Challenge Poconos Race Report

The short version:

A Great race which I would recommend. Smaller field than the local Ironman branded races but as an athlete I had everything I want and expect from a great event. It was REALLY HOT! The first and last six miles of the bike course are pretty challenging the rest of the bike course is rolling and quite enjoyable. The men’s winner described the run course as “crazy stupid hard!”. I would not go that far but it is challenging.

A huge thank you to my husband Harold Piel for driving 14 hours over the weekend with me in temperatures over 30C when the AC is not working in the van! Happy with my results (5:26:37 1st in AG and 10th woman) and happy to be back at it!

The long version:

After a rather poor start to the 2015 racing season (I was hit by a car on a training ride in April and broke my elbow) I was determined to do one race before the end of the triathlon season. The only ones that fit into my schedule were IM 70.3 Timberman or the half at Challenge Poconos. I picked Poconos to try something new.

We drove down from Ottawa on Friday in the late afternoon. The GPS said it would take 5 ½ hours but it was closer to 6 ½.  It was over 30C and the AC in the van is not working which made for a sticky ride. The expo and finish are in the grounds of the Shawnee Inn which is a very nice spot.


I was trying to keep the cost down so we camped at the Delaware Water Gap-Pocono Mountain KOA it is quite convenient, about 3 ½ miles from the finish, and a mile from the parking lot for the race day shuttles.

Race kit pick up was at the expo on Saturday. It was easy and the backpacks we got as swag were great! The T-shirt was pretty unexciting. The expo included vendors such as Profile Design, Endless Pools, Blue Seventy, and a company selling pickle juice (?) which I did not try. There was Challenge clothing for sale as well. IMG_5415

A Cervelo traveling in style!
A Cervelo traveling in style!

The T-zone was 3 or 4 miles down the road at Smithfield Beach which is inside the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. There was mandatory Saturday bike check in from 11-5. I was thrilled to see the ladder style bike racks much better for short people like me. My bike swings on the traditional racks!


I knew the first 6 miles of the race were technical and hilly and I should ride them before the race. I took my bike out but the road was twisty, hilly, had NO shoulder and lots of traffic. I am still a little nervous about cars so I only rode the first mile and then turned back. We actually went to the mandatory pre-race meeting. It was short and generally informative. They did strongly recommend you pre-ride the bike course and they warned that the 1 ½ mile section on community road was rough.

We entertained ourselves for the rest of the day watching the start of the Shawnee Mountain Mud Run (people running through stagnant water and crawling under barbed wire for fun? and they say triathletes are crazy!) and being entertained by Elvis at the KOA. The KOA was a happening place, there was a pretty serious chilli cook off and an ice cream social as well.

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We were given tattoos to use for body marking. They did not do well in the heat, by the time I went to put them on Saturday night they were really sticky. It took two of us but I got them all on in the end. Unfortunately, they were still sticky so every time I rubbed against anything I stuck to it.

Race morning spectators can park at the start but because its in the park all the cars have to be moved out by 8:45 so there is race day parking and a shuttle service for athletes and spectators for the finish. Harold was safety boating so we got official race vehicle status and he was able to park at the start and the finish. It was hot even when we got there at 5:45am!


The T-zone was set up so that you put all your gear for T1 and T2 out with your bike race morning. There was no running water at that end of the beach so bring your bottles full. There were not enough port-o-potties at the start, the lines were huge but the signs were amusing.


The race starts about 400m upstream from the swim finish. The swim is in the Delaware river which has a noticeable current. You start going upstream and if you stay close to shore there is an eddy. The turn buoys were actually set up to account for the current and you do get to swim further downstream than upstream. The swim start is beside the T-zone so the run from swim out to the T-zone is long (at least 400m).

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My biggest concern about the swim was getting my wetsuit on and off with my still not entirely healed arm. I managed to get it on with the help of a couple of spectators. I was in the last of five waves (or as I call it the “old lady” wave). The waves were 5 minutes apart but we still caught the wave in front of us early. I actually found someone to draft but once we hit the wave in front I had to spend most of my time trying not to swim over people. The sighting was easy because the river is not very wide. I did not find the current bad but some swimmers were having issues with it. There were a couple of places after the turn where the water was very shallow I never hit the bottom with my arms but someone taller might have and I was covered in weeds.  There was also a step up out of the water I was not expecting but there were volunteers there to warn us and help. Swim split 34.12

I overcame hurdle #2 and managed to get my wetsuit off without help and headed out on the bike course which was traffic free.  I quickly paid the price for not pre-riding the first 6 miles. It was hilly, twisty, technical, a bit rough and the trees made the lighting such that you really had to watch the road. I rode very conservatively because I did not know what was coming up and I still don’t have enough strength in my arm and hand to change a bike tire. There were several people changing tires along the road. I figured better to lose a few minutes riding than to have to stand on the side of the road for an hour with a flat. There are a few significant ups and downs, nothing really long but at least one is seriously steep. The 1 ½ mile section on community road is not as steep but it is pretty rough. Once you get past the first sections the pavement is good and although it is rolling there is nothing overly tough. The return section includes two odd little out and backs to bring the mileage up. I saw very little drafting which was a nice change but it helps when there are 500 people racing not 2000 ( there were 900 including the Olympic distance). There were some very nice bikes, lots of aero helmets and disc wheels but my little Trek Speed Concept and I did not get passed too often. There were three aid stations which were well stocked with Gatorade Endurance and water when I went through them.  I lost time again on the final section because I did not know the course. Bike split 3.02.43

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The run course goes out and back and here and there but we were well directed. The first 2 ½ miles are flat the other 10 ½ are definitely not. It’s a scenic course with some shade, some trails and a lot of road. There are also a lot of hills. Running is my strength and there are no wetsuits or flat tires to worry about so I was happy to be out on the run even though is was getting very hot. There were aid stations every mile and they all had ice so I filled my sports bra with it at every aid station. The run was a slog with the heat…but I survived.1.43.26 for a final time of 5.26.37 1st in my AG and 10th woman. It’s hard to compare races because conditions change and the courses are all different. But overall I am pretty happy.

They had ice cold wet towels at the finish.

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Take aways:

  • Challenge still allows families to cross the finish line with the racers which is really fun to watch


  • If you leave leftover Fig Newtons and Apple Pie Bonk Breakers on your bike in the T-zone in 33C heat they turn into a liquid


  • You really do need to pre-ride the River Road and Community Road sections of this course.
  • It’s a beautiful area and it would be great to spend more time there when it’s not +30C
  • I loved that they had computers with printers at the end so you could find your results easily
  • Elvis is alive and living in the Poconos!

Published by judyapiel

Runner, triathlete and coach. Owner of RunK2J, Community Events at Bushtukah. Always looking for a new travel adventure.

2 thoughts on “Challenge Poconos Race Report

  1. Thanks Judy. A lively and interesting account. Congratulations. I’m leaving the travel decision to Dad when he gets back. He sounded more cheerful today and I got chance to talk to Sylvia too- doing O.K. Love Mum On Wed, 19 Aug 2015 20:42:01 +0000 Racing and traveling over 50.

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