Oh what a weekend! I dropped a hint on Thursday that I might have something up my sleeve as I headed out on a road trip with some friends over the weekend. Now I can confess that we were headed to Lake Placid… on Ironman weekend. I had a few emails and messages from people asking if this was, in fact, what I was up to. Good guess! 🙂
6 of us made the ~7 hour drive on Friday and set up camp at Whiteface KOA, just a 10 minute drive outside of downtown Lake Placid. I noticed immediately that the campground was teeming with athletes, and almost every vehicle driving in and out of town was loaded up with bikes. The area was oozing Ironman.
First on our agenda was a swim at pristine Mirror Lake. It was early evening by the time we got there and the lake and there were hundreds of people swimming or getting ready to do so. The course was fully marked and set-up had begun on the beach. It was very cool to see everything coming together, and wondering what it must feel like for those who were preparing to race in a couple of days.
We suited up and had a fantastic swim. The water was just about the perfect temperature (comfortably cool) and so clean and fresh (especially compared to Duck Lake *shudder*). I covered one full loop and loved following the famous white cable – no sighting required! In fact, I got so distracted by the line that I swam directly into the large triangular buoys a couple of times. Whoops!
After dinner back at camp, we tucked in as early as possible after the long travel day and knowing that we had an early wake-up call and big workout ahead. We were up and at ’em at 5am to fuel up and prepare for a long ride – 90K (56mi) for half of us and double for the
crazies other half. Our campground was located directly along the bike course, so we picked it up about 45 miles into the official route and decided to start our ride from there.
The route was spectacular. It’s a challenging course, but the scenery is just incredible (when you’re able to take your eyes off the road to enjoy it). Unfortunately the roads are not in very good shape, especially the shoulders, but at least we will have more space when they are closed to traffic.
It was fun to recognize the hills and landmarks that people have been telling me about for months, and I truly enjoyed every minute of the ride – except the terrifying descent into Keene! I think I need more practice on my downhills than uphills.
Later that night we went back into town to scope out the expo and transition area, which was packed to the brim with bikes.
We did some shopping and gawked at all of the athletes walking around in head to toe spandex before heading back to camp for dinner and an early bed time. It has been a long day and we had another big one ahead.
Bright and early Sunday morning (IRONMAN DAY!) it was time to get dressed up and head around the corner to Wilmington for our “Wild Wild West” themed aid station duties starting at 7am. We had a couple of hours of prep, then were treated to a nice breakfast while we waited for the athletes to start rolling through our aid station, which was located around the 40 mile mark on the bike course.
From 9am onwards, it was non-stop excitement and chaos as cyclists poured through our station to fill up on water, Perform, gels, chews, bars and bananas. There were dozens of us handing items out at any given time and we formed a long line with the various items spread out all the way through. It’s a lot harder than you might think to successfully hand something off to someone on a bike, especially when they didn’t want to slow down, and items were dropping all over the place.
There were several wipeouts caused my cyclists wobbling as they tried to swap bottles, as other cyclists attempted to weave around them on this narrow out-and-back section. The dropped bottles posed a major hazard and we saw at least one athlete ride over a bottle, which caused him to go down. Thankfully, we didn’t see any major injuries and each of them was able to get up and carry on.
Things got intense in the second loop. The sun had been pounding down all day and the temperature seemed to be a lot warmer than most anticipated. We were melting just standing out there, and really feeling for everyone who was out racing. More and more people were pouring into our station needing support. Many stopped for long periods of time, needing aid or just some time in the shade and off of their bikes. We did everything we could for people who needed help, from slathering sunscreen on them, feeding them advil from our personal stash, filling up their bottles and nutrition boxes, and even peeling and hand-feeding bananas to some of them! It was a truly humbling and also very rewarding experience.
After 6+ hours out there, we eventually had to peel ourselves away. It was an absolute blast being out there (though more exhausting than you might think!) and I hope to have the opportunity to do it again. It was a great feeling to play even a small part in helping someone get through their day.
We had a bit of downtime in the early evening before heading back into town to watch the finish. We staked out a spot where athletes were making their way into the Olympic Oval, and watching their faces when they realized they were finally there was just incredible. Some people seemed to be dead to the world, running completely on autopilot, while others whooped and hollered and high fived the crowd. Some were walking or hobbling, while others seemed to find a final kick to sprint for the finish.
I had goosebumps just imagining what it must feel like in that moment. After a while, we decided to make our way inside and grab a seat on the bleachers where we stayed until midnight. The place was getting more and more packed and louder by the minute. They aren’t kidding when they call this the “midnight finish line party.”
It was an incredibly inspiring experience to be at the finish and get a real taste for what this is all about. It certainly made me more excited about what we were planning to do the following morning.
After getting to bed around 1:30, our alarms were set for 4:30 in order to line up at the race site with hundreds of other volunteers looking for a spot in the 2013 race. We were about 150th in line (there were well over 1000 when we left) and they started taking us inside after about two and a half hours of waiting. There may have been some naps on the sidewalk.
It just took a few minutes to
sign our lives away register and I enjoyed chatting nervously with others lining up while we waited. Just a few quick questions, cha-ching on the credit card and I was in!
Ironman Lake Placid, July 28, 2013: here I come!