Gary Jackson: Fire When Ready Pottery
A Chicago potter’s somewhat slanted view of clay & play
Categories: friends, IRONMAN, special events


Early Sunday morning 3:00am and here’s the view from our room.
Dark, quiet… like the calm before the storm. Soon enough this quaint little street running through Lake Placid would be a hub of frenzy as we near the start of race day! I got up earlier than Chris so I could shower & shave, have some breakfast and gather my thoughts. With all of the drama going on at home with my Mom, I’ve had a lot going on in my head these days. Hard to focus on anything or everything! But I know she would have wanted me to continue and finish this IRONMAN… so I’m going to!!! For my Mom.

Once we were both up and ready, we walked back down to the Transition Area… conveniently about two blocks from our room. We wanted to double-check our bikes and add some air to the tires. We also had to drop off our Special Needs bags. The bike one went up on the hill by these colored lights on the side of the Olympic Training Center. The swim bag went down the road a bit on the road that borders Mirror Lake… a bit of walk.

You can see now how the Transition Area has totally filled up with thousands of bicycles. Keep in mind, they’re all numbered both the bike and the rack. And each athlete will be looking for their bike here when they come in from the Swim.

Looks like the Gear Bag area has been completely filled up too!

After we dropped of our bags, re-pumped our tires, and mentally walked through everything… we went back to our room to relax for a few minutes before heading down to the lake.

The Lake Placid Swim Course is in Mirror Lake. A beautifully clean & calm lake. The buoys have been in place for the last few days, so we’ve been looking at it with fear & dread… well, at least I have been. Also this time, we will be swimming the same loop TWICE… and we even need to get out on the beach and run through the starting arch again for the second half… crazy, right?! This IRONMAN swim is a self-seeded start… meaning you decide for yourself which corral and Wave you want to be in. The Pros go first, and then everyone else start after they’ve completed their first loop. Being a very unconfident swimmer… I chose to start in the 1:50-2:00 hour wave. Which I was assuming was a bit faster than I would really finish it in. But I hoped it might help speed me along a bit??? Which I might need.. as the deadline to complete the 2.4 mile swim is two hours and twenty minutes. If you don’t finish in time, you’re done with the race!!!

And sure, this isn’t me running in… but you get the idea..

When you finish your second loop, you get out of the water and start running towards the Transition Area. See the blue line on the map above?… that’s a couple city blocks that they carpet for the athletes to run down in their bare feet. Along the way, there are plenty of volunteers lined up to help people wriggle out of their wetsuits if needed.

I was just pleased to have made it out of the water with time to spare! I actually surprised myself by finishing the Swim in one hour and fifty-five minutes!!! Not bad… considering this was only my FIFTH time in the water this entire season!!! Yep, did I mention that I didn’t really have a lot of time to train for this race?!!! Plus, everything going on at home with my Mom… you get it.

After you run from Swim to the Transition Area, you grab your Bike Gear bag and head into the changing tent. You strip off your swim gear, dry off and switch into your bike clothes, shoes, glasses, helmet, etc. You also have a chance to drink some Gatorade and eat some food if you pre-packed them in your bike bag… and I did. Not my first rodeo.

Then you run out of the changing tent, around part of the speed skating rink and into Transition. Because I’m a slow swimmer, and a LOT of the athletes had already come before me… there were plenty of volunteers on hand to help with my bike. As you’re running around the rink, they call out your race number and a volunteer was waiting there with my bike pulled out and ready for me. So nice. And then you run with your bike out of the Transition Area before you can get on. You saddle up… and head off onto the Bike Route. Geared up for the long 112 miles to come!!! And did I mention yet that we’re biking in the Adirondack Mountains?… so I knew to expect some big hills!!!

The Bike Route is a double loop as well… so as you’re leaving the Transition Area and head out, you know that you’ll be back again at the halfway mark… and then do it all over again!!!

So glad that Chris and I took some time two days ago to drive the Bike Route. I would not have been happy flying by on my bike and not really being able to appreciate the natural beauty while pedaling on my bike, And did I mention hills?…. notice the elevation chart above this… times TWO! Yes, that big downhill into Keene was pretty amazing!!! Flying down the beautiful road at about 50mph!!! But in the back of your head… the more you go downhill, the more you are fully aware that you will need to pedal back up that same elevation at some other point.

The bike ride was SO MUCH FUN!!!
Of course, this is my strongest suit in the triathlon. I enjoy hills both up and down. The scenery was amazing, and I was catching up and passing a few people along the way! After the first loop, we made it back to the Transition Area to find our Special Needs bags waiting for us. I knew that I had packed some food for lunch, so I stopped for a couple minutes and scarfed down some food. And then it was off again for another 56-mile loop!!!

