Lake Placid Ironman Race Report
I wanted to get all of this out before I forgot anything. Just a warning though – it is a long race, so this will be a long post.
I decided I wanted to try an Ironman last fall and my coach and I chose Lake Placid because the harder the course, the better I do. I also am not the world’s greatest swimmer so having a course with marked lines to swim was an advantage. I signed up last fall and started training double digit weeks since December 2016.
Mark Cullen and I did the race with three of our friends who we had trained alongside throughout this process, Bronwyn Kemp, Ed Cyr (who will be joining Brad Jennings and I for USARA National Championships this fall) and Sarah Schmitter. We had a house in Wilmington and all arrived on Thursday evening which gave us a couple days before the race to go to the expo, pick up our race packets and gear and do some training on the course.
It was a great group of people to be around before a big race. There were 4 of us doing it for the first time and Ed, who used to be a pro triathlete, to give us tips. Everyone was very calm and focused but we had a lot of fun leading up to the big day as well.
The race morning began at 3:30 AM for us. We all went about our morning routines, eating our pre-race breakfasts and gathering our bike bottles and nutrition. My pre-race breakfast was 2 pieces of my home made white bread with peanut butter and half a banana and a cup of black coffee. We headed to the bike transition area and set up our bikes for the day, went to our transition bags to ensure they had everything and dropped off our special needs bags.
We headed to the bike transition area and set up our bikes for the day, went to our transition bags to ensure they had everything and dropped off our special needs bags.
It was here that two things went wrong for me. My solid food for the bike wasn’t fitting well on the spot where I wanted to put it so I went to put it in my bike transition bag so I could stuff it into my race kit for the bike. Or at least I thought I did. It was the last time I saw it and I did not have my planned solid bike nutrition for the bike.
The second thing I realised is that my bike special needs bag was sitting back at the house. This meant that if I were to get a second flat tire on the bike, I would not have a backup plan. I decided to keep that piece of information to myself to keep everyone calm in their race morning and just crossed my fingers that all would go well. The Ironman is a day of problem-solving and I learned to just let things go. I was going to worry about that only if I needed to.
One of our friends had a hotel room near the start of the race and we went there to relax, put on our wet suits and chill before the race. An hour before the race, I took a Hammer bar to top off my stores. About 40 minutes before the start of the race, we walked over to get warmed up and lined up. I took a Hammer gel when the gun went off for the pro men (they left 10 minutes before the age groupers).
The race was a rolling swim start and they seeded swimmers into the water 10 at a time. I lined up in the 1:00 – 1:10 hour swim corral and snuck as far back as possible. I wanted to avoid the chaos and I also am not a super fast swimmer. This gave me some time to reflect on what I was about to do and I have to say that I teared up a little as I was watching the sun rise on the water and looking at the Ironman start banner. I had a Mike Reilly high five (he is the voice of Ironman) before I headed into the water.
THE SWIM – 2.4 Miles
I crossed the timing mats and dove in. I had spoken with my coach about the chaos of the water and I took his advice to stay a little left of the crowd of swimmers so I could find my stroke and not get caught up in the pushing and shoving. This meant I swam a little more than the actual distance, but it was worth it for me not to need to be thrown off my game. I completed the first loop and run up to shore, through the arch and back out for another loop.
There really isn’t much to say about the swim. I zenned out and just relaxed, knowing I had a long day ahead and just needed to get this portion done. I exited the water in 1:11:15 and at this time, I was 23rd in my age group.
I barreled out of the water and passed people as I scurried to my special needs bag for the bike. It was here that I realised that I didn’t have my bike nutrition but I didn’t worry about it. I just grabbed my helmet, shoes, sunglasses and ran to my bike, yelling out my number and an awesome volunteer had it waiting for me at the end of the rack. I was out of there in 00:05:46.
THE BIKE – 112 MILES
I was a little thrown with my nutrition situation but I adapted as quickly as possible. It took me a little to settle in because my triathlon setting wasn’t working on my watch. So the first couple km, I was fiddling with my watch with a gel in my mouth.
Aside from being an accident waiting to happen, I settled into the bike and focused on some ballsy descents in the first portion of the race. It was so fast that I actually got super cold from just relaxing into the descent.
My coach had informed me that if I biked under 6 hours, I was going to mess up my run so I focused on keeping the pace as easy as possible. I followed the nutrition plan I had worked out with the amount of calories, sodium and carbohydrates that I needed per hour and I was so glad I figured all of that out ahead of time because I was able to improvise on the fly with course nutrition with my own nutrition missing.
