In 2010, I set out to complete my first half-Ironman distance triathlon at Ironman 70.3 Pocono Mountains. The day was pretty much a disaster from start-to-finish. Hurricane Emily had come through the day before and ruined any chances of a swim since the Delaware River was extremely high. The triathlon became a duathlon with a rolling start on the bike. The roads around Delaware Water Gap State Park very wet and slippery. I made it exactly halfway through the bike course when my left-crank arm on my, less than a year old, Quintana Roo Caliente tri bike fell totally off. DNF!
I walked my bike through the streets of East Stroudsburg to the care after getting dropped off from the long ride in the SAG van. I recalled the times I spent in this town before being kicked out of East Stroudsburg University about 20 years before. I also remembered my parents telling me about how I was kicked out of the East Stroudsburg movie theater at a very young age for making animal noises during the showing of a movie we attended. I have not had very good luck in this town and I had since referred to it as my “Pocono Curse.”
I signed up for the Rev3 Pocono race earlier in the year because I thought it would be a good training race for my A race the following month in Lake Placid. I had done a Rev3 race up in Quassy, Connecticut a few years ago and they do a very good job. While it was only my C race for the year, I wanted to have a chance to seek revenge on this curse with the hope of putting an end to it. And so I did.
Coming off of less than spectacular performance at Ironman Boulder 2 months prior, I had nowhere to go but up. I also had built a pretty solid foundation of fitness and for the 2 months before I could focus on building speed for the shorter distance race. The race organizers also had a practice ride of the bike course a month before, so I was able to get up and preview the course beforehand. I was glad I did. It was a really nice course and also challenging as well. I also got a lap of the run course in too, which I knew would be very challenging to do 4 times.
I was very fortunate to that one of my friends and former manager from work owned a vacation home only short walk from the transition area at Split Rock Resort and Lake Harmony and invited me to stay with them for the race. This made the logistics for the race so easy. Their house was actually on the 4-lap run course too, so my wife could just hang out there all day and watch me run by.
We arrived at Split Rock on Saturday afternoon. I headed over to the lodge for the packet pickup but realized it was at the Expo Center instead. There was absolutely no signage anywhere indicating where this was it just said the name in the athlete guide. There was no map or anything tell you where it was and we walked around for a while trying to find it. Finally we located it in a large field near the waterslide area which was where the finish line would be.
The rest of the afternoon went more smoothly. I got my bike prepped and dropped it off in the transition area in the side parking lot at Split Rock lodge. I then headed over to the mandatory athlete meeting to get the particulars. There was a few course changes noted, so I was glad I went. They also said the water temperature was 77.9 F which was right at the 78F wetsuit cutoff. They said it would drop due to the forecasted overnight rain though and they were pretty sure it would be a wetsuit swim.
I then relaxed a bit on the beach and took it easy for the rest of the evening. I had my standard Sweet Potato Chickpea Curry over rice for dinner and then just sat out on my friend’s deck until around 9pm. I prepped all my race nutrition and gear and crashed for the evening.
I was up at 5pm to slug down my pre-made breakfast smoothie and some coffee. Got my stuff together and took a nice short walk down to transition. I set everything up and got my wetsuit on ready to take on the day. It was a nice morning with no wind and the sun just coming up before the swim start at 7am. The Olympic distance athletes were supposed to start at 6:30am but they didn’t go until close to 7am. We started rolling into the water, in sets of two’s, a little after 7am.
The half swim course consisted of a square that almost covered the entire lake. The Olympic course turned through the middle of the half course. We swan in a counter-clockwise direction keeping the buoys on our left side. The sun came up on the opposite side of the lake but didn’t really pose too much issue in sighting. It was just to our left swimming out towards it. I did get it in the eyes while breathing to the right after the second turn.
The swim started with every pairing up in two and rolling through a gate to walk to the end of a dock. They let two people off every two seconds. We had to sit on the end of the dock and roll forward into the water. It was VERY silty on the bottom and was very cloudy for the first 20 yards or so.
I settled into a pretty steady stroke rather quickly. We were all spread out quite well and I had a ton of open water to just swim. It was pretty nice. I didn’t have to navigate around people and sighting was pretty easy. I was able to really focus on a good stroke and catch which I think was key to getting a good result here.
I started to run into some traffic after the first turn, but nothing compared to some races. I moved to inside the buoys which was pretty clear. The only bad thing about this is you have to swing back into the main flow to make the turns. Fortunately, this wasn’t too bad. I did have a little sun blinding when taking breaths on my right side after the first turn. I made sure I looked further up and back and that took care of that.
The swim went really fast. I guess that is expected after the last race 2.4 miles. The friends we were staying with said they were going to be having Mamosa’s on the dock for the swim so I was trying swing closer to shore after the final turn to the exit. I couldn’t see anyone on the docks and the swim exit dock was approaching quickly. I had to swim back out to make the final right turn bouy before swimming to the dock. I reached the two ladders to exit onto the dock and hoisted myself out of the water.
I looked down at my watch and it was showing 32 minutes and change…WHAT??! That is SUPER FAST swim time for me! I usually expect to swim 1.2 miles in 36-37 minutes. This was like 4-5 minutes faster. Holy crap! I hit the lap button before it could go 33 minutes. I started pulling down my wetsuit while trying to survey the crowd for my wife. Nothing. Hmmm… I made the left turn down the road and then heard my wife yell my name from behind. I ran back and gave her a smooch and then headed on my way to the bike. Apparently she was talking and almost missed me. I guess that can happen when you smoke the swim.
The first transition was pretty smooth. I ditched the wetsuit and stumbled around trying to put my socks on. There was a pile of dirt and stones near my transition area that I kept stepping in with my wet feet. I forgot a towel, so my socks were going to have a nice coating of stones in them. That may be a problem later.
The transiton areas are rally nice for Rev3. They have a nice slot to hold your rear tire and stand up your bike. There is a rectangular area next to it to put your gear bag and then layout your shoes and things just outside of it. There was also one No show next to me so that gave some ample room too.
I stashed my Quarq GPS monitor in my back jersey pocket. It was a bit larger than I expected and the pockets on my jersey were a bit strained having to hold it. I was a bit worried it would fly out when I went over a bump or something. They had belts for them, but I opted out. Wished I would have gotten one now.
I made my way to the bike out, taking about 3 minutes total in T1. Not too bad considering I had to run back to see my wife.
The bike course starts right out of transition with a short, but steep little climb. You had better have your bike in an easy gear in transition or you could be dropping a chain right off the bat. You then head out Lake Harmony Road, which has a few little. freshly paved, rollers until you make a left on Route 903. From there it is riding the fairly flat section on the shoulder while cars are whizzing by you on the left. Yes, not a closed course at all. Next, you make a right onto route 115 which is a gradual incline until just before making a left onto Long Pond Road.
You then make a right into the Pocono Raceway after a short way up Long Pond Rd. You then ride in a “Polish” lap direction before dropping down on the apron of the track and riding the twists and turns of the inner road course. You then head back onto the main track, in the typical direction, through Turn 2 and then out onto Long Pond again.
Next, is a couple out-and-back sections before heading back on 115 and 903 passing the entrance to Lake Harmony. This is the 25 miles that make up the Olympic course. It is mostly flat and fast. I think most decent cyclists will complete this in the 20 mph range.
The final 31 miles is comprised of a large loop through Hickory Run State park, through White Haven, over the Francis E. Walter Dam and back to Lake Harmony. Heading into Hickory Run contains a few climbs. The climb from mile 29.5 to 31.5 is pretty decent but not super steep. The rollers beforehand are quickly forgotten after you hit the 3-mile downhill section in Hickory Run. I hit speeds of around 45 mph during this section.
Now that your muscles have all stiffened up during the fast downhill, you will pass the park office and hit a short but steep uphill section to wake them up again. The remaining 20 miles are mostly all uphill, although pretty gradual. The section on White Haven Rd. actually feels pretty flat and you can generate some good speed here. Get in a nice spinning gear and haul.
The Francis Walter Dam is quite a view. There is a small climb before it and then a doozy of one after. The section after that is fairly flat and protected by trees, so you can cruise through here as well. Eventually, you will make a left onto Route 940 which kind of sucks. It is old chip-seal and has a decent amount of traffic. I just felt like I lost some ground here. Once you turn right onto Moseywood Drive you can get some speed going again. I thought this was the end but they threw in a little extra divergent section that was not in the original route. And it sucked too. We came up the back of Forest Drive which was really steep. I was not expecting this and it really hurt the legs. Be ready.
The bike went pretty well for me. I had ridden the course a month prior, so I knew what to expect. Well, except for that last little surprise climb on Forest Drive. I ended up averaging about a mile-per-hour faster(~18.7mph) than I had during the recon ride. I finished the 57+ mile bike course in 3:01. Not too bad for a 3500’+ elevation gain.
I never needed to take anything from the aid stations. I had 2 bottles of Skratch Labs, a bottle of water, a couple Honey Stinger waffles and an Amrita bar. I feel this was pretty adequate fueling for me with no stomach issues and ready for a good run.
