Ups and Downs at Ironman Lake Tahoe September 2013

 


Trip down

I flew to Reno/Tahoe airport, about 45 minutes drive from Squaw Valley, on Thursday night. My journey was supposed to be via Chicago from NY but, due to poor weather in Illinois, I had to fly via Dallas. Once I had got a car, driven down, and checked into the Resort at Squaw Valley is was 3.30am back in NY!

I got up early the next day, had breakfast, and drove 30 minutes to the swim start at Kings Beach. The swim starts at the pier, and, after transition, the bike route is 2 1/3 loops before finishing back at Squaw Valley ski resort.

I parked up and got into my wetsuit and wandered down to the beach and took in the spectacular view. There was an official practice swim but I didn't need to follow the organizers times, I just got in and swam! The first 100 yards or so of the lake is very shallow so you have to wade out until you can start swimming. The water was chilling and a little cold on my head so I resolved to wear two swim caps for the race.

After a pleasant swim and a stroll around transition I returned to Squaw Valley where I picked up my race packet, my bike from Tri Bike transport, and the obligatory merchandise. Squaw valley looked like it would be fun in the winter for skiing.

The journey from the day before had exhausted me so I returned to my room, had a snooze, did some work, and waited until evening when I picked Ana and Jamie from the airport. It was great to have my support team with me!

Final preparation

Up early again Saturday. Over breakfast the weather for the day did not look good. The forecast was calling for a heavy rain storm from about 10am through to the next morning. I wanted to check in my gear, go for a second swim and a short bike ride so we went straight to Kings Beach. When we arrived the storm was already having an effect - the winds had picked up and the lake was very choppy. So instead of swimming we bought some breakfast items for Sunday and checked out where we would park on race morning. On the way back to the hotel I got out of the car and had a pleasant, but wet, bike ride back.

The race at Lake Tahoe is held at altitude, about 600m, and the course has two big hills, one about 4 miles long, the other 3. When I read up about the course I was told that there were several sections with gradients over 11%. Because of this, and my lack of knowledge of the area I decided to take my road bike rather than my tri bike. My road bike has a compact inner ring and in the end this turned out to be a good decision.

The other decision that needed to be made was what to wear on the bike and run. I had brought thin gloves, a bike jacket and arm warmers. The weather forecast expected it to be around 30 at race start and rising to late 60's. So this meant that I would start cold and then perhaps need to strip off later in the race - always the worst to plan for! So I decided to go with a jacket, arm warmers but my usual no socks.

For the run I has brought a long sleeved running shirt and I bought a fleece hat to put in my special needs when the sun started to go down.

Once all my kit and bike were in transition we went for an early dinner and then to bed. We were all asleep by 8.30pm. As I dozed off I was feeling nervous about how I would get on the following day. Myself and family have recently moved from Chicago to NY for me to take up a new job. All of the moving and my travel for work had really got in the way of any consistent training. I knew I was not fit enough to replicate my circa 12 hour time the previous year in Wisconsin. My target was just to finish, collect my 7th Ironman medal and then start again for a better overall season in 2014. My only concern was would the bike course break me......

Race Morning

Up at 4am for breakfast. For some reason I forgot to have granola with my bagel and banana as my traditional ironman breakfast - as a result I was very hungry when I finished the swim and it took over an hour of almost constant eating of bars and chomps for me to feel satisfied on the bike! Lesson learned.

We drove down to the start, found a parking spot, collected my bags and walked over to transition. It was very cold, below 30 I would have thought, and there had not just been rain overnight the transition bags had ice on them!

Anyway I checked my bike, handed in my special needs bags and then went over the start, my teeth already chattering! Once in my wetsuit and having had a practice swim in the warmer water I started to feel a little better. In fact I was still in the water when the pros started.

Swim

The swim at Tahoe is two loops of an out and back course to the beach. You don't get out of the water after the first loop but the water is shallow so many people walked a few yards before starting the 2nd loop.

The organizers did a rolling start for the race. This worked very well and I have to say I had very little stress or 'fighting' associated with traditional mass starts.

One item to note was that we waited on the beach to start. This was fine except that the sand was unbelievably cold from the night before and so I lost feeling in my feet. Additionally it took 10 minutes or so to go through the start so I was shivering with the cold. It was blessed relief to get into the relatively warmer water. Would definitely recommend booties....

