By Dr. Michael Cerami
Race Weekend (Thursday through Sunday)
Getting to Tahoe from Salt Lake is a bit of a grind. It’s a long day in the car so you usually arrive after dark especially if you spend all morning making sure you have everything for your race like I did. So with the bike strapped to the back of car we took off for Tahoe and 9 hours later arrived at the Ironman host hotel in Squaw Valley. Unloading all that gear took some time but we finally got settled and got something to eat, watched a little TV and went to bed.
Friday: Woke up and got outside: WOW! This place is beautiful! I thought. I grew up on the East coast and never spent much time in the Tahoe area and it was magnificent. After a casual breakfast, we walked about 2 miles over to the race staging area to get me signed in. My heart was pumping with excitement. The day was almost here but there was still a lot to do. I still had to get all of the race bags organized and packed (Thanks Cari! ☺), drop off my bike, get in a pre-race swim, eat lunch, think about the weather and stay positive. After lunch we drove down to Kings Beach to check out the swim venue. I did get in the water for about 10 minutes and it actually wasn’t too bad even though the temperature was in the low 60’s. There were some pretty good sized swells with the incoming storm that was forecasted for Saturday. The weather all day was really nice and sunny and in the 60’s but that was about to change.
Saturday: As you can see from the photo to the left, Lake Tahoe weather was getting ready to change, big time. Friday night the wind picked up and temperature dropped and it started to drizzle. Then, as the morning progressed it got colder and started to rain. By the afternoon it was pouring rain and very cold. My only real commitment today was the bike and run bag and gear drop off and to relax and stay off my feet. Staying off my feet was easy; trying to relax with it pouring rain and 42 degrees was tough. I left the hotel in total rain gear and winter gloves. The T2 transition tent was in a parking lot and had 10’ puddles of water everywhere. By the time I left the tent my feet were soaked. The rain continued while I was at the bike drop off at Kings Beach. Everyone had their bikes ready to go; rain or no rain, it’s always exciting to see thousands of bikes racked and ready for battle. When I got back to the
hotel room the sun was setting (or so I imagine) and it was getting dark and colder outside. I found my spirits were dropping with the temperature. One solid year of training and I wanted to be excited the night before the race, not bummed out. It was hard to keep my spirits up because the weather looked so bad and there were so many additional
variables now to deal with (clothing, fueling, possible course changes, etc). I did my best to read and watch TV and was looking outside and noticed it had started snowing. “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!” I yelled out loud. Oh well, deal with it I thought. I can only control how I respond, not what’s happening outside myself. Another level of bummer kicked in, I ate something and eventually went to bed.
Sunday – RACE DAY! 26 degrees on waking up, but….no rain and the clouds had moved past us. It was cold, but now I knew the race was on; time to Rock and Roll. We drove down to the start and the excitement began to build. Now I was ready and this was going to be epic. I kissed my wife goodbye and went to load up my bike nutrition. I heard someone say it was 29 degrees and I believed it because there was a coating of ice on my bike. It felt cold but not crazy cold as the lake was probably in the low 60’s. As we queued up for the swim start, the feelings were overwhelming. The music was rocking, I was surrounded by green and pink caps, the sun was starting to come up which unveiled snow capped mountains surrounding the lake. So cool! As the athlete waves went off I worked my way to the water’s edge and once my feet got wet it was actually quite nice. Then boom – we were off.
THE SWIM: We had to run through 200 yards of shallow water before it got deep enough to swim. Once I got going, I thought, “Awesome, I’m feeling good;” plus the water was so clear. That lasted until I went to sight the first buoy and couldn’t see anything because of the fog coming off the water. Not a huge deal but definitely caused me some extra distance (my Garmin watch indicated I swam 2.9 miles instead of normal 2.4). T1: “Great,” I thought, “I’m out of the water, now it gets better.” I ran to the volunteers, grabbed my bag and headed to the changing tent and it was a nightmare. There was no room inside the tent. With the cold temperatures, everyone was doing a complete clothing change into dry and warm bike wear-and it was taking forever because the transition bags were frozen, the ground was cold, and very quickly, our hands were numb. I squeezed in only 5 feet from the entrance and it seemed to take forever to get everything off and then on (25 minutes!). At this point I made a very conscious effort to clearly understand and focus on finishing: nothing else mattered. Saving 5 minutes and forgetting something could easily ruin my entire race.
