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Eight area men trained to tackle 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking and a 26.2-mile marathon - all in a single day.
Courtesy Gail Froehling
Mike Dalsey, 51, of Roanoke, raises his arms in triumph after finishing Ironman Lake Placid in late July. Dalsey was one of eight men from the area who trained together and all completed the race.
Courtesy Gail Froehling
Athletes churn up the waters of Mirror Lake at the start of the Lake Placid Ironman race in New York. The swimming phase proved to be the easy part for the “Crazy 8” from the Roanoke Valley.
Mark Taylor | The Roanoke Times
With curious fishermen looking on, Scott Moir practices his swimming at Loch Haven Lake outside Roanoke while training for Ironman Lake Placid.
JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Times
A group of eight area men who trained together for the Ironman race in Lake Placid stand for a portrait at the Virginia Explore Park in July. From left are Mike Dalsey, Dave Pait, Joe Snyder, Tim Kingsbury, Mark Long, Mark Taylor, and Scott Moir.
JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Times
Steve Burtis (right) and Mark Taylor pedal up Mill Mountain in Roanoke last month.
JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Times
Steve Burtis (left) and Mark Taylor pedal up Mill Mountain in Roanoke last month.
Courtesy Gail Froehling
Sue Snyder gives her husband, Joe, some encouragement early in the marathon at Lake Placid in July. Joe Snyder, of Salem, endured five flat tires during the 112-mile bike leg.
Monday, August 26, 2013
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. - The fog had lifted from Mirror Lake, the still surface reflecting dark storm clouds.
On the beach, 2,500 men and women clad in black neoprene wet suits, fluorescent swim caps on their heads, herded toward the shoreline.
For such a large group they were surprisingly quiet, a few laughing or talking nervously, but most quiet and contemplative.
They were about to swim 2.4 miles.
Then they would ride their bikes 112 miles through the Adirondack Mountains.
And then they would run a 26.2-mile marathon.
This was Ironman Lake Placid, a race that in its 15th year remains one of the most popular on the growing Ironman circuit.
A race that eight men from the Roanoke Valley would be tackling over the next 11 to 13 hours.
"It was a bittersweet moment," said Scott Moir, a 50-year-old from Roanoke for whom Lake Placid was his third Ironman-distance race. "You're excited to race, but you know that 12 hours from now, a year's worth of anticipation, preparation and camaraderie are all going to end."
A team approach
On a hot Monday in July a year prior, we sat at our computers just before noon, when public registration for the popular race opened.
At noon we started filling in the blanks, and readied our credit cards to pay the $675 entry fee.
"I was a nervous wreck," admitted Dave Pait, a 48-year-old from Roanoke whose previous long triathlons were a few half-iron distance events. "Not only was it a lot of money, but it wasn't like a half Ironman was easy."
Most in our group had similar paths to this point, having started racing triathlons within the past few years.
Several of us had started swimming, biking and running in the hopes of shedding weight after years of relative inactivity.
Mike Dalsey, a 51-year-old computer programmer at Advance Auto, was carrying 180 pounds on his 5-foot-9 frame in 2009.
"I woke up one morning when [my 7-year-old son] Benjamin was really little, and realized I was doing nothing," said Dalsey, who toed the beach at Mirror Lake weighing a touch under 150 pounds.
Salem's Joe Snyder, a retired Coast Guardsman who works with the Navy ROTC program at Virginia Tech, had slimmed from 200 pounds when he started racing in 2010, to 163 this season.
I started swimming after my family doctor told me I had to do something about my expanding midsection, eventually shedding about 40 pounds from my 6-2 frame.
We connected through racing, training, and social events organized through the informal Roanoke Valley Triathlon Club.
We became friends, rivals and training partners.
"It was right about the time of the 2012 Smith Mountain Lake Sprint triathlon when we started talking about doing an Ironman," remembered Mark Long, at 57 the oldest of the group.
As word of the plan filtered out, the number of interested athletes grew.
Moir, a West Point grad who works as a pharmaceutical rep, helped organize a gathering at Blue 5, so the potential racers could discuss possible races.
Moir didn't have plans to race an Ironman race in 2013.
"But I wasn't going to let seven of my fellow Roanoke triathletes go to Lake Placid without me," he said.
While sipping stouts and ales, we discussed the pros and cons of races, including timing and locations.