I thought that the second loop seemed a little easier than the first. I think my legs had gotten over the Swim, and the muscles were all working together on my bike. It felt good… and the hills didn’t seem all that bad. Part way through the second loop, it started to rain. And rain hard… it hurt, so many people were thinking it might have been some hail mixed in. Luckily, the rain “waited” for us to make it down those huge downhills… which was great because that would not have been safe if they were wet & slippery! The rain stopped pretty quickly, and we were back to nice weather for the rest of the ride!

When you finish the second loop of the Bike Course, you roll back into the Transition Area and hand your bike off to one of the volunteers. They will take your bike and put it back in the rack for you. You go back to the Gear Bag racks and find your Run Gear Bag. Back into the changing tent to switch all of your clothes one more time. Plus, another opportunity to eat some food and hydrate. All the time thinking about the run coming up… and making sure you’re wearing all the right things for the long night ahead.

So I switched in to my run clothes and started jogging out onto the course. I made it about a mile or two and I felt something weird inside my shoe. Something didn’t feel right. So I stopped, sat down on the roadside guardrail, took off my shoe & sock to make sure nothing was stuck inside. And there wasn’t. Uh oh… something wasn’t feeling right… but nothing obvious inside that would have been causing it. My immediate fear is that there might be a blister already setting in.With all of the rain & sweat during the bike ride, my bike shoes & socks were soaked. And when I went to change them to running shoes, my feet were all slimy & pruney.

But, you can’t let it stop your race. So I put my shoe & sock back on and started jogging again. But not for long… and not for very far…

Okay, so here’s the deal… because I’m kind of an idiot… and I don’t train & plan a lot for these kinds of things… and I kind of have a tendency to jump in blindly… I had no idea of what I was in for. For my other two IRONMAN races in Louisville, the course as pretty flat as you run through town, through the college campus, past some museums, through a suburb, around Churchhill Downs, etc. When Chris did Madison, that course is kind of the same. I knew that the bike course would be hilly as we’re in the Adirondack Mountains. I get it. Hills.

But it NEVER once crossed my mind that the run would be hilly too!!! Wait, what?…
Running up & down hills?! When did THIS happen???!!! I was not at all prepared for this either mentally or physically. I new right away this was going to be a tough course!!! You run the first mile or two through the town of Lake Placid and go past a couple old Olympic venues… and then town ends. There are no suburbs. No college campus. Just the surrounding forest wooded roads way out in the country… going up & down the hills!!! Who knew?! Well, not me!!!

The run course is a double loop as well. You start at the Transition Area.. inside the dotted line rectangle above. You run down the U-shaped course and back up the right side, turn around and come back. When you get close to the Transition Area, you go off to the right to parallel along the lake that we swam in earlier, tun around and head back. It’s on that leg of the race that your Run Special Needs bag is there waiting for you. So of course, I stopped to take in some more food, and fill my jersey pockets with some more snacks for the road.

But look at the chart below, you can see how steep some of these hills were…
like that HUGE one in the center!!! Good God Man!!!
And remember, everything has to be done TWICE!!!

And here’s the real kicker… as you take that road paralleling the lake and turn around to head back… there are SO many people on the sides of the route cheering you on. So exciting. So much fun!!! You can also start to hear the Finish Line, the crowd, the cheering and the announcer announcing the names of those people already finishing their race!!! And the crowd on the side of course “assumes” that you’re almost done too… so they’re cheering you on… “only a few more feet to go!”… “you’re almost done!”… “you got this!”

It kills you just a little inside knowing that you still have another half marathon to go!!! So within sight & hearing distance of the Finish Line… you make a sharp left turn and head out back onto the run course! And if that weren’t hard enough… the number of people running with you at this point drops drastically too… as many of them are already finishing… and I still have a LONG ways to go!!!

So you’re starting the second half of the marathon… feet are hurting…
that blister is definitely growing… and you already know where the tough hills are and how tough this is going to get! You’ve been here once before… and get to do it all again! Lucky me!!!

So the run becomes more of a “shuffle” and everything slows down. Many of the hills are easier to walk up & down… and at this point, I think it’s even FASTER than the shuffling I was doing before??? To add insult to injury, the sun is now going down and it’s getting very dark out their in the woods on those country roads. There are no street lights. There are no house lights. Just dark nature. Pitch black!!!

Along the route, they have set up some large generator lights like you see on the highway construction zones. Good try, but far too spaced out. So it’s PITCH BLACK for a long distance, and then suddenly blindingly-bright followed by long, drawn-out shadows sweeping the road. It was getting difficult to even see where you were running?! The volunteers start passing out green glow sticks… so at some point you’re just following the glow stick in front of you hoping that you’re still running on the road!!!

I won’t sugar-coat this. IT WAS HARD!!!
My feet were killing me. You’re out there on the pitch black roads. No music. No distractions. And all too often you get caught in your own head… thinking & overthinking everything. Like how far it is still to go. How far away the Finish Line is. How big that blister on my foot must be. How much time I have left… and will I even be able to finish in time?! Let alone many thoughts and “conversations” with my Mom… who I knew was back at home in her hospice bed somehow still willing me forward! You can’t quit now. I’m more stubborn than that. Gotta keep pushing. But it was TOUGH!!!