I maintained an Intensity Factor(IF) of 0.77 giving me a TSS of 180. I probably could have dropped back to a 0.75 and maybe gained a little more time on the run. A TSS of 150-160 would probably be more optimal.
Bike: 03:01:43.010 (57.1 miles @18.85 mph)
The 2nd transition went pretty quickly. Ditched the bike and stick on the run shoes. Out we go in 1:32 …
The run course consists of 4 – 5k loops for the half distance. Each loop is like a dumbell. Two loops connected by one straightaway. It is a tough end to a pretty tough bike, so you surely need to save some energy for this. You will only do two loops for the Olympic and 4 times for the half.
Exiting out of transition, you immediately start steeply uphill on Crest Drive. Then heading down and then two left turns onto Forest Drive which leads back up the steep uphill again. Next is the only real flat stretch of the whole course on Birchwood Drive, followed by a downhill stretch of Wolf Hollow and Corson Road. You then make a sharp right onto a short out-and-back section that was added in to add some distance. Once back onto Wolf Hollow you then take a left turn onto another even shorter out-and-back section which is comprised of packed shale. The next section is an even longer uphill grind before winding back to Birchwood via Moseywood Drive.
The course is either going up-and-down or out-and-and back, with the exception of Birchwood stretch. You can never seem to get any consistent flow that gathers momentum. You are constantly digging for more. Strava shows a corrected elevation gain of 894 feet and Training Peaks is showing 728 feet. EIther way, it is a lot for 13 miles. For comparison, Ironman Boulder was around 650 over 26 miles.
My feet were pretty numb starting out on the run, but that is typical. The initial climb up Crest Drive hit me like a ton of bricks. Fortunately, my wife Denise and our friends Ted and Emi, who we were staying with were waiting for me on the climb and taking pictures, so I had no choice but to suck it up and grind through the hill. Right after, I dropped two gels out of my Amrita race jersey which I had to go back and pick up since I know would need them later. Some time lost there.
I also had rented Quarq race Qollector unit which I kept in my back jersey pocket. The unit was a bit bigger and heavier than I had expected. I was constantly keeping a check on it to make sure it didn’t flop out. It was about the size of a pack of cigarettes and about twice as heavy. Maybe more like having a iPhone in your pocket. I think if I ever get a waterproof iPhone that would be just as good. From a spectator perspective, everyone that was monitoring my race said that it did a really good job of plotting my race.
I thought that the 4-loop course would really get to me mentally, but I actually really liked it. One thing that may have helped is that our friends’ house was right on the run course on Forest Drive, so they all hung out in the driveway to cheer me on. Seeing them 4 times was surely motivation to push me through this tough course.
The race support was also amazing. The run aid station on Forest Road consisted of a bunch of young girls from a nearby camp. They were cheering their hearts out non-stop. My wife told them that I was coming by and they were even giving personal cheering. Pretty hard not have a good race when you get this on the run course…
I also met up with another racer, Kellie, late in the bike who ended up staying with the whole run. We kept passing each other and pushing each other on the hills. Kellie would walk the hills and I would try to run them, but she would then pass me later on the flatter stretches. I soon realized she was saving some energy by walking the hills that allowed her to run faster on the flatter stretches. I tried doing this a little bit on the last loop, but it was a little late at that point.
Overall, I thought this was a solid race for me. My swim was probably one of my best swims ever, despite being a little short. The bike leg was also right on target for power numbers and time. The run was tough, but I kept pushing through the hills and ran them all except for the last one. Had a few hiccups on the run but didn’t let them get to me. I would do this again in a heartbeat.
Last season was a banner race year for me. Heading into Ironman Boulder I wasn’t sure if this would be a continuing trend or become more of a “hangover” season. Training for this race started early in December 2016, but after a nasty bout of bronchitis in February I lost a few good weeks that set me back. Despite the loss, I was feeling pretty good heading into my taper for Ironman Boulder.
I decided to fly out to Colorado about a week prior to the race to acclimatize to the altitude. I spent about 4 days up near Breckenridge, CO and another 3 days just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park in Grand Lake. This gave me a full week at around 8500 to 10,000 feet elevation, which is a few thousand feet above the elevation of Boulder, which is around 5300. I usually don’t have too much issue with elevation, so I figured this could even make things go a little better than normal.
We got down to Boulder on Friday before the race and headed right to registration. Registration and the expo was all centered at Boulder High School, which is also where T2 was. Parking in Boulder was a bit messy. There isn’t much parking on the side streets near the high school, but if you head a few blocks over near Pearl Street there are some parking garages. I love how they make you walk so much at these Ironman events. Like 140.6 isn’t enough?! Downtown Boulder, or rather Pearl Street, is loaded with places to eat and shop. It is great for your support crew to spend time while you are taking care of business.
I shipped my bike via TriBike Transport again. I am still loving this service. I just wish that my local bike shop would become a pickup/drop off point so I didn’t have to drive down to Philly twice to drop off and get my bike. Still It is better than shipping it myself or trying to fly with it. I also shipped a bag of gear which slimmed down my checked bag a bit. I was able to pack some tools, bike bag, spare tires and tubes, etc. I picked that up at the expo on Friday, but left my bike for Saturday when I have to come back for run gear bag drop and then take the bike up to Boulder Reservoir.
Ironman Boulder swim takes place in the Boulder Reservoir which is a few miles Northeast of downtown. The reservoir has been both wetsuit and non-wetsuit legal for races in the past, but those were all in August. This season they moved the full Ironman to June and the 70.3 is now in August. Chances are that it would most likely be wetsuit legal for the full in June unless they had an abnormally hot May-June. I think this year it was around 73 F degrees.
On Saturday morning I dropped off my run bags at the high school and picked up my bike at TriBike Transport in the event expo area. I took it out for a ride along the Boulder Creek Trail which is where the run course would be. I was pretty stoked that there were no big hills on the course. The course was also well shaded and the creek provided some additional cooling as well. The only downside was that I would be running 26.2 miles on concrete. Not sure what that would do.
We then headed up to Boulder Reservoir to drop off my bike and my bike gear bag. Again, Ironman doesn’t think 140.6 is enough so it was a long walk to the transition area to drop off my bike and bag. It was really hot Saturday, reaching upwards of 92 F degrees. Fortunately, it was supposed to be a bit cooler on race day.
There was apparently some practice swims at the reservoir earlier in the week and also one on Saturday too. Which I found out later. Ironman did a pretty crappy job communicating this since I only heard about it afterward. I would have really liked to get an open water swim in since I hadn’t done any this season yet,
Instead of cooking my traditional pre-race Sweet Potato Chick Pea Curry dish, I opted for a Massaman Curry(not very spicy) at Basaba Thai Restaurant in Louisville. It was pretty good and seemed to sit well with me. Later I put together my usual race nutrition of Skratch Labs Hydration, Hammer Perpetuem, Amrita Bars, and a couple Honey Stinger Waffles with Peanut Butter.
On Race morning I downed a quick smoothie and some coffee and we headed to the high school from Louisville around 4:30AM. We ended up parking in one of the Boulder Parking garages(free on Sundays) and hoofing it over to the high school. The Special Needs bag drop was, as usual, a additional hike past the high school and back again to get on one of the shuttle buses to go to the reservoir. The shuttles where pretty quick and free flowing. This was the only way to and from the swim start and back again. My wife had to pack accordingly since she would be there for the swim and most of the bike leg. The bike leg comes through the reservoir for each loop of the 3 loop course.
When we got to the reservoir, we stepped off the bus to an amazing sunrise over the water. It was pretty spectacular. Then it was off to get body-marked, drop off water bottles on my bike and then head to the swim start. I said my goodbyes to the wife and seeded myself at the back of the 1:00-1:15 swim group. Denise then came down along the fencing right next to me for a bit until the race staff chased everyone away. Not sure why though.
The IM Boulder swim course is a one-lap, modified triangle that is swum in a counter-clockwise direction. The entry point and the exit point are about 100 yards from each other. The best thing about this course is that you never have the sun in your face the whole time. The water should usually be a wetsuit swim with the race being in early June, but with the amount of climate change these days, that is not a given.
The start is a rolling start where you seed yourself based on expected finish time. They have a very narrow entry gate that only allows one person through at a time, so every is well spread out. It is kind of nice.
The canon blasted and the Pros were off at around 6:10 am. A second blast went off at 6:15 AM for the Pro women. Then at 6:20 AM, the age groupers started heading into the water.
It took me several hundred meters to get in the groove of swimming since this was the first time in a wetsuit and in open water this year. Eventually, I settled into my normal stroke. Sighting was going pretty well, but the buoys never go by quick enough. The good thing was the altitude did not seem to affect me too much from what I could tell. Others I had spoken with who had done this race from lower elevations said that the swim would be the toughest part in regards to the altitude. I think my acclimatization plan had worked well for me.
