Lake Placid is a small village in the Adirondack Mountains with a population of around 2,700 people. The area is absolutely beautiful with plenty of rivers, lakes, mountains, forests and anything an outdoors person could ask for. It was the site of the 1932 as well as the 1980 winter Olympics and has played host to Ironman for the past 12 years. It is famous for being one of the most challenging Ironman venues as both the bike and run course offer some significant climbing. The weather can be pretty unpredictable up in the mountains adding to the difficulty of the course, and a mass start swim of approximately 3,000 athletes is no walk through the park either!
For me, it was my third Ironman and a great opportunity to test how far I have come as an athlete. Lake Placid is known to attract some of the stiffest competition that the world of triathlon has to offer. Having previously participated in Ironman Brazil in 2008, and Triathlon Korea Jeju, formerly Ironman Korea, in 2009, I was very confident as an athlete coming into this race. I went to train with my coach Richard Pady, of Healthy Results Training, up in the Hockley Valley area which offers some of the most scenic, hilly, and challenging roads in Ontario. I put in several long rides which summed up to over 6,000 ft of climbing to ensure that the 4,500 ft of climbing in Placid would not destroy my legs too early. I was also able to get in some training rides with Tara Norton, Sean Bechtel, David Sharratt, and Richard Pady, as well as participate in the Hockley Valley training camp in June hosted by Rich. I was ready for a big day in Placid.
Getting to Lake Placid was great. Taryn and I drove up in our trusted 1997, Saturn. Fully equipped with 4 blown speakers, an old tape deck, lots of rattling pieces, and back breaking seats. On the positive side, the car is awesome on gas, has AC, and gets us from A – B safely. So really I shouldn’t complain….much. Before hitting the highway we stopped at the SuperStore, the best grocery store ever, and picked up enough food to feed a small family for a week….we ate it all on the road during our 10 hour trip! It was the best road trip I have ever been on….we had homemade pork stirfry, organic pitas, swiss cheese, grapes, cherries, almonds, trail mix, fresh pasta with 100% natural sauce, bananas, homemade fruit smoothies, celery, carrots, the list goes on and on.
We made a quick stop in St. Catharines to pick up my mom who was coming as support crew for the first time. At the border when the customs officer asked us if we had anything to declare I of course said “no”. When asked if I was bringing any fruits or nuts over I responded “a few bananas and some almonds and things to keep us fed for the drive up to Lake Placid”. Our passports cleared the scanning process, and we were on our way! The next 7 hours consisted of driving, eating, playing some games to keep us busy, and more eating! We never once had to stop to eat junk food which was awesome.
Wilmington, NY, was the location of our hotel. It was very nice and the view out our window was that of Whiteface Mountain and HWY 86 which happens to be the start of the big ascent on the bike course. Everything was very nice and neat, I must admit though that I was a little taken aback by the price jacking that occurs from July 22nd – July 26th, where hotels that are normally $99/night skyrocket to $199/night….very coincidental with the 4 night minimum stay policy during Ironman weekend…hmm.
The owners were fantastic however and they even provided us with 4:30am breakfast on race day as well as athlete tracking for guests, and shouts of encouragement from the roadside throughout the day.
This year I tried going to bed at 9pm all week during race week. After just 2 or 3 nights I was fully accustomed to it and was getting in some very good and long sleeps. I would definitely recommend this to other athletes. Waking up at 4:15 am on race day was by no means tiring and I was well rested.
The expo was fun and my all female support crew some how managed to turn what is normally a bit of a nerve racking athlete registration process, into a fun day of arts and crafts. Signs were made for Janus Charity and I was able to read them during the run on river road as they were all posted. We went to the welcoming pasta dinner in the big tent and stayed off of our feet most of Saturday. As for training, I did very little during race week, mostly some very short activation workouts…swimming in Mirror Lake to familiarize myself with it, biking 1 lap of the run course, and finally driving 1 loop of the bike course.
4:15 am the day officially started. The girls were doing their morning preps for the long day ahead of standing, cheering, stats gathering, and helping me in any way possible. Muscling your way around the 15,000+ people in Lake Placid on race day is no easy task and they would finish pretty much as fatigued as I was by the end of it. I was busy going over my race day checklist I had previously prepared. This really helps make the start to your day a lot less stressful, and I can’t recommend this enough to all athletes. I helped my uncle prepare a detailed plan for his 6th iteration of Ironman Brazil and said it made a world of difference on race day. He was calm collected and confident in his organizations taken prior to the race.
Once we arrived downtown Lake Placid, one could truly appreciate just how small this village really was. The streets are absolutely flooded with cars parked in every nook and cranny available, people were everywhere in the thousands, and 3,000 athletes are busy trying to find their way to transition, body marking, and making sure everything is perfect for 7am. I was all set up and had everything in its place by 6:15. I grabbed my swim gear and headed over to Mirror Lake for a warm up. I never realized how crazy the swim could be until this day. I have been in many mass starts in the past, but never in one where 3,000 people all started at once treading water side by side.
