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!
I was 16 years old when Al Michaels celebrated with the rest of the United States with his famous words while we watched Team USA defeat the USSR in hockey in the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. At that time Ironman was two years old, and I certainly didn’t think that I would ever be in Lake Placid or do an Ironman. But 36 years later, here I was in the place where a historic event took place looking for a little miracle of my own.
THE ROAD TO IRONMAN LAKE PLACID
My two lifelong friends, Dave, John and I had done Ironman Wisconsin together in 2013. That race was somewhat of a bucket-list experience, and we really never thought about doing more prior to finishing that race. But we kind of caught the triathlon bug, or I did in particular. After a couple of years, we started talking about doing another. Dave’s son Alex had been asking to do a full iron distance race, and another longtime friend Jeff had recently taken up the sport. So with renewed interest in completing another Ironman, Dave suggested that we take on Lake Placid.
Why Lake Placid? We had already done Madison, so a new venue was intriguing. We knew what to expect as far as riding tough bike courses like Madison, and figured Lake Placid couldn’t be much different. Also, the lake has a guide cable running in the water about 10 feet or so down and takes you right along the swim course. Plus, Lake Placid had a reputation as one of the best. So off to the Adirondacks we went.
The five of us registered on the day after the 2015 race, the typical time when the registration starts for the next year. I was on a college tour with my daughter Ashley, and registered using my iPhone. In retrospect I could have waited, but I wanted to make sure I got in. It was somewhat comical walking around looking at a college campus with my phone in my hand, falling behind the group and registering for an Ironman.
We nicknamed ourselves the “Gunners,” mainly because of Alex’s penchant for gunning for everything. But in essence, we all had the gunning for the win mentality. It just seemed like a fitting team name. And it sounded cool.
In 2013 we chose to follow Don Fink’s book, Be Iron Fit, for training and it served us well. We decided without any hesitation that we would follow the same 30-week Competitive training plan to prepare us for Lake Placid.
The training for the race went fairly well for all of us. This time around Alex formed a text group for just us five to share information and support each other. In true Gunner spirit, it almost became a race to see who could finish the workout first, which was usually punctuated with the text “day done.” It was fun stuff until John kept telling us that he was done – at 12:15 am!!! I learned to put my phone on sleep mode after a few of those.
As far as the plan was concerned, I missed some swimming due to a variety of issues, but it didn’t really effect me in the end. In the almost 3 years since doing Madison, I must have garnered a decent swim technique. Doing the 70.3 in Muncie, Indiana in 2014 was a turning point for me. It’s one lap, seeded swim was a perfect swim for me and I hoped that Lake Placid would be very similar, just twice the length. The distance doesn’t scare me any longer.
I was well prepared for the running. I started a running streak on 1/1/2015 and have run at least a mile everyday. I think it has made me a better runner, not only because I run more, but it has conditioned my legs to handle the workload much better.
The bike is another story. Lake Placid is in the Adirondack mountains and Illinoisans are commonly called “flatlanders” for a reason. I envied Dave and Alex because out in western Illinois where they live they have some pretty good rolling hills for training. I on the other hand commonly ride on a flat rails-to-trails bike path and very gentle hilly terrain in the rural south of Chicago suburbs.
But we did have a few times where we could get together and train.
30 weeks of training
Approximately 1,050 miles of running, 2,600 miles of cycling, and 149,000 yards of swimming
360 hours of total training
TRAVELING TO LAKE PLACID
Unfortunately, my kids had a busy summer schedule this year and couldn’t join my wife and me for the race. So Kari and I plotted out a little fun trip on our way to and from the race. We packed up the car and headed to Niagara Falls, Ontario on Wednesday 7/20. My first time in Canada, eh! We had never been to the falls and we weren’t disappointed. It was an awesome sight.
Getting through customs was interesting for me. Kind of made me nervous with all the questions. But after a night at the Falls, we left Canada on Thursday and drove directly to Lake Placid, New York.
