I wanted so badly for this race report to be a zero-to-hero story, the dream-come-true-story, the local-small-town-girl-goes-big-Kahuna story.
I wanted to be the dark horse that no one saw coming.
I wanted to be the American Dream equivalent of Ironman racing – work hard, realize your dreams.
I wanted to qualify for Kona.
But, I didn’t.
Despite giving this race everything I had – mentally and physically – I came up short for a Kona slot, 4 minutes and 53 seconds short to be exact. That’s how far ahead the 4th place woman was. She earned the last Kona slot in my age group (3 slots total, 1 rolled down).
When I think about this with my emotional brain (EB), I feel a sadness that makes my heart ache. I feel the tears threaten my eyelids. I feel my stomach churn.
It is a feeling that makes it hard to even write this race report, to admit my defeat, to open myself to public judgment about whether or not I’m good enough.
EB wants me to think I must be an idiot, writing and talking about qualifying for Kona, and then missing the goal. Why didn’t I just keep it to myself, avoid the public humiliation?
Rational Brain (RB) – mercifully – sees things a little differently. If I let RB take a broader perspective, I know that I had the race of my life (so far).
RB knows that I gave the 2013 Ironman Lake Placid everything I had. Then, I gave it another 10%, which came from I don’t know where. I finally felt what it’s like to race – truly race – an Ironman.
I’ll summarize for you: It hurts. A lot.
I swam hard. I biked hard. I ran hard, which worked until I shredded every last muscle fiber in my legs. Then, I just ran, trusting that at any moment I would come to the end of the race.
When I think of this, I feel the thrill of accomplishment.
This was my third time competing at Ironman Lake Placid, and I’ve said pretty much everything I can say about the course itself. So, if you are looking for a detailed course overview (swim, bike & run), click here.
If you are interested my 2013 Ironman Lake Placid Race Report, keep reading.
Going into this race, I was the most mentally stable, strong and confident I have ever been before any type of major event in my life.
My family remarked that John was more nervous than me. Indeed, he was.
When the alarm went off on race morning (after a perfect night of sleep), the first thought in my mind was:
From the very beginning, everything was going according to plan.
We had a big posse on the Team U-Crazy Crew, and we were out the door at precisely 4:25 a.m. I may have mentioned once or a gazillion times the night before that we were leaving at 4:25 a.m.
The house we rented was 30 minutes from the race site, so I wanted to make sure we left plenty early to get parking, leisurely take care of my business in transition, get body marked, and sit by Mirror Lake and find some time to meditate.
Every blessed detail that was in my direct control went according to plan.
At 6:10 a.m., we were permitted to enter the water to warm up. I couldn’t wait to get in there and get the day started.
I also had to pee. So, that might have been my motivation.
The water was about 72 degrees, and it felt great. There was a humidity in the air, but the temperatures were mild – in the 60s. The weather forecast was calling for thunderstorms and rain showers all day, but at that moment, there was no rain, and only minimal cloud cover.
After a 10 minute warm up, I made my way over to the beach where we self-seeded into corrals. (Ironman Lake Placid was selected as one of the test sites for Ironman’s new Swim Start Initiative).
My goal was 1:10 for the 2.4 mile swim, so I got into the corral for 1:01-1:10, about two-thirds of the way back. I took a look around me to make sure there weren’t any gigantor men that would threaten to topple me as we made our way into the water. I learned that lesson already.
As the national anthem was sung, I felt the joy-weepies start.
So, with four Ironmans done now, I think it’s official: I cannot start one of these suckers without a little bit of joyful weeping. It’s such an amazing moment, standing on the shoreline, watching the sun peak over the horizon, soaking in the energy of thousands of excited bodies, thinking about what is to come, knowing that you put in hours upon hours of hard work to make it possible.
That moment fills my heart with joy, and that joy spills into the weepies. It’s just that simple.
With my joy, there was a confident calmness as I waited to enter the water. I knew what I had to do, and I was READY. TO. DO. IT.
While Emotional Brain soaked in the beauty of the pre-start moment, Rational Brain was gearing up to take over complete and total control the second my foot crossed the timing mat.
Within a few minutes of the progression of athletes into the water, I found myself at the red arch. I stepped over the timing mat, felt the tickle of water on my toes, and my Ironman had begun.
It was time to go to work.
