Race Report – Ironman Lake Placid 2018 (Part 2 – Swim)

This ended up being really long, so I’ve broken it into parts. You can find the rest here (when they’re ready):

The swim at Ironman Lake Placid (IMLP) is supposed to be one of the more friendly of all Ironman distance swims out there. It takes place in Mirror Lake, which offers great swimming all summer. Several training camps and coaches run swims in Mirror Lake leading up to race day.

The course is a 2-loop swim with a short run across the sand between each loop. The large red and yellow inflatable Ironman buoys mark the course – a straight-forward rectangle with long sides and a narrow base. The end of the inbound leg takes swimmers along the end of a dock and into the public swim area before turning in toward the beach.

Pool

Mirror Lake is as calm as this pool along its shore.

This course is popular because it features an underwater cable (see Part 1 of this race report), good visibility, and calm water (i.e. no waves or wakes). I had heard mixed opinions on following the cable for the swim. The advantage of being on the cable was that I wouldn’t need to sight. The most obvious disadvantage was that everyone else would want to be there, so I’d risk more crowding.

The athletes at IMLP are not separated into age groups for the start, and the mass start that was used in the past has also been eliminated in favor of corrals based on estimated pace. The pros still start first, but after that, it is up to each athlete to place themselves in the section for their estimated swim time.

I slept better than I thought I would before the race, only waking up twice during the night. I’m not a morning person, so any activity that makes me wake up before 9 a.m. is difficult. I had all of my clothes and remaining bags ready to go, though, so I was up, dressed, and on my way to transition efficiently in the morning.

Morning Transition

Transition area on race morning.

The transition area is right along the main street through town and gets crowded early on. We had family drive us there, and I followed my sister-in-law to drop off our special needs bags. These areas were very close to transition, so it didn’t take very long. We literally just dropped our bags on the ground or handed them to a volunteer. On the way to the run special needs area, we could also see the path that we would have to run from the lake to transition.

Next up – last minute bike checks and set up. We made our way into transition, and I attached my bike computer, water bottles, and nutrition. We had decided not to bring our own bike pump, and went looking for one. I grabbed one of the ones from Ironman, but it didn’t seem to fit on my valves. After struggling with it for a few minutes, I gave up and we borrowed one from another athlete.

That was it. I was ready to race. We had at least an hour before the start, so we headed to the shore of Mirror Lake to contemplate the day ahead. The weather was forecast to be rainy for a good portion of the morning, but the exact time of the rain had been changing with every forecast. The day started out with a hint of sun before clouds rolled in over the lake.

Rock Sunrise

Race morning sunrise as the clouds arrived.

My cheering section and sherpas arrived and we people-watched and just took it all in. It was finally time to get ready to swim. I donned my wetsuit and handed off my bag. For those athletes who didn’t have anyone to help them, you could drop off a morning clothes bag at a designated location. That same bag would be provided to you at the end of the race if you used this option.

By this time, many swimmers had already assembled behind the barricades in what I had thought were the faster swim time corrals. I extrapolated my goal time from what I had swam in Eagleman last year, so I was hoping for a swim time of 1:40. My sister-in-law was expecting a similar pace, so we stuck together as we tried to find our places in the crowd.

It was quickly apparent that the sections for each pace were too close together, and the athletes outside the barricade couldn’t get to the right areas. Officials weren’t letting anyone over the barricade either, so we had to keep walking back. At the end of the barricade, there were too many athletes to squeeze in, and everyone had the same complaint – that we couldn’t get to the right pace group. I figured that I wasn’t in contention for any records, so wherever I ended up would ultimately be fine. The race is timed individually when you cross the timing mats.

Once the swimmers at the front started to enter the water, the officials let everyone squeeze in along the beach, between the water and the crowd. At this point, we were able to move up to where we wanted to be, so it worked out in the end.

For the start, no one was restricting our entry to the water, so all the athletes kept walking en masse until we were in the lake. I started my watch – a Garmin Forerunner – did a few dolphin dives at the beginning, and then began to swim.

My general strategy going in was to keep it slow and calm at the beginning, avoid a huge mass of other swimmers, and to keep my breathing to just one side since I think my insistence at bilateral breathing was part of why my swim at Quassy 70.3 didn’t go that well.

From the start, I found that I was on the cable. I hadn’t planned it that way, but because I had moved around the crowd to the right, that had me positioned to the right side of the mass of swimmers on a clockwise swim. I figured that I’d stay on the cable to start with and if I started to get beat up too much, I would find a way to move to the outside.

After a few hundred yards, I discovered that I loved swimming along the cable! I was pretty far to the right, essentially right along the buoys. It appeared more crowded a little to the left, but I was able to complete the entire swim without getting punched or kicked. I did try to stay alert to my peripheral vision and tried to avoid anyone who was doing breaststroke kick, moving erratically, or flailing. Additionally, I experienced some major drafting. All of the swimmers had created a current and I felt like I was being whisked along. I was able to occasionally find someone’s toes to follow, but even without drafting a specific person, I was benefiting from everyone else’s efforts.

One hazard that I had not anticipated was that without sighting, I ran into the buoys! The soft Ironman ones weren’t really a problem, but the smaller permanent ones that are held by the cable were hard and more difficult to spot if I did sight ahead. They were connected by a vertical rope to the underwater cable, so looking out for this was the best way to avoid smacking into them.

The first loop of the course went well and I was able to keep my breathing under control. Before I knew it, I was coming up on the dock and the short stretch before the beach. I could see the sand beneath me as the water became more shallow. I took it easy getting my legs under me, afraid that I may cramp, but I had no problem getting on my feet.

The run across the beach was really short. But even so, Ironman had an aid station there. I gulped a glass of water and jumped back in for my second loop.

My time on the first loop had been a few minutes faster than my goal pace, but as I swam out along the buoys again, my right arm started to bother me. I’m right-handed, and therefore stronger with that arm. In training, my LEFT arm had felt strained on a few long swims, but never the RIGHT one. It didn’t seem to be affecting my movement. I tried to ignore it so that my stroke would remain even, and it never grew worse as I finished my swim.

Swim Finish

On the last inbound leg, I knew that I was going to make it. I had never swam the full 2.4-mile distance in my training. I felt tired as I left the water, but not exhausted. I stopped at the wet suit peelers, but when they pulled the legs of my wet suit off, I had to sit on my butt. Even though they had mats down on the beach, sand still went everywhere! I would be brushing sand off for the rest of the day.

The run from the water to transition was easy. I jogged most of it, up a slight incline, then downhill to transition. The road was covered with mats. I ran into transition, grabbed by swim-to-bike bag, and entered the changing tent.

SWIM TIME: 1:41:37

My time was very close to what I had hoped for. No complaints there!

Next: Part 3 – Bike

See all my race reports here.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Race Report – Ironman Lake Placid 2018 (Part 1 – Pre-Race) | Clare L. Deming
  2. Trackback: Race Report – Ironman Lake Placid 2018 (Part 3 – Bike) | Clare L. Deming
  3. Trackback: Race Report – Ironman Lake Placid (Part 4 – Run) | Clare L. Deming
  4. Trackback: Race Report – Ironman Lake Placid (Part 5 – The Aftermath) | Clare L. Deming

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