It’s been a little over week since I officially became an Iron(wo)man in Lake Placid. I’ve spent this past week reliving each moment of the race, dreaming about what’s next, and riding the bittersweet highs and lows that the day I trained nearly a year for is behind me.
Before I start thinking too much about what’s next: it felt important to give Ironman Lake Placid the reflection it was due with a proper race report. Warning: this post is way longer than it should be. I totally got caught up in recounting every detail of the day. But, alas, here it is!
Leading up to the race…
The weeks leading up Lake Placid were… should we say… a little stressful. As some of you may recall, my bike was stolen about 6 weeks out from race day. I was able to get an awesome new bike (a hand-me-down frame from pro-triathlete Angela Naeth with brand new components… no big deal) with money from my insurance company, just in time for taper.
While I was thrilled to have a bike at all, getting it when I did didn’t leave
much time to get many long rides in on it. I spent the final weeks tweaking the bike fit so it could get me through 112 miles comfortably. Spoiler alert: the Scott Plasma ended up working out great! Big thanks to Fast Splits, Grey Ghost and Velofix Albany for building the bike, dialing in my fit and making a last minute repair (respectively) leading up to
There were a few things I did leading up to July 22nd that I think helped me avoid any major catastrophes on race day.
- I took taper seriously. As in I tapered hard…Harder than most probably. I did relatively little during race week — focused on getting to bed early and sleeping in late. I limited my alcohol consumption to no more than one drink a night. As my blog title indicates, I’m not going to cut it out all together (not even Ironman-Eve)… I love it and it relaxes me, okay?!
- I got my gut ready EARLY for the world of terror I was about to throw at it.That meant cutting out fiber basically altogether starting 4-5 days before, having my biggest meal at breakfast the day before the race and winding down from there. Big shout out to Field Work Nutrition Co for making a delicious, race-prep-friendly protein powder that got me through that week.
Finally my Mom (a certified Reiki Master), offered to give me Reiki before my race. I’m not sure what your beliefs are around this but, personally…I take all the help I can get! I have to say: it 100% helped me feel calm and ready in a noticeable difference sort of way.
The only things I might have done differently were pack up my special needs bags and prep my bike several days before the race. That was a stressful last minute to-do that I could have done without. Otherwise, pre-race things went well.
I got up at 3:45 race morning and immediately made myself my rehearsed, QT2 race day breakfast of a cut-up banana mixed with applesauce and Primo protein powder. I did not skip coffee because (much like beer) it’s something I love too much. My mom braided my hair (just like when I was a little kid) as I ran through in my mind once more everything I would need for the day. After using the bathroom at the house (i.e. not in the portapotties – YAY!!!) I grabbed my pre-packed morning bags and headed out.
Transition area was buzzing when my brother and I arrived around 5:15 am. It was an amazing amount of energy. If you haven’t been there, try to imagine 2,500+ athletes in the Olympic oval, hyped up on race day nerves as they begin one of the most physically grueling days of their lives. Pretty awesome. After putting our water bottles on our bikes and our wetsuits on, my brother and I headed together out of transition and over to the swim start.
We got to the Mirror Lake almost an hour before we were set to start and were lucky have a place to crash at the T3 tent before the race. Before we knew it, it was time to start lining up. At around 6:20, we started making our way down to the beach and were shocked by how many people were already packed in. I gave my brother a good luck hug as we parted ways and then spent several minutes shuffling to get to my right seeding area.
After warming up, I ran into my friend and teammate, Ben Cohen. It was awesome to have someone to talk with to settle my nerves in the final minutes before the gun. We both seeded ourselves around 1:15 and walked into the water together. As we crossed the timing chip mat, Ben looked at me and said, “This is it… Like we start our watches now!” And then shouted “Peace be the journey!” before diving in. I smiled at Ben’s fun spirit, took a deep breath and started my own watch. And the day began.
I’m not going to lie: The swim was nuts. Mirror Lake has this amazing underwater cable that you can use to stay on course… on any day but Ironman. Due to the congestion near the cable on race day, I ended up swimming 2-3 bodies away from the cable most of the first lap. Other than the pure chaos in the water, I felt pretty good. I didn’t freak out when the bodies of much larger men came clamoring over me in the water. I found 1-2 decent swimmers and tried staying on their feet as much as possible. When I started to feel a little panicked by the sheer amount of people around me, I just focused on one of my favorite swim mantras: Bubble, bubble, breathe. This worked pretty well and I was actually surprised at how quickly the first lap went by. I did start to get a little bit of calf cramp on the swim, which had me nervous. I focused on relaxing my feet and was able to keep it in check. I came out of the water on my first lap in 37 minutes and stayed pretty consistent on lap two – where I think I may have actually enjoyed myself (!!!) for a total swim time of 1:14:42. Swimming is my weakest of the disciplines and my goal time was 1:15 so I was happy with the time and to get the swim done with.