I was immediately pleased by the orderliness of the swim start – especially compared to the pandemonium of the mass start of previous years at IMLP. Given the narrowness of Mirror Lake, it was always a sh!t show when over 2500 bodies start swimming at once.
With the new rolling swim start, I easily found my place within minutes of starting, and I could swim right from the start, no short stroking or fighting. There were clearly some people that did not seed themselves correctly (please – you aren’t doing anyone any favors – we are just going to swim over you!), but by the time I came around and started my second loop, everyone seemed to be in their right place.
I even swam the majority of the second loop right on the underwater cable that runs the length of the course. When I saw it, I thought – Holy crap! There’s the cable! I can’t believe I’m right on this sucker – and I’m not getting pummeled. Bonus!
I came out of the water feeling strong, calm, and ready to rock.
I stepped on the timing mat and looked at my watch: 1:09:47, a 4 minute PR (to the second!) for the swim. What a way to start the day!
I came around the beach and heard John screaming: “GO MARIA!! You got this, girl!”
I scooped up his energy, gave a fist pump and yelled back: “1:09 BABYYYYY!”
You might say I was feeling pretty proud of my effort, but there was no time to celebrate. I had 112 miles to ride.
I cruised into transition, grabbed my bags, which I had marked with enormous yellow ribbons. It was impossible to miss them.
I spent a minimal amount of time in the changing tent, just enough to get my shoes, helmet, extra nutrition, and my arm warmers. As it turned out, however, I did not need the arm warmers. So, that was a waste of my time. Note to self: arm warmers are so unnecessary in temps 60 degrees and above.
As I ran around transition, I heard them calling out numbers for volunteers to grab bikes. My bike was all the way at the very end of the row. So, it would have been a huge time saver to just grab and go, but unfortunately the volunteer had accidentally selected the wrong bike.
“Oh, crap,” he said. Poor dude! I didn’t want him to feel bad – he didn’t have to be there at all.
“No problem!” I exclaimed, and darted down the row to grab my bike. All told, I lost about 45 seconds. Doesn’t seem like much, but at the end of the day, all of these seconds add up to minutes. And, when the competition is so tight, every second truly does count.
But, if I’ve learned one thing over and over and over in racing: you MUST expect the unexpected, and be prepared to adapt to circumstances as they arise. You have to be prepared to make decisions on the fly. In other words, make sure Rational Brain is working at all times. Don’t let Emotional Brain get you all flustered when the plan falls off the rails. Because the plan WILL fall off the rails at some point.
As I came to the mount line, I heard screams: “GO MARIA!!!”
By the end of the race, I felt like these two must have been teleporting around that race course – I saw them in at least a half-dozen different locations. If you are looking for super on-course race support – look no further than my Team U-Crazy posse and these two!
There was a bit of a jam at the mount line – as there has been every single time I’ve done this race. The exit out of transition is narrow, and the race is hopelessly oversold. So, traffic jam it is.
I’d say there was another 30 seconds I lost just waiting for people to get their legs over their bikes.
I said to one guy, “Just get on your bike dude and go down the hill.”
About 20 minutes into the bike, I thought, “Oh, it’s raining?!” After the race, I found out it had started raining during the swim, but I didn’t even realize it until I had already been cycling, and I was on my way climbing out of town.
In years past, the mere threat of rain would have sent Emotional Brain into a panicked overdrive. Yet, there I was, riding in the rain, heading toward the infamous Keene descent, feeling calm.
Thanks to RB’s total control, I got up to 45 miles per hour on the descent.
While this hardly makes me the fastest person down the hill, it is a record for me, and a true testament to the handling skills that I’ve developed and worked on for the past several years. The first time I ever rode the descent, I crushed nerves in my hands. I was so scared, and barely hit 20 mph.
Not only was I going 45 miles per hour, I was doing it in the rain, and feeling completely in control. My rule in descending is that I will not go any faster than I feel comfortable with. I will not push that edge. And, I didn’t.
The lesson for you folks at home? Don’t give up, and don’t tell yourself you’ll never be good at swimming, cycling, running, or [insert activity here]. Put in the work, and the improvements will come. The formula works.
Prior to the race, my coach Vince and I had discussed a few different scenarios for the bike, and I had a general wattage plan. For the first loop, I stuck to the plan for the most part.
As I began the second loop, I realized I had a decision to make: stay within the range and save energy for the run, or push a little harder and stay in striking distance. At this point, while I had passed some women in my age group, I had been passed by quite a few women, so it was evening out.
