Recently I had a chance to take a few Human Powered Racing athletes up to Whistler to preview the new Ironman Canada course. Since coming back to Victoria a number of people have asked me about the new course and how it compares to Penticton. Here is my take;
Being that we were at a skiing destination where people were still skiing we did not venture into Lake Alta at this time. But, the water looked wet and the scenery around the lake is amazing. The two loop course will be more in line with a number of the other Ironman races in North America and will be a departure from the one big loop in Penticton. The bonus of the two loop course is that you get to feed off the energy of the crowd when you come back to where you started after 1.9km. If there was one thing I couldn’t quite figure out, it was how they will shuttle the masses to the small park that is going to make up T1. I am sure that there is a plan in place, but as a spectator it might be difficult.
The great thing about the new bike course in Whistler is that it can easily be broken down into sections. I have broken it down into 6 sections. Each of them is pretty unique and requires different skills as a rider. There is something for everyone; the climbers, the fearless descenders and the powerhouse flat riders.
Section 1 – Transition through town to the Callaghan turn Off. Riders will immediately encounter a bit of a climb as they exit T1. They will then pass through town and encounter some rollers as they head south on highway 99 towards the Callaghan Valley Rd. turn off. You actually get a pretty good descent down “Power Line Hill” until you hit the right hand turn into the Valley. Once you make this turn I can only describe it as “up”. This is what I would consider section 2 –
Section 2 – You climb pretty non stop until you hit the first turnaround up near the Olympic Ski Jump/ Cross Country Park. The climbing isn’t super steep, but it is pretty relentless. What comes up must come down though, so when you make the first turn you get to scream back down to highway 99. This is where things might get a little dicey as there will be a lot of congestion at this point of the course and riders will want to be very careful that they are in control of their bikes with the high speeds that they are sure to hit.
Section 3 – Once you are back at the highway you take a left and head back to Whistler. This involves more climbing. The other thing you that you have to remember about this bike course is that what goes down, must go up! You have a good bit of climbing to get you back up to Whistler. But again, here you will get the energy of the crowd and that will spur you on and get you back into your groove as you approach the next section; “the descent”
Section 4 – From Whistler to Pemberton can only be described one way; FAST! You basically descend for 30km. Granted there is one or two little climbs (one is quite steep) along the way, it is more or less stair stepping DOWN with some extremely fast straight away sections where you want to pop out onto the road if you are there training as the shoulder is pretty cut up. This section will be fun and you will watch your average speed climb. Just remember, this is waiting for you on your way back and you will get to watch your average speed plummet. Once you make it to Pemberton it is time for the aero machines to get used to their full advantage.
Section 5 – The out and back! Like Penticton, Whistler has a long out and back section where you will get to see many of the other 3000 racers heading either to or from the turnaround. This section is flat, fast and beautiful. Although it wasn’t the two times we rode this section, wind could definitely be a factor. The good news; if there is wind it will be at your back in one direction. It could be easy to daydream along this section because it is so flat. Staying focused on your position, cadence, power etc. will all be important. One other note is that it could be very hot down in Pemberton from what I have been told.
Section 6 – When you get back to the turn in Pemberton you might actually be happy to get out of the aero position. This might not last that long. The 30 km or so up to Whistler is that same fun descent you had on the way out. Those that have not metered their effort properly or managed their nutrition, hydration, heart rate, power, could find this final section quite miserable. This is the biggest difference between Penticton and Whistler. Where in Penticton you finished with a nice long downhill from Yellow Lake and then a flat drag into T2, here you must climb up to T2. This finish reminded me much more of the Lake Placid course in that respect (for those that have raced Placid you know well what I am talking about).
The run course in Whistler is a very nice mix of trails and pavement mostly on hard packed cross country ski trails and/or paved pedestrian bike trails. I predict that there will be some fast times. I ran the course once and only managed to get lost a couple of times, but it should be much more straight forward on race day. There are no major climbs or descents, but some of the climbs and descents on the early trail part of the course will definitely seem steeper and more painful after a 2.4 mile swim and a 112 mile ride. Being that a good portion of the course is in wooded trails and it will be getting dark fairly early in late August it could be very dark out there as the sun goes down.
The two loop course will mean that once again athletes will get to feed off the energy of family, friends and spectators half way through their run. The finish looks like it will be fantastic as athletes will get to do a small loop through the village and finish right beside the Olympic Park where the Olympic festivities took place each evening in 2010.
All in all, Ironman picked a fantastic venue for the NEW Ironman Canada. I am still disappointed that they moved it from Penticton and I am really going to miss being in the Okanagan at the end of this August, but I think that this new race is going to be a great event. Everyone who finishes this one will definitely earn their Ironman stripes.