This late-summer triathlon features a fresh, mountain-fed lake open water swim, with a hearty and scenic ride through rural countryside, wrapped up with a road run along the densely wooded Foster Lake and Hughes Creek. All of this is brought together with great event organization and execution, delivering one of Oregon’s best triathlon festivals.
When and Where
- 2018 Event Date(s): Friday, September 7th to Sunday, September 9th
- 2019 Event Date(s): Friday, September 6th to Sunday, September 8th
- Location: Lewis Creek Park at Foster Lake, Sweet Home, Oregon
- Event Organizers: Best in the West Events,
- 2018 Event Participants: Over 1,000
- Best in the West Events delivers breadth-and-depth for beginner to advanced athletes, interested in swimming, paddle-sport, cycling, running, duathlon, triathlon, team-relay, and paratriathlete events
- In 2018, Best in the West Triathlon was once again selected as USA Triathlon’s West Region Long Course Regional Championship official event
- Beginner, youth and children events include, Try a Tri, Youth Tri and “Splash and Dash”
- The event location, Sweet Home, Oregon, provides convenient access to the event from Washington, Oregon, and Northern California
- Foster Lake, a freshwater-fed lake, is beautiful and clean, even in late summer
- The rolling Cascade foothills of rural Linn County offer a hearty and scenic ride
- The densely wooded road along Foster Lake and Hughes Creek provides a refreshing backdrop during the run
- Logistics such as lodging and event parking require some advanced planning, see Just the Facts below for full commentary
- Every 2018 race aid station included the following: water, Heed, HammerGel, ice, Vasoline, sunscreen, and a restroom
- 2018 triathlon event participants received an event bag, event shirt, swim cap, bike/helmet race-specific bib number stickers, race-specific wristband, race-specific bib, additional promotional samples/literature, one pass to the post-race event barbecue, post-race adult beverage saloon ticket, event bandanna, race-specific ribbon and event medal, race-specific mug (half iron distance participants only) and free event photos
- Those participants who compete for five-or-more years receive a special Best in the West belt buckle award
Just The Facts
Many of the following details apply to all 2018 race distances for this event, however, some specific details will only apply to the Half Iron distance. Best in the West Triathlon Courses website has full course details for all race distances.
Pre-Event Registration and Communication
Event registration is completed following the link available at the Best in the West Triathlon Registration website. Event pricing graduates higher-and-higher as the calendar moves closer to the event start date. As an example, an individual, half iron distance participant, will pay $199, November 1st – December 1st, with the highest possible price of $280 (based on 2017-2018 event pricing).
Day-of-event registration is available with cash/check only. Wetsuit rentals are available for reservations ahead of the event online or day-of with cash/check only.
The Best in the West Events team does a great job with participant communication ahead of the event, via email and through their Facebook page, providing the necessary details to be ready for packet pickup and race day. Based on our experience, email questions typically receive a response within 48 hours of sending.
Event Travel Tip: Sweet Home, Oregon, has limited lodging. There are camp and RV sites available near the event start at Lewis Creek Park and Sunnyside Park. Hotel, motel and other lodging options are available in the surrounding area.
Event Logistics/Parking Tip: Parking for this event is can be a bit of a headache, depending on your personal schedule and patience. Parking at the Event Start, Lewis Creek Park, is available each morning. Please note, that this parking lot does not re-open until near 1:00pm, or until the last bike/bike cut-off occurs on Saturday and Sunday. The main event parking lot is located at Sunnyside Park but requires the use of the free courtesy shuttle. During active races, the roads accessing Lewis Creek Park and Sunnyside Park are closed to one lane only. A pilot car takes groups of vehicles through the closure. Plan ahead and prepare to wait. After your event, it can take upwards of 30-60+ minutes to get to your vehicle at Sunnyside Park and then wait for the pilot car to lead you out of the event area.
Cell Phone Network Availability: Sweet Home, Oregon, is a small, rural-town and communication service providers do not have the robust infrastructure in place for large events. Please plan ahead for limited cell phone network availability. Calls and text messages may not process and applications that use data will likely see delays or not function.
And to answer the most important question, yes, there are plenty of portable restrooms available for use at the race start. You will not be waiting in long lines.
