“We don’t leave until the flag comes down.”
John Antretter, CEO of Bikes and Life and multi-time IRONMAN finisher, has one rule: “We don’t leave until the flag comes down.” The American flag proudly waving from atop our tent, until every bike is cleaned and tuned, is only the first indication that IRONMAN Lake Placid is not your average triathlon.
The IRONMAN spirit in this place surrounds you. When I made the five-hour drive Wednesday afternoon (yes, the race was Sunday), the local motels, restaurants, and cafés, had signs up welcoming triathletes arriving from around the globe.
Outside of Bikes and Life staff, one of the first people I meet is Mike Leone, manager for Ironman’s partner activation. He’s the man behind the curtain fixing the issue before triathletes realize there was one. One of the many people quietly toiling morning to night ensuring the event’s success.
Of course, personal time is important to many athletes. Some are competing against themselves, just to make it across the finish line. But most care about how fast they can complete the three races. One man from Rhode Island told me it’s his first IRONMAN and he’s hoping to win. Positivity is infectious, blanketing the Lake Placid crowd the days and hours leading up to the race. Triathletes couldn’t be here without it.
I interviewed Chris from Waterford, Connecticut. Despite the pain intrinsic to a 140.6 mile race, Chris claimed he’d never had a negative IRONMAN experience and that all of them were fun. After doing a half IRONMAN in Syracuse, he was even looking forward to the hilly course here – to test himself. At Lake Placid, the reward for climbing one hill is not the wind blowing through your helmet as you soar downhill. No. The reward is climbing yet another hill and another one after that. Keep going until you get to the end, then repeat the loop. IRONMAN participants call this sort of torture “fun.”
“Being out there is more of a mental challenge than it is a physical challenge.”
Well. Derek Fitzgerald from Pennsylvania helped me understand. He says “Being out there is more of a mental challenge than it is a physical challenge.” As a cancer surviving heart transplant recipient, Derek has competed in 80+ endurance events since his surgery and has completed five full IRONMAN events. NOTE: no other cancer surviving heart transplant recipient has finished even one event! Learn more about Derek’s incredible journey!
The hype only amplifies as 6:30 am approaches, when the cannon fires signaling the start of the swim. Up since 3, the Bikes and Life crew watches the sun rise on the horizon, pumping triathletes with encouragement and tires to the exact psi.
By 7:25, the first swimmers are sprinting barefoot and dripping through transition, grabbing their bikes with the shoes attached to the pedals. Every second counts for the pros. I learn that the volunteers’ team captain is completely blind, although you wouldn’t know it watching her encourage each of the 2000+ participants to “yell out your bib number and have a great race!”
“yell out your bib number and have a great race!”
Peter Yuskauskas, director of marketing and e-commerce, and I drove around the 56-mile loop with a pink tech support sticker loosely attached to the hood looking out for cyclists with bike trouble. Peter was the driver and mechanic; I was the photographer and DJ. As we waited for John to ride by, we blasted the cyclists going uphill with classics like: “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “I’m a believer,” “I will survive,” and “Dynamite.”
Not surprisingly, we got some head nods, smiles, singalongs. I was shocked, though, by the number of people who recognized Peter from the tent and thanked him for tuning their bikes. Some had booked our services at racedayservice.com - but most showed up frantic, wanting a rush job to ensure their bike was race ready. It’s true they couldn’t have come this far without our help. But when all those triathletes acknowledged Bikes and Life’s support, some even referring to Peter by name, I knew there was something special about this company. And I’ve only interned here for a couple weeks!
As a city girl, who knows how to ride a bike, but has never done more than 15 miles in a day, being at this event was an opportunity to learn not just IRONMAN, but also bike terminology. I now know what tubes and tires look like in their packaging, what Tri Slide is used for, that CO2 is not only a product of breathing. Sadly, I learned what DNF means as well: Did Not Finish.
“I just...I give up too much.”
Around 4 pm we saw a cyclist pulled over. His gels were still taped to his bike frame and his Gatorade and powder drink were mostly full. In Lithuanian-accented English, he sighed: “I just...I give up too much.” Even recalling this, my heart is breaking. Originally a swimmer, he couldn’t have been more than 45. I learned athletes burn out, and there’s no way for me to judge someone who’s pushed for 80 miles, but I wish wish wish he could have made it through.
Contrast this experience with another woman we saw who had blown a flat. When we ran over she was so nervous, saying “This is my race! It’s my race! I can’t stop now.” We repaired the flat with CO2, she high fived us both, and we followed her along for a few miles (still blasting music – Bruno Mars’ “The Lazy Song” was featured rather ironically). I’m so inspired by her single-minded focus and incredible work ethic.
"Don’t get caught up in the head games of where you want to be, or where you used to be, and where you think you should be."
By 5 pm, cyclists were being cut off if they hadn’t completed a certain number of miles on the course. Logically, someone with 40 miles uphill remaining, who’s barely crawling along at 10 mph, should quit. IRONMAN says: “Anything is possible.” As Derek Fitzgerald told me in our interview: “What I tell people is: don’t get caught up in the head games of where you want to be, or where you used to be, and where you think you should be. Where you are is where you are, and all you can do is try to be just a little bit better than the way you were before.” With our various fantastic bike services, racedayservice.com is here to make your impossible, possible. Who knows? Maybe some of those people we passed right before the cut off found their inner IRONMAN and managed to cross finish line?
“Anything is possible.”
Even after our work on the course was done and we packed up for the night, the volunteers and crowd were standing and cheering for the final runners. I heard them announce a 78-year-old had crossed the finish line. Kind of puts a 19-year-old college student to shame…After 15+ hours, legs jelly and shaking, a stream of triathletes pushed on, waiting for the announcer to declare: “YOU are an IRONMAN.”