Ironman Boulder Course Review

I had the pleasure of racing IM Boulder this past weekend. In its first year I was very impressed with the race course, the volunteers, and the level of organization. If you’re considering the race here is a look at what to keep in mind.


The race is a 1 loop swim in the Boulder Reservoir right outside of town. Transition 1 is also located here (duh).  The bike is a  1 loop course ending at Boulder High School. From T2 (which is inside the football stadium) you rock out 2 loops of 3 out and back sections on the Boulder Creek Trail. Sounds simple enough. well it kind of isn’t.

As with any Ironman you drop your bike and gear bags off the day before the race. No big deal, I’ve done it a thousand time. Well keep I mind in Boulder there are these pesky weeds that dry up and can puncture your tires if you roll your bike into transition (hint one: carry your bike to transition). The other thing to consider is it is very hot in August in Boulder. It’s a dry heat so if you are coming from the Midwest it doesn’t feel as awful as our heat/humidity but the sun just bakes you. Remember to let air out of your tires so you don’t pop a tube when the air expands while your bike sits out all day.

Once you drop your bike and bike gear bag plan to leave at least 30 minutes to get to the high school (so don’t drop the bike at 2:30 expecting to drop your run stuff off at 3:00 at the high school).  With traffic getting out of the reservoir it can be backed up for a bit so leave plenty of time. When you arrive at the high school parking is pretty limited so find a side street or pay for parking on the college campus and walk to the HS to drop the run gear bags off.

On race morning they did not allow ANY bikes, pedestrians, or cars into the reservoir (even in the back entrance).  All athletes and spectators had to park in downtown Boulder and then take shuttles from the HS to the swim start.  The Special Needs bags drop off is located near the HS which was so much nicer than hauling them to the swim start.  Also, if you have to get to your gear bags leave extra time to get to your bag, and then get in line for the shuttles. The shuttles were totally painless. We boarded a shuttle at 5:00 AM and it took about 20 minutes to get to the swim start. It was very crowded IMO especially since cars weren’t allowed to park in the res! It made for a lot of excitement but also a little bit of a cluster when it came to body marking, getting to gear bags, and getting into the swim start corral.  I barely had time to pump the tires on my bike, get body marked, put water bottles on the bike, check my gear bag, and get my warm up jog in before I had to basically run to the swim start!

I don’t always recommend being super early to races as it can cause more anxiety – in this case – leave PLENTY OF TIME.

The Course

I have a few friend who live in Boulder and kept saying the bike was not as hard as they could have made it. I agree. There are plenty of climbs they could have added to make this a brutally tough course but if you looked at the overall times, I would say this course was definitely hard enough.  The swim was straightforward. The only issue we had a few days before the race was a few big rain storms. This can sometimes cause runoff into the res and if the bacteria tests come out too high they could have had to cancel the swim. The good news was everything was fine and I am very sensitive to nasty water. The res was fine and I probably drank 24 oz of it during the swim! Gross. I know. There isn’t much to say about the swim other than it can be wetsuit or non-wetsuit legal depending on the days leading up to the race. Again August is hot in Boulder. Keep that in mind.

Transition 1 is pretty long. You run a ways to get your bag then have to run again to your bike. My transitions in CDA were closer to 2:00 where my T1 time at Boulder was 4 something. Keep that in mind if you’re working on a guess of your finish time.

The bike is awesome. I really enjoyed this course. The first section is similar to what we have in Ohio in the sense that we have some steady rollers and then can have these stupid little nail biters. There is one out and back on St. Vrain that’s a screaming descent then you turn around and climb right back up it. The good news is you make up much of the time lost on the climb on the downhill that follows that section. The roads were in GREAT shape. The first time I’ve ever been on a course where I didn’t think “where do these peoples taxes go?!” so nice to have a smooth ride like that! From about mile 60-100 you’ve got these wide open spaces where the wind can be howling. The good news for us is that it was pretty mild out. Long false flats and 2-4% climbs are out there but they didn’t seem to mess too much with my speed – I’m guessing if it was windier it would have been a much different story.  The 3 “b!tches” are your last battle at about mile 100 or so – you go down a long downhill then have a sharp left turn and straight up. So when you’re at mile 95 prepare for that section of the course. It’s not very long but it is just annoying. The rest of the course is super easy back into town and on to the HS where T2 awaits.