Hour one, I had a bottle of Hammer Perpetuem. I noticed I had a cramp from all the lake water I swallowed and popped an endurolyte tab and it was gone in about 10 minutes.
Hour two, I had two mini clif bars, another endurolyte tab and a bottle of water. I repeated that same formula for the third hour and I looped back through town in less than three hours which meant I was going a little too fast.
I made a concentrated effort to ease up on my pace the second loop and tried really hard to avoid clusters of riders. The wind was picking up and the riders were drafting like crazy. I kept easing up on my pedals to drop back and there was just another rider that would cut in front. I was relieved to get to the hills at around 150 KM where drafting was less of an issue.
Hour four, I had a bottle of gatorade endurance from the course. I have nothing kind to say about this. It tasted like dish soap and threw my gut off. Every single other athlete I spoke with had the same experience. I am hoping they change their formula going forward because it was brutal.
I quickly switched back to water and had that and clif chews for the remaining hour. I had some spearmint by accident and grabbed a gingerale flavour which was much better tasting. All in all, I had 5 bottles of water, a bottle of gatorade and a bottle of perpetuem for fluids on the bike. I need to drink a LOT while on the bike and I trained hard to make sure my stomach could handle that.
I finished the bike in 06:02:25 which is exactly where I needed to be. I had biked to 6th in my age group.
I grabbed my bags and swapped everything out while using a porta potty to multi task. I handed off the to the awesome volunteers in the change tent and headed out on my run in 0:04:22.
THE RUN – 26.2 MILES
I was so happy in my first couple strides to feel that my legs felt fresh and I knew I was going to have a great run. My coach told me that my race didn’t start until about 28 km into the run so I started out as cautious as I could, keeping good form and ensuring I was taking in fluids and nutrition.
The first 5 KM were downhill and I ran a 22 minute 5 KM which was a little speedy out of the gate but it was measured and felt good. The next 10 KM had some rollers and consisted of an out and back by the ski hill. I just focused on getting used to the course and constantly checking in to ensure I was feeling good.
The climb back into town for the half way mark is a beast. It is unrelenting and according to my watch, it is over 45 metres of elevation gain in a single kilometer. I had a goal to run it, no matter how slowly.
There were aid stations every mile and I was going to alternate water and gatorade but the gatorade was so awful for my gut that I scratched that idea after the half way mark because my gut started going off. I took a water and a gel at the one hour mark. At 21 KM, I was not feeling so hot so I grabbed a porta potty and refocused. I knew that I needed to quit the Gatorade stat so I walked through the next aid station, took some water in and ate two pretzels. I continued this for two consecutive aid stations and my problems cleared up like magic.
Let’s talk pain for a second. The run is my strongest discipline but I was in PAIN for this run, mainly from my toes. My feet had swollen and post-race, I discovered that each of my toes are black. It was my fault for not sizing up a pair of shoes for the event and I paid dearly for it. I needed to make a decision as I headed down the steep hill out of town on my second loop that I was just going to ignore my pain and run like hell. It was around 25 km that I felt my stride getting heavy and sluggish. The day was wearing on me a bit but I focused hard and tried to increase my turn over and stay present, keeping that fight at the forefront of my race.
Once I hit the 32 KM mark, I gave myself permission to start drinking flat coke. I took a little sip at each mile mark and it was the rocket fuel I needed to push back up that huge climb into town. I focused on keeping perfect form and started getting more and more excited as I drew off the energy of the crowd as I climbed back into town.
I hit the mile out and back before the finish line and focused on running hard, but within my abilities so I wouldn’t fizzle out. I was proud to round the corner and run to that finish line with everything I had left in me, hearing JESSICA KUEPFER, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!
I finished the run in 3:31:17, 167th overall and 2nd in my age group and a final time of 10:55:05.
I absolutely loved this racing distance and will absolutely do it again. It plays to my strengths as I am much better at endurance than speed. I will be taking a year off of Ironmans to ensure that I have enough time to focus on work, relationships with loved ones and to get some speed back in my legs and develop more as a cyclist, but I will be back.
This was an incredible first experience in Ironman and I can’t wait to tackle this distance again. I learned some big things that no one had mentioned to me and I will be sharing a post later this week on that.
Happy Wednesday, friends.