2013 Lake Placid Race Report: John Withrow (3rd Overall in Executive Challenge!)

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I wrote this RR for the many people who supported Team ReserveAid and for my EN family. So it is a long (probably boring) documentation of my entire race. Here’s the Executive Summary if you just want the summary: I swam the best I ever have (top 21% vs my previous best top 30%), crushed my transitions (Top 3% in T1), flattened the hills and rode a really smart and reasonably fast bike split, then for the first time ever, had what I thought was a great Ironmanยฎ run (4:10 marathon was a 15 min IM run PR vs a perfectly flat Florida course). Finishing time was 11:07:23. I left absolutely everything I had out on the course and have no regrets!

John Withrow IMLPIMXC background

This was my 4th Ironman. I felt like I was “participating” in the first three, but this one I planned to “Race”! I signed up for the Ironmanยฎ Executive Challenge where I would compete against 10 other senior executives for a few coveted Kona slots. To get a slot, I would either need to win my age group (49-under) or have the biggest improvement over my best previous course adjusted IM time (for me this was Florida of 10:52:19 + 45mins because Lake Placid is a much harder course for a PR equivalent time of 11:37:19). I had stalked all of the other competitors in the XC and figured that if I could do right at or below 11 hours that I would at least be in the running for both of slots I was eligible for. My super-stretch goal was to break the 10:52 I had done at Florida last yr.The XC also came with a whole bunch of other perks like an amazing suite at the Whiteface Lodge and overall VIP treatment the whole time we were in Lake Placid. I’m not gonna lie, it was an awesome experience!

The Race:

I went to bed around 8:30PM the night before the race and actually fell right to sleep. I was very well hydrated and when I woke up around midnight to use the restroom, I decided to drink my night nutrition, 12 oz of Ultragen recovery shake (320 calories). This was the right call. I had planned to drink it around 2:00-2:30 AM, but I didn’t wake up again until my first alarm went off at 3:50AM (I set 3 of them, but didn’t need the other 2). First order of business was to get some more calories in so I had a banana, a Larabar, a packet of applesauce and a 20oz of Gatorade. Then it was the morning discharge and a quick shower. After quickly getting dressed and rounding up my bags for the day, Jess and I headed down to the shuttle to go to transition. Around 5:15AM, I drank a bottle with 2 servings of UCAN nutrition (290 calories of “superstarch”). I sipped on only water continuously after this until the race.


I quickly put mywater and Infinit on my bike, added my bike computers (I had 3 of them on my bike, Garmin Edge 510, Garmin Edge 500, and Garmin 910XT run watch) calibrated my SRM powermeter and pumped 108 psi of air my tires (I kept them a little lower than normal due to the rainy conditions). After I put my nutrition in my transition bags, I headed over towards the swim start and hit the porta potties for a final discharge. I decided to take a practice swim before this race and was glad I did. I asked Team ReserveAid teammate Robbie Goffin to help zip up my wetsuit and two different times my wetsuit zipper practically exploded on him. On third time it seemed like it stuck. For a warmup swim, I went out about 100 yds and came back. On the way back, my zipper came completely undone again and I caught a whole bunch of water on my way back to the shore. Uh-oh… But better now than during the race. I headed back to Robbie for another zip up and this time he thought he got it. My wetsuit is a high end Huub Archimedes and it has a quick release zipper. Robbie was activating that quick release as soon as he was getting it to the top. After figuring this out, he asked me to give him my best “beefcake” so I flexed it up much to the amusement of many other competitors in the area and the zipper stuck just fine. I took another short warmup swim then seeded myself in the front of the 1:00-1:10 grouping.


Expected time – 1:10:00 +/- 2:00
Actual time – 1:09:34
1st lap 34:15, 2nd lap 35:19
533 out of 2,536 (21%). And 5th in the XC.

