Training was going great with Andy Ruiz coaching. I took my 5k PR from 21:00 to 20:11, my 10k from 48:36 to 42:17, my mile from 6:04 to 5:28, and AG podiumed every race I entered (except the workforce challenge). Then of course, I had to go and hurt myself. On a long ride with Marcus and Shylah my left knee started to hurt a lot. I ended up just drafting off Shylah for about 10 miles and struggling the last 5 solo to get back home. This knee pain was familiar unfortunately, it happened to me at the peak of training for the 2013 Ironman and struck hard during the race, causing me to bike the second loop in agonizing pain. Not able to bear the thought of doing another Ironman in excruciating pain I set up an appointment with Nick Gough at Patriot Multisport to analyze my bike fit and get a new saddle. He put me on his Retul system and we could see my knees moved outward at the top of the pedal stroke. With some tweaks, I ended up in a more forward position on a Adamo PN1.1 saddle and hoped for the best.
I took the rest of the week off and tried to do a training ride the next weekend with some HRRT folks up on the placid course. I made it 49 miles before I had to quit and waited on the side of the road for my friend to finish the loop and come get me. Now intensely scared that I was about to explode during the actual race I consulted with Coach Andy who recommended that I immediately get an appointment with Dr. Shatynski at Capital Region Orthopaedics. At the appointment I was quickly diagnosed with Quadriceps Tendonitis caused by the outward motion of my knees at the top of my pedal stroke, which in turn was caused by tight IT bands. Under Andy’s direction I got an urgent Physical Therapy appointment with Matt Purdy who nearly brought me to tears by digging his elbows into my legs and then recommended stretches, foam rolling, and lacrosse ball rolling. I literally set timers in my phone and did the stretches like clockwork while I was in the lab at work. Slowly the foam rolling transitioned from stabbing pain to tolerable as my IT bands loosened up and the pain went from a showstopper to something that could be dealt with but still presented the possibility of detonation. The fear of it going out during the race was still very much present though. I hadn’t actually thought too much about my goals other than beating my previous time of 13:15 and beating Mitch. I would have loved a 12:30 and my dream finish would be one hour better with a 12:15.
Woke up around 4am or so and went to the bathroom several times but it still didn’t feel like enough. I ate a couple packets of instant oatmeal that I hadn’t added enough water to so it was like a slightly loose oatmeal bar. We grabbed our bags and started heading down to bike special needs. Our route along Main St was littered with the remnants of the huge fire from the night before and we didn’t actually know if the swim was going to happen until we arrived at the oval. There was some DEC testing of Mirror Lake that happened at 5am and they made the decision around 6am apparently. We went to bike special needs first and the volunteers grabbed our bags right away and put them in the right place. A quick stop to the oval where Mitch realized that he had forgotten his aero pads in the hotel room. Thankfully Karly was able to find them and bring them down to the transition. We took got suited up, took some pictures and then got into the swim start for a quick dip in the water. I was almost nervous that I wasn’t nervous at all during this entire process, or really the entire time in Placid. I literally had no strong feelings about the upcoming race; excited, nervous, or anything else. It was a strange calm. Mitch and I lined up and in the middle of the 1:10 – 1:20 group, wished each other good luck and that we were going to destroy the other person, and stepped through the start arch at 6:37 am, and our race began.
“There’s going to be times when you feel amazing and times where you feel terrible, just know that neither of those will last.”
-“Ultra Ed” via Dave Gilson
Swim (1:12:37, 1:38/100yd):
The calmness that had set in over the last couple days had also caused me to not form any sort of game plan for the race itself, so now that I was actually swimming it seemed like it was a little late so I just decided to swim where I felt comfortable. For around 500 yards I felt awesome; breathing well, not getting bumped too much, slowing making my way towards the cable. Then I got kicked in the lip and started to get a bit out of breath and started freaking out a little bit. Fairly quickly a little bit turned in to a lotta bit and all the sudden I was swimming breast stroke gasping for air and thinking I was already screwed less than 10 minutes into the race. I swam about 100 yards before I had the words of Dave Gilson enter my head, “There’s going to be times when you feel amazing and times where you feel terrible, just know that neither of those will last.” I resolved to get my breath under control, get back to freestyle, and get back on track with my race. About 50 yards later I was starting to feel good when a swimmer wearing an Xterra Blaze Orange Limited Edition wetsuit and an All World Athlete swim cap passed me. The orange legs of the wetsuit were easy to keep my eyes on and the AWA cap indicated he was probably pretty good, or at least experienced. I got right on his feet and everything started feeling good again. Occasionally I would get a little separated from him but I was always able to reel him back in with a quick sprint by spotting the orange. I came around the red buoy at the end of the dock finishing the first lap, survived a bit of hand to hand combat where everyone pinched in to make the corner, did the quick math subtracting about 7 minutes (which Mitch had said he saw on the clock when we started), and realized my first lap was around 36 minutes which is as fast as I’ve ever swam 1.2 miles. Not too shabby considering I still felt strong and had already broken through the first barrier.
