This week was somewhat light for the training plan that I follow and boy was I thankful for that. July Fourth occurred this week which meant that once my daughter marched in her last Independence Day hometown parade as a high schooler we would be off to our vacation in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. So there was travel involved and vacation and hosting lots of family at our lake home. Even with all that happening I still managed to get in most of the training.
One cool thing that happened this week is that I got my new tri kit a couple of days before leaving for vacation. I chose to go with Jakroo this time around and the kits seem to be pretty decent for a lower priced product. The best things about this company was there were no minimum orders to meet, I could design the kit myself, the prices were affordable, and the turnaround was super quick. Here’s me with the tri shorts and the cycling jersey. The shorts were size Large but were a little snug. I may order an XL if I find these uncomfortable. I did one short hour long bike ride in them and they felt okay.
The weekend called for an Olympic distance race according to the plan. Although I will race a 5K or triathlon during training I’m a little hesitant to race when training for an Ironman because I don’t want to risk crashing or otherwise injuring myself and throw away all the investment I made in training and other stuff, so I just usually do them at home on my own. And being in Minocqua offered a perfect opportunity to do just that.
First Annual Minocqua Olympic Distance Race For Chris Only Race Report
Where: Minocqua, Wisconsin
Results: 1st Place Overall – WINNER!
After a good breakfast of pancakes and bacon, I donned the wetsuit and recruited Kari to kayak next to me on the swim to keep me from being run over by one of the thousand wakeboard type boats on the lake. I’m exaggerating a little, but these obnoxious boats seem to be the boat of choice by beer drinking party animals who somehow have the money to afford such an over the top boat.
The Swim: 1562 yards / 28:49 / 1:51 per 100 yds.
Fortunately for me, I was seeded in the first wave and got ahead of the pack early. The wetsuit seemed a little restrictive for some reason, but I felt good. The water was warm, but the race director said that it was a wetsuit legal race. I decided that I would swim along the shoreline for 750 yards and then turn around, not realizing that 1500 yards didn’t quite equal 1500 meters, but it was close enough. I swam pretty comfortably and was surprised to see that I averaged under 2 mins per 100 yards, which was awesome. I reached the dock and like a dummy, I hit stop instead of the lap button, but I got it fixed quickly and I was off the change into bike gear for the ride. Nice to be first out of the water!
The Bike: 24.8 miles (40K) / 1:29:36 / 16.6 mph average
I decided that I would ride Highway J west toward St. Germain and make use of the wide bike lane on the road. I’m a little nervous about being on that road but the cars were giving me plenty of room. By a half mile into riding, I was regretting riding my hybrid bike in this race and not bringing my tri bike up to ride. My butt and left leg were bothering me and to alleviate the discomfort I shifted my butt as far back on the saddle that I could. Lots of rollers on this ride but it’s not too challenging. As I got to St. Germain I was very pleased that I was right at 12.4 miles and this out and back would be a perfect 40K. The ride back was smooth and trouble-free. Glad to average 16.6 miles on this heavy old bike. I was also very glad to be the first bike back and still in first place.
T2 – 3:21
The Run – 6.2 miles / 48:36 / 7:51 pace per mile
My back was a little sore getting off the bike but loosened up quickly. As I headed down my street I debated as to which way to run but decided to stick to my original thought of running downtown to the trail and then head back. I wasn’t planning on pushing the pace on this run because I had such a huge lead, but when I got to Hwy. 51 and saw the parade of backed up cars leaving town on the only road that takes them back south I did a little peacocking and was running hard. That was a bad decision as the pancakes were starting to wear a little thin. But I paced the out and back well, hit the water fountain a couple of times, and coasted home to a first-place finish. I kind of like winning. I might make this an annual tradition.
When it comes to training sometimes I get too competitive with it. What starts out as a simple training workout, straight from the training plan, it often goes right out the door when I actually start the workout. I’m like a dog out for a simple walk until I see a squirrel, then the chase is on and I’m no longer interested in the simple walk.
Case in point for me this week was my Friday easy run. When I say easy I mean that it was a Zone 2 out of 4 heart rate based run, for 60 minutes. Essentially, this is a run that is done at a conversational pace, meaning that you should be able to easily carry on a conversation while running, rather than a Zone 4 race pace. That’s what the plan called for, but I had other plans. It was a nice day, and I had realized that the marathon that I had already decided to forego was coming up next weekend. I had planned on skipping the race due to a couple of injuries that prevented me from training sufficiently and the fact that I had decided to do Ironman Choo with my buddies instead. But I was curious about how far off my conditioning was, or if I was even capable of holding my 8 minutes per mile marathon race pace. So I headed out the door and started running comfortably hard, essentially Zone 3 on the heart rate scale to see if I was even anywhere near the ability to race a marathon. This is essentially a bad idea and I probably should have known better.
