Ironman athletes talk about LP course

The Lake Placid Ironman course is known for having hilly terrain on its running and biking routes, and the way athletes try to tackle them can make a big difference in their final times.

For Dan Giblin of the Rochester area, this will be his ninth time in the Lake Placid Ironman. He, like others interviewed for this article, preached taking a measured approach on the bike course because of the mountainous terrain.

The 112-mile biking portion is the second part of the race, coming after the 2.4-mile swim but before the 26.2-mile run. Sometimes newcomers to the race wind up burning out early in race because their adrenaline gets pumping.

“You’ve done all this training and then you do the proper taper and you just feel great, and when you come out of the water, the crowds excite you,” Giblin said. “You jump on the bike, and you tend to bike too hard, and you get out on (state Route) 73 over by the ski jumps, and it’s a good sizable hill, and a lot of people damage their legs a little bit there. They put too much effort in too early. So what happens is that you pay for it on the second loop or on your run. On this course, especially, it’s all about patience. Waiting until the second loop and then see where you’re at, and then maybe push a little harder.”

An elevation profile map of the bike route provided by Ironman Lake Placid shows that the total elevation gain for that part is 6,898 feet. There is a slight hill in the beginning on Route 73 leaving Lake Placid, then a long section of downhills and flats past Cascade Lakes on the way to Keene. From Keene, it heads up Route 9N all the way to AuSable Forks, where athletes double back to Upper Jay on the way to Wilmington. Then there’s a climb through the Wilmington Notch along the West Branch of the AuSable River on state Route 86 on the way to Lake Placid. The route is 56 miles long and must be completed twice.

The terrain is considered hilly compared to many other courses. But pro Ironman athlete Lisa Roberts said she actually chooses to race in Lake Placid because of the route because she likes climbing on her bike.

“Now this course, in particular, is a little different than the others that I’ve done where it was a hilly bike course but a flat run course,” she said. “This one’s got a few more hills on the run, so my strategy changes just a little bit, particularly on the bike portion that I might not push it quite as hard as I would say at a course at Nice (in France), where I know the run is flat.”

Roberts said that saving some energy on the bike portion can be important here. She said you can lose a lot more time on the run if you’re out of energy than if you just “back off just a hair on the bike.”

The 26.2-mile marathon run that is the final stretch of Ironman has 1,604 feet of elevation gain. Like the biking course, participants are required to do two loops. The run starts at the Olympic Oval and heads down Route 86 to Route 73 to near the Olympic Ski Jumps, where it turns left onto Riverside Drive (River Road) for a few miles. Runners then double back and head back the way they came, eventually turning right onto Lake Placid Club Drive for an out and back. Athletes then run the route one more time.

Ironman pro Balazs Csoke, who took fourth in the Lake Placid Ironman last year, said that knowing the course is important and that executing your plan on race day can make a big different in a person’s time.

“When the race is challenging, your race execution gets more important, especially on the bike. We all know that you can push the bike … and fly into transition area 6, 7, 8 minutes ahead of your competition, but you still have to run a marathon,” he said. “Here the run is hilly too, so you really have to be aware here how much you’re going to leave out on the bike course, even more than on other races.”