Monday, August 25, 2014

Race Recap - Cranberry Trifest Oly

I know, I know.  I said I wasn't blogging anymore.  A decision I stand by (for now).  But since yesterday's race, I've had a few people tell me they were going to miss reading my recap.  More importantly, Coach Sheriff got my in the habit of writing race recaps as a way to digest and learn from every race.  In fact, my recaps are how this blog got started.  Writing a summary of the good bad and ugly has become part of my process - I feel like I don't get "closure" until it's down in print.  So, without further rationalization, here it is...


How far back to go?  Well, my kids school starts this Wednesday - three days after race day.  My baby goes to kindergarten, my oldest to full-day for the first time. We went backpacking as a family two weekends ago.  After the trip, I got sick for several days (not related to our vacation - just the office bug and another bout of TMJ).  The semester at Northeastern University is wrapping up (final grades due the day after the race, final exam due the night before the race).  If you add all this up, I've had a lot on my mind.  I haven't neglected my training though.  Gypsy and I had a fabulous brick workout a week or so before the race.  My run paces were firmly in the 9:00s.  Last OWS with Gill a few days before and everything seemed good.   I even had a massage the Friday before the race, though to be fair, the therapist had to spend the entire hour trying to release my TMJ so the actual triathlon-related body parts didn't get much benefit.  Still, not having throbbing headaches and the ability to chew solid food is only ever a good thing.  

True, I did have a panicked moment when the athletes guide was released and I realized that I never registered for the blessed race in the first place!  (downside of doing everything way in advance - I had assumed I'd signed up at Christmastime with the rest of my schedule for 2014.  Not.)  But aside from that, I was pretty well prepared. 

Cranberry Trifest is down toward Cape Cod, so to cut down on driving time, we decided to stay at my parents house the night before the race.  This was to be a family affair - after the kids being upset they missed cheering for Mommy at NE Trifest in June, I had told them they should come to this one.  There is a playground right next to transition, and the race has the reputation of being family friendly.  

Feeding the parakeets at the zoo
Saturday morning I did a final 2 mile shakeout run.  Negative splits, pacing well - feeling good.  We packed up the car and the kids and spent the afternoon at a zoo near my parent's house (critter watching is a good way to stay loose) with friend Legos and her kids.  Then on to my folks house for dinner.  My mom even made me my traditional pre-race tuna pasta, which is a pretty big sacrifice for everyone else since I'm the only one that likes it.  Thanks mom!

Race Morning

I turned in early and managed to sleep the night before.  The logistics of a destination race get a lot more complicated when two bikes, two athletes, two husbands, and six kids get thrown in the mix.  The plan was that Gypsy (whose family was also spectating) would drive to my parents in the wee hours, we'd switch to my car (which had our bikes), and the husbands would bring the kids later.  I woke up before the alarm at 5 am.  So did my daughter, who begged to come with me and help set up.  Sorry kiddo - this is gonna be challenging enough.  Gypsy arrived right on time, and we got to the race venue about an hour before the race start.  Which should have been enough time to get our packets, get marked, set up transition, pee, practice swim, etc.  And yet, it wasn't.  It's a big race, and the time seemed to just slip away.  No time for the last potty stop, barely time to figure out the layout (bike in, bike out, etc.).  We wandered over to the lake just as the official were pulling all the swimmers practicing out of the water to get ready for the elites start.  

Still, the weather was perfect, the skies clear - not too hot.  It was a perfect day for a race.  I was rested, I was fueled, hydrated... except for my nagging feeling that something was off, I should have been fine.  My physical therapist Laura was volunteering in transition - I got one extra hug from her before going over to the start.  I said, "I don't want to do this!"  She said something encouraging.  I should have listened better. We also saw my swim coach Gill before the race.  He asked if we were ready - similar hesitation.

The Swim - 0.9 miles in 31:55

Cranberry has a reputation of being a shallow swim.  Shallow enough that last year, athletes were forced to get up and walk parts of it.  This year, the officials addressed this by moving the buoys into a zig-zag line around the perimeter of the lake, which added up to barely 0.9 miles.  Standing on the bluff overlooking the water, the effect was similar to my a toddler throws a handful of cheerios from a high chair tray.  Lots of orange dots everywhere in no particular shape.  But the theory was simple enough.  Swim around the edge of the lake.

The start format for the age groupers was a time trial start - with two athletes allowed into the water every five seconds.  I was thrilled with this, after the beating I took at NE Trifest I was not in the mood for another washing machine swim.  The men 40-45 and Clydesdales were in the wave behind ours, though, so I decided to aim for the middle of my AG.  Hopefully I wouldn't see those guys for at least part of my swim.  Gypsy gave me one more hug and went up to the front, as she's really come into her own as the competitive swimmer this summer.  Unbeknownest to me, the Jedi and my kiddos were there by this point and actually saw me go into the water.  That man is a miracle worker to mobilize two kids at 5:30 am for a 7:45 wave start.  Seriously.

