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Ironman

Ironman Lake Placid – Your Questions Answered

Thank you for being part of my journey to become an Ironman. I hope you’ve enjoyed the other posts to date that highlighted the 2.4-mile swim, the 112-mile bike, the 26.2-mile run, and the numerous supporters who helped me along the way. Now it’s time to answer your questions:

What Made You Start Doing Ironman Races?

Coach David is certified in train people to do running races and triathlons. After I completed my first marathon, I said I wanted to cross train with swimming and biking. That led to me signing up for a sprint triathlon in 2018 to see if I liked doing all three activities consecutively.

About 10 seconds into that race, I thought, “Yeah, I like this.” Once I finished that race, I signed up for and competed in my first Half Ironman in Maine in 2019. That was also the first race I did with my coach. I went into that race with the plan that if I liked the Half Ironman that the next step would be to do the full.

What is the Cut Off Time for Each Segment?

Swim: 2 hours, 20 minutes after the last swimmer enters the water

Bike: 5:30 p.m.

Run: 17 hours or midnight

Did You Have a Time Goal for Each Segment or was the Goal to Finish with Little Regard for Time Other Than to Make the Cut Offs?

My goal was to finish within 17 hours. I didn’t have any goals for each segment.

What was Your Strategy for Preparing for this Race that Wasn’t in the City Where You Live?

Most of my swim training was in the pool and not in a lake, but that’s probably true for most racers. Two days before the race, my coach took me for a practice swim in the lake where we’d be racing so I could get comfortable with the water and the guide cable.

The Lake Placid bike course is notorious for its hills. Earlier in my training, I did my long rides at South Mountain where the inclines were as steep as Lake Placid, but not as long. As it got hotter, I had to do my bike rides closer to home because I couldn’t logistically make it work to get up, drive to the mountain, and do my workout before it got too hot.

I had the same issue with running. For my long runs, I had to do loops where I regularly stopped at home to refill my Gatorade and drink extra water because it was so hot. I regularly ran hills because the Lake Placid run course was also quite hilly, but the shorter hills closer to home were more than sufficient.

We knew my longest training days would be hotter but less humid than Lake Placid. Part of why I arrived days before the race was to adapt to the time change and get used to the humidity.

Team Roher started the race together.

Did You Get Kicked a lot in the Swim?

Did I get kicked? Yes – kicked, hit, and bumped. I also ran into a kayak and more than one buoy.  

I wouldn’t say I got kicked a lot. Taking the inside track had the advantage of keeping me away from a lot of the other swimmers. I wanted to be on the left side of the guide cable, and most people opted for the right side.

Did You Use Multiple Strokes and Which One was the Dominant One?

I used freestyle (front crawl) for the entire swim. That’s what I trained with. I saw and passed one swimmer who appeared to be doing the breast stroke the whole way.

Unlike most races, Lake Placid had a guide cable, so I didn’t have to spot the buoys during the swim. It’s also why I ran into at least two of them. In a race without a guide cable, I could see myself doing mostly freestyle with the occasional breast stroke break to better track the buoys while maintaining forward momentum.

As a Non-Binary Person, How was Your Experience in the Transition Area?

The transition area had two changing tents – one for men and one for women. As I entered the transition area during T1 (swim to bike) and T2 (bike to run), there was a different volunteer directing the racers to the tents, saying “Women here. Men down there.”

Each time, I responded with “I’m non-binary,” and without skipping a beat, the volunteer said, “Use whichever one you want.”

I doubt the volunteers had training about what to do with non-binary racers because Ironman does not currently offer a non-binary division. Instead, I think their supportive responses were likely due to the volunteers thinking one or both of the following:

  1. I don’t care.
  2. It’s your race. Do whatever you need to do.

What Socks Did You Wear for Ironman?

For the bike, I wore DeFeet 6” cycling socks. For the run, Feetures Elite Max Cushion socks.

How Were Your Interactions with Other Competitors?

Super friendly! If you’re racing near me, you’re not there to win. You’re there for the experience and to finish. There was lots of upbeat encouragement between us.

What Did You do for Nutrition?

In the final days before the race, I ate as much as I could. In the morning before the race, I had overnight oats loaded with pumpkin seeds, almonds, chia seeds, ground flax seeds, peanut butter powder, protein powder, and raisins. I also had a banana.

Between the swim and the bike, I had a calorie-bomb cookie. During the bike ride, I had 2.5 scoops of chocolate protein powder in one of my water bottles. I grabbed a fresh Gatorade and half a banana at every aid station. I took a hit of BASE salt at every aid station. I had some gels during the ride too.

Between the bike and the run, I had some electrolyte gummy candies with caffeine. During the run, I had gels at Mile 5, 10, and 15. I drank Gatorade at most of the aid stations, and I took a hit of BASE salt at each mile marker.

How Did You Eat Enough?

You don’t. My coach lost 7 pounds during the race.

I couldn’t eat right after finishing the race, but once my body settled for a few hours, I was famished!

How Did You Handle the Heat?

Pretty well. Starting at Mile 47 of the bike, I dumped a bottle of cold water over my head at each aid station. During the run, I dumped ice into my sports bra at each aid station, and I ran through the “human car wash” each time a spectator set one up for us.

How Many Moments Did You Want to Quit During the Race?

None.

Less than 10 miles to go – still smiling!

Did You have to Push Through any Walls You Hit, Both Physically and Mentally?

I never wanted to quit, but there were some challenging moments. The first was right before the race when we were squished together waiting to start the swim. I don’t do crowds well.

The second challenge was near the end of the first loop on the bike. I took a break at one of the aid stations, tired and frustrated, and I realized I was probably under fueled. Once I bumped up my calories and protein, I felt better. Shifting my mindset to accepting the pain made the second lap much easier.

At any Time During Training (as opposed to the race itself), Did You Consider Backing Out? If so, How did You Keep on Track?

No. Once I paid my registration fee, I was committed to race and the training it would take to get to the finish line. It was exceptionally challenging to do my long bike and run workouts in the Phoenix heat, but I pushed through.

What was Your Biggest Surprise During the Race?

I don’t think anything can fully prepare you to bike up the Lake Placid hills, particularly how long those climbs are. I trained on hills that were as steep as the Lake Placid hills, not nothing like how long those hills are. During my training, I regularly stood up on my pedals while climbing hills, and early on in the race I learned I go faster when I stay in the saddle.

