Sunday, August 1, 2010

Ironman Lake Placid 2010 : I'm now an Ironman ;-)

Effort : a few years before the race

This is a personal overview of a great sporting event. I'm proud of this particular accomplishment. They confirm that effort generate success. I think this is very easy to generalize in any aspect of our life : business, personal, family, etc. Our TV culture, however, put a lot of emphasis on the results. Results only occurs because of efforts but effort is less attractive for prime time. Anyway, skip this paragraph if you are only interested in the race, read more if you want to know more about effort ;-)

I came to Triathlon because/thanks to a friend and co-worker (Nando). After having played Rugby for years (flanker, number 7), I had some repetitive shoulder (left) injuries and have to visit the surgeon. Operation went fine but ... no more rugby. I ran a little and like to bike and my physiotherapist told me to swim in order to help/fasten my rehab. Then Fernando hook me and told me : well, Ben, you run a little, bike a little and swim a little. You should try a triathlon ! (Fernando has already complete several Ironmen at this time). Well, I think that I weighted 44 pound/22 kg more than now at this time : starting a company and a family tend to give this kind of results if we don't take care of ourselves...

First triahtlon in 2005, lots of great reading (Triathlon training bible, going long and others) and self-coaching for a few years. Each year, I changed the distance from sprint to olympic (year 2006), then from Olympic to half-iron (year 2007), then from half-iron to iron distance (year 2008).  In the last two years, I joined the racing club, the cyclist club and the master-swim club in Sherbrooke in order to perfect and train with partners.

My first Ironman distance race was the Esprit Triathlon in Montreal in 2008 (11:38). I raced again in 2009 but with less preparation and more "last-minute" decision to do it and it was harder (weather was very hot : 28 Celsius) and more difficult (12:12). My training buddy Jocelyn decided to do Lake Placid and I joined him to volunteer on the race in 2009 (we were at run aid station number one, just before arriving in town).

Being a volunteer was really an eye opener : helping others to accomplish themselves and perform is really a cool thing to do. Anyway, I pursued my training with the different club and used a training plan from Endurance Nation ( I'm a very active person (CEO of a young company of 30+ people, father of three, traveling quite often) and I was very limited in the amount of hours I can dedicate to Triathon. My personal philosophy is also to do (at least ;-) one hour of training per day. On average this is gave a 7 hours/week during autumn/winter and more during summer (12 hours/week max). This is very similar to what Endurance Nation is proposing : Ironman training for people with a busy life ;-)

During winter I did a lot of running, powermeter work inside, swimming (three times a week) and then strength (core and plyometrics). When the good days arrives (I live in Quebec : lots of snow !) then much more run and much more bike and minimal swim. No marathon this year : I ran several half-marathon and train focusing on speedwork, intensity and bricks.

Stress ? A few days before the race

I'm a very active person and being in holidays is always funny : I tend to gave me challenges and "jobs" that I don't have time to do during my regular year. This year I was in search for a family fun Recreative Vehicule (RV). I found my golden RV a few hours before leaving: I organize the selling from Lake Placid and went back to Quebec for insurance and technical expertise. I guess this was my way to not be over-stressed by "doing nothing" ;-)

It worked well, as far as I know (have to check with my kids and wife ;-), and I was stressless for most of the week prior to the race. We had some good family time : camping under the same tent and being together for 24 hours a day is always an interesting experience. Kids love camping and they found all type of activities. We were less than one mile from Lake Placid main street and we use the free shuttle some time.

My "taper" was really a simple one : I swam the half distance (1.9 km) daily until Friday. Two time at race time (7 AM) using my race day stuff. I biked once with Jason (he was on the same campground) and we did maybe 40 km along the run race. Did some interval runs (high intensity for 30''/2') Tuesday and Thursday.

I was not particularly nervous even when Marc, another buddy of mine doing the race called me Thursday PM : "Ben, you don't have a bib number, something is wrong with your registration". And so it was : no bib number, not on the "official" athlete list but on the "confirmed" list nonetheless. Well, nothing I can do until Friday anyway. So I asked Marc to contact the organizer (no Internet) and he did so with the following advice : "Go to the solution table".

