Category Archives: Races

Information and reviews on triathlon and other endurance-related events.

Race Report:French Creek Olympic Triathlon 2016

The French Creek Triathlon was my first triathlon event of the year. I didn’t know a whole lot about the race, but the timing of it fit well into my schedule. After checking out the race course and past results on their website, I knew I was up for a challenging event. Most of the prior years’ Olympic distance finish times in my age group were hovering around the 3-hour mark. A bit long for typical Olympic distance events. Usually, I am around the 2:30 time frame for Olympic distance tris. Having mountain biked at French Creek in the past, I knew it was hilly and the bike and run course solidified this.

I drove an hour up to French Creek State Park on Saturday, via the beautiful back roads of the Oley Valley, to pick up my race packet and do a little bike/run brick workout to preview the course a bit. The bike route was definitely hilly and most of the roads were in nice shape except for a partial stretch of Rt 345 that is in dire need of repaving.

I had to delay my course recon ride a bit while the French Creek”Tough Kids” triathlon was finishing up. It was pretty cool seeing all these little kids out there giving it their all. While I was waiting a minivan pulled up and the guy driving rolled the window down and introduced himself. It was Todd Hydock, another Amrita Ambassador that lives in the Philadelphia area. I had known of Todd but had never met him in person. We chatted for a while until the kids race had finished. Todd was doing the sprint race on Sunday, so we would talk more on Sunday.

Race swag was pretty nice for a small event. They had a nice white race tech shirt and a Clean Bottle water bottle. I had always wanted to get a Clean Bottle but never got around to getting one. There was also a reusable cloth tote bag and some other items from Brandywine Valley tourism too.

It was pretty dark for the ride up and it was just barely cracking light when I arrived at the race venue. It had rained heavily overnight and was still overcast which kept things dark until I got to transition.

I found an empty space on the rack right at the swim-in/run-out end of transition. Everyone else seemed to be congregating towards the other end. I preferred having space. It was still quite damp out, so I was happy to suit up early with my wetsuit.

I gingerly made my down to the swim start in bare feet to get in a little warm-up swim before the race. I was the first one in the water. Water wasn’t too bad. A little cool but perfect for a wetsuit swim. The water was a light, muddy color but not so dark you couldn’t see at all.

I had a lot of time before my wave start since it was the 2nd to last wave. My toes were pretty much numb by the time the race started. I really need to remember to bring some old flips or socks or something. I chatted a bit with a lady named, Jennifer from NJ, who was also outfitted in full Amrita Kit. She was not an Ambassador but knew Arshad and was a loyal Amrita customer.

I also ran into Amy & Bill Kline who are good friends with my old tri-blogger-buddy Shanna. I have run into them a lot over the last couple years and they are really nice to talk too. I didn’t know it after the race, but it was their 17th wedding anniversary that day. Pretty cool to be doing a triathlon for your anniversary!

The Swim

Finally, my wave was up. I sauntered into the water and was trying to stay back a little and to the left. The problem was everyone was staying back from the starting line. I was not about to stay back that far, so I ended up moving past everyone to the start line which was about waist deep. Not exactly where I like to be, but if they are going to lag back I might as well take the head start.

French Creek Olympic Triathlon 2016-Swim Exit
French Creek Olympic Triathlon 2016-Swim Exit

 

The first 200 yards kind of sucked like it usually does. It is just full of anxiety and nervous energy that it makes it hard to breathe. There was a little bit of bumping since some of the faster guys were going past or over me. Eventually, things settled out and got into my pace.

I had mostly clear water from there on out. Although I could have used some drafting help, not having to deal with others is nice too. I maintained a pretty steady swim and held steady for the rest of the two loop course. I never looked at my Garmin until I actually got out of the water.

I never looked at my Garmin until I actually got out of the water. It ready somewhere around 27 minutes, which is ok for me. I was hoping for faster but whatever. The worst thing is that the timing mats are the entrance/exit to transition, not at the swim exit. And it was at least tenth of a mile run to transition over little rocks. So my swim time ended up being around 28 minutes. I hate that!

T1

The 1st transition went rather smoothly. Ditched the wetsuit and popped on my bike shoes, helmet and off I went. Ba-da-bing…ba-da-boom!

Bike

There were practically no flat sections on this entire bike course! You are either going up or going down. Nothing in between.

French Creek Olympic Triathlon Bike Course Elevation Profile
French Creek Olympic Triathlon Bike Course Elevation Profile

The road conditions are mostly good, except for one smaller section on Rt 345 that is in SEVERE need of paving. It also would appear to be a well-shaded course, but hard to tell when it was so overcast. The road was also pretty wet

French Creek Olympic Triathlon 2016-Bike
French Creek Olympic Triathlon 2016-Bike

from the rain the night before.

My goal on this leg was to not overcook my legs on the hills and save something for the run. I would also try to bomb the downhills as much as possible and use “gravity” to my advantage.

I feel I executed that plan fairly well. It was surely not the fastest of rides, but my legs were still pretty fresh at the end. I ate one and a half Amrita Bars and 2 bottles of Skratch Labs during the ride. It is pretty easy to eat when you are climbing hills all morning.

T2

T2 was a bit of a blunder. I left my running shoes tied in a double know…duh!! So I was there fumbling around with that for far too long. It was such a rookie mistake. I also put socks on, which cost me some more time. Despite that, I still got out in 2 minutes and looking at the results probably would not have made much difference in the end anyway.

Run

The run started out flat for about a 1/4 mile and then it was up…and up…and up…for the first 4 miles. As soon as my legs were getting accustomed to running, the hills started. There was one section along a small lake that flattened out for a little bit, but then it was up again. The Olympic course also took a left, when the Sprint athletes went right back to the finish, to enjoy another larger hill climb.  By the time I reached the top my legs were screaming. I even walked about 10 yards or so just to get my HR down a little bit.

French Creek Olympic Triathlon Run Course Elevation Profile
French Creek Olympic Triathlon Run Course Elevation Profile

 

French Creek Tri Run
French Creek Tri Run

After the 2nd turnaround at the top of the last hill, it was all downhill for 2 miles to the finish. Ihave to say that last two miles were actually pretty fun. You knew you could just coast it in at that point. I felt bad for all the other athletes who were coming up those hills and was trying to give them some encouragement as I cruised past them.

