Ironman Boulder 2016 Course Preview

As you make your final preparations for race day, one of the key things to think about is the race course and how to approach it. Here is a detailed review of each part of the Ironman Boulder 2016 race course along with tips for how to handle it on race day.

Here is a link to Ironman’s website which details the course. I also include links in the bike and run sections below with the courses in MapMyRide – this shows a little better detail than Ironman’s website.


The swim is a single loop course that is roughly in the shape of a triangle with the first and third arms being slightly longer. The swim is pretty straightforward, but there are a few key things to note.

First, the water temperature will be in the 70s and might even be above 76 degrees (in 2015 it was). If the water temperature is between 76 and 83 degrees, that means that the swim is wetsuit optional. Athletes can choose to wear a wetsuit, but those that do, will not be eligible for awards. Think about whether you want to wear your wetsuit. It will be hot and you could benefit from swimming without it.

The start of the swim is a rolling, continuous, self-seeded start. That means that athletes will line up in start corrals on the land based on their expected swim times. At 6:20am, the athletes at the front will start walking across a timing mat into the water and start their swim. The rest of the line of athletes will follow. Each individual’s time starts when they cross that timing mat and enter the water. Cutoffs are based on when you personally enter the water.

Bike (MapMyRide)

The bike is a panhandle plus a double loop – note that this is in a different order than it was in 2015, although it is all the same roads. The course starts at Boulder Res and finishes downtown at Boulder High School. The panhandle is about 20 miles and each loop is just under 45 miles.

The Boulder Ironman bike course is a challenging course with a few climbs – some that you get to hit twice! – and also descents. The major climbs are Hwy 52, Lookout Rd, Jay/28th, and Nelson Rd. Each of the climbs are long ascents – 3-5 miles each. And each of the climbs vary in grade – some start out as false flats and then get steeper, and some have steep sections mixed with flatter sections.

The biggest single piece of advice I can give for how to ride the bike course is to pace yourself with even effort by watching your power meter or paying attention to your perceived effort. Heart rate will be misleading on the false flat sections and any sections that are steep but short (remember that heart rate takes time to increase/decrease). Ultra-distance, non-drafting bike races are all about being efficient and that means keeping an even effort the whole way.

The course has a lot of false flats. As a general rule of thumb, anytime you are heading west (look up and see mountains on the horizon) and the road looks flat, you’re probably going uphill even though the road looks flat. Again, make sure you watch your power or heart rate here and don’t worry about speed.

There are also a lot of descents on the course. Make sure you are still working hard on the descents! All of the descents are long and at most only slightly winding which means you can open up and don’t have to worry about tight corners sneaking up on you. The only exception to this is the first part of Neva as you turn off of Hwy 36 – there is a sharp right turn there, so don’t take that too fast.

Aid stations: Miles 19, 34, 40, 51, 61, 75, 81, 93, 103

Special needs bags: Mile 60


T2 is worth mentioning because it is a relatively long trek with your bike from the bike dismount line up to the track where volunteers will be waiting to rack your bike. Be ready for this! Think about whether you want to walk or run your bike. Also, think about whether you want to go barefoot/in socks or keep your bike shoes on.

Run (MapMyRun)

The run is a double loop of a y-shaped course. The entire course is on paved bike path or sidewalk. The whole thing is relatively flat – although it is in reality a slight false flat – except west of Boulder High School. As you head west of the High School, the grade starts to increase and will continue to increase to the turnaround. The false flat is easy to recognize because you’ll have the creek running next to you. Go a little slower running up, and a little faster running down. There are also a few underpasses where the path dips down and then up again quickly. Be prepared for those.

The biggest challenge of the run will be the heat and it will be hot on the run. Although much of the course is shaded along Boulder Creek, you should still expect the high to be in the mid-90s. Be prepared to deal with the sun and the heat – particularly further east on the course. Dump cold water over your head and ice down your jersey. Another helpful thing is to wrap a cold wet towel around your neck for the entire run. The volunteers will also have sunscreen, so be sure to apply that to your shoulders.

Aid stations: approximately every mile

Special needs bags: Located just west of Boulder High School at mile 10 and again at mile 13.