I recently did my first Ironman, and I’m now here to tell you aaaaalll about it! The best word to describe my day is MAGICAL 🙂 I truly had the best (and worst) time out there.
Massive thank-you to the volunteers and spectators, who brought such amazing energy that carried me through a few downswings; thank-you to my coaches and teammates for getting me ready for this race over the past 6 months or so; and thank-you to my family for supporting and cheering the whole way through!
So who is this post for? If you like triathlon/care about me, you might want to read it… if you’re thinking about doing a full Ironman, you should probably read it… and if you wanna race at Lake Placid, you definitely gotta read it! Also, to future me: if you’re reading this to prep for another one, nice work 🙂
What is an Ironman?
An Ironman is a long-distance triathlon, consisting of a 3.8km (2.4-mile) swim, a 180km (112-mile) bike, and a marathon 42.2km (26.22-mile) run. It is well known as one of the most difficult individual one-day sporting events in the world.
The Ironman was born in Hawaii, by combining the three existing long-distance competitions already on the island of Oahu: the Waikiki Roughwater Swim (3.9km or 2.4 mi), the Around-Oahu Bike Race (185km or 115 mi; originally a two-day event) and the Honolulu Marathon (42.195km or 26.219 mi). At the inaugural race, athletes were handed a sheet of paper with the course map and rules, which also contained a little motivational quote that is now rather famous: “Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life“.
About Lake Placid
Lake Placid is a small village in New York State’s Adirondack Mountains. It’s famous for hosting the Winter Olympics twice, and is a hot spot for winter sports. The village has been hosting the Ironman for 24 years now, so it is very well organized and wonderfully run. This is a huge plus for first timers. The downside for first timers is that it’s a pretty dang difficult course.
Map with key points: Ironman Lake Placid Map
The swim is neat in that it’s in the calm waters of Mirror Lake, which has a cable running underwater from the rowing course – so it’s easy to follow and you’ll likely swim nice and straight! This can also be a negative though, as this leads to people really trying to bunch up to get on that cable and it can become quite the mosh pit. Overall though, I’d say it’s a lovely swim. The bike is absolutely gorgeous, winding through the mountains, past the ski jumps, along the river, and even a little bit into the biathlon course! But… the hills are tough. And the back side is almost always hit with a strong headwind, so you’re stuck climbing brutal hills against a wind at the end of your bike when you’re likely already pretty spent. The run course is also beautiful, but with a few major climbs. It’s a 2 loop out-and-back, with one stretch out into the woods along the river, and another stretch through town and along Mirror Lake. It’s a great course for spectators, as athletes pass through the centre of town multiple times, and get to finish in the Olympic oval!
If you were not racing, this would be a very simple packing list. Casual clothes, maybe hiking clothes… that’s it! But if you’re racing (or even just going down for a training camp), your packing list will look more like mine. There is a separate section down below where I break down what I packed into my transition and personal needs bags, with some more race-specific detail.
- Bike glasses
- Bike shoes
- Bike socks
- Bike/tri shorts
- Chammy butter
- Sports bras
- Bike jerseys
- Bottles, nutrition
- Bike charger (for pedals/shifters)
- Spare tube & CO2
- Pump, lube, toolkit
- Running shoes (race shoes & training shoes)
- Race belt
- Bottles, nutrition
- Running tops
- Running shorts
- Casual clothes
- Good walking shoes (no need to get blisters the day before the race!)
Lake Placid is an easy 3 hour drive from Ottawa, where I grew up. Except now I live in Kitchener, which is about 7 hours away. Still not bad! You can also fly into Adirondack Regional Airport (20 mins away), or Albany NY, Burlington VT, and Montreal QC international airports (all around 2 hours away).
We stayed at an awesome Airbnb in Saranac Lake. Couldn’t recommend it more! It was big and clean, dog-friendly, and close to town (15 minute drive) without being too busy. A nice bonus is that it was not along the bike course so was easy to get to on race day. The hosts were great – they even made us little custom tags (including one for Hound!).
There are also a lot of great hotels right in the village, if you want to be walking distance. For those, be ready to book ahead, and pay up for the convenience.
We did a mix of cooking at the Airbnb and eating out. We bought groceries when we first arrived, which covered our breakfasts, lunches, and pre-race dinner.