I was feeling pretty good. My continually sore legs weren’t really bothering me, and I felt no soreness in the upper thigh area where I had just recovered from the second of two muscle strains. About 1.75 miles into the run the squirrel appeared in the form of the local high school boys track team running hill repeats on the trail ahead of me.
Now, I’m not shy about challenging myself on this hill. Someone made it a Strava segment, and I currently sit at a tie for 10th place on this segment. My brain can typically shut down my urges, especially when I’m 1.75 miles into an 8-mile run, but this time there was a squirrel, several of them.
They were standing on the other side of the bridge at the bottom of the hill and as I hit the bridge they could hear me coming and turned to look with a surprised (who the hell is this guy?) look on their faces. I had already decided to race them up the hill, but that wasn’t enough. I shouted, “DON’T LET AN OLD GUY BEAT YOU UP THIS HILL!” And with that one kid yelled “NO WAY!” and the race was on.
I guess that there were about a dozen of shirtless boys that I started with. By comparison, I was wearing a long sleeve tech shirt and long sleeve windbreaker over that. Plus I had the disadvantage of being 40 years older than them. I overheard a kid tell the coach at the bottom of the hill that this was his 7th and last hill repeat, so I guess it was kind of an unfair fight, but that equates to about the same distance I had run to get there, and I hadn’t taken it easy either.
I started picking off kids, which I found easier than I thought it would be. A few could hear me coming and kept looking behind to see how close I was getting, but they would get caught. About halfway up the hill, my heart felt like it was about to leap out of my chest. The kids I was slowly passing seemed like it wasn’t even bothering them that much, but their effort said otherwise. As I got to the top of the hill there was another coach there waiting for the group. “I just outran half your team up that hill, coach!” I told him between heavy panting. He smiled and laughed. I continued on to the nearby intersection and was glad to see that I would have to wait for the light to cross the street so I could get a much-needed rest. To my surprise, I was able to continue most of the remainder of the hour-long run around my marathon pace without much difficulty, but I knew that continuing on for a full 26.2 miles would have been a challenge.
Although this run could have easily sabotaged my week, it didn’t, but I never seem to learn from these dumb challenges. My Saturday long bike ride resulted in me pushing myself again. This was my first effort outside after spending my winter bike training on a spin bike indoors. Those indoor rides would make me sweat, but never really tire me out. I was essentially doing high spin rides and conditioning my butt to a saddle more than working my legs hard. But I wanted to prove that they were equal to my outdoor rides, so I tried to ride the same speed outside that I was doing inside. Big mistake. It was a challenge for me to keep my average speed above 16 mph, whereas indoors it was my typical easy ride. That just goes to show that riding indoors, whether it be a bike on a trainer or a spin bike, is not on the same level as being outside dealing with wind and a variety of rolling terrain. It’s still better than not riding at all.
I finish these efforts and often reflect as to how close I was to the actual workout, and often times I am shooting myself in the foot. Even with my constant achy legs and what seems like quickly diminishing ability to go fast at 55, I can’t seem to remember sometimes that the goal is to pace myself throughout the 30 weeks of training so I can adequately pace myself through 140.6 miles, or at Chattanooga 144.6 miles. I gotta stop being my own worst enemy.
Week 5 Training Totals:
Swims: None > Rides: 3 total / 51.6 miles > Runs: 4 total / 21 miles
I read a recent article in Triathlete magazine that covered the subject of mental preparedness in Ironman. I have always thought that training your mind to handle the effort in training and the races was almost as vital as the physical aspect of getting your body ready to spend the more than half a day swimming, biking and running. Some of it can be very mind numbing for sure.
I find the swimming to be the most boring of the three. You are either looking at a black line at the bottom of a swimming pool, the dark murkiness of a lake, or in my case a bunch of dead bugs lying at the bottom of my pool, a constant reminder that I also need to devote time to take care of things that get neglected during training.
Running can also be boring, but you can bring music if you are so inclined. I don’t, but I do let the beauty of the area in which I run to keep me distracted from any suffering that may be going on. I jogged behind a deer on Wednesday for about a minute until it finally took notice and bounded into the woods.