The swim consists of 2 1900m loops in the super fast and calm waters of Mirror Lake. This was an experience I will not soon forget. I thought front row centre was the perfect place to start. BANG! at 7:00am the start cannon sounds and all hell breaks loose. People were grabbing onto ankles and pulling backwards, others would push down on your back, others would swim around in a state of panic mauling whoever gets in their way with fists of fury….it was simply nuts. I did my best to stay relaxed and swim at a moderately aggressive pace up to the first turn buoy before settling down into my normal rhythm. This at times proved to be difficult but once you found a comfortable spot you were happy to stay there. The 2nd lap was much much less chaotic as the different levels of ability spread out amongst the lake. I came in at 29 minutes + change for the first lap and just under 1 hour for the 2nd lap. First time breaking the 60 minute mark, great start! I made my way down the long shoot to T1.
Overall Rank: 175/3016
Division Rank: 17/134
Transition 1 went anything but smoothly. As I entered I heard my number “249” shouted out several times expecting the volunteers to have my bags ready as I entered the change tent. When I arrived to the tent no one could find my bike bag…not good. I literally stood there waiting as calmly as I could for 2 minutes before I started getting annoyed. After 3 minutes I started getting worried and started looking around the rows upon rows of bags for mine. It turned out that my stuff got shifted over to someone else’s number….how this happened remains a mystery. It wasn’t a massive deal but it was by no means the ideal way to start the bike ride. I got some sunscreen slapped on me and out I went.
The bike course consists of 2 90km loops. This year the course was slightly modified due to construction on Haselton road. We were redirected North to Ausable Forks as a detour. As I started the bike I felt great….I felt a bit of a tightness in my right iliopsoas, obviously there was nothing I could do about it at the time, so I kept on going and didn’t think much of it.
During the 10km descent down HWY 73 towards Keene, the roads were slick from a light shower and a bit of a side wind was blowing. I caught the dreaded “speed wobble” when I hit around 70km/h and was lucky to avoid being catapulted from my bike. I did a bit of a fish tail as I braked, had a minor heart attack, and then composed myself and kept going but definitely at a cautious pace down the rest of the long downhill. Some athletes went flying past me as if I was standing still tucked on the aero bars reaching speeds near 95km/h, clearly they have never experienced the death wobble. This is something I am going to need to address going forward in my training as it is quite a scary experience.
While I was approaching Ausable Forks, which I considered a positive since it was less hilly than the normal course would have been, “POW” my rear tire blew out and I almost crashed into the athlete next to me who I was overtaking. I pulled over on the side of the road and thought “MAN!!, what else could go wrong today???”…..that answer came approximately 1 hour later. I jumped back on my bike after having changed the flat in just under 5 minutes and was on my way. Again feeling a little stressed out by the turn of events but overall keeping my head very cool and sticking to the game plan.
By now I was no longer ahead of the masses and there were bodies everywhere. This leads to an interesting topic in my mind. These races aren’t draft legal but the only way to escape drafting on a course with 3,000 people all crammed together is to either be way out in front, or be way out behind..anything in between is brutal. I am not one to promote drafting and I dislike when people do it….but I honestly don’t see it being avoidable to SOME degree in these massive races. If Ironman doesn’t want to have draft legal races then maybe they should lower the entry counts….I was pretty surprised by it.
Anyways, things had settled down a bit and I was back sticking to my race plan. Take it nice and easy on the first lap and conserve for the 2nd. The famous “mama bear, baby bear, poppa bear” hills will take their toll on you if you overcook them. Not to mention the long steady climbs prior to those shorter steeper ones. Without going into too much detail, that tight iliopsoas muscles I mentioned before, was now angry with me. I stood up to stretch out my legs and “UGH” (not sure what sound to make here) my back didn’t just get tight…it was locked. I was now stuck in the aero position and breathing was painful. At first I kinda panicked and nearly pulled off the road. Then I decided that if I did that I might not be able to finish. So, I kept going hoping that my bacck pain would subside. I made my way up the hills and thankfully I started to feel a little more limber. I could not have planned for this….in fact this has never happened to me before, not during a single long ride. I was starting to think that the triathlon gods were against me on this day. To top off the first lap from hell when I got my bike special needs bag my spare inner tube which is there just in case I get a flat on the first lap, was missing from my bag. This was in large part due to the fact that my bag was handed to me upside down….LOL. All I could do was laugh and hope I didn’t get another flat.
My 2nd loop on the bike was much better and luck was back on my side…at least I thought so. I didn’t get another flat, didn’t get a speed wobble, and didn’t aggravate my back further and did nothing but pass tired athletes who overcooked themselves on the first lap. If anything it was starting to feel a little better. I held a solid pace and was able to negative split the bike course by 1 minute! First time I have ever negative split any looped bike course. My nutrition during the bike was 5 bottles of Infinit Nutrition, 2 bottles Gatorade Perform that was provided as the official drink, a few half bananas, and a clif bar followed by some water.
