Monday, May 21, 2012

Ironman 70.3 Boise Preview

Are you racing in the Ironman 70.3 Boise? Being selected as one of three races in the Ironman 70.3 races series to have 100 Age Group Ironman 70.3 Worlds qualifying slots this year, the Boise 70.3 is sure to draw more racers hoping to qualify for Worlds than in years past. So what can you look forward to?

With more qualifying slots for this year I’m sure it will draw tougher competition from the region. You can check out the graphs below to get an idea of previous year’s average number of entrants, average finish times  and how those times stack up to the other WTC 70.3 races. The finish times might be slightly deceiving because of past weather conditions and don’t necessarily mean that you can’t put down a PR on this course. This is a good course that has historically drawn good competition across all age groups.

City of Boise
As the capital of Idaho, Boise boasts a modest population of 205,000 with surrounding areas bringing the population to around 615,000 and is the third most populous metropolitan area in the Pacific Northwest (behind Seattle & Portland). With this population you still get the small town feel with all the amenities of a larger city.

Where to Stay
There is a wide variety of hotels in downtown Boise but they will tend to be more expensive than staying at something that is closer to the I-84. Downtown gives you the luxury of having everything within walking distance but remember, Boise isn’t that big of a city so you can drive to just about everything within 15 minutes. There will be plenty of event parking in nearby parking garages on race day.

Bike Shop
Need a bike shop while you're in town? George's Cycles is working with Ironman to provide bike shipping services for this even. You can read more about their shipping and assembly service here but you will need to hurry because the registration ends May 26. I recommend any of the three George’s Cycles stores in Boise for general maintenance but I must admit that I'm partial to the store on Fairview Ave. The Front St store is very close to T2 and will likely be very busy the week of the race so I would recommend calling ahead and trying the Fairview store since they are a little further away from all the weekend racing crowds.
5515 W State
Boise, ID 83703
Map and directions 
251 E. Front Street
Boise, ID 83702
Map and directions
 10178 Fairview Ave.
 Boise, ID 83704
Map and directions
Boise is nestled in the southwest corner of Idaho and is considered a high mountain desert at 2,700 feet elevation with less than 8 inches of rainfall annually; most of which falls during the months of October – May.  With the race being held in the beginning of June, we are still close enough to the Spring-to-Summer season transition that temperatures can be cool and afternoon thunderstorms are sometimes a threat. Even though we enjoy an average of 325 golf-able days each year and almost year-round riding it doesn't directly translate into race worthy weather. So how do you pack for racing in Boise? I prefer the “pack for every possible scenario, including the kitchen sink” option. Watching the 5-day forecast will typically give you a pretty good idea of what the temperatures will be. Remember, this is the Rocky Mountains so humidity is typically low, 20%-30%, so it will feel like the actual temperature…unless the wind is blowing. Yah, we can sometimes have lots of renewable wind energy. Tucked along the Boise River between the Owyhee and Boise mountains,  the wind is often funneled through the Boise valley and sustained winds of 10-20mph is sometimes considered more of the norm especially during the transitional seasons like Spring and Fall. Many times it’s a beautiful morning with little to no wind but then as the day heats up, the winds pick up. I’ve raced the Boise 70.3 every year since its inception in 2008 and we’ve had different race conditions every time. We’ve had thunderstorms with heavy rain and hail which dropped temperatures by 20 degrees after the bike started for most athletes, high winds that rival the coastal winds of Kona, and cold temperatures that barely made it into the 50’s at the end of the race. You can’t overlook the possibility of 90 degree temperatures either. Average high temperatures in June are in the upper 70s and nighttime lows will typically dip into the mid-60s. In short, be prepared for just about anything.

The swim is held at Lucky Peak Reservoir which is ~30 minutes east of downtown Boise. The Boise 70.3 offers a unique start time of 12:00pm so you have plenty of time to get a good breakfast in the morning then drop off your gear bag at T2 and head to the lake for any last minute set up at T1. You still have to drop off your T1 gear on Friday but be aware that parking is limited. On race morning you will need to drop off your gear bag at T2 and then you have the option of riding the “shuttle” [better known as a school bus] up to T1 or family/friends can drive you up to the bottom of the dam where you can then hike your swim gear up the gravel road about a ½ mile as part of your prerace warm-up. They no longer allow you into the park at the base of the dam, Sandy Point, without paying to park, even if you are an athlete, so be sure to have money for each visit and try to carpool.
Water temps are going to be cold by just about everyone’s standards. No sugarcoating this fact. The reservoir is filled every Spring with snowmelt from the surrounding mountains. Luckily we swim at the opposite end of the inlet but typically we haven’t had enough warm days by early June to make the water “comfortable”. You can realistically plan on water temps being about 55-60 degrees so plan on bringing a good insulating cap like the TYR Warmwear (link) to avoid brain-freeze. The cold water will likely take your breath away and make your lungs tight when you first get in. Getting a couple of swims in ahead of time will help you acclimate to this. They will not let you swim at the Barkley Bay boat ramp at Lucky Peak prior to the race. I’ve been able to swim at the opposite end of the reservoir, near the inlet, at the Spring Shores boat ramp but there is a Day Use fee there too. Or, anther option, there are also some small ponds near downtown Boise where you can swim, the water just won’t be quite as cold but they are free and it will allow you some open water time. It would be uncharacteristic for the water temp to be warmer than 60 this early in the year. Update May 28: current water temperature at Lucky Peak is 57 degrees. The forecast for this week is sunny & highs in the mid-80s so this should warm a couple more degrees before next week. 
The swim is a wave start and everyone has to clear T1 before the Pro start so you may want an old pair of flip-flops you can wear and kick off, or hand to family, before your wave because the cement boat ramp is not very comfortable to stand on for very long and the shores along Lucky Peak are mostly rocky. The swim is clockwise and don’t be surprised if it feels like some of Idaho’s renewable wind energy is working against you.

