say hi to my fellow racers, and I tell you what I am not going to shoot between two people when one is making a pass! I immediately decided I hated this woman, and hilariously would spend the rest of the bike leapfrogging with her before finally losing her on the last climb. She subsequently passed me on the run, ugh, but I did take a small victory in coming out on top on the bike when she was riding like a psychopath on her fancy bike with the disc wheel and super aero helmet. return from that digression, one somewhat hilarious thing that happened in this stretch is that the top of my tri suit completely unzipped itself and popped open, probably because I never completely zipped it while shoving 6 gels into my bra, and so I had to literally pull over and rezip it or otherwise deal with it flapping around for the next 5 hours. I chose the former, and had to laugh when a woman asked me if I was OK and I replied something like " top is just trying to strip itself..." lol. I made a mental note that when obtaining Gus in the future I needed to be more mindful of the zipper situation. The "Flat Part" seemed to pass pretty quickly. My legs were feeling great, although I was starting to feel a little sketched out by my stomach, which didn't feel awful but definitely felt unsettled, and I seemed to be having a harder time getting both nutrition and hydration in than I would have liked. It wasn't at the point of being alarming yet, but I reminded myself that I really had to make sure I kept drinking even if I didn't want to or I was really going to find myself in a hole. At one point I started feeling kind of nauseous but I couldn't really decide if it was nausea or hunger, so I decided to eat another waffle and that actually seemed to help a bit. On a side note, I've GOT to find a better way of storing my waffles because pulling a waffle that is soaking wet from your tri suit that you swam in a lake in, plus have now been sweating in for a couple of hours...I folded it the opposite way so the wetness was on the inside but like still...I was still EATING it. Gross. But aside from that, I was delighted with the way things were proceeding. My splits were clicking off faster than I'd expected them to be, but I was feeling strong and happy on my bike, aside from the minor stomach discomfort. 

We hit the left turn into the big climb to Wilmington, a part of the course that I had absolutely despised on my training ride, and I was pleased to feel like I could really keep the effort manageable and spin up the hill while passing probably 25 people in the process. What can I say, I'm a climber! That hill truly does seem to stretch on FOREVER and someone had put a little sign on the side of the road that just said "Worst Hill Ever". I commented to a guy that I agreed and he said I was wrong - it was the climb out of town on the second loop that was the worst. I gave that one to him, and carried on - he was an older guy with the bib number 262 which made me think of the marathon, and he was another person I wound up seeing quite a few times throughout the course of the ride. 

We finally crested the big hill and I found myself strangely in a pocket of isolation on the road, with no one in front of me that I could see, and this absolutely spectacular vista of the mountains to my left. "How could anyone not LOVE this?!" I yelled out loud, waving to a group of cute little kids cheering on the sidelines as I finally had a moment to enjoy flying downhill (I will say, aside from the Keene Descent, there really is almost no place where you get to coast on this course!) It was just SO beautiful and I was just so happy! What a gift it was to be out here in this beautiful place on a beautiful day and just doing this thing that I love to do.

I made the turn into the little Haselton out and back which I was really looking forward to after riding it during my shakeout ride, but the first pass through it actually wasn't my fave mainly because it was REALLY crowded. It's a pretty decent stretch, like 5 or 6 miles each way, and the full road is closed but the road was FULL of cyclists in both directions and it just felt kind of claustrophobic, especially with the continued obnoxious behavior of (mainly) men whipping by to pass without saying anything and at close range. I tried to just lock in and find a rhythm in the pack, stay to the right, and let the stuff that was happening around me just roll off me. I was getting excited to see Andrew at the 40ish mile mark and to finally hit the climbing section through the notch, which I just think is wonderful. As I exited the out and back section I encountered one of my favorite group of spectators of the day, a clearly drunk group of 20 somethings who were pretty rowdy and who I of course took the opportunity to hype up even further by making a "pump it up" gesture with my arm and yelling "fuck yeah!" at them (I swore a lot during this race, in both exclamatory and expletive fashion haha). I was feeling pretty happy as I turned back out into the town of Wilmington and shortly after the left hand turn that leads into the climb back to town. Andrew was right where I knew he'd be, sitting out in front of our hotel with Topper and holding the sign I had made that said "Smile if you like techno" while blasting my "Trainer Banger" playlist out of my speaker...don't worry, I came prepared and prepped my husband well for his spectating experience, I'm too good at that for him to embarrass me, lol. I yelled "I NEED MORE TECHNO!" at him and waved and then continued on, which is kind of the funny thing about spectating the bike component...the moment comes and goes in a flash, and then you're back out there on your own!

As we started to climb the wind picked up a little bit - as an aside, I feel like the weather was about as dreamy as you could hope for during the majority of the bike. There was virtually no wind to speak of with the exception of this one small section, and while there was a bit of interesting weather which I'll get to later it really came at an opportune time for me personally. All in all, considering all of the different weather possibilities, it was a pretty good deal! But even a minor headwind as you start what you know is a long climb is a little annoying, and I kind of had to get my head back in the game a bit. I was definitely trying to mete out my effort a little bit, getting in low gear whenever it felt appropriate and focusing on just getting up the hills with as little effort as possible. There was one more group of pretty rowdy spectators after I saw Andrew and a great Viking themed aid station near Whiteface where I made a point to tell the volunteers what rockstars they all were, but other than that the road was pretty quiet with everyone kind of in their own little boxes. I continued to make quite a few passes as this stretch went on and stayed happy with my effort level - my stomach had improved somewhat and I was able to just focus on what I was doing. While I wasn't overwhelmed when I saw one of my 5 mile splits in this area, I reminded myself that one slow split in a section of ALL climbing literally doesn't mean anything and tried to stop worrying about time and just focus on effort. When in doubt, I just looked around at the scenery. The cliffs, the river, the forest - all of it was just so spectacular. I truly felt like there was no place else I'd rather be than out on my bike in this wonderful place.

