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Ironman Lake Placid

Adirondacks Mountains.
Lake Placid!
Moving the bike!

I sleep for 8 hours, from 8pm to 4am, which is really good for the day before the race. I did wake up a couple of times during the night, but overall, it was a good sleep. The cabin in the woods is super cozy, unlike what Hollywood is trying to sell us. The 3 melatonin tablets just before dinner also did their job. The shower is in the outhouse on the walls outside the cabin – very romantic and outdoorsy, but really cold when hot water stop flowing. Just like the pilots before taking off, I am all suit up and going through everything on the check list while waiting for my ride. Eric comes at 4:30am and we head to town in the darkness. I give some instructions and reminders regarding picking my shit up later and my expected times (2 hour swim, 8:30 hour bike, 5 hour marathon). He drop me off at the furthest point he can, and I walk the last mile. This is going to be a long day for all of us, the day of reckoning has finally begin.

Olympic Conference Center.
Olympic Conference Center.
Lake Placid Olympic Conference Center.

This is the only time I’ll get tattoo – one of the volunteer brands my knee, calf and biceps with my bib number, along with my age. Then, I load the frozen coke, snacks and iced tea into the corresponding race bags, and wait in line for a potty. The sky is a bit brighter now, but still 30 minutes before the pros start. I stretch, chill and wait, enjoying my nerves, and the calm before the storm. Athletes are allowed to warm up in parts of Mirror Lake, but I choose to stay dry and not move another ounce of muscle. I have nothing to do and kind of blind with only my swim googles. Finally, the starting area opens, and thousands of green and orange capped athletes rush into the tiny beach.

My race number!

“Pfff!”, the canon goes at 6:50am sharp, and everyone cheers. Being so far at the back, I could not see any action or movement, just the sound of excitement. Non-elite commoners have to wait an additional 10 minutes before allowed into the water. It is also rolling start, so I place myself in the last coral, the 1:45 to 2:00 hour group. There are maybe 100 of us, among the more than 2000 that starts in the race. And because people normal distributed themselves, we are as rare as the elites. Those in the middle of the pack have the confidence to finish and hopes for a personal record, while the people at the very back aims to finish, and even that’s a 50-50 gamble. It is a very weird place for me as I’m used to thinking about a PR rather than completing a race. After all the resources and time spent, as well as recruiting 2 support crew members, I have some pressure to complete this race. However, my mood usually turn sour if I fail my bid at a PR, so the pressure to perform has always been in me, whether that race is my first race or 10th one. The line continue to creep forward, so slow that I have time to go to the potty (an older gentlemen made me cut the line because everyone else in the line isn’t in the race), walk back, and still stand at the same exactly spot. Only about 30minutes later that I finally step on the soft sand. Isn’t it bizarre to have sand in the lake, or is it just me and my adrenaline? I wet my googles in the splashy pool and cross the starting mat. The last 12 months of thinking, 9 months of swimming, and 4 months of biking, all comes down to this. The race has begun!

Swim portion in Mirror Lake.
Credits: Eric Chen.
Credits: Eric Chen.
Credits: Eric Chen.

Earlier, an ironlady advised me to stay away from the buoy as the faster swimmers, who lapped me just as I am about to begin my race (they had a 30 minutes head start), are going to run me over. I heed the advice, and stayed far away of the buoys and people. The water are much calmer out here, but sighting proves to be a challenge. Picture this: swimming towards a point can be hard, you have to raise your head above water to find that point once in a while. Swimming parallel to a line of buoys, that is literally calculus jujitsu, because you have to see a couple of buoys, draw an imaginary line, and swim along that. I try my very best, and still end up perpendicular to incoming swimmers and almost died to the stampede. I orientate myself, only to confuse my brain even further and swim in the opposing direction. That is like in Mario Kart with the Lakitu holding the reverse sign in my face. Using skills learn from swimming at the Newark Reservoir, I spot some houses that are straight ahead of me, and use that as my guiding star. After some struggles, I manage to get to the half way point of the first loop, and take a quick break while enjoying the scenery. The volunteers on kayaks have been helpful, and maybe too helpful. Every time I stop to sight, someone will immediately paddle towards me to make sure everything is alright. There are plenty of people who are holding on to kayaks (that’s legal), so they assumed I need help too. All I want is to get out of the pool.

