Everything You Need to Know About the Ironman 70.3 Texas Course
Five-time Ironman 70.3 Champion Matt Hanson shares expert race recon on the Ironman Texas 70.3 course in Galveston—from gear to strategy to logistics.
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The Ironman 70.3 Texas course in Galveston is really something special. I’ve raced it twice as an amateur triathlete and four times as a pro, and the reason I keep coming back to it is because I’ve always found it a great way to start off the season. Coming from a cold weather climate, it’s actually quite easy to prep for this race on the trainer and treadmill. If you’re looking for an early-season race with a little bit of everything—an ocean swim, a fast bike course, and a run lined with supporters cheering your name—go to Galveston. You won’t regret it.
This guide to the Ironman 70.3 Texas course will help you prepare for what’s in store on race day. Good luck, and happy racing!
Matt Hanson, our expert guide to Galveston 70.3, will also be answering questions for Team Triathlete members before the race. All Triathlete & Outside+ members get access to Team Triathlete—which provides you with training plans, gear giveaways, a community of other triathletes, in-person meet-ups, and Q&As with experts. Not a Triathlete or Outside+ member yet? Become one today.
GET READY: 10 Weeks to Your Best 70.3Section divider
Ironman 70.3 Texas Weather
My advice to everyone who is prepping for Texas 70.3 is not to check the weather until you are packing to go. February and March can give a number of very nice days. The winds tend to pick up in the end of March and into April. So checking the weather there in March can lead to a false sense of hope that you’ll get a beautiful race day.
Race day weather
Race day in Galveston can be unpredictable. Some years, it has been quite cold, and other years, it’s a scorcher. Two things you can count on, however, are the wind and humidity. If the weather is 50 degrees F on race day, it will feel quite a bit cooler, due to the humidity and the wind. If it ends up being a 90-degree day, it will feel that much warmer, because the sweat isn’t evaporating off you.
When it comes to the weather in Galveston, hope for the best, but plan and prepare for the worst. You don’t want to be caught off-guard on race day.Section divider
Ironman 70.3 Texas Swim Course
The swim course is technically an ocean swim, but it will have the feel more of a lake swim due to it being in a protected harbor. Athletes will begin the swim at Moody Gardens Palm Beach, and exit next to a historic paddlewheel boat. Water temperatures in March are usually between 58 and 69 degrees, warming up to between 65 and 72 in April.
Many athletes like to do a recon swim on course before race day, but at this race that’s not an option. The harbor is closed up until race morning, so you won’t be able to pre-swim the course. There are a few beaches on the ocean side in Galveston that you can get in if you are feeling brave, but the water there is pretty rough. If you’re looking to get a shakeout swim in before the race, the host hotel has a decent lap pool for those who are staying there, otherwise there are a few pools outside of town that you can buy a day pass for.
Though the swim is in a protected bay, that does not mean you can plan on a calm swim; expect to be swimming into a decent amount of chop on the longer back stretch. It is “lake chop” and not ocean swells, meaning that the waves will be smaller (much smaller than they are outside of the harbor!), but they are not timed out as evenly as ocean swells would be.
On race day, when you are swimming into the current, you want to keep the positive self-talk going. Keep your butt and feet on top of the water and you’ll cut right through. If you start panicking and let the hips drop, the chop punishes you that much more!
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This race will almost certainly be a wetsuit swim. (Check out men’s and women’s options.) I’ve always found the water pretty comfortable, and therefore wouldn’t suggest booties or a neoprene swim cap. You will want tinted goggles, as you are swimming straight into the sun for the first stretch. Those starting later in the morning can definitely have a few more issues sighting into the sunrise than those who get into the water right away.
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In Galveston, the waves pick up a little bit as the day goes on, so when you run by the harbor later in the race, you’ll be quite happy that you aren’t swimming in there at that point! Keep this in mind when you visit the race site in the afternoon; remember the waves are usually much calmer in the morning, and don’t freak out.Section divider
Ironman 70.3 Texas Bike Course
This is a course where aero is king! I always loved prepping for Galveston as my first race of the season, because I spend so much time on the indoor trainer over the winter months.
