June 11, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Ironman Lake Placid 2021: Part 2

When the sun rose on Friday, I was 48 hours from the start of the race. I had until 5 p.m. to achieve three goals:

Goal 1: Take the family to buy race merchandise—check.

Goal 2: Pick up my race materials—check.

Goal 3: The picture inside the picture.

Mike Reilly is the man who coined the phrase, “You are an Ironman.”

It is the phrase every Ironman competitor longs to hear.

Hearing the phrase is validation for months of training and it is a verification that you have made it to the Ironman finisher club.

It means that you have swum 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles and run 26.2 miles, all in under 17 hours.

The fact that so many people fail to complete this race makes the club membership that much more rewarding.

But this wasn’t about the club.

This was about marking the passage of time.

Triathletes are obsessed with time. We want to finish the race sooner and I would be tracking my own time on race day, but this was about looking back at where I had been, not where I was going.

In 2012, a photographer snapped a picture of me getting a ‘hi-five” from Mike Reilly at the finish line of Ironman Arizona. Someone told me, “Hey, bring him the picture, he will sign it.”

That started a tradition between Mike “You are an Ironman’’ Reilly and me.

Mike was doing a 3 p.m. book signing. I waited my turn online outside the store, but when I walked up to him, he looked up and gave me a big wide smile.

(Not the reaction you were expecting?)

No, way better! This man announces tens of thousands of athletes every year. Who was I?

I was soon to learn; I was someone too.

I unrolled my 24×36 inch picture and the people online behind me asked,

“What is that?”

“Oh, we do this every time,” Mike replied.

(Wow.)

Right? I was afraid I was going to be seen by him as a nuisance.

As we posed, Mike said, “I have the copy of this picture you sent me, in my office.”

(More wow.)

“My grandson said, “Grandpa, you know Tony Stark.””

My head almost exploded.

(You’ve heard that before, right?)

I’ve been hearing it since Jesse Schwartzman’s son David said it to me in 2008…and I never tire of hearing it, because…it’s fun. If I can make others smile, I feel good. The whole reason I still wear the costume when I run the NYC Marathon is, it makes kids smile.

I do not remember walking back to my car after talking with Mike Reilly. I think I was floating on air.

At 5 p.m. I decided to go for a swim. We were now 38 hours from the race start.

(Weren’t you supposed to be “resting”?)

The week of an Ironman is a rest week, but it doesn’t mean no training, it means smaller training.

I had not missed a day of training since November 28.

(Of which year?)

2020.

(Just checking, with you it is hard to know.)

Half of those workouts were easy.

(You swim 5Ks, define “easy..)

500-meter swims, 3.1 mile runs, 30-minute easy bike spins.

(Once again, what you define as “easy” may not be as such to others. To quote “The Princess Bride,” “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.”)

The moment I placed my face in the lake, I felt like I was floating. I was gliding across the freshwater of Mirror Lake.

(I thought the race was in Lake Placid?)

The town of Lake Placid has several lakes, but the race is held in Mirror Lake due to its proximity to the Olympic Village and Olympic Oval from the 1980 Winter Olympics.

I swam for a few minutes covering 250 meters.

When I emerged, I noticed other swimmers, so I introduced myself and that was when things got interesting.

The man I had exited the water with was the race director of a triathlon in Connecticut I used to compete in, but I didn’t know that when I introduced myself.

“I’m a coach,” I said.

“I run a triathlon camp. Would you like to come to speak to my athletes?”

We chatted, we exchanged emails. That’s one of the joys of Ironman, the human connection.

I have made lifelong friends from Ironman triathlons.

Like summer camp pen-pals, we stay in touch through email and social media posts.

In a race where you have to do all the work on race day by yourself, the most courageous thing you can do is introduce yourself to a stranger.

Try it, you may be surprised to find that the silence between you is just the other party hoping you will make the first move.

Just like the first time I approached Mike Reilly with the photo.


David Roher is a USAT certified triathlon and marathon coach. He is a multi-Ironman finisher and veteran special education teacher. He is on Instagram @David Roher140.6.

He can be reached at [email protected]

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