 

I crossed the finish line feeling pretty good. The last 2 miles actually refreshed me a bit. Finish time was 3:01 and a few seconds. Not the best time for a Olympic distance event, but this was not your ordinary Olympic distance race.


French Creek Tri Finish
French Creek Tri Finish

Post-Race

After the race, I met up Amy & Bill, My Amrita-buddy Todd, and also Terry & Sean Fenoff who I had met at my a strength training workshop that my strength coach had a couple years ago.

I stopped by the timing booth and looked at the posted race results.  I saw that I came in 4th in my age group, which left me a little disappointed that I missed the podium by one place! Ugh…so close!

I decided that it wasn’t worth sticking around at that point and started packing up my bike and things in transition. I was also texting my wife telling her I got 4th in AG. While I was doing that Bill had stopped by and congratulated me on getting 3rd Place in my AG???!!! What??!! He informed me that the 1st place guy in my age group won the overall 1st place for the race, so that got me into 3rd! SWEET!!

I immediately text my wife back and said “scratch that…I actually got 3rd!” She was a little bummed that she wasn’t there now. So back I went and hung out for the post-race awards. It was pretty cool since Bill & Amy both won their Age Groups and they announced that it was their 17th wedding anniversary too! Also, Terry, Sean and Todd all podiumed too.  So it was pretty cool to see everyone up there.

French Creek Tri Podium
French Creek Tri Podium

I was pretty happy to finally get a podium finish in triathlon. I have been doing this for over 8 years and have yet to get a podium in a triathlon. I got one for running races and duathlons, but never a triathlon. I think the build up of experience over the years with good coaches and my focus on strength training this year is making a difference.

Next up Ironman 70.3 Syracuse…

Thanks for reading!

Race Report: St. Luke’s Half Marathon 2016-Older, Fatter, and Faster?

Last season I had to bail out on the St. Luke’s Half Marathon on the morning of due to a nasty stomach bug. I was looking forward to putting that behind me and getting another result here under my belt.

To make things a little more interesting, I also challenged a friend from work, who we’ll call “Stéphane” to protect his anonymity,  to this race. Stéphane is a much younger, lighter and naturally faster runner than I am, but I hoped that the longer distance may help level the playing field a bit. Also, the added competition may help motivate me to a new personal best time.

This race had given me my current standing half marathon PR back in 2010 with a time of 1:46:47 at a 8:06min/mi pace. I was also about 20 lbs lighter(165lbs) and 6 years younger(41) back then. Could I really beat this 6-year-old PR carrying another 20lbs and being over a half a decade older? I felt like I could, but who knows.

St. Luke's Half Marathon 2010 crop me bloody nipples
St. Luke’s Half Marathon 2010

The weather turned out to be perfect running weather. Sunny, clear and in the mid-50’s. I made it to the starting line without issue and with plenty of time. Stéphane and I chatted a bit as the 5k-ers took off. We were lined up pretty close to the front, so not to get caught up in the herd. I had got caught up in this the first time I did this race and suffered 2 of my slowest miles until I got past this group.

The gun went off and we were on our way. Stéphane was off and quickly out of site into the leading pack. I stayed back and tried to settle into a somewhat comfortable pace without getting caught up in the start of the race over-eagerness. I looked down at my Garmin and saw my pace was in the low 7 min/mi. Whoa…nelly!

My first mile was a 7:15 which is more like my 5k pace. I toned it down a bit and settled into around 7:30min/mi pace. While this seemed a bit fast for me, it was feeling right. I pretty much maintained this pace for the first half of the race, which runs along Martin Luther King Blvd and is mostly flat.

Heading out Martin Luther King Blvd – photo courtesy of MyEPEvents

As I approached the first turnaround near South 4th St., I saw my coach, Todd Wiley, flying by very close to the leaders of the race. He would end up finishing 6th overall!

I soon saw Stéphane, heading back as I went by the Parkettes Gymnastics gym. He was about a quarter mile ahead of me, but still not out of reach if he had issues later on. But could I keep up this pace and catch him.

I hit the 10k split timer just past the 15th street bridge which read 46:57! This would be a 10k PR time for me??? WTH?!

I made the left turn over the steep little bridge into the Lehigh Parkway. As I hit the gravel path things started to slow down a bit. Was the loose gravel stealing my energy or was it the steep  incline of the bridge and the little hill that followed taking the wind out of my sails? My legs were starting to rebel a bit.

As I reached the next two steep hills before the red covered bridge turnaround my pace was slowing to a 8:30 min/mi pace. I could feel the fatigue really starting to hurt now. I was starting to question whether I could sustain the personal best time I had started with.

I tried to hit most every water stop and get at least a mouthful of water in at each without stopping. I know that I don’t need much hydration a race of this duration. Getting a swig every 15 mins or so is good for me. I stuffed down an Amrita Bar right before the start and had another one broken up into pieces in my Spibelt if I needed more. The problem is getting the bar out of the Spibelt seemed like it would take more time to get out than it would be worth, so I pressed on.

In the Lehigh Parkway – Photo courtesy of myEPEvents

After a couple slower miles in the parkway, I was able to pick things up a little during the 11th mile. Miles 12 and 13 were a little slow again as my legs were really hurting. I knew there was no catching up with Stéphane unless he was having a really bad day. The thought that that may be a possibility kept me pushing on.

I finally made the last turn down along Cedar Beach and up into J. Birney Crum Stadium. I was so glad to be almost done. My Garmin was reading 1:44 and some change so I was pretty sure I had a new PR, but not sure where my speed co-worker was.

As I crossed the line, I grabbed my medal and saw Stéphane standing there already finished. Ahhh! I got so caught up in trying to catch him that my PR seemed to be of no significance to me. I was also a bit disappointed that I slowed as the race went on. A sign that I probably went out too fast.

The Finish – photo courtesy of myEpEvents

Ok, I just PR’d my Half-Marathon time by over 2 freakin’ minutes??!!! What the hell is wrong with me? It wasn’t until a little later when I met up with my coach who asked how I did. My initial reaction was that of disappointment but then followed up with I PR’d by over two minutes. He was like what? He was then like “that’s awesome!” I thought huh, yeah what am I disappointed about? I guess sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees.

Last week I was talking about it with my strength coach, Fernando, and explaining how I was able to PR that race being 6 years older and 20 lbs heavier. Fernando said you are “older and faster” and I added “and fatter too”. Hence the title Older, Fatter, and Faster! Pretty funny.

