Mastering Ironman 70.3 Taupō: New Zealand's Premier Triathlon Course

Ironman Taupō is renowned as one of the world's premier Ironman courses, and it's easy to see why. Nestled on the edge of Australasia's largest freshwater lake, Lake Taupō, the town offers a vista that's hard to beat. Gaze across the lake, and you'll be greeted by the presence of Mount Tongariro, Mount Ngauruhoe, and the tallest of them all, Mount Ruapehu.

On days when the sky is clear and the breeze is gentle, the lake is calm and silky smooth – perfect for the swim leg of the race. And let's not forget the hot pockets of water in the streams that flow into Lake Taupō. Warmed by geothermal activity, they're perfect for relaxing your muscles after the race.

I've completed the Ironman 70.3 Taupō three times. My latest attempt in December 2023 unveiled a new course layout. The bike segment was revamped from a single extended loop to a double loop format, and the run was modified from two to three laps. This change was aimed at enhancing the experience for the fans, drawing them closer to the action. But it wasn't just the spectators who got more of the Ironman; we athletes faced a fresh challenge as well – the new course design did away with some of the flat stretches, instead adding extra climbs and descents on the Broadlands in the bike stage, testing our endurance twice over!

The Updated Course for Ironman 70.3 Taupō 2023

The updated course has brought a new level of enjoyment to the race. With the bike and run now consisting of shorter laps, there are more u-turns to navigate. This change seems minor, but it significantly alters the race dynamics. You're always in sight of your competitors, which makes it easier to measure how you're doing relative to them. The opportunity to 'sit on' or stay hidden behind other riders is gone with this new layout; everyone is out in the open.

The increased number of turns on the course means there's less bunching up and more spreading out of athletes. It's a different kind of race where you have to claim your own patch of road.

The support from the spectators is incredible too. The course's extra laps mean you're never far from a motivating cheer or an encouraging shout. As a Kiwi, it’s always special to compete in front of a home crowd. And if you're coming from overseas, expect to be embraced by the local community—the 7km run course is a vibrant, with residents cheering from outside their homes as you pass by.

Note that the 2024 Ironman 70.3 World Championships are being held in Taupō this year. At time of writing, the course details haven't been announced, but it could look quite similar to the December 2023 course.

Terrain & Course Expectations

The revamped course delivers a thrilling and demanding race. Veterans of the Taupō circuit are well-aware of how the course can sneak up on you, testing your limits when you least expect it.

On a good day, Lake Taupō can be as calm as a swimming pool, offering a seamless swim stage. But don't underestimate the bike section – the combination of a gritty road surface, rolling hills, and numerous u-turns can wear you down subtly over time.

Speedier riders should brace for a packed second lap as the rest of the participants are still completing their first. The condensed nature of the course and the frequent u-turns mean you'll need to be extra vigilant to avoid congestion and safely overtake fellow athletes.

As for the run, it's a constant series of gentle rises that can take a toll. The final 3 kilometres, in particular, will test your resolve. Train on hills to prepare; this course favours a strong, well-rounded triathlete.

Ironman 70.3 Taupo Course December 2023
Aid Stations & Hydration

On the bike stage, you'll find three aid stations on each lap. The first one comes up quickly, just 2 km in, and you may not need to stop there during your initial lap. The placement of the second station is tricky—it's on a level stretch right after a downhill and before another. This means you'll be at speed, which I learned can make grabbing bottles tricky as I hit speeds over 50 km/h. My advice? Carry enough fluid and energy to make it to the third station comfortably.

For the run, aid stations are evenly distributed, with four per lap, or roughly every 1.5 to 2 km. Ironman ensures these stations are well-stocked, so your nutritional needs should be met.

It's crucial to stick to the same nutrition plan you've trained with, as switching it up on race day can lead to unforeseen issues—I've learned this the hard way. Just in case, carry your essential fuel with you. One year, I lost my energy drink bottle while cycling fast. But not to worry, you'll have access to water, sports drinks, fruits, and energy gels at the stations to keep you fed and watered throughout the race. 

General Tips for Taupō 70.3 Ironman

Taupō's December climate can be deceptive — it's often colder than you'd expect. This past event, we were fortunate to have milder temperatures for the swim, bike, and run stages.

