I was not sure how I was going to feel being back at Lake Placid.
I hadn’t been back since 2003 - what I call “the race that changed my life”. It quite literally did.
Only my 3rd year in the sport, I was an unknown age grouper doing her 2nd Ironman race. The previous year (2002) I had done my first Ironman at Lake Placid and finished in a normal, nothing over-the-top 12 hours. I was thrilled with that finish and never in my wildest dreams imagined what was in store.
The following year I returned to LP, having trained under the guidance of Wendy Ingraham, and apparently tapped into some unknown potential to have the race of my lifetime. I led the women out of the swim (caught the pro pack after their head start in front of our amateur wave) and remained in the top 3-4 women throughout the bike, and somehow finished 4th overall. (!!!!!) I was beside myself, mostly with shock.
I will never forget that day and how completely unexpected and out-of-body it all was for me. That really was the race that changed the entire course of my life. There is no way I would have pursued triathlon, or even considered turning Pro, had that day never happened. I would have dabbled in some races from time to time, but would have continued my life in the corporate world.
I wasn’t sure how I would react being back at Lake Placid. My amazing memories from this place depict a person (myself) I don’t even know anymore. My “comeback” has been a little defeating. Not being able to race I feared might make me a bit melancholy. (?) I have continued to try to “force the smile”, as my mother would say, and to find value and pride in small steps forward… but this journey rife with very little progress has been very difficult to consistently absorb.
Trakkers needed to do another product test so I flew in on Thursday. As I drove into the familiar town of Lake Placid, the streets and buildings were flooding back to my memory. I took several deep breaths as different memories struck me, each one eliciting a soft smile. The hill back into town which is the final part of each loop of the run was MUCH steeper than I remembered, too. Holy cow.
One of the great things about this sport (like most others) are the friends you make along the way. Most of the pros get along well and the only time we really see one another is at races. I was THRILLED to get to see one of my favorite ladies, Paolina Allan. Polly and I were roommates at Timex camp in ’07 and she quickly became a trusted ally. I never get to see her so this was a rare treat. I was thrilled she finished her day in a much deserved 5th overall.
Special thanks to my friend Kim Loeffler for loaning me a bike. Kim did not have the day I know she was ready for – but she is fit so look for her to shake her tail feathers in an upcoming event.
It was great also getting to see my Timex gang - Alex Mroszczyk, our team mgr Tristan, Dave Harju and Marie Danais. In Boulder I get to see Laura Tingle and Denny Meeker all the time – but that doesn’t matter, it’s still great to see them. :)
The next day, Trakkers needed to do a demo test so my boss, Charlie Patten, his stud wife, Stephanie, and I decided to do a loop of the IMLP bike course. Stephanie is the second coming of George Hincapie. She completely dusted Charlie and me at mile 3. I am not kidding. That chick rarely bikes but she took off like the wind and we never saw her again. Not the greatest thing for my self confidence but I was too impressed to be bothered with the reality of my own fitness.
Thank God Charlie was with me for the remainder of our journey. He provided much comic relief, which came in handy in unexpected ways.
First, I knew my descending has become really quite pitiful (anyone who has ridden with me of late will attest to the ninny I have become), but navigating the switchback descents on a course where I had once flown like a rocket ship was terrifying. Then I got angry that it was terrifying. I had once been a cyclist. Now I am a back patient with no bike handling skills, who fears crashing like the plague.
Charlie teased me as he went flying by at the start of the 2+ mile descent, “You really don’t have to brake”, and I only shook my head and tightened my death grip on the smoking brake pads so I didn’t descend faster than 11mph. Ever. I felt completely unstable and as though the front wheel was about to come out from under me. The slightest wind from a cross gust and I freaked out. I was utterly frightened. A ton of recreational riders flew by me like I was going backwards. I was so embarrassed. Tears filled my eyes.
By then I had slowed to 9mph and pulled to the curb. I plopped my feet onto the safety of asphalt and regrouped. I longed for the Carole I once was to morph back into me. I asked myself aloud if she was ever coming back. I knew Charlie would be waiting at the base of the hill and soon he’d probably be worried, so I mounted Kim’s bike and forced myself to continue. At snail-pace, I crept down the descent.
Sure enough, Charlie was curbside at the base of the hill, just as I’d expected. There was a kind smile on his face (typical Charlie) as he pointed towards the direction I needed to go and we kept on going. I think instinct told him I was having a rough time. Plus I was 10 minutes behind him. :)
Throughout the next 30 miles, Charlie and I vacillated between chit-chat, funny Rev3 stories, sections of road where we’d pick up the pace a bit, and wondering aloud if Stephanie was ok and how strong a rider she is. I also had to contain my laughter because Charlie’s bolt on his seat post had worked through and his seat dropped about as low as it could go. He looked like one of those clowns getting out of the tiny car in the circus; his knees were almost hitting his chest when he pedaled and he just looked so funny. We joked about all the IM athletes who were driving by to check out the course who must have made fun of the dork on the bike with his seat so low. Funny.
I was silent for a few portions of my ride with him, too, as I needed to process the reality of my riding. I’ve made progress in the last 6 months, and that matters, but even JZ is a little baffled by how little progress there has been. I was also struck by how DIFFICULT that course is. My memories from 2003 reflect a much different feeling. I remembered it as having rollers, and a few climbs that forced me to sit up in the saddle, but nothing too arduous. Granted, I was super fit then, but that’s the point. On this day, I huffed and puffed and shook my head at the degree of difficulty. This was NOT what I remembered….. all signs that tell me my fitness is utter crap. Nothing I don’t already know.
I had intended to race Steelhead this weekend and was set to go. My good buddy, Tim O’Donnell, and I did an easy ride together a couple weeks ago and decided a race bet was in order, too. He was also doing Steelhead and our bet was me finishing within an hour of his finish time.
I tried to hide my embarrassment from him how pathetic my goal was – AN HOUR BEHIND HIM?? Give me a break. But that was sadly a realistic goal.
He would have likely broken 4 hours – Mother of GOD!! My hope would have been to break 5 hours. Good grief. (Thankfully "TO" decided last minute to do Calgary instead. Had we raced, I would have never lived down losing that bet to him!)
I talked with JZ this week and we decided there was very little purpose to race Steelhead. My training output has been weak – both in splits and how I feel – and she is concerned I will gain nothing by doing a race that tells me what I already know: I am not ready to race.
So this becomes yet another event in 2009 I am not fit enough to do.
On the flipside, yesterday when I told Tom Ziebart (Steelhead RD) I wouldn’t be racing, he asked if I would do the live text updates for IronmanLive.com on race day. He said I was “funny”. Hopefully I will have a better personal filter by typing as opposed to live on-camera coverage. : ) Ha!
Here’s hoping my text coverage for IMLive goes well.
... And don’t worry – there is still fight left in this girl. I will keep at it and will keep trying to get this body going. There is still time left for this season and I am not giving up.