They welcome me with those famous words…“Arnold, You Are an Ironman!”
“Swim 2.4 miles, Bike 112 miles, Run 26.2 miles, brag for the rest of your life!”
I once heard someone say “if you want to see what you’re made of, come try an Ironman.” That was the first step I took on my journey to finish sports most grueling one day event. Sitting in front of my computer, I watched a video on Hulu of the Ford Ironman World Championships of 2008 and was instantly fascinated at the determination and joy on the triathlete’s faces as they crossed that finish line. I would do this race and finish!
It’s July 22nd at Four AM and the buzzer goes off. With not much sleep that night, I slide out of bed. I had prepped my gear the evening before so after a quick breakfast I grab my bags and the family heads to the car. We’re staying at a lodge about 12 miles outside Lake Placid (ironically it’s the last 12 miles of the bike route which is all up hill). As we near the town I realize I had forgotten my timing chip back at the room. Not wanting to wake our youngest who was staying with my parents I had opted not to turn on the lights and missed the chip. My already nervous wife graciously drops me off at transition and runs back to pick up the timing chip. You can cut the tension in the air with a knife as we prepare the rest of our gear for the day’s event. Body glide, water bottles, gels, tires…all check out. I get marked by one of the volunteers with my race numbers and finally slip into my wetsuit. My wife shows up with the timing chip about 15 minutes before the professionals start. With my chip strapped on, I make my way out to the lake and with 2,900+ people wait for the cannon to signal the start of our day. As we tread water the announcer amps up the crowd and the cannon fires exactly at 7 AM!
The swim of the Ironman in Lake Placid is a two loop course that totals 2.4 miles. What you don’t realize is that as all 2900+ people start, you end up swimming to stay afloat! It’s a contact sport at this point as arms and legs flail around and you jockey for position and try to avoid getting hit or pushed under. After the first lap, all the athletes step out of the water and return to the start for a second loop, a short reprieve from the struggles of the first lap. The second lap stretches out the swimmers and I’m able to find my nitch and get into my rhythm. As I exit the water for the last time, the crowd is in a frenzy cheering on athletes and loved ones. I look at my time and I’m happy to finish an hour before the 2hr 20min cutoff. A volunteer helps to rip off my wetsuit and I’m off down the street back to transition for my clothes and bike.
The bike consists of two 56 mile loops totaling 112 miles that you need to complete before the 10 hour mark or your day is done. Volunteers are rushing around helping to retrieve bikes for the coming athletes. A girl comes running over with my bike and wishes me luck, I give her a big smile and thank you and it’s off to the races. Lake Placid sits a little over 1800 ft above sea level and if you travel away from town you are almost guaranteed to go downhill. The first 30 miles of the bike ride takes you on a scenic view of the Adirondack Mountains. Rushing rivers, green foliage; it’s the typical scene you’d see on an advertisement. But that scene fades quickly as you make your way back to town and realize you have to climb the same elevation you enjoyed on the way out. Twelve miles to go and I find my family cheering on the side of the road just outside of the lodge we’re staying at! The encouragement comes at a great time as the adrenaline rush helps propel me up the hill back to town. The last climb to the town is called Papa Bear. It’s not an overly difficult climb but with 55 miles on your legs already, it becomes harder than it looks. The road is lined with people cheering and encouraging the cyclists up the hill. We turn to what I think is the last bend and realize Papa Bear isn’t finished with us yet! Ugh! The approach to transition is electric, it’s just before midday and the town is in a frenzy as we come in and complete our first loop. What seems like seconds go by and we’re off again for the second loop of the bike course.
The end of the bike for me comes around 4:20 in the late afternoon. Grateful for the volunteer who takes my bike back to the bike rack, I change into my run clothes and start the hardest part of my day, the marathon. Running has never come easy for me; I’m more of a short distance sprinter. The run course follows the first 3 miles of the bike course and as I head out I know the same hills leading out of town is something I’ll have to contend with yet again. For the first 8 to 10 miles things go well for me. The same people who passed me on the bike I’m now seeing again on the run but our roles are reversed, what a great feeling! But then things turn for the worse and I’m having trouble keeping things down. Later I’ll find out that sports drinks and gels coat the stomach with sugar and if you don’t drink enough water, your digestive system can’t process the incoming nutrition as well. I’m able to gut my way through to mile 15 by mostly jogging with some walking, but after that it turns into more walking than jogging. It’s about 8 pm and relief comes ironically in the form of a sunset. The air starts to cool and the constant bombardment of the sun starts to subside. Without much nutritional intake, my body just doesn’t have the calories it needs to sustain a continuous jog and I start to ask for the time to see how long I have till the midnight cutoff. At the pace I’m going, it’s close in my mind. Mile 23 comes along and I’m pumping my arms to keep my walk pace up. I get back to the town and the crowds are now cheering me on. I can hear the party that’s happening at the finish in the Olympic Oval and I know I want in! With about 1.5 miles left in the race, I dig deep, think about my family waiting for me at the finish, and say a quick prayer. The cheers of the crowd start to grow and my body gives me one last boost as I come into the Olympic Oval and into the roar of all the spectators and athletes who have finished ahead of me. It’s been 15 hours, 28 minutes and 9 seconds since my day started to be part of an exclusive club. They welcome me with those famous words…“Arnold, You Are an Ironman!”