Upon getting to the hotel I was fried. It was a long car ride, the anxiety about the race was starting to build, and my Gunner teammates were waiting for me to do a swim and bike. I got there and my attitude was awful. I just wanted to settle in and let myself catch up, but after I unloaded my junk and a trip to registration to get my race packet, off we went to Mirror Lake for a planned 30 minute swim.
My plan all along was to get into the lake and swim it pre-race, so I grumpily got in the water and started swimming. The first thing that I wanted to see was the famous cable in the lake that the course runs along. I was surprised by what I saw. I was expecting a large pipe type thing at the bottom of the lake, but in essence it is a thin cable, much like a clothesline, and was suspended in the water about 10 feet down. Very easy to see and follow.
Even though I had been a little gruff before the swim, swimming actually made me feel much better. It took away the tension and anxiety and I felt much better. When I looked at my watch I saw that I had did a loop in about 36 minutes I couldn’t believe it. I swam Muncie 70.3 in 43 minutes, so this was huge! I almost wanted to swim another lap!
Next up was a scouting mission of the bike course. Dave and Jeff had arrived earlier in the week and had ridden some of the course. First up was a trip to the infamous “3 Bears” – Momma, Baby and Papa Bear are nicknames of the last hills you have to climb coming back into Lake Placid at the end of the bike loop. Riding down them was fun and we rode out about 20 minutes and turned around. I expected them to be a hard climb coming up, but on fresh legs they really seemed kind of tame. I even have some hills by me that are just as much of a climb.
Then we took a spin over to where BIKE OUT was located to scout the beginning portion of the race. Unbelievable downhill at the start. I took some serious notes about using my brakes at the start of this ride.
We capped off the day with a pizza dinner and great conversation.
A morning run with the gang along the back portion of the run loop was done on Friday morning. We spent some time at the expo where I found that the finisher’s stuff was already on the racks for sale. Usually they put that stuff out post-race on Monday morning. Had this been my first Ironman, I would have avoided it. But since I was confident that I knew I would finish, I went ahead and bought the finisher’s jacket, a couple of the race shirts that had the competitors names on the back, and a coffee mug just so I wouldn’t have to worry about making sure that they still had my size after the race.
Kari and I had a nice lunch away from the group and then drove the bike course in our car. All I could say was WOW! Beautiful scenery, exceptionally good roads, and unbelievable hills! I was glad I took the time to drive it, but when you are on the bike it was a very different experience. I’m not sure why the Three Bears get all the credit. There were many other hills out there that should have names too.
The Gunners finally made it to the Athlete Welcoming Ceremony after trying to find the non-existent park it was located at. Mike Reilly made his first appearance, and Ironman weekend was starting to become real.
Capped off Friday with a dinner at the Boat House with Kari and her parents who made the trip to watch us race.
We spent Saturday making the same rookie mistake we always do, walking around in the heat instead of staying off our feet. We took our bikes and gear bags to transition and got it all set to go.
IRONMAN LAKE PLACID RACE DAY
The alarm went off at 3:15 am. I went downstairs and claimed my breakfast meal bag the Mirror Lake Hampton Inn provided the triathletes. I ate the bagel, yogurt and banana and spent time making sure the bathroom situation was all good. Then we headed to transition to ready our Gunner-mobiles (Alex’s term) and get body marked.
THE SWIM – 1:18:57 – 2:02/100M – 122 M50/54 – 951 Male – 1225 Overall
The swim went as expected for me. My plan was to watch where others were swimming as I entered the water and then head for the path of least resistance. Unfortunately, the path changed many times. I drifted left and right, other swimmers changed their minds, and the majority wanted to be on that cable. For the most part I stuck to about 10 yards or so off to the left of the cable and just kept sighting for open space to be in. The cable and the buoys and the majority of the swimmers swimming along the cable make it pretty easy to stay on course.
The turns were tough with a lot of contact and some treading water and dog paddling, but I got around them. I checked my watch after the first loop – 38 minutes! All good.
The second loop had spread out a little more than the first and I found that I could be on the cable with little contact. I stuck mostly to the inside of it as it was less occupied. About halfway down going out I got a Charley Horse type calf cramp. I never get these, but I surmised that it was probably from the tightness of the wetsuit causing it. I swam over to a kayaker/volunteer and she inquired if I was okay. I said I had a calf cramp and just needed to massage it out. I was there less than 20 seconds.
