Half-Ironman Race Comparison

Half Ironman Comparison

I have raced 5 Half Ironman races over 4 different courses and each one has presented its own difficulties.  Some are harder on the bike or run and others showcased a difficult swim.  This is what makes it nearly impossible to compare race times of Ironman or Half Ironman events, even the ones you do more than once.

As I have grown in the sport I have learned that trying to sit down and compare one race time to the next is pointless.  You can have more fitness but race slower because the things you cannot control like the weather are different.  You may have different goals based on whether or not the race is an ‘A’ race or another race to prepare you for your ‘A’ race.

I wanted to write this half-ironman comparison from an events stand point and rank them for those that are looking at different races for themselves.  I will point out the swim, bike and run but not talk about if I could have done better based on circumstance.  As I continue to race Ironman and Half Iroman races I will update this comparison chart for you, the reader, to reference and make a determination on whether or not you want to register for the race.

I will not only provide you with my thoughts on each section but the expo, the surrounding area and whether or not I would register to do the race again.  I will grade each race on a scale of 1-4 with 1 being the worst and 4 being the best and provide a ranked score when all the numbers are added up.

 Half Ironman Race Comparison

70.3 Austin Swim Start
Source: Ironman

Half Ironman Swim:

In the 5 different half-ironman races I have done I would say the best swim was at Rev3 Maine.  This is an ocean swim where the water is cold but not freezing and there is no question of whether or not a wetsuit should be used.  The downside to the Rev3 Maine swim is the long run from the ocean to transition but that is a very small downside.

Ironman 70.3 California also has a terrific swim as you are in a protected bay and again there is no question of whether or not you are going to wear a wetsuit as it is an early season race off the Pacific Ocean.  The run to transition is short but the downside is having to wade in the water for a few minutes as the start is far off from the swim entry/exit.

70.3 Austin and 70.3 San Juan rank 3rd and 4th based on the weather conditions, which are not controllable.  At Austin we dealt with a drought which meant that we were standing in the lake with the water at our waist when we started.  In Puerto Rico you can get in the water up to the last second but the winds can have a negative effect, especially as you are nearing the end.  Austin’s run is over dirt and is not that long while Puerto Rico is on the hard concrete and is 400 meters long.

Race Water Conditions Run To Transition Wetsuit / Non-Wetsuit Overall Grade
Rev3 Maine Cold but manageable with the wetsuit Long out of the sand and onto concrete Wetsuit 4
Ironman 70.3 California Cold but manageable with the wetsuit Short run over carpet Wetsuit 3
Ironman 70.3 Austin Warm due to power plant Long run over grass and dirt Wetsuit 2
Ironman 70.3 San Juan Warm Long run over concrete Non-Wetsuit 1
 Half Ironman Race Comparison

70.3 California Bike Course
Source: Triathlete Magazine

Half Ironman Bike:

The sections are very varied for these 4 races.  There is flat and fast.  There is hilly and fast.  There is hilly and slow.  There are headwinds and tailwinds along with road conditions.  When I play the races back in my mind Ironman San Juan sticks out the most.  It is a challenging bike course that does not sap you of your energy to have a good run.

The elevation gain on the Ironman 70.3 San Juan course is minimal but you deal with high winds coming off the ocean, or a tropical rain storm.  The beauty is in the location.  Riding your bike on a closed highway along the ocean and then into a National park where there are lush green fields is very enjoyable and makes the time pass by quickly.

Ironman 70.3 California is an extremely challenging bike course as you have three mountain climbs to deal with while you are riding through Camp Pendleton.  The course can be broken down into three sections with the out section being where you control yourself because there is a tailwind, then the climbs and then heading back into town with headwinds and all make for a difficult bike section.  The beauty and history that is Camp Pendleton makes it worth the trip alone as you get to see soldiers and their families, hear the tanks and understand that these soldiers have volunteered their time to allow us to race.

