Race Preview: Ironman Texas
22 April 2013
by: Alex Weber
I chose to race Ironman Texas, first and foremost, because I wanted my first ironman race to be in my home state of Texas. I get sentimental with races sometimes and felt like I wanted this accomplishment to be close to home. The course had a reputation for being flat and spectator friendly, which I was also really excited about! If you are from Texas, or anywhere in the south, it is especially easy to travel to the race and there are lots of options for hotels and restaurants nearby. Even if you are from out of town, IAH international airport is only about 30 minutes away from the race venue. This race is a great excuse for out of town athletes to experience Texas and all the state has to offer.
Check in for the race was very organized with lots of volunteers. Everything was clearly labeled and explained, which a relief was since this was my first 140.6. The race packets also had lots of great “goodies” inside. Keep in mind that the expo/check in is located outside though which can get pretty warm (May in Texas). If you are racing but still want to do some shopping at the expo, I would suggest going earlier in the day and taking fluids with you to stay hydrated.
The swim course was pretty simple with only a few turns, therefore only having a few opportunities for bottlenecks with the swimmers. The first turn is about ¾ of a mile out, leaving time for the athletes to spread out and get in a groove before having to take a sharp turn. The first turn was the only congested part of the swim course. Beware that once athletes take the last turn into the canal part of the swim, the water can get pretty choppy since the canal is not very wide. However, it is most likely that the athletes will be spread out enough by then to eliminate some of the waves. Also, athletes should plan on warm water temperatures and most likely not needing a wetsuit if they feel comfortable swimming without one. The course is only one loop which is much easier than having to do two loops that require more energy to enter and exit the water multiple times.
The bike course is also one large loop, with sufficient markers and volunteers stationed at possible points of confusion. The majority of the course is flat and fast, which allows athletes to get comfortable in their aero positions and race at a good pace. It is very important to remember fluids on the bike course as the weather has the potential to be very hot. Aid stations are located every ten miles with sufficient water, energy drinks and food for the athletes but it is important that athletes always have enough water on them.
I felt pretty good on the bike up until around mile 90 when my body hit a little wall. In order to stay focused and encouraged, I started to treat the aid stations as small “goals” that I had to reach. By mentally giving myself shorter goals along the long course, I was able to distract myself and keep pushing to the transition area. The course is not very spectator friendly for those who parked in the race venue area at the Woodlands Waterway because traffic makes it hard for spectators to get in/out with cars. The best place for spectators to see the athletes is at the beginning of the course (before athletes leave the Waterway) and when they return to T2. A significant amount of the course winds through quiet, country roads with very few cars or people, thus it is important that athletes have enough nutrition and bike maintenance supplies. However, other parts of the course are on busier roads where the only the shoulder or right lane is blocked off for the riders.
The run was definitely the best part of the race. The course was three loops and very spectator friendly. Part of the course runs along the canal while the back half winds through neighborhoods. The course was pretty flat and very well marked, with no confusion for the athletes and aid stations promptly stationed at every mile. To my surprise, I felt pretty good on the run, giving the credit to the awesome people out there cheering and my Newton shoes of course! The last mile before the finish was amazing with the huge crowd and winding finish, definitely making all of the hard work worth it in the end.
Transition was well organized and clearly marked for the athletes. Lots of volunteers were available in the changing tents which was helpful. I actually took quite a long break in T2 and had a quick chat with some of the volunteers while I ate my peanut butter sandwich (15 minutes to be exact!). They were more than happy to have the company in the tent. Always be sure to thank the fantastic volunteers along the way!
Summary & Tips for Spectators
The whole race venue is great for spectators, with the Marriott hotel located right next to the expo and lots of good restaurants and a movie theater right in the area. However, trying to drive around on race day could pose problems for spectators. The bike course uses one of the only roads that leads into the Woodlands Waterway area (where all of the race activities occur) so spectators could find themselves in slow moving traffic if they want to leave/return during the race. I would suggest spectators parking in the race venue area and planning on staying in the Waterway area all day. Spectators could bring a bike to ride around the course area in order to cheer on the athletes. Lots of restaurants, shopping and a movie theater will provide entertainment while the athletes are racing.
Overall, Ironman Texas was a great experience and I would highly recommend it to anyone that is interested in racing. It was a great venue, volunteers, course and spectators and I would definitely race it again.