This past Thursday I drove to Lake Placid for the 2011 Ironman. This race is one that is very special to me. It was my first Ironman, the first Ironman I qualified for Kona at, and the Ironman I did as a comeback after a serious bike crash where I qualified for Kona once again. I am not accustomed to being at an Ironman and not racing myself but this time it meant that I was finally able to experience some awesome riding off the beaten path. At Epic Camp in Kona, Hawaii in April, we did most of our rides off the Hawaii Ironman course and it was amazing to experience the beauty of the Big Island off the Queen K Highway. Those rides were gorgeous and much more spectacular. The same went for the ride I did on Saturday morning with a group of 10 non-competing athletes. We took off in the opposite direction to the Ironman course and rode to Saranac Lake where we continued on to ride up the backside of Whiteface Mountain. We rode past a pretty lake and emerged just below the toll booth to Whiteface Mountain at the 3-mile marker of the 8 mile climb. This 8-mile climb is identical to the Tour de France Alp d`Huez climb in both gradient and length.
Conditions at 6am when we set off were overcast and the ground was wet from an early morning downpour. But soon enough the sun broke through the clouds and we had lovely sunshine to really appreciate the picturesque windy roads. I have ridden to the top of Whiteface Mountain many times and most ascents result in not much of a view because of the fog and cloud cover that frequents the top of the mountain. This day the view was amazing. There was a pretty intense headwind that made us all dig deep around the last switch back. It can be a bit chilly at 4600 feet, especially when sweat has been pouring and dripping off nose tips for over an hour of hard climbing. All 10 of us made it up, and the view at the top was worth all of the ‘sweat and tears’. Soon we were descending the worst descent I have ever ridden. There are many bumps in the road surface from erosion and at speed they make you feel like you might be thrown off your bike so descending this mountain becomes a pretty good upper body workout as one brakes to the point of hand and forearm and triceps cramps!
Some folks then went on to ride the Ironman course in reverse and the rest of us continued back to Lake Placid along the regular Ironman course. I made good time heading back to town as I wanted to do some final pre-race planning with my athletes. This year I only had two athletes racing Lake Placid (fewer than in years past) because my athletes seem to all be traveling to different parts of the world to do some unique Ironman location races.
Leading up to the race this year there was an incredible record-breaking heat wave and so huge relief was felt by the athletes after early morning rainfalls on Friday and Saturday broke the intense heat. Even so, after the cool morning air disappeared on race day, and as the sun emerged, the day ended up being quite hot. This made hydration even more important than normal.
The one other time that I was spectator to an Ironman was Lake Placid a couple years ago when it rained non stop from 4am until after midnight. My umbrella was no longer waterproof by mid day. I have trained a lot in Lake Placid and raced there at least five times. Rare is it to have a day free of rain in these mountains but Sunday was an exception. Great race conditions produced some course records and it was nice for the spectators not to have to find shelter, except for shelter from the sun.
I stayed at Matt Long`s house along Mirror Lake Drive. Matt is founder of the I WILL Foundation and author of “The Long Run” and his set up along the bike and run course was the best dancing and cheering section in the whole race! The cheering section was equipped with a bike on a trainer that also had a blender attached to it, filled with margarita mix. By pedaling the bike and producing enough watts, the blender was in turn powered to make a nice drink. So one could say good times were had encouraging the suffering athletes to keep moving forward!
I am really happy to report that my two athletes kicked some serious butt in the race. I feel so lucky to be able to reap the rewards of my athletes’ amazing results: Suzanne Zelazo is a pro triathlete who has a number of 70.3 races under her belt but had not yet raced a full Ironman, and on Sunday she finished in 6th place overall. Carmel Tindale-Fox won her age group so will be heading to Kona. Congrats girls!! And another of our Absolute Endurance athletes, Mike Breech, also had a stellar first Ironman. Awesome!
The two winners of the race are two of the nicest hard-working triathletes I know, and I am thrilled for Heather Wurtele and TJ Tollakson! Also, a huge congrats to Jackie Gordon who finished strongly despite being sick the morning of the race. I have been there once before and I feel for you: Carbo unloading pre-race isn’t normally part of the race plan!
It was a great weekend in Lake Placid with lots of racing, training and cheering.