Friday, July 31, 2009

IMLP Race Report

So much to say, so little time. My thoughts are so jumbled that this report may be incoherent at times. One thing is sure, I loved this race. Every second of it. Start to finish. I keep saying it, and I'll probably say it ten more times just in this paragraph. Team Placid was awesome. Without the team I could not have done this. Hard to see how I could do another IM without a big crowd of people to train with, commiserate with and learn from. And not just team Placid but the whole Final Kick family. The level of support has been tremendous. How does anyone do an IM without a Final Kicker or Family member standing on every corner cheering for you? That's only a slight exaggeration.

In the month before IMLP I had quite a few opportunities to swim in Mirror lake. First at the Fireman's Camp in June and then in the days preceding the race. It's a great place to swim. Clean, clear, calm and critter-free. But for some reason I was having little mini panic attacks at various points in the swim course. I'd get really warm and panicky. At first I thought maybe I was overheating in the full wetsuit or that my HRM strap was too tight. But swimming without the HRM strap and in the sleeveless wetsuit produced the same panic feeling. As race day drew near, this served to increase my already high anxiety. The farthest I'd ever swam was 3000 yards continuous in the pool and double sticks in the bay(2 miles?). And that was with stopping and chatting at each end. I was questioning every aspect of my swim training. I decided that when race day rolled around I was just going to have to push my anxiety aside and get it done. Somehow. The funny thing is that I was not questioning my bike or run training. I felt like, on those counts, I was ready. If I could just make it out of the water.

At IMLP(and probably all IM's) they give you 5 bags that need to be filled and staged at various places around the course. Coming in, I didn't really understand how this worked. There's a T1 bag, T2 bag, dry clothes bag, bike special needs bag, and run special needs bag. Each bag is handed to you by a volunteer at the appropriate time. Actually sometimes they just open the bag and hand you what you want out of it. The trick is to put the right things in the right bag and drop the bags off at the right locations and at the right times. Another big anxiety producer, for me, before the race. But maybe it was a good thing since it took my mind off the swim and it ensured that I didn't get out there having forgotten some critical piece of equipment. Which could easily happen in all the pre-race excitement.

Race day finally arrives and I'm excited but strangely calm. Resigned to my fate, I guess. Or maybe it was the calming influence of my family standing on the grass cheering me on. Walking around lake Placid in the days before the race, I felt like an honored guest, a rock star. Like people were looking at all the athletes, in awe. This feeling was heightened as I walked through the crowd and entered the swim start. I couldn't have said no to all that energy if I wanted to. It was going to carry me to a great day, no matter what obstacles appeared.


The IMLP swim course is a long rectangle. Swim approx 900 meters, take a left turn, swim approx 100 meters, take another left turn, then 900 meters back to the beach. When the cannon went off to signal the start I was standing on the beach on the far right, smoking a cigarette... just kidding. Just standing, with a bunch of other tentative swimmers. This put me wide right of the combat zone and far from the underwater cable that runs under the buoys and is the most direct path around the course. First thing I did was to wait about 20 seconds. So, I'm not only wide right but behind the melee. Ask Marco about the melee. Totally, not appealing, to me. At that point I jumped out there and started swimming. Just as in other races, once I got out there and got comfortable, I had absolutely no problem. Maybe this is a first for an IM swim but I was barely touched the entire time. I think I was surrounded by other people who were looking to avoid contact and so if any of us touched someone else we'd immediately alter course so that wouldn't happen again. I swung wide around all turns. So much so that one of the kayakers was trying to tell me about the cable. Dude! If I even see that cable, I'm doing something real wrong. I probably ended up swimming 3 miles. But I loved it. I mean I was in a groove and felt fast and strong. End of the first loop, clock said 48, second loop it said 1:38, so "feeling fast" is not the same as fast. But it was exhilarating, so I'll take it. I'd been looking forward to the *peelers* and they did not disappoint. They popped the wetsuit off quickly and I was running down the runway toward T1 absolutely on cloud eighty nine thinking, it's ON now!


Got my T1 bag and into the changing tent. To my surprise there's a volunteer assigned to each athlete in the changing tent. Thanks but I really don't need that. Quick transition with no problems and I'm off on the bike. I really like this bike course.Even more so when you don't have to worry about being run over by a car. In my mind there's a payoff for each of the painful points. The initial climb pays off in the Keene descent. The left turn climb in Jay pays with the rolling out and back. The last 11 miles of climbing payoff with a huge crowd cheering at the right turn back into town. I felt good through the full first loop and pretty good on the second loop. I thought I was flying when, on the second loop, I hit 47 mph on the Keene descent, only to find out later that some folks were over 50mph. I probably rode this course as well as I could. Pushing hard in some places and going conservative in others. I never did eat the honey bun or the turtles I had in my bike special needs bag. That might have helped me later. Then again it could have hurt later. The biggest problem I had was getting water into the nutrition bottles that I had stashed in the special needs bag. It's hard to pour water into a bottle while riding. I don't care who you are, this course starts to wear you down by the middle of the second loop. I saw a few people sitting or laying on the side of the road as I made my way back into town. It went well for me, but I was happy to make it to T2 and be off the bike. 6:54 I'm really not disappointed with that.


