Crazy is what most call me when they hear I like races 140.6 miles long. But I prefer passionate, dedicated, enthusiastic. I prefer you see this not for its length, but for its journey. Because this journey has in fact changed my life.
I’d been training for Ironman Lake Placid 2016 for about seven months. Seven awesome months. This was my second full Ironman (and the first that I didn’t race with a broken foot), so I went into this training season with a much clearer mind, smarter schedule, and one heck of a big heart. I also chose a race that was not my team race, again, knowing I wouldn’t have team support on the course. I did Ironman Mont-Tremblant last year; this year, my eyes were on Lake Placid. My sights were set on that Olympic Oval finish line, perfectly timed to an Olympic season that was sure to inspire me even more to come in strong.
The last three weeks of training were plagued with work and family matters that kept me from completing some of my biggest and most important workouts, including a 100-mile ride and a 20-mile run. I ended up going into the Ironman with only two long rides (95 & 115), and with my longest run only being 16 miles…(ONLY. Ha! That still sounds crazy, I know). But I was convinced I was fine; I had done everything to prepare myself for the big day, and a huge chunk of that was rest. I can’t stress enough that REST IS BEST. When I was exhausted, I slept and watched my nutrition. It’s definitely why I felt pepped up for my big Lake Placid debut. Plus, what many did not know - I needed the rest because the day after the race (Monday, July 25) I would start a brand new job back in NYC. Kick it off with a bang…is there anyway else to do it? Ha.
If you followed along with my Ironman Mont-Tremblant journey, you saw how crazy over-prepped I was. I had photos of all my foods & first aid lined up for each part of the entire Ironman race. I got some funny feedback on that one. Mainly letting me know I went overboard and I’d never use all of those items. Well, they were basically right, but I’m glad I learned for myself. So going into this race, I was a lot less concerned with the lineup. I checked everything off my Ironman packing list, sans frills. Wetsuit? Check. Tri kit? Check. Shoes & Bike? Check, check. Let’s roll out.
THURSDAY, JULY 21 - PLACID BOUND, THREE DAYS TILL RACE DAY
My husband and I packed Barb the bike in the back of the rental car and made our way out of the big city on Thursday morning, July 21st. The five hour journey was beautiful and filled with lots of excitement. When we arrived, we checked into our hotel and immediately got some food. I then noticed athletes walking around with Ironman Lake Placid backpacks, which was a sure sign that athlete check-in was open! (No, I had not read the athlete guide as everyone should!) So I took advantage of the opportunity to get all checked in right then and there. I weighed in, signed my life away (always so fun), and got my bib and timing chip. I briefly walked through the Ironman Village and spotted the NormaTec tent so we zipped into the leg compression sleeves and were transported to heaven. I walked around a bit more to get some Base Salts and I came back to my husband in NormaTec leg and arm sleeves, looking like he was in a full body cast. My husband, the spectator, claims he needed it more than me. Pshhh. He has NO idea.
The rest of the night included a couple beers (I broke my 7-month no alcohol streak!), a really gross hotel pizza (oh well), and a good night’s sleep (clearly, the most important).
FRIDAY, JULY 22 - TWO DAYS TILL RACE DAY
I woke up Friday morning, had some oatmeal & eggs, and set out for my final bike ride. I rode for no more than an hour on the run course…basically just to get re-acquianted with the surroundings and asses my bike setup. Out there in the woods, spirits were super high. I suddenly got really excited. When I got back to the hotel, I grabbed my wetsuit, my husband got himself a SUP board, and we headed to Mirror Lake for me to complete a 1.2 mile warm-up swim. (That swim is so much more fun when 20 people are out there as opposed to 2500). After my swim, I did some SUPing, trying to enjoy the moment. I wasn’t just in Placid to race - I was determined to have some fun too. After a turkey sandwich lunch and some shopping at the Ironman store (yay for swag!), I napped. It was SO HOT out there that I do believe it drained me. I wanted to stay in for the night so my husband Jay picked up some pizza (better than last night's) and I spent the rest of the evening spreading out my gear and packing my run, bike, and special needs bags. When that was done, so was I.
