Philadelphia Flyers development coach Ian Laperriere wasn't sure what would happen Sunday, but it ended up being one of the most fulfilling days of his life.
The 39-year-old recovered from a fall two weeks ago during training that left him with what felt like a recurrence of the same concussion symptoms that had ended his 16-season NHL playing career to finish his first Ironman, completing the Ironman North American Championship at Mont-Tremblant (Quebec) in 12 hours, 11 minutes, 55 seconds.
He finished 124th of the 258 finishers in the men's 35-39 division.
Laperriere arrived in Mont-Tremblant, about a 90-minute drive northeast from his hometown of Montreal, last week to prepare for a race he wasn't sure he would be able to take part in. During a final training ride near his home in southern New Jersey, Laperriere skidded on wet railroad tracks and fell off his bike, and told NHL.com late last week, "I hurt my neck. I'm moving fine, but I got those headache symptoms that I know too well."
Laperriere had trained for more than six months for his big moment and said the possibility of missing the race was depressing.
However, he said he had been receiving positive feedback from his longtime chiropractor, Martin Jolicoeur, also an Ironman competitor.
"I drove [to Montreal] a week before the race to see my chiropractor, who's been treating me for 20 years," Laperriere told NHL.com Monday. "He told me all along that it wasn't a concussion, it was whiplash with the stress of the event and that's why I had those headaches. But it was the same feeling. In the back of my mind, I feel like I had a concussion; same headaches, same thing. That's why I was depressed. My doctor told me all along that I'd be fine and he was right on.
"I started the race and the pressure was off. I just felt great the whole day, other than the cramps at the end. But my head was fine the whole day."
The treatment worked well enough for him to complete the 2.4-mile swim in 1:13:00; the 112-mile bike ride in 5:42:56; and 26.2-mile run in 5:05:21.
Laperriere said he was happy with the swim, although the start brought back a little of the player who ranks 57th in NHL history with 1,956 penalty minutes.
"It was fun until one guy pulled my shoulder and pulled me behind him," Laperriere said. "I didn't like that. I tried to grab his leg but I couldn't. The old me came out [but] it was fine. The big thing with swimming is you have to stay calm. You've got to talk to yourself and you can't let that stuff bother you, because 99.9 percent of the time, those people don't do it on purpose … they're just trying to find their room in the water."
He said he wasn't worried about another accident on his bike, and said the only issue he had was when the wind began blowing harder than expected on the course.
"The first loop went fine, the second loop the wind picked up on the big highway and there's nothing to stop that wind," he said. "I had breakfast with the pros [Monday], the Cervelo team, and they had one guy finish second, another fourth and 10th, and the girl who won [Sunday] was there and we were talking about the race and even the pros thought the wind was crazy on the second loop."
After the bike race, all that was left was a full marathon.
"The guy next to me in the transition [from bike to run] said I can't believe we're going to go run a marathon now," Laperriere said. "I was like, 'Shut up!' I didn't say it, but I was thinking it."
He said having a clear mind for the run was the key.
"The mental aspect of the run was the most challenging thing," Laperriere said. "I've been told that the run is how much you want it and that's exactly what it is."
Making things harder during the run was the weather: it was in the low 80s, with little shade on the course. Then halfway through, Laperriere said his legs began cramping.
"It went fine my first loop," he said. "I was walking a little bit and running most of the time. I cramped up at the end of the first loop, my hamstring started going and my calves were tiring out. That was my rookie mistake. I drank some and ate some salt pills during the race, but I didn't expect it to be that hot. … I started cramping up and I was afraid I was going to snap one of my hamstrings. Coming out of the second loop I walked a lot of that waiting for the salt to kick in, and the pretzels I was eating. I was able to run half and half the last 13 miles."
He arrived at the finish line to a jubilant crowd. Among those waiting for him was his wife, his children and a number of friends and other family members.
"The crowd was unbelievable," he said. "I stopped before the finish line and applauded them, thanked them for the support all day. It was a great feeling. I had been warned, just enjoy the moment and I did. … The Ironman people were kind enough to bring my wife and kids to the finish line. My oldest one put the medal on me. It was a great finish."
Follow Adam Kimelman on Twitter: @NHLAdamK