It is one of the sport’s most classic long distance races. Ironman Lake Placid, which started in 1999, was one the first Ironman event held in the United States outside of Hawaii. For years Ironman racing in North America included just two races – Ironman Canada in Penticton and the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. The race in Lake Placid was part of the huge expansion of Ironman events around the world that began in 1998. Later that year Graham Fraser’s company, Ironman North America, would add Ironman Florida to the list, with Ironman California (which has since become Ironman 70.3 Oceanside) coming a year later. The list just picked up from there – Wisconsin, Coeur d’Alene, the short-lived original Utah, Arizona and Texas. Things have continued to grow.
But Lake Placid was where the expansion began, offering a perfect mix of scenery, facilities, accommodation and resources. A town that had hosted two Olympics and had a lake pretty much smack in the centre of town, all within running distance of the Olympic speed skating oval that served as an excellent transition and finish line. Like Mont-Tremblant would become over a decade later, it is a perfect venue for an Ironman event.
As great as it is for Ironman and its athletes, it has always appeared that the race has been a huge boost for the community, too. Weekends throughout the summer see triathletes flock to the village to get training in. It’s an easy drive for Canadians who live in three of the largest triathlon hotspots in the country – Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. Triathletes from Boston and New York city routinely make the trek to the Adirondacks for training weekends, too. Lake Placid and the surrounding towns are jam-packed through race weekend as thousands of athletes, family and spectators come to check out the event.
But the allure seems to be wearing off for the area. Last summer the North Elba Town Council created an “Ironman Task Force” to “assess the community impacts of Ironman.” That task force recommended that the Ironman contract be extended through to the end of next year as long as Ironman made some changes to “address residents’ concerns with the race and improve athlete safety,” according to a story posted on lakeplacidnews.com.
After receiving those recommendations, Ironman asked for the contract to be extended through to 2024 so the company would have time to “successfully implement the changes the task force is recommending, and, should the area decide to end its relationship with Ironman, an extra year would give the group some time to find a new location for the race and create a new course,” the story continued.
Based on the news reports from the interaction between the task force and Ironman, it would appear that the main issues that the region has with the Ironman race are communication between the local community and Ironman – they would like a “point of contact for a round a month before the race.” Then there’s the issue of all those athletes who are coming in to Lake Placid during the months before the race.
“Task force members also agreed that there should be a dedicated campaign for Ironman to address issues between cyclists and drivers throughout training months leading up to the race,” lakeplacidnews.com reported. “The campaign would include clarifying the rules of the road for athletes and motorists. Committee members floated the idea of starting a reward system for training camps that don’t violate those rules.”
The task force also wants to see Ironman promote local communities and local businesses, and do more to highlight congestion areas on race day. The task force wants to start a communication plan to “highlight Ironman’s giveback to the community” which would hopefully “improve the race’s approval rating among locals.”
At a meeting last January with the task force, Dave Christen, Ironman’s regional race director, suggested three “action items” that included “developing an athlete code of conduct for training; creating a map to showcase the race communities and what they have to offer; communicating and coordinating with athlete teams; partnering with Google Maps to identify points of traffic congestion for local drivers; starting a race day hotline for locals experiencing issues so they can get answers in real time; funding and producing a “highlight” video of the region to showcase the area as a destination for athletes; and improving publicity of the Ironman organization’s donations to community organizations, which totaled around $90,000 in 2021,” the Lake Placid News report continues.
The task force has also discussed capping the number of athletes who can compete at the race and would like to see the race date changed in 2023, presumably to a time outside the region’s summer busy season.
In March the North Elba Town Council approved a contract extension through 2024. Ironman has confirmed that the contract has been signed.
This year’s race will serve as the Ironman North American TriClub Championship, which will no-doubt help attract a large field of athletes to the race. There’s $150,000 in prize money up for grabs for the pros, along with 60 age group qualifying slots for the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii in October.
Ironman is set to enjoy at least 25 years of racing in Lake Placid. Will the event continue in the beautiful Adirondack region after that? That appears to be up in the air.