Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to race the inaugural running of Ironman Lake Tahoe which started at the famous Kings Beach on North Shore, ending at Olympic Village in Squaw Valley. My involvement in this race all started because of a post by Josh Hickey on Facebook announcing the race in June of 2012. The moment I saw his post, I was pretty much all in. I successfully got my name in during the full 18hrs it took for the race to completely sell out, and with that, it was on. In between then and race week, there was a LOT of early morning training, a lot of great practice races, difficult rides, blah blah blah …let’s get to the race.
Lauren and I had originally planned on just renting a house near Kings Beach, but an open invitation to some of my California family got more amazing people involved, so we needed to upgrade the house to something that could hold a couple families. We landed a great home on the edge of the lake in Homewood just south of Tahoe City. It was perfect.
Injury: Unfortunately, right after my heaviest peak day of my training 3 weeks out (100m bike to 10m run) my back completely tweaked out. The best part is that I tweaked it moving my sons scooter from one side of a room to the other. I mean, how the heck can I work out for 8hrs, but not be able to move a 5lb Pixar Cars scooter 4 feet? Anyway…I got hurt, and literally stopped my tapper hard until 7 days to race day. I was pretty nervous that this was going to significantly impact my race day. My life then turned to focus on recovery, and ONLY recovery, fearing every twist, turn, kid pickup, and walk I was involved with. Fortunately, 7 days out, I was at least able to get a good long brick in (not without discomfort) that gave me hope that I would be able to bag this race.
Wake-Up: Alarm clock on my phone was set for 4:00am, and that’s exactly when I got out of bed. I didn’t even need the other 2 alarms that I had set on my watch and tablet. My guess was that my masochistic passion was crazy excited to get this day started. I’m sure that Laur’s mindset on the alarm was a bit different than mine, but she and my brother-in-law Jeff (“Bear Chaser”) both hopped into our car set off for Kings Beach as they were also planning on volunteering as well.
Race prep: Getting dropped off at T1 was surreal for me because it was there were I kissed Laur goodbye knowing what the day was likely to be for me. Brutal, cold, and at times VERY uncomfortable. Seeing how it wasn’t my first IM, I knew partially how un/fun my day was going to be. As soon as I got to my bike, I immediately put my wetsuit on because the outside temp was around 30 degrees. I removed my rain protection Safeway bags from my handlebars and seat, got a psi check in, scrapped too ice off my bike, and headed for the beach via the welcome center (last option for heat).
Once there was enough light out to see the water, it all of a sudden got real. In every other triathlon, the swim has scared me. In Boulder 70.3, the first turn buoy seemed way too far out there. In Canada IM, I couldn’t even see the buoy (single loop). In Kansas 70.3, the water turbulence freaked me out. I’ve always been intimidated. For some reason, I wasn’t with this one. There is something about the Lake Tahoe water that just makes swimming enjoyable to me. Maybe it was the clear blue water, maybe the calming mist coming off the surface, maybe the scenery with every breath, but I was ready to get this party started. The cannon for Pro’s went off, and soon the rolling start of athletes went after. BTW, I love the rolling swim start that IRONMAN has installed. I’m a fan. As I entered the mat and race start arch, I had the extreme benefit of giving my good friend Keats McGonigal a hug (he was wishing all athletes good luck) whom was also the race director for the course. This guy is a phenomenal person, athlete, and race director. You’ll clearly see how great of a race director he is by my favorable comments about the race, but to take on an inaugural Ironman event has got to be something fierce, and then throw all the elements and weather on top of it, the dude rocked it. IMPRESSED! Back to swimming …The first leg took a couple of breast stroke breaks to get into it, but then finally took my customary gulp of water, put my head down and just swam. The chill of the water never seemed to be a factor, but it definitely was warmer the deeper you got. It appeared that 1/4th the field were wearing booties, but I am glad that I didn’t. Other than not being able to see the buoys due to the lake mist, my only distractions included random connections with squirrely line swimmers, AMAZING clear vision of the bottom of the lake, and one of my favorite moments of the race …when the sun came out from behind the morning clouds. Sorry to sound cheesy, but that lake LIT UP the moment the sunlight hit the water. It was awesome. Drafting then became an option because I could see everybody’s feet so clearly. I lassoed myself to someone my pace and just swam! 2 great loops, not as fast as I typically go, but a great swim. Swim Results: 1:12, 1:52/100m pace, Top 20% of my age category.
T1 – Swim to bike transition:
The changing tents were crazy, but manageable. I was way too close to men doing a full change into warm bike gear. I breezed through in 9min as I wasn’t planning a full change. I went with arm warmers, my already dawned tri suit, bike jacket, overly warm bike gloves, and regular pair of athletic socks…and I NEVER wear socks with my cycling shoes. Friends will vouch for me. Lauren wishes I did, cause those thangs STANK something fierce after my long rides. I ended up taping over my aerated shoe vents the night before so my toes weren’t so breezy. It was very cold, but I believe that due to my training nature of doing my long rides starting at 2-3am on typically chilly Denver mornings, my body was able to handle the chill a bit more than the average field.