As I made the turn around the buoys, I got another cramp in the same left calf. This time I just rubbed it with my right foot and jumped back into the fray. I got a little pummeled at this point in which I had a brief primal release (I yelled at a guy), but it was just too many people at the same spot trying to go in the same direction all at once.
The backside of the swim heading back was uneventful the rest of the way. I looked up and saw 1:18 on the clock and was pleasantly surprised. I swam a 1:30 in Wisconsin. Big improvement for me.
T1 – SWIM to BIKE – 10:46
It was a hike to get from the swim exit to transition. Had to run up the beach, down a road to a carpeted sidewalk and then into T1. I found my bags easily as I knew exactly which row to go down and I had placed some green duct tape on the bags so they would stand out. Upon getting inside I couldn’t find a place to sit. I finally found a place and laid all my junk out. I used the water bottle to rinse the sand off my feet and then dried them off. I put on my homemade arm warmers (long white tube socks from Walmart) and my glasses and they immediately fogged up. I got my socks and shoes on after a liberal amount of Glide on my toes, and had a volunteer spray me with some sunscreen. He packed up all my junk and off I went. By the time I made it to my bike mount row a volunteer had my bike waiting for me, I grabbed it and off I went.
THE BIKE – 6:46:15 – 16.54 mph ave. – 106 M50-54 – 944 Male – 1149 Overall
The bike was interesting to say the least. It was hard, it was easy, it was beautiful, it was peaceful, it was crazy, it was scary. I felt like a Gunner heading out of T1 and down the hills. I was surprised to see Kari and my mother-in-law Darla at the bottom of the first hill. That started the ride off on a great note.
After getting down that first hill I was contemplating pulling over and peeing. I had to go really bad. I had tried while I was on the second loop of the swim, but just couldn’t go. It wasn’t long though until we hit the first Bike Aid station and I was able to stop for a potty break.
Then the climbing began. A lot of climbing. Another rider audibly warned everyone not to mash up the hills as she was getting passed by everyone. In all honesty I couldn’t go any slower and not suffer just as much. My heart rate monitor was screaming at me, but there was nothing I could really do. The only way to bring it down would be to walk! I tried my best and just kept climbing in my easiest chainring combination.
Then the descent began. A lot of descent. I have never felt my bike make so many new wobbles and vibrations. I have never felt quite so afraid on my bike before. In Wisconsin I hit 47 mph and was kind of mad that the hill ended. But the famous (or infamous!) descent into Keene was 6 miles long and scary as hell! Fortunately the descent had been repaved recently and as far as the road was concerned, it was perfect. I hit 45 and started applying the brakes as we serpentined our way down into Keene. I am so glad that I kept my hands on the brakes! Being in aero would have scared the crap out of me.
We got into Keene and the road flattened out. The scenery changed and the ride became somewhat calm and reassuring again. We just rolled along through some beautiful mountainous country.
There are two out and backs on this looped course, and while I was heading out on the longer first out and back I saw Dave for the first time heading the other way. Not much longer after that I saw John. About 5 minutes later I hit the turn around and figured that Dave had about a 15 minute lead on me and John about 10 minutes.
At 35 miles into the ride I decided to do a little work and push pace. I had been riding flats and was feeling good. Then the hills started. I couldn’t believe the amount of climbing that was going on. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that to get back to where I started and after all the descending I had done that I would have to climb it back. But it seemed to go on forever. At one point we were riding up a hill and I said to a guy that this hill was much harder than the dumb Bears. It should’ve been called Grandpa Bear. It definitely wasn’t Teddy Bear, that’s for sure.
Finally got to Papa Bear (Momma Bear and Baby Bear aren’t even worth mentioning) and saw Kari and Darla. Lots of crazy crowd support through that hill. It made for a fun part of the ride. Thankfully after cresting Papa Bear it was downhill into town for Loop 2.
The second loop was tough. I tried like crazy to budget my energy and spin up the hills but it was tough. I got a little braver going down the descent into Keene, but still held the speed at about 45 mph.