Overall Rank: 267/3016
Division Rank: 27/134
After finishing the bike ride I dismounted and handed off my bike to a volunteer. I attempted to stand up straight to run to the transition tent but my back had other things in mind. So I ran as best I could…I was the only athlete to run into the tent still in the aero position…maybe this will catch on one day!
Luckily Ironman is well prepared for stiff bodies coming into transition. Within seconds of sitting in a chair I was surrounded by volunteers and then an Active Release Therapist who spent a few minutes trying to loosen me up. I was very thankful and made sure he knew it…many of these guys are working like dogs out there all day long and deserved to be shown some appreciation. I shook his hand and thanked him again, then grabbed my red bull and salt pills and hit the road.
The run course consists of two 13 mile loops or two 21.1km loops for rest of the non-American world. I made it a personal goal this year to run my first mile well below my average pace. That may seem counter intuitive to some at first, but it is the most frequently repeated mistake for triathletes – Going out too hard to early on the run. The crowd is there, going berserk and you are so relieved to be off the bike that you start running like a mad man. This will always comes back to haunt you. Especially during Ironman which has hours to make you suffer and question your sanity during this stage of the race. The red bull in T2 is one of my new secret weapons, thanks Rich!!, and it really helps lift your spirit and level of alertness. Aid stations are spaced out approximately every 1 mile and are fully equipped with Gatorade, Coke, water and sponges, grapes, oranges, soups, cookies, pretzels, gels, bananas, and powerbars. I varied between water, gatorade, bananas, salt stick pills, and the occasional “treat” when I felt I could stomach it, such as a cookie, or a small bunch of grapes. These are things I don’t normally take but after so many hours they can really bring you back to life as a little bit of sugar tastes REALLY REALLY GOOD.
I am content to say that the run was pretty smooth and I was able to hold a solid pace. Shortly into my first lap I was in 27th place in my age group. By the end of the run I had worked my way back to 19th place. I was feeling strong and despite having to fight that little voice inside my head a couple of times, I never had to stop to walk. There were a few very close calls when I was running down the steep hills out of town…the extra weight of leaning slightly backwards would cause my lower back to spasm. I was a little worried that my back was going to seize and end my day, but that never happened. My g/f and mom were absolutely amazing support during the run and would jump up and down and scream like crazy every time I went by. I couldn’t believe how much energy I could draw just from seeing them there on the side of the road clapping and jumping around. Here is a short clip.
The 2nd lap of the run is where the day always gets nasty for many because by this point it doesn’t matter how crazy you are…you start questioning how much you really want to hold your current pace. Slowing down seems like such a very good and nice idea, you have to be really stubborn and remind yourself repeatedly why you are not going to slow down…at least not willingly.
Along the run course there are 2 pretty nasty climbs on the way into town and the rest isn’t too bad. I actually looked forward to the climbs as it was when I was passing the most amount of people. Pacing myself and conserving for the end of the day was really paying off. I had learned this lesson the hard way in previous races and now I can say from experience that it really does work. Oh yes, one thing that I thought was kinda of funny was these 2 girls that were somehow allowed to be on the run course with their bikes….I’m not sure exactly how or why, but they were out on their bikes wearing some pretty small bikinis with the letters G and O marked onto each glut. It was really funny to see how all the guys would all of a sudden speed up when being passed by these girls and then once they were out of range slow back down. I couldn’t help but chuckle when I saw this happen.
Overall Rank: 164/3016
Division Rank: 20/134
This was definitely my proudest accomplishment to date as far as triathlon goes. Despite all the setbacks that I faced throughout the day I always stayed positive, remembered my family, friends, training partners, coach, and everyone who has supported me along the journey. I weathered the lows and stayed composed during the highs, 10 hours 35 minutes later, I came around the oval towards the finish and heard Mike call out “You are an Ironman Christian”. My back was now officially done with moving but that was okay with me. For the next 48 hours I was as rigid as a plank but was always smiling from ear to ear.
Overall Rank: 182
Division Rank: 19
I did this race because I love the sport and because I love to train, challenge myself, and overcome obstacles. All of this happened on race day and though it was not my smoothest race to date, I did my best to control the things that I could. It was a personal best…in both time and experience.
Thank you very much to everyone who continues to send me words of encouragement and who stand by my side….a special thank you to my support crew for putting up with me before the race, supporting me during the race, and taking care of me after the race. I am a fortunate person to be surrounded by such wonderful people.
Inevitably I am always asked shortly after a big race “Whats next?” before even really giving my body time to recover at all. Well my answer right now is applie pie, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, and maybe a few beers.
Then I will be heading back to my homeland Argentina in November for a month, and making a stop at the inaugural IronPunta in Punta Del Este, Uruguay Dec 5th, 2010 to do my 4th Iron distance race, traveling with my uncle Jorge, my brother Alex, and my dad Ricardo.
Cheers and Happy Training!