“DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?”
I was 16 years old when Al Michaels celebrated with the rest of the United States with his famous words while we watched Team USA defeat the USSR in hockey in the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. At that time Ironman was two years old, and I certainly didn’t think that I would ever be in Lake Placid or do an Ironman. But 36 years later, here I was in the place where a historic event took place looking for a little miracle of my own.
THE ROAD TO IRONMAN LAKE PLACID
My two lifelong friends, Dave, John and I had done Ironman Wisconsin together in 2013. That race was somewhat of a bucket-list experience, and we really never thought about doing more prior to finishing that race. But we kind of caught the triathlon bug, or I did in particular. After a couple of years, we started talking about doing another. Dave’s son Alex had been asking to do a full iron distance race, and another longtime friend Jeff had recently taken up the sport. So with renewed interest in completing another Ironman, Dave suggested that we take on Lake Placid.
Why Lake Placid? We had already done Madison, so a new venue was intriguing. We knew what to expect as far as riding tough bike courses like Madison, and figured Lake Placid couldn’t be much different. Also, the lake has a guide cable running in the water about 10 feet or so down and takes you right along the swim course. Plus, Lake Placid had a reputation as one of the best. So off to the Adirondacks we went.
The five of us registered on the day after the 2015 race, the typical time when the registration starts for the next year. I was on a college tour with my daughter Ashley, and registered using my iPhone. In retrospect I could have waited, but I wanted to make sure I got in. It was somewhat comical walking around looking at a college campus with my phone in my hand, falling behind the group and registering for an Ironman.
We nicknamed ourselves the “Gunners,” mainly because of Alex’s penchant for gunning for everything. But in essence, we all had the gunning for the win mentality. It just seemed like a fitting team name. And it sounded cool.
In 2013 we chose to follow Don Fink’s book, Be Iron Fit, for training and it served us well. We decided without any hesitation that we would follow the same 30-week Competitive training plan to prepare us for Lake Placid.
The training for the race went fairly well for all of us. This time around Alex formed a text group for just us five to share information and support each other. In true Gunner spirit, it almost became a race to see who could finish the workout first, which was usually punctuated with the text “day done.” It was fun stuff until John kept telling us that he was done – at 12:15 am!!! I learned to put my phone on sleep mode after a few of those.
As far as the plan was concerned, I missed some swimming due to a variety of issues, but it didn’t really effect me in the end. In the almost 3 years since doing Madison, I must have garnered a decent swim technique. Doing the 70.3 in Muncie, Indiana in 2014 was a turning point for me. It’s one lap, seeded swim was a perfect swim for me and I hoped that Lake Placid would be very similar, just twice the length. The distance doesn’t scare me any longer.
I was well prepared for the running. I started a running streak on 1/1/2015 and have run at least a mile everyday. I think it has made me a better runner, not only because I run more, but it has conditioned my legs to handle the workload much better.
The bike is another story. Lake Placid is in the Adirondack mountains and Illinoisans are commonly called “flatlanders” for a reason. I envied Dave and Alex because out in western Illinois where they live they have some pretty good rolling hills for training. I on the other hand commonly ride on a flat rails-to-trails bike path and very gentle hilly terrain in the rural south of Chicago suburbs.
But we did have a few times where we could get together and train.
- 30 weeks of training
- Approximately 1,050 miles of running, 2,600 miles of cycling, and 149,000 yards of swimming
- 360 hours of total training
TRAVELING TO LAKE PLACID
Unfortunately, my kids had a busy summer schedule this year and couldn’t join my wife and me for the race. So Kari and I plotted out a little fun trip on our way to and from the race. We packed up the car and headed to Niagara Falls, Ontario on Wednesday 7/20. My first time in Canada, eh! We had never been to the falls and we weren’t disappointed. It was an awesome sight.
Getting through customs was interesting for me. Kind of made me nervous with all the questions. But after a night at the Falls, we left Canada on Thursday and drove directly to Lake Placid, New York.
Upon getting to the hotel I was fried. It was a long car ride, the anxiety about the race was starting to build, and my Gunner teammates were waiting for me to do a swim and bike. I got there and my attitude was awful. I just wanted to settle in and let myself catch up, but after I unloaded my junk and a trip to registration to get my race packet, off we went to Mirror Lake for a planned 30 minute swim.
