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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.

Half Ironman Maine 2019: Race Recap

My first Half Ironman triathlon is in the books: 70.3 miles in 7 hours, 18 minutes, 25 seconds. I’ll take that.

This race was about a year in the making, ever since I did my first sprint triathlon last September. Less than 30 seconds into that race, I knew the Half Ironman was next.

Getting to Maine

Leading up to Maine 70.3 was training – lots of sweaty training – in the Phoenix heat. I was usually slimy with sweat by Mile 3 of a run, no matter how early I left the house. Coach David and I had to be careful about not having me outside too long on the 110+ degree days.

I also spent the last year dealing with a hip injury. I had to defer both my half marathon and full marathon over the winter because my hip wouldn’t let me train the way I needed to. Thankfully, my physical therapist is also a triathlete, so she was the perfect person to help David and me build up my mileage and adjust my strategy to manage the pain.

Pre-Race Prep

I had many calls and texts with David leading up to race day. We talked about how I was going to fuel during the race with protein powder, gels, and salt. He reviewed my packing list to make sure I brought everything I was going to need. I even made little lists to remind myself of what I needed to do during each transition (swim-to-bike and bike-to-run).

I arrived in Old Orchard Beach, Maine two days before the race. Our hotel was minutes away from the race expo and the starting line. We hit the race expo first to get our race packets (timing chip, race number, bike stickers, swim cap, etc.). I was so jittery-excited I could barely take it all in.

That afternoon, David took me swimming in the ocean. It had been over a year since I’d last swam in an ocean, and it was my first time swimming in my wetsuit. We worked on my form and cadence (which is hard to maintain in choppy water), and he lovingly reminded me of what it’s like to swim in a race by purposely running into me. He calls it Direct Recovery (of) Open Water Navigation (&) Guidance (D.R.O.W.N.G). It sounds cruel, but during a triathlon, people hit and kick you all the time during the swim. It’s better to be ready for it – because it will happen – so it won’t freak you out during the race.

Saturday was all about resting. I think I was the only non-Orthodox Jew in our group. It was fun participating in my first Shabbas lunch and learning all the rules. Since I was the “Shabbas goy” who could do “work,” I walked both David’s and my bikes to the race transition area. He came with me and we timed how long it took to walk from the transition area to the swim start and back to our hotel.

It was windy on Saturday, and David and I talked about what that would mean for my race. I shrugged and said, “I’ll still PR.”

https://www.flickr.com/photos/newenglandcoast/10902548214/
Old Orchard Beach, Maine. This is where we went into the water. Photo by NewEnglandCoast from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Race Day!

Race day morning was nerve-wracking. I was so nervous/excited as a powered down my oatmeal, pulled my wetsuit halfway up my body, and packed my gear bag for the race. David was cool as a cucumber as I was powerwalking to bike transition area, afraid I wouldn’t have enough time to lay out my gear before we had to report to the beach for the swim. (We had plenty of time.)

1.2-Mile Swim in the Atlantic Ocean

For the start of the race, we lined up based on when we expected to finish the swim. Instead of going in all at once, the organizers had us going in four swimmers at a time, each group five seconds apart.

Even though David is a faster swimmer than me, he lined up with me so he could be there to give me a last hug and be the proud coach to who told the announcer that it was my first Half Ironman. We walked into the ocean together, and within minutes we were apart, swimming our own races as we expected.

The swim was brutal. The water was cold and choppy. I had so much adrenaline coursing through my veins that I didn’t feel cold, but it was cold enough that the race was “booties legal” (below 65 degrees). Even though I was wearing goggles, I could barely see anything underwater, except the air bubbles coming out of my mouth. I couldn’t even see the hands and feet that were coming towards me until right before they hit me in the face. With 2,400+ racers, I got hit a lot.

The race route was a rectangle – out, over, and back again. Throughout the route, there were volunteers on paddle boards and kayaks where you could grab on if you needed a minute to rest and breathe. I checked my watch when I grabbed onto the first kayak – 4:45 into the race. I was panicking. I couldn’t find my cadence and I it seemed like I was getting hit by the other racers every few seconds.

There were three other racers holding onto the kayak. We gave each other a few encouraging words before letting go to swim on. 

At the buoy signaling the last turn for shore, I began to get pulled off course. In my wetsuit, I was essentially a floaty on top of the water, being pulled by the sideways current. A paddle boarding volunteer caught up with me and told me to aim back towards to race route. I tried, but it didn’t work. I was too tired and too light to get back to the group. Instead, I aimed for shore and walked back when my feet hit the sand.

One of the challenges of Ironman is you’re stuck listening to your own thoughts for the entire race. (No earbuds or cell phones allowed.) I kept myself going with words of encouragement using “Baby Duck,” my gymnastics coach’s pet name for his gymnasts.

