Ironman Lake Placid

Race Briefing Note
June 29, 2001

Background -- I have done six Ironmans (IMCx2, IMHx2, IMNZ, IMOz). My times have been 11hrs, 10.5hrs, 10hrs twice, and 9.5hrs twice. My bike PRs are 4:59 in New Zealand (easy course) and 5:12 in Penticton (standard course). My relative strength is running. My cycling is equal to a top AG athlete or a weak pro. 32 yrs old, 6' tall, 165 lbs when I did this TT.

I've been training in Lake Placid for the last week. A few days ago, I rode the bike course two times for a total of 98 miles. I skipped the out and back on the first loop. I rode very easy. Riding the course easy does not give the same impression as riding at race pace. I have driven the run course, but have not run it because I am saving my legs for Tupper Lake this weekend. I did do a two-hour run on the cross-country ski trails outside of Lake Placid (very nice running).

One thought for the swim course. If you are a strong swimmer, work all the turns, you can always pick up a faster set of feet. If you tend to get nervous in open water, start wide. Stay wide until after the first turn. Things should have settled a little by then. I imagine that it would be very, very easy to get caught on the inside. If you are a MOP swimmer this would bite.

Here are some thoughts on the bike course:

The course is deceptive! The hardest part is the last 11 miles of each loop and you need to save plenty of energy to deal with them. I averaged 22.5 mph (riding easy/moderate) for the first 45 miles. In the last 11 miles I averaged 17.6 mph (riding hard/very hard). The rollers keep climbing all the way to mile 55.25 (111.25) so you want to make sure that you have some gas in the tank. Bonk in the last 15 miles and you could easily drop 15 minutes. This is a course that rewards patience.

I had heard that each loop starts with a killer downhill. That's not the case. There is a nice downhill into Keane, but you ride seven miles before you hit it. In these seven miles there are some rollers. I wouldn't exceed Zn 3 (aerobic pace) in these rollers. If you go anaerobic there is a huge price to pay later in the day. Athletes with prior knowledge of the course have a distinct advantage because they will be better able to gauge the hills. Stronger cyclists will be able to use momentum to take them over some of the smaller rollers. There are also some areas where you can push a little as you are heading into a downhill. Pre-race recon is a good idea.

I assume that many people will big-ring the rollers before Keane. They will pay a price.

Learn how to eat and drink while staying on your bars. There are several good opportunities for drinking on the way to Keane.

The ten miles between Keane and Jay offer an excellent opportunity to eat solid food (if you plan in using it). I cruised this bit of the course at what felt like a very easy HR (Zn 1). You will be fresh, so it should feel very easy through here. Don't push the flats -- there will be plenty of time for that later.

Once you get to Jay, you turn left and there is a one mile, 5% climb on the way to Wilmington. This is a good chance to get out of the saddle a little and stretch your hip flexors. I rode this bit steady (Zn 2 - LSD pace).

After the climb there are some more rollers, and I was able to easily get my speed up in some flat sections. The headwind that I had on the way to Jay had turned into a tailwind. This is another excellent area to eat and drink.

Soon you are in Wilmington where you turn right for the out and back. The out-and-back represents the best place to eat before the final push to the end of the loop. The best places to eat in the out-and-back are:

  1. the middle of the out;
  2. the beginning of the back; and
  3. the end of the back. I would really tank up early in the out-and-back.
There is a short 8% climb towards the end of the back. It would be tempting to smoke this on the first loop. I'd advise caution. I think the urge to hammer will be gone by this stage of the second loop!

As you exit the out-and-back, there is a short descent, followed by a short climb to a stop sign where you turn left to return to Lake Placid. Get ready, the fun is about to begin!

The first mile is fine, gentle rollers and some flat bits. I'd have a big drink through here (you should have been eating in the out-and-back).

Soon you pass Mile 45 (101) and the real riding is about to start. Not having to do a second lap or run long off the bike, I cranked it right up to get a feel for this section. Nothing here is all that bad. 3%, 5%, 7% grades, nothing too long, some breaks in the action so you can drink. However, there is something about the roller placement (and the fact that the trend is uphill) that makes this section quite tough.

My view is that Miles 45-50 are the toughest on the course. They took me 18 minutes and were my slowest miles on the day (and the ones that I rode the hardest).

Once you blow through Mile 50 (or it blows through you!) -- there is a roller followed by a short flat section where you might want to drink and eat a little more.

From Mile 52, there are five rollers. Somebody has named them Little Cherry, Big Cherry, Mama Bear, Baby Bear and Papa Bear. At the top of Papa Bear you make a right turn and there are two short rollers before it is mainly downhill back to town.

Hopefully 0.75 miles is enough time for your legs to loosen up because that's all you get!

How to approach pacing? Personally, I would "cruise" the first lap. For me that means that I would want to be at a pace where I was able to enjoy the fantastic scenery. If I was starting to get "laser lock" on the road, then I would back off. There is plenty of time that can be made up on the second lap.

If I was a stronger cyclist I would start "working" the second time I climbed up to Wilmington. I wouldn't hammer, but that is where it would make sense to increase focus.