Athlete Village.

The 2nd half of the loop back to the harbor is a lot easier for some reason. This time, I use one of the lesser peaks of the Adirondack Mountains as my South star. The 100 meter marker buoys flow by. It took me 26 minutes to the 0.6mile mark, but only 50 minutes for my first loop! Definitely a great start, and if I keep my speed constant for the 2nd loop, I might have some extra time for the bike portion. As I try to scoot over to the second loop, I have to run against hundreds of people who just finished their swim portion. Spend a grand total of 20 seconds on dry ground, walk pass the timing mat and the most ridiculous water station (who needs water after drinking lake water?), and start my swim again.

My simple plan is to swim casually and continue on the day, but my goggles decided against that. I bought a new pair of goggles because the previous pair fogs up all the time. Unbeknownst to me, today is that day this new pair decides to fog up. I have a feeling it is telling me that it wants to get out of the water. Only after the swim I realized that spitting in them helps with visibility issue, so I did not have the luxury to fix it. Sighting becomes impossible without taking a break every other minute, so I decide to look for the mythical underwater cable. That takes some effort and time, but I manage to find it, only to disappear right from my eyes seconds later. There is either black magic or Lake Monster going on. This is not the time to panic, but I’m beginning to feel fatigued from all the water. After some struggle, I make it to the half way point of the 2nd loop (~1.6 miles into the swim). This time, I ask for the kayak and rest my shoulder on it while trying to clean my lens. It isn’t very comfortable or easy, if you are wondering. The lifeguard has a dollar bill glued below a stuffed teddy bear (probably some kind of voodoo doll?) and I joke if a twenty could get me to the finish line. As I begin my final segment, my neck hurts from rotating on the same side for the last hour and a half. That isn’t some kind of muscles strain, but literally rope burn from the tight polyester dry suit. Besides that, I have been drinking too much water; in short, I hate swimming and can’t wait to get out. Even with that much negativity, I am confident with my time. My arms are tired from paddling those 2 miles, but not enough to give up on the thousands of dollar spent on this race. Each minute is agony, but this is exactly what I signed up for. Suffering and pain. To make time moves along faster, I begin to play a mind game by counting the number of buoys I pass. They pass by so slowly. 3, 4, 5. By the time I get to 6, I have ¼ of a lap left. To be frank, I still couldn’t figure out how many buoys there are. They come in 3 colors, and I think there are 13 in the long section, and 4 in the short section (The pool is a rectangle). I tried to do the math while sighting and weaving in and out of the buoys. It was very confusing.

Athlete Village
Athlete Village

After struggling for a while, I pass the final red turning buoy where people began to walk towards the transition. I continue to swim until I can see sand below my feet, then follow everyone else’s footsteps. And finally, cross the line around 1 hour 50 minutes. Worse time than expected, after the first loop, but it is my original estimated time. The peelers help me remove my wetsuit, and I spot Eric and Christine on the side screaming at me while taking pictures and holding a poster. I couldn’t see anything, so I don’t know what they wrote. They run alongside me, while I tell them my googles were horrible and deserve to die. And that’s when I get into the changing area, grab my first bike bag and head towards the changing tent.

Credits: Eric Chen.

