August 1, 2014

Ironman Lake Placid

Wow! I don’t even know where to start with this story, so many things happened, I don’t want to leave anything out.  So let me start from the beginning.

One year ago I signed up to compete in Ironman Lake Placid.  I know, I said I would never do another IM after the last one, but my friend Russ talked me into doing it with him for our 50th Birthdays.  Then our good friend (well, maybe our worst enemy) Bill talked us into Lake Placid, not telling us that it was the hardest IM course in the U.S. 

So I signed up and all went well for about a month, then my knee went south and I had to have surgery on it.  When I finally got off the crutches, I had less than 5 months to go from doing nothing, to being in shape for an IM race.  I whined constantly, saying how there was no way I would be ready, but Bill assured me I would.  He even gave me an injury recovery training plan, which I used. 
Things got better and my swims were going well, my bike endurance was good, but the speed wasn’t quite there, my runs were surprisingly good, I was having no problems keeping up with the group on most of the long runs, there were a couple that were awful, but that is to be expected.

With the help of many good friends and teammates, my training went really well, even though I had to ice my knee 2 or 3 times a day to keep it from blowing up.  So many people joined me for long workouts that it made the training fun and easy.
So now the real story starts, race week in motion.  I decided to drive to Lake Placid, it should have been a 17 hour drive, but for some reason it took me much longer.  My daughters, China and Jade had planned to go with me, but Jade got a new job just before race week and could not make the trip.  So China brought her friend Sydney instead.  We drove to Erie, PA, spent the night at a Holiday Inn, then drove to Lake Placid the next morning, arriving on Wednesday.  It was a very long trip, but very beautiful. Oh and we got to see all the road construction across 5 states.

Drive into Lake Placid
When we arrived we met Bill and Vicky and they introduced us to all the other guys Bill races with every year, Eric, Steve and Dave, and their families.  It was almost like a big party, we were all staying in the same Hotel, well actually a Motor Inn.  We were just a block from race transition and Mirror lake.
Bill gave me the run down on the schedule for the week, we would start each morning with swims at Mirror Lake and follow it up by meeting our families for breakfast.

Early Morning Swim at Mirror Lake
We would spend some time driving the bike course, so we would be prepared for what was coming.  And I have to say, it was a very beautiful course, and on the surface it didn’t look that bad, but in reality, it was a very tough course.
Russ and Bill on the Bike Course

Bill and Robin on the Bike Course
We also planned to bike the course a couple days and running some of the run course. So the Lake Placid 3 had a plan and we spent our days jumping through the hoops that would get us across the finish line.

Mirror Lake and the Lake Placid Three
As the week went on I found that I had many virtual cheerleaders, my nieces made me good luck cards.
Good Luck cards

How to Card from China
China and Sydney made me signs to hold up on race day.

Good Luck signs
Adam, one of China and Sydney’s teammates at McKendree University, made me a sign and the entire team took a photo to wish me good luck, it almost made me cry when I saw it on Facebook.  Adam really wanted to come to the race with China and Sydney, but he had to work so he couldn’t come.  So he came up with a plan to cheer me on from home.  

MCK Cheerleaders wishing me luck

MCK Good Luck Sign
On Thursday we got registered and picked up all our cool IM gear, that only real Ironmen have, and we checked out Ironman village, picking up all kinds of cool free stuff.

Free visors from Timex for Posting cool Timex pictures
We then went out for a bike ride and while on our bike ride, we were pulled over by a reporter who interviewed Bill and Russ, then got some pictures of us riding off into the sunset.  You have to watch the video, it’s really good and you see me in the red Cyclery Kit a couple times.

On Friday we checked in our bikes and race day transition bags and of course that’s when I really started getting nervous.

The girls had lots to do also, they went stand up paddle boarding on Mirror Lake.

They went to the Olympic Bobsled course with Lee, Russ’s son and they all sledded down the course.  Lee beat the girls though, if I were him, I would never let them live that down.

China and Sydney


Lee, Sydney and China
Friday night was the pre-race meal night and we all went to the pasta buffet, it was fantastic, we got made to order pasta, I ate so much I was sick. Good thing we had a day to rest before race day, my stomach needed it.

After dinner the girls went to the movie, while the rest of us went to the pre-race welcome meeting.  So we are sitting at the meeting and they are going through all the normal stuff and talking about previous races and racers who have done it many times.  The big screen flickers on and low and behold there is the Godfather, Bill Peterson being interviewed on the big screen. I was sitting next to him and just looked over, with this look of “how could you not have told me about this”. He just smiles, it was a great interview too. This was Bill’s 31st Ironman race and his 15th time at Lake Placid, he definitely deserved all the press coverage he was getting.  I had no idea that I had been training for the IM with royalty, now I just walk about telling everyone that I’m friends with Bill Peterson.  Hey, I have to get the glory somehow.

