IMLT – Race Report Part 1 – Prologue

I HAD a plan to raise $10,000 for some awesome organizations by Sept. 22, 2013 – the day I RACED in Ironman Lake Tahoe. Thanks to you, we’ve reached both of those goals. I am now officially an Ironman, and we raised $11,052! The winners of our last fundraising activity will be notified soon.

For the next few blog posts, I’ll be giving the race report for the inaugural edition of Ironman Lake Tahoe. Today is the Prologue, and will be followed by the Swim, Bike, Run, and Epilogue posts over the next several days. Patience, grasshopper.

Ironman Lake Tahoe 2013 – Race Report Part 1 – Prologue

On June 18, 2012, registration opened up for the inaugural Ironman Lake Tahoe to be held on September 22, 2013, over 15 months before the race, and just a few days after the race was publicly announced. At this point I had a solid handful of sprint/Olympic distance triathlons, but only one long-distance race, a solid top-10 showing at the Napa Valley Vintage (half-iron distance) Triathlon, under my belt. My confidence was high thanks to that solid performance and having just earned yet another podium placement in a sprint triathlon, this time for the local Redondo Beach Triathlon. But the thought of stepping up to the full 140.6 scared me. Bigtime.

I wanted to take the leap. Blindly. Lauren and I discussed the time commitment and sacrifice it would take for me to do this race, and she responded with, “Do what you gotta do.” So, when registration opened up at 9am PDT on that June morning well over a year ago I immediately logged in, swallowed really hard, exhaled even harder, and plunked down my $700 registration fee. Alright. 15 months to get myself psyched up for this. I’m glad I didn’t waffle on this decision as the race sold out in just a few hours and I would have missed out. All 2,700 race openings. Gone in a flash. No going back now.

In the interim there were other races, starting with the Ragnar Relay Northwest Passage (so much fun!) and Ironman 70.3 Lake Stevens (another strong long-distance showing) up in Washington that July. But as the 1-year mark leading up to the race approached I felt a desire to make a big splash with my first Ironman…

I’d been wanting to dedicate my races toward fundraising causes for a while, but hadn’t really discovered the proper mechanisms or medium to get the proper attention and long-term goals in place… so on the morning of September 22, 2012, I hatched a plan in my head and started this blog with the very first entry, which was followed about a week later with The Plan. This formed the basis for my next full year. Find creative ways to raise $10,000 for a group of causes that had meaning to me, take the time to build up the fundraising message and experiment with different methods, and use that year to grow as a person. All while getting ready for this giant beast of a race.

Over the course of this year we had some fundraising challenges that worked well… and others that failed pretty miserably. There were some great periods of training for Ironman Lake Tahoe and other races over the past year… and there were some not-so-great periods of training. I had some really good races (Hermosa ‘Day at the Beach’ Triathlon, Rock ‘n Roll Pasadena 13.1, Ragnar Northwest Passage 2013, Redondo Beach Triathlon)… and some not-so-good (Napa Valley Marathon). But, ultimately, the march toward the big race and the big fundraising challenge were always there.

At some point I had realized my naivety surrounding Lake Tahoe. I hadn’t realized when I signed up that it was well over a mile in altitude. That was going to be difficult! I had grand plans to spend several training weekends over the summer up in Big Bear to get used to the altitude; I even went so far as to consider renting an apartment to get in the requisite time in the thin air. Of course, circumstances took over and the best I could do was get in a couple of training rides high up on the Angeles Crest Highway, climbing as high as about 6,600 feet. Close enough, right?

No. Not close enough. When the time came to finally book lodging for the race it became abundantly clear that getting to Lake Tahoe early enough to get over the altitude alone would be insufficient, I would need an extra few days to really get used to the altitude. Some people were heading up several weeks or more in advance of the race; I could only really justify 6 days before the race due to work commitments and our special needs pets. In particular, I needed enough time to become comfortable swimming in the thin air.

We arrived at Lake Tahoe on the Monday before the race, bought a ton of groceries for the week, and checked in to our really cool condo. Two stories, nice sized bedrooms and a bathroom on each floor, plus a spiral staircase that took you up to a bonus loft with a couple of smaller beds. Excellent! That would work perfectly as Papa Jeff and Suzanne were going to join us later in the week, and Kris and Robin would be coming up on race day. Lauren and I had both planned on getting some work done while we acclimated. Unfortunately, the only real downside to the condo was the pitiful DSL connection – there was barely enough bandwidth to download the main page at Amazon.com. Lauren found ways to soldier on; I was pretty much forced to take the week as vacation days.

The second story and the loft at the condo open up to the main floor - this place was really quite cute! We loved it here!

The second story and the loft at the condo open up to the main floor – this place was really quite cute! We loved it here!

Over the next several days I spent some time swimming in the condo pool and in the lake, taking short rides and runs on the roads along the lake, acclimating to the altitude, getting comfortable with the temperature change, and just trying to not get sick/injured/killed by a bear.

As race day approached we all eagerly watched the weather apps on our phones. The forecasts grew more bleak as the week advanced. A storm was forecast to blow through on Saturday, the day before the race, with rain and wind gusts of up to 50mph. Race day itself was forecast to be bitter, bitter cold. Race preparations quickly shifted from normal race preparations to finding ways to deal with the cold temperatures, and adjusting the bike setup to handle any lingering wind concerns.