There are no showers in the tent unlike the ones I seen on TV. Just rows of chairs and pack full with friendly volunteers. I take up a few chairs since it is pretty empty by now, and one guy ask if I need any help. I’m trying to find my sunglasses at the bottom of the bag, and being partly blind, request for that, but find it just before handing the bag over. I change into my biking gears, including bike shoes and helmet, and sit around to eat my breakfast (coffee and sandwich). 3 more volunteers bug me while I’m minding my own business, while racers continue to stream in and out. That takes more than 10 minutes, but now I’m ready for the next portion of the race. As I’m leaving, I spot a bored volunteer with spray-on sunscreen and ask to be sprayed. For some reason, I imagine that volunteers would wear thick white gloves dip in sunscreen and just rub all over someone’s body. Well, this is much tamer. My neck which was burn by the wetsuit, is now screaming in pain. I check for blood, but she said I look alright. Not really bothered otherwise, I walk around the 400m ice skating sprint Olympic ring towards the bike area. The guy on the mic scream out my bib number over the PA system, which informs the volunteers that I’m approaching and to find my bike. Since I’m the last in my section, and overall one of the last to leave, it takes a grand total of one second to locate my bike. I smile brilliantly and at long last, make my way to the exit. Athletes are not allow to mount on their bikes until crossing the start line, but I stop twice before even embarking on my ride. Once to adjust my speedometer/cadence counter, once to use the elite bathroom, all the while the same volunteer held my bike. Alright, now the bike begins!

Speed Skating Track.
Just about to begin! Credits: Eric Chen.
Credits: Eric Chen.

Right out of the gate is a huge descend. Eric and Christine are jumping in joy on the sideline as I try to clip in and not die rolling downhill. Eric snap a couple of pictures, and off I go, zooming through a bunch of switchbacks until I hit Main Street. I’ll be seeing the same street 5 more times. This usually busy road has been clear just for us, and right now, it is just me riding by myself. I guess that’s where most of my entry fee went, as toll for such nice road. Just as I start to daydream, the flat road turn hilly at the outskirts of Lake Placid. Initially, it is a slow descend alongside motels filled with friends and families of athletes, and those who came here on the wrong weekend of the year. The Adirondack Mountains, located in upstate New York, is known for its ski resorts, which is why Lake Placid held 2 Winter Olympics. Tall pine trees dot the hills and mountains as far as my eyes can see, with amazing waterfalls and gorgeous rivers streaming down by the roads. The air is fresh and. Lake Placid is an odd ball, a very touristy and lively city in the mist of wild nature. By riding out of the city, I get to see the real upstate NY. As the hills become steeper and higher, I take more time to go up each of them. They are not impossible, but definitely challenging, and the reward is to coast down the same hill on the other side. On the only paved highway that connects Lake Placid to the outside world, it is peaceful and eerily quiet. Right now, it is just me and my gears churning. The race directors have been unkind to the non-athletes by leaving only one lane open, but the incoming traffic has been minimal. I have plenty of room to navigate, even with the occasional police or race support vehicles that speed past me. The sky is slightly overcast, which keeps the weather in the 60s. Most comfortable riding condition I have ever experienced.

Million of dollars worth of bikes.

About 30 minutes later, the course made an out and back into the Mt. Van Hoevenberg recreational area. There are still hills in this area, but much gentler. I’m cranking as much speed as I could, which takes about 20 minutes to finish the loop. There are about 50 people who are just in front of me, and I feel happy knowing that even if I’m dead last, I’m not far from others. The first aid station is located at the end of the loop, in the water/Gatorade/food/Gatorade/water/bathroom order. I perform a sharp U-turn and speed past it, continue on to climb the last major mountain for a while. This is the highest point of the course, clocking in at 2325 ft, mile 12 of the race.

That means it is time to go down! And on the nicely paved US-73 highway, it means fast. The next 8 miles are very steep. I’m very glad to be going down this and not the other way. My speedometer clock 30mph, and those who come with aerodynamic tri bikes with speedy underwears are going even faster at 50mph. The gorge next the road is breathtaking, with the river pounding hard on the surrounding rocks. An amazing view. At the bottom of this ridiculous descend is the town of Keene, and instead of continuing on the highway, we ride towards Upper Jay.

View near Eric and Christine’s Cabin.
View near Eric and Christine’s Cabin.

