Note: This post was originally written a few weeks before IMC2011 after I pre-rode the course.  I’ve updated it to include some of my experiences from the actual race last year.  At the bottom is also the Garmin file from my ride in 2011.

I’d really like to encourage anyone interested in doing Challenge Penticton this year to give it a shot, whether you do it all yourself, or relay it.  Challenge puts on a great event and there’s no better example than Challenge Roth, which is arguably one of the best put together Iron distance races in the world.

For anyone who is doing Challenge Penticton and won’t have the luxury of riding the bike course before hand, I’ve come up with a few quick pointers based on my experience and the advice of others.
  • If at any time during the ride you feel like you are going hard, you’re going too hard.  Listening to your body during IM can be pretty tricky.  Out of the water and onto the bike you legs may not feel like they’re really there yet, but give them about a half hour and they’ll find you.  The trick to a solid second half of the ride, and a solid run is listening closely to your body.  That especially means your heart, your lungs, your legs. If you feel like you’re going hard at all, you’re going too hard.
  • Know the weather.  The weather in Penticton seems to be pretty variable from year to year.  In 2010, I had many friends who raced Ironman Canada/Challenge Penticton and there was no shortage of stories chronicling the cold and difficult conditions at the passes with rain, hail, and sleet at the higher elevations.  The year I did it in 2011, temperatures were scorching and the heat was the main obstacle for many athletes.  That year, many athletes in the front half of the race were using water liberally to try and keep cool while the back half of the field was actually running out of water.  And last year, conditions couldn’t have been better in the 20C range with a mix of sun and cloud throughout the day.
  • Be sure to hydrate.  I usually take in about 750ml of fluid per hour and in 2011 that wasn’t quite enough as the temperatures rose to about 37C down by Osoyoos.  If the temperature this year is in the 20’s you should be pretty safe to stick to your usual nutrition plan, but if it gets into the 30’s be sure to up your fluid intake.  By the time you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated and you could end up digging yourself a hole.
  • The ride down to Osoyoos is fast and a slight downhill, if you find yourself cruising along at 40kph and your HR is relatively low, consider taking advantage of that time to hydrate and relax. The work starts at Richter, and you can start to build there.  Also, depending on where you come out of the water, it could be a pretty crowded course while the field sorts itself out.   How some triathletes handle their bikes still boggles my mind sometimes, so when you pass someone, make sure they know you’re there by yelling “Left!” or “Passing left!”.
  • Take your time up Richter, its not as bad as people make it out to be if you have a plan. Be mentally strong here and be very patient. I’m a strong climber/cyclist but I made a point of sticking to my planned 200 watts up Richter. For me this meant I was climbing at about 9-10kph. For my friend Keith, an average cyclist/triathlete who was trying to stick to 160 watts, this meant climbing at 6-7kph.  If you aren’t racing with power, just climb at a pace where you can still hold a conversation with someone.  Richter is way too early to be burning matches so if people are passing you, Keep Calm and Carry On.
  • Learn to descend comfortably, it may be a little late for this less than 2 weeks out, but a couple rides with some long descents will do good to prepare you for the IMC course. Even if you just do the climbs and descents of the IMC course in the weeks before the race, you could save a couple minutes on the ride by being familiar with the long descents on the back of the Seven Sisters and Richter.
  • On the rollers after Richter you may be tempted to try and take the momentum from the last descent and power over the crest of the hill to the next descent.  Don’t.  These rollers are a little too long and few many to do this without burning up your legs.  At the race last year I definitely played cat and mouse with a few Maillot a Pois Rouge wannabes.  They would climb past me on the up, and I’d pedal past them on the down.  The difference between my approach and theirs was I was shooting for steady power output up and down, where they were attacking the climb and not pedalling on the descent.  Amateur hour, I didn’t see most of them past the sixth roller until the finish line.
  • The out and back kind of sucks.  Its long and hot, and like any other out and back section of a looped race, it feels like you’re only doing it to ride longer, which is exactly why its there.  This will probably be your first and only glimpse of some of the people who are going to beat you handily.  Buckle down mentally and think about why you’re out here, think about crossing the finish line, and about everyone who is out there volunteering, cheering, and racing with you.
  • The only good part about the out and back is that its where you get your special needs.  If you’re like me and are totally comfortable sticking to race course nutrition, consider throwing an extra tube and CO2 canister in your special needs.  If you don’t use it, thats $10 down the drain, if you need it but don’t bring it, that could be 10 months training down the drain. Better to be wrong on the safe side.
  • Not long after the out and back you’ll approach the Yellow Lake Climb. It starts so gradually that you may not even notice you’re starting to climb. Here and all over the course you should always be mindful of your power/HR/perceived exertion. There are a lot of false flats and a lot of sections where the terrain will deceive you into thinking you aren’t climbing when you actually are and this is definitely one of them.  This is a tough section, but near the top of Yellow Lake you’ll come into a Tour de France style tunnel of cheers and fans.  Relish that moment, if you’re going to get out of the saddle at any time on that course, that’s the place to do it.
  • Staggered start this year.  Ironman Canada veterans will say goodbye to the mass start this year at Challenge Penticton.  I think this is a good thing, with such a large field the swim and bike course were incredibly crowded.  This approach will also encourage you to ride your own ride as the people ahead of you or behind you aren’t necessarily competing with you for position.
  • Save your energy for the run. At the end of the day, incremental power on the bike isn’t as valuable as incremental power on the run simply because you’re trying to overcome far more wind resistance when you’re riding at 35kph, than when you’re running at 10kph. Going 5% harder for 6 hours on the bike might mean you get out of the saddle 10 minutes sooner, but with that you end up shuffling for an extra hour on the run. Its not worth it, people rarely say “I wish I’d gone out harder on the bike”, but often say “I had a great ride, but things fell apart on the run”.  The fact of the matter is that its all legs and its all related, so on a course like IMC, your patience on the bike will be rewarded on the run.

Edit: For a more in depth look at the Ironman Canada and Challenge Penticton Bike Courses check out this post.