The swim was shallow.  The depth ranged from "omg my hand just hit sand again...." to "oh look a fish" to barely able to see the bottom.  I kind of liked having something to look at, even if it did force everyone to kind of bunch together and then swim apart in places.  The buoy placement also made sighting an adventure - instead of a more or less straight line, every time you passed a buoy you had to change direction for the next one.  The men behind me did, indeed, catch up with me about half way through the swim.  The water was crowded (it really wasn't a big lake!), but I have to just say that, as a gender, men are jerks.  I'm sure there are some exceptions, and guys don't take offense if you are them, but in general where women seem to at least try to avoid hitting eachother somewhat, men seems to seek out opportunities to swim right over you.  Seriously guys.  It's not necessary.  Chances are that you're not sighting so perfectly straight anyway, and the speed you lose hitting me to should a deterrent.

The swim seemed to last a long time.  While overall pleasant, the constant looking for where I was supposed to be got old.  Plus, almost as soon as I hit the water I realized that I had never had to pee so badly in my life.  And that I am incapable of peeing while actively swimming.  An ability you think you'll never need, but.....

Finally came out of the water mid-pack of the pink caps (my AG).  Gave Laura a double high five (she was standing at the waters edge at this point), and walked up the very slippery steps, holding the handrail, to all the volunteers yelling "Walk!  Hold the rail!  People are falling!!"".  My watch when I left the water said 30:44, so the timing mat must have been at the top of this flight of stairs.  I saw my family (yay!) and trotted over to transition.  I had hoped to finish the swim in under 40 minutes, so was very happy with my time.  A PR, for sure.

Transition 1 - 3:43.08

This took a while.  Again, I'm not really sure where the timing mats were.  I was waaaaay on one side of transition.  The side away from the bike out.  I also didn't really run to transition like usual, and I seemed to be confused by my gear.  I remember saying out loud, "Put your shoes on", as I was about to leave barefoot with my bike.  I don't remember being winded from the swim at all.  So not sure what the explanation for this time is.

The Bike - 26.2 miles in 1:31:48 (17.1 mph)

The bike course for Cranberry is mostly flat, and very scenic.  While the "mostly flat" part sounds good, I actually had some concerns going in.  Where I live is very, VERY hilly.  Consequently, all my training has been done on hills.  Both uphills and downhills - obvious, but periods of intense effort followed by breaks is not the same as pedalling all out for hours at a time.

I'd incorporated a lot of flat sections into my recent training rides, and I'd set the goal of 18 mph for this race, based on my efforts in the weeks prior.  I felt good starting out on the bike.  Not too cold, not tired.  I still had to pee beyond reason (side note - I also can't pee on a bike, and really don't understand people who can.  Or choose too.  Around mile 3 I passed a guy who had gotten off to pee in the woods and was intensely jealous of that male ability....), but otherwise great.  

If I could have ended this race at the Mile 20 mark, I would be writing that this was my best race ever.  That I did everything I wanted.  I PRed the swim, and up until mile 20, I was pacing above 18 mph.  I hit all my nutrition, I drank all my water. 

But alas, the bike of an Oly in 26.2 miles, not 20.  My legs stopped wanting to turn over, and fairly suddenly.  My speed dropped.  I wasn't sick, I wasn't injured, my blood sugar was fine... I just couldn't get my legs to move.  I finished the bike knowing that I wasn't going to make my goal after all, and that I was in a world of trouble for the run.

Transition 2 - 3:11.4

Gypsy coming into T2

I know exactly why this transition took so long.  I could barely walk off the bike.  Laura was in transition again - I said "I signed up for the aquabike, right?"  I staggered the length of transition (again - I was at the end).  My kids beat me running from one end to the other.  I asked the Jedi how the kids were - great.  They had made signs for me, that they vigorously shook at me while telling me how great Mommy was doing.  I told my husband that I hoped he'd brought extra toys, bc it was going to be a while.  He asked if I was ok - I told him I was fried.  I paused to give each kid a big hug over the fence and kiss my husband.  Not sure if that counts as assisting your athlete, but I would have been cheerfully DQed for a hug from my kids at this point.  I heard my daughter yell as I ran away from them, "It's ok to run slow if you need to Mommy!!!!"

The Run - 6.2 miles in 1:11:34 (11:33 minutes per mile)

The BEST part of the run was that I knew there was a portapotty on the Run Out.  I've never stopped in a race before, but man.... that extra time was worth it.  The second best part of the run was Laura screaming my name as I was running out of transition.  Things like that really do make a difference.