SATURDAY, JULY 23 - ONE DAY TILL RACE DAY
The day before the day! OoOoh how exciting! I woke up stoked to devour some pancakes and eggs and get my butt out the door for a 30-min run. There were a lot of athletes doing a shake-out as well, and it felt good to be among my people…the crazy kids! After showering up, we headed to the Ironman Village to drop off my bike and run & bike gear bags. Rain was on its way so we all did whatever we could to rain proof our belongings. After taking in the scenery for the last bit of daylight, I put my legs up and got ready for my final meal. And what was that meal you ask? Well, oddly enough, I didn’t go with my usual penne pasta entree. Instead I did chicken parmesan. The cheese and fried chicken generally is a recipe for stomach disaster, but I was feelin’ it and so I went with my gut. After that and what seemed like 15 glasses of water, I went to the hotel, made my PB and banana sandwiches for the AM, froze my water bottles, set four alarms for 4am and it was lights out.
SUNDAY, JULY 24 - RACE DAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!
After what felt like a fairly solid 6-hour sleep, I awoke to the sound of my heart beating, before my alarm even went off. Clearly, I was ready to go. I force fed myself those sandwiches and barely got any of it down, had a tiny bit of coffee, a ton of water, and put on my gear. Another important part of my routine was making sure our suitcases were all packed as we were set to drive back to NYC immediately after I finished the race. No time to waste!!
I got to transition and greeted my wet bike. Barb indeed made it through the rain storm the night before. I filled her bottles, pumped her tires, and loaded the bento box with my first four Honey Stinger waffles, and a tube of Base Salts. I looked around and saw almost no girls, which was a disappointment. I later learned the race was in fact more than two-thirds men. It could have scared me (well, it did for two seconds) but instead I chose to see it as more of an elite women’s club. We picked a tough race for sure and we were going to KILL IT.
Well, the line at the port -a- potties was hysterical as usual. I saved a few people as I had tissues on me and tylenol. I saw it as a good sign that I was well prepped and karma would be on my side. After fighting with my wetsuit (we don’t like each other), I dove into the lake for a warm up swim. After a few kisses for my husband, I got in line. The rolling start meant we had to lineup according to our predicted swim finish time. I looked around and five-foot me was surrounded my hundreds of six-foot plus men. Outside of that, the fog filled the air and I couldn’t see anything…not the water, not the buoys…nothing. My nerves got the best of me and I started to cry. It lasted for literally ten seconds and fogged up my goggles, but it was necessary in order to let my guard down. No one ever said this was going to be easy. It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to…
SWIM - 2.4 MILES
6:40am. The gun goes off and we roll into the water little by little. I’m dancing all the way in as the music roars in the background (lots of video to prove this), but it was far from a rhythmic groove once our bodies hit the water. A normally calm Mirror Lake quickly became pure chaos. No one was sighting, and even if they could, they wouldn’t see a damn thing. Though this swim is known for it’s underwater cable which swimmers like to follow, I stayed far on the outside to avoid the messy swimmers. In the end, it didn’t matter. I was still getting pummeled, pulled on, smacked, and I was constantly going off course. It was the first time I was unsure I’d make it. Then just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, some dude literally punched me directly in the left eye, causing me to swallow what seemed like a gallon of lake water. I was coughing like a lunatic, so much so that the swimmer stopped and yelled sorry, and the safety kayakers were making a b-line to save me. I bobbed and treaded water for probably a minute, waved off the kayakers, and tried to continue. Bummer to report that I had to stop again, tread some more, and wait till I felt my heart rate come back down. It never really went back to normal, but THIS WHOLE DAMN THING ISN’T NORMAL. So I soldiered on. I still had another hour of swimming, so I swam. The weird thing about this swim is that it’s 2x around the lake, and you actually exit that lake before entering again to do the second loop. Emerging from the water was only good to help those who needed to breathe. But it definitely hurt everyone’s times, mine especially. Of course I finished with a big smile, mainly because I was so freakin’ happy to be on land and alive. Definitely slower than I should have been, but I was satisfied with a swim time of 1:25:58.