John Withrowo at Lake Placid swim startThe new “swim-start” protocol of a rolling seeded start was really great. I had almost no contact the entire swim. I quickly got into the water and immediately got up to speed. Within about a minute I had found the “cable” that holds the buoys in place and mostly styled within eyeshot of it the entire swim. I looked for bubbles and generally stayed on the feet of other swimmers for most of the swim. A couple of times about 200yds into the swim I ran directly over people who were very slow and clearly seeded themselves wrong, but besides that it was pretty smooth until the turn buoys. But even there the contact wasn’t too bad as I stayed to the inside and fought it out. After a 1.2 mile rectangle loop, you exit the water quickly to go across a timing mat, then back into the water for your second loop. I did not look at the clock or my watch at the turn, but simply re-entered the water as quickly as possible and resumed swimming. The second loop was very similar to the first until the last couple hundred yds where I started to swim over the slower people who were still on their first lap. This swim seemed very easy and fast. I felt super comfortable, but was always pushing and drafting and never got off course. Even though my swim time was right at my expected time, I am actually disappointed with it a bit because I really thought it would have been 1:06-1:08 given that everything seemed to go right. I shouldn’t complain too much because it was my fastest (non-current-assisted) IM swim and I probably swam less than a total of 15 times all year and 10 of them were in the last 3 weeks before IMLP. I normally finish in the top 30-35% of the swim in any triathlon, so top 21% was a massive improvement for me! Here’s me elbowing people out of the way on my run up to the tent:


Expected Time – 7:00 +/- 0:30
Actual Time – 4:34
76 out of 2,536 (3%). And 1st in the XC

I felt great coming out of the water. My HR was low. I found the largest wetsuit strippers I could find and they had my suit off in 2 seconds flat. I knew it was a long long run from the water to the transition tent, so I literally ran full speed the whole way. Many people were walking or talking and I just used a football lineman’s swim technique to make my way through the foot traffic as I ran my way to my bag. Because I was in the XC, my transition bags were in the front row so I could just grab them without breaking stride. I already had my helmet on before I even got into the tent. I dumped my bag and my shoes and sunglasses fell out. The volunteer looked at me and said “wow, you packed light…” Before he was finished saying that, my shoes were on and I was running out the door as he put my wetsuit into my bag for me. My bike was also in the rack right near the pros by the transition exit so I grabbed it and headed to the mount line. I wasted no time in T1 and was very happy with my time. If only I could be in the top 3% on the run instead of just in T1…

John Withrow Lake Placid at T1As I approached the mount line, I saw coaches RnP standing there. Coach Rich told me to “hurry up and get on that bike” and Coach P simply said “Flatten the course, you got this!” I had coach P’s words in my head the whole ride, “Flatten the course, you got this!”


Expected Time – 5:40 +/- 10 mins
Actual Time – 5:39:33 (19.8mph)
1st lap 2:47:31, 2nd lap 2:52:02
210 out of 2,536 (8.3%) and 2nd in the XC
Goal Watts – 214W, actual NP – 209W (0.674 IF), VI of 1.035

I rode smart out of transition and for the first 7 miles or so through the first section of hills. My glutes were a bit tight and I hoped this was just because I hadn’t had a hard workout in about a week due to my taper. It took almost an hour for my legs to fully loosen up. It was starting to rain pretty good just after I got on my bike. When I got to the downhill section, I really came into my own. I love to go fast! And this downhill section was mine, rain or no rain. I hit a top speed of 53.5 mph and was literally passing people like they were standing still. For those of you who don’t know what Strava is, it’s an online service that allows you to track and compare sections of rides using your gps bike files. As of the time of writing this, people on Strava had uploaded rides that had that downhill into Keene a total of 705 times and I won the King of the Mountain (KOM) on this segment during this race. That means I am the fastest person to have ever ridden that descent and uploaded this segment to Strava and mine was during the pouring down rain when I was simply trying to ride smart and “flatten the course” by pedaling down the hills. http://app.strava.com/activities/70592944#1376518292

