Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 21, 2017
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Adirondack challenge

An Ironman competitor faces his biggest test — bringing his family on a training weekend in Lake Placid

Last year, in a moment of insanity, I signed up for the July 2006 Lake Placid Ironman. As most people who have done an Ironman will tell you, the training is as gruelling as the race itself. It hasn’t been easy to find the time to train 15 to 20 hours a week on top of being a father, husband and doctor. More than once, my family has been baffled by some of my creative attempts to help get in all the training. Like the time I decided to try running home from the market with a full week of groceries stuffed into a big knapsack (I figured I could tick that off on the training plan as a combination weight-training session and running workout).

So when my coach recommended that I drive down to Lake Placid over the May long-weekend in order to do a weekend of heavy training, I knew it wouldn’t be easy to convince my wife Aleksandra and my two daughters (Sasha, 8 and Emma, 5).

Talking my family into this trip would require more than creativity; it would mean throwing in a hefty dose of bribery as well. My plan: to find a place my family would love, where they would be having so much fun, they would hardly notice my absence. After extensive research, I decided that the Mirror Lake Inn was the one.

Whenever my husband Chris informs me of one of his latest athletic goals, I often think back to our wedding vows. I don’t remember agreeing to be a sports widow, but I suppose these kinds of things are covered under the “for better or for worse” clause. So when he sweetened the deal with a stay at a lakeside inn, I didn’t think twice. With all the extra cooking, laundry and virtual single parenthood, I had definitely earned a mini-vacation.

Day 1: Take Two Cookies and Call Me in the Morning

Our stay got off to a great start; our daughters happily munched on the inn’s complimentary homemade cookies while my wife and I checked in. I, however, was looking forward to a more grown-up treat.

That evening, while our kids were looked after by Bea (a wonderful retired housekeeper from the Inn), my wife and I sat down to a fantastic five-course vintner’s dinner — part of the Mirror Lake's first annual Festival of Food and Wine. With a full weekend of training ahead, I went easy on the wine, but I definitely got my money’s worth on the food. That’s one of the best things about Ironman training: eating all those calories guilt free!

I was delighted with how family-friendly this small and sophisticated resort was. I had been apprehensive, given the accolades listed on the hotel’s website. However, I was quickly reassured by the letter given to us at check- in from “doting parents (of five) and proprietors Ed and Lisa Weibrecht.”

Along with the plethora of activities offered year-round, Mirror Lake also offers an “early dining program” and a “kids eat free” at the View Restaurant (the Inn’s main dining room) and the Taste Bistro and Bar. The Inn can also provide parents with a list of local babysitters, and the lobby is well-stocked with a variety of board games.

Our family suite was not only comfortable but well-designed. Just off the spacious main room was a small room with a bunk bed. I’m not sure who was more thrilled, the girls or us. No more 9PM bedtimes for the entire family or, the alternative, reading in the bathroom or hallway while the kids fell asleep.

Lunch at the Inn’s Cottage Café, the casual boathouse-style restaurant, offered crayons, colouring books and a kids' menu that ranged from US$2.95 to US$3.95 for either lunch or dinner. Even converted to Canadian dollars, it was still such a bargain and we went back several times over the weekend.

That afternoon Chris took the girls to the beautiful indoor pool, while I was released from parenting duties for a few blessed hours at the Food and Wine Festival. A wine-tasting was followed by a very enthusiastic presentation by local connoisseur Barb Friend, who did her best to walk us through the inn’s extensive wine menu (with varieties into the hundreds), pointing out the merits of various vintages.

Next up was the cooking competition. I did my level best not to over-consume, knowing that I had a five-course dinner to look forward to that evening, but rationalizations were easy to come by. After all, this was a competition; didn’t I have to sample everything?

The great food at the vintner’s dinner that evening was equaled by the company at our table. What a treat to talk to locals and discover their great love of the area, of outdoor activities and their enthusiasm for the Ironman competition. One couple seated at our table whose house was on the bike route even promised to put out a sign for “Dr Chris from Toronto!”

Day 2: Side Effects May Include Profound Relaxation

After a hearty buffet breakfast, I was ready for my ride. It was rainy, but I wasn’t too bothered. As a Canadian cyclist, you quickly learn that there is no such thing as bad weather… only inappropriate clothing choices. As the locals from last night’s dinner had warned me: this is mountain country and I should be prepared for quick and sometimes dramatic changes in weather.

