IRONMAN Lake Placid – 28 July 2013
Wed 18 Sep 2013
IRONMAN Lake Placid – 28 July 2013
So how did I end up here? It was late July 2012 and whilst still on a high from completing my second Ironman in Zurich, I noticed that Ironman Lake Placid 2013 was due to open online at 5.00pm that day. I had already booked Lanzarote for May 2013 and although very pleased to be doing that I was more than a little inquisitive as to whether I could get on to an American event. I discussed it with the family, assuring them that it was most unlikely (due to the even greater popularity of the event in Northern America) but it would good fun trying. By 5.05pm I was duly registered and had committed to two Ironman events within ten weeks of each other – oh well what’s there to lose – well other than too much money!.
With time, travel plans were made wrapping the event up nicely into our first big foreign family holiday for a number of years, where we cunningly fitted the event within a touring loop from New York up to Canada and back.
Lake Placid is situated in the Northern region of the Adirondack National Park in up-state New York and about five hours drive North from New York City. It is probably best know for being host town (and it really is a town rather than city) for the Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980 – remember the 1980 ‘miracle on ice’ USA ice hockey team? However, since 1999 it has hosted the second oldest American Ironman event. It is a town that fully embraces and energises with the event, with virtually every shop ‘Ironman’ decorated and having themed window displays.
Having committed to an event a long distance away, one of my first decisions was whether to take my own bike and then transport it with us for the full three weeks or hire a bike there. I opted for the hire option and well, if you’re going to hire why not go for a full TT bike – what could possibly go wrong on an unknown, undulating 112 mile ride?
The intention was for me to collect the hire bike upon arrival in New York, ride around Central Park to adjust set-up etc and then pass the bike back for transportation up to Lake Placid where I would collect again for the event. However, a late opportunity arouse through good friends in New York City to participate in a New York Road Runners organised 10K run around Flushing Meadows Park in Queens at the same time. This seemed a great opportunity so the bike fitting and trial was left until we got to Lake Placid….
We arrived in Lake Placid on the Tuesday evening prior to the event. Despite its modest size the town, as you would expect, does have significant infrastructure and accommodation for such events. We booked very early (and still many options had already gone) and found an ideal location about one mile from the hub of the action but with a swimming pool and lake activities ideal for the family.
On the Wednesday, having found our bearings a little, I undertook a single lap of the swim course. This was reassuring in clean and rather warm water and on Thursday I finally got my hands on the hire bike. After some rather painful confusion (at one point I thought I was going to end up having to buy a bike in the expo) I found the chap I needed. He was actually a great person and experienced cyclist who spent plenty of time adjusting the bike fit and ensuring all was well before I was let loose. So finally in the mid afternoon the NRCC kit was put on and I trialled the bike heading for a notorious section of the course.
I headed to their famous Adirondack Mountain decent down to a village named Keen. I had read a lot about this prior to the event with tails of a troubled road surface combined with dynamic speeds. It was the steepest section of the bike course and you only went down it, climbing back up on an easier section elsewhere. It was around 5 miles in length and great fun. I got to around 43mph without pedalling and fortunately the road surface was not as bad as feared. Having completed the descent I had the choice of completing the rest of the 56 mile loop – there were no short cuts back or climbing back up. I opted for the climb and I was very pleased with my decision managing just fine with the standard ringset on the TT bike. Knowing this was steeper than any climbs on the actual course was another confidence builder.
Also on Thursday the formal event process started with registration in the Olympic Centre. Oh my, this was super enthusiastic volunteer overload in military formation. I was weighted (no idea why?), signed multiple disclaimers and legal papers (very American), checked and cross checked and given a lifetimes worth of encouragement and this was only registration. But on a serious note it was highly efficient, appreciated and I ended up with a IMLP number plate border!
On the subject of volunteers they really are worth mentioning. I understand that for the event of circa 2500 athletes they actually have over 3000 volunteers from across the spectrum with locals mixed with many athletes that appear to alternate between doing the event and volunteering year to year. Indeed this is how many Americans get on to the event – the registration process hierarchy for the following years event being; current athletes (to sign up the day before), volunteers, locals and then open entry! This perplexed me further having managed it from the UK but I have come to the conclusion that they probably hold a certain allocation for international entries.
Friday included race briefing within the Olympic Ice Hockey stadium (where the scoreboard appears to be stuck in 1980) but more enjoyably it was Race Day for Ironkids, where my our friends’ children and Josephine and Gabriel all participated in road running events by age group – best to get them young! Some very serious looking children lined up encouraged by even more serious looking parents. The kids all did brilliantly and it really set the mood for Race Day.
Saturday was bike racking/bag drop and trying to keep rested and calm. We had a fantastic time canoeing on Lake Placid.
