Sorry for the double IMLP posts this week. But as expected, training is beginning to really take over my free time. This is a very good thing, because it was a rather humbling experience to hop off (ok, to stumble off) of the bike last week having done 85 miles of the Ironman Lake Placid bike course and knowing we would still have 30 to go ... and then run 26.2 more miles.
On Monday, I posted my weekly recap of training. I think the trip deserves a bit more detail, along with a conditions report in case anyone who is also training for IMLP happens to stumble upon this blog. So settle in because this sucker is long. It may take you as long to read it as it took me to bike the course.
Amy, Bill and I went up to Lake Placid Tuesday April 15-Friday April 18. We figured swimming would be a bit out of the question because of the temps and instead we would make this a bike and run focused trip. Our coach agreed - he wanted us to do a couple of bricks, a long run and a long ride. Long ride = two loops of the 56 mile bike course but without the out and backs (which shaved about 30 miles off of the ride). We all were a little surprised by the two loops. Ultimately, doing the two loops was the absolute best idea possible.
We had to dig our winter coats and winter riding and running gear out of the closets for this trip. We'd been paying close attention to the weather forecast and it was looking pretty decent overall ... highs of 50s but the lows were in the teens. And we kept seeing a pesky snowflake predicted for Tuesday. I assumed it meant flurries. I was wrong. But more on that shortly.
Tuesday: We left first thing in the morning with a very packed rented van and four children under age 8. It was something. Note the Hop Devil? Oh yeah.
The drive took us around 7 hours. We had to stop more than usual because we had the kids, but they were so great. Granted, the iPads helped, but being all together in a big van made the trip a lot more bearable for everyone. It rained the entire drive up there. And it rained when we finally arrived in Lake Placid.
All these pictures, by the way, are courtesy of Amy. I brought my new fancy camera (a gift from my Dad), but like a moron I forgot to charge it and the battery was dead. Way to go. In any event, it was pouring and the rivers in the area were absolutely raging. Rapids everywhere. High water. Flooded roads. Um ... oh no. When we arrived at our hotel (the Golden Arrow right on Mirror Lake), it was pouring buckets of rain. We unloaded the van (or I should say Bill unloaded the van and we helped) and got organized in the room. We ended up staying in a three bedroom suite with a kitchenette, which was absolute money with the kids. I think all three of us would heartily recommend this hotel. The hotel also had a pool and game room (kids loved!) and a hot tub (all of us loved!).
The rain started to let up a bit, but the roads were still completely covered in water and some were flooded. Amy and I agreed that doing a brick was not safe. So we decided to switch our long run to that day. We went into our separate rooms, changed and came out looking like this:
I swear to you: we did not plan to be running twinsies. But we were. From our hats to our shirts to our watches to our tights. Complete and total twins. #teamawesome.
The long run was supposed to be 13-15 miles, and we thought we could do that. We decided to run the IMLP run course.
We saw on the way to the hotel that River Road, which you can see on the map at miles 3-9 (it is an out and back) was closed and had a big sign that said "ROAD FLOODED." But the road looked clear, so we decided to run as far as we could on it and if/when we hit water, we'd turn around. We figured it was about a 10 mile trip from the hotel and then back, so we planned to run that and then maybe a loop around Mirror Lake, which would give us around 13 miles. Perfect.
The run started a little drizzly and chilly, but early on the rain stopped and the conditions were very nice. The run starts with a big, steep descent down Route 73 on the "IGA Hill" out of town (called that, from what I can tell, because there used to be an IGA supermarket somewhere on the hill). Our coach told us to walk down that hill because otherwise it will screw up your run. So we did. As you leave town and head toward the ski jumps there are a few rollers, but it's not bad. There is a pretty decent hill right before you hit River Road, which we didn't really notice on the way there. We got to River Road and noticed how high, and how close, the river was to the road. Hence, River Road. We kept an eye on it, which was impossible not to since it was really raging. Parts of the road had some water but nothing crazy. Until we got to a part where the road was completely flooded and there was no end to the water in sight. We were about 5 miles in, so we turned around and headed back to the hotel. We noticed that those "nothing crazy" water spots had taken on a lot more water since our first pass. Yikes. [Bill later went out and could not pass those spots - the water really quickly rose. double yikes]. River Road is almost completely flat with a handful of tiny rollers that aren't too bad but that will undoubtedly hurt on race day.
