We did it.
We raised over $10,000 for the Adirondack Medical Center’s Stafford New Life Center. We got through race weekend. And we got me to the finish line of Ironman Lake Placid.
I say “we” because, well, there’s no way I could have done any of this on my own. And I don’t think that supportive family and friends ever get enough credit for how much energy and effort they expend to make all of it come together. They deserve that recognition. They deserve just as much applause. Hell, I continue to say that spectating is harder than actually doing the damn race!
At any rate, here’s an overwhelmingly long recap of our build-up into, and race day:
Wednesday – Packing!
We went into the week with a sketch out of what needed to happen each day. Wednesday I headed into work to wrap up a few things for while I would be out of the office. Kelly ran a few errands to pick up some snacks, among other things. At home, I started to get all my gear together. We then picked up Ivy from daycare and finished snagging everything we thought we might need for the weekend.
Shoutout to Honda for the packaging of the 2016 CR-V. We managed to load all of my gear, all of Ivy’s things, a running stroller, and all of our clothing into the car with plenty of room for Ivy’s car seat. I’m still not quite sure how it all fit in there, but it did!
Thursday – Travel Day
We woke up at 3:45 AM to hit the road to Placid. When we went to Wilmington, we realized travel would work best if we allowed Ivy to sleep as much of the ride off as possible. We also wanted to get through the traffic deathzones of Waterbury and Albany as quickly as possible. However, potential roadblock one: Ivy decided to go on strike with breastfeeding. So, we got a little delayed out of the gate. That said, we were still driving by 4:30. Ivy was a car champion and slept till the MA-NY border, where we stopped for breakfast.
From there, it was smooth sailing all the way up to Lake Placid. There’s still something magical about driving into town during race weekend. You can feel the energy. A lot of it is nervous, but there’s excitement crackling through the air. We parked and went to the beach at Mirror Lake to deliver the kindness rocks Kelly had painted. We left them at the big Ironman rock, and they started to disappear quickly once people understood they could take them.
Moira Horan met up with us at this point to meet Ivy for the first time. Moira, who literally had chemo 48 hours before rolling into Placid, had started her weekend off with a swim. Note to self: any excuse you have is bullshit, because Moira is crushing it. After a brief meet and greet, we went to pick up my packet and all. I guess we’re actually here to do this thing!
We then rolled over to the Ironman Foundation tent to meet Sarah Hartmann. Sarah was our point of contact throughout the weekend, as Dave Deschenes was on vacation (blah blah blah birthday blah blah blah, Dave). Sarah explained our proceedings for the following night’s ceremony to present the check to Adirondack Health. As we did so, over wandered the voice of Ironman, Mike Reilly. We got to talking, he was gracious enough to accept an #OwenOtter hat, and he was enamored with Ivy (a theme of the weekend; whenever we ran into him, he and Ivy would play. It was ridiculously awesome). Guess a trip to San Diego to visit is in order…
Having had enough of downtown Placid for the moment, we headed on down to Wilmington to get to our accommodations. I will not name them here, because they were amazing and I selfishly want to keep it our little secret (just like where we park on race day – that is closely guarded information). The owners were fantastic, getting our room set up for us way in advance of their published check-in time. We could unpack, unwind a little bit, and then head out for lunch with Ivy. Discovery of the weekend #1 – Ivy loves ADK Cafe pickles.
We headed back into town to meet some of the Sonic Endurance crew racing this weekend. I went for a lap of Mirror Lake; it was here I realized “perhaps I need to revise my swim goals for this weekend.” As Ivy began to melt down following her face plant into the mud trying to stand up using the water to push off of, we picked up dinner to go from Lisa G’s and headed back to the motel to crash for the night.
Friday – The Check Day
We woke up early with the intention of letting Kelly run, and for me to get some of my bags in order. Ivy quickly put the kibosh on that idea – she needed a nap NOW. So it was furiously pack the car and drive to Saranac Lake to get coffee for that morning’s Sonic Endurance breakfast. As it turns out, her timing actually led us to being on time…so thanks, Ivy? Breakfast was fantastic, and it was great to see everybody smiling and ready to have some fun this weekend.