Friday was as bit more stressful because of this situation : anywa, Jocelyn and I are going to recover the athlete kit. I went straight to the solution table and explain my problem. Some long seconds that felt like minutes/hours : "Sorry I can not find you on the athlete list!". I say : well, I have the "" email confirmation so maybe you can double check and see you "other lists".

So she did. After a few seconds (minutes/hours ;-) : "Oh ! I found you, you withdraw from the race last week".
Me : "Well, I'm no aware of this. Can you double check and show me some proof ?". So she did and show me an email from someone with a very similar first name and last name from Quebec (I'm "Benoit des Ligneris" and he was "Benoit desjxxxx"). I stayed very calm and told the lady "Well, that's not my name".

She double check and seems as relieved as I was : "Don't worry, we have extra kits and bibs for this kind of problem". So I took a seat from the nearby table and start to fill the paperwork (disclaimer, etc.). Then she asked me "Well, I have to charge you again because we refunded you". Me : "Well, I checked my Visa transation record up to last week, and I can assure you that nothing positive comes from my VISA account ;-". And indeed, I have been cancelled but the right guy has been refunded...

Anyway, after filling the paperworks, I was the proud owner of bib 3018, championchip and co. All in all, it was very quick : I finished my registration a few minuted before Jocelyn. I was, at this time, a very happy camper ;-).

Saturday : No action day for me. We prepared our bags (Jocelyn, Marcus and I). Prepared our bikes (did a small 100m road test) and bring everything to the transition area. I went to bed at 8PM, no nap, no coffee.

Race day  !

My nutrition preparation if the same for years now : mainly cut and paste from the Joel Friel "Triathlon training bible". I ate 1500-2000 calories 4.5 hours before the race (depending on stomach feeling and temperature). In this particular case, it means waking up at 2.5 AM in the tent, trying not to wake up anyone.

My meal (in this order) :
  • Cereals + soya milk + banana : 200+120+100 = 420 Calories
  • Two fresh bread small buns (from the lake Placid bakery : great bakery !) with honey (lots of honey ;-) :  400 Calories
  • Ensure : 250 * 3 = 750 Calories
  • Total : 1570 Calories (approx)
As I prepared everything before going to sleep I was relatively silent, I only waked up my poor wife, not the kid.

Wake up planned at 5:30 AM but my eyes were open at 5:05 AM. So I wake up and start to pack my stuff. All the family was waked up at this time : long day for everybody I guess !

We leaved, by foot, for the oval at 5:50AM, arrived at the Oval at 6:10. A little late to my taste but still OK I guess.  We met briefly with Pierre, friend and training buddy of Marc in MontrĂ©al then we lost Marc somehow. I add a towels in my T1 bag and we went with Jocelyn to gave our special need bag/run. However, The location for the run special need bag was quite far away from the swim start. Going bare foot is not ideal neither given the large number of people (athlete and spectators alike). Anyway, I asked a spectator that was already carrying a special-need bag and he gladly accepted to deliver our bags : thank you very much.

We then wen near the beach in order to put our wetsuit. A few minutes later (6:40) we went in line in order to cross the portal and be officially counted in the future massive swim start. Just in time for the pro start at 6:50. Not very impressive : we did not see much. Some waiting time where I think about my race strategy (more on this later). We wait until the 6:55 before going into the water : put some water in the wetsuit and test the goggles.

Swim leg : start & first lap

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugWe then went in the exterior side of the starting line : it is about 100m large but 2700 people where on the "starting block" so even if this is large, it creates a very high density of people in the water. I did some open water swims but the largest one has 900 people and it was a beach start so I guess this was the first time I saw such a human density of population in any water. Anyway, we took position on the exterior side of "the line" (this is a yellow cable that run underwater and hold the buoy in line) as advised during the athlete meeting.

Anyway, it looks bad and somehow, it is bad  :

I wanted to start fast, say the first 300meters and then find some sweet spot and find my own rhythm, ideally drafting some fellow swimmers, mainly to avoid sighting. Also, as advised, I wanted to swim "wide", far away from the line between the buoy. My face get kicked several times, mainly from swimmers from the side and I had to re-install my goggles 4 time. I guess it appear as a long time but it was no more than half the first leg of the swim, so no more than 450 meters. I was pushed on the inside and had to work somehow hard to go wider.