It was somewhere about six miles away from the Finish Line and I was dragging.
Walking very slowly up one really long & steep bridge. When I got to the top, there was a lady on the side cheering me on! Shes like “How you doing???”… I started to say fine, but then I kinda broke down a bit and admitted I was struggling. She didn’t hesitate a bit.. and she just jumped right in and started walking with me. Step for step, right there next to me. Her name was Eileen and she’s a apparently trainer from Long Island, New York. Turns out her daughter is an IRONMAN… much stronger & faster than I. She’s one of the top finishers in her age group, and has already gone to Kona for the IRONMAN Championships. Eileen’s daughter had finished her Lake Placid race hours ago… but Eileen was out there on the course waiting for one of her training teammates to pass by. She offered to stick with me while expecting her daughter’s friend to catch up with us.

EILEEN is my new Best Friend!!!
She started walking with me… but then she spurred me on to a faster Power Walk. All the while “coaching” and training me along the way… swing your arms, breath in through your nose, breath out through your mouth, hydrate, keep moving… let’s jog for awhile! She apologized for talking too much… I said she should keep it up as it kept my mind off of things… including that ever growing blister on my left foot!!!

She stuck with me and got me all the way back into town. As I turned right near Transition to take that road that parallels the Lake, she said I should keep going, jog as much as I can and she would be waiting for me when I came back. I could tell over the past few miles that she was “secretly” checking the time on her phone. Very subtle, but I could see her doing it… and eventually figured out that she was calculating my finish time. She was checking to make sure I still had time to finish within the deadline. So she was gently prodding me to speed it up where I could… encouraging me to jog a bit more here, run a little faster there… to make up some time… but she never made it seem urgent. She was always very encouraging and upbeat. Always making me feel that if I just kept going I would finish in time!!!

So I made it to the farthest out turn-around point and knew that I had to muster up all I had and jog a little faster. About half way down that road, there she was waiting for me!!! Eileen was there cheering me on… and now her daughter had joined her too!!! Yes, the daughter that had finished her own IRONMAN race hours ago was out there running with me cheering me on! Crazy, right!!! So much encouragement & camaraderie out there!!!

We made it to the entrance of the Transition Area and I knew I had it. We all high-fived and I entered the “stadium” by myself. The final leg of the race is half a lap around the Speed Skating Rink. As you turn one of the tight ends of the oval, it changes to the Finish Line… banners, barricades, cheering crowds, bright lights and the Finish Line within sight. And that’s when the adrenaline REALLY kicks in!!! Nothing hurts any more. You are just so elated to be finishing. SO EXCITED!!! So proud when you cross the Finish Line and the announcer announces YOUR name… “Gary Jackson, YOU are an IRONMAN!!!”

Still smiling. Still happy…        happy that it’s over!!!

And with just 15 minutes to spare!!! I crossed the Finish Line right around 11:45pm… and it officially closes at midnight! I was SO close to not making it.. and if it weren’t for my new best friend Eileen… I’m not sure I would have made it… or at least would not have had as much fun finishing as I did with her!!!

When you cross the Finish Line, you’re greeted by a volunteer who is your personal handler. First they make sure you’re not going to faint or pass-out on them. They then assist you through the Finish Line gauntlet… medal… water… Finisher’s t-shirt & hat… silver foil mylar blanket if you’re chilled… Finisher’s photos… and then the food tent!!! Chris and a few of her training teammates were there at the Finish Line waiting for me! Some of them saw me actually cross the Finish Line.. while Chris and Chilly were still chilling & eating at the tent.

Chris and I had both completed two full IRONMAN races before this one…
me twice in Louisville, and Chris twice in Madison…
but this was the first full IRONMAN that Chris and I both raced together…
so of course we had to celebrate together too!!!

She’s a BEAST… as she had finished quite awhile ahead of me…
but was a trooper and waited for me to come stumbling across the Finish Line!

We hung out and waited for one more guy from their training team to cross the Finish Line. Then we all compared some stories, and shared injuries… as we carefully stood up again to start the walk home! Luckily, we had pre-purchased a bike valet package… so someone else was going to collect our bikes and gear bags and keep them safe until tomorrow morning.

Back at our hotel room, we dropped all of our stuff… and collapsed on the sofa! She took a much-deserved shower while I gingerly took off my shoes & socks… to reveal a blister the size of Guatemala!!! When Chris got out of the shower, she was shocked that it was SO HUGE and that I could still keep running on it. I was pretty surprised as well… it was HUGE!!! I took my shower, scrubbed off my race numbers and plopped down onto my bed. And that was it. Done.

But so pleased to have successfully completed my THIRD FULL IRONMAN RACE!!!

But even with the blister… ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!




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