Ironman Arizona versus Ironman Texas

Ironman Arizona and Ironman Texas are the first two of many Ironman races I plan on doing and so I wanted to write a post that will compare the two.  The reason I want to compare the two is that Ironman Arizona sold out in 40 seconds and there will be people out there that are upset they didn’t get in but can still race an Ironman if they truly wanted to.  If you do the research you can find other races that are open and are terrific races to enter.

I want to break this down into more than just the swim, bike and run since the Ironman race is more than just three events.  There is location, the expo. athlete check-in and finish line amongst other items to discuss.  Let’s get into this shall we:


  • ironmantexas_triathlon_thewoodlandsIMTX takes place in The Woodlands which is just north of Houston.  If you are flying you would have to fly into the George Bush International Airport and then drive to the race site.  The drive isn’t horrible but it is something else to tack onto your trip.  The Woodlands itself is a sprawling metroplex that is downright gorgeous.  There are pine trees (this is important to those of us living in Dallas and don’t see many trees) and lots of places to eat and shop.
  • IMAZ takes place in Tempe which is just east of Phoenix.  If you fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor International airport the drive to Tempe is very short.  The beauty of the location of the race is that everything is close in proximity.  You can get to Mesa, Phoenix, Scottsdale or Chandler rather easily.  The race is located just outside of Arizona State University so there are plenty of places to eat at along Mill Avenue due to the population.
  • Edge:  Ironman Arizona
  • IMTX is in May and while that is technically spring it can get very hot at that time of the year.  Also, this part of Texas is very humid and thus the air just seems to stick to you.  This year the temperature during the race reached 93*.
  • IMAZ is in mid-November and since there is no humidity in Phoenix the weather feels a bit chillier than the thermometer shows.  The temperature on race day this year reached 83* but was not as hot as that would seem.
  • Edge:  Ironman Arizona
  • The swim at Texas takes place in Lake Woodlands which is a man-made lake.  The water temp this year was 80.1* which meant it was wetsuit optional.  If you chose to go the wetsuit route you started 10 minutes after those that chose to go sans-wetsuit.  The start at IMTX is a bit nuts as there isn’t much room to maneuver, but after about 400 meters or so it opens up slightly as the pack thins out.  At the turn buoys it gets cramped again but the worst part is when you make a right turn down the canal.  The canal is quite possibly 10 human lengths wide and the contact picks up quite a bit in here.  The benefit of the canal is there are spectators lined up all along the canal cheering you on and that gives you quite a boost.
  • Arizona presents a different set of circumstances.  The water temp this year was 64.1* and was wetsuit legal as well as bootie legal.  The mass start is not unlike Texas except that there is room to swim after the first 200 meters instead of 400 meters.  There can be an issue on the out portion of the swim with the sunrise, but it isn’t horrible.  There is the ever-present issue of turn buoys but once past that the return leg is a straight shot.  The other issue is getting out of the water.  The steps are relatively high and so you have to pull yourself up and be sure to use the volunteers to get you out of the water.
  • Edge:  Ironman Arizona (by a thin margin as the contact in Texas is slightly worse than the water temps in Arizona)
  • Texas has a 112 mile loop that has about 1600 feet of climbing.  There is only one section that you MAY have to stand up for but otherwise this is a very flat race course.  The scenery is gorgeous and while you deal with the heat there is one section in which you travel through a state park that is shaded fairly well and helps out tremendously.  The aid stations are well stocked and the special needs bag area is well-marked.  The upside to the one loop is that the pack has the ability to separate itself from each other.  The faster riders will pull away from the slower riders and there is not issue with congestion.  One downside is on the return back to transition you have to make a few turns through a neighborhood that can slow you down but in the grand scheme this is minor.
