Training report by Richard Hostler.
Several of us lengthened the last weekend in June and headed up to Lake Placid, NY to train on the Ironman course. For a few (me being one), this was part of the last big training push before we race IMLP at the end of July. But for most, it was just a chance to get away and train on the beautiful (and hilly) roads of Lake Placid. Since we all swim, bike, and run at different speeds, group training like this might seem like a logistical nightmare. In reality, everything worked out well, with a few smaller groups forming and working together for each training session. Everyone got in the quality training we came out for and, when the training was done for the day, got to know their fellow NEMS members a little better.
Here’s a day-by-day breakdown of the weekend.
In order to get in a full day of training on Friday (a day with a 100% chance of rain), we decided to make the drive to LP Thursday night after work. Colin Cook, Larry Rodman, Kris Homoleski, and I met up at my house in Merrimack, NH, loaded down my van with bikes and gear, and hit the road just before 5:30. We crossed our fingers, hoped for light traffic, and hammered the gas (by my standards, at least) for Lebanon, NH. We made good time and stopped just long enough to stretch our legs and grab dinner at Subway.
Back in the van, we debated which route to take and decided on I-89 to the Grand Isle ferry. (It was the only Champlain ferry that would be running by the time we got to the lake.) By 9:00 we were at the ferry landing and waiting to make the short crossing to NY. It was at this point that the clouds stopped threatening to rain and started spitting on us. Nothing much, but it was a sample of what tomorrow would bring.
We drove off the boat in Plattsburgh and onto I-87 for one last brief stretch of highway. It was now past most of our normal bedtimes and we had a good laugh at this and a few of the other peculiarities that come with being a triathlete. After all, if we don’t laugh at ourselves, who will? (Answer: everyone. Despite our best efforts, triathletes really are a ridiculous bunch.) 45 minutes of roller coaster back roads through heavy fog and spitting rain, and we reached our destination, a condo right on the LP run and bike courses. For those of us who rarely see the the other side of 11:00, it was time to find a bed and get as much sleep as possible before our 7:00am swim.
We woke up to cold, wind, and rain. (It seems the prediction of a 100% chance was spot on.) No worries. Seven of us, some already in wetsuits (see earlier comment about triathletes being ridiculous), piled into the van and headed down to the lake. So, in heavy rain and howling wind (You can see this part in the video at the end of the report.), we set off for a 2.4-mile swim. Aside from the chop created by the wind, we had no trouble. There is an underwater cable with small buoys that marks the LP swim course, making navigation easier than any other open-water swim I’ve done. Two loops of head-down swimming and we were back in the van. (This time, I think we were all wearing our wetsuits.)
Back at the condo, we prepared for the 2nd workout of the day, a single 56-mile loop of the bike course (in the pouring rain). There was a chance the rain would clear later, but only to make way for heat and thunderstorms. No sense waiting around for that, so we hit the road. Before we even got out of the condo development, Colin, who must have been channeling Evel Knievel, bunny-hopped a curb and snapped the carbon water bottle holder behind his seat. He told us to go on without him (I think he was really just giving us a head start so he could catch us later) and headed back for repairs.
If you’re not familiar with the LP course, there is a 5+ mile, scary-fast decent early on the bike. On a good day, speeds in excess of 50mph are common. On a rainy day like today, it was a much slower, white-knuckled decent that we were glad to put behind us. By this point, Chris Veilluex and I had formed a 2-man group and stayed that way through the rest of the course. It rained on us for all 56 miles, and we considered ourselves quite “bad-ass” for completing all our planned training in spite of the weather. (It turns out other teams who were up for the weekend didn’t exhibit such bad-assery.) All I can say is my post-ride shower was delightful.
After some make-shift bike washing with a watering can, hot showers, and footlongs (Subway should really be a club sponsor), we left the condo festooned with smelly, wet gear, and a group of us made our way to USA Luge. Larry used his connections (he used to slide and compete in LP) to get us into the start-training facility for luge as well as the Olympic Training Center. We rubbed elbows with future olympians, marveled at the bobsled pushers’ massive legs, and tried not to sound ridiculous (see above) when describing our sport. Judging by some of the looks we got, it was only a partial success at best.
