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Tri’d and true: 20th Ironman Lake Placid

July 20, 2018
By LOU REUTER - Senior Sports Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - A challenging course in a beautiful environment and keeping the right people in place - these are key components when it comes to the staying power of the annual Ironman Lake Placid triathlon.

The 140.6-mile race will take place here for the 20th time in a row on Sunday, and with a field of nearly 2,700 signed up, the event is as popular as ever among triathletes worldwide. When all is said and done, there may actually be between 2,000 and 2,500 competitors entering the water in Mirror Lake early Sunday morning to start the race.

Ironman Lake Placid is the second-longest-running Ironman event in North America, behind only the most famous one of all - the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. This marks the seventh year that Lake Placid's Greg Borzilleri serves as the race director.

Article Photos

A trithlete swims in last year's Ironman Lake Placid. (News photo — Lou Reuter)

"Milestones are milestones, but it seems like consistently Lake Placid, among the athletes and among the Ironman World, the status keeps going up," Borzilleri said. "Other races come and go, we buy races, we sell races, we close them down, we add more as a company, but Lake Placid seems to be the rock solid, the gold standard.

"I think a big part of that is the dedication of the volunteers. We have a bunch of captains. We have either 13 volunteer captains, or volunteers who have been here since day one, since 1999.

"If we had to train volunteers, volunteer captains every year, it would be a nightmare," he added. "But these guys take ownership in it, they love it, they have a great time, and it makes everything better. It lifts everything up. The sense of community and the sense of, 'We're all in this, and we want to put on a good show for the world,' is pretty palpable here in Lake Placid."

Sunday's race marks the return of the women's professional field, and American Heather Jackson appears to be the overwhelming favorite to defend the championship she won here two years ago. In her first appearance in Lake Placid in 2016, Jackson not only beat her next-closest rival by more than a half-hour, but she bettered the Lake Placid women's professional record by more than 10 minutes, finishing in 9:09:42.

Borzilleri said that over the years, the response of competitors regarding the race has been quite positive.

"We sent out surveys every year, and consistently, people love Mirror Lake, they love the fresh water, the clean water," he said. "The bike course is one of the most scenic courses in the country. We get reviews about that every time, and then when you get to the run course, to have the Olympic ski jumps in the background, in the foreground, you can see Whiteface, you can see the bob run, you can see the Olympic Center where miracles happened. Just the historic nature and the pristine beauty, everybody loves it."

Since the Ironman Lake Placid began in 1999, little has changed with the swim, bike and run courses. The biggest change in the swim came a few years back when that 2.4-mile leg switched from a spectacular mass start to a running start in waves, an adaptation that was instituted for safety. The biggest changes have involved the race's two 56-mile bike loops, and that part of the race will be a bit different again this year. The run course has essentially remained the same since the inaugural Ironman Lake Placid.

"Course-wise, nothing major has changed, just little tweaks here and there," Borzilleri said. "Since '99, we fine-tune it every year. There's always some grumbling - that's the nature of any relatively big event I think anywhere - but residents, visitors and volunteers put their game faces this week, and that's what makes Lake Placid so special."

Not only is the Ironman Lake Placid triathlon popular, but the youngsters' version of the race - Friday's Ironkids event - draws a field of hundreds each year.

"It's consistently the biggest one in the country," Borzilleri said. "We have 500 to 700 kids. We dedicate a significant amount of time each year toward getting that show on the road."

The Ironkids event starts at 2 p.m. and features both the Splash and Dash and quarter-, half- and full-mile running races.

Borzilleri said a paid staff of 80 to 100 people and another 3,000 volunteers help make the Ironman Lake Placid happen each year.

Borzilleri said above all, the biggest pride he takes in being race director is that the event continues to provide financial assistance to organizations around the North Country.

"My proudest part of this year's race is the fact that the Ironman Foundation gave us a bigger piece of the pie of funding to hand out to worthy local charities," he said. "I think it's in the $50,000 range. They use me a lot for suggestions, and my goal is spread it out to honor and to thank as many community organizations as we could. We are donating a significant amount of money to 27 different organizations in the North Country."

Two members of the Ironman staff who used to be familiar faces in Lake Placid have traveled great distances to be at the race they have a great fondness for. Heather Fuhr is one, and Jeff Edwards is the other.

On Wednesday, Fuhr was en route to the Adirondacks from California. The five-time Lake Placid women's professional champion, who last won here in 2005, said the event is not only a race.

"I speak to triathletes all the time, and over the years, it's only good things that people say about Lake Placid," Fuhr said. "It's a challenging, honest course, and when you're out there riding there's so much scenery to enjoy. But what really stands out is the way the entire community got behind the event.

"People do pick this as a destination race," Fuhr continued. "There's a lot of history involved with this race with the Olympics, and really, people come here for a vacation. As a triathlete, it's great knowing you can come here and your family has things to do. I've had a number of favorite moments here. Personally one of the best for me was winning the fifth time in 2005. I was near the end of my career, not knowing if I was going to win again, and I was able to do that. I've come back to Lake Placid a number of times and loved the race."

Edwards was a longtime resident of Lake Placid and the race director from 2005 to 2011. He is now the general manager of Ironman operations in China and is on an 12-day visit from his home in Beijing.

"I think the magic of the community is so remarkable," Edwards said. "The athletes get to come here, experience all the beauty of the Adirondacks, the people and the history - it never gets old."



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