My plan all along was to get into the lake and swim it pre-race, so I grumpily got in the water and started swimming. The first thing that I wanted to see was the famous cable in the lake that the course runs along. I was surprised by what I saw. I was expecting a large pipe type thing at the bottom of the lake, but in essence it is a thin cable, much like a clothesline, and was suspended in the water about 10 feet down. Very easy to see and follow.
Even though I had been a little gruff before the swim, swimming actually made me feel much better. It took away the tension and anxiety and I felt much better. When I looked at my watch I saw that I had did a loop in about 36 minutes I couldn’t believe it. I swam Muncie 70.3 in 43 minutes, so this was huge! I almost wanted to swim another lap!
Next up was a scouting mission of the bike course. Dave and Jeff had arrived earlier in the week and had ridden some of the course. First up was a trip to the infamous “3 Bears” – Momma, Baby and Papa Bear are nicknames of the last hills you have to climb coming back into Lake Placid at the end of the bike loop. Riding down them was fun and we rode out about 20 minutes and turned around. I expected them to be a hard climb coming up, but on fresh legs they really seemed kind of tame. I even have some hills by me that are just as much of a climb.
Then we took a spin over to where BIKE OUT was located to scout the beginning portion of the race. Unbelievable downhill at the start. I took some serious notes about using my brakes at the start of this ride.
We capped off the day with a pizza dinner and great conversation.
A morning run with the gang along the back portion of the run loop was done on Friday morning. We spent some time at the expo where I found that the finisher’s stuff was already on the racks for sale. Usually they put that stuff out post-race on Monday morning. Had this been my first Ironman, I would have avoided it. But since I was confident that I knew I would finish, I went ahead and bought the finisher’s jacket, a couple of the race shirts that had the competitors names on the back, and a coffee mug just so I wouldn’t have to worry about making sure that they still had my size after the race.
Kari and I had a nice lunch away from the group and then drove the bike course in our car. All I could say was WOW! Beautiful scenery, exceptionally good roads, and unbelievable hills! I was glad I took the time to drive it, but when you are on the bike it was a very different experience. I’m not sure why the Three Bears get all the credit. There were many other hills out there that should have names too.
The Gunners finally made it to the Athlete Welcoming Ceremony after trying to find the non-existent park it was located at. Mike Reilly made his first appearance, and Ironman weekend was starting to become real.
Capped off Friday with a dinner at the Boat House with Kari and her parents who made the trip to watch us race.
We spent Saturday making the same rookie mistake we always do, walking around in the heat instead of staying off our feet. We took our bikes and gear bags to transition and got it all set to go.
IRONMAN LAKE PLACID RACE DAY
The alarm went off at 3:15 am. I went downstairs and claimed my breakfast meal bag the Mirror Lake Hampton Inn provided the triathletes. I ate the bagel, yogurt and banana and spent time making sure the bathroom situation was all good. Then we headed to transition to ready our Gunner-mobiles (Alex’s term) and get body marked.
THE SWIM – 1:18:57 – 2:02/100M – 122 M50/54 – 951 Male – 1225 Overall
The swim went as expected for me. My plan was to watch where others were swimming as I entered the water and then head for the path of least resistance. Unfortunately, the path changed many times. I drifted left and right, other swimmers changed their minds, and the majority wanted to be on that cable. For the most part I stuck to about 10 yards or so off to the left of the cable and just kept sighting for open space to be in. The cable and the buoys and the majority of the swimmers swimming along the cable make it pretty easy to stay on course.
The turns were tough with a lot of contact and some treading water and dog paddling, but I got around them. I checked my watch after the first loop – 38 minutes! All good.
The second loop had spread out a little more than the first and I found that I could be on the cable with little contact. I stuck mostly to the inside of it as it was less occupied. About halfway down going out I got a Charley Horse type calf cramp. I never get these, but I surmised that it was probably from the tightness of the wetsuit causing it. I swam over to a kayaker/volunteer and she inquired if I was okay. I said I had a calf cramp and just needed to massage it out. I was there less than 20 seconds.
As I made the turn around the buoys, I got another cramp in the same left calf. This time I just rubbed it with my right foot and jumped back into the fray. I got a little pummeled at this point in which I had a brief primal release (I yelled at a guy), but it was just too many people at the same spot trying to go in the same direction all at once.
The backside of the swim heading back was uneventful the rest of the way. I looked up and saw 1:18 on the clock and was pleasantly surprised. I swam a 1:30 in Wisconsin. Big improvement for me.
