Let the debate begin! Is it St. George, Lake Placid, Wisconsin or Canada because of the hilly bike courses? Arizona or Louisville due to the heat? It’s nearly impossible to compare courses – especially since so many other factors come into play during a long race.
That’s why I really liked the article in this month’s Lava Magazine on whether “tougher” courses should have different cut-off times. Weather conditions play a huge role on race day – from the torrential rain at IMLP 2008 to the heat at IM Wisconsin in 2009, I know! As an example, the Lava article looked at the variances in yearly attrition rates on the same course. In 2002, the DNF (Did Not Finish) rate at IM Wisconsin was 4.1 percent. Here’s the DNF rate for the following years at IM Wisconsin:
2004 = 9.8%
2005 = 19%
2006 = 10.9%
2007 = 4.7%
2008 = 5.7%
2009 = 9.3%
What can make the DNF rates so drastically different? Try temperatures in the mid-90s with high humidity and 30 mph winds in 2005. And last year, the temps rose again, although only to the mid-80s. So, based on the 2005 rate, IM Wisconsin is the toughest course and in 2002 or 2007, it was the easiest.
Every Ironman race is tough. In fact, every time you push your body to go a longer distance, climb one more hill or hold out for one more hour in extreme heat or cold, you are pushing yourself to overcome what you at some point deemed “too hard.” I just did a run in the Marin Headlands this weekend and ran up many hills that I would have just walked a few months ago. Was I racing the Headlands 100? No. Was I conquering a distance and terrain that was tough for me? Yes. Did I have a cheeseburger and fries at Mel’s Diner tonight to celebrate? You bet I did.