Short course, Drafting, what was the Ironman Texas fuss about?

For those of you familiar with the Southern States in the US, you'll know that 'everything is bigger in Texas'? Except the Ironman course which is actually a little short on the bike and run!

Last week's Ironman Texas event (Regional Championships) has hit the news highlights over the past week (mainstream news too) due to the various issues that arose during the race relating to potential World Records, inaccurate course distances, drafting and no Technical Officials on the bike course. As an athlete and a coach you don't like to see this negativity around Ironman races or against athletes that have worked their butts off in training and during in a race. Also as spectators we only know a portion of what really happened on race day. In saying that I am also invested in the sport so I have a right to my opinion, especially as IMTX has been having its issues since 2015.

If you've been hiding under a rock or not really sure what the fuss was all about...here is my 2c!

In essence what occurred was the Ironman Texas, Regional Championships threw up a great day for racing, awesome weather conditions and a great field to set up a top race. It's known as a fast course, although warmer conditions do mean that the Pro race is usually non-wetsuit, as it was this year. The guys racing put on a show with some amazing physical and mental efforts, some toe to toe racing and of course some fantastic overall times.

Here's what happened and why some people are up in arms:

The Men's event was won in a WR Time by Matt Hanson (7:39.25), 10 Men went sub 8 hours, there was also an Ironman Bike WR of 3:54.59 by Andrew Starykcowicz (of which he rode at least half of the ride solo). On the Women's side the race was won in a WR Time by Mel Hauschildt in 8:31.05, a WR bike split of 4:25.10 by Jen Annett, with 10 women going sub 9 hours. Sounds like a great day right?

The bike course caused 2 points of contention 1) Inaccurate distance 2) Masses of Drafting. The first point of the short course was addressed by IM Texas on their FB page immediately after the event (below) - only for Ironman to later release a statement on Wednesday confirming that after review, the World Records would stand (which I don't get either way)? Obviously the athletes raced super hard and you can't take any credit away from them for achieving what they did and racing as hard as they did over that distance, but how can a record stand on a short course, whether it's short by 500m or 5 km? Surely there should be some official rules around a specific tolerance of distance, or just get it right. One guy tweeted in response the news:

@DoYouEvenTriBro: “Breaking: IOC gives gold medal in the men’s 100m sprint to whoever was ahead at the 80m mark.” :)
 

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** You should check out overall winner Matt Hanson's thoughts here, very well written and it gives you an idea of how some of the Pro's are feeling about the day.

Now we turn to point 2, this is the one for me that makes the biggest difference, DRAFTING! This is a problem that has been creeping more into Ironman and 70.3 racing since I was first involved in the sport in late 2012. There are a few things that Ironman Texas did wrong that made it easier for the drafting to occur, but there are also a few things that Ironman as an organisation, race organisers and athletes should do to try and prevent this. BUT first some picture evidence:

Firstly, to prevent drafting before it even begins Ironman should limit the amount of participants in the race. This would inevitably make it less congested on course, but we all know why that is not happening $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$!

Secondly, at IMTX the Technical Officials who were supposed to be adjudicating the bike portion of the race were removed. Apparently it was a decision made by the Police who decided that it was too dangerous for the TO's to be on course using the lane in close proximity to groups of cyclists and that they needed to keep the ambulance/ support lane clear. That's right NO TO's on course! That just lends itself to the potential for drafting whether you are a Pro or an Age Grouper.

Lastly....and MOST importantly, athletes! It's your responsibility to aim to be as fair as you can when racing in these conditions. Obviously a harder bike course might lend itself to the potential of less drafting but Ironman wants fast races and records pushed as well. My problem is that too many athletes that train their butts off for 3 or 4 months are happy to cheat their way to a PB. That's it I said it....CHEAT!

So how do I not draft? Education and a bit of Integrity!

You must have been there, in races where rolling starts or wave starts that are close together set up the potential for congestion on the bike. That being said athletes don't roll out of T1, 4 riders abreast and 8 deep, so how does it happen? Poor understanding of the rules and NO integrity. What would you do in this situation? It got so bad in the Pro race at IMTX that one pro even dropped out in protest.

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MY POINT, look back at the drafting pictures above, at some point these athletes would have been riding in single file with less numbers. As an approaching athlete it is your responsibility if riding up to a group to pass the entire group otherwise you are 'blocking' OR 'dropping in' sitting in someones draft zone (CHEATING). If athletes followed this protocol then there would be less instances of riders needing to be more than single file at any point. For the same reason it's an athletes responsibility to drop back if they are overtaken (as long as it doesn't conflict with the first point I just made) maintaining single file and non-draft distance. The final point, if you find yourself in this situation and you are not following the rules just mentioned and happy to sit in a bunch, why are you racing? Go and join a cycling club! If you are the one with integrity in this situation call out the drafters, shout at them and give them some education as you ride past them and try to race fairly.

Hopefully with some TO's on the bike course this would have made things cleaner and not belittle some of the great performances that a lot of athletes pulled out last week.

Really keen to hear your comments, I'm sure there are many, so fire away!