Ironman St. George Course Preview
Last, last Saturday(time flies when your having fun), the plan for our St. George training camp group was to get out and ride the bike course and get a feel for pacing and the hills. Looking at the topo elevation on the website you would think it was two laps of a massive out of saddle effort followed by a white knuckle descent. I was relieved to find that there are really only two “real” short hills (more on that later) but the rest of the course is just steady rollers and you can spend the majority of the time in the aerobars. That is not to say that it does not have a good share of climbing or that the run course wont crush your dreams with quad busting hills!
Our goal for the day was to ride two laps of the top loop and see if we could negative split the second lap and get a feel for the course and proper pacing. I wanted to get an idea for my power pacing. I have had my powertap for 10 months now and never had the heart rate monitor working or really used it proactively until I rode the course. . .embarrassing to mention me being an network enginerd and all but I could never get the heart rate working and only used my power numbers after a ride to review my efforts…. 45 seconds in the hands of Gordo and my heart rate was displayed along with my current power and cadence. That alone made the camp worth it for me!
Gordo also looked at some WKO+ rides that I recently did to help me find a pace but then he mentioned that if you really wanted to see if you nailed pacing on the 2nd lap you should feel like you could ride a 3rd lap. If you feel blown on the 3rd lap you will know where you went wrong. With that…. I decided to go for three laps and use the strategy outlined below.
The bike course slowly winds out of town through some residential streets before opening up on the highways. We started our laps on Bluff street (bottom of the loop) so I cannot comment on the fist few miles from T1. Again, I believe most athletes will be able to spend a good deal of time in the aerobars while climbing because the grade is subtle and the pace is still somewhat “quick”. After a merge onto highway 91 there are a few short rollers. You can see these on the elevation profile just before mile 20. This is where the danger of punching it on these hills will come back to get those to eager to settle into the ride. Once you get on CR-3184 highway the rollers are more gentle and it is much easier to settle into a pace. This is also where the “canyon” begins and the views this time of year were amazing. My first lap I just tried to take it all in.
However, as a few athletes mentioned, this is where the road quality suffers until you reach highway 18. Not that the road is terrible but it is just not as smooth as the rest of the course. I pumped up my tires the day before to just under 100psi and it felt pretty comfy to me. There are also a few cattle grate crossings (fun to bunny hop!) along the way but none of them require getting off of your bike (even if you dont bunny hop them). This is probably a good time to start thinking about how long of a day you are in for and suck down some calories. Start giving yourself some positive thoughts and take in the views to encourage yourself because your going to need it.
As the road winds through the canyon it is hard to get an idea for what is around the corner and my first lap I was constantly waiting for “the climb” to start. There are several rollers along the way but as you will see below there are only two major “climbs” where I felt that it required additional effort to keep any forward progress. The good news is that both of these climbs are clearly visible from a distance when you are approaching them. You may even hear yourself ask out loud “are we really climbing that?”. Take heart. They are only about .7mi and .5 miles long. I have circled them in the map below.
The majority of highway 18 canyon has some good shade spots and will likely keep pretty cool for most of the day during the race. I was three layers deep on the top and bottom the day we rode the course and it really did not warm up in this part of the course. Another advantage of the canyon is that it is protected from the wind for the most part. Later in the day it did start to get windy at the top part of the course (hwy 18) where the roads are more exposed.
Once you reach highway 18 (about mile 45 and 90) you have made it out of the canyon and begins the second climb. This one is not as steep or long as the first climb. I was able to comfortably climb this one without standing . . . I cannot say that about the first climb but they are both very manageable with proper pacing. Once out of the canyon you traverse some rolling road sections like the picture below before making a final decent back into town. This is the best spot IMO to put in more calories. The final decent into town is fast but straightforward so you dont have to worry about tight switch backs. Again, I feel that this top section and the decent is fast enough to gain advantages of staying in the aero position as much as possible.
My interpretation of the course maybe a bit different than what most “Ironman” athletes may view as a typical IM bike course. Having never attempted an Ironman prior I do not have anything to compare this course to… I really didn’t feel like there was an overwhelming amounts of climbing and the descents were long enough to allow my heart rate to drop on the way back into town so there is plenty of rest along the way. The key I suppose like any Ironman course will be pace. Here is the strategy I worked out for my ride.
Lap 1 – I started with the first group and my goal was to put a limit (ceiling) on my power at 200 watts(middle of my “endurance” zone). That means I didn’t want to see 200+ at all and would go as easy as possible like rolling up zeros on the descents, etc. This would also tell me where the real hills were on the course because I would have to go north of this pace just to keep moving forward. The good news is that there were only two places where there are “hills” that I had to break over 200watts just to keep moving. They are both short (~4-7min) and I didn’t feel like I had to stand at all in order to make the climbs (I have a 39t / 27t).
Lap 2 – This was my “IM finding pace” lap. Same as the lap above but not rolling zeros as much and bringing up the bottom of the power numbers to hold closer to 200watts but still trying not to go over that goal number for any extended period of time.
Lap 3- I was feeling rested and I though I would just ride the way I felt like. This time I was holding back until I hit the first major climb and then would just push a bit to see how I felt. I nailed the first climb at threshold and felt pretty good. The last hour of the ride was my best (highest power average) 60min of the entire ride. That is a first for me. I usually hit all my CP numbers in the fist 20 minutes of a ride! PACE!
Lap 1 – 3:03 / 145pwr / 110hr
Lap 2 – 2:15 / 196pwr / 130hr
Lap 3 – 2:14 / 212pwr / 138hr
I ran six easy miles off the bike just to feel what it was like and it was not bad at all. That is NOT to say that the run course is easy. All that I was thinking about the next morning when we headed out for the run course is that this is like one big Xterra. Trekking up the hills and quad busting descents. I love it!
The next morning we were out on the run course and I thought I would be blown so I didn’t bring a map or anything. I was just going to cruz in the back for a few miles. The bike may have had some rollers but the run course has hills! I think it was Gordo that said “bike course will be what everyone will be talking about before the race but it is the run course that everyone will be talking about after the race”. Did I mention that this reminded me of a big Xterra course?
I was stoked to find out I felt pretty good and was able to pick up my pace comfortably. The first part of the run up Diagonal street is at about a 1-2% grade. The right turn up Bluff street is where the first hill starts and the fun begins on Red Hills Parkway. In a typical Slater move I ran out front and then realized I didnt know where we turned and of course I didnt look at the map prior to heading out for the day. No worries. I got in a solid 10 miles at about a 7min/mi pace and I learned enough about the run course to know that I will be heading for the hills to train. Hiking that is… The run course is pretty simple…you are either going UP or going DOWN the entire time. Oh, and I also learned that if I run the downhills like I did that day I will likely only be doing one lap of the run course on race day.
A few people stated that is is not a PR Ironman course and likely will be a much slower course time wise than normal. That is ok with me. I just want to finish and I really believe the challenge will be about pacing and mental toughness. Going out a bit too hard on the rollers throughout the bike course or running the first lap of the course too fast on the downhills will surly cause some interesting meltdowns in the later stages of the run. It should be interesting to see and I hope I have the discipline and training to not join the ranks of that group. My preview proved to me that my nutrition is dialed in and I do enjoy the training for this type of racing. In a race this long it will be an interesting journey and I am looking forward to it. See ya out there.