My swim alternate between what I will define pocket of calm and peace : some space between swimmers, a kind of peaceful hole, and then, a few minutes later it transform into a fight zone where several swimmers joined but with slightly different speed and direction.

Anyway, after the first turn, I was able to draft properly someone : my technique is simple, I stay on the right or left side of the swimmer and I avoid contact most of the time. I also "protect" my fellow swimmer from fellows swimmers by making sure nobody gets between us. I switched a couple of time as I was able to
swim a little faster than my unaware swim buddy. First lap in 34 minutes. Great time for me !

Swim : second lap

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugThe second lap was very similar to the first one except that it was less crowded and, as a consequence, I was able to keep my goggles ;-) Almost no contact this time : one or two and I guess it was fast swimmers going thru the pack. Anyway, I went wide and was able to draft well (as a consequence, sight 2 or 3 time for the 900 meters) until the buoy. Intensity was not so high for me but I knew it was going to be a long day so I was OK with it. At the buoy, marking the fact that I already did 3/4 of the swim leg, I decided to speed up a bit. I was then able to reach "the line" and it was convenient to do so. Instead of drafting, I increase my speed and went almost "all in" for the last 400 meters. Great feeling.

As my buddy Jocelyn said in Ironman : you are very happy when the swim leg end, then going off the bike is a true benediction and then of course, crossing the line and doing nothing feels great !

1:10:45 was what I read on the screen when exiting the water, 1:10:50 is my official time. I was happy with the result : 5 minutes faster than planned. If the day can continue this way ... so be it ;-)

Transition 1 (T1)

I used a "peeler" : a volunteer (thank you !) that remove the wetsuit for you. Immediately after going out of the water I removed my wetsuit arms and then, I sit down and a volunteer ("peeler") removed my wetsuit : fast and efficient !

The Oval is quite far from the swim end and you have to run to get your bike. There is a huge crowd during the transition and it is very difficult to go slowly ;-) All the spectators are cheering at you and everybody is running fast. I reached he oval, a little overwhelmed and not very focused. Some confusion in the bag handling, maybe because of my non-standard bib number ? Anyway, I finally grabbed my bike, walk to the tent and change myself.

It was my first Ironman race and I was not used to put everything in the bag thing. In all the other races I did, transition stuff is around the bike. I changed myself completely (not quick but comfortable) : bike bib, bike jersey, etc. Putting the compression socks was challenging : next year I will use another system (compression sleeves under the wetsuit).

Then I reached for my bike. My number was called but once again, I guess 3018 was not where the volunteer expected. I grabbed it myself and that was the end of T1.

Anyway, 10 minutes transition can certainly be improved. I forgot to put some sunscreen on !

Bike course : lap 1

Happy to ride, I was careful not to overdo it for the first lap in order to keep energy for the second lap. I get somehow to higher intensity than I planned hitting the 150-150 BPM on my cardio more often than not during climbs and even during the flat sections.

I pass by the family : they were located 1.5 km after the town, before the horse ground. I was very happy to see them and very motivated to see them again ;-)

During the flat section, I ended up almost always with the same group of people : while not drafting. In fact, the lead was quite disputed and everybody had different strength : flat section, up section, down section, climb and down section. It was sometime difficult to respect the rules as so many people where on the road this day. Anyway, going from 896 out of the water to 299 on the bike mean that I went by a lot of people, especially during the first loop.

I broke with most of my "same speed" group during the climb from Jay to Willmington. I practised this a lot in training and I was very careful to keep a high cadence.

I had all my solid nutrition with me and two bottles at the start and 5 gels. During the first lap, I ate solid (Clif Bar are Yummy !) and bananas (given at every aid station). I was quite satisfied with my catching performance : I obtained most of what I wanted during the aid stations and I think I will go lighter next year.
My goal was to fuel the Ironman in someway and still have energy for the Marathon.

We had some showers by moment and the weather was sometimes cool (shade+water) and generally overcast with some patches of sun here and there. A great day for doing an Ironman ;-)

I never practiced the end of papa bear and it is climbing a little before coming to the transition zone but coming on top of Papa bear was very pleasant and felt like the tour de France : lots of people playing music and cheering at all the athletes. Difficult not to rush when everybody is clapping and cheering at you so I guess I went fast until the second lap.