I was really happy to have ridden the course in my training camp and so had a good sense of where the bigger climbs were and where it was easy to let it roll a little bit. I also could tell when we were starting to get back closer to town, although I have to say I was a little disappointed that there was nothing in the road to denote "the bears" - come on Placid, if you're going to name your hills at least make them obvious! But I remembered from my training rides that the only real climb of the 3 in my opinion was the final hill, Papa Bear, and what a delightful experience riding up that hill on the first loop. The hill was packed with fans crowding in close, just like the Tour de France (a reference I could actually understand having followed the Tour this year, and kind of cool that they finished on the same day as my race!) I grinned and waved and actually high fived/fist bumped a few spectators while climbing a giant hill on my bike after 50 miles of riding which sort of makes me giggle. It was so dang fun and I felt like a rockstar! The short out and back section that followed wasn't as much of a hill as I had perceived when I rode it and was actually delightful except for the sharp 180 degree turn at the end...not exactly something I had ever practiced, and not something a tri bike is super adept at, but we made it! I enjoyed the spectator who yelled "GREAT CORNERING" hahaha, I gave a thumbs up for that one.  The spectators in town were ROWDY and the turnaround was one of the most hype parts of the bike course for sure - I did my usual arm-waving-hype-up-the-crowd situation and I started singing a little song as I rode the little section back towards the lake, something about "town gives you ENERGY!" Just a brief moment of not having "I want your lovvvvveeee...." repeating over and over in my head. It really was super energizing after quite a while of climbing in relative silence and I did feel pretty damn hyped as I rode back into town, around the "hot corner" where I saw Tara! and into the special needs area.

Special needs was AWESOME, again, I think my Wisconsin experience was missing a few of these special touches because of covid things. A volunteer literally held my bike for me, got my bag out, and got all of my stuff sorted for me - she gave me all my bottles (and complimented my The Feed TdF bottle which I loved), I asked if she could get my bag of fuel, she took my old stuff and I just didn't have to *think* at all which was so wonderful - I remember at Wisconsin special needs just standing there for what felt like forever trying to figure out what the hell I was actually supposed to do. This lady did all the thinking for me - again, the volunteers at this race were straight up top notch. Every single person I encountered throughout the day was awesome at their job, super friendly and encouraging, and seemed to know exactly what to say or do to be helpful - it was truly such a pleasure interacting with all of them, and I tried to make a point to really genuinely thank each person who helped me, because I was really genuinely so grateful that they were there! 

Bottles and fueling sorted, I headed off into the second loop! And what a difference - far from the trepidation I had felt approaching the Keene Descent on loop one, I was SO EXCITED to get back there this time! But of course, first I had to contend with the rude hills heading out of time, which continued to be rude as advertised, but once again I focused on just keeping the effort consistent and not overriding the hills. It's funny because when I ride hills in training I tend to either absolutely hammer them and burn out or ride them super lazily, and I feel like somehow when I'm racing I'm able to find this perfect effort level where I know the effort is there but it's not too much. Or, perhaps you could argue that I could ride faster! But I would argue back that consistently finishing the bike with something left in the tank is something I am happy to continue to aspire to. 

By this point the pack had spread out quite a bit and so everyone I was with was riding a relatively similar pace to mine, so there was less passing this time around and we all seemed to kind of be spinning our way up together. At some point in this area there was a giant group of kids who looked like maybe they were at day camp over on the other side of the road cheering, and I gave them a big wave/pump up arm move which got a great reaction. It was so cool to see so many kids out there spectating - I always think about that at these races, how you never know who you're inspiring just by being out there. Those kids see these athletes doing something that seems insane, impossible even, but we're out here doing it, and I like to believe that maybe at least a few of them think to themselves "hey, maybe I can do that someday." Obviously I wasn't a kid exactly when I became aware of Ironman for the first time, but I still remember the absolute awe that I felt watching these people - these people who were just normal people, not professional athletes - doing this insane thing. It absolutely enthralled me and (clearly) never let me go. It's honestly hard for me to believe sometimes that I am that person, I am the athlete that my 19 year old self thought maybe she could be someday. Seeing those kids and their excitement to be a part of the race really reminded me of how incredible it was to be out here DOING this thing that I had once only dreamed I could. At some point in this stretch I also happened to look at my watch, because I genuinely had no idea what time it was (I think time just elapses differently in an Ironman) and it was 11:11 which really made me smile. And of course, I made a wish - for the rest of the day to be as wonderful as the day so far had been. 

