A very good beginner's race or a race for someone looking to PR. Bike is flat and fast but lacking scenery. The three looped mostly flat run has incredible, lively course support and is a true highlight of the race. Great for spectating and for families. Weather can be hot, humid, and windy, but is variable. That is the same with water temps in terms of being borderline wetsuit legal each year.
This race (formerly the North American Championships) usually doesn’t sell out until late Fall. You definitely want to train for the heat, humidity, and wind, and then perhaps be pleasantly surprised if you get something other than that. It is a Saturday race, and some people find that to be a positive.
IMTX is located in The Woodlands, a northern suburb of Houston. It is a lovely tree-lined city that has anything you need within 1 mile of most of the hotels racers would stay in. Ironman Village is located right off a main thoroughfare, tucked behind some restaurants and a Nestle ice cream store, which myself and my family visited daily during our time there. Ideally, you want to stay at the Marriott, the host hotel, as you are spitting distance from everything and it takes away the stress of parking and walking with all of your stuff. They have very strict parking rules there, and with having the swim start a mile from transition, it takes a lot of walking and driving back and forth if you do the practice swim the day before. Should I do this race again, my family has all decided that the $400 a night minimum it will cost to stay at the Marriott is worth it. They're the ones sitting around waiting for me for 12 hours, so who am I to argue with them?
Expect heat, humidity, and wind, but it's Texas, so it is always a surprise! I've been sort of lucky on my two IMTX race days. In 2017, it started out nice, but then a cold front came through around noon, dropped a few raindrops, and then it became very windy (this is a prevailing theme here at IMTX). But, the run, which can be hot and humid wound up being like 65 degrees. That was nice. However, the headwind coming back on the Hardy Toll road was tough. Fortunately, I was on my last loop so I only had to deal with it for 25 miles. In 2019, there was low humidity (a RARE occurrence) but there was a headwind going out on the toll road. I would estimate it was steady about 12 mph, but was definitely gusting up towards 20. That was tough, especially if you don't live and train in a windy environment. The run was very warm. The sun is strong in Texas and you could feel it. However, there are a lot of portions of the run that are in shade, which offers a nice respite.
Swim: 3/5 Likely wetsuit legal
Wetsuit legal? Yes in 2018 and 2019, no in 2017. They have a self-seeded rolling start. 2017 was more of a free-for-all and the start was challenging. In 2019, it was controlled very well and I felt like there was a lot of space to just swim. The buoys are placed well, and there was a lot of kayak support. It has never been super choppy either. You head straight out and then once you do the first two turns (a left and a left), you'll be heading towards the sun and that can be challenging. About ¾ of the way going back towards the start, you'll make a right turn into a narrow canal. In 2017, it felt like a washing machine in there. But, in 2019, it felt like I was just being pulled along in a current. The water is a little murky and maybe not the cleanest. There are also submerged plants which, for the faint of heart, can be startling, The swim exit is a quick left turn and they pull you up and out and have wetsuit strippers.
Transition areas: 5/5
Well organized. You lay out your bags the day before and they have plenty of people helping you find yours. The tent helpers were good both times and they had plenty of people offering sun screen – PUT ON THE SUNSCREEN!! There were a lot of port-a-potties too. The bike out is great and full of people cheering you on. It was so loud that the first year, I didn't even hear my family and they were like 20 feet from me.
Bike: 3/5 Flat
The bike is very hard to give a score to. On the one hand, it is a fast and flat course– except for the overpasses! But, it is BORING. You spent 80 miles on a toll road – two loops. There is little scenery, few people except for the aid stations, and no shade. You are out in the elements with zero protection from the wind. On the plus side, the road condition is spectacular, no pot holes, very little debris, and no chip seal! The other 31 miles of the course are basically through the streets of the The Woodlands and surrounding cities. Those are very nice and traffic is well controlled. There is a 20 yard section going out and back on a frontage road that is a horrifically bad road. Slow down and you'll be fine and off of it in two minutes. Just watch for all the water bottles that have fallen out of other people's bikes. Other than that, there are no other “danger” zones or no pass zones.
Run: 5/5 Flat with some mild rollers
I would give this 6 out of 5 if I could. This run was the only reason I came back to Texas. It feels like the entire city is out there cheering you on. It is a three loop course with a couple minor uphills and false flats. But, with the uphills, comes the down hills. All of them are minimal grade. There are tons of aid stations with everything you could want to ingest. But I will reiterate, the support is incredible and all over the place. Sometimes, it is almost too much, but boy does it help you keep going.
You're an Ironman now. All of the finishes are 5/5!
Family friendliness: 4/5
There are plenty of things to do to keep them busy. You are within ¾ of a mile of a mall, and there is a movie theater right across the street from the finish line. There are also a lot of restaurants, including the aforementioned Nestle ice cream store. There are shady places to sit. There are always good sight lines and it is easy to get around. I was able to see my family 6 times on the run and all they really had to do was walk across a pedestrian bridge. The best place to sit on the run is on the grassy areas around the Waterway path. For the swim, there is a sidewalk all along the first section of the swim where you can see the entry as well as the first leg. The one drawback is the walk to and from the swim back to Transition for the spectators. That is an extra 2 miles of walking on an already tiring day. We decided that my husband and kids would just skip the swim start entirely at my second race. For the bike, any spot at the entrance and exit is really your only shot to see anything on the bike. For any last minute race needs, there are a few bike stores in the area, including Bicycle World and Bike Land.