I checked my watch a couple times during the swim and saw that I was pretty much on par with my typical Ironman swim pace. The last half mile or so seemed to get a little wavy. Although the waves were coming from the side and back of me, they still were throwing me off a bit. I don’t know what was causing them. The Wind or a safety boat…no idea? Before I knew I was touching the bottom and up and out of the water.
A volunteer had stuck his phone in my face as I came out of the water and I was wondering what the hell we was doing. I ran up the boat launch and almost ran right through the wetsuit strippers. They actually stopped me and I said “Oh yeah I guess I need to ditch the wetsuit?”
The first transition is pretty short from swim exit to when you get your bike. The point from getting your bike off the rack to the mount area is a different story. It is probably longer than the swim exit to the bike rack and it is also uphill. Seems especially long since you have your bike shoes on too.
I ran through the lines of bike bags and grabbed my bag from the volunteer. A quick change into my bike gear and I was off. Denise was standing right at the gate before going into the bike pickup area. I ran over to give her a smooch and was off. Once I got the bike it was a nice longer uphill trip, in bike shoes, to the mount area. Finally off on the bike.
On paper, the course is listed as having 4,436 ft elevation gain. For comparison, Lake Placid is listed as 6898 feet and Mont-Tremblant is 1800 meter or around 5906 feet. Both are well over 1000 feet elevation gain more than Boulder. Also, my Garmin 520 showed an elevation gain of 4944 feet and when corrected on Strava showed 4797 feet.
The course starts at the Boulder Reservoir drive above the bike rack area. It consists of 3 roughly 35-mile loops of the following:
Head South out the Boulder Reservoir gates and make a quick left turn and are immediately met with a short, but steep little hill. A nice welcome for your swim legs to bike legs for the start of the first loop. You then make a right turn onto Jay Road and eventually another right on Route 36. This is a gradual uphill for the next 7 miles until you reach the right onto Neva Road. You definitely want to keep things in check on this section.
From the exit onto Neva Road, left on 63rd Street until you reach the left on Nelson Road is about 7-8 miles of mostly downhill to flat. This section is where you can regain some speed lost from the previous section, so hammer it here.
Next, you will make a left onto Nelson Road and life will suck for the next 5 miles until you reach the St. Vrain Road exit. Especially, when you hit this section for the 3rd time. It is about 500-600 feet of elevation gain each time.
The sections on Route 36 are open to two lanes of traffic. So you basically have the shoulder which seems rather narrow and close to traffic. I also had to go around some cars when exiting the ramps off to Neva and St. Vrain, which was a bit too close for comfort.
The next 10 miles back to the Boulder Reservoir is mostly downhill or flat. Again, here is another place you want to hammer and make up for whatever you lost on Nelson Road.
As you enter the Boulder Reservoir you start to feel a sense of relief knowing you finished another loop, but that is quickly eradicated when you hit the little energy stealing incline reservoir drive. Eventually, you pass the band and fans with some downhill and re-energize a bit. Then, oh no another loop. Ugh.
After three of the above loops, you make a quick left and right instead of the right onto Jay Road again. Then you make a right onto the narrow Boulder Creek recreation trail for a mile and a half which is net uphill. Next, you make a left onto 26th Street and head South. The next 3 miles is a rather technical labyrinth of turns making your way back to the Boulder High School culminating in a total of 113.5 miles of fun. Not just 112, so you get your money’s worth here!
I headed out the gate of the Boulder Reservoir, made a left and immediately hit with a steep little incline. Nice start! What a way to wake your legs up from the hour plus swim where they were just along for the ride. As I showed above, the Ironman Boulder looked pretty tame compared to Lake Placid, Coeur d’Alene, and Mont-Tremblant. It was listed at over 1000′ less elevation gain than the others. The first uphill section on Jay Road and then left on 36 seemed like there was a pretty good headwind to add a little more resistance.
The first uphill section started on Jay Road, and then turned right on Route 36 until it exited onto Neva Road. It was not terribly steep, but just a constant uphill and false flat in some sections. It also seemed like there was a pretty good headwind to add a little more resistance.
The left onto Neva Road until you hit Nelson was a blast. I was hitting high-20’s and 30’s here pretty easily. Weee!!! I was definitely reclaiming some speed in this section that was lost on the previous. I remember seeing my average speed go from 17’s up to 18.5 or more.
Next up was Nelson Road. Ugh. Again, this didn’t seem too bad on paper, but this one really sucked the life out of my legs. Especially after the 3rd time! Nelson also leads to a right turn on Rt. 36, which has a short uphill.
The weather was pretty nice early on. A lot of cloud cover and a cool wind that seemed to always be hitting me head on. As the bike progressed the clouds burned off and the sun started to blast. I think the heat and the Nelson grind took its toll on my legs. I was feeling it towards the end.
My back was extremely stiff the entire bike. It was causing me to have to have to stretch everytime I hit a downhill. I had never had this stiffness before on any of my long training rides. I didn’t understand it. The only thing I can come up with is that I had not done any open water swims in my wetsuit at all this season and perhaps that had caused it.
Our friend Pat, who we were staying with while we were out there, rode her bike out on the course to cheer me on at different points. I wasn’t expecting to see anyone I knew and it surely was nice to see her out there. I went through 2.5 bottles of scratch in two loops and another two on the second loop. I also took on a couple bottles of water from the aid stations too. I had around 3-4 Amrita bars, a Honey Stinger Waffles Peanut Butter sandwich, and a bottle of Hammer Perpetuem. I don’t think I ever finished the perpetuem though. As the temperature rose, I had less and less of an appetite. This probably didn’t help things.
My Stages power meter actually worked this race since it was dry and it didn’t rain. I was able to watch my power numbers the whole bike ride. I was shooting to stay around or under 0.68 Intensity Factor, which would put me under 300 TSS for the whole ride. I was on track and actually dropped off a bit on the 3rd loop. That 3rd loop sucked. Not sure if it was the mental aspect of 3 loops, my screaming back or that the heat kicked up, but I kind of tanked on the last loop. And to top it off, I got stung by a bee that flew down my jersey on the 3rd loop.
If you couldn’t tell, I didn’t really like this course. The course being open to traffic was too close for comfort! There were a couple times where I was stuck behind or had to navigate around vehicles. One time I was actually stuck behind a box truck and was basically drafting it since I could not get around it. Since the course is 3 loops, you have access to your special needs bag 3 times. I guess you can only access it once and then you are done though.
It was such a relief to finally finish the 3rd loop and make the left onto Jay Road instead of a right. The section back to the high school kind of sucked. Riding on the recreation path feels rather odd after being on the road. For some reason it made me not want to go fast. Then it was a series of streets and turns making your way back to the high school which seemed to go on too long. I saw 112 miles come and go and thought “are we there yet?” What the hell?
I finally saw the high school and hit the dismount area. My wife and our friend Pat were standing there. I told them that that was harder than I thought it would be. My wife told me later that I didn’t look good there. Not sure if that was my bee sting or just that I was pretty exhausted.
The distance from the dismount to the high school track seemed really long. Again running in bike shoes on concrete. My feet were also partially numb which actually hurt when I stepped. I dished off my bike to a volunteer as I entered the stadium and then grabbed my run gear bag which was in rows in the track lanes. I stopped a took my bike shoes off since my feet killing me now. Much better.
I entered the tent and took a little longer to get changed into my run gear. It was kind of hot now and I was not sure what lay ahead for me in the run. I finally headed out the change tent, stopped to get re-lubed with sunscreen again and headed out onto the run.
The Ironman Boulder run course takes place entirely on the Boulder Creek Trail recreation path. The good thing about this is that it has a lot of shade and some coolness coming from the creek running right next to it. It also doesn’t have any major hills on it either.
The surface is concrete, which can be rather unforgiving. The course was also open to non-competitors, which could be pretty annoying if you are trying to get a PR. I am not sure if they were supposed to be on there, but no one was telling them to get off.
The course has two out-and-backs, or three, depending on how you look at it. They call it the “Flux Capacitor!” From the start at the high school football field to the first out-and-back is about three miles of slight downhill. Then, you have the first out-and-back which is about 3 miles total. It is a slight uphill, but very gradual.
The next out-and-back immediately follows. This one is about 4 miles total and no major hills here either. There is a little less shade on this stretch too. Then you head straight back to the start and then past for what I would call the third out-and-back. From the point that you turnaround on the second out-and-back to the turnaround on the third out-and-back is about five miles of gradual uphill the whole way.
I started out on the run and saw Denise and Pat standing there as I hopped on the path. My back seemed to be fine on the run and at first thought I might have some running legs. That didn’t last very long though before things started to cramp up. I took my handheld water bottle and filled it with ice and water at every aid station. The legs were obviously not working and I began a walk-run rather quickly.
Immediately, the negative thoughts started to flow. Another DNF? I battled with my head for a while and finally overcame it. I knew I could walk the whole thing, but then I thought about my wife having to stand around waiting for me all day. The first 13 miles was a battle of pushing myself to run, which didn’t last very long. I was so dejected. There were a lot of other people walking too, which made me feel a little better. But that’s not me.