I was impressed by my speed during the first lap (33.54 km/h or 21 miles/hour on average) and decided to not push it for the second lap.When I did my recon (160km of the bike leg), I did 30.1 km/h on average (it is true that I wanted to take it slow and easy in order to practice the course in order to run the Lake Placid half-marathon the day after ;-) and this was my goal for race day.

Bike course : lap 2

Uphill from Lake Placid was OK, I met the family again and was somehow rejuvenated. I did not overpush it until the big downhill.

Well, I went a little slower both from a heart rate and perceived effort point of view. I hate solid for maybe one hour and then stopped (beside bananas) as I know that it is all my stomach can take.

So I started eating my gels and the one from the organization. And an accident happens ! I'm used to Carb Boom gels and they are somehow more "solid" than the powergels that were handed out. So the first time I grabbed one and try to eat it, half of the gels ends up flying in the air and fall on my watch (in the middle of my aerobars) and bike. I was a little puzzled and took notice for the next time. I took most of what was on my watch and ate eat and I believed it was the end of it...

In the flat section, I felt somehow that something was wrong : I had difficulty adjusting my position on the saddle and some delicate part of my anatomy started to feel heated somehow. Anyway, only 60 km to go and I guess I was busy putting some watts in order to stay with my new speed group ;-)

Ausable fork and a half-turn then back to jay and the climb to Willmington. Once again, I pass most of my folks here. The last 20 km were ... more painful that I remembered ;-) Maybe because I went harder but the series of uphills and downhills with the steady climbing get the better of me.

Also, my delicate parts started to really hurt now and in order to move on my saddle I somehow had to "unstick" my bib and move. Once again, first time for me as I never had any problem with this in the past. I guess I was to focused to really analyze things : I really wanted to maintain a high cadence and make sure my nutrition was OK.

Then came the bears : Mama, Teddy and Papa. Everybody was tired and me too. Spinning was painful now and hurt more than usual and I was not tempted to push harder as I knew that a Marathon was waiting for me. So I spin easy and went by this part. Once Papa bear is passed and all the cheering, I really went easy (>90 RPM) to prepare my legs for the run. Powergel, water and that's transition...

Average speed is 20.1 miles/h or 32.2 km/h for the second lap.

On average, speed was 20.14 miles/h or 32.2 km/h so I guess something is wrong with the data :

Bike time : 112 mi. (5:33:43) 20.14 mph 299 overall and 64 in my age groupe (30-35). Feeling good ;-)

Nutrition (approximative) :
  • 4 Clif Bar = 1000 Cal
  • 8 half-banana = 8 x 50 = 400 Cal
  • 5 gels = 5 * 90 = 450 Cal
  • 5 bottles sport drink = 5 * 150 = 750 Cal

Total = 2600 Cal. For 5.5 hours = 472 Cal / hours. Not too bad and no stomach problem.

I was more focused on the transition than after the swim leg : I took the time to mentally repeat the different steps needed. I removed my Garmin Forerunner from the bike and put it in my bike jersey. At this time, my crotch really hurt on the right side from unwanted heat and friction and I have no clue why it happens. Stay tuned for more ...

Transition Bike to Run : T2

Several volunteers asked us to slow down and I did. Then an official show the dismount line. Go further than the line and you are disqualified (DQ) not an What a joy to get out of the bike ! Really, this feels so cool ;-) Of course, everybody is cheering at you and it really helps but the first few steps are really enjoyable.

