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Ironman coach

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.