Ironman Lake Tahoe
It’s been 8 years since I last did Ironman. Back then I was a single guy and priorities were just a little different. This year, Ironman Lake Tahoe was a “team LeRoy” effort (pictured below). It was an epic day, surrounded by beautiful scenery, extreme temperatures and high altitude. I soaked in the entire experience and really enjoyed the day, even the painful parts.
Ironman is as much about the months of preparation as it is about the day. For me it all started a year before the race. I was sitting in our flat in London, feeling a bit out of shape and looking forward to moving back to California to start working out with my regular crew again. I had heard about the new Ironman in Lake Tahoe and it seemed like quite a few Bay Area folks were signing up. So in a moment of insanity I rationalized “Doing an Ironman in Lake Tahoe would be a great way to celebrate my 50th birthday”. It wasn’t until much later that I started realizing it was going to be an Ironman at an average of 6500ft elevation!
We moved back to the USA and I started slowly getting back in shape. I kept rationalizing that the race was almost a year away. I had plenty of time! I think the thing that really got me planning my training and getting excited about the season was getting accepted to the Wattie Ink Elite Team. I don’t think I was the only one in the family that was excited. You can hear Ryan (4 years old) going around the house at times yelling “Wattie Ink baby!!”
Below shows my training in general over the year. I really never had time for more than about 11 hours a week of training. I focused a lot on the bike this time and it paid off but at the expense of the run.
Up until July I was unemployed and so that definitely helped with getting myself in shape. At the end of July I tested my Ironman fitness at Vineman Aquabike and ended up having PR in both the IM swim 59:55 and IM bike 5:31:39. I felt like my training was working.
All was going well until 3 weeks before race day. I was out on my last 100+ mile ride before the Ironman. I had ridden 90 and had about 20 miles to go. I stopped and texted Heather to gave her an update. She was enjoying some time alone without the boys and was about to go get a relaxing pedicure. I told her to enjoy it and I would see her in a bit. Two minutes later I was descending a steep, narrow road. I came around a corner and hit a huge pothole going about 15mph. I almost recovered when my front wheel hit another pothole and I went flying sideways off the bike. My elbow was the first thing to hit the ground along with my hip and shoulder. I then rolled on my head, cracking my helmet before I finally slid to a rest on the side of the road. After the initial shock started to subside I couldn’t believe how I had managed to hurt myself with only 3 weeks left before the race. It turned out I was extremely fortunate. Despite the bad road rash and elbow that swelled to the size of a baseball, nothing was broken. I slowly eased myself back into the last 3 weeks of training and arrived at race day almost 100% (a bruised bone on my elbow made the aerobars uncomfortable but the adrenalin offset that on race day).
The other obstacle I had to avoid in the last 3 weeks were germs. Ironman Lake Tahoe was perfectly placed a few weeks after the kids go back to school. Just in time for them to get sick and bring home germs for Dad. I think I washed my hands 1000 times in the last 3 weeks and reminded myself another 1000 times not to touch my face with my hands. It worked! Everyone in the house was sick and I managed to avoid it.
I couldn’t have arrived at race day without the support of a lot of folks, but most of all my wife who supported my 7 day/week 2nd job of training and spending many weekends with the boys while I was out on my long rides and runs. Again it was a team effort getting to the starting line and race day.
In the weeks running up to race day all the talk on mailing lists and facebook was about the altitude and how brutal this course was going to be. As race week approached the focus moved to the weather. The forecast early in the week was for temperatures to cool significantly as we headed into race weekend. As the weekend approached the forecast was freezing temps and snow on Saturday and then cool but clear for race day. Sure enough it snowed the day before the race and folks were joking that Ironman Lake Tahoe would be “Snowman Lake Tahoe”. Most people were scrambling to figure out what to wear on the bike at 7:30AM when the temp would still be less than 40F. The race organizers even organized an official clothing drop zone so that bikers could drop clothes on the way and pick them up at the end.
I was fortunate enough to stay at Northstar Village which was just a few miles from the start. Early Sunday morning (5:20AM) Heather and I got in the car and headed down to the start. Heather dropped me off and I did the usual morning IM routine of getting body-marked followed by checking out my bike. I was really glad I had put garbage bags over my seat and aerobars the day before. (my bike is the blue Calfee in the foreground)
Between the rain and freezing temperatures, many people found their bike covered in ice on race morning.