I always feel so unworthy or almost patronized when people cheer for you and you are walking. It is so humiliating. I started playing games of trying to get ahead of some other people. Mostly we were just hopscotching each other all day. Another thing that took my mind off the pain.
Another thing that took my mind off the pain was that the run course was open to non-competitors. There were people whizzing through the athletes on cruiser bikes. Whole families pushing baby carriages. There was barely enough room for two-way runner traffic, let alone regular people lollygagging. I literally had to stop, during a one of those short bouts of actually running, to get around a family walking down the path. If I was actually having a good race and running I would have been pissed. But I wasn’t.
Eventually, I made it back to the start and saw Denise standing there. She had a slight look of panic on her face, wondering what was going on with me. I broke down a little bit thinking I wasn’t going to finish. Once she realized I was basically fine and could at least walk, she quickly said well at least you can walk and finish. I think that put me at ease cause I was more worried about her having to wait around that long. My whole attitude changed at that point. I told her go get some dinner and I would see her in a few hours.
The second loop was more of the same although this time I had a more positive outlook. Yeah no PR this year, but I was going to finish. There was a lot of people partying and having a good time along the trail, so I just took it in and enjoyed the experience. Maybe that sweet smell in the Colorado air had something to do with my change in attitude too, who knows. LOL!
Something went awry with the GPS on my Garmin(920xt) watch at about the 6 mile point that caused it to add a few miles. This really screwed me up cause I always thought I was farther than I was. I was making sure that each mile stayed under 15min/mi, so I would run as much as I could to keep it under that. I actually started to pick it up a bit and was fearing that Denise would miss my finish.
Finally, I passed the finish line for my last out-and-back section. It was just starting to get dark and they were putting the utility lights on. Fortunately, I still have not had to wear a glowstick to this day. The closer I got to the finish, the more I was running. I could feel it now. I ran the last mile straight through to the finish.Where did that come from? Mike Reilly finally got the full phrase out “Brian Schwind from Alburtis, PA…You are an Ironman!” Funny how he got it right on my worst finish to-date…LOL!
I slapped the hands of some random people as I came down the finish chute and shot up 4 fingers as I crossed the line, so someday I can remember my fourth Ironman finish. Not pretty, but got it done!
Overal Time: 14:08:33
The finish line was pretty unimpressive after Mont-Tremblant. What no massage? No Poutine? One thing that was nice was that they didn’t fence off the athlete food eating area, so you could sit with your family or wife to eat. The bad thing was there was no where to sit down and eat either. We had to sit on the grass, which is pretty difficult to get to and up from when you just went 140.6 miles. They also had Domino’s pizza which is so lame. What about giving a local pizza shop some business instead of some corporate slop pizza?
I waddled over to the football field to get my bike and gear bags, then dropped my bike off at TriBike Transport. I love TriBike Transport! We walked down the street to a local pizza shop and bought a couple slices to take home. The walk to the parking garage seemed like forever. I threw my stuff in the 4Runner and headed back to Louisville. Another Ironman down.
I am still mulling over what went wrong with this race. The only thing I can come up with is the heat got to me. Yeah it wasn’t 107 like Coeur d’Alene was, but I also really hadn’t trained much in temps over 80 degrees. In some of my recent training runs after the race where it has been in the high 80-90’s I was really feeling it. My pace was slow and my heart rather was high. The heat also makes you not want to eat much and that is never good.
Although I was not short of breath from the altitude at all, I wonder if it still has some other effects on your physiology that are not as physically apparent. The dryness at altitude can also play a factor too.
Regardless, I don’t seem to do well at early season races, races on the Western half of the US, and races in warmer temps. This was all of the above. Given that, I will take a finish even if it is 14 hours. It was also NOT my A race for the year. Ironman 70.3 Lake Placid in nice cool September is my A race and the last one for the season. I also still have Rev3 Pocono Half as well. Still a lot to look forward too. Thanks for reading!
Week 22 was the 2nd of two solid build weeks. At least it was supposed to be. The middle of the week a good blend of two-a-days mixing up some interval/tempo work with some easier Z2 workouts. I was feeling a little fatigued, but not too bad. Good enough to have some decent workouts with intensity.
We were heading down to Cape May, NJ for the weekend, so I was looking forward to some different scenery for a 4+ hour bike ride. When we arrived on Friday it was quite windy out. I did a easy hour run up and down the streets of Villas, NJ. It is really flat, but the wind provided a little challenge in lieu of the hills.
On Saturday I headed up to the Pine Barrens around Belleplain State Park for my long ride of the week. The roads in this area are either really nice or really bad. The size of the shoulders on the roads make for awesome riding. Some of the roads though are bit in need of repair. The wind showed up again to provide some decent resistance. I stil think that flat courses are not as easy as people think. There is no resting or coasting here. You are just hammering the pedals for 4.5 hours straight! Anyway it was a nice ride.
Sunday did not start off too well. We decided to skip going out for breakfast and I headed to the local Wawa to grab something. I made the mistake of getting this big-ass glazed coffee ring. This really put me down for the count. I decided to delay my long run until we got home since it was still really windy and I was kind of board with all the flat roads.
Unfortunately, I was still feeling crappy when I got home. I pushed myself out the door for my run, but I was struggling to hit 3 miles. I packed it in and decided give it another shot tomorrow. My legs were sore(yes from a flat 85 mile ride!) and my stomach was feeling really nauseated.
So my week ended up being only 12 hours instead of 16. Next week was supposed to be an easier week, so hopefully things will be turning around soon. I am starting wane in motivation here.
Week 21 of training for Ironman Boulder 2017 is on the books. I can’t believe it is only 6 more weeks until race day. 5 months of training are behind me already. Although February was a bit of a wash, due to a pretty bad case of Bronchitis for a solid two weeks. March and April have been mostly trying to get back to where I need to be.
The early part of the week was spent mostly recovering from the St. Luke’s Half Marathon. My run on Wednesday was still feeling a little soreness in the legs. Thursday was a really good day. I had a great swim and was able to get out with some work mates for a really nice 2-hour ride.
My 2nd run of the week on Friday was ok. It was bit warm out(~85F) so that never works well for me. I took it easy and just kept things in zone 2.
My long bike ride on Saturday morning was great. I followed most of the old DCT ride route making my way up to Kempton, PA, down to Werley’s Corners and back again, totally just under 75 miles. Not super fast, but it was breezy and my watts indicated I was working harder what my speed indicated. It was warm Saturday, but the sun was behind the clouds most of the time so that helped.
I was also playing around with a GoPro too. 🙂
I drank two bottles of Skratch Labs, one water only, one bottle of Hammer Perpetuem(3 scoops) with some Beet Elite powder. I also had an Amrita Bar and a Honey Stinger Waffle for some solids. Oh yeah I also got some free, sample vegan crackers from the Rodale Institute while I stopped for a “natural break”, Phil Ligget would say.
I finished things off with a 20-minute brick run and broke in a new pair of Saucony Freedom ISO’s. More on those later.
Sunday was a bit cooler and overcast. Perfect for a long run. I was a bit leery about how the legs would feel after the long bike the day before, but things were feeling pretty good. I got in a little over 16 miles in about 2.5 hours. Things were getting a little stiff towards the end though and my IT band was tightening up. While stretching at a stop sign a guy stopped to make sure I was ok. That was cool! 🙂
I also ran the entire run in my new Saucony’s. They did pretty well too. No brake-in required. 🙂 Not sure if they are marathon material though. They are soft and comfortable, but not quite as luxurious as the Hoka Cliftons. Of course, the Hoka’s would have covered my feet in blisters too and the Saucony’s didn’t.
One other note was that I got in two good core strength workouts in this week too. I have been slacking on that lately and I am starting to feel it. I am thinking that this was also why my workouts towards the end of the week were better.
All-in-all feeling good. Another pretty big training week this week and then a little rest the following week.
When I first heard that there were some companies coming out with power meters for running, I couldn’t wait. I love to be able to objectively quantify my workouts. Knowing how this works for cycling, being able to add this to running would be a bonus. Then I thought about it a bit and realized it would probably be best to hold out a bit. The technology was new and Still evolving. Also, none of the training watches or software would pick it up anyway without some hacking involved.
I had played around a little bit with running power by using my Cyclops PowerCal Heart Rate Monitor which was kind of interesting. The problem was I had to run with my Garmin in biking mode all the time. Not something I really wanted to do since I would miss out on the other running-specific data. Then Garmin came out with the HRM-Runs’ running analytics which I thought was better data than just having power.
The Stryd Running Power Meter
The Stryd unit seemed to be the one that was getting the most attention and it had gone through a few iterations of its product already. It started out as a little widget that you clip on your shorts, then it turned into a heart rate strap and now it is a little foot pod. It finally seemed like they were stabilized a bit, so I decided to “pull-the-trigger” and order one. It took a few months to arrive.
I am glad I waited because the HR strap looks like it sticks out a bit and would look very strange bulging out of your shirt. One advantage of the HR strap one was that it measured power in 3 planes, vertical, horizontal and lateral, whereas the footpod only measures the first two. I don’t think this is a big deal for me since I think I am a pretty efficient runner thanks to my Chirunning practice.