Half Iron Swim
• Out-and-back course, 1.2 mi/1.9 km
The swim is a straight out-and-back with a few turns. What makes the swim course so manageable is the number of marker buoys, which makes it easier to navigate the route. The swim start is managed by age-groups, starting at staggered times. The entry and exit into the water are over some very rough asphalt that extends into the water. Only a portion of that rough asphalt is covered by artificial turf. The swim exit will take you over concrete sidewalks and grass to the transition area.
Half Iron Bike
• Out-and-back course, 56 mi/90km
• Half Iron Total Elevation Gain (advertised): 2,638ft/804m
• Half Iron Total Elevation Gain Recorded (Gamin fēnix 3/Training Peaks): 2,703ft/823m
• 2 aid stations x 2 visits = 4 total aid station stops
The bike is a 56 mile/90 kilometer (accurate), out-and-back course through the Cascade Mountain Range foothills located in rural Linn County, Oregon. All major turns are marked, flagged and monitored by volunteers and traffic control, where needed. The majority of the bike route is not closed to local traffic and you will encounter vehicles. Since it is a rural course, vehicle traffic is very light and residents are courteous. In general, the road surface conditions were very favorable with few-to-no major road surface concerns.
2018 had over 180 half iron distance participants, spread out over the 56-mile course, there is simply little-to-no drafting ever seen. I also noticed far more patrolling by motorcycles labeled, “Race Official” and appreciated the oversight by the event organizers.
Bike Course Tip (Aid Stations): There are only two aid stations on the bike course. As an out-and-back course, you will pass them twice for a total of four aid station visits. The selection at the aid stations is fairly limited, but you will have pre-filled bike bottles available for grabbing with water or electrolytes.
Half Iron Run
• Two 6.55 mi/10.55 km loops = 13.1 mi/21.1 km total
• Half Iron Elevation Gain: not advertised
• Half Iron Elevation Gain Recorded: 732ft/223m (Garmin fēnix 3/Training Peaks), see graph below
• Rolling hills, approximately 97% road surface, approximately 3% dirt trail
• 4 aid stations x 2 loops = 8 total aid stations
The two-loop course, totaling 13.1-miles (accurate), begins with a run out of transition taking you away from Lewis Creek Park along North River Drive toward Quartzville Road, with a right turn taking you back toward Highway 20. A mostly downhill then gradual uphill roll to the first turnaround point. You then proceed down Quartzville Road toward Sunnyside Park. A gradual rise to a descent toward the second turnaround point. The portion of the run along Foster Lake and Hughes Creek is densely wooded and beautiful, however, there are areas with full sun exposure. From the second turnaround, it is a climb back up to Lewis Creek Park with a gradual descent to the race start. There are a total of four aid stations along the course, with two laps, you will pass each aid station twice for a total of eight aid station visits over a 13.1-mile course.
Multiple Races Using The Course: It is likely you will encounter other participants on the course during your race. Depending on your event day, you could have sprint triathlon, half iron triathlon, and half marathon participants using the run course at the same time. To our knowledge, half marathon-only race participants were allowed to use headphones/music and pacers during their event, which can be a confusing sight to triathlon participants following USA Triathlon rules.
When crossing the finish line, the announcer will call out your name and your hometown. A volunteer removes your timing chip, a different volunteer will wrap a cold/wet event bandanna around your neck, followed by another volunteer who will give you a race-specific event medal and an event mug (half iron distance participants only) filled will cold ice water.
At your leisure, you can enjoy the event barbecue and an adult beverage (hard cider/beer) in the saloon. The event barbecue is one of the best we’ve seen at organized events in Oregon. One pleasing aspect is the crowd control to ensure only event participants and paid family/friends ($12/meal ticket) enjoy the food. A wide variety of summer barbecue favorites including hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled chicken, veggie burgers, baked beans, corn on the cob, grilled vegetables, salad, cold mixed salads, fruit, famous “big” event cookies, condiments and beverages. Menu options support vegetarian and vegan lifestyles.
At the 2018 event, the timing company provided real-time print-off of your preliminary results. Race results were available online by visiting the timing company’s website. Within a few days after the event, you will receive Facebook and email notifications with links to the final results and event photos. Photos are taken by volunteer photographers at various locations, including the start, swim, bike, run, finish line and awards. Event awards, including age-group awards, are presented in the afternoon each race day.