Did Your Body Have any Serious Difficulties at any Point such as Cramps or Muscle Tightness that Made Progress Difficult?

No. By the time I got off the bike, my quads and hamstrings hurt a lot. I couldn’t lift my feet far off the ground. Every step hurt, but I was happy taking each of those steps.  

At What Point on the Marathon Did You Know, “I’ve Got This?”

I knew from my first step into the run course. My legs were sore and tired, but I had plenty of time on clock to finish. It was just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other.

What was the Last Mile of the Marathon Like Physically and What was Going Through Your Mind?

By the last mile of the run, my legs were exhausted. I only ran when the course was flat or going downhill and walked every incline.

What was going through my mind? I was excited to cross the finish line and achieve this massive goal of becoming an Ironman. It was a bit overwhelming. I’d worked so hard for years, and this moment was finally here. As I crossed the finish line, I burst into tears, overwhelmed with joy and relief.

Being Non-Binary, Does the Gender Specific Name “Ironman” Bother You?

No. Ironman is a brand.

I’ve had people refer to me as an Iron Person, and I correct them saying, “I’m an Ironman.”

I already have the M-dot keychain!

Are You Going to Get the Tattoo?

Of course! I plan to put a variation of the M-dot on the back of my calf.

Are You Going to do Another Ironman?

There’s a good chance. I’m looking at a Half Ironman for 2023 and a full Ironman in 2024.

Those of my quads – covered with exercise-induced vasculitis.

What Would You do Differently?

If I do the Lake Placid Ironman or a race with a hilly bike course, I’ll change my winter and spring long bike workouts to include steeper and longer hill climbs.

One of the challenges I had with the long run workouts in the hot sun leading up to my race was exercise-induced vasculitis, aka Disney Rash. My legs between the bottom of my shorts and the top of my socks were covered with red splotches. After the race, I learned there are climate controlled indoor running tracks in my community. I will definitely use one of them for my long runs instead of running outside if I do another summer Ironman.

Do You Feel any Shifts in How You Think About or Carry Yourself After Completing such a Herculean Goal?

After the race, I started using the mantra, “Fuck you. I’m an Ironman.”

I only say this in my head, and I don’t use this in an I’m-Better-Than-You way.  Instead, it’s an exultation to mean, “I can do this” when directed toward myself, and I’ve used it to mean “You can’t intimidate me” when directed towards opposing counsel.

Thank you for following along for my Ironman journey. I hope you enjoyed it!

Ironman Lake Placid – The Supporters

I’ve shared the details of my experience with the three sections of Ironman Lake Placid: the 2.4-mile swim, the 112-mile bike, and the 26.2-mile run. Now, I want to tell you about some of the supporters and volunteers who helped make this an amazing experience.

Leading Up to the Race

In addition to Coach David, who I talked or texted with almost daily, another person who was instrumental in my Ironman journey was my physical therapist, Kristina. Already an Ironman herself, she helped keep my body working through the training, especially my hips and back. I was on the physical therapy table every other week for months leading up to my race, getting ASTYM and other body manipulations. After the race, she put me in compression boots for 30 minutes, which was instrumental for relieving my sore muscles.

My friends were also supportive, regularly asking about my workouts and how I was feeling the last few days before I flew to New York. I was a bundle of excitement and nerves. A few days before I left, I received good luck cards: one from my farm family and on from my officemates. I took both cards with me on the trip and kept them out on the table in my hotel, serving as constant reminders of support from afar.

On the day before the race, my friends filled my phone with text messages that said, “Good luck,” “So proud of you,” and “We’re all praying for you.”

Compression Boots! They went up to my waist!

Race Volunteers

I could not talk about the many people who supported me along my Ironman journey without talking about the race volunteers. Over 1800 people volunteered their time to make Ironman Lake Placid possible.

The race volunteers were involved in nearly every aspect of my race experience. You couldn’t miss them in their bright neon green t-shirts. They were at race registration where we got our race numbers and gear bags. They were in the transition area both the day before and on race day. They made up the set up and clean up crews. They were also the lifeguards, paddleboarders, and kayakers at the lake. (I heard there were also scuba divers in the lake in case anyone drowned.)

They were the “strippers” who peeled off our wetsuits. They worked all the aid stations during the bike and run, handing out supplies in the hot sun and into the night. They were the medics. They were the people who put the medals around our necks after we crossed the finish line.

Thank You 2022 IRONMAN Lake Placid Volunteers!

This race wouldnt be possible without our AMAZING volunteers. Thank you for all your hard work and dedication to IRONMAN Lake Placid. Show our volunteers some love in the comments!

Posted by IRONMAN Lake Placid on Thursday, July 28, 2022

One of the perk of volunteering at an Ironman race is you get an earlier chance to register for the next year’s race. For Ironman Lake Placid 2023, this year’s racers had first dibs, then that race’s volunteers, and then registration was open to the general public. Apparently some races fill up so fast that you almost have to volunteer to get a slot to be in next year’s race.

Yes, people sign up a year in advance to do an Ironman race.

I made an extra effort to thank all the volunteers I interacted with for being there. I know from experience that watching people race isn’t the most fun way to spend a day.

Photo courtesy of Ironman

The White Bracelets

Each racer received a white rubber bracelet when we picked up our gear bags at registration. This bracelet wasn’t for us per se but for us to give as a “gold star” and to say thank you to a volunteer who helped us during the race.

I love that Ironman acknowledges its volunteers and gives us a way say special thanks to a volunteer who made a difference in our race.

I gave my white bracelet to a volunteer in the transition area. I’d finished the swim, changed my clothes, grabbed my bike, and was walking it to the beginning of the bike portion when I noticed the lenses of my sunglasses were smudged. Given that I was wearing only a spandex onesie, I had nothing to wipe them on.

As I walked towards the bike start, I spotted a volunteer in her neon green cotton t-shirt.

Cotton!

I paused next to her and asked if I could wipe my glasses on her shirt. She took my sunglasses from me, expertly wiped each lens with the hem of her shirt, and handed them back to me.

Much better!

I thanked her as I slid my white bracelet off my wrist and handed it to her.

Support from the Whole Community

Lake Placid and surrounding communities welcomed the Ironman invasion one weekend a year. There were definitely more than just the family and friends of the racers in the sea of people who cheered us on throughout the day.

