Ironman Lake Placid Revisited

Coming across the finish line at Ironman Lake Placid 2003

I guess I’m feeling a bit nostalgic with Ironman Lake Placid happening this coming weekend. It was 7 years ago that I completed the race. But also, I’m trying to get back in touch with my inner athlete again,so it’s fun to go back and relive it, via my race report. I should have done this months ago! Be forewarned, it is VERY long. But I just can’t seem to edit it down. Enjoy!

Leading up to the race

One of the most difficult things for me was the week leading up to the Ironman. While I welcomed the break from the intense training (I only have to bike for an hour and a half! Yippee!!), the change in my diet was very tough. Not to mention being in a beautiful place such as Lake Placid and not really being able to explore and do the things I would normally love to do. I had to lower my fiber intake as well as fat and protein and concentrate on eating high glycemic carbohydrates. Also I needed to drink more Gatorade and sports replacement drinks than water. Oh, and the no alcohol thing was a little rough as well.

I arrived in Lake Placid on Wednesday with my mom and my little sister, Claire. Thursday morning my friend, Cindi, drove the bike course with me and gave me a lot of great pointers and information. I felt so much better after seeing the bike course. I had been really intimidated by all that I had heard, but after seeing the course, I felt like I was well prepared to handle the course. It was hilly, but definitely manageable. The day before leaving home, I had switched out the gearing on my bike for a 12/25 and I was pretty sure that was a good decision to save my legs.

Friday morning I met Cindi and her husband Brian for a swim. I also met their friend, Todd and a few others doing the race. The water was pretty chilly and I put on my full wetsuit for the swim. I was only going to swim for 30 minutes, but after a few minutes in the water, I was having trouble breathing and relaxing, not to mention my right shoulder really started to hurt. I have arthritis in my AC joint in my shoulder and it has kept me from doing much swim training. It usually doesn’t bother me too much while swimming, just after. But the pain was really bad and I felt like I was going to have trouble making it back to shore. I was really nervous now and worried about how I was going to make it through the swim on Sunday if I couldn’t even last 30 minutes without a significant amount of pain. I did cheer up later in the day when I passed (in the opposite direction) Karen Smyers and Heather Fuhr running (2 pros I really admire).

That evening was the carbo-loading dinner. Todd and I drove over together and met up with Cindi, Brian as well as some other people I know off the TNO website. The food was okay, but the program was great and got me really excited about Sunday.

Saturday morning I decided to go get in the water again with my sleeveless wetsuit and see if it made a difference. Once I got in and took a few strokes I knew that I would be much better off with the sleeveless suit and I immediately felt better about the race. The rest of the day I got my bike and transition bags ready. Todd and I went to the meeting together and dropped off all of our stuff. It was great to have someone to go with me to everything, particularly since he had done the race before and helped put me at ease.

The weather in Lake Placid was in the 50s at night and low 70s during the day. It was really cloudy and rainy for the first few days, but then Friday the sun came out, and although still a bit breezy was a gorgeous day. I kept my fingers crossed that the weather would hold through Sunday, but that was not to be.

Race Day

I’m going to preface this with saying that it is amazing what one will do under certain circumstances. If you are a little weak stomached, be forewarned, but I want to give a good picture of the entire experience.

I woke up a little after 4 am and turned on the TV to watch a rerun of the previous night’s local 11 o’clock news. The newscaster mentioned the race and said that it took 9 hours to complete. I started laughing – much longer for us mere mortals. The weather outside did not look good – it was very windy and dark.

I forced down some food and Gatorade and met Todd to drive over to the race start. I got my bike all ready with nutrition, dropped off my dry clothes bags and headed off to special needs to drop off those bags before heading to the lake for the swim start. I met up with Todd again as well as Cindi and a few others. My family showed up a little after 6:30 am to wish me well. I really needed to go to the bathroom and the portajohn lines were ridiculously long by the lake so I quickly headed back to the speed skating oval/transition area. When I got back I said a quick goodbye to the family and had to walk away quickly as Mom started to get teary eyed and I didn’t want to start crying either. I met up with Cindi, Todd and Barbara and we all got in the water together. It was great to be with friends to help me relax and take my mind off the task at hand.

