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Triathlon Review of Utah’s Bear Lake Brawl

Updated on November 25, 2015

For the triathlete who enjoys traveling to scenic race destinations, Utah’s Bear Lake Brawl is one that not only makes for a great race but makes for a beautiful vacation spot as well. Located on the border of Utah and Idaho, this 109 sq. mile lake is surrounded by majestic mountains and pine trees. Fantastic vistas can be found at just about any spot along the race course.

The Bear Lake Brawl offers race distances for the novice triathlete as well as the serious competitor; triathletes can choose from Sprint, Olympic, and Half-Ironman distances. Since the race is held in mid-September racers will usually benefit from favorable water temperatures and warm-weather conditions. When attempting any course for the first time there are certain aspects of the race that are beneficial to know before starting the event. Below is a list of pros and cons for this particular triathlon.

Beautiful Bear Lake
Beautiful Bear Lake | Source

Pros of the race

Pristine Swim Too many triathlon courses seem to include a swimming site that is, well, gross. Dirty waters so murky that you can barely see five inches in front of you underwater does not make for an enjoyable swim. Another issue that has recently surfaced is that some bodies of water are so polluted with bacteria and viruses that swimming in them has led to severe sickness afterwards – I’m looking at you Rio de Janiero. For those who truly love a swim that invigorates and makes you feel refreshed, Bear Lake delivers exactly that. Bear Lake is cool, crisp, and clear -- everything that a lake should be.

As for the wetsuit factor of Bear Lake, it is probably a good idea for triathletes to suit up. A wetsuit will definitely help the swimming muscles warm up faster. However, being that this triathlon is typically held in the middle of September and the lake will have had all summer to warm up, a racer can usually get by without one. Upon finishing the swim, swimmers will emerge wearing full body wetsuits, sleeveless wetsuits, tri-suits and then for a few brave souls, only their swimsuits.

Spectacular views Not only does the water of Bear Lake have great clarity, but the views from the water are pretty spectacular as well. When starting out that first early event of the triathlon it’s pretty amazing to see the sun rising up between two mountain peaks when momentarily lifting up for air. If one wasn’t busy trying to set a steady pace for a rigorous race it would be a good moment to stop and snap a picture.

Both the bike and the run take place around the lake. Racers who sign up for the half-Ironman distance will take pride once they have successfully biked the course that circles the entire lake. However, regardless of race-distance participants will enjoy fantastic views of this pristine lake as well as the mountainous backdrop. Since this course has minimal elevations to contend with racers can truly appreciate the scenery rather than stressing over how to not wipe out when making a sharp turn at the bottom of a hill.

Relaxing mini-vacation Usually the day after a race the last thing a triathlete wants to do is go through the motions of packing everything up only to spend a day traveling back home. It is much nicer to let the body rest and recover -- and do nothing at all. The quiet, laid-back lifestyle of Bear Lake makes it a great place to spend a few days and unwind after a race.

Renting a hotel room or a vacation condo along the lake allows an athlete to rest in a serene place, yet is also enjoyable enough for accompanying family members to find amusement. Having the lake close by is convenient for triathletes who want to stretch out and loosen tight muscles with a swim, and is definitely a great place where the whole family can play together.

Cons of the race

Cattle Guards Depending on the distance of the race, there will periodically be cattle guards that appear in the road. While it’s nice to not have to stress over running into cattle while racing, these metal slats in the road can pose a serious problem for a biker if not approached at the right angle. They stretch across the entire road, and it takes just a few seconds to cross over all of the metal flats imbedded in the grate. While doing this is somewhat of a stressful undertaking, it is very important to keep the tires directly perpendicular when crossing; turning the tires even slightly could cause one of them to fall down into one of the metal grates. When biking at a fast speed, having this occur would stop your bike and could send you flying. Most likely this would mean the end to your race and an unhappy one as well.

Those in charge of the race have tried covering this issue in a couple of different ways, but none have been successful. Placing a large, thick wooden board over the grates can still do damage to the bike tires, along with the bike’s rider when being approached at a fast speed. Having thin mats placed over the grates proved to be unsuccessful as well since they had a tendency to shift, twist, and curl up as racers continually rode over them. This ended up being even more hazardous than the cattle grates themselves. My best piece of advice for being successful when approaching one of these grates is to make sure that front tire is completely straight, take a deep breath, and then verbally string together five or six of your favorite expletives as you start to cross. By doing this you should be able to reach the other side intact.

Riding a racing bike over one of these might make you shout "Holy Cow!"
Riding a racing bike over one of these might make you shout "Holy Cow!" | Source

Airport Distance Unlike many triathlons that take place in major cities with airports close by, Bear Lake isn’t close to any airports. The nearest airport to Bear Lake is the one in Salt Lake City which is about 120 miles south of Bear Lake. Even though it may be a bit of a drive from the airport to the site of the race, the drive is a pretty one especially when navigating through the canyons near the city of Logan.

Limited number of Hotels and Restaurants

Because Bear Lake isn’t close to any major cities there aren’t the typical hotel and restaurant chains close by. In fact, there aren’t many restaurants and hotels at all. The few hotels can get filled up quickly in the summer as well as the weekend of the race. Therefore, be sure to make reservations well in advance.

While hotel reservations are a bit easier to make, searching for a vacation rental can be worth the extra effort. Although these condos are privately owned and come with their own set of rules and prices, they are a great alternative to the typical hotel room. Having more space, a complete kitchen, and more bedrooms are some of the perks that can be enjoyed for a few extra dollars or even the same price as a hotel room. Plus, many of these vacation rentals also come with an incredible view of the lake.

A final point I feel is relevant to make is with regard to coffee shops. If you are one who likes to get a caffeine fix on the morning of the race, or celebrate with a gigantic calorie-filled Frappuccino afterwards, be aware that you’ll not find a Starbucks here. Considering the rural setting of Bear Lake and the fact that the majority of the Mormons living in Utah do not drink coffee, coffee shops do not appear every mile like they do in other parts of the country. Therefore on race day you may want to be prepared to brew your own. Finally, if you do like to have something sweet to sip on after the race be sure to try a raspberry milkshake that are sold at the various ice cream shops in the area. This seasonal, delectable treat is one that definitely puts Bear Lake on the map!

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