As soon as we got back to the condo, we headed across town to swap out Colin’s flat-prone tires. (As he tells it, he flatted on the morning ride just as he was about to catch Chris and I. Unfortunately for him, there were no witnesses to corroborate this, leaving Chris’s and my bad-assedness intact.) That’s how we ended up at Placid Planet Bicycles and chanced to meet Carl, one of the finest bike mechanics this side of Le Tour. Swapping out the tires was quick, and Carl made it look easy. That’s nice and all, but any mechanic worth his salt can change out a set of clinchers in no time flat. What really amazed us, like kids staring at new arrivals in a toy store window, was watching Carl swap out one bike’s beat-up drivetrain in less than 15 minutes. It was mesmerizing.
With a sense of purpose and efficiency rarely found outside a NASCAR pit crew, Carl ran back and forth, grabbing the components he would need to complete the job. Off came the chain. Off came the wheel. Goodbye, old cassette. So long, derailleur. Carl even overheard and answered a gear question that wasn’t directed at him—all without missing a beat. He installed and tuned the new parts without wasting a single movement, proving to his open-mouthed audience that he truly is a master when it comes to bikes. The only thing he didn’t seem to be an expert on was dinner suggestions.
We all wanted pasta, and there was some unpleasant past history with the cheap Italian place in town. So, we took Carl’s advice and went to Cafe Rustica for our carb feast. The first hint we might be in trouble came when the hostess (standing in an almost completely empty restaurant) asked us if we had reservations. Uh-oh! I quickly grabbed a menu and checked the prices. Not bad, most dishes were around $15. The hostess was able to get us a table, but with the caveat that we had to be done with dinner in an hour and a half. No problem. We came to eat, and we weren’t going to waste any time doing it. The 2nd clue came our way when we sat down, and I realized I must have looked at a lunch menu. The prices we were looking at now were much higher. We chose to continue ignoring the omens. Signs 3 and 4 were delivered by our waitress. First was the dirty look when we didn’t order a slew of drinks, and second was her response to Colin’s inquiry about ordering chicken pram (a dish that wasn’t on the menu). “No. We are very busy this weekend and can’t make that.” (Remember I mentioned that the restaurant was nearly empty?) I suggested we help her out and make the place a little less busy by leaving. Instead we placed our orders and devoured the bread and olive oil appetizers. In the end, we all ate huge portions of average food and paid with separate checks. (Maybe that’s what pissed the waitress off.) Well fed, we headed back across town for early appointments with our beds.
My alarm went off around 4:45, and my roommate, Kevin Zajas, and I were up before the rest of the house. (Kevin and I were dubbed the odd couple because of our differing approaches to room organization. Kevin kept his gear neatly sorted at all times. I kept all mine all over the room at all times. We had many laughs about this.) By 6:00, we were all suited up in stinky, partially dried bike clothes and ready to ride. We quickly split into groups based on projected distance and speed. My group consisted of Colin, Chad Quinlan, Andrew Levine, Chris, and myself. We took advantage of the fact that it wasn’t currently raining and made good time down the long descent into the town of Keen (not NH). Not being a daring descender, I trailed off the back and had some catching up to do once we hit the flats. The first loop was uneventful (no tire trouble for Colin today) and we felt good as we completed the long climb into LP. Colin peeled off to go ride some intervals, and the rest of our group stopped off at the condo for nutrition refills and sunscreen. (That’s right, the sun was finally poking through the rain clouds in spots.)
Freshly stocked and chamois buttered, Andrew, Chad, Chris and I headed out for loop number 2. Chad rode with us to the start of the long descent and then turned back to ice a strained hip flexor he’d been nursing for a while. That left just 3 of us. We dropped into the descent, and I dangled off the back again, but not nearly as far this time. I hit 43mph this go round. (During the race, an entire lane of this descent is closed to car traffic and reserved for bikes. I am hoping this makes it a more comfortable ride. Dealing with cars while watching for pavement cracks and barreling along at 40+ isn’t exactly relaxing in my book.) From here, it was smooth sailing and diligent heart rate management until we reached the final 10+ miles of climbing to the finish. I let my heart rate get too high during yesterday’s ride and finished feeling tired. Today, I kept everything in check and felt very good (except for neck and shoulder fatigue) as we started the final climbs.
Up to this point, the 3 of us had stuck fairly close to each other. That was about to change. Not because anyone blew up or fell of the back, but because Andrew turned on the speed and scurried away and out of sight. Chris and I stuck with our pace, occasionally sharing status reports about legs, shoulders, and other body parts that were starting to show wear and tear. (Would you care for some cole slaw, Chris?). Eventually, we made it back into town and thought ourselves heroes for completing the 112-mile ride in such high spirits.