T1 – SWIM to BIKE – 10:46
It was a hike to get from the swim exit to transition. Had to run up the beach, down a road to a carpeted sidewalk and then into T1. I found my bags easily as I knew exactly which row to go down and I had placed some green duct tape on the bags so they would stand out. Upon getting inside I couldn’t find a place to sit. I finally found a place and laid all my junk out. I used the water bottle to rinse the sand off my feet and then dried them off. I put on my homemade arm warmers (long white tube socks from Walmart) and my glasses and they immediately fogged up. I got my socks and shoes on after a liberal amount of Glide on my toes, and had a volunteer spray me with some sunscreen. He packed up all my junk and off I went. By the time I made it to my bike mount row a volunteer had my bike waiting for me, I grabbed it and off I went.
THE BIKE – 6:46:15 – 16.54 mph ave. – 106 M50-54 – 944 Male – 1149 Overall
The bike was interesting to say the least. It was hard, it was easy, it was beautiful, it was peaceful, it was crazy, it was scary. I felt like a Gunner heading out of T1 and down the hills. I was surprised to see Kari and my mother-in-law Darla at the bottom of the first hill. That started the ride off on a great note.
After getting down that first hill I was contemplating pulling over and peeing. I had to go really bad. I had tried while I was on the second loop of the swim, but just couldn’t go. It wasn’t long though until we hit the first Bike Aid station and I was able to stop for a potty break.
Then the climbing began. A lot of climbing. Another rider audibly warned everyone not to mash up the hills as she was getting passed by everyone. In all honesty I couldn’t go any slower and not suffer just as much. My heart rate monitor was screaming at me, but there was nothing I could really do. The only way to bring it down would be to walk! I tried my best and just kept climbing in my easiest chainring combination.
Then the descent began. A lot of descent. I have never felt my bike make so many new wobbles and vibrations. I have never felt quite so afraid on my bike before. In Wisconsin I hit 47 mph and was kind of mad that the hill ended. But the famous (or infamous!) descent into Keene was 6 miles long and scary as hell! Fortunately the descent had been repaved recently and as far as the road was concerned, it was perfect. I hit 45 and started applying the brakes as we serpentined our way down into Keene. I am so glad that I kept my hands on the brakes! Being in aero would have scared the crap out of me.
We got into Keene and the road flattened out. The scenery changed and the ride became somewhat calm and reassuring again. We just rolled along through some beautiful mountainous country.
There are two out and backs on this looped course, and while I was heading out on the longer first out and back I saw Dave for the first time heading the other way. Not much longer after that I saw John. About 5 minutes later I hit the turn around and figured that Dave had about a 15 minute lead on me and John about 10 minutes.
At 35 miles into the ride I decided to do a little work and push pace. I had been riding flats and was feeling good. Then the hills started. I couldn’t believe the amount of climbing that was going on. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that to get back to where I started and after all the descending I had done that I would have to climb it back. But it seemed to go on forever. At one point we were riding up a hill and I said to a guy that this hill was much harder than the dumb Bears. It should’ve been called Grandpa Bear. It definitely wasn’t Teddy Bear, that’s for sure.
Finally got to Papa Bear (Momma Bear and Baby Bear aren’t even worth mentioning) and saw Kari and Darla. Lots of crazy crowd support through that hill. It made for a fun part of the ride. Thankfully after cresting Papa Bear it was downhill into town for Loop 2.
The second loop was tough. I tried like crazy to budget my energy and spin up the hills but it was tough. I got a little braver going down the descent into Keene, but still held the speed at about 45 mph.
I saw John again on that first out and back and could tell I was closer, but I never did catch him on the bike. I did see Jeff behind me, but I had about 3 miles or so of a lead on him. I knew he was lurking though! Damn Gunners. Always gunning.
As far as the aid stations, they seemed to be strategically placed on the hills which was sort of a blessing as riders were going slower through them and not blazing by trying to grab a bottle. I stopped about 4 or 5 times to use the toilets and refuel, but for the most part I rode through them as well, something I didn’t do in Wisconsin.
At about 80 miles I stopped and grabbed some Vasoline for my crotch. I was really starting to get sore from sitting and it helped a lot. I was worried a little about getting sunburned, but there was really nothing I could do at that point.
As far as nutrition on the bike, I think I managed it well. I started with two of my own Gatorade bottles and then instead of refilling them, I just discarded them in the aid station and replaced them with Gatorade bottles and water. I didn’t think I would need as much salt as I normally would take, but I changed my mind and stuck with a salt capsule every hour. I’m glad I did. I was sweating but it was drying quickly and it didn’t seem to me like I was sweating as much as I was.