Really the point, in triathlon is: After all the preliminaries, who and how well can you run? This was really the thing that I hoped my training had prepared me to do. Started out well enough. I ran out of T2 feeling pretty good with a slight side stitch. That went away but that River road seemed to go on forever. I could feel myself wearing down through about mile 5, but couldn't figure out how to pick myself back up. I tried eating and drinking just about everything the aid stations had to offer. Cookies, oranges, pretzels. None of it seemed to help. The chicken broth was pure nastiness. Hammer gel, I might as well have been eating dirt. Water, coke, Gatorade. Nothing seemed to be stopping my descent into misery which I knew would be accompanied by incessant walking. And I didn't want to be walking, I wanted to be running. Just like I'd planned. But I just couldn't for any length of time. I wasn't having GI issues. It just felt like my guts were all twisted and knotted up. Somewhere about mile 8 Marco goes by, on his second lap and I latch on to him and run a while but that didn't last long. Around mile 10 Austin, whom I'd passed on the bike, comes alongside and offers me Endurolytes. Hmmm, maybe that's what I'm missing. He gives me a few and then sprints off. Yes, sprints is the correct word. They seemed to be working for him! Problem was that I had nothing to put the endurolytes in, so took 2 and carried the rest in my sweaty palm until I got to an aid station then transferred them to a cup. Mile 11, coming back through town and I'm really struggling to walk up that long hill. I feel myself starting to get that tunnel vision feeling that had me reeling in my first marathon. I pop another decomposing endurolyte as the crowd in town encourages me on. Open my mouth to say thanks and the only thing that comes out is white powder.

Folks in the crowd looked horrified. Like, damn, we've seen alot of things but this is a new way to die... Oh, I forgot, I had endurolytes and food in my run special needs bag. I had completely forgotten about that bag... Don't know whether it was the applesauce or the mandarin oranges or my kids cheering and walking with me for a while but I felt better starting the second loop. Second loop, up to about mile 18, I'm spending alot of time chatting with dude from Phoenix Tri Club. He was 60 years old. I hope I can be doing this at sixty. Then he asks if I saw the white wolf, down by the river on the first loop. Huh? White wolf? About this time Vernon passes by. I'd also passed him on the bike. He's cramping but doing a run walk, so I leave white wolf man and join him. Thing is, everytime he run's, he's running fast. I can hardly keep up. We saw a weasel running around in the bushes about mile 20. And I started thinking if Phoenix tri guy can see a white wolf, I can see a weasel! Also, saw batman in town, FYI. We run/walk through about mile 22 and then Vernon just picks it up. I'm hanging on for dear life. People are cheering and Vernon is thanking them. All I can do is blink and run. Finally just before the turn around on Mirror lake drive(~mile 25+) Vernon gets away from me and I'm left to make it the rest of the way on my own.

Ok, this has gotten way longer than I thought it would. And I probably haven't adequately conveyed the half of it. I made it to the finish and heard Mike Reilly say, Keith Alston, blah, blah, blah, Chesapeake, VA, YOU ARE AN IRONMAAANNNNNN. SHWEET!!!! Got covered with the thermal blanket, handed the cap and the shirt and of course the medal. 14:26:30... Not quite where I wanted to be but that's ok. Just means I'll be back for more. Heck it took me 7 marathons before I could run all the way. If I figured it all out now what would I do in my old age? I consider it a victory that I didn't have to go to the med tent afterward. I think next time, I need to do more long runs after long bikes. Get a better feel for how my body will react and how to deal with it.

Finally, I must thank my people. Madia, my sherpa and main support system. She acts like doing an IM is too much, but I know she loves it just as much as I do. My Kids, Nathan and Krystal, and Nephew Jordan, who rode the train from DC to Lake Placid and were on the course with signs and noise makers. Acting the fool everytime I came by. Thanks guys for putting up with this craziness! My mom and Aunt who made the logistical nightmare look easy and who acted like they knew for sure I was going to return out of Mirror Lake, alive. They're all already talking about IMCDA in 2011.