Have you ever been asked, “Did you do everything you possibly could to make your race perfect?” Me; most times my answer has been no, but this time was different.
The training itself wasn’t picture perfect, because I have a tendency to put my client’s training needs before myself, I don’t train at the intensities my body is capable of handling. It’s certainly not a complaint; I love my job more than anything in the world and I get just as much joy in seeing them succeed with their racing as what I do with mine. But I certainly could do better with my own training.
Arriving at Lake Placid is not the easiest; there are no really close airports, so your drive is one and a half to two hours getting in. The weather is very unpredictable where it is pouring one minute and 60 degrees outside and five minutes later sunny and 75. One thing I have learned with racing is that if it rains on race day; everyone gets to race in the rain. If it is windy; everyone gets to race in windy conditions. Two of the two Ironman races I have done it has been rainy and windy. So it is what it is and you learn to suck it up and deal with it.
Arriving on Wednesday before the race with lost luggage left us with not getting to get anything done; so the first day was a scratch. Thursday I got up and went for a drive around the entire course, both run and bike. The nice thing about this particular course is that it is two laps of everything, so you only have to go over half the distance of the race.
After taking a drive around the course, then headed off to race registration where it’s all the same; get number, show ID, weigh in, pick-up numbers and bag… Then went and picked up my bike from Bike Transport (which, if you have never done this can be nice if you don’t want to mess with your bike right after the race or uncomfortable with bike dis/assembly). I then had to drop my bike off at the local shop to be fixed…that’s right. A problem that couldn’t be fixed before my bike got sent out had to be done there. Surprisingly, as stressed out as I could have been over it, it didn’t even phase me.
Friday I got to swim the course; I put on my H2O Audio Headphones (best thing EVER), zoned out and had an amazing swim in Mirror Lake. The water was glassy and clean, from the center of the lake you get a spectacular panoramic view of Lake Placid unlike no other. Later on I hopped on my bike and practiced the big descent at the beginning of the ride portion a couple times and ran two of the big hills on the run course.
Saturday I will have to admit I got a little carried away and went for what started out to be an easy short run and ended up running an 8 mile run at an 8:00 pace. I had gone off into my own little world and came to 4 miles away from my hotel. Later in the morning I got on my bike and rode down the big 12 mile climb at the end of the bike course and turned back to ride up it. So my day before the race workout ended up being an 8 mile run and 25 mile bike. It was more than I had planned, but I didn’t over-stress that I had done too much.
I hadn’t drank for almost three months and sitting there a lunch with my friend and husband I out of the blue decided I would have a beer, so I had one…and another. It really wasn’t necessary to have the second especially after getting more than a buzz after literally three sips. This was Friday and I slept like a baby that night. Saturday afternoon I decided to have anther, but this time I didn’t go overboard; I only had one. Night before the race I slept so well.
Waking up the morning of my Ironman race was very uneventful. Ate breakfast; oatmeal and had 16 ounces of water with powered electrolytes, then headed to the race site, which we had to walk a mile since we were located on the race course and roads were closed off until midnight. I got everything dropped off and walked to the lake, which is another quarter mile from the transition area. Still I felt calm. When I know it’s going to be a long day, I surrender to the fact that at 7 a.m. I will be working out and so at noon, and 3 p.m. and still even at 6 in the evening. It’s just a long day. This year I have started something new with my warm-ups before a race; I actually go for a swim. So this is what I did and swam for about ten to fifteen minutes nice and easy.
Then the race was about to begin. Five minutes before the start I ran into my coach in a sea of 2700 people, we stuck by each others side as if it were to last the entire 2.4 miles…right. The gun goes off!
The first 400 meters really wasn’t so bad and then a guy (knowing this from the red swim cap) grabbed my shoulder and pulled me under. As I am underwater I look above me to see bodies all around and as I surface I made the biggest mistake ever; I looked behind me. I totally FREAKED OUT!
They are all about to take me down, it was a sea of red swim caps. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t put my face in the water, I couldn’t breast stroke, I couldn’t do anything to move forward! All I could do was yell for my coach who had long left my side at this point and I wanted to rip my wetsuit off because I was getting so hot I couldn’t stand it. Panic! I told myself to get calm, waited for what seemed like eternity and found an open pocket of water and took it. I swam in that pocket for the rest of the race and no one came close to me, it was unbelievable!
First lap took me 39 minutes to complete. At this point I was actually feeling a little sea sick, but it happens with me in the water, but after I found my rhythm and got comfortable, the second lap took 34 minutes. The swim was over in 1:13:33 and I was onto my bike.