The bike park feels empty (I guess there was "only" 300 bikes compared to 1900 this morning !) and this is a good feeling ;-)

A volunteer grab my bike and I can run to grab my run bag. I visited the toilet (no queue) and was really relieved after this : I decided to handle it until transition on the bike and it was almost an emergency ;-)

Then to the tent to change myself. Tent feels empty and everything is much more organized than during T1. I find a spot and a volunteer took care of everything for me : my dirty stuff in the old bag, prepare my shoes, cap, etc. And this time, I did not forget sunscreen : I will be white during all the run because of the cream but ... no sunburn ;-)

Run course : lap 1

My secret goal was to run a 3:30 marathon. I ran my other ironmandistance marathon in 4:38 for once and 4:58 for the most recent one. I really improved myself on the run leg but I never really was "comfortable" or even "in control" of my Marathin during an Ironman. My personal best is 3:20 on a marathon alone so I guess the 3:30 was an ambitious goal ;-) It means 5:00/km or 8:00/mile. The first six mile were OK I guess

The start of the run is a downhill section down to main street and I felt OK : I went really slow for the first mile and gradually improved my speed. Stomach felt OK. It was hot then but not that much I guess. As I have lost my watches (more on this later) I don't have my entire race splits. So I will only use the available statistics but they fully correspond to my feelings and souvenir ;-)

First 10km were OK and I have a good rythm : 50:20 for the first 10k, this is a little more than 5min/km but I'm on target. Then when going back to town, I tried a "stupid" move : namely to grab my electrolytes that were located in my short back pocket. I cramped badly because I had to turn my body to reach for it and my shoulders and arms were let's say, somehow rigid and hard to move. So I had to stretch myself and proceed carefully ... and slowly. I jogged most of the time I guess until I go by the family (my youngest one is not there anymore, sleeping I guess and my second one is sleeping on the chair but Caroline and my wife cheers at me). I grabbed a lot of energy from this while the other part was saying to me : me too, I want to have nap ;-)

The uphill section to main street is as hard and painful as I remember. Passing by the oval when coming back in town is difficult and the lakedrive section is ... long : the turnover seems like infinite to me and going back to town very similar. It is difficult to see some people that are now over and ... you are only "enjoying" your first lap. Anyway, I'm not pushing things and I don't feel great in my mind. I guess the next loop is going to be difficult. Mental started to drift somehow and this was the end of loop 1.

Run course : lap2

Going down Main Street is not so pleasant : people cheers at us and all but I was really trying to go slowly and to relax in order to avoid shock on my feet so I tried to be tall, have a good leg turnover and relax the arms somehow.

Once again, I'm lucky to go by the kids and they cheers at me and show me their wonderful signs ;-) Give me some heart and it is the start of my improvement in mental attitude : up to this point I jogged but now I really want to race and have a good feeling so I really start to increase the leg turnover when going uphill. No cramp and not any more try to grab my electrolyte : not worth the price ;-)

Pitstop needed and I went to the toilet once again. I guess it lowered by average speed but it was worth the price ;-) I ate some pretzel instead of my electrolytes and here we are : end of river drive and back to town.

At this point, I know that I will make it, whatever happens : nutrition is OK, only 10 km to go and I decided to go "all in". I know that my family will wait for me in the Oval and will not be there when I will get back to town : this is the plan.

I was really pleased to meet Gervais, a running buddy : he ran a little with me and asked me some news about his son (Micael) and Jocelyn. I told him I've seen Jocelyn and he will come in maybe 20-30 minutes as I've seen him on river-drive. I did not see Micael so I was not able to give him some news about him. We chatted for maybe 1km and then he left me in order to support friends and family. This really start me up for a strong finish but I remembered that the turn-around on lake drive was very far so I keep some energy for the last leg.

Benoit des Ligneris (well, last name was more like "Lyyygnureeeess"), you are now an Ironman

The run to the turnover on lake drive does not seems so long this time and it was now time to go back to the Oval : the exit is waiting for me as is the finish line of the Ironman. Feelings are all mixed up at this point and the crowd is really wonderful ! I'm happy and sad and well, running fast : I still have some energy it appears ! It somehow confirm the mental characteristic of endurance I guess.

Someone is flying by me but I don't feel like chasing him : I decided to savour the moment. Carpe diem in some way. It looks like a dream comes true and I'm overwhelmed by joy and pride I guess. This is a post-race analysis and arriving on the oval simply felt good at this time. The ambiance is wonderful I just run past the line and .... I hear the famous "Benoit (I understood this one!) des (OK) something, you are now an Ironman"

Final time is 10h53:42 and my marathon time is 3:52. A bit short of the 3:30 goal but not that much. I wanted to to 11hours so I guess this is great and I'm very pleased by the result and the experience ! A volunteer take back the champion chip and give me a medal and a T-Shirt and a cap.