I have had the Stryd footpod now for a few months now and feel I have some initial impressions of it. I say few months because I had to send it back to be replaced already since the tab where it clips to its back clip broke off. It doesn’t seem like there is much really to grab onto there. While it still held in place on my laces, I was a little leery it was going to fall off sometime. The folks at Stryd quickly replaced the unit and got me back and running again. Pun intended.
Collecting the Data
I started reading Jim Vance’s “Running with Power” book while I was training with the unit. I had already read Vance’s previous book “Triathlon 2.0” which I really liked, but I felt the Running with Power book was not quite as good. Most of it was just a re-hashing of the other books’ concepts on Power for cycling. While there were a few new metrics, namely Efficiency Index or EI, that are different from cycling, I feel this book is a little premature at this point since the technology is still being figured out. Hopefully the “Running with Power 2.0” will be better.
One of the recommendations in Vance’s book was to just start running with the power meter and start collecting data. For the next couple of months, I just ran with it and checked in on the numbers post-mortem of my runs.
After finally collecting several months of data I decided it was now time to analyze it. Well despite the fact that Jim Vance’s book stressed how essential the Efficiency Index (EI) metric was, none of the training sites, except for SportTracks even implemented it! Not even Training Peaks or Stryd! This is even though they published blog posts(here and here are just a couple examples) about Vances’ book and the metric itself. WTH? Also, SportTracks implemented only for individual activities so there was no way to track this metric over time.
Analyzing the Data
So what is a data geek to do? Start tracking it myself I guess. I started by downloading my workout summary data from Training Peaks and then crunching the numbers in my favorite analysis tool, Qlikview. Below is the running results for the current training season in regard to Efficiency Index(EI). The formula is V(M/min)/rPwr(watts).
Efficiency Index EI by Month
Efficiency Index Components by Month
As you can see in the first graph, my EI has dropped a bit from December to February and then pretty much leveled out from there. Is that good or bad? Pretty hard to tell without looking at the components of it. Personally, I think EI, by itself, is pretty meaningless.
February was pretty much a wash month for me. I was pretty sick for a solid 2 weeks of it and spent the next couple weeks getting back to normal again. Looking at my average velocity for each month it has been increasing steadily, which I would say is good. My power numbers have also gone up too. April increased significantly due to having a 4-mile and a half-marathon race in there. So if both the components are increasing, then I am getting faster and stronger I guess. This leaves EI pretty much staying the same. See what I mean by EI being meaningless by itself now?
One other variable is that my weight has dropped a bit during the training months. I was surprised that this didn’t affect EI at all. I would think I would have gotten faster while using fewer watts and am not seeing that happening here either.
Looking my average heart rate versus the increase in speed and watts does show that hasn’t changed too much. This would indicate that despite those increases in output, my aerobic “engine” doesn’t appear to be increasing. So I guess I am getting more efficient.
Another running power metric has recently come onto the scene called Runner Effectiveness. This is outlined in a recent post by Steve Palladino on the Training Peaks Blog. This metric, while similar to Vance’s EI metric, uses Watts/kg in the denominator instead which brings the athletes weight into the mix. It also uses Meters/second for velocity in the numerator as opposed to Meters/minute in the EI metric.
Running Effectiveness = (m/s) / (w/kg)
Palladino shows how this metric can be calculated in Training Peaks’ WKO4 client software program as well. I actually have a copy of this program haven’t had a chance to really delve into it yet. Perhaps the EI metric can also be calculated here too.
For now, I calculated this one too in my Qlikview app. As you can see below it pretty much shows a similar trend, just not quite as drastic as EI above.
Running with power is still new territory and there is still some data gathering and analysis that needs to be done to get anything valuable out of it. One thing that is valuable now is that it is a good way to quantify your individual workouts for calculating TSS. Is it necessary though? I don’t think so. It is a lot of money for something that is just a “nice to have”. I think training with pace, heart rate and time is still just as good and will save you a couple hundred dollars. If you have one of the watches that track the new running dynamics metrics, I think that they are more worthwhile for those looking to improve their efficiency. High cadence, minimal ground contact time and vertical oscillation will help you track that.
Yesterday, I ran the St. Luke’s Half Marathon in Allentown, PA for the 4th time. Last year I had gotten a new personal best time of 1:45:10 since the first time I ran the race back in 2010 with a time of 1:46:41. 6 years older and over a minute faster.
This year my plan was to start out a little slower so that I had a little more energy for the last half of the race. The second half of the race runs through the Lehigh Parkway which has some crushed stone paths and this short, steep little hills that seem to suck the life out of my legs.
I also planned to down a caffeinated gel around the halfway aid station so I had a little extra energy too. Last year I didn’t eat anything and I thought that may have left me a little depleted at the end.
The race started out well. I was running in the 7:45-7:55/mi pace and was feeling quite comfortable. Heading into the Parkway I kept my cadence steady and slowed a bit on the uphills to try to save my legs a bit. The hills still took their toll on my quads but I managed to keep a little quicker pace than last year.
At around mile 9, I looked at my Garmin virtual race partner and it showed I was about a minute ahead of last year. Hold steady now! Next thing I hear someone say the 1:45 pace group was coming up behind me. WTH?
The pace group passed me on one of the final little inclines and it kind of took some wind out of my sails. I never looked back at my Garmin to see if I really was over 1:45 because I thought it would depress me more. Now I wish I would have.
So I crossed the finish line in 1:45:20. I didn’t realize until I got home, but I had finished 10 seconds slower than last year. It is a bit frustrating to think that a little extra effort and I could have beaten last years time. Well, one thing is for sure I am pretty consistent I guess. Next up, Ironman Boulder!
The following post outlines our recent trip to Iceland where we toured this most beautiful country via the Ring Road. The Ring Road, or Route 1, encircles the outer perimeter of entire island. It makes for the perfect guide to view everything this country has to offer. We branched off here and there, but always returned back to the Ring Road. Our trip ended up being about 2000km(1242 miles) total .
We decided to travel “the Ring” in a clockwise direction. The main reason for this was hit the Northern areas first before it got colder since it was late September. You can hit snow at this time of year in those areas and we did see fresh snow on some of the mountain tops in those areas some morning. We also wanted to save the South, which is comprised of the highlights of Iceland for the end. The other way might have been more anti-climatic.
Transportation & Lodging
We chose a small motorhome as our transportation and lodging the trip. Ours was a 3-person which ended up being perfect for us. They do have 2-person ones but they were sold out when we booked our trip. The motorhome is nice because you have a nice bed, bathroom, refrigerator, and cooking. There is also a nice size table and you can relax in there when the weather is bad. There is also ample storage to put stuff so it is pretty easy to unpack your bags a bit.
We used Motorhome Iceland to rent from which was really just Geysir Rental Car. They were ok, but we had to take the rental car bus from the airport to the Geysir Rental car place and then another guy came in a van and took us to their main office to get the motorhome. Also, the guys that transported us to and from the rental car office, were less than friendly. Especially the guy that took us back there. He just sat in the van and let us take our bags out ourselves.
Our pickup was supposed to be 8 AM, but after all the transporting and going over the vehicle, we didn’t get out of there until at least 10 AM. They also ended up overcharging me $1000 for some reason, but they quickly resolved that once I notified them about. There are other places to rent, so you may want to check out reviews on some others like McRent and Camper Iceland for example.
You can also rent a “campervan”, which is basically a small utility-type mini-van with some bedding and cooking appliances in them. They are a bit more rustic than the motorhome and from what I saw can get a bit cramped. We saw several people ripping everything out trying to find stuff. Also, they have to cook outside, so when the weather gets really crappy, and it will, they just look miserable. If you are on a budget though they will do the trick.
The motorhome got around 22-23 Miles/Gal when said and done. We drove a total of 2207km, which cost us about $384 USD in fuel. The motorhome runs on diesel to which is a little cheaper in Iceland than regular fuel.
Before I left for Iceland I had my iPhone unlocked by AT&T so that I was able to put a local SIM card in when I got to Iceland. I purchased a Vodaphone Starter Kit at the register of the Duty-Free store in the Arrivals Hall baggage claim area. They are about $15 for unlimited calling/texting and about 300mb of data, although mine said it was a special deal with 1GB of data. You can top off your card along the way too, which I did. I think I paid about $20 for another 5GB of so I would not have to worry about it. I left cellular data on the whole time, tethering to my laptop and my wife’s phone, uploading pictures and still only used ~4GB.
Coverage was mostly 3G/4G, but there were only two times that I got no service and it wasn’t for very long. It isn’t super-fast LTE, but it was more than adequate for using Google Maps and uploading a few pics here-and-there.
I used Google Maps on my phone the whole time for navigating. It worked perfectly. I had taken a bunch of paper maps, but only used them for planning where I was going the next day or so. I also had cached the entire maps of Iceland on my phone before I went, so if I lost cell coverage I could still use Google Maps. I don’t think I had to fall back to that very much.
