A brief, nutty history of the North American Championship event
Though Ironman Texas is a relative newbie on the North American tri scene, the event has seen more behind-the-scenes drama than a season of “Dallas.” First held in 2011 outside of Houston (not Dallas)—mostly in a planned community called The Woodlands—Ironman Texas was hailed as the first ultra-distance event in the state’s history. The first year was a honeymoon: temperatures were warm, but mostly cooperative weather and a flat and fast bike course soon painted IMTX as an excellent gateway to Kona. Though humid (like Kona), the local area had tons of accommodations and easy travel options.
At the event’s onset, the World Triathlon Corporation (Ironman’s parent company) signed a five-year contract with the Woodlands Convention and Visitors Bureau and The Woodlands Township, with the contract set to expire in 2014.
After a few years of building notoriety as a surprisingly difficult race for its humidity and rolling hills, Ironman Texas finally became the North American Championship event in 2015, and the WTC signed another five-year extension with area leaders. With the North American Championship designation, age groupers’ Kona slots went from 50 to 75 and pros saw an increase in prize money and automatic Kona qualifying spot for the winners. Not coincidentally, 2015 also marked a sold-out year for Ironman Texas. Local news outlets touted the event as a slam dunk for the community and the Houston Chronicle cited figures upwards of 18,000 spectators and an estimated $16 million influx to the local economy. It seemed that all was well with Ironman Texas and its suburban Houston hosts.
Unfortunately, all honeymoons have to come to an end, and Ironman Texas’ was over in 2016. Less than three months from the race date, with another sold-out event looming, race officials were notified that their proposed bike course wasn’t going to happen. Citing a mix of construction and citizen unrest from neighboring townships over the traditional bike course, Ironman notified racers of the problem, and—as they say—the poop hit the fan. It wouldn’t be until late March that local government leaders would finally come to an understanding and a new route would be created. The new course was going to be one loop, instead of the multiple-loop course that was proposed and seemed to satisfy everyone involved.
Just when things were starting to calm down, Mother Nature threw another wrench in the already messy works. Mere weeks before the May start date, severe weather created massive flooding in the Houston and surrounding areas. Ironman officials moved to create a new, new course that had roughly 80 turns and a shorter, 94-mile distance that had racers questioning the legitimacy of their pre-planned M-Dot tattoos.
In the aftermath of the 2016 race, local officials were increasingly concerned that Ironman would pack up its gear and look for greener pastures. In fact, that same summer, Galveston, Texas, made a bid for the 2017 location according to a Houston Chronicle story before Ironman organizers finally kissed and made up with Harris County officials and went ahead as planned.
This year, to reduce issues with outlying townships, the Ironman Texas course will be held mostly in The Woodlands and on private toll roads in Harris County—a privilege that Ironman will pay the Harris County Toll Road Authority $135,000 to use, according to the Chronicle.
Despite a rocky phase, it looks like Ironman Texas will continue to go on until at least 2020, when the contract comes up for renewal. Hopefully IMTX doesn’t end up going the way of Ironman New York, felled by crippling logistical issues. Either way, this year’s edition should have markedly less drama and more focus on fast racing.