Ironman Coeur d’Alene Course Preview

If you are racing Ironman Coeur d’Alene this August, you will be part of history. In case you hadn’t heard, this is the final year for the full-distance event in Coeur d’Alene. You’ll still be able to return for the 70.3, but they are sunsetting the full in 2017.  IMCdA was my first full Ironman, and because of that, it will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s a beautiful venue with an incredibly enthusiastic host city, and I’m sorry enough to see the race go that I nearly signed up just so I could be a part of it one last time. So enjoy the experience! There’s not another race out there quite like Coeur d’Alene.

Weather
According to Accuweather.com, the average high in Coeur d’Alene in late August is around 80, the average low is in the mid-50s, which would be absolutely lovely. That being said, I feel like these days race-day weather tends to be anything 'other' than what’s expected. Plan for a chilly swim start with temps warming through the day, but check the forecast starting a week or so out to see how much reality is going to differ from seasonal averages.

Swim
The swim is a two-loop, counter-clockwise course in Lake Coeur d’Alene. The race website says that average water temps are in the high 60s to low 70s.  However, at 6 weeks pre-race the current water temp was already in the low 70s, so you may want to pack your swim skin just in case.

Lake Coeur d’Alene has been one of my favorite swims on the IM / 70.3 circuit. The water visibility is pretty good on the spectrum of open water swims. It doesn’t live up to Miami Beach, which is my gold standard as it provides a clear view to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, but you can actually see your hand which is an improvement over most swim venues. Looking at the water conditions beyond visibility, you’ll want to be prepared for some mild swells if there’s a bit of wind, although you may not see them from land as much as you’ll notice them in the water.

Bike
The bike course is a two-loop course that can be broken logically into two sections per loop: the first, the 14 miles from transition through town, around the Lake and back; the second, the remaining 42 miles out of town, along US-95 and back.

The terrain for the first 14-mile section is mostly flat, save for a short hill right before the turnaround at mile 7 (mile 63 on lap 2), and other than a few series of 90 degree turns you’ll ride strong and find your rhythm. This first section is pretty tame and therefore pretty enjoyable.

After those 14 mostly flat and fast miles, you’ll whizz past transition and head out onto the second section of the course. This is where the fun really begins (cue the sarcasm). There are three distinct climbs in this section, which I’ll call the Big Climb, Climb #2, and the Other Climb.


  1. The Big Climb starts at mile 18.5 (74.5 on lap 2), and will treat you to 1.5 miles at an unforgivingly consistent 6% grade. I won’t lie to you this is a long, brutal, uphill slog where you’ll always want to see the top around the corner and it will never be there.
  2. You’ll hit Climb #2 as you approach mile 24 (80 on lap 2). This one’s only about a mile and fluctuates between 2 and 4% grade.
  3. The Other Climb is a two-mile kicker that starts at mile 46.5 (102.5 on lap 2); the first mile hovers around 5-6% grade but the second eases up to a more manageable 3-5% grade. Just to keep things entertaining, after reaching the top you’re greeted with 1.5 miles of false flat. #whoneedsrecoveryanyway

    One big asterisk about these climbs: Climb #2 and the Other Climb don’t feel as brutal as the Big Climb because you have big downhills preceding them. USE THE DOWNHILLS.

    The other notable feature of this course is the roughly 10 miles of net uphill rollers that follow Climb #2 and take you all the way to the turnaround at mile 35 (91 on lap 2). I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of these 10 miles of rollers. Yes, the landscape is pretty and the big ol’ evergreens representative of the Pacific Northwest are nice to look at. But other than a barn here or a building there, there is very little to distinguish one mile from the next. If you’re one to zone out and count your pedal strokes and lose track of time, you will do great here. Me, not so much.

    Also, you’re assumption that the 10 miles of rollers on the way back will be a lot faster might be misplaced. This course is known for headwinds that appear once you do make that turn back to home, so be prepared for that possibility, particularly on your second lap.

    My biggest piece of advice for this bike course is to do your best to keep your effort level consistent across the entire 112 miles. There are all kinds of articles and analysis demonstrating that the best way to set yourself up for a good run is to keep your variability index - how much your effort level fluctuates throughout the bike leg - to a minimum. The long and steady nature of these hills allows you to do a pretty good job of being consistent assuming that you’re paying attention and riding smart.

    Run
    The run course has changed since my year, and I think it’s for the better. It’s now a three-loop course that keeps the great energy of the neighborhoods of Coeur d’Alene but drops the hill on the East side of the Lake. Yea!

    After heading out of transition, you’ll run over to the Coeur d’Alene Resort, then to McEuen Park and into the fabulous neighborhoods of Coeur d’Alene. This is the fun part, and I’m not being sarcastic this time. The residents of these neighborhoods are typically out in force to cheer on participants, complete with witty motivational signs (“Forward IS a Pace” being my favorite from 2015), sprinklers and hoses, and some rockin’ tunes right around mile 2.

    After the rockin’ tunes, you’ll depart the neighborhoods and head out to a paved trail that runs alongside Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive, which will take you to the turnaround of the run course. The trail should give you some nice views of the Lake, but will lack the throngs of screaming residents that kept you moving through the neighborhoods. The great thing about a triple loop course, though, is that you’ll get to enjoy those screaming throngs six whole times. How awesome is that?

    Other than the route, you’ll want to know that the course should have some decent shade and the elevation gain is pretty tame. The “hills” are just little bits of almost nothing here or there through the neighborhoods, plus a longer but gradual up and down on the trail. The elevation chart makes it look a lot scarier than it is.

    This pleasantly mild run course should set you up for a spectacular finish down Sherman Avenue. Those blocks along Sherman are reported to be the best finish line outside of Kona. Seriously, you’ve got maybe five blocks of spectators four and five deep that are going to be screaming like crazy. FOR YOU. Enjoy it, you’re gonna be an IRONMAN!

    Coach Alison recognizes that her role as coach is about being a partner in a quality assurance program. It’s her job to keep an eye on the big picture and the goals you want to achieve. But part of that process also involves the smaller pieces, continually assessing and making adjustments as needed to ensure that progress stays on track. 

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