I tried, buddy!
That ends anything positive I have to say about the run.  My legs would. not. go.  I tried to walk a little to pep them up.  Nothing.  I tried to focus on my form - I have a tendency to sit back on my heels when tired - if I lean forward I usually pick up at least 20 seconds on my pace.  Nothing.  My first mile was around 12:00.  Okay, that's including the potty stop.  Second mile 11:30ish.  As was the third.  I knew going into the run that my goal of 1:05 for the run wasn't going to happen, but somewhere after mile 4 my watch switched over an hour and I knew it was just terrible.  I never got faster - there was no second wind.  I gave up walking and just shuffled along.  I heart rate wasn't crazy high.  I started to get dizzy around mile 5.  I don't remember much else.

Oh thank god the finish line.....



My family was right there at the finish line.  Once I crossed it, I ran straight into Gypsy and Gill, who had been waiting for me.  Gypsy finished about a half an hour beforehand, and Gill did the aquabike so was there goodness knows how long.  Although I couldn't verbalize it at the time (or even really speak), I was so grateful that they had waiting so long for me.  They were right there at NETrifest when I finished.  I remember telling them before this race that that had been nice - I'm so happy they took my casual comment/request to heart.  Gypsy parked me in a chair, told me to put my feet in the really gross ice water kiddie pool.  Jedi and kids came over to the fence to ask if I was ok.  Some time passed.  We walked over to get some food, which I couldn't eat.  Laura checked in with me and high-fived the kids.

Gypsy and I at the finish.  

For the rest of the day I was sick, sore, and mostly a mess.  Ditto today, though starting to feel a little less so.  I haven't been this beat up in months.  I have very mixed feelings about the race.  I'm super happy with my PR on the swim.  I'm very happy with the first part of the bike, but I'm frustrated and frankly confused as to what happened.  Should I have biked longer in training?  20-30 miles is well within my usual comfortable distance.  Did I just truly give the bike all I had, and then there was nothing left?  I had been hoping for a much stronger run, based on recent training paces.  I'm used to having nutritional problems, but I've never experienced my body just politely refusing to move in the middle of a race.  I'm really just not sure what happened or what I could conceivable done differently in the last month or so to change the outcome of the day.  So.... simultaneously a really nice and really disappointing end to the season.

In the car on the way home, my daughter told me, "Mommy, you're a true triathlete.  It's not just about what you look like or how fast you are.  You keep going when it's really hard.  Plus you try to not bump into people on the swim, so that makes you a true triathlete". 

I swear I do not make these things up - the same kid says things like this and then immediately goes back to fighting with her brother over crossing of imaginary lines in the backseat.  Mystery of parenthood.  But still - that was pretty profound.  Yesterday and this morning my kids showered me with so many "Mommy you did great"s! and "I love you Mommys"!  I had great friends and cheerleaders yesterday.  I am glad I did the race.  I still don't know what is next - I'm still planning on hiking and relaxing this fall.  I can say with complete confidence that I have no desire to do a 70.3 or longer in the next few years.  I may have to come back to try this race again though, because the course really is beautiful.  I'd like a second chance to appreciate it, under better circumstances.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Into the Woods - A Farewell for Now

Hello dear readers.  I am ruthlessly stealing today's TriTalk Tuesday post to say goodbye to everyone.  Or perhaps, farewell for now.

I started this blog nearly a year ago, as a way to reflect on my journey through becoming a triathlete, to raise awareness of mental health issues, and to (hopefully) gain some understanding of myself and some compassion and empathy from others on the same road.  I have met some amazing people through blogging and social media, Courtney and Cynthia being two of them.  I consider myself blessed to be able to share my goals and triumphs, frustrations and failures along the way.  For this I am grateful.

My last race of the season, the Sun Multisports Cranberry Trifest - Olympic distance, is in less than two weeks.  After this race, I'll be taking some time off of triathlon.  As I've already shut down our bakery due to competing demands, blogging under the name "Cupcake Triathlete" seems a bit silly, as I will shortly be neither.  Well, mostly - once a triathlete always a triathete! 

I find my focus for the fall shifting.  This past weekend we went on a family backpacking trip to Mt. Greylock in western MA.  The time being completely unplugged and 100% focused on my family was very special.  I find myself looking inward more, looking for more privacy in my life and my goals.  I'd like to become more involved with my children, even as they both start school in September.  I'd like to hike more, spend more time outside with them, and perhaps start working on the bucket list of backpacking trails I've been neglecting in the years since becoming a parent.  This morning one of our pet goldfish died - not a great loss in the grand scheme of things, but as I held my crying children, I felt that being there with them was the most important thing I could be doing.  More than work, more than training, more than blogging.  I want to be more present.

I still plan on staying active.  Cycling will always be my primary sport and I look forward to the American Lung Association ride in September - perhaps taking on the Pan Mass Challenge in 2015.  Someday I'd like  to hike the Long Trail.  I'll still run in the town Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning (likely with my daughter by my side!).  You will likely even see me at a few local sprints next year.

