Monday, August 8, 2011

IMLP 2011 Race Report

About two weeks ago, on 7/24/2011, I competed in my third consecutive Ironman Lake Placid in beautiful upstate NY. In 2009 I had a great race and went sub-10 for the first time, and then last year was a weird one, using the race as a workout and pulling out intentionally after the two-mile mark of the run, for my first, and only, yet bittersweet DNF. I had a good race this year with a very positive outcome, ending up on the podium and qualifying for Kona again, so another 140.6 miles covered and valuable lessons and experience earned.

The leadup to the race was pretty typical and very similar to the past two years, departing Wednesday evening from Pittsburgh, driving part of the way that night, staying over in central NY state, and then finishing the drive Thursday and getting into Lake Placid that afternoon. Jocelyn and I rode up again with my parents and stayed at Golden Arrow again as we did in 2009. Some of last years friends and Pittsburgh racers were not present in town this year, however as usual there was a strong Steeltown contingent including IMLP stalwarts Mark, Billy (Boomer), and Bill, and some new competitors in Kim, Steve, Eric, and Chris. Throw in some good friends up to volunteer, train, spectate, and support, and it had all the makings of another great time in Lake Placid. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday included the standard short workouts, packet pickup, bike/gear check, and great meals, and before we knew it race day was upon us once again. A photo from Saturday night's pre-race gathering and better than your average "pasta-dinner."

Race morning started at 4:45 and Jocelyn and I started choking/slugging down our breakfast and getting suited up for the big day. We walked down to the oval and got body-marked, tires pumped and the remaining prep done, special needs bags dropped off, and then back to the hotel by 6am to hit the bathroom one last time before heading down to the race start.
Jocelyn and I took the walk down with fellow BallouSkies teammates Kim and Steve, and got down to the Mirror Lake beach and continued our race visualization amid the building excitement. At about 6:40 we headed down onto the beach proper and got ready to enter the water at about the time that that pros were sent off at 6:50. Kim, myself, Steve, and Jocelyn all zipped up in the BlueSeventy skins and ready to go!
The big talk/buzz/controversy of the morning and even the day proceeding, was the possibility and then the eventual proclamation that the water temp was 77', over the 76.1 deg cutoff where wetsuits would be permitted to be used in Mirror Lake and still be eligible for awards and Kona slots. This had a lot of people upset and nervous about the swim, but for myself, having a swimming background, I was not bothered by this and figured it would be more comfortable (cooler) and benefit me more this way. Just for a little historical perspective, this was the first time in IMLP's 13 years that wetsuits could not be used without consequence.

At 7am, about 2800 starters were underway, of which we learned later included about 1,100 first time Ironpeople, and about 1,800 of the 2,800 starters (65%) that chose to use wetsuits. These sub-distictions of athletes would prove to be pivotal for many on the day in how the race got underway in the swim, the resulting distribution and groupings of athletes, and how AG awards and Kona slots would be distributed.
The start was as insane as usual, however after about 50 yards of fighting and scrapping with people, I angled over sharply to the left and got on the inside track of the buoys and the famous Lake Placid "(underwater)line". Billy and I must have been on the same page and had the same strategy as I did as I saw him and swam on his left hip for about 600 meters towards the first turn buoy. Most of the first lap was pretty uneventful with the exception of battling a Boston Tri Club guy for position for a considerable ways, but I was very comfortable in the water, cruising to about a 29 min first lap split. Up and out over the beach, and back into the water for lap 2. This second 2k or so in the water unfolded very similarly to the first, battling a couple more guys for prime position, trying to find the occasional feet or hip to draft off of, and even ending up right beside Billy again for a couple hundred meters on the homestretch back into the beach. I came out of the water in :59:32, just about even splitting the two swim legs when you take the beach run up and dolphin diving around the dock into account, which broke down to 1:34 pace per 100 meters and putting me in 13th position in my AG. After the long run up to and through transition, I was ready to go and heading out onto the bike after a 4:07 T1. I didn't lose any placement in T1 according to Slowtwitch's enhanced results (pretty cool, check it out), which was a victory in and of itself as I am known for taking my sweet-ass time in transition!

