Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Ironman Lake Tahoe

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.

Ironman lake Tahoe is in its second year and has implemented some course changes from the original version. This preview contains a combination of my experiences at training camps with my athletes and their experiences racing last year. The race does take place between 5800 feet elevation and 7200 feet elevation and it will affect non-acclimated athletes in some way. A great reference for racing at altitude is this piece from Alan Couzens.

Ironman Lake Tahoe has two separate transition areas approximately 15 miles apart. Race morning has very limited parking near T1 so athlete and spectator shuttles run between Squaw Valley and Kings Beach.

Average morning temperatures are in the mid 30s with average highs in the low to mid 70s. Everyone handles this temperature swing differently so my best advice is bring a variety of clothing options to cover all bases (warmers, vests, gloves, beanies, etc.). The early part of the bike course has a lot of shade and can stay quite cold. As well, those planning to be on the run course after 7 p.m. should consider a warmer item of clothing in their special needs bags.

The Swim
The course is a two-loop, counter-clockwise swim and begins on the beach with WTC’s rolling start. The first 150 meters of the swim is very shallow and for the most part, not swimmable. At the end of the first lap, athletes turn and start the second lap before returning to the beach. Entry strategies to the swim and early pacing strategy should be a big consideration for athletes who are not acclimated to altitude.

The Bike
This course is two and a third loops ending at Squaw Valley. The course contains everything from lightning-fast flat and downhill sections to long, sustained, slow climbs. I like to break the course into four sections for my athletes and will do the same here.

The first section between Kings Beach and Truckee (approx 24 miles) is the fastest segment of the bike course. It contains mostly very small rollers with a long extended flat section heading into Truckee. The key consideration is the short (less than 1 mile) steady climb of Dollar Hill followed by a descent into Tahoe City. Overall the very good pavement and thin air at altitude make for a very fast ride into Truckee.

The next section is shorter but it takes in a couple of small climbs in the town of Truckee. In Truckee you’ll have to navigate those small climbs, separated by a short section on a narrow bike path. The new course is slightly different in Truckee than the original version and is slightly more technical. From there the course makes its way over gentle, rolling terrain and descends into the valley before starting the climb up to the entrance of Northstar Rd. The beginning of this climb starts the most challenging segment of the entire course eventually ending at the top of Brockway Summit.

The beginning of the climb up to Northstar Rd to end of the loop will be the slowest of the entire course so you should expect average speed to drop dramatically while you would see average power increase. After entering Northstar you encounter a series of short climb, short segments of flat terrain, quick descents and some technical and turny sections. Those who can transition well between descending, climbing, and turning with solid bike handling skills will have an advantage. Once you descend out of Northstar and back to Hwy 267 you’ll begin the climb to Brockway Summit. The Brockway Summit climb will start gradually at the bottom and steepen slightly as you get to the top. The climb itself is a little under 3 miles and will gain approximately 1000 feet in elevation topping out at over 7000 feet in total elevation. The descent back down to Kings Beach is very fast, has sweeping turns with good pavement, but can be exposed to some gusty winds. As much as climbing is important for this course, the descent at high speed should be taken into consideration as well. You’ll begin loop 2 of the course once you make the right hand turn after the descent of Brockway Summit.

After the second loop of the course, athletes continue back on course to the entrance of Squaw Valley Rd and T2. The final two miles of the course on Squaw Valley Rd has some gradual uphill as you head to the transition area at the base of the mountain.

Proper gearing , clothing choices, pacing, and fueling strategies will play a larger role here than likely at any other 140.6 mile race in the United States.

Course Change Note: In 2014 athletes bypass riding directly through Tahoe City. Instead, you will be making a right on Grove St which turns to a short, but sharp, uphill before turning onto gently rolling terrain that takes you back to Hwy 89 just west of Tahoe City.

The Run
The run is broken into two loops of different distances. Loop 1 will be close to 17 miles long while the second covers the same route simply turning earlier and bringing you back to the finish over the same route.

The run course does not have any major topographical challenges like the bike course, but it is not completely flat. The course initially drops elevation in the first couple miles as you head out of Squaw Valley, followed by a gentle rise and fall as you head up to the Squaw Creek resort (turnaround). You will encounter an additional rise and fall in and around the Squaw Creek resort before you make your way onto Hwy 89 (gradual uphill) and then the Truckee River Trail. The Truckee River Trail technically gains elevation to the turnaround; though the grade is quite shallow. Coming back into Squaw Valley will be slightly downhill along the river path, then back uphill for the final two miles as you run your way back to T1/the finish.

Overall, the course is very challenging because of the fatigue generated from a tough bike ride and the fact you are racing at over 6000 feet in elevation. That said, the natural beauty of the Lake Tahoe area makes for a wonderful venue for this 140.6 mile journey.

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