The Ironman Triathlon is one of the world’s most difficult sporting events. It is not for the faint of heart. To be certified by the World Triathlon Association, the race must meet the following criteria:
· 17 hours to complete the race.
· Typically starts at 7:00 a.m.; the mandatory swim cut off for the 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim is 9:20 a.m. (2 hours 20 minutes), the mandatory bike cut off time is 5:30 p.m. (8 hours 10 minutes), and the mandatory marathon cut off is midnight (6 hours 30 minutes).
· Any participant who manages to complete the triathlon within these time constraints is designated an Ironman.
The Ironman Triathlon in Lake Placid, NY, is one of 15 races in the United States certified by the World Triathalon Association and enables finishers to qualify for participation in the Ironman World Championships at Kona, Hawaii.
Dr. Todd Shatynski, has done the Ironman at Kona, Hawaii, twice and volunteers to head the medical tent at the Lake Placid event every year. He also heads the medical tent for our fall marathon and half marathon. In addition, he is a contributor to our Doctors’ Corner column.
To follow are the thrilling accounts of three of our members who accomplished the tremendous feat of finishing the July 23, 2018 Ironman Triathlon at Lake Placid: Colleen Schermerhorn-Murray, Jeremy McNamara, and Kristin Hislop.
It started for me back in 2007 when I happened to be visiting Lake Placid during Ironman week. I marveled at how strong these athletes were and their commitment to their training, and in my heart I always hoped that one day I would be there competing. I wasn’t really sure how that would happen since I was a runner who didn’t know how to swim, or really how to bike like a real rider.
Some of my friends had competed in Ironman Lake Placid and last July, one week after race day, I made it official and signed up for IMLP 2018.
Then the real challenge: How to prepare to be sure that I could finish and finish strong. It was a challenge that seemed almost insurmountable.
I started training and coaching with Andy Ruiz in December of this past year. For seven months he provided the framework and structure that I needed to feel confident on race day. Leading up to the race, I had never been so scared. I knew that Andy had provided the workouts that I needed to be successful but it seemed that there were so many variables that existed and I would face over 140.6 miles.
The night before the race I met with Andy one last time to be sure that I was confident in my race plan. I trusted the training, and now it was up to me to execute the plan effectively. My bike was checked and it was almost go time. Race morning came very early, and my trusted team assisted me to the swim start, and you definitely need a team for these races (thank goodness for friends). Lining up for the swim was the most anxious I’ve ever felt in my entire life. I’m not a fantastic swimmer but this season I’ve worked with Excel Aquatics and they have given me some peace of mind that I could finish the swim. As I was standing among thousands of swimmers waiting to go into the water tears streamed down my face. At the last moment I saw two friends that I trained with. We exchanged hugs and I knew that everything would be good from that point forward. The swim went surprisingly smooth. Just a few punches and kicks but at the end of the first loop I knew that I was ahead of my time goal. Once the swim was finished I was so happy, and relieved, and so proud ... because I just swam 2.4 miles! On to the bike.
I felt fairly confident regarding the bike portion of the race. Andy and I had been working for seven months to build bike fitness, and I knew that I had the strength and fitness to finish this leg successfully. I also was really confident in the race plan we developed. What I was not totally expecting ... rain and wind ... The first 10 miles of the bike was HARD. It was raining, cross winds and hills... at one point I was going downhill and didn’t even feel like I was moving because of the wind gust. I just tried to be smart and follow my plan and to be conservative because I knew that I still had to be able to run a marathon. Coming into town at the end of my first loop was amazing. I imagine this as close as it gets to being an Olympian or elite athlete. The entire town was electric and so many friends from Albany were their cheering and shouting my name, it was just incredible.
The second loop of the bike went by in a blink and then it was onto the run. As a runner, this was the part of the race that I was looking forward to completing. Although before the race, I was most anxious regarding the marathon leg. I knew that completing a marathon after 112 mile bike was going to be a challenge and a very different pace than I was used to running. Starting the run I felt incredible. Again, the entire village was alive with cheers and it felt amazing to be running, and know that I only had 26.2 miles until I crossed that finish line. I couldn’t believe how good I felt, and the miles just flew by so quickly. Actually, I didn’t even know the time of day and at one point I saw my friends and asked the time of day... I knew at that point that I was going to finish before dark and that was the one goal that I had in my mind for this race. At mile 15, I had a minor hiccup with some GI distress, but I knew that I could run 11 more miles and finish happy.
Well, finish happy I did!! I have never been more proud or happy than to cross that finish line. Entering the oval, I couldn’t contain my emotions: 7 months of training, commitment and sacrifice... every step was worth it! It’s a process unlike anything I ever experienced. It takes a village, a great coach, great friends and dedication to want to be better. I think I’ve finally found my sport!