I find that I don’t have the luxury of being unfocused on the bike. It’s the one discipline of triathlon in which you are required to focus. You have to constantly monitor your surroundings, your effort level, and make sure that you don’t crash. Certainly there are times when I can zone out, but something always quickly renews your focus on the bike – a bump on the road, a bug to the face, a gust of wind, etc.
Often times when someone asks about the Ironman, they only think in terms of how long it is – 140.6 miles – and are impressed that the distance can be covered under your own power. But I find that your mind easily adapts to the distance if you break it down into manageable segments. My training is 30 weeks long. That’s a long time. But when it is broken into its individual weeks, and then into each day, it is much easier to mentally handle the task. The woman who inquired about my training this week asked me about the training, and I said for Wednesday’s workout I did 45 minutes on the bike followed by a 30 minute run. A total of 75 minutes of exercise. Lots of people can do that. Break it up and it is much more manageable.
At Ironman Wisconsin in 2013, I found that I couldn’t bear to look out at the water where the swim course was being held prior to race day. It looked enormous! But on race day morning, I got in the water for the start and broke the swim up into small segments. My plan was to swim from one orange buoy to the next. On the bike it was all about riding to the next aid station where I could refill my water bottle and take on some more nutrition, then it was on to the next one. Same thing with the run – one mile at a time, one aid station to the next.
So I guess the physical training for the race is the most important aspect of completing an Ironman. But if you can train your brain to manage the race, it can make the physical portion of it much less of a burden.
Swimming in Lake Minocqua.
I volunteered as a chaperone at this past couple of weeks at band camp. Fortunately for me I was able to take the 3-6pm slot, and was still able to get my workouts done midday. The weekend was spent in Minocqua with the family. I felt the need to be with the family and spend quality time that is no longer a given. My son has his own job and is living out of state. And my middle daughter will begin her sophomore year at college soon. So to have everyone together for two short days was a luxury that I couldn’t pass up. So I skipped the scheduled four hour bike ride. But I was able to get an open water lake swim in as well as the two hour Sunday run. That run nearly wiped me out physically and mentally. I’ve got some work to do in the next ten weeks.
2 Swims – 4400 yards this week / 64450 yards total
Week 11 was the first week of the Build Phase of the Be Iron Fit training plan that I am following, and I expected it to be a little harder. There was a third swim added, along with some additional yardage to the swim. I was a little surprised that the long Saturday bike was a half hour shorter than Week 10’s 3 hour ride, but I see that the plan now adds a short run after it. The 1/2 hour spin on Sunday was also added, which seemed to feel pretty good to me thanks to some tired legs from Saturday. All in all, not a bad way to start the Build Phase of training.
Speaking of tired legs, I also ran my first road race of the year, a 5K near my home. I wasn’t sure that it was a good idea, as my feet and legs just always seem tired. But I decided to give it a go. I was glad I did, as I finished 10th overall and 1st in my age group.
Speaking of racing, I will be doing my first triathlon of the year, the ET Batavia sprint triathlon in Batavia, Illinois. I’ve done this race three times and I really enjoy it. The swim is super short, about 400 yards, the bike is fast, and the run is a heart pounding 4.1 miles. I’m hoping that the water will be warm enough to forego the wetsuit. I struggled getting the dumb thing off last year and it cost me some valuable time. I do have a speed suit that I might try out this time. Never used it before though. I might have to play with it this week during one of the three swim workouts.
The last bit of news is that my wife Kari bought a new road bike, a Specialized Roubaix from Spokes in Wheaton, Illinois. We were there picking up my race packet and she had been talking about getting a bike. I think she was impressed with the bike shop, and definitely the custom fit that the owner put her through. We were there for almost 4 hours looking at bikes and getting the Roubaix dialed in. They really did a good job and I think Kari is going to have many happy miles of riding. I’m looking forward to having a new riding buddy.
3 Swims – 5200 yards this week / 26200 yards total
I type this on a beautiful Mother’s Day. I’m glad that it was such a gorgeous day. A very nice finish to a week. It looks like spring is turning to summer finally.
I attempted to open my pool this week and things are looking good. I have one issue with a part that senses when the pump is on to signal the auto-chlorinator to turn on that isn’t working. Seems like I replace this part every year. A minor inconvenience in order to have the luxury of swimming at home. I only got one swim in this week at the high school due to testing that was going on. All the more the reason to swim at home. The plan called for 1700 yard straight swim but I ended up doing 2100 yards, about the distance of a half Ironman swim. I felt great and kept clicking off the laps.
