by CARRIE SCOZZARO & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & s a local, my official excuse for staying away from Ironman is that I'm not into crowds. Truth is, I'm embarrassed at seeing 70-year-old women in better shape than me.

Like many Americans, I prefer exercise that can be done (or not) in convenient half-hour increments with minimal sweat. But I know firsthand that the more I exercise, the more I can indulge. In support of Ironman competitors, therefore, here's a list of favorite dining spots on or near the bike and running routes. Moreover, with so many road closures (go to for essentials), park far away and walk or ride your bike to enjoy this impressive feat of the flesh. How's that for healthy?

The triathlon starts at City Beach with swimming at 7 am, which is when nearby Fort Ground Grill (705 W. River Ave., 208-664-6186) opens for breakfast. Formerly a smoky hole-in-the-wall, this historic building just off North Idaho College's campus was recently renovated by Michael D'Angelo of Michael D's Eatery. Start your day with biscuits and gravy and a cup of specially ground DOMA coffee. The Grill serves lunch and dinner, making it an ideal place to grab a quick bite or relax over comfort specials like the meatloaf plate ($11).

To snag primo spots for the first leg of the bike course, head to Coeur d'Alene Lake Drive where the elites ought to roll through after 8 am. Michael D's (203 Coeur d'Alene Lake Dr., 208-676-9049) is open for breakfast (6-11 am) and lunch (11 am-2 pm). They're known for their omelets, but it's the bagel Florentine -- poached eggs smothered in creamed spinach and parmesan atop a bagel ($8) -- that makes my day.

Neighbor O'Shay's Irish Pub (313 E. Coeur d'Alene Lake Dr., 208-667-4666) opens at 8 am -- too early for their tasty fish and chips, Guinness stew and other Celtic fare, but they're open until 9 pm, and their ample patio and beer garden offer a great way to while away a pleasant summer day.

Further down is the Beachouse Ribs and Crab Shack (3204 E. Coeur d'Alene Lake Dr., 208-664-6464) with a view of the lake and marina from nearly every seat in the house. Fill up on appetizers like moist "crabby" cakes with huckleberry aioli ($13) or calamari fries ($10), hand-cut from thick steaks.

At the end of Coeur d'Alene Lake Drive, where riders will gear down for the climb above Bennett Bay, Tony's Supper Club (6823 Coeur d'Alene Lake Dr., 208-667-9885) opens at 3 pm for appetizers, 4 pm for dinner. The 8-ounce filetto ($20) is a tad spendy but tasty, and if you like Italian, Tony's is buono: gnocchi and other pastas, lovely salads, saltimbocca, and more. The elite riders may be gone by then but the view of the lake and bicyclists flying downhill is terrific.

In picturesque Hayden, riders pass within shouting distance of The Porch Public House (1658 E. Miles Ave., Hayden Lake, 208-772-7711). Owned by the trio who run Spokane's Elk and Cda's Moon Time, this Miles Avenue restaurant is a local favorite (open 11am-10 pm). I vacillate between spinach salad with fried wontons and sesame ginger dressing, or grilled lamb sandwich with red onions, mayo and tzatziki ($6-7).

Some of the same treats can be found at Moon Time (1602 Sherman Ave., 208-667-2331), which is conveniently close to both running and biking routes. Gumbo is award-winning but specials beckon, including smoked tomato ravioli, earthy sweet or potato-crusted ahi with crawfish cream sauce ($9-10).

Several other restaurants along Lakeside and Sherman are close to or on the race routes and provide good viewing (if you can see over the crowds!). While some are closed Sundays, Las Palmitas Mexican Restaurant (201 N. Third St., 208-664-0581) is open, and margaritas on the patio would be a lovely way to support our triathletes.

The finish line on Sherman is lined with interesting eateries of all price ranges. The Iron Horse (407 Sherman Ave., 208-667-7314) has great drink specials and decent food, and Cricket's (424 Sherman Ave., 208-765-1990) has the best Bloody Mary's in town, perfect with oysters served on the half-shell or fried.

Nearby Java Coffee and Caf & eacute; (324 Sherman Ave., 208-667-0010) is part of many a local's Sunday morning ritual: newspaper, coffee (it'll make your spoon stand up by itself), hike Tubbs Hill, visit with friends, window shop. My favorites at Java include bagels and lox and the veggie melt (about $7). They're opening at a staggering 4 am and may stay open later than their usual 7 pm, depending on crowds.

Two doors down, Pita Pit (320 Sherman Ave., 208-664-1738) is a chain that doesn't look or act like one with meat and/or veggie-stuffed pita (Mediterranean flat bread): chicken souvlaki, Philly steak, and conventional cold cuts ($5-6). Veggie options and accessories include hummus (pureed chickpea spread), baba ganoush (eggplant and sesame spread) and falafel (grilled chickpea patties).

Finally, there's Bonsai Bistro (101 Sherman Ave., 208-765-4321), with its koi pond, impeccable service and delightful blend of pan-Asian foods. Although some Resort-managed restaurants have a reputation as being pricey, Bonsai is reasonable. The TW roll (fresh water eel, avocado, and cucumber, $8) and Rainbow roll (California roll topped with chef's choice of seafood, $12-$14) are two excellent sushi choices. Other treats include the Drunken Spyders, tempura-fried soft shell crab and yellow curry sauce ($11).

Regardless of where your gastronomic journey takes you, remember three things. First, be mindful of riders, runners and out-of-towners... everywhere. Second, check the Ironman Website for road access. Third, call restaurants ahead and don't be fooled by large crowds or full parking lots outside restaurants. Go for the athletes; stay for the food.

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