RELATED: How Do I Get Comfortable in the Aero Position?
I like to break this race up into four chunks.
The first chunk is short and starts with a series of turns as you make your way to the highway. There are a few speed bumps that you want to watch for so you don’t launch your nutrition on mile one of the race! The turns are all well-marked and you have plenty of space to make the turns.
The second chunk is the trip southwest out of town on the highway. The road surfaces are really good here and you’ll typically have a nice cross tailwind pushing you along. This stretch is pancake flat aside from the bridge around mile 22 (mile 33 on the way back) where you’ll have a small incline. You’ll feel great here and if you have a tailwind, you’ll be really moving! This is a stretch where a lot of people override! If you are going to have a headwind on the third chunk, you’ll want to hold back a bit on the second section. Focus on getting your fluids and calories down here as you enjoy the free speed! Don’t get to the end of this section in a deficit. Also, it’s a good idea to stand up a bit and stretch your back as you go into the turn around. You’ll thank yourself for this later.
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Galveston Island turnaround
The third chunk is after you U-turn and start the trip back to Galveston. Every now and then you’ll catch a lucky day and have a cross tailwind on this stretch as well (the winds are known to shift later in the day). But most years you will be riding into a pretty strong cross headwind as you go back to town. This is where you need to be willing to push the power a little higher and really focused on staying pinned to the aero bars. If you have a target normalized power in mind, think about holding 5-10w under that number going with the wind, and 5-10w over that number as you try to push into the wind. Be mentally prepared for this grind. Some years, the wind can be tough! Once again, prepare for the worst in training, so you are not surprised on race day.
RELATED: Should Wind Conditions Affect My Bike Strategy?
Once you finally turn off the highway you go through the same turns in reverse as you did on the way out of town. It’s easy to “shut off” on the fourth chunk and start thinking about the run. I certainly think you should use this stretch to try to open up the hips a bit into the corners, but you need to keep racing here. It is longer than you think and you can lose a lot of time here if you aren’t staying on the gas.
This course is all about holding a great aero position. I definitely recommend using a disc wheel on the back if you have access to one. If you are concerned with handling your bike in the cross winds, go with a shallower front wheel. The front wheel has more to do with how you handle the bike than the rear. So you can get the benefits of the disc while still maintaining the ability to handle the bike well in cross winds with the shallow front. Every year I’ve raced there, I’ve gone disc and as deep as possible on the front. That is the most aggressive choice, and will almost always be the fastest on this course. However, you have to be comfortable holding aero in cross winds for that to pay off. There are no real climbs on the course, so you can go with a pretty aggressive gear ratio and be fine. You’ll want some top end gears for the tail wind sections, but also want a few smaller gears for the head winds.
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As you are prepping for the demands of this race, make sure you are practicing long blocks in aero and keeping smooth and steady pressure on the pedals for long intervals. Don’t forget to practice your fueling and hydration strategy in training as well, so you know what you’ll need on race day.Section divider
Ironman 70.3 Texas Run
This run course is as flat as they come, but you definitely won’t get bored. There are three loops and each loop has what feels like 100 turns, but in reality, is only about 20 turns per 4(ish)-mile lap. That makes it harder to get into a good rhythm if you are a “flow” based runner. This is one flat course that strength style runners can still thrive on! There are stretches on pavement, gravel, crushed rock, grass, and a short stretch on an old beat up track.
With this being a three-loop run, it’s pretty easy to just take it one loop at a time. You’ll have a good amount of crowd support at the start and end of each loop. Once you get away from the transition area, it can definitely be a bit quieter. This is also a family-friendly run course, as spectators can stand in one place and see you up to nine times.
There are a few small surface surprises on the run. Most of the course is on good cement and asphalt, however once you turn off of Jones Drive and start the city park loop, you’ll be running on a gravel/large rock mix. This stretch is short, but it can be the most painful part of the course once running form breaks down from fatigue and the supporting muscles stop wanting to do their job. The Oleander bowl is also a short stretch where you come off of the nice paved surface and have a short stretch on an old track then a short downhill on grass. If it has rained recently, the grass stretch can sure be interesting by the last lap; pay attention to your footing!
