Ironman Lake Placid thoughts [post 1 of 2]: tips and tricks for a first timer

Hello hello!  Did you know that I trained for and raced an Ironman?  I'm not sure if I mentioned it here on the blog.  Ha ha ha.

So, 140.6 miles deserves the 140.6 mile equivalent of posts.  Obviously the training that led up to the big race consumed me and consumed the blog.  Even though the race is over (sad face), I still think about it all of the time.  I want to share my thoughts over the course of two posts: this one (which is more practical) and another next week (which will be a lot more emotional and perhaps esoteric).

Up today? Tips!  Who doesn't like tips?  Consider me your personal first timer Ironman therapist and guru because I am about to lay down a whole host of tips on you.  Obligatory disclaimer: these tips are what worked for me.  We are all different and awesome, and what works for me may not work for you.

Race Day

1.  What to Wear

WEAR WHAT YOU HAVE TRAINED IN.  All caps.  Seriously all caps.  At Ironman Lake Placid, I wore my tried and true SOAS polka dot tri top and Coeur Little Black Tri shorts.


I wore these pieces all through training: in swims, bikes and runs.  I knew that they were comfortable and wouldn't bother me.  Just a few weeks before the race, I bought a bunch of new SOAS kits and while they were super cute and comfy, I didn't want to risk the unknown on race day -- not with 140.6 miles of racing ahead of me.  Stick to what you know. 

2.  What to Eat

First - practice nutrition well before race day.  I've heard nutrition is the fourth leg of a triathlon, and I guess that is true.  It is so important to nail down what you need to eat on the course and before the race.  Race day is not a time to experiment. 



Here's what I ate:

Night before: tried and true pasta dinner, bread, glass of red wine (so I could relax and sleep)

Morning of:  oatmeal with milk & chocolate chips, egg wrap with american cheese, diluted gatorade, coffee.

Hour before swim: Uncrustable (grape jelly).  Uncrustables are amazing.  You know ... those frozen PB&J sandwiches?  I hadn't considered them until a friend at camp told me about them.  Wow. Invest in the Costco-sized carton.  You will blow through these suckers like candy.


T1: Lara Bar (banana bread flavor)

Bike loop 1: Bonk Breaker (coconut cashew), Lara Bar (coconut cream pie), Uncrustable (grape jelly), bottle of Hammer Perpetuem (strawberry vanilla flavor), bottle of Skratch labs (orange flavor), 1 Gu.

Bike special needs (between loops 1 & 2): ham and cheese wrap

Bike loop 2: see bike loop 2.  Instead of the Skratch labs, I used the Perform drinks (like Gatorade) that the course had. I diluted these with water.  

T2: Candy cane flavored Gu (yum)

Run: I tried a Gu but quickly realized this wasn't gonna work.  Instead, I stuck to bananas and fresh orange smiles that the course offered. To drink, I did water, diluted Perform and sips of Coke along the course (if you didn't know, IM offers aid stations every mile and they are stocked with amazing stuff: fruit (orange, grapes, bananas), cookies, pretzels, Gu, Perform, water, ice, Coke, chicken broth ... you name it, it's there.  

3.  What to Expect

Expect the unexpected.  Easy enough in concept, but difficult in practice, especially for someone like me: an admitted Type A Perfectionist who likes everything to go according to plan.  One thing I did (and I heartily recommend anyone interested in Ironman do) was to voraciously read race recaps of other people who did Ironman.  I focused more heavily on Lake Placid, but I loved all of it and read anything I could.  I reached out to a handful of authors and am glad I did! This is how I met Maria and Bri Tri.  And in all of the race recaps that I read, one common theme was throughout: everyone had completely unexpected things happen during their races.  From tummy issues to weather to mechanical issues to injuries ... anything could, and did, happen. 

So, I braced myself for the possibility for the S hitting the F.  And, of course, it did.  Lightning.  Pouring Rain.  Power meter failure.  Tummy issues.  Any one of these things could ruin a race, but I was determined to roll with it and deal and move on.  


If you are racing an Ironman, plan for the unexpected.  Obviously, you have no idea what that is.  But trust yourself, your training and your wits to deal with it when it hits.  A minor (or major) snafu could ruin your race. It's up to you to not let it.  

4.  How to Be

One thing you need to decide before your race is what your role will be: will you be a competitor or a participant?  There is a huge difference.  I hadn't really thought of that difference until right after we spent Spring Break in Lake Placid.  I came away from that 85 mile bike ride completely humbled and a little demoralized.  I remember chatting with Maria, who is a veteran and podium finisher Ironman, about it.  She was the one who said I should be a participant vs. a competitor.  That moment was a turning point.  Sure, I would do my best and strive to finish in the best time possible.  But when I allowed myself to not compete and to take myself out of that pressure, I immediately felt better and more excited, and less anxious, about the race.  For me, letting myself just enjoy my first Ironman experience as a participant was a life-changing decision that ultimately played out perfectly on race day.  

