Ironman Lake Placid: Advice and Racing Tips

Excerpt from Ironman Lake Placid: Racing Tips and Strategies

By Raymond Britt

Ironman Lake Placid is one of the most beautiful as well as one of the most challenging Ironman races in the world. For triathletes and supporters, the Ironman experience in Lake Placid is always exceptional.

Located in Upstate New York, Lake Placid is a picturesque town that has hosted the 1936 and 1980 Winter Olympic games and serves as a primary Winter Olympic training site.

Lake Placid is a terrific place to sight-see in the couple of days prior to your race. The town is small enough to be engulfed by triathlon fever. Enjoy it while you're there, but there are plenty of ways to escape it on driving tours.

Make a point of driving -- not riding -- the bike course. Along the way, you'll see signs for Olympic ski jump and Bobsled training locations. Do yourself a favor and stop by both locations. Get some friends to join you in an actual dry-land bobsled run. It'll rattle you silly, but it's worth doing once.

Gear Bags and Bike Check-In

When packing for your trip, bring more rather than less.

In my experience, temperatures in the area have varied widely on race day, from a frosty 40 degrees at dawn, to high 80s by early afternoon. Better to have extra clothing choices in your transition bags, just in case the weather is different from what you expected.

Rain and strong winds can arrive on race day, consider that when making your wheel choice. Dealing with strong gusts on steep downhills with slick pavement are more than terrifying on this course.

When checking your bike in on Saturday, cover your handlebars and seat with plastic bags. Even if it doesn't rain overnight, the morning dew will otherwise dampen them. Do not place or tape your nutrition on your bike overnight; wait until morning.

Then take it easy for the rest of the day. You have a big race tomorrow.

Race Morning: Before the Start

The transition area will be bustling with activity before dawn. Try to time your arrival so you can get through the body-marking line and to your bike by about 6:00am. That allows you plenty of time to pump your tires (it's easy to borrow a pump if you don't have one), fill your water bottles and load your nutrition.

Then go check your transition bags to be sure you didn't forget any essentials. Go over your checklist: at a minimum you need a race number, helmet, cycling shoes and running shoes. Missing anything beyond that; too late to worry about it.

Start moving toward the water at 6:30. Enter soon after. The tight entryway gets far too congested with hundreds of racers waiting to the last minute. Go early and find a shallow spot to stand; you won't be treading water endlessly.


The swim takes place in the calm but tiny Mirror Lake. It's a two lap course, outlined by buoys connected by a white rope that's tantalizingly visible just below the surface. Sighting is easy; you can see land nearby on either side to help orient you. You'll swim nearly to the far end of the lake, so there's no doubt about spotting the turnaround point.

In my opinion, the expansion of the race to more than 2000 participants has overcrowded this swim venue like no other Ironman race. Too little space; too many swimmers. Add to that the popular idea to swim along the little white line for the shortest distance, and you get a nearly unmatched water clobbering scenario. My advice: swim wide, relax, let others fight for position.

Lap one will remain congested no matter where you swim. By the time you start lap two, though, things seem to shake out a bit. More space, less contact, better swimming. Have fun.

Swim to Bike Transition

Once out of the water, you'll have to go a couple hundred yards to the Olympic Oval transition area. While it seems a long distance, it'll help clear your head a little. When you get your transition bag and enter the transition tent, all seats may be occupied. No problem; just find yourself a spot on grass and change anyway. No real reason to rush, either; you'll have a long day ahead. Just keep moving.

Volunteers will try to help get your bike as you near your rack, and soon enough you'll be exiting the transition area. Be sure to wait until you pass the Special Line before mounting your bike, or you may get a penalty.


The two-lap bike course is alternatively beautiful, tough, fast, and sometimes all of the above.

After a fast descent outside of the transition area (be careful there), and a speedy, adrenaline-fueled two miles to get out of town the work begins. Your first long climb will commence near the Olympic Ski Jumps, ascending for the next five miles past North Elba. The climb is forgiving, with several short downhills for relief, but overall you are climbing.

At the end of your climb you'll encounter a couple of flat miles past a beautiful stream. Appreciate the view, while preparing for fun. Next up: a screaming 10k downhill to the village of Keene. In good weather, go ahead, hammer a little. You can see speeds of 45mph or more. Just stay to the right; there will always be hot rodders passing you at over 50mph. I'd rather be safe and concede a few seconds.

If the weather is wet and/or windy, be careful, stay under control. Accidents on this stretch could be very nasty, what with all the downward momentum.

Sometimes riders experience a shaking of the front wheel, at high speed, and it's hard to control. To avoid this, try to keep your bike stable by hugging the frame with your knees on the way down.

[Once you reach Keene, the next eight or so peaceful miles are relatively flat, heading to the town of Jay. Build up some speed here, but don't go crazy. The left turn in Jay will re-introduce you to hills, and you want to withhold some strength.] This section is unavailable in 2010; see Bike Course Changes for detour details.

Your next notable destination is the 14-mile out-and-back on Haselton Road. It's mostly shaded and rolling, sometimes with steep downhills. So steep, that each time I'm coasting down them, I'm also slightly dreading climbing them on the way back. The good news: they aren't as hard to climb as you will think.

After Haselton Road, just a few relatively flat miles on Route 86, then a left turn toward Whiteface Mountain. As 86 approaches the mountain, you'll begin wondering where the terrifying climb you've seen on the course map begins.

Yes, it is there, beginning at about mile 44. But you will be surprised. It doesn't smack you, instead it sneaks up on you, with what ultimately are continuing gentle increases in elevation that are less taxing than you feared. The thing is: they don't provide much relief.

The real climbs occur within miles of the end of lap one. The hills are named, and labeled, Baby Bear. Mama Bear, and Papa Bear. None are too difficult. Get past them, and soon you'll be in town to start again on lap two.

Bike to Run Transition

This one's simple and relatively fast, even if you don't feel like moving too swiftly. Hand your bike to a volunteer, collect your transition bag and find a spot to change into your running shoes. Before you know it, you're off to run a marathon.


The two-lap 26.2 marathon course has it all. Long straightaways, steep painful declines and inclines, and routing though tree-lined forest roads.

You'll get a boost from the crowd as you head out of town in the first mile, and then for the next two miles, you're running steady, out of town. By the ski jumps, you'll encounter a quarter-mile swift downhill that your legs may not entirely want to go fast on. Do what you can, then turn left toward the Riverside Road turnaround, about 2.5 miles away.

The farther you get on Riverside Road, the less you'll be able to see the course ahead. The turns are constant, so allow yourself to stop worrying where the turnaround point is. Just find that running zone, and enjoy it.

At the turnaround point, you will retrace your steps back to where you started -- including a steep climb at about the 8-mile point that seems unforgiving. When you reach the transition area, you will take a sharp right turn on Lake Placid Club Drive, proceeding to pass the west side of Mirror Lake until you reach the second turnaround about a mile later. Pass it, and return to town to complete your first 13.1 mile lap.

All you have to do next is repeat the loop and you're an Ironman. OK, so it isn't as easy as all that. Just keep moving one step at a time. You will get there.

And you will deserve to be proud. You will be an Ironman.

For more, return to's Ironman Lake Placid coverage.