Saturday, October 03, 2009

Showdown: Coeur d'Alene vs. Wisconsin

It's a good thing I don't have kids, because if I did I would list the pros and cons of each one to figure out which one I loved the most. So I'll just have to do it with Ironmans. I realize I am naturally biased towards Coeur d'Alene because it was my first, but I'll try to be fair when evaluating everything about the different experiences. I'm going to compare many aspects of the doing the race, some are more important than others, but it's all part of the overall experience.

You can fly into Madison and take a 15 minute car ride to the race site. With Coeur d'Alene, you fly into Spokane and then it's a 30-45 minute drive.
Advantage: Wisconsin

I really liked the small-town feel of Coeur d'Alene. And the lake is beautiful. I could see going back there for a regular vacation and spending time on the lake in the summer, or visiting during a winter snow festival. Madison is an OK place, but there I don't see any reason why anybody would specifically want to visit there. HOWEVER, Madison does have more stores and restaurants and bars and services in a concentrated area. Dining options aren't a big draw for me, but I could see why it would be important to people traveling for a race. So I'll give it to Madison.
Advantage: Wisconsin

Host Hotel
Not. Even. Close. Yes, Coeur d'Alene was twice as expensive but it was worth every freaking penny. We had to take two separate elevators to get to our rooms in Madison, where we had a view that looked like a prison yard. I stayed in a resort hotel in Coeur d'Alene with a private patio overlooking the lake, and every day the Sugar Fairy came by and left chocolates on my pillow.
Advantage: Coeur d'Alene

The Swim
Lake Coeur d'Alene was cleaner and didn't have any dead bodies in it, although I am told that there have been years when Wisconsin didn't have dead people in the water. Certainly in any given year, Coeur d'Alene will be colder. And although I didn't think I would like it, I preferred the water start in Wisconsin.
Advantage: Wisconsin

The Bike
This is a tough one. Wisconsin certainly was postcard-perfect with farmhouses and huge fields of corn. But I really enjoyed the lush greenery of Coeur d'Alene. CDA has bigger hills; Wisconsin has lots of rollers. Coeur d'Alene brings you all the way back to the starting area to start your second loop which is kind of frustrating mentally; in Wisconsin, you ride 16 miles out of town and THEN do two loops. Wisconsin has lots of turns and you can never get a good rhythm going. I think the scenery in Coeur d'Alene is better, but ultimately I really liked the "lollipop-shaped" course in Wisconsin and it ever-so-slightly edges out CDA.
Advantage: Wisconsin

The Run
Another one, not even close. Most of the run in Coeur d'Alene is a simple out-and-back along a bike path hugging the lake. It's beautiful. Wisconsin twists and turns all over the place and brings you through back alleys on a college campus and running beside railroad tracks in some of the more industrial sections of Madison. There was a nice 1/2-mile section along a dirt trail, but of course it was pitch black for me during the second loop. And running along State Street was fun because there was 6 blocks packed with people cheering the run. But in general, very little about the Wisconsin run impressed me.
Advantage: Coeur d'Alene

Support Areas
In Coeur d'Alene, they had tall black and white signs in the support areas that clearly told you exactly where everything was: Water, Ice, Cola, Snacks, Soup, Snacks. In Wisconsin, there were no signs and it seemed like people were moving around so I always had to ask where the cola or ice was. In Coeur d'Alene, the areas seemed better decorated with themed area (like everyone dressed as rubber duckies.) Wisconsin, not so much.
Advantage: Coeur d'Alene.

The Fans
I heard a lot of hype about the fan support in Wisconsin so I had high hopes for them. There is good support along the 3 "big" hills 40 miles out of town so that was very good of them. I expected the run through the college campus to be swarming with people cheering the race. But as it turns out, everybody leaves campus to go cheer along the "cool" section of State Street where all the bars are. So State Street is great, but it means most of the run is lacking. And I don't want to undermine my peeps in Idaho. We had plenty of people cheering us in Coeur d'Alene, and there seemed to be more "organized" cheering going on: things like high school cheerleading squads along the course. But ultimately, I can be bribed and it was the Wisconsin fans that gave me a beer during the run.
Advantage: Wisconsin

Ironman Village
Half of the exhibitor booths in Wisconsin were outside of the convention center and half of them were inside. It broke up the flow and it just wasn't really a fun place to hang out. Coeur d'Alene (and Arizona, and Lake Placid) all have nice outdoor expo areas that really get you into the Ironman spirit before the race.
Advantage: Coeur d'Alene

Everything in Coeur d'Alene was one-stop-shopping. All of registration took place under one tent. In Wisconsin, we had to go to 4 different rooms on two different floors in the convention center. In CDA, the body marking was off to the side next to the transition area. In Wisconsin, body marking was in this narrow traffic lane between the transition bags and the bikes, so EVERYBODY had to funnel through a very crowded area. There were just lots of little things like that. The convention center just isn't laid out right to host an Ironman and everything felt awkward about it.
Advantage: Coeur d'Alene

British Invasion
In Idaho, we didn't run into a single podium-standing, Kona-slot-winning Brit anywhere. Not a one. In Wisconsin, we met Stuart.
Advantage: Wisconsin
Then again, he did keep up us out drinking on Monday a lot later than I planned on.
Advantage: Coeur d'Alene

So ultimately I have to give the overall nod to Coeur d'Alene. There are some areas in which Wisconsin is a little better than Idaho, but CDA is MUCH better in other areas. An experienced Ironman might prefer Wisconsin because it's a little more challenging course, but for first-timers CDA seems much better laid-out and organized. They're both Ironman, they're both fun, but if you press me I'm going to say Coeur d'Alene is a better race.


Blogger Spokane Al said...

I am glad to hear that my backyard got your vote!

10:06 PM  

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