Biking and running went well. I got in a 2 hour Saturday ride with my riding buddy Todd. Glad we got it done in the morning because the afternoon was pretty windy. The Sunday run I did after choosing to spend some time with my wife and daughter, then doing some yard work. By the time I got around to running it was noon and pretty warm. It was just an hour long run, but I pushed pretty hard and overdid it. This was supposed to be a recovery week, but as usual I blew it. I hope to ease into next week. I’m pretty wiped out.
Training for Week 7 went pretty much as expected. I noticed that some extra time was added to both the bike and run at the end of the week, but 15 minutes isn’t so bad, I guess. The hard stuff is coming, so I should be happy that I’m still in the Base Phase of the training. I missed one swim due to me deciding I didn’t want to do it. (lol) That happens sometimes, but I know my ability pretty well. I am experiencing a little swimmer’s elbow tendinitis, possibly from trying to pull too hard in a bent elbow angle. When I keep my arm straight, I hardly experience any discomfort.
The best part of the week was the weekend. On Friday, my wife, in-laws and I went to Loras College in Dubuque to watch my son Ben run his final home meet. He usually runs the Steeplechase in track, but conference is coming up, and coach had him running the 1500 and a 4×400 relay. He did well and made us proud. He has steadily improved throughout his four years of running cross country and track, and I am sure he has some great running experiences ahead of him.
After watching him run two events, my father-in-law Gary and I made the trip up to Minocqua, WI to bring up some of the stuff we have been buying for our new lake home. Gary grew up in the area and was anxious to see our new place. This meant I got the chance to do my weekend training in the Northwoods. I really love it up there.
I brought up my hybrid bike, a Trek 7700FX, to ride on the crushed rock Bearskin Trail. It has a little wider tire, and was a good choice for riding that trail. I left it up there for future rides on the trail, but I will probably also try to ride my tri bike on the roads up there as well in training for IM Lou.
Not long after starting my ride I noticed my butt was hurting. I took an assessment and realized my seat had slipped down about 1.5 inches. I stopped and adjusted it and found immediate relief for my butt pain. But the dumb thing wouldn’t stay up. I must have stopped a dozen times trying to get it to stay. I pulled it out and noticed that it had a little grease on it. Not sure that was something I did, but I tried wiping it off with an old cut up hat that had been run over by a mower that I found trailside. That didn’t work. I rubbed sandy dirt on it, stuck a sticker on the seat post, tightened the quick release lever several times, all to no avail. I finally rubbed the post on some concrete, scratching it up somewhat in order to provide some grip. That seemed to work the best, although it wasn’t permanent. It’s amazing how a little adjustment can make a huge difference in comfort and preventing injuries.
I was met on the trail by a guy running his dog who stopped to see if I was doing okay. Turns out his name is Blaine and he is a local race director who organizes the local marathon called the “No Frills Marathon.” It’s an out and back on the same trail I was riding. I will have to run it someday. He was also wearing a Boston Marathon shirt and I picked his brain about the race for 10 minutes or so. It was nice to meet him. I forgot to bring any sort of nutrition with me, and only had water to drink. Sometimes in training you make mistakes, and that was mine for the day. By the time I got home and added a quick post-ride brick run, I was approaching “bonk” status. Gary and I headed out to lunch after I showered and I quickly bounced back.
I also got in a 8.5 mile run on Sunday before packing up and heading home. It was chilly, but it was a beautiful sunny day.
All in all, a great way to finish a training week.
I had never heard of the term “A” race until I started doing triathlons in 2012. As a runner I made every race I entered a priority and went for it each time. But when my buddies and I started our journey into Ironman races, I quickly picked up on the idea that the focus of your racing year should be devoted to the race that means the most to you, and in our case the Ironman. Pick your main goal race of the year, make it your focus, your “A” race as they say, and fit in all the other stuff around that goal. Sounds easy, but I’m terrible at it.
My biggest issue is the dumb running streak I started in 2015. I have yet to miss a day of running at least a mile. So when my training plan for my “A” race says no running on Monday, Thursday, and Saturday, well I just cannot not run. So I do the bare minimum, usually just a mile and try not to derail myself. So far it hasn’t hurt me.
