Saturday, June 17, 2017

2017 Ironman 70.3 World Champs Course Recon

As I've wrote about before, we go on family vacation in the North Carolina Mountains. The training up there stinks so I usually plan it as a recovery week. The upside is that it is only 90 minutes from Chattanooga. Usually a 5-1/2 hour drive from home, this locale allows me to make a pretty easy day trip.  I'm not much of a "pre-ride the course before race day" type of person. In fact this is only the second time I have ever done it.  The first was my first full Ironman in Chattanooga (which I rode/ran twice).

So I jumped at the excuse to hop on over to Chatty for a little World Championship course Recon.  This course is somewhat different than the 70.3 course we did in May.  It ends up being a nice training day.  I did not swim, partly because I really don't like to swim. But mostly because you can't swim this course.  The Swim is a loop in the river in front of Ross's Landing.

A lot of people have been freaking out about this swim as we are going about 800 meters upstream against the current. I guess I'm not freaked out even though I'm a crap swimmer because I've actually done (almost) this course before.  Back in 2014 I did the US Masters Swimming 1-3 Mile Open Water National Championship. Actually a long name as I type it out.  Anyways, it was part of a training weekend for my first Ironman in Chattanooga.
USMS Race Course
As you can see, we started a little further up the river and on the other side at Coolidge Park.  For that race, we did 2 loops, so 2.4 miles. BUT we had wetsuits, which we will not have for the World Championships.  The current was not that bad that day. I really don't remember it being much of an issue. Just gotta stick as close to the shore as possible on that upstream segment where the current is not as strong.  If the current isn't bad, this swim won't be bad. But it could be . . .

For the bike ride, I arrived into Ross's Landing parking area just before 7am.  This is the home to transition for all the Ironman Brand races.  I hit the bike course around 7:15 am, so I was a little ahead of the traffic.  I had wanted to get past Rock City before it got flooded with the touristas.

I hit start on my Garmin right as you go under the Highway 27 overpass. This is where the other races start. So I wound my way through town. The first 4.8 miles of this course is the same as all the other races.  Then, instead of heading out on Hwy 17/193 you go straight across at 41st Street. And basically straight up.  It is a steeeep 3 mile climb.
See Rock City
The elevation map on the Ironman website is pretty misleading. The actual Garmin file is more accurate.

Everyone knows that, yes, the first climb is very steep and 3 miles long. You basically have 1,000 feet on gain in that 3 mile stretch.  But what you really need to know is that after the nice downhill to mile 10.5, you have ANOTHER 1,050 feet of gain to mile 23.  That is where the actual top of the climb is. Fake News
The map makes it look like after 8 miles, you're good. But you're not.  Once you get to mile 23, you're good. Mentally, I will be ready for that.  This race takes place in the first 23 miles.

Coming up Lookout Mountain
Then you make a turn and it is a loooong downhill.  So long my arms got tired trying to crouch down with my chin on my aero bars, and I had to take a brake. I took a couple of rests during that stretch, meaning that I just sat up and enjoyed the view. I only tapped my brakes a couple of times.  There isn't any switch backs or right turns, so you can really fly.
On the top section of Lookout Mountain
 Now you're basically on flats and rollers.  You cut across on Hwy 196 back over to 341 where the normal course is about the 31 mile mark of the course.  Less than a mile and half later there is a little out and back section. You take a right and go about 0.8 miles do a u-turn back to 341.  After that you follow the normal course back to the finish.
The Mountain Behind Me
At this point, the only significant hill is just past the 40 mile mark after you go through Chickamauga. This one isn't too bad and it has a good downhill.  If there aren't a bunch of guys blocking, you can fly down here pretty good. Other than that it's country roads, that in pretty good shape. After Lookout Mountain, there are some rollers, but not too bad.  Sometimes there can be wind in your face in the last 10 mile stretch back into town.
Other than the Lookout Mountain part, where I train is more hilly.  I stopped my Garmin as I came back under the overpass. Again, just like all the other races.  I only had 55.5 miles, so a little short.  3,225 feet of gain for the entire course.  Of course 2,270 of that is in the first 23 miles. So less than a thousand feet of gain over the last 33 miles.
Overall it's going to be a slow course.  Maybe not for the Pro's, but definitely for everyone else.  I didn't even average 20 mph with 204 watts. I ran 53/39 chain rings with a 11-25 cassette.  I had thought about running a 11-28, but I'm going to stick with the 25.  (EDIT: Now I've waffled on this and will probably run a 11-28 as the Shimano Ultegra 6800 cassette is the same except for the last two cogs). I will be much lighter on race day.  My race wheels (Reynolds Element Disc and FLO90 full carbon) are heavier than the 62mm Reynolds Strikes I ran on this ride. However everything else will be lighter with my helmet and  clothing, and all the stuff I run for training that I won't race with.

