I thought it’d be helpful for others that are choosing which Ironman to compete in for me to write up some thoughts I had on this race and on the city of Coeur D’Alene in general. As soon as we arrived in Coeur D’Alene we were thankful that we made the choice to race there. Not only was it an absolutely gorgeous city, but the people of the town were welcoming and supportive. The race was well organized and the volunteers were absolutely amazing. I couldn’t have asked for a better race experience than I got at Ironman Coeur D’Alene (granted – I have no other IM events to compare it to!).
Race Timing & Weather
One of the main reasons we picked Coeur D’Alene was the time of year. Since San Diego weather allows us to train outdoors for much of the winter, we knew that although we’d be starting training in December, we’d be finished in June with enough time to enjoy the summer. It ended up workout out especially well for me since 7 of our friends got engaged last year and we are attending each of their weddings from August – October (and bachelorette parties and bridal showers). It also worked perfectly that there was a 70.3 race nearby that we could use for practice for the 140.6. We didn’t have to pay for travel expenses when we did Oceanside 70.3 in March and it was the perfect tune-up race for CdA.
Another reason we chose Coeur D’Alene was that isn’t particularly hot in June (as compared to other summer races like Wisconsin, Texas or Louisville). However, we learned that the weather in CdA is VERY unpredictable. The day we arrived it was 88 degrees at 5 p.m. and the day we left it was 48 degrees at noon. Do not chose this race based on either hot or cold weather – expect a cold lake swim and air temps anywhere from the 40s to the 90s on race day. We were lucky enough to have a 58 degree lake and a range of 50-75 degrees throughout race day, but the lake can be even colder (it was 52 the week before the race!).
A large factor in our decision to race at Coeur D’Alene was the beauty of the course. Mike Reilly (who has been to a lot of Ironman races!) told Mike that his two favorite IM races were Lake Placid and Coeur D’Alene. We had heard that Lake Placid was hard to reach from the airport and it also would require a cross-country flight. Instead, we chose CdA which was a short, inexpensive Southwest flight within the same time zone. The race is set on the breathtaking Lake Coeur D’Alene and much of the course winds through the quaint downtown area or down a lake-front road or highway.
CdA’s swim has been called one of the most challenging in Ironman due to the mass beach start, often being described as being in a “human washing machine.” This washing machine effect can partially be avoided by starting at the very back of the beach and wading into the water, but there is no doubt that you will be fighting for swim space for the majority of the swim (as is with any Ironman event). In addition to a rough start, the swim at CdA adds a few more obstacles – cold water and quite a bit of chop. The Ironman website claims that Lake Coeur D’Alene’s average temperature on race day is in the mid-60s, and it can be, however, in 2011 and 2012 the lake was in the mid to high 50s on race day. This makes for a cold swim which can affect energy levels throughout the day. Be sure to purchase a neoprene cap and booties if you will be doing this race. Also, both in 2011 and 2012 swimmers reported waves in the water which affected their ability to swim straight.
We knew that both the bike and the run course were hilly before we selected this race. Every time we told someone that was familiar with CdA that we were doing it, they never failed to mention the difficult of the course. In 2011 the run course was changed and the new course included a large hill that had be run up a total of four times during the marathon. In 2011 the bike course was changed to what I had considered would be an easier course – however, finish times were slower in 2012 than 2011, indicating that despite the lack of technical turns that the old course featured, the new course was a bit more challenging. Personally, the course was less hilly than I had expected since I was preparing for the worst. It really just features two very long climbs and several small rollers. If the course officials decide to keep the same bike cut offs as this year in the future, be warned that the bike cut off at mile 90 is at the the top of a very long set of hills so it will take you much longer to reach mile 90 than you may think. If you are a slower cyclist, work hard to get to mile 90 with the knowledge that you can coast the last 22 miles back to transition.
The run course is a double out and back which features a few small rolling hills and one large hill (over 6% grade) that you must run up and down before reaching the turnaround, for a total of 4 significant ascents during the 26.2 mile course. Most runners chose to walk these hills due to their difficulty. There are aid stations every 1 mile on the course and plenty of porto-potties (never saw lines on the run but did see significant lines at the 2nd and 3rd aid stations on the bike).
The finish chute at CdA is unbelievable. The final 1/5 mile or so is on the main drag and there are thousands of spectators cheering you on. This street is on a slight decline and mixed with adrenaline, you will likely run your fastest pace of the day at mile 26. You will feel like a champion as you run toward the finish line. Another bonus, Mike Reilly usually announces at Coeur D’Alene so you will most likely be called in by the Voice of the Ironman if you chose CdA.
