Reston Area Triathletes RATS.net Logo

Race Result

Racer: Erik Melis
Race: Ironman USA
Date: Sunday, July 20, 2008
Location: Lake Placid, NY
Race Type: Triathlon - Ironman
Age Group: Male 50 - 54
Time: 15:13:52
Overall Place: 1905 / 2340
Age Group Place: 107 / 139
Comment: First IM - New transition gear item added - webbed feet

Race Report:

Race Report – Ironman USA – Lake Placid, NY July 20, 2008

Swim – 1:24:25
T1 – 13:38:00
Bike – 7:12:56
T2 – 18:42:00
Run – 6:06:12
Overall – 15:13:52

M50-54 107/139
Overall 1905/2340


The race was a tough one not only because of the inherent toughness of an Ironman and the added toughness of the IM at Lake Placid but also because of the almost incessant rain that began with the swim start and didn’t abate until well into the evening. My goal was a simple one for my first Ironman race – finish in one piece before they turned the timer off. Anything better than that would be icing on the cake. As my wife put it, “I paid for 17 hours of racing so by golly I’m going to use 17 hours.”

The swim mass start, my first race with such a beast, was very intimidating but I not only survived it, I managed to post a swim time 6 minutes faster than I imagined possible for me. The bike strategy was to hold myself under control for the first loop to make sure that I had something left for the second. That strategy seemed to work well. What didn’t work well during the bike was the descending in the rain. I had no control of my bike speed for the most part; pumping the brakes had no apparent effect. During the Keene descent on the second loop, I almost crashed into a group of riders that were spread three across in the lane and had to cross the double yellow line into the oncoming traffic lane to avoid them. My transitions were incredibly slow partly because of the way I was feeling after the swim and after the bike, partly because of my deliberate complete clothing changes from one discipline to the other, and I think partly because it wasn’t raining in the changing tents and being dry was nice every once in a while. My run was not pretty, rapidly changing from mostly a run to mostly a walk. I managed to finish with plenty of time, at 15:13:52, to spare and know that with some tweaking in several areas (including transition) I could easily have finished under 15 hours.

This race was a huge accomplishment for me, not only because it was the achievement of a long sought goal to complete the Ironman but because to get there I had to overcome the fear I had of the water having almost drowned as a teenager. I also had to overcome the impact on my training of having had hernia surgery 5 months before the race which took me out of action for 6 weeks and had to overcome the physical and mental impact of having been diagnosed with and operated on for melanoma skin cancer 3 months before the race.

Detailed Race Report (VERY Long)

Pre-race day stuff …

My wife’s friend owns a lake house in Saranac Lake that we were able to rent for two weeks around the race. We decided that this was perfect since we’d be close enough to LP to do all the race stuff we needed to do yet we wouldn’t be constantly exposed to the hype of the race to come. It also allowed cooking for ourselves and maintaining our pre-race nutrition plan. We spent the week before the race relaxing, driving the race course, doing some practice rides and some practices swims and runs. The day before the race we were joined by some friends of our including the personal trainer who got us started in triathlon training and the personal trainer who has worked with us over the past year to get us to the starting line. It was nice to know that we’d have some folks there cheering just for us since none of our family was going to be able to come up.

That day before the race, we took our bikes and T1 and T2 gear bags and checked them in at the race venue. This actually made the race seem more real but at the same time made us a little relaxed knowing that this step was complete.

For dinner that night we had a pasta-based dinner and went to bed early.

Race morning pre-race…

Woke up about 3 am on race morning even though we weren’t really sleeping much, pre-race anxiety having taken over. We put together our special needs stuff and had some breakfast consisting of English muffins with peanut butter and bananas. We headed off for the race at about 4 so that we could park in the lot nearest the transition to facilitate being able to return our bike pump and gear not needed back to the car. We also had some coffee while waiting for body marking and transition to open.

Got body marked and went into transition to do final checks on our bikes and gear including pumping up the tires and adjusting some of the gear in our T1/T2 bags. We then grabbed our wetsuits from the car and took our special needs bags to the drop off areas and proceeded to the area of the swim start.