I have actually dropped about 15 lbs so far since the beginning of this season and am on track to lose at least another 15 by Ironman Mont-Tremblant in August. Getting down another 15 lbs will only serve to make me that much faster. I have PR’d both races I have done this season, so I am off to a good start and the sky is the limit here.

Next up is the French Creek Olympic Distance Triathlon in late May. This will be a good indicator of where my triathlon fitness lies by putting together all the disciplines. I am anticipating some improvement in the swim with some of the changes in technique I have made that have improved my times in the pool. Running off the bike will be interesting to see if I can sustain my improved pace with some bike legs. 2016 is proving to be off to a good start to a hopeful season.

 

IMMT 2016 Training Update – April 11th 2016

Training has been moving along pretty quickly this season. Hard to believe I have already completed 10 weeks of solid training in prepping for Ironman Mont-Tremblant in August. I have been slacking a bit on the blogging front and it has been around 6 weeks since my last training update post.  I have been really busy at work as well as training. It is a constant cycle of Sleep, eat, train, work, train, eat, and sleep.

TPPMC_20160411

Overall training has been consistently progressing in an upwards fashion. Fatigue has been following along slightly above my CTL(Chronic Training Load) with no major spikes. My Friday recovery days have helped keep fatigue levels in check and my longer rides and runs on the weekend haven’t been more than 3 and 1:45 hours, respectively.

Looking at HRV(Heart Rate Variability) in the chart below, you can see that things have been progressing in an upward direction since the end of February. I have had a few sporadic low readings , but nothing compared to February. Despite the couple low data points, most readings have been in the 80’s with an occasional 90+ reading . HRV-wise, things are on the up-and-up.

iTHleteHRV_TimelineApril2016
iThlete HRV Timeline for Feb to April 2016

Performance Testing

My coach had recommended doing a 5k sometime in March and the St. Pat’s West End 5k in Allentown came up on March 20th. The course was also pretty flat, so it made for a good place to test my current run fitness. It was a pretty cool morning which was a little rough on my lungs that day. There was also a fair amount of people I knew in the race which would help fuel the competitive juices a bit too.

St. Pat's West End 5k Run
Click the image to see more St. Pat’s West End 5k Run pictures… Courtesy of John R. Hofmann Sr.

I started off a bit faster than I probably should of with ~6:48/mi pace. Although the first 1/4 mile was downhill. I was basically holding on for the next two miles, despite my lungs screaming for mercy. When I crossed the finish line my Garmin said 22:24, but the official race time stated 22:45. I was a little disappointed with the race time difference and I was not sure how they got such a different time than I did. There were some discrepancies on the course and they were scurrying at the last minute to fix things. Regardless, the slower time was still a PR for me by 1 second off my previous 5k PR back in 2013 and I finished 6th in my age group. So I can’t complain too much. And, of course, I now had a good test to setup my heart race and pace zones for my upcoming training.

I also tried to perform an FTP test on the trainer later that week, which was probably not the brightest idea. It was a total pain-fest since my legs were still sore from the 5k earlier that week, but I managed to squeak out a 1 watt improvement over my last FTP test. LOL! I really think I would have destroyed my previous FTP if I had fresher legs, but I was shocked I even improved 1 watt given the state of fatigue I was in. As you can see below, I just kind of lost it at about 15 minutes into the test

I really think I would have destroyed my previous FTP if I had fresher legs, but I was shocked I even improved 1 watt given the state of fatigue I was in. As you can see below, I just kind of lost it at about 15 minutes into the 20-minute test period but managed to recover and finish out the test without incurring a loss. Oh well, next time!

TrainerRoad 20-min FTP Test - March 23rd
TrainerRoad 20-min FTP Test – March 23rd

Swimming Improvements

Swimming is such an interesting beast. It was always the weakest leg for me since I only learned to swim (well properly with my head under water) back in 2008. I always seem to hover around 2:00/100m while swimming in the pool, but when I open water swim I am usually around 1:50/100m. I figured this was mostly due to my wetsuit and not having to make turns since I still can’t do a flip turn.

My coach, Todd Wiley, mentioned about taking some Go-Pro video of myself swimming in the pool and he would take a look at my form. I think it was a pretty easy assessment for him since he quickly got back to me indicating that I was pushing my arm towards the bottom of the pool on my catch instead of back(See image below) and my legs were too low. He sent me a couple articles and videos demonstrating what I should be doing and I eagerly watched them.

Swim Pushing down on the Catch
Swim Pushing down on the Catch

I started focusing entirely on my catch and making sure I was pushing back instead of down. This included keeping my elbow high and using my forearm and my hand to push the water back. It was almost and immediate improvement! Now my lap times in the pool are now consistently around my open water pace times. This has been a huge improvement and I am now thinking that another IM Swim PR time could be realized this season. I am eager to get out in some open water and see how this translates with a wetsuit and not having to make turns every 25m.

I also think, but not totally sure, that my legs are higher now since I am going faster with the proper catch position. I will have take some more video to get a before-and-after comparison.

Amrita Ambassador 2016

I will be serving as an Amrita Ambassador again for 2016. As you may know, Amrita bars are my go-to nutrition in races, training, and pretty much every day. They are full of powerful nutrients that keep me energized without polluting my body without a bunch of toxic chemicals.  They are plant-based, gluten-free, allergy-free, soy-free, dairy-free and they are REALLY good too!

Amrita Ambassador 2016
Amrita Ambassador 2016

If you would like to try them or order some, please go to Amrita Health Foods and enter the coupon code “britri16” at checkout to get 15% off.

What’s Coming Up?

Now that we are moving into race season, I have a few things coming soon. At the end of April will be the St. Luke’s Half Marathon which is always a fun local event. Although not real fun when you get a stomach bug the morning of the race like I did last year. I am hoping to get a PR time there since I challenged one of my co-workers to get some competition going.

In May, I will be racing in the French Creek Olympic Triathlon for the first time. Another local event which will be my first triathlon tune-up event. Knowing the French Creek area, it should be a rather hilly event for sure.

In June, I’ll be racing at Ironman 70.3 Syracuse also for the first time. That should be a good indicator of my fitness prior to Ironman Mont-Tremblant in August. I am expecting similar terrain so it should be a good test. Should be a fun season!

That’s all for now…thanks for reading!