I didn’t want even. I wanted to win.
It was time to make a decision. It was time to make an adaptation to the circumstances of the day. Rational Brain decided it wouldn’t matter how much I had left for the run if they got too far ahead of me on the bike.
So, I rode as if there was no run. I rode hard, and let the race unfold. And, it was thrilling! I reeled back two women who had gotten ahead of me, but I knew there were more in front of me. I just didn’t know how many, and I didn’t know how far they were.
I continued to check my watts and my heart rate. Every 10-15 minutes, I gave myself a test: “Self: how do you feel?”
Every time the answer came back: “I feel great.”
And, I did. I have never felt so strong, so in control on my bike. Rooby-Roo and I were a single machine, literally joined at my hips.
Despite the increased watts, my speed was slower on the second loop, which I attribute to the wind; it had picked up noticeably in comparison to the first loop.
I came around to finish the second loop, just a touch over my 6-hour goal, finishing the bike in 6:05:50. But, I was proud of the effort on a course with over 5000 feet of climbing. This is a 31 minute PR for the distance overall, and a 1 hour and 7 minute PR for the Lake Placid course.
Of course, I owe some of this improvement to Rooby-Roo’s rocket ship qualities, as this was my first Ironman on a tri-bike. But my ego wants to take at least a bit of credit that the engine matters most!
Transition was uneventful, and it was time to run.
I think the easiest way to discuss the run is in pictures.
I cannot look at these two pictures without laughing. So, if you are laughing, I totally understand.
The moment I started running, I could feel the effort of the bike. My plan was to run as hard as my target heart rate would permit until I couldn’t do it anymore. Then, I would just run. And, that’s exactly how it unfolded. The wheels started to come off the bus around the half-marathon mark, but I was able to keep my pace around 8 minute miles until mile 17 or 18, then I just slogged.
I felt like I had no power in my legs – at all. The feeling was not exactly like bonking—I was not shaky, not cranky, not negative in my head. It was clear that I had biked too hard, but again, this was a risk I had rationally decided to take, and I refused to be emotionally upset by it.
I was not at Ironman Lake Placid to finish. I was there to qualify, which in my mind equated to winning. So, I repeated to myself: You are here to win. Then, I would count to 100. Then, I would go through a form checklist, which apparently, based on the pictures, I needed to do more often. I can just see what the bike did to my form. #Ouch.
The final 10k of the marathon, I was so deep into the pain cave I barely remember the details, other than the fight to keep moving, to try whenever I could to get a burst of speed, and hold it for as long as my legs would let me. I used the downhills to try to bring up my cadence and get back into my race rhythm. It would work for a bit, but then fade.
Eventually – mercifully – I was at the entrance to the oval. I looked up and saw the flags lining the Olympic Oval. I saw the people cheering and holding out their hands to give me a high five. I felt the distinct feeling that I might puke.
It was MAGICAL!
I could see the finish, and I was heading for a PR – both for the Ironman distance and for the course.
I finished in 11 hours, 9 minutes and 8 seconds, a 44 minute PR for the distance, and a 1 hour and 42 minute PR for the Lake Placid course. I was the 6th place 40-44 year old female, the 40th female overall and the 293rd athlete overall to cross the finish line.
And, I felt like a wet dishrag.
I crossed the line and immediately hunched over, unable to move anymore, unable to sustain my own body weight. A volunteer stepped up and grabbed me at the precise moment I felt certain I was going to do a header.
So, that worked out.
I felt completely wrung out. I felt terrible that the volunteer had to touch me – I was filthy, covered in you-know-what, and pretty certain I was going to vomit.
I tried to tell the volunteer I was okay, he said, “Oh, yeah, I know. I’m just…” and his voice trailed off.
Yeah, he was just making sure I didn’t collapse. Sure, I was okay, I felt like I had to puke, I couldn’t rub two thoughts together, and I had trouble standing without support. Yup, in the words of Tony the Tiger, I was grrrrrrrrrrr-eaaaaaattttt!
Clearly, Rational Brain had clocked out for the day.
He asked me, “What size t-shirt are you?”
I looked at him like he had two heads. “Um…?”
Then he asked if I wanted water. Same look.
Then he said, “What day is it?”
Uh-oh, I must look really bad.
“What’s your race number?”
I looked down, “775.”
“Okay. What was your finish time?”
“11:09 something – a PR!” I rallied for a minute.
