THIS HAS BEEN UPDATED WITH INFORMATION FOR THE 2018 COURSE (even though the title of the article says 2017).
Boulder is the perfect place for an Ironman, of course! It’s home to some of the fastest professional and age group triathletes in the world, and the 18x collegiate national champion CU Triathlon Team. Who wouldn’t want to race here? Nobody. Of course, you want to race here. Following is a course preview that includes specific tips I have gleaned from my experience on the course both racing and training.
- Remember that Boulder is at 5,430 feet above sea level--even higher than Denver, the Mile High City. The air is thin up here and if you’re coming in from out of town, be sure to stay up on your hydration and don’t forget the sunscreen.
- A big change for 2018 is going from two separate transition areas--to a single transition area at the Rez. You’ll still take a bus from the high school to get to the Rez on race morning. This is the only way to get to the race start. Ironman has a ton of buses and there usually isn’t much of a wait, but my strong recommendation is to arrive at the high school first thing. Better to have a little extra downtime out at the Rez than be standing at the high school waiting for a bus.
- This is one of the best IM swims on the circuit! Not because the water is crystal clear (it’s not) and not because it’s an ultra-beautiful venue (we locals think it’s just fine). No, what makes this an awesome swim is that you swim north, then west, then south--in a single loop. What’s the big deal? Let me remind you that the sun rises in the east. You’re never swimming into the rising sun.
- IM uses a rolling start in Boulder so you’ll self-seed by time per the normal procedure. In the past, this race has been held in August and the Rez typically heats up to or above the wetsuit threshold temp, but in June, I would expect the Rez to be in the mid-60s and wetsuit legal.
- The course is very well marked and only has two turns (both lefts). You’ll exit on a boat ramp then make a right to pick up your T1 bag and a U-turn to head into the change tents.
- Do not skip the sunscreen volunteers as you exit the change tent and head to your bike. It only takes a couple of seconds to get fully slathered--you’ll want that protection in the Colorado sun.
- Each year this race has been held, the bike course has been different. 2018 is no exception, with a new bike course (that may be the most challenging version yet). It’s a two-loop affair with three moderate climbs per loop. If you ride by TSS, it’s pretty convenient to shoot for about (or just under) 150 points per lap.
- The first 12 or so miles of each lap are on a fully closed-to-traffic section of the Diagonal Highway. This road is not exactly flat (nothing in Boulder is…), but there’s relatively little elevation gain. Settle into your prescribed effort and stay aero. Note that to the extent there is wind in the morning, it will likely be from the west so you’d have a tailwind once you make the first U-turn and then a headwind on the way back. The wind is more likely to be a factor on lap 2. You’ll make a U-turn at each end of the Diagonal.
- The first climb is up Neva Road to Highway 36. Although you’re headed uphill for several miles, it’s a gradual grade until the very end. Unless the wind is a factor, this really won’t feel like a significant climb. From there, you’ll roll a bit on 36 before descending Nelson Road. Nelson used to be a significant climb in this race, but in 2018, you’ll only descend--a great place to stay aero and enjoy the speed. There’s only one big sweeping curve to be careful on. Experienced locals are able to ride the full descent in aerobars. If you pre-ride or pre-drive the course, take note of what you’re comfortable with.
- Climb two is up to St. Vrain Road back to Highway 36. This climb is a bit punchier and gets pretty steep just before you reach the highway. Mind your watts and pay no attention to the folks who rush up this climb--especially on the first lap. They’re either on their way to a really outstanding ride or more likely, you’ll be seeing them later.
- The third climb is on Hygiene Road--you’ll descend from 36 on this road before making a U-turn at the bottom and retracing your route back up to the highway. Like the St. Vrain climb, this segment gets steeper as you approach 36, but is not as long as the St. Vrain climb.
- Once back to 36, you’ll have a short/fast descent toward Lyons and then a fast but slightly uphill ride on Highway 66 to 75th Street where you’ll get another relatively fast descent through the town of Hygiene. Note that there are train tracks just past the little town that have, in the past, been a spot where bottles eject. The tracks have been substantially improved recently so they may not be an issue this year, but beware--you’ll be going fast when you go over them--make sure you don’t blow your nutrition plan here! The rest of the ride on 75th/73rd to complete the loop is relatively flat with a few short ups and downs.
- The new, point-to-point run course is almost completely on concrete (probably a good race for your Hokas), it is a pretty comfortable run as Ironman runs go. There are no major hills, but as noted in the bike course tips, nothing in Boulder is really flat.
- The first 4 miles will be an uphill grade with a significant “bump” (that barely shows on the official elevation chart) just after exiting the Rez. It’s very short, but it might be a good place to consider walking or at least running very, very easy so early in the run.
- The next 3+ miles are net downhill as you work your way south and then east on the Goose Creek Path to connect up with the Boulder Creek Path. Once on the Boulder Creek Path, you’ll be heading slightly uphill all the way past the downtown/Central Park/finish area before making a U-turn and running back (slightly downhill) to the east.
- Just before mile 14, there is an out-and-back that heads south. Once you reach the “slinky” bridge at Foothills Parkway, you’re on a long straight-away that has become a zombie-walk in past years (when the run course was different). There is a brick roadway sound-wall that seems to collect heat and push it back onto the path so be prepared for some extra-special warmth if race day is hot.
- You’ll retrace your steps along this out-and-back, then continue east on the Boulder Creek Path before making a short spur back on the Goose Creek Path (the way you came from the Rez). This section is relatively flat.
- Once you’re back on the Boulder Creek Path you’ll head up to the west again. You’ll run past the finish area again to the turnaround, which is just about a mile or so from the finish.
- The downtown/Central Park/finish area will be packed with spectators and is a good place for your friends and family to get a look at you as you power past them on the run and then join you at the finish. It’s also the place where you’ll draw a lot of energy from the big crowds. The areas at the ends of the course (south, east, and west) tend to be pretty quiet.
- Stay up on your nutrition and hydration. It’s often hot in Boulder--even in early June--and the altitude is no joke. Be smart about fuel and drink.
Good times in Boulder!
Coach Dave Sheanin approaches coaching from a holistic perspective. Adult age-group triathletes typically have substantial demands in their lives outside of training and racing. Looking at any individual component of an athlete’s training (or life) is a data point, but it rarely tells the full story. I make it a priority to understand what’s going on in an athlete’s life beyond triathlon in order to build a plan that is smart, fits their lifestyle, and builds toward appropriate goals.