  • Arizona is a 3 loop bike course and has about 1500 feet of climbing.  There isn’t any area on this course that would require you to stand up and peddle.  You are in the great wide open which can involve some strong winds depending on race day as well as time of day you are on the course.  The biggest issue with the 3 loop course is that all 2000 riders are out there together and thus the faster riders have to handle their bikes very well in order to avoid any issues with the slower riders.  The aid stations are well stocked as well but there is no shade at all.  The temperatures don’t necessarily warrant the NEED for shade but even if they did you would be out of luck as you are exposed to the sun the entire ride.
  • Edge:  Ironman Texas.  The one loop course is a much better experience than riding the same loop 3 times.
  • ironmanarizona_triathlon_tempeTexas is a 3 loop course that has nothing resembling a bump let alone a hill.  The course is flat and fast and the best part of the course is running up and down the canal.  This area is lined with fans cheering loudly along with the opportunity to truly be inspired to finish because you can hear Mike Reilly calling out names and saying You.Are.An.Ironman.  The downside to this race course is the one strip of grass that you do a 180* turn on and climb a 5 foot embankment but otherwise this is a runner’s course.
  • Arizona is also a 3 loop course but there are lots of turns as you make a figure 8 over Tempe Town Lake.  My biggest issue with the course was the gravel and grass that you run across and it is not flat so as the sun goes down there is the opportunity to sprain an ankle.  The course support is great and especially near Mile 3 / Mile 8 of the run where you can see family/friends 6 times as well as just the party atmosphere.
  • Edge: Ironman Texas.  The run allows you to run and not have to worry about a sprained ankle on uneven gravel or grass.
Finish Line:
  • You cannot complain about either finish line as there is a ton of excitement and Mike Reilly calling out your name.  If you want a pro and a con to each here they are:
    • Texas:
      • Pro:  If your finish time is around the 13.5 hour mark then you will finish in the sun.  Even if you finish later than that you will not feel cold as the temperatures do not drop drastically when the sun goes down.
      • Con: The finish line is quite a bit away from the transition area making for a difficult walk to pick up all your gear after the race.
    • Arizona:
      • Pro: Finishing under the lights is amazing.  It is like being a professional athlete when the lights go on and it is literally your time to shine.
      • Con: When the sun goes down it gets down right cold.  Take the mylar blanket.
  • Edge:  Push
  • These races don’t exist without these people and at both races they are exemplary.  The entire race you are being helped by the volunteers and pushed by the spectators.  You truly feel like a rock star or a professional athlete or POTUS but however you care to describe it you are certainly being helped by all of the people along the way.
  • Edge: Push
Post Race Food:
  • While I had the unfortunate incident of being told I need more protein after the race the spread at Ironman Texas is better (and bigger of course.)  There are burritos and cookies, chips, brownies, soda, water and the usual bananas and oranges.  Arizona had french fries with ketchup and pizza.  Nothing wrong with pizza but when you don’t eat cheese these leaves you with not much to choose from.  There were cookies (not many) and bananas, oranges and grapes as well.
  • Restaurants near Lake Woodlands are plenty and thus being able to go there is also a great plus to this race.  Arizona also has terrific eateries nearby that you can eat at then go back to watch as people cross late into the night.
  • Edge:  Ironman Texas due to the immediate after race food.
When I reflect back on both races I find myself nodding to the race that took place in The Woodlands and saying that is a better race.  I think the fact that the bike course is one loop with a run course that is better outweighs the location of Arizona or the clearer sighting for swimming.