We got back to 73 and realized just how steep the hill near the ski jumps is! Neither of us was prepared for that. But we made it up and ran back to town. The rain was starting to pick up again here. As we got to town, I noticed the rain was actually hurting my face. Hello sleet! We got to the hotel and decided to bag the additional loop and were satisfied with a 10 miler for our long run. As soon as we got back to the hotel, we ran to the pool, where Bill was swimming with the kids. He went for his long run while Amy and I stayed with the kids and enjoyed the hot tub and pool. The sleet, at this point, turned completely to snow. While Amy and I were pelted with sleet, Bill ran in the falling snow. That's a future Ironman right there.
Amy snapped these shots of Mirror Lake after our swim. Yes. Snow. Snow on ice. It's a good thing we did not plan to swim!
|a frozen Mirror Lake with snow falling on top|
|more Mirror Lake|
The snow continued to fall and it was accumulating. We went to dinner (Lake Placid Brewery ... food was super good, beer was also very good and BOGO free [omg] but the wait, especially with four hungry, tired kids, was a little long. That said, I'd go back here in a heartbeat) and on the way home, it was still snowing. We were supposed to do a long bike ride the next day ... but it was looking doubtful.
|Snow covered Mirror Lake Drive :/|
Wednesday: We woke up and sure enough, there was snow all over the roads. Snow and ice. Eek. After talking to our coach, we decided to move things around. Amy and I would do a short bike ride or brick on Wednesday and push our long bike to Thursday. The forecast for Thursday looked pretty good. So we would do our two loops on Thursday early and then Bill would do his as soon as we got back. Because we couldn't do anything at all on Wednesday morning with snow on the roads, we took the kids to Whiteface Mountain. We took a glass gondola to the top of Little Whiteface, which the kids loved. In fact, I am pretty sure that everyone but me loved the gondola. It was ok, but I get a little afraid of heights and this was very very high. We got some stunning views of the area and the kids got in a snowball fight. In April.
|From the top of Little Whiteface - that's Lake Placid (the lake!) in the distance|
|From the gondola. I *so* did not take this picture.|
|The fearless foursome watching our descent down Little Whiteface|
|Snowball fight! On top of a mountain!|
We got back to the hotel and let Bill do the first bike. Don't mistake this for kindness - selfishly, I wanted to know the conditions out there before I got on the bike. Bill came back and said the roads were fine - it was cold but not unbearable and the roads were very clear. So Amy and I got on our gear and took off for an hour's bike ride. We decided to go on Rt. 86, which is the last portion of the IMLP bike course. We would bike down it and then come back up the famous last climbs: little Cherry, big Cherry, Mama Bear, Baby Bear, and Papa Bear (more on those in a second). Bill was right: the ride was fine, the conditions were fine, the roads were great. And both Amy and I agreed that that hour in the saddle was a really good idea in preparation for our long ride the next day.
That night we went to dinner at Jimmy's 21 (on Mirror Lake Drive). Amy, Bill and I needed a big pasta dinner and they had gluten free pasta, which was a must. The kids loved this place - they all begged to go back all week! The waitresses were really great and were super vigilant and helpful about allergies (we happen to have a lot at our table). The food was very good, but the portions were not quite large enough for people biking 85 miles the following day. I will go back, but I will probably ask for a double portion or a portion and a half of pasta next time. The waitresses also told us that Mirror Lake froze really early this year and at one point was frozen 3 feet deep! They were driving a zambone and pick up trucks on the ice. So, in her experience, Mirror Lake would be really freaking cold for a good long while. Yikes.
Thursday: Thursday was bike day! Amy and I were to take the morning shift and Bill would do his loops when we finished. It was an aggressive plan for all of us to get in our respective two loops in while we still had daylight. But we were pretty confident we could make it happen. Amy and I got on the bikes around 7:15 am. The temperature was in the 20s. But the roads were clear of ice and snow, so we just made the best of it.
