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Race Report – Ironman Lake Placid 2018 (Part 3 – Bike)

This ended up being really long, so I’ve broken it into parts. You can find the rest here (when they’re ready):

The bike course at Ironman Lake Placid is supposed to be one of the harder ones in all Ironman events, mainly because of the hills. It is a 2-loop ride, so 56 miles on each loop. The Ironman site shows that each loop of the course has 4182 feet of climbing, so that makes 8,364 feet for the entire 112-mile ride. Fortunately that isn’t really the case. If you look at this version of the course, it comes in at 6,822, which I think is more accurate because my Strava recording (using a Garmin Edge 500) registered 6,138 feet over 112 miles.

Discrepancies in the exact elevation notwithstanding, this is still a tough bike course with a significant amount of climbing. I had never focused on my climbing until this year, and had worked on it as much as I could before this event. I’m still very slow, but I feel like I at least built up some endurance for climbing on a long ride.

I had decided to make a full outfit change between different parts of the race because I didn’t think that I could ride 112 miles in tri-shorts. So I changed out of my bathing suit and into bib shorts and a cycling jersey. Because of the weather forecast and my tendency to always be cold, I also wore sleeves, a cycling vest, and a light running/cycling jacket. All of this took me too long, over fifteen minutes. At least the volunteers are ready to hand you your bike as you run out from the changing tent and through the rows of bikes. I was told to shout my number as I ran. The number was passed along by the volunteers, and my bike was right there for me when I reached my row.

T1 = 15:18

The start of the bike course features a sharp 180-degree turn while descending. I had been warned about this on the previous day and had looked it over. I wasn’t worried about myself, as I had done some turn practice for a time trial last year and periodically do tiny circles in parking lots for practice. I didn’t have any other athletes near me when I got here, but watch out for others who may have less control. For visualization purposes, this turn is where the first loop ends and rejoins the course for the start of the second loop. I didn’t have to worry about anyone coming from that direction though, as even the pros aren’t able to swim and then bike 56 miles by the time the slow swimmers start to bike.

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Waving to my family as I start my ride.

From there, the course continues downhill, makes a 90-degree turn to the right, and plunges down a steep decline before another 90-degree turn to the left. The ground was marked with warnings to stay slow. I had already ridden the lower part of this during my practice ride two days ago, so I felt comfortable letting myself fly a bit faster here. Just make sure you’re ready to brake and make the left turn. The road levels off and you’ll make a right turn onto Main Street here, and this is where I felt like I was really on the course.

The beginning stretch between this point and the Olympic ski jumps is a great chance to warm-up your legs. The pavement is smooth with some small rollers, followed by a fun downhill section right as you reach the ski jumps. By this point, I still hadn’t seen any rain, but the sky was gray and foreboding.

Once you pass the ski jumps you’ll encounter the first hills of Lake Placid. This is around mile 2.5, and I think was one of the toughest parts of the course. I hit the climb and tried to remember what I had read about this course: don’t go out too hard on the first lap. I shifted into a low gear, focused on the road directly ahead of me, and tried to find a rhythm for my climb. Raindrops began to fall and the wind kicked up, directly into my face.

For the next seven or eight miles, I was miserable. The rain intensified and was accompanied with squally winds that beat against me as I tried to make any forward (and upward) progress. Even going downhill (for a brief stretch) was tough, as I had to pedal through the wind. It also grew colder, with the wind, rain, and a drop in air temperature of about 10 degrees (F). I cringed for the athletes wearing only tri-kits. My fingers and toes were numb, but I never felt cold in my core, so I knew I’d be okay.

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OMG, this sucks!

At this point, I reached the first out-and-back of three on each loop of the course. This was a nice flat run out to the Olympic bobsled course and back. The first of the aid stations is at the end of it, and the road was more sheltered from the wind. I had been unable to drink anything so far (Gatorade Endurance) because the wind had been too strong to let go of my handlebars to grab a bottle. I guzzled some liquid and tossed away my first water bottle here, even though it wasn’t empty (learning from past experience), and took another Gatorade Endurance from a volunteer.

I turned to the right upon leaving the out-and-back and continued climbing for a short distance further before finally arriving at the Keene descent.

I love descending as fast as possible, so I had been looking forward to this section for some time. I wasn’t particularly happy about the rain and the wind, but I had also ridden in similar conditions before and had decent tires on my bike. I had seen this part of the road when we drove the course, so I knew that there weren’t any sharp turns ahead until the town of Keene. I flew downhill, pedaling into the descent, but kept my hands on the brakes, ready to slow if I felt out of control. The greatest challenge on the descent was watching out for the other athletes. I know that not everyone loves to careen downhill at high speed. But unfortunately many riders didn’t stay to the right either. I tried to shout, “on your left” a couple of times, but either they ignored me or didn’t hear me in the wind. I did manage to pass most of them (only to be later passed on the flat), and rode into Keene more optimistic about my average speed than I had been on the earlier climb.

I had no way to really estimate what my pace would be for the bike course because I had never ridden this far, and I’m still pretty new to hills, only training on them for this season. My time at the Quassy Half bike was 4:16, but that was only a 54-mile course. IMLP was not as hilly as Quassy, but longer, with hills stacked at the end. I knew that if I kept my average pace at 14 mph, I’d finish with no need to worry about the cut offs, so that’s what I looked for on my Garmin.