Mike Riley announcing interview with Bill Peterson
Finally race morning rolls around and at 4:45 am, Bill, Russ and I are in the transition area, getting body marked and checking our bikes. I even got interviewed while I was being body marked, but I think I said something really stupid, so I didn’t even look for the news video of it.

Robin being body marked
After a last check of everything, we went back to the Motor Inn and used the bathroom like 12 times, then walked with our families to the start of the race, by this time the skies were looking grey and there was a threat of rain.

Leaving for the starting line
We said our goodbyes, and headed to the swim start. The pro’s went off first and then 10 minutes later the age group racers started jumping in with the rolling wave start.  I stood in the group that was estimating their swim time at 1:30 because that was what I had been swimming the distance in, during training.  Russ and Steve were there with me, so we spent some time being nervous together.

Swim Start
The swim is a two loop swim, we come out of the water for about a 20 yard run across the beach then jump back in.  During the first loop the skies opened up and rain poured down, but I just kept swimming.  The second loop the rain let up a little, but then came down hard again.  I was about ¾ the way through the second loop when a kayak stopped me, I looked up and was told to swim quickly to the side of the lake. When I looked over, there were hundreds of people swimming to three floating docks at the side of the lake. When I got the dock, I couldn’t get out, so two guys grabbed me and pulled me up, thank you, whoever you are. As thunder boomed and lightning bolts flew, we were told to run down the road to transition area and get on our bikes. What really sucks is that I was swimming a really fast second loop, thinking that I might break my goal for the swim.  It was a long way to run in bare feet on pavement, but there I was with hundreds of others doing it.  I finally made it to transition and saw my gang yelling for me.

Swim Transition
Transition was packed, there were so many people in the tent and we were standing in water and mud, I just grabbed my bag and got changed, then ran out to my bike, while the thunder, lightning and pouring rain continued.  Out on my bike I kept pumping my brakes trying to slow down on the steep downhill out to the road.  Once again my awesome girls were there in the pouring rain, cheering me on.  I felt sorry for them, I knew they had to be so cold just standing there waiting for me.  So now I was out on the bike in shorts, sleeveless shirt, at least I had my arm warmers on, the last minute thought to throw them in my bag was a really good idea.  I was really cold, but at that time I had no idea just how cold I was going to be. 

As I rode up the mountain, the wind was howling and the rain was coming down so hard that I couldn’t see very far in front of me.  I was getting colder by the minute and was even happy to be climbing because at least it kept me a little warmer.  I made it to the 10 mile mark where the decent started. As I descended the mountain, I was so cold that my body was shaking, I was trying to brake, but my bike wasn’t slowing down enough due to the rain.  I just knew I was going to crash and all kinds of scenarios were running through my head, about where I should be when I crash, how to crash without killing myself, I was thinking of every bad thing that could happen and how to deal with it best. 

I made it to the bottom of the mountain without crashing, but I was mentally and physically shot.  This is when I felt like I was going to start crying, I didn’t even think about quitting, but crying, well the tears were right there on the verge of overflowing out of my eyes. Of course, then the whole thought of crying because I was cold, wet, scared and frustrated made me angry with myself, so then I was mentally screaming in my head, “you better not start crying and be one of those whiney babies, you paid to do this, buck up”.

I kept riding and by the time I hit the last 20 mile climb, it had stopped raining, although it was still super windy and the wind was in my face for the entire 20 miles.  I finally made it to the top of the last hill, “Papa Bear” and there was my cheering crew, I saw Russ’s family first, then Bill’s family, then mine and last was Steve’s family.  I rode about 300 meters to the cheering “Go Robin/Go Mom”.  This was just what I needed, I started to feel better and knew the second lap was going to go better.
Top of Papa Bear
I started the second lap with the 10 miles of climbing and then another 10 miles of descending, this time on dry pavement and not freezing, although the wind was still an issue.   At mile 92, as I was making the turn to climb the last 20 miles, the sky opened up again, this time with rain, sleet and I think some hail, it could have been really big sleet though.  As it hit me it stung really bad, so I just kept my head down so it didn’t hit me in the face. Now I’m climbing, looking at the ground and thinking once again, “why in the heck did I sign up for this”.  It only lasted about 15 minutes then quit, I continued to climb and got to a point where I could hardly turn the pedals, I couldn’t understand how it could be so hard, then a guy on the side of the road yelled, “get in your little ring”.  I looked down, I had been climbing in my big ring, “I did a mental head slap”, when the rain started as I  turned the corner to start the climb, I was so caught up in my mental anguish I forgot to drop to my small ring, I had been riding in my big ring for miles.  I know… I’m an idiot!  I could have kissed that guy who pointed it out to me, but there was no way I was riding back down the hill to do it.