We went out to eat a few times and kinda hit one spot from each category – all of which I would recommend! And if you’re in town for the race, make sure to check your welcome packet… ours included a $25 coupon for a bunch of local restaurants!
- Coffee shop: Coffee Bar (great views, simple drink and breaky sandwich menu)
- Lunch spot: Lisa G’s (amazing food, stunning patio)
- Dinner restaurant: Bitters & Bones (good BBQ food, cool vibe)
- Ice cream bar: Mountain Mist Saranac Lake (yummy ice cream, cute patio)
We got down to Lake Placid fairly early, which was nice because we were able to do our last few workouts on parts of the course!
- Wed, July 21st:
Drive day, arrive at Airbnb, unpack, get groceries, night in
- Thurs, July 20th:
Morning swim in Mirror Lake (25 mins)
Bike along start of course (1hr)
Run along run course at Mirror Lake drive (15 mins)
Coffee Bar for brunch
Athlete check-in at the Ironman village
Ice cream at Mountain Mist
- Fri, Jul 21st:
Morning bike along end of course (45 mins)
Run along course at Mirror Lake drive (20 mins)
Dinner at Bitters and Bones
- Sat, July 22nd:
Afternoon EZ swim in Mirror Lake (10 mins)
Snacks at Lisa G’s
- Sun, July 23rd:
- Mon, Jul 24th:
Awards ceremony & breakfast, drive home
We did do a few things outside of training, just for funsies! Of course, visiting the Ironman village and store, and checking out a local bike shop… but also, the Olympic museum. This was a really cool spot, and a nice low-effort activity while resting legs 🙂
Tyler and my parents (who were not racing) did some hiking and biking in the area, including climbing up Whiteface Mountain!
Transition & Personal Needs Bags
Making a special category for how I packed my transition and personal needs bags, because this is something that’s unique to the full distance Ironman and I learned a lot throughout this process! Thanks to my teammates who gave me tips on how best to pack 🙂
- What I wore to start:
- Sports bra
- Tri shorts
- Heart rate monitor
- Timing chip
- Swim cap
- T1 (swim-bike):
- Bike glasses
- Bike jersey
- Bike socks
- Bike shoes
- Small towel
- T2 (bike-run):
- Running shoes (with speed laces)
- Change of socks
- Running shorts & top (in case I wanted to change clothes)
- Sunscreen (volunteers had lots!)
- Race belt with bib number attached
- Water bottles
- What was on my bike:
- Bike computer
- Water bottles
- Bike personal needs:
- Spare tube & CO2 cartridge
- Extra fuel (Clif Blocks, oatmeal cookies, bottle of iced tea)
- Run personal needs:
- Extra fuel (Clif blocks, maple syrup, bottle of iced tea)
Note: you likely will not get your personal needs bags back after the race, so only put stuff in there that you are OK with donating and never seeing again.
My Fueling Plan
Honestly, this section is more of a mini journal for myself so I can remember what I did for future races. Feel free to skip! Lol
- Breakfast: 2 pancakes, banana, lots of maple syrup, water
- Pre-race: 1 tube of clif blocks
- Bike: Sipping water throughout (aiming for 1L/hour); 3 tubes clif blocks, maple syrup salt water, salt pills (aiming for 90g carbs/hour)
- Audible: additional 2 half bananas (at 2nd and 5th aid station)
- Run: Water at every aid station and in mini bottle, 4 maple syrup packets, 2 tubes clif blocks, maple syrup salt water in mini bottle (aiming for 60g carbs/hour)
- Audible: grapes, orange slices, chocolate chip cookie, iced tea
Overall, this was a successful fueling day for me 🙂 Minor GI issues on loop 1 of run, but was able to sort that out pretty quick (by km 15). I also think this was leftover from my mid-swim pukey. Even though there was 7 hours in between… hehe
Race Morning Schedule
- 3:50 – Wake up, have breakfast, get dressed
- 4:30 – Head out, park in shuttle lot, walk to transition
- 5:15 – Check on bike (inflate tires, etc), add nutrition to bike and transition bags, drop off bike & run special needs bags
- 5:45 – Head to water, hit outhouse, snack on clif blocks, meet up with teammates, sit & chill
- 6:10 – Wetsuits on, get into swim corral
- 6:30 – Race starts!