The first time I did Placid I was so slow in the swim that there wasn’t nearly as many people around me and I never had to deal with the “washing machine” as it is often called. I had been warned by Dan Shyne that at the pace I was planning on swimming the beginning of the second lap was going to feature some pretty heavy combat. As it happened, getting out of the water from the first lap and getting in for the second was like being pulled out of a MMA fight and getting tossed into a full-on gang initiation. The punches were coming from everywhere and this time they were grabbing on and pulling. It seemed like every 50 yards my leg or ass would get grabbed and pulled underwater. At one point I took a normal stroke but somehow someone’s head ended up near my armpit causing me to put him, unintentionally, in a full headlock and drag him underwater as part of the stroke motion. Twice during the second lap I got pushed out to the side and ended up under one of the huge buoys which is quite disconcerting when you go to take a stroke and a breath and you’ve got nowhere to do either of them. Along the turn at the end of the loop I felt my quad muscle that had been bothering me cramp up. I convinced myself to ignore it and that I’d deal with it on the bike when it got bad enough. With my vision focused solely on Orange’s legs, I did my best to shake it everything off and I was pretty successful staying on his feet. I must have accidentally stroked the bottom of his arch five-hundred times. Halfway down the back side of the loop I decided that I could go harder, ditched Orange, and finished the last 1000 yards at a pretty strong pace. The second time around the red buoy was a clean affair and as I took my goggles off I realized I had come pretty damn close to even splits (35:53, 36:42 in reality) and I figured around 1:12 total.
Looking at the data after the race I saw that I had gone out in the first 500 at a blistering pace of 1:23/100yd which is not a pace I have ever swam for that distance before. In retrospect, it’s no wonder I couldn’t breathe after 500 yards of that. I ended up in 79th of 286 in my age group and 608th overall after the swim.
After getting out of the water I immediately started looking for Greg & Carrie Rashford in the stripping zone. When you’re looking for a stripper you always want to get a big strong guy and Greg fits that bill perfectly. I found them and within seconds I was out of my wetsuit, in receipt of some excellent encouragement from the Rashfords, and I was on my way down the carpet to T1. Someone had said not to make the fastest 400 split the run to transition but I wasn’t worried because my heart rate was probably going to drop during the full change anyway, so I made a good pace of it. Along the way I saw way more people than I expected including Karly, Leigh Ann Gilson, Cory & Ashlea from BTC, Alison & Tony, and Shylah right before I got into the oval. I grabbed my transition bag and made my way into the tent. It was certainly more packed than last time when I entered with a swim time of 1:34 last time. This time I had to get to the center of the tent to find some empty chairs. I opened up my bag, stripped down to just my heart rate monitor, and put on my HRRT bibs and bike jersey and my nice purple Swiftwick socks. Katie had found during her hours of research on the internets that it was a good idea to put all the stuff you’d need in the jersey pockets the day before and tape them closed, so I used that tactic and it made it much easier. Highly recommend for anyone doing a full change. The sun was already out so I took my smoke visor for my helmet and searched for what seemed an eternity to find a volunteer to shove all my stuff back in the bag so I could take off. I made my way out of the tent and saw my parents at the end of the oval, told them I was feeling great, and heard someone call out “JMAC!” I looked inside the oval and saw Sam Racette, a former Siena student of mine who competed last year, volunteering and calling out numbers so bikes could be retrieved. Unfortunately for me, the volunteer for my rack was busy so I grabbed my bike, ripped off the bag I had used for rain protection, and proceeded to the exit where I saw Coach Andy who asked how I was doing. I told him I was doing great so far, jumped on the bike, and started out on a nice 112 tour of the Lake Placid Region.