My first day of training called for a 180-kilometre bike ride on the Ironman bike course, followed by a short run along Mirror Lake Drive (a lovely and quiet road that meanders around the entire lake). I was hoping to complete this workout in about six hours, but it actually took me closer to seven. In retrospect, the fact that Lake Placid has hosted the winter Olympics (twice!) should probably have been a clue that the terrain in this area was going to be more than a bit hilly.

My first ride around the Ironman bike course was even tougher and more spectacular than I had expected. As I wound along quiet country roads with wide, bike-friendly shoulders, it was tough to keep my eyes on the route. Sheer cliffs, gushing waterfalls, winding rivers and raging rapids— not to mention a couple of Olympic ski jumps — surrounded me. This ride will long be remembered as one of the most gruelling and magnificent ever.

After the ride, it was time to show my wife how much I appreciated her looking after the kids all day. I had secretly made arrangements with Bea to baby-sit while I treated us to “his and hers” massages at the inn’s spa. I had never been to a spa before, but after trying this one, I’m definitely a convert. After the steam room, massage room and hot tub, it felt like my tired, sore “soggy noodle” legs had been replaced with a pair of Super-Deluxe Lance Armstrong legs.

I began the day with a run around Mirror Lake, in an effort to burn off some of the excessive but irresistible calories from the day before. After breakfast the girls and I went for a family canoe trip with Gary Marchuk, owner of Bear Cub Adventure Tours. The waters were quite calm, suitable for beginners. We learned native American canoeing songs and Gary pointed out beaver dams and birds’ nests along the way. At one point, Gary nestled the canoe against the shore and told us several native folk tales.

With the drizzly weather that afternoon, we gladly took advantage of a children’s magic show presented by the inn’s in-house pianist. A magic show never fails to please children, except perhaps the magician's own. The younger of his two sons was quite readily helping Dad out. However, I couldn’t help chuckling that the teenage son had clearly seen one show too many.

But the most magical moment for me was when Chris appeared to escort me to our spa appointment. My massage therapist complimented me on my state of relaxation. Well, I’ve got to be good at something, I thought. I felt so good afterwards that Chris could almost have talked me into another year of Ironman training!

DAY 3: REPEAT AS NECESSARY

The next day was a chance to try out my rejuvenated legs on a “brick”: a back-to-back cycling and running workout designed to help the body cope with the transition from one sport to the other. I’m not sure where the term brick comes from, but I will say this: by the end of these workouts, I often feel like I’ve been hit by one!

My “brick” for this particular day consisted of a 90-kilometre bike ride out on the Ironman course followed by a 26-kilometre run on the quiet forest roads of the Ironman run course. Despite how hard the workout was, I couldn’t help but enjoy myself. After a year of training on the traffic-filled streets of Toronto, it was such a pleasure to run along these quiets roads. The run course itself is beside one of the area’s best trout streams and I am sure I saw more people fly fishing than I saw driving!

One of my favourite moments of the weekend occurred just as I was doing some post-run stretching back at the Inn. One of the staff actually asked if I needed anything to help clean my bike. This may not seem all that shocking, but as anyone who travels with a bike will tell you, the attitude of most hotels towards bicycles is unfriendly at best and hostile at worst. After regaining my composure I said I could use a hose and some rags. He returned a few minutes later with a bucket, soap, a couple of towels and a hose. This experience pretty much sums up the impeccable service we received all weekend — everyone was courteous and helpful without being snobbish.

For dinner that night, we went to the Taste Bistro. I had a delicious seafood and angel-hair pasta — the perfect carbo load before my final day of training. We ended our day with an hour of puzzles and games with the kids in front of the fireplace in the library.

The girls and I opted for a low-key day. We hung out by the pool for the morning, returned to the Cottage Café for lunch (their hearty soups really hit the spot) and then took a short stroll to the cinema for a children’s movie. The joys of small-town living: everything in Lake Placid was a short walk away.

Day 4: Addiction May Occur

Feeling much more prepared for my race, I took my bike for a final 90-kilometre spin around the Ironman course and reflected on what a great trip this had turned out to be. I just hope that when I return, the spa keeps an extra pair of the Super Deluxe Lance Armstrong legs ready for me!

“Could we come back some day?” the kids asked. How could we say no? As we drove away, I thought that I would have liked to get the recipe for their amazing chocolate chip cookies. I looked at the back of the postcard attached to our receipt and there it was! They truly do think of everything!

Outcome: Individual Results Vary

Two months later, we returned to Lake Placid for my race, which unfortunately did not go as planned. My bike broke down and I was forced to drop out. Nevertheless, we had a wonderful time and my family is looking forward to another dose of Lake Placid bribery in the future!

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