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Racing at IRONMAN Lake Placid (Guest Post)

Last weekend, I participated in IRONMAN Lake Placid. It was my third IRONMAN and I went into the weekend feeling strong but also keeping in mind the course was hard and in long races, nothing feels guaranteed.

A sea of swim caps just before the swim start with Mirror Lake looking calm.

There are a few things that reliably help me through a long swim, one of them being a reminder that when I was a kid you could not get me out of the water! I know lots of triathletes just aim to survive the swim, but I’m usually able to enjoy it at least a little. Mirror Lake was a beautiful spot to swim 3.8km, and while I wasn’t able to use the cable much and found myself butting up against lots of (at the time, annoying) swimmers despite the rolling start, I found a decent rhythm in the swim. Later, I was pleased to see I took a little bit of time off my last IRONMAN swim time. Regular swimming with Balance Point Triathlon has given me a lot more confidence in the swim over the past few years and other than some super painful chafing on my neck (there’s a first for everything!), I’ll look back on the swim with fond memories of a solid warmup (1:11:34) for the long day ahead.

After going on a few trips to train in the big hills/mountains, riding portions of the bike course, driving the bike course, listening to podcasts and watching videos about the terrain, asking anyone who’d offer advice, and purchasing ~a bajillion dollars in upgrades to my bike set-up, I felt as ready as I could be for the bike portion of IRONMAN Lake Placid. Turns out, the challenge was “just right” and I loved watching people fade on the second lap. I faded too, but when it started pouring rain on the climb back in, I remembered the rides I’d done in the similarly pouring rain at home and hoped any 35-39-year-old women out there (stayed safe but) slowed down.

The climbs weren’t the only thing that were absolutely breathtaking–the scenery was postcard beautiful nearly the whole time and the descent into Keene I’d worried about for weeks was scary but as I hit 76km/hr on my skinny (but tubeless and new!) tires I was so grateful for plenty of space from my fellow racers, my new bike and the experiences I’ve had on bikes in hilly places over the last decade or so. I hated watching my average speed drop on the backside of the course, but I felt so strong on the flats and was warned about that dropoff! The backdrop of towering Whiteface Mountain and knowing that Brent climbed it just for training a few days before inspired me, too, and gave me some perspective that while the course was tough, it was in the realm of appropriately challenging. I got to see my non 35-39-year-old women friends (mostly as they passed me–way to go!) and other than some blatant drafting that set the obsessive rule-follower in me off, I had the kind of bike I could only hope for. I assumed I’d gone slower (6:13:26) here than last year on the also-challenging-but-maybe-not-quite-as-challenging IRONMAN Mont Tremblant bike course, but turns out that was a PR. Amazing what hard work and about ~$10,000 in upgrades can get you!

Heading out on the first lap, smiling about the downhill start.

In any race, I worry (a lot) about (a lot of) things–from losing my goggles or drowning in the swim to getting a flat tire or crashing on the bike–so I’m always a bit relieved to get to the run and only have to worry about moving forward on my own two feet. With that in mind, I started the run happy to be off the bike. Even though I knew I might fade later, I went with the good feeling and let it rip. Between spectators hitting the nail on the head with their Goggins-inspired encouragement and fellow runners I chatted with on the first loop, it was easy to smile for the cameras! In the back of my mind, I knew I had some work ahead of me and if I’m being honest, the hill I was dreading on the way back into town was every bit as hard as I thought it would be–yowzer! 

Looking a little bit more tired but giving the thumbs up heading uphill on lap 2.

On lap 2, I felt the twinge of cramps. I held them off by slowing, doing the math on how slow I could go and still hit my (arbitrary, ambitious, motivating) goal of averaging <6:00/km. At one point, I rubbed some of my base salts on a nasty wetsuit burn on my neck to distract myself from the cramps. Boy, did that remind me that things could get worse! The scenery, especially the ski jumps in the distance, and the shared suffering with other racers got me through the long out and back, as did thinking on purpose about friends and family–and drinking coke at every aid station. Seeing my friends, telling strangers they looked good, and reminding myself out loud that “it’s not supposed to be easy!” helped, too. My coach Ang’s reminder that “suffering is a privilege” helped me push myself instead of shying away from the challenge. I spent a while imagining my dog Walter pulling me by his leash before tackling that darn hill one more time! Luckily, the love of my life and total hunk Brent was stationed mid-ascent with one of my favourite songs in the world playing for me. Better yet, he let me know that I was fairly firmly setting myself up to finish 10th in my AG–good enough (in the Women for Tri era, but more to explore and unpack there!) for a Kona qualifier. From there, I felt lighter in my step and had to remind myself to enjoy the last mile, taking some time to let it all soak in. 

In the finisher chute.

As a girl who cited period cramps and walked off the track the day we ran the mile in 9th grade gym class, I always draw strength from looking back on my journey to the point where I’ll pay lots of money to run lots of miles. As cheesy as it sounds, as I ran to the finish line, I thought on purpose about how proud of that young girl I am for the progress she’s made and the woman I’ve become. I somehow held it together at the finish line (4:09:13 marathon, which works out to 5:56/km) and almost argued with Brent (sorry, honey–you’re the best!) when he told me my finishing time and that I’d PR’d across the board and overall (11:42:19). 

I am so grateful for the way that my person (Brent), my coach, my tri club, my friends, coworkers and family have supported and encouraged me and for the opportunity to choose to suffer in this sport. As I’ve said before, I love to see what I can get out of myself and racing helps me do that. Can’t wait to do it again (after some recovery and some heat-training) in just under 12 weeks. 

If IMLP is on your maybe list, move it to your must-do and get training–it’s no joke! 

Cheryl MacLachlan is an endurance athlete, teacher and coach living in London, ON. She is always looking for another bike and loves her dog Walter, books and writing.

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