So… I’ve never used wetsuit strippers before. I’ve also never worn a two piece bathing suit for a race. I was very nervous about these two things combined. Thankfully, I was able to hold my bathing suit in place while my wetsuit was ripped off of me. The only downside was getting a bunch of sand all over my bum in the process… but strippers were totally great otherwise! Wetsuit in hand, I started slowing jogging the quarter mile to the transition area and got to pass my friends and family along the way. Given the fact that I was half naked and still a little dazed from my swim, I didn’t stop and talk to them but I think shouted something like “Yay! I didn’t drown!!”
After seeing the transition set up at Lake Placid (where you basically have to go into the changing tents) I decided it would be crazy not to change completely at transitions. The weather forecast for the day (rain) solidified that. I swam in a swimsuit bottom and my sports bra so I could change into my cycling kit (thicker chamois than my tri kit) for the bike. Because I had sand all over me, I took awhile in the changing tent. Enormous thank you to the nice volunteer who literally helped me get my bike shorts on and handed me everything I needed to set out on the bike. You rock!
Total time in transition: 00:09:16
I rolled out of transition with a huge smile on my face. I’d just had a pretty good swim so the hardest part of the day was over! (HA!). I rode very cautiously out of town as my coach and many others had warned me about going out way too hard initially. The bike loops starts with about a 10-12 mile climb out of town. By race day, I had done the climb several times so was was prepared for the elevation…
What I was not prepared for was the wind.
Oh, and the rain.
It may or may not have hailed at one point.
There was 10-15 mph steady winds with 30 mph gusts. I was riding at single digits speed for a good portion of those initial climbs in order to stay in the right power targets.
About 30 minutes into the ride, I decided it didn’t make sense to think about any type of time goal. I knew I’d kill myself on the bike trying to get close to the 6 hours split necessary to stay in the running for a 12 hour day. So I just let go of any time-related expectations and said to myself, “Just have fun out here, Kay. This is your day”.
And it worked. I totally did have so much fun out there! I talked to almost every person I passed or was passed by on the bike. I got to see a few of my iracelikeagirl teammates out there and feed off their energy.
The whole ride was pretty awesome but there was nothing like riding back into town. As I climbed Three Little Bears (the final climbs on the loop) and made my way back into the village, I literally got a little choked up. It’s hard to describe the emotional experience of these moments. My dad did Ironman Lake Placid in 2010 and I remember him passing us on the bike saying, “I’m having so much fun!” – and that’s exactly how I felt. I couldn’t stop smiling. I just felt so damn lucky to be experiencing the entire day. I rode along the spectator wall and gave my family and friends high fives before setting out on loop #2. I stopped at Special Needs to get my second bag of fuel and got to see another friend Ben who was volunteering. I told him the wind was tough out there but I was feeling pretty good. Some brief high fives and I was off on lap #2.
I was reallllllllly hoping the wind would die down on the second lap…. but it didn’t. Still my spirits stayed pretty high. There are a few flat, longer segments on the course where I was able to stay in aero for a bit and really test out the speed of my new Plasma. I have to say, men really don’t like getting passed by a girl in a pink kit. Unfortunately for them, there were a few of us out there that day. Booyahhh iracelikeagirl team!!
I focused A LOT on fueling on the bike as one of my biggest concerns for the day was bonking. I made sure to grab Gatorade Endurance at every aid station for my speed bottle. Every 15 minutes, I reached into what I called my “magic bag of snacks”, which had cut up Honey Stinger, Clif Bloks and Rx bars in bite-sized pieces that I could swallow without too much chewing. I also had an espresso flavored Gu every hour. The last 15-20 miles were where it got really rough. The Wilmington Notch with the addition of the Whiteface Mountain out-and-back is a little soul crushing. From the faces of the other riders, I know it wasn’t just me that went to a dark place on that part of the course.