The group, which also included Roanokers Tim Kingsbury and Steve Burtis, picked Lake Placid.
The summer timing worked well for those of us with kids, and the hilly course seemed fitting based on our training terrain.
Burtis, Moir and Long had iron-distance races under their belts. The rest of us were newbies.
The race historically sells out in minutes, so there was no assurance all eight would get in. But all eight of us did .
Chaos in the water
A former star high school swimmer, 47-year-old Snyder powered into Mirror Lake churning toward the front of the first 1.2-mile rectangular loop.
Just behind, Dalsey was moving fast, clawing his way over slower swimmers.
"The first half of the first loop was pretty stressful," Dalsey admitted. "I knew I couldn't keep up that level of anxiety for 12 hours."
Dalsey settled into a rhythm, making good time just behind Snyder.
Behind him, the rest of the Crazy 8, as we had come to call ourselves, strung out.
Pait was calmer than he had been in swims in shorter races.
Three days earlier he'd swum a loop of the course in 40 minutes.
"That practice swim, and all those 3,500-yard pool swims, had given me the confidence," said Pait, who participated in a special triathlon swim class two days a week at the Roanoke YMCA.
Snyder was the first out, completing the swim in an hour flat. Dalsey was a minute back.
Long came in at 1:12, with the rest of us filtering in over the next 15 minutes.
As we exited the water, volunteers helped us shed our wet suits, which we carried a quarter-mile to the transition zone as spectators screamed encouragement from behind barriers.
The easy part was done.
Seven months of work
After registering for Ironman Lake Placid, the eight of us spent the fall of 2012 recuperating from the previous season, putting in base miles in the pool and on the road, and generally trying to maintain a decent level of fitness before our Ironman-specific training was to begin in earnest.
Several of us followed a 30-week training plan designed by triathlon coach and book author Don Fink, the plan starting conveniently on Jan. 1, 2013.
Moir got his workouts from Richmond-based coach Michael Harlow.
Burtis, 36, who had previously completed Ironman races at Lake Placid and Couer d' Alene, Idaho, pretty much winged it.
The youngster of the group, the low-key and athletically gifted Burtis could get away with it.
The previous spring he'd injured his shoulder. He signed up for the Ironman even though he couldn't swim a stroke at the time.
"I thought it would get better on its own," said Kingsbury, a mold maker for Plastics One and a strong cyclist who climbs hills like a mountain goat.
But it didn't.
In late January, Kingsbury underwent shoulder surgery.
A week later he was on his bike on a stationary trainer, his arm in a sling.
He wouldn't be able to run for at least a couple of months.
Swimming wouldn't come until late spring.
The first time in the pool was disheartening.
"I was hoping to make it 500 yards," he said. "I got to 350 and had to stop."
In fact, just getting to the starting line of an Ironman is an accomplishment.
Hundreds of athletes who sign up never make it to the start, their plans derailed by injuries or life circumstances.
Moir had been there.
After a personally disappointing Ironman race in scorching heat in Houston in May 2012, Moir had signed up for an Ironman in Louisville, Ky., in August. He wanted redemption.
Instead, a saddle sore forced him to pull out at the last moment.
"It made me realize how close you can get to a race," he said, "and have it taken away from you."
The disappointment fueled Moir as he tackled the challenging workouts sent his way by Harlow, one of Virginia's top triathletes.
On the road often for work, he would ride his bike on a stationary trainer in his motel room, and run on motel treadmills.
"I think I swam in eight different pools," he mused.
On cold winter Saturdays some of us would join him for "trainer parties," riding our bikes in his garage as U2 blasted from a stereo and a video of the Lake Placid bike course played on a TV.
Moir was often the first one riding, and the last one to finish.
There is a saying in Ironman racing that there are no bad runs, only bad bike performances.
In short, athletes who push the bike too hard can end up walking a lot of the marathon. But those who are too conservative can lose huge chunks of time that they can't make up even with a good marathon.
Entering the transition zone after the swim, athletes grab their bike gear bag from a rack and run into a changing tent.
I found a seat in the tent next to a smiling Kingsbury and started pulling gear from my bag.
The guy who couldn't swim a stroke just a few months earlier had not given up. His swim workouts improved, until he could easily swim 2 miles at a crack.
He had come out of the water in a solid 1:16:22.