Bike (6:13:57, 17.97 mph):
The name of the game for the bike was to keep my power under control, which on the advice of Coach Andy was going to be in the 150s on the first lap and 160s on the second lap using Normalized Power. I cruised out of transition powered by the crowd and the downhill and passed a lot of people without the power getting in the 300s, which takes more self control then you might think, although I did notice that I had a bit of a cramp on my right side that hurt a bit when breathing. I decided to ignore it for now. I was steady on the flats trying to keep the power as close to 150 as I could and ended up passing a decent amount of people. Once we got to the uphill after River Road though that passing thing was over. I started getting passed in droves going up the hills toward the descent but I had already made my peace with getting passed and focusing only on my power. I knew that I was faster at descending and hoped that my steady power and slow first lap strategy would pay off and I’d catch them later. I was pretty sure I beat Mitch in the swim and I didn’t see him in transition, so I was waiting to see when he would pass me so I could figure out how much faster I’d have to be in the run to catch him but he didn’t pass me along that long uphill. I was very conscious the entire time about my knee/quad and I was constantly monitoring its condition. On occasion it would start to hurt a little and I’d back off on the power and make a very concerted effort to keep my knees in during the top half of the pedal stroke. Once I got to the “USE LOW GEAR” sign I knew it was time to buckle down and get ready to rock the descent. The beginning of the descent isn’t truly downhill as you have to pedal through the Pitchoff Walls still so I would pedal in my power range until I got above 35 mph at which point I’d start coasting trying to save the legs. Once we got to the true downhill, I got off the aero bars, got down on the drops with elbows in and knees on the top tube, put my chin on the stem and started cruising. In 2013 I hit 49.9 mph and I was really looking to break 50 mph this time. The road was a still bit damp at this point but it was in much better condition at the top thanks to the repaving in 2014. In the high speed section I was fully in the left lane passing multiple people going at least 10 mph slower than me. I did see 52.1 mph on my watch which ended up being my actual max speed for at least 5 seconds. I was over 50 mph for about 45 seconds which definitely gets the blood pumping. Once that paved section ends the road goes back to super bumpy and at 40+ mph it turns the entire bike into a giant vibrator threatening to shake everything off and all the bolts out. Finally down to the bottom with some really sore triceps from holding the tight position I took the turn onto 9N and got ready for a nice steady grind with rollers
Still worried about my leg, I tried to take it easy through the uphill rollers and dial the power back and I was sticking to the plan pretty well. My Normalized power was in the low 160s instead of the 150s but I was fine with that because I was feeling good and I knew that those power levels were only to preserve my knee. Had my knee been healthy I would have been targeting power in the 170s, so I had a bit of room to play around. This was a good part of the course for me. I stayed in aero and just started ticking off miles. I got to the out and back part and realized that the cramp that had started about 90 minutes ago was still with me and I had just been ignoring it the whole time. I remember hearing from someone that even if a cramp doesn’t bother you it’s still burning oxygen to take care of the lactic acid so I knew I needed to get rid of it, but I didn’t want to stop and let Mitch pass me. I knew the out and back would be the only time to find out our gap so I just kept cycling and figured I’d deal with it later. I got to the turn around and realized that my stomach was not right even though I’d been sticking perfectly to my 100 calories every 25 minutes plan. I thought there were a line of port-a-potties right before the turn up towards Wilmington so I hoped I could make it there. On the way back I finally saw Mitch who looked at me with a “how the fuck are you still in front of me” look. A guess based on mileage put me about 3 miles ahead of him which I figured was about 10 minutes at our speed, so he was close. Shortly after that I passed Mitch’s coach Pat, who said he was struggling with cramps. I had some extra salt tabs so I gave him what I had and wished him good luck. When I got about 1 mile from the turn though, the urge for the bathroom started increasing exponentially and I was struggling up the final uphill to get there. There was only one port-a-potty and it was on the other side of the street so I shot across the street. Bibs and a jersey means the top needs to come off so I stripped down and got inside. Lets just say that the pit stop was fast and it was what GE refers to as “multi-phase flow.” After that I felt I could pay a bit less attention to the “never trust an ironman fart” adage. I got out of the port-a-potty and had to wait over a minute to safely cross the street and head up the hill. Total pit stop time was about 3 minutes.