The portion from Keene to Upper Jay, then to Jay, is not bad, where most of it is still downhill. At around mile 24, I take my first quick break, replenishing my water supply, fixing my cadence meter that has been accidental been kicked out of position and getting additional sunscreen. A few miles later, I’m pass by the fastest elite man and 2 more closely behind him. This is the second time they lap me in the day, and I’ll not see them again. I continue biking along, passing very few people but being passed by stronger bikers as the road thins out. By the time I got to Jay, I’m all by myself. My mind is occupied by focusing on eating Oreos and Cliff Shots. I did not grow up riding bicycles, so eating while biking is still a challenge for me. Dehydration is starting to set in but Ibuprofen keeps my headache in check while I try to down as much water as I can. The weather is still pleasant, and can be chilly when I’m going fast.

The course remains flat from Jay to Au Sable Forks, another out-and-back on the course. There are some slow uphill going on, followed by an equally gentle downhill. By the time I got back to Jay, I have been riding for 2 hours and 15 mins, or 40 miles in the 112 miles race. I think the difficulty might just be overrated! If I keep a decent pace, I can make the 16 miles back in less than 90minutes! Hindsight is always 20/20. From Jay to Wilmington is only 6 miles. However, the hills are steeper compared to anything I’ve ridden. Going up, I’m averaging at 11 mph, which is somewhat slower than before. The 3rd aid station is on the foot hills, and I decide to get a refill and a quick bathroom break. By now, I realize that I do not need both water bottles – I train with 1 bottle, and there are so many aid stations along the route that I have yet to drink from the 2nd bottle. I repack some food from my bag into the bento box, throw away some water, and begin the uphill journey. 5 miles to Wilmington, 17 miles until the 2nd loop.

This portion is just steep, long and mountainous. It turns out that the lowest point of the course is at Jay, so the ride will be a continuous climb until I hit mile 75, that highest point of the course. Although most of the road is pointing towards the sky, it is not straight up. There are some pretty meadow on the foot hills of the gigantic White Face Mountain; that just made the climb on the ride feels insignificant. Towards Wilmington, there are 3 big inclines, follow by 3 smaller descends – and only after that, I roll down a pretty steep hill into the city. Those short 5 miles takes me nearly 45 minutes. Wilmington is a nice town with a river that passes right through the heart of it. Just outside the city limits is another aid station, with a clear sign that indicates that I have to be back by 5pm to meet the cutoff. It doesn’t feel like a problem, at least right now.

I make a left turn on Main Street, and notice that everything here is named North Pole. There is even an A&W (close for the day), the first I have seen in years. Anyway, I can’t and am not stopping. The crazy insane climb back to Lake Placid continues once I’m out of the city. Long gentle climb follows by long intense ride up the hills, if these can be called hills. There are 3 that are notorious enough to earn nicknames – baby bear, mama bear and papa bear. Another river, not the same that I rode along earlier, runs along on the right side, while large swarms of pine trees dot the mountains on the left. The day is turning sunny from the previous gray skies, but I’m well equipped with the helmet, sunglasses, and the trees to provide shade. The next 12 miles take an hour, and I still need to ride 5 more miles to complete the circuit.

As I get back into Lake Placid to finish my loop, the crowd starts to form on the street. Signs and chalk art fill the desolate road. I see Eric and Christine as I cruise into the town and head for my gears/first loop exchange. My watch has not been able to show me the time of the day, which is important for the cutoff times. So, I scream at them asking for the time, only to get the response you are doing great, 4 hours! I ask again to find out that I have 4 hours and 25minutes for my 2nd loop. I stop at the bag exchange, decided that the extra snacks are not needed, and take off immediately. Welcome to the fucking grind.

After 60 miles.
Credits: Eric Chen.

Knowing what comes next is useful only if I have remembered the exact sequence, which I do not. 40 minutes pass by the time I got to the first aid station in Mt. Van Hoevenberg, and that only covered 10 miles. I stop to get more sunscreen, but the lady only have thick non-spray sunscreen. She is too generous when squeezing them onto my hand, so I spread them on my now white calves. I should have just use my own supply, but the upside is I don’t have to reapply it being so thick. I put a mental note to wipe all these off when I get to the next transition area. I’m biking slower on this portion than the first loop, and despair sets in that I will not finish the race. My brain is on autopilot with the math calculations while going down these amazing descends, even paddling hastily on some of the uphill. A lady pass me as we are sprinting down the mountains. Ill equipped, I could only go at around 35mph, whereas faster/tri-bike specialists easily handle 50mph. Jay, my temporary neighbor, destroyed these hills. There are slightly more cars heading to Lake Placid now, but it is still rather quiet. Being on a major highway, this is probably one of the few days where one can stare into the amazing views in silence. Alas, I don’t have the luxury – I have a time to catch.

