Friday, July 29, 2011

Ironman Lake Placid Race Report

Short Version: Raced IMLP, finished in 13:41:47, it hurt a lot but was awesome
Long Version:
This race was my first IM, so as you can imagine I was very nervous.  Well, I’m not even sure if nervous is really the way to put it, I was possessed.  I went up to Lake Placid the Wednesday before the race so that I would be sure to have a lot of time to relax up there.  There is nothing worse than driving 4 hours a day or two before the race and worrying about every crick in your legs being something that could impact the race (not that it hasn’t been done many times before).  Going up 4 nights before the race remedied all of those worries.
When I got to the condo I was staying at in placid with some friends, I realized I was the first one to arrive.  The condo was awesome!  It had a huge bathroom complete with Jacuzzi and sauna, and awesome living space.  During the drive in I had really started to have some heart palpitations, so I decided I needed to do something to distract myself.  I decided to walk down to the swim start (less than 5 minute walk, best location ever!!) and do a lap of the swim.  When I got there, I did a lap without my wetsuit and the water was super warm.  There were a ton of people swimming and hanging out down there, and it felt great.  I was starting to tell myself again that I could do this race.
Such a baller condo!

The next day I decided to bike about 15 miles, just to check and make sure that everything was working properly.  I went out Rt. 86, the opposite of the way I would bike back into town during the race, and then turned around and came back.  The roads were seriously awful, they were so chewed up.  There were also tons of trucks on the road, and the shoulder was so torn up that there was no choice but to ride a little bit in the road.  Needless to say I was happy when that ride was over.  It felt good and easy though, and I had no idea until after the ride that I had ridden up the infamous 3 bears, the last 3 hills of the placid bike course.  They were no big deal and my bike was feeling ready to go.  I then went to check in for the race.
On Friday I did one slow lap around Mirror Lake, about 3 miles.  My foot had been bothering me for about a month, and I had taken off a couple of weeks from doing any serious running.  I still was feeling a twinge in it, but I was pretty confidant I could make it through a long run.  I went back and iced it, and just hoped for the best.  Later that day, we drove up whiteface, and then climbed to the summit, something that I didn’t realize would require actual effort, and shoes other than flip flops, but the view was well worth it.

Saturday was pre-race day.  Got the bike and transition bags checked in.  I was ready to go.  Pretty much just hung out for the rest of the day, and tried to stay calm and distracted from thinking about the race.  I was doing pretty much anything to not freak out and to not think about how much pain I would be in the next day.  I ate a delicious pasta dinner the night before, and went to bed around 10.  Not sure when I actually fell asleep, as there was a lot of tossing and turning going on.

All of the bikes ready to go in transition

Sunday morning I woke up at 4:50am, ready to go.  I had a cup of coffee, and a bowl of oatmeal with a scoop of almond butter and some agave syrup.  I walked down to transition to get my special needs bags set, and to put some air in my tires.  At transition, they were announcing that the water was 77 degrees, one degree too warm for wet suit legal swim for those hoping to qualify for IM Kona World Championships.  I walked back to the condo after getting my bike set, debating on whether or not I wanted to wear a wet suit.  On the one hand, on the off chance that I would KQ, I would never forgive myself for wearing a wetsuit and disqualifying myself.  But, one the other hand, I had seen footage of the LP swim before, and was not ready to get pummeled without at least a little bit of protection from my wetsuit.  In the end I was persuaded to wear my wetsuit, which retrospectively was absolutely the right decision.
I walked over to the swim start, a bundle of nerves.  I just kept trying to reassure myself that I was not going to drown and it would be okay.  I put my inhaler on the swim special needs table so that I could have quick access to it when I exited the swim.  I went under the arch and entered the swim start.  I decided to paddle over to the far shore and hang out there, so that I could start wide and hopefully miss some of the major mauling that was sure to be going on.

As they started the countdown to the race, I paddled out to the middle of the pack to some open area, where I was about 10 yards back from the swim start line.  I figured that there would be no real avoiding the mess of people to be swimming.  I kept having to choke back tears (a real pattern for the day), I’m not sure if they were more from nerves or from excitement.
The gun went off and I went for it with 2600 of my closest friends, all of whom were ready to tear my head off. (here is a short video of it to get an idea).   The swim was a mess.  I have never been body checked so many times in my entire life.  I felt like I was getting slammed from all sides, and instead of trying to swim, I was just trying to not drown.  As I headed towards the first turn buoy, I was getting hit, clawed, and grabbed all over the place.  So much for the beautiful water I had swam in on Wednesday.  I hit the turn buoy banged up but still moving forward.  I rounded the turn, barely able to get a full stroke in because of the masses of people all around me.  I got through it and started to head back for the arch. 