Starting out on the bike, my goal was to keep the intensity down on the bike until I started the climbing out of Jay towards Wilmington on the first lap, and be sure to get in plenty of calories via my standard fueling plan with Infinit and Gu gels, and also drink a little more than is typical for me. I felt like I did a pretty good job doing this, and felt pretty strong and relaxed the first lap. I remember passing most, if not all of the 8 guys in my AG that I started the run before, on the first lap of the bike, and knew that I was moving up into prime striking territory for the Kona slot I was gunning for. The only hope was that I would be able to hold this position/pace during the second lap of the bike! Coming back into town, finishing the first loop:For the first lap, my watts and average HR were right about where I wanted them, and the perceived exertion seemed just right, so I had reason to believe that I would be able to even split my bike leg just as I had in the swim. My aerobic endurance and fitness are at all time highs, so despite some disappointing bike legs this year, I knew that with my strong AE foundation and added focus on strength and intensity this year, I should be in good shape for a Placid bike PR, if not an even split. Alas, it apparently wasn't meant to be on this day, because after I made the descent down into Keene for the second time and I started the long straightaway next to the Ausable River between Keene and Jay, I knew something was off as my HR and watts were both dropping and my mood was starting to go south. I didn't understand how this could be happening as I thought that I had paced appropriately in the first lap and my nutrition was right on, but after seeing these tell-tale signs I knew I had to start taking in more calories and fluids.
The day was also starting to heat up as well and it was getting a little windier to boot, so my increasing difficulty would only be exacerbated by the developing conditions. For everyone that was claiming that we had ideal weather for this years race, I would have gladly traded these in for last year's overcast and cooler conditions! Regardless of my building discomfort, I tried to turn my outlook around and try to get in as much calories as I could stomach and do all that I could for the remainder of the bike leg. I was pushing hard but knew my even split was gone as I was watching my watts and speed steadily drop, and I was just in damage control now and didn't want to relinquish any more positions to guys in my AG. Struggling coming up the rolling hills between Jay and Wilmington, starting to cook!:
Luckily, of the handful of guys that came by me in the last 20-30 miles, they were all in different age groups. I used them as best that I could to pace off of and keep me honest, trying not to let anyone get too far up the road or more than 50-100m in front of me. This worked pretty well, and before I knew it I was back into town to start the run. Another disappointing bike leg for me this year, but I was in good position coming off the bike so it was time to knuckle up and run hard! Bike split of 5:24:04 with an average speed of 20.74 mph and 5th in my AG coming off the bike.