With breakfast out of the way, I loaded the bike over to Race Day Wheels to put on the dancing shoes for the weekend: Zipp 808 front with a Super 9 Disc out back. Remember: it’s always best to look pro, even if you can’t be pro. I got on some gear and rode on back down to Wilmington; after all, wanted to test it before race day! It was a FAST set, with only one minor wobble when Kelly pulled up alongside me to make sure I saw she was headed back down the hill.
We meandered a bit, putting Ivy into the pool, snagging lunch again at ADK, and gearing up for that night’s festivities. We got dinner at Wyatt’s (mmmm…burritos), and snagged a spot on the lawn for the Welcome Ceremony. After listening to some of the music and “entertainment” for a bit, we headed backstage to prep for our part of the ceremony. Ivy got to meet Andy Potts, who was also excellent with her, and then ran into Uncle Mike again. Then it was our turn.
Adirondack Health knew they were getting a check. That was the extent of things. The way Ironman laid out the ceremony, there were three community grants given, and then us. So I don’t know if they had thought that maybe something was afoot, or what. But we were able to grant them directly $10,000 with a check that night.
Let me repeat: $10,000. We did it.
Once we finished, we packed ourselves up and left as Ivy was reaching her wit’s end. So far, so decent.
Saturday – A Series of Unfortunate Events
Oh, boy. Where to begin.
Here’s what was supposed to happen: Ivy wakes up, Ryan gets coffee, Kelly eats breakfast and goes for a long run, Ryan does bike check in, we all go to No Limits team breakfast, pick stuff up from Saranac Sourdough, head down the hill and lay low.
Here’s what did happen: Ivy wakes up, Ryan goes to get coffee (no breakfast option for Kelly), cyclist nearly U-turns into Ryan, beer explodes in the back of the car, Ryan’s neck blows out from the near crash, Kelly doesn’t get to run or go to breakfast, Ryan forgets stuff in Wilmington, Kim drives it to Placid, Ryan checks in his gear (forgetting socks in both bags, of course), Kelly books a massage for Ryan to get his neck fixed (who, as it turns out, also provides chiropractic care), Ryan finally is able to move, pick stuff up from Saranac Sourdough, head down the hill and lay low.
Yeah. Saturday. Not our day.
We packed everything up to head up to River Road and get all of the #OwenOtter signs placed. We wound up doing dinner at Lisa G’s again, as that was just most convenient for everybody. Ivy managed to get herself a jalapeno off of a plate and ate it before we could do anything…she was a very angry baby! After spoonfuls and a pacifier lathered in sour cream, she finally calmed down a little. Kelly ordered my dinner and a drink for me as we decided it was best if she made all remaining decisions. Back down the hill, and tomorrow is go-time.
Sunday – A Comedy of Errors
3:00 AM alarms should never exist.
I crammed in some apple sauce with protein powder, a piece of Starbucks iced lemon cake, and some coffee while getting my nutrition ready for the day. We packed up and left…
…and I didn’t have my timing chip. Holy shit, Ryan. Way to go.
We arrived in Placid, packed everything up, and walked towards transition…and I forgot my nutrition in the car. Holy shit, Ryan. Way to go.
Kim drove my timing chip in, I got keys from Kelly, I walked back to the car and picked everything up. People sherpa’d my special needs bags into place (the people at these races are so amazing), and I could finally relax on the beach. I was about 30 minutes behind where I wanted to be, but hey, finally – a little relaxation.
I got some last minute water and calories in me, and before I knew it I was standing in the middle of the 1:00 – 1:10 swim group getting ready to attack the day. Made friends with as many people as I could so as to hopefully avoid an “eventful” swim. And then, at 6:43 AM, we were lined up waiting for our group of 10 to enter the water.