John Withrow Lake Placid bikeIn my attempt to avoid leg cramping, every hour during the bike I took 3 pills, a Calcium, a Magnesium, and a Salt Stick. I don’t know if this helped or not, but I’m certain it didn’t hurt me. I sipped on my Infinit every 15 minutes or so and drank a lot of water. I took in a total about 1,450 calories of Infinit and 270 from Powerbar Energy Blasts and 80 calories from a half of a Blueberry Larabar. This works out to be a total of about 320 calories per hour on the bike and ~566mg/hr (3,170mg) of Sodium, ~300mg/hr (1,680mg) of Magnesium, ~190mg/hr (1,075mg) of Calcium, and ~190/hr (1,060mg) of Potassium.

I must say, the bike course was mostly uneventful. Once the hills started, I just stared at my bike computer, keeping my power in check going up the hills and pedaling furiously going down them to make sure I kept my power up. “Flatten the course, you got this!” Making the sharp left turn at Whiteface Mountain to start the last 10 miles of my first loop gave me something to look forward to. I knew this was the part of the course that I was suppose to be ultra focused. This section is a net uphill climb back to Mirror Lake, but is is more of a stair step climb with lots of little false flats and downhill sections. Riding smart here and “flattening the hills” is a good way to save time. This section flew by and before long, I was on Mirror Lake Drive in front of the cheering crowds. My BSN stop couldn’t have lasted more than 20 seconds. I skidded to a stop since my bag was at the very beginning of BSN. A volunteer opened my bag as I was chucking my empty Infinit bottle, I grabbed the new one and was off. I noticed that my Normlized Power (NP) for the first loop was 210W as I made my way through town to start the 2nd loop. The second loop was almost identical to the first, the downhill was a few seconds slower even though it was dry this time. For the flat out and back, I simply dialed in my power and pedaled. I saw several people I knew on this second lap which is always nice during a long race. The first was Teri Cashmore who looked strong and happy as I passed her. Teri eventually ran her way to an AG win and Kona Slot! Joe Manning was another guy I saw several times on the bike and run course. I knew we both had similar time goals for the race and from the looks of it, we were both executing pretty well and literally finished within 2 minutes of each other. The final person I saw was Joe Van Dyke. I never actually met Joe before this race, but his bike was unmistakable because it was the first P5 that my LBS had ever sold. It is usually sitting there on display at High Gear Cyclery in Sterling, NJ and has a frog sticker on the frame which you can’t miss. I introduced myself to Joe and we chatted for a few minutes and we passed each other several times on the bike and run for the rest of the day.

John Withrow Lake Placid bikeBefore I knew it, I was making the turn again at Whiteface and stayed steady during the last 10 miles and tried to top off my fluids and calories. I had peed five times on the first lap and three times on the second one so I knew I was well hydrated. Given that it wasn’t very hot, I had to be conscious about taking in my nutrition as I wasn’t really that thirsty. When I made the final turn onto Mirror Lake Drive, I noticed that my NP was still sitting at 210W so I mostly had consistent loops of the course, even though I faded just a bit in the last section and the winds had picked up so I knew the second loop was just a bit slower. Overall, I was very happy with my bike and knew that I had ridden conservatively to setup a good run. My average HR for the whole bike leg was only 135bpm and it only went barely over 140bpm on 5 different occasions during the whole ride for no more than 30 seconds per time. I’m a runner now, I can do this!!!

As I was making the last turn through town, I saw a friend of mine, Stephen Darke, who was spectating. He yelled out “you’re in first place and the next guy is 8 minutes back”. This wouldn’t effect my run, but I knew it was on like Donkey Kong! I’m a runner now, I can do this!!!