I have not talk about food. On paper, this should be the most important part of the race. Garmin later tells me that I burnt 12000 calories for the entire Ironman. That’s the weekly allowance for most people. As much as I’m underprepared for the race, I did not even put a thought on. Which makes it a stupid rookie mistake because most athletes who couldn’t finish the race is due to nutrition. For today, I only prepared Clif Shots, Oreos and granola bars. I rationed the food throughout the ride, and been diligently eating the Oreos. The granola bars are rather hard to swallow, but the Clif Shots taste amazing, easy to go down, and probably the only reason why I’m still riding 6 hours into the race. I snack on the gummy bears while riding along, hoping that that’s enough fuel to get me through the ride. I think it works out because I’m feeling great besides the two short cramps I have on some weird leg muscles I didn’t realize existed in me.

Calzone I had two nights ago.

While I’m going down the mountain, a lady in her 40s (tattooed on her calf) pass me. She, we going to name her Laura from now on, is slightly larger built, but looks well trained for this endeavor. I felt that she is a sponsored charity athlete because her bike and clothing are full of logos of a cancer foundation. She wonders out loud why the race could not be only downhill. I do no object to her idea, considering that the monster ascend is in 10 miles. We continue to pass each other back and forth, even after my bike chain come off at the flat portion in Jay. My first mechanical failure of the day.

All kinds of antiques.
Dark and dingy, I like.

My ride has been rather boring because most riders have not been friendly or interested in talking. In a marathon, I would make stupid remarks; here, people outright ignored me. It could be due to the tough race, but I think triathletes are just uptight and too serious. Laura is the only person I have interacted with so far. As we ascend into Upper Jay, I ask her thoughts with regards to the cutoffs. She seems very optimistic with 2 hours and 45minutes left for the next 25 miles. It is mid-afternoon, and the sun is finally beating down on us; I’m glad it will not get any hotter than this. As I pass by more people, I realize that they are not going to make the cutoff, considering that I don’t even know if I could. This is not the time to comfort them, so it is better to keep my thoughts in my head. The ride to Jay is pretty uneventful. By now, we have form a pack of about 10 riders. I’m leading this pack of riders, until I hit a snag at the bottom of the hill as we are heading up to Wilmington.

All the stickers!
My rented cabin.

A policeman ask if I need help, which I decline as the only thing is to attach the chain back onto the gears. I quickly secure the chain, and take this opportunity to load more food from my bag. Just as I begin to ride, I hit another snag. The policeman probably notified someone, because a tech car drive pass and stop on top of the hill. He run towards me and ask to inspect my bike. I thank him and inform him that everything should be alright, but he completed the check in that time. He held my bike for me while I clip on (doing it on a slope is really hard), and boosted me up the hill! That’s very nice of him. I’ve wasted more than 5 minute, with the pack left me in dust. I’m glad that I’m on my way again, so I chirpily telling a lady on the hill that the hill is horrible. She look at me with a blank face, and in a condescending tone say “this is supposed to be hard.” Are triathletes and ironmen all this snobbish? And for her to say it to someone who was passing her, man, that’s next level arrogance. She probably did not make the cutoff since I did not see her again.

Can’t wait to sleep here.

I ride by myself for a very long time. The time between my bike chains came off and reaching the next check point in Wilmington, I have not seen a single soul. Overall, I’m proud of myself for making the cutoff with plenty of time to spare (30 minutes), but I only have an hour left for the final cutoff back at the transition. I thought the cutoff times are not logical. The race director gives participates who made the 2nd last cutoff only 30minutes to finish the bike portion. They are 12 miles apart, which means an average of 24mph to make it back. That’s hard even for a strong rider, let alone someone who barely makes that checkpoint after a century. Even now, I’m doubting my ability to make it back with an hour to spare.

