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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Half-Ironman returns to Coeur d’Alene this weekend: ‘A really special event’

Justine Riele hoists the finish-line tape above his head after winning the 70.3-mile Ironman triathlon in Coeur d’Alene on June 26, 2022.  (Courtesy of Justin Riele)
By Mathew Callaghan The Spokesman-Review

More than 2,000 racers from 18 countries and 48 states will compete Sunday in the Half Ironman in Coeur d’Alene.

A 1.2-mile swim loop, a 56-mile bike leg along U.S. Highway 95 and a 13.1-mile run through the city streets combine for the Ironman triathlon totaling 70.3 miles. The race begins at 6 a.m.

After that, competitors have 8½ hours to cross the finish line. The National Weather Service forecasts mostly sunny weather and a high of 79 degrees on the day of the event.

Tim Brosious, the Ironman group regional director, is expecting anywhere from 1,000 to 1,200 volunteers this weekend in Coeur d’Alene. Volunteers will assist in all aspects of the race, from handing out water and nutrition to athletes, to seting up and tearing down the venue.

Brosious said he never considered himself an office worker and enjoys how the event constantly keeps him on his toes. This reason, along with many others, has led Brosious to be involved with the Ironman race in CdA for the past 12 years.

“I love being able to see a lot of people who sign up for these tremendous athletic achievements be able to fulfill those dreams,” Brosious said. “Events of this scale are sometimes a goal people will be working on for multiple years to get across the finish line. Honestly, it never gets old seeing that.”

In 2018 and 2019, the local Ironman group switched the race from full distance to half. In 2023, the triathlon reverted back to the full Ironman. This year, the Ironman returns to its 70.3-mile version.

Ironman has occurred every year in CdA, except during the COVID-19 pandemic, since 2003. For this year and the next two , Brosious said they have a contract with the city of Coeur d’Alene for only the 70.3-mile race. He said the Ironman group often goes with the 70.3-mile triathlon because it’s more achievable for the athletes and is less demanding of the volunteers. Just in North America, there are nine full- distance Ironman races and over 35 half-distance Ironman races each year.

The difference between the half- and full-distance Ironman triathlon is significant.

“It’s twice the distance, but I say it’s four times as hard,” Justin Riele said.

Riele, 30, won the Half Ironman in Coeur d’Alene in 2022. He finished the race just milliseconds after the 4-hour mark. In the same year, he placed first in the full Ironman World Championship with a time of 9:08:35. In total, Riele has seven first-place victories in the 70.3 Ironman. He’s won in Ohio; Santa Cruz, California; twice in Hawaii ; twice in Oceanside, California; and in Coeur d’Alene. He also got second in the 70.3 Ironman World Championship in 2021.

Riele said the half Ironman in Coeur d’Alene has been his favorite spot to race.

With a long list of wins under his belt, Riele is a professional runner and ineligible to participate in this year’s half-Ironman, even though he wishes he could.

“The town and the atmosphere is incredibly welcoming for the triathlon,” Riele said. “I come from Las Vegas and San Francisco, where there’s always a big NBA team or a big NFL stadium, but the triathlon there (in Coeur d’Alene) is a really special event in that town. … You feel like you get to know the spectators at different points. You’re like, ‘All right, I’m almost back to the blue house with the people on the lawn chairs drinking margaritas or the people that are going to spray you with the hose, or whatever it may be.’ I just remember the community of Coeur d’Alene being really, really fun.”

While the charm of Coeur d’Alene is apparent with its quaint coffee shops, long stretches of sandy beach, and pristine scenery, Riele also enjoyed the actual course. It’s a course that, according to Brosious, is one of the best in the world.

Riele said the perfect weather on the day of the race in 2022, mixed with the cold lake water, allowed him to take an early lead in the swimming section. When the hilly bike leg began, Riele said he buckled down and was able to build a gap between himself and the other racers. The 13.1-mile run was a breeze, as Riele was able to hold onto the lead he had been building since the start.

Once he passed through the tape at the finish line, Riele said waves of emotion passed over him.

While it’s easy for the winner to say, Riele believes it doesn’t matter whether someone is the first to run through the tape or one of the last to make it to the finish line. It only matters that they tried.

“Regardless of where you finish,” Riele said, “for me, it happened to be a win that day, but you remember all the work. All the grinding you’ve done. All those miles you’ve done on the bike, on a run, and all the laps you’ve done in the pool. All that training culminates in that one moment across the finish line. And it’s a pretty special feeling.”