I kept up with a Clif Shot gel every half hour, ate a Clif Bar at about 2 hours into it and nibbled on some more around 4.5 hours into it. I took a bite from a banana at almost all aid stations. I never really felt out of energy, but I knew I was worn out from the effort it was taking to climb the hills.
T1 – BIKE to RUN – 8:02
T2 went very smoothly, I dismounted and handed my bike off to a volunteer bike handler who re-racked it for me and I shuffled off to the bags to get my Run Gear Bag and head to the changing tent. I sat down and the heat and humidity of the tent hit me pretty hard. It was warm in there. I grabbed the baby wipes I had and wiped my face and neck down. I wanted to feel a little cleaner. I grabbed my extra socks and put them in my back pocket in case I needed to change them, put on my shoes and visor, snapped on the running/bib belt and headed out of the tent.
I had some volunteers spray me with some sunscreen, and later on my kids told me that they were watching me online and saw all of that. I’m glad that they were able to see that and the finish too.
Upon leaving the oval for the run course, I spotted Kari and gave her a kiss. I mentioned or gestured that I was beat, but really what I experienced at that time is just a little overheating from getting off the bike where you are constantly being cooled by the wind and from sitting in the transition tent. It wasn’t long into the run that I was feeling normal.
THE RUN – 4:28:01 – 10:13 min./mile ave. – 59 M50-54 – 651 Male – 812 Overall
If you have any mental capacity left after that bike ride, this is the time to use it. Heading out of town on the first out and back portion it is very hilly, and especially very down hilly going out. It’s easy to get carried away with tempo at this point and I knew to hold back somewhat. Truthfully, I think downhills are tougher on your muscles than uphills are. They really beat up your quads and knees. But I got out of town and turned left at the ski jump hills. The sunlight was direct and warm. It wasn’t long before I was taking a sponge and putting it in my tri top. Later on I found that a sponge rested very nicely on my heart rate monitor chest strap, and I would take ice or water at every aid station and place it on the sponge. That helped me regulate my temperature on what was becoming a warm afternoon. A lot of people said it was hot, but I found the breeze to be nice and never really felt like I was cooking myself.
At about the 6 mile mark I saw John heading back. This put him about 4 minutes ahead of me and I slowly worked to pull him in. I caught him around the 7 mile mark or so, and walked with him a bit. He said he was glad that I was walking with him, but he felt like he was going to bonk and told me to keep on trucking. So I did. Not long after that I saw Jeff coming up behind us heading toward the turn around. From then on I felt like I was being chased.
I made it into town and could hear Mike Reilly telling people that they were an Ironman! But at that point I had to head past the hotel and all of my friends/fans for the second out and back before heading out for the second loop. It can be tough hearing people finishing, but I knew my time would be coming in another 13.1 miles.
The second loop of the run was much like the first. As far as nutrition, I kept up the gels every half hour, but I also went to the Base Salt every mile instead of the salt capsules because I wanted that salt more readily absorbed. Aid stations had bananas, pretzels, ice, water, Gatorade, cola, and after 5 pm chicken broth. I sample most of it, skipping the Clif bars. I always took ice and water, and usually the cola and broth too. I never really felt short on nutrition and energy from that fuel. The only thing really making me tired was the miles I was accumulating.
I saw Dave at one point as I was heading out and he was heading in. I congratulated him on a job well done. “Top Gunner!” is what I yelled. He returned the compliment. I knew I had no chance of catching him. It was Jeff that I worried about. He passed John and seemed to be making up ground on me. It was at the 20 mile mark that I decided that I needed to start to push somewhat. I figured Jeff would be walking the aid stations and hills like everyone else, so I made myself at least jog through the aid stations and hills to create a little gap. I also picked up the pace a little.
At 5K left to go I was heading back into town and felt like I had a good amount of energy still left in the tank. I picked up the pace and was running sub-7:30 or so through that last 5K. At one point some guy said that what I was doing was “ballsy” and another guy said “Somebody wants to go home.” I took it as a complement.
I kept speeding up, getting more and more emotional. It was starting to hit me – I was about to become a two-time Ironman. 30 weeks of training, hours of swimming, biking and running were coming to an end.
FINISH TIME: 12:52:01 – 651st Male finisher – 59th M50-54 Age Group – 812th Overall finisher
Here is the link to my finisher’s video: https://youtu.be/0X-pkkoiiHU
It seems like all of us Gunners rocked Ironman Lake Placid. I couldn’t be more impressed with these men. We supported each other through the easy training days and the hard. We rode together when we could, and rode together in spirit when we didn’t. We sized each other up, and helped each other out. The one-timers offered sage advice, and the first timers took great notes. Dave, John and I added two new guys to the Ironman ranks, and I really hope we inspired more to take on that same dream of becoming an Ironman.
