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Lessons from Lake Placid

The run course at Ironman Lake Placid has two hills at the end of the loop.

It's a cruel joke for runners in general and at the end of a 12 or 16 hour day of triathlon competition, it can be just plain mean.

And it's one of the best spots to watch and learn what the Ironman is all about.

A group from the Buffalo Triathlon Club set up their cheering shop there for most of Sunday evening. It's known in local circles as "Rich Clark Hill." Clark, who is part of the race management team Score-This!!! and from Niagara Falls, has been known to sit there with a megaphone on race day. This year, other commitments kept him from coming.

But the enthusiasm even without the megaphones was still there.

Throughout the course of the evening some people ran well up the hill and made the turn to the final hill before reaching the Olympic Oval and the finish line.

Others shuffled up.

Others walked.

Some walked then started to run as the reached the top.

With the athletes' names printed on their bib numbers, spectators could yell out their names and offer encouragement.

And while the group is there to help encourage the runners, it is impossible to not feel touched as a spectator.

The athletes came in all shapes and sizes. People who looked extremely fit and athletic were struggling at the end of a long day. People who were carrying a few extra pounds were making excellent time. And people whom if you saw on the street you would never equate with the word "Ironman" were getting through and enjoying the endurance race, one step at a time.

The athletes themselves were appreciative of the support of the crowd. Many of them started running to the finish at that point. Many waved, gave a thumbs-up or actually cheered the crowd.

Friends and family members would come over to the group and ask to cheer for specific person.

For that time, they felt like rock stars.

It's one of the lessons of Lake Placid: Never underestimate the power of a kind word to a stranger ... or a friend.

There are other lessons along the way from a day of spectating.

It began with the swim where the gentleman to miss the swim cutoff was a native of Lake Placid. He completed the Ironman the year before but suffered a stroke this year. He still wanted to do the Ironman swim, despite the fact he has very limited use of his right arm.

The lesson: Success and failure are how we choose to define them.

Other lessons:

You can never say "good job," "nice ride," and "stay strong" too much or to too many people.

The phrase "you're almost there," is never appropriate in any race of any kind unless the finish line is less than a mile away.

When in doubt, cheer for the club name on the jersey because we're all a part of something bigger.

There is nothing wrong with having your eyes well up with emotion when watching people come out of the swim.

It never hurts to pack a folding chair and extra snacks.

There is an athlete in all of us. It just depends how we choose to treat her.

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