My Race Prep
As my second Ironman 70.3, albeit a non-Ironman branded race, Best in the West’s Half Iron Triathlon was my second “A” race of the year and my final race for 2018. Let’s touch base on my prior races from 2018:
Sprout’s MESA-PHX Half Marathon. February 24, 2018. Finish: 1:52:07
Oregon State University Beaver Freezer. April 5, 2018. Sprint-distance Finish: 1:14:37
Subaru Ironman 70.3 Victoria. June 3rd, 2018. Finish: 05:46:24
Rolf Prima Tri at the Grove. July 21st, 2018. Olympic-distance Finish: 2:34:15
The training, the prior races, all of the prep, it was leaning toward a strong race finish. Due to family scheduling and travel, I did have a truncated TrainerRoad training plan. I was using the Specialty Phase > Triathlete > Half Distance Triathlon > Mid-Volume Plan wrapping up right before the event.
Two weeks prior to the event I landed a head cold followed by a debilitating stomach bug, saddling me for over 48 hours of little-to-no training, and in weakened state thereafter. I was frustrated. I like a clean, hassle-free approach, leading up to race day and this was not going to be a clean lead-up.
My Race Day Eve
The race-day morning was going to be a bit complicated, but manageable. My wife, Naomi, was competing in the Sprint-distance triathlon starting at 9am. My half-iron distance race began at 8am. We had the wonderful support of Naomi’s sister, Liz, and her family, who helped watch the boys while we raced.
I handled final equipment prep, applying a coat of Muc Off C3 Dry Ceramic Chain Lube to our clean bikes. After a final organization of race-day fueling, race kit, and equipment it was time to sleep.
My Race Day Morning
Race morning began at 5:00am. I woke to toss down a Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Brown Sugar and Maple Oatmeal. This was a first for me as I normally don’t ingest breakfast food pre-race. As much as this was the final “A” race of the season, I also look at the race as a prep for 2019 events and seeing what works and what doesn’t.
Since my event was starting first, Naomi dropped me off and proceeded to park our car at the main parking area located at Sunnyside Park, bringing her bike and race kit back with her using the free parking shuttle to the race start at Lewis Creek Park.
My Race Start – Swim
My goal was to have a target pace of less than 1:50/100 yards. I felt strong during the swim and exited seventh out of the water in my age group with chip-time of 35:32, and Garmin time of 34:57. Strava recorded a 1:28/100 yards. Chip time recorded a 1:51/100 yards, which included time exiting the water and running before hitting the timing mat into transition.
The number of marker buoys really help with sighting. I had no major issues with other swimmers. My only frustration was the rough asphalt that extends from the beach into the water, it can be very difficult to walk on, depending on how tough your feet are. Some additional lengths of artificial turf further into the water by event organizers would sure be a welcomed addition.
Speedo Covert Swim Goggles (Clear Lens)
My Race – Transition One (T1)
It’s a bit of a run from the swim exit to the transition area. I’m still learning how to optimize my transition experience. I am not a “flying mount” triathlete. Six-foot-four-inch tall and 200 pounds does not effortlessly land on a bike in motion … yet. In addition, I’m the paranoid triathlete that doesn’t want to walk all over dirt, grass, and gravel before jumping on a bike and trying to slip my feet into shoes to then grind 56 miles with a bunch of debris joining me.
I’ve found socks and road shoes for the bike to work great for me, but it does take a little extra time at transition. T1 rang up a chip time of 3:44, for the 10th place in T1 for my age group. Not the best, not the worst.
I’m one of those triathletes that use a bucket in transition. For a non-flexible-six-foot-four-inch-tall human, it’s comforting to sit down and get equipment on correctly, versus bouncing around on the ground. The padded 5-gallon bucket lid from Amazon.com is a must!
My Race – Bike
My plan for the bike was to maintain an Intensity Factor (IF) of 0.80 based on a Functional Threshold Power (FTP) of 287, for an average of 229.6 watts across the entire bike race. My goal was to finish between 2 hours and 30 minutes and 2 hours and 45 minutes.
Having completed the olympic distance race the year prior, I mentally recall a portion of the course but had not complete course recon for the remainder of the half iron distance bike course. Best in the West advertised 2,638ft/804m of elevation gain. Ironman 70.3 Victoria had 2,749ft/838m of elevation gain.