I saw John again on that first out and back and could tell I was closer, but I never did catch him on the bike. I did see Jeff behind me, but I had about 3 miles or so of a lead on him. I knew he was lurking though! Damn Gunners. Always gunning.
As far as the aid stations, they seemed to be strategically placed on the hills which was sort of a blessing as riders were going slower through them and not blazing by trying to grab a bottle. I stopped about 4 or 5 times to use the toilets and refuel, but for the most part I rode through them as well, something I didn’t do in Wisconsin.
At about 80 miles I stopped and grabbed some Vasoline for my crotch. I was really starting to get sore from sitting and it helped a lot. I was worried a little about getting sunburned, but there was really nothing I could do at that point.
As far as nutrition on the bike, I think I managed it well. I started with two of my own Gatorade bottles and then instead of refilling them, I just discarded them in the aid station and replaced them with Gatorade bottles and water. I didn’t think I would need as much salt as I normally would take, but I changed my mind and stuck with a salt capsule every hour. I’m glad I did. I was sweating but it was drying quickly and it didn’t seem to me like I was sweating as much as I was.
I kept up with a Clif Shot gel every half hour, ate a Clif Bar at about 2 hours into it and nibbled on some more around 4.5 hours into it. I took a bite from a banana at almost all aid stations. I never really felt out of energy, but I knew I was worn out from the effort it was taking to climb the hills.
T1 – BIKE to RUN – 8:02
T2 went very smoothly, I dismounted and handed my bike off to a volunteer bike handler who re-racked it for me and I shuffled off to the bags to get my Run Gear Bag and head to the changing tent. I sat down and the heat and humidity of the tent hit me pretty hard. It was warm in there. I grabbed the baby wipes I had and wiped my face and neck down. I wanted to feel a little cleaner. I grabbed my extra socks and put them in my back pocket in case I needed to change them, put on my shoes and visor, snapped on the running/bib belt and headed out of the tent.
I had some volunteers spray me with some sunscreen, and later on my kids told me that they were watching me online and saw all of that. I’m glad that they were able to see that and the finish too.
Upon leaving the oval for the run course, I spotted Kari and gave her a kiss. I mentioned or gestured that I was beat, but really what I experienced at that time is just a little overheating from getting off the bike where you are constantly being cooled by the wind and from sitting in the transition tent. It wasn’t long into the run that I was feeling normal.
THE RUN – 4:28:01 – 10:13 min./mile ave. – 59 M50-54 – 651 Male – 812 Overall
If you have any mental capacity left after that bike ride, this is the time to use it. Heading out of town on the first out and back portion it is very hilly, and especially very down hilly going out. It’s easy to get carried away with tempo at this point and I knew to hold back somewhat. Truthfully, I think downhills are tougher on your muscles than uphills are. They really beat up your quads and knees. But I got out of town and turned left at the ski jump hills. The sunlight was direct and warm. It wasn’t long before I was taking a sponge and putting it in my tri top. Later on I found that a sponge rested very nicely on my heart rate monitor chest strap, and I would take ice or water at every aid station and place it on the sponge. That helped me regulate my temperature on what was becoming a warm afternoon. A lot of people said it was hot, but I found the breeze to be nice and never really felt like I was cooking myself.
At about the 6 mile mark I saw John heading back. This put him about 4 minutes ahead of me and I slowly worked to pull him in. I caught him around the 7 mile mark or so, and walked with him a bit. He said he was glad that I was walking with him, but he felt like he was going to bonk and told me to keep on trucking. So I did. Not long after that I saw Jeff coming up behind us heading toward the turn around. From then on I felt like I was being chased.
I made it into town and could hear Mike Reilly telling people that they were an Ironman! But at that point I had to head past the hotel and all of my friends/fans for the second out and back before heading out for the second loop. It can be tough hearing people finishing, but I knew my time would be coming in another 13.1 miles.
