Ironman 70.3 Gulf Coast Receives B+
Our very own super star President, John Cameron, competed in the inaugural Ironman 70.3 Gulf Coast on 13 May. You may be thinking that this race is not new and you would be partially right. This very race used to be the Gulf Coast race that offered a sprint distance and a 70.3 distant. This year, 2017, the outstanding franchise which we know and love, Ironman, took over this outstanding rave venue. The race takes place in the crystal waters of Panama City, Florida and is the sibling of the big daddy, Florida Ironman that is held in November and sells out quickly every year. So, it made sense that Ironman would take over the 70.3 distant race as well. This race, although a first under the Ironman umbrella, has been established which means smooth sailing and great support throughout the race. The course was well marked and easy to follow. There were ample aid stations positioned at every mile of the run which further increases the positive points for this race.
Our seasoned CTC member, John, has the perfect recap of each section of this growing race. So, with the help of John, lets break down each aspect of the Ironman 70.3 Gulf Coast race.
The lodging had great options that were not far from the race which always makes it nice especially after a grueling long race. I mean who wants to walk 5 miles to your car when you just busted out 70.3 miles!? John chose to rent a VRBO unit at the host location. There are also a slew of hotels along the strip within walking distance to the transition.
The transition was on the parking lot of the host hotel. Talk about convenient! The swim was an out and back rectangle rather than along the shoreline. This allowed the athletes to get past the break into clean water. If you get to the venue days early you can practice because they set up the buoys on Thursday. With all of that said, John and the other triathletes never got to try out the swim on race day because the swim was cancelled due to the immense currents. The swim would have been self seeded based on anticipated finish time. There would have been signage posted with times and the triathlete would merely file in according to when they projected they would finish. Maybe next year the weather will behave and they can do this.
The bike began with a rolling start since the swim was cancelled. The course starts with an interesting start over a bridge single file. Once you get to the other side of the hill you have to brake swiftly and make a turn. This requires skill and awareness on the part of the triathlete for sure. In order to do that you have to manage speed and then make your way through a hotel parking lot before being able to get up to speed. Not the best start and something that should hopefully be relooked at and changed for next year. It is also an open course but no real issue with cars. Other than that, the bike is an out and back course. There was a good tail wind on the way out and a good headwind on way back. You’ll climb the big bridge 2x. It’s a good climb but that’s pretty much it for elevation. Roads are good for the most part – some bumps and debris on the main beach road which is typical for beach roadways. Entrance into T2 was good but you have to pay attention to other athletes at dismount which is typical for a big race. John gives extra credit to the race director who made a course correction to the bike course so they could avoid graded roads. He shifted the triathletes to a new section that was new pavement and smooth. The race director even asked for the racers’ opinion before making the change (during our shake out ride on Friday).
The run is similar to the bike course in that you proceed over the bridge and through the parking lot to get out on the main loop. You will have to complete 3 loops but on the plus side it is flat. There is no shade so be mindful and bring your sunscreen. The 3 loop course can mess with the triathlete’s mind a little bit seeing the same thing over and over again but it is a great way for the family members to see their triathlete multiple times and cheer them on. The aid stations are well stocked with ice, fruit, gels, Gatorade and water. It is quite hot out there so you better hydrate well ahead of this race as you will not catch up on the day before the race. It’s HOT! There is great fan support all over the course. The finish is back over the bridge into the start. It’s a tad winding at the end so be careful.
Overall John gives this race a B+ rating mostly because of the bike out. John believes that they should correct this somehow to where you don’t have to climb a pedestrian walkway and have to make an abrupt turn at the bottom of the hill. Also, it is vacation/beach accommodations, so if you have to be on the cheaper end, you may look into getting a well used room if you know what I mean. John’s condo through VRBO was awesome and more affordable than the host hotel (split 3 ways). Book your rooms 6 months out to get best availability.