All of a sudden the cannon went off and we made our way to the starting line. I kept my head above water so I could listen to U2’s “A Beautiful Day,” although it was anything but – the sky was very ominous. There was a lot of thrashing going on, as there usually is with a mass start of 1835 people, and my heart rate was very high so I decided to do a modified breast stroke until I could get clear of people and relax. After a few minutes I was better and put my face in the water, started to freestyle and made my way over to the guide rope that marked the course under the water. What a godsend the rope was! And thank goodness Cindi’s last words of advice, were to swim to the left of the rope, instead of the right, as most people were doing. I still sighted looking for the green buoys that marked 500 yards and the halfway point. I never really got hit that many times – at one point I took a soft kick to the ribs and my feet were grabbed or pushed down periodically, but it really wasn’t all that bad. I did kick off one guy’s seal mask behind me and I stopped and apologized and then kept going. But somehow I found my rhythm and before I knew it I was at the turn where I was surprised to see scuba divers below watching us. I started to wave at them but realized that would probably be mistaken as a signal for help.

I finished the first loop in around 46 minutes, and was very pleased. I trotted across the beach and then got back in the water for the second loop. It felt a little funny to get out and run then get back in, but I quickly settled back into my groove. As I was finishing the second loop, I noticed that the front of my head felt funny and I realized my swim cap was coming off and was gathering a bunch of water and pulling my hair. I managed to get it off completely and just hold it in my hand the rest of the way. I later heard that the water got really rough, but I never noticed. I guess nothing compared to the 3-4 foot swells I experienced at Gulf Coast in May.

I emerged from the water in 1:41:50 with an average heart rate of 132. I started running to the wetsuit strippers, as I struggled with my leash and Velcro. Brian was right there and yelled at me. I came over to him and another woman as he barked orders at me to turn, and sit, and hold my feet up. I was very dazed and before I knew it I was back on my feet running to transition with wetsuit in hand. My time here was 2:41.

Transition was slow as I wanted to make sure that I had absolutely everything I needed for the bike. A volunteer helped me initially dump out my bag and get organized, but I was on my own after that.  I changed my bathing suit bottom but kept on the same top. I put on the tube socks that Cindi had made into arm warmers for me. I had a volunteer smear on some sunscreen and then I headed out to my bike where mine was the last on the rack. T1 time was 11:44.

The start of the bike course is downhill with some technical turns. It had rained during the swim and the roads were really wet. I tried to settle into a conservative pace as I took the first few hills and enjoyed the crowds. I kept hearing a clicking sound and realized that my cadence wire had come undone. I stopped and fixed it fast, before continuing on. About 9 miles outside of town is the long descent into Keane – about 7-8 miles of downhill broken into 3 sections. I’m pretty good at descending and really enjoy the speeds. I did have to yell at one girl who was riding too far left to move over to the right so I could pass without going into oncoming traffic. On the second section I reached just over 46 mph. What a rush! I was having a blast! The third section includes some turns that I had to slow down a bit for but still my speed was over 40 mph. The next section from Keane to Jay is fairly flat with a few rollers. I was feeling great and kept my speed around 20 mph but my heart rate was aerobic and I was trying to take it easy and not push too much.