In parting, I'd like to reiterate the sentiments that prompted me to start this blog in the first place.  No one can ever know just what another person is feeling or thinking.  What their challenges are.  What scares them, what makes them joyful.  As a society, we judge.  We judge working mothers, we judge people with mental illness, we judge others appearances, their race stats - everything is fair game.  I truly wish that people could be more understanding and helpful to eachother.  The fitness community is fabulous at supporting eachother and encouraging everyone to be their best.  I wish everyone health and happiness, in whatever forms it is meaningful to them.  As we all move through this life, let's be kind to eachother.

Best wishes,

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

TriTalk Tuesdays - Lessons Learned

I'm baaaa-accck!!!!  After my vacation to IM Lake Placid, I am rejoining Cynthia and Courtney for our weekly TriTalk Tuesday link-up.  This week's topic is - Lessons Learned.

When we picked this topic, I think the intention was to discuss pointers, goof-ups, and other revelations we've discovered over this race season.  The mistakes I've made could fill the pages of a book, but as I've been feeling very philosophical and overly thoughtful in the last couple of weeks, I wanted to spin it and instead tell you what triathlon has taught me.  Is continuing to teach me.

Last Friday I was doing a hilly ride with a work friend from my American Lung Association team.  He and I were both feeling off, so the ride was even more of a verbal sparring match than usual (I enjoy the company of people whose sarcasm matches my own....).  Coming up to the last hill I said, "Ok Szymon, inspire me!!!"  He very solemnly said,

"Oh no Miranda....  it has to come from inside you". 

Wiseass.  The thing is, that phrase has stuck with me.  In many ways, my triathlon journey has been an exploration of just what is inside me.  What I'm capable of.  What I can overcome.


All human beings crave validation.  As children, we are graded and evaluated constantly.  Our lives are quantified in an endless series of report cards, games won or lost, trophies and achievements.  Then somehow, over time, the accolades slow.  Our progress through this life becomes harder to measure.  Some focus on career, material wealth, children... the ways in which to measure success are myriad.  But we all want to feel success. To feel like we are making meaningful gains.

Triathletes are a competitive bunch - with each other and with ourselves.  And boy do we love us some data.  I could have the worst day - work could be tough, the kids could be sick, the cat could barf all over the living room carpet.... and if I had a good workout that day it gives me something to hold onto.  I can say, "Well at least I did X".  I achieved something.  I did something measurable.  That need for validation comes from inside.

Which is good, because it is hard to find validation outside.  Friends and family can be supportive, other athletes are great (for the most part), but people can also be cruel and careless.  I've opened myself up to judgment by starting a blog.  Although truly, anyone that exists in the same world as other people is subject to judgment.  In the time since I started doing tri I've had many people, directly or indirectly, imply that I am not serious.  That I am not worth their time or association, that I should be doing x y or z.  That my race results are sub par.  Most of these people didn't mean anything malicious by their comments or insinuations - at the end of the day we are all human and the best way to avoid hurt feelings is to not take anything personally. 

The judgment of your self-worth and your achievements also has to come from inside you. 

Even your best training partner or your coach's opinion doesn't matter as much as your own, and YOU get to decide what that is.  It is your choice to focus on the positive aspects of any race, or to wallow in the negatives.

I do the vast majority of my training alone.  I am not able to join a tri team - my schedule isn't cooperative with regular workouts at scheduled times.  There is always work in the way or a sick kiddo.  I can barely sync up workouts with Gypsy and Hummingbird, my two closest (both geographically and training-wise) friends every other week or so.  I have virtual tri-friends to check in with, and my online coach, but at 5:30 am when the alarm goes off the decision to get up is one I make alone.  I choose to run a 10k after a long workday on the treadmill in the basement because the sun already set - alone.  I visualize my A race going a certain way all by myself to get moving.  Alone.

The drive to improve comes from inside.

Then there's what is actually inside.  What is in your body.  I've spent most of the last year trying to ignore my body.  To beat it into submission.  Which is (amazingly) why I've been injured so much.  I've had a (non-confirmed) stress fracture, problems with every joint south of my belly button, a bum shoulder, and a dependence on prescription pain meds - all in the last twelve months.  Someday I hope to learn that I don't always have a long run or a hard bike session in me.  Like tonight - I ran 6 very sluggish miles after work on a hot humid day.  I've been fighting a virus since IMLP, when my daughter got sick.  My whole family has had it.  In my mind, I've been resting.  In Training Peaks, however, I've now worked out for the last five days straight.  True, one of those days was an aborted swim set, and another was a flat slow 20 miler with my daughter on her trail-a-bike, BUT that isn't the same as rest.


You must, MUST listen to your body - what is "actually" inside you.

