Update: All information is current for the 2018 race. Always be sure to check the Ironman website for any changes.
Ironman Lake Placid has always been one of our favorite races and we have been here multiple times. The town goes all out on race day and gets totally into the spirit of the event. I was first introduced to the triathlon’s definition of a”stripper” at Lake Placid (don’t get excited- they help pull wetsuits off). We’ve seen all kinds of weather imaginable. From really hot and sunny to picture perfect to drenching rain (seriously – it poured the entire day).
Spectating is pretty compact and the town is close by with shops and restaurants. We’ve actually had friends go to the movies during the race! All of the legs are two loops, so you have plenty of spectating opportunities, especially on the run. If you have kids with you, we will say that strollers can be hard to get around, especially if you want to get to transition from viewing spots. For instance, from the swim down to the transition area, we have to run, so if you have a stroller…..You’ll just have to adjust your spectating accordingly.
Parking: Per Ironman, parking is available in several satellite lots with free shuttle bus access for athletes and spectators. These parking lots include:
- Lake Placid Fire Department near the corner of Old Military and Mill Pond Drive
- West Valley Road near Cummings Road off Saranac Avenue
- Lake Placid Elementary School on Old Military Road near Station Street.
The drop off and pick up back to the lots is on Cummings Road Between Olympic Center and the Oval, about 1/4 mile to Main Street.
Shuttle buses run from 4 a.m. Sunday to 1 a.m. Monday after the race. Bikes are NOT allowed on the shuttle buses, so you need to make arrangements to pick up your bike after the race. Best advice is to get to the race start in plenty of time. Parking in town and on the edges can be difficult, so make sure you plan this before race day!
If you’re not staying close to the race site or don’t have some sort of shuttle transportation back to your room, plan on staying in town for the day. If you have kids with you, you will have to decide whether to bring them for the swim start or come later in the day. This all depends on ages, availability of shuttles, where you’re staying, etc. Just saying, if you have to stay in town for the whole race, this can be a very long day…
Word of caution: Tracking can be tricky at IMLP with cellular service, so do not depend on a tracking device.
Transition: There is only one transition area on School Street between Cummings Rd. and Colden Ave. It’s at the Olympic Speed Skating Oval. The Finish Line is at the same spot.
The swim takes place on Mirror Lake and is a rolling start, so knowing when your athlete goes off can be difficult. Just have a guesstimate of their finish time and do your best. The pro females go off at 6:25 am and age groupers get in the water at 6:40 am.
The swim is two loops; they exit, run on the beach a bit, and reenter the water. There are two good options for swim spectating:
- The one we prefer is to stay, when looking at the lake, on the left side of the beach. You can see the start and then your athlete coming out of the water and getting back in. One year this area was blocked off, so with any race we recommend having a back up plan. Also, when you’re on this side, you can jog back to transition and either cheer your athlete on there or make your way to bike out and cheer there. If you are fast and mark a path the day before around the back of the finish line and up the small hill, you can do it.
- The second option is staying on the right side of the lake when you are looking at the lake. It is harder to see your athlete, but is easier to get to bike out.
When they exit the water after the second loop, they have a long run to transition. They head down Parkside, make a right at the corner of Mirror Lake Drive and School Street, and then run down School to transition. We strongly advise you take a good look and make your plan the day before. This can be one of the trickier races to get from swim to bike, much like Mont Tremblant, but it can be done. Over the years, we were lucky enough to have each other, even in the pouring rain one year, to show us the ropes. Our girl Jodi taught us well!
The bike is 2 loops. Once your athlete heads down Colden Avenue for the first bike loop, it is the perfect time for breakfast. You can either stay downtown or check with your hotel to see if they offer shuttle service to and from the course. We like to stay and eat near the race venue, but have gone back to the WhiteFace Lodge for breakfast and made it back for loop 2 viewing. There are great places to grab breakfast downtown, just make sure you watch your time to get back to the loop 2 spot of your choice.
They will come down Mirror Lake Drive back into town and hang a right on Parkside (this is where I got my first whiff of ammonia, if you know what I mean – I remember it to this day!). They then have a sharp left corner turn where they have to slow down and head up Cummings Road. We either sit on Parkside or like to position ourselves right behind the finish on the hill on Cummings Road. Then they are off again. This is a great time to set up shop in the race site area, head down to the lake for a walk/swim/playground, walk around town, and check out the Ironman Expo to buy goodies.