I headed into the out and back stretch again, this time prepared for the weird squiggle by the bobsled run. It occurred to me that what I sort of wanted in that moment was, actual water, not Skratch. My stomach had continued to be sort of unsettled, and something about the Skratch was just leaving my mouth feeling super sticky and gross. I realized after the fact that I think I over concentrated my bottles because I was worried about having enough salt - definitely something to try to nail down a little more concretely in the future! So water sounded good...but the issue with water was that I was going to have to take it from an aid station, something I've NEVER done before on my road bike, let alone my tri bike. But, keeping with the theme of trusting myself, I told myself I just had to stay steady and do it. I slowed up coming into the aid station and was able to make a successful handoff! I got a few big gulps of water before tossing it and it was SO COLD - I have no idea how they kept all the water so cold, but it was honestly incredible. Happy to know that this could continue to be a part of my plan for the rest of the bike, I made the right turn back onto the road and headed off into what I now knew was the absolute best thing ever...Keene Descent round two. This time, I let myself fly even more - I didn't touch my brakes once and truly let myself just enjoy the ride. It was just as incredible as the first round, full of whooping and shouting for joy. I let myself really see the beauty of the scenery we were riding past - these incredible alpine lakes with cliffs dropping into them, the mountains in the distance, the way the road stretched out in front of me, and just riding the roller coaster through it all. 

At the bottom I somewhat sadly kissed the Keene Descent goodbye, surprised that the moment I had thought would be the biggest relief of the race turned out to be bittersweet, and proceeded to set about the task of "the flat part" of the course. This was definitely starting to get to the point of the race of just putting your head down and doing it - there's nothing really glamorous about mile 70 of an Ironman. My stomach was continuing to be mildly questionable and Skratch still just was not hitting the way that I would have hoped, but my legs were honestly still feeling great. The sun was definitely making itself more of a factor, and in the open stretch near the cow sign (sadly with no cows) I found myself for the first time all day vaguely thinking "huh, I'm a little warm".  I think it was also somewhere in here where I thought for the first time "this marathon is going to SUCK." I immediately told myself (out loud, of course haha) "you CANNOT think about the marathon right now." And it was true - I had to go back to my little mantra of "feel it when you feel it". Now was not the time to contemplate how running was going to feel in several hours, it was time to do what I needed to do right now. Which was keep turning the pedals, keep to the fueling schedule as much as I could, keep singing my little songs to myself, and just keep the wheels in motion. 

I made the left turn onto the rude Wilmington hill again, and while I think/assume I was probably a little slower on the second pass I was pleased with how easy I was able to keep the effort while still rolling past other riders. I think that's one of the things that helps me in races - when I'm alone I hammer every hill because I just have no context for how fast or not fast I'm going, but when there are other people I can actually see that I actually am getting up the hill at a totally reasonable pace without throttling myself! I passed Mr. 26.2 again (we had been bouncing back and forth since the prior lap) and I happened to overhear a snippet of conversation: "yeah, just like coach says: don't fuck it up!" I sort of laughed and looked over. "It's that easy, huh?" I said. "Yup, just don't fuck it up!" 262 replied. And that sort of became an appropriate mantra for the remainder of the bike - nothing flashy, nothing crazy, just do what you've gotta do and don't fuck it up!

The downhill with the majestic vista was much welcomed although perhaps not as much of a religious experience as lap one - I was starting to find that it was requiring, shall we say, more *effort* to appreciate my surroundings as more of my mental energy started to be funneled towards what I needed to do to keep myself rolling through the next 30 odd miles. The Haselton out and back on loop 2 was definitely a bit of a low - the sun was beating and I found myself getting hot, I still hadn't solved my stomach issues, and I found myself in a very awkward "pack" on the way back that I wanted to be riding just slightly faster than, but didn't feel like putting a full on surge in to pass. I also didn't want to be drafting, so I tried to just drop back and wait it out until we hit a hill, at which point I figured I'd be able to finally make the pass. That idea worked out temporarily - on the first hill coming back I broke away from the group, but on the nastier climb I all of a sudden was struck with a NASTY hamstring cramp. I'm not sure I've ever had a hamstring cramp while riding? Clearly the stomach and hydration/fueling issues were starting to take their toll from an electrolyte perspective, and I definitely got a little freaked out knowing that I still had a whole lot of climbing to contend with before the end of the bike. But I managed to keep my head on straight and just adjust my position for a few revolutions, give it a bit of the good old on-bike massage, get to the top of the hill and then shake it out on the way back down into Wilmingon. It weirdly (thankfully) never bothered me again, but definitely was one of those "oh shit" moments that had me feeling like I needed to try to double down on my electrolytes for the remainder of the ride. 

As I made the turn back onto 86 and the final stretch back towards Placid it was a little wild realizing that there were *only* a bit more than 20 miles left in the bike! It always amazes me how quickly 5-6 hours can elapse while riding...sometimes you're so aware of the time passing, but so much of the time I feel like I just go off into a flow state for awhile and next thing I know an hour and a half has passed! For my anxious, constantly whirring brain, it is honestly rather magical to be so fully in the moment as I am when I'm riding. I was looking forward to seeing Andrew again and once again got a good boost from seeing him, even if I yelled "I'm feeling like a DONG TILE" at him and his response was something like "welp, so it goes!", lol. This was one of the only points in the race where I actually noticed the wind, and I sort of internally grumbled about it as the headwind started picking up. Just what I needed on tired legs to head into 20 miles of climbing - a headwind! It was about this time that I also started to realize that the sky was getting a little darker, and all of a sudden with almost no warning it was POURING - like, not a little sprinkly rain, an absolute deluge. And it. was. AWESOME. I was definitely grateful to be climbing and not having to stress about bombing downhill on slippery roads, but the rain was cooling me off beautifully and there was just something absolutely glorious about being in the midst of this race and and fighting, and the weather being such a reflection of that.