 

Race Report: Blues Cruise 50k – My First Ultra

Six weeks ago I had this compulsive idea to sign up for the Blues Cruise 50k Ultra Trail run. I found out about the race through a friend who had done it a few years ago and it has always been floating around in my mind. I really didn’t have any real intentions to do another race after finishing the Steelman Olympic Tri in August. I always wanted to try doing an ultra-running  event and something finally jarred me to sign up for this one. I had already fallen pretty deeply into off-season mode at this point and had already gained about 13 lbs, so getting into greater-than-marathon shape would be a bit of a stretch. I changed my goal to basically building up some longer than marathon endurance and not really focus on speed. Instead, I would just enjoy the being out on the trail for the day.

Training?

My weekly training for the race consisted of more difficult hour trail run, a bit slower less technical run, then one longer LSD run on Saturday, followed by another hour run the Sunday to shake out the previous days run. Rest days would be sprinkled in between. The long Saturday runs started out at 2.5 hours and worked up to around 4.5 hours before tapering a week out from the event. I have to say I really enjoyed getting off the road and into the woods for my training runs. I am fortunate to have a ski area a couple miles from my home that has some pretty technical mountain biking trails that make for serious trail running. Along with a few face plants and turned ankles. Trail running will quickly teach you to lift your feet.

I also had a week of vacation in Asheville, NC thrown in there which was a help. If you are not familiar with Asheville, it is a very outdoorsy and active place. There are vast amount excellent mountain biking trails in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest just outside of the city which make for fabulous trail running. So I was able to log some good miles down there trail running and mountain biking. We had planned this trip before I signed up for the race, but it could not have worked out better. I would also recommend picking up Trish Browns’ book “Asheville Trail Running: Taking Bent Creek and the Mountains-to-sea Stride” which is a great resource for the trails down there.

The Pre-Race

On Sunday, October 4th I headed down to Blue Marsh Lake near Reading, PA for my first trail ultramarathon. I hadn’t overly advertised that I was doing this event since I didn’t have any great expectations about my performance. I just wanted to complete it in whatever time it took. It is the off-season and this was to just be something fun and different to do. I heard that the ultra running scene is a bit more laid back and fun compared to the typical road running scene where people are obsessed with times and pace. That sounded a bit more my style and I was looking forward to it. Also, the thought of running in the woods all day sounded like a lot of fun. Wow…running just for the fun of it? What a concept?!

When I arrived at the lake, I followed another car into the Dry Brooks Day Use area where the race start was located. I followed him down to a parking lot where people were setting up some tables and tents. I was surprised to see that we were the first runners there. This was really odd given I was only an hour earlier than the start of the race. I thought “Wow…this really is laid back!” After I made a trip to the port-O-john, the guy from the other car asked if I was running in the race. I said “Yes.” He said, “I don’t think this is for the race.” Just after the words left his mouth a lady below yelled “Are you guys here for the race?” She then followed up with “it is down below closer to the lake.” Doh! So we drove around the other parking lots and finally found the one with the race start on the other side of the hill. There was a race sign down the road with an arrow on it, but it was past the point where we had made a left turn. Not a great placement.

Congregating at the Race Start
Congregating at the Race Start

Despite being a little later now, there still was not a large amount of racers in the parking lot. I headed over to the bib pickup table to get my race number(#295) and some swag. We got a really nice, soft long-sleeved tech shirt and a running hat plus some race flyers and RoadId coupons in the bag. We would also get a long sleeve 3/4-zip pullover for finishing the event. A pretty good deal considering it was only a $70 race. I have done tri’s costing double that and got much less.

It was a relatively cool & cloudy morning ranging in the low 50’s(F) which was perfect for a run. We had recently gotten a ton of rain in the last week, so I had no idea how muddy the trails were going to be. Fortunately, it stopped the day before and was holding off for the day. The forecast actually showed a high of 60 and partly cloudy with a bit of wind. I hung out in the car and just chilled while more people rolled into the venue. I told my wife Denise not to come because I didn’t want her to have to sit around there for what would probably be about 6 hours or so and it was silly to drive two cars there. I told her I would post updates on my Instagram and also turn on the Live Tracking feature on my Garmin 920xt so she could watch my progress in real time. That is if it worked this time and I had cell coverage.

At 8:10 I started getting ready. I was carrying my running Camelbak which was stocked with a few Amrita Bars and some Osmos Hydration mix packets which I was trying out. I also had a drop bag that I would pickup at the 18-mile aid station. I packed a PB&J, some rice chips, Skratch hydration mix and a fresh pair of socks. I had purchased a pair of CEP compression socks a couple days before the race, which I got more for the protection from the elements than the compression. I packed the other pair of socks in case I didn’t like the high compression socks.

And We’re Off…

I headed over to the race start, dropped off my drop-bag along the way, and lined up at the back of the start line. I snapped a quick selfie to let my wife know it was starting. It wasn’t long before they were calling out the last few seconds countdown to the start and then we were off.

Start line selfie
Start line selfie

The herd of around 400 runners gently ambled up the road and then broke off onto the trail. We then were down on “all fours” as we maneuvered under a gate that kept motor vehicles off the trail. It was starting to feel more like a steeplechase run than an ultra. I quickly regretted lining up so far back in the pack as I got stuck in a long line of slower runners as we made our way through the singletrack trails. I kept trying to spot some passing area ahead while still maintaining some view of the immediate trail coming underfoot. In hindsight, getting behind some slower runners may have been a good thing since it kept me from going out too fast.

Trail running is a whole different animal compared to road running. Not only do you have to pay attention to the typical personal things while running but you also have roots, rocks and hills to deal with. Not to mention other runners in front of you, which only gives you a split second to make decisions or else you are doing a face plant in the dirt. If you are not focused and in-the-moment while trail running, you will be done pretty quickly. And not in a good way. In addition, you most likely have a few pounds of water strapped to you and anything else you need to carry along. The aid stations are usually a bit more spread out due to the inaccessibility to the trails.

The First 10 Miles

The first 10 miles were pretty easy. The terrain was fairly flat and once I got past the slower folks I was able to pick up my pace a bit. My mile splits decreased down to a 10min/mi pace by my 10th mile. I did get slowed down by a bee sting on the back of my right calf and I turned my ankle about 3 times. I thought my new socks had a tag or pin poking in the leg, but I eventually realized I had been stung. The socks did a good job of protecting me from the weeds hanging over the trail, but they don’t do much against bees.