Many of these supporters stayed out with us all day. Even after the sun went down, they were still there. Some of the locals invited their friends over and set up camp in front of their homes to watch us. As I ran past one group, I got the distinct vibe of “this is what we do.” Living on the race route meant you hung out to watch and cheer.  

One sweet-looking older lady stood on her driveway and watched the parade of racers go by in their spandex. I wonder if she was particularly interested in the younger guys’ butts.

Even the people who were obviously there for one person wearing matching shirts, and holding signs or giant heads of their loved ones were cheering everyone on.

They all got it.

Whether they’d done an Ironman race before or not, they knew we were pushing ourselves through this incredibly difficult challenge. I could feel the vibe of “We honor what you’re doing” coming from all of them. I hope they understand how much their presence meant.

Photo courtesy of Ironman

Human Car Wash

Several people who lived along the run route set up what I called the “human car washes” at the side of the road. It’s a garden hose attached to a rectangular frame of PVC pipe with holes on the interior, so when the water’s turned on, sprays of water shoot inward. When you walk through this, you get a cool spray of water all over your body.

Some people, like me, gratefully walked through each of these human car washes. Others used them to rinse the film of sweat, dirt, and Gatorade from their hands; they didn’t want to their shoes, and therefore their feet, wet.

These were a highlight of the end of my race and supplemented the cups of ice I picked up at each aid station. These supporters ran their human car washes for hours, running up their water bill to keep us cool.

Hat Tip to the Strawberry Blonde Volunteer

There was a volunteer who worked inside the women’s changing tent during T2 with a long strawberry blonde hair ponytail. She was loud, but not in a bad way, making sure we all knew she was there for whatever we needed – water, Vaseline, reminders of where to put our gear bags, whatever.

She never sounded bored or distracted, even though she was in that poorly ventilated tent for hours, saying the same things over and over again. The population of the changing tent turned over every 10ish minutes, and she was present and available for whoever needed her.

What really showed me about how dedicated she was to supporting us was the fact that I saw her again while I was on my second lap of the run. This time she was in crowd at the side of the street. She was still in her neon green volunteer shirt, but her shift was over. Even though she had no obligation to be there, she was still there cheering us on. I noted many

white bracelets on her wrist, each one well deserved.

Messages on my Phone

The last thing I want to share about the amazing supporter I had during my race is the many messages I received after the race. I left my phone in my hotel room as earbuds are not allowed during the race.

Here’s a sampling of the messages that were waiting for me when I got back to my hotel room:

  • “Congratulations!!!! You did it!!! You are a legit Ironman!!! Simply amazing. I can’t wait to hear all about. Now get some rest and eat some good food!!”
  • “15:21:42 holy fucking shit that’s AMAZING I’M SO PROUD OF YOU!!!!!”
  • “So awesome and so proud of you. I have been following you all day!”
  • “YOU DID IT!!!!!! CONGRATS!!”

It felt so good to know that my friends were keeping an eye on my progress throughout the day. It felt like a long-distance hug.

Next week: the last chapter of my 2022 Ironman Lake Placid experience – your questions answered!

Ironman Lake Placid – The Run

Previously on The Undeniable Ruth: I had just finished the 112-mile bike ride on the grueling hills of Lake Placid. After I handed off my bike to a volunteer, I walked into the transition area, grabbed my run gear bag, and made another pit stop at a porta-potty before heading into the women’s changing tent.

Transition Two (T2)

After sitting on my bike for nearly 8 hours, my quads and butt did not want to sit on a chair to change my shoes, but I forced them to do it. I also exchanged my cycling helmet for the Ironman Arizona 70.3 hat that Coach David gave me after he did the race in 2018.

I peeled off my cycling socks and placed my bare feet on a small towel from my bag. Then I sprinkled them with baby powder, making sure both sides of my feet were dry before pulling on my running socks with built-in arch support and then my shoes.

I snapped my race belt around my waist with a click. Our race numbers were given out sequentially based on when we checked it, but volunteers customized them upon request. Most people opted to get their name, but I asked for “Baby Duck.” This was a nickname my gymnastics coach Rocky used for his gymnasts, much like how someone would use “sweetie” or “buddy.” 

As I prepared for the run, I heard Mike Reilly’s voice coming through the speakers across the transition area, announcing people’s names as they crossed the finish line.

There were people finishing the race, and I literally had a marathon (26.2 miles) to go.

There were other athletes who weren’t as lucky as me. Some of them DNFed during the bike due to injury or they opted to stop because they knew they wouldn’t make the cut off time. (During an Ironman race, not only do you have to finish in under 17 hours, but each section has its own cut-off time.) Behind me in the tent was a woman lying on the ground being tended to by medics. Her race day was done.

I sprayed myself down with sunblock one more time, put my sunglasses back on my face, and headed out.  

Running a Marathon with Sore Legs

In every picture of me running during this race, my feet are barely off the ground. That’s because it felt like I could barely lift them.

The run course was 2 loops of 13 miles each followed by a final turn into what was the Olympic outdoor speed skating track to reach the finish line. Within each loop were several out-and-back portions.

Not as severe as the bike portion, the run course had several hills, which was nice on the way down, but not so nice going back up. During the first loop, I walked only when going up the steepest hills, and even then, I power walked.

Even though my body hurt and I had miles ahead of me, I was still smiling. A spectator looked at me quizzically and said, “You’re having fun, aren’t you?” I responded with “Fun is what you bring with you,” my favorite quote from Drew Barrymore in Riding in Cars with Boys.

Aid Stations = Buffets

Ironman does an impressive job of taking care of its athletes, and nowhere is this more apparent than the aid stations during the run. They were placed every 1-1.5 miles where volunteers offered water, Gatorade, Coca-Cola, Red Bull (they were a sponsor), chicken broth, electrolyte gels, fruit, chips or pretzels, and granola bars. Whatever you needed, it was available.

My stomach does not want to eat when I work out. I ate a gel at Miles 5, 10, and 15, and took a hit of BASE salt from my vial every mile. I mostly drank Gatorade at every aid station. I tried the Coke a few times to treat myself to the sugar but realized my body didn’t like that. There was a final table at each aid station that held cups of ice cubes. “What’s this for?” I asked the volunteer. She responded, “Put it in your bra.” I shrugged and thought, “When in Rome,” grabbed a cup of ice, and dumped it into my sports bra. It did help me feel cooler, and I regularly reached in to grab a cube to suck on between aid stations.