The next section of the course starts with a sharp left in the town of Keene and follows Highway 9N north. Here is your best chance for some speed, as this section is all flat until Jay. The gorgeous Ausable River will be on your left. You’ll cross a bridge in Upper Jay, make a right turn, and continue with the river on the right. Look out for two aid stations in this section – one just after the turn in Keene, and another a short distance before you reach Jay. I had to stop at one of these to get my nutrition out of a back pocket in my jersey. Usually I can manage that without stopping, but my fingers were still a bit numb from the weather. The squally rain and wind had let up by this point, but the day remained overcast with some drizzle and wet roads.

The left turn in the town of Jay (mile 26) could be considered the start of the climb back to town, although the worst of it starts later, around the end of the Haselton out-and-back. But this hill that you encounter at Jay is the first one you’ve had to climb in a while, so it means that it’s time to grind away on those gears again. From here until about mile 39, you’ll ride some rolling hills interspersed with a few flatter sections.

I was still feeling pretty good at this point, and was looking forward to the Haselton out-and-back and the Game of Thrones-themed aid station ahead (I had spied this when we drove the course). I made a right turn on Bilhuber Road, then after just a short ways, another right onto Haselton Road. This is the second out-and-back on the loop, and the longest of the three. You’ll have to be ready for another 180-degree turn at the end of it, but this section is also pretty flat and fun to ride. After I turned around and retraced my way back south, the sun even showed itself briefly.

The out-and-backs are also fun because you can watch for other racers, and looking for friends and family can help relieve some of the mental stress of such a long ride. Finally I arrived at the GoT aid station and had decided to stop here for a bathroom break. The volunteer that helped me held my bike and my layers and even brushed sand off my shoes so that I wouldn’t have any trouble clipping in when I left.

There is another hill at mile 39, then a flat section, and then the last 13 miles of each loop are all uphill. The third out-and-back (a new addition to the course this year) starts at mile 44.5 (near the start of that 13 miles) and is short but has a steep section to get back onto the main road. This out-and-back is at the ski area, Whiteface Mountain, and has another 180-degree turn. I heard/read many negative comments about this addition to the course, but I liked it. I enjoyed the bike handling involved in the turn and had fun in this short, slightly twisty section.

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Whiteface Mountain. Photo by Theedster123 under Creative Commons license.

From there, it’s mostly straight and all climbing, but with some amazing scenery as you pass alongside High Falls Gorge. The river is still the Ausable River. I can’t really figure out how it flows in a circle around the entire course, but it just does. The hardest part about this section is that you’ll have to keep pushing up hill after hill after hill. No part of the climb is terribly steep, but there aren’t ever enough downhill miles to recover from the climbing until you reach town again. You will find another aid station here, but I had just stopped, so I just continued to exchange bottles and rolled on.

The last few hills are named Momma Bear, Baby Bear, and Papa Bear. They are labeled on the ground so you’ll know when you’re here. Someone had written Goldilocks on a hill right before the bears, and Ray Ray Bear on a tiny steep section after the other bears, but I’m not sure if those names will stick for future years.

If you’ve read about the IMLP course elsewhere, the three bears are the hills that are always mentioned. The build up about them is worse than the actual climbs. Momma Bear is no worse than all the other hills, and Baby Bear is just a bump. Papa Bear is more substantial, but when I got to it on the first loop, the crowds that were here to cheer the athletes on helped me to get through it. Papa Bear is also the last real climb on the course. After Papa Bear, you make a couple turns and roll into town. The end of the loop passes along part of the run course here, but you won’t find any runners on it until you’re on your second loop.

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I hadn’t been able to look over this part of the course beforehand, but it was easy to follow. The roads are closed and the route passes behind the high school to the back side of transition. It meets up with the beginning of the course here at that 180-degree turn, but at this point you’re coming at it straight-in. Also – just next to transition before you ride through the high school parking lot – this is where your bike special needs bags have been staged. I didn’t feel like I needed anything out of it, but I did stop to get a Rice Krispie treat out of my jersey and eat it.

On the second loop, the mental battle became harder. I tend to be really stubborn, so I never had any worry that I wouldn’t be able to tough it out and make it through. It was just an uncomfortable process. I knew how all the hills felt already, and the weather was getting better. My legs were tired, but no more than I would have expected. My average pace had dropped after the hills on the back side of the course, but I was still optimistic that I could keep it at 14 mph.

While the rain had stopped, the wind had not. The climb out of town was very rough, and the Keene descent on the second loop was more treacherous. I had to focus to keep my bike from getting pushed laterally by the wind. Another athlete that I spoke with briefly said that her bike had actually jumped sideways a few inches with one wind gust. The clumps of athletes had thinned out by this point, so the Keene descent was easier to navigate otherwise.

I found that the flatter sections after Keene were still fun, but my average pace was slower than on the first loop. I started to worry about cut off times. As of the 2018 rules, athletes have 17 hours to complete the entire course, but there are intermediate cut offs as well. For the bike course, the first lap had to be done by 1:30 p.m., you had to reach the fifth aid station (about mile 100) by 5 p.m., and you had to complete the second loop by 5:30 p.m. Finally, you must complete the swim and the bike sections in 10:30.