Ok I'm still working on that one.  In the spirit of it, however, tomorrow I am taking a full rest day.  I'm going to get a pedicure with some non-triathlon friends that I haven't seen in so long I'm sure they think I've been brainwashed by some weird cult and/or eaten by wolves....  Pretty toes will make me run faster....  right?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Race Recap - IronGirl Sprint Webster


Sometimes, races sneak up on you.  As I wrote in my post before vacation, the Irongirl Sprint triathlon in Webster two weekends ago was one of those sneaky races.  Side note for concerned citizens, I did find my best goggles, but not in time for this race....

The mantra, "work hard, play hard" seems to have been chosen for me lately.  Just as I was working seemingless endless hours before this race and my trip to Lake Placid, I have slammed back into the workweek with the force of a train hitting concrete.  Long hours in the office, followed by a quick tuck in for the kids and more hours at the computer for my class and odd jobs until late into the night.  I've now also come down with the same stomach bug that my daughter got at IMLP.  (So forgive me if this is even less coherant than usual).  The chances of me getting any training in any time soon seems to be dwindling...

That might be okay though, if my result of IronGirl are any indicator.  I did, in fact, crush the race.  After hardly any workouts in the week before.  After almost forgetting about it.  After resolving to just have a good time and do the best I could on that day.  Let's hope Cranberry Oly at the end of August will be similar...

I'm getting ahead of myself.  Rewind back a few months, when my good friend Legos asked me to race this sprint with her.  This would be her first triathlon, and after being a spectator at Title 9 last fall (best sherpa friend!) she was interested.  Of course I was going to be there with her!  Title 9 was also an all-women's race.  Truthfully, I don't usually go into the "girl power" type athletic events, but I have to admit that IG had a great vibe.  Women of all shapes, sizes, and ages being awesome.  That is a powerful thing.  Plus, after being swam over by ever male age grouper there was at New England Trifest, I was ok with being closer to the middle of field based on my gender alone.

Webster is close to where I live, so it was a short drive and an early morning to get there and get set up.  This is the largest race I've done so far, with over 500 participants.  So many, in fact, that athelete check-in was mandatory the day before or the Friday before the race.  I went on Friday to get my race packet and bracelet, which I then got to sport the rest of the weekend.  I also had to park about a mile away from the race venue, and then ride my bike with my gear to the start.  I followed another woman that knew where she was going, but didn't pay enough attention (that becomes important later).

Race bling.
At least it's pretty
I got set up and had plenty of time to wander around.  I am chronically early.  Legos was coming down with her husband, who gets the credit for all these lovely race photos.  The morning was unseasonably cool (we love using the phrase "polar vortex" now), however the water was above 78 degrees, so wetsuits were not permitted if you times were to count toward rankings.  It was really crazy how much warmer the water was than the air.  So much that after a half an hour of standing in my tri kit on the cold beach, the start of my wave was a relief.  I usually like to warm up in the water, but it was so cold that I decided against it so I wouldn't be both cold AND wet while waiting for the race start.

Swim course at Lake Chaubunagungamaug.  Really.  That's it's name.

The Swim: 1/3 Mile in 13:01

I was just a touch nervous about the swim.  My last couple of open water swims with no wetsuit hadn't felt great.  My back was still tight and painful.  But I had no great troubles on the swim leg, and came out of the water firmly in the middle of my wave.  My wave was the first half of my age group (split alphabetically), so I felt like I was in good shape.  In reality, my time was a bit slower than I'd like, which I attribute to swinging a little too wide around the buoys and other swimmers.  I think I was still a bit shy after the pummeling I took at NE Trifest, which slowed me down just a bit.  Two days after the race I checked my paces in the pool just to be sure - right on target.  So I must have simple taken the long way around.

Running to T1
Transition is so much easier without a wetsuit.  2:58, with a decent run from the beach.  'Nuff said.

The Bike: 45:59 (15.7 mph)

The bike course was rolling hills (maybe one big hill) over 12 miles around the lake.  I felt great.  Two people total passed me, only one of which was in my age group.  I passed nearly 100 other riders.  I do not have delusions of being a super biker, but it is my strongest sport of the three, and I will admit that it did feel good to pick that many people off.  T2 was also quick and smooth at 2:26.

The Run: 3 miles in 27:18 (9:06 pace)

Here's the part where you'll all start to laugh at me.  As I started the run, I decided that I was winning.  Okay, maybe not winning, but close to the top of my age group.  After all, Lego's husband had told me as I came out of the water that I was fast, and I had only lost a single person in my AG on the bike.  That's not bad!  If triathlon is primarily mental, I decided it couldn't hurt to convince myself that I was in the lead.  Giggle.  I am never in the lead.....

Anyway, it seemed to work, because the run leg of this race is the fastest I've ever ran a 5k.  I can't even blame a short course, because my watch agreed.  It was cool, it's wasn't very hilly, but still a 9:06 pace is much faster than anything I've ever run before.  It felt great.  I lost a few women in my age group (no longer winning), but in the chute another woman tried to pass me and I sprinted, leaving her behind.  I wasn't going to drop another slot in the rankings!