In Jay, I turned left onto Highway 86 or the “first left turn into hell” as Cindi called it. Here is where the climbing started. People were out in force and there was even a bongo drum band at the top of the first hill that really helped my momentum. I took my arm warmers off on the climb and stowed them away for later. After the out and back, the route takes another left hand turn in Wilmington, which is the “second left turn into hell” according to Cindi. At this point, my speed was good and I figured that if I could maintain an average of 16 mph I could make back into Lake Placid in just over 3 hours – well on my way to my 6.5 hour goal time. Well, that was not to be. The last 11 miles took me well over an hour. The winds on this part of the course were ferocious. I struggled through the wind and up the hills, though I didn’t let it get to me. There was quite a crowd at the top of Papa Bear Hill and that made a big difference as that was the last big hill before entering town. I made a quick stop at special needs for more gel and kept going. I got to see my family as I made my way through town and the crowds were great! I heard my name announced as I rounded the corner above the transition area and headed out for the second loop. My time was 3:35 – slower than I had been hoping for but I thought I could still go sub-7 if I picked it up a bit and the conditions got better.

Well, that was not to be. The road was wetter and the winds had picked up on the big downhill into Keane. I didn’t go quite as fast as the first time for fear of getting blown over. I had put my arm warmers back on just before the hill when I made a quick pit stop at an aid station. I took them off again as I climbed toward Wilmington and tossed them at the beginning of the out and back on Hazelton Road. This proved to be a mistake as a little while later the temperature dropped and the winds started. I was getting pelted with rain and hail. Fortunately it didn’t last long and the hills warmed me back up. But as I entered the High Falls Gorge area and Whiteface Mountain, the rains got worse again, though the wind abated some. I couldn’t see much of anything and by this time, my gears were not shifting well at all. I was really worried I was going to lose my chain as I could barely get my bike to go into the big ring. But I was very thankful at this point for my lower gearing! At one point, I was grinding my way up a hill, thinking I was working really hard and had to keep getting out of the saddle. I finally realized that I was still in my big ring and making myself work way too hard. I had less than 10 miles to go to the marathon and I had just toasted my legs!

With about 5 miles to go I had to go to the bathroom again. I didn’t want to stop again (had already stopped twice) when I was so close to the finish of the bike so I decided that I needed to learn to pee on the bike. I waited till a small downhill (and no one was behind me) then I stood up and squatted over to the side so I would miss my seat. It was raining so much, it really didn’t matter and I really could have cared less. Proud of my new talent, I pedaled to the finish, seeing my family again along the way. Bike time was 7:20:18 for an average of 15.3 mph and an average heart rate of 129.

I took my time again in transition. This time there really weren’t any volunteers in there to help. I changed into running shorts, changed my socks, grabbed my fuel belt and hat and headed out. T2 time 11:06.

I felt surprisingly good, despite having ridden 2 hours and 20 minutes on my bike longer than I ever have, and had a nice pace going out. My race number for the run had my last name on it and it was great to hear people yelling out “Dunaway” as I passed. The first aid station I came to had announced that they had warm chicken broth. As nasty as it sounds, and I probably won’t be able to cook with it for quite some time, it was the best thing and really kept me going through the marathon.

After a few miles I started to get tired, and decided that I would walk through the aid stations if I needed anything. This worked pretty well as I got chicken broth every other aid station. I started to do some orange Gatorade at some points for a different flavor and took 2 Gus after I had run out of my hammergel/water combo in my fuel belt. I stopped at special needs half way through the run to change my socks, even though my first pair was still fairly dry and grabbed my long sleeve shirt to put around my waist. This ended up being my saving grace. As I was running back out for the second loop I heard Claire yell “That’s Ann” and I turned to see my family up high on a wall looking down. Dawn sprinted ahead of me to take a pic and I offered for her to finish the race for me, but she declined. I started to get emotional on the second loop and would get choked up because I knew I was going to finish, and every time my eyes would well up with tears, I would stop and tell myself to save it for the finish.

Not long after I left town, the rains really started. I was soaked and thought “so much for the dry socks.” A few miles later I decided to put on my now wet long sleeve shirt as the temperature was dropping and it would still help hold in some body heat. It worked and I never got cold. At one point, they were handing out space blankets and I took one. I felt like a noisy wonder woman running and gave it up at an aid station a little while later, as I really didn’t need it. At this point, the aid stations had run out of chicken broth and my stomach was getting a little upset. I tried the flat store brand coke they had on the course and it tasted pretty nasty, but it helped some, as well as gave me a little Caffeine boost.