Not exactly a roomy place to swim, and this was just the beginning!

On the way back, I had someone whack my goggles just enough to let the right side get half filled with water.  I quickly drained it out, but my contact was not happy.  I swam with the eye closed for most of the way to the turn around, waded out of the water, through the arch, and got back into the water to repeat.  My eye was burning but that was definitely the least of my worries.  I made it through the second loop of the swim with less bashing, but still I had never been jerked around so much before.  As I got out of the water for the second time, I was so happy that I had made it through and hadn’t drowned.  I plopped myself down in front of a wetsuit stripper, who quickly ripped it off.  Then, I picked my inhaler of the table, shoved it into my back pocket, and started to run towards T1.  Total swim time: 1:26:44
I still couldn’t see out of my right eye, and I couldn’t rub my contact into place during the long run to T1, but I knew that I would have to get it back into place before I started the bike.  I grabbed my transition bag and ran into the tent.  I positioned myself in front of a small mirror and started to poke at my eye.  It was completely blurry, and my hands were soaked so it was hard to get my contact out.  With a little maneuvering I was able to get out the two halves of the contact which had ripped in my eye.  I had spare contacts in my bike bag, so I decided to get ready, and then put in my contact when I went out to get my bike.  I put on my bike shoes, race bib, put my nutrition in my back pocket, grabbed my helmet and sunglasses, and ran out of the tent.  One of the volunteers in transition handed me my bike, and I quick grabbed a contact out of the bag, and popped it into my eye and was ready to go.  T1 time: 10:57 (whoops, little longer than I had wanted.)
I got ready to mount my bike as I crossed the mount line, but it was seriously crazy.  There were people stopped all around me trying to do the exact same thing just feet before a very steep hill.  This is when the bossy attitude comes in handy.  I yelled to the people around me that I was going after the guy to my left, and when he zoomed down the hill, I quickly went behind him and made my way down the two sharp, steep turns onto route 73.  I had made it out of the transition, and now my 2 biggest fears, drowning in the swim and crashing coming out of transition were behind me.  I finally started to smile and breathe a sigh of relief, I was ready to go.
Coming out of town, there is a quick descent and then you start to ascend.  This was for me definitely the most challenging part of the ride.  It took a lot of control for me to hold back and watch as people were passing me, but the game plan was to save legs for the second loop of the bike and for the run, so I just focused on keeping the effort down, and spinning up the hill in the small chain, making sure to shift my gears down at any signs of quad strain.  The climb was well worth it when I got to descend into Keene.  The descent was from miles 10 to 14 of the loop, and is described as a screaming descent.  That descent was probably my favorite part of the entire race, and was one of the most fun things I have ever done!  I passed a ton of people on the descent, which is very unusual for me as I weigh a lot less than most of the people racing.  The difference was that somehow I had no fear, no way was I going to tap on the breaks, and although I wasn’t in the aerobars, I held steady in the drops and stayed well tucked for the entire descent, hitting 43mph as my max speed.  I felt like I was flying.
As I got further along in the bike, I had to keep reminding myself to take in nutrition.  It was a lot warmer than the 74 degree high that was forecasted (I think it got into the high 80s).  For me in those weather conditions, taking down food is pretty hard, and is not fun.  I ended up taking in about 150 calories/hour of nutrition, mostly coming from Clif Gels and Shot blocks.  I had planned on taking in about 300 calories/hour, the difference coming from drinking the Powerade Perform supplied on the course, but I ended up drinking a bottle of water/hour instead as I was feeling super hot and dehydrated, and the thought of taking in anything hyperosmotic was not so appealing.  Every 45 minutes I forced myself to down at least 100 calories of nutrition, and followed it with a ton of water.
But as the first loop continued I was feeling great.  I was taking it easy, and felt like I had a lot left in my legs.  The crowd support in placid is so awesome.  There were people spread out all along the course and it felt great to have everyone you passed rooting for you.  The scenery was breathtaking (though luckily not literally) as I passed along the side of the mountains and lakes.  I read somewhere that if you are not admiring the scenery in the lake placid bike leg, you are going way to fast and pushing way too hard.  I really took this to heart, as I was enjoying the scenery the entire way along the first loop.  The out and back towards Au Sable forks came in no time and I felt fast and strong.  It was really when I hit mile 40 that I started to feel like I was ready to increase the effort.  What I expected to be the hardest part of the course was actually really enjoyable.  I felt a lot of power, cruising along, and started to gain some speed.  When I hit the final three hills, named Baby, Mama, and Papa Bear, the crowds were so amazing they pulled me up the hill.  It felt like I was in the TdF, with people strewn out on the side of the road and reaching inward to try and cheer you on,  and then at the last minute clearing a path so you can continue your battle up the hill.  Then cruising through town was beyond fun.  I skipped the bike special needs station as I was pretty set to go, and hadn’t had any flats, so I didn’t need the spare tubes.  On my way onto the second loop, I saw my parents and Jaime standing by the shoot.  I waved them a quick hello, and was energized to see them for the first time today, having them for support was so helpful.  Coming into the second loop I was very happy with how my race was progressing.  First loop was done in 3:24:33, at 16.42mi/hr.

