I’ve never considered myself the kind of guy that has a list of things to get done by my thirties or forties, or for that matter any kind of life planning other than keeping myself busy and paying the bills. But somehow the Ironman has always stood out as something I would love to do and it was before I turn 40, which has oddly enough been creeping up on me for years.
So a huge group of us sign up in July of ’06 for the Lake Placid IronMan on July 22nd, 2007. Yes, one year in advance you sign your life and $500 away with no refunds on either! The training had begun. My main training partner was my girlfriend Julie who is always up for any challenge I throw at her, but this time was the one instigating the quest for IM glory.
An Ironman is a triathlon, but it is the big game. The swim is 2.4 miles, the ride 112 miles, and the run a full marathon of 26.2 miles. And this all in one day with a few time cutoffs to boot. Swim has to be done in 2 hours 20 min, the bike needs to be finished by 5 pm, and if you haven’t crossed the finish line by midnight you aren’t an “Ironman”. Most people racing are there to finish, some to win, and some to “qualify” to race the World Championships Ironman in Kona, Hawaii. That is the race everyone has seen on tv and the images of Ironman that stick in peoples’ heads.
One of the biggest challenges I faced was my lack of swimming ability. It wasn’t that I was going to sink as I had no problem treading water, moving along slowly side stroking, or even doing a very competent dog paddle. But to swim 2 miles it does help to be able to freestyle or crawl efficiently. So the swim practices started and continued on without much success. Finally a few days in the pool with super coach Steve Watkins got me a few breakthrough moments and as long as I didn’t have to kick I was moving along in the water very well. There would be no records broken, but I did get most improved for our little group.
As the year moved on into winter and spring our runs got more frequent and longer, with my longest around 14 miles. Traditional IM training gets most people into some 18 and 20 mile runs, but I was starting off from a somewhat rounder figure than I had in my old ski racing days, so I was taking it easy on my joints. The rides, on the other hand, continued on with more frequency, longer miles, and even some good efforts once in a while to keep the legs tired.
Our first “test” came in May at the Beast of the East Half Ironman in the mtns of Georgia. The swim was quite bizarre: “go around the island, look for the dock coming out of the damn, swim under it, and then back around the island”. Or something like that. So after zigging and zagging a few extra hundred yards and finally figuring out where we were supposed to go I finished the swim in 52 minutes. The ride was great- lots of hills and beautiful scenery until my wheel through a shoe at mile 42 and I got to ride home 4 miles with low pressure and 8 miles with a flat. That was not the time to suggest to me NOT trying something new on race day, or wondering why the guy that owns bike shops is riding a flat tire and ruining a brand new $2000 rear wheel.
Needless to say I wasn’t letting a little mechanical like that stop by bid for finishing a half IM, so I rode it in, parked it with a sigh of disgust, and proceeded to run my 13.1 miles up and over the dam repeated times. My finishing time was 6 hours 17 minutes, so I figured that was a success and except for feeling sluggish on the run was ready to ramp up for the IM in a few months.
Our rides started getting longer and were turning into “bricks”. A brick is any combination workout usually being a ride followed by a run. Most weren’t that hard, but the realization of what we were getting into hit us as we finished a century ride and started out on a 45 minute run and realized how much we were hurting. That was the first moment we realized that maybe the IM was a somewhat difficult proposition and not to be taken lightly.
July came around quickly and I packed up the Sequoia to head up to NY. With so many people coming from Charlotte I was again (first time 2 years ago for Wisconsin) in charge of bringing bikes to the race. I had 14 to bring, so I skipped the big trailer in favor of traveling light and loaded the Sequoia up with 6 bikes on top, 4 on the back rack, and 4 inside. It was quite a sight rolling down the road, but I had none of the same issues that came with towing an 18 foot trailer, so it was worth it. I was caravanning with Steve Redmond and we stayed the night at his parents house in N. Syracuse, NY. The one thing I’ve learned about Syracuse is that everyone is glad they left.
Wed. brought us to a 3 hour drive up to Placid to find our houses and unload the bikes and wait for the gang to show up. Julie, Tim, Lindsey, Colleen, Amy, Paige, Darren, Todd, and Amy’s folks were stuck in NYC after US Airways cancelled the flights to Burlington because of bad weather. “What bad weather?” was the big question as the skies outside were beautiful as well as hearing from friends landing at the same time in Vermont that it was the same up there. So US Airways trying again to spoil peoples vacations! They ended up renting a couple of cars and piling in for the long drive up.
Most people stayed in a big house up on the hill, but we were in a smaller place with about 6 of us- Julie, Cara, Michelle, Michelle’s boyfriend Greg, and friend Tara to cheer. Julie’s family also showed up to cheer us on. Having friends and family on the sidelines during the race turned out to be a great thing.
Thursday, Friday, and half of Saturday brought rain- lots of it. We were ok most of the time as we were mostly just relaxing with our only requirements to swim the course a few times, run a bit, and ride a bit. It ended up being tough to go out and ride or run in the rain, but there was no shortage of people out every minute of the day in front of our house running and riding by.
One of the amazing things about the Ironman is the amount of organization that goes into every single aspect of the race. There are about 2400 people signed up for the race, and they have to funnel everyone from the swim, to ride, to run, to finish, etc… And they do a wonderful job of it. We had 4 bags to fill up on Saturday morning: transition bags from swim to ride, ride to run, and special needs bags for ride and run if we decided to use them. So our bikes were going to be in one area, and our bags of stuff in another, and we run around to tents and it was pure craziness. Saturday morning after our last minute ride and packing I discovered that my shifting was a bit off, so after trying to fix myself I decided to see Steve Fairchild of Serotta fame who was hanging out at the local bike shop and showing off the new Serotta “112” titanium tri bike. He was able to get it cleaned up no problem and working fine.
We got everything settled finally with our bags of stuff and bikes, and were ready to wait until Sunday morning to race. Saturday afternoon the skies cleared and it turned into beautiful weather which carried all through Sunday for us. Greg and Tara made us the most amazing dinner that night, with 3 types of pasta, 2 salads, chicken and steak on the grill, and ice cream and cookies for desert. Doug and Julia came over for dinner and joined us and it was a very relaxing evening.
Dawn came early on Sunday, which we knew since we had been up since 4:30.
End of part one. Part two continued later….