A big difference between Ironman 70.3 Victoria in June and this race was the weather. Victoria provided overcast skies and cool temperatures. Halfway through the bike, the sun began to emerge and temperatures rose to 75°F/23.8°C.
With nearly 3,000 participants at Ironman 70.3 Victoria, it creates quite the racing atmosphere and allows the mind to focus on following or overtaking other race participants. This is not the case at Best in the West, half iron distance. There are moments for this, but with only 186 participants spread across 56 miles, for me it was a tougher bike race, mentally.
I was personally underwhelmed by my performance on the bike. After the turnaround and return back to the event start, I felt flat and was missing the energy I usually enjoy at this point in the race. I completed the bike portion with an Intensity Factor (IF) of 0.62, Average Watts of 209, Average Speed of 19.1 mph/30.7 kph. I was very disappointed in my ride performance.
I finished the bike with a chip time: 2:57:58, 38th overall on the bike, 6th out of 18 in my age group.
Favero Assioma DUO Side Pedal Based Power Meter
My Race – Transition Two (T2)
T2 is my favorite, primarily because it’s my fastest time in transition. It’s also mentally refreshing to ditch the bike and head out on a run. My chip time in T2 was 2:19, for 9th out of 18 for my age group. I should have been faster, something to continue working on.
My Race – Run
Having completed the olympic distance race the year prior, I was mentally prepared for the course. I knew the half iron distance was two loops of the olympic distance course. This would be another mental challenge in the race. Then again, Ironman 70.3 Victoria was two loops, all on a dirt trail, so this should be easier, right? My goal was to complete the run course in 1 hour and 50 minutes or less.
Aid station water
The run course is beautiful. The road makes its way up-down-and-around Foster Lake and Hughes Creek. One simple truth, it is not a flat course. Thankfully 60% of the course is shaded, but the remainder is open to full sun exposure. 75°F/23.8°C never felt so warm, even in the shade.
In all of my triathlon race, regardless of the distance, I struggle the most with determining how much effort to put down without blowing up. It’s slightly easier to measure this on the bike with power data, but the run really comes down to the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). While I record heart data, I do not use it during competition as I’ve found it to be a misleading factor with my overall performance.
During the run, I felt as if I was delivering an RPE between 7 and 8 (Moderate Hard/Threshold). Heart Rate (HR) Analysis showed 51% of the race in HR Zone 2 (123-153 bpm) and 48% of the race in HR Zone 3 (153-169bpm). I tend to top out around 180 bpm as a maximal heart rate, so this matches up with RPE of 5-7. I could have pushed harder.
My biggest race mistake overall was under hydrating. I could have and should have consumed more fluids during the race, especially on the bike. In addition, I failed to use the restroom while on the bike, creating another challenge and requiring a pit stop at the final turnaround during loop two. While running into the aid station, I grabbed my nutrition from my pockets and began unzipping my one-piece tri suit, pulling one sleeve off, then the next, and jumped into the portable restroom. I made sure re-situate my attire before exiting. That short break helped me to crank out the last bit of the run.
As I began the climb back to the finish line I looked down at my Garmin and realized, if I hustled, I could finish the run in under two hours. I knew I had missed my goal time, but finishing sub two hours would knock 2 minutes and 16 seconds off my Ironman 70.3 Victoria finish time. So I put the hammer down. The challenge comes with the last tenth of a mile that takes you over and down a dirt trail to the finish line, and it requires a bit of navigating.
I finished the run with a chip time of 1:59:29, 6th out of 18 in my age group and 36th overall for the run. I was disappointed in missing my goal but very happy to be sub-two hours.
My Race Takeaways
- My Race: Half Iron Triathlon
- Tough Day: Slightly more elevations than prior race; sunny and warm weather
- My Results:
- Finish Time: 5:38:29
- Age Group: 6th out of 18
- Gender: 27th out of 97
- Overall: 36th out of 186
- Fastest half-iron (70.3) triathlon race of 2018
- Key Takeaway: Come on dummy, remember to have a multi-tiered race-day strategy. If hot, then … if cold, then …
- Bring It On: I see a double-header for 2019. Half-Iron on Saturday, Olympic on Sunday
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Lodging: Foster Lake RV Resort
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