The ride is as gruesome as before, but I finally catch up with the pack of riders! There are some new faces, one of them is a man in his 60s with an Ironman Boulder shirt. He thinks this is harder than Colorado. Laura is still here. I really want to get ahead, partly to make the cutoff, but I don’t have the energy to sprint uphill. It is back to the passing game – some pass me uphill, others at downhill, but nobody manage to leave the pack, and I’m almost always at the end of the pack. I stop caring about the time with the assumption that these people are now pacing me and someone else is keeping check of that. Soon, we ride pass the gorgeous portion of the uphill back to Lake Placid – shady area with river following alongside. In some distance, we spot a lady in her 40s walking her bike. I couldn’t believe this – she is walking in bike shoes! She hit the wall hard. My suspicions are confirmed as she snaps at the Boulder man who tried to encourage her. We left her alone. She might be able to make it back physically, but the race is over for her mentally.

Just outside of my cabin.

Time flies while I ride the last few miles. I’m very optimistic about making the cutoff, and have not checked the time since leaving Wilmington. A rude awakening come as we cycle up on last uphill to Lake Placid. A race official screams at us, informing us that we have 3 miles to the finish line. I did not register the urgency as the rest of the pack pick up pace. Eric and Christine stood at mile 110, screaming “9 minutes!” My mind is still in tranquility, thinking there is plenty of time as I cycle by the Mirror Lake. This is a no pass zone even though plenty of people breaks the rule. I trail behind a rather tired biker all the way to the finish line. At the finish line, the volunteers seem concern but have not voice their thought. I give my bike to a volunteer, grab my run bag and head into the transition area. Later, I found that I finished with only 2 minutes to spare. I can’t be any more lucky and efficient than that!

Credits: Eric Chen.

The original plan is to take a well-deserved break in the transition, but volunteers begin to pack up the place as I change. An official hurried me as the transition is about to close – I’m sure as hell not going to be disqualified in the T2 tent. I have another Ibuprofen and wanted to clean myself off the excessive sunscreen on my calves, but forget in the moment of panic. I have attached the race bib on my running shirt but they pop out as I change into them – a volunteer is kind enough to reattach them for me. I might still have to run, but currently do not have the motor skill to thread needles, literally.

Credits: Eric Chen.
Time to run 26 miles!
Credits: Eric Chen.

I’m drop in the middle of a marathon, like showing up at a state fair with a pack crowd. From here, I have 26.2 miles to go. It can get stressful at the beginning of a marathon with anxiety of beating an expectation. For today’s marathon, it is only about completing the run. My confidence is cemented after a few steps and find my legs to be surprisingly fresh after the 112 mile bike course. The hardest part is over, and this is the victory lap. I have not visited a bathroom in hours, which was extended as the ones in transition were closed. As a result, I have to run to the next bathroom, about a mile away. Usually, 10 minute-mile is barely considered running, but it feels like I’m flying by with everyone else running at an even slower pace. Most of them just finished the first half of the marathon loop, which explains their fatigue. My tummy hurts, I’m severely dehydrated and it seems like I don’t need to use the bathroom; my body is just screaming at me to stop. The Ibuprofen is working wonderfully and making the pain feels more like a whimper.

I hate running with water bottle, just extra work especially with a race filled with aid station. Road runners who pack their own drinks seem arrogant, not trusting in the race organizers’ plan. However, holding a bottle of iced tea is the best decision I have made today. Aid stations do offer Coke, which is very unusual, but it is a half ass job being all warm and probably flat. Arm with a bottle of ice tea, I pass everyone who are still on the course. I’m a runner, so I’m enjoying every single moment; many triathletes are bikers, and hates running. Which partially explain these half-dead athletes dreadfully drag their feet along, a scene that can be taken out from any zombie apocalypse movie. Equip with a big grin and a super cool visor, I keep my pace steady. The crowd is elated by me, a change of scenery from watching hundreds of soulless people plodding on the street. For the first time today, I’m way ahead of the cutoff. This is going well!

