Three days and 300 miles of riding in the books, and I think I am finally getting the hang of riding in the windy heat that saturates the Ironman Texas course. I just wrapped up the second annual Ironman Texas Rally, where approximately 50 athletes from across the country came together to prepare for the 2012 Ironman Texas.
The following are my notes on the bike course, including the new changes and tips on how to execute your race. If you are looking for more detailed execution tips, please refer to our detailed Four Keys blog post here.
Ironman Texas Course Overview
Based on the official Ironman Texas bike map and profile, the bike seems very straightforward. Minimal hills on a single loop course — seems easy enough, right?
You couldn’t be more wrong…or closer to ruining your race day.
The wind off of the Gulf, absent for last year’s race, combines with the potent sun to wear competitors down. Add in a few rollers and some chip-seal pavement and everyone is in for a significantly different day than originally planned. Don’t fall victim to thinking it’s either fast or easy — use the lessons learned at our Texas Training Rally to guide your race day performance!
What’s New for 2012?
In 2012 competitors will detour off of FM 1486 onto Mount Mariah Rd at approximately mile 75 of the bike. While somewhat sheltered from the wind, this section has enough elevation gain to make it a challenging addition to the course. The best way to describe the loop is “three sides of up, one side of down.” There are also two wooden bridges at the start of Mt. Mariah road. While the planks run perpendicular to the road, you will still need to be careful not to lose a bottle or blow a tire here.
Net Result — This section will slow the ride down by a few minutes.
The second bike change includes an extended ride on FM 1488. In 2011 competitors were only on 1488 for a 1/2 mile before continuing to T2. This year riders will spend approximately six or seven miles on FM 1488, which is a double lane highway with a very wide shoulder. Camp showed this was a fast area if you still had some strength in your legs.
Net Result — This section will speed the bike up by a few minutes.
Top Three Bike Goals
There are a lot of desk jockeys out there dreaming of a fast bike split on the Ironman Texas course, but the reality is that there’s no such thing as a good bike followed by a poor run. Everything you do on the bike is simply setting the stage for a solid marathon, and here’s how you can do it in The Woodlands.
#1 Pee At Least Twice
Every day of the camp I drank more water than the previous day’s ride. By the third and final day of riding, I was drinking 40 ounces of water and sports drink an hour. That’s 200 ounces across the full ride and I was having more at the aid stations…and I was finally able to pee.
This is more than twice what I would normally drink on a ride or in a race, but I now know exactly what’s required for me to achieve a basic level of hydration in the heat and wind that dominate the bike. If you complete the bike without ever having to pee, I can almost guarantee that you’ll be too dehydrated to run well, and that some serious walking lies in store for you.
#2 Easy First Forty Miles
With the winds coming off the Gulf of Mexico at good clip, racers will have a nice tailwind for most of the first forty miles of the race. This means you’ll be able to ride your goal speed — or faster — for less effort. Instead of trying to push the pace to put some time in an imaginary race day “bank account,” do your best to soft-pedal through here and conserve energy. This is also a great time to establish your nutrition and hydration routine given the actual conditions of the race and how you feel after the swim. Things will get plenty hard out beyond Richards and on the return trip to The Woodlands…there’s no need to make things any harder.
#3 Push Only When Going Down Hill and/or No Wind
Speaking of trying to go faster, there are places on the Ironman Texas course that will give you the chance to see some friendly speed. The rolling terrain and shifting winds will leave some holes where you can sneak in some solid intervals that can combine to improve your overall bike split time. The key here is to only push when you are either going downhill or when the wind is not hitting you head on. In either of those situations, you’ll simply have to use all your gears to conserve your energy and wait for the next opportunity.
Top Three Trouble Hotspots?
Here, in chronological order, are my top three places where athletes are most likely to ruin their overall race by chasing a bike split time. Approach these sections with care, as you don’t want to suffer the same fate as so many others will.
#1 – Taliaferro Rd (Miles 45 to 50)
This section follows a nice downhill, and starts off relatively flat. As a side road, there will be some jockeying for position around the cracks and divots, but wasting energy here isn’t as much a concern as on the hills. I say hills because there are three separate sections that will require you to shift into your small chain ring in order to remain seated, which is your goal on race day. You’ll need at least a 12-25 here to accomplish this.
#2 – FM 2562 (Miles 55 to 60)
This section comes after Richards, and represents the deadly combination of chip seal roads and headwind. Add in the higher elevation and competitors face a solid headwind for five straight miles with no break. It’s at this point that your average speed, earned over the first (easier) half of the course, will start to drop. You simply have to let it go, pedaling with a constant, appropriate effort that you can sustain for the full five miles.
#3 – FM 1486 (Miles 65 to 75)
I chose this as the third and final “hotspot” instead of Mt Miriah because it has the trifecta: wind, chip-seal and it’s just after halfway. The miles between 60 and 80 are typically a mental Bermuda Triangle for most age groupers, and the addition of a headwind and chip-seal roads (at least until you re-enter Montgomery County) means you will need all your patience and discipline to survive this section. Your goal here is to stay as aero as possible and continue eating and drinking so you are prepared for the final push to T2.
Top Three Places to Gain Speed?
Before you think that Ironman Texas is the place where fast bike splits go to die, there are a few key areas where you can be fast using the appropriate effort that will set you up for the run. Anyone can ride a bike too hard up a hill, but expending that energy won’t improve your bike time without impacting your run, and that’s our ultimate goal.
#1 – Aero Position
That’s right, it’s not a place on the course but a place on your bike. I am amazed at the sheer number of athletes who can’t stay in the aerobars for more than fifty miles. Given the fact the race is 112 miles and that there is a serious headwind on the return trip, you absolutely have to dial in a comfortable position. I would estimate that sitting up in the sustained average winds of 15 to 20 miles per hour, vs staying aero, will make you two to three miles per hour slower.
#2 – Final 30 Miles of the Bike
Once you turn onto Jackson Road, the course starts to tilt net downhill towards The Woodlands. You still have a way to ride, but the tree coverage and slight downhill grade combine to reduce the effect of the headwind. Assuming you haven’t wasted any energy earlier on in your ride, this is the place where you can put some serious time on the competition. Remember, once you make a left on JAckson Road, it’s time to stay aero, keep the pressure on the pedals, and get down to business.
#3 – Whenever the Wind Dies Down
There will be plenty of moments during your race when the wind will drop off. You’ll instantly feel the difference, and you can confirm the change using your bike computer when the speed jumps and/or the watts to drop off. It’s at this moment that you can shift one or two gears harder to try an capture a bit more speed.
Losing a headwind is very similar to cresting a hill; it’s precisely at this moment that you do want to apply a bit more effort to regain the speed you lost when you were being conservative with your pacing. There will be many of these small windows on race day, whether you can take advantage of them or not can mean a five or ten minute difference at the end of your bike.
With just a few weeks left until race day, you still have time to make critical decisions about your bike position and pacing. Don’t miss out on the chance to create conditions for your own success. If forewarned is forearmed, then you should be 100% ready to tackle the Ironman Texas bike course.