Transition 2 is also pretty long. You run maybe 1/5 of a mile before you even hand your bike off to the bike catchers. ALSO if you go barefoot in your riding shoes remember that the black mats and black top can get SUPER HOT (do do right here forgot) and you can burn your feet by running barefoot on them. Keep your shoes on or wear socks. My feet were messed up from the get go on the run. That is not a fun way to run a marathon.

The run course. Well, most of you know that my area of growth is always the run. While this post isn’t about my race itself, what I will say is that this was one of the more challenging run courses I’ve ever done (half or full).  The issue is that there’s never really a reprieve. Its on a bike path, sure, but this is not your Central Ohio bike path. It curves, rolls up and down, goes through tunnels, over bridges, into parking lots. It’s kind of crazy actually. The great news is that if you like to be surprised and like changes of scenery this 3 out and back thing they had going on definitely confused the hell out of me. I’m used to the boring old 6.5 ish out and then come back, do it again type of courses. The nice thing about this course was that it was spectator friendly and you’d see your friends multiple times if you planned it right. The overpass/bridge that is on the second out and back section is not a joke and will destroy you if you don’t stay mentally prepared for it. It reminds me of the hill in IMCDA although shorter, it was just as obnoxious.  If you are a runner who will be on the course later into the night I highly recommend bringing a trail headlamp. The trail is NOT LIT at night.

The People and Experience

The people made this race amazing. The volunteers, support staff, and the spectators were phenomenal. I mean what do you expect when everyone in town is in some way shape or form connected to the world of triathlon via a family member, a friend, or a neighbor. I found the whole race was really really well done for a first year race and ultimately what I expect from a WTC produced event. I have to compare the support the community had for the race to Ironman Wisconsin. Crowds of people lined the run course almost everywhere. The bike course even had loads of spectators (even in the boonies).  I do not remember much of the finish line as I pretty much collapsed but I do remember the last mile before the finish being really quiet until you see the finish chute. It was very cool that there was this space where no spectators really hung out. Sure there were some stragglers (and of course my mom always finding the quiet place so she absolutely knows I will see her) but it was so nice to have a moment before the finish to really take in the accomplishment of the day.

Who is this race for?

I keep thinking about who I would recommend this race for and it comes down to this: if you can get out with 7-10 days to acclimate then anyone can handle the course. If you can’t get out with at least 5 days to acclimate of course you can do it but you have to consider editing your power goals/hr zones, and remember that hydration will be a huge factor in your success (plus add the August heat, woof!).  I think this race is great for strong runners. The swim is pretty straightforward and the bike is not very technical.  I don’t know that I would recommend this for a first time Ironman athlete but then again I’ve coached athletes who have never swam before and sign up to do Ironman all the time – who listens to my recommendations anyway!

Notes and Reminders

  • Bring a wetsuit and swimskin (or swimsuit) – can be wetsuit legal or not
  • Wear sunscreen and more sunscreen
  • Plan to acclimate to the altitude 7-10 days being optimal and 5-7 being appropriate
  • Edit your power output to suit the altitude (less air resistance will typically result in a faster ride even at a lower power)
  • Do not go barefoot on the hot surfaces in T2
  • Get to the HS early on race morning to make sure you have plenty of time to get everything done and get on shuttles
  • Plan on a variety of different weather options – it can rain, storm, be super hot, or super dry pack for all options
  • Hydrate well on the ride AND on the run

I am sure I will think of more things about this race as I sit and think about it for a while but this should give you an idea of what to expect if you consider it for 2015.