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Sunday, September 19, 2021
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6:24 (11 minutes to race start.)

I was standing in the rain, on the beach of the lake, listening to the national anthem...and rain was dripping down my face. A drop rolled into my eye.

At first, I noticed nothing. Then something. My contact lens shifted. It didn’t fall out, but it wasn’t centered on my eye.

(Was it in the back of your eye?)

Is that even possible?

(Hey, you are a teacher and they say that teachers have eyes in the back of their head.)

When I covered my good eye, I saw double out of my left eye.

If you wear lens you know, rubbing too much and the lens will pop out, never to be seen again.

(And if you don’t wear lenses, you now know too.)

6:25 (10 minutes to race start.)

I’m blinking, trying to recenter this lens.

The start gun was fired and the pro athletes ran into the water. Now us age groupers start moving forward.

(What is an age grouper? Sounds like a fish.)

There are pro triathletes.

(You?)

No. Those are the people who get paid to do this.

There are elite triathletes.

(You?)

No. Those are the people who finish the race right after the pro athletes.

There are age groupers.

(You?)

Yes, we the age groupers are the people who may finish in 12 hours and we may need all 17 hours. We are organized by our...

(Age group?)

Yes. I’m in the largest cohort, the 50-54 year olds.

(So, the only way you will ever win your age group is to...)

Outlive everyone else.

6:30 (5 minutes to race start.)

I have been blinking. I have rubbed my eyelid; nothing has moved the lens back into position.

Time to take a risk.

6:33 (2 minutes to race start.)

I’m going to have to fix my contact lenses with just my bare hands.

(What would you have done if you lost it?)

I had a backup pair with my bike spare tires.

My mom taught me to hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

Standing there at the swim start, with the seconds ticking down, I pulled the lens out and attempted to pop it back in. No saline solution, no mirror, here we go...

IT’S IN!

And just in time, the crowd of neoprene wearing triathletes started to walk to the water’s edge like lemmings headed for the cliff.

In training I was averaging one minute, 50 seconds per one hundred meters. That translates into an 80-minute swim.

So, I lined up behind the 70-minute swimmers.

(But they would leave you behind.)

That was my hope. Triathlon swim is a contact sport and I wanted space to avoid getting hit.

My race started when I walked over the timing mat and under the inflatable arch into the lake.

The first 1,000 meters were straight to the turn. Thankfully, I only got kicked in the back of the head once.

(How do you get kicked in the back of the head by someone passing you?)

Darned if I know, but there were a whole bunch of people grabbing at my feet, like killer zombies.

(Why would other swimmers be grabbing at your feet?)

Some people get into a zone & all they think about is going forward. That is how someone swam over me at my first Ironman back in 2010.

(That’s rude.)

That’s an Ironman swim.

The swim at Ironman Lake Placid is unique. The race organizers string a yellow cable under the water and all you have to do is follow the yellow cordite.

(Is it really an explosive?)

Nah, but it always reminds me of such.

When the cable turned, I turned and now I was on my way back to the beach to complete the first loops of the swim.

Now I was trailing behind a guy who swam like a drowning dog.

I started to think that “I have to get away from this guy.”

But then I started to do the calculations of what would happen if I sprinted ahead half way into this swim.

No, I would keep my pace and save my energy.

(No?)

No, stay behind him, let him do the work.

(Work?)

I drafted behind him. With all of his thrashing, I didn’t have to work as hard to swim quickly.

Shame I didn’t have any business cards, he probably could have used swim lessons.

As I closed in on the beach, I could hear the crowd and I could smell the diesel of the portable generators.

My fingers touched the sandy bottom and I knew it was time to stand up. I exited the water, ran onto the beach and ran through the inflatable start arch for lap two.

Another 1000 meters of following the yellow cordite guide cable.

I was so focused on my swim I forgot about the six-foot inflatable guide buoys.

Normally I would move over, this time I swam right under the buoy.

(Did you panic?)

No, remember my story about having another swimmer swim over me? I was stuck under the buoy for two seconds. I just kept moving my arms.

On this second lap we didn’t turn back to shore. We pivoted for the far shore towards my bike.

Head down, arms outstretched following the cable I was aiming to break my 1:25:32 record for a 2.4 mile Ironman swim. I resisted the temptation to look up every stroke to see how close I was to shore. I was less than 1,000 meters from the end and every second counted.

Once my fingers touched bottom, I stood up and ran through the swim exit arch. Only then did I look at my watch: 1:20:27!

I had broken my own record by more than five minutes, but as happy as I was, I was already thinking about what now lay in front of me...


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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