Expected Time – 3:00 +/- 0:30
Actual Time – 3:11
217 out of 2,536 (8.6%). And 2nd in the XC

I took my feet out of my bike shoes just before the dismount line. This seemed like a bad decision at first as the ground was very rough on the run down to the bags and tent. I flew past the rack and grabbed my bag in stride again. By the time I got into the tent. My helmet and glasses were already off. I dumped my bag on the floor and out flopped my wetsuit!!! Wha- wha-whaaaat!?!? What the hell was my wetsuit doing my my T2 bag? Oh crap, I had grabbed the wrong bag! A volunteer saw my look of panic and started to run as he asked me for my bib number. I yelled out 115 and then followed him out of the tent and pointed him towards my colorfully taped bag. He ran back to me as I grabbed it and ran back into the tent. I dumped it out, quickly threw on my socks and shoes and grabbed my visor and fuel belt as I ran out. I felt like I had made such a rookie mistake, but it probably only cost me one minute at the most. I was mad that I had screwed that up, but I still had the 2nd fastest T2 in the XC and was only 63 seconds slower than the fastest guy. As I exited T1, I felt great. This was the first time I have ever looked forward to an IM run leg. I’m a runner now, I can do this!!!


Expected Time – 4:05 +/- 5 mins
Actual Time – 4:10:31 (9:33/mi)
1st lap 2:03:13, 2nd lap 2:07:18
469 out of 2,536 (18.5%) and 4th in the XC

My IM marathon PR of 4:25:46 was set in Florida last November. Florida is a perfectly flat run course that I had done after only 5:04 on the bike. Lake Placid is one of the harder and hillier IM run courses so to think I could have a run PR here was a stretch. But I had spent the entire last 8 months strengthening my core and glutes and learning to become a “runner”. My form is a ton better now, and I have a lot more confidence. I really thought I should be able to run a 4:10 marathon, even on this course and my super stretch goal was a 3:59:59.

To reach my run goals, I would need to do a couple of things. Manage my nutrition and hydration. String together a whole bunch of 8:45-9:00 miles. I wasn’t really running to pace, but more to HR given the undulations of this course. I knew I had to keep my HR in the low 140’s for at least the first half, never to exceed 150bpm. Near the end of the run the goal was to keep my HR ‘above’ 140 as I knew my body could handle this, even if my legs hurt. When it started to hurt really bad, I needed to keep running “fast”. In my previous three Ironmans my goal was to keep running when it really started to hurt. The not so subtle difference this time around was that when the inevitable suck showed up near the end, I not only need to keep running, but I needed to keep running”fast”. I had visualized this suck almost every night for the last few months. I knew every inch of the run course and I kept imagining what it would be like to force myself to keep running “fast” when my legs cramped up at every imaginable spot.

I had my metronome clipped onto my visor beeping to me gently at 90bpm. I figured that this high turnover would help me stay efficient and move some of the day’s stress to my stronger cardio vascular system instead of my more fragile legs. As I started the run, my legs felt great. Of course I started out of the gates too fast, but quickly slowed myself to my 8:45 or so pace. I just floated through town and down and up the first section of hills. I was running smart, keeping my HR in check and taking in fluids and my nutrition. At about mile 4 I quickly stopped at a porta potty to pee as I didn’t really want to run 22 more miles with a full bladder. This only cost me about 20 seconds or so. Before I knew it I was at the turnaround at mile 5.5. When I was about 30 seconds after the turnaround on my way back into town, I saw Shane Hinds. He’s the guy in the XC guy who was 8 minutes behind me coming off the bike. WTF? Had he really made up 8 minutes in 5.6 miles? The dude weighs about 140lbs and was smiling as he floated along at ~7:30 per mile. Well I decided that I couldn’t worry about him right now. I had to run my race. Maybe he would blow himself up. I knew if I tried to run 7:30 miles (which is practically my 10k pace) that I would definitely blow myself up. Within a few minutes, Shane passed me and we exchanged a few friendly words and then he was off. I kept running my pace and still felt strong up the ski jump and townie hills. I had slowed on the hills but kept running.