I read something in the days leading up to the race that also resonated with me: no one cares about your Ironman time but you.  Truth!  That also took the pressure off.  I realized that with the exception of a handful of people, most people in my life did not grasp the significance of the difference between a 10 hour finish or a 16:55 finish: an Ironman is an Ironman is an Ironman.  So rather than fighting for an arbitrary number on race day, I simply sought to do my best and, more importantly, to soak up every moment of the day.  I succeeded.  I danced over the finish line.  My friend Maya told me that she and her son were watching and when I crossed the finish line her son said, "Mom, she won!".  Boy, was he right.  I felt like I won that race.  Because I did!  


Training

When I told someone that I was training for an Ironman, the rhythm of the conversation usually went something like this:

Them:  IRONMAN?  
Me:  Yes.
Them:  Have you done one before?
Me:  No.
Them:  Wow. That's impressive.
Me:  Yes.  It is also crazy. I admit it is crazy.
Them:  So tell me the distances again.  And what's the order?
Me: Swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, run 26.2 miles
Them:  Wow.  That is a lot for your body to handle all in one day!  
Me.  Yes, it is.  

It's absolutely true: it is a lot for my body to handle all in one day.  But honestly, the training was a lot for my body and mind to handle every day.  Sure, my daily training wasn't as rigorous as the race itself, but day after day, week after week, workout after workout, it's just a lot on the body and the mind.  Here are a few ways that I managed to stay sane during training.  

1.  Hire a Coach

I knew early on that for an Iron distance, I would have to hire a coach.  Amy, Bill and I agreed we would interview coaches together and hopefully end up with the same person.  We all really liked our coach, Jason Kilderry of ETA Coach.  Each week, Jason uploaded workouts for us, analyzed the prior week's data and provided feedback.  Jason's whole goal was to get us to the start injury-free and in great shape both mentally and physically for the race.  I followed the race plan to a tee and it absolutely worked.  Hire a coach and you, too, can look this amazing in the water.


I knew that unless I took a year off of work and trained around the clock, I would worry that I didn't do enough.  So, hiring a coach and putting my trust in someone else was a big step in getting myself prepared for the race mentally.  That worked as well.  I stood at the swim start before Ironman Lake Placid and was excited.  A little nervous, yes.  But I knew in my gut, in my head and in my heart that I could not have been more prepared to race.



2. Surround Yourself With People Who Care, Who Get It, or Who Are Awesome.

Your first Ironman is one giant mind screw:  you are constantly wondering why, whether, how, when, if all of this is possible.  And because you've never done this distance, or even come close to it, you have no real reason, other than blind faith in yourself, to believe that it can be done.  I think faith in myself was important, but surrounding myself with people who believed in me (even if they thought I was insane) was key.  There will be workouts, days, even weeks where you feel that you're struggling or you're tired or even demoralized.  It's during those times that you need your friends to build you up and remind you that you can do it.

I was lucky.  I had Amy and Bill.  We were a built-in support network for one another.  We were also a built-in accountability network for one another.  It was great amazing.


I also had incredible friends who checked in daily during training.  Some showed up at the race ...


Some sent champagne and had it delivered to the house in Lake Placid the day before the race ...


One had flowers delivered after the race ...


And many blew up my phone with wonderful texts, emails and Facebook posts & messages.

They all believed in me and let me know it.  On those dark days when I didn't have full faith in myself, knowing that the great people in my life who I loved did made me pick myself up and keep on keeping on.

3.  You'll Eat and Sleep a Ton

So anyone who knows me knows that I eat a lot.  I love food.  I mean ... I *love* food.  So when I started Ironman training, it was all great.  And then in the Spring when we moved up to 80-100 mile bike rides on weekends and 15+ mile long runs and really long swims, my appetite became truly epic.  I started eating second breakfast every day (funded solely by my boss/friend who bring it in each day -- we calculated that he spent about $1,200 on second breakfast alone in the past year of training. wow).  Lunches and dinners would be huge.  You are in this perpetual and amazing cycle of preparing for and/or recovering from a big workout every.single.day.  My friends: gather ye rosebuds whilst ye may.  Enjoy.  Eat up.  Feed your inner Ironman.


You will also sleep a ton.  I have always been an early riser, so waking up at 5 am for daily workouts was not a big deal.  But ... with the increased workload, I found myself bone-crushingly exhausted each night.  I would be out - over and out - by about 9:30 every night.  Awesome.  Unless beer was involved, especially at the World of Beer in Houston, in which case I would happily rally.