Just like the long stretch after River Road it was time to put it in a low gear and spin it to win it. I got passed more but I was still looking at my power only and trying to keep it under 200. On the flat parts I would get back in aero and gain some time back on the people that were now tired from pushing up the hill. I was pretty happy with my strategy and still feeling pretty good; only having occasional pain from my knee/quad. Looking at the GPS later, I averaged 178W during the stretch from Jay to the Hazelton out and back which is almost exactly what I was aiming for. Once I got to that much shorter out and back I was looking for Mitch again but didn’t see him at all. I figured that the out and back was too short but that he was still closing the gap.
The turn back towards Placid was straight into a headwind. It was really hard to control power through this stretch but I was trying really hard to stay light on the pedals. The flashes of pain in my leg were starting to increase in frequency and I was getting a little worried. I knew Dave Gilson and his sons were somewhere on this stretch so I was looking forward to seeing them and getting some encouragement. I finally spotted them along the side of the course and gave Dave a high five while they cheered me on. I kept chugging through the uphill and finally saw the sign for Cherrypatch Pond meaning there were just the two Cherries and the three Bears before I got back into town. If going up the regular hills keeping power low is hard, going up Papa Bear fully lined with spectators cheering like I’m riding in the Tour de France is almost impossible. I managed to keep the power to 227W which is well within reason as long as I don’t dip into that well too often. I took the turn heading towards Mirror Lake Drive and took down the last two hills and flipped my visor so I could see people on the sidelines better. At the speed you’re moving through there though you basically have to turn backwards to yell at your friends, but I did my best to say hi to everyone I saw. I pulled into special needs and Karly ran across the street like a crazy woman and grabbed my special needs bag. I had put a bunch of stuff in there but only ended up taking the extra chomps for the second loop and getting out of there. I jumped back on the bike and saw Mark Dzikowicz cheering me on and pointing to the other side where I saw Shylah cheering also. Turning on to Main St was like being in the Tour again, and I took it aggressively cutting inside hard. In the middle of the turn I heard my Dad yelling and looked back to say hi but looked forward again to see Shylah who had run through an alley to cheer again. From there until the bottom of the hill at the turn to 73 I was going pretty fast and taking corners hard; probably too hard, but it worked out in the end. I came through the first loop in about 3:05
The second loop was the same as the second for the most part but I couldn’t get quite as much speed on the downhills. At mile 79 along the Keene to Jay stretch I was chugging along when one of the officials pulled up next to me on their motorcycle and said that I was blocking and the guy behind me was drafting. Admittedly we had been playing leap frog for a while through the rollers, but I didn’t think either of us was actually doing anything wrong. I saw her take out a notebook and start writing and I asked her if I was getting a penalty and she said it was just a warning unless we didn’t split up. After she pulled away the other guy and I talked about how it was bullshit but we were happy to not have a penalty. On the out and back I was again looking for Mitch and when I saw him I had gained about a mile on him, so I was feeling pretty good. I kept it easy on the uphills but when I took the turn back to Placid the headwind had increased a lot. That is a pretty harsh stretch normally but with a headwind it becomes pretty miserable. I pushed through but was starting to get pretty drained. It was becoming hard to eat but I was forcing it down and drinking on schedule. It was along this stretch that I also noticed it was getting really hot out and my left achilles was really sore. I’d deal with that when it became a problem, but now was not that time. I entered back through the Tour style turn onto Main St, saw Alison and Tony around the back of the school, and turned into the transition area. It turns out it was in the 80s so between the headwinds and the heat that was probably contributing to my exhaustion. The second loop took around 3:09 and I lost the all of the 4 minutes on the final 15 miles with harder conditions, so I’ll count that as a win. Had I not had to worry about my quad I could have gone about 10 watts harder, but I was feeling really strong coming off the bike so I had no regrets. I lost 4 slots in my age group finishing the bike in 79th place but gained overall passing about 60 people total for 545th overall off the bike.
