Location: Lake Placid, New York
Weather: 70 – 80 Degrees Mix of Rain/Clouds/Sun
Distance: Ironman Distance (2.4 Mile Swim, 112 Mile Bike, 26.2 Run)
Finish Time: 11 Hours 14 Minutes 3 Seconds
Overall: 145 out of 2,092
Division: 13 out of 149
Swim: 1,719th Bike: 223rd Run: 50th
Three years ago, well before I did my first triathlon, I was talking to a colleague about doing a small one because he had done a few in the past. The topic of the Ironman race came up. At the time, when I learned about the race and what it entailed, I was stunned and I said, "there is no way I could do that." I had recently completed my first marathon, which was an enormous feat in and of itself that required a massive mental and physical effort. I wondered how it was possible for a human being to run a marathon after swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112 miles. But a few days later I started wondering to myself, "wait maybe I can do that."
I stand here today knowing that anything is possible if you really want something and give it your full commitment, effort, dedication and most importantly, heart and passion.
On Sunday, July 22, 2018, after 140.6 miles and a little more than 11 hours, I heard Mike Reilly say his famous four words:
YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!
The wait was a year in the making. Outside of earning my MBA, the journey was the hardest and most-rewarding thing I've done in my life. I signed up for IMLP the day after the last one in 2017. It sold out in 2 hours because its one of the most popular (and difficult) races in North America and 2018 would mark the 20th anniversary. I singed up for the Full Ironman before I had even completed my first Half Ironman on August 26, 2017 in Maine. It took a lot of courage just to sign up for the race, as well as a lot of money ($800 to be exact). There was no turning back now.
The road was long – 10 to 17 hour training weeks (over 450 hours).
The road was dangerous – the chance for injury or sickness could derail everything.
The road was daunting – no coach or team for guidance and support.
The road was rough – exhausting workouts, extreme pain and suffering.
The road was lonely – sacrificing social life and entertainment for training.
The road was narrow – managing time with work, military and two side businesses.
The road was worth it!
In the last few weeks leading up to the race, I couldn't concentrate on anything. I was paranoid that I was going to get sick or injured. I doubted my training and wondered if I did too little (should I have squeezed another 100 mile ride in?) or too much (is my body overtrained?). The anxiety and excitement were at epic proportions.
Finally Friday, July 20th arrived and I drove up to Lake Placid. Upon arriving I went straight to athlete check-in, where they measured my weight and I signed a lot of wavers, which basically cleared the Ironman organization from any issues related to my health or sanity. After that I received my timing chip and five bags for logistical purposes on race day. We received a green wristband, which we weren't allowed to remove until after the race. Everyone who was a first timer (400-500 athletes), received an orange wristband that said, "I Will Become One," which was a nice gesture and extremely motivating. It was also to let the spectators know who we were to give us added encouragement and support on race day. We also received a red Ironman Foundation bracelet to give to a volunteer who was extra helpful. After checking into my B&B, I organized my race equipment in each of the five bags, as well as my nutrition.
The planning alone for a race of this size and magnitude was exhausting. It took months of research to identify what I needed, gather the resources, decide my race strategy and plan execution. Questions related to nutrition, supplements, water, clothing, equipment, target heart rate/pace/power, etc. Most people who do Ironman races have coaches or are part of triathlon teams. It was scary and risky doing it alone, but given my fitness background and love of learning, I thought that I'd be okay.
Later that night, there was an opening ceremony with speeches and video from previous races at Lake Placid. It was very motivating and inspiring.
On Saturday, I did a quick 2.5 mile shakeout run and had a nice Belgian waffle breakfast at the B&B with loads of syrup. My plan for the day, like the day before, was to get 85% of my calories from carbohydrates. I ate a lot of pretzels, English muffins with honey, bananas, apple sauce and rice.