We ran into some crystal clear water, which was awesome. Nobody around! Nice and easy! Good stuff! Except…this lasted until the first buoy, when we started running into people who clearly lined up WAY ahead of their swim pace, thinking it would give them extra time to finish the day. Annoyance factor: escalated! We kept swimming as a pretty compact group for a bit. I took a couple of kicks and hand grabs, but nothing terribly worse than a standard masters group.
I did, however, start to get concerned about taking a kick to the head. I still have issues stemming from my 2014 crash, which in part led to the comedy of errors on race morning – when in stressful environments, things don’t fire as well as they used to and I forget things. I can compensate a lot of the time with lists. At any rate – I got very nervous about taking another blow to the head, and swam more defensively than I probably could have.
At any rate, I came out of the water about 5-8 minutes slower than I probably was capable of. Found a set of wetsuit peelers and away we were to transition!
My coach noted before the race that I would need to “be prepared to write a five page essay if your T1 time is longer than 8 minutes.” I did not account for how long it took to actually GET to transition!
After getting caught behind a couple of walkers, I was able to run to T1, snag my gear, and load up. My bike was not *quite* ready for me at the end of the row, but that’s more a function of being WAY at the end of transition. And away we went!
After mounting the bike, I took off down the bus ramp and the most technical section of the course. On that downhill, I ran over a piece of tape…which promptly stuck to my tire and got caught in my front brake. Huzzah! Pulled over to deal with that and start my ride properly.
I took the mantra of “you can never take the first hour of the bike too easy” to heart, thinking of shifting to another easier gear when I thought “this feels easy enough.” I was still passing dozens of people on the ride out of town. We hit the new out and back at the Olympic center, which felt like a perfect crit circuit (hmmmm, perhaps a new race idea?). From there it was one more hill to the descent.
It’s the first time I could say I had a headwind going down Keene, but I also knew that meant going up Whiteface would be speedy. I attacked the downhill, as I love flying. I managed to hit 58 MPH on this lap, a new speed record for me. The bike was super stable and felt comfortable. Time to fly!
At the bottom, we actually got into some rain. I LOVED this. Perfect weather for me. I found a good couple of guys to work with, and the three of us worked through the field – we stayed legal distance (per the race official who came by us: “that’s how you work it legally!”) and rode a good pace. Comfortable, not straining, and using that slingshot effect of having swam slowly.
The first lap simply flew by. I felt comfortable, confident, like I had barely ticked the legs over – exactly where I wanted to be. We came to the bears, and I sat and spun like a man knowing what was to come. We got to the top, and I shifted into the big ring. We hit the last hill before town, and I shifted into the small ring…and the chain dropped. OK, no big deal.
Except it was stuck. Well, shit.
I managed to wrangle it free, and got riding again quickly. But the shifting was off; it kept skipping every third pedal stroke. I figured at special needs I could take a quick look and deal with it – nothing seemed off, so I just took back off.
Well, unfortunately, it WAS off. The only gear I had where the chain wouldn’t skip two gears every other pedal stroke or drop was 50/15.
So I had a single-speed. For the ride out of Placid. Uphill. I figured there would be a bike tech at the next aid station. So I stopped.
I was wrong.
I rode through the Keene descent, passing teammate Steele in the process, hoping the next aid station would have bike aid. So I stopped and went to the bathroom.
I was wrong.
We rolled through to the aid station marking the start of the out and back – and there was bike support. Finally. I stopped again, asking for help. They looked for a couple of minutes before determining the problem – I had bent chain pins from the drop earlier and pulling it out. He had to get someone to run back to his truck to get two sets of channel locks. He bent it all back into place, played around with it, and sent me back on my merry way.
By this point, I’d ridden ~30 miles of the course with exactly one gear. I knew I needed to be more conservative for the remainder of the bike to mitigate the damage I had done over the last 30 miles and hope that it would help spin out the legs for the run. It was agonizing to let so many people go who I knew I was capable of riding with, but I figured I’d need to save those matches for the run.
