Todd Behringer knows he’s a little biased. As the CEO and President of Bicycle World Texas, the title sponsor for the upcoming Ironman 70.3 Waco Triathlon, he is fully invested in helping Waco put on a great race.
But Behringer also knows of which he speaks. He has competed in 17 Ironman races in the past, both at the full distance (140.6 miles) and the half varieties. Plus, he has already made the rounds on the Waco course, and he’s convinced.
“You have to be careful not to be biased, but it has the potential to be a spectacular race,” Behringer said. “Really, with the comparison of courses with what we’ve seen out there, to be able to start downtown and to be able to quickly get out with very good roads and no traffic, it’s getting harder and harder with the Ironman events.”
The inaugural Ironman 70.3 Waco replaces the Austin race on the Ironman schedule, and organizers were pleased and even overwhelmed by the interest. They capped registration at 3,000 participants in June.
Behringer said that Ironman officials want to stage races in urban, downtown areas, but it’s become harder to do in high-traffic cities like Dallas, San Antonio and Austin.
“So they’re really looking for mid-markets such as Waco, they can come downtown, still get the excitement of the event being downtown, but still be able to quickly get out and not let traffic be an issue,” he said.
Race organizers revealed the swimming, biking and running courses at a Friday press conference at a Waco’s Bicycle World location, simulcasting the announcement on Facebook Live. The event will begin with a 1.2-mile swim in the Brazos River, leading off from the Waco Paddle Company’s dock near the Waco Suspension Bridge. Racers will make a single loop before transitioning to a 56-mile bike course that traverses Martin Luther King Drive, China Spring Road and other McLennan County country roads before returning downtown. Though parts of that stretch are relatively flat, bikers will gain a total of 1,116 feet of elevation along the course.
“There’s enough straightaways that you want as a competitor, because you’re trying to go fast. You’re not looking around a whole lot,” Behringer said. “But, really, on the back side of the course there’s enough countryside turns to keep it to where it’s still interesting. So we like that.”
Finally, participants will embark on the 13.1-mile (half-marathon) run that utilizes much of Cameron Park. The running course features a double loop before the triathletes eventually cross over the Suspension Bridge for the finish.
The course bears some similarities to the 10-year-old TriWaco, and yet the sway of Ironman helped open up some new avenues, Behringer said.
“With this event and Ironman’s power, so to speak, their brand, they’re able to get road closures and they’re able to pull off things and have the manpower that we with TriWaco could not do,” Behringer said. “To get those roads (China Spring Road, FM 185) closed was really unheard of for any event.”
Will Phipps, executive director of the Greater Waco Sports Commission, said that he first responded to a Request for Proposal (RFP) from Ironman in early 2017. In May of that year, Ironman officials visited Waco, and the race was finalized and formally announced last November.
Race director Greg Pennington praised how both county and city officials have “opened up their arms” to welcome this inaugural Ironman event in the city.
Race officials were delighted by the registration response. Last year’s final Austin 70.3 event featured around 2,000 competitors, so the Waco race’s turnout represents a 50 percent increase – with room to grow even more.
“We capped it at 3,000. There are very few 70.3s that have that many participants,” Behringer said. “We think next year that this could literally be the largest 70.3 (race) in the nation.”
Ironman has reached a five-year agreement to hold the race in Waco, and Bicycle World of Texas has a similar commitment as title sponsor.
Race officials also believe that the event sets up well for spectators. From the vantage point of the Suspension Bridge or Washington Avenue Bridge, fans will be able to watch the swimmers as they make their loop on the Brazos. Because of the two-loop running course, fans sitting along the street should be able to view the athletes twice on their run before making a short trek over to the finish line at the Suspension Bridge to see them complete the race.
Waco owns a unique triathlon history. It hosted the state’s first triathlon in 1980 at Lake Waco’s Airport Park. The race continued on an annual basis until 1996, then faded away. But it experienced a rebirth in 2008 with the introduction of TriWaco, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary last month.
And if this inaugural Ironman race goes well, it could grease the bicycle spokes for future triathlons in Waco.
“There’s other triathlon events out there,” Behringer said. “Ironman can set the stage, you have USAT nationals, lots of other races. It really sets it up any time you do something successfully, it opens the doors for others.”