After checking in my bike, I spent the afternoon trying to relax, but it was difficult. I visited the famous arena where the 1980 Olympics “Miracle on Ice” was played and sat by Mirror Lake. For dinner, I ate canned chicken and white rice; simple and tasteless, but necessary in order to prevent any stomach problems.
I can never sleep before a race and this was the biggest one of my life. The pressure was enormous, especially since my family was there and I did not want to disappoint them. I thought if I went to bed early it would give me more time to sleep, so I attempted to sleep at 7pm, but I could not shut off my mind – consumed by so many thoughts – Did I train enough? Is my body well rested? Did I remember to pack everything? Do I have enough nutrition? Will the weather effect the race? Will I finish? Will I meet my goals? Etc. Etc. Etc. I finally fell asleep at 11pm and woke up at 12:18 am. That was it – all I got was 1 hour and 18 minutes of sleep.
At 3:45am, I ate my pre-race meal, which was four rice cakes with honey and peanut butter, a protein shake and a coconut water. I arrived at the Ironman village at 4:30 am and set up my bike. This involved inflating the tires, attaching my bike computer and fastening my nutrition, which was a 900 calorie concentrated drink mix. I planned to drink one on the first lap and another on the second lap. At 6:00 am, we headed down to Mirror Lake. The sky was gorgeous and the water was calm.
At 6:25 am, a canon blasted and the professional women were off. At 6:40 am, a second cannon went off and the AGs entered the water. It’s self-seeding so you start when you want, according to your expected finish time. I lined up in the 1:20 to 1:30 corral. The music was blasting and the crowd was rocking. I crossed the timing mat, hit start on my watch and just like that the long day was underway.
The first lap was rough, very rough. There was a lot of contact with other swimmers. Some of them were nasty, too. I actually had one guy grab my leg and pull it away. Halfway, water started seeping into my right goggle. It was impossible to fix while swimming, so I had to live with it. The other problem was that I kept drifting to the left and veering off course. This seems to happen in all of my races.
After the first lap, we were required to run on the beach for the second lap. I felt very exhausted at this point and couldn’t believe I had to do it all over again. The second lap was less crowded because swimmers were more evenly spaced out. I also did a better job staying in a straight line. Forty five minutes later I dragged myself out of the water with a huge sigh of relief. I finished the swim in 1:29, which put me in 1,628th place.
The wetsuit strippers were great and after a short run, I was inside the changing tent swapping my swim gear for my bike gear. It was chaotic in there – everyone running around like a chicken with its head cut off. Naked bodies everywhere. I decided not to change and left my tri-suit on for the entire race.
It started raining just as I jumped on my bike. If that wasn’t enough, the wind was picking up, too. This combination made for a very difficult and treacherous bike segment. First, it was extremely cold – so cold that my hands and toes were numb. I was slightly worried about hypothermia. Second, the pavement was slick – so it was scary going downhill and around turns. Third, the wind was making it very difficult to balance because of my deep carbon fiber wheels. This prevented me from going as fast as I wanted to.
Other than the weather conditions, the bike ride was beautiful. We rode through meadows, along rivers, gigantic boulders and alpine forests. There were also a lot of spectators. My goal was to keep my heart rate below 135 bpm. I stayed on the conservative side because pacing is critical in a race this long. The first lap went pretty fast and as I approached the Ironman village I was hoping that I’d see my family where I told them to stand near the Italy flag. Sure enough, as I rounded the bend, I heard and saw them loud and clear. Boy that gave me an instant burst of enthusiasm, energy and excitement – like a double shot of espresso. Just what I needed to begin lap two.
I knew what to expect on lap two, so it was easier to pace. Also, the weather started clearing up which was a huge relief. Just like the swim, the field spread out on lap two. I stopped twice for additional water during the route. You don’t actually stop and get off your bike – you keep riding and the volunteers hand it off. Speaking of volunteers, they were absolutely incredible from race check-in to post-race. I wish that I could personally thank each and every one of them. Believe it or not, there were more volunteers than athletes, about 3,000 in total.
