We caught up with Jordan Rapp, Ironman Texas Champion and ROKA Pro, to get his thoughts on scouting Lake Woodlands, the Texas heat, and keeping things simple on race day.
ROKA: Could you set the stage a little bit and talk scouting for Lake Woodlands? The swim at IM Texas is about as straight forward as you can get. The course goes south and then north, and then turns east down the channel. By the time you’re swimming into the sun it’s pretty overhead, so you shouldn’t have any issues with sighting.
Probably the hardest part is when you’re on the way back — there’s a bunch of these little inlets and you’re like “Oh that’s definitely where I’m gonna turn in” but it’s not. if I’m in a group I just stay on people’s feet because it’s much easier, especially on this course where the only time you have to make a decision is when you make that right hand turn [into T1]…there’s no reason to sort of out think yourself.
That right hand turn into the channel, do you have to hook that buoy on the inside or can you cut that corner? You can cut it as much as you want, you don’t have to pass that buoy on your right shoulder. It’s a channel, so there’s no way to cheat the course. Don’t make it any harder than it needs to be.
So with the layout of the course being straight forward, and no real current to deal with, how do you pace it? It depends. The pro race is basically the opposite of the age group race. The pro race is essentially ‘start as fast as possible and then try not to slow down too much’, where for the age grouper that’s basically the opposite of how you should pace a race. This is a rolling start race so you can sort of self seed — [ideally] you’re starting near people who are of similar ability to you.
The big thing with the turns on the course is you want to make sure that heading into the buoy, you don’t get dropped into where people [bunch up], you want to give yourself a little bit of cushion to be controlled, so you may have to take a wider line around the buoy. That’s all stuff you have to decide in the race. If you have dropped into the pack, then it would be better to slow down around the buoys and take it smooth…but sometimes if you see people and there is a small gap, you can pick up the pace a little bit leading into the buoy so you can hang onto the group. That’s all stuff that’s totally dependent on what’s happening during the race. The key for any swim in a triathlon is do whatever you can within your race plan to keep on people’s feet.
For something you can’t control, like water temperature, how do you plan for that? I would definitely say that this is a race where you want a wetsuit and a skinsuit, if you’ve got one. As a pro, at 72 degrees I would probably pack a wetsuit, full sleeve, but for age groupers who still have that 76 degree cut off, I would personally bring a sleeveless if I had one.
Big picture, how do you approach Texas in particular from a tactics standpoint? There are a lot of tactics over shorter distance races, a lot of ways you can spend your energy. But there’s pretty much only one way you’re gonna have your best Ironman race. If you go too hard early in this course, it’s gonna be pretty brutal — and that starts with the swim.
Don’t swim hard, swim smart. Yup. Also, the weather is typically such a factor in Texas. From a conditions stand point, [Texas] can be one of the hardest races in the world. It’s typically hotter and more humid than Kona, and you don’t have the wind. There are pluses and minuses to that, but Texas is generally a very, very still course. If you get an outlier, like you did last year, where you’ve got northern winds coming down and cooling it off, that means the second half of the bike is much harder because you’re riding straight into a headwind. [The course] is one big loop so an advantage can quickly become a disadvantage. It’s not like one of these multi-loop courses that you can suss out and adjust.
For the racer taking on their first IM down at the Woodlands, do you have any Pro wisdom to share? You have to be so careful with modulating your energy — it’s very hard to recover If you go too hard at any point, that’s especially true in an Ironman with conditions like Texas. If you go too hard early in this course, it’s gonna be pretty brutal. Overall, I think a lot of people over-think it. Don’t swim too hard. Don’t bike too hard. Save something for the second half. The longer the race, the less complicated it should be.