With 10 miles to go, I passed some guys that were talking about how far we had been.  I had not thought of the day as a whole, but had been breaking it down into chunks in my head. And when the guy said “you know, we’ve been 130.6 miles so far – only 10 more to go” it really hit me! I couldn’t believe how far I had come already.

I decided I was going to run the last 3 miles without stopping. Not long after I hit the mile 23 mark, I passed an aid station that actually had hot chicken broth. I decided it was worth the stop as I was feeling a little nauseous. I walked for a minute to get it down then started running up the big hill onto Main Street. I made it up and started to feel better and better. I knew I was going to make it! With less than a mile to go, I realized I had to go to the bathroom AGAIN!! I had lost count of how many times I had to stop and pee on the run course – I was sure that my kidneys had shut down or my gerbil bladder couldn’t handle the jostling around. While I had been tempted to stop taking in fluids because it was annoying, I knew I couldn’t do that. The portajohns were getting really disgusting and there were no woods near me. So I decided, yet again, that I was already soaked anyway and I really could care less if I peed on myself. So I did. Under normal circumstances I would never, ever pee while running, but at the time, I was so glad I did! I kept picking up the pace and as I came down the hill and into the Olympic speed skating oval to run on the track to finish, I saw a guy trotting along just ahead of me. I wanted to pass him so I could finish strong and sprint down the chute. I thought I could make it pass him before the final shoot, but just as I was about to, his 3 children ran out to finish with him. I didn’t want to be rude or take away from his moment, so I held off and kind of jogged in place for a minute before I started down after him.

ACDC’s “Back in Black” was blaring and the crowd was going wild as my name was announced. While it was not my song of choice, it was definitely better than some of the later songs I heard (Marcarena anyone?) as people were finishing. I definitely felt like a rock star. But I was so numb from everything and just glad to finally be finished that no emotions came. I saw my mom and my 2 sisters as I came down the chute and once I got over the finish line, I saw my dad with his camera. A catcher came and greeted me with another blanket, which I gladly accepted and I got my medal. Brian came up a moment later and took over and led me around as we searched for the rest of the family. I was pretty dazed but felt good overall. Run time was 5:20:38 with an average heart rate of 123. Overall I finished in 14 hours 45 minutes and 34 seconds in 1405th place – 50 out of 65 in my age group.


It was a long, tough day. I was expecting to feel highs and lows and even question why I was doing the Ironman at points during the day, but it never happened. I kept a positive attitude throughout and made jokes to myself or others when the weather got particularly nasty. I was so thankful I had trained this year in the rain, though it wasn’t quite on the same scale, I at least knew I could do it. The half Ironman I did back in May was also grueling because of the heat and humidity and really helped prepare me mentally. And as my friend Ken has said to me before the race, “you got nothing else to do that day, so take your time and have fun.” And I did just that. While I was hoping to go sub-14 for the day, I was grateful that I finished strong and didn’t end up in the medical tent (well, except to get my nasty blisters on my big toes popped, but really not a big deal in the scheme of things). There were moments when I didn’t care about time anymore and I definitely pushed my limits, but I persevered and pushed through. It was great to have my family there with me – it really helped knowing that I would see them when I got back into town cheering me on. I will never be able to express how much that meant to me. And all the people along the course were great – I was surprised at how many braved the horrible weather and were still cheering us on as the day turned into night. Hiring my coach, Bob Seebohar, was by far the best decision, I could have made. He definitely prepared me very well for the race – not only physically but mentally and nutritionally. He was so supportive, even when I slacked off on my training or wasn’t feeling so motivated some days, his support and guidance was crucial in getting me across the finish line in such great condition.

Will I do another Ironman? Most definitely! It may not be in Lake Placid next year, but I will return and take on that course again – it is spectacular and the perfect venue for an Ironman. I can only get better!

Dawn, me, my mom, Claire and my dad at the finish