Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Ironman Lake Placid

Drawing on Endurance Corner's collective years of experience and access to an extended network of some of the most knowledgeable racers, we wanted to provide our best recommendations for approaching some of the biggest races around the world.

Here, we profile Ironman Lake Placid in Lake Placid, NY.

Travel and Accommodations
Lake Placid is nestled in the beautiful Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. Traveling by air, the three closest airports are Plattsburgh, NY (PBG), about an hour drive northeast of Lake Placid; Burlington, VT (BTV), about a 2-hour drive to Lake Placid; and Albany International (ALB), also about 2-hour drive to Placid.

Once the host of the Winter Olympics (1980 and 1932), Lake Placid is a cozy town with plenty of lodging options, places to eat and other activities to explore. If you prefer to be close to all the action, you’ll want to stay in the village of Lake Placid. There are beautiful rental homes that surround Mirror Lake -- the site of the Ironman swim. Also within the village, you have townhome rental options if you prefer a larger place with full kitchen and room for a family, or your “standard” hotel options.

If you prefer to be away from all the hustle-and-bustle of the event, renting an Adirondack home in an outside town like Keene or Keene Valley are your best options. Throughout the area are also smaller, independently owned hotels. Taking this route, you’ll have a 20-30 minute drive to get to Lake Placid for any pre-race activities.

Many of the hotels sell out early in the new year, so you’ll want to plan well ahead.

A few references to help you find accommodations:
Vacation home rentals
Hampton Inn on Mirror Lake
Courtyard Marriott
Crown Plaza

Pre-Race Workouts
Mirror Lake is one of the best pre-race swim practice venues on the IM circuit. The water is crisp and clear and easily accessible. It can get a bit congested as you get later in the week and start later in the day, so if you prefer a “peaceful” swim and less traffic, show up early to the lake and get it done.

The village of Lake Placid will be really crowded during the days leading up to the race. A good pre-race ride is to ride out of town and follow the run course route to Riverside Rd and take it all the way through. This will intersect with Rt 86 and the last few miles of the bike course loop. It’s also a good idea to ride the 5k descent into Keene for those racing Placid for the first time.

For pre-race running, the loop around Mirror Lake is ideal. It’s flat, with nice views and keeps you close to town. The loop is about 2.5 miles, but it’s best to avoid the walking and shopping congestion of the Main Street section by doing an out-and-back.

The weather in Lake Placid is fairly consistent. The air temperature in the mornings can be cool, but it warms quickly as the sun rises. Low daily temperatures can be anywhere from 50-60 degrees F, with daily highs generally around 80 degrees F. While the ambient air temperature normally doesn’t hit really high marks, humidity can be high and should be considered when choosing race gear and considering hydration needs.

Race Morning
Allow plenty of time on race morning to take care of all your immediate pre-race needs. The transition gear bag racks can be very congested and if you need to access those bags you’ll want to be there early and get it out of the way. The drop-off locations for the bike and run special needs bags is along Mirror Lake Drive and a 10-15 minute walk from the transition area, so you’ll want to allow plenty of time for that.

While Mirror Lake offers a nice, flat, crisp-cool water swim, it’s also pretty narrow for 2500 athletes. The new corralled swim start may alleviate some of the start congestion. The swim is two loops of a well-marked elongated rectangle. The new swim start changes have athletes swimming each loop in clockwise fashion, with buoys on the right. A nice perk of the Lake Placid swim course is a thick underwater cable that runs the entire out and back portion of the rectangle. If you can find some room around the cable, sighting breaths are less needed as you simply follow the cable. The distance between the swim exit out of Mirror Lake and T1 is on the longer side, but is mostly downhill and has gobs and gobs of crowd cheer to keep you moving.


This is a deceptively difficult bike course and it will reward those who are disciplined with proper pacing. While you have plenty of cruising miles in the first 45-miles with high average speeds, expect to average 4-5 mph slower over the last 11-miles with the climb up Whiteface Mountain and plenty of rollers to keep it hard. Going too hard on the first loop and even through the first 80 miles could easily cost 15-30 minutes if you find yourself in bonkville. I also would not advise breaking your bike strategy into two loops; there’s too much variability within the loop and the best approach is to have a plan on how to ride each section of each loop.

The first seven miles getting out of Lake Placid consistently rolls and has some low-grade hills that should be taken in the small ring with good cadence. Lots of athletes will hammer through this section and pay later, especially if they push the beginning of the second loop. On the long descent into Keene, it’s a good time to let the legs rest. It’s also one of the most scenic sections of the ride.

After the turn on 9N in Keene towards Jay, it’s a nice stretch of flatter roads. Be careful with over-effort as you hit this section on the first loop. It can be highly motivating to watch the high mph on the computer when the legs are fresh and power (if you use it) is high at an easy effort. Again, this is where discipline and patience wins and those who use too much here will pay the second time around.

As you pass Mile 45 (101), the real riding is about to start. The grades through this section are fair: 3%, 5%, 7% grades, nothing too long, with some breaks in the action so you can drink. However, there is something about the roller placement (and the fact that the trend is uphill) that makes this section quite tough.

Miles 45-50 are the toughest on the course. After mile 50 there is a roller followed by a short flat section where you might want to drink and eat a little more.

From Mile 52, there are five rollers. These have been named Little Cherry, Big Cherry, Mama Bear, Baby Bear and Papa Bear. Just before the last roller a small crowd usually forms to cheer. Be careful not to get too sucked into the hype, especially on the first loop. At the top of Papa Bear you make a right turn and there are two short rollers before it is mainly downhill back to town.

Similar to the layout of the bike course, the run course is two laps, with each lap beginning with some descent and ending with some hills to climb back into Placid. The Riverside Rd out-and-back section is the best place to settle into a good run rhythm. For strong runners, this is the best place to run “fast.”

There are solid climbs at Mile 9 (22) and Mile 10.5 (23.5). I recommend shortening your stride and try to avoid red-lining. Slower runners may find walking faster.

The last four miles of the marathon are tough! Fortunately, there is a ton of crowd support that can be “used” to keep you moving.

This course rewards people who are able to finish strong. Nothing will be decided until the finish line -- push right to the end because you never know what will be happening on those hills in front of you.

Overall, it’s a very fair course. It’s mentally tough due to the late climbs on both the run and the bike. This course rewards a conservative early approach. If you hammer early, you could make the course much tougher.

Post Race
Enjoy what you weren’t able to enjoy the days leading up to the race. Check out the Olympic village and museum, head over to the Olympic ski jumps and take a trip up to see what it looks like from the top. The beach at Mirror Lake is a nice place to relax and allow the kids to play in the calm and shallow water. If you’re a fan of sourdough bread, take a short trip down Saranac Avenue to Saranac Sourdough for some wonderful and tasty “recovery” food. The Lake Placid Pub and Brewery is another staple “go-to” if you so desire a more “hoppier” recover drink.

Brady is a repeat Kona-qualifier who has raced Ironman Lake Placid multiple times.

He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and two sons where he works as an IT software systems consultant. His biggest success is finding the ability to train and race at the top of the age group while balancing family, work, and everything else in life.

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