T1 - (SWIM TO BIKE)
Thank god for wetsuit strippers…am I right!? That saved me some misery for sure though I was afraid they’d strip off my swim bottoms with the suit. After a long run to the Ironman Village, I got to the women’s tent (which was very small and tight), and all I saw were tushies everywhere! Nakedness overload as we all got into our bike gear and our groove. There was no seat for me so I tried to do everything standing up, hoping the dizziness from the swim wouldn’t knock me over. Most importantly, I used that time to eat some chews, drink a ton of water, and make a pit stop at the port-a-potty because I clearly drank the entire Mirror Lake. HA. After grabbing my bike and clipping in, I was off. T1 time was a long but not so bad 10:10.
BIKE - 112 MILES
Oh boy, this was going to be a ride. I knew I chose a tough and hilly course, but I was pleased that I had rode the entire 112 just four weeks prior at training camp with my team. So I set out knowing how I would break this up…unlike my non-strategy for Raleigh 70.3 or even Ironman Mont Tremblant back in 2015. For the first few miles I hydrated and ate a bit, caught my breath, and settled in. But through mile 30 I was giving it a really strong effort, knowing these were the “easy” miles in comparison to what was going to come for the second half of each 56-mile loop (hill after hill after hill!) My spirits were in a good place, and I felt more comfortable now wearing bike shorts as opposed to other races where I stuck with tri shorts. (For any of you who are unaware, bike shorts have diaper-like padding; tri shorts have very minimal padding). I stayed on top of my hydration (sipping every 15 minutes - mix of water and diluted orange gatorade) and nutrition (eating half a Honey Stinger waffle every 30 minutes). I tried to take in the beautiful surroundings, the mountains, the rivers, the silence. A lot of people ask me how I do this without music or wonder what I think about for that long. I honestly could not tell you. It’s almost like I tap into this zone where I am thinking about nothing but the moment, the people around me, the fresh smell of the air. I dig deep and think about the last seven months of training and how this moment is what I worked for. When I feel like I’m hitting the red, I slow down. But when I feel strong, I follow it through. I just live in that moment, and all other moments seem to fade away. It’s unexplainable just how amazing silence can be for a dozen hours.
So my first 56-mile loop was strong for me and I saw improvements over my last race (given cycling is my weakest sport). I always planned to stop at special needs after 56 miles and so I did. At around 3.5 hours in, I pulled up to a kind volunteer and she helped me change my bottles and handed me my next batch of waffles. I also made a pit stop at the port-a-potty just to be safe. About three minutes after stopping at special needs, I was back on my bike and off for loop two. I was hoping to match my 3.5 hour time but it was pretty apparent early on that I would come a bit short. Hills were hitting me harder, saddle sores were getting worse, my shoulders were in pain from riding in aero, and of course I was simply more spent. I still gave it a good effort and tried to stay positive as I closed in on the end of my 6,000ft climb. What I ended up consuming: seven Honey Stinger waffles, about six to seven full bottles of water & gatorade (and another bottle of water to shower me with), about five licks of Base Salt (taken throughout), and a half of banana (a spur of the moment decision at one of the aid stations). I rolled in to transition with a huge smile, happy to be done with about a 30-minute PR at 7:17:59.
T2 (BIKE TO RUN)
A nice volunteer took my bike as I ran in my clips to grab my run gear bag and head into the “tushie tent.” In said tushie tent, less tushies this time around, and more seats for me to take advantage of. Another volunteer made her way to me and helped me change out of my clips and into sneakers, and out of my bike shorts and into tri shorts (easier to run in). I traded my helmet for a visor and grabbed two packs of chews and shoved a tube of Base Salts in my sports bra. As fast as my jello legs could take me, I was off for my favorite part of the day. Hell yeah for gravity baby! T2 time- 5:31.
