By now you're either in or you're out. While general registration for Galveston's Memorial Hermann IRONMAN 70.3 is now closed, many of the 2,700 amateur and professional athletes who signed up for the 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike course and 13.1-mile run also will be participating in the "race inside a race" Regional IRONMAN TriClub Championship, earning bonus points for their respective clubs toward the Annual Podium Award (and that's a big deal).
“You'll see them in their different kits, tri suits,” says (my brother) Bill Tommaney, veteran of 18 half IRONMANs, four full IRONMANs and “countless” sprint triathlons. “There are a lot of tri groups in Houston, Dallas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Austin. It's neat to see a community of triathletes coming together to celebrate the sport and the camaraderie.”
Yet others will be testing their mettle in preparation for the big kahuna, the full IRONMAN held in The Woodlands on May 14 (that's 140.6 miles). “It's not too bad,” says Tommaney about the Galveston race. “The half IRONMAN in April is reasonable.”
Tommaney says that the swim course is wetsuit legal, as long as the water temperature doesn't exceed 76.1 degrees Fahrenheit (our April average is 72 degrees). “For folks who struggle with the swim, the wetsuit is a nice confidence builder, perhaps for some even a security blanket, because it considerably increases your buoyancy.” The one lap swim in Offatts Bayou is generally calmer than the Gulf, but high winds can still stir up the water.
“The wind is the theme of the race,” says Tommaney. “If it's windy, it can impact the swim and make it very choppy and challenging for inexperienced swimmers.” He says it's an even greater factor for the second leg of the race, the single-loop bike course that begins and ends at Hope Boulevard. “It's a flat and fast course. The biggest challenge is the wind, and whether you're going with the tailwind, headwind or crosswind,” says Tommaney. “I remember one year riding into the headwind and battling to go 15 miles per hour, then after the turnaround hitting 28-30 miles per hour coming back with the wind. What a feeling that was!”
This is a fun event for spectators, and even more so because the last leg of the race, a half-marathon that weaves in and through the Moody Gardens campus, loops around three times. We checked in with Greg Pennington (race director, Iron Star Triathlon) and Brandon Compton (assistant general manager, Moody Gardens) about the best places to watch each leg of the race.
Swim: Palm Beach at Moody Gardens, where the swimmers begin, won't open to the public until May 1. Fans can watch and take photographs from the Colonel Paddlewheel dock on Offatts Bayou, which is where the swimmers exit.
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Bike: Because of road closures, don't try to drive to a spot to watch the cyclists. Spectators can watch from the corner of Hope Boulevard and Lockheed, while another great area is around Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark, just a short walk from the transition area.
Run: The five-mile marker at the Visitor Center is a great location, and also offers fans the chance to go inside for activities and the Aquarium Pyramid. Another great spot is at the start of the run, near what race organizers refer to as “Team Tent Row,” with about 40 tents from the various participating tri teams. “That's a huge cheering area besides the finish-line area,” says Pennington.
How long does the race last? According to Tommaney, “A pro for a half IRONMAN can go a little bit under four hours, which is just a phenomenal pace. Then your strong amateurs are usually between four to five and a half hours, but even doing a half IRONMAN in six or seven hours is quite good.” The race officials turn off the clocks at eight hours, 30 minutes.
7 a.m. Sunday, April 10. Moody Gardens, 1 Hope Boulevard, Galveston, ironman.com. Participation is closed; free to watch.