Ironman Lake Placid: The Bike Course
I made my way to the transition area and found my bag with my bike supplies in it and headed to the changing tent. It felt like it took forever to get there and when I finally sat down to put on my bike shoes, I took a deep breath and tried to calm down. I was a little shaken after having such a chaotic swim and the changing tent was a whirlwind of commotion with people rushing in and out.
I had a volunteer there helping me get my shoes on and she was absolutely amazing ( as they all were). I remembered to wipe the sand off my back before I put on my aero top. It was a struggle to get on as I was wet from the swim and nervous. Finally, I got it on and zipped it up and I checked my back pockets to make sure my nutrition had not fallen out. Then, I put my helmet on and buckled it and headed to get my bike. This process seemed like it was going in slow motion, but in reality it was about 8 minutes from swim exit until I was on my bike and riding.
Within minutes of me getting on my bike, I heard thunder rumbling and then the rain started to come down. I was just so relieved to be on my bike that I didn’t care! However, I felt that damn timing chip flopping around again like it did on the swim. I looked down and realized it was only connected on one side. The strap was fastened, but the actual chip was only secure on one side of it. I started to contemplate what to do about it… I don’t wear socks on the bike or I could have possibly tucked it into them, but it would still be worrisome. As I was trying to decide what to do about this dilemma, the winds picked up and they were fierce. The climb out of Lake Placid was difficult the day I did it when the birds were chirping, the sun was shining and the sky was calm. Now, I was climbing in a significant headwind while my timing chip was dangling off my ankle and I was only a few miles into the day. Of course, I had the moment of “Maybe it’s a good thing if it falls off!” However, I knew I had friends and family tracking me and I did not want them to worry. I decided to stop at the first aid station, which is at an out and back by the Olympic Ski Jumps.
As I headed toward the ski jumps I looked for race officials or anyone who might be able to help me with the chip. I rode to the very end of the aid station where medical was as I knew they might have some supplies to fix it. This was a good call, 2 EMT’s helped me figure out a way to secure the chip back on the strap without having to sew it, which would have been even more time consuming. All and all, I lost about 10 minutes here, but I was so appreciative that I found just the right people to help me and I could get on with the race.
The Keene Descent
I headed back off on my bike as the rain and wind became more severe. I was glad to have the timing chip taken care of, but my next dilemma was how I was going to manage the huge Keene Descent in the weather. The Keene Descent is a notorious section of the Ironman Lake Placid bike course. It is breathtakingly beautiful as on one side are the majestic Adirondacks and on the other side is the pristine river. The first time I rode through this during training I felt like I was in a movie as the scenery is just so dramatic. However, the notoriety of this section comes from the approximate 10 kilometer descent through winding roads where cyclists can hit some very high speeds of 45+ mph.
As someone who is a cautious cyclist, this descent is very stressful! It is great to let it go and enjoy the ride, but also nerve wracking due to the potential for accidents and injury. The strong head and cross winds on race day made it extra frightening for me. I stayed to the right on the course and let the speedsters fly by me as I feathered my breaks and balanced myself through the shifting winds. There are some sections on this descent that flatten and are a great place for speed too, but it was so windy that I was afraid to get in my aero bars and really push like I had during training.
Once I hit the town of Keene and the descent was over I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders. Although the wind and rain continued and I was shivering from being cold, I knew it would not be long before I would warm up again as there was a lot of climbing ahead of me!
I kept up with my nutrition fairy well and pushed through the course. There were times that I wanted to go faster, but the course was congested and passing one person on a hill meant having to pass 3 or 4 all at once. The Haselton Road area was particularly crowded and I was disappointed that I was not able to make up any time here, but there were cyclists on both sides of the road and many riding on the yellow line, which made it difficult to safely pass anyone.
I continued to climb and climb and came to the area of the course that a much talked about change was made just a few weeks before race day. An out and back at White Face Mountain had been added, which made an already very difficult climb that much harder. The change included a very narrow turn around in the middle of a hill. I will say that I did not let the change get in my head, but it was a foolish decision for them to add this section, as it was dangerous (in my opinion). As I climbed the hill to the turnaround, I was fortunate that no one was directly behind or in front of me, so I could navigate the narrow opening safely. I am still completely surprised and disappointed that they did not have a single person manning this part of the course. Once I got around the turn, I headed down a steep hill that was full of potholes, I hit one so hard that it reset my bike computer screen! On my second loop, they had the potholes marked with orange cones as there had been a few accidents in this area.
I continued the climbing back in to town and was elated when I hit the infamous “Three Bears”. I knew these hills well and actually looked forward to them. The last of the hills, “Papa Bear” was lined with people cheering everyone on as they climbed up the hill. It brought a huge smile to my face and I was so happy to have completed one loop of the course without any major catastrophes like what happened on the bike course at Ironman Mont Tremblant back in 2015.
The second loop was very similar to the first one for me, although the headwind seemed more severe on the 10 miles out of town. The Keene descent went a little more smoothly the second time around though, which was a relief. I made it through the remainder of the 112 mile ride without any drama or mechanical issues, which was one of my goals…hooray!! I became nauseated toward the end, but it waxed and waned and before I knew it, I was being cheered on by a crowd of people up “Papa Bear” again. At this point, I started to cry because I knew nothing was going to stop me from finishing that day, even if my bike time was slower than I anticipated it to be. The weather was crazy and I was thrilled to have been able to manage through despite it. The Lake Placid bike course was something completely and utterly out of my comfort zone and being able to successfully get through it was just such a huge accomplishment for me!
Next Up: The Run