Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Ironman Lake Placid - Part 3: Race Day

Race day started with a 3:45 wake-up call and a ride down to transition from my dad.  Like many others, I was there just before transition opened at 4:30.  Body markers were already outside of transition marking athletes with race numbers and ages before sending them on their way with good luck wishes.  A quick check of my transition bags and some final bike preparations and I would be ready.

Volunteers body mark athletes outside of transition.


Transition as Eric Heiden looks over his place of Olympic greatness.

The weather was the talk of the week.  The morning was cloudy, but it appeared we were going to dodge the predicted possible thunderstorms.  For now things were dry and you could sense everyone was ready to get the day started.  The swim start was changed from a mass start to a seeded start where athletes were able to seed themselves based on predicted swim times.  This allowed athletes to swim with other athletes of similar swimming ability to limit the amount of bumping in the water.  I warmed-up for a few minutes in the water and then placed myself in the 1 hr - 1 hr 10 min group.  Following a stellar performance of the National Anthem, which echoed through the mountains with each pause, we were ready to go.

Honoring our country during the National Anthem

The swim was two-laps around the rectangular course spanning 2.4 miles total.  Unique to the Lake Placid course, there is an underwater cable marking the swim course, and since the water is clear enough, athletes can follow the cable and not have to worry about siting.  Of course, everyone wants to swim above the cable, so you usually find heavier traffic there.  For the most part, I was comfortable in the water over the 2.4 miles.  I chose to swim the second lap on the cable as much as possible to ensure I was taking the shortest path around the course.  Unfortunately, I did run into some traffic at points, which probably slowed my pace and broke my rhythm at times, but what can you expect with 1500 people in the water.  Overall, I was a fan of the seeded swim start and exited the water with a satisfactory swim time of 1:09:40.

1 of 3 done

Spectators lined the course throughout the day.

After making my way down the street to transition, I was ready for the bike course.  It was highlighted by a mile-and-a-half descent followed closely by a 2-mile descent in the early parts of the course and some challenging climbing toward the end.  Bikers are able to reach speeds of 50 mph if they're willing to let it run on the descents, but unfortunately, when I exited the water, it was raining.  In addition, the roads on the descents were bumpy making handling difficult.  Therefore, I knew I would need to be cautious.

Nice and easy, it's a long ride.

As with every Ironman, the bike needs to be a controlled ride.  The bike course was two laps, and I was conservative on the first making sure to take in a lot of nutrition.  The rain that was falling at the beginning of the bike didn't last long.  The course was mostly dry and the clouds shielded us from any intense sun.  One of the highlights of the first lap on the bike came toward the end on Baby Bear, Mamma Bear, and Pappa Bear, which are the three consecutive hills to end the bike loop.  Spectators lined the road on both sides to cheer us on.  IT WAS AWESOME!  I felt like I was riding in the Tour de France!  It was the perfect adrenaline rush for the end of the first loop.  As we winded our way through town being cheered on by spectators, I was ready to let it run on my second shot at those descents.

Riding through town and ready for lap 2.

The roads were dry, but the ripples in the pavement most likely created by treacherous winters made the descents dangerous.  Most likely topping 40 mph (I didn't dare look at my computer), at one point, I had to squeeze the breaks and clench my bars tightly so as not to crash.  A little scary for sure and a reminder to be cautious.  Continuing to feel good, I tried to take advantage of the rolling hills while keeping in mind I still had a lot to do before the day was done.

Riding through the Adirondacks.

As expected, when I hit about 90 miles on the bike, I could feel my body starting to really fatigue.  After eating so many gels, my stomach was in no mood for any more, but I knew I had to force it down or else pay severely for it on the run.  Trying to keep my effort consistent and my mind poised, I climbed the hills back to transition.  Things were starting to get hard.  The spectators that lined Baby Bear, Mamma Bear, and Pappa Bear were absent, most likely having moved to their spot along the run course to see their athletes.  A couple riders that I had moved ahead of earlier on the bike, had come back to pass me, and I started to seriously doubt my ability to now run the marathon.

As I entered transition, I saw Chad and Jen (Holderbaum) with little Andy cheering me on.  I spent 3:44 in transition changing my gear for the run, but more importantly, I used this time to relax my body and mind.  The truth was, I wanted to stop!  I wanted to be done!  I was tired!  I had already pushed my body into a state of fatigue.  But, there was a job to be done, and it would be done by putting one foot in front of the other.  I wasn't going to quit.

One foot in front of the other for 26.2.

As I left transition and made my way onto the run course, I got a boost from the yells of encouragement from my parents and friends.  It's always helpful to know there are people there supporting you, even if you can't show it at the time.  The run course goes like this, run down some big hills, out and back six miles on some flat roads, then run up the big hills.  Do that twice and you're an Ironman.  Sounds simple, right.  Ah!

I tried to keep a consistent pace that was doable.  Checking my watch, I started out running just over 8-minute miles.  Nothing impressive, but I wasn't trying to impress.  I was trying to finish.  When the day began, I had the goal of finishing in under 10 hrs in the back of my mind, but my calculation now told me that would not happen.  For me, it was now about staying consistent and putting forth my best effort to get to the finish line.  I continued to force calories down my throat walking through each aid station to get sports drink, cola, and the occasional wet sponge.  I couldn't do any more gels.

By the end of the first run loop, my legs were screaming with every step.  My pace had slowed, but I continued to tick off the miles step-by-step.  When I spotted the Olympic Ski Jump shoots that towered above the trees, I prepared myself for the climb up Cascade Road back to Main Street and the finish line.  Most people around me chose to walk the hill, I did not.  While my pace rivaled that of the tortoise, I shuffled up that hill getting encouragement from strangers that appreciated my determination despite my pain and fatigue.

Running with just a few miles to go.

Having conquered the hills and returning to Main Street, there was the formality of finishing the last 2.5 mile out-and-back without cramping.  I knew I had done it!  I thought about Laura, Luke, and our little Matthew, and how Laura puts up with all my training, and how she was willing to stay home with the boys and let me travel almost 600 miles to do something I love just 15 days after she gave birth.  I thought about my Mother-in-Law, Chris, who slept at our house while I was gone to help take care of Luke, and I thought about my parents who had made the trip with me and were unconditionally committed to supporting me.  I would not have been able to do this without the wonderful people in my life.

Rounding the curve with Eric Heiden!

Finishing shoot with the Olympic Torch.

Few more steps.

Love this picture!

I guess that makes me an Ironman.


  1. Loved all 3 parts of your race report Ben!! Congrats on becoming an Ironman yet again!!

  2. Ben--Mom and I enjoyed reading your blog about the Ironman achievement at Lake Placid. The narrative gives us insight into the tri-athlete's mind, heart and guts. The photos are excellent and record the phases of the race. We are proud of you. BEN,YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!