There are a number of times where you get to see if you are closing the gap on your competitors with numerous out and back stretches each loop.
There is not much shade on the course, so if you catch a hot day you’ll want to make sure you are wearing sun block, keeping wet, and trying to snag some ice each aid station. I always remember roasting on the Jones Drive out and back, so you’ll want to douse yourself with water before that stretch for sure!
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Although there are a few areas where the footing is less than perfect, you should feel comfortable going with an aggressive shoe/racing flat choice. This course can certainly be fast, despite all the turns and difference in surface, so you’ll want to plan accordingly.
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As you prep for this course, I suggest doing a number of surges within your long runs. You can really make up a lot of time if you corner well and get back up to speed quickly. But the corners can wear you down just like surges on the bike, so throwing striders into your pace work in training can be a good way to prepare for this course. You also want to make sure you are taking care of your nutrition and hydration early on. People who are successful on this course can “run on” for the third lap rather than just “hang on!”Section divider
Ironman 70.3 Texas Logistics
The race logistics for this race are about as stress-free as they come. If you are staying at the host hotel, everything is within walking distance. If you stay elsewhere, there is ample parking on race morning so getting in and out is not very difficult. There are a few stretches of road that will be closed until the last person gets off the bike, so if you need to leave early you will want to make sure you don’t park in the closest two lots. The transition area is right next to the expo as well, so you can easily arrive, pick up your packet, and check you bike in all in one trip.
Where to stay
Moody Gardens is a very nice hotel that is on site, though I’ve actually never stayed there. I’ve always just rented an Airbnb, since there are plenty of those in this beach town. I like the ability to cook my own dinner the night before a race, so that is the route I typically go.
Where to buy extra gear
There aren’t many options for triathletes to get last-minute gear at bike shops or running stores in Galveston. If you forget something, or if you have specific needs, you either need to plan on shopping at the expo or finding a shop in Houston (one hour away) as you travel from the airport. The expo is almost always well-stocked and attended by top triathlon brands, so you can likely find most everything you need there.
The swim and run course are very spectator friendly. You’ll be able to see your athlete get in the water, then walk along the harbor to the swim exit and see them off on the bike. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to see them on the bike if you also watch the swim. It’s probably best just to hang tight and wait for them to return for the run. If you are wanting to be fairly stationary on the run, you can hang out at the end of Lockhead drive. You’ll see them as they go down and back, then can see them as they exit the Oleander Bowl on each loop. Your spectators will likely want to skip the Oleander Loop on the third lap and head down to the finish. If an athlete is running well, then it could be tight to see them as they come out of the park and still get to the finish line in time to watch them cross, so spectators should plan accordingly.Section divider
One great thing about this course is how easy it is to get to and from Galveston. Every year I’ve raced, I’ve packed up my bike in the lot post-race and caught an evening flight out of Houston. However, if you plan to stay in the area to celebrate, there are some great options for athletes.
Start at the race itself, where there is an area for local tri clubs to hang out along the first stretch of the run. A lot of spectators will hang out there during the race, and many athletes join them after (not during!) to enjoy a few social cocktails.
When you’re ready to eat, there are a number of both chain and mom-and-pop restaurants along the oceanfront strip where you can go to celebrate after the race or catch a post-race meal. There is also a grocery store just off the strip that is convenient as well if you are more of the DIY type, like myself.
If you stick around for a few days for a vacation with your families, explore the beaches and small parks along the coast that you can enjoy on the island. Moody Gardens, the host hotel, has an aquarium and mock rainforest that the kids might enjoy as well. Pleasure Pier is also an older amusement park that is certainly an attraction in the area. Take this time to relax, recover, and celebrate a race well done.
Dr. Matt Hanson is a professional triathlete and coach for triathletes, cyclists and runners. He has tallied 10 professional wins, including three North American Championship titles. Matt has raced Galveston twice as an amateur and four times as a pro. He has notched the fastest run time each year he has raced there as a pro and finished in the top 4 three out of four of those years.