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Training in Lake Placid Part 1

Tara Norton Blog with tales from Lake Placid

Training in Lake Placid


For the last two weekends (Thursday through Sunday) I have been in Lake Placid training hard for Ironman USA which will take place at the end of July.  This will be my 5th time racing the Ironman in Lake Placid and I am excited to go back there again. I love the course and Lake Placid holds a special place in my heart:  Ironman USA was my very first Ironman, it was the first Ironman where I qualified for Kona as an amateur, it was my comeback Ironman race after my fork collapsed catapulting me into the pavement face first in 2005, and it was my first Ironman finish following my crash at mile 80 in Kona in 2008.

Two weekends ago I drove down to meet my friend Jim so that we could train together, and this past weekend I attended the infamous Fireman Ironman training camp.  Being able to train on the actual race course is invaluable, and this past weekend was the best weather in the history of training weekends, making the training that much more enjoyable!  As many of you know, the mountains make the weather in Lake Placid unpredictable, so you just never know when it might rain or even snow!  This past weekend must have also set a record for the number of training camps in Lake Placid.  It seemed the entire place was filled with hard working triathletes.  I managed to do some epic training both weekends and have a couple stories to tell from my adventures.  This first blog tells about my nerve-wracking Whiteface Mountain climb with Jim, and the lessons learned from that day.

Jim and I arrived on the Thursday, and while there was a group of people planning to ascend the mountain, a torrential downpour was just beginning, so Jim and I decided to get settled into our hotel and carbo load for the following big day of training instead of riding or swimming.  Friday we rode two loops of the Ironman course and found that the out and back section of the course was closed due to bridge construction.  We had heard about the possible new addition to the course, but this day we decided to climb to the toll booth of Whiteface Mountain on each loop instead of doing the out and back section.  Jim and I ran 40 minutes off the bike (out of town which ended up being either UP or DOWN but no flat).  Later we did a short 30minute swim in Mirror Lake before a well deserved dinner.

Saturday it was raining in the morning so we decided to start with a long swim, so we did two loops of the course in one hour.  The water temperature was a little cool but very tolerable with my Zoot wetsuit.  (Jim has a wetsuit filled with holes so I think the swim was a little more “fresh” for him.  Needless to say, I brought him an old Zoot wetsuit of mine to wear the following weekend.)  Later that day, we decided to ride one full loop with the new out and back section and also climb to the top of Whiteface.  The climb up Whiteface Mountain is eight miles long and has an average of about a 10% grade.  Apparently the climb is almost identical to climbing Alp d’Huez (a famous Tour de France climb) which is pretty cool.  Up to the toll booth is 3 miles and it takes me anywhere from 20 to 25mins to do that part of the climb.  Then comes the next 5 miles which are a little less steep but because you have already been climbing for so long it doesn’t feel like it!

We got lucky and aside from some rain at the beginning of our ride, it held off for the most part after that.  Jim and I started our climb past the toll booth just as they closed the gate to the mountain.  This meant that as we approached the top, we had seen the last of the cars head back down the mountain.  We were all alone on the mountain and it was quite dramatic because there were sections where the fog was so thick you couldn’t see more than about 10 feet in front of you.

The top of the climb finishes at just below 5000 feet and it was about five degrees Celsius up there.  In the past I have learned the hard way that it is really important to carry extra layers to wear at the top of the mountain and, perhaps even more importantly, on the descent.  Even on relatively warm days, mountain tops can get quite cold, and this is exacerbated by the wet clothing from sweating on the climb up.  When you are not expending any energy on the way down braking can be painful and scary if you have cold hands and are in a state of full convulsions.  I got to the top about four minutes ahead of Jim and started to put on my hat and extra jacket. As Jim was still layering up, I decided to begin the descent because I was really starting to feel the cold.  We both agreed to take the descent slowly and carefully and we would meet at the store at the bottom for a hot chocolate before heading on the final ride back to our hotel.


This descent is a scary one.  It looks smooth because there are not any potholes or gravel patches, but there are lumps in the pavement that want to throw you off your bike if you hit them while braking.  But at the same time, you have to brake so that you don’t go too fast down the descent.  I hit the first ones a bit too fast and then figured out the best way to descend:  Brake and come to an almost complete stop before the bumps, then let up on the brakes and ride them before putting on the brakes again.  It worked well!
When I got to the store, I waited for a while.  I drank my yummy hot chocolate and filled my bottles with water, but Jim did not arrive.  Even after taking into account Jim might have spent more time layering up and may have descended more slowly than I did, I still figured he should have made it down already.  So I started to worry.  I called Jim’s cell phone but there was no answer.  I looked for him up the road, but still couldn’t see him, and I started to ride back up the mountain to find him.  On my way back up I saw two cyclists coming down from the toll booth but they had not seen another cyclist.  Darn!  I kept climbing and was starting to visualize some horrible scenarios.  With my bike crash experiences my imagination can run wild, so as I continued to climb and as the moments continued to tick by I was getting more and more concerned.
As I approached the toll booth (almost 25mins later and a good hour since I last saw Jim), I was now moaning out loud:  “Oh no, please, no!”  I had decided that if I did not see Jim at the toll booth I would call 911 because it was likely a more serious problem than just a mechanical.  I couldn’t believe this was happening.  I was about 30 seconds away from calling 911 when, like a scene out of a movie, Jim walked out of the fog, dragging his bike along side of him.  I burst into tears and was so relieved that he was okay. Jim had hit some of those bumps and his rear wheel came off and jammed so that it was no longer turning.  He skidded sideways and completely shredded his tubular tire.  It was shredded so much that there was a hole the size of a dime in the rubber!  Fortunately, Jim did not go down and he managed to jam his wheel back on so that he didn’t have to carry it five miles down the mountain.  Poor guy knew I would be worried so he was running down the mountain in his cleats at as fast a clip as he could.  Jim had left his cell phone at the hotel so could not call me to let me know what had happened.  Jim’s bike shop had installed his rear wheel and I can only think that perhaps it was not put on properly because a rear wheel should not come off like that in any circumstance.
Well, a few lessons were learned:  NEVER LEAVE ONE PERSON ON THE MOUNTAIN ALONE.  Also, CARRY A CELL PHONE at all times.  And finally, CHECK YOUR OWN BIKE SET UP before heading out for a ride.
It all worked out in the end and the following day we did a good 2:05 run with a 30minute tempo piece in there. We ran along side the last marathoners (the Lake Placid marathon was taking place) and as a result we had a few aid stations available to refuel. It was perfect.
Next up:  Stories from Fireman Ironman training camp with Karen Smyers et al.!!
Cheers, Tara