Ironman Lake Placid: The Swim
It seems like it has been forever since I have written a truly personal post on my blog! As I look back, it has been a long time…almost a year! In fact, the last post I wrote was about having to drop out of Ironman Lake Placed in 2017 due to injury and personal reasons. My family and I ended up volunteering at the 2017 event, which you can read about <HERE>. After volunteering, I was given a link for early entry to this year’s race. I was very reluctant to sign up as I was unsure of what the year in front of me would look like. I was going through some very hard times in my personal life, but I decided to go ahead and register with the worst case scenario being that I was out $700 (again).
By mid winter, I began to seriously regret the decision to sign up for the race. I had very little desire to train and I struggled every week to get the workouts done. Often times, I missed more than one or two training days in a week. Early on, I did not feel bad about this, but as the snow began to melt and my motivation stayed low I began to worry. When I trained for Ironman Mont Tremblant, I think I missed 2 workouts the entire training cycle up until I was in the horrendous bike accident. During this training cycle, I was happy when I had 2 solid weeks of not missing workouts!
However, the one thing I had on my training plan that was staring at me was Ironman Chattanooga 70.3 at the end of May. I had signed up for the race the previous Fall and I was going to do it with my friend and coach. It was a “girl’s weekend” where just the two of us were going. I had already bought my plane ticket and paid for the hotel, so I did not want to back out or let my friend down. Having this race in front of me was what kept me training, even if it was half-heartedly. I ended up having a blast doing the race, even though it was like 110 degrees out and I thought I was going to die on the run course! Finishing this event reignited my love for triathlons and it was just the push I needed to get through the next 2 months of hard training for Lake Placid.
As I mentioned above, my training was rather lackluster until the final 2 months. The thing I neglected the most in training was swimming. I have done a fair amount of open water swimming and I am very comfortable with it. I felt like no matter what, I could make it through the swim in a reasonable time. This being said, I was by no means cavalier with this thought, I made sure I got in open water with a group several times before the event. I also swam the 2.4 miles a few times during training to make sure I was comfortable with the distance.
I woke up at 4:30 am on race morning and had a cup of coffee as I mentally went through the day ahead of me. I headed to transition around 5:15 to pump up my tires and put my nutrition on my bike. Despite all my lists and prep, I managed to have left my fluids in the hotel room! Fortunately, we were just a block away and my husband brought them right over to me. As I waited for him, nervousness and self-doubt started to creep in and I did some deep breathing to keep calm.
After I checked, double-checked, and triple-checked my bike (140.6 miles and 9 months of training brings out the OCD in just about everyone), I headed to the swim start. There was a mob of people waiting there and all I could see was a sea of swim caps ( way more greens than pink…). Amongst the caps were signs raised high with estimated swim finish times. I spotted mine (1:21-1:30) way ahead the crowd and tried to get to it, but there was a bottle neck of people jammed trying to get onto the beach. I tried to remain calm as the pro swimmers took off in the water. I was hoping that once they started there would be a little movement and I could make it to my spot. Unfortunately, by the time I got there, the swimmers had rolled in and now I was in the 1:31-1:40 group. Ok, no big deal I thought to myself, I’ve got a few extra seconds to take some deep breaths before hitting the water. Just as I was about to get in, an official stopped me as the pro women were just finishing their first loop. I saw Heather Jackson get out of the water first and sprint back in for her second loop!
After this, I made sure my goggles were tight and I entered the water, pressing the start button on my watch as I crossed over the timing mat. I had decided to swim on the outside to avoid getting caught in the mass of arms grabbing and feet kicking in the water. Quickly, I realized that this was not a great plan as I was getting hit and grabbed repeatedly. I swam in toward the buoy line, keeping calm and I started to focus on counting the buoys on the way out. I knew there were 8 before I would hit the big red turn buoy. I continued to get kicked, swam over, and my ankles were tugged on. I was weaving in and out of people just trying to find “my spot”. There were a few times that I actually just stopped swimming and laid with arms and legs straight out in the water and let the mass of people pull me through the lake. At one point, I glimpsed at my watch and saw my pace was 2:00 minutes/100 yards. I was totally fine with that and relieved that it wasn’t slower.
As I got through the turn buoys, the crowd seemed to finally spread out a bit. This is when I noticed that my timing chip felt like it was bobbing up and down, so I reached back and felt it. It seemed secure. I typically put it under my wetsuit to protect it, but it must have come out a bit. Just as I was finishing the first loop, I got kicked in the right eye by someone doing a serious breast stroke. It was so hard that my goggles loosened and I had to stop to reseal them. When I restarted my swim, I got a horrendous cramp in my right calf. I tried to shake it out, then pointed and flexed my foot to see if I could get it to go away. I have had this happen in the pool several times, but never in open water. I was trying to keep cool as when I get these cramps, I often times have to stop for 5-10 minutes until they go away. Then I remembered a story my coach had told me about someone getting a calf cramp on their bike and the person pinched their arm to redistribute the nerve impulse (or something like that…I’m a nurse, but not entirely sure how this works). Anyway, I could not pinch myself because my arms and hands were the only thing keeping me moving. So, I decided to bite the inside of my cheek (yes…we triathletes are a crazy, determined breed…). Voila!!! It worked! The cramp went away and I was now on my way to the second loop of the swim.
I hopped out of the water, cleared my goggles again and entered the water quickly. Much to my chagrin, I was caught up again in a mass of people. I became frustrated as this was shaping up to be the worst open water swim I had ever experienced. I kept trying to find a space in the water to just swim, but struggled. Someone grabbed my ankle and I felt my timing chip loosen again. I stopped checked it, yelled “What the F*@! is going on ( to myself)?” and continued onward. Finally, I made it to the buoy line and I swam directly on top of it for the remainder of the swim. I actually wrapped my arm around one of the small crew buoys twice on the way back into the beach because of how close I was to the line.
Finally, I made it out of the water and looked at my watch… 1 hour 34 minutes, I was a little confused because I thought my pace was faster. I took a quick second look at my watch and realized I had swam 4,629 yards. Oh well, there was nothing I could do about it, I was just relieved the swim was over. Off to the wetsuit strippers!
I saw 2 of the amazing volunteers waving their arms for me and I pulled my wetsuit down to my waist. Then, I laid down on the mat and they swiftly yanked it off. I was back up and running toward T1. I realized my back was completely covered with sand and made a mental note to make sure to wipe it off before putting on my aero shirt. I saw my family as I was running on the red carpet to transition! They were cheering me on loudly and it was just the boost I needed. I yelled to my husband that the swim was brutal, then smiled and said “Off for the real fun now!”
Next Up: The Bike!