Dining & Food
Dining out in Iceland is super-expensive. This is where the motorhome/campervan pays for itself. Bonus grocery stores are quite prevalent throughout the country and food is much more reasonable in the grocery stores.
Day 1 – Keflavik/Reykjavik to Bogarnes
We arrived into Keflavik airport pretty much on time. We were a little groggy though due to sitting in an exit row without the ability to recline the seat. We grabbed some breakfast in the airport before heading down to pick up bags. The conveyor belt had stopped and our bags were the last ones just sitting on there.
We headed out to the pick-up area for the yellow rental car shuttle bus. It was pouring rain out and really windy. The bus came pretty quick and shuttled us over to the rental car area. We got off the bus too soon because the Geysir office was around the block, so we had to walk through some parking lots to get there. Next, we had to wait for about a half hour until some guy came with a van to take us to the place to pick up the motorhome.
After filling out paperwork and going over the vehicle, we were finally on our way. The road from the airport area to Reykjavik was very exposed and the wind was whipping against the side of the motorhome. I decided to pull off the road and park in a small picnic area just off the highway and we took a nap. About a 3 hour one!
Finally, the wind calmed down and we headed on our way again. Now, we were hungry though and we could not read any signs. In our search for a restaurant we found a Bonus supermarket, so we stopped there to stock up with some food. It was a bit challenging trying to shop when you cannot read the labels. I tried used my Google translate app in offline mode, but that didn’t work. I had even downloaded the entire Icelandic library. We searched near the Bonus for somewhere to eat, but nothing looked that great.
Alas, a Thai restaurant was found! We had a really good meal at Krua Thai just off the highway. After filling up our bellu, we were on our way to Bogarnes.
We parked down by the Settlement Center and then walked around the town a bit. It was a quaint little town. During our walk around town, we stopped at a cool little café in Bogarnes called Kaffi Kyrrð. Worth a stop.
We had dinner at the Settlement Center and it was really good. Their bread is amazing! They also had a veggie burger too which I was pretty stoked about. It is expensive, but all meals are in Iceland. This one was worth it.
We ended up camping at the campground in Bogarnes. There was no attendant or caretaker, just an honor box. It has electric, toilets and a nice view of the bay.
Day 2 – Bogarnes to Grundarfjörður(Kirkjufellsfoss)
After a good nights sleep and breakfast in the camper, we headed in a Northwesterly direction towards the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Our first stop was a little brown church that sits among fields of jagged lava rock near the sea called Búðakirkja.
We then headed over to Arnastapi where we cooked up some lunch in the parking lot waiting for a passing rain shower to pass. We then sauntered along the coastline hiking trail to the neighboring town of Hellnar. The rocky, basalt lined coast was quite breathtaking. There were a fair amount of people on the trail, but it was worth the hike.
There is a small cafe at the end of the trail in Hellnar that has really good food. My wife loved the veggie quiche. We took a more direct trail back after we filled our bellies with some snack in Hellnar.
We then headed around the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, through Hellisandur and eventually getting to the place I had been eagerly awaiting…Kirkjufellfoss. Unfortunately, it poured all afternoon and the tide came in and flooded the easy path up to the waterfall. I tried taking an alternate route through some farmers fields up the road but each time I got drenched when the rain kicked up again. I got in a few shots, but was mostly spending all my time wiping my lens off.
We started off camping in a little pull off just down the road outside the nearby town of Grundarfjordur. The wind and rain pounded the camper making it almost impossible to sleep. The wind was hitting the camper sideways and rocking it back-and-forth. I was just waiting for it to flip over. I finally got up and drove into town trying to find a more protected spot.
I ended up parking in the parking lot next to the liquor store and N1 in town with the nose of the camper pointing into the wind. It helped but the wind never ceased until early the next morning.
Day 3 – Grundarfjörður to Siglufjörður
We were awakened quite early the next morning when 2 SUVs packed with Asian tourists pulled in next to us in the parking lot. I didn’t realize it but we were in a car washing area of the N1 gas station parking lot. The one SUV pulled directly behind us within a few inches of our camper. They were all our running around and yelling like it was a fire drill or something.
We hit up the market in the N1 for some more grocery items and fresh coffee before heading back on the road towards the seaside town of Stykkishlomur.
We parked down by the Ferry to Flatey and hiked up onto the hilltop overlook of the ocean.
We then stopped at Narfeyrarstofa for a really good lunch. Again expensive, but pretty typical for Iceland dining. Must have been a popular place since it was packed by the time we left and I heard waitress say they were booked for dinner that night.
After a delicious lunch, we started out on the long drive up to the Trollaskagi Peninsula towards Siglufjörður, or Siglo for short. The drive and scenery were really gorgeous, but there wasn’t a whole lot worth stopping for. We did end up stopping at the northern most tip of the peninsula to catch the sunset while having some dinner.
We then headed into Siglo and setup camp at the campground which is on a patch of grass right in the middle of town. We found a spot to park and setup camp or the camper rather. They had a nice shower in the campground and it felt really good to clean up a bit. It was a Saturday night, so I was in the mood to go out on the town a bit.
The most popular and colorful restaurant in town, Hannes Boy, was a stone’s throw away from our campsite. I could see it was filled with people enjoying their fare on Saturday night. We walked over there and were quickly turned away by the waitress because they were closed for a private birthday party. Really…Closed on a Saturday night??
Next door to Hannes Boy is the equally colorful Kaffi Raudka. This place has the shortest hours I have seen. Daily from 12pm to 5PM. So naturally they were closed.
We walked around town a bit and never really found anything worthwhile. We spotted the very new looking Siglo Hotel across the docks and headed over there. This place was very nice and open to the public. You could tell this had some American influence to it. I enjoyed a couple Icelandic IPA’s in a nice little lounge area that looked out on the water. Turns out the own had lived in the States for some time and came back to open this hotel. It was a very nice place.
We were abruptly woken by a group of young drunken revelers yelling at the top of their lungs walking down the sidewalk directly behind our camper. One of the disadvantages of camping in the middle of a town. There is another campground just up the hill outside of town too, which was totally empty when we were there. Not as convenient and no bathroom and showers, but probably a little less noisy too.
Day 4 – Siglufjörður to Ólafsfjörður
We managed to get back to sleep and woke at fairly decent hour. We walked through town and found our way to the Aðalbakarí Bakery, which was surprisingly open. I enjoyed some good coffee and some really good fresh baked pastries with some locals and a few other tourists too. Note: public places do not open very early in Iceland. Even places that claim to serve breakfast. It is a bit annoying at first, but if you plan accordingly you get used to it. It is helpful to have a camper with cooking utilities.
We putzed around the camper and caught up on some social media stuff in the later morning. We drove around a bit and found a small ski area up the mountain on the southern part of the town. It was a cool vantage point to see the whole area. The other campground was not too far away and we parked there while we hiked up the mountain side towards the avalanche fencing on the top of the mountain which is named Hafnarhyrna. It was quite a breathtaking view of the whole fjord.
We originally planned to stay in Siglo for 2 nights, but at the last minute we decided to head over to the next town of Ólafsfjörður instead. The Siglo campground has good facilities for dumping gray and toilet water as well as filling up with water, so we emptied out the camper before we headed down the road to Ólafsfjörður
The route to Ólafsfjörður is through a long single lane tunnel through the mountain. It was pretty crazy and when cars came through the other way they would sit in little pull-offs that they had every situated through the tunnel Ólafsfjörður felt practically deserted. The campground was totally empty except for us. We walked around the town a bit which seemed almost deserted. It was a Sunday night though, but nothing was open so we just ate in the camper. Another younger couple pulled in the campground and pitched their tent not too far away. It was getting pretty cold that night and I felt kind of bad for them out there while we were nice and toasty in the camper.
The campground attendant stopped by to collect the tariff for the night. He was really friendly guy and we shot the breeze for awhile asking him about life in Iceland.
Day 5 – Ólafsfjörður to Reykjahlíð(Lake Mývatn)
We headed out of Ólafsfjörður pretty early making our way down to Akureyri, the largest city in the north of Iceland. It was rainy pretty hard that morning and the drive was pretty dismal.
We parked in the public parking area in downtown Akureyri. It is sectioned off my the amount of time you are parking there. There was no indication of how you were supposed to designate you paid or not so I was a little nervous when we headed to the little downtown street. I stopped in a tourist information center and asked and the girl said just leave a note on your dash telling what time you parked. Pretty loosey-goosey here. And why don’t they tell you that somewhere when you park? I headed back to the camper and put the note on the dash.
We did a little window shopping in town and stopped in a cafe for a cup of coffee while we waited for the rain to clear a bit. Before we knew it it was time for some lunch.
We made several back-and-forth trips on Hafnarstræti Street between Kaffi Ilmur and Símstöðin Restaurant trying to decide where to eat. We eventually settled on Kaffi Ilmur which was a little more homey. They had a fish buffet(~$20) upstairs, which Denise took advantage of, and I settled on the Falafel Fritters with gluten-free bread(2480 ISK, which is about $22). Everything was very good but typical expensive Icelandic prices.