Satisfied, he walked me over to the chairs and let me sit down.
At this point, my friend Eric, who had finished the race an hour before me, found me.
“Great job!” and he gave me a hug. Another poor person who didn’t deserve to have that filth on their person. “How do you feel?”
“I feel like puking.”
Probably not what he expected to hear, but he took it in stride. “You worked hard! What a race! John and your family are over there.” He pointed. “Let me go tell them where you are. When you are ready, go see them.”
After I spent a minute sitting down, fighting the nausea, I made my way over to John, Tracy and Charlotte and plopped on the ground. I was fairly certain that was where I would remain until the 2014 Ironman Lake Placid.
Then, I looked up and said, “I’m going to puke. I’m sorry you have to see this.”
I heaved, and heaved and bile came out. No doubt that was a comforting display that I was doing fine. Charlotte’s friend Ashley was there, and I was “meeting” her for the first time. Ashley was thinking about signing up for her first Ironman for 2014. No doubt I really sold her on the idea.
Sadly, John did not take a single picture of the puking episode.
John said, “You have to eat something.” Charlotte and Tracy nodded her heads, “Yes, Maria, get some pizza.”
I thought the three of them must clearly be insane. Why did they hate me? Eat something?
But, I was too weak to argue the point, and I somehow managed to stand up and walk over to grab a slice of pizza.
I took the first bite.
Since when did they start putting razor blades on pizza?
They all looked at me, nodding their heads, “That’s it. Eat it down.” I felt like a child must feel, as her parents coax her to eat the yummy vegetables – they are good for you!
I managed to eat half of the slice, and within 10 minutes or so the color started to return to my face. I could tell because random people stopped staring at me.
I was so weak, my normally very loud voice was just barely over a whisper and very shaky. Not to mention, I was having trouble breathing normally.
But, I wasn’t so weak or sick that I wasn’t concerned about my performance relative to the field.
Knowing that I wouldn’t be happy with the answer, I asked anyway, “What’s my place?”
John’s expression told me I was out of the running for a slot before he even spoke.
“Sixth place.” Then, enthusiastically, “You cracked the top 10! That’s awesome.”
Clearly a diversionary tactic. I’m smarter than that.
With only 3 slots in my age group, I would have to wait it out and go to roll down the following day, and pray that someone would not want to go to Kona. In fact, pray that 3 someones would not want to go to Kona. Naturally, that didn’t happen.
It’s hard for Emotional Brain to ignore the sting of missing Kona by two slots, and just under 5 minutes. In weaker moments, I have shed some tears over it. I poured everything I had into this specific race, this day. My entire family was there, I had friends watching me online, I have you – my loyal blog readers – cheering me on.
And, I didn’t do it.
Emotional Brain hurts.
But, Rational Brain is already working to take control. RB has talked with Vince, dissected the data, and started pulling from the lessons of the day. RB is already identifying its next target. RB is ready for some revenge.
I learned a lot during this race. I learned what it feels like to race an Ironman – it’s painful, and thrilling, and exciting, and yes, a little heart breaking.
I learned that the people who love you will love you and support you no matter whether you hit your goal or not.
I learned (again) that I really enjoy triathlon. It is a gift and a blessing to be able to move my body, to push my limits, and to feel the amazing force of life.
I learned that no matter how bad it hurts, no matter how much the demons want to tell me to stop, no matter what the day throws at me, I don’t quit.
And, I won’t quit on my dream to qualify for Kona. One of these years, I’ll be on that line. I will have my day. Both sides of my brain are convinced of that.
I want to thank my family – with them, all things are possible; without them, none of this means anything. Without John, I never would have tried an Ironman in the first place – and my life is so much richer for the experience. I love you so much, and it was just incredible to share this experience with all of you. Incredible.
I am grateful to my coach Vince, who does much more than give me a training schedule. I have learned many many lessons about training, racing and mental strength under his guidance. I would never be where I am today without him. He never once doubted my ability, and gave me the courage and confidence to believe in myself. *Grunt*
Thanks to my friends who gave me fabulous on course race support, and my friends who were cheering for me all day long on Twitter and Facebook. I loved coming home and reading all of the posts – it filled me with a sense of community and belonging that brought me to weepy joy, yet again.
Sadly, I don’t think Rational Brain can ever properly put into words how much Emotional Brain loves all of you, and is awed and humbled by the concern and love you show for me.