I got back to the car and did a quick change. I headed out of the parking lot and hit start on my garmin where the "run out" usually is at the Ironman races here.  I took a left and then quickly went down the Riverwalk path as the IM map and the turn by turn describe, shown below.
You have a good little uphill in that first mile, with almost 100 feet of gain. Once you get past the first mile and you're on the main road, it's not too bad.  The next couple of miles can be fast.  They've taken out the 3 u-turns in that section. Also everyone will be going in the same direction on the Riverwalk, unlike some of the other races. You will get some sun that first couple of miles.
A bridge on the Riverwalk
So you can cruise til you hit that hill on Battery Place right before you go onto Veteran's Bridge (just past mile 3). That's a short punchy hill. I'll definitely need to push through that.  It's mostly shaded through the Riverwalk area.  Then the bridge is in full sun, but mostly flat.  Once you get a across the bridge, you start making the climb to the top of Barton Avenue. Yes, the famed Barton Avenue hill of the full Ironman.
Veterans Bridge
 This hill is about 90 feet of gain in 0.4 miles.  It doesn't look bad, but started to wear on me near the end.  So then you crest that hill, and basically go down to the bottom, and come right back up.  You do run back up about a block over.
This hill is long. About 1/2 mile long with about 120 feet of gain. It doesn't seem that steep, though. I am not looking forward to this the second time through.  It is much more significant than the elevation gain on the Ironman website.
You Sit On A Throne of Lies
Once you get to the top of the hill at the Girl's Preparatory School, you have a good downhill.  There is a slight uphill as you go through that commercial district to Walnut Bridge.  Mostly sun through there and on the bridge. Once you get to the halfway point of the bridge, it's all downhill to the finish. Unless you are on the first loop!
Walnut Bridge Overlooking the Aquarium and John Ross Bridge
Oh yeah, you get to do the whole thing twice. The good thing is that once to get on the Walnut bridge, you have about 3 miles where it's flat or downhill.  But after that, those last 3-4 miles are gonna be rough. Overall this course is hillier than the normal 70.3, there will be over 900 feet of elevation gain. I am glad they took out all 9 of the u-turns from the other course. Yes there are 9 u-turns on the 70.3 course in May. Not a fan.

Overall a tough course. As it should be. The loop swim against the current with no wetsuit will be rough on me. That first part of the bike will definitely take it out of you. I'm just glad you hit those climbs in the beginning. At least what you go up, you will come down. Unlike the net 700 foot gain on the Vegas Championship course.  The run is hilly, but offers some spots to make up time. I like all the different sections. The roads, Riverwalk, and bridges keep it interesting.
Tennessee Aquarium
I'm really looking forward to the weekend.  It will interesting watching the women's race on Saturday before we race on Sunday. Kinda wish it was the other way around. I want to cheer all my friends on, but also don't want to be standing around in the sun all day.  So we'll see how it goes. Less than 3 months to go before the Triathlon World descends upon the Scenic City. See you there.