If everyone had started the race at exactly 7 a.m, then the 5:30 cut off would fall at a total race time of 10:30. But with the self-seeded start beginning at 6:40 a.m., I think everyone was in the water before 7 a.m. That complicates your ability to track where you are in regards to that 10:30 cut off unless you are tracking your entire race on one computer, OR if you make a special note of your start time. I was too distracted to do that at the start, and I also used different computers for the swim and the bike so that my battery life wouldn’t fail me.

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The flat part of the course. Photo courtesy of Joyce Pedersen via Creative Commons license.

I kept pedaling, pushing as much as I could, but my legs were feeling more and more fatigued and just didn’t have much to give. I watched in horror as my average speed dipped lower. On the second loop I knew that I couldn’t afford to stop for a bathroom break, but I also didn’t think that I needed to. I hadn’t thought that I had started out too hard on the first loop, but by the time I reached the back side of the course I had arrived at what I will call my “worst idea I’ve ever had” point.

This is something that seems to happen to me in every long event. It’s that time when I start reconsidering all my decisions to ever do a triathlon. This event that I paid money to participate in is now the worst idea I’ve ever had. Every time, I swear I’m never going to do this again as I ponder why anyone would sign up for this in the first place. This typically seems to be the point at which everything starts to hurt. For IMLP, it hit me around mile 90.

My left leg was starting to bother me. My knee hurt, my old ankle injury hurt, my muscles hurt. My neck and shoulders were stiff and sore from being in the same position on a bike for so many hours. My seat hurt, and there wasn’t any way to make it better.

Mentally, doubts start to creep in. I’ve ridden 100 miles before, but never 112. I have to run a marathon after this and I don’t like to run. What’s wrong with me? Will my ankle hold up for a marathon if it’s already starting to hurt?

It started to rain a little. The number of athletes on the course was thinning out. The rest of the course was uphill. But – I had come here to finish. I kept pedaling, aiming for steady progress rather than any surges in speed. I just had to keep moving.

Now, each mile that ticked off on my computer meant one mile closer to town, one mile closer to the run course, and one mile closer to the finish. “C’mon, legs,” I told myself. Push, push, push.

I rode out-and-back at Whiteface Mountain. I climbed past High Falls Gorge. I started to wonder when I would reach the Three Bears. I knew that these marked the last of the climb into town, but I couldn’t remember the course well enough from the first loop. Everything had gone fuzzy in my memory. I had left the gorge behind and was passing through an otherwise nondescript wooded section. Finally, I recognized the road ahead and found that I had reached Momma Bear.

Up and over, pedal pedal, I was almost there! Then I reached Papa Bear. The spectating crowds had thinned out and quieted. The hill assumed mountainous proportions. The only thing that kept me going at this point was knowing that I only had another mile or so of flat or downhill riding once I reached the top. Oh – and that looming cut off time.

I reached the top, surged forward, tried to pick up a little speed, and found the spectators as I reached a point where the bike course and the run course overlapped. I rode past Mirror Lake, made a right turn, swung around and through town, then rushed by bike special needs, ride behind the high school, and made the final turn toward transition.

My eyes fixed on the dismount line and I focused on staying upright, on not falling. I managed to unclip, slow down, and get my foot down. I was shaky, but I had made it!

A volunteer asked if I was okay and I probably mumbled something or nodded. I took a deep breath and swung a leg over my bike. My legs trembled but held me up, and I hobbled across the line.

BIKE TIME: 8:32:05

I love my bike, but I was ecstatic to be off of it. I handed it over to a volunteer and knew that I had to keep moving. There was one small problem though: I could barely walk.

I’ve felt that way on the two 70.3 races I had done prior to this, but not to the same degree. I hoped that I’d loosen up and figure out how to run in a few minutes! But first – I needed to change into my running gear. I shuffled through transition, grabbed my bike-to-run bag, and entered the changing tent.

My time was not what I had hoped for, but I had been uncertain of what to expect. And really – I hadn’t fallen over, crashed, become hypothermic, or injured anything (I think). After the day was over, I would discover that I had completed the swim and bike sections in 10:29:00. I had done it with only a single minute to spare.

Now it was time to run!

Next: Part 4 – Run (coming soon)

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Race Report – Ironman Lake Placid 2018 (Part 1 – Pre-Race)

This ended up being really long, so I’ve broken it into parts. You can find the rest here (when they’re ready):

Well, I completed my first full distance Ironman triathlon on July 22 in Lake Placid, New York. It’s been a long journey of training leading up to it, and it was certainly a challenge that should never be taken lightly.

Ali and Me

I had been practicing at the shorter lengths of triathlon, first to just try it out, then to see if I could do longer distances. Every time I reached a little further, struggled up a new hill, or pushed my pace a little faster, my body kept growing stronger. My previous injuries essentially vanished other than a few aches in my ankle after long cycling sessions. Finally, I signed up for a full distance Ironman. That’s a 2.4-mile swim, 112-miles on the bike, and then just a little 26.2-mile run. Yep, it ENDS with a marathon after all that swimming and cycling. Who would put a marathon at the end?!?!

How was I going to train for that? I used a training plan provided by a monthly subscription service called Trainer Road. It is mainly a cycling training tool, and is used in conjunction with an indoor trainer. Their training plans give you options to choose between three options for training time per week, and different stages of the training (base, build, specialty). I had to modify the plans quite a bit to fit in with my atypical work schedule, my fencing practices, and planned travel and events.

Training Plan

I rode several cycling events in preparation for Ironman Lake Placid (IMLP). I completed by first century ride (100 miles) on a flat course, followed by the Gran Fondo New York, and the Rev3 Quassy Half. You can read about those in the links. I was a bit worried about IMLP after I raced the Quassy Half. I had trouble with my breathing during the swim and just barely made the cut off at the end. IMLP is a hilly course (like Quassy), and I just didn’t have enough race experience to anticipate my pace for the event other than to know that I’m a solid back-of-the-pack-er.

As race day neared, I had been sick since the end of April and had to cut a lot of training out of my schedule in order to get some rest and be healthy. I finally felt better and stopped coughing about 2 weeks out.

I’m not sure that I appreciated the taper as much as I was supposed to. This is the time in your training when you start to back off on the distance and hours so that your performance (theoretically) peaks on race day. With illness cutting into my training, I had essentially been tapering for weeks already. I tried to resist the urge to cram in a few last extra long sessions. I had heard that it’s better to race 10% undertrained than 1% overtrained. Even during the taper though, you don’t rest. You’re still working out, and my plan called for several workouts during race week, up to a final short run the day before the race.

We drove to Lake Placid, NY on Thursday of race week. I had spent hours making exhaustive packing lists, planning for my transitions, and finally stowing it all in the back of the car. We finally arrived at the venue in the late afternoon, just in time to make athlete check-in.

Bobsled

Lake Placid has a history in sports. This small Adirondack village has hosted two winter Olympics (1932 and 1980), and was the site of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” hockey game. It still functions as an Olympic Training Center for bobsled, skeleton, luge, freestyle skiing, biathlon, and other sports.

Ironman has held a full-distance triathlon in Lake Placid since 1999, and the race is the second-longest running Ironman in North America. This year’s race marked the 20-year anniversary for IMLP.

You can’t miss the signage for the race when you drive through the downtown area. The transition area and tents were nearly assembled when we arrived, all centered around the Olympic speed-skating oval off Main Street. Athlete check-in was located in the Winter Olympic Museum.

This being only my second Ironman-branded event, and first full distance triathlon, I wasn’t completely sure what to expect. It turned out to be a similar process to the Eagleman 70.3. They verified ID and then handed me a card with my bib number. I had to sign a couple of pages of waivers and verify emergency contact and medical information. Everyone was weighed, and the number was recorded in your waivers. I think this was to help assess dehydration on race day in case medical assistance was required.

Wrist

I received my athlete packet at the next table. This contains your race number stickers (for your bike helmet, bike, gear bags, special needs bags, and your run bib. It also has tickets that you can hand off to friends or family members who can then pick up your bike and equipment bags when you’re done with them on race day. This is where they also clasp a wrist band on you that marks you as an official athlete for the weekend. Get used to wearing it, because you can’t race without it.

After that, I picked up some swag. This bag had a flag, tiny dry bag, a restaurant coupon, and a poster. The last stop was for timing chips. That only took a few seconds as the volunteer assigned a chip to your race number. After that, I marched outside and over to the Ironman merchandise tent to pick up my bag. This was a pretty nice gym bag with straps to convert it to a backpack, although I have heard some complaints about the orientation of the logo. By that point, everything was closing for the day, so I met up with my family and we moved on to check in to our bed-and-breakfast and relax.

The next day brought brilliant sunny weather, low humidity, and only light winds. It would have been a great day for a race. Instead, we traveled to Mirror Lake for a practice swim. First, everything you may have heard about Mirror Lake is true. It is a long and narrow body of water with a public access swimming beach adjacent to downtown Lake Placid. The water is very clear for a northern lake with probably 20 – 30 foot visibility.

Mirror Lake

The Ironman buoys were already in the water to mark the course, but in case they weren’t, other smaller permanent buoys are there for water sports (something with boats). These small buoys are all connected underwater by a cable that stretches all the way across the lake. This is the fabled cable that you can follow during your swim so that you don’t have to sight. It even crosses at the far end where the Ironman course runs, so you can literally follow the cable for the entire race (more on this later).

I swam about 1000 yards for my practice swim, cutting across the course early. It almost felt like a race because there were an awful lot of other swimmers in the lake. I couldn’t quite tell how the end of the swim course was oriented, but I knew that it was two loops with a short run across the beach between them. The water was a pleasant temperature, about 74 degrees F.

We rested after that and then I headed out on my bike for a short spin along the course. Everything seemed to be working on my bike. My husband rode along, and we found a route from the B&B to nearly the start of the bike course. It turned out that scoping out this stretch at the beginning of the bike course was a great idea. The course leaves transition, makes a hard 180-degree turn (which we didn’t see until the following day), and then goes down a pretty steep hill before a left turn. Apparently a fair number of racers crash in this section, so it was good to ride through most of it before the day. The next part of the course leaves town along some rolling hills. We passed the Olympic ski jumps on our right and turned around shortly after that to head back. It wasn’t a bad ride, and I was feeling good about the race.