Our plan was to ride the IMLP bike course but without the out and backs on route 9N or on Hasleton Road. For a really incredibly detailed and, frankly, the best overview I've seen of the IMLP bike course, check out my bloggie friend Maria's summary here. This would amount to about 85 miles total. Here's the course:
I will note that I wore the following on the bike: thick wool socks, neoprene booties over bike shoes, running tights with fleece-lined biking tights overtop, SOAS tri bra/tank, Under Armor winter base layer, Under Armor winter running top, wind-breaker type biking jacket, winter biking gloves, skull cap under bike helmet. I regret not wearing my hand warmers inside my gloves on the first loop -- Amy and I put them in before we went out for our second loop. I was completely comfortable in those clothes, except a handful of times on the first loop when I was freezing my butt off.
Now for the course:
Route 73 out of town to the top of the Keene descent:
This is one of the hardest sections of the course for me. In fact, I find the entire stretch on 73 to be really challenging for different reasons. But the climb out of town on 73 is a tough one! It's a long, sustained climb and even though it's not particularly steep, it is a lot of climbing right off the bat. I spun in the small ring for almost all of this climb, knowing I needed to save my legs for the two loops. The road here is atrocious. There are tons of pot holes, bumps, lumps and dips in the pavement. The shoulder was covered in mud, dirt, silt, snow and debris. So we had to hug the shoulder and not actually ride in it. The climbing alone is tough, but add to that the stress of having to pay super close attention to the road in front of you ... it made this part of the ride really hard. There were several sections of the road where we had to actually ride in the middle of the lane because the potholes were so big. But, there was very little traffic and those drivers that we encountered gave us plenty of room. Thank you Rte. 73 drivers!
Route 73 descent to Keene:
Oy. I am the first to admit that I am a wimp on descents. I do not enjoy careening down a hill on my bike. I'm trying to be brave and to get all Frozen on the downhills and lay off the brake and "let it go", but actually doing that is much harder in practice. I *must* and *will* practice descents in these last months leading up to IMLP. There is no reason for me to lose precious time on the descents by riding my brake.
The descent was particularly tough because of wind and cold. On the first loop, it was still (literally) freezing, and my hands were like blocks of ice. I could not feel them on the downhill because I was going so fast and the wind was blowing so hard. It was more terrifying than usual because I really did feel like at any moment, I would fall right off the bike or that my hands would fall off or fail to be able to brake. I was thankful for my experience with natural childbirth because I completely put into practice my breathing exercises during this descent. I tried my best to calm myself down, center myself and just get down that hill. When I got to the bottom of the hill, Amy was waiting for me and we both needed a minute to warm up and get geared up for the rest of the ride. We both realized that our food (sandwiches and Bonk Breakers/Lara Bars) was completely frozen too. Awesome!
The pavement was also pretty bad on the descent, though not as bad as the climb out of town. Still, we took the advice of our coach to "be a car" and took up the lane of traffic. I think my top speed down these descents was about 27 mph, which is still pretty darn slow.
Route 9N flats from Keene to Jay:
Not surprisingly, this is my absolute favorite part of the course. After the screaming descent to Keene, you get on Route 9 North heading toward the town of Jay, and it is mostly flat with a couple of rollers. I was able to eat, but not without some difficulty. I found it really hard to get my food because my hands were cold, I was wearing gloves and the food was blocks of ice. I managed to do it, but it was a struggle. I also had a hard time in the aero position. My bike is now designed to be ridden in the aero position versus the road bike position (comparison below - aero is on the right)
As you can see, when you're in aero, you are higher and more forward on the bike. I've been training on the bike in aero all Winter but it's a different feel on the road. I just need more time in the saddle to feel a little more secure in the new position. I spent far less time than I should have in aero, which I think compromised my speed and power on the bike. Still ... trying to go a little easy on myself here, since this was my first ride outside since November, my second ride outside with my new bike position and the longest (and most difficult because of the mountains) bike ride I've ever done in my life.
The road on 9N is perfect - nice wide shoulder, nice clear road, very little traffic. I also like the scenery a lot.