Getting on the bike is usually an amazing goal for me because I typically don’t like swimming, but there wasn’t quite the feeling this time seeing how I could have kept swimming for another 2hrs because of the beauty of the water. I had 2 loops ahead of me of what I thought to be a pretty fast ride. I was wrong completely! The chill was noticeable, but not a factor, so I was feeling good. Hwy 28 was the first leg, and acted as a great warm up for what was to come in the next 7hrs. From Kings Beach to Tahoe City I averaged around 19mph. Without the Dollar Point climb in the leg (+250ft), I probably would have averaged around 26. I stink at hills. In Tahoe City, I received another favorite moment of the day. Crouched in aero, just trying to push out of initial adrenaline comfort, I look to the right side of the road and I see the whole clan of kids and my parents. They had the most amazing signs made for me. “Go Uncle James”, “smile if you’ve pee’d your pants today”, massive hearts around “dad”, etc. My parents are seriously All-Stars for taking on 7 kids for the day, and it was so great to see them there. They have the most amazing hearts. One moment I’ll never forget is the look on my daughters face as she danced recklessly holding her sign cheering me on. What a testimony that happiness in life can be found through the eyes of a child. The vision of her dancing hung with me throughout the rest of the day. From Tahoe City to Truckee I averaged 23mph. Climb to the Ritz, I averaged 7mph. Climb up Brockway 6.5mph ave. I stink at hills. Then on the descent of Brockway back to Kings Beach, I averaged 37mph topping out at 45mph. Now THAT was a good time. Total aero tuck, bugs bouncing off of helmet and glasses, eye’s watering, neck hurting, passing peeps around 40mph. I am easy to breeze over detail of the hill climbs because those were brutal for me. Those hills were much more straight up and down than most of my training (except for the Bob Cook Hill climb up Mt Evans in July) so my 6’5”, 190lb frame had a hard time with it. If you were a racer, and wondered “how did this guy get so far ahead in the pack?” …that was most likely me. Fast on flats, stink on hills. I believe that we topped out at 7230ft, which is only about 1200ft higher than my average riding elevation because I am from Denver. In fact, it was on hills where half of the mighty Visalia Tri-Club caught me. Eric Blain, Brent Blain, and Joshua Hickey all passed me on hills, and I was honored by it as they are all amazing athletes! One specific meet up that I enjoyed the most was finally getting the opportunity to meet Joshua Hickey face to face up Highline/Brockway. We’ve been virtual friends for a long time (great friend Jamie Hickey’s husband), he has always been a great source of tri encouragement/knowledge, and I even give him partial blame for my original commitment to an Ironman 70.3. Anyway, SOLID guy, we chatted high-level about how awesome we are, and then he decided to go fast again as he easily was sacrificing some speed for our conversation. Thanks for that Josh! That was a high point, but a low point was the fact that this was a loop course. I dislike loops because I like the element of surprise and seeing something new. Climbing in Truckee, Highline, and Brockway were no more fun the 2nd time. …and seeing how you could easily find someone puking on either climb the 2nd lap, it was easy to see that others agreed with me. The best approach to the hills for me was to just put my head down, and pedal! It was often that I kept looking for more gears with none available, but for some reason my head thought that it would be fun to keep trying. As for nutrition, I slammed 2 20oz and 2 8oz bottles of Infinit, 2 full Bonk Breakers (the new choco/peanut butter is amazing), 2 AccelGels, and 4 large nutter butters from my special needs bag. My friend John Bastian pointed out that on my bike alone, I burned 9600 calories. That’s equivalent to about 2lbs of weight loss in my world. If you need another comparison, it’s also equal to 7 Chipotle burritos. Infinit was a HUGE find for me towards the end of my training. It’s a personalized endurance drink (290cal/serv) that Bastian had been telling me that I should try for the past 3 years. Glad I finally listened, cause it was perfect fuel for me. Regardless as to how good Infinit was on my soft lips over the ride, nothing was better than seeing the entry into the Squaw Valley Olympic Village signifying that my ride was over for the day…and there was no better place to end the bike, and start the run! Brutal ride, but I would not expect ANYTHING different from an Ironman event. I really hope that Ironman never changes it because of its huge contribution to DNF rate and vocal whiners. Bike Results: 7:05, 16mph ave pace, Top 26% of my age category.
T2 – Bike to Run transition:
Here comes another favorite moment in my day. Wendi (sis), and Jeff (bro-n-law) both wanted to volunteer for the race, and I had the extreme benefit of being able to see them in the transition tent. This is a bigger benefit then you could imagine because typically in the bike-to-run tent you mostly see other athletes who are suffering, dying, or just pissed off about something. Well, I got to chat it up with Jeff as he helped me due VERY basic bending tasks (yes, picking up a hat off of the ground at that point is painful) and even got a big hug and picture opportunity with my amazing sister as well. I transitioned in about 7min which is pretty quick, but can only assume that was because of the encouragement from them. They were amazing to see, and I am so honored to be related to such amazing people.