Swim: 1:24:25 – ‘Washing machine – gentle cycle?’

This was the part of the race that concerned me most. Swimming is by far my weakest discipline, probably caused in part by the ever-present fears introduced by almost drowning as a teenager. The thought of 2000+ people in the water starting at one time was mind numbing. I had stared at pictures of previous swim starts showing the “washing machine” and terrified at the thought of being caught up in the middle of that. We got to the swim venue early to allow plenty of time to hydrate, eat a final pre-race gel and get into our wetsuits. Once our support team arrived, we turned over our gear to our support crew and headed down to the beach. I crossed the timing mats and almost immediately my heart rate jumped two zones. I waded into the water scanning the area available for swim start positioning and decided on a spot across the swim corral and slightly to the back. I swam over to the area and tried to find a comfortable place to stand and position myself. I was trying to be very careful as to where I walked because the friend of ours from whom we rented the house in Saranac Lake said that teenagers liked to hang around the far side of the lake and toss their beer bottles into the lake. Luckily, there was nothing that I could feel in the water other than the sand and the sturdy rocks on which I perched myself. While waiting with my wife in the same area, I was talking to another swimmer who had done the race before and he said the best thing to do if you were not a strong or fast swimmer was to hold back a bit at the start and then let the ‘vortex’ suck you along. I had trouble envisioning 2000 people creating a vortex strong enough to pull anyone anywhere in a lake the size of Mirror Lake but decided it was worth a try. However, just prior to the start, I looked behind me and saw a mass of people that looked like they were ready to pounce upon hearing the cannon go off so we decided that we’d start as soon as everyone else did so that if we got run over we’d at least reduce the relative speed of the pass. And then it happened, BOOM!!!! The cannon fired and everyone took off in a frenzy. I did my best just to look for some clear water to get my rhythm established and managed fairly quickly to do that. Reach and roll, reach and roll, breathe... I wasn’t even going to try to look for the buoy line that I know makes sighting easier because I could see the carnage that was happening near the buoys as I sighted. I just did my best to steer parallel to but slightly toward the buoys so that I could close the gap by the turn buoys. What happened next I didn’t expect. Since I’m a lousy sighter sometimes, I ended up drifting closer and closer to the buoy line and found myself before long right there with the masses. I actually even saw the buoy line a few times during that first lap too which I hadn’t anticipated. Like a funnel though everyone came together at the turn buoys and things got more difficult to navigate at least until we went around the second red buoy and people spread out some more. Again, I tried to just focus on finding clear water to keep my rhythm going. Before I knew it we were at the beach for the first exit. I stood up and got dizzy (as had happened to me during Mooseman and Columbia) so took it a little easier getting out and around to get back in the water. I did notice that the rain sprinkles at race start had turned into a steadier rain at this point but I was already pretty wet so didn’t really care. Entered the water for the second lap and before even beginning my stroke realized that I was moving in the direction of the other swimmers. The ‘vortex’ had me. YES!!! I dove right in and got right in there with everyone else right along the buoy line and found myself even drafting off faster swimmers a few times. I tried not to tickle feet as I was drafting so I could stay in stealth mode. I felt myself relax much more during that second lap and even caught myself smiling while swimming. Turn buoys were a little tougher again but I got around them and right back along the buoy line. At the final buoy getting to the exit I decided to try something. I had been thinking about my dizziness issues and was wondering if my not kicking very much during my swim might be a contributing factor. I thought that maybe by not kicking much, I wasn’t forcing much blood to my legs and so that when I stood up a big rush of blood went into my legs and thus added to the dizziness. So, when I hit that buoy I started kicking hard until the exit. I stood up slowly and didn’t notice as much dizziness. Next time I race, I’ll try kicking hard earlier. I went through the arch and checked my time (1:24:00 – 6 minutes faster than I expected to be able to do on a good day). I pulled the top portion of my wetsuit down and flopped onto the mat and have the wetsuit strippers remove my suit and hand it back to me. I took off down the carpeted path toward transition feeling great about my swim.