It was at this point that I happened to come upon the girl with the same kit as me, which happens to look something like storm clouds, and say perhaps the DUMBEST thing I've ever said to anyone during a race which was something to the effect of "Looks like we brought the storm!" Like, what is wrong with me lmao. By this point I feel like she was probably like wow why did I choose to wear the same getup as this ridiculous woman hahaha, and I honestly may or may not have put in a little surge to fully pass her just out of pure embarrassment. The field was much more strung out by this point so everyone was just kind of in their own little sphere, head down and tackling this final climb. When I passed through the aid station at the Hungry Trout they had the timing mat out for the bike cutoff several hours later, and I thought about how wild (and incredible) it was that people would be out on this ride for hours more, fighting for that cutoff, and probably were dealing with this same rainstorm while plowing down the Keene descent...much as I found the descent way more fun than planned, it's hard to imagine loving it in the blowing wind and rain..

The rain continued for 20 minutes or so, beautiful and cooling, and making the already gorgeous scenery of the river, the cliffs, and the winding road feel even more ethereal and beautiful than before. As the rain subsided, the roads were shrouded in mist and I felt like I was riding through some mystical land in a fantasy novel. This feeling was amplified by the fact that somehow I had found myself completely in no man's land - at one point I couldn't see ANYONE ahead of me on the road which was a bizarre feeling to have in what had been such a crowded race earlier. After awhile I caught up to one man and we leapfrogged back and forth a bit on the climbs and small descents, but I really didn't see too many other people for the remainder of the ride. When I think back on this part of the race I honestly don't really think about the effort, although I definitely did slow down a bit in the climbing sections on the second loop and I continued to have this vague understanding that my nutrition and hydration were kind of a mess. But even after so many hours of riding, I was still somehow able to wrap myself in the beauty of the course and the magical feeling of riding through the mist and almost forget about the fact that I was even racing - I was just out here, in the moment, just me and my bike climbing back to Lake Placid.

I arrived at papa bear and was a little sad to find that the crowds had dispersed and there were few spectators lining the hill this time. The weird little out and back towards town was rowdier however, and I was able to give some fist pumps to the crew cheering down at the turnaround point and once again managed somehow to not crash while making the tight 180 turn. The uphill towards the turn into town definitely felt a little more *uphill* this time around - as excited as I was to get off my bike, though, the whole situation of the marathon that still had to happen was starting to loom heavy over my mind. But I continued to try not to let myself worry about that until I was in it, and focused on soaking in the final few minutes of what had been a fantastic bike, the cheers of the crows lining the road along the lake, and just the overwhelming feeling of love for my bike and pride in myself for overcoming the part of the race that had scared me so much. 

T2 - 5:19 (This felt SO MUCH LONGER than 5 minutes!)

I turned towards transition in tandem with another woman and both of us were a bit confused for a moment because we weren't sure where the turnoff for transition was. I joked that much as I'd love the bike I didn't need to go for a 3rd loop (although I must say now I would have taken a 3rd loop on the bike ANY day over what I was about to experience!) We quickly found the arrows leading to transition and soon enough I was at the dismount line! Another feature that I didn't get to experience at Wisconsin was the bike catchers - I literally got to hand Bheithir to a volunteer who took him right back to the rack, thus eliminating something I always hate during triathlons, fumbling around trying to get my bike reracked! So that was really lovely. What was less lovely was the state of my legs the second I attempted to start jogging towards the bag area and the changing tent - they were in a STATE, and I quickly decided that saving a few seconds by trying to jog was not going to be worth it. I power walked, trying to stretch everything that had been flexed for 6 and a half hours out, found my bag with no issues ("26.2 miles to trunk pizza!" made me laugh as expected) and headed into the changing tent.

I was glad I had the wherewithal to put extra socks in my transition run bag, because as wonderful as the rain had felt in the moment, my socks were now soaked. Changing socks was less of an enjoyable endeavor with my brain and body rapidly heading towards survival mode, but I got it done, shoveled my gels into my bra so my chest looked like a hoard set up by a chipmunk, found my hat, somehow got all of my bike stuff back into my bag, and got out of there. I actually can't even remember what I ended up doing with my bike bag - did we give them to volunteers in the tent? I genuinely have no idea, all I know is it eventually got where it needed to go. And then, I took a deep breath, and I headed out on the run.

The run - 4:35:03 - 25th AG, 143rd female, 497th OA

I headed out of the tent and onto the run course, and almost immediately heard someone screaming my name. I turned to look (almost rolling my ankle in a hole in the process) and realized it was INGA! As a sidebar, I ran with Inga back in my WTC days - she is a bit older than me but a totally badass sprinter, still competing at a really high level well into her 40s and definitely an inspiration. I saw her at IMWI at one of the aid stations, and when I posted on facebook that I was doing LP she responded that she was going to be there - apparently her husband had won volunteer of the year for IMWI, and the award was a trip to any other Ironman race. They happened to choose Lake Placid! So I thought it was kind of hilarious that she is apparently my Ironman good luck charm, lol. Anyway, it was great actually seeing her on the course, and I am pretty sure I just shouted her name back at her (which tends to be my typical response to seeing people I know while racing, lol). It definitely gave me a boost heading into the run, and quite frankly was probably one of the most enjoyable moments of the entire marathon.

