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.


Anonymous said...

I read your entire blog...well written. I want to thank you and your family for taking an entire day out of your vacation to support my son. As you know it was a tough day for Anthony. I know that it meant a lot to him to see you on the sidelines cheering him on, as he struggled towards the end. While I know Anthony was disappointed that he did not achieve his goal of breaking 12hrs, I'm sure we can all agree that there is "no quit" in Anthony; that he is truly an" IRONMAN".
Again, thank you for all the support you showed my son.

The Ironman's Dad------George Bagnetto

Mary Sue said...

I got tears reading this! I can't imagine being out there in those conditions. Congratulations to your coach, and to every other Ironman who lined up that morning - whether they finished or not!

Lee @ tri*inspired*life said...

I was one of the swimmers pulled from the water. I only had about .3 to .4 of a mile left! I wished I could have finished the swim. From where we got out of the water to T1 was such a long walk and by the time I made it to T1, I was freezing cold (teeth chattering cold)!! Then starting the bike cold. That is what made it so tough...the mental aspect that I might be in this cold rain ALL DAY! Fortunately, that was not the case, but it was a very tough stretch of time. If the storms had just started 30 minutes later, it would have made such a big difference to so many athletes!! It was awesome that you were out there cheering! I know that having my husband and friends out there helped me tremendously!

Post a Comment