Volunteers and Crowd Support
Since CdA is a fairly small town (~50k) and the Ironman is set in the quaint downtown area, it seems like the entire city shuts down to accommodate the race. And the best part about this is that no one seems to resent the Ironman for coming to their town – rather, they are inspired by the athletes. Spectators are not only friends and family of athletes, but thousands of CdA residents as well. A few miles of the run and bike course weave through downtown CdA and some residential neighborhoods and families are out on their lawns cheering on each and every athlete. It was incredible to see the same people standing in the same place, cheering for every single athlete that walked, ran or rode by. Some of the houses have parties where people are drinking beer, playing games, and blaring music. The support is truly incredible.
The volunteers at CdA were UNBELIEVABLE. From body-markers, wet-suit strippers, changing tent assistants, aid station attendants to finish line catchers, every volunteer has a smile on their face all day. At the bike aid stations someone would rack my bike for me and would always ask if I needed my water bottles filled. At the finish line a volunteer waited with me in line for my finishers photo to make sure I was ok. I cannot begin to thank them enough.
The event was extremely well run. From pre-race logistics like the Athlete Guide, Athlete Village, and check-in to race details like well-stocked aid stations, you could tell that the event organizers knew what they were doing. It helped that this was IM CdA’s 10th year. The only thing I was disappointed in was the Athlete Dinner. The food (which was free for athlete’s and $30 for guests) was pretty bad and not even conducive to carbo-loading. There was only one type of pasta and it was loaded more chicken and cheese than noodles. The veggies were soaked in oil. The only good part was the dessert! I’m not asking for a fancy meal but honestly a plain plate of pasta with marinara would have been better.
One little tid-bit of advice I have for future IM CdA (or any Ironman for that matter) participants is to buy your M-Dot gear AFTER the race. At both Oceanside 70.3 and IM CdA I bought a hat at the merchandise tent and then we were given a hat at the finish line. I now have 4 Ironman hats (you can return items for a credit but I lost my receipt of course). Also, certain finishers items (like the finishers jacket and sweatshirt) are only available the day after the race (get there early to make sure you get your size – people start lining up before 7 a.m.). Budget at least $200 for gear – the sweatshirt was $80 and the jacket was about $150.
There are several options for lodging in CdA, but be warned that nearly everywhere has a 6 night minimum. You can chose to stay for a shorter period of time, but you will be paying for 6 nights. Several people I knew rented houses, but we stayed at a Bed and Breakfast called The Greenbriar Inn which was about a 0.4 mile walk from the race start. We paid a premium of about 120% on our room since it was race week, but we were happy with our choice. We had access to a fridge, coffee maker and microwave and we had delicious breakfast each morning. Despite the small rooms (#1 and #2 are the smallest but also the cheapest), it was totally worth being walking distance from the race start. The local and beautiful Coeur D’Alene Resort is very pricey but even closer to the start (prices were about $500/night when we checked and you must book VERY far in advance).
We had some good food in CdA. It would be hard to be vegetarian or Vegan here, so I’d recommend bringing some of your own food if you have dietary restrictions. Downtown CdA had a lot of typical “bar food” but we did find some other options. Our favorite restaurants were:
- Fire Artisan Pizza -unique and delicious pizzas & beer
- The Moontime -we went here two days in a row for lunch becuase the Butternut Squash Ravioli on special was SO delish
- Tito’s Italian Grill -we had our pre-race meal here. It wasn’t the best Italian food I’ve ever had but it was good and right in town. I just had plain spaghetti and it was tasty despite being plain. the breadsticks were good too – and I judge all Italian restaurants off of their bread! We actually ate here again after the race.
- Calypso’s Coffee -cute, large coffee shop with lots of fluffy couches and tables scattered throughout. The menu, in addition to coffee, has paninis, salads, soup and sandwiches. We also ate here twice and spent several hours using their free wi-fi the Tuesday after the race.
We used Tri-Bike Transport to ship our bikes. It cost $300 for round trip transportation. They will take your bike as is (minus pedals) so you don’t have to pack it in a box. The best part was that we were able to drop it off immediately after the race for shipping so we didn’t hav eto worry about our bikes for one second! We also went on a group ride with Tri-Bike once we were in CdA which was helpful in learning the run course (and part of bike course) without having to navigate on our own.
IM CdA employed FinisherPix as their race photographer. Expect to pay $25 per image download, or purchase all your photos for $175. I just purchased my finishers photo since my parents got so many great race pics.
Although I have only raced one Ironman and don’t have much basis for comparison, I was extremely happy that I chose Ironman CdA as my first Ironman. The beautiful course, friendly city, and amazing volunteers made it an incredible day. Yes, the course is difficult, but that makes the accomplishment even better (not to mention all Ironman races have their own challenges).
If you have any questions about my experience at CdA or with Ironman training in general, I’d be more than happy to answer them! Just leave me a comment! If you want to read my race reports, check out the “Upcoming and Past Races” tab above for the links.