  • Pre-Race Warm-Up: Get your body temperature up before the race starts. A short run can help you work up a light sweat. While a pre-swim might seem beneficial, it can make you feel colder as you wait for the rolling start.
  • Double Up Your Swim Caps: For extra insulation during the swim, wear your training cap under your race cap. It's a simple trick to keep your head warmer.
  • Bring Warm Gear for the Bike: The air gets nippy once you're out of Taupō town center. Consider an additional jacket, stuff some newspaper for insulation, or wear gloves, depending on the weather forecast. Pre-fit your cycling shoes with toe warmers. While some of these tactics may affect your aerodynamism, cooling down too much will negatively affect your performance.
  • Don't Forget a Hat for the Run: A hat is versatile — it shields you from the sun on a bright day and retains heat when it's chilly. 

Information for Spectators

This information is based on the course for the December 2023 70.3 Ironman race, and may change for future events. 

The Taupō course is spectator-friendly and your friends and family can enjoy all of the action within walking distance. For a quick snack or a cup of coffee, the Taupō town center is just a five minute stroll from the athletes’ transition area.

1.9 km Swim

Athletes swim out 200 m from the shoreline, turn right, and swim 800 m north before returning towards the start. Spectators can take in the entire segment from the lake's edge, offering an elevated perspective as competitors run up a slope towards the transition area.

90 km Bike (2 laps)

Athletes then hop on to their bikes and start this stage along Rifle Range Road. Watch competitors as they zoom in from their first lap and gear up for the second. For those who want to see more, 'Off Road Highway' provides a unique vantage point to witness the athletes as they ascend the demanding Broadlands climb.

21 km Run (3 laps)

The run course, a three-lap affair along Lake Terrace, provides plenty of opportunities for supporters to get close to the action. Find a spot near the transition zone to join the crowd of supporters. It’s the enthusiasm from the crowd that gives the athletes that extra push, especially as they tackle the subtle yet punishing uphill return to Taupō town. 

Weather & Conditions: Expect the Unexpected

I've been lucky with the weather during my races at Ironman Taupō 70.3, enjoying warm, sunny days and a peaceful lake. But make no mistake, December here isn't your typical summer season. Prepare for sudden cold gusts and choppy waters—the proximity to the mountains means weather conditions can shift rapidly. While the wind presents a challenge across Taupō's expansive lake and open roads, with luck, you'll find yourself racing under clear skies, with mild winds and comfortable temperatures. 

Relaxing After The Ironman 70.3

Well done on crossing the finish line of the 70.3! Whether you're looking to kick back or cool down your muscles, Taupō offers plenty of options. Satisfy your post-race appetite and quench your thirst at the local eateries. The Two Mile Bay Sailing Club boasts a lively atmosphere right by the lake, serving up tasty pizzas and refreshing drinks.

If you're after a morning caffeine fix, The Storehouse Café offers good coffee and a tempting selection of treats, plus a full breakfast and lunch menu.

For a leisurely day-after activity, consider a 6 km walk from Spa Thermal Park to the Huka Falls Bridge, where you can indulge in the scenic views and maybe even a rejuvenating dip in the natural hot springs.

And if you're up for some light-hearted competition, head over to Spa Thermal Park, home to New Zealand's top-rated frisbee golf course. It's a perfect way to unwind and enjoy some laughs with friends. Frisbees can be rented from the nearby ‘AJ Hackett Bungy’.

  • Triathletes Swimming Ironman Taupo 70.3

    Swim Stage Ironman 70.3 Taupō

    Jayden recommends doubling up your swim caps if the water is cold on race day.

    Click right arrow for next image.

  • Jayden Kuijpers finishes swim at Ironman Taupo 70.3

    Swim Stage Ironman 70.3 Taupō

    Jayden finishing the swim stage, about to run up a grassy slope towards the athlete transition area.

    Click right arrow for next image.

  • Triathlete Jayden Kuijpers Cycling Taupo Ironman 70.3

    Cycle Stage Ironman 70.3 Taupō

    The 90 km cycle stage is two laps, takes athletes out of the town along Broadlands Road. This section has a demanding climb.

    Click on right arrow for next image.

  • Jayden Kuijpers Professional Triathlete running Ironman 70.3 at Lake Taupo

    21.1 km Run Stage Ironman 70.3 Taupō

    The run stage consists of 3 laps. Athletes return to the lake and run lakeside.

    Jayden recommends incorporating hill work into your running training: the course has some gentle rises that begin to take their toll in this stage.

  • Athlete Transition Area Ironman 70.3 Taupo

    Athlete Transition Area Ironman 70.3 Taupō

    The transition area is a short run from the lake, up a grassy slope.

Jayden Professional Triathlete Roam NZ Australia

About Jayden Kuijpers

Jayden Kuijpers is a professional Kiwi triathlete, specialising in the 70.3 distance. After spending many years in the world of competitive cycling, Jