Texas is the earliest Ironman® of the North American season, and it is very similar to the end of year events in Florida and Arizona. It is a predominantly flat and fast course, but the challenges are distinctly unique to the venue. Read on to get some critical insights on the event, watch a video breakdown or click on any one of the many “additional resources” located at the end of this post!
Humidity, Winds and the Heat, in that order, will conspire to hurt your performance on race day.
The Humidity is evident at the start of the bike, as your glasses will quickly fog over…this means it’s “game on” in terms of fluids and nutritional needs, but few folks actually think about drinking and eating (A) when it feels “cool” and (B) when the bike has just started and you are all pumped up. Do yourself a favor and make nutrition / hydration your #1 early priority.
The Winds are very light in the morning when you start, but as any local will tell you, they build up across the course of the day to be very sustained and consistent from the Gulf. As a result, you will have a slight to modest tailwind for the first 40 miles. In fact, it’s not really until you get just outside of Richards, that quick jaunt on Bays Chapel Road before you take a right on FM 149 again, where you feel the true effect of the winds you’ll face that day. The winds return again on FM 2562 for 2.5 miles and again on FM 1486 for about 15 miles.
The only way to “beat” these winds is to be very smart with your early pacing and to have great positional fitness such that you can stay aero even when you are in that dark, dark place that happens between miles 65 and 85 in almost every Ironman.
The Heat is a relative non-factor on the bike due to the winds and your speed. Things won’t feel “that bad” until you get off the bike and you are running 6mph vs riding 20mph…that 14mph difference often makes running around The Woodlands very much like taking a lap around the Sun. You will need to stay well hydrated on the bike and use the final aid stations to get really cool (water all over you) and same at the exit to transition (get wet / cool). This will help keep your core body temperature down; miss this step and you will soon be shuffling 26 miles!
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The most challenging portions of the bike course come between Miles 50 and 60 and again from Miles 65 and 80.
Well, I think the most mentally challenging element is the chip seal roads that seek to slow you down and sap all your mental energy. Those start outside Richards and continue for approximately 20 miles before you are set free. I strongly recommend that you get replacement aerobar pads before race day so you can roll in comfort.
From Miles 40 to 50 – These short rollers and tight roads with potholes will want to make you ride too fast and too hard too early. Be patient here as this isn’t the “truly hard” part of your day.
From Miles 50 to 60 - The real rollers are here, as is the chip seal and winds. You are tired enough to know not to ride too hard, but the temptation is there…bide your time!
From Miles 65 to 80 - The chip seal fades in here, but you are left with a solid headwind just as fatigue really sets in. This is where your early discipline and patience will pay off, as will an ability to stay aero. Soon you’ll be flying the last 30 miles back to town…so eat, drink, stay steady and bide your time!
Overall Racing Strategy
It is still about patience and discipline. You can’t go any “harder” in Texas than you would elsewhere; your race is just net faster because of the terrain. Know your plan, adjust it for terrain and conditions and get ready to rip it up on race day!
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