Ski Jumps

The next day was my last workout before the race. I woke up early (for me) and met my brother for a slow 1-mile run. My training plan had called for 20 minutes with some sprint efforts, but since I had not done that many sprint workouts in training (sick), I cut it short. From there, I only had to pack up my equipment bags and bike and drop those off in transition. For a full-distance Ironman you have the option to change clothes between each leg. Changing tents for both men and women are provided. Instead of your normal transition set-up, each athlete places the swim-to-bike clothes in one bag and then the bike-to-run clothes in another. You grab the bag, take it into the changing tent, and then just run through transition to get your bike. They actually don’t let you store anything else near your bike.

Bike Ready

You’ll also have two special needs bags (bike and run) that are positioned halfway through these sections of the race. You don’t have to drop these off until race morning. Additionally, you’ll have access to your equipment bags and bike on race morning so you can add anything that you forgot. I didn’t place my nutrition/water bottles, bento box, or computer on my bike until race morning.

Once our gear was tucked away, we left town to drive the bike course for a preview. Now my husband had ridden one loop of the bike course that morning, so he was able to narrate our drive with his own experiences from the morning. I’ll save the details of this drive for my section on the bike segment. I felt better about the race after seeing what I was going to be up against. It may have been nice to preview the run course also, but since I was already planning to walk all the hills, it didn’t matter as much to me.

Bike Course

Soon enough it was time to get to bed. I double checked everything I had laid out for the morning, and I think I managed to fall asleep by 10 p.m.

Next: Part 2 – Swim

Rev 3 Quassy Half – Race Report

Well, this race report for the Quassy Half triathlon has been a bit delayed, but here it is! I raced this event in June 2018. For me, this was a practice race for Ironman Lake Placid, and was my second 70.3 mile distance. My first 70.3 was Eagleman last year (race report here), which was a vastly different type of course, compared to Quassy.

Location

So Rev 3 puts race on all over the country. Quassy is known as the Beast of the Northeast, and is in Middlebury, Connecticut. The race venue is the Quassy Amusement Park, which is an odd little place. Anyone can wander through the park, and access to individual rides is through tickets, much like a traveling carnival or local fair. The park had a separate water park with limited access for members or possibly people who paid for the day. This was full of pools, water slides, and also had beach access to the lake.

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Quassy Amusement Park water slides.

Travel

We drove from New Jersey to Middlebury, and it was an easy 2-hour trip. Our hotel was the Hampton Inn Waterbury and was a few miles from the race venue. When we first arrived in the area, we went straight to the park for packet pick up.

The entrance to the parking lot was a little congested and confusing. Triathletes were arriving in cars, jogging through the area, and getting a last spin in on their bikes, all while the general public was attending the amusement park. Transition was set up in the middle of the parking lot also, adding to the congestion. We were able to park though and managed to find packet pick up. We had to walk through the park and then around and down toward one of the wooden roller coasters.

Once we found the right place, packet pickup was smooth and easy. Swag included a t-shirt, visor, and buff.

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So much stuff to organize and pack.

Like many 70.3 distance races, athletes were supposed to check their bikes into transition on Saturday. I wanted to get a quick spin in, so I headed out along the start of the course for a few miles. This took me right out of the park, down a busy road, past the turn to the run course, and to the first turn of the bike course along a quieter wooded street. I turned back at that point, just feeling a need to move a bit.

I stopped by the athlete briefing which was held near packet pick up. This was touted as mandatory, but I doubt every athlete made it there. They did explain the swim course, and the different turns for the Half versus Olympic distance, which was helpful.

I slapped stickers on my bike and left it in transition before trying to scope out the swim start. The problem with that was that only those people who had access to the Quassy water park were allowed on the beach. Fortunately, the employee watching the gate let us sneak in a short ways to peek at the beach. There wasn’t really much to see anyway – sandy beach! Couldn’t tell exactly how swim exit would be set up yet. The swim buoys were all out already, which was helpful. The Olympic distance swimmers would turn at a yellow buoy and cut across sooner before turning in, so it was good to visualize how far out that would be.

Finally, we decided to drive the bike course before it got too dark. I had been practicing hills more than I ever had in the past, but I wanted to see what I was up against. It’s tough to describe the Quassy bike course until you’ve experienced it, so let’s just say that it certainly looked like I had my work cut out for me.

Finally we headed to the hotel for check in there and then a hearty dinner. The hotel was adequate – nothing special, but fine. Dinner was at D’Amelio’s Italian Eatery in Waterbury.

Race Morning

We woke up bright and early on race morning and checked out of the hotel. I had everything organized and ready to go, and everything went as planned.

Nutrition Plan

My nutrition plan for the day consisted of two bottles of Gatorade Endurance, Clif Blok Mountain Berry blocks, Nutri-Grain bars, Mott’s applesauce packets, and Rice Krispies treats on the bike. I would refill with Gatorade Endurance or water, depending on how I felt. For the run, I would switch to Gu Smores flavor and on-course options (water, Gatorade, cola). This is what I had been using in my training.

Weather

Weather on race morning was cooler than I would have liked. I wore my Coeur two-piece tri kit, but pulled long pants and a sweat shirt on over top. I think I’m getting used to this whole transition thing. I set up my tiny area and felt like I had everything ready to go. Then it was away to the swim start, to wait.

Swim

It seems like more triathlons are switching their start format to a rolling swim start, where athletes group themselves by estimated swim pace. I think I like this approach, although this was my first experience with it (more later). I put myself at the back of the 2:00/100 yard group, figuring that I usually average a tiny bit slower than that.