The rain had finally stopped and the sun was making it’s way out, which really heated everything up. Elements aside, it’s also just a really tough point on the course, both mentally and physically. I honestly felt like I was riding backwards at one point. Worried that I might have under-fueled, instead of getting off my bike like I wanted to, I had an extra gel, stuffed some more food in my mouth and pressed forward to Three Little Bears where the energy from the spectators brought me home. Total bike time was 06:50:42 … about 35 minutes slower than I was hoping for but reasonable given the conditions.
So…I actually managed to go through the entire bike leg without ever getting off my bike. I rolled through the aid stations, peed on my bike (3 times, it wasn’t easy and I’m still a little grossed out by it). I share this to emphasize that finally dismounting at T2 was a moment I’d been really looking forward to. But my first few steps off the bike looked like a cowboy that rode cross-country on horseback (at least I’m assuming that’s what it looks like) and thought to myself “Oh shit – there’s no way I can run a marathon.” My calf cramp was also still nagging me, which made me really nervous about starting the run. I sat down in the women’s changing tent for a minute as I started pulling off my soaking wet clothes and said to the volunteer “I’m not sure I can do this”.
She looked at me and replied, “you don’t have to”.
Shocked, I stared at her for a minute until the Volunteer Captain came over and said, “What was that? Yes, you sure do have to do this. You’ve come all this way to call yourself an Ironman – you can’t stop now! Now what do you need? Got your fresh socks? Need water? Red Bull?” Ah yes, ma’am. All of the above please and thank you!
Clean, dry clothes and a littttttle bit of Red Bull turned out to be just what I needed to get going. I thanked the volunteers and trotted out of transition, down the hill through town where spectators lined the streets. I saw my family and ran over to give hugs and a quick kiss to my husband. I shouted to my mom– “Send Reiki to my right calf please!” She replied, “You got it!”
Despite all of the energy leaving town, the first few miles of the run were super tough. My legs felt like complete garbage. I had a mild stitch in my side, my calf felt closer to seizing up in a cramp with every step. I took some time at the first few aid stations to drink extra Gatorade, take in extra salt, and stretch a bit. Around mile 4-5, I caught my friend, training buddy and teammate, Colleen. We caught up a bit on the day, I told her I was starting to really struggle. We decided to just take it one mile at a time. My plan for the beginning was the walk every aid station and so was Colleen’s. The hardest part about walking the aid stations is getting started running again so we were able to keep each other honest with that.
Around mile 10, I started having cola in addition to Gatorade. Like some magic elixir, that seemed to make things start feeling better. Every single aid station I had the same routine: ice down my shorts and sports bra, water over my head, Gatorade and/or Coke in my mouth and a little bit of water to wash it all down. Together with Colleen, we climbed our way back up into town to finish the first lap. That’s when I started to get a second wind. For one, the crowds LOVED our kits and that we were running together. Spectators commented, “That’s it, girls! Work together! Looking strong!” I thought about picking it up a bit towards the end of the first lap but knew there was a long race ahead
of me still. Colleen and I stayed together until about mile 17, which was pretty amazing.
After I made the turn around on River Road to head back to town for the final time… I knew I could really do it. Passing through 20 miles, I thought to myself just a 10K left and found myself smiling again. My calf wasn’t bothering me at all (it’s the reiki… I’m telling you!) and I felt stronger than I did on the first 10K.
As I came into town one final time I couldn’t believe how close I was to finishing. I didn’t allow myself to get choked up on Mirror Lake Drive (but came pretty close on that last mile) As I entered the Oval, I slowed down a bit to fully take it all in. My eyes filled with tears so much that I couldn’t even see my husband shouting for me as I rounded the turn towards the finish line.
And then, I heard it. The words I’d imagined in so many of my toughest workouts over the past year. Mike Reilly’s voice over the microphone:
“Kalyn Weber from Roslindale, Massachusetts… A first timer! Kalyn Weber, YOU are an Ironman!”
My final finishing time for Ironman Lake Placid was 12:33:27. I placed 6th in my age group and was the 82nd woman to cross the finish line. Going into the race, I so badly wanted to finish sub 12 hours…but the best decision I made out there was to let go of that time goal and try to just enjoy every minute of the race. Completing those 140.6 miles after nearly a year of training is one of my proudest life accomplishments. It’s made me feel like I’m up for any challenge this world wants to throw at me. At the risk of sounding like I really drank the Kool-Aid, Ironman might actually be life changing.
The most enormous, heart-felt thank you to everyone – my husband, family, friends, coaches, teammates, volunteers, spectators and race organizers, that helped make Ironman Lake Placid what it was. I’m excited for what’s next!