Waiting to see this sign again!

End to end, the course is only 5.5 miles; to complete the marathon, I have to run the course twice. There is an extra mile of out and back near one end of the course just to round up the miles. Being on their 2nd loop at around mile 16, most of the runners are close to hitting the wall. I am keen to go faster with another 23miles to go, but hold off that thought by hovering at 10 min-mile pace. By now, we are out of the city into a heavily forested area. There are only a few family and friends on the side of the street. A guy in buggy stop at a large spotlight tower to turn on the generator. The sun is still high in the sky (6pm), but it will be twilight on my 2nd loop. I’m glad of the decision to forgo the sunglasses, otherwise, I will be running in total darkness.

The 4th mile aid station gives out ice cubes, so I put some into the ice tea. Before, it is barely a cold cup of tea; now, it is really iced tea! Being out so late in the afternoon has its peaks, like the brunt of the heat is now behind us, which allows me to run faster. The surrounding thick forest also shields most of the sunlight and heat. I reach the end and begin backtracking. The lake right next to the road sits unperturbed and looks very peaceful. People are now either paired off talking about the ridiculous bike course or struggling with their inner demon. I’m not slowing down now to talk and make friends – it is already late.

As I approaches the 11th mile, the aid station comes with hot chicken stock. I quickly down my bottle of tea to switch over to this deliciousness. Who would have thought that another benefit of being slow is to be offered new items at aid station! Predicting that I’ll see Eric and Christine close to the half way point, the end of loop 1, I start to make a list of things I want at the finish line. My ankle hurts from my running shoe being too tight, so Salonpas in on the top of the list. I also want a cold drink after being disappointed by the sight of warm coke, so a bottle of ice cold coke. I have plenty of time to finish, and plan to take more time for the 2nd half, so I decided to take a break when I see them instead of keep going. They’re surprised that I stop. We chat a little and take some pictures before I leave for one last time.

Almost done with half the run.
Credits: Eric Chen.
Credits: Eric Chen.

The out and back mile feels very long, so I chat with random people to pass time. There are many Ironman veterans who have too many stories to tell; first timers who are excited to be finishing soon. All of them seem to hate running. I leave them behind when I’m done with my walk breaks. At the turning point, majority of them head towards the finish while I begin my 2nd loop. I’m still feeling pretty good and enjoying the atmosphere of the race. My GU schedule is still spot on, even though I’m definetely eating junk calories now. Darkness descend as I close in on mile 15. I plan to finish all my gels so I can slurp more chicken stock. It isn’t just the soup taste good, my stomach is also growling at me. I’m hungry.

When I turn into the woods for the last time, it is pitch dark. The spotlights are the only light source, illuminating the streets. Volunteers give out light bracelets to runners, now the streets looks like a sparsely attended street carnival. I take 2 but do not want to put it around my neck due to the rope burnt earlier in the day. However, I can’t hold them in my hand because I’m carrying too much stuff, so i throw away my water bottle, finish my GU at mile 18, and carry the light. 8 more miles to go! I finally feel the excitement. The finish line is more than an hour away, but it seems a lot closer. In fact, I do not believe I have been moving since 4 in the morning. Back in reality, even though we’re in a heavily forested area, there are few bugs buzzing at us. There are some, just not as many as my cabin. I continue to walk uphill and run for 2 miles. There is still another uphill at mile 23. Those who are still running are doing it out of sheer will; I’m not as I still have plenty in reserve. I’m balancing between staying on course longer (since I paid for it!) and finishing so I can get dinner and a good night sleep. A couple more soups and talks, and up the incline at mile 23, I’m an out-n-back away from finishing. Eric and Christine spots me, while I run around them to finish the last 2 miles. I walk uphill, did a real final turn, and begin running back.

Almost done, mile 138.
Credits: Eric Chen.
Credits: Eric Chen.