The run begins on a sizeable downhill, which you are very aware you're going to have to run back up again. Pretty much as soon as I started running, I knew the direction things were headed in. It wasn't my legs that were the problem - from that perspective, I actually felt better than I'd expected coming off the bike - it was more just that general badness that had started to pervade parts of the second loop of the bike was really becoming apparent as I started the much more difficult activity of running. Additionally, something that I hadn't noticed as much while riding but was now becoming VERY aware of was the fact that it was midday, the sun was OUT, and it was WARM. I'm not going to say hot, because I know that the high temperature was only in the mid 70s, but then I think about all the times I've raced *just* a marathon in the mid 70s and what a disaster those times have been and I start to get a good picture of why starting that distance with 7.5 hours of physical activity and a problematic dehydration/fueling level was not going to end well.

At the very first water stop, about a mile in, I already wanted to grab water and grab the ice that they were handing out, which told me just about everything I needed to know about the weather conditions. Ice at mile 1 = a Very Bad Thing. Still, I felt relatively OK in the mostly downhill stretch of the first 5K. I finally had to pee and sort of regretted not doing that in transition, but figured I'd deal with it once I got onto the out and back. At some point around here I also saw Amber Ferriera, who is an amazing triathlete/mountain runner/athlete extraordinare from NH who I am familiar with from mountain races (and instagram, haha). As normal people do I just shouted "Go Amber" at her, as if we were friends. One of the best things about the double out and back was getting to see everyone coming and going on both sides - I wish I'd had more energy/awareness to be able to encourage anybody else besides myself (and let's be real, I wasn't even doing much of that) because it was a good vibe feeling the energy of everyone out on the course.

I decided to hit the porta potty around the 5K mark which was a necessary evil but deeply annoying - I had to undo my race belt and it was about 400 degrees inside the porta potty, which at least made the outside air feel relatively cool in comparison when I emerged! I was already feeling decidedly Not Good and as I began the first out and back stretch along River Road I attempted to set myself to the task of figuring out what, exactly might make me feel better. Now, hindsight being as it is, I know that in the dehydration hole that I was in there was absolutely nothing that was actually going to fix my problems. I think even in the moment in the back of my mind I kind of knew it was too late and I was just going to have to gut it out for the next several hours. But with aid stations laid out like a buffet along the road, I was convinced that I could find SOMETHING on those tables that would save me, and I kept looking.

I had already taken a few walk breaks by mile 4 or 5, truly never a good sign, but I had managed to find my way into something of a stable position, a position that I tried to maintain by repeating the word "homeostasis" over and over and over in my head, as you do. Basically that meant finding a run pace that wasn't actively making my problems worse, and if my problems did actively start becoming worse walking until they improved. In the beginning this worked out pretty well - I'd run for 10 minutes or so, slowly, but running, and then take a walk break through an aid station before proceeding. I definitely didn't feel great by any means, but things felt survivable and I had pretty much resigned myself before the race to a 4+ hour marathon, so I didn't really have any problem with running 9+ minute miles as long as I could maintain that pace (foreshadowing...). I was pretty desperately thirsty and the water they had at the aid stations was blissfully cold, so I kept trying to take water, drink some and dump the rest on my suit, grab ice when they had it, and take anything else that looked appealing. As with Wisconsin, I think I ended up sampling every drink on the table in the hopes that one would sit well, but unfortunately the Coke miracle never really materialized in the way that it did at that race. At some point around the 5 or 6 mile mark, there was an awesome group of spectators which was definitely a boost on an otherwise pretty desolate stretch of road. One of them yelled "YOU LOOK GREAT!" at me, to which I replied with a smirk "That is blatantly a lie, but thank you anyway!" LOL. At least I still could see the humor in the situation at that point. 

I made it to the turnaround, very actively trying NOT to think about the fact that I was going to have to do this all again, and set myself to the task of getting back to town. Somewhere in here I think I took a Gu which didn't go down particularly well - again, same as Wisconsin, my ability to take in fuel was really compromised by my stomach on the run, and that was a huge issue. I was carrying a sports bra packed to the gills with Gu and I think I managed to stomach a grand total of 2 during the marathon. I will give a shoutout to the Huma lemon lime gel with extra electrolytes - that gel was actually SOUR, not sweet, and Not Sweet was literally the best thing I could have tasted. Think I may have to experiment with this more in the future, as I just get sooooo sick of the salty/sweet flavor of most endurance food which doesn't help when you're already nauseous.

I continued back down the straightaway, quickly finding that I was having to take more walk breaks than I would have liked. My body was just not having it - it's amazing the difference between breaking down due to fatigue and breaking down to a hydration/heat/homeostasis problem. I can run through fatigue - I'll slow down, sure, or I'll walk a bit, but running doesn't turn into this absolutely impossible ask. Every single time I would start running it was 100% a mental battle of forcing myself to continue to fight against a body that genuinely wanted to lay down on the pavement and die. Walking was better, but there was no way I was walking the rest of this marathon - no. It was around this point, only about 8 miles into the marathon, that I found myself reaching for a strategy that I read on someone's blog and that has been my tried and true strategy for mountain racing, and it goes like this: in it's simplest form, you alternate running 100 steps and walking 50 steps. But at this early stage, I modified the game - I could run as long as I could, and then I could walk, but I could ONLY walk 50 steps and then I had to start running again. It really is so easy to let the walk breaks extend out into this endless pity party, when your body is rebelling against the concept of running and there really just doesn't seem to be any good reason to start up again. But then - you get to the count of 50 and you start to run again, even though it hurts, even though you don't want to, even though your stomach is flipping inside out and you feel like you're going to collapse, you have to run before you get to walk another 50 steps. 