4.  Be Organized

I admit that I am overly organized.  I love to organize.  Back in the Winter at the gym, where you could find me many mornings each week, I was putting on my makeup after a swim and struck up a conversation with the woman next to me (who, thankfully, was clothed.  There are several women in my gyms who like to walk around for an extended period of time in varying degrees of undress. It is often inappropriate and jarring.  I digress).  She noticed all of my little bags in my big gym bag and was impressed by my "organization."  I laughed a little because yes, I love to organize.  But I realized as we talked that what she perceived as just neat organization was actually vitally important to me to preserve my sanity.  Throughout Ironman training (and even now), I tried to do my workouts in the mornings, and if I am swimming or dropping the kids off at school, I will go right to the gym and then shower and get ready for work there.  I found early on that the frequent process of packing a shower bag and a makeup bag was tedious and annoying.  So, now I keep fully stocked toiletries and make-up bags in my gym bag so that I never have to worry about packing them. Semper paratus.




I also keep an emergency bag of workout gear in my car.  It's got an extra pair of sneakers, socks, shorts, capris, sports bra, workout top, bathing suit, towel, swim cap and goggles.  You never know when you'll need it. 

5.  You'll Spend A Lot

Prepare for the money suck of Ironman.  As if $700 (at a minimum!) in registration fee alone wasn't enough, you will spend a boatload in your quest to become an Ironman: coaches, races, gear, gym memberships, food, travel, camp ... we're not in four figures anymore, Toto.


6.  GET A BIKE FIT

Sorry to shout and again ALL CAPS you, but wow.  You'll spend hours and 112 miles on race day on the bike.  You'll spend countless more hours and miles on the bike in training.  Get your butt to a really good bike shop and invest time and money on a proper fit.  It should take hours.  It will be worth it.  I will remind you that on race day, I wore no gloves and no chamois cream and I was perfectly comfortable.  I credit a really killer bike fit with that.


7.  Triage.  Triage Everything

I looked at my year of Ironman training as triage in many ways: do what it takes to survive.  Whatever that is.  In my case, I bought extras of everything and enough workout clothes and bathing suits for a week without laundry.

Ironman training means doubling laundry.  Seriously. You'll be working out at least once a day and sometimes twice.  So that is a lot of dirty, smelly clothes.  I have three one-piece bathing suits and a couple of competition two-piece suits (for use in summer in the outdoor pool).  I have enough sports bras, running tights and shorts, running shirts and tanks of all kinds and bike & tri shorts to get me through a week of workouts without having to do laundry.  This takes the pressure off tremendously.  



I also keep extra swim caps and goggles in my swim bag and bring them with me to the Y every time.  I've never had goggles break on me (but Bill has) but I have had my swim cap break.  My extra pair of goggles are just older ones that I didn't toss and the extra caps are from races.  

8.  Write it All Down

Your training journey to Ironman will be the fastest time of your life.  There will be times when the days feel long, but I promise you, in a flash (of lightning in my case) you'll be racing your Ironman and will not believe that the day has come.  I am so glad I kept a log of my training here on the blog.  It's been so fun to look back at the snow, the ice, the heat, the rain, the complaining, the tears, the injury, the fears, the grumpy cat, the everything and experience those moments again.  If you don't have a blog, send yourself weekly emails of your training.  You will be glad you did.  Relish the journey.  While the destination of race day is sweeter than anything you can imagine, the journey is incredible as well.




9.  Visualize Race Day

One thing I consistently did in training was to visualize race day and especially the finish line.  Part of me worried a little that I was jinxing myself by thinking so much about that moment.  But most of me needed that goal - that image and that vision to keep in my head.  It helped that I had Whitney Houston's "One Moment in Time" on my playlist so when I was running I could play it and cry and imagine myself running into the Olympic Oval and having my own one moment in time.  I know ... I just admitted to the internet that I love, and played, that song.  Come on. You know you love it too.



I know when I started to round the corner to the Oval, I thought back to those many, many training days when I would dream about the moment in which I was actually living. It was better than I could have imagined -- truly beyond my greatest hope and dreams.  What was once a dream and a goal became a reality and instead of looking forward, I truly just basked in the present, soaked up the moment and relished in it.  It was incredible.



So there you go - my best advice for a first time Ironman.  I firmly believe that anyone can do it.  Anyone.  You have to want it, and you have to work -- hard -- for it.  But if you have the dream and the drive, you can do it and the experience, both in training and on race day, will exceed your wildest imagination.  I will absolutely do another Ironman, but not for a few years (my support network and kids need a few years to recover more than I do, I think).  My goals in the meantime include qualifying for the Boston Marathon, doing a bunch of fun Half Ironman tris in gorgeous locations, and encouraging my friends to reach their goals.  This past year of training has taught me that anything is possible.  In a world that is often filled with negativity and pessimism, that perspective alone has been a wonderful, positive and permanent change in my life. 

See you swoon,







5 comments:

  1. I love you
    I am inspired by you
    I will give you a case of Shiner if you promise to never ever ever post that photo of me again - so long as we both shall live.

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  2. I hope you post this one of Facebook so it can get spread around because it is a wonderful description of your past year and it is almost as inspirational as you are. And Abe IS right, you did win. I love that I am lucky enough to have followed along as you did this.

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  3. Immediately forwarded this to another friend who just signed up for her first IMLP in 2015!

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