I also have a bad left ankle that frequently rolls on my for no apparent reason. This usually happens on flat terrain too, so I can never blame it on something when it happens and I just have to look stupid. Well, it didn’t fail to happen 3 times on the flattest part of the race. The last one really hurt too and I wasn’t sure if I would recover from it. Of course, it happened when I was in the middle of a long line of runners and everyone was asking if I was ok. It did eventually shake out and I continued on.

Photos at 7-mile point compliments of funwithphotos.smugmug.com

2015 Blues Cruise 50k Trail Ultra

2015 Blues Cruise 50k Trail Ultra

2015 Blues Cruise 50k Trail Ultra

I took in extra water at each aid station along with some pieces of boiled potatoes with salt on them. In between aid stops I would nibble on an Amrita Bar that I neatly stashed into the little pocket on my Camelbak strap. I would slurp some water from the hydration pack routinely as I ran along. I was eager to drain it to get some weight off my hips, but I guess that would require taking a pee which I only did once.

Things Start to Get More Difficult

So much for the easy stuff. At mile 10 I finally encountered the much-anticipated hill known by mountain bikers as “The Judge.” On Strava it is known as the Stump Ln Climb. I have ridden it, or should I say walked my bike up it before, so I knew what I was in for. It averages a 14% grade of 3/10’s of a mile but has sections that are almost up to 30% grade. Going down the other side was no treat either. It was a little more of a switchback trail which helped level out the steepness.

The start of "The Judge"
The start of “The Judge”

Things started to get a bit tougher from the “The Judge” on. We climbed about 1000 feet in elevation gain over the next 6 miles, where we only about 800 in the first 10 miles. My pace started to creep back into the 11-12 min/mile range. My plan was to walk fast up the hills, bomb the downhills and steady on the flats. I started getting some tightness in my hip flexors which was fighting for my attention. I tried to ignore it and figured it would go away eventually or just be replaced by something else that hurt more.

I hit the mile 18 aid station and they retrieved my drop bag for me. I was really that hungry for my PB&J but could feel some hydration setting in. I was starting to accumulate some salt which was quite visible on my black Amrita tech shirt. I poured a Skratch Labs Lemon-Lime Matcha pack into my hydration bladder and topped it off with some water. I crushed my bag of rice chips and funneled it down my throat. I also snagged some more potatoes which taste so good during an endurance event. The mile 18 aid station is the one with the ladies in the German Lederhosen outfits, so I was in no rush to leave.

Another climb!
Another climb!

Eventually, I left mile 18 aid station and pushed on. After mile 20, things started really tightening up and hurt a bit. The 1300 additional feet of climbing we did over the next 10 miles surely didn’t help at all. I was also starting to cramp up in my inner thigh/groin area which I thought was odd for running. This would be more expected playing hockey or something with a skating motion, but not running. I finally had to give in and stop to stretch it out. I watched a handful of people that I had passed earlier trot by me. One guy who I had been running with most of the day went by and held his hands up saying “what’s going on?” That was a bit heart-breaking.

Only 4.6 miles to go!
Only 4.6 miles to go!

In Familiar Territory

I finally reached the dam spillway that feeds the Tulpehocken Creek which is familiar territory. I knew I was only a couple miles from the finish at that point and I was relieved. I also realized that the sun had come out and it was a particularly nice day. The nice breeze kept the temperature in the perfect running temperature zone. We spilled out onto the road that leads into the parking lot for the dam but it was mostly uphill. Everyone in front of me was walking and I succumbed to the peer pressure and joined them. The pavement just hurt. My feet hurt with every step. I could have really used a pair of Hoka’s right now. I was now looking forward to getting back on the trail again. Never happy!

We came to a sign that marked the entry back to the trail and made a sharp left which led to another steep climb up a grassy hill. Ugh! I started to run again as I reached the top of the hill. It was a good thing too. As I made my way around the hill I saw a trucker hat with the Wyoming bucking horse symbol on it. My foggy mind even recognized that hat! Under it emerged my wife Denise who decided to surprise me by driving out and meeting me on the trail. It was the push I needed to get me through the last mile or two. We ran together back to the parking lot that she parked at and then I continued on.

Happy to only have a few more miles to go!
Happy to only have a few more miles to go!

As I crossed the driveway a few equestrians were coming up the drive as well. One tried to shortcut me to the trail but I managed to beat them to it. I pushed on and back into a more wooded section again. The equestrians caught up to me again and were running up my back. I decided to let them pass since it seemed like they were going faster than I. They were not very friendly when they passed me and they slowed down again after they passed me. I was coming right up the back of them and it was looking as if I would have to pass them. At the last minute, they sped up and then I never had to deal with them again.

We crossed another driveway and Denise was standing there snapping a couple more pictures as I slowly ambled by. I knew this was the drive that I rode in on the morning to get to the race start so I knew I was almost there. We ran along a farm field and I saw a couple guys standing along the trail with finishers shirts on cheering us on. We made a quick left after that and then I recognized the start/finsh line area. I passed one other guy before the finish who looked like he was struggling a bit.

Home Stretch

I finally reached the grassy area before the finish line and there quite a few people there cheering the finishers on. Right before I got to the finish line, a little girl came running across in front of me(see her in pic below) oblivious that I was coming. I had to slow down and grab her by the shoulder so she didn’t run into me. Everyone got a laugh out of it though. I crossed the line in 6:29:25, which was a tad bit slower than I had hoped, but I can’t ask for much since I only started training for it 6 weeks before. I was happy just to have completed the distance and was able to enjoy the day. I am hoping my legs will keep that endurance in their muscle memory so the next time I do an Ironman Marathon it will seem short.

Coming into the finish after almost running over the little girl behind me
Coming into the finish after almost running over the little girl behind me

2015 Blues Cruise 50k Trail Ultra

Finish Photos compliments of funwithphotos.smugmug.com

Reflecting…

Given this was my first “ultra” distance running event, one of the first questions I thought to myself and my wife asked was “Will you do another one?” I think probably will. I already started searching on UltraSignup.com. I don’t know if I will do the same race or even the same distance, but I have to say I really enjoyed it. I like being off-road and in the woods and I like the more laid back culture of the people that participate in these events. I would like to do something in a place that is a bit more rugged and deeper forest. I would probably want to try a little longer distance such as a 40 or 50 miler. Even a 100k may not be out of the question.

