An Ironman triathlon consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run.
I watched my best friend complete his first at Ironman Lake Placid in 2015 and immediately added it to my own bucket list. This year, after spending six years doing shorter distance triathlons, was the year I finally made it happen.
...This year was also my first experience racing since my son was born. (Though one might call raising an infant the hardest marathon of all.) To do it in style, my wife and I decided to make the trip a family affair — 4 days of luxury camping in Upstate New York with my parents, my in-laws, and our 10-month-old along for the ride.
Basically, perfect conditions for a GO FAR.
While the race itself wasn’t until Sunday morning, I had to be there Friday to check in. My wife (Lucy), our son (Wesley), and I headed up Thursday to get situated and spend a few days relaxing before the big day. There was rain on the forecast for Thursday night, so thankfully we made it to Meadowbrook Public Campground with plenty of time to get set up and comfortable before the sun went down and the rain came.
Since I was there to race and it was Wesley’s first camping trip (not counting the 6 nights backpacking in Chile before we knew Lucy was pregnant!), we opted for as comfortable a campsite as possible. Our Aurora Highrise™ 6P went up quickly and was filled with a NEMO Tango Duo™ sleeping bag (an oldie but goodie!) and Quasar™ Double for me; a Tensor™ Insulated Regular and Riff™ Women’s 15 for Lucy; and a pack-n-play for Wesley. We also spread a Victory™ Patio blanket at the entrance to have an extra soft surface for Wesley to play on if needed, but he loves playing on the pads more than anything!
Château de Switaj for our 4 nights in Lake Placid.
With our main dwelling dialed, we moved on to the Victory™ Screenhouse, which turned out to be an incredible addition to our campsite. With the Victory™ Picnic Blanket (XXL) as a footprint, a couple Stargaze™ reclining chairs, and a Moonlander™ dual-height camp table, this became our go-to hangout location to get away from sun, rain, and bugs.
It was also perfect for Wesley, who’s just starting to get more mobile — plenty of room for him to roam without worrying about him finding rocks, sticks, bugs, and who-knows-what-else to put in his mouth.
Relaxing in the Victory Screenhouse.
The first night, dinner was simple with leftovers and afterward, we explored the campground (mostly the ice cream shop across the street) a bit, followed by an early night relaxing and reading. While camping before one of the most challenging (athletic-wise) days of my life may sound stressful, I find myself more relaxed when outside than I do at home. When I’m camping, I don’t (or can’t) be distracted by TV, my phone, or the neverending list of to-dos. I can let that all go and simply enjoy being outside, being with those I love, and reading as much as I want (or as much as Wesley allows, he’s in charge these days!).
At about 4 a.m., it started raining hard and I lay awake for a while watching the rain drops roll off the rainfly as lightning lit up the sky. Thankfully, the portable sound machine we brought for Welsey (highly recommend for camping with an infant!) was enough to keep both baby and mom asleep, and I was able to enjoy the peace of the storm while they were counting sheep.
The next couple days were (mostly) uneventful, thankfully. Friday was still a bit dreary, so I went and did one lap of the swim course (1.2 miles), picked up my race bib/gear, and then we drove a lap of the bike course (56 miles) while Wesley napped.
Putting on my wetsuit before the swim, I ripped a large hole in the shoulder. Just what you hope for two days before a race! Luckily, my mom was coming up the next day, and we made sure to let her know to bring her sewing kit. (Moms are the best!) Lucy’s parents arrived late Friday afternoon, and we got them set up with their loaner NEMO gear, picked up some BBQ, and spent another night relaxing.
Aurora Highrises for everyone!
And then suddenly it was the day before the race. We all went to the free pancake breakfast and then I headed out for a ride to see the first climb of the bike and the majority of the run course. Once I checked in my bike and gear with the race officials, it was back to hanging out at the campsite. My mom and stepdad showed up and we had a nice spaghetti dinner and fire before I went to bed to get ready for a 3:30 a.m. wake-up.
