This year’s Ironman Lake Placid was full of unexpected obstacles for race organizers, athletes and spectators. When a rough lightning and thunderstorm hit just outside the Lake Placid area shortly after the age groupers started their race, it was uncertain how organizers should (safely) proceed, however once the storm came closer the call was clear—age groupers were pulled from the water, most of them shortly after finishing the first of two laps. While the lightning would subside, the rain did not, and athletes faced torrential downpours, minor flooding and generally miserable conditions over the next 140 miles of their race. These conditions would have been tough on a flat course, but add in the notoriously tough hills (and very long descents) of the Lake Placid course, and the stakes were even higher.
Sometimes it is these extraordinarily tough conditions that pave the way for breakthrough performances, as was the case in the professional race in Lake Placid where both the female and male winners enjoyed their very first Ironman titles. And as for the age group race, well, Lake Placid finishers showed remarkable resilience in a day that saw (necessarily) slower bike and run times due to wet roads and very cold conditions. Let’s examine further:
While the pro race swim was less affected by the lightning storm (they were able to finish their swim before the course was closed), it did create mayhem for every competitor out on the bike—and the pros were no different.
Czech pro Tomas Martinek exited the increasingly choppy waters of Mirror Lake in first, followed quickly by Hungarian Balazs Csoke. In fourth place sat 2013 age group Ironman and Ironman 70.3 world champion Kyle Buckingham of South Africa in one of his first Ironman finishes as a professional.
Csoke grabbed the lead on the bike early, but Buckingham made a strong move in the second lap, eventually netting a three-minute lead on the men heading out of T2. Balazs and American Shearon would head out behind him, but the three minute gap eventually grew even larger as Buckingham smiled his way through the marathon (and the occasional downpours). Buckingham would bike a race best 4:43:47 (keeping in mind the harsh conditions of the roads) and a 2:57:49 marathon, clocking in his first pro title in 8:38:43. It is interesting to note that despite the conditions, Buckingham’s finish time is still almost five minutes faster than 2013’s champion Andy Potts, who finished in 8:43:29.
The women’s race began with a swift swim by American Darbi Roberts in 54:11, followed by fellow Americans Kathryn Thomas and Amber Ferreira. Once out on the bike, Ferreira seemed to use the inclement weather to her advantage, riding smartly through the turns and hills while the other women slowed, eventually grabbing the lead and never looking back. By the second lap she had almost a five-minute lead over Roberts, and by the time she headed into T2 it had grown to 5:30. Ferreira ran a career-best 3:08:35 for her very first Ironman title.
Ironman Lake Placid, now in its 16th year, has gained a reputation as a great first Ironman for many reasons. The entire town embraces the race, which means even with the blustery, stormy conditions of the day, athletes were still greeted like kings and queens at the finish line. But it’s also known for its challenging bike course and unpredictable weather. Indeed, it has rained more years on race day than it hasn’t, but the pure Americana of the race (as the site of the famous 1980 Winter Olympics, the entire town breathes patriotism and sportsmanship) keeps people coming back year after year.
The first main technicality of the two-lap course hits early on, at Mile 12, and again at mile 70, with a several mile long descent—which has unfortunately been the site of more than one crash over the years. Athletes descend roughly 1,500 feet over a span of 10 miles before hitting some gentle rollers and then heading down again to a brief flat spot before hitting some tough hills. Indeed, the middle 40 miles of the course are almost entirely uphill before athletes head down the large descent one more time and make one last large climb (roughly 2,000 feet) back toward T2. With a total elevation gain of more than 6,200 feet, Lake Placid is by no means a fast course, however if you are a strong on the descents, a quick climber, and have ample experience riding in inclement weather—then this might be the Ironman for you.
This year the course times were slower (although as I write this the age group split times are still not officially listed on Ironman’s athlete tracker because of the course closure). Forty-five-year-old Brian Schwind of Pennsylvania had a consistently strong ride despite the conditions, which you can see a Strava analysis of HERE.
He was more cautious on his first long descent, but picked up a lot of speed on his second, topping out at 45 miles per hour! Over the 112-mile bike ride he averaged 178 watts (weighted average power), operating at 76-percent intensity—all in all a very solid effort that set him up for a 4:51:59 marathon, which you can see HERE. Schwind averaged an 11-minute pace during the 26.2 miles, no doubt dealing with the cold, rain and wind he felt for the entire bike and then continued to suffer through during the run. Schwind put in a very good effort in incredibly tough conditions, and persevered during an Ironman where the weather played one of the largest hands of the day.