After a speedy transition and some lower-back stretching for me, Chris and I tested out our post-ride legs with a 5-mile brick run. Before we set out, Colin told us to take it really slow, so slow that we felt silly doing it. But, as I just mentioned, we were feeling like heroes and our legs were in good shape. Despite a noble effort to keep the speed in check, we let our pace quicken all the way into the final half mile. Now, this is the point where you might guess we met with disaster and and had to pay double for the sin of overzealous feet, but you’d be wrong. In fact, we were riding a serious high and still accelerating as we ran into the condo development, and Colin drove up in the van beside us. “How fast you going?” he asked. I looked at my watch, smiled, and told him. “Slow down!” was the simple, stern response I got. Well, that wiped my smile off, and we did slow down, albeit way too late to matter. By the time we arrived at the condo (just a few minutes later) Chris and I were already joking about slowing down. It became a running (no pun intended) joke for the rest of the day. And, true to his nature, even Colin joined in on the ribbing.
Andrew and his family invited us all over for an early dinner at the condo they were renting just outside of town, so, armed with a some beers from the Lake Placid Brewery, we trooped over. We were treated to a delicious dinner of lemon chicken, potatoes, roasted vegetables, and pasta salad. We ate like kings and even enjoyed table service from a beautiful little girl who didn’t think we should ever have empty plates in front of us. Eventually, even the hungriest of us were force to cry “uncle”, at least until the dessert came out. It was the perfect food to recover calories spent earlier in the day and pre-load for tomorrow’s training. A few of us hung out for a while after dinner, digesting and watching a foosball match between Andrew and Chris, before we called it an early night and headed back to the condo and our beds.
We were all up early again for a morning swim. Our plan was to hit the water at 6:00, but our fatigue was starting to get the better of us, and we ended up (don’t ask how) locked out of the condo when we were supposed to be leaving. Never fear! Breaking and entering is easy if you have the right tools. As it turned out, the chopsticks that were found in the back of my van and served as the target of much derision over the past 2 days were just waiting to save us. I used one the the chopsticks to undo the screen locks on a downstairs window, and in no time, Kevin climbed through to open the door. Whew! With the drama behind us, we drove to the lake and set out for one or two final loops around the swim course. Conditions were a lot better this time around, and we were far from alone in the water.
We completed our swims one-by-one and suited up (or down) for the long runs that would be our last workouts of the weekend. Chris, Chad, Andrew, and I grouped up once again and cruised through town in high spirits, occasional throwing in a “Slow down!” when it felt appropriate. The LP run course is mostly flat with a few gentle grades to keep it interesting, and one steep up-and-down section on the edge of town. The scenery is magnificent just about everywhere you look. Along the 2-loop course, you pass a huge horse jumping complex, run up to the base of the ski jumps, pass the olympic speed skating oval (the site of the transition area) and hockey rinks (Miracle on Ice), and are treated to unending mountain panoramas.
After 5 miles together, Chad and Andrew split off, leaving Chris and I to complete our run. We covered one full loop of the course plus a second pass through the steep up-and-down section. We finished up on the speed skating oval and ran past the spot where the finish line will be on July 28th. Being a mildly superstitious guy, I ran in the grass around the finish line area so as not to anger the running gods. Total mileage for the day was 16 miles.
Sunday Afternoon and the Return to Real Life
With all our training complete, it was time to pack up and make the long drive back to Merrimack. We stowed our still-damp gear (I’m not sure that smell will ever come out), put the bikes on the roof, said our goodbyes, and away we went. Chad and Chris joined the 4 of us in my van for a quick lunch stop on the way out of Lake Placid, where we enjoyed some awesome sandwiches and fresh-made cookies as big as my hand.
We decided on the scenic route for our return and steered south for the bridge to Vermont and Rt 4. I drove the first part of the way and gave Colin the keys after a well-deserved ice-cream stop outside Woodstock, VT. All I can say is, if you think he is fast on a bike, you should see him behind the wheel of a minivan. (Turns out tri bikes start to whistle at around 85mph. Who knew?) Thanks to his TT-style driving, we were back in my driveway well ahead of schedule.
And that’s where our weekend came to an end. A few more goodbyes, and we all went off to face the “real life” that’s always getting in the way of training.
Looking back, I had a blast in LP. The training was long and hard, but it gave me confidence heading into the last weeks before my race. I would definitely recommend these weekends for anyone planning to do the race in the location where they’re held. I would also recommend them for people who aren’t racing Ironman but just want to train with likeminded people and get to know their teammates better. The more of us that attend these training camps, the more fun they will be. So, if you haven’t already, consider adding one to your 2014 plan. Maybe, I’ll see you there.