I kept trying to look around as I approached the turn back to the ski jumps, as I had commented how beautiful this road was while running and driving it in the past, but it was really hard to get outside of myself and appreciate it when I was feeling so bad. I'm writing this far enough out from the experience that it's dulled in my mind, but make no mistake: for the ENTIRE 26.2 miles of the marathon, I felt terrible. I was in such a haze that I almost missed the fact that Andrew was standing by the side of the road cheering - I hadn't expected to see him on the run, and I was so out of it that I think he yelled my name 3 times before yelling "HEY" and I finally recognized his voice. I expressed how awful I was feeling, and he gave me the very Andrew-like response of telling me that that was how it goes in the Ironman, haha. I'll tell you one thing, no false "you look good" statements are ever going to come out of Andrew's mouth. The man tells it like it is, for better or for worse.

Seeing him lifted my spirits a tiny bit, and there were a few good things that happened in the moments that followed. First, the barn that was another beacon of cheering in an empty stretch of road started BLASTING "Everytime We Touch" and I was actually disappointed that I was running away from it! Then, it started to rain again, just an absolute downpour that I knew couldn't last but that I thoroughly enjoyed each and every moment of. Coming back up the ski jump hill, the loudest crack of thunder I think I've ever heard boomed across the mountains, and I could see lightning flashing in the clouds off in the distance. It seemed like the storm was staying at a relative distance, but it was epic all the same.

The spectators on the road back to town were much louder and rowdier, and even as bad as I was feeling it was pretty fun to feed off their energy as I went. I desperately wished that I could veer off the road and into the party going on at Big Slide Brewing, and I gave myself the promise of a beer there later if I could just keep going. There were a couple of points where they had those inflatable sprinkler things, which I veered through at every opportunity, and I remember vaguely thinking again about what a bad sign it was from a heat perspective if we were at the point where sprinkler arches were needed. At some point in this section I saw an old DailyMile acquaintance who I've followed for years, and again as is custom I decided to just yell her name at her, because that's obviously what you do to people you've primarily only interacted with through instagram likes, right? She's always been a triathlon inspiration to me, and she was so kind each time I saw her during the run, with my morale and pace steadily descending, always offering some word of wisdom that was motivating but not annoying. I think people who've actually DONE this distance are definitely the best when it comes to spectating - you know they've been in that dark place where you are currently, and it just means a little bit more.

The gigantic hill up to town was as bad as anticipated, but at least I had planned to walk it anyway due to it's length and steepness. My attention was becoming more and more focused on how awful my stomach was feeling - I was desperately thirsty, but clearly wasn't absorbing what I was drinking as my stomach just felt like a disgusting, bloated bag that was sloshing with each step. I passed Tara somewhere on the hill and yelled something at her to the effect of "UGGGGH my stomach hates me!" "That's a problem for later you!" I did smile a little bit at that, so I guess it had the intended effect!

The out and back on Mirror Lake drive should actually be illegal - I swear there is no WAY that mile out is only 1 mile, because it literally felt ETERNAL. By this point everything was going downhill in a hurry, and I was pretty set in my 100/50 run/walk cycle, occasionally running a bit further if I could convince myself or if I was on a downhill. But no matter what, if I was running, I was desperately counting down the steps until I could walk again, and that isn't a fun way to feel. I passed the special needs bag area and tried to consider if anything in my bag could help me. On first pass I thought no; the thought of consuming food of any time caused an immediate reflexive nausea to well up in me. However, as I turned around and thought on it, I considered the idea that maybe more salt, perhaps in a non sweet form, might help to turn the electrolyte situation around. The second time I passed I stopped and, in a complete daze, didn't bother to find a volunteer to try to help me and just made a beeline for my bag. I obtained the salt and vinegar chips that I'd put in there, not even bothering to take the bag but just scooping a handful of chips out to eat out of my hand, and then fled. I attempted to eat a chip, and immediately spat/half puked it out - clearly, the eating was not going to work, but I could tell my body was craving the salt. So, I began trying to lick the chip, like a deer, and not wanting to throw trash on the ground even when it became clear that this was not going to be a workable option I just held the chips in my hand for practically another mile until I could find a trash can. I was VERY passionate about not littering for some reason, lol.  Please, form a mental picture of me sadly walk/jogging by Mirror Lake while licking a chip that I have clutched in my hand....I promise you'll laugh, because I do whenever I think of this moment.

What was NOT a laughing matter was the fact that I needed to go and run what I had just completed, AGAIN. I had started to vaguely contemplate my watch when things started going south, and I noted that I was around 2 hours in when I hit the halfway mark. I attempted to do some calculations and determined that if I *only* slowed down by 1 minute per mile on the second loop. I could still technically run a PR. SPOILER ALERT (and I think this will be something I'm sour about until I finally get revenge on this run course): I couldn't even manage that. If the first loop was an unpleasant fever dream, the second loop was an outright nightmare.