If you are looking for some exercise or something different to do, here is one great tip: After your triathlete heads out on the bike, walk down the main drag to the hills, Mama Bear, Baby Bear, and Papa Bear. You can catch the athletes climbing the hills heading back into town from loop 1. This area is know to have a rowdy, fun crowd cheering the athletes on. You should have plenty of time to walk there; it’s about a mile or so and is an easy walk. After you see your triathlete heading back into town, you can do the same and be back in plenty of time to catch them at bike in. Perfect.
Do not try to catch your athlete on the course in your car. We have been out on motorcycles before, but the course is tricky enough and the locals still need their roads. Plus, there will be many road closures. Stay safe, keep the course safe, and stay put in town. There are enough locals out on the course to cheer on the athletes.
Having lunch will depend on your triathlete’s anticipated time, so each circumstance will be different. We usually wait until we see them head off on the run and find a spot in town. Again, check our Food & Fun guides for some of our favorites.
And here’s a tip from one of our readers, Anne Patterson: For spectating – watching end of first loop of bike up on Northwood Road – in front of school – when they are almost back into town. Can also stay there for second loop. It is cooler and shady up there if a hot day and you can also get into school for bathrooms! and then walk down the hill to see some coming down Mirror Lake Drive on first loop of run.
The run is also two loops, but you have the opportunity to see your athlete at least 4 times. Bike in and run start are pretty easy and close to catch your athlete at, but if you are concerned or have folks who may not make it, we recommend placing yourself at run out.
They head down Main Street, so you can see them off; then they will come back down Main Street and head up Mirror Lake Drive, so this corner is a great spot to position yourself, but it is in the sun. You can see them anywhere along Mirror Lake Drive, too. Then they come back down Mirror Lake Drive on the opposite side of the street, so you can see them here again before they head out for loop 2 down Main.
They repeat this after coming in from loop 2, but after coming down Mirror Lake Drive, they turn right on Main to the finish and enter the Olympic Speed Skating Oval. If you are on the corner, you are close to get to the finish and will have plenty of time once you see them head up Mirror Lake Drive. Please remember this is what worked for us; you have many options.
IMLP is one of the best finishes out there. The athletes run about 1/2 of the track to the finish line and it is packed with everyone high-fiving and cheering. As for meeting up with your athlete after the race, we like the small hill behind the finish line. Plan this with your athlete ahead of time. As always, we highly recommend you go back to the finish line and cheer the remaining athletes in after you get yours settled.
- The Welcome Ceremony is from 6-8 pm on Friday in Mid’s Park on Main Street with live music.
- There’s a free pancake breakfast on Saturday from 7:30 am – 9:30 am at transition.
- You may want to look into the VIP packages from Ironman. The weather can be good, great, hot or cold and rainy; we have had it all. There really is no shelter and most hotels are not right around the race course. The VIP areas have been wonderful for us at IMLP over the years. But, prices range from $255-610/person. Kids are priced at $153.
- Don’t forget to check out and/or download the Ironman Spectator’s Guide and the IMLP Athlete Guide prior to race day. As always, these are our suggestions and what has worked for us. Make sure you plan with your athlete the day before. Without proper planning the trisupporter day can be very difficult and that’s not what any of us want.
- If you have kids, sign them up for IronKids Fun Run on Friday at 2 pm at Mirror Lake Drive. You can register online or onsite. This really helps to make them feel a part of the event and is fun for you to watch, too.
- If you have to stay in town all day, make sure you have packed all your needed supplies and know where shady spots are!
- The Celebratory Day Breakfast in from 8-9:30 am on Monday, with the Awards Ceremony at 9:30 am and the roll down for Kona slots at 11 am. Again, at the Conference Center.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE SPECTATING TIP FOR IRONMAN LAKE PLACID?
Sherry is one of the TriWivesClub and LifeDoneWell co-founders and contributes to multiple blogs. She is a former co-owner of the California Apparel News and had a career in the healthcare industry. Her passions include traveling, real food, the environment, and animal rescue/welfare. She lives a healthy lifestyle and has been a vegetarian since 1987. She and her husband are parents to two rescue pups and reside in Connecticut.