Rev3 Maine has a picturesque bike course as well as some challenging sections but they are nothing in comparison to the climbs of 70.3 California.  When you are riding your bike in the Fall of the northeast you can fall into a trance like state looking at the leaves but don’t get too lost in your own head as there are a number of challenging climbs to bring you back to earth.

Ironman 70.3 Austin is horrible.  I have no other way to phrase it.  The longest section of road, Route 969, is nothing but chip seal with a shoulder that falls off into a grassy ditch.  Couple that with a strong headwind and the ride is not enjoyable.  There are very few sections of this ride where one gets to enjoy the country side of Texas and can find themselves bored by what they are surrounded by.

Race Roads Climbs Scenic Overall Grade
Ironman 70.3 San Juan Some rough sections but overall roads are in great condition. Only sections are on and off highway but can be challenging depending on winds. Ocean front views and National park make this extremely enjoyable to ride. 4
Ironman 70.3 California Smooth roads throughout the entire course. Very tough climbs to the point where I saw people fall off bike or walk up them. Camp Pendleton and the Pacific make for excellent scenery. 3
Rev3 Maine Excellent road conditions with little to no chip seal. Manageable climbs that run throughout the course. Fall leaves and the beauty that is old New England. 2
Ironman 70.3 Austin Horrible. Very few but the ones that are present will challenge you. Nothing to enjoy as your focus is on the terrible road conditions. 2
 Half Ironman Race Comparison

Rev3 Maine Run Course
Source: Triathlete Magazine

Half Ironman Run:

The run is where my bread is buttered and I enjoy a challenging course but I also want to let my legs out.  Finding that right combination can be tough especially after having just raced for 3.5 hours.  What constitutes a good run at that point is going to be different from the runs you put in during training that take you around your neighborhood.

The three WTC races are loops while the Rev3 Maine race was an out and back.  Each one allows you to break the run down into manageable sections where you don’t think about the 13.1 miles but instead getting to and through the next section.

Ironman 70.3 San Juan is very challenging with very tough climbs, but also contains flat and fast sections coupled with a terrific view of the ocean and history through the fort.  The most challenging portion of this run is the heat.  It is ever-present and there is no escaping it as there is no shade along the entire run.

California presents the same scenario as San Juan with the heat and humidity plus the views of the ocean.  While San Juan has monster climbs, California has a steady climb that you do twice.  The climb at California is not steep but it lets you know that it exists.

While you are running up and downhill at San Juan and California there is no climbing on the Rev3 Maine course that worries you.  In Maine you enter a crushed stone path and it is flat and fast.  My fastest half marathon race in a half-ironman came at Maine and I say it’s because of the little elevation but also the beauty of the park you are running in.

Lastly, there is 70.3 Austin which presents you with a steady climb but nothing to look at.  You run behind a park and through it with nothing to distract you.  If you are unfortunate enough to run when it is extremely hot you are faced with running on what I would describe as a tarmac with the heat radiating off of it.

Race Course Scenic Overall Grade
Ironman 70.3 San Juan Very challenging with climbs and false flats. Ocean views, history and Old San Juan 4
Rev3 Maine Flat and Fast Nature preserve 3
Ironman 70.3 California Challenging with steady climb and flat sections Pacific Ocean 2
Ironman 70.3 Austin Combination of a steady climb and false flats. Nothing 1
 Half Ironman Race Comparison

70.3 San Juan Run Course
Source: Ironman

Half Ironman Races Overall:

I have said that 70.3 San Juan is my favorite course and is one that I would go to repeatedly because of the race but everything else that accompanies a race.  The volunteers, the location, the post-race meals, medals, t-shirts, swag, expo.  All of these play a role in how I rate a race.  Rather than give you a blow-by-blow description of each of these I will rate them on a scale of 1-4 and then average them out for the overall grad

Race Location Expo Medal Swag Post-Race Food Volunteers Overall Avg Score
70.3 San Juan 4 2 3 3 3 4 3.1
70.3 California 4 2 2 2 4 3 2.8
70.3 Austin 2 2 2 2 4 3 2.5
Rev3 Maine 4 2 4 3 1 4 3.0

Half Ironman 70.3 Rankings:

Race Swim Bike Run Overall Final Grade
70.3 San Juan 1 4 4 3.1 3.0
Rev3 Maine 4 2 3 3 3.0
70.3 California 3 3 2 2.8 2.7
70.3 Austin 2 2 1 2.5 1.9

Ironman 70.3 San Juan just noses out Rev3 Maine for my favorite Half Ironman distance race.  Both are in terrific locations and both present themselves with different positives and negatives but the difference for me came down to the overall experience of being in San Juan versus Old Orchard Beach but not by much.

