Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Ironman Itch... To Scratch or Not to Scratch?

Once again, I've recently been experiencing symptoms of a condition known as the "Ironman Itch." If it develops into a full-blown case, I will have no choice but to aggressively treat. My symptoms are fairly extreme one day and then return to mild the next... to give you another analogy, I'm the kid standing at the end of the high dive trying to decide if he/she should jump or not!

Ridding oneself of this condition is especially expensive when airfare for my elite "support crew" is involved (mine includes a moral support expert, a strategy guru trained in the arts of lego building and ninja moves, and a preschool-aged zen master mind coach). They bring a lot to the table, but also have their demands. Therefore, I'm strongly leaning towards treatment facilities that are within driving distance.

That said, here are the treatment options currently highest on my list, along with the pros and cons of each as I currently see them:

Treatment Facility: Ironman Coeur d'Alene, aka CDA

Travel required: ~10 hour drive due north, almost to the Canadian border

Some stats:

Race day: used to be late June, moved to late August for 2016 and beyond
2-loop swim
Start elevation: 2141 ft
Total bike course climbing: 5760 ft
Total run course climbing: 1026 ft

Random Trivia:

Coeur means "heart" in French. Not sure about d'Alene.  Of Alene... whoever she is.

  • By all accounts this is an amazing venue in a beautiful part of the country
  • Race has been around several years, so assuming it's very well-run
  • Everyone I've talked to raves about it
  • Later race day allows more "in season" time to prepare
  • Opportunity to benefit from training at altitude (I live at ~4500 ft above sea level)
  • A challenging, but not terrifying course

  • Seems like they've made this course harder in terms of elevation gain
  • Despite the many positive things I've heard, the race didn't sell out this year... why?
  • On top of that, it was a record 100+ degrees this year, which will irrationally scare people away
  • Many Ironman swim starts are shifting from mass starts to "rolling" starts similar to a large running race... that said, here's what the infamous Iron Cowboy (he of World Record fame with 30 IM distance races in one calendar year and now 50 IMs in 50 states in 50 days!!) had to say about the swim at CDA:

"The swim start was INSANE. I have done a lot of mass starts to this point and this one by far was the most violent. There just wasn’t any open space or free water. Usually things thin out and get less hectic. And at the very least things get spread out enough by the second lap to be less crazy. Well, not in CDA! It was a fight from the word “go” ’till I finally made it to transition. It was by far the most aggressive swim I have ever swam….by far!!!" 

  • That said, it's appears official that CDA has gone to a rolling start... 

Treatment Facility: Ironman Lake Tahoe

Travel required: ~8 hour drive west, crossing the Nevada border into California

Some stats:

Race day: mid September
2-loop swim
Start elevation: 6251 ft
Total bike course climbing: 5972 ft
Total run course climbing: 857 ft

Random Trivia: Lake Tahoe is the 2nd deepest lake in the US (500 meters)

  • A destination race, Tahoe is amazing from what I've heard
  • Shortest drive of the four treatment options
  • Epic course. It's Ironman, it's supposed to be hard! Part of me thinks the reward would be greater
  • The elevation wouldn't impact me as much as others
  • Run course on spectator-friendly trail, looks pretty sweet
  • Living in a colder climate, gives me the summer to train

  • HARD! Highest elevation + most climbing 
  • Weather can be suspect - in 2013 it was 43 degrees at the start, and last year was cancelled at the last minute due to air quality (as a result of forest fires in the proximity)
  • Inaugural race sold out well over a year ahead of time once announced. This year's has not sold out, 2 months before... folks are definitely scared off (maybe that's a pro??)

Treatment Facility: Ironman Arizona

Travel required: ~10 hour drive south by way of Vegas


Some stats:

Race day: mid November
1-loop swim
Start elevation: 1146 ft
Total bike course climbing: 2577 ft
Total run course climbing: 358 ft

Random Trivia: race used to be held in April

  • Drive passes through my in-laws home of St. George, so can break it up (great for my support crew)
  • Any Ironman distance race is hard, but this is the "least hard" of the courses... would be motivated to greatly improve my time from my first IM 
  • Low elevation race after training at altitude
  • Run course on spectator-friendly course, looks pretty sweet
  • Living in a colder climate, gives me the summer and early fall to train

  • Probably the least scenic of the four venues
  • 3-loop bike course = congested, drafting?? 
  • It's Arizona... I'm guessing November will still be HOT
  • Sells out in tenths of a second!  Hard to get into unless you volunteer the year before

Treatment Facility: Vineman Full (not affiliated with the Ironman brand)

Travel required: ~11 hour drive west, a little north of San Francisco

Some stats:

Race day: late July
1-loop, river swim
Total bike course climbing: ~4000 ft.

Random Trivia: Vineman gets its name due to taking place in California's wine region

  • From what I've heard, it's a great venue and a great course
  • Some rolling hills, but nothing to cry yourself to sleep about
  • Non-IM brand = cheaper entrance fee
  • Oldest full-distance Ironman distance race in continental US (1990)
  • Capped at ~1000 participants, so less congested, more "grassroots" vibe

  • Longest drive of the four treatment options
  • This is a controversial topic among triathletes, but does a race lose something (prestige? buzz?) vs. an official Ironman-branded race? I don't have the answer to that... it very well may be a better experience

In summary I'll continue to monitor my symptoms, but it's comforting to know there are four excellent treatment options on the table should the need arise!

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