I Have to Poop Again?!

Along with the buffet, each aid station also had 2 porta-potties. As I approached the aid station at Mile 5, I felt a familiar sensation in my stomach.

Seriously?! How do I have anything left in my system?

I hadn’t seen Coach David since he passed me early on during the bike portion of the race. Stepping into the porta-potty, I figured it would be just my luck that he’ll pass me going the other direction while I’m going to the bathroom.

Using a porta-potty after it’s been available to literally thousands of racers and baked in the afternoon sun was an assault to the senses. Getting my triathlon onesie back up my skin that was slimy from sweat while standing in a warm, smelly, plastic box was a bit of an ordeal.

Catching Coach David

Throughout the run, I was constantly watching for Coach David. I scanned the group for an athlete wearing a neon yellow jersey and a backpack. (It’ll make sense later.)

Finally, near Mile 13, I saw him as we passed each other going in opposite directions. (I called it! He must have passed me when I was in the porta-potty.) I knew he knew I was ok because he’d been tracking me on the race app all day, and it alerted him each time I went over a race sensor.

I later learned he was worried about me and relieved to finally put eyes on me. Apparently, I dropped off the app for a bit.

David was doing a run/walk, and I pushed myself to run even faster, determined to catch up with him. I finally caught up with him at Mile 17 and we took a selfie – still smiling.

I continued to run ahead of David. The sun was going down and I moved my sunglasses to the top of my head. One of the volunteers on a golf cart drove through the course, turning on the portable lights to illuminate the road for those of us who would be finishing the race after dark.

Someone from Ironman snapped a photo of me on the road and put it on their Instagram story. That was so cool to see after the race.

Around Mile 19 or 20, David and I passed each going in opposite directions again. He yelled to me, “In 45 minutes, you’re going to be an Ironman!” (Looking back, that wasn’t accurate given my pace, but I appreciated the sentiment.)

Race Math

It started on the bike. I determined when I was 100 miles into the bike, I was over 70% done with the total distance of the race. When I finished the bike, I was over 80% done.

With every passing mile of the run, I recalculated how much of the race I had left. Six miles to the finish line meant I had only 1/23 of the race left. Five miles to the finish line meant I had only 1/28 of the race left to do. It gave my brain something to do and distracted me from my sore legs and feet.

For the last portion of the race, whenever there was any incline in the course, I walked. I had plenty of time before the 17-hour cut off, and I wasn’t going to torture myself more than necessary.

As I jogged and walked along, I saw others who couldn’t finish the race. Some were driven back to the transition area on golf carts with foil blankets wrapped around them to keep warm. I saw another racer puking on the side of the road. There were several people who looked like they could only walk the last remaining miles. I wondered if they were at risk of not making the 17-hour cut off.  

Out of the 2,273 people who started Ironman Lake Placid that day, 456 DNFed because they either couldn’t finish the race or they didn’t finish it in time.

The Finish Line

Some people cry when they cross the finish line at Ironman. Around Mile 25, I felt my emotions start to bubble up. When I made the final turn towards the finish line, tears welled up in my eyes.

After nearly 3 years of training, 3 years of early morning workouts, training in the cold and the heat, managing sore muscles and injuries, and overcoming mental setbacks, I made it.

My sore feet hit the red and black Ironman carpet as I approached the finish line, and I heard Mike Reilly’s voice: “You finally got here, huh Ruth? From Phoenix, you are an Ironman!” (He knew from my bio that I filled out when I signed up for the race that my Ironman races in 2020 and 2021 cancelled due to COVID.)

I raised my arms as I crossed the finish line – 15 hours, 21 minutes, 42 seconds after I plunged into Mirror Lake that morning to start this 140.6-mile journey. My race started at 6:39 a.m., and I finished it right at 10 p.m.

I was an Ironman.

Overcome with joy and gratitude, I burst into tears.

Thankfully, David paid for his family to be VIPs so they could meet him at the finish line and his wife, Janet, could put his medal around his neck. She wrapped her arms around me in a big hug and told me that David was only a few minutes behind me.

I got my medal, took a finisher photo with the Ironman backdrop, and walked into the athletes’ post-race area where a volunteer handed me a bottle of water. Another volunteer doublechecked that I was ok, and I hadn’t been crying in pain.

At 15 hours, 24 minutes, 53 seconds after we started the race, I heard Mike Reilly’s voice again: “David Roher, He looks just like him! Look at him! David Roher, you are an Ironman! Tony Stark – right there!”

I watched as my coach crossed the finish line in his Ironman costume. That’s what was in the backpack.  (He really does look remarkably like Robert Downey Jr.)

After he kissed his wife and said hello to his family, David and I gave each other a big hug, and of course, I started bawling like a baby again. Once I regained my composure, he excitedly said, “Let’s take a picture!” It’s so cute when he’s in proud coach mode.

Post-Race

Prior to the race, I paid for valet service so Tribike Transport (the company that transported my bike to and from the race) collected my bike and gear bags. I’d pick up my gear bags from them the following morning.

After the race, all I had to do was walk back to my hotel, which thankfully wasn’t far from the finish line. Unfortunately, it was also on a steep hill. My calves and quads screamed with every step. My body felt cold as my heart rate slowed and the adrenaline rush of the finish line wore off.  

All I wanted a hot shower and to brush the film of Gatorade off my teeth. Oh my goodness, it hurt to bend down to untie my shoes. I posted a picture of my medal to Facebook, and I think I called my mom to let her know I survived the race.

There were pizza, French fries, and chips at the finish line, but it would be hours before my stomach would settle enough to eat anything. I climbed into bed. I was exhausted, but my body was so sore it was hard to get comfortable. It hurt to move, and it hurt to hold still.

At 2 a.m., I woke up ravenously hungry. I shuffled out of bed and ate 2 calorie bomb cookies before trying to get a few more hours of rest before I had to get up, pack my bags, and drive back to the airport to fly home.

Next week on The Undeniable Ruth: Ironman Lake Placid – The Supporters.

Ironman Lake Placid – The Bike

Previously on The Undeniable Ruth: I had just exited Mirror Lake from the 2.4-mile swim and was walking the blue carpet to the transition area. As I entered transition area, I grabbed my bike gear bag and headed into the women’s changing tent.