"See you on the bike," I said, high-fiving him and heading out.
Nearing the transition exit I realized that I didn't have my small flask of concentrated electrolyte fluid, which is essentially saltwater.
It was decision time.
I have cramping trouble, especially in hot weather, and electrolytes are critical for me. But I knew that I could lose 10 minutes or more trying to find my bag to retrieve the flask.
Because it was cool I opted to carry on. I hoped to get the electrolytes I needed through what was available on the course.
On the bike course, Snyder was flying. So was Moir, who had come out of the water a minute behind me but quickly caught me.
"On your left," he joked, patting me on the back as he passed.
"Go get 'em," I said.
Ahead, Dalsey was chewing up the bike course. It was a new thing for him.
Always a strong swimmer and runner, he had been a mediocre biker until this year. Then he got a new bike.
"And I actually started riding," laughed Dalsey, whose cluelessness about his bike - he didn't even know his bike's wheel size when shopping for a spare tube the day before the race - was a source of much amusement for the rest of us.
Long days on weekends
Looking at his Don Fink-designed plan earlier in the year, Dalsey knew that the hours required for training would ramp up significantly late in the spring and early in the summer.
"But until you go out and do the long rides, and you're not getting back until 2 or 3 p.m. on a Saturday, it didn't sink in," he said.
No matter what plans we were on, they included rides of six hours (or longer) during the plans' peaks.
Most required runs of 30 to 60 minutes immediately after those long rides.
"Even when you're leaving home at 5 a.m., that's your whole day," said Pait, area manager for Macado's restaurants and a smoker until 12 years ago.
Family support and understanding were critical.
For Pait, that support came from his wife, Crystal, who traveled to Lake Placid to cheer him on.
"We did this together," Pait said of Crystal.
He could have been speaking for all of us, who got strong support and understanding from our families, friends and, in many cases, bosses.
Group training helped make the long days more tolerable.
"I'm usually a loner," Snyder said. "I found out going on those long rides, I didn't want to go by myself."
Snyder was just a few miles into the second 56-mile bike loop, racing down a steep descent, when his race changed.
He had a flat tire.
Snyder was equipped to handle the flat on his own, but a race support technician appeared so Snyder gladly accepted the help.
Dalsey rode past his friend.
"There was nothing I could do," Dalsey said. "So I just kept going.
"It was unfortunate."
Every time the tech tried to inflate the tire, the tube blew again.
After four tries, the tube held air.
Snyder rode off.
About 20 miles farther down the road, the tube developed a slow leak.
It turned out his tire had been damaged.
The slow leak required Snyder to stop often to put air in the tire. Finally, with just a few miles to ride, he gave up on the air.
"I just rode in on the rim," said Snyder, who estimates the trouble cost him at least an hour.
At about the point that Snyder was bitten by the flat bug, I got hit by minor leg cramps. The modest amount of sodium in the sports drink I'd been chugging on the course had not been enough.
At mile 70, I asked a group of cyclists if they had any electrolyte tablets. A fellow racer gave me four Hammer Endurolyte capsules.
I popped two then, and two an hour later. They got me through the next 42 miles.
Moir was the first one in, completing the bike course in just over 5:40, with the rest of us finishing over the next hour or so.
The day's longest - we hoped - challenge was over, but the toughest one remained.
"I was looking forward to getting off the bike," Pait said.
After six to seven hours in the saddle, we all were.
As winter turned to spring in Roanoke, training intensity and time commitments ramped up.
For most of the group, plans would eventually require us to spend up to 20 hours a week swimming, biking and running.
Companionship on workouts helped make the long hours tolerable.
Invitations for workouts went out by text, email, over Facebook and by phone.
Tuesday evening's Roanoke Pub Run was a semiregular event, though we usually had to start before the organized group in order to get our required mileage in.
Fitting for a group that got its formal start at a pub, we often gathered at bars after evening workouts for a little rehydration.
The Wasena City Tap Room, conveniently located along the Roanoke River Greenway, a regular workout spot for us, became our unofficial home bar.
Burtis, a self-employed building contractor, was famous for starting a "Tap Room! Tap Room! Tap Room!" chant during the last miles of evening runs and rides.
In April, the Virginia triathlon and running race season got underway, the weekend events providing opportunities for members of the Crazy 8 to gauge fitness.
Things went well.