Coming into the second lap, getting ready to make the sharp turn to head back out to the high peaks

The next lap, I took care to take in some more nutrition.  I wanted to make sure that I was fueled for the run, as I know that the chance I would be able to eat much on the run without stomach problems was minimal  The bike went without any major problems.  I definitely felt some inevitable tiredness start to come into my legs during the ascents, but I tried to take it as easy as possible while still staying on track to a sub 7hr bike ride.  The final 14 miles were not as pleasant as the first lap, but I dug in and tried to keep my legs loose and ready for the run, also trying to stretch out my back whenever possible as it was tightening up from all the time spent in aero position.  The crowd support was again amazing, and helped pull me up the final hill.  I cruised into transition, so ready to get to the run and to what I thought would be the best part of my day.  As I finished up the bike it finally occurred to me after about a year of training that a marathon is actually a really far distance to run.  Total bike time 6:57:20, 16.10mi/hr.
I think I was in more of a daze than I realized, heading into T2.  The volunteer took my bike, and I quick went and grabbed my run transition bag.  A volunteer helped me to a seat, and I started to get my run shoes on.  I kept asking the volunteer what the temperature was, like it was super important at this point, but all she said was its hot. Duh!  I laced up my shoes and left T2 in a run, I felt ready to go.  T2 time: 5:59
As I started the run, I decided that I would just countdown to each turn around to try and break up the marathon into smaller segments.  The first turn around was at 5.5mi, so that was a short enough block that I could count down to.  The beginning of the run out is completely downhill and it felt fast and easy, but as soon as the road flattened out, I knew that this was going to be the roughest run of my life.  I felt my quads and calf starting to blow up, and I was determined not to let that happen.  My original plan was to take the powerade perform at every other aid station, which came about every mile, and water at the other aid stations.  But, because I knew it was important for me to take in electrolytes until my quads no longer felt like they were going to explode, I went straight for the powerade perform.  Also pretty key to me not overheating was putting a cup of ice into my sports bra at every aid station.  That way I really didn’t feel too overheated even though it was extremely hot outside.  For awhile I thought I was giving myself frostbite, but I honestly couldn’t care less.
My legs felt unlike anything I had every experienced before.  Right from the get go, they felt exhausted.  I had delusions of grandeur pre-race about running the first half marathon without stopping, but I knew pretty quickly that it was not going to happen.  I decided to walk up the major hills (of which there were many) and to walk through the aid stations until I was done eating and drinking.  I was plodding along, seriously counting down the miles to the turn around.  Then, 5.5 miles in, I started to head back into town, which I knew was way hillier than the way out.  My pace was still under my goal of a 4:30 marathon, but I knew that it wouldn’t last for too long.  On the run back into town, I started to count down the major milestones I had hit, less than 20 miles to go was a celebration.  Less than 17 miles to go  and I assured myself that 17 miles was a normal long run for me and would be no big deal.  The way back into town on the first loop was definitely the biggest mental battle for me.  I realized that I was not going to hit the marathon time that I wanted, and that the last couple weeks I had taken off of running because of my foot pain had taken a toll.  All the while I whispered to myself “trial of miles, miles of trials” (if you haven’t read Once a Runner it is a must read!) and told myself that each step was a step closer, and that each step was another challenge to overcome.
A half a mile from downtown lake placid and I went back to a walk up to go up the killer hills.  Here I saw my family again by the sidelines cheering me on.  I gave them a face to say that I was started to melt into my legs.  They cheered me one and I got a nice burst of energy.  I again tried to choke back tears, and told myself to not pity myself.  I love the signs along the route that say “you paid for this!” because they reminded me that this experience is to be enjoyed.  Well, this is what I tried to remind myself, but it was a little futile.  As I went further up the hill I saw another friend on the side and yelled  to him “This seriously sucks right now.”  Complaining out loud always makes me feel a little better, and gave me enough incentive to run through the next aid station to the next turn around, where I stopped and walked up the hill to head back to the large descent onto the second loop.  As I reached the half marathon point, I was happy not only because I was halfway there and a half marathon is way more manageable than a full marathon, but also because I now knew that even if I had to walk the entire last half marathon, I would finish the race before midnight (there was definitely a lot of mental math going on in my brain, it’s a good distraction from aching calves.)

Starting the second loop, I was in some serious pain!

