Ironman Arizona Course Review
Ironman Arizona (“IMAZ”) has a unique place on the Ironman (www.ironman.com) circuit. It was originally an early season race that was held in April. Despite the flat’ish terrain, it was an absolute terror. Temperatures frequently soared into the high 90’s, winds howled and sand storms of haboob caliber were known to rise up on the Beeline highway.
Mercifully, the organizers moved the date to November and now it is a race of a different flavor. Rather than a sand encrusted death march, it is now viewed as a great venue for your first assault on the distance or an opportunity to set a new PR.
But don’t for a minute think it is easy. It is still an Ironman and 140.6 miles is a long ways even in a car!
So with that as a backdrop, let us give you our thoughts on the course.
Unless the dam breaks (no joke, it has before) the swim is in Tempe Town Lake. The lake is surprisingly cold, so bring your wetsuit. It’s also, how shall we say…a bit murky. .
The good news is that the one lap course is calm and very spectator friendly. Be aware that the swim start goes straight into the sun, so consider if you want tinted glasses.
In addition, the swim course is actually shaped like a banana. There are several schools of thought on where to start, so take a few minutes to study the layout and decide for yourself. Our advice is to actually start in the middle instead of hugging the pylons or the wall. In years past, the middle has been a bit less crowded and you should have a slightly shorter distance since you don't follow the curve of the Tempe Town lake.
Even more so than the swim, the bike is very spectator friendly. It's three laps of 37'ish miles each and there are several places where you can see loved ones. While some folks think a three lap course can be a bit..how shall we say, numbing, we kinda like it. At least from our perspective, it sounds a bit more manageable and you get a pretty good feel for the course. Personally, we like to break it down into 18 1/2 mile sections. 18 1/2 miles...that's not so bad..is it?
Some people have described the course as pancake flat but there is a bit of an incline to be aware of. The Beeline highway ascends going out of town, so be sure to ride within yourself. The grade is fairly mild (~2% to 3%) but you could do some damage to your legs if you overdo it.
In addition, it can be windy out in the desert, so you might have the double whammy of a climb with the wind in your face. The good news is that if you get both on the way out, you'll get the reverse on the way back.
One thing to keep in mind is that you can (if your back agrees) stay in the aero position for a lot of the race. An aeronautical engineer can confirm tis but it is our understanding that you get more out of the aero position the faster you are going. In other words, being "aero" at 25 mph does you more good than it does at 15 mph. So, if you need to stretch out your back, do it on the inclines. Then hunker down for the descents!
Have we mentioned that IMAZ is spectator friendly?? We have? Good. It is! The run is now a two loop affair. It is overall, flat and fast but unlike the bike, there are a few short steep parts. Nothing crazy but the section on Curry Road through the park requires you to go up a semi-short but mean little hill. The good news is that you then descend into an aid station under the 202. By the way, speaking of aid stations, the ones here are fantastic!
We haven't studied this formally but our belief is that IMAZ has the most festive aid stations of any Ironman. Many of them have themes and they have even been known to set up a western town (Sheriff and Jail Cell included).
By the way, if you're of the speedier ilk (you know who you are) and will be finishing before the sun sets, be aware that the course isn't exactly tree-lined. Be sure to bring a hat or visor.
Well, that's our brief overview of the race. To be clear though, we're not coaches (and we don't even play coaches on TV), so don't let us convince you to change something that has worked for you in the past.
Finally, if you think about it, try to get a picture of yourself making the shape of a heart with your fingers during the race or at the finish. It's our unofficial symbol and we'd love to send you something if you can snap a picture.
Hope you all have a great race!
Oh..and here are a few tips we thought you might enjoy.
Swim Tip: It’s pretty well known that the lake curves a bit. Some competitors like to start on the left and follow the buoys and many/most others like to stay to the right to try and cut off some of the course. One suggestion is to (sshh…don’t tell) stay in the middle. You might get some surprisingly clear water. No promises though.
Swim Tip: The swim exit is usually up a set of stairs. It always seemed like it was one stair short. Plus the water can be a bit murky, so the stairs can be somewhat hard to see. So maybe this isn’t really a tip. More of a warning. Just be careful getting out. There…now it’s a tip.
Spectator Tip Swim Start: Quite a few of the spectators stand on the Mill Avenue Bridge to watch the start. And we can’t blame them. It’s a great view. But it does get very crowded and if the line is three deep, the view is no longer so great. One suggestion is to have your family and friends follow the sand path that goes along the south end of the lake. They can actually walk along the swim course for quite a ways. If you coordinate things correctly, you can look over and give them a wave prior to the start so they can pick you out. Tell them to look for the person in the black wetsuit wearing a swim cap.
Spectator Tip: Post Swim Start Coffee: Of course, we mentioned coffee. After the swim start, quite a few (as in about a thousand) spectators make a run to the Starbucks on Mill Avenue. The line is out the door and you could wait for 20 or 30 minutes to get your java. Either, begin your walk as soon as you see your loved one start the swim or consider Coffee Cartel at 225 West University Drive or Cupz Coffee on 777 South College Ave. Both are about 4/10th of a mile further away but the lines will be shorter.
Bike Tip: If you're going to use arm warmers, roll them up into a ball/doughnut shape (mmm....doughnuts). They'll go on much easier than if you try to put them on as a sleeve Especially if your arms are wet. Just slip your hand through the opening and then unroll them onto your arms once you've settled in on the bike.
Bike Tip: Try not to coast down the beeline after the turn around. Just keep constant pressure on the pedals. You may be surprised at how many people you'll pass.
Bike Spectator Tip: Most spectators like to hang near the hot corner. We like to go up Rio Salado a bit (near Packard Drive). You'll still get to see your athlete twice and you'll be much easier to spot. Be sure to bring a camping chair and maybe an umbrella.
Run Spectator Tip: If your support crew brings camping chairs, they can set up on the North Bank Path (across the lake from the expo). It's a somewhat lonely part of the run course but knowing you have someone there cheering will give you an extra bump on a part of the course where you really need it.
Toes..blech: We know toes are not supposed to be discussed in polite company. But trim your toe nails the day before the race. Your feet will thank you after the race.
We’re not doctors: But while we're on the topic of body parts, consider putting Imodium in your special needs bag. G.I. problems have been known to ruin more than once race.
Just plain odd but intriguing: We won't name names but someone at Coeur put a little finger tooth brush and some tooth paste in his special needs bag. He claimed that having a fresh mouth made the run more bearable. At minimum, it will make the finish line smooch better!
Finish Line Tip: You've thought about your finish line picture...right? No? Ok, then here's one to consider. Do you know how to make a heart with your fingers? Some people do it with their index fingers and thumbs and some use their entire hands. In any event, consider making a heart when you cross the finish line. We think it's cool. And it's our unofficial symbol