Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Ironman Boulder

Drawing on Endurance Corner's collective years of experience and access to an extended network of some of the most knowledgeable racers, we wanted to provide our best recommendations for approaching some of the biggest races around the world. Here's our updated profile for Ironman Boulder in Colorado.

Travel and Accommodations:
Boulder is located next to the mountains on the northwest side of the Denver Metroplex. DIA is serviced by most regional and all major airlines in the U.S. It also has international arrivals from Lufthansa, Icelandair and British Airways if you are flying in from Europe. Most people rent cars from DIA (take E470 tollway to Boulder), but you can also use Green Ride, Super Shuttle or a variety of other car services. You can also take the RTD bus direct to downtown Boulder for $13.00.

Boulder has a variety of accommodations. There are not many hotels near the starting line (and T1), but there are numerous hotels near the finish line downtown. There are also more hotel options on the east side of town and along the highway 36 corridor.

Pre-Race Workouts
Swimming: Boulder has numerous options for swimming:

  1. Outdoor Pools: Scott Carpenter (50M) and Spruce (25yd)
  2. Rec Centers: North, East, South (all 25-yd)
  3. Boulder Reservoir: I am not sure if Ironman will have practice swims set up as you are not allowed to swim outside of the beach area of the Reservoir during normal hours. However, every Tuesday and Thursday, Boulder Aquatic Masters has a 1000-meter course set with buoys from 6:10-7:40 a.m.

While the outdoor pools will likely be very appealing, the rec centers are typically the least crowded of all the public pools during the summer.

Cycling: Boulder is one the greatest cities in the U.S. for cycling. Most major roads have bike lanes and bike paths are located throughout the city as well. The entire course is open for riding and can be easily accessed before race day.

One suggestion: Riding your bike down 28th Street or Broadway south of Iris Rd can be a little risky and congested. Better alternatives would to use 30th or 26th/Folsum instead of 28th St and using 4th, 9th or 19th instead of Broadway in these areas.

Running: Running can be done anywhere. There are numerous trails and bike paths around the city and near the Boulder Reservoir. If you have training partners with you (not racing), they can take some extra time and check out Chataqua Park.

Boulder can be very warm to hot in early August. Humidity levels are typically (very) low and temperatures can easily reach the 90s or more. Winds are often north and east in the summer, which are favorable to the bike course, but that can easily change. There can also be a chance of isolated mountain thunderstorms in the afternoon which would most likely occur during the run portion of the race (or the latter half of the ride).

Race Morning
All athletes and spectators are required to take the shuttle buses from T2 to the Boulder Reservoir. Even spectators are not allowed to ride, run or drive into the Reservoir park so tell anyone planning to race to use the shuttle option. More than enough buses are made available on race morning so athletes and spectators alike can easily be accommodated. All special needs bags are collected in T2 so be sure to drop them off before getting on the shuttle to the race start. Boulder can have cool mornings/evenings so wear a little extra when you head down on race morning.

The swim is a one loop course in the Boulder Reservoir. Typically at this time of year the reservoir is in the low 70s, so wetsuits will likely be allowed, though it will probably be a “warm” wetsuit swim. The course is set to head in a NE/SW direction to help with the sun glare. With a lack of trees and buildings the sun can be quite blinding in the early hours. This course direction should help to alleviate some of the typical glare.

The bike course for 2015 has some major changes from last year. This year athletes will tackle a course featuring two loops, then an additional shorter tack-on loop before heading to a second, separate transition.

Here is a Strava link to the majority of the course, excluding the first two miles out of transition and the final few miles in town down Folsom and Arapahoe to Boulder High School (T2).

Loop one can be divided into several sections:

  1. Jay Rd to Neva Rd: This section features a long gradual uphill to the corner of Jay/36 and Broadway, followed by a rolling/flat couple miles until the Neva turn. The opening miles on Jay Rd (turns into Hwy 36) often makes athletes “feel” that they should be going faster than they are. The uphill gradient becomes more apparent as get further west, but initially it can be easy to ride this section much harder than you might want. A good place to hold back.

  2. Neva and 63rd: As you turn east off Hwy 36, you will encounter a fast downhill section followed by a longer gradual downhill until you reach 63rd St. You then turn north on 63rd and are faced with several miles of rollers, but still with an overall net loss of elevation. This is great section to conserve energy as it leads into the most challenging section of the first loop: Nelson Road.