I had taken my feet out of the shoes like I do at sprint tri’s to save time and jumped off the bike leaving the shoes attached to run in my socks to transition. Since it had been sunny I didn’t think the water would be a problem. I was wrong. The inside of the tent was flooded and my socks were instantly soaked. I had two pairs of backup socks in my bag, thick and thin, so I was prepared. I again stripped down to my heart rate monitor and threw on my tri shorts and tri top with rear pocked preloaded and taped, rolled my thicker Balega socks on my feet, tied my shoes and grabbed my race belt and visor. I saw water in the tent and took a second to fill my small water bottle. As I exited the tent I heard what seemed like 20 people yelling at me about sunscreen and temporarily became the most confused person in the area.
Run (4:05:17, 9:22/mile):
I came out of the gate feeling really strong. I looked at my watch as I passed through transition and saw a total time of 7:42 and change. I did the easy math and realized with a 4:17 marathon I could be looking at breaking 12 hours which blew my mind. I didn’t know the exact pace but I figured I needed about a 9:50 to make that happen. Going into the race I had a 3:52 PR so I figured about a minute per mile slower in the Ironman would yield around a 4:15-4:20 marathon so this new challenge was in the ballpark. This realization really fired me up so I was going to do my best to run without walking as long as possible, with the exception of the two big hills which I had already strategically planned to walk.
I saw my parents right at the run exit and stopped to say hi to them. Crystal was just just beyond them and I stopped for a quick kiss. Just a bit further down the hill I saw the HRRT crew with Andy, Shylah, Mark, Sarah and others. I yelled to Andy I was feeling good and kept on trucking. The beginning of the course is all downhill so I didn’t freak out too much when I came through the first mile at 7:42. Andy had recommended that I keep my heart rate under 160 on the run and I was near the limit but not breaking it so I kept going. All those miles under 9:50 were just putting time in the bank for my newly created sub 12 goal. The heat was really starting to take it’s toll on my body though so keeping the heart rate down was tough. I remembered a trick that Mike Casciaro had told me to flip the visor upside down and fill the brim with ice so it sits against your forehead. I started doing that at aid station 2 and it started helping almost immediately. When my heart rate would hit the limit I would force myself to slow down, but to stay running and not walk. I passed Dan Ayala around mile 3. He said he was having stomach issues and some cramping but I didn’t want to walk so I wished him good luck and kept going. My no-walk strategy worked for a little over 5 miles, which I did at a pace of 8:30ish, at which point I walked my first aid station. I had a put a lot of time in the bank and I was hoping the walk wouldn’t slow me down much.
The stretches between aid stations along River Road are really difficult because there aren’t any spectators or any shade, so your mind starts to wander. Mine decided to focus on a pain that had been growing in my left foot for a while and was starting to feel like a stress fracture. It hurt whether I walked or ran, so there was no need to stop running but I was going to keep on eye on it if it continued to get worse. I passed John Slyer going in the opposite direction who gave me a high five and nice encouragement, as he always does. I finally reached the turnaround and started looking for Mitch on the way back. I was at an aid station around mile 7 or so when I finally found him. He was in pretty good condition and spirits and seemed to be moving pretty consistently, which I was glad to see. As I left that aid station I took some ibuprofen to quell my foot pain that had continued to grow. I had wanted to hold off from using any but I figured my stomach had been pretty solid and I didn’t want to the pain to get worse. I pushed myself to the hill near the ski jumps, which I had already decided I was going to walk. That was definitely the right decision because I got to the top of the hill with my heart rate lower than it had been and was able to resume running at a sub 9 pace. The heat was still really intense and I was on the lookout for Katie because her body suffers the same terrible fate in the heat that mine does. I saw Mike Casciaro around the airport and then shortly later passed Katie. She was running when I saw her but she said she was pretty tired. I told her she had it and continued on my way. When I got to aid station 1 I looked for Alison and Tony but was only able find Tony after I had passed through. Hitting aid station 1 meant that the second hill on the loop was coming up and I planned to walk that too. That hill is similar to Papa Bear though in that it is lined with spectator and even though I was doing pretty well in the race, you don’t want to let people see you walk so I ended up running again about half way up. I knew that the HRRT contingent was going to be there in full force, so I had something to look forward to anyway. At the top of the hill Andy and Shylah were in the road for some high fives as captured by Sarah on the hill cheering with Mark. I knew that at the top of the hill was run special needs with Dave and the kids, so I kept up a good pace and rounded the corner. I pulled into special needs and Dave already had my bag open and was asking what I wanted. I had packed it pretty full with extra socks and lightweight race shoes in case I felt like I wanted to change, but things were going well and I passed on everything except a couple more salted caramel gels. Dave was nice enough to clean the trash out of my rear pockets, send me on my way and even photograph me on the way back through after the turnaround.