The second loop of the run was much like the first. As far as nutrition, I kept up the gels every half hour, but I also went to the Base Salt every mile instead of the salt capsules because I wanted that salt more readily absorbed. Aid stations had bananas, pretzels, ice, water, Gatorade, cola, and after 5 pm chicken broth. I sample most of it, skipping the Clif bars. I always took ice and water, and usually the cola and broth too. I never really felt short on nutrition and energy from that fuel. The only thing really making me tired was the miles I was accumulating.
I saw Dave at one point as I was heading out and he was heading in. I congratulated him on a job well done. “Top Gunner!” is what I yelled. He returned the compliment. I knew I had no chance of catching him. It was Jeff that I worried about. He passed John and seemed to be making up ground on me. It was at the 20 mile mark that I decided that I needed to start to push somewhat. I figured Jeff would be walking the aid stations and hills like everyone else, so I made myself at least jog through the aid stations and hills to create a little gap. I also picked up the pace a little.
At 5K left to go I was heading back into town and felt like I had a good amount of energy still left in the tank. I picked up the pace and was running sub-7:30 or so through that last 5K. At one point some guy said that what I was doing was “ballsy” and another guy said “Somebody wants to go home.” I took it as a complement.
I kept speeding up, getting more and more emotional. It was starting to hit me – I was about to become a two-time Ironman. 30 weeks of training, hours of swimming, biking and running were coming to an end.
FINISH TIME: 12:52:01 – 651st Male finisher – 59th M50-54 Age Group – 812th Overall finisher
It seems like all of us Gunners rocked Ironman Lake Placid. I couldn’t be more impressed with these men. We supported each other through the easy training days and the hard. We rode together when we could, and rode together in spirit when we didn’t. We sized each other up, and helped each other out. The one-timers offered sage advice, and the first timers took great notes. Dave, John and I added two new guys to the Ironman ranks, and I really hope we inspired more to take on that same dream of becoming an Ironman.
Even though John says he’s done with Ironman for a while, I don’t believe him. I don’t believe anything he says! I can’t wait until this group of Gunners can do it again!
THE FINISH LINE
I can’t end this report without thanking everyone who supported me along this journey.
Can’t thank my friends on Facebook enough. Every week I would post a training wrap up and was so thankful that many of you took the time to read the blogs and give me support. I was so tired after the event to “like” all of your comments. But I want you to know that each and every one was well appreciated. To all of you, thank you!
I am so blessed to have such great in-laws that take pride in my accomplishments. Thank you Gary and Darla for making the trip and experiencing me becoming an Ironman for the second time.
To my coworkers who put up with my constant talk of my training and Ironman pursuits, and not being able to join you for lunch because I had to head to the swimming hole, thank you for being there for me! The regulars include Mary, Tracy, Julie, Jeff, Micah and of course, Lou! Let’s do lunch!
I do have a couple Super Fans that I want to mention – Carl Teska tells me every time he sees me that I am the pride of American youth. He always takes interest in my training and racing, and listens intently to every word I provide. Carl, thank you very much for supporting me. I may just get that Ironman tattoo that you keep pushing me to get!
And Mr. Hammond, I sometimes think that you are the only guy reading those blogs, and if it was just you reading them it was worth the effort to write them. Thank you for all the positive comments and support.
I would like to thank the families of my fellow Gunners. Jill, you had to watch Jeff go through a lot to get to that finish line, and I am sure he appreciates you being there for him. You also take such pride in the rest of us. Very much appreciated.
I can’t imagine what Mandy had to do to support John while working her butt off, being a mother for two littles (and a grown man!) and juggling all of that stuff while John joined in on the fun. Thank you for supporting him and us.
Without Carla we would not have had the wonderful hotel we stayed at, or the sandwiches you provided at the end of that training ride, or the awesome photos you have taken and shared on Facebook, and so much I can’t even remember it all. We Gunners could be total dopes, and you put up with it all. Thank you for being our planner/organizer/manager and everything else you do!
My family is always so supportive of me. Unfortunately they couldn’t join us on this trip. But knowing that you all watched the live feed online and cheering at home sure made me feel good.