On the second loop, running downhill away from town again really reenergized me.  I started to feel less like I was going to die, and more like I was just in a lot of pain.  I didn’t feel like I was seriously doing the ironman shuffle, but it was definitely an effort to go any faster than a 10 minute mile pace.   I believed now that I was going to finish, and it was a great feeling, but I still had quite a few more hours to get through until it was time to stop moving.  I changed my nutrition plan a little, and started to eat pretzels chased with ice water at every 3rd aid station.  The saltiness with the carbs of the pretzels felt awesome, and were just what I needed to get back into little spurts of running.
At about 19 miles in, I heard a lady walking in front of me wheezing, and talking to another lady about how she had asked a medic if she could get albuterol from him and still be allowed to finish the race, and that he had said no, that she would be required to stop if she got medical assistance.  She was saying that she had decided that she could finish walking and did not want to stop the race.  I reached into the pocket of my jersey and offered her my inhaler, telling her that I have asthma as well and that I know how much it sucks when you don’t have it on the run (I had been taking it about every 4-5 hours during the race).  She took it gladly, and was so appreciative of the help.  We then ran together to the next aid station, it is always nice to make some race buddies and work together to get to the next station.  The community of people at triathlons is so nice and inspirational.  Everyone really roots for each other and tries to help each other along, as this race is more of a personal competition than anything else for most people.
At this point the run was entirely mental.  “trials of miles.”  I was convincing myself that each step was worth it, and that there was a point to finishing this race.  I was starting to have the dreaded stomach pains that I knew were inevitable.  There were a couple miles where every time I started to run again, I thought I was going to vomit, which would not help with the dehydration.  I was so ready to hit the hill back into town just for an excuse to walk an extended distance.  I walked back into town, and my parents were no longer waiting on the hill, I knew they had headed into the Olympic oval to wait for the finish.  But I no longer needed outside motivation, with just 4 miles left to go I knew that today it was going to happen for me.  I pushed myself with a mix of walk and running to the final turn around, and with just 2 miles left to go, I ran the rest of the way in.
As I stepped into the Olympic oval, and started to run towards the finish, a feeling of triumph swept over me like I have never before experienced.  I wanted to savor ever single moment of my run.  The pain in my legs dissipated so quickly and it felt like I was just being carried towards the big finishing arch.  Thousands of people standing around, cheering and watching and supporting me and all of the other finishers was just another reminder of why lake placid is the most amazing place to compete in an ironman.

Running around the Olympic oval towards the finish!

As I rounded the final corner, I saw my mom, dad, and sister standing and cheering.  I slapped a high five to my dad, and I could feel the grin on my face growing even larger.  And as I stepped under the arch, I heard the infamous voice of ironman, Mike Reilly, announce my name, and that was it “Jenna Bernstein, you are an ironman!” Total run time: 5:00:47
Total finish time: 13:41:47

Heading under the finish arch!
I expected tears to be streaming down my face, but I just could not find the energy.  The volunteer put the medal around my head and handed my finishers hat, shirt, and the blanket, and escorted me towards the chute exit, asking if there was anything I needed.  Looking around, I felt like I was in much better shape than most, and hurried to try and find my family.
I found them waiting right outside the finishers chute exit.  I ran to embrace them, and I was so happy they could be there to support me.  Having people to share the accomplishment with who understand the effort you put in to get there makes it feel that much more significant.  I felt like I was on top of the world.  That had been the toughest mental and physical battle I had ever experienced, and I felt like I could do anything, like there was no challenge I couldn’t tackle.  I had willed myself through the run on stubbornness alone, and I could not have been happier with the result.  I had a swig of beer brought to the finish line (thanks Inish!) as all I could talk about for the three days prior was how what I would want post race was a beer.  In reality, nothing was better than a shower and a chicken parm sandwich.  Bucket list: ironman, check!

Finished!! And I only quasi-look like I'm dying
The takeaway point of this race for me was really having proved to myself that you can have everything.  It might sound selfish, but at the beginning of this year, I had started to doubt that I would be able to train enough, while still doing well in medical school, maintaining friends and good relationships, having a social life, and holding on to my sanity.  And in the end, it all fit together like a puzzle, and each addition to my life helped me to appreciate the others more.
I was in a lot of pain the next day as I waited in line at 7am to get into the finishers tent to buy some race swag (who needs sleep when you can buy ironman gear!).  The real kicker was that I started chatting with this doc, who turned out to be an orthopedic surgeon just a couple years out from residency, who started to tell me about how he did ironmen all through med school and residency, and how third and fourth year are definitely the best time to train.  So go figure the day I get home I start figuring out when the next best race to train for is!  I definitely have the bug!
So thanks to everyone for the support and for the understanding when I was on the crazy train!  I could not have done it without all of you!

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