I never sleep well before a race, but it was nice to just lay down in the tent, read, and relax. According to my watch, I eventually drifted off to sleep at around 10:30 p.m. Five hours of sleep before my first Ironman is more than I expected!
I woke up to my alarm and was pretty much on autopilot from there. I made my oatmeal on the camp stove by the light of my headlamp and ate in the quiet campground, rocking gently in my Stargaze. From there, I headed ten miles up the road to take the shuttle to the race start.
Even after years of racing, I can’t do a race without forgetting something — proven by the fact that I realized my timing chip (which is required) was missing after getting to the start and setting up. I hopped back on the shuttle to ride it in the reverse direction, ran to my car to get the chip, and then took the shuttle a third — and this time, final — trip. My “relaxing” morning with “plenty of time” to get ready was officially a bust.
But! After that it was just a matter of setting up transitions, standing in the bathroom line forever, and then gathering with 1,800 other participants to await the start.
The Swim (1:16:43 – 1:47/100 yd)
Swimming is by far my least favorite discipline. As an “adult-onset swimmer,” it’s my weakest of the three triathlon activities and not something I have ever found enjoyable. Yet, it is part of this crazy sport, so off we went!
The swim takes place, somewhat ironically, in Mirror Lake and not the much-larger Lake Placid to the north (or, y’know, the Lake Placid where Betty White feeds giant crocodiles). My swim training beforehand had been less than ideal thanks to a pesky shoulder injury, so my goal here was just to stay relaxed (easier said than done with over a thousand people swimming the same loop as you).
I finished the first of the two laps still feeling good, so I tried to pick up the pace a bit on the second lap when people were more spread out and the water felt less chaotic. I came out of the water with an official time of 1:16:09, which put me in 602nd overall. Translation: I had a whole lot of people to catch up to on the bike.
The chaos of an Ironman swim.
The Bike (5:16:55 – 20.8mph)
After a nice run to the transition, it was time to get on the bike and back into my comfort zone. Leaving transition, I spotted my family just past the exit and was able to give Lucy and Wesley a quick kiss before heading out to start a 112-mile stretch.
I settled in fairly quickly, taking in some nutrition and moving my way through the field as efficiently as I could. After climbing rolling hills for roughly half an hour, I hit the famous Keene descents — the crux of which is 3.75 miles at an average grade of -5.5%. Riding at an average speed of 41 mph, with a top speed of 50 mph, this part lasted just 5.5 minutes but was a nice break for my legs before starting some climbing in the back half of the course.
After some more rolling hills and a bit of a flat section where I was passing people and feeling good, we hit the hills. None of the hills on their own are so scary, but it’s the location of them in the race that makes them infamous. I knew I was entering a section that would be almost an hour and a half of mostly climbing and tried to mentally prepare myself for this. My goal going in was to take the first lap a bit conservative (like in the swim) and see how it felt. The 5-hour mark for the bike leg was a (somewhat lofty) goal of mine, so when I came through town after the first lap in 2:33 I felt pretty good about things.
I got to (very briefly) see my family and then it was back out for lap two. I finished the first climb of lap two a bit faster than the first and was feeling pretty good. Then, something happened.
At the moment, I didn’t even realize it was happening and, looking back, I’m still not sure what happened. Physically, I still felt fine, but mentally, I was struggling a bit.
What I love about racing is the competition, both with others and with myself. But at this point, it seemed less about trying to push myself to the limit, and more about just finishing the race. I felt like I was pushing just as hard as the first lap, but looking back I was 1.5 mph slower on the “flat” middle section of the lap and up the climbs.
During the first lap there were plenty of people to pass and keep things interesting, but the second lap had some long, quiet, lonely stretches where the mind was left to wander. Mine kept coming back to Wesley. It turns out having a baby offers a lot of perspective, and I spent a lot of time in that second lap thinking about crossing the finish line and seeing that little guy. I had the same thoughts during the swim, but in the last couple hours on the bike, the thoughts dominated my mind.