RUN - 26.2 MILES
I’m a runner. I may not be the fastest, but I’m the happiest runner on the course. I love the feeling of my feet touching the ground because I feel in control. I know it’s up to me to get to the finish. A swim could drown you (or get you punched in the face!) and a bike could crash you and your spirits, but a run is all you. It’s pretty damn powerful what we can do with just our bodies alone. So when I touched ground, I was off running in a powerful way. My first mile was way faster than planned at about a 9-minute pace. When I noticed that, I scaled back and got into a rhythm of a 10-minute/mile pace. I didn’t want the wheels to come off too early (or at all) so this was very important to keep track of. I knew the course was full of small rolling hills and a few big ones, so I immediately decided that the only walking I would allow for myself would be at the aid stations and on the few big hills. The heat was strong, so I was very on top of drinking water and gatorade at each mile, which meant I didn’t feel the need to eat as many chews as I had planned. Base Salts bounced around in my sports bra, and I only used one lick every five miles. The gatorade and minimal chews gave me the salt and electrolytes I needed, and I knew that any extra may lead to GI issues and a hard stomach. I felt pretty decent throughout but did feel worried that I couldn’t keep this up for long. I think the turning point was literally at the turning point….when I got to about the 12th mile and didn’t feel the need to stop for my special needs bag. I also seemed to be one of few people on the course still running among a sea of walkers. It makes you realize how important it is not to go too hard any point of the day, because you’ll pay for it later. I was so overwhelmed with crowd support from people I didn’t know, chanting my name and commending me on my strong stride. It wasn’t that I was fast, I just looked steady and straight. I took pride in the fact that I was 100 percent on top of listening to every part of my body to ensure I wouldn’t falter. And because I did that, when I saw those monster hills, I rewarded myself with that power walk. I saw my time and knew I was in good shape regardless. Mile 18 was definitely a high point for me. I could hear a lot of footsteps behind me and I overheard a guy yell to his buddy “Hey man, come jump on the train!” I turned around to see that I was leading a bunch of guys, so I played along and made a “chu-chu” sound and picked up my pace to keep these guys in check. I wasn’t just tasked with getting myself to the finish line, but apparently I had some cargo!! It was a smiling moment for sure. The last few miles I took it easier so that I could finish strong. When I turned into that Olympic oval for the final few tenths of a mile, I started to cry. This wasn’t my first Ironman, but it was my proudest moment to see my potential shine through. I rallied the crowd, waved my hands in the air and sprinted through that finish chute before the sun set on my most favorite day of 2016 thus far. "BRITTANY FORGIONE, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!” Mike Reilly screamed, but I couldn’t hear him because I was screaming 100x louder. I PR’ed by 1 hour and 15 minutes, coming in at 13:32:04.
THE OTHER SIDE of 140.6
The athletes on the other side of the finish chute are either scattered about like a scene from the Civil War, or they're dancing around the finish festival like the weirdo I am. I didn’t have time to feel fatigued…I had to start a brand new job 13 hours later, so all there was time for was some cold pizza and a slightly painful shower (saddle sores, sunburns, ouch!). But I had my medal, my man, and my body in tact, so I was ready to wave goodbye to Lake Placid when everyone else was cheering for the last competitors to roll through the finish. It wasn’t ideal, but clearly I don’t do anything that’s in my right mind, so it was very fitting that after I finished one big life event, I started another.
THOUGHTS/ REFLECTIONS/ WHAT’S NEXT
I found something I love, and isn’t that what life is all about? Everyone has their thing. This thing called Ironman wasn’t even in my vocabulary a few years ago when I was “just a runner” and someone convinced me to try a tri. In 2013, I learned how to swim in open water, clipped into a bike for the first time, and by July 2013 I was a triathlete (completing the 2013 NYC Triathlon). I didn’t think I had more in me and now three years later I keep challenging myself with bigger distances and more technical courses. I will always tell people (because it’s true) that we are all capable of anything. It takes a little training and a lot of courage to break your own borders. Tearing down walls is an incredible feeling, and it may be something you conquer at work, in your personal life, or in my case - on a race course. But I hope that if you’re reading this and you think you can’t do something - think again. Please believe in yourself. Please do it for no one else but yourself. You will always be your biggest cheerleader, so grab the pom poms and work on your rah rah rahs!
So what’s next for me? I think I’m hungry for at least one more full training season. I finished this race on a Sunday and I was running again on Wednesday. Clearly, I was not ready to rest. I’m thinking of a marathon or half Ironman later this fall, but will absolutely start up full force again in January, looking to a full Ironman next July of 2017. If you’ve got suggestions, I’m all ears!
Thanks for following along and reading the story of my 2nd 140.6 journey! If you have any questions, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to hear from you!
Keep pushing your limits! Eventually you’ll stick the landing :)