“You are the cause of your own experiences”
– Mike Reilly, “The Voice of Ironman”
If you’ve never experienced an Ironman you are truly missing out. An Ironman finish line at midnight might as well be an Olympic stadium for anyone finishing. The roar of the crowds is intense and only increases as the clock gets closer to midnight. Even more so than in marathons and road racing, Ironman is a battle against the course and all the athletes are on one team. Unlike many other races, the finish line is the most crowded at the end of the race, with the race winners often cheering in the finishing chute or handing out medals.
This year was the 20th consecutive Ironman Lake Placid and it’s an amazing race. The entire town comes out for the 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run. The last 200 meters of the marathon finishes in the Olympic Speed Skating oval and ranks as my #1 finish line, even ahead of the Boston Marathon. The crowd support along the entire race is fantastic, and the support in town is unreal. When you’re coming back into town, struggling up an 8% grade after 138 long miles, those spectators cheering seems like the only thing still pushing you forward. Two miles later as you enter that oval though, all the pain disappears and through the cheers of the crowd all you can hear is “Jeremy McNamara, from Albany New York, you are an Ironman!”
This year was my third Ironman Lake Placid and my fourth Ironman total, and this one was definitely the most difficult. I’ve had nagging running injuries since JFK 50 last November. In April, still injured but registered for my first Boston Marathon, I decided to run knowing it would injure me even further. I couldn’t walk or bike for a week after Boston so instead I spent that week in the pool instead of on the road. The great thing about training for a tri is there are always other sports you can do when you’re injured. In total I only ran about 150 miles all year before Ironman, 26 of them in Boston and nothing longer than 4 miles in the three months before Ironman. Thanks to some top notch coaching from Andy Ruiz, who always hates when I dig myself deeper into a hole but adapts my training to work with my current condition, I had biked over 4,000 miles with plenty of intervals in there and my fitness was better than ever.
I must have bad luck this year because my only real races were Boston and Lake Placid, both of which had headwinds in excess of 40 mph and heavy downpours. Despite these conditions, I am pretty happy with my top 100 finish. Looking back I made some rookie mistakes on nutrition during the end of the bike and early on in the marathon but was finally able to recognize that I was on the edge of bonking. A couple quick gels and I was able to run again. Allowing myself to slip into that hole is what I’m most disappointed in and something I’ll be looking out for more in the future. I ended up running a 3:48 marathon (10:50 overall) which is pretty good for that course, and definitely good considering the lack of running I’d done. As Mike Reilly says, “you are the cause of your own experiences”, and all the hard work I put in this season certainly made for a great oval experience.
Happy with a new swim PR thanks to Excel Aquatics
Mile 13, reinvigorated after slamming some gels
After laying down for a while, just happy to be done with 140.6 miles
The week post Ironman is a great time for reflection. The body and brain need time to recover, so looking back is in many ways restful. Each time I complete the distance (1.2 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run) I learn. It is an opportunity to learn from my own experience as well as others. Reading my athletes’ race reports give me great insight into what went well and what we need to change. They may never go 140.6 again, or at least swear off the distance until the bug bites again, but the experience always proves to be life changing.
This year my takeaway theme was “respect the distance.” Once you have completed an Ironman the distance can be less daunting. First timers enter the water with fear. They set out on the bike with trepidation and the first steps of the run can make them question their decision to enter. Many first timers respect the distance by putting in many miles/hours/yards of training the swim, bike and run. They will follow a training plan and get their bodies physically ready to go. However that isn’t truly respecting the distance. The longer we push the human body in an athletic competition the more nutrition, recovery and mental training play a critical role. Sadly that is what derailed many folks at Ironman Lake Placid this year. To respect the distance you need to not just prep your body for the event, but also your brain.
Respect the distance means something slightly different to me this year. I have done Lake Placid twice before. I know my weakness is the bike and yet once again I neglected to get the ‘right’ training in for it. I make sure my athletes train their weaknesses. When left to our own devices we naturally want to do what is easier, what we enjoy and where we can celebrate success. I don’t advocate crazy long indoor bike training sessions, but instead prescribe calculated rides to work various energy and muscular systems. Then when the weather turns, my athletes head outside for some long miles. Of course this is what I should have been doing, but I just wasn’t respecting the distance. I knew I could do the bike course and after a decent ride at Ironman Mont Tremblant 70.3 I sat on my laurels when I should have been sitting on the saddle! Friends put a sign on the LP course that said under training is the new overtraining. While I would prefer to see someone undertrained heading in to an event you need to respect the distance! As a result my run suffered. My legs were fried and a little walking turned in to too much walking. I had to switch the mental gears to get back to the run and finish off the day.
Reflection offers the chance to think about what to change going forward. I refer to Ironman training and racing as a journey. To me the journey is never really over. I may swear off Ironman at mile 80 of the bike or 18 of the run, but my journey will continue. Now as it does, I’ll be thinking about how I’ll respect the distance. Every event we tackle has its own challenges. Whether you are racing the mile or a marathon; respect the distance.
Kristen Hislop is a runner and triathlete who owns Hislop Coaching. She encourages everyone to Respect the Distance and Do-Believe-Achieve. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.