Without the support of my wife Kari I could not even begin to do this crazy event. She is my rock, my tri coach in many ways, my supporter, my biggest fan, and awesome photographer. She never balked when I needed to do a long ride or long run. She pushed me when I dogged it with the swim training and held me accountable. She makes her way around the Ironman course like she’s doing the race too, just to grab that once-in-a-lifetime photo or give that much needed bit of enthusiastic support. She helps me schlep all my triathlon junk to the race, and helps me schlep the stinky stuff back home. In many ways, she helped me earn that medal. I’m blessed to have her by my side. I LOVE YOU!
If I missed anyone, thank you as well. My oversight is due to Ironman withdrawal! Forgive me.
And lastly, if anyone was inspired by my journey to become a two-time Ironman and take up something that pushed them out of their comfort zone, whether it be tackling a marathon, or going back to school, or beginning a walking program, or attempting anything that you find difficult – if my inspiration motivated you in any way, that is all the reward that I will ever need. Good luck to you on your journeys.
So, do I believe in miracles?
Actually, I just believe in myself. It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you want it.
Swim: Blue Seventy Reaction wetsuit; Speedo Vanquisher Prescription Goggles (-4.5)
Bike: Specialized Shiv Pro, SRAM Red components, 52/36 chainring with 11/28 Ten speed cassette, FLO Carbon Racing wheels (60’s), Conti Grand Prix 4000s II (700×23 front, 700×25 rear), two bottle cages and a Specialized Fuelselage, Salt Stick salt dispenser, Specialized Expert triathlon shoes
Run: Ironman visor, Fuel Belt, Asics GEL Excite 3, Louis Garneau Midride socks, Epix Go Fierce two piece custom trisuit, Garmin 910XT
Nutrition: I used the on-course provided offerings in training and on race day. Clif Shot gel (Razz), Clif bars, Base Salt, Salt Stick salt capsules, Gatorade powder in training, and Gatorade Endurance on course, bananas, pretzels, water, cola, ice, chicken broth.
WEEK 30 – July 18, 2016 – July 23, 2016
So here I am, the last week of training leading up to the big day, Ironman Lake Placid 2016! Thirty weeks of preparation to do anything certainly is a long time. I have always said that the preparation throughout the thirty weeks was much more taxing and harder than the race itself is, and I still believe it. I always compare it to baking a cake, the work goes into getting the ingredients, mixing it up, baking it, and decorating it. The eating of the cake is the easy part. May not be the best analogy, but I like cake. Enjoy the fruits of the one’s labor, I suppose is what I am getting at.
So after thirty weeks, I thought I would take a look back at each week and see how I got here. Here’s a brief summary of each week and a link to the post if you would like to review the whole thing.
2016 IMLP Training -WEEK 1 – Birth of the Gunners! Standing at the bottom of the mountain taking those first steps to get to the top.
29 Weeks down, one to go! Race day is almost here, and this week is full of lots of preparation and getting ready to go. And a lot of “hold on there, bub” going on too.
I took my bike into the bike shop for a race day check-up. Normally you drop the bike off and get it back a day or two later, but seeing that I bought the bike at a bike shop in Wheaton, Illinois and it takes me about 45 minutes to drive there, I begged the kid to work on it while I waited. Maybe he was a little more understanding when I told him I needed it for an Ironman soon. Maybe he was impressed that an old fogey like me can do an Ironman, I don’t know. They put it on the rack and checked, cleaned and lubed the chain, and examined the rest of it while I strolled through the store. After about 20 minutes the kid (must have been 18-19 maybe) and his supervisor (another kid maybe 5 years older than him) found me and said they were done. But from the look on the the older kids’ face, I could tell he had something really important to tell me. He asked me if I clean my internal “Fuelselage” device that holds my water and is contained within the frame of the bike. Now anyone who has one of these things knows that you need to clean it or else it might grow something funky. I was getting the sense that he was scolding me about it. I told him that I clean it out all the time and never put anything in it other than water. It’s just three years old and looks it. In typical kid fashion, he advised that I should replace it. I had just spent 20 minutes walking the store actually looking for a replacement, but they were out of stock and I advised him of that. “Yeah, I know” was his response. Well kid, it’s kind of hard to replace it when you don’t have any in stock.