As I attempt to describe the next 2.5 hours of my life, I realize that my brain either wasn't processing information or has totally blocked the majority of the experience out, because I have very few strong memories from the second loop of the run. When I look at photos from the second loop, even close to the finish line, I see this look in my eyes that I would very much describe as Not All There. Truly, I think this race is the closest I've ever come to winding up in a medical tent - my body was just so utterly out of whack and I was running myself down to the absolute core, that I think higher level mental processing sort of took a backseat to the basic functions of staying upright and continuing to put one foot in front of the other. Still, there are a few things that stood out, which I will try to record with some level of coherence, although I'm not sure how coherent I was in the moment. 

I headed back down the hill, trying to rally some energy from the still hype crowds. I grabbed some more ice at this first aid station and once again just shoved it down my tri bizarre as it feels having a butt full of ice cubes I've gotta say it is fairly effective in cooling! At some point along this stretch I saw several of the pro women again, including my hero Amber who was walking - now, obviously I didn't wish a shitty run on anyone, but there was something about seeing someone I really admire and who seems invincible also having a tough day that made me feel just a tad bit better about my own situation. Of course, she was 2 miles from the finish line, whereas I still had another 12 miles to contend with, but I was trying very hard not to think about anything except the next 10 feet in front of me.  One mile at a time, one step at a time. 

At the turn towards the out and back there was an outrageous guy spectating in just a speedo, which actually did make me laugh a little bit in my time of woe as I headed out into the ENDLESS out and back. I understand now all of the things that people say about this run course, which didn't make sense to me when I was just out for an enjoyable training run and looking at the scenery. When you're in the pain cave, that long and empty stretch of road seems completely ENDLESS. There was a lot of carnage around me, but I also could tell I was being passed by a few women who I'd overtaken during the bike, which I found deeply frustrating. This was supposed to be MY sport! It felt a bit embarassing to be falling apart so aggressively, but I tried to tamp down any additional feelings of negativity - my body was feeling bad enough, I didn't need to add a pity party to the equation (although I certainly tried). I kept surveying the aid station tables, convinced that something contained there would fix my life, but alas, nothing seemed to be doing the trick. The volunteers at the aid stations were INCREDIBLE, though - I suspect that they were understaffed but there wasn't a single moment when I felt like I wasn't getting what I needed. They were so committed to doing the most for the athletes and it was really pretty amazing. At one point a little girl, maybe 8 or 9, was holding a plate of cookies and very sweetly advertising them...I had to laugh, because I couldn't think of anything I wanted LESS in that moment than a dry chips ahoy cookie. I would have probably barfed it up all over her; in fact even the thought of trying to eat such a thing only increased my nausea.

I suppose at some point I made it to the turnaround, wondering how in the hell I was going to survive 7 more miles. I was grateful that I had made it to the final "leg" of the run, as I was approaching it in my head, but it was just getting harder and harder to keep putting one foot in front of the other. In addition to my ongoing nausea and general depletion, muscle fatigue and cramping had started to join the party. Again, the only emotion I could really feel was frustration - I was aware that something was wrong, and I had a vague sense of what I needed to do to fix it (salt! hydration! fuel!) but my body wasn't responding to anything that seemed like it "should" work and I couldn't put my finger on the exact combination required to pull me out of the depths. I could feel even my jaw and neck muscles tightening, whether with effort or electrolyte imbalance I didn't even know. 

The cramping situation was not helping the already meager amount of running I was able to do, and at some point as I ran back towards the ski jumps something (honestly I can't even remember what anymore) seized and I swore in frustration as I was reduced to a walk yet again. A guy next to me asked if I was OK, and I responded that I was alright, just cramping and frustrated. "Do you want some salt?" he kindly offered, and handed me a baggie of salt. This was definitely a time when I was open to trying anything, so I poured some of what I assumed was like a salt stick esque sweet/salty situation into my hand and licked it...well, my taste buds were SURPRISED when the salt was like the spicy salt that you'd put on the rim of a spicy margarita! The guy must have noted my reaction, because then he proceeded to offer me a ginger candy - again, super kind man! I was all about this idea, thinking the ginger might ease the nausea and get the weird spicy flavor out of my mouth...buuuuut the second I put the candy in my mouth I almost reflex vomited, and ended up spitting it back into my hand. Not wanting to offend the kindest man on earth, nor wanting to litter, I now held the offending candy in my hand like a sticky fingered was SOMETHING lol. 

I finally made it back to the end of the out and back, where there was a farm on the right with a bunch of goats and chickens. Andrew and I had joked before the race that when I got to this point on my second lap I could be happy saying hi to the goats because I would know that I was almost done. One of the goats was on the roof of his little goat hut, and I couldn't help but sadly say "hiiiii goat" to him, haha. You know things are bad when I can barely summon the energy to greet the local farm animals! Speedo guy was there again on the turn back towards town, and for some reason I felt like I wanted to try to run as much of the uphill as I could (I don't know why I thought this, considering I'd barely been able to run the relatively flat section that preceded it, but it's safe to say my brain wasn't working particularly well at this point). 