I don’t think I ever had thoughts of not doing the race because of the weather, no matter what it was. You put so much preparation into the day, it would take a hurricane for me to consider not starting the race.
Heather and I met up and I got my wetsuit on before saying goodbye. I needed to go into the water and at least do a little swimming before the gun went off. I didn’t want the start of the race to be a complete shock to my system. The water actually felt pretty nice compared to the air temp. I would guess the water was around 62F near the shore and closer to 65F further out. Not uncomfortable at all with a wetsuit on. What was uncomfortable was standing in bare feet on the cold beach for 5 minutes before the gun went off. My feet felt like ice cubes when the race started.
We were finally off around 6:45AM and the first 100 yards were so shallow as we entered Lake Tahoe that you had to run to the first buoy. From there people dove in and started swimming. The difference in air and water temperature caused a lot of steam on the lake and it was impossible to navigate from one buoy to the next. I just followed everyone else and looked up frequently. After about 400 meters things cleared up and you could sight to the next buoy. All went pretty smoothly the first lap until I approached the shore at the end of the first lap. I got a calf cramp (probably due to the cold temps) and had to work that out by slowing down and kicking hard. The water was noticeably colder as we approached the shore. I was happy to head out again and get back to warmer water. I felt good the second lap as well except for another round of calf cramps at the half way point. I worked through them again and was back at shore in about 1 hour and 6 minutes. I was happy with the time and actually enjoyed the swim. It was a bit surreal looking up through the steam and seeing the snow covered Sierra mountains and thinking “I’m swimming 2.4 miles in Lake Tahoe with snow on the ground and it’s 35F outside!”
The changing tent for T1 was a zoo. It was hard to find a place to sit. I dried my feet well, put on socks. I had figured out what I was wearing a few days earlier and at the last moment threw in leg warmers, just in case. I decided to wear them and I was glad…though I took them off at mile 15 because they kept sliding down. It was really cold at the start, especially in the Tahoe City/Truckee corridor. The fast part of the course is from Kings Beach to Tahoe city and especially Tahoe City to Truckee. Once in Truckee you do a little climbing behind the town before heading down 267. Once you turn off 267 the fun starts. None of the climbs are long or unbelievably hard, except that it’s at 6500 feet elevation and on the 2nd lap the longest climb to Brockway Summit is at mile 90. I felt like I was in good shape hitting these hills the 2nd lap because I was conservative the first loop. I passed quite a few people on the 10 mile section of climbs.
I saw the family 2 times at about mile 40 and mile 85. It was great to see them, the boys were holding their signs proudly. The 2nd time around I dropped the remainder of my warm clothes with Heather. It had finally warmed to the point that when I descended off Brockway summit at 45-50mph I wasn’t going to freeze. I made it back to T2. The last 5 miles I was thinking…I’m ready to be off the bike! .
As I entered T2, Conrad was there to help me. He helped me get out quickly. Before exiting, I went through the sunscreen ladies. About 3 ladies with gloved hands slathered in sunscreen rub you down on your way out!
The run was a series of highs and lows. The first 3 miles I felt awful and my digestive system was a little off. I finally hit a rhythm leaving Squaw Valley, but not a fast rhythm 🙂 I had the “Just keep running” saying in my head all the way to Tahoe City and back (ala..Nemo’s just keep swimming). I finally had to walk heading up a cruelly placed hill back into squaw. Troy was there to encourage me up the hill! From that point on it was a run/walk party. I was tired of PowerGels. I had been eating one every 25 min. I tried other things. a banana at an aid station gave me a boost. I saw the family as I came back into Squaw Valley Village at mile 17. Despite feeling bad, they made me smile. Ryan was playing in my car and leaned out the window and yelled "Wattie Ink baby!" :-) I came over and hi-fived him and then headed back out for a final 8 mile loop.
I finished just before the sun went down (and the temperature). It was a familiar and relieving feeling to cross that finish line. I am very happy with how the day went. I managed to finish 8th in my age group out of 126 finishers. It was great to have my family out there cheering all day and to see so many friends along the course encouraging everyone.
I think I’m done with Ironman for a while again. It’s a commitment and it’s totally worth it but I think I’ll stick to shorter races for a while.