Ironman Whistler: the unofficial race preview

So WTC announced today that Ironman Canada 2013 will be held in Whistler, BC. Red notes were added later.  World renowned for its skiing and being a co-host for the 2012 Winter Olympic games, Whistler would seem to be an obvious choice for an Ironman event.  As I was running next to Skaha lake this summer during IMC I had a brief conversation with a man from New York about the possibility of an Ironman taking place in Whistler.  Having lived in Whistler for 7 years and still doing most of my training there I shared my opinion.  “No way, “I said; “there’s not enough room in the Whistler valley for a race of this size.” When Whistler was shortlisted along with Hunstville, Ont and Kelowna I figure IMC was moving East for sure. Boy was I surprised tosay to see the news that was originally leaked on the Tourism Whistler website and then later confirmed by WTC.  Ironman Canada Whistler.

So if some of you are considering signing up for this inaugural event, here’s a race preview of the race that has never taken place.  This is totally not compu –trainer accurate and completely my opinion (although I did consult a few other locals).

Swim:  the swim will be in Alta Lake with the transition at Rainbow Park.  It’s a lovely lake with amazing views of Whistler Mountain and the surrounding area.  The water is usually 18degrees or so in August, but we have swam there when it was too warm for a wetsuit.  The beach, however, is not very big.  Maybe they’ll do a time trial start? Don’t think so, but it sounds like the beach and the parking lot are being expanded for the race. Hopefully they tell the rowing club the race is going on so swimmers don’t get beaned in the head by a single skull.

After you finish your two loop swim, you head to your bike.  Rainbow Park is nice and grassy, but the exit to the road is a wee bit narrow.  Oh and I’ll assume they tell the railroads not to send trains into town that day?  That could be really messy.

Bike: ahh, the bike.  According to the Ironman announcement the ride heads south towards Squamish and takes a right up to the Callaghan.  This is a really nice way to start a ride; rolling downhill to find your legs for about 9k.  There is a right hand turn off the highway to start the climb up to the Whistler Olympic Park. It’s about 10km up with a few flatter sections to spin out the legs a bit, but it’s not an easy ride. We use this as hill training and consider Richter Pass a joke in comparison.  We drive up here with visitors to look for bears in the mornings so keep your eyes open for Yogi!  Seeing as it‘s a dead-end up there, I guess you just turn around and go back down. WWEEEEEE!  This should be fun.  Then hop back on the highway for a bit of a climb back to Whistler.  Now ride past Whistler (boo), north towards Pemberton for about 35k.  It’s mostly downhill with a few bumps in the way, but average speed could be close to 40k/hr for better cyclists. Locals are probably hoping the highway in this direction gets its badly needed repaving with this announcement.  It’s a bit bumpy right now. Oh and back to hoping the trains have the heads up about the race; you cross two sets of tracks on the way out there.

Once you arrive in the lovely town of Pemberton, hang a left out onto Pemberton Meadows Road.  Your spectator friends should stop at the bakery on the left for croissants; they are awesome.  The Meadows Road is about as flat as you can get.  Make sure your bike is comfortable in aero because there is no need to shift positions out there.  I’d say it’s as mind numbing as the out and back on the Challenge Penticton course, but at least the road has nicer pavement. The countryside is really lovely, but you might be more concerned with the head wind at this point.  (I prefer to ride this road on my cruiser bike for the Pemberton Slow Food Cycle.  Get to town a week early and make the slow food cycle your warm up event, Aug 18th, 2013!)

Then the real fun begins.  That nice 35k net downhill you enjoyed on the way out to Pemberton? Yup, time to climb back to Whistler.  Here’s a major admittance for someone that has ridden these roads for hours on end: I have ridden from Pemberton to Whistler TWICE EVER.  I somehow always managed to get a ride back from Pemberton.  THAT is how much I loathe this portion of this bike.  It’s not as steep as Yellow Lake, but way longer and there’s no fun downhill back into town.  There’s a certain point out by the helipad where the false flat sucks all life from your limbs.  Keep pedaling though.  Soon houses start to appear again, then Green Lake comes into view and you know you are almost back.  A few more rolling hills gets you back to Rainbow Park to transition.

Run: there isn’t much info about the run portion except that it’s two loops.  That’s a given considering training in Whistler for anything longer than a half marathon can mean running to a whole different town just to cover the distance.  If it goes past Lost Lake as it states, expect some gravel trail.  There could be some good hills in there, but running in Whistler is a real treat.  Watch out for more bears, cougars, bobcats, the usual spectators.

The finish in the village should be spectacular.  The Gran Fondo has 7000 or so entrants, so there should certainly be enough room for all the finishers.  I wonder how you get back to your bike to pick up all your stuff though.  Maybe you get to ride in a stuffy bus with hundreds of other IM finishers still in their peed-in race kits.  That sounds like a fun end to your day.