Transition One (T1)

The race clock never stops running once you cross the threshold to start the swim until you either cross the finish line after the run or you DNF (Did Not Finish). While other athletes are motivated to move quickly, I take my time in transition. It’s my chance to rest and catch my breath. I ate a “calorie-bomb” cookie while I dried off and put on my cycling gear.

As I dried off my feet in the changing tent, I noticed the top of my left foot was bleeding – not badly, but I obviously cut myself during the swim. Maybe I kicked someone in the corner of their goggles or hit someone’s fingernail at just the right angle. I didn’t think much of it as I pulled on my yellow “Do Epic Shit” socks and cycling shoes and finished preparing for the 112-mile bike ride ahead.

As I looked around the tent, every person seemed to have a stick, can, or tube of anti-chafe product to apply to their crotch area to reduce discomfort during the ride. I sprayed Trislide down into the shorts of my trisuit (onesie for triathletes), sprayed any exposed skin with sunblock, tied my rainbow tie dye bandana to my head, and then put on my cycling gloves, helmet, and sunglasses. I slid my Chapstick and BASE salt into my back pocket and then walked out of the tent to grab my bike and headed to the bike exit.

Lap One: OMG Those Hills

Bike course was two 56-mile loops through Lake Placid Village and the surrounding areas. This course is notorious for its hills. Coach David tried to tell me what to expect, but nothing prepares you for how grueling those hills are. I knew that riding downhill out of town would feel great, and then the first of many climbs would begin.

I quickly learned to stay in the saddle instead of standing up on my pedals as I climbed each hill. It seemed counter-intuitive but keeping my butt on my seat allowed me to maintain a faster pace. It also caused more wear and tear on my crotch area.

Some of the descents on the course were exhilarating. Even while riding my brakes, I got up to 40 mph on one of them (according to my bike computer) while the more advanced cyclists were flying past me.  

There were aid stations throughout the course, offering us bottles of water and Gatorade, gels, and bananas sliced in half. I don’t have the skill or balance to grab what I need as I ride through. Instead, I snapped my right foot out of its pedal and came to a full stop. I tossed my previous Gatorade bottle to the side and grabbed a fresh one, ate a half banana, and took a hit from my vial of BASE salt.

Conversely, Coach David can ride through the aid stations. We were both surprised when I finished the swim before him, but he made up time in T1, and passed me at the 1st aid station. Not that we were there to race each other. I didn’t care when I finished compared to the field as long as I finished in time to be an official Ironman.

Maybe I Need to Poop

It felt like there was no respite from the hills, and with each mile I felt more and more uncomfortable and miserable. Then the thought hit me: Maybe I need to poop.

At the next aid station (Mile 45), I gave myself a break from the race. I racked my bike and went to the porta-potty. Yes, it turned out, I needed to poop. (Actually, I pooped twice during that break.) I walked around a bit and dumped a bottle of cold water over my head.

My break allowed me to take in more of my surroundings. I realized each aid station had a kiddie pool of ice so the volunteers could chill our bottles of water and Gatorade before handing them to us. That was such a thoughtful touch.

Feeling a bit refreshed, but still tired, I was ready to continue on. I wondered if I was feeling miserable because I wasn’t refueling properly. I ate a gel (electrolytes + caffeine) and made a concerted effort to drink more of my protein. It felt thick in my water bottle. To thin it out, I’d take in a sip of my water, spit it into my protein bottle, shake, and drink. I began to feel better once these additional calories hit my system.

At each subsequent aid station, I also dumped a bottle of cold water over my head to make sure I wasn’t inadvertently overheating.

Lap Two: Accept the Pain

As I headed into the second lap, I thought about “acceptance.” I learned a valuable lesson about acceptance years ago at the piercing parlor.  

It was an impulse piercing, and none of my friends were available to hold my hand. I death gripped the piercing table with anxiety as my piercer prepared his materials. He looked down at my white knuckles and said, “This isn’t going to work.” He told me to let go of the table, breathe, and accept the pain as part of the process. That day I learned how to take a piercing without flinching.  

Even though the second lap was more difficult that the first one now that my muscles were getting sore, it was less painful than the first one as regularly reminded myself, “accept the pain.” I even started smiling and somewhere during this lap, I started playing Frank Sinatra singing “My Way” in my head. It didn’t matter if other athletes were faster; I was there to do my race.

As my legs became more fatigued, my body automatically tried to compensate by death gripping my handlebars, as if I could pull myself up those hills with my hands. I had to periodically shake out my hands and force myself to drop my shoulders and relax my trapezius.

“So Proud”

Toward the end of the 112-mile ride, I was ready to be done with this portion of the race. At first, my only thought was, “Are we done yet?” but then I started thinking about a text message I received from my friend Julia the day before: “So excited for you. So proud.” Hearing her voice in my head motivated me to push through those last few miles.

I was so relieved to see the familiar sites of Lake Plaid Village as I approached the end of the bike segment. After nearly 8 hours of riding (7:56), I was ready to get off my bike.  

Next week’s post: Ironman Lake Placid – The Run.

Ironman Lake Placid – The Swim

Six years ago, I said I’d never do an Ironman race because I don’t like swimming. It’s monotonous and boring. And yet, there I was, standing on the shore of Mirror Lake in Lake Placid, New York. I spent more than 4 years swimming laps at the pool at 6 a.m., rain or shine, preparing for this swim.  

Pre-Race Swim with my Coach

On the Friday afternoon before the race, I had a special swim lesson with my coach, David Roher, that he calls Direct Recovery of Open Water Navigation and Guidance (DROWNG).

Yes, I paid him to try to drown me.

As we swam together in the lake, he purposely bumped into me, grabbed my foot, and even tried to swim over me, all things that could happen during the race.

I have a history of panicking during open water swims. My wetsuit will feel like it’s choking me, and my brain can’t perceive that I’m propelling my body forward. The most recent incident was only a few weeks ago when I bailed less than 400 yards into a 1500-yard swim. I was dedicated to staying in the lake with my coach until I was immune to his attempts to rattle my cage.

Guide Cable = Linus Blanket

I acclimated to swimming in Mirror Lake remarkably quickly thanks to the guide cable. There is a yellow guide cable submerged about 3.5 feet under the surface of Mirror Lake’s navy blue water. This cable was my “Linus blanket.” As long as I could see that cable, I was fine, both during practice and on race day.

Race Day with Team Roher

Coach David is dedicated to taking care of his athletes all the way to the starting line. On race day, I’m a bundle of nerves and my anxiety can cause me to wander. To keep from losing me, Coach David literally had me hold onto his shirt as we walked to the transition area to put our water bottles on our bikes and put last-minute items in our bike and run gear bags.

Once we were in our wetsuits, we were literally wearing leashes (attached to the zippers on our backs). I held onto his, and my teammate Shimon held onto mine, as we navigated through the packed crowd of athletes lining up at the lake’s edge.

The race began with the elite triathletes entering the water first, and then a “wave start” for the rest of us. Every few seconds the race official would release the next group of 4-6 athletes into the water. David, Shimon, and I clasped hands and raised our arms high as we walked into the water. From there, each of us was on our own.

Lap 1: Thonk

The swim in an Ironman race is 2.4 miles. In Mirror Lake, that meant two laps where we had to exit the water after lap one, walk/run back to the starting line, and swim lap two.

At the athlete briefing, they told everyone to stay outside the rectangle of buoys. This was to ensure that everyone completed the distance without cutting corners. It also makes it easier for people who breathe to their right to keep an eye on the guide cable.

In truth, we could be on the inside of the rectangle, as long as we went around the outside of the furthest buoys. I breathe to the left. I made a conscious decision to take the “inside track,” and watch the guide cable as much as I could.

Before I left for Lake Placid, I counted how many strokes it took me to get across the pool where I swim laps. Depending how hard I push off the wall, it took me 10-11 strokes. In open water, I figured 12 strokes would take me the same distance. For the first lap, I mostly counted strokes, knowing every time I hit 12, I’d gone another 25 yards.

Everything was going great until THONK!

The top of my head hit a wall. What was a wall doing out in the middle of a lake?

I popped my head up in confusion and pain and found myself looking directly at the red plastic side of kayak. The volunteer in the kayak apologetically said, “I meant to hit you with my paddle.” I was approaching the last buoy, and she needed me to change my trajectory to go around it.  

Lap 2: Holding My Own

I walked between the end of Lap 1 and the beginning of Lap 2, giving a cheesy double-thumbs up to the camera. My goal for the swim was to survive. I didn’t care about my speed.

Some of the other swimmers were so fast! One passed me during the beginning of Lap 2 and at first, I thought she was wearing (illegal) paddles on her hands. It took me a few seconds to realize there was an orange logo on her wetsuit near her wrist. She was moving so fast that it was hard to tell where her wetsuit ended and her hand began.

During Lap 1, I was passed by elites who were already on their second lap. When I was on Lap 2, I was passing people who were still on their first lap. By Lap 2, my confidence was growing. As a rule, swimmers ahead of you have the right of way, and it’s your job, as the passer, to navigate around them. As I zipped between other racers, I refused to be pushed around, staying in my invisible lane, undeterred by the errant arms of less experienced swimmers.    

I do not have a swimmer’s build with my long torso and short T-rex arms; however, my arms were an asset at the end of each lap. Coach David said don’t stand up to walk out of the lake until your fingers can touch the ground. Shorter arms meant I could swim longer than many of my counterparts.  

77 Minutes

As I got out of the water after Lap 2, I looked down at my watch – 77 minutes! In the workouts leading up to the race, the fastest I ever finished 2.4 miles was 82 minutes, and that was with pushing off the wall every 25 yards. I wasn’t trying to haul ass, and yet, somehow I managed to do it.

I also wondered if there was a whirlpool effect happening in the lake with 2,200+ people moving in the same direction.

Once I was out of the water, I headed over to the volunteers we lovingly call the “strippers.” These are volunteers who work in pairs and trios to efficiently unzip and peel your wetsuit off your body. As I approached them, I said, “Who wants to touch me?”

After the strippers handed my wetsuit back to me, I walked the blue carpet back to the transition area. Others opted to run, but I know I’m clumsy enough without outside help. Both sides of the blue carpet were packed with supporters cheering and holding signs and giant heads of their loved ones doing the race.

Next week’s post: Ironman Lake Placid – The Bike.

50 Days Until Ironman

Smiling at the Beginning of my bike workout on South Mountain

It’s 50 days until my first full Ironman race – Ironman Lake Placid. It’s taken nearly 3 years to get here.

After my coach and I did the Half Ironman Maine in 2019, we signed up for Ironman Mont-Tremblant (near Montreal, Canada) for 2020.  

And then COVID hit.

Our race was cancelled, and all got deferred to Ironman Mont-Tremblant in 2021. Then that race was cancelled, not because of COVID infection rates, but because the Canada-U.S. border was still closed. Ironman gave us the option to change to a different race that year or get a refund. I took the refund, and we signed up for Ironman Lake Placid 2022.

What is an Ironman Race?

The Ironman race is a 140.6-mile triathlon consisting of:

  • 2.4-mile swim
  • 112-mile bike
  • 26.2-mile run

The race will start at 6:30 a.m., and you must finish by midnight to be an official Ironman.

Many people have asked me why we swim, bike, and run in this order, and my best guess is because they want the risk of death to decrease as we get more tired throughout the day. If you get tired and stop while swimming, you could drown. If you stop pedaling on your bike, you’re going to fall. If you stop running, you’ll just be standing there.

How’s Training Going?

I’m quite pleased with how my training is going. Each week, my coach sends me my custom training schedule that currently consists of 2 swims, 2 bike rides, and 3 runs. My hardest workout of the week is a “brick” workout, which is a bike ride followed immediately by a run.

It’s getting warm in Phoenix, so I try to start my workout early, at sunrise when possible. The bike course at Lake Placid is hilly, and I’ve been preparing by riding my bike at South Mountain, which has steeper inclines (up to 7%) than what I’ll have to ride on race day (up to 3%). I want to be in a position where nothing I do on race day is more difficult than anything I’ve done in a workout.

I’m probably the healthiest I’ve ever been heading into a race. My coach, David Roher, is diligent about getting his athletes to race day without injuring them along the way. He understands that the goal is to finish the race, not kill myself on my way to the starting line. I also see my physical therapist (who is also an Ironman) twice a month for maintenance, primarily focusing on my hips, quads, and back.

My workouts from this week and last week.

How am I Feeling?

