Ironman Texas 2014 – The Perfect Storm?
When people rank the difficulty of any particular Ironman, there are a number of factors that are used. In reality though, unless there is a very large amount of climbing involved like France, Lanzarote or the now defunct St. George, there are really only 2 or 3 things that come into play. Heat, humidity and wind (if it’s also hot). A hot day can ruin the day, and if that heat also comes with humidity, you are quickly launched into miserable territory. Add wind to that and you got yourself Kona.
Another big consideration for the masses is a wetsuit legal swim. Almost every single Ironman in the world is of the wetsuit variety with only Kona and Cozumel not allowing any wetsuits under any circumstances (and now potentially Malaysia).
Ironman Texas has rightfully gained the reputation as one of the toughest Ironman races on the globe because of the high temperatures and the stifling humidity. It still garners a very strong number of first timers though because of where it’s located. If you live in Texas, heat and humidity is something you deal with everyday here, so it’s not going to chase away too many locals.
The other attraction to first timers is the swim. While it hasn’t been wetsuit legal, it also has never been so hot that wetsuits are outright banned. So weaker swimmers get a smooth swim with a wetsuit if they choose.
But this year might be different. Before I go on, let me backtrack a little bit.
In 2011, wetsuits were allowed and it was a hot day. The day started out at 71 degrees and got as hot as 91 with humidity high. Water temp was 78 if memory serves. But to keep the water temperature that low, there were only 11 of days where the temps were above average in May and there was 5 days of heavy rain right before the race.
In 2012 it got hot really early in the spring. So hot, that the sprint race that takes place at the same location just two weeks prior had to ban wetsuits because the water temps hit 84. But everyone caught a break as it rained for 10 days to cool down the lake. Wetsuits allowed once again. The race temps were a low of 59 and a high of 87 with unseasonably low humidity, at least for Texas.
Last year was one of the coldest springs on record, with chilly temps (some 10-12 degrees below the average lows) right up to race week. Then summer hit with a vengeance and the lake climbed 8 degrees in 10 days. The heat got so bad that 2nd degree burns on people’s feet from T2 was a common complaint, and people measuring surface heat on the run course (including radiant heat off the pavement) at 107 in some spots. It was one of the highest DNF rates Ironman had seen.
Why do I say all of this? As of today (April 28) depending on where you measure the water in the lake, wetsuits are already on the fence (75 degrees). But the problem is that there are no strong cold fronts in the forecast, nor is any significant rain. The next few days show temps over 90. If the forecast holds even somewhat true, the potential of a race where wetsuits are banned and temps hot and humid are highly likely. If that happens, I think you’ll see 2 things right off the bat.
First, the swim start will change. Ironman’s swim safe initiative found itself working in Texas in the form of the 2 wave start. Wetsuit and non wetsuit. Without that, you’ll see either a time trial start (most likely) or a coral start (logistically difficult in this venue). That will help some with the swim time cut off, but those overly dependent on a wetsuit will either not start or get pulled from the swim. Live by thy suit, die by thy suit.
Beyond that, it will be a rough day for those who exhausted themselves in the water, and you could see the highest combined DNS/DNF ever.
Now of course some of this is just speculation and not intended to scare anyone. But those first timers or weak swimmers need to grasp the very real possibility staring them in the face. If you aren’t sure if you can do the swim without a wetsuit, you better head to the pool right this second and get to work, or there will be no bike or run. And that would be a year of training down the toilet.
Now not all this news is bad. With really warm days leading up to the race, you’ll be able to acclimate better than last year, and if you catch a break in the heat, you could be racing in weather that is cooler that you trained in.
Either way, it’s going to be an epic day on one of the toughest Ironman courses in the world. And I will be in your face cheering you on til the filthy end.
Now go hydrate.