While it might not have helped my finish time, this emotional turn really shifted my priority and race mentality. Instead of trying to finish in less than 10 hours, I was now just trying to finish strong. In years past, I would have been disappointed in myself for “giving up” on a time goal, but now all I wanted was to cross that finish line, see my family, kiss my wife, and hold my son. At that moment, that all sounded so much better than meeting an arbitrary time marker.
What I knew was waiting for me at the finish.
In the last mile on the bike, after climbing for an hour in the sun and rising temperatures, the skies opened up and it started to pour. While the cooling temps were nice, this last stretch was also one with plenty of turns, which can get tricky in wet conditions after 5+ hours on the bike. Thankfully, I was able to manage just fine, and got off the bike after 5:16:36, now in 84th position overall.
The Run (3:23:41 – 7:47/mi)
Running, theoretically, should be my strong point. Unfortunately, I had been battling a foot injury that I picked up during the Boston Marathon and was not quite where I wanted to be, fitness-wise. I knew the run, a full marathon, was going to be hard physically, but it was just as challenging mentally. Like Dom Toretto living his life a quarter mile at a time (I bet you didn’t expect a The Fast and the Furious reference here), I was going from aid station to aid station, just trying to keep moving.
The rain stopped almost as soon as I started the run, and it quickly turned hot and humid. At every aid station, I took a cup of water and either drank it or dumped it over my head (or both), opting for ice when possible and Coke (which I never normally drink) at every other aid station.
Anything to keep going, right?
Lucy cheering me on during lap 1 of the run.
The run course mostly takes place on River Road, a long, rolling section where I found myself once again thinking not about the race, but about the finish line. For long stretches of this run I had my eyes closed (don’t try this at home), just picturing Welsey and hearing his laugh. I’ve always been an emotional person but experiencing this much during a race was new.
I don’t really remember much of the run leg, to be honest. I was doing everything I could to just keep things together, physically and emotionally. There were a few bathroom stops, and I walked through aid stations as planned, but other than that I ran the whole thing, which was as much a mental accomplishment as a physical one.
After 3+ hours, I was entering town for the final time of the day. I’ve attended this race twice before as a spectator and know how awesome it is to watch people come onto the Olympic speed skating oval (right next to the hockey arena where the Miracle on Ice took place!) and past the finish line. I wanted to slow down and cherish this moment, but after dreaming of the finish line and beyond for 10+ hours, I ran straight through, finishing in 10:10:34. Good for 7th in my age group and 69th overall!
I grabbed a cold water and pizza (what I dreamed about during races before being a dad) and found a chair to sit in while I waited for my family.
The moment that got me through the race.
Happy to be done.
The Night After
When the adrenaline died down and the emotional rollercoaster steadied out a bit, my stomach revolted against what I had put it through the past 10 hours. More than anything I just wanted “real” food, but my body couldn’t even tolerate plain water. I spent my night after the race lying on the ground at the back of our campsite trying to figure out why I paid good money to put myself through this and brainstorming new hobbies. Eventually I walked/crawled/stumbled into our tent, made it into my sleeping bag, and eventually dozed off, bringing my Ironman journey to an end.
What it's all about.
NEMO Gear List:
Aurora Highrise™ 6P Camping Tent
Stargaze™ Reclining Camp Chair
Tango Duo™ Down Sleeping Bag
Tensor™ Insulated Regular Ultralight Sleeping Pad
Riff™ Women’s 15-Degree Down Sleeping Bag
The NEMO GO FAR (Get Outside For Adventure & Research) Program gears employees up and sends them out to spend time in interesting places in NEMO gear. We believe great design starts with real adventures, and are committed to making sure all NEMO employees get to experience it.
When he isn’t biking, running, swimming (when forced), or raising a child, Zach is NEMO’s Business Systems Analyst/Developer. Zach manages integrations and automations for NEMO’s web of technologies, ensuring data gets where it needs to get, when it needs to get there. He also helps out with IT, which means he can frequently be heard asking “Have you tried restarting it?”.