Decades before Ironman pulled into town, Coeur d’Alene started hosting an annual Olympic-distance triathlon called The Scenic Challenge. The event remains notorious for its hilly bike course that some might call punishing while others might call glorious. In recent years, the event’s organizers have added two popular options: a sprint-distance triathlon and a duathlon. My first experience at this event was on a relay team (an option only available for the Olympic-distance triathlon). Part of the fun of a team is choosing the team name, and our team, “Are We There Yet?”, took first in our division. A couple years later, I did the event by myself, eager to discover if the bike course would feel punishing or glorious when sandwiched between a swim and a run.
This race is staged at Coeur d’Alene City Park, providing a nice, wide beach for both athletes and spectators. The large size of the lake and the exposed nature of the beach make it difficult to forecast how smooth, choppy, warm, or cold the water will be. Swimmers enter the water with their age groups spaced five minutes apart. The bike course is where the race earns the “scenic” element of its nickname as it travels east along CdA Lake Drive to the turnaround at Higgins Point. Shortly thereafter, athletes doing the Olympic distance or duathlon peel off and up (and up, and up) Yellowstone Trail, while sprint-distance athletes backtrack toward the transition area at City Park. On Yellowstone Trail, Bonnell, and Mullan Trail roads, athletes discover the “challenge” element of the event’s nickname; the inclines require granny gears and possibly out-of-the-saddle pedaling. The payoff is the long, screaming descent back to CdA Lake Drive and then the flat ride back into town. The out-and-back run course for all three events goes northwest on the Centennial Trail (which is mostly flat but offers little shade), finishing back at City Park.
There’s more than one reason this event has thrived since its inaugural race in 1984. It is well-organized and supported by the community, and the weather is reliably good at this time of year. You have to earn the glorious views, though! Visit cdatriathlon.com for more information. //
Janelle McCabe is a Jill-of-some-trades, master-of-none who writes about the Inland Northwest outdoor and active community. She wrote about how not to climb a mountain in July.