SO T2 will be set up near the main village and the run will head out from there, through some gravel lost lake trails out to Emerald and back. Twice.  It’s an ok route with a bit of everything.  Finishing right in the village should be really fun.

Whistler does seem to attract celebrities and musicians though.  Maybe Justin Beiber will perform at the finish line to really make it a Canadian experience. One thing is for certain, the voice of Steve King will be missing as he has partnered with Challenge Penticton for 2013.

Although this is certain to be a challenging course (both physically and logistically), I think it will be really spectacular.  Whistler hosts large “cool” events like the Telus Ski and Snowboard Festival and the Crankworx Mountain Bike Festival so it’ll be interesting to see what effect thousands of tri-nerds will have on the community.  I guess it will be similar to the thousands of spandex clad cyclists that roll in for the Gran Fondo.  There are lots of accommodation options and hopefully the Ironman price hike doesn’t skyrocket like in Penticton. Whistler athletes are also of very high caliber.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see some locals take it on and end up on the podium.

Good luck to all that decide to do it. I plan on winning the Slow Food Cycle instead.

A view from the Pemberton Meadows Road



15 thoughts on “Ironman Whistler: the unofficial race preview

  1. Steve Wheeler

    Pretty good Liz, can understand your loathing of the Pemberton to Whistler part of the bike ride, I’ve done this part loads of times training, it never ever gets any easier !!!, it’s just brutal especially when there’s a headwind as there usually is around mid-day, just in time for riding back to Whistler :-), that last 30kms of Ironman is going to break a lot of people I think……
    This bike course is going to be way more difficult than Penticton……
    Signing up ??? mmmmmm

  2. Neil

    T1 is at the lake but T2 is in the village. They’ll pack your swim gear up to transport back to village to pick up with your bike. No need for pee stained bus seats lol!

  3. Jim Gelb

    I am doing my first Ironman in Whistler. I am a 50 year old male and a 3:30 marathoner and okay swimmer. I am not much of a biker but I am getting a coach and will train hard for the next 9 months focusing on the bike. I cannot climb well but we have hills in Austin Texas…a cycling mecca. Am I nuts for choosing this couse given I am not a climber, 5 ft 10 in and 170 pounds? Or if I get out of the water in 1:40 and am happy with an 8 hr bike can I do it? I already booked hotels, car, airfare, … Can someone gve me peace of mind or am I doomed? Help :^)

    1. Hi Jim! I don’t think anyone would disagree with me if I tell you you can totally do this course! With your marathon background, cycling should come easily. A fit 50 something should have no problem making the cutoffs and having a great day at IMC.
      If you have the time and resources, it could be worth the extra trip up earlier in the summer to test out the course. It would give you a huge confidence boost to be able to complete the course. I’m getting involved this year with some training camps through Check it out!
      Good luck with your training. This Sarcastic Triathlete will be cheering you on!

      1. RZ

        Hi Jim, it’s all about the journey, just do your training and you will enjoy fully the IMC 2013 experience, it is such a wonderful challenge both physically and mentally you will want to do another one.

  4. David

    Hey there locals. Heading over from Philly. Coming up 6 weeks in advance to scout. What is the word on open water swimming up this way? Are you able to just hop in and go? Lastly, does anyone have any Garmin data on the course? Thanks for the great info and lookforward to hearing from anyone else headed up early.

    1. Hey David!
      Open water swimming should be good to go in mid June, but bring your wetsuit. Alta lake is closed to motor traffic so it’s a great spot if there’s only a few of you out swimming. If you are looking for a bigger group, the Whistler Tri Club has groups swims, but you’d need to join the club $10 and Triathlon BC $30-40 for insurance purposes.
      I haven’t seen any Garmin data on the route yet (it’s still too cold and snowy to be riding much up there), but I’ll keep my eyes peeled.
      Happy training!

      1. Jim Gelb

        This is Jim Gelb again. I am deep into my training and my confidence is growing. I have been doing moderate, extended climbs and it is going well. I bought a cool Cycleops Pro trainer with Virtual Training software – it nicely interfaces with Google Earth and GPS/Ergo files of the route. In cases where somebody did a GoPro like video then it really feels like you are on the course. I am riding portions of the Whistler bike course but no video is online yet.

        Is anybody in Whistler planning on riding the course with a GoPro? I would love to have them upload it onto the site. I can help with that. Keep the word out. [Computrainer charges for their courses but there is not a Whistler version out anyway.]

        You might be wondering why a warm weather Austin, TX person who has access to hills (Lance trained here) is using a trainer while you guys are freezing in Canada :^)

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