Swim: Got in the water and immediately into my groove, feeling good! It was a total mosh pit though so I styed a ways off the cable for the whole way out of loop 1. Despite that, I got punched and kicked more times in the first 500m than in any other race I’ve ever done. One punch to the head was strong enough to make me suck in some water, and cough until I puked. Lovely! After that though I settled in again nicely and cruised through the rest of loop 1. I tried to make my re-entry quick, to not even give myself time to register that I had to go back out again. The plan worked! Plus I felt very cool diving back in. I was able to get on to the cable for loop 2 since it was less crowded, and by the time I turned the last corner I felt like I was just flying. I ended up coming in at 1h15 (1:58/100m pace), which I was super proud of considering my best 70.3 swim so far was a 2:11/100m!
There was a lonnngggg run to T1 (600m), but I was in a good mood so I didn’t mind. The changing tents were such a pleasant experience too! Full of volunteers asking “what do you need?”, “what can I do for you?”, and my fav: “I’m putting sunscreen on your ears don’t move!”.
Bike: A little chilly but can’t say I even noticed because adrenaline. Was so happy to be on my bike 🙂
Starts with some corners and a downhill through town, then a biiig climb. My tummy did not feel good at all. First out and back I was happily surprised by it not being a u-turn, but a little jaunt through the Olympic biathlon track – kinda like a go-kart/pump track! At aid station 1 I grabbed water refill and a banana, hoping some real food would settle my tummy.
Then came the pass from teammate Kevin! We shared a quick check-in about our swims, and he took off (for a killer bike time!).
Next, onto Keene descent… what a wild ride! Was a bit crowded, and people were taking corners veryyy wide (which is understandable!), so I had to brake a bit but overall enjoyed a solid 6 or 7 minutes of just being tucked and resting my legs.
Then a long rolling section, kinda getting in the groove, angrily watching draft packs go by, laughing at the penalty tent (volunteers in jailhouse stripes, with “guard dogs”), then an out-and-back that was deceptively long, but somehow seemed downhill both ways. Fine with me! Saw teammate Angela a few times throughout the out-and-backs, which is always a nice boost!
Now starts the climb back into town…
Another banana and the tummy is feeling better! Woohooo! Climbs very under control, keeping it to a max of 160 watts. Almost too controlled… but it’s the first loop. Conservative is ok!
Now onto “the bears”, which are not even close to the toughest climb of the day despite being the most famous. And the fans on papa bear!! The fans!!! Just the best 🙂
Last bit of the loop was probably my fav – one last hill, then a cruise down mirror lake drive where I felt very cool and sleek tucked into aero, flying by the crowds and tents. My fav cheer of the day: “WOW. WOMEN.”
Did not stop for bike special needs (didn’t need my spare nutrition or tube). First loop done… in 3:25. Slower than expected, but whatever! Maybe I’ll be faster on loop 2. The goal was to be extra conservative for loop 1.
Second loop time! Still feeling ok. First climb, handled. Out and back, pump track, cruisin! Keene descent, no brakes this time! Not once! But I did find myself really wanting it to be over. My neck was getting reaaaaallly sore and my upper back was tightening up. Not sure that an aero position on that long of a downhill with that much traffic was a good idea, since I had to crank my head up to see in front of me. But ok! Last descent, done. Except now I can barely even hold regular aero on the flats… when do I get to climb again? Did I think I’d ever be asking that question?? Lol
Slightly more power on the back end hills this time, since my leggies were still feeling good. Humorous attempts to prop my head up on my aero bottle straw to get some relief… things were bad. And then came the headwinds, ripping down the hill, so much so that 10W more power was getting me an even slower speed than before 🙁 Then came the rain… and then the steam shower. But! Still moving forwards. I was really looking forward to getting back into town, needing that energy boost from the crowds. A nice moment: I take my shoes off on the bike (don’t like running in bike shoes, plus there were bike catchers!), but the last bit of the course was fairly technical. I was struggling to get my foot out and a lovely spectator yelled “you CAN do this!” right when I needed it. Finally made it, and felt absolutely horrible. Tyler got a video of my bike dismount, and I look like a hunchback. Haaaaaa
T2 would normally be pretty quick but I needed a lil moment here. Sat down, changed my shoes, a lovely volunteer brought me water and sunscreen, and then I ran away.
Run: Passed the fam as I was putting on my sunblock, with my nutrition stuffed in my bra and the sunscreen pack in my mouth. Hiii!
Immediately noticed that my one ankle was not well (stabbing pain when I stepped, and almost a loose feeling). Well, actually both ankles and both knees hurt with every step… but one was worse. Lol
Lots of downhill out of T2, which I tried to take conservatively so as not to mash my quads. Had my first Bronwyn sighting! Tried to will her a good run with a high-five. Angela also passed me, and I immediately knew the run was her thing. She was in her ELEMENT. Then came the long out and back… I had reviewed the course over and over but I guess I didn’t really clue in to how LONG this section through the woods was. It was out of town, 10 or so kms each way, quiet (almost no fans, just lovely aid station volunteers). This is when I went into a dark place, my pace started to slip, it rained and steam showered again, and I had to make 3 outhouse stops. THREE! In 20km! So I went back to the bike trick and grabbed some “real” food to supplement my nutrition – a cookie, grapes, and orange slices. Bing bang boom, it worked!
The stretch back into town starts with a killer hill, which I power walked. Probably faster than I would have ran it anyways! Then I saw Kev, who appeared to be crushing it but we both yelled “this sucks”. Two climbs in town… ran those ones. The energy was just electric!! Once back in the crowds I felt alive again, and can honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed the Mirror Lake out-and-back portion. The videos Tyler got of me before and after that section are like night and day.
Starting second loop feeling ok! Just a half marathon left! Crazy what “just” becomes when you’re on hour 11 of a race. The pains were still very much present, but I didn’t want to let that be an excuse to stop pushing. So I lapped my watch and told myself I would negative split my first ever marathon. Cause why not?! My heart rate was goofy low (no joke, it’s higher right now), because my limiting speed factor was my ankle pains. So I found a pace that was manageable and got down to business shooting for a sub 5hr run.
No more potty stops! So that was a win. It was also a treat to chitchat with fellow racers, since I wasn’t out of breath at all. This made the long out-and-back a little brighter!
Another Kev sighting (we hugged), another Bronwyn sighting (she called me a machine and I was touched).
One last big hill. Power walked it. Then ran the two into town, once again fueled by cheers and silly signs and bells and bagpipes. Then just out and back on Mirror Lake… with 4km left I was fired up. With 2km left started crying. Reeled it in again with 1.5km left, only to sob my way down the finisher’s chute. Was so happy to see Tyler and my mom and dad AND Nick and Bronwyn who made it back to watch me finish.
I did go under 5h for the run… but missed my neg split by a few seconds. Ah well!
Overall I just had the bestest time and while I’m disappointed in a few things, I think I did a really good job of controlling the controllables. I also never felt like I wanted to quit, and never thought that I wouldn’t finish. So a pretty good day!
What I would do the same
- My outfit. I was comfortable and only chaffed at my wetsuit line and my HR monitor strap.
- My shoes. I’m glad I didn’t wear my carbon shoes, since they don’t feel that great when I’m going slower than 6:00/km.
- My nutrition. No cramps, no nausea, wasn’t hungry.
- Everything about my swim. This made me happy.
- Not using the wetsuit strippers. They were dropping people into the sand, and I did NOT need sand all over myself. Saw some meaaaan rubbies resulting from this!
- My run consistency. Even though it was much slower than I would have liked, my splits were very solid!
- The people I was there with. Every person I saw on race day brought me UP 🙂
What I would do differently
- Consider only 2 bottles on my bike. I was able to grab water whenever I needed it from aid stations to refill my front bottle – the extra 1L water bottle was unnecessary.
- More neck strength training beforehand?? Idk. Something to help my poor neck and back on the bike!
- More power on the bike. With caution… my legs felt too good when I got off the bike. Fishy. But my back was mangled so hard to say really if I had more in me or not.
- Not hurt my ankle. Of course if this was an option, it would be awesome.
- Actually find and ring the first timer’s bell on the red carpet. I somehow missed it?
- Get my butt back out to the finish line for the midnight hour.
- Pick a flatter course :))) But just a bit! Not totally flat, that’s boring.
That’s a wrap! An incredible experience overall. I would 100% recommend that every triathlete do this course once in their life. It’s beautiful and so well organized and the town really shows out. I’m not sure that I would recommend it to first timers, but hey… I got through it!