I felt somehow dizzy and a volunteer grab me to the medical tent. So be it I thinked, a small rest and that's it.

Medical Tent

My weight was OK (only 2 pound less than my usual weight) and they gave me soup and sport drink to bring this to balance. Once on the bed, I felt better but my hands and feet were very cold. I put my new shirt (dry) and new cap on me (dry as well) and remove my shoes. After a while, my hands and feet felt numb somehow and were very cold. So I get a wonderful massage with camphor gel and it brings back heat in my shoulders, arms and hands. Same thing for my legs and feet. The masso-therapist mentioned to me that it could be linked to some thyroid problem or simply to the fact that I was exhausted ;-) My father has the same type of symptoms and it already happens to me, especially when swimming in cold water so this is something I will check.

Anyway, I forgot in the medical tent my cap (2XU, white), my running top (TYR, white+blue, ironman, no zip, two pockets), my two watches (Suunto T6 and Garmin Forerunner 305). Not found yet so if you happen to have found them, please contact me !

After that I went out of the tent and just found my buddy Jocelyn ! We congratulates each others and I then looked for the family. I found them by luck : we decided to grab our bike and stuff and go the the camping when I saw them near the Oval. Everybody was re-united and very pleased to do so. Hugging my family was a real pleasure as I perfectly knew that they supported me countless hours when I went training for this madness...

When I grabbed my bike, my seat was very sticky ... on the right side. And a I finally understood a brutal truth : part of the gel felt on my seat and the stickiness cause the bib-short to stick there. Of course, the friction was almost integrally transferred to my crotch and well, it was painfull for several days after that. I waited 5 days to try my bike and it was not a pleasant experience.

Lessons learned : for next year and for any athlete !
  • Start wider on the swim. 
  • Two swim caps : first cap, then goggles, then second (official) cap. It should help keep the goggles in place
  • Put the bike cloth under the wetsuit
  • No compression socks : simply compression sleeves under the wetsuit
  • Go harder on the swim : I was mainly following this year, I think I would like to follow my own rhythm next year
  • If your seat fells sticky ... it is sticky : use water to wash the seat !! It can cost your dearly otherwise.
  • Only one bottle is OK to start the bike if you make sure to grab one or two at the first aidstation
  • Keep your stuff with you, especially watches ;-)
  • Bring some heat oitment next time I'm cold !
  • Define precisely where the family will be at the finish line to help be together sooner 


      1. Wow, that is just amazing. I talked to Marc on Monday quite a bit about this, it's very inspiring. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to do all of that, but at least it inspired me to go walking every day again! Maybe it can progress at least to the point that I'll be able to do a half-marathon or something :)

        Congratulations again!!!

      2. Kudos, Ben !!!
        What a nice race, starting with a good swim, an awesome bike and a solid run! What you've not mentioned is that Lake Placid is known by his harder than average cycling leg. Looking at the time of 2nd overall, Petr Vabrousek, a guy that is know to be super consistent in IM races, he has done 10 min more than in IM Brasil.
        You've improved so much in all three disciplines that last year and taking in consideration all your duties, the hace was a big success. Just don't be fooled by the 'TM' - you've been an IronMan for a long time now ...
        Regarding your suggestions for next time, using your cycling cloth beneath the wetsuit is not always OK - if temperature is mildly and humid you may lost a lot of valuable heat from the start of the cycling leg. I suggest a full zip cycling jersey to wear in T1; it's easy to dress and safe. About the cycling shorts, it's not that much relevant, you just have to take care of your chest (IMHO).
        I'll take a look at the training program you've used and the "at least one hour a day" training regimen - looks interesting and it proved to have worked for you.
        You known you've become a reference for us in all matters of life.

      3. Jonathan : I'm sure you can do it. The hardest thing is to start ;-) One step at a time everyday !

      4. Hello Nando. Full Zip jersey looks great : the one I have is not full zip and putting it on was ... a bit long being all wet and all that.

        Thanks for the reference thing ;-) I'm trying to become a better person everyday, I guess I'm on the right track then...