But a few other things have tried to dangle a carrot in front of me, trying to lure me away from the “A” race training plan. I found out my church is looking for members to play on a coed softball team. I would seriously consider it if it wasn’t for the fact that the last time I played I broke a finger playing 16″ softball, and gave myself a pebble infused skin abrasion sliding into third wearing shorts, a pain that lingered for weeks. It was easy to turn that down.
The hardest thing to for me to turn down is road running races. A local 5K runs right through my neighborhood, and the first running of it a couple of years ago I competed and finished 5th overall. Very tempting to run it this year, but it was only Week 3 of training. I skipped it. Later I found out that the winner won with a time I could have competed against. It’s not often that I get an opportunity to win a race. Oh well.
Saturday there was a local half marathon, a race that I finished 12th overall last year and 4th in my age group (That’s another story in itself! You can read it here: https://anamazingrun.wordpress.com/2016/04/30/2016-frankfort-half-marathon-race-report/). Another very tempting race for me to do. I remembered really enjoying myself running it last year, but I do remember how sore I was for a couple weeks after running it. I did not want a repeat of that, seeing that I have been dealing with a sore high hamstring in my left leg. So I decided to skip this race as well. I don’t need to pay $70 to do a training run, one that would be 5 miles longer than my plan calls for. And the rainy cold weather made the decision much more palatable. I checked the race results for that race as well – I probably would have finished 7th based on last year’s time. Oh well, again.
Knowing that there will be other tempting races to do, I learned that I can skip the ones that might not be in the best interest of my “A” race goal, and keep my eyes on the prize – another Ironman finish. Just wish it wasn’t so hard to do.
Week 6 Wrap-up
Two weeks in a row that I got all of the training in! A new habit and streak is forming! The weather was not perfect this week, and next week looks pretty uninspiring. I shared a swim lane with another Ironman that I know from the area. She did IM Wisconsin in 2010 and is doing it in the fall. Even with just doing one last year seems like starting over for me, so she must really feel like its all new again.
I got outside for the bikes and runs for most of the week except for the weekend. Did the two hour ride on a stationary bike while watching episodes of Breaking Bad. I hope my life never goes off the rails like it is doing for Walt. But I can certainly empathize with the guy sometimes.
2 Swims – 3200 yards this week / 11600 yards total
As I wrap up Week 5 I feel a sense of accomplishment, mainly because it was the first time in a few weeks that I got all of the scheduled work outs in. But in addition to doing all the training, life really hit hard this week with it’s own agenda and responsibilities.
We are now fully into spring and my yard has made it clear that it needs mowing. My in-laws were in Florida, and I made sure to give their yard a trim as well before they return home this weekend. My youngest is wrapping up a very busy freshman year of high school, and is so involved that she’s got me running her everywhere. In addition to that, she also has her learner’s permit, which means I need to find time to help her learn that life skill as well. Soon I will open my own pool, which will require it’s own set of special weekly needs. I had to go get my boat out of storage Saturday. Lastly, I made sure that I didn’t drop the ball when it comes to getting some thoughtful gifts for my wife’s birthday on Saturday. What a week!
But fortunately for me, I am very lucky to have a supporting family and wife that allows me the time I need to train. On her birthday, she had no problem with me cycling for an hour and forty-five minutes. And I am very lucky to work a part-time job that gives me the freedom in the afternoon to do my thing. I do not take any of that for granted.
Training for Ironman is a commitment in and of itself, but when you realize you have other responsibilities as well, then you really become dedicated and focused. Learning to balance all of those things can be difficult, but seeing this is my third time training for Ironman, I have grown to adapt and really feel that I have got things in control and can tackle anything, especially 140.6 miles.
As far as training went, I got two solid swims in this week. The bikes went really well. I’m a little concerned about the high hamstring tendonitis and butt pain from running, but I will dial back the effort on running days a little, as I have a tendency to overdo it. And definitely spend a little more attention to stretching that area. Here’s to a wrapping up a great week of training.
I spent Thursday through Easter Sunday in our new lake home in Minocqua, Wisconsin with my family for the first time. It was awesome to get to spend the Easter holiday in our new home on the lake. I had a great six mile run with my son Ben on Friday, and enjoyed our somewhat new running routes. We had vacationed in the area for many years, so the Bearskin Trail is nothing new to us. But it is refreshing to be running on such a beautiful trail again.
Friday we all took a trip to the local Ace Hardware store to get some stuff for the house. We bought a ladder, a rake, and a bunch of other junk that we already own in our main home. But now that I have another home to care for, I need two of everything. And apparently that includes triathlon gear.