Moir, Dalsey and Long all placed in their age groups at the Blue Ridge Half Marathon.
Five of us went to Lynchburg for the Angels Race Sprint Triathlon, and all of us earned awards, with Moir finishing second overall.
In June, at the Bath County Triathlon at Lake Moomaw, Snyder grabbed the overall win, with Moir, Dalsey, Long, Burtis and Pait all placing high.
We all completed half-iron distance races, most of us setting personal bests at the distance.
As the trip to Lake Placid drew near, the workout time commitment plummeted, the training taper giving our bodies time to recover.
With less time required to swim, bike and run, we meticulously went through our gear to make sure everything was ready.
A few days before the race, we headed north, a few of us in cars, the rest on the train.
When we arrived in Lake Placid we found the small town, host of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, already bustling.
As we worked through the registration process, Dalsey smiled.
"This just got real," he said.
Struggling to the end
The marathon featured two 13.1-mile out-and-back "loops."
Each starts with a significant descent out of the Lake Placid village.
Having traded our bikes and helmets for running shoes in the transition zone, we headed out on the run.
As I headed out, I heard race announcer Mike Reilly hail the arrival of race winner Andy Potts, a professional triathlete who lives in Colorado.
The course made it easy to see fellow racers, as well as supporters.
A mile in I heard someone shout my name. That was common, as our numbers had our first names on them and spectators would often cheer us by name.
I recognized the voice, however, and turned to see Joe's wife, Sue, cheering.
Seeing Sue was great, but the awkward turn caused me to tense, and my right hamstring seized up in a brutal cramp.
I stopped in my tracks.
If this was to be the norm for the next 25 miles, I was in trouble.
Walking for a few steps and stretching eased the cramp and I continued.
Moir soon appeared, headed back toward the end of his first lap. He was flying.
Dalsey was not far back, looking great. Then came Snyder and Long, running together.
Snyder had pulled even with Long early in the run. His personal goals torpedoed by the flats, he decided to run with his friend until the end.
The one-time loner was now a supportive teammate.
Burtis, Pait, Kingsbury and I were bunched in about a 20-minute window, a few miles behind the faster quartet.
Overcast and in the mid-70s, the weather was good for running. Still, the miles and hours took their toll.
Climbing the hills back into town on his second lap, even Moir had to slow to a walk for a few yards.
Dalsey, too, was suffering.
"No matter how you slice it and dice it and shape it, the last 5 or 6 miles of a marathon are tough," said Dalsey, veteran of four stand-alone marathons with a personal best of 3:22.
The final miles were through the village, with barriers keeping spectators off the course.
Many held out hands for high-fives as we ran by.
The fan support helped us take our minds off our brutally stiff and sore legs.
The final 200 yards were on the Olympic speed skating oval, where Eric Heiden famously dominated in the 1980 Olympics.
A live video feed showed athletes as they covered the final yards, and Reilly announced everyone by name, pronouncing them an Ironman.
"It's the closest I will ever get to feeling like a rock star, a sports hero or a celebrity," said Moir. "It makes you want to go back."
He finished in 10:57:11, a huge personal best that put him eighth of 240 in his age group and within just three places of an invitation to the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.
"For me it really was a perfect race," he said. "The kind of day to make up for the disappointment after Louisville."
Dalsey crossed about 30 minutes later, 20th in the 50-54 age group, followed by Long and Snyder about a half-hour after that.
Long was an impressive 10th in his 55-59 age group.
Burtis, Kinsgbury, Pait and I came in spaced over our 20 minutes another half-hour later.
Historically, the average finish time at Lake Placid is 13:09.
Not only had we beaten the odds to all get to the starting line and to all finish, we had all beaten the average finish time.
As we crossed, volunteers grabbed us and started asking questions to gauge our condition.
With legs feeling like they'd been through a meat grinder, the initial reaction is, "Never again."
For me, that sentiment was strengthened when I ended up on a cot in the medical tent, dizzy, nauseated and with my arms tingling.
Chicken broth and, eventually, a piece of pizza brought me back to life, and an hour later I joined the rest of the Crazy 8 at Lake Placid Pub and Brewery.
We traded stories about the race, but then the talk changed to the future.
"Mont Tremblant looks like a nice course," someone said. "Maybe in 2015?"
It turned out this wasn't the end of a journey.
It was just the beginning.
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