Upon getting home I rode the bike and was glad to see the shifting was a little more crisp and nothing out of the ordinary was going on, except the rear brake. After that ride I took a look at it and found that the brake wasn’t releasing after I pull the brake handle. It had done this a couple of years ago, and it’s usually caused by road junk, sweat and Gatorade getting into the brake components and gumming things up. I cleaned it as best I could, lubed it well and got it to operate as designed. I need to figure out how to fully service my bike. I don’t want to rely on a kid and a kid supervisor anymore. They should have caught that.
As for the rest of the week, training was easy. I spent more time worrying about making sure I have everything for the trip to New York, thinking about what to bring and planning out how to approach the race. But life will through you a curve and as the week ended we found that we have some car issues with the car the kids drive. This is troubling, as we are leaving the kids home while my wife and I take the trip to Lake Placid. Also, our dog is showing signs that he might be ready to move on to the big dog house in the sky. He’s 14, and the past week has been really struggling. He’s stopped eating and taking water and might not be here for much longer. As if the anxiety of doing an Ironman race in a week wasn’t enough, I have this squarely on my mind. I’ve got a couple of days to deal with those things first, and then I will deal with the trip. Fortunately for me, I have done the race once before and I am confident that I am prepared.
I’ve learned a few things over the years. Thankfully, I’m no longer a kid.
When my wife and I were expecting our first child we were introduced to a phenomenon of sorts called nesting. It’s where the expectant parents, and in particular the mother, start preparing for the new bundle of joy to enter their lives. Baby junk gets purchased, walls get a new coat of pink or blue paint, and other things get done for the impending arrival. We have a similar type of nesting in Ironman triathlon called “WHAT THE HELL DID I GET MYSELF INTO?” Also known as the “Taper.”
Even though we were so happy to be done with the massive endurance stage of training, especially Week 27 and it’s crazy long weekend, the taper is something everyone welcomes but it drives us crazy. After doing so much training the taper starts drawing you back down in an effort to recover for race day. Sometimes just trying to go from runs that lasted over an hour to runs only 30 minutes long can make you question whether or not you are doing enough.
Truthfully, this week isn’t that big of a taper adjustment. The long Saturday bike was 4 hours long and the long Sunday run was 2 hours of joy (no, not really). The next two weeks is when you really cut back until the day of the race on July 24. But you still get weird things happening in the taper whether you are in the first week or the third. Things like being able to unclip from your bike pedal and falling over. I did that in 2013, my Gunner buddy John did it yesterday. The bike trail rides in March were typically void of bike trail idiots, but boy are there a lot of them out there now. Saturday I was cruising along the path when a goofball pulled onto the trail from a side path without stopping and bothering to look for people that were actually using the trail at the time. I almost t-boned him. There are things you can control, and things that are way out of your control.
Sometimes it’s little things that make you crazy, like the little piece of buckled tape that my hand touches on the handle bar. Every time I touch it I think “what is that I am touching for the 1,000th time?” It’s really an easy fix, but by the time you get back from 6 hours of riding, your mental checklist of things you promised to remember have left the grey matter many miles ago.
But cutting back the mileage is just part of the taper. The nesting part of the taper consists of making sure that you got all the non-training stuff covered – the hotels booked, the equipment you are going to use, the bike check-up that you have been neglecting, the travel plans, the tri suit you are going to wear… Oh yeah, that reminds me – our custom tri suits arrived! And they are sweet!
Since I have been through the taper before, I am blessed to know what to expect and how to handle it. It will still be the same crazy things happening, but I just won’t cry this time.
The dreaded Week 27 is over! The toughest of all the training weeks has been conquered!
Week 27 is the one that my training buddies and myself come to fear, with the Saturday long ride of six hours followed by an hour long run brick, and the Sunday three hour run and 1.5 hour bike spin. But thanks to a great weekend weather-wise, I found the weekend workout to be quite enjoyable. I got to ride with one of my Gunner teammates and lifelong friend John, and ended the seven hour day on Saturday feeling awesome.