The rest of the run back into town is pretty much a blur. There was someone playing a trumpet from a lawn that looked like it was hosting a raging house party, and I remember commenting to the crowd at Big Slide how much I wished I was drinking with them at that moment. I also got to be on the flip side of the crowd of people cheering at someone who is walking and gets them to start running again - there were a couple of super hype groups that I happened to hit on a walk cycle, and I've gotta say their roars of approval when I got myself to start running again really did make me smile. I also saw Ann again and made some sort of comment about how much I was struggling, and she again responded with something incredibly kind and encouraging. The super steep hill back into town was almost a reprieve, as I had basically planned on walking that anyway, and once I got to the top I knew that I only had 2 more miles to go.

And those 2 miles? Longest 2 miles of my LIFE! But there were some minor highlights, the first of which was knowing that I could get through 2 miles, no matter how badly I was feeling. As I headed up towards Mirror Lake Drive a guy (who I think might have been the same guy I was talking to before the swim start) commented on how much he liked my Mount Washington hat. "I would rather be doing that than this right now!" I grumpily replied. I was so tired of feeling so awful, hot, nauseous, and depleted and somehow still needing to convince myself to keep dragging my carcass forward towards the finish line. It's truly a marvel that half the field in an Ironman doesn't just completely drop out on the run - it was so miserable, for so long, and I guess the victory I can take away from the whole thing is that despite how absolutely wretched I felt, I somehow managed to find away to keep running as much as I could, keep moving forward, and never completely give up.

I saw Andrew briefly at the turn for the out and back, and the fact that he tried to say something that wasn't completely snarky let me know how bad I must actually be looking. I had told myself that once I got to the out and back I would try to run it in, but I swear they extended that stretch of road by another mile since the first lap - it took FOREVER to get to the turnaround. But finally, FINALLY, I made that final turn. A mile to go. Ohhhh, fuck, I did not want to, every muscle and cell and nerve was screaming at me not to, but I looked inside myself and I somehow told myself that for all of the absolute bullshit and frustration and disappointment that had been contained in the last 4 and a half hours, I was not going to let the last mile be a disappointment too. As I ran, sounds of the finish line in the distance, I happened to pass Paul, an acquaintance from Boston who was the only person that I knew who I hadn't seen yet today. I think I made some truly motivational comment like "This SUCKS" before continuing to forge ahead. It was an utter relief to reach the end of the street and finally get to make the right hand turn towards the finish - truly, I'm not sure I've ever been so happy to realize that a finish line was approaching.

As I turned onto the Olympic oval, it suddenly dawned on me through the haze that I was really, truly, about to finish this thing. I managed to pull myself out of the fog that I'd existed in for the last few hours and really tried to appreciate what was happening, the moment, the golden hour, those moments on the oval before I reached the grandstand that were all my own. For the first time since the disappointment of a run had started, I let myself be proud, let myself think about what a gift it was to be able to do this. I knew my training hadn't been perfect, knew that there had been a lot of doubt and fear going into the race, and here I was in the home stretch, in a place where Olympic medals had been won, and I was about to finish an Ironman. I soaked in the last stretch down the finishing carpet and tried to smile, though I could barely summon the energy to raise my arms in something resembling triumph. When I look at my finishing photos, I see someone who has truly given the day EVERYTHING, and maybe even a little bit more. I look completely spent, depleted, and quite frankly if you really look at my eyes a little bit like I'm on the verge of collapse, but there's a triumph there too, different than the fist pumping hype of Wisconsin, but triumph all the same. And that, maybe, is the allure of the Ironman - no matter the type of day you have, there is triumph in DOING this ridiculous thing. And so, when I crossed the finish line, relief washed over me, but happiness washed over me too. 

It took a WHILE to gather myself after I finished - I still wanted to vomit, and the smell of the fried food that was being offered only increased that feeling. I grabbed a soda and sipped it veeeery slowly while I sat on a folding chair, watching the other finishers, giving some high fives and great jobs as we all processed the day. After a bit I managed to find Andrew and Inga, who it was lovely to see, and then began what is always the worst part of the day, the process of getting your bike and gear bags out of transition. Because of the rainstorm everything was soaked, and as I attempted to condense all of my stuff into one bag I nearly vomited yet again as I pulled out a sock covered in disintegrating honey stinger waffle, lmao. Triathlon: it is nothing if not glamorous.

We began the loooooong walk back to the car; the only benefit to this was that I got to participate in my other favorite hobby which is CHEERING for other racers! However, having to walk 2 more miles after the torture of that marathon was a special kind of hell. I was literally saved by 2 things: a child with a lemonade stand handing out the most DELICIOUS watermelon lemonade for free to racers, and the fact that when we passed Big Slide I informed Andrew that we WERE stopping there for a beer. And so, still wearing my race kit, Bheithir leaning against a sign post, I sat in an Adirondak chair and finally had a victory beer, doing what I had been dreaming of all throughout the marathon: drinking a beer, cheering for the racers still out on the course, and basking in the glow of becoming an Ironman once again. The race wasn't perfect - I still have so, so much to learn - but it was wonderful, a triumph in so, so many ways. And as I sat there, I let that glow wash over me, that love for this crazy sport, even on the days when I feel like I come up a little short. How lucky, how grateful to have found this sport, to have continued on this triathlon journey, and as ever to do it my own damn way. Until the end, the end, the end of fucking time.

Ironman Lake Placid