Race check-in began on Thursday. We headed down to Ironman Village that was built in the parking lot at Squaw Valley. There was a lot of excitement in the air and the process was over quickly. My race participant bracelet was on my wrist, all of my race materials picked up, Ironman t-shirts and souvenirs purchased, and the booths all visited.

Papa Jeff and Suzanne arrived on Friday mere minutes after I was returning from my last taper run – a quick 4-miler meant to shake the legs out a bit. We made a quick return trip to Ironman Village so I could look for a long-sleeve cycling jersey and other cold weather gear (no luck, everybody else beat me to it). On the way back we decided to take a quick tour of the bike course – the part that was open at the time – and then headed back to the condo. This was my first visit to Brockway Pass; at first I wasn’t intimidated as it was a long but gradual climb, until we turned the corner and it kicked up even higher. All the way to 7,200 feet above sea level. Yeah, that was going to be “fun”! What goes up, however, must come down… and the following descent back to the lake was going to be FUN! It would all balance out on race day, I was certain.

The mandatory racers’ meeting was held that night, so Lauren and I headed back once more to Ironman Village. Unfortunately, Lauren couldn’t get in to the meeting, so she made new friends and met up with a former colleague (whose husband was also in the race). The meeting was nothing too terribly special – the only real new information was sharing the hours that the closed portion of the course would be available for preview (it is a closed, gated community). 3 to 5 on Saturday. Check.

Saturday morning was simple: focus on eating, drinking, and getting ready for the race. I finished dialing in the modified raceday setup on the bike, took a quick test ride, packed my bags for transition, and then headed out to drop them all off at the appropriate locations. First, the Run Gear bag at T2 in Squaw Valley. As we arrived, the storm started rolling in. High winds forced the exhibitors to close down, and we made our stay there as brief as possible, making one quick stroll to check out the run course and finish line areas. I took a quick tour of the changing tent, the T2 in/out points, and verified the process for the bikes (at this race we just needed to pass the bike off to a volunteer instead of racking them ourselves. Awesome!). We then got out of there ASAP as the winds were REALLY starting to kick up and the rain was beginning to pelt down.

The finishing chute of the race. I was hoping to be crossing this line in a wee bit over 24 hours from this moment...

The finishing chute of the race. I was hoping to be crossing this line in a wee bit over 24 hours from this moment…

A while later we arrived at Kings Beach to drop off the bike and Bike Gear bag at T1. Just as the winds and rain reached their peak. The winds were so strong that they literally picked up my bike like a kite – I was glad that I put the 42mm front wheel on instead of the 90mm wheel, otherwise that bike might have just flown away and never been found. I racked the bike in the appropriate location, just as the wind and rains seemed to find yet another level, and headed over to drop off my Bike Gear bag. Good news: at T2, the gear bags were on tables inside a tent. Bad news: at T1, the gear bags were uncovered and set on the ground. The rules required that the Bike Gear bags be present and accounted for in the proper location in T1 on Saturday. They rules also stated that we could add/remove anything from those bags the morning of the race. So… since I didn’t want my clothing and gear to become wet and frozen overnight, I took them all out, put a rock in my bag, and set it in the appropriate location. I would refill the bag before the race with my dry, warm gear. Crisis averted.

We then headed back to the condo to get Papa Jeff and Suzanne so we could tour the first major climb on the bike course that was only available for viewing between 3 and 5 that day. The rain and wind were finally letting up along the lakeshore, so we were feeling pretty good that the worst was behind us. We drove to the gates of the community as part of a long caravan, and proceeded to wind our way through the forest roads (Papa Jeff was particularly concerned about the wooden car bridges over some ravines – they could be slick on race day and he was worried about me crashing on them. He needn’t be worried about me crashing on those bridges… there were other hazards on the course that would prove more deadly later…). The rains had returned as we traveled farther away from the lake, and the roads twisted a bit. Some went downhill. But most went up. And up. And up some more. About 1,000 feet of climbing. And then the rain turned into a light snow. There was one final part of the road that was closed (I’ll describe it later in the bike section of my report) heading up to the Ritz Carlton, so we had to backtrack, go back up the road, and loop through the remaining portion of the course. As we neared the Ritz the snow began to intensify; it was nearly a blizzard up there. Between freakout moments looking at the snow (SNOW!) we noticed that the last closed section of the course took you up to the peak of the hill, with a twisting, downhill descent from the Ritz down to the base of Brockway Pass. This descent wasn’t going to be a great one for recovery and coasting as it twisted and turned enough to require the attention of the rider. Not a downhill to be taken lightly.

We cruised back up and over Brockway Pass (another ~1,000 foot climb), took one last gander at the long, fast downhill that followed, and made it back to the condo for dinner, an Advil PM, and an early bedtime for me.

Race morning! I was up at about 3:30am and taking down Nespresso capsules like they were merely water instead of shots of double espresso. Anybody who races knows what was going on there… and it worked. Breakfast consisted of a breakfast sandwich, banana, and a giant bowl of chicken noodle soup. Breakfast of champions! Some last minute gear prep… and we headed out the door into the dark morning toward the swim start. It was dark and cold. As it was only 5am, it would get colder before the sunrise. On the drive to the race start that new Katy Perry song ‘Roar’ came on the radio (why we had it on a station that would play that song, I don’t know)… and I knew at that moment I wouldn’t be able to shake it:

I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire
Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar

Crap. Katy Perry motivated me. On a pitch black, bitter cold morning. Fracking Katy Perry.

And then we arrived at the race start.

The story continues in the next blog post: IMLT – Race Report Part 2 – Swim

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