Waco Ironman brings in thousand to compete

Support crew members welcome in the triathletes to the finish. By the time athletes had crossed the finish line, they had been tested in a 70.3 mile race that tested the athletes running, biking and swimming skills. Kristen DeHaven | Multimedia Journalist

By McKenzie Oviatt | Reporter

Each year, Waco hosts the Ironman Triathlon, bringing in more than 1,000 racers from across the country to compete in the rigorous course. Sunday’s 70.3 – mile race tested even the best of competitors.

Families can stay along the sidelines to cheer on the athletes or can bike or hike around Cameron Park while the race unfolds. Some chose to stay at Magnolia Market, which provided refreshments for those supporting the racers.

The course is difficult, yet beginner-friendly, and the event coordinators kept the swimmers just 50 meters from shore to maintain safety. This year, the swimming portion was even more approachable than normal because participants were allowed to wear a wetsuit.

One competitor, Maddie Kovacs, said the swim accommodations made the race more enjoyable.

“The swim was surprisingly the easiest part with it being wetsuit-legal. I personally would not do it again, but I enjoyed my experience of the town, Bicycle World being walking distance and the views on the race course,” Kovacs said.

The bike loop encompasses many of Waco’s scenic views. Biking 56 miles in a single loop, riders traveled past Lake Waco and into the Waco wetlands. During the first 20 miles, there is a steady climb that becomes more intense with increasing hills in the middle, finishing on the flat streets of downtown Waco.

The 13.1 – mile run goes over the Brazos River bridges, through downtown Waco and into Cameron Park. The notorious hills in Cameron Park make this particular triathlon exceptionally difficult. Waco’s annual half marathon, hosted in May, is known as the “toughest half in Texas” in large part due to Cameron Park. The finish line is on the Suspension Bridge in downtown Waco.

“Waco was very different from every other race because of the steep hills on the run. They were very challenging,” Kovacs said.

One Baylor club, in particular, directly prepares athletes who participate in the Ironman race. Baylor has a triathlon club that meets weekly for training exercises. The club does not hold tryouts for those looking to become members, but rather takes the student’s base skill sets and builds upon them to enhance the members’ athletic endurance.

McKinney junior Derek Page, co-president of the Baylor Triathlon Club, competed in the Ironman 70.3. Page said he loved the race being in Waco and the course was scenic and presented some good challenges. Page said the club provided him with ample training.

“We do races that are about half the distance of the Ironman 70.3, so I was in pretty good shape to begin with. I had about a month to ramp up my distance training before the race,” Page said.

Many of the participants have already competed in other Ironman triathlons. One athlete, Claudia Thompson, has been a bike law ambassador and a two-time All-American for Team USA.

“I’ve raced a lot this year. My last 70.3 was in September, so I really just carried that fitness into this race. I did a lot of intervals for a month to keep my fitness sharp,” Thompson said.

Although the swimming portion was modified with the wetsuit, there were still some obstacles that added challenge to this year’s Ironman.

“The wind got pretty rough on the bike course and running the hills in Cameron Park is always painful. But the Brazos cooperated for us and the weather didn’t get out of hand,” Page said.

The course has been tested throughout the years and amended to be safe for the athletes and accessible for viewers.

“Waco was super well-organized. I never got lost nor did I feel like I was in an unsafe situation,” Kovacs said.