I ended up being 22 out of 86 in my AG.  I'm not sure exactly where those other 21 women were - I didn't see most of them! - but I'm still very happy with how I did.  It feels gratifying that, after a year of training, I could do well in a sprint without too much trouble.
The verdict
Legos is a Triathlete!!!
Perspective is a curious thing.  I'm writing this recap after watching IMLP.  There's no way to watch an IM and not feel small.  To feel humbled.

Just as I'm questioning my abilities as an athlete, I'm also questioning the pointfulness of this blog.  I'm struggling to keep perspective that a year ago I couldn't run a single mile.  To remember how far I've come.  I don't see myself as doing anything particularly noteworthy or inspirational, especially compared to others.  With work being so heavy, with my family responsibilities, I'm going to have to make some decisions.  Decisions about training, about maintaining this blog, and about what is next for me.  My last triathlon of the season is in three weeks, and I can't help but worry that I will not be ready.  I am feeling exceptionally unready for large chunks of my life responsibilities.  I've already had to shut down our bakery business this year.  There just isn't time for everything....

So stay tuned (or don't).  Once I sort it out I'll let you know....

Have you ever done a race with very little prep?  How did it go?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

IM Lake Placid - Spectator's Recap

This is going to be a hard post to write for many reasons.  First, it is very difficult to put into words such an intense, emotional experience as an Ironman race.  Also, the story of IMLP belongs to its athletes – the thousands of amazing men and women who competed.  This year’s Ironman Lake Placid saw weather conditions that were completely unprecedented to the IM series.  Every single participant battled conditions that no one should ever have to, in a race that already defies the limit of human endurance.  I do not claim to own the experience of IMLP, but insofar as I can tell it, this is my perspective as someone who watched it….

Lake Placid from Whiteface

As many of my readers know, I turned our family vacation into an Adirondack trek in order to cheer on my coach and longtime friend Anthony at IMLP.  I knew several other people racing from the VMPS team on a more casual basis.  I packed up the kids and spent Wednesday in Lake George, and rolled into Lake Placid on Thursday, after some tubing, hiking, and general milling around with the kids.  Anthony and his wife Kristin stayed Thursday night with us at our rental cabin in Bloomingdale, which is about 30 minutes north of LP.

My girl helps Kristin hike

At the top!

Anthony teaches the kids about wheels
Friday we were all about keeping Anthony’s mind off of the upcoming race.  Not the easiest task given the magnitude of what was coming.  Plus the athletes were out in force – all along the highways we saw literally hundreds of people riding their bikes (and not just toodling – really pushing) and running.  Apparently tapering means different things to different people!  So we took them hiking at Baker Mountain – a less than 2 mile out and back hike near Saranac Lake that has some of the nicest views in the area, and a trail that is appropriate for small feet.  I didn’t know that Anthony and Kristin were new hikers – my little girl very sweetly (if ill-advisedly) held Kristin’s hand for most of the walk up.  We had some nice quiet moments, enjoyed the views, and laughed at the kids scooting down on their bums, after figuring out that many of the smooth glacial rocks on the trail could be “slides”.
She is small but fierce
 Then it was time to brace and head into town for Anthony’s athlete meeting and registration.  Town was PACKED.  Parking was nearly nonexistent – two days before the race!  Anthony went off to his meeting and my kids parked themselves firmly on the giant inflatable bouncy slide that a vendor at the expo had inflated.  Seriously- it may take 10-16 hours to finish an Ironman, but my kids were ready to spend that much time on that blessed slide….

Kids play in the snow in town
 We eventually tore the kids away from the slide and met up with another high school friend, Jen, and her husband, Brian.  Dinner and ice cream were had, more time on the slide with Jen’s girls, and we went our separate ways.  My and Jen’s families back to our rental cabin, and Anthony and Kristin to their bed and breakfast.

Swim technique is important

Ready to cheer
Saturday, after a five mile long run (me), our families toured Whiteface and the Olympic ski jump complex, while Anthony and Kristin rested up for the race.  We got to see the demonstration team at the ski jump complex – my son was thrilled to learn that the athletes were in their early teens.  He is now resolved to become a freestyle ski jumper.  Gymnastics and skiing – check.  At five years old he is already a more confident skier than I am….  God help his mommy! 