Have You Done An Ironman Race?  If so, which is your favorite and why?

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  1. Christi says:

    I have not done a full IM but either Texas or Louisville are going to be my first. I will probably choose Louisville because training in the winter in Colorado is just not fun. However, if I actually do get to move back to Texas then I will definitely do Texas! How is that for indecision?!

  2. Bob says:

    For speed: IMFL
    For daylight finish: IMTX
    For finisher stuff: IMNYC (because it is a limited edition and rare)
    For bonking: IMLOU
    For scenery: IMSG
    For most memorable finish: IMAZ (5th from last)

    They are all special…
    See you out there!
    Bob recently posted..Triathlete Magazine (Again)My Profile

  3. that’s pretty insightful! I couldn’t figure out why IMTX didn’t sell out really fast like some of the others do. You should come do IMFL one of these years.
    Carolina John recently posted..Big Week Done! Hello taper.My Profile

  4. Jeff Irvin says:

    Great post!

    Everyone is so afraid of the heat and humidity at IMTX that they forget that the course is really great. I love the bike course, am riding it on Friday morning (weather permitting) and the run course is beautiful and lined with spectators and shade. BUT the swim is shit. The lake is narrow and dirty which makes the swim violent. Imagine swimming that sucker without a wetsuit when half the other swimmer had on a wetsuit – this happened in the inaugural year and it was violent.

    I plan on doing IMTX again, maybe 2014 and have no real desire to do IMAZ.

    Oh, and as much as I love the Woodlands – IM Mont-Tremblant would win every category over IMTX – except cost, Quebec is freaking expensive.

  5. Karen says:

    The first is always nearest and dearest to the heart :) I was wondering how a three loop bike course during an IM would be. There is so much drafting anyhow (intentional or not), it seems like it would be very difficult to find open road with all the looping. IMTX is so tempting. It feels a little late in the game to commit to it now time-wise. Might look at for 2014. LOL at BOB – IMLOU is for bonking… I have heard that a lot!
    Karen recently posted..5k domination…My Profile

  6. Bob says:

    Absolutely not on the avoiding LOU!
    In fact in my 6 IMs on 6 continents in 2014 it will be the finale race. (Revenge)
    But for Christi…. it is not a first timer kind of race…. AZ and FL are…. TX is close behind..
    Bob recently posted..Triathlete Magazine (Again)My Profile

  7. Bob says:

    I just read Jeff’s post.
    yes, IMTX swim is shit….. duck shit as a matter of fact
    But daylight finishes! That’s worth sucking in a little protein in the way of duck shit!
    Bob recently posted..Triathlete Magazine (Again)My Profile

    • CTER says:

      HA HA !!!! Lots of duck shit in The Woodlands but there is also a lot of shit in Tempe Town Bladder so either way just drink and swim.

      IMLOU is on the radar for sure. Nothing I want to avoid. I’d like to get around to as many of them as possible. I think IMFL and IMWI are above IMLOU and IMCdA right now.
      CTER recently posted..Ironman Arizona versus Ironman TexasMy Profile

  8. Jeff B says:

    Good post Jason. IMTX is my next race. I’m glad to hear your take on it. I haven’t heard a lot of good things about IMTX. I watched IMAZ in 2011 and loved the run. However, I do understand your concern with the footing. I thought the bike courses at Couer d Alene and St George were the most beautiful I’ve seen. Louisville had some beautiful parts too. No one ever says it, but Kona may be the least beautiful course in the Western Hemisphere. Except for the swim. The coral reefs and tropical fish make the swim feel like a National Geographic special. Ditto for Cozumel.

  9. jlp3333 says:

    There is no comparison. I have done Arizona four times and Texas twice.
    If you do not like wetsuits choose Texas (optional) but Arizona although chilly is a better course. Nice out and back. But, either is fine. No winner.
    The bike courses are both okay. I like Arizona a little better because the familiarity gives some strategic advantages. Slightly faster course. Just my opinion. Arizona
    The run courses are multiple loops. But, again there is not a huge difference. You run around a man made lake in both. Arizona seems a little hillier. No winner.
    Ahhh, now the difference. The weather. In Houston it is a sauna, sweatathon. 90 degrees and 90% humidity. Arizona is pleasant cool in the morning, beautiful for the ride and cool as the sun goes down. A great experience as you do not have to worry as much about dehydration.
    The venue. The Woodlands is hard to get around and hotels are not as inexpensive or convenient as Tempe.
    Phoenix is much smaller and hotels are plentiful and close. Tempe is a college town and used to getting large amounts of people coming to Sun Devil stadium. There are restaurants a plenty right at the start finish line and because of the weather it is pleasant to hang around outside. Houston is hard on the spectators as they are braving the same sauna the participants are. By the way…I love Houston and lived their for twenty years. But, of the 8 Ironman I have done. The Woodlands is my least favorite venue. Rank… IMAZ,CDA,LV,TX
    I was lucky and got Louisville in 2009… a very cool August day.

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