I felt good up until mile 100 on the bike. Unfortunately, most of the elevation gain came towards the end of each lap. In total, we had to climb over 6,000 feet. Fortunately, I did a lot of training rides up 9W to Bear Mountain leading up the race and I think this helped a lot. At this point, in addition to my legs being fatigued, my shoulders and neck were extremely sore from being in the aero position. Doubts started creeping into my mind about the run as I completed the last several miles. I thought to myself, do I really have enough gas in the tank to run a marathon? Or did I go too fast and hard on the bike?
It felt really good when I finally arrived in the transition area and handed off my bike. First, because I was mentally and physically exhausted from pedaling for six hours. Second, I had to pee really, really bad – I had to go for most of the second lap, but kept holding it in because I didn’t want to waste time getting off and waiting to use the bathroom. I also didn’t want to pee on myself (yes people actually do this). I finished the bike segment in 384th place, which means that I passed over 1,200 athletes on the six hour ride! If only I were a better swimmer and didn't always put myself in such a deep hole.
After handing off my bike to a gracious volunteer, I grabbed my run gear and swapped out of my bike gear in the changing tent. This time it was much less crowded and chaotic. I found a seat and put on my purple Nike Flyknit Racers – these are the same shoes that I wore in the 2016 NYC Marathon, 2017 Philly Marathon, 2017 Bronx 10 Mile and 2018 NYC Half Marathon – I only wear them in races and they’ve never failed me. Once I slipped them on it was a huge confidence boost.
Shockingly, my legs felt pretty good after the first few strides. As I rounded the initial turn onto the run course, my fans (family) were standing there screaming my name. I had no idea where they’d be standing or when I’d see them again after the bike segment, so it was the best surprise ever. It made me so happy and it was another huge confidence and energy boost. I am still in disbelieve how they were able to move around so fast and catch me at so many different times during the race.
The run course was a 26.2 mile party – the atmosphere was electric, between the music and spectators. Many people wore costumes and set up funny signs along the route. The aid stations were stocked with drinks, food and most importantly, caring volunteers. Just like the bike course, we traveled through beautiful and varied terrain.
The crowd support was unbelievable. I had hundreds of strangers yelling my name, motivating me to push through and keep running strong. As one of the fastest runners, I received a lot of compliments, too, both from spectators and fellow athletes when I passed them.
I was feeling really good and running well above goal pace of 8:00/mile. Caffeine really helped keep up my energy levels. I had a 150mg shot and two 75mg gel packets. It was extra effective because I went on a caffeine detox for three weeks before the race to get my tolerance levels down.
Unfortunately, everything started falling apart shortly after mile 18. First, I ran out of fuel and began hitting the wall. I miscalculated how much nutrition that I needed and should have carried more gel packets. Second, the tolls of the day were finally hitting me hard. My knees and hips started to hurt with each pound of the pavement. You can see it in my facial expression below. No more smiling and waving. Haha
Each mile felt like an eternity. Many people were walking at this point in the race. The worst part was that the back half of the course was loaded with hills. You can see how my pace slowed after mile 18, along with the corresponding elevation gain in the last several miles.
The aide stations were very helpful. The volunteers had so much energy and enthusiasm and it rubbed off on all of the athletes. I had a banana and a small cliff bar, which helped fulfill my nutrition deficit. I also started sucking on ice cubes and putting them down my shirt and on my head, which helped keep me cool as the temperature and humidity rose.
Finally, I reached the main center of town and I knew that it was only one mile to the finish. One last fly by my support team and the thousands of spectators lining the last mile of the course was all the momentum that I needed. My legs were wobbly and my eyes were blurry - not from exhaustion, but from realizing that I was moments away from reaching the red carpet, passing the olympic torch and rounding the bend onto the olympic skating oval to fulfill one of the biggest goals of my life.