The water temperature was supposed to be 72 degrees, which I was worried would be too cold for me. However, I had managed to get a couple of open water practice swims in that were in that range, so I should have known that I’d be fine.

The down side of the rolling swim start was that for a slower athlete, I had to stand around for a while. This made me cold – even with my wetsuit on, I was shivering before I ever reached the water. However, when it was time to go, I spashed in, dove under, and started my swim. I realized that the water felt pretty nice!

I started out swimming fine and tried to keep myself calm and slow. I tend to feel dizzy after 300 – 400 yards, so I was waiting to get past that point to really settle in. I felt fine and kept it steady for a while, but then hit that first turn. As soon as I made the right-hand turn, I started to struggle. There must have been a little more wind, or the direction change pushed my out of balance or something. I started getting splashed with more chop, had trouble sighting, and felt lost in the middle of the lake. My heart rate surged and my breathing became more ragged. I had to stop and tread water to sight a few times. Every time that I thought I was headed on course, I felt like I was further from the other swimmers and the track where I should be. I saw a kayak lifeguard on my left, so I knew I wasn’t really alone out there. She told me I was off course, which I knew, but it helped to have her acknowledge that she saw me. I finally found a buoy ahead and decided that I could make it there. My heart rate was still too high, but I found a rhythm and kept going.

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I was not so happy at this point.

I had thought that this buoy was the turn buoy for the inbound leg, but when I got there, I saw that I had one more to go. Looking back at the swim, it seems that there were only two buoys marking the far side of the course. I think it would have helped to have at least two more out there. At this point, I grabbed onto the buoy and let myself rest. I took deep breaths and waited until my heart rate fell to a more tolerable level. I realized that I had been trying to bilateral breathe through choppy section and I should have known to switch to one side sooner. I got myself together, made a plan to breathe only on the left, and swam away from the buoy.

This new plan worked out much better. I still wasn’t happy out there, but I knew I’d be okay and could finish the swim. I reached the turn, headed in toward shore, and just kept going. Of course, it felt like it took forever, but I was less than ten minutes slower than my goal time.

SWIM = 54:52

T1

The swim exit was a little steep, and I had no energy to do more than walk. But now I was at the bike section, which is my favorite of the three parts of triathlon, so it could only get better now! I found my bike, and I think this was the first time I actually remembered where it was in an event. However, this was where I had worried about the temperature. The temperature at the start of the bike was 57 F. I am always cold, so I was afraid that I would be too cold as I pulled off my wetsuit and started cycling. I pulled on arm warmers and a cycling vest, and then topped it with a light cycling jacket. The arm warmers were a bit of a struggle to get on over my wet arms, but I needed them.

T1 = 7:02

Bike

The bike exit was straight-forward, but I struggled a tiny bit to clip in, still dizzy and shaky from the swim. But my cheering section was here and that helped me get going! The first part of the bike course would be easy – I had seen it yesterday. Then I knew that the serious climbing would hit me after that. My goal was to finish with enough time for a 3-hour run.

I had a lot of fun out on the bike course. The hills were certainly challenging, but I kept to my plan. Slow and steady, drop my cadence, and be patient. Steady effort on the flats, then fly down the hills. I knew that the last part of the course had more downhill sections, so it would get a tiny bit easier.

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I love this photo. I actually look like I was having fun at this point.

I stuck with my nutrition plan. Unlike Eagleman, I had decided to stop briefly at each aid station. That way I could make sure that I ate one of my snacks and could refill my water bottles less clumsily. The first aid station was great and everything went according to plan. I held the same approach at the second one – eat more, refill, keep going. Finally the day was warming up and I pulled off my jacket and stuffed it in a pocket at this point. That was part of the plan also, and it worked well. The cycling vest gave me pockets that the tri top didn’t have.

By the third aid station, I told myself that I would stop for a bathroom break. After being so dehydrated at Eagleman last year, I was making a real effort to keep drinking through the ride. In the past year I learned that when I start to feel a little nauseous, that means I need to drink more, NOT stop drinking.

At the third aid station, the bathroom break went as planned. I ate more snacks, refilled my water again, and continued on. It became clear at this point that everyone along the course was in the back of the pack. That is one downside to the rolling swim start. If you place yourself at the back of the swim pack, you will likely remain in a lonelier place through the bike and the run.

Toward the end of the bike course I started to feel a cramp in my leg. I realized then that I had not been taking my salt tablets. I pulled over and found a couple, swallowed those, and then kept on to the end. My leg felt better and I rolled into the bike finish. Overall, I was slower than I would have liked, but with the hills I really had not had much of an idea of what to expect.

BIKE = 4:16:43

T2

Transition went smoothly again. I took off my cycling vest and sleeves and finished the race in my tri kit. I changed into running socks and added a visor. Compared to Eagleman last year, I felt much better.

T2 = 4:30

Run

Even though I had intended to run hills in my training, I had not had time to do enough of them. I had already told myself that I would walk up the hills in this race. Well, everyone else who was still on the course by the time I started the run was also walking the hills. Quassy’s run course was probably hillier than the bike course!

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Forced smile. Why was the photographer on the uphill section?

I kept my pace slow and figured that I could speed up if I felt like it later on. After only a short distance I had to stop to take my shoe off to adjust a place where my sock had bunched up. I figured that it was better to do this early on than to wait until it caused a bigger problem.