The swim start

Here goes nothin
Race morning I woke at 4:30.  Brian, who is an amazing photographer in addition to an ER doctor, and I had decided to meet Kristin and Anthony’s dad at the swim start to watch the race begin.  We drove to a spot outside of town and parked, taking the shuttle the rest of the way into Lake Placid.  We navigated the crowds of people to find Kristin at the far side of the beach at Mirror lake.  We got there just in time to see Anthony before he left to join the rest of the athletes on the shore. 
Clouds over Mirror Lake

IMLP was a time trial start, which means that the athletes “seeded” themselves according to projected swim time.  As a competitive swimmer, Anthony was planning on being one of the first in the water.  In retrospect, this was going to be an incredibly fortunate decision for him…

Coming out of the water on the first lap
Once the pros left, the age groupers were let go.  The emotion of the start of an IM is incredible.  The tension of thousands of wetsuited bodies in green and pink caps waiting.  The national anthem.  To say nothing of the gathering clouds above Mirror Lake.
Bike out
Rain rain go away
We estimated Anthony’s swim time at between 30 to 35 minutes for the first lap.  Athletes had to actually exit the water and run through the arches to get back in the water for the second loop.  We started watching every person in a sleeveless wetsuit come through, trying to see him.  People in wetsuits all look alike.  And we were at least 200 yards away.  Not easy.  But luckily Anthony remembered to turn and wave, which I saw and started screaming.  Brian used his telephoto lens to get a great picture.  Of course Anthony didn’t know we saw him, but we were happy to know he was on track!

Once he was back in the water, we navigated to the bike out to wait for him.  Shortly after we set up a good spot, the skies opened up.  We were on a steep downhill, and it was pouring.  Athletes were coming out riding their brakes, or worse, NOT as they came out of transition.  As Anthony passed us we all shouted warnings to please be careful!
After seeing him go by, we all decided to take shelter and get some coffee at a nearby gas station.  In the randomness that is the universe, I ended up standing in line next to Tara from Family Sport Life!  She looked just about as stressed about the rain as we felt, but kindly offered her tent to us for the day.  I was never able to find it (for reasons I’ll soon explain), but am very grateful for her generosity, and I’m sure under different circumstances my kids would have loved meeting the A-team!
Me and Tara from Family Sport Life
Brian and I had to go back to the cabin and pick up our families to bring back into the race later in the day, so at that point we decided to head out.  But given the conditions, we thought that Ant could use a pick-me-up and Kristin could use a status update, so we decided to try to make it to the turn at mile 40 and surprise him.  I had calculated that intersection (incorrectly) as mile 29, so we thought we had an hour to make a drive that the GPS said would take about 55 minutes.  In a torrential thunderstorm.  Tense.  Brian asked me, “How fast can you safely drive in this weather?”  I thought, “More safely than these people can ride their bikes….”

What are you doing here?
On the way I did make out the mental math and check the map and we did have time.  We made it to the corner with plenty of leeway, with the pros just starting to come through.  We asked the police officers stationed there if anyone had come through bloodied up – they said no.  Thank goodness. 
Trying to spot athletes on the bike isn’t that much easier than in wetsuits, even with their multicolored tri kits.  We saw several look-alikes before Anthony’s red and white tri kit and black helmet showed up.  I started yelling his name and he saw me – the look on his face was priceless!  It was clearly, “What the he** are you doing here???”.   After the race he asked me how I got there.  I told him I ran – the fatigue of the IM such that he actually believed me for a second before saying “Hey wait…….”

I texted Kristin that he was ok and pacing perfectly – even a little ahead of his target.  She texted back that she was relieved but what did I know about them dropping the second loop of the swim??  Surveying Facebook and the web, we found out that thousands of athletes were redirected out of the water after the first swim loop because of the thunder and lightning.  We’d later learn that not all athletes even got to finish the first loop, instead they were redirected and made to run an extra mile into T1.  I can’t even imagine the disorientation and disappointment of being pulled out of the water – especially where it was the slower (and that is of course a relative description, not a judgment) swimmers affected.  My heart ached for the athletes I knew that were likely in that group. 
Brian and I went back to the cabin to collect the rest of our crew.  Jen’s family decided to go do some tourist things to kill time before aiming to be back in town for 2:00 pm – the start of Anthony’s run.  My family was about to do the same – I had actually texted Kristin our plan – when we saw that my daughter was asleep.  My fearless, spunky daughter, who gave up naps at 2 years old, who had quite literally ran up a mountain the day before, was asleep at 11:00 am.  Uh oh.  She had also gotten carsick the day before on the way home from Lake Placid, so I was concerned.  After letting her sleep for 45 minutes, she woke and we asked her what she wanted to do.  Stay with daddy?  Or come to the race and go home if she got tired again?  She chose the latter.