 

Finish Photos compliments of funwithphotos.smugmug.com

2015 Blues Cruise 50k Trail Ultra

2015 Blues Cruise 50k Trail Ultra

 

 

Race Report: Steelman Olympic 2015-Finishing on a High Note

This year hasn’t really been one of my favorites. It started off finding out that our dog Yuki had Lymphoma two days before we were supposed to leave for Sedona, AZ. We then had to cancel our trip only to find out that his cancer had spread throughout his spleen and liver. Fortunately, we were able to have 5 months of quality time with him while we battled his disease. During that time, he had returned to the vigor he had as a puppy while we fed him with the best home-cooked meals we could make. This extra stress on top of my heavy training load was surely not optimal.

In June, we traveled to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho so I could compete in my “A” race of the year, Ironman Coeur d’Alene. I had spent the past 8 months busting my ass to prepare for what I had hoped would be my best Ironman performance yet. Then, a freakish heat wave moved into the Pacific-Northwest just in time to peak out at 107 degrees exactly on race day. The result was a DNF.

After returning back home, we saw a very quick decline in the health of Yuki. On August 3rd we then had to say our last goodbye to my little pal after almost 13 years. Six days later I had my last race of the year, Steelman Olympic Triathlon. I was determined to put forth my best effort in honor of my little buddy and finish off the season with a decent result.

Me & Yuki-Hiking Three Pond Loop, Adirondacks, NY
Me & Yuki-Hiking Three Pond Loop, Adirondacks, NY

The last time I competed in the Steelman Olympic was back in 2012 where finished in around 2:43 and 23rd in my age group. I was eager to see how much I had improved since then and my hope was to finish in the top 10 of my age group. After IMCdA I figure I had plenty of endurance built up, so I focused on speed and instensity in the 4 weeks prior to the event.

Pre-Race

One thing I hate about Steelman is that you have to be there so early and then you are stuck there until at least 10:30am or whenever the last cyclist finishes. So, I was up at around 3:30am and we had left for the 45 minute drive to Lake Nockamixon by 4:15 so we could get there by 5:00am. Well, that was until I realized I had left my water bottles with Skratch Labs in the frig when we were about 5 minutes away from home. Ugh! Nonetheless we still made it to the marina by 5:10a thanks to my wifes’ lead-foot. We were early enough to still get a spot in the main marina parking lot and avoided the long trek from one of the overflow lots.

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Pre-race sunrise on Lake Nockamixon-Photo compliments of Sports-In-Motion Race Photography. Straightened and color corrected by me.

I quickly setup my transition area and there was some good real estate on the rack too. I was only about 4 bikes in from the main aisle too. Usually Steelman transition is crazy since there are no assigned spots on the racks.

I ran over to the single port-O-John line and waited my turn. For some reason people form only one line for about 20 port-O-johns at this race. Every other race has several smaller lines spread across the toilets. So annoying!

The morning went pretty quickly and before I knew it we were all gathering at the swim start for the national anthem and the start of the waves. I somehow ran into my wife amongst the masses of athletes too. I also ran into a guy I met at Todd Wiley‘s LP camp this past Spring and chatted with him for a bit. Before I knew it they were calling my wave. Swim time!

The Swim

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Getting ready to start – Photo by Denise

I was one of the first few guys to get in the water for my wave. I quickly moved up to the front and outside of the lane which was on the right side for the counter-clockwise odd rectangularish swim. There were tons of guys streaming in behind me and I think they were still coming in when Dale the RD blew the start. And we were off.

I started off a little faster than I nornmally do, with thoughts of getting out ahead. I quickly realized that I am still a slow swimmer as I never really made any progress doing this only managed to hold my own. I settled into a pace which was a bit faster than my IM pace but still fairly comfortable.

The only issue I had was in between the first and second left turn when I swallowed some water while spotting the turn buoy and had a bit of an choking episode. I think I have had one in every race this year! I eventually calmed down enough so I could breathe again and returned back to my pace. I felt as though I was have a really good swim and was thinking of possibly being around 25 minutes. I didn’t look at my watch at all during the swim as this would lose a few seconds and could play with my head a bit.

The last couple turns into the marina area were a bit hard to navigate since I was having trouble seeing the buoys. I think they were smaller ones too. Eventually, I reached the slippery boat dock platform and exited the water with the help of a throng of volunteers. I glanced at my watch while crossing the timing mat…27:53. Eh!

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Steelman Olympic-Swim Exit

At first I was a little disappointed with that time. But after comparing it to my 2012 time of 32:05 I realize that this was a 4 minute improvement on a 0.9 mile course. Not too bad! 🙂

T1

The 1st transition went pretty smoothly. I did struggle a bit with my wetsuit, but nothing major. I chose to just put my bike shoes on in T1 and skip the attempt at a fly mount with shoes pre-mounted and rubberbanded. I hadn’t practiced doing that in a long while, so no reason to try it here. Onto the bike in 1:53

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Steelman Olympic-Bike Exit

The Bike

The start of the Steelman bike is always a little tricky. While it starts out pretty flat, it quickly shoots up to a dandy little climb after the left turn out of the marina parking lot. It is usually quite the jolt to the legs after you have been swimming for 25-30 minutes and all blood is still working its way out of your upper-body. My advice is shift to our one of your easiest gears as you make the left turn and spin your way up the hill. You can easily burn some matches on this hill very early.

The park has decided to add these really obnoxious yellow plastic speed bumps to the road in and out of the park. They are not rounded and more like a triangle coming to a point. I have never tried to ride over one and can’t imagine that being a real pleasurable experience. They also stretch across most of the road only leaving us about 10 inches skirt around them. If there is oncoming traffic that only leaves you one option. So, unless you have supreme bike handling skills you have no choice but brake to get around them. If there are other riders near you you will have to go through single file.

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Steelman Olympic-Bike

Eventually I survived the obstacle course of exiting the park and made my way onto Route 563 where the majority of the bike course is. The first section is mostly downhill and pretty fast to the first turnaround near the Haycock boat access. Unfortunately the condition of Route 563 has really deteriorated in the last couple years. They also patched and oil & chipped a bunch of potholes which are right in what was previously the best line. Now the best line for riding is basically the shoulder of the road now. The main part of the road is really bad and the surface in general is much rougher than the shoulder surface.