We got back on the road after lunch making our way North, then West to Goðafoss (waterfall of the gods). This was the first big Icelandic waterfall we had seen so far and it was pretty impressive. I was now in Photographer mode.
It was a little tough shooting this falls since it was the middle of the day and the sun was immediately behind it. Not the optimal time to shoot a waterfall. It also had a lot of spray and the wind was blowing it right at us. There was also a bunch of people there too which makes things challenging too. I didn’t come away with any real barn-burner pics from this one.
We headed towards Lake Mývatn next. This was the less expensive, northern cousin to the Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik. I was looking forward to a good soak at their nature baths there. It was really cold and windy when we got there, so Denise was a bit apprehensive at the thought of going swimming. When I told that it was ~$35(USD) each to go she was even less motivated. I eventually convinced her to go though.
It was well worth it! While it was freezing cold going from the showers to the nature bath, once you got in it was awesome. The pools were set on the top of a rise and had a horizon pool-style edge. The sunset was beautiful and everyone was taking pictures. I on the other hand, forgot to bring my GoPro and took none. What was I thinking?
We headed back to the Bjarg Campground perched on the east shore of Lake Myvatn in the town of Reykjahlíð. This was there last night open before closing for the season, so we unknowingly timed that perfect. Unfortunately, we had to walk to the bathroom and showers at the main building since the one close to our campsite was closed up. The bathrooms were also co-ed which was a bit odd. I wonder how people from North Carolina would deal with that? LOL!
I had been monitoring the Aurora Borealis(Northern Lights) activity since we had gotten to Iceland using a couple iOS apps on my phone. There had been some sightings of it before we had gotten over there, which was a bit odd for mid-September. This night was showing some good probability for seeing them and the sky was the clearest it had been thus far. I set my alarm for 1:30AM so I could take a look outside.
My watched buzzed at 1:30AM and I took a look out the back window of the camper. I saw looked to be clouds and they appeared to be moving a little more than typical clouds. I kept staring at them, wondering if I was just still in my sleep-fog or if they were really moving. Finally one triggered me to get out of bed and get dressed.
I walked outside and stared at the sky. I was now pretty sure this was the Aurora. I reached in the camper and grabbed my tripod with camera attached. I set the ISO to around 4000, opened up my aperture as far as I could, and set my shutter speed to about 8 secs. I aimed the camera at the sky and hit the cable release. As the image displayed on the back LCD I saw the bright green of the aurora displayed in all its glory. BINGO!!
My photographic adrenaline exploded. I was now wide awake! I ran back to the camper to wake Denise up.
The one thing I had forgotten to do was set the focus on my camera, so the first shot was quite blurry. It is pretty hard to get focus on a camera when it is dark out. I found a nearby light that I was able to key on and get some focus set. I then proceeded running around the campground shooting images of the sky like a kid having a shopping spree in a candy store.
It was really cool that when we saw these lights that we were in a lakeside campground with tents pitched all over the place. Made for some cool foreground elements. I also got a shot of Denise staring at the sky while they lights bounced across the sky.
The moon was pretty bright out this particular night so it kind of diminished the actual color of the Northern Lights when looking at it with the naked eye. Denise was a little disappointed by this. A friend from work who had been there previously had told me this, so I had a little bit different expectations.
The lights danced until about 2:30-3AM before they fizzled out. I headed back to the camper to go back to sleep thinking about all the aurora pics I get to process the next morning. Really cool.
Day 6 – Reykjahlíð to Egilsstaðir
We headed just up the road to Mt. Namafjall/Hverarönd geothermal area after breakfast. It was kind of touristy place with a large parking lot and lots of cars and buses. Right next to the parking lot was a bunch of hot pots of bubbling grey goo and steam vents shooting geothermal mist into the air. The good thing was the people didn’t venture too far from the parking lot, so we took a little hike up the barren side of Mt. Namafjall and were quickly away from them. The view up top was pretty amazing. You could see the whole Lake Myvatn area on one side and then the barren geothermal plains on the other. it was a nice little hike, but it did get a bit steep as you approached the summit.
The only thing bad about this area was that it stinks like rotten eggs! I cannot stand eggs or the smell of them and it was a bit unnerving. Denise loved it. You do get used to it though.
Next stop was Dettifoss waterfall. This was located on an out-and-back Route 862 off the main Ring Road. It seemed to take longer to get there than I anticipated. We had some lunch in the parking lot before taking the hike down to the falls. It is a big powerful falls and quite impressive. I again hit this falls in the middle of day. but atleast the sun was behind me this time. I was able to get some good shots with rainbows across the falls which was pretty cool. Selfoss falls is also a short walk up river from Dettifoss, but I didn’t find that one all too photogenic. This was definitely a worthwhile stop.
Next, we headed to the town of Egilsstaðir for our final stop of the day. Egilsstaðir is a larger town and bit more commercial. There is a decent campground there on a side street in town and plenty grocery stores and places to eat. There is also a bar right at the campground, but I didn’t check it out so not sure how it is. We ate at Salt Cafe & Bistro, which was quite good. There pizza and desserts are excellent!
Day 7 -Egilsstaðir to Seydisfjordur to Egilsstaðir
We made our way over the pass to the fjord town of Seydisfjordur after eating some breakfast. It was a pretty cool drive making our way up and over the fairly steep mountain. It was a very rainy day, so visibility was not so great.
I stopped along the way down into Seydisfjordur to take some pictures. It was quite scenic and there were some nice waterfalls along the way. Of course, when isn’t there waterfalls in Iceland?
We cruised around the small town that flanks the banks of the fjord in a U-shape. There was a very large ferry ship docked in the apex of the fjord, but didn’t seem to be much action there. They say that the town can get VERY busy when the ferry arrives or departs from/for the continent. I believe this is usually on Wednesdays but you should probably research that.
There are a lot of hikes in this area and we settled on one with an obvious trailhead marker and parking lot off the road on the sourthern side of the fjord. It was right across the street from the Brimberg Fish Factory. The followed a dirt road before eventually heading off onto a much smaller rocky trail. The rain picked up the farther and higher went.
We eventually came upon these five interconnected domes called the Tvisongur Sound Structure. Each dome has a different tone in it and we took turns testing that out. It was also a welcome refuge from the rain. We headed farther up the mountain on the trail and hit some steeper rocky sections. While normally I wouldn’t think twice about these, the downpouring rain made them a little tricky. We walked on some more which basically was a bit flatter pastures.
We decided to call it and turn around. The visibility was not great and the rain just kept pounding. So we headed back to the camper. We stopped at the Skaftfell Bistro but it didn’t open until 3pm. The guy inside said Hotel Aldan had a nice lunch buffet.
We drove back to the infamous “Blue Church” and parked the camper taking the rainbow colored road through the quaint little town. Not much was open, but the Hotel Aldan and the Kaffi Lara/El Grillo Brewpub. We checked them both out and settled on the buffet at Hotel Aldan. It was a wise choice. We had to share a table with two guys but not a big deal. Buffet was great and there was a ton of vegetarian options for me too. Iceland is far more veg-friendly than I thought it would be! We also saw the guy from Skaftfell Bistro come and start working here. I guess thats why he doesn’t open until 3PM! Life in a small town.
We headed over to Kaffi Lara so I could sample a couple of their craft brews after lunch. They were ok, but I ended up have one of my favorite IPA’s Úlfur Nr.3 Borg Brugghús . The rain continued on harder and harder. Seemed like a good day for drinking beer! Others had the same idea because the place filled up pretty quickly.
We then drove back over to Skaftfell Bistro and parked in their parking lot until they opened at 3 PM. Denise took a good nap and I headed into the bistro. I was the first person in there and found a nice booth by the window with a power cord. I set up my laptop and got to work downloading and editing all the pictures I took so far. It was a much-needed break.
The bistro was playing some music that I had never hear before but was really diggin’. Not sure if it was just the music itself or the fact that the bistro kept playing the album over-and-over again, but it seemed very familiar. I Shazaam’d it and it was a guy named Rodriguez, Sixto Rodriguez actually. His music seemed kind of 70’s -ish and rightly so it was. Kinda reminded me of Bob Dylan but much better. Turns out it is a pretty interesting story there.
The Bistro was also filling up and Denise awoke from her nap to join me. Several people ordered pizzas and they looked really good. I decided to indulge in one myself. I had had a couple beers too so I needed to soak those up a bit too.
We later decided to head back over the pass and stay in Egilsstaðir campground for another night. There wasn’t much going on in Seydisfjordur, so no sense in making the next day’s drive longer.
Day 8 – Egilsstaðir to Höfn
The next morning we ate, showered and headed to the N1 station to refuel. I also had to get a new tank of propane since ours was getting close to empty. I wasn’t sure if there would be any places to get more on the way to our next destination, Höfn. It was also about halfway so I figured that it was a good point to exchange it.