The ride started out in the upper 50’s, and I wasn’t expecting that. I brought along some homemade arm warmers that I made out of tube socks that I purchased at Walmart. It’s a good thing I had them. It took about 1.5 hours before I didn’t feel cold anymore. Kept them on for the whole ride though. I will have to stick a pair in my bike special needs bag or my T1 bike bag for the race. I’m holding out hope that we will have a race day like this weekend.
The weather sure made for a different ride than the last couple of weeks. Two weeks ago I filled up my bottles three times in the 80 degree weather. This time I started with three full bottles and really only topped off two of them once. Just goes to show how much the temperatures effect hydration.
The three hour run on Sunday I was sort of dreading, mainly due to worrying about what lingering soreness I would still have from the 7 hour training the day before, but I felt great all through the run. I turned around at 1.5 hours/10.25 miles and headed back with the idea of pushing a little. That worked until the wall was starting to creep up around the 19 mile mark just as I was hitting the hills near home. I got through it okay and got home and jumped in the pool. Then I mowed the grass. My neighbor used to tell me that she considers mowing the grass as her workout. I guess after a three hour/20.5 mile run I got my workout in as well.
My wife helped me finish off the biggest training week of the plan by riding the 1.5 hour bike spin with me. I chose to do it on my hybrid for comfort sake, and even though I was giving an effort I was marveling at how much faster I ride the tri bike on the same stretch of trail. Good ride and a good finish to the hardest week of the plan.
Week 26 was a tough one. And it elicited the above statement from one of my training buddies. It’s his first time going through the 30 week training program in his pursuit of Ironman immortality, but having been through the training once before I can certainly empathize.
To me the weekend training workouts are the true efforts that are reflective of what it takes to get ready for the race. The other days are hard as well, but much shorter in duration. But the long Saturday ride and the long Sunday run really give you a taste of what the race will be like. I write this post on Sundays mostly, and by then the early parts of the week are distant memories, while the weekend distance events are still rather fresh in my mind.
So we bantered around a little in a group text about whether or not we all hate this sport. We don’t really, it’s just that doing a 5.5 hour ride followed by a 1 hour run on a 90 degree and humid day really makes you think about why we like triathlon at all.
But my friend Dave and I both agree that the training is tough, and although there can be some rough patches and good days of training as well, the training is truly the hard part. Getting through the 30 weeks prepares you for being ready to handle the distance. I’ve thought many times that since probably Week 20 or so that I was ready. This week really drove home the point that until you get past Week 26 and Week 27 (next week – yikes!), you really don’t know that you are ready. You may think so, but this week and the next will really tell you all you need to know. The race is really the easy part, utilizing the skills and endurance earned over 30 weeks. It’s now less than a month away. Mike Reilly may be at the finish line telling everyone that they are an Ironman, but what’s impressive is that we prepared for 30 weeks to get to the finish line after 140.6 miles to have him tell us that.
As for me this week, the swimming pool is finally done. I had missed quite a bit of swimming since the high school pools changed their summer hours to a time I couldn’t go, and then opening my own pool to find a torn liner delayed my training. But all is good now and I have decided to supplement the three swim days of the training plan by adding a 30 minute swim every weekday, and dropping the Friday 3500 yard swim, because of the fact that I never did it anyway! I should get my endurance and build some of the lost speed back in the next couple of weeks.
We had a graduation party for my high school graduate this weekend, so I had to swap Saturday’s long ride with Sunday’s long run to have time to help prepare for the party. I think I got lucky because I got the long run done early before the heat had time to get going on Saturday. And although there was a brief downpour before I started the 5.5 hour ride on Sunday, the skies and humidity cleared nicely and I didn’t really suffer like my Gunner teammates did.
The ride was the same as last week, a 5.5 hour ride, but I made to 95 miles last week and was kind of disappointed in myself for not hitting the century mark. So this week I rode a little extra and ended up at 101.5 miles on the bike. In 2013, I never reached that plateau until race day. So it is a nice reminder that I am pretty close to that race distance of 112 miles.
So yes, Week 26 was a challenge. But the challenge just proves that I have the stuff to become Ironman.