John Withrow Lake Placid runBy the time I had gotten to my RSN bag at about mile 12, my Infinit Napalm was starting to taste “not so good”. I had gotten almost all of my 2 flasks of it down, but it was starting to get harder and harder to tolerate. I swapped them out for new ones at BSN and only lost a few seconds in the process. I saw Shane again on the Mirror Lake out and back and by now, he was about a half a mile ahead of me. That was less time than he put into me in the first 6 miles, so maybe he was fading as I was still running steady. About a half a mile after the turn, I saw Michael Wong who was in 3rd place in the XC. He also weighs about 140lbs and was also flying… I saw Stephen Darke again and he reminded me of what I already knew, that I was about 4 minutes back and still in 2nd place.

On my way it of town, I saw Coaches RnP and the whole EN cheering squad. I still felt ‘okay’ at this point and was just very focused on getting the job done. They also gave me splits and Coach R told me to shut off my head and just run. This was a much needed pick me up as this was too early for the suck to start appearing. At about mile 16, my gel flask had somehow worked its way loose out of my fuel belt and fell to the ground. My next stride landed firmly on top of it and Infinit Napalm squirted about 10 feet to the side of the road. It kind of made me laugh and there’s no way I was slowing to pick it up as I was done with that stuff anyways. I was taking water and ice at each aid station, but I now started to take coke as well. Coke actually gives you a nice mixture of calories and caffeine, but unfortunately it wasn’t flat enough, so I had to stop for a second to actually drink it. I was pouring water on my cool wings and taking ice with me as I left the aid stations as I was starting to get pretty hot at this point.

Coach Rich had ridden a mountain bike up ahead to give me another split on Shane and reminded me to disconnect my head from the pain my legs were feeling. Michael Wong passed me on River Road at a low 7-handle pace. We’re these guys even human…?

By mile 18 it really started to hurt. My quads were starting to hurt and my left calf would cramp every once and a while. I just ignored them and kept running at what could be loosely described as “fast”. This is about when Teri Cashmore ran past me (I think…). She was smiling and looked super strong and gave me some great words of encouragement. Not long after the turnaround, I saw my good friend and fellow EN teammate Kori Martini running towards me but almost 10 minutes back. Kori was gunning for her own Kona slot and she kept telling me prior to the race that she couldn’t wait to “chick” me on the run. Teri had already done that, though, so I had nothing but encouragement for Kori. I had a whole bunch of insightful words planned out in my head for Kori, but all I could muster was “catch me” as we passed in opposite directions.

John Withrow Lake Placid runNear the end of the River Road stretch, I was about 20miles into my marathon and I knew I was dehydrated and low on calories. I was starting to get tunnel vision. Not the debilitating kind that stopped me in my tracks at mile 23 of IMNYC last yr, but the precursor to them that I now knew I had to be self aware of. I promised my wife and my parents that I would race smart and not put myself at risk, and this was certainly a warning sign. The question was, could I ‘fix’ it or at least put a bandaid on it as I kept moving forward “fast”. I started by actually stopping and walking through the beginning of each aid station to make sure I got down a whole cup of Perform and sometimes also a Coke and some water, then I immediately started running again. This probably cost me about 10 seconds or so per mile, but I figured it was time well spent if I could avoid a 15-20 minute collapse.

As I started up the Ski jump hill for the final time, I just kept telling myself that I could not walk up this hill, I had to keep running and I did (slowly, but it was a run). I allowed myself about 10 walking steps at the top to bring my HR back down and it plummeted quickly. This was a good sign, because my cardiovascular system was still very strong. My quads were on fire at this point though, but I kept telling myself I had to keep running “fast”. At this point, I was about 22 miles into my marathon and I knew I was even more dehydrated. I used every aid station and continued to pay attention to a high cadence while I was running. It was a nice pick me up in this section to see fellow Team ReserveAid members Evan Odim and Brian Lee and get their words of encouragement as they were heading the other direction out of town. I ran down the hill past Lisa G’s and slogged my way up Townie hill, keeping a slow ‘run’ the entire uphill. Once again, I walked for about 10 steps after the hill which is where Coach Rich busted me for walking. This was part of the plan that Coach P told me to follow, I swear! At least that’s what I thought in my head but I had no extra energy to muster any words as I passed the whole EN crowd. I’m a runner now, I can do this. Right…?