I came up for the weekend without my bike so I wasn’t able to get any riding in, and with buying two of everything else for the house, I started to consider buying another bike to have on hand up north. It didn’t help that I had Triathlete and Bicycling magazines on hand with several pages of guides to new stuff to look at. But just with all the other stuff with the house that I know we need, I have learned that we will have to pace ourselves with what we get next. The lake home bike will be a very low priority, but it sure would have been nice to have had one up there.
As for the rest of the training week, I only got one swim done, but it was a decent one. The planned called for a 1600 yard swim with a workout, but I decided to do a straight swim and ended up stopping at 2000 yards. Felt pretty good.
Only two bike rides this week, both half hour spins with a brick run after each. I missed the hour and a half Saturday ride, so I will make that up on Monday of Week 5.
Runs will always total seven unless I break my leg or something. I had a nice uptempo 6 mile run with Ben, who told me that he has some pretty cool running ambitions after he wraps up his collegiate running career upon graduation in May. He’s come a long way as a runner, and I see a bright future for him as a marathoner if he pursues those goals.
I’m a veteran of exactly two Ironman races, Ironman Wisconsin in 2013 and Ironman Lake Placid in 2016, and I loved them both. In my preparation for both of those races, I gained valuable information from many different sources, including the event websites, videos, triathlon websites, and race reports and recaps. I found that some opinions on the two races were clearly subjective mainly due to allegiance to the race they did, and I also had that question in the back of my mind – how could Lake Placid be as good as Madison? The two courses are often mentioned as being among the toughest of the courses in North America. So I thought it would be interesting to compare the two, based solely on my experiences at both events and list some pros (lots) and cons (few) of each one. I don’t think I could declare a winner, they both were awesome!
(Author’s note: I’ve now also completed Ironman Louisville! Someday I will update this post to include it as well.)
RACE RECAPS FROM BOTH RACES
Here are my race recaps/reports from both races to provide some background on how the races went for me. Both days were outstanding!
Ironman Wisconsin is held in and around the Madison area. Madison is the capital of Wisconsin and is the home to the University of Wisconsin. It is the second-largest city in Wisconsin behind Milwaukee. The swim is conducted in Lake Monona in downtown Madison. The bike course takes you through the communities of Madison, Fitchburg, Mt. Horeb, Cross Plains, and Verona on a two-loop course before heading back to Madison. The run course is downtown Madison and also through the campus of UW Madison. Overall, Madison is a modern, vibrant city with lots of entertainment options and things to do. Ironman Wisconsin has been around since 2002.
Ironman Lake Placid takes place in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, and Lake Placid was the host to the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic games. Since 1999, it is the longest-running American Ironman other than the World Championship in Kona. Lake Placid is a small but awesome tourist town that seems like it would burst at the seams with all the athletes and attendees for the event, but it is more than accommodating. The swim is actually held in the smaller Mirror Lake and is known for calm water and an underwater cable that marks the course, making it easy to stay on the swim course. Biking is an exhilarating trip through the Adirondack Mountains, through the towns of Keene, Jay, and Wilmington. The run course is an out and back from downtown Lake Placid. If you can imagine the most picturesque lake and mountainous resort town, Lake Placid would fit the bill.
For both races, I was blessed to have a great travel coordinator on my side (my racing buddy’s wife) who is very savvy at securing great lodging for our races. At Wisconsin, our lodging was at the event host hotel, the Monona Hilton, which is ground zero for all things Ironman Wisconsin. Everything is right there, the expo, the transition area, the swim start, and the finish line are all right outside the doors of the Hilton. Being so close to everything was vital to me. I had a lake view from my window and it was amazing. There are many other local hotels nearby or within a short walking distance of the start and finish of the race, as well as options for renting rooms or local houses as well.
Lake Placid seems like such a small and quaint town that you wonder how they could have hosted such a huge event like the Winter Olympics, but there are plenty of options available here as well. Once again, my travel coordinator found us great lodging at the Mirror Lake Hampton Inn. This hotel was directly across the street from Mirror Lake, and the race viewing options for your crew is awesome, having a front-row view of the swim, the bike, and the run courses. My room faced away from the race, but if you have extra cash you can opt for a room that faces all the action with a balcony. The expo and transition area are within a quarter mile or so walking distance. Another nice option was the wrist strap door key, which allowed lodgers entry to the hotel and room without having to carry a plastic key card around. I even wore the strap during the race.