Right back through the gauntlet of supporters and I was on my way around the loop for the final time. I was really tired but somehow still able to run in the 8:30-9 pace range; when I was running. I was walking every aid station starting about 10 yards before the actual aid station and starting to run again at the final trash can. I had been very consistent in my nutrition with a gel every 25 minutes, water and gatorade at every aid station, a cup of water over my head, and a full cup of ice in the brim of the visor. If they had icy sponges I put one on the top of each shoulder. The heat had not subsided and by mile 16 I was having to force myself to swallow the gel each time, almost choking it down on some of them. Thankfully I had a small 10oz flask in my back pocket that I could use to wash it down. At mile 17 the pain in my foot was back again so I took some more ibuprofen. Somewhere towards the end of River Road I saw Nick Gough who was riding the bike ahead of the 3rd place woman. I talked with him for a bit and made sure to thank him for the new saddle and fit, saying he literally saved my ass. He said I was looking strong and as the 3rd place woman passed me he was off. I hit the turnaround and every step brought me closer to my goal. Each time my watch would autolap another mile I’d do the math in my head on what I needed to hit the 12 hour mark. The number slowly rose from 11, to 12, to 13 minute pace for the remaining miles. Somehow I was still locked into the mindset that I was going to bonk and have to walk it in. I walked the first hill again and when I got to run aid station 1 I didn’t even have to ask for water, Tony just poured a cup right over my head. I ran to the bottom of the hill and started walking the hill. About halfway up a spectator said “Hey, I recognize you, this is your second lap, you’re doing awesome.” You can’t possibly hear that and not get inspired so I started running again. I got to the top of the hill and took the corner through the HRRT gauntlet for the last time. There is no harder turn to make then running away from Mike Reilly when you can hear him so close, but I took that right and passed the pub and a lot of BTC spectators. I slowed down when I saw Dave and the kids at special needs but he told me Katie was right ahead so I picked up the pace so I could see her before I finished. I ended up splitting the 25th mile at an 9:36, and that was with walking part of the hill. I saw Katie about half way down the out and back and she told me not to stop and to finish strong, so I had to pick it up another gear. I hit the turnaround and just kept pushing even though it felt like my body was completely drained of energy. Once I got back to where spectators were, I finally got that finishing energy where your feet just get lighter and you get super focused. I did hear the smaller Gilsons yell my name as I passed but I was moving quickly and didn’t want to stop. My watch beeped and showed that my 26th mile came through at an 8:32. I moved to the right side of the finish to make the final turn into the oval and the people along that side of the road started cheering. Right as I entered the oval I saw a woman about 10 yards ahead of me and I knew if I wanted to hear my name from Mike Reilly I’d either have to be in front of her or decently behind her, and that second option wasn’t an option at all, so I kicked it up another notch and passed her right before the final curve. The entire straightaway was clear so I waved my arms for the crowd to start cheering and they responded in turn. I heard my name and ran through the finish arch with a total time of 11:47:23, almost 30 minutes faster than my dream time. I placed 48th of 286 in my age group and 291st overall.
I crushed my time from 2013 in every single segment, including transitions, and last time I didn’t even do a full change. Not only was I faster, but I was more consistent and felt better and I can thank Andy Ruiz for the bulk of that. The training schedule he put together for me obviously worked and I’ll definitely be going back to him in the future.
It was unfortunate that I had the quad injury coming in to this race because I think I could have gone 10 watts harder on the bike and still been able to put down the same run. The new position that Nick put me in really saved my legs for the run and the fact that I was able to put out that power with the dramatically lower HR from all of Andy’s training made all the difference. Looking at the top 410 finishers, I was definitely a slow bike compared to my run which means I know where to focus for improvement. This was absolutely the best race I’ve ever ran and between this and the Hudson Mohawk Marathon last fall I’ve now had “two perfect races” as Dave Gilson puts it. Lets hope I can keep it up.