I oscillate between squee-we’re-doing-Ironman and holy-fucking-shit-how-am-I-going-to-do-this. I’m trying to enjoy the excitement as we ramp up and do final preparation for the race. When the scared voice creeps into my head, I try to remember to breathe, take it one thing at a time, and remember that 1000s of people have done this before me. If I stick to my training, I’ll be more than ready for race day.

With each hard workout, I feel my confidence growing. This week, I ran 16.5 miles, and while I was tired by the end, I could have done another 10 more if I needed to.

Why Lake Placid?

I’m going to Lake Placid because Coach David is going to Lake Placid. I didn’t want to do my first full Ironman without him, so that means I go where he goes.

Actually, it was his wife who picked our race. Based on our availabilities, we had our choices down to two, Lake Placid and Maryland, and she said she wanted to go to Lake Placid. My coach’s race weekends often mean a vacation for the rest of his family.

Lucy Jane likes to lick the sweat off my face after my workout.

How Do the Next 50 Days Look?

I’m probably at the point now where I could complete an Ironman race, but it wouldn’t be pretty. Then next 50 days will be the buildup of my strength and stamina, doing my hardest workouts in early July, and then tapering down for the last few weeks before race day. In the process, I’ll be working on my mental as much as the physical as well as practicing my nutrition and hydration strategy for race day.

An important part of the next 50 days will also be getting enough rest. On my Rest Day each week, I won’t be partaking in any major activities, nothing more extensive than running errands. Getting enough sleep will also be imperative. I can’t let myself stay up late, lying in bed, dicking around on my phone.  Instead, I’ve been making myself put my phone out of reach when it’s time for bed.

Training for Ironman Mont Tremblant 2021

I’m doing my first full Ironman race in 229 days – Ironman Mont Tremblant in Canada. I was supposed to do it last year, but the race was cancelled, and we all got deferred to this year.

I’ve never done heroin, but this is what I say every time I pay for something expensive related to my race.

What is the Ironman?

The Ironman is a triathlon, composed of the following distances:

  • 2.4-mile (open water) swim, then a
  • 112-mile bike, followed by a
  • 26.2 (full marathon) run,

All in under 17 hours.

The race starts at 7am, and you must finish before midnight to be an official Ironman.

Why Are You Doing This?

I learned a long time ago that if I don’t have a race or other athletic event on my calendar, I will not be motivated to work out.

I enjoy the challenge of pushing myself to do something I’ve never done before. Races like this take dedication and mental toughness to get through not just race day but also the training to prepare for the race.

In 2017, I hired David Roher to help me train to complete my first marathon. During Mile 20 of the race, even though every part of my body hurt, I knew I wanted to do more marathons. I knew David did triathlons and coached triathletes, so I expanded my training in the off season to include swimming and biking as cross-training. Within months, I was signing up for my first sprint triathlon. About 30 seconds into that race, I knew triathlons were for me. I did the Half Ironman in 2019, and after that went well, I signed up for a full Ironman.

Are You Following a Program, Have a Coach, or Creating Your Own Thing?

Coach David is overseeing my training. Every Sunday, I get a text from him with my workouts for the week. Most weeks, I have two swim workouts, two bike workouts (one on the stationary trainer, one outside), two run workouts, and a rest day. I also have strength work that I do three times a week and stretches that I do every day. 

In addition to this, I also go to physical therapy once a week. I’ve been having long-term issues with my hips and back. My physical therapist is also an Ironman, which is helpful, because she has a greater understanding of my goals as well.

How Many Hours Are You Spending Training, Prepping, and Planning?

Oh geez. Right now, my shortest cardio workout is about 28 minutes (1,500-yard swim), and my longest is about 3 hours (48-mile bike ride). My strength workout is probably around an hour each time. Stretching takes around 30 minutes each day. A physical therapy session can last over 2 hours with all my exercises.  

In addition to all of this, there are other activities like checking on airline ticket prices for the race, bike maintenance, and replacing gear when it wears out like running shoes, workout clothes, and swim goggles.

In terms of diet, I mostly try to eat healthy, avoid excessive sugar, salt, and white flour. I also try to make sure I have enough protein in my diet, which might require more planning since I’m vegan.

Triathlon Shoes: Flip flops for the pool, bike shoes that clip in to my pedals, and running shoes.

What Will be the Longest Training Workout/Brick in Your Ramp Up?

That will be up to Coach David. In passing, he’s mentioned a 50-miles bike ride/5-mile run and a 100-mile bike ride/3.1-mile run.

I’m also planning to fly back East to do a 3.1-mile open water swim with my coach and the rest of the “Jewish Swim Club” in the Atlantic Ocean. During the race, I’ll be able to remind myself that swimming 2.4 miles is easier than swimming a 5k.

What Are You Most Looking Forward to Related to This Race?

So much. I’m excited to be an athlete who is capable of completing an Ironman race. Every time I can go faster, go farther, or see more muscle developing, it’s exciting.

What’s especially exciting about this race is the fact that I’ll be doing it with my coach and almost all of his other triathletes. There’s a strong sense of family and camaraderie in this group.

What Are You Least Looking Forward To?

My race is in August in Canada, but most of my training will be in Arizona. My longest workouts will be in June and July, when the low for the day can be in the high 80s. We’ll have to be careful to make sure I don’t overheat. On my long workout days, I may have to start at 2am or 3am to beat the heat.

Are You Practicing Peeing on the Bike or While Running?

To date, I haven’t needed to use the bathroom during a race. I’ve heard this is a thing. I even heard from another triathlete who was peed on by another racer while they were both on bikes. That must have happened while one was passing the other, because Ironman has strict rules about maintaining a minimum distance from other cyclists unless you’re passing.

Are You Going to Get the Tattoo?

Oh yes! I’m looking forward to getting the classic “M-Dot” tattoo.

Benched

“One of my favorite meditation spots” by Jay Thompson from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

My hip pain flared up at the end of last week, and Coach David benched me for three days. I don’t even have a good story. It just started hurting. Only things I can do are stretch, heat, and strength work that doesn’t engage the hip. (My apologies in advance to anyone I converse with while I’m on the sidelines. I get moody and opinionated when I don’t workout.)

Yes, this is the same hip injury I’ve been dealing with off and on for over a year. It’s the one body part I didn’t blow out as a gymnast (except for a few pulled groins), so they’re making up for lost time.