The aid stations were spaced out about a mile apart, and the course ran through a wooded area on quiet streets for two loops. I took one bathroom break early on and stopped at every aid station for water or Gatorade. Later on, some of the aid stations had Coke, which tasted heavenly by that point.

I had a few places where I started coughing and had to walk, but overall felt pretty good. Despite walking up the hills, my pace was pretty steady and I finished roughly in my goal time of 3 hours.

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Wheee! Done!

RUN = 3:00:25

Finish area

Rev 3 will allow you to have family members join you to run down the finish chute. I have mixed feelings about this as sometimes that can mess up another finisher’s finish photo. But by the point at which I was done, there was hardly a crowd finishing.

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Okay, so the medals are pretty cool and Cthulhu-like.

When I crossed the finish line, I was promptly given my medal, an ice-water soaked towel for my shoulders, and water. I was able to stay on my feet (unlike Eagleman) and ate a hamburger. It didn’t take me too long to recover enough to get my bike out of transition. My husband went to bring the car closer and we were packed up and on our way home quickly.

TOTAL = 8:23:34

Other than my swim difficulties, I had a good time at this race and would consider doing it again. I would like to get faster on the hills on my bike, but this will take time to train up to. Of course, this was a practice race for Ironman Lake Placid, so I immediately extrapolated my performance to the longer distance. Even assuming that the elevation profile for IMLP was the same as Quassy, if I double my time, I could still finish within the time cutoff for Lake Placid. After some internet searches, the general opinion of triathletes who have done both events seems to be that Lake Placid is easier (distance aside). I’ll let you know soon if that is really the case.

Race Report – Gran Fondo New York (GFNY) 2018

I’ve been meaning to get this written up because I think it will be helpful to anyone out there who is thinking about signing up for this race. The Campagnolo Gran Fondo New York events are a series of races held around the world in which amateur cyclists are welcome to participate. The one that is actually held in New York (and bits of New Jersey) is designated the GFNY World Championship.

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All you need to do to ride in this event is to sign up, pay some money, and get yourself there. So even though it is designated the World Championship, anyone can show up. I have to say that I was a little intimidated by this race at first. But once I was out on the course, I realized that many cyclists were there to just complete the event, rather than make any speed records. The riders also seemed exceedingly happy and excited.

Packet Pick-Up

Like many long, all-day events, you needed to pick up your race packet ahead of time. GFNY had options for Friday or Saturday packet pick-up for the Sunday event. The pick-up was combined with an Expo in New York City. We took the train in from New Jersey in the middle of the day on Friday and found the building easily (literally across the street from NY Penn Station).

I don’t know if the Friday pick-up was more heavily attended than usual (rain was forecast all day for Saturday), but we had to wait in line for maybe 30 to 40 minutes. Once they let us in, we simply followed the line around the room to acquire everything we needed. You needed your bib number (look it up on the wall) and a photo ID. Then they’ll strap a wrist band on that will give you access to everything else.

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GFNY provides a ton of swag in your packet. The race requires that you wear the official jersey, which is part of that swag. This year, the rest of my haul included a coffee mug, bottle of wine, a water bottle, and a heavy printed guidebook. Other items were available if you wanted them, so I grabbed a key fob and some noise makers. The other critical pieces in your packet are your race bib and timing chip.

Race Hotel

We stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Fort Lee – George Washington Bridge, which was the only New Jersey official hotel for the event. Other options were available in New York City, but the New Jersey option was cheaper and just made more sense for us.

The main problem with the hotel was that it was off an exit ramp from Route 4, which essentially made it impossible to cycle back to. The entire area around it is full of busy roads which are not ideal for riding, so if you intend to make several practice rides out of your hotel, one of the NYC options may be better.

We ate dinner at the hotel restaurant, but the service there was extremely slow. I don’t know if they were short-staffed or something, but we literally waited 30 minutes just to get our check after we finished eating.

Weather, Equipment, and Gears

The weather forecast for race day was iffy all week. It was misty and wet in the morning, with a possibility of thunderstorms in the afternoon. I ride a Giant Avail Advanced that is about five years old, with DI2 shifting. I usually have clip-on tri bars, but had to remove them for this race (not allowed).

I had recently changed out my cassette for a 11-36 so that I had more options for climbing, and I think that was a good decision. I kept my Continental GP 4-Season tires on instead of my race tires because of the predicted wet conditions.

Everyone has to wear the official GFNY jersey, but you are allowed to bring anything else that you want. I wore arm warmers, and if I had owned a vest, would have worn that too. I carried a rain jacket, which was actually a light-weight camping raincoat attached to a race belt, but didn’t end up using it.

The temperature at the start was 66°F. The only time that I felt cold was when we were waiting on the George Washington Bridge to start. It didn’t feel particularly windy (which I had been told could be a problem) there, but I started whole-body shivering. I’m also someone who is always cold, and most of the riders looked comfortable.

Getting to the Start

Everyone was supposed to be on the GWB and ready for a 7 a.m. start. One of the perks of the Fort Lee hotel was that they advertised a 5:15 a.m. police escort to the GWB. We expected to take advantage of this, but when we exited the hotel doors, the escort was already leaving (5 minutes early). We weren’t the only cyclists left looking around for them, but it turns out that it was really easy to find our way to the bridge (just follow everyone in green).

