IM Lake Placid 2018 – Race Report

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  • July 28, 2018
150 150 Stephen Redwood

The opening ceremony was fun, but followed the standard format

Ironman Lake Placid 2018 was a 20th anniversary event, so you would expect something special and different, right? Well, as it happened there wan’t much that was sooo different, but we did ride a revised bike course and there was 20th anniversary branding on everything.  Not spectacular enough for you? No problem, all the specialness was reserved for a 20th anniversary Lake Placid weather appearance.

No doubt about it, Mirror Lake is a beautiful setting

The swim course in Mirror Lake was unchanged from previous years, and remains one of the best IM swim courses in my experience. The rectangle is easy to navigate, not just because it’s all straight lines and clear water, but particularly due to the cable three feet down that guides you the whole way. There’s a bit of a fight in the early part to get onto the cable line, but the rolling start helps and the water opens up fairly quickly. Spectators get a good view of the start and changeover for the second loop and exit. Plus there were suit strippers aplenty which is always a plus for a wetsuit legal swim. It’s a long run to T1 (if you include running around transition, it was roughly 0.4 of a mile according to my Garmin), but mats keep your feet from the worst of the rough paving.

Well marked and plenty of attention to safety, it’s an excellent swim course

I liked the revised bike course, with the out-and-backs breaking up what was, in recent years, long stretches of demanding terrain. It’s a two loop course, with two short and one long out-and-backs.  The big change is the Haselton out-and-back, which is so much better than the old Ausable section – better road and more variation, albeit adding more climbing. Overall the bike course stated elevation was 8,264 feet, but I only clocked 5,888 feet on my Garmin (which matched my one loop route ride a few weeks earlier). Others I compared to are all over the place, but generally much closer to the 6k than 8k, so something seems to be off with the IM calculator. Declared bike distance seems pretty accurate though. The road surfaces are, by and large, in really good shape – the worst part being the section from town out to Keene. It’s a tough course, but goes through stunning scenery with a ton of variety (forests, waterfalls, rivers, streams, rock formations), so it’s unsurprising that this is a really popular event. One of the classic sections everyone talks about is the ride up the “Three Bears” (Mama, Baby, Papa), after hitting Goldilocks. The last 50 yards of the climb feels like a stage of Le Tour, with spectators lining both sides and cheering on the competitors. I never tire of that moment, a reward for persevering through the first loop – sadly not repeated on the second loop, by which time spectators have headed back to town to see the T2 action.
At T2 bike catchers take your bike and the overall level of support from volunteers is excellent. And while we are on that topic, I have to say the volume (2,500?) and attitude of volunteers was second to none across the whole event.
The run route was unchanged, with the same couple of big hills, but otherwise the same old, mostly flat/ slightly undulating, terrain over a two loop course (advertised 1604 feet elevation, but my watch and others were more in the range of 750 to 900 feet, while distance was pretty accurate). It’s tough but not terrible and has a mix of shade and open spots to help and hinder temperature management. The bulk of spectators on the run are mostly as you enter the town and run alongside Mirror Lake before the turnaround – but this is a hospitality town, so everyone is out there cheering you on. The final 2-300 yards you enter the olympic stadium and run the track into the finishing chute, with a huge crowd roaring you to the line and Mike Reilly granting that ultimate affirmation: You are an Ironman.
So the course is great, the volunteers are fantastic and the level of organization really high (lots of porta potties!). This event truly has learned a thing or two over twenty years.
But the weather was something else. It’s mountain country, so you expect changing conditions, and if you have any sense you learn to largely ignore weather predictions. Rain, at some point, pretty much every year just happens at IMLP, but this year was special: rain and strong winds (one report indicated 30-40 mph at times) made for cold and precarious riding out of town and down Keene on both loops. You could hear emergency vehicles blaring throughout the race – so there were some nasty accidents as bikes slipped on the surface, and there was a higher than normal DNF rate. Not surprising at all, because it did suck, monumentally. Temperatures rose on the far side of the course, then fell again when the rain and winds hit on the second loop of the bike, only to really get warm and dry on the run. Not anything the source organizers can control, but if you plan to race here in future, pack T1 and T2 bags with plenty of gear choices.

At this point I was still smiling…

As for me, IM Lake Placid was the first 140.6 I ever did and this was my fifth start there, so it has a special place in my triathlon memories. I had a good swim, an okay bike, and an on-plan start to the run. Then at mile 17 my stomach shut down and that was pretty much the end of my competitiveness. As for so many others, GI issues and nutrition are the hardest nuts to crack for me. It’s a journey that can be dispiriting at times, but that makes IM distance the true test of ones mettle and, perversely, the rewarding experience it is.

No doubt about it: IMLP should be on the bucket list for any long distance triathlete.
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