Monday, June 11, 2012

Lake Placid Half Marathon: 06/10/2012

Pre-race registration for the Lake Placid marathon and half marathon is in the new convention center, adjacent to the Olympic Arena and speed skating oval.   

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It's a good thing I didn't look at the course profile before entering the Lake Placid Half Marathon, or I might have chickened out. I don't mind a challenging race, but I wanted to beat my half marathon time from last year (1:39:47 in the Vermont Covered Bridges Half Marathon).

Whiteface dominates the view along River Road

The course is scenic but challenging. After starting in front of the Olympic Arena, runners proceed up Main Street, around Mirror Lake, then out Route 73 to the ski jumping complex. At the ski jumps, the course turns onto River Road and follows a beautiful, scenic route along the Ausable River for nearly 4 miles before turning around, retracing the route back and finishing with a lap around the 400-meter speed skating oval. This route is very similar to the run segment of the Lake Placid Ironman triathlon in July.

Runners assembling on the speed skating oval before the start of the race

While the entire route is beautiful and scenic, the 7 or 8 miles along River Road are my favorite, with views of Whiteface and surrounding peaks in the distance and the Ausable River close by. Since this is the Adirondacks, the course is somewhat hilly. But the real challenge comes from the final hill. Beginning just past mile 12, the course climbs more than 200 feet in elevation up to the speed skating oval. It's uphill for more than 3/4 of a mile, with the steepest section in the final 1/3 mile where the course switchbacks - yes, switchbacks - up to the oval. The final paces around the oval - where the course is finally level and the finish line is in sight - are a relief like no other.

Views of the High Peaks across Mirror Lake

Runners on River Road

I've run the Boston Marathon ('96), and Heartbreak Hill is nothing compared to Lake Placid's final hill. Running legend Bill Rodgers has called Heartbreak Hill, which comes at the 20-mile mark and rises a mere 88 feet, "the single most significant hill in all of road racing." Bill obviously hasn't run the Lake Placid course. Check out how Heartbreak Hill's stats and 9 others considered to be the most daunting hills in U.S. races compare to Lake Placid.

Near the top of the Mile 13 hill in the Lake Placid marathon and half marathon

When the starting gun went off Sunday morning, I figured I'd get a bunch of 7-minute miles under my belt to bank time for the mile 13 hill. In order to beat my time from last year's half marathon, I'd have to run an average pace of about 7:30. Even though I felt better trained for this year's race, I was concerned that the more difficult course would keep a sub-1:40 time out of reach. I put my goal out of mind and just focused on running a solid race.

The finishing lap around the 1980 Olympic speed skating oval

Runners crossing the finish line at around 1:50

If you've run races, you probably know that feeling of just wanting to finish, time and place be damned. That feeling came to me in mile 11, climbing the secondmost significant hill on the course, right at the foot of the ski jumps. I had run the first half of the course at a steady 7:00 pace, and then dropped down to around 7:30 for a few more miles. But the ski jump hill sapped my remaining energy. Somehow, beyond that hill I was able to re-establish a reasonable pace and I got to mile 12 with just under 1:29 on my watch and 1.1 miles to go. I settled into a slow but steady pace up the final hill, emerged onto the speed skating oval, and crossed the finish line in 1:39:01, 54th out of 1255 finishers and beating my goal by less than a minute. Another 358 runners finished the marathon. A round-up of the race results is in today's Adirondack Daily Enterprise.

The marathon winner at 2:35, just a minute off the course record despite a hot day

Despite the difficult course, the Lake Placid half marathon will likely become a permanent entry on my racing calendar. Besides being a well organized and well supported race, the scenic course and the Olympic setting make the race memorable. On top of that, Lake Placid has been an important place in my life for the past 30+ years, so in some ways it feels like a "home" race. And since more than half the challenge of a race is mental, now that I know about the mile 13 hill, I'll be in a position to take some more time off my result next year.

View of the High Peaks from just outside Lake Placid


  1. Congrats on a great run and on meeting your goal. Sounds like it was a great race.