Sunday, August 6, 2017


Sometimes, just surviving is itself a victory.
With all the training I did, I was hoping to break last years record of 15:39:10, but Ironman Lake Placid did not go as planned.

Before the Race:
I set the alarm for 5, but my body woke up at 4:45.
I popped my new contact lenses in, nibbled on some lox & grabbed my 12 year old for selfie.

I had no idea how fortunate I was that he was awake.
You'll see.
I prepped my three bottles of liquid nutrition. They still had to be placed on the bike.
I hugged the wife, prayed & slapped on my rub on tats.
(Why do you wear rub on tats?)
Finish an Ironman race, you've earned the right.
Bike Transition (t1) closed at 6 a.m. After that I would not be able to put all my nutrition on the bike.
So I timed my morning to get everything done at a "calm before the storm" pace.
5:45 I was in t1 put my three bottles into their holders on the bike. That's when I stood there in horror. I saw the 4 one was missing. This was the utility one with my spare bike tires.
(Aren't they called bike tubes?)
These are my insurance policy that no matter what happens, I will be able to finish the bike portion. With only 15 minutes left before they closed t1, I ran back to the hotel room. 
(So much for you calm before the storm)
I banged furiously the door. Time was running out & I was hoping my son was still awake.
My 12 year old opened the door & I ran's not there.
I remember at that moment, I left the black canister of spare tires in my transition bag yesterday.
"Next time bring your own key!" He called out. I ran back to transition.
It was now 6:02, but security let me back in. Then I heard the officials calling out to us,
"We need everyone out of transition. The pros can't start until we sweep the area with  bomb sniffing dogs."
The canister of spares was right there in my transition bag.
I took it & ran towards my bike while the officials are telling everyone to head in the other direction. I reached the bike & inserted the canister into the bottle holder.
First potential disaster of the day averted. I hoped that would be all...
Now it was time to get my pulse rate down. With my wetsuit sitting on my shoulder, I walked down the road to meet Ed at the swim start.

For the second year, my buddy Ed Lapa was volunteering.
Ed was trying to calm me down as I put on my wet suit.  I put both feet through the sleeves
(You're kidding)
Nope, you can't make this up. All I could hope is that things would start going right.

When I did this race in 2016 I had a great swim (1:25) A not so great bike (7:55) & an amazing run.(5:59)
That was not to be this time around.
You put your face into murky lake water.
It is violent. Arms & legs are all around you.
This is not the calm of your lap pool. This is war.
This is the beach landings in Saving Private Ryan when the soldiers go over the side of the landing craft into the water.
One minute your ears are filled with the percussive sounds of water that reverberates like a bomb blast.
Next, you turn to breathe & the air is calm. I was repeatedly switching back and forth between two worlds.
(So, this is a triathlon. What did you expect?)
Last year I had more room. It is a rolling start, so you line up behind the pace holder who is holding a sign.
(1 hr 11 mins - 1 hr  20 mins)  
I was boxed in on the swim by people who were all clawing for the front, like the Army of the Dead in Game of Thrones. 
The people in front of me were too slow & the people behind me were in such a rush that I got kicked three times. I got punched in the eye six times.
The last hit caused water to leak into the goggle. I rolled on my side, let water out & continued swimming.
It wasn't jarring or disorienting to be hit. I kept my wits about me, but I did break form to move away from the windmill swimming next to me.
I was two minutes late on the first lap (I was hoping for last year's 40 minute pace). So I picked it up on the second lap.
My shoulders were getting sore, but this was the place to go all out. As the pack thinned out, I was able to find other swimmers to draft off. 
400 meters from the beach, I could hear the crowd. I switched into overdrive & began to pass people.
I exited the water grinning.  After 1:26:54 in the water, the sand in my toes felt good. I looked immediately to get help getting out of the wetsuit.
That is what they call the volunteers that peel your suit off like a banana.
And ran down the carpet towards "transistion".
Last year I was too winded to run, so this was an improvement.
My wife was waiting at the entrance to t1, to give me a kiss. That meant a lot. I passed more cheering people to grab my blue t1 bag from the rack. Then I entered the chaos of the changing tent.
Hot, smelly & no where to sit.
Methodically I emptied the bag, got dressed standing up & shove the wetsuit back in the bag.

The bike ride was fraught with problems...
At mile 10, there is a steep decent into Keene, I shifted my gears to get the maximum power from my pedaling.
I was hoping to surpass last years 47 mph decent.
Suddenly, all resistance was gone.
My first thought was, "Oh shit, my chain broke".
Thankfully, it had only popped off. I can fit a chain back onto a bike cassette. I can't fix a broken chain.
I stopped the bike, slide the chain back on, wiped the grease on my shorts & continue pedaling.
It happened again.
That is when I shifted in my "Apollo 13" head space.
At a critical moment in the book, "Failure Is Not an Option", Gene Kranz, the man in charge, issued a directive,
"Let's work the problem people. Let's not make things worse by guessing."
Something was wrong with my bike. There were mechanics on the course, but I chose not to ask for help. I didn't to take the change that they might make things worse. 
Half way though the first loop of rolling hills, I was climbing, so I shift to a smaller ring for ease.
Nothing happened. My derailleur /gear shifter was stuck.
Now I was climbing Hills in the wrong gears and I was expending energy that I couldn't afford.
Post race diagnostics would show that the derailleur had too much range because it was missing a lateral plate & a wavy washer.
Apollo 13 mindset, "Work the problem." So when I could, I would pedal backwards a little to knock the gearing into the smaller ring. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.
As the miles ticked away, I kept waiting for those terrible hills from last year, but they never came.