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Once we found our way to the west side of the bridge, we had to cross over the pedestrian/bike access, descend from the bridge, take a lot of turns, ride back up toward the bridge, and then finally reach the start zone. There were a few port-a-potties here as well as some bike mechanical assistance.

So – it turns out that leaving the hotel at 5:15 a.m. just barely got us to the start area in time (6:15 or 6:30 a.m.), so definitely allow more time, if you have any doubts about reaching the start.

The Start!

I had thought that the riders would be grouped into corrals by age group, but when we got onto the bridge, everyone pretty much clumped together. There may have been corrals at the front, but we never saw them. It didn’t really matter – I was certainly in no competition for anything.

Once the race began, it was a mass start. We stood for maybe ten minutes before our section started to move. Be careful and watch out for other cyclists slowing and stopping. Also, a few of the more ambitious riders started to gain speed and zip around those of us who were taking our time.

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The route took us down some major highways that had been closed to traffic, and then down onto Henry Hudson Drive. This was a beautiful section of road, but was also very hazardous at the beginning of the race. Access to it started with a steep turn on wet pavement. In several sections, the road narrowed and cyclists slowed abruptly. Off to the right, boulders marked the edge of the pavement before near-cliffs dropped to the Hudson River.

Several crashes occurred along this section, so be very wary of other cyclists, don’t go to fast, and be aware that wet roads will make your braking less effective. I lost Andrew in this section and thought he had crashed behind me (he hadn’t). I stopped and looked for him, and didn’t find him (but he had actually passed me). If you are trying to stay with a group through here, it may be tough. Have a plan to meet up at an aid station later.

Alpine climb

The first climb on the route was Alpine. All of the official climbs were marked with signs that indicated the elevation and distance. I didn’t think that Alpine was that bad and it was over soon.

After Alpine, the next section was pretty flat with some fast downhills. I skipped the first aid station, still trying to find Andrew, and met him at the second one.

Aid Stations

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I had brought plenty of nutrition with me for this ride, but the aid stations were well-stocked. Even though this was technically a race, a lot of people appeared to take their time at each stop. They offered water and and an electrolyte drink at each station, with cola at the last aid station. Snacks were fairly standard, with bananas, Clif Bars, pretzels, and cake. The last aid station also had pizza, but by the time I got there, it had been picked over.

Bear Mountain

One of the selling points (?) of this race is that you climb up Bear Mountain. This isn’t really that much of a mountain when compared to actual snow-capped ranges, but is one of the tougher climbs in the NY area. Before you reach Bear Mountain, there is a long-ish climb at mile 38 that I’m going to call False Bear Mountain. Think of it as a warm-up.

You’ll know when you reach Bear Mountain, because you make a left turn, start climbing immediately, and will pass through the GFNY signs. The climb is about 1000 feet over 4 miles, with an average grade of 5.1% and a maximum grade of 10%. I didn’t think that it was that bad, except that I was ready for it to be over about halfway up.

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Your reward for reaching the top is the race’s third aid station and some great views. GFNY actually offers a 50-mile race option, so if you selected that one, you’re done! Oh, and for everyone doing the full 100 miles, you get to rest as you fly back down the mountain.

Pinarello and Cheesecote Climbs

From here, the course traveled west along the edge of Harriman State Park. Two more featured climbs came up quickly, and this was the section of the race that I had been warned about.

The first climb was Pinarello (525 feet over 2 miles), followed by Cheesecote (262 feet over 1 mile). I started to bonk on Pinarello and had a rough time on this one. At the top I had to stop and guzzle some liquid nutrition. By the time I reached Cheesecote, I felt better (although the climb was still tough). Cheesecote featured the highest grade on the route, with a very short section of 18%. My rear tire slipped once as I pushed hard to make it up this section.

The Last Flat and Dyckman Hill

After the climbs, the next long section was enjoyable and mostly flat. This gave me a chance to get some more recovery in. The last aid station was along this part, and we stopped there for one final refueling.

Once you near the finish, there are two more notable climbs: Alpine (again) and Dyckman Hill. Alpine looked different from this direction even though this was the part where the inbound course converged with the outbound course. It certainly felt tougher at this point.

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The kicker on this course, and probably the toughest climb when taking exhaustion and mental fatigue into account, was Dyckman Hill. This lovely section spanned 328 feet over 1 mile, which a final section of 10% grade. All this fun started at mile 98.5. You can almost hear the finish line, but it’s at the top of the hill.

The Finish Line and Festivities

You have about a half mile to go once you reach the top of Dyckman Hill, and it’s flat and fast. The finish line is marked by large arches. Once you roll through, you’ll receive a medal, and can finally rest.

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They wanted you to park your bike in a large area off to one side that looks like a triathlon transition zone. At one side of the bike parking, you could pick up your labeled bag that you had dropped off at the start. I had flip-flops in there, and was happy to change out of my cycling shoes.

 

The finish area featured a pasta party, drinks (free water and soda, alcohol for purchase), lounge chairs, medal stage, and some fancy tents (not sure what was over there – massages maybe?). We ate some pasta (penne with meat sauce, yum!) and drank cola, took some photos, and then packed up to head home.

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There were showers available at the adjacent high school, but we didn’t use them. A shuttle to the Fort Lee hotel was picking cyclists up on the other side of the school, but the wait was long. We eventually made it home after a tough day.

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