I was so tired after the swim. I finished it in 1 hour, 2 minutes – 12 minutes longer than I wanted – and because I got pulled so far off course, I ended up doing 2,800 yards (including my walk back) instead of 2,100.

As I walked back to the official swim exit, I saw two lifeguards carrying a swimmer out of the water because they were too tired to walk. After the race, I heard a rumor that 70 people didn’t finish either because they were too tired or got seasick.

Transition One: Swim-to-Bike

As I walked over the sensor that indicated that I finished the swim, I said, “Fuck Ironman” and flipped off the photographer getting shot of all of us coming out of the swim. I was so tired and angry. That’s also when I finally felt how cold I was.

At the end of the swim, there were volunteers called “strippers” who peeled off our wetsuits. As I walked up to them, I said, “Who wants to touch me?” Two women held up their hands to help me. They pulled off my wetsuit and handed it to me to carry back to the bike transition.

Once I got to my bike, I pulled off my swim cap and googles, sprayed down with sunblock, put on my socks, bike shoes, bandana, helmet, and sunglasses, and I was off again.

56-Mile Bike Ride

The bike ride took us through the back roads of many towns in the area. I loved that this bike route was a single loop rather than several laps on a smaller loop.

Near the beginning of the ride, I saw a street called Ruth Way. I smiled and thought, “My race. My way.”

This area of Maine is gorgeous – lots of houses with barn stars (for good luck), cows, big trees, and open pastures. The route had rolling hills, and only a few were brutal. It was much nicer than city riding.

Throughout the ride, I found people to pace with – we learned each other’s names and said hello as we passed each other. I was pleased to see that I frequently passed people, especially on the hills. As I climbed each hill, I muttered, “We train on hills because we race on hills.” It felt gratifying to pass other people in my division. (The organizers write your age on the back of your left calf in black marker before the beginning of the race.)

There were three aid stations along the ride that had bananas, water, and Gatorade. I came to a full stop at each one to have a banana and switch out my Gatorade bottle. I was like a Minion, smiling, and saying, “Mmm, banana” each time. Most of the other racers near me could grab and consume these without falling. I wasn’t that skilled yet.

Based on our training rides, I knew there was a chance I’d catch up to David during the bike. I passed him at Mile 36. He was unmistakable with his tzitzit and his neon yellow “Do Epic Shit” socks. I was impressed when he passed me just before the end of the ride. We finished with only two riders between us.

My race medal. I earned this thing.

Transition Two: Bike-to-Run

I made sure I did three things before I headed out for the run:

  • My shoes were tied the way I like them.
  • I sprayed my skin with sunblock again.
  • I put on my hat.

Even though we were in Maine, I didn’t want to finish the race looking like a lobster.

David is much faster in the transitions than I am. (He’s done 6 Ironman and more than 20 Half Ironman races.) By the time I got out on the run, he was already about three minutes ahead of me.

13.1-Mile Run

I felt better than I expected during the run. I’ve heard that some racers have to walk the first part of the run until they get their “legs back.” I could run from my first step. I wasn’t fast, but I was running. Actually, I was surprised by how many people I passed during the run portion.

The race organizers had aid stations every 1 to 1.5 miles along the route with Gatorade, water, Coke, bananas, oranges, and pretzels. I stayed hydrated with Gatorade, treated myself to Coke twice, and gave myself hits of salt from a race vial that I was carrying with me.

About a third of the run was on a nature trail. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t like trail running. I’m clumsy enough without outside help. I caught up with David around Mile 4, while we were on the trail. As I approached him, I said, “Fuck you, David,” and he responded, “That’s my athlete.” He “forgot” to tell me that part of the race was on dirt. I passed him and kept going. (He and I have a running joke about cursing his name.)

My strategy for the run was to alternate between running and walking. I started with run 9 minutes/walk 1 minute. At minute 58 of my run, my hip started to hurt, so I shifted to run 6/walk 1.

Crossing the Finish Line

I ran as hard as I could for the last half mile of the race – pushing myself for a strong finish. I raised my arms triumphantly as I crossed the finish line. To be honest, I was so tired, I was surprised I could still lift my arms.

I hung out in the finish line area, knowing David wasn’t far behind me. He crossed the finish line five minutes after me and gave me a big hug. He was beaming with coach pride.

Athlete and Proud Coach

Post-Race

It felt so good to step into a hot shower after the race. I was covered in salt, sweat, and sunblock.

The next morning, I flew home to Phoenix. I was tired and sore, but thankfully, the pain was nothing like I feared.

So many thanks to Ironman, the volunteers, everyone who cheered along the race route, all my loved ones who supported me in this journey, and especially Coach David and his family. I couldn’t have done this without you.