One last uphill past the brewpub to go. I vaguely remember Stephen Darke running on the sidewalk along side me lying to me and telling me I looked strong. Maybe it was the first lap though when he did this… My brain wasn’t really functioning at that point, so I’m not sure. The last out-and-back was hell and I didn’t see either of the two XC guys who were ahead of me, so I knew they were finished and I was only racing for the PR slot at this point. I was able to push my HR up into the low 150’s which I was quite happy with at this point, as I’ve never had the legs to do this at the end of an Ironman. I at least had the sense to zip up my kit top for the pictures and toss my nasty soaking wet fuel belt (which weighed a million pounds at this point) to my friend Angie that I saw spectating on the last corner before the home stretch (sorry Ang).

John Withrow Lake Placid home stretchWhen I finally got to the Olympic Speed-Skating Oval I knew I only had about 200yds to go to the finish, but they might have been the longest 200yds of my life! Why couldn’t we just run straight across instead of going all the way around this stupid oval. By some miracle, my legs kept turning over and I could see the finish line as my HR pushed its way up to 159bpm. I made it all the way to the finish line where my wife Jess was there to give me my finisher’s medal. Thank goodness there was also a volunteer ‘catcher’ there as well because as soon as I crossed that line, something in my brain flipped a switch and my body had permission to finally stop. And stop it did. Like jelly legs, need to be held up by 2 volunteers stop. Like, flop me onto a wheelchair and take me to the med tent stop. Stopping immediately was probably a bad idea as I would have been better off if I jogged for a bit or simply walked around to let my HR and blood pressure come back to normal slowly, but the sudden stop did me in and my body had had enough.

When I stepped on the scale in the med tent (after the short wheelchair ride) my kit was soaking wet and I had my soaking wet shoes on and it read 173lbs. I was probably around 171 if dry and no shoes. Keep in mind that I was 180lbs two days before the race and probably started it at around 182lbs given all the Pre-race hydration. They put me on a cot and put bags of ice on me to cool me down. I did not get an IV, but took in fluids as fast as they could bring them. I had a total of 3 cups of water, 8 cups of Perform, 3 cups of hot chicken broth, an Orange and a Banana. The best thing about the med tent is that you can get a long and personalized leg massage while people bring you stuff to eat and drink and you don’t have to wait in line… The worst part is the scolding looks and lecture from your wife for pushing yourself just a little bit too hard for her liking…

I saw so many people from EN and Team ReserveAid on the course (racing and spectating) that it would be impossible to mention everybody in one Race Report. But I can tell you for certain that every single one of you helped me to stay focused and inspired to keep moving forward, “fast”. Thanks to all of my Team ReserveAid teammates efforts and to all of you who donated, we raised just over $125,000 for ReserveAid from this race! http://reserveaid.org/get-involved/im-lake-placid/

So at the end of the day, it was a successful race. I swam the best I ever have, crushed my transitions, flattened the hills and rode a really smart and relatively fast bike split, then for the first time ever, had what I thought was a great Ironmanยฎ run. However, I didn’t get my Kona slot. One dude ran a 3:25 marathon only to get 2nd place by 38 seconds. I would have needed a 3:48 marathon on that hilly course to win it and I just don’t have that in my legs (…yet). My 30+ min course adjusted PR also wasn’t quite good enough as there was a guy who had a 1:15:xx PR on a 13:20:xx baseline time. Maybe next yr…


Did John’s Race Report psyche you up? Ready to join TeamEN? Sign up for the waiting list right now to get an invite for a free 7-day Trial Membership when we open our doors on October 7, 2013!




Coach P

All stories by: Coach P

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