Riding on the shoulder was not an issue on the first lap of the course since it was mostly just the Olympic distance athletes. The second loop is a different story. Now you have all the sprint athletes to contend with and the slower riders blocking the left side of the shoulder. Not fun.

The longer stretch from turnaround to turnaround seems to be a mix of ups and downs. There is one tricky stretch right past the main marina entrance that forces you into a little passage on the right of the whiteline because of the hideous condition of the road covering the entire lane. I didn’t get past a slower rider quick enough on my second loop here and was forced into a very bumby ride.

I had gotten behind another guy in my age group and we played hopscotch a bit for most of the bike. I also got stuck behind another younger rider who would speed up everytime I would try to pass him. He would give this quick turn of his head when I was coming up past him and then he would then take his cadence from 110rpm to 130rpm. It was so annoying. I then finally passed him after the 2nd turnaround and then I didn’t see him again.

The stretch from the 2nd turnaround back to the marina entrance starts out with fairly decent climb. I usually go right down to my small chainring here and get into nice easy spin. Once you crest the hill it is pretty flat most of the way and then you hit a pretty fast downhill which seems fairly long. You quickly ascend again and then there is a section of patched road that covers the entire right side of the road but a small little opening on the side. You really have to make sure you are single file here or it could be a bumpy one. It will definitely cause you to lose momentum doing up the incline.

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Steelman Olympic-Bike

I felt really good the entire bike and I think I picked up a little speed on my second loop. I had two bottles of Skratch Labs hydration and one Amrita bar for nutrition. How easy is that?!

After a little over an hour, I was headed back in to the marina entrance towards T2. There was another yellow plastic speed bumb ahead which I had planned to go around on the inside of the lane again. When I approached it there was a pylon on the inside and I had another rider to my left taking the other side. I had no choice but to brake and go behind him. I then had to speed up a bit to get back to speed since there was a little incline ahead. It totally threw off my momentum. I grumbled about the pylon to the other guy as I sped by.

I cruised in to the dismount area, calmly dismounted and crossed the timing mat in 1:10:20, about a 20.6 mph pace. In 2012, the same course took me 1:17:27 at 19.2mph. So we gained another 7 minutes over my previous PR. So, now we are up 11 minutes total. Looks look it is going pretty good so far!

Looking at my Training Peaks actual bike stats, I managed a Normalized Power output of 224 watts with an Intensity Factor of 0.89 over the 24.6 miles(not sure why TP only has 24.1). Comparing that to my Bike Plan on Best Bike Splits(below), you can see I was just a little under what that predicted for watts and intensity, but time-wise was pretty much dead on there. I found BBS’s to be a little high on my IM Coeur d’ALene project too, but at least it is consistent.

 

 

T2

T2 went pretty well. I put socks on for the run, which cost me a few minutes but still better than dealing with blisters later. Despite that I was still 15 secs faster than T2 in 2012. I also had to take my bike shoes off and in 2012 I slipped out on the bike and dismounted in barefeet. I thought about doing this this year, but said the heck with it. WIth my luck this year, I will probably stub my toe or something. Better safe than sorry. Gotta run!

TheRun

The first quarter mile was a little rough as I worked the bike out them. I finally settled into a about a 7:45 pace which would be great for me. My PR pace for a lone 10k is only a 7:42, so trying to hold this for a olympic triathlon 10k would amaze me. I heard someone yell my name as I popped out of the trees along the first part of the path. I looked back and it was Todd Wiley from the Lake Placid Camp I went to this year. Always nice to have some unexpected fan support out of the course! Thanks Todd!

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As I meandered through the winding and more uphill sections I settled back into a more of a 8-8:10 pace. The run course is pretty narrow. It gets very congested when you have a few hundred people trying to run both ways on the same 6 foot wide path. Passing people forces you into more of karaoke or grapevine motion instead of a run. You defintely lose time as you get later into the run.

After the first turnaround I heard one of the volunteers at the aid station yell “hey bri-tri!” as I ran by. I was past them when I realized what he said but gave a “hey!”  and a wave while turning around. I wasn’t really sure who said it either, but was anxious to see who it was on my 2nd lap. Anyway, it was kind of cool to know I had some supporters out there that I wasn’t expecting.

Things were really starting to hurt by the end of the 1st lap. My legs were screaming and it seemed to be more uphill. I saw Denise standing along the side right before the turnaround for the 2nd lap. I was struggling to put a smile on my face as I was really hurting now. I think I managed to squeeze one out but it wasn’t easy.

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I made the turn and headed back onto the second lap. I really don’t remember too much from that second lap other than it really hurt and I had this inner dialogue going on where I was just fighting with my mind to keep pushing as hard as I could. I was trying to think of things to really push me harder. I was thinking about Ironman Coeur d’Alene, my dog Yuki and that this was my last race of the year. Leave nothing on the table today! I really think I gave it all I had.

Noone, at the aide station where someone yelled to me, ever said anything when I went by again. I don’t know if they left after that or were maybe embarrased to admit they knew this guy struggling to run an 8:00 min/mi or what. I did end up finding out later in the week that it was one of my Strava buddies, which was cool. I have the greatest ways of meeting them!

I ended up running the last mile with a young girl in front of me. She couldn’t have been more than like 11 or 12, but she was running a solid 8:00 pace. I passed her once and then she came by me again, so I decided I was going to let her escort me to the finish. She ended up making the turn around for the second loop and I kept on going. I finally made the left to the gravely road to the finish. My legs were smoked and I was slowing down before I reached the finish. I crossed the line in 49:31 which was about a 7:58/mi pace. It was a little over a minute faster than my last Steelman 10k, but an improvement nonetheless!

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Steelman Olympic-Run Finish

Race Finish: 2:30:47

Previous PR: 2:43:40

Overall Race Summary

 I would have to say it was a pretty successful race for me. I succeeded in getting in the top 10 of my age group with 8th place and I PR’d the race by about 13 minutes over my 2012 result. I improved in each discipline, except for T1 was 3 secs slower. So I may be getting older, but I am still getting faster, which makes me happy. I can safely say that I ended the season on a high note, but there is always a lot of things to work on going into next year.