As I walked into the water and the light was starting to come up there was a really beautiful view of the hills surrounding the lake. There had been a lot of snow overnight on the peaks so it made it look even more picturesque.

I actually really enjoyed the swim. The only issue I had was that on the first loop there was so much steam coming off they water I could not see where I was going! I could not see any of the buoys so I am sure I swam further than I needed to by going off course.

I think I took it too easy on the first loop, I felt very comfortable all the way through to the finish. I was actually fitter than I thought....


Bike

And so on to the bike. Transition was a bit odd in that the changing tent that was set up was completely inadequate so I, and many others, had to change out in the cold. Not really an issue other than again I lost feeling in my feet and I got cold... Anyway got my kit on, grabbed my bike and started the ride.

All was good for the first 10 miles or so but as we started towards Squaw Valley the cold wind made my bare legs and feet even more cold. Even a steep climb at 12 miles could not warm me up. As Squaw Valley got close I could that it was still snowing up the mountain and my legs were beginning to get red raw!

The bike course actually goes past the turning to the Squaw Valley Resort where we were staying. As I came up to the turning I decided to take a detour! I cycled the 2 miles up to the hotel, got off my bike, asked the reception to give me a key to our room and then went and put some long socks on. It was kind of funny because as I came back in to the lobby there was a small crowd clapping me and shouting 'way to go' as I ran past in my cycling shoes.

After about 30 minutes detour I was back on the course and feeling much better. I was still under dressed but I was warm enough to ride.

And so on to the two big climbs. If you look at the profile of the bike course on the event web site the first climb looks less steep and high as the second. From bitter experience I can tell you that this is not a good representation. The first climb is very tough. It has many false flats which I think makes the profile look easier but the in between parts are steep. So the routine is climb a steep part, false flat and then repeat about 8 times. When you reach the top you are basically at the top of a ski resort called Northstar.

The climb is followed by a very quick descent on good quality and open roads. When you reach the bottom you turn right and then immediately start the second climb which is less challenging but is also hard work, especially the last half mile.

When I got to the top of the second climb it was great to see Jamie and Ana there to greet me. I was now sweating a lot and feeling very tired. Once over the summit the cold air immediately cooled me down and made me feel cold again!

Long descent and then to the start of the 2nd loop. At about mile 60 I really felt tired and was very concerned about doing the two climbs again. I was demoralized and thought very seriously about quitting. As usual I had my phone in my back pocket and called Ana for help! My ideas of packing it in we're given short shrift by her and I resolved to at least make it to mile 90 at the top the 2nd climb.

As I went up the climbs for the second time I had to rest several times to get my heart rate down. I was struggling but somehow I fought through the exhaustion to get up those hills. I had to dig really deep to get to Ana and Jamie at mile 90 but it was so great to see their smiling faces and encouraging words. There is absolutely no way I could have ever have done all of the races I have done without their support. They are wonderful and an inspiration to me.

Once over the top at mile 90 a fast downhill and then a weary 20 miles to the end of the bike. I was very glad it was over.


Run

In May when I did Ironman Texas my main issue was the heat and trying to keep cool. To keep things different the issue on the run in Tahoe was that's the sun went down it would start to get very cold.

The run course is two loops, the first of which is 17 miles and the second 9 miles. I actually quite like this format because when you go back into town to all the crowds you know that you have less than 10 miles to go which makes you feel better.

Anyway got off the bike through transition and started the run. Was not feeling good but after half mile or so got my legs back and started running. For the first 16 miles I kept a reasonably reliable 11 minute run/walk pace. After that, the light started to fade and so did my running pace. By mile 20 I had pretty much slowed to walking.

As I came up the last 2 miles it was pitch black and all you could see we're lights on the runners heads and their hot breath hitting the cold air.

I was absolutely delighted, after such a difficult bike and all the changes in my life over the last few months to actually finish Ironman Lake Tahoe. I came over the line, wrapped myself in foil, collected my medal and after picking up my gear went straight back to the hotel to bed and fell quickly to sleep..I was a happy and satisfied 7 time ironman finisher.

I would definitely recommend Ironman Lake Tahoe. I will return in 2014, better prepared with more warm clothing and also much fitter. You need to be fit to do this race or you will suffer like I did!