Coming out of T2
Back in the car, back on the shuttle, and a mad-dash back to the run out where Kristin and Anthony’s dad had secured a spot in the ever-increasing crowd.  We had our signs ready, my little guy on my shoulders.  Anthony came out just about on schedule.  He kissed Kristin and said he was a bit shaky off the bike.  He looked in good spirits (he is always incredibly positive).  I walked my kids over to the playground next to Mirror Lake, just in time for the skies to open up again.  The kids were NOT amused.  Having to wait in a crowd for a long time to get rained on just as you get to the fun part is no good.   Luckily the VMPS tent was set up right near the playground.  I ran them over and rapidly explained that I was a friend of XYZ team member and could I PLEASE put my kids under the tent?  They not only gave my kids chairs, but cowbells, goldfish crackers, and Capri-sun juice boxes.  Kid heaven.  I was so grateful.
After the cloudburst passed, we took the kids over the beach, where they could play in the sand, if not go in the water.  Anthony’s 3 mile split came in on my IM tracker, and a text from Kristin.  His time was pretty far off projected.  Something was wrong.
Mile 12 - still smiling
I went back over to Kristin and waited.  The course is such that athletes come through town at mile 12, mile 14, and then not again until the finish.  We had a long time to wait.  Moreover, just around the time that Anthony’s 8 mile splits came in – also way off, I got a text from my husband.  My daughter was “headed downhill” and could I bring something to perk her up?  Torn between waiting for my coach and helping my little girl, I ducked into the gas station and bought an entire box of freeze pops –left some with Jen and Kristin for them and Jen’s girls, and ran with the rest through the crowds to the beach.  Volunteers were forming human barricades to cross the race courses – you had to wait sometimes minutes for a gap in the athletes in order to cross.  There were 3 such crossings between me and my family.  I did make it though.  I got to the playground and saw my husband with our daughter in his lap, helping her drink a dose of kids Tylenol.  She didn’t want a popsicle.  He said he was taking her home.  Ok.  I felt guilty but decided to wait in town.
Mad dash back to Kristin to wait for Anthony.  And wait.  Kristin was upset.  I was upset.  I got a text from my husband that my daughter started throwing up second after I left her.  I felt like the worst mom on the planet.  I wanted Anthony to be ok, my daughter to be ok.  We waited.
We finally spotted Anthony walking up the hill.  He was pale, but smiling.  He said he was taking it easy, but in good spirits and being safe.  He promised Kristin to never do this (an Ironman) again. We all witnessed.   A short wait to see him again at Mile 14. 
Food and drink seemed like the only course of action at that point, so Kristin, Jen’s family, Anthony’s dad and I all went to an Italian place to wait for the finish and for dinner.  Wine seemed like a good idea, and I told Kristin I wasn’t drinking alone.  Everyone agreed she and I needed it…  We did.  It helped, a little.  We charged our phones, and checked Facebook for more status updates.  Some of the athletes I knew were having a lot of trouble.  I worried.  We got the final word on the swim finish – everyone could keep their time from the first lap, but the second lap and T1 wouldn’t count towards anyone’s finish.

The best race wife ever
After dinner we headed over to the finish.  The finish is on the Olympic speed skating Oval, with transition in the middle.  We got a spot at the railing with a good view of the turn, so we’d have plenty of time to see him coming.  We cheered for the finishers coming in.  Some looked great.  Some looked horrible – ashen and pale.  Limping or stumbling or walking.  Dazed.  It was scary.  We wouldn’t get another phone update on Anthony until after he finished, since the IM tracker was updating about 30 minutes behind. 

Finally we saw him running into the stadium.  He almost didn’t see us, but he came over and kissed Kristin again and loped to the finish line.  We heard “Anthony Bagnetto you are an Ironman!!!”

You are an Ironman!!!
We didn’t stick around too long after the finish.  Just long enough to hug him and tell him he was amazing.  We were exhausted, and Jen’s girls, who were still there, were hours past bedtime.  I wanted to check on my girl, even though Daddy had texted me she was sleeping.  We had all originally wanted to go out to dinner and come back at 10 to see the 10-midnight finishers – the energy is supposed to be fantastic, but sadly no one was in the shape to do so.  Kristin took her Ironman home for some rest, and we went back to the cabin.  I’d wake at 2:00 am that night to check the tracker and see that everyone I knew that raced, even the ones having the worst time of it, did in fact finish.  Despite everything that happened.

Anthony asked me at the end, “So what do you think, little client?”  I think watching IMLP was beyond amazing.  Beyond stressful.  Knowing how much these athletes put into their training, to see it all come together the day of, or to fall apart the day of, is powerful.  I’ve seen pictures of people who didn’t make the cutoff walking up the hill to finish anyway.  I am awed at what people can endure.  I truly hope that every single person who raced IMLP fully realizes how amazing they are and is proud of their accomplishment.  I doubt that a single person had the race go “according to plan”.  That makes it that much more incredible.
To answer the question before anyone asks, no…. I do not aspire to do an Ironman at this time.  As much as I deeply respect the commitment and guts of those that do, I don’t think it would fit well into my life as it is right now.  Anthony did threaten to sign me up the day after…. Hopefully he was too tired to follow through….
Congratulations to all the athletes of IMLP, and to their support crews.  It was an incredible day – this is my story.  But you know there are thousands more.  That’s what makes these events so amazing – everyone had their own story, their own challenges overcome, and their own triumphs.