With the first loop done, I was feeling optimistic. All the early morning hours on the bike trainer were paying off.
On the second loop I kept the chain on during the 1.5 mile decent into Keene, but the gearing stuck again when I tried to shift between the big & small rings.
With an overcast sky it wasn't that hot out, so I drank more water, less electrolytes. For a change, I found myself hungry. Thankfully the volunteers standing at the side of the road were handing out bananas.
Sip water. Sip Gatorade. Eat a banana from mile 56 through mile 112.
As I rolled back into town, I slipped feet out of shoes like practiced. This has become part of the bike hand off ritual for me.
Ed was there to document the moment. Note the black utility bottle (with spare bike tires) on the back of my bike.
As someone who always worried that he was too slow a cyclist to become an Ironman, handing my bike off to the volunteer is an emotional moment for me. It means that I have made the 5:30 pm time cut off that disqualifies slower riders.
It was time to get dressed to run a marathon.

My bike ride had only put me 5 minutes behind last year's pace.
I was down a total of 6 minutes.
Happy because I knew that I could make that up on the run.
If I run a 5:45 marathon, I would have a new record.
(Last year I ran 5:59)

Mile 1-7
I emerged from the changing tent into the bright afternoon sun.

It was like staring into the eye a nuclear explosion
(It kinda is)
You're not helping.
I stopped for the volunteer to apply suntan lotion to my limbs & I ran out onto main street.
The crowds were cheering the athletes like it was a parade.
I smiled & tried to focus on my pacing. 
As nice as it is to have people ringing cowbells & blasting music from their cars, I find the crowds a distractions.
I'm trying to settle into my marathon pace & do a diagnostic check out of systems
(More Apollo 13 talk?)
The only was to know how my run is going to go is getting a sense of how my legs feel after 112 miles
(and your GPS watch)
and my GPS watch...which was not finding a signal.
(What was it doing?)
It was acting as a stop watch.
No matter. The course has mile markers, so all I had to do was the time & distance calculations to figure out how hard to push my run. I was averaging 10:45 minutes miles, which put me ahead of schedule & then I started to feel back pain.

A low throbbing pain like a kidney punch. Lower back muscle fatigue. Breathing became labored. All the time spent trying to free the locked bike gears stressed my lumbar. I told myself, self:
Don't think about records, just keep moving at your fastest walking pace.
At mile 3, I reached Shlomo who was walking. We walked.
We hit the turn around at mile 6.
At mile 7, I started running again.
I got a half mile & had to walk...again.
So it was going to be a walk/run type of afternoon.

Mile 8-13
A young man was standing in the road holding a large Hershey chocolate Bar.
"You know you want it."
"Yes I do." 
"What do you have?"
"Evan Williams Bourbon"
So after a piece of chocolate & shot of Bourbon, I was happy & running again.
Soon I was back into town, past the Olympic Oval to the 13 mile turn around.
I was only 5 minutes behind last year's marathon.
When I added the swim & bike times I was just 11 minutes behind last year's finish.
I was optimistic that my run would return, it had in other races.

Mile 13-26
Now the sun was going down & so was my pace. 
All the stress of the bike was taking it's toll, but hey, I'M DOING AN IRONMAN!
As fatigued as my back was, the rest of me felt strong. 
(So all that training was a waste of your time, since you couldn't run.)
The fact that I was cramping & yet I was still walk/running is a testament to all the training I did. To all the early morning runs.
And lets not forget I'M DOING AN IRONMAN!
At mile 25, I told my wife that I was near,
"Just hurry up & finish, we miss you".
That was all I needed to hear.
I pulled my costumed out of the backpack I had been carrying for 26.2 miles.
(Why did you bring you Ironman costume?)
I wanted to give my 5 year old something he would never forget.
I wound up giving myself an experience I will never forget.
I suited up & ran into the the Olympic Oval. I have done this 4 times before, but this was different.
As I jogged passed the crowd I kept hearing two things:
"He really does look like Ironman!"
The cheering as I approach the finish line became near
deafening. You are literally running towards the light.
I took a minute to drink it in. The moment you step onto the red & black carpet you are home.
Then I jogged past announcer Mike Reilly & heard my name...
"David Roher, Teaneck NJ, IRONMAN!...Yeah, he does look like him."
In the end, I didn't break my record...I did something much more rewarding.
When things did not go as planned, I kept my head & persevered. Something I learned from Mom & Dad.
Something I hope I am passing along to my boys.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome write up! Thanks for taking us through the experience Start to Finish. Its an incredible lesson that you shared here. If this race has taught you how to pull your head (and the rest of yourself) together when things don't go as planned, then its a lesson that will serve you will in all aspects of your life, not only athletics. Its about the training and the personal growth much more than it is about the exact finish time. -Judith