Scenes from Ironman Lake Placid
I swim and bike fairly regularly, and I recently started running. None of these things are particularly easy, which is why I’m in awe of anyone who completes an ironman — a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run. I mean, a marathon is hard enough. And then you add a long swim and a really long bike ride to it? That’s crazy!
Anyway, about a year ago my friend Kim signed up for Ironman Lake Placid, and this seemed like such a significant physical achievement that I decided to go up to Lake Placid to watch her. Originally I planned to go up for the day, but then I learned that it takes at least 12 hours for most triathletes to do an ironman, and decided to aim for a dinnertime arrival.
Considering what a massive event an ironman is, Lake Placid was surprisingly easy to navigate. I parked at the house where Kim and her family were staying, then walked down to a local elementary school and hitched a shuttle ride downtown. The ironman finishes at the Olympic speedskating oval, and that is where I spent most of the time, watching the runners cross the finish line from a nearby hill. This might sound boring, but it’s actually really fun: By and large, the runners look ecstatic, and the enthusiastic crowd cheers them every step of the way. (Kim said the crowd was beyond amazing, and really buoyed her toward the end.) It had the same festive atmosphere I recall from the Boston Marathon, where I spent two or three hours hanging around on the sidelines waiting for a glimpse of my friend Ed as he ran by.
Which raises the question: Is it really worth driving two to three hours to cheer on a friend you might only see for a brief moment before he or she disappears from view? Yes, absolutely. The overall vibe among the spectators is just so positive, and you really feel like you’re witnessing amazing feats of athleticism. Also, Lake Placid is just a great place to be. For one thing, you’ve got an impressive view of the Adirondack high peaks. Around sunset, I stood on the hill and watched the mountains slowly disappear from view as the darkness rolled in.
The Ironman’s top finisher was Andy Potts, who finished in eight hours, 43 minutes and 29 seconds. THIS IS AMAZING. But here’s the thing: Just completing an ironman is impressive. If someone came up to me and said, “I completed an ironman,” I would automatically be in awe of them. I wouldn’t be like, “What was your time? Did you do it in 10 hours or less?” Potts finished in the daylight, but many, many people, including my friend Kim, crossed the finish line in the dark. As I waited for her to come in, I pondered the last time I spent 14 hours doing a single activity. I’ve worked some long days, but I can’t remember the last time I worked 14 hours — you’d probably have to go back to a particularly hellish stretch at the college newspaper. I have gone on some really long hikes, and I think my trip up Dix Mountain in the high peaks took close to 16 hours, because we got lost and I pulled a muscle, which slowed us down. But I digress. My point is: An ironman takes a really long time to do, and runners were still coming in at 10:30 when we took our leave of the skating rink.
Anyway, Ironman Lake Placid is a really fun, well-organized event. They could have used a few more Porta Potties, and maybe a coffee vendor up near the finish line, but those are minor complaints. And when I got up at 6 a.m. today to drive home, I was treated to early morning views of the Adirondacks — the light coming up on the mountains and glinting off the river. I’m a little bit tired as I sit here and type this, but not nearly as tired as someone who just completed an ironman. So I won’t complain.
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