The drive got a bit windy early on and I had to make a couple stops since the camper was feeling like it was going to be blown over. Eventually, the road turned to stone as we headed up and over a pass. As we crested the pass we were presented with the most spectacular view. It felt like we were driving down into a crater. The waterfalls coming over the edges were actually blowing back up from the wind whipping up the valley. The land below was a patchwork of greens, yellows, and orange colors. It was simply breathtaking.
As we lowered down into the valley we were flanked by pastures of beautiful Iceland Horses and the farms they belong to. The high mountain walls behind them made for a spectacular backdrop.
Eventually, we reached the coast again and encountered some different, but still beautiful, seaside views. We reached the town of Höfn as it was just turning dusk. There was a field full of Icelandic horses on the road into town and we had to stop off and take some shots of them. They had a bit of a moat around the fence line of the field, so you couldn’t get too close to them.
We drove around the town and checked things out. It had a small part with restaurants and supermarket, but most of the town was warehouses and industry buildings. We stopped at the Nettó supermarket and stocked up on some groceries. I got another bag of those little cinnamon rolls too…Yum! The beer store in the market was already closed up, they have VERY limited hours everywhere, so I had to settle for a couple 2%-ers in the market.
Next, we traveled down the block to Kaffi Hornið for dinner. There wasn’t a whole lot of options and this place looked decent. There also wasn’t much in the way of vegetarian either except one main dish that was way too expensive. This place is ALL about the Langoustine…aka Lobster. I ended up settling on the Langoustine Pizza which would fill me up without too much damage to the budget. They also had a good craft beer selection too. This place was crazy expensive even for Iceland. I think they knew you didn’t have too many other options so they nail you good. We also ran into the couple we met back in Egilsstaðir here and caught up with them a bit.
We decided to do the camp at the Campground in Höfn for the night. We had to pay, but it is so much easier than trying to find somewhere to pull off for the night. Plus, we get a shower and regular bathroom.
Day 9 – Höfn to Jökulsárlón Iceberg Lagoon
Next, we headed to Jökulsárlón Iceberg Lagoon. On our way, we saw the large glacier spilling down into the flats. You could see along the road how the glacier once met the ocean, but now it had retreated pretty far back to the mountains above. Sad.
We got to the lagoon pretty early, before the masses came. It was a photographers paradise. We walked around a bit but then headed West a bit to escape the crowds. We took a decent walk that flanked the West shore of the lagoon heading north towards the glacier. There were only a few other people here since most of the typical tourists don’t leave the visitor center parking lot.
We were able to get some really good views of the icebergs, glacier and even a sea lion hanging out on a floating chunk of ice.
We had reservations in the afternoon to do a Glacier Kayak Adventure with Arctic Adventures, so we headed over to their meeting place at Skalafell Guest House after having some lunch. Once there they suited us up in dry suits and headed over the terrain in a tundra buggy. We stopped at a parking area overlooking the Heinabergslón glacier lagoon. Below was a fleet of kayaks waiting for us.
The trip was pretty cool. We paddled all around this massive chunks of ice that calved off the Vatnajökull glacier. We docked the boats a large chunk about the size of a football field that had a massive ice cave going through it. Our guide handed out MicroSpikes for us and we all went and explored the cave. We paddled around for another hour and a half and then headed back. My toes were pretty numb at this point so I was ready. It was kind of an expensive excursion but I think it was well worth it.
After the kayaking, we headed back to Jökulsárlón again. This time we went across the street to the Black Sand Beach where the Icebergs empty out into the sea and then get discarded on the beach. It is really cool since the ice becomes almost crystal clear and the contrast with the black sand makes for some amazing pictures. I could have spent a week here. I was on the beach until the last shred of light before heading back to the motorhome and having some dinner.
The rain and wind picked up while we were eating dinner, so we headed back across the street and set up camp in a lower parking lot of the visitor center. There was another large camper there and we were a little more protected from the wind. Another rainy, windy night!
Day 10 – Jökulsárlón Iceberg Lagoon to Skógafoss
The next morning I was up early to get some pictures of the glaciers in the lagoon before we headed on. It was a very dreamy like morning and made for some really cool shots. The light was so surreal. Such a cool place!
Next stop was the Skaftafell Visitor Center at Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður National Park. The main feature here was the Svartifoss Waterfall. It was a nice little hike up to the falls and there were several other falls along the way. The Autumn colors were really brilliant too and made for some stunning views.
There is also a nice campground here too which was fairly empty. We did take advantage of it to empty out all our tanks and fill up with some fresh water.
Next, we stopped at Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon. The canyon is a short drive off the Ring Road, but the road is a bit rough. Especially for a motorhome. The canyon is really cool and we could have spent a bit more time exploring it than we did. I think at this point we were getting a little tired and kind of kept this short. I think the quantity of other tourists in this region, compared to the North and East, was a bit overwhelming for us.
We got to Vik as was getting dark and found the Halldorskaffi restaurant for some dinner. They had some good pizza and beer selection.
The wind and rain had picked up a bit while we were eating dinner. We stopped at an N1 and retooled a bit with some snacks, before heading Westward to camp for the night. We stopped at a small pull-off which was right next to the road and started to setup for the night. The truck traffic was a bit loud and there was not much cover from the wind here, so we decided to push on to Skógafoss falls. This would be a good move.
Skógafoss had a campground right next to the falls, so it would be perfect for getting some early morning shots. The wind and rain had also ceased and the Northern Light decided to light up the skies for a second time now.
I was out by the stream taking pictures and a girl from another camper came over and said “Do you think we have any chance of seeing the Northern Lights?” I said “Yes…there are right there.” and proceeded to show her the back LCD of my camera. She ran away yelling to her friends.
Day 11 – Skógafoss to Reykjavik
The next morning I was looking forward to some early morning shots of the Skogafoss waterfall. Denise was not in the camper when I woke up, so I figured she was in the bathroom. I took some shots of the falls from behind the motorhome. So glad I did this because pretty soon after the falls became loaded with tourists. I went back to the motorhome and Denise was still not back yet. I waited and waited, still nothing. Now the throng of cars were pulling in and filling up the previously empty camping lot. A large van full of Japanese models and photographers pulled up right next to our van and were making all kinds of commotion. I was starting to lose my cool now.
Denise eventually texted me and here she had hiked up the waterfall and back to the falls laying behind it. I waited for her to come back and then I left and did the same thing. Skogafoss is cool, but the falls behind it were amazing. I could have spent the entire day there. Unfortunately, it started pouring rain but I did get a few good shots.
Next stop was at the Seljavallalaug pool. It was a dirt road back into a little village nestled between some mountains. The road got a little rough before hitting the parking lot. Then a short little hike up to the pool. The pool was not super hot, but it was relaxing nonetheless. It got a bit crowded after I got in.
After my refreshing dip in Seljavallalaug, our net stop was the Seljalandsfoss waterfall. The parking lot was packed with tourists. At this point, I was having my fill of tourist crowds. We had some lunch in the motorhome first and then headed up to the waterfall. It was a procession of tourists up, around and under the falls. Between the people and the heavy mist from the falls, I had a hard time getting some decent pictures here. It just didn’t have the same mystique that all those images I had seen of before had. We didn’t hang around here too long.
We continued on our way back to Reykjavik. I had planned to stop at Selfoss falls, but could not find it. I had kind of had enough at this point and was looking forward to getting to Reykjavik now. I didn’t really expend too much energy trying to find Selfoss either. I never thought I would ever get tired of photographing waterfalls, but I think I was pretty close at this point.
We finished up our Ring Road tour and set up our last camp at the Reykjavik Campsite which is right in the city. The campsite is really nice for being right in the middle of the city. Very spacious and nice facilities too. We took a nice walk into the downtown area for some dinner.
We made our way up and down Laugavegur Street and finally settled on a place called Harry’s. While it may sound pretty generic, it was a really nice place. I had a really good Vegetable Curry. They also had pretty assorted menu that would cover all tastes.
We did some more walking around town after dinner and made a stop in the Irish Pub for one last Iceland Pale Ale before we left. They even had my favorite, Úlfur Nr.3, on tap. While walking around we noticed something strange above us in the sky. Looking up we were presented again with another showing of the Northern Lights. Third time! Unfortunately, I only had my iPhone and no tripod to brace it. It was the perfect end to an amazing trip!
We returned our motorhome early the next morning. The guy from Geysir that met us there and took us to the airport was less than friendly. He literally dumped us of at the Geysir Car Rental Office. We rented a car for the day and drove around the city for the day. We had originally planned to go to the Blue Lagoon for the day, but realized that you needed to make a reservation beforehand.
This trip was one of my favorites. Despite not being quite as active as some of our past trips, the scenery and photography surely made up for it. Having the motorhome made it easy to be close to the good spots and get there before the masses of tourists invaded them. Typically, when we are on trekking trips you are kind of slave to a schedule so you don’t always get to the great photographic spots at the right times. The motorhome also made the high expense of eating out in Iceland a non-issue. My wife was on a specific diet, so she was able to stay on it since she could make her own meals. I will definitely consider doing the motorhome trip again.