After a relatively smooth T2 in 2:10, I was off onto the run and immediately tried to establish a quick, effortless cadence, but not go too nutso running on the net downhill trend out of town and trash my legs early. I have a lot of confidence in my run and feel much better about my ability to pace an Ironman run leg than the bike, and I started clipping off about 6:45-7:00 min miles. After a quick bathroom stop at about mile 1 of the run, I was back at it and looking up the road to start reeling people in. I felt very strong and in control for the first 6 miles or so of the run, and thought if this segment was any indication of how I would feel, I knew I'd be in for one of my fastest runs. Gone were the heat and humidity of places like Kona and Louisville, and although it had been unseasonably warm in LP that whole week and even this day, I thought no problem. I should know better than that though, because while LP does not necessarily have the difficult climatic conditions, it certainly has the difficult terrain and elevation profile. Much has been made about the difficulty of the Lake Placid course and while I am safe at home in the middle of a training block/riding in Deep Creek, I poo-poo IMLP's inclines and reputation; once you have 120-125 miles of racing in your legs, it is a different story! Somewhere between miles 6-9 I started getting a little tired and feeling a little low again, and immediately I thought I need to start working the nutrition again. I started to take in more Gu's, salt, and Coke, and probably not a moment too soon as the hills were quickly approaching as I was nearing the end of the River Rd out and back and also an AG competitor of mine, Lucas, came up on me quickly from behind. He made the pass initially and while I first thought that I couldn't go with him or that maybe I would just try to keep him in sight, after about a half mile where he didn't get more than 20yds on me, I remembered some of the past tempo runs I had done and that 7:10 pace wasn't so bad afterall and closed the gap to him. We started running side by side at about the 9 mile mark, and wouldn't separate again for almost the entire rest of the race. Maybe about a mile later we came up on another quick guy from the 25-29 AG, Greg, and he joined our little party and we began working together. Up and over the two kickers back into town, out and back on Mirror Lake Drive to the halfway point, and it was now a race and we were picking up the pace! So far, the three of us hadn't ever been more than about 5 feet from one another, and weren't willing to concede much more than a step or two.
I came through the halfway point in about 1:34, and I thought, with these guys pushing me on, an IM marathon PR was definitely possible and it wasn't likely anyone else was going to catch us - except maybe Eric, whom I would see at the turnarounds and could tell he was having an excellent run.
Down the hills and back down onto River Rd for the meat of the 2nd lap, it started heating up even more and then it was on to the heat management game, dumping ice cold water over my head, ice down the jersey and shorts, and taking cold sponges whenever they were available. Of course these stops or handoffs were only undertaken after first checking on my running companions, and more importantly Lucas, to make sure that they weren't going to make a Macca-type move through an aid station. The pace was getting a little more difficult and I felt the beginnings of some cramps, but we keep it rolling anyway and continued to pick more people off. I wasn't even aware so much of anyone else's age or AG position that we may have come upon in those last 16-17 miles of the race, but I was just intent on continuing to work with these guys and blow by everyone that we could. It's funny looking back, at times in the early stages of the running "partnership" we were talking ever so slightly and even sharing salt tablets and handing off cups of water and ice to each other. Also that Greg and I, and then Lucas and Greg, spoke more with one another, than Lucas and myself. Hahaha, keep it outside of the AG. But as each successive mile clicked off and we were suffering that much more, by about the 21-22 mile mark, almost all communication had ceased. It it was getting serious now. We took the first hill, just past River Rd and now back onto Rt 73 together, sizing one another up. Then on the second kicker right before the junction with Rt 86, I went to make my move and lose these guys. Not that there was much in my legs at this point and I couldn't dig really deep at all, I felt like I got a little separation on them and held it coming up the hill towards the exit from transition and run start, and that I had them. Up and onto the out and back on Mirror Lake Drive, I was feeling really trashed from the surge up the hill and was getting light headed and woozy, and even felt a little wobbling laterally and thought, "Oh crap, don't fall over now, you have less than two miles to go!" At the turnaround on Mirror Lake Dr I saw Greg closest behind me and then Lucas a little further back. In my late stage of the race mental haze, I don't know why I didn't size Greg up a little more accurately and was only concerned about Lucas, but I guess it is just that AG thing again and figured my position was secure. Because about a half mile later Greg came by me like I was standing still and I didn't have the energy to make a counter move at all. I just tried my best to keep the pressure on and stay upright as I made my way back to transition, onto and around the oval, and over the finish line. Coming down the finishing chute (!), I felt like complete garbage, but that magic that is the finish line can always overcome the worst possible feeling and I was coming across the line knowing that I couldn't have given any more and I had a race to be very proud of. My marathon split ended up as a 3:12:36, or 7:21/mile.

Immediately after crossing the finish line, I thought that I was going to keel over and a couple kind volunteers grabbed me and escorted me into the medical tent. There I got some wonderful attention and good ol' intravenous recovery, not to mention a little time off of my feet to reflect and let the preceding 9 hours and 42 minutes sink in.

I would really like to thank my wonderful wife Jocelyn, my parents for making the trip up to support us and cheer for us once again, the rest of our great and loving family, wonderful network of friends and training partners, teammates on BallouSkies and Ryan for giving me the inspiration to keep going when the going gets tough, all sponsors, supporters, and the growing community of great triathletes in the city of Pittsburgh - all of you for your support and encouragement to keep pushing ahead and striving for excellence. Also, many congrats to Kim and Steve for great races of their own and helping to represent Ballou Skies in Lake Placid! Many congrats as well to all other friends and Pittsburgh finishers out there who had great days and got it done!

In the end, my final time was 9:42:29, good for 2nd place in my AG, 4th overall amateur, and 16th place OA. It was also good enough for a Kona slot so I will be heading to the Big Island in October for my third consecutive year, and even better... I am heading back to race alongside Jocelyn again!!! My girl also got herself a Kona slot and is going back for round two!!! Go Team Cornman and Go BallouSkies!!!

Thanks everyone for reading this never ending RR - although maybe you don't mind too much as I haven't made you suffer through any blog posts of mine in what seems like eons! ;-) Seriously, thank you, and best of luck to you all for the rest of your seasons and in all your endeavors. See you at the races!


Beth said...

Whew! That was quite a running race you had on your hands there! Congrats on yet another amazing performance. So happy for you both and really excited for the opportunity to race along side you once again in Kona!

Kim said...

What a day! Exciting to read about and way to dig deep and finish it Jeremy! Congrats!! Very proud of you and our awesome team!