Minnesota Ironman Bike Ride relocates to Washington County

A group of bikers from the 2007 ride enjoyed their time on the road. (submitted photo)

29-mile route follows Highway 5, Gateway Trail in Lake Elmo

Avid bicyclists in Washington County rejoiced when they learned the 47th Annual Minnesota Ironman Bike Ride will be relocating from its usual Lakeville course to a route that tours the St. Croix River Valley and surrounding communities.

The ride, which will be on Sunday, April 28, was located in Lakeville for the last 13 years, and before that took place in Minneapolis and Buffalo.

Jon Ridge, the ride’s director, said that the move to Washington County has actually bolstered the number of participants this year.

“We’re well ahead of our registration numbers from last year,” Ridge said. “That’s the draw of Washington County. People wanted new landscapes and surroundings, so we decided to look at a new area for this year.”

There will be four course loops, ranging from 14 to 53 miles each. Those really seeking a challenge may combine loops to ride a total of 75 or even 100 miles. Bicyclists need not decide which length to do until the day of the ride.

The routes pass through many local communities, including Stillwater, Oak Park Heights, Afton, Scandia, Marine on the St. Croix and Lake Elmo.

The 29-mile route starts at the Washington County Fairgrounds, heading west down Highway 5 in Lake Elmo, turning up Jamaca Avenue, before eventually making its way to the Gateway Trail, with the finish line back at the fairgrounds.

47 years of history

The Minnesota Ironman Bike Ride has existed since 1967-pre-dating the well-known Ironman Triathalon. In fact, many may not be aware that the Minnesota Ironman Bike Ride is not a competitive event.

“The Minnesota Ironman Bike Ride started out as the true test to see who had the strength to ride 100 miles after a long Minnesota winter,” Ridge explained. “It’s a bicycle tour, not a race. This event doesn’t have a mass start, which means participants are more spread out, which is better for motorists and safety.”

Over 100,000 bicyclists have participated in the ride over the years with a recent average of about 4,000 to 6,000 per year. The 2013 ride has about 3,600 registered riders, with more anticipated on the morning of the event.

The organization collaborated with city officials, Washington County staff, police, fire and sheriff’s departments in order to make the bike tour feasible.

The Minnesota Ironman Bike Ride is hosted by Hostelling International-USA, supporting its non-profit mission and the Mississippi Headwaters Hostel, located in Itasca State Park.

Sponsors for the ride include Erik’s Bike Shops, Cities 97 and the St. Paul Athletic Club, among many others.

An estimated 200 volunteers will be dispersed along the course loops to hand out water, sports drinks and food to riders.

Tough weather, tough training

One of the challenges of participating in the Minnesota Ironman Bike Ride is the weather, said Bob McEnaney, the ride’s official coach.

Although April’s cold, snowy weather has made it difficult to go on long training rides, McEnaney, who has participated in the ride for the last 12 years, has been helping many bicyclists of all skill levels prepare for the event.

“There are a wide variety of ability levels. An awful lot of people every year come out who are inexperienced and don’t know how to be ready for the route and weather, especially since the ride is so early in the season,” McEnaney said.

The 100-mile route may take around six to seven hours to complete, McEnaney explained, so those who have been skimping on longer conditioning rides may have a difficult time with the “century” ride.

“A bunch of people haven’t been able to get out yet because of the weather - so they haven’t had the chance to train well or dress for the weather. In general, I’m giving them guidelines for helping with the physical aspects, nutrition and clothing or gear,” he explained.

McEnaney said the ideal conditions for the ride would be “calm, sunny and 65 to 75 degrees.” While that forecast looks unlikely for Sunday, many riders have high hopes for the rest of the biking season.

First-year participant Kathy Magnuson of St. Paul explained that the ride’s early date actually functioned as a motivator for her winter training.

“I like having the Minnesota Ironman Bike Ride as a goal,” Magnuson said. “Since it’s at the beginning of the season, it makes you ramp up your off-season training to get ready for it.”

Magnuson said she wasn’t sure which distance she would be doing yet, but explained that her longest training rides had been about 50 to 60 miles.

“Thrilled” to be in Washington County

The laid-back nature of the bike ride allows participants to enjoy their long workout, socialize and take in the beautiful scenes of the St. Croix River valley area.

McEnaney, who will be participating this year, said his goal was for all of his trainees to have fun and not push themselves too hard.

“I want people to have a good experience. It’s better to finish with a positive experience and say, ‘I could have gone a little further’ than be totally ‘dead’ at the end,” McEnaney said.

Magnuson says she is looking forward to enjoying some time with her friends on the road.

“The group experience makes it more fun,” she said. “A few of my friends are going to the ride. We don’t go to bars or coffee shops or anything like that. Instead, we find a nice wide road or path and do our talking on the bike.”

Ridge is excited for the day of the ride as well, which he credits in part to the fact that all the collaborating bodies have been so welcoming, he said.

“We are really thrilled to be in Washington County. Everyone has been so great and welcoming to us - the cities, the county, sheriff, fire department, etc. People are very excited in the community to have us coming, and we are so grateful for that.”

To learn more about the Minnesota Ironman Bike Ride, visit www.ironmanbikeride.org.

Johanna Holub can be reached at jholub@lillienews.com or 651-748-7814.

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