Clearly, Ironman 70.3 Austin will not be on my race schedule anytime soon.  The race is not enjoyable and outside of Little Deli And Pizza I would rather go to Austin and just eat at Magnolia Cafe.  70.3 California is certainly a race that I would do again, but it is not enough of a draw at this point to put it on the schedule over other races that I would like to do for the first time versus a second 70.3 California.

What Is Your Favorite Half Ironman Distance Race?

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  • http://mattheworavec.blogspot.com/ Matt Oravec

    Cool summary, never thought to rank my races with a similar scale to see what I “actually” liked better in terms of venue, location, challenge and swag haha.

    Nice write up!
    Matt Oravec recently posted..What the hell am I doing?My Profile

    • http://cooktraineatrace.com CTER

      Thanks. I would love to see your scoring based on the number of races you did last year. I’m sure that Rev3 would love to see how they rank in your mind.
      CTER recently posted..Half-Ironman Race ComparisonMy Profile

  • http://brittsblogging.wordpress.com/ Brittany

    Well I will definitely not be doing Austin 70.3 anytime soon! I’ve heard how bad the roads are, but good to know about all the other fronts. Sounds like there are plenty of other half IM’s in Texas (or elsewhere) that I should try first!
    Brittany recently posted..Hydrating Clementine Creamsicle SmoothieMy Profile

    • http://cooktraineatrace.com CTER

      Yes, don’t put Austin 70.3 on your schedule ever. There are plenty of other HIMs in Texas to race. Galveston 70.3 as well as Oilman (which I am doing this year) and I am traveling to Oklahoma to do Redman.

      Neither of those is a WTC sanctioned event but I have a plan for racing Ironman 140.6 races and need to be conservative in terms of races.
      CTER recently posted..Half-Ironman Race ComparisonMy Profile

      • http://brittsblogging.wordpress.com/ Brittany

        Cool – Oilman is a “maybe” on my schedule too – so maybe see you there!
        Brittany recently posted..Healthy Spanish TortillaMy Profile

        • http://cooktraineatrace.com CTER

          That would be awesome to meet up at Oilman.

  • http://www.buildthemachine1.blogspot.com/ Christie

    The reason I always keep coming back to your blog is because of how detail/analytical you are. Love it.

    It took me forever to accept the concept of not compare your times from race to race because of varying race conditions. Thanks for the recap. **Note to self, no Austin 70.3 :)
    Christie recently posted..Spectrum 10K and TrainingMy Profile

    • http://cooktraineatrace.com CTER

      Yeah, it took me a while to accept comparing one to the other and then realized while typing race reports how different each and every race is.

      Put that note in big block letters. There are so many other races in Texas that can be done before Austin.

      Thank you for your compliment on the blog.
      CTER recently posted..Half-Ironman Race ComparisonMy Profile

  • jeff

    Nice comparisons, Jason. The only one of the ones you listed was Austin, so it is helpful to get your perspective of the other races. I would be interested in hearing your take on Buffalo Springs. That is my favorite 70.3. Will you be racing that one anytime soon?

    • http://cooktraineatrace.com CTER

      Thanks Jeff. I have pushed Buffalo Springs away for far too long probably. Need to step up and race that one as so many people love it.

      This year is going to be Redman and Oilman and maybe when I setup my 2014 race calendar I will include Buffalo Springs.

      Will I see you this weekend for riding?
      CTER recently posted..Half-Ironman Race ComparisonMy Profile

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