Like I said previously, this is a high mountain desert so if you are envisioning riding through a fairytale-like wooded forest, you’re going to be disappointed. The scenery is going to be primarily comprised of sagebrush, tumbleweeds and maybe an antelope standing between sagebrush and tumbleweeds. The pictures they show on the IM website are not of Lucky Peak reservoir or the bike course so don't get a false impression of your scenery. I consider the bike course relatively flat. Friends from Florida that have raced it with me prefer to classify it as “mountainous”. I’m sure it will vary based on your typical ride topography. There's less than 1,400ft of elevation gain across the 56 miles and you finish at a lower elevation than you started (profile). However, don't let your guard down because this course has a lot of false-flat sections. If you are a flat-lander with limited time in the hills you may consider riding an 12/27 or an 11/28 cassette. If you get time in the hills on a somewhat regular basis but don't attack the hills you should be fine with an 11/25. Now, if you are a mountain goat, like Contador, then you'll want to race the 11/23 cassette.

As you come out of T1 and ride across the dam and down a quick descent to the bottom of the dam and along the Boise River where 50mph is easily obtainable if your pair are big enough. The hardest climbs come at mile 3.5 with a steady 2 mile 6% grade that brings you out of the river bottom to where you can typically enjoy some of Idaho's wind energy in your face. This will bring you up to a portion that cuts through Micron Technology on race day but you cannot ride through their campus before the race. If you want to pre-ride the course you can skip past this section by continuing on Gowen Rd. up to Federal Way then taking a left at the stop light. The next good climb comes at mile 18 with another short 1.5 mile 5% uphill that provides you with a gradual downhill to the turnaround. There are some false flats in a lot of spots but keep in mind that since this is a partial out-and-back course, most of the elevation you climb you’ll come back down as you ride back into town. Once you climb the hill at mile 39 then it’s a nice long gradual downhill into downtown on Capitol Blvd where you’ll come in fast into T2. One warning about the bike course, there are these weeds that grow in Boise that produce thumbtack-like seed pods. These seed pods are hard with two or three sharp spines that resemble goats' or bulls' heads and are sharp enough to puncture bike tires and hurt like a mother if you step on one with bare feet. I can attest to the "puncture bike tires" portion because I always seem to pick one up each year. Stay on the left side of the white line and you’ll lower the risk.

The run is a flat and beautiful course along both sides of the Boise River on the city’s Greenbelt near Boise State University [GO Broncos!]. This year's course is slightly different than years past. They have essentially shifted the turn-arounds further up river but you are essentially on the same course minus about 40 feet of elevation. This is the course assuming the river is not flooding which this year looks like we'll be ok. The run profile on the website is somewhat deceiving and it makes it look really hilly. Note the scale on the left...there's a total of 66ft of elevation gain on the entire course. It will almost feel like you are running on a course in Florida, minus the palm trees and salty air. There’s plenty of room to run but you have to be careful because the course is not closed and some of the locals don’t realize there’s a race going on so don’t be surprised if you come across some bikes and strollers. It is a relatively shaded run with big cottonwood trees along both sides of the river. If you are allergic to cottonwood, BEWARE! This is typically the height of the cottonwood bloom so there may be sections of the run that appear as though it recently snowed. This is a 2-loop course so family and friends can strategically position themselves to cheer you on multiple times. This is an easy course to negative-split the 2nd loop if you maintain your fluids, nutrients and pace yourself properly on the 1st loop.

The finish line is a gradual climb up 8th Street that will be lined with spectators. Feed off of their energy as you complete the 1st loop then use them to help carry you home to a strong finish. Now that you've crossed the finish line doesn't mean everything's done and you can just pick up your gear bags, your bike and call it a night. You've just put your body through months of training and it has culminated with one of the hardest things you'll ever do. Refueling after your race is just as important a fueling before and during your race.

After your race, head to one of the many local resturaunts and enjoy a dinner with a modest amount of beef. Red meat has loads of nutrients that are crucial for endurance athlete's overall health. Lean red meat has been shown to contain excellent anti-inflammatory properties, zinc, iron that helps with energy levels as well as protein and amino acids that help repair small muscle tears that occur while training and racing. Not to mention the B vitams that help convert carbs into fuel. I use lean red meat throughout all of my training and will replace the typical carbo load 2 days ahead of the event with a protein and healthy fat load. I purposely limit my carbs and use fat as fuel.