As soon as I got onto my bike this was the first time that I thought maybe the 12 mile climb I did yesterday should have been done on Friday instead. But that feeling only lasted for a very brief moment because next thing I know I was already 15 miles into the ride. The descent you do about 5 miles into the ride is amazing. And for those who aren’t afraid to go fast; this is the time to gain time. Luckily for me I love to see how fast I can really push it down the hill, but on the other hand living in Chicago I don’t get as much hill practice as I would like to do so the climb up on the other side of the course was not going to be my strong point. 20 miles into the bike I was averaging 24.4 mph.
Then the rolling hills started, and I guess it wouldn’t have been so bad if it weren’t into the wind and you felt your legs working down the hills too. There was a sign at the beginning of the rollers that said, “make the rollers your bitch”, and I can’t tell you how much I looked forward to seeing that sign on the next lap…the little things that entertains you through a race like this. After you pass through the rollers you get one little descent that takes you to the very bottom of the valley right by White Face Mountain; it is where you see the 100 mile marker and then there is the 12 mile climb out of the valley and back into Lake Placid. The first lap it isn’t so bad, but the second round that final climb was the longest 12 miles I have ever ridden, 50 minutes to get through 12 miles. 6 hours and 6 minutes later the ride was over and I was quickly onto the run.
Surprisingly as I started my run my legs felt great. The first 5k I found it very difficult to run slower than an 8:00 pace. My body wanted to go fast but my mind was going slow down; but the fear of slowing down and feeling my body shut down if I did won the battle, so I continued with the pace. Gradually as the miles went on the legs started to slow on their own. The first 13.1 miles were done in around 1:50 and I was feeling great.
At this point in the race everything had felt great. Yes, there were a couple obstacles I had to overcome in the swim, but all in all this had been a pretty picture perfect race. My nutrition was spot on and stomach was feeling great. As I passed the mile 14 marker I remember thinking, “Where did the day go?” At that moment it felt like a blur; the months of training for the hours of racing and I couldn’t remember anything about it. Is this what it’s like to be in the zone? My legs never really hurt, nor did my lungs. I will admit that around the last 8 miles I started to feel tired, sleepy tired. Up to mile 22 I stuck to the nutrition plan of my run of water and oranges.
Then I saw the food table; I took the longest mile of my race here at 12:45 – stopped and had a schmorgasboard. I was out of control! I had a cup of pretzels (I don’t even like pretzels), an oatmeal cookie, a branch of grapes, half an orange; shoved it all in my mouth and had some water with it, just enough to make a thick paste I couldn’t even swallow. “Get it under control Kimberly!” That is was actually came out of my mouth, not just thinking it. It did take good though, but I knew that the next 4 miles could be the longest 4 miles I had ever run if I didn’t stick to the plan. As I made my way back into town and into the last 2 miles I found that my energy was picking up along with my legs.
I had a screen print of an Iron Maiden album cover put on my racing top and wore it through the race and it was the most brilliant idea ever. Throughout the entire run all I hear was “go Iron Maiden”, and people yelling and cheering me on, giving high fives, it made me easily recognisable. It really helped get me through the race. (My husband hated the shirt and didn’t find it appropriate given that I was married and not a maiden, however a maiden is also a female race horse who has never won a race…I have never won an Ironman so I loved it and found it perfect for me.)
The last two miles I continued to pick up my pace; naturally being a shorter distance athlete I always find I have a kick left in the end. 1 mile left, and then 800 meters…as I entered the Olympic Speed Skating Arena and made my lap around the track I continued to pick up speed. On the straight away I started to come up on a girl and about passed her, but decided to back off and give her that moment of glory as she crossed the finish line. I did and then she stopped – so I didn’t get to have mine, and she was in my age group and beat me by 1 second. To top it off; the announcer didn’t even say, “Kimberly Shah, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” It was such a disappointment. I was more disappointed about the announcer than anything else in the race.
12 hours is what I wanted to break and I thought is was going to be work to make that happen. But finishing in 11:46:21 was actually a lot easier than what I expected. Ironman easy? – it was challenging but not as hard as I thought it to be. Maybe I could do one of these and train hard for it and race it hard.
Never once in the race did I think why, this sucks or the infamous never again. In fact, it could not have gone more Picture Perfect (up until the last few seconds) and as the miles went on, the more excited I became for the next one, yes… The Next One.