Sunday 28th July 2013 - RACE DAY
The early morning standard format applied; little sleep, early breakfast, grab swimmers, get to transition, load bike food, check tyres/brakes, struggle in to wetsuit, warm up swim (or at least get wet) and commence race.
The mass swim start had been omitted for the event this year as they trialled a rolling start in an attempt to ease swimmer stress to begin with. I understood the reasoning but was a little disappointed to have missed the 2500 person bundle! Athletes were asked to self seed between expected time markers on the shore line - aka most run events. The pros went of at 06.30 and approximately 10 mins later I was in Mirror Lake (just to confuse the Lake Placid swim is not in Lake Placid) with the other 1hr 20min swimmers. This would undoubtedly cause confusion later, as should you finish, your exact time would invariably be different to that on the finish arch. Despite a calmer start I didn’t notice any difference in the swim experience – there was still people everywhere.
Having completed both laps and the Australian exit in-between, I exited the water slightly ahead of expected. At this point the enormity of racing in America hit. The complete 400m run to transition was lined with roaring support. Somehow I heard my personal support adjacent to the wetsuit strippers (unique to IMLP volunteers actually assist Athletes out of their wetsuits) and gave the thumbs up.
Transition was spread across the ice speed skating oval and as noted above it was super slick with personal assistance. I gathered the bike and set out on the bike course which again was heavily supported and as with every Ironman event I have done to date – it was raining!
For me the bike course had four distinct sections; an initial climb out of Lake Placid, a decent in to Keen, an approximate 15 mile flat section and then a gradual climb back to Lake Placid, followed by an identical second loop resulting in a total ascent of 1850m over the 112 miles. Adrenaline drove me through the first section where I struggled to control my pace. Slowly I settled then had long descent rush. The flat section was fast with quality tuck positioning possible (even for me) and then final climb section wasn’t too bad provided you controlled the effort. Once again the volunteers were amazing – at one point I stopped to use the facilities only to find an army of people asking what food/drink/gels you needed upon return and putting ‘smiley’ good luck stickers on your bike. They were genuinely disappointed if you didn’t need anything. Virtually every household lined along the closed road course was out cheering and supporting with music pumping and general celebration.
Of particular note on the bike course was the etiquette of the Athletes. Now I recognise that triathletes are often considered to be the unrefined relation of the cycling purist but their cycling behaviour was exceptional – and in a good way. Considering there was over 2500 athletes on the course with abilities across the complete range, virtually everyone I met was courteous, polite and followed the rules to the letter – signalling all manoeuvres and any obstacles. It surprised me greatly.
I was aware that going out on the first lap I appeared to averaging a slightly better average pace than on previous events. This needed to be considered against the varying factors of each course, weather, etc but it was definitely was pretty good for me – maybe I could beat my Lanzarote time from ten weeks earlier? I had to clear such thoughts from my head – still a marathon to go yet and plenty of time for it all to fall apart.
T2 was a now familiar enjoyable experience with such great support. A particular highlight being a volunteer taking off my cycle shoes whist another racks you bike, all to keep you going as fast as possible. Without much further incident the trainers were on and the run course became my friend.
It was two loop course defined by a sharp climb dropping out of town through outlying residential areas and an out and back on a long winding country road going past the Olympic Ski Jumps. The support was unyielding and in a bizarre way it was almost nice to find the quieter parts of the run. Around mile four I synced in with a great guy named Frank, who was a prison guard from New York State. This was excellent for me and hopefully him too. We had the same pace and discussed all those Anglo-American topics that you would expect. We encouraged each other and others and slowly but surely the miles dropped off. Our strategy remained to walk each aid station and the significant hill. We benefitted from our personal support through the town section and relished in hearing Mike Reilly (the American voice of Ironman) in the distance as faster competitors were completing.
At the onset on dusk we realised that we both could be on for personal best times and so with around three miles to go we started to push as hard as we could. I was delighted – for the second event the run had been almost tolerable. We continued to encourage one another and even missed the final aid station in pursuit of the best finish we could muster. Eventually we approached the split and begun the finish circuit around the oval with its wall of support. I spotted my daughter in the grandstand in the distance and called. Frank, recognising that he had a better time than me having started later in the swim, generously allowed me to go through first and so Ironman no.4 and my second in ten weeks was complete.
Of course the finish process was as slick as everything else with a bombardment of helpers and support. Finally I got to join my family to thank them once again.
Breakdown as follows:
2.4 mile swim: 01:18:50
112 mile bike: 06:38:48
26.2 mile run: 05:38:51
POSITION: 1537 out of 2537 starters
These are the best results that I have achieved to date and virtually all of the gain was achieved on the cycle course.