Running out of the T2 changing tent to the marathon was a great moment because I felt pretty dang good. Let’s see: legs feel good, I’m in a place of the 1960 Winter Olympics, back hurts a little, fuel is all full/fresh, shoes/socks feel good …why not go run my 8th marathon? It definitely helped that the first 3 miles were downhill, but it didn’t help to see the pro’s finishing their race within the first 3 as well. Pure athletes right there. My spirits were quickly lifted higher by the sight of my great friend Jamie Hickey sporting her “Team Hickey” Ironman shirt. If you haven’t connected the dots yet, she is Josh “hill climb” Hickey’s wife. I wanted to stop and just catch up with her, but we settled with some brief words (mostly her encouraging me as she does well to so many), some high fives, and some parting “you rock” statements. That is a great peep right there! Anyway, I carried a sub-10min pace through the first 6 miles, and I felt great doing it. I had forecasted that I would be running 9:30-11:00min pace throughout the marathon, but after the beast climbs on the bike being more than I thought they were, I quickly changed my expectations. Regardless of how good I felt, I apparently dropped to an 11min pace through mile 15. I still don’t know why, as I felt strong …and it was actually all downhill too. The only thing that I can think of was the fact that running along the Truckee River was SO STINKEN beautiful! Maybe I just got lost in it. I guess that is ok. I chose not to keep looking at my watch, so maybe that was a risk. Then, mile 15 happened!!! If you know the course, there is this one hill just beyond the turn for Squaw Valley Rd that goes behind a playground and school that just destroyed me. I couldn’t Ironman shuffle it, but could only Pikes Peak stride it out. It was only 200m long and 150ft gain, but it totally wiped me out. After that gem of a climb, I snuggled in tight for a 12-13min pace from 15-26 miles. I never recovered from that hill. I just couldn’t seem to get back the steam that I felt I had just prior. Lungs felt good, back hurt appropriately, I felt fueled, but I just couldn’t seem to get my legs to turnover with comfort. Oh well, I guess it is the end of an Ironman so it’s to be expected to an extent. That’s when I started throwing everything down because I can fix anything. 😉 I started drinking de-fizzed cola, warm chicken broth, Ironman Perform, and even downed half a banana which I have never done. Only minor successes, so I decided to resolve with blaming Brockway once again for taking so much out of me. I stink on hills. I believe it was about mile 18 when I saw the first headlamp, and it was mile 22 when I got my own. At that point, it was survival time, and it was almost poetic how the dark hid faces in pain. Just like on the bike, I just needed to put my head down and run. To use a friend’s life catch phrase (Brian Dillon), I kept repeating “always forward” in my head to try to find just a bit of speed out of my completely drained legs. I started run/walking about mile 22 (with a couple occurrences prior) when muscle cramps and back got really bad, but ultimately carried the shuffle until the finish. Results: 4:51, 11:06/mile pace, Top 25% of my age category.
The finish line chute is as good as you could imagine it. Here I am in the middle of Squaw Valley Village, thousands of peeps cheering on loved ones but it feels like they are all there for me. I lost all pain in my legs, back, and neck and just ran for the finish. I think I threw in a “lawnmower start”, a couple of “Mike Tyson upper cuts”, a “plane coming in for landing”, and capped it all off with one of my signature finish line hurdles. I’m not sure how I did it, but it happened. I specifically remember with this one thinking that I had to pull up crazy hard on my legs just to get them off the ground. …and then, the most amazing moment of the whole day happened. This event was better than seeing the sunlight hit the water during the swim, better than pedaling on top of both huge hills twice, better than seeing my friends, better than hearing my name announced and crossing that finish line in pride. None of them came close to touching this event … I saw my wife Lauren. She was among the finisher volunteers, lookin all beautiful, holding my Ironman medal in hand telling me congratulations with a kiss and sweaty hug. Ah, there was nothing greater. …oh wait, UNTILL I got to see the rest of my family as well. My children, my parents, and my sister’s amazing family were all just on the other side of the fence not caring a single ounce how sweaty and smelly I was offering amazing hugs and love. What an honor it was to be loved by such amazing people. I am a blessed guy. Results: 13:25, Top 25% of my age category
Regardless of the huge DNF rate (20%), the countless hours of training in the dark Denver mornings to prepare, the $ it took to travel, battling the unknowns of the course, and staring the elements of Lake Tahoe in the eyes …this was without question the greatest athletic accomplishment I have achieved yet. IRONMAN Lake Tahoe will always be an amazing moment in my life because it drew so many fond memories and gratefulness out of life with my family, friends, and my athletic pursuit. That’s what life is all about right? Looking, and at most times finding those above average moments where you have grown or are growing as a person/spouse/friend, and most importantly as a child into someone that is a needle mover of TRUE good on this planet. Those moments of growth don’t always only happen when you cross a finish line, but it also happens at coffee with a friend, watching a child in a sandbox, and even climbing up Hess Rd in Parker, Co at 2:30am. I love the growth phase, and I hope that I never feel like I have grown because I am enjoying the ride way too much. I enjoy the fact that Ironman Lake Tahoe in its splendor was NOT one of the last accomplishments I plan to conquer.