THE BIKE: I was so happy to start riding. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was happy to be moving down the road. The first 30 miles went by quickly and the scenery was amazing. I was feeling strong and had good mental discipline to pace myself and fuel correctly. Then came the 2 big climbs in a closed neighborhood. From mile 35 to 45, there were a series of climbs and descents that I initially felt couldn’t be that bad after I went over the first three or four of them. After that, the climbs just kept coming; they were relentless and steep (up to 12%). They kicked my butt mainly because I kept thinking they were over and they just kept coming (and this was lap #1). The air temperature at this point was probably in the high 40’s and climbing but it was hard to mange effective core temperature between the climbs and the screaming descents; too warm going up and too cold going down. I continued to make good progress through Lap #2 until I hit the climbs again. This time they not only just killed me, I couldn’t recover very well even on the downhill. I hit the wall at about mile 90. I slowed dramatically for the last 15 miles and was happy to hobble into Squaw Valley parking lot, so happy to get off my bike.
T2: Nothing much to report here except I should have dressed warmer. It was the warmest part of the day and I didn’t anticipate how cold it would get over the next few hours.
THE RUN: The first 8 miles went really well, and then I started to suffer, which was followed by a lot of walking and some running. Then it got cold after the sun went down and a good portion of the run took us along the Truckee River which made it even colder. Mile 18 was really hard because the course took us right past the starting line and then sent us back into the dark, cold reality of 8 miles to go. I remembered the 20 mile sign in the road near our hotel and my goals was getting there. I held it together and got through it in just under 15:30:00 and made the final turn to the fishing chute when I heard Mike Reilly announce, “Mike Cerami, you are an Ironman!” So cool. I was so excited. I found my wife almost immediately which was just as cool. I did it.
Within minutes I was shivering and my teeth were chattering uncontrollably. I got into the car and turned on the seat heaters full blast for 20 minutes before I stopped shaking. I’m glad I wasn’t out there much longer or it could have been trouble.
In closing, the Lake Tahoe Ironman was pretty epic in my experience. It was extremely difficult mentally and physically and really put me to the test. I’m very thankful to all my friends and patients that supported me through the whole process and my coach Cari Junge who continually pushed me to get in the miles that were necessary to complete the race. Finally, I would like to thank my wife for her never ending positive talk and sacrifice of time and energy to help me meet this lifetime goal. I’ll be back to racing 70.3 IM next year but I think there might be a few more full IM races in me; only time will tell :-).
In closing, the Lake Tahoe Ironman was pretty epic in my experience. It was extremely difficult mentally and physically and really put me to the test. I’m very thankful to all my friends and patients that supported me through the whole process and my coach Cari Junge who continually pushed me to get in the miles that were necessary to complete the race. Finally, I would like to thank my wife for her never ending positive talk and sacrifice of time and energy to help me meet this lifetime goal. I’ll be back to racing 70.3 IM next year but I think there might be a few more full IM races in me; only time will tell J.
From the ironman Website: Lake Tahoe
“In Europe there’s Ironman France with 5,000 feet of climbing through the Alps and Ironman Lanzarote with two mountain climbs and incredible winds. In Asia there’s Ironman Malaysia featuring the highest recorded temperatures at an Ironman race. North America now has its own race at which “normal limits do not apply.” With over 8,000 feet of climbing on the bike course, added to the normal challenges of a 2.4-mile swim and marathon run, Ironman Lake Tahoe is arguably the world’s toughest course. Do all of that at 6,000 feet of altitude and you can truly call yourself an Ironman finisher.”
Thanks again for all of your interest and support.
Dr. Michael Cerami owns Utah Sports and Wellness and has been a competitive triathlete for over 18 years. He is available for a no charge consultation one Saturday per month at The Salt Lake Running Company (700 East store) by appointment. He can be reached at 801-486-1818 or online at newsite.utahsportsandwellness.com