  3. The Nelson Road Climb: After you leave 63rd St., you will turn west on Nelson Road taking you back up to 36, gaining back all the elevation you just lost. Before writing this course profile, I rode this particular climb several times as I’ve never really given it much thought before. This climb is a little over four miles long and it rises in a two-tier stair stepper fashion, rising around 600 feet. There are two steep pitches that are both followed by gradual false flats, making any overly hard efforts, difficult to recover from. I suggest pre-riding this part of the course if possible to get a better understanding of what I believe will be a key section.

  4. Highway 36 to Highway 66, Highway 66 to 75th St.: After you turn on Hwy 36 from Nelson Road, you will continue to gain a slight amount of elevation before entering a long rolling descent to Hwy 66. This is a great opportunity to eat, drink and regroup. At the end of Highway 36, you will turn east on a flat, fast section of Hwy 66 taking you to the town of Hygiene.

  5. Hygiene, 75th, Diagonal: This section features flat and rolling terrain and rides a little more consistently than all the previous sections which are either generally slow or fast. The final couple miles along the Diagonal Hwy begin to ride more slowly as you make your way back to section 1, so don’t be surprised to see the speed start to ease up before you repeat the loop.

Loop Two (only completed once):
Following the completion of two loops, you will head slightly south of Jay Rd, before turning off the highway onto a bike path that goes under the Diagonal Hwy. From there it takes you onto the northbound side and you head towards Highway 52.

After some flat-to-rolling miles on the Diagonal, you will turn east onto Hwy 52, taking you to a significant climb before a fast descent to Hwy 287, you get a short bout of flat riding on 287 before turning west on Lookout Rd. and going back over the climb you just came from, albeit a different road. Fortunately, this climb is also followed by a fast descent, so both elevation gains will be followed by some relief. Pre-riding these two climbs will also prove to be beneficial for athletes as the primary challenge of these climbs is where they fall within the context of the ride: near the end.

The final miles back into town are the same as 2014, going past the airport and back through town to Folsom and 28th St. From here you lose elevation to T2, giving you the chance to regroup before reaching T2 and starting the run.

All in all, I suspect this new course will be somewhat faster than the previous course. All of the sections that are more challenging are followed by very fast sections allowing for some recovery. Additionally, the course changes directions more frequently, making any potential headwind sections somewhat shorter.

All roads are in good-to-great condition.

The run course is a two “loop” course that features three out and backs along the Boulder Creek Path. Since you paralleling a creek, you will be running slightly up or slightly downhill for most of the run course.

You will start the run by heading east which will make the start seem faster than what you might see in other races, this will be countered by the long segment that heads back west and up the canyon to the far turnaround. The further east you are on the course, the less significant the grade. As you head back to the university and near downtown, you will start to see/feel the grade become more significant. Be prepared to see slower miles splits as you head west. Early in the race, you might be tempted to push for better splits; don’t.

This year, the course no longer features a big hill along the Foothills Highway. This takes out four big hills/climbs from the previous year. This might make the course seem easier on paper, but I still think the overall up/down nature of the course makes it just as challenging.

If time permits, I would suggest riding your bike along the run route before the race just to see that some sections you can coast, while others you have to pedal. This will be very helpful knowledge on race day to keep all the times and efforts in the right context.

While Boulder can be very warm in August, the bike path does have a fair amount of shade and the creek can help drop the temperature by a few degrees (or so it seems). The creek path is not particularly wide and while congestion was a major question mark in the inaugural race, it proved to be on a non-issue on race day. The crowd support is fantastic making the run and can lift your spirits at just the right time.

There are plenty of bars, restaurants and shops on the Pearl St Mall and Boulder has some great breweries (Boulder Brewing Company, Upslope, Mountain Sun, Fate to name a few). If you are staying longer after the race, you can head into the mountains and check out Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park, Brainard Lake and more. Colorado is great, stay a while and enjoy it!

Endurance Corner is hosting a weeklong training camp on this year’s course with Ironman Boulder champion, Justin Daerr, from July 5-11. Learn more and register.

Justin Daerr is a professional triathlete and co-owner of Endurance Corer. You can follow him on Twitter @justindaerr.
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