Coming up Whiteface, I knew I had made the right choice – the chain was still skipping around enough under load that I was terrified of another singlespeed incident. I spun up Whiteface and the Bears, finally making it home. It was super disappointing, as I’d lost a good 20 minutes or so with all of the issues on lap 2. But it was time to try and make it happen on the run.
T2 – 4:50
I rolled the bike in, told Kelly what had happened as she saw all the bike grease on my kit, and got into the tent. I opted to keep the same set of Swiftwicks on, laced up the shoes, grabbed nutrition, hit the head, got round 2 of sunscreen applied, and took off.
“Run” – 4:53:12
The legs felt…tired. And flat. But otherwise, I felt like I could run a little bit. I just needed to get into the groove. I started to eat a little bit, following my plan of walking the aid stations for water and ice. The first 5K ticked by relatively uneventful. I got passed by Doug MacLean on River Road, and kept on trucking. I knew I was slowing down, but I would just keep moving.
It was mile 9 when I first started to feel the real warning signs of the day – my left knee was really unhappy on the medial side, and my right foot was cramping up. I was able to get the cramping under control with some good walking and stretching, but the knee would become my nemesis for the rest of the day. Whenever I stopped running, it would hurt even more to get back up and going again.
I mentally broke at the base of the Sentinel Drive hill. It felt like all I had done was for naught. I was overwhelmed with grief (we’d been in this spot two years earlier while still expecting Owen to be a healthy little boy). I cried. I bawled. The whole way up past the Brewery. I sobbed until I saw Moira, who talked me off a ledge (I can’t thank you enough).
I started running again after the turn around on Mirror Lake Drive and kept trucking. Saw Kelly and Ivy, who had just gotten yelled at by the Aid Station Captain at that location (an earnest go f**k yourself to that one). I then kept trucking on out to River Road. By this point, I’d figured out the nutrition game plan – half cup of Coke, half cup of water and ice, drink. Another cup of ice to cool off. Let’s go shuffle again.
Although it wasn’t fast, it was forward. And forward meant closer to finishing. I had a bad go of it coming off of River Road – this was my slowest stretch of the run with the two big hills. But once I was at High Peaks Cyclery, I told myself “fuck it, it’s time to wrap this sucker on up” and averaged around 9:00/mi out. I kept passing people. I don’t know what it was, but I was able to really get a good last two miles in. And with that, it meant I was by myself as I entered the “finish” cones to turn right, then left into the oval.
I can’t tell people how magical that last stretch of Mirror Lake Drive, then that turn into the oval is. It’s better than the Boston Marathon. Seriously. I don’t know if it’s the combination of everything you’ve done that day, or the actual enthusiasm of the crowd, or what. It’s unreal. That drug is intoxicating.
I came around the oval and looked for Kelly, who held out Owen. I bawled as we embraced, and gave her and Ivy a kiss. And I shook Moira’s and Mike’s hands as Mike uttered his usual phrase: “Ryan Heisler, you are an Ironman.”
But he added something special to it.
— Mrs. Ryan Heisler (@kburnsgallagher) July 25, 2017
A truly special shoutout to Kelly: not just for the photo above, but for the superstar that she is: she walked Ivy 10 miles that day, kept her entertained, fed, and napped…it’s crazy how hard THAT aspect of the day is. I was busy racing; she was much busier with Ivy all day. I continue to say spectating is harder than racing. Thank you for being so amazing.
Monday – The Tour
We woke up bright and early, packed up out of our hotel, and proceeded to Saranac Sourdough for breakfast. Ivy decided that she much preferred an omlette with goat cheese and spinach to the blueberry pancakes.
We then got a wonderful tour of the Stafford New Life Center at Adirondack Health, where all of the fundraising dollars will go to help families and their newborns.
We did it. We did all of it.