From the Finish Line: A Lucky 13 Race
Mike Reilly's thoughts on another year in Lake PlacidAugust 10, 2011
Photo by Larry Rosa
After very successful U.S. Ironmans this year in St. George, Texas and Coeur d’Alene, I found myself on a flight to the beautiful Adirondacks in upstate New York for the 13th straight year.
St. George was a long and difficult day for the athletes so when they arrived to the finish line, who knows what they heard. Texas was a first-year phenomenon in which the state displayed its huge appetite for triathlon; it was the largest first-year spectator crowd I’ve ever witnessed at an Ironman. Coeur d’Alene was a perfect weather day, portraying over 14 hours of summer sunlight. Needless to say, there weren’t many glow sticks needed there.
Now on to Lake Placid—where it all began. The Father of all U.S. Ironmans has lead the popularity and growth of the sport in this country since 1999. Where would we be without the vision of then World Triathlon Corporation president Lew Freidland and Canadian race director Graham Fraser? Thank goodness they acted on their vision. Lew’s leadership combined with Graham’s event production skills built the foundation for success. Without them, it’s possible that the thousands upon thousands of athletes would never have experienced the passion of Ironman.
The image of Heather Fuhr and Thomas Hellregial came to me [and] it was like yesterday.
During my last night at home and just about to go to sleep my wife Rose asked me an interesting question: “Aren’t you a little tired of going to the same place for so many years … doesn’t it get old?” While she has been to Lake Placid with me many times and loves the place, I understood the question. Automatically I said no, but didn’t go into the reasons; here they are in a shorter version. What I look forward to every year are adding new memories to the ones already etched in my memory from the past 13 years. I look forward to seeing the look on first-time Ironman finishers’ faces when they cross the Golden Olympic oval finish line. And I look forward to the bond the community has with the event, and the passion we all feel when 2500 strong realize their dreams. All this and more for the first time! So honey, since there are so many firsts about to happen, it really was like my first trip all over again.
I arrived on Wednesday night, so first thing Thursday I headed over to High Peaks Cyclery to pick up a road bike from Brian Delaney. Brian is one of the few left who have done all of the races here. Father Dan Callahan, who we refer to as the Iron Fryer, will also be back for his lucky 13. I pick up the bike and head out with Tom Ziebart to ride one loop of the course, hoping that the 95 degree and 20 mph head wind would stay away on race day.
Friday night held one of the best Welcome Dinners (I still like saying Carbo dinner better!) we ever had. There’s always something in the pure air at Lake Placid that brings out a ton of energy at the banquet. From our husband/wife couple, to our youngest competitor who just wanted to beat his dad, to the FDNY fireman Matt Long who gave an inspirational talk, the dinner accomplished its goal of relieving stress for many.
Over the years, Lake Placid has delivered some of the toughest weather ever at an Ironman. When the raindrops fall, they seem to be as large as golf balls. This year in the transition area on race morning, I looked up and saw loads of stars, which brought a smile to my face. The day delivered an almost perfect 75 degrees with a light breeze and clear skies. That’s when I thought, wow, this year will be lucky 13.
While all the athletes were taking care of their morning prep I told them that the water temperature in Mirror Lake was 77.1 degrees—the first time in this race’s history that it would be wetsuit-optional. It’s no matter whether I agree or disagree with this rule. My job is to inform them what it means. If you chose to wear a wetsuit you would not be eligible for age group awards or World Championship slots. You would still receive an official time, and I would still call you an Ironman at the finish. All non-wetsuit athletes would be counted in all awards and Ironman slots. Just over 600 athletes choose to not wear one.
As we ushered the athletes into the water across two different timing mats, I couldn’t help but wonder if some of them were regretting their decision. As if Ironman isn’t hard enough! But there was nothing but smiles on their faces heading into the water—probably because I’d just told them there was almost a zero percent chance of rain for the day. The announcement sent up a huge roar and I immediately hoped I was 100 percent correct.
That special Ironman day unfolded like so many others that had gone off without a hitch. With each race there’s a constant stream of similarities flowing through the day. No matter if you’re in New Zealand, Australia, Arizona or Lake Placid. But the difference is the place you’re in, and the bond you have with the community. My bond with Lake Placid and its athletes is very strong and I know one day these trips and finish lines will end. But the mark etched in our souls from this event won’t go away; Lake Placid has so many athletes who attend every year, it’s like seeing family on a holiday.
The night hours in the Olympic oval were magical this year. It was the largest U.S. Ironman crowd we’ve ever seen. From the winners up until midnight it just kept getting larger and louder. Having our winners TJ Tollakson and Heather Wurtele partying at the finish along with Matt Long made for an electric atmosphere that the spectators just ate up. Each finisher almost went deaf coming down the chute. The best part was calling out “You are an Ironman” in unison with everybody, a literal chorus of that four word phrase I’ve said so many times.
Like all Ironmans, the bell tolls at midnight—17 hours from the wet and wild start. After bidding goodbye to all the spectators and athletes (so many come back after they finish to greet the final finishers) I thought of year number one, 1999. Why? I don’t know, but the image of Heather Fuhr and Thomas Hellregial came to me. It was like yesterday that they were with me in the finish chute greeting athletes as the events inaugural winners.
I’m lucky to have 13 glorious years in Lake Placid and lucky to be looking towards 13 more.
Don’t miss our photo gallery and race report from the big day, or our interview with first-time Ironman winner, TJ Tollakson.