Rev 3 Cedar Point Bike Course Preview
Recently I had the chance to ride the entire 112 miles of the Rev 3 Cedar Point Iron Distance bike course course with other members of Team Z. I’ve jotted down a few thoughts while impressions were still fresh in my mind.
Well, as promised, the course is flat. . .sort of. You can get a more detailed profile of the course on my Strava page. From that you can see that Cedar Point is far from being Florida flat, with about 800 feet of climbing for the 56 mile course and double that (yep, I was always this good at math) for the Iron distance course. A lot of the climbing is false flats, and the gradient is so gentle at first that several of them are very hard to pick up us a climb, at least on the first loop. As the race notes indicated, there is only one sharp climb, coming into the town of Milan. (BTW, I am reliably informed by Ohio locals that the name of this town is pronounced My-lan, which continues the long and honorable American tradition of being completely unoriginal when naming your town, and then trying to reclaim that originality by deliberately mangling the pronunciation. Note: the other town on the route is called Berlin. I have no information on what the locals have done with the pronunciation). There are a couple of other. . .well, not climbs exactly, but rather grades, and they come at a rather inconvenient point, which I’ll discuss in a section.
There’s a perception out there that flat Ironman courses are “easier” Ironman courses. Only that perception, after all, can explain why people sign up to race in a shithole like Panama City (or why people sign up for the blast furnace roastfest that is the half-Iron equivalent, Eagleman). If all the stars align for a flat course that perception may become reality. But flat courses have their own set of challenges and Cedar Point has its own specific features.
1) Exposure: This course is exposed. Scratch that, it is very exposed. You get some quite lovely scenic views (which is what puts it a cut above something like IM Florida) but you get those views because there are virtually no trees at all. There is a short patch of less than ten miles where you move in and out of shade in the northeast corner of the course. But that is it. So, if the temperatures are moderate, and if the wind stays to a gentle breeze then this will be a reasonably pleasant ride. If the temperature creeps up there (we rode it when temps were in the mid 80s and that was toasty enough to sap my energy to the point where running afterward would have been. . .interesting) then it is a slow bake. We had a relatively moderate wind (7-8 mph) and it was still a little wearing, particularly since it veered around (as wind tends to do) which meant that the anticipated tailwind really never eventuated. So if it is hot or windy, this course gives you absolutely nowhere to hide, and if the wind is reasonably strong, you are going to have to be a rider confident riding a wind-catching tri bike in a cross-wind.
Could it be hot in September? The odds are, no, but if you check the historical weather data, temps in the 90s are not unknown.
I’m betting there will also be more than a few people cursing their inadequate sun-screen choice and/or application by the end of this leg.
2) Road condition: The road surface immediately around Cedar Point and Sandusky is, quite simply, shockingly bad. The first 6 miles down the peninsula are broken, rutted, and uneven. There’s a brief piece of smooth pavement midway through the next 3 mile stretch on route 6, then you take a turn onto Jim Campbell Blvd which winds through the grounds of a school. This is by far and away some of the worst surface I have ever ridden that still tries to claim it isn’t an off-road course. Around this area they seem to love their slab concrete and when it begins to disintegrate they just spray tar over the cracks. In all seriousness, the short stretch through the school is rough enough to be dangerous if taken at speed and if there are a lot of riders going through.
The first and last ten miles are thus rough enough that I would think twice about using any kind of super lightweight tires. (Note: Coming back up the peninsula, the road seemed to be slightly smoother on that side than going out). I would expect to see a lot of pinchflats and not a few broken spokes either coming or going on this section.
Beyond the first ten miles the road surface is generally much better, but there are a couple of places where quite suddenly there is a stretch of broken and cracked pavement. But the roads on most of the course are about the same quality as we typically ride in Virginia, which is to say not fantastic, but nothing like the first part of this race.