I don’t really have anything planned for the rest of this season, but I may pick up a running race before the year ends. We have some vacation plans too, so I want to enjoy that a bit. Thanks for reading along this season and I hope that if you are reading this you got some enjoyment and maybe a few tips out of this. I would love to hear from you if you are reading and am open for suggestions. I hope to do a few reviews on gear and the books I have read throughout the year.

Enjoy your off-season!!

Bike Course Comparison: Ironman Lake Placid vs Coeur d’Alene

IMLP vs IMCdA BikeSeveral people have asked me how Ironman Coeur d’Alene compares to Ironman Lake Placid, namely the bike courses. So, I decided to attempt to answer that question with a bit of a comparison of the data that I accumulated from the last two races. It was fairly difficult to find any one tool that conclusively compared the two courses, so I used a few different methods. It is a bit off-the-cuff, but it might help to give some people a little idea of how similar or different these coursed really are.

First off, I tried using Garmin Connect. While it is pretty easy to select two rides and click compare in GC, having IMCdA recorded as a “Multisport Activity” from my Garmin 920xt proved more difficult to compare since IMLP 2014 was recorded as just a single ride. Then I had to export the IMCdA Ride as a TCX file from the MultiSport activity and re-import it again by itself. When I did that, it didn’t calculate my Normalized Power watts at all and my average watts were off by about 3 watts. I then filled them in manually. So I finally got them in a table format which is below.

Garmin Connect IMLP vs IMCdA Ride Compare Table
Garmin Connect IMLP vs IMCdA Ride Compare Table

So, these courses above look very similar. The only major differences was my power output for Coeur d’Alene was about 20 watts less on average and normalized power. Note that I used the same Stages Power Meter for both races. The corrected elevations here show only 400 more feet of climbing at Lake Placid and about 500 more feet of loss as well.

Next I jumped over to Strava where I have the Stravistix extension which provides some more information on the grade of the courses. Thanks to the Stravistix Google Chrome Extension for Strava from Thomas Champagne for the statistics below…

IMCdA 2015

Ironman Coeur d'Alene 2015 - Bike Course Grade Stats
Ironman Coeur d’Alene 2015 – Bike Course Grade Stats

IMLP 2014

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Ironman Lake Placid 2014 – Bike Course Grade Stats

Here again, the courses are very close. The only thing that really stood out to me was that IMCdA has a little more flats and IMLP has a little more downhill.

Equalizing Course Profiles at 0 Elevation

I also was able to import the original Garmin FIT files into Golden Cheetah, which allowed me to the export the raw data points from each ride/course into a spreadsheet. I then imported those rides into my favorite analysis tool, QlikView.

I equalized the starting elevations for each course to zero for each race profile. Next, I adjusted the rest of the points elevations’ by the difference from that starting elevation to zero. Plotting this way then moves the course profiles on top of one another(below) as if they started at exactly the same elevation. This gives us a interesting perspective of the courses that I would not have seen looking at the numbers above. While the numbers look the same the profiles are very different.

The Coeur d’Alene course is much more up-and-down in the range of 0-500′ climbing. Lake Placids’ long downhill section into Keene provides you with a nice long and speedy descent, but then you pay for that later with the very a very long, gradual climb from Jay all the way back to Lake Placid. This climb continues on into your second loop at LP too after heading through town. So if you like a constant gradual climbing then Lake Placid is more your style, whereas CdA is more for the folks who like big rollers.

Equalized comparison of IMLP vs. IMCdA Bike courses
Equalized comparison of IMLP vs. IMCdA Bike courses

The one thing I didn’t take into account here was the wind. For Ironman Coeur d’Alene 2015, the wind was coming out of the NNE mostly at around 7 MPH. This provided a nice tailwind from mostly the first turnaround at Heggins Point all the way out to the second turnaround. Coming back to town thought was obviously a headwind. Not a bad one, but I could definitely feel it. Lake Placid in 2014 was a little higher at around 8+ MPH out of the South. It always seems to just whip right up through the Wilmington Notch as you are grinding your way back to Lake Placid. 2014 also had a the nice edition of nasty thunderstorm on the first half of the first loop too.

EFD -Effective Flat Distance Overall

For one last comparison, I had stumbled upon the Flacyclist.com site by Tom Jordan. Tom has a calculator tool he put together that figures our what the Effective Flat Distance(EFD or EDO) of a ride is. This is basically how long the ride would be if you took into account the climbs and descents and just flatten everything out. It seems pretty complicated, but probably a more accurate way to equalize different courses for comparison.

I downloaded Toms’ spreadsheet version of the calculator and filled in the data. Getting some of the required fields tooks some data wrangling. I used the ride extract from Golden Cheetah and then did some Excel magic to figure out the climbing(> 1%)/descending(< -1%) distances. I had also downloaded hisorical weather info from Weather Underground site. I used some default values for area of rider and things like that. I set the wind direction at 45 since both courses were basically out-and-backs so there was a combination of headwind and tailwind. You can view the calculations here…

Looking at the two course calculations above, you can see the (EDO or EFD)Effective Overall Distance for each ride is in the 2nd to last row of each image above. The first distance value is taking wind into consideration the other is not. Based on the no wind calculations here, the IMLP was equal to about 121 miles in EFD but the IMCdA course was just a couple miles more at 123 giving it a very slight edge in difficulty. But not much

Taking the wind into consideration, IMLP 2014 averaged about a mile or so more per hour(8.24mph) over the time on the bike course than IMCdA 2015(7.4mph). With an equivalent amount of head vs tailwind, this effectively evens both the courses out at about 142 miles and some change.

This comparison also seems to point to both courses being very comparable in difficulty. The only difference being what type of ride do you prefer? Do you like to maintain a steady uphill climb over a long distance or do you prefer more shorter ups-and-downs?

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Ironman Coeur d’Alene Bike

Personally I liked both courses in their own way I guess. I really feel like I could have PR’d the Coeur d’Alene course under normal temperatures this year. Once that heat kicked in, the wheels just fell off. Despite that I was still able to come in only 5 minutes later than Lake Placid the following year. I was under 3 hours for the first 56 miles while the temperatures were still reasonable.

I hope that was somewhat helpful to anyone considering either of those races. They are now moving the full Ironman in Coeur d’Alene to August next year, so 90-100 degree temperatures may be the norm for that race now. Some locals told me that that weather is more typical at that time of year there. That pretty much takes that off my list of races to try again! Hopefully next year I can compare the Ironman Mont-Tremblant course to these two courses.

Thanks!