Here is what the Ironman Lake Placid swim venue, Mirror Lake, looks like from a couple of different angles:
This picture is from behind the swim start. Downtown Lake Placid can be seen just past the water with the mountains in the backdrop. You can use the buildings in the town as landmarks to know your position in the water.
Here's what it looks like from the 'triathlete beach'. There is a public beach off to the left but the athletes tend to enter the water from this position during training sessions. If you read reviews on the race and people say that they started from "the beach", they mean here.
This is what the swim course looks like after it is set up. You swim out on the right hand side close to the yellow buoys. You swim back on the left hand side close to the red buoys. There is a nice yellow cord about 6 feet under the water that holds the buoys in place. If you are brave enough during the race, you can get close to the yellow cord and use it as a lane line.
The swim is 2 laps. Each lap is 1.2 miles long. You must get out of the water after the first lap near this sign (oh, the irony). Run across the public beach and go back in for a second loop.
Here's what the swim start looks like with 2000 plus people all starting at the same time. The closer you are to the front, the faster your swim time will be. But, there is A LOT of contact. Elbows. Heels. Hands. Heads. Be prepared for some physicality during the swim start.
Here's a shot from behind after the gun. As you can see, lots of bodies in close proximity for a very long time. In my experience, this bump and grind is at its worst during the 3 minutes after the start and at the first turn-around buoy. It tends to ease up on the way back and lessens even more on the second loop. Please note, it never really goes away. If you want to lesson the contact even more, rumor has it that you can start on the beach or way out to the right. I have also learned that staying on the inside, left side, of the buoys helps as well.
Once you finish your second lap, you are free to get out of the water. But, transition is a good distance away (roughly 0.25 miles). You come out of the water, over the beach, and up this path.
Then, you travel down this road.
At the corner, you turn right and head for those big white tents. That is the transition area.
On race day, the entire path will be covered with green, astroturf-type carpet to help ease the pain of running on hard bricks and concrete. There will be no cars. There will be lines and lines of screaming cheering fans.