Even though John says he’s done with Ironman for a while, I don’t believe him. I don’t believe anything he says! I can’t wait until this group of Gunners can do it again!
THE FINISH LINE
I can’t end this report without thanking everyone who supported me along this journey.
Can’t thank my friends on Facebook enough. Every week I would post a training wrap up and was so thankful that many of you took the time to read the blogs and give me support. I was so tired after the event to “like” all of your comments. But I want you to know that each and every one was well appreciated. To all of you, thank you!
I am so blessed to have such great in-laws that take pride in my accomplishments. Thank you Gary and Darla for making the trip and experiencing me becoming an Ironman for the second time.
To my coworkers who put up with my constant talk of my training and Ironman pursuits, and not being able to join you for lunch because I had to head to the swimming hole, thank you for being there for me! The regulars include Mary, Tracy, Julie, Jeff, Micah and of course, Lou! Let’s do lunch!
I do have a couple Super Fans that I want to mention – Carl Teska tells me every time he sees me that I am the pride of American youth. He always takes interest in my training and racing, and listens intently to every word I provide. Carl, thank you very much for supporting me. I may just get that Ironman tattoo that you keep pushing me to get!
And Mr. Hammond, I sometimes think that you are the only guy reading those blogs, and if it was just you reading them it was worth the effort to write them. Thank you for all the positive comments and support.
I would like to thank the families of my fellow Gunners. Jill, you had to watch Jeff go through a lot to get to that finish line, and I am sure he appreciates you being there for him. You also take such pride in the rest of us. Very much appreciated.
I can’t imagine what Mandy had to do to support John while working her butt off, being a mother for two littles (and a grown man!) and juggling all of that stuff while John joined in on the fun. Thank you for supporting him and us.
Without Carla we would not have had the wonderful hotel we stayed at, or the sandwiches you provided at the end of that training ride, or the awesome photos you have taken and shared on Facebook, and so much I can’t even remember it all. We Gunners could be total dopes, and you put up with it all. Thank you for being our planner/organizer/manager and everything else you do!
My family is always so supportive of me. Unfortunately they couldn’t join us on this trip. But knowing that you all watched the live feed online and cheering at home sure made me feel good.
Without the support of my wife Kari I could not even begin to do this crazy event. She is my rock, my tri coach in many ways, my supporter, my biggest fan, and awesome photographer. She never balked when I needed to do a long ride or long run. She pushed me when I dogged it with the swim training and held me accountable. She makes her way around the Ironman course like she’s doing the race too, just to grab that once-in-a-lifetime photo or give that much needed bit of enthusiastic support. She helps me schlep all my triathlon junk to the race, and helps me schlep the stinky stuff back home. In many ways, she helped me earn that medal. I’m blessed to have her by my side. I LOVE YOU!
If I missed anyone, thank you as well. My oversight is due to Ironman withdrawal! Forgive me.
And lastly, if anyone was inspired by my journey to become a two-time Ironman and take up something that pushed them out of their comfort zone, whether it be tackling a marathon, or going back to school, or beginning a walking program, or attempting anything that you find difficult – if my inspiration motivated you in any way, that is all the reward that I will ever need. Good luck to you on your journeys.
So, do I believe in miracles?
Actually, I just believe in myself. It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you want it.
Swim: Blue Seventy Reaction wetsuit; Speedo Vanquisher Prescription Goggles (-4.5)
Bike: Specialized Shiv Pro, SRAM Red components, 52/36 chainring with 11/28 Ten speed cassette, FLO Carbon Racing wheels (60’s), Conti Grand Prix 4000s II (700×23 front, 700×25 rear), two bottle cages and a Specialized Fuelselage, Salt Stick salt dispenser, Specialized Expert triathlon shoes
Run: Ironman visor, Fuel Belt, Asics GEL Excite 3, Louis Garneau Midride socks, Epix Go Fierce two piece custom trisuit, Garmin 910XT
Nutrition: I used the on-course provided offerings in training and on race day. Clif Shot gel (Razz), Clif bars, Base Salt, Salt Stick salt capsules, Gatorade powder in training, and Gatorade Endurance on course, bananas, pretzels, water, cola, ice, chicken broth.