T1: 13:38:00 – ‘Slow but steady – full gear change’

I had decided early on that I wanted to be as comfortable on the bike ride as possible so I had planned to change out of the swim suit I was wearing under my wetsuit into a regular bike jersey – Curious George (bigger pockets for gels, tubes etc) and my regular bike shorts (nice padding). Given the muddy and soaked conditions in the changing tent, this took a little longer than I expected but I figured I had bought myself some extra time with the swim so I could afford it. Headed out to get my bike and was immediately glad that I had put duct tape over my Look cleats when I had to slog through the mud with my bike enroute to the bike mount area. Pulled the tape off, mounted my trusty stead, and headed off to the chants of ‘Go, Curious George, Go!’.

Bike: 7:10:56 – ‘Descending on dry roads is much nicer’

The biggest concern I had on the bike ride was properly pacing my efforts so that I didn’t burn out my legs on the first lap of the bike. I kept asking myself the question, ‘Could you go faster?’, and if the answer was ‘yes’, then I backed off a bit. The first descent out of transition area showed that descending today was going to be tricky given the even steadier rain that was falling now. I had to be careful on the descents so that my momentum (you get a lot of that with 195 pounds on the bike) didn’t carry me beyond my means to control the bike. Settled into a nice pace while maintaining a cadence of about 95 rpm and keeping my feet light in the pedals. Speaking of pedals, I almost noticed something that I thought might become a problem during the remainder of the day. My bike shoes were quickly filling up with water. I had this happen on a ride before and meant to drill some drain holes in my shoes but never got around to doing it. Oh well, I decided to slosh and squish through it and if I stopped to use the Porto-Johns on the course I’d drain them if needed. After climbing out of town and finally getting to the Keene descent, things got a little dicey. The rain was coming down pretty hard and I noticed that as I tried to be a little conservative on the descent speed by pumping my rear brake that it wasn’t having any effect. I was pretty much freewheeling on the descent out of control. I kept try to apply a little pressure to brakes without putting so much on that I locked up and lost control of my rear wheel and eventually managed to makes safe transit of the descent. The other thing that became painfully obvious was that descending at near 40 mph in the pouring rain stings. Very glad I wore my sunglasses with yellow lenses even though keeping them from fogging was a challenge at times. I was certainly hoping at that point that the rain would let up before I had to face that on loop number two. The stretch between Keene and Upper Jay and Jay was nice. It was easy to keep a good steady rhythm and even afforded the opportunity to do some admiring of the scenery. I stopped into the aid station at Jay and used to facilities and drained my shoes in preparation for the Jay to Wilmington hilly ride. Speaking of aid stations, the volunteers up here for IM LP are the best!!! Not only were they out there ready to help you with whatever you needed but they were doing it in the pouring rain. Got back on my bike and headed up toward Wilmington chanting my hill climbing mantra, “Making little circles, making little circles…” Okay, this is where I have to confess that I have a triple chain ring on the front and was not ashamed to use it. I am, after all, a grandpa so I think using a granny gear is allowed… I used it judiciously where my cadence started dipping and my quads started to feel the strain. I figured I could save that pain for the second loop. Got into Wilmington and made the turn for the Black Brook out and back. They removed the aid station at the turnaround on the out and back due to space issues so we had to make sure we had enough water, etc for the out and back. The one thing that was NOT a problem all day was having enough water. On the up side, at least no one had to worry about overheating. Got back to Wilmington and headed back toward LP. There were plenty of folks cheering us on and also telling us to take it easy on the first loop especially as we got to the climb from Whiteface to the Wilmington Notch. Again, just focused on keeping my cadence and staying light in the pedal pressure. Strange how on this first loop, once I got to two Cherries (Big and Little) and the three Bears (Papa, Mama and Baby), the hills didn’t seem as bad. Made the climbs up Northwood Dr and onto Lake Placid Dr and made my way to the special needs area. There I stocked up on gels. and made the decision not to put on my rain slicker since the rain at that point had slacked some (this would prove to be a mistake since the rain picked up again hard as soon as I left LP for loop two).