Coach David has been increasing my workouts painfully slowly – like increasing my running distance by ¼ of a mile each week. (The standard is a runner can increase their mileage by 10% each week.) I’ve pushed myself hard the last few weeks, but I didn’t think I was going too hard.

As always, Coach David uses a practical and logical approach to dealing with injuries. It’s better to take a couple of days off now – over six months before race day – than to push through and be triaging a worse injury closer to race day. This morning David lovingly said, “Your body needs a vacation.”

Thankfully, I was already ahead of schedule in regards to my training, so taking a few days off isn’t a setback in terms of that. It’s just a challenge for me to be forced to sit on my tush.

I’m starting to wonder if the line between pushing hard and pushing too hard is razor thin. It’s frustrating to constantly have to deal with the possibility that my hip could flare. I felt like we were doing everything right. I was slowly gaining speed, strength, and confidence.

I was pushing myself, but not that hard.

Challenging myself, but not killing myself.

Over the last week, I spent a lot of time sitting as I was sending 500+ emails promoting my first online course on the legal side of photography.  I wonder if that has something to do with this most recent bout of soreness.

Rosie’s trying to teach me how to relax.

Regardless of the cause, I’m spending three days sitting on my heating pad, trying to get the muscles to relax and the joint to calm down. (I have two heating pads – one at home and one in the office.)

I’m on board with the plan that it’s better to deal with a minor setback now than to deal with worse pain later.

The goal is Ironman Mont Tremblant, not killing myself getting to the starting line.

New Swimming Accessory: Choker Necklace

Yup. I’m wearing a choker.

I don’t like things touching the front of my neck.

I don’t own turtlenecks.

I don’t wear kerchiefs or fashion scarves around my neck.

When I go to the salon, I ask them to make the drape one snap looser.

Sometimes I can’t even wear crewneck t-shirts because – you guessed it – the edge of the shirt barely touches my neck.

When I picked out my wetsuit, I got one with the lowest neckline I could find. It still touches my neck. Actually, my wetsuit is snug around my neck. It’s snug around every part of my body. That’s how wetsuits work.

When I’m wearing my wetsuit and I go from being vertical and walking into the water to horizontally swimming in it, the discomfort becomes more intense as going face down puts extra pressure across the front of my neck. (If past lives are real, I’m pretty sure I either drowned or was strangled in one of them.) Add in being hit by other swimmers and unable to find my swimming cadence, and it’s enough to make me panic.

Heading into Ironman Mont Tremblant, I’m trying to work on this. I don’t want to start this race with a panic attack.

I can’t control how choppy the water is.

I can’t control other swimmers bumping into me.

What I can do is force myself to get used to swimming with something snug around my neck. (I know some athletes cut their wetsuits to lower the neckline, but I don’t want to do that.)

My chokers, courtesy of the junior section at Target.

I bought myself a set of five stretchy choker necklaces, popular among tweens and young teens. I look like a person having a mid-life crisis when I wear them.

Before I leave the house for the pool, I pull one of these things on, and I don’t take it off until I’m back. I figure the more I wear it, the sooner I’ll get over the heebie jeebies of having something touching my neck.

For my first day wearing a choker to the pool, I opted to wear the red one so if the feeling of it touching my neck was too much and I ripped it off mid-lap, I could easily find it in the water and not litter in the pool.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen. I don’t notice it when I’m swimming. Once I’m fully used to wearing one necklace, I may try wearing two, then three, at a time, so I can get used to the material covering more of my neck.

Hopefully, this exercise will teach me that I can have something snug against my neck without feeling like I’m choking myself.

Open Water Swim Training Update

After a brutal swim at the Half Ironman in Maine last year, I knew I’d be spending part of my off season practicing open water swimming. In the pool, I can see where I’m going, I have my own lane space, and I can put my feet down whenever I want. Open water swimming is the opposite of all that, plus I’m in a wetsuit. Mine has a lower neckline compared to other wetsuits, but it’s snug against my neck, especially when I rotate my body to be parallel to the ground to swim. I always have to remind myself that my wetsuit isn’t strangling me. (I’m really sensitive about things touching my neck.)

I did the Splash and Dash at Tempe Town Lake a few months ago. It had four race options:

  • Swim 1,000 meters, Run 5K
  • Swim only, 2,000 meters
  • Swim 2,000 meters, Run 5K
  • Swim only, 4,000 meters

I suspect the real purpose of this event is to give the people doing Ironman Arizona a few weeks later a chance to swim the length in the race (4,000 meters) in the lake where there’ll be swimming on race day. I signed up for the 2,000-meter, swim only.

Tempe Town Lake – Image by Dru Bloomfield – At Home in Scottsdale from Flickr (Creative Commons License) – No, I did not get poisoned or super powers from swimming in this water.

I arrived at the lake at 6:50 a.m., checked in, and strapped my timing chip to ankle. The air temperature was 58 degrees. The water was 63. The 2,000-meter swim started at 7:32 a.m. They invited us to jump in a little before race time to “splash about” and get used to water temperature. Yeah, no thanks. I was only getting in that water once.

The race route was a 1,000-meter rectangle. Each person did one, two, or four laps depending on which event they signed up for. Like Maine, there were kayakers and paddle boarders throughout the route to help any swimmer who got in trouble. Shortly after I started swimming – 2:19 according to my Garmin – I grabbed onto a kayak, trying not to panic. (There’s something about feeling my wetsuit against my neck coupled with being hit by other swimmers that triggers my “fuck this” response.)

I told the friendly volunteer in the kayak, that I was panicking and he asked an insightful question, “Has this happened before?” That actually helped me calm down a bit. I took a minute to take some deep breaths and compose myself, and then continued with the race.

Once, I calmed down, running into other swimmers wasn’t as big of a deal. After one collision I remember saying, “Oops, that’s your butt.” The rest of the race felt pretty good. I worked on my spotting (trying to swim in a straight line by aiming at landmarks). A good rule is to check your spot every 2 strokes. I was doing it every 10, because I don’t like how spotting breaks up my cadence.

I finished the 2,000-meter swim in 45:03, 17 minutes faster than my time at Maine 70.3. The cut-off time for the swim for the full Ironman is 2 hours, 20 minutes (140 minutes). That’s encouraging to see that I’m on track to have a good swim at Ironman Mont Tremblant this summer.

I still need to work on not panicking when I first hit the water. I hope to do a few more open water group swims before the race.