Climb up Route 86 - Jay to Wilmington
This climb is pretty tough. You go from completely flat to a very steep climb out of the town of Jay up Route 86. What keeps me going here is knowing I am going home - just a handful of miles until I hit the end (or, as the case may be, the second loop). Maria described these climbs as stairstep rollers where no particular climb is that bad, but the cumulative effect is difficult. Truth. I have a handful of landmarks on this section but mostly just muddle through. I know that there are a bunch of easy descents peppered in, so that's something to look forward to.
|one of the many gorgeous views from the IMLP bike course.|
The road on 86 is in superb condition. The shoulder was a little rough in spots (just silt or ice) and the road can be narrow, but still very comfortable.
Climb up 86 - Wilmington back to town
Once you hit the "North Pole", which I thought was just a tourist attraction (and it is and OMG apparently is has freaking clowns), but is apparently also a town, you are almost there. It's a slow climb to Whiteface and then a few little rollers until you hit River Road (the other end of the road where the run course is). My landmarks are Whiteface, Owen Pond (for obvious reasons) and then River Road. When you hit River Road, you know you're just like 2 miles from the end! Woo hoo!! The only thing is you have the five famed hills left to go - they're all concentrated in that last mile of the race, so it can be tough. Even though the hills are not easy, I kind of like them. I like the landmarks and knowing that I can check them each off my list.
The hills are Little Cherry and Big Cherry, which are right around the Cherrypatch Pond They're basically just rollers, though Big Cherry is kind of a bear. And speaking of bears, once you finish Big Cherry, you turn a bend and you approach the three bears: Mama, Baby and Papa. I find Mama the hardest. She is first and she is long ... it is a long climb with a curve at the top. You think you're at the top and LOL! no, you're not. Once you crest Mama, you go down a little and go over Baby, which is really just a bump in the road and, as Amy said, a way to get momentum. Papa is last and he is pretty steep but short. You can see the top so it's a little more manageable than Mama in my view. And you also know once you are at the top of Papa, you are D-O-N-E done. Someone sprayed "MAMA BEAR", "BABY BEAR", and "PAPA BEAR" on the shoulder of each bear, which was really fun and yet another landmark to look forward to.
The roads here are likewise great. Lots of room, nice smooth pavement, great conditions.
After the first loop, I felt good. The second loop was very very humbling: I realized how fatigued my legs got on that first loop and due to all that climbing. And while I certainly did not feel spent or exhausted or gassed, I was reminded of how much work I still have to do to be ready to tackle this race.
We finished the ride, let Bill go do his and chilled out with the kids for the rest of the day. My ride took a little over 6 1/2 hours. I am confident I can improve this.
Friday: Friday morning, Amy and I had a brick. We decided to do the same ride as Wednesday (down 86 and back up again) because the conditions there were the best and we could just focus on riding vs. surviving the conditions. We figured we'd ride about 40 minutes and then do a 2-3 mile run around Mirror Lake. The bike was uneventful except when some jerk in a tan pickup truck purposefully swerved close to both of us. He came super close to me and then I saw him do the same to Amy, who promptly flipped him off. LOL. The bike was fine and our run was great. We had a fast endurance pace run around Mirror Lake with an average speed of 8:51/mile. We passed everyone on the loop which was also a nice boost. The loop was about 2 3/4 miles for us, which was perfect.
Mirror Lake Drive was covered in silt and dirt and mud. We stuck to the brick path around the lake. The road itself would not be good for biking.
And that's that! The longest recap ever. I should note: I burned 2300 calories on that long bike ride. Eating for free! Eating for free! Yay!
We are heading up to Lake Placid twice more before the race. We all agreed that doing those two loops was the best possible plan ever, and we all want to do that one more time. So we're planning to go up in May just to bike. Then we are headed back in June for a four-day training camp. And after that - gulp - we head up for race weekend.
In the meantime, I will be training a ton. The bikes will change from 2 hours on the trainer to 3.5-7 hours outside. I'm glad. Yes, the time is a lot, but obviously, I need all the time I can get in the saddle and outdoors. If anyone knows of any really long bike routes in the Philadelphia area, please leave a comment or shoot me an email at shanna (at) swoonstylehome.com.
Thanks for reading!