Made my way through the streets of LP back to the high school and off onto the second loop. Second loop was mostly an uneventful repeat of loop one except that my legs were feeling the hills and the Keene descent was even dicier than the first time. As I approached the descent, I tried to manage my speed using my brakes and pumping them gently but again no grip. As during the first loop, I basically descended out of control at about 40 mph. This time however there was a problem. At one point in the descent I came up on three cyclists riding three abreast and taking up the whole lane on the descent. I had to make a choice, go off the road to the right to avoid crashing into them or hit the brakes hard and probably lay the bike down on the road, or keeping my speed go around them on the left across the double yellow. I didn’t see any traffic coming in the oncoming lane so decided on the latter and went around the group on the left. I felt the tires start to slip as I crossed the line but I held on and then made it back into the bike lane not long before a truck showed up in the oncoming lane. The reminder of the lap was routine…keeping a steady pace on the flats and pseudo flats and make lots of little circles on the climbs. The rain and cold were definitely having an impact on my pre-arthritic left knee and I could feel it stiffening up but figured that keeping it moving was the best thing. I did make an unscheduled and unplanned stop at the bike special needs bags and grabbed my rain jacket thinking that I’d don it for the run. Got into transition, handed my bike to the bike handlers (a nice feature of this race, not having to re-rack your own bike). Grabbed my T2 bag from the rack and head into the changing tent.

T2 – 18:42 – “Very slow change and potential GI issues’

When I started this transition, I was feeling an unusual pain in the area of my right kidney... Since I have history of kidney stones, I feared the worse so decided to make sure everything was working okay before heading out on the run. I spent some time drinking water and resting a bit and using the Porto-John before heading out. I knew that I was transitioning slow as molasses but decided the time was well invested if it would help to ensure that I could finish on my feet. Once I felt like the pain was subsiding, I headed out onto the run. Since, once again, the rain had abated somewhat, I made the decision not to put on my rain slicker and again this may not have been the best decision given what the rain continued to do on the run. Oh well, live and learn.

Run – 6:06:12 – “Orthotics + water = foot problems”

I started the run using my run 3 minute and walk fast 1 minute strategy and it worked okay for the first 6 miles. At that point, my feet were really starting to bother me. Water had soaked my running shoes and my leather orthotics were not taking that well. My feet were sliding and slamming all over the inside of my shoes. Toes were slamming into the toe box, heal were slamming into the hell cup, and I could feel the water-soaked skin on the bottom my feet were starting to rub themselves raw. I decided to change my stride to minimize the foot sliding but that only had limited effect. So, in an effort to save my feet enough that I could finish the race, I started walking more and running less. As my feet would start to feel better, I’d run and if they started to hurt more, I’d walk. I just kept telling myself to continue to move forward and did. I kept doing the math in my head and knew that I had plenty of time to finish the race which was my primary goal. I passed my wife who was about 1 mile ahead of me at the run special needs area where I picked up my extra gels and long sleeved shirt. She told me she had started walking due to similar foot issues that I had and due to some potential Achilles issues. I continued to mostly walk but running where my feet could tolerate it. Eventually at mile 22, I caught up with her and we just started walking together. We walked the remaining 4.2 miles. Since we started this Ironman journey together it was nice to know that we were going to finish the journey together. We talked about maybe crossing the line together but I didn’t want to deprive either of us of going through that tape at the finish. Since she was the one that started me on this path by talking me into trying to do the Ironman, I told her that it was appropriate for her to go across first. When we got to the Olympic oval, she found enough strength, despite her extreme foot pain, to jog to the finish line and through the tape. I followed 6 seconds behind her and we shared a big Ironhug at the finish line. To hear the announcer say,’Erik Melis of Oakton, Virginia, you are an Ironman’ was just awesome and made all the pain from the whole day worthwhile.