The wind is very fair on this course. For every mile of headwind I had, there was the same degree of tailwind. There is a fair amount of tree coverage so it is not too bad. Winds today were light to moderate.

The second time through Miles 45-55 will not be pleasant, even if you held back it will be tough. If you hammered early then it will be highly unpleasant. Thinking back to some of my more "difficult" days on the bike, I could see myself dropping up to 15 minutes in this section. Pacing pays off.

Gearing - I had my training wheels (700s) with 53/39 up front and 11-23 on the back. I didn't use the 39/23 and would race with an 11-21. I bet that I would use the 39/21 in a couple of places on the second loop. I imagine that my IM split on this course would be 5:05-5:15. I think a 53/39 and a 11-23 would do it for riders up to six hours. Beyond that you might appreciate a 12-25. If you are 6:30 or longer, you might like the comfort of a 12-28. I always like to have a bail out gear -- just in case.

Thoughts on the run course:

There is a one mile downhill to kick off each lap. If possible, I would do race simulation bricks that involve a one mile downhill straight off the bike. I would keep my stride short and cadence high.

For me, the real action will happen in the first out-and-back. This is a nice part of the course. Close to water, mainly flat and probably some shade. Here is where a strong runner should focus on cadence and reeling in the competition.

There are solid climbs at Mile 9 (22) and Mile 10.5 (23.5). I would shorten my stride and try to avoid red-lining. Slower runners may find walking faster.

The last four miles of the marathon will be tough! Fortunately, there should be a lot of crowd support.

This course rewards people who are able to finish strong. Nothing will be decided until the finish line -- push right to the end because you never know what will be happening on those hills in front of you.

Overall - a very fair course. Mentally tough due to the late climbs on both the run and the bike. I think this course (more than IMC) rewards a conservative early approach. Like others have said, I think it is probably equal to IMC in difficulty. If you hammer early, then I think it is much, much tougher.

How to prepare -- For my short to moderate intense bike sessions, I would either ride with roadies or insert some hard threshold intervals. Having the ability to recover after harder efforts will be a useful skill given the large number of rollers on the bike course.

Hope this helps. See you in July.


Additional Notes with Joe Friel:
(Gordo comments italicized)


  • No solid food or gels for the first 20 minutes. Let your gut get used to the effort before starting to load it up and place extra stress on the system. Liquid only until Keane is a good idea. Athletes that adjust quickly could start their food during the descent to Keane (Mile 7/8).
  • Do not go anaerobic on the bike on hills or when around other riders. Wear your HR monitor to keep you honest. If you go anaerobic your gut is likely to shut down and it could be the beginning of the end.
Excellent advice. Essential for the first loop.
  • Pee on the downhills. Be careful of getting into the frame of mind that you don't want to mess around with peeing and therefore you won't drink as much. Could lead to DNF. Better to have to pee. Practice it.
There are some longer, gradual grades that are useful for this.
  • Take a sodium capsule (Thermolyte?) at 30 minutes every hour of the bike. That will give you 600mg of sodium per hour. The remainder (400?) will come from sports drinks and food.
Elites have less to worry about for sodium needs due to the fact that they are out there a lot less time than the slower AG athletes. In Kona lastyear (10 hrs), I only used sodium supplementation on the run. I took a succeed tab every 45 minutes.
  • Take in some calories and sports drink every 15 minutes on the bike. Set your watch to beep at 15 minute intervals throughout. You're likely to forget otherwise. Don't trust your memory to handle this. Set the watch. This alone could prevent a DNF. Get about 100 Calories every 15 minutes. This could be a gel pack or half a sports bar. Be sure to drink whenever you eat. Three mouthfuls of sports drink for every feeding.
Every single time you are on a flat section of the course, eat and drink. Learn to eat and drink while on the bars. Learn to become very adept with shifting. Clean shifting will save time due to all the rollers.


  • Eat a gel pack every 30-40 minutes with three mouthfuls of water or sports drink along with each.
Typically, I can only handle liquids. Because of this, I have to base the majority of my nutrition strategy on bike consumption.
  • Drink at least a little at every aid station. If the cups don't have straws, crush it with your hand to make a spout so you can pour it in a little easier.
Squeeze the top. Great advice. There most likely won't be straws. I would have choked myself long ago. Never, ever skip aid. Even if it is "only" 10K to the finish you are racing on a thin, thin line. Remember PNF and take calories until the end. If things get really ugly then chill, relax, and take on a bunch of food. There is plenty of time to finish. PNF won numerous races while walking aid stations. Can you tell that she's my IM hero -- never give up!
  • Use caffeinated gels for the last 10 miles of the run. You may begin to feel a little sleepy otherwise. This is common for some athletes in such a long event and is the brain becoming more sensitive to a certain protein that promotes sleep. Caffeine will help to keep you mentally sharp.
Personally, I'd be using caffeine throughout. Gels on the bike and cola on the run. Test in training and be sure to drink lots of water. I trashed my race in New Zealand by not drinking enough with my gels!

Good luck!

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