The hill I rode up in the big ring
Side Note: While I was out on the bike China and Sydney had come across a dog that was the same breed as my Ella, we had been missing Ella so much since we were gone that China took a photo of the dog to show me, it was a really cute dog too.

Puppy that reminded us of our Ella
As I rode up Papa Bear for the final time, I knew that none of the cheer crew would be there because they would be back waiting for me at transition, so it made the hill a little harder. I saw a State Trooper on the hill and I asked “can you arrest me”, he said I was too close to being finished to get arrested now.  It was worth a try though.

I made it to transition and an awesome volunteer helped me, she pulled off my clothes, pulled on my calve sleeves for me, got me Vaseline and water and sent me on my way.  There are no better volunteers than those at an Ironman race, I can’t say enough or thank them enough for what they do.

Out of the tent and on to the run, just a block up the street I stopped to hug China and say hi to everyone cheering for me.  Then China shows me the Ironman beach towel that I wanted, but was too cheap to buy and she says “if you finish, this is yours”.  I knew there was no way I would not finish the race, I wanted that towel.

I took off running and china ran with me for a mile, she then turned around and said I will see you at mile 11.  I felt good and was running the pace I wanted, my knee didn’t hurt at all, I was beginning to smile and I knew I was just 25 miles from being an Ironman for the third time. 

At mile 6 things started to go wrong, not what you would expect, like my body breaking down, I was still feeling good, but for some reason my bladder started feeling like it was going to explode.  I stopped at a bathroom, but I couldn’t pee, just a couple drops came out.  So on I ran, just 4 miles later I stopped again, still I couldn’t pee. I was getting frustrated because the stops were killing my run time.  So I just kept running thinking, well I could just pee down my leg, who would know.  I came up the big hill around the corner to find all my friends and family and all these great messages on the road, which took my mind off having to pee.

China ran with me again for a short time as I headed to the turnaround to finish the first loop. 

China running up the hill with me
I started the second loop and was once again cheered on as I ran by the Motor Inn.  Between miles 13 and 24, I stopped 3 more times to pee, no luck.  At mile 19 my knee started to hurt, but not too bad, at mile 23 it really hurt so now I was doing the run limp thing and wondering if I was going to pee my pants.   

I passed the Motor Inn one last time and was joined by China and Sydney until we got  to the corner, where I headed for the last 1.5 mile loop and they went to the finish line.  I ran the loop and into the finish oval, high fiving all these people I didn’t even know, thousands of them reaching out to high five me.

Running in the Finish Oval
I hear China and Sydney screaming and stop to hug them. 

Just about to cross the finish line, giving my China Doll a hug
I jog slowly to the finish line so that the girl in front of me can go through and get a good finish picture without  me photo bombing it. Then as I start to run through the finish line two guys, come around on each side of me and ruin my finish picture.  Really, they couldn’t have waited 3 seconds and let me get a good picture.  I couldn’t believe they did it and it messed up my live feed so people watching me finish at home only saw a glimpse of my head.  Those guys need to learn IM finish line etiquette. 

Headed to the Finish Line
So while this entire race was in process, China, Sydney and Madison kept posting updates on all of our group, they did a fantastic job at keeping everyone at home updated. In fact when I got home a friend from work sent me a picture that he got from his daughter, she saw it online and sent it to him.  This was very cool, and it just goes to show how much support I had throughout the entire race.  I want to thank everyone for their support.

Social Media allowed my race to be followed everywhere
THE BIG QUESTION: Will I do it again…. Well maybe I will need to come back on 2016 just to see how I would fare in hopefully better conditions.

All My Swag
A big thanks to my teammates, Bill and Russ and their families for all the support, to McKendree University Cheerleaders for the virtual support, to my family at home for supporting me and believing in me, to Dr Bicalho for putting up with the worst patient ever, and most of all to my own cheer team China and Sydney, I couldn’t have done it without you.

Oh and for as long as I have had kids, all our vacations have revolved around races, so they call them racecations. On the way back to Illinois, China says “this was the best racecation ever”.  That is a Major compliment!

Click here to see all the photos from Lake Placid