I couldn’t have been happier with the above lodging options. There is great lodging for both locations, but the key to getting what you want is to get it as early as possible.
There are plenty of options for eating at both locales. Madison has quite a few higher-end restaurant options than Lake Placid did, but you won’t have any issues finding places to eat at either location. In Wisconsin, we did eat at the athlete’s dinner, which really isn’t the best option for fine dining, but it fed us while we listened to Mike Reilly’s talk.
At Lake Placid, there is no athlete dinner, but in its place is a voucher for dining virtually anywhere you can find food in town. I think I prefer this method as you can choose what you want to eat and when you want to use your voucher.
At Wisconsin, it seemed like you had to hunt for a place to eat. At Lake Placid, all you had to do was walk down the main street for the many dining options.
Both IMWI and IMLP have a spectator guide that you can download from the race page or pick up a printed copy at the expo. But there are some key things about both races.
For the swim at IMWI, the best viewing is on top of the Monona Terrace or the car ramps (commonly referred to as the “helixes”) on either side. Both will get you a prime elevated spot for a great view of the swim. You can also walk along the adjacent bike path and watch from the lake level. At Lake Placid, there really isn’t an elevated area in which to watch unless you consider the VIP viewing point from the second floor of the beach house next to the beach. My wife chose to stay on the ground on the left-hand side in order to see the Swim In and Out.
As for the bike, Wisconsin has more options than Lake Placid. If you can find easy to get to parking you can drive your own car out of town to the best viewing spots, but a lot of the spectators opt for the free shuttle bus trip to Verona where you can see the cyclists come through the aid station. Mike Reilly will be there and there are plenty of food options going on.
Lake Placid is very tough to watch the bike portion of the race. Almost all stay in town and some will opt for walking to the Three Bears portion of the race, which is just northeast of Mirror Lake and close to the downtown event. There are other viewing options on the backside of Herb Brooks Arena where the cyclists will be finishing loops. This is where Mike Reilly and the other announcers will be if you need to be near “the Voice”.
The run course in Madison and Lake Placid takes the runners for an out and back, but if you like to see more than just the beginning, the half-marathon turn, and the finish, you can see quite a bit more at Madison by jogging a couple of blocks to see the runners around mile 6 before they turn around.
Mirror Lake is the winner here for me hands down. I can’t believe that this little lake with its two-lap swim could handle that number of people in a mass start that was the norm prior to the change to a rolling start. Lake Monona can handle that amount of people okay, but it still is a washing machine of swimmers. Plus Mirror Lake has that cable running the entire course to guide you along. I feel like Mirror Lake is probably less prone to currents and rough water as well. IMLP feeds the athletes into the water to help spread out the field, and self-seeding helps keep the swimmers grouped with likeability swimmers. Of course, there are a few that should seed themselves more realistically, but I found we were flowing along pretty well.
IMWI struggled to get all the athletes into the water prior to the start of the race and even though there are many with their favorite starting locations, there isn’t really an advantage in my opinion to being wide or along the buoys at the start. Plus there seemed to be much more contact for me at Wisconsin than at Lake Placid. One tradition that IMWI has is that everyone “moos” like a cow going around the first turn buoy.
I liked getting out of the water after one loop at IMLP. It gave my mind a little rest and helped break up the swim for me. I had a much easier swim at IMLP than IMWI.
(Author’s note: IMWI has since changed from a mass swim start to a rolling seeded start. – Yay!)
I think Ironman Wisconsin wins this one by virtue of one fact – it’s inside the Monona Terrace. Being inside means that you don’t have to worry about the weather at all, and it’s air-conditioned and carpeted. The trip from the swim exit is sand-free and paved leading to a circular car ramp that everyone refers to as the “helix.” There are three trips on the helix, once from the swim to T1, and then during Bike Out heading down the other helix located on the other end and back up it when you return. Going down can be interesting, but coming up is a little bit of a last-minute adrenaline boosted climb into T2. The Run Out skips the helix and sends you on your way from another ramp to the street.
Lake Placid has all of the transition located conveniently in the Olympic oval. When you get to transition the gear bags are right there for you, and it’s a quick trip to the change tents. Cycling down the helix at IMWI can be tricky, but IMLP has a tough ride out of transition as well. Take caution leaving both transitions on your way out of T1.
Hanging my bags on the racks at Lake Placid.