Part of the reason I want to run the last mile is to get away from people during the finish shot. I assume most of them are too tired to move, so I want to find some space in between groups of people. The crowd is mostly gone, and the only lights comes from the dim street lights and the cozy houses in the city. There aren’t much talking or sound in general, just runners keeping pace to the finish line. Mile 25 is uphill, while 26 mile is downhill. I’m tired and plan to enjoy the last 20 minutes, so I walk uphill. I chat with an older man on the way up, who is collecting light bands. I threw mine miles earlier because I couldn’t find 5 more to make the Olympic rings befitting for Lake Placid. Apparently he is one of only two people who have done all versions of Lake Placid Ironman, and looking to get 19 rings to commemorate this moment. He found #15 next to the trash. I left him at the turn around, and feels energetic enough to run the last mile. It is longer than I like to run, but not the worse thing that happened today. If anything, the day went by pretty smoothly – if that’s the worst thing of the day, I’ll gladly take it. By now, I’ve passed a couple hundred people. That is as close to a miracle as I’m going to get. From barely finishing the race after the 2nd cutoff to finishing at the 20th percentile? I’ll take it.

Coming to the finish line.
Credits: Eric Chen.

The end feels longer than it should be because I can clearly seen the finish line once I’m back in the stadium, but I’ve to run around the speed ski ring. The famous Ironman announcer is calling out the newly minted Ironman over the PA system. The organizer laid down some red carpet near the finish line, which is very nice to run on. The very few people that are still out are all at the finish line. At the final turn, the spotlights shine directly into my face. I can barely see the finish line, and crowds roar as I speed past them. Both Eric and Christine are standing on the left side, and I wave a peace sign while running sideways, only to trip partially. I caught myself from falling and did not manage to make a mess just before the finish line. The light is literally at the end of the tunnel – it is so bright across the finish line that maybe sunglasses would have been a good idea. I keep running, reminding myself not to stop my watch as photographers are taking pictures. Indeed, a group of photographers aiming their cameras at me on the other side. This feels like a red carpet moment. There is a guy who finish a couple of seconds ahead of me. The announcer mention his name. I raise my hands as I walk across the finish line. “You are an Ironman!” I did it! An older gentleman walk me away from the carpet and check if I’m feeling okay. I’m alright, and he puts an aluminum sheet over me, take my t-shirt couple in exchange for a shirt, and give me my medal for finishing. The shirt is fine while I thought that the medal looks ugly. Why a kayak paddle?! I’m famished and grab 2 slices of pizza from another volunteer while chugging down a bottle of water. Food usually taste amazing when you are hungry; even with that said, this square pizza is unappetizing. The crust is bland, there is barely any sauce on the pizza, the slices are probably expired and the pepperoni are basically salt biscuits. I look over for more food, and only see sandwiches from Subway. With that, I raise my white flag and walk out of the picnic area. The transition bags have been cleared out, so I walk towards to pick up my bike bag still where I left hours ago. As I walk towards our meeting point, Christine and Eric are PDA-ing, in the middle of the street at almost midnight – such cute couple. It must be nice to share this special moment with someone. I walk towards them, and they are glad that I’m not lost. We takes some more pictures before heading home. Everything is closed by now (11pm), so I ask to do a drive through at McDonald’s. The chicken nuggets just aren’t as tasty as I remembered, while the fillet-o-fish sandwich is fine. The star is always the dessert, as the McFlurry is just as I remembered it.

In the end!
Credits: Eric Chen.

This is it, I achieved my goal of 2017. 7 months earlier, I stand on top of the Guadeloupe Peak wondering how I’ll complete both the salt study and IRONMAN race. I made them both work, somehow, by sheer luck and brute force. Ironman seems possible now, and does not seem as hard as I imagined. I definitely was not suffering every single moment. With that said, I will not attempt another similar race. The amount of time, energy and effort spent might just not be a sustainable and worthy cause. As much as I do not know what’s in the cards in the near future, this is definitely not going to one of them. Just going to be drifting until I figure that out.

Become One!

Date: July 23, 2018.
Address: Lake Placid, NY.

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