3) Secure your Shit: Because of that first ten miles, it will be important to ensure that everything is lashed securely to your bike. That said, I’m sure there will still be any number of people who paid a fortune for their super-duper-guaranteed-not-to-launch bottle cages who will disregard this advice and will consequently be picking their bottles out of the sand dunes or ignominiously clambering after them before they disappear into the Sandusky sewer system. I suspect the school in particular will be a great place for bystanders to pick up a small fortune’s worth of bike equipment. Losing this stuff on the way back, with less than ten miles to go, won’t matter too much. Losing half your nutrition or your CO2 within the first ten miles? Not so good. I’ll be making sure the rubber bands on my seat cages are new and the Bento box is lashed down tight.
4) The Inconvenient Hills: I mentioned that there is a tiny segment of the overall course that offers you any shade. This section features the only significant downhill (30 mph easy coast, 40 if you smash it). Unfortunately, it also features the two steepest uphill sections (apart from the MY-lan bump). So you don’t get much benefit from the shade, because you are starting to sweat more heavily.
5) Second Guessing: False flats are always a challenge. On a course as open as this one, however, they are a particular challenge. You find yourself riding more slowly than you expected, everything feels unusually hard. Is it a false flat? Is it the wind? Is it the sun taking its toll? Is it simply because you are arse on the day? Some combination of the above? Evaluating how you are really feeling in relation to the road conditions is always a challenge, but the combination of factors here could make it difficult to get an actual read on your progress.
6) Dying from Boredom? Each loop features a long section of almost 13 miles along Route 60. There are a few minor kinks in the road but it is basically dead straight. As a bonus, this is the stretch with the longest false flat. But the overall flatness of this course had me wishing for the smallest rise so the pace would vary slightly. The problem with flattish courses is that you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Especially with the long stretches that this one has, you need to get into a steady consistent rhythm, settling into a narrow range of gears if you are shifting at all. The longer you have to ride in one mode, the harder it can be to switch when you have to go up a grade. When you are having to adjust your pace and gearing all the time it much easier to get into the habit of doing so. Even though the course is reasonably pretty, it is going to be pretty hard to avoid falling asleep.
7) Ye Olde Hamlets: This is where the two towns, Milan and Berlin will offer a bit of relief. Milan in particular is just gorgeous. When we rode through they were getting the place ready for the fourth of July and with all the bunting on the bandstand in the square the scene was like something out of Back to the Future.
Milan is also going to make a great spectator venue. Whereas the bike course winds around a lot of get from Cedar Point to Milan, spectators will be able to get there by a more direct route in no time at all. It will be a great place for family members to watch their athletes (particularly since the park offers some shade!) and riders will loop through there twice.
8) Pace Yourself: If you look at the profile you can see that after the first flat 6 miles, the course trends slightly upward, prior to reaching the real false flat. Most people won’t notice this at all since they will be full of energy at the start of the ride. Coming back it trends downhill (obviously!) which will be welcome. . .unless you are riding into a headwind in which case you won’t notice it at all. The most challenging part will be the long 13 miles on the second loop. I’m not quite sure how the Half-Iron fits in with the Iron distance in terms of start times etc., but I’m imagining that most of the half riders will have cleared that part of the course and there are a lot fewer people doing the full so it will probably be lonely.
It will, however, be important to ride this course at a steady, sustainable pace. With a flat course it is easy to go out too fast and end up trashing your legs completely for the run, particularly since you will most likely have been using exactly the same muscles in exactly the same rhythm for most of the course.
This all may sound like a catalog of anticipated woe but I certainly don’t intend it to be that way. People tend to massively underestimate flat courses so this is a series of notes to try and remind myself not to do so. But as I learned from my first Ironman, an important part of both the logistical and psychological preparation for the event is trying to anticipate every single thing that could go wrong, and then figure out which of those things you can avoid through preparation (rubber-banding your bottles into your cages, for example), which you can deal with through preparation (Sun and heat? Have a hydration plan, good sunscreen, plenty of elctrolytes, etc.) and which you won’t be able to exert any control over and with which you will simply need to be at peace (wind, hitting a deer (yes, I saw several).