My Run Gear bag (2585) sitting on the floor inside of the Monona Terrace.
THE BIKE COURSES
Both IMWI and IMLP have bike courses that come with a solid reputation of being tough rides and I found them both to be challenging and exhilarating. The main difference between the two courses’ difficulty lies in the type of hilly terrain that defines the rides. IMWI is very hilly, with one roller after another, whereas IMLP is very hilly in a mountainous way! The climbing tends to be short and intense at Wisconsin, but at Lake Placid, you will be doing an uphill grind for large chunks of the course.
The course at IMWI is a two, 40-mile loop affair with a section leading from Madison to the loops that is referred to as “the Stick.” The Stick is 16 miles long and gets you out of town with a mixture of park bike path, arena parking lot, highway, and then more rural roads leading you to the town of Verona. The Stick is nothing heading out, as you are raring to go, but it will definitely get your attention coming back to Madison. Pace yourself and don’t burn out your legs for the run on the Stick coming back to T2. Overall, the course takes you through beautiful rural farmland of Wisconsin, with lots of changing scenery.
Both courses boast of a section of three hills that have garnered reputations as being miserable and difficult. At IMWI these three hills are referred to as the “Three Bitches.” The hills are tough but are easily tamed by just spinning up to the top. The hills come about halfway through the loop, around mile 42 and again around mile 85. After getting through the hills you will be treated to a nice descent back into Verona and onto the second loop or the trip back to Madison.
At IMLP the hills are cutely referred to as the “Three Bears.” They come at the very end of the first and second loops as you come back into Lake Placid. Truthfully, I did not find the Three Bears to be as difficult as the Three Bitches. Momma Bear comes first and isn’t a big deal at all. Baby Bear is very tame, and in my opinion barely qualifies as a hill. Papa Bear is the one that gets your attention. It climbs, then turns, then climbs some more. But it is short-lived. I didn’t find them to be as difficult as the climb from Wilmington back to Lake Placid, a section called “the Notch.” But if you are patient and can find a comfortable tempo to keep chugging along, you will get through this long climb.
Both courses have great fans along the route that many equate to a Tour de France feel. These stretches are a real boost emotionally and help you get through both the Three Bitches in Wisconsin and the Three Bears in Lake Placid.
The best part of biking IMWI – the fan support along the course, and the descents on Garfoot Road and Timber Lane. The parts to dread – the climb into Mt. Horeb, the Three Bitches, and the bumpy section on Stagecoach Drive. You’ll feel like you are on a stagecoach.
(Author’s note: Stagecoach Drive has since been repaved.)
You’ll love the scenery in Lake Placid and the Adirondacks on your ride. And the descent into Keene is exhilarating. It’s possible to hit 50 mph on that 6-mile ride, but it is scary as hell. You’ll loathe the long climbs that pretty much take up half the ride. Good luck with that.
THE RUN COURSES
Both of the run courses have great scenery, fan support, and awesome finishing chutes. You will do two loops at both locations, which is very typical in most Ironman races.
At IMWI you will pass the state capital building and get to run through some impressive areas of the campus of the University of Wisconsin. The highlight is heading into Camp Randall where the Badgers play for a loop around the football field. In Lake Placid, you pass the Olympic Ski Jumps as you head out and back.
As far as the courses, both are very similar. They are mostly flat, with a couple of big hills that a lot of athletes will walk up. I found that I never felt lost at Lake Placid like I did at Madison. There was several times in Madison when I wondered where I was. I went into a port-o-potty at one point and upon coming out I couldn’t remember which way I was going! Never had that issue at Lake Placid.
The main difference between the two is the scenery. Lake Placid takes you from downtown out to fields and trees, which is very nice. At Madison, you will be near buildings and people for most of the run.
I love the finishing chute at Wisconsin, with having the Capital in the background all lit up as you finish. But finishing on the Olympic Oval makes you feel like an Olympic champion. Both are cool.
The day after the race, Madison gets back to being a state capital and back to business like the race was held a month earlier. I kind of felt like I needed to get out of Madison’s way, as the town needed to get back to normalcy. At Lake Placid, it seemed like everyone wanted to stay and take some time to enjoy the wonderful town without all of the race anxiety.
As I mentioned before I can’t pick a favorite, I truly loved my experience at both locales. But I think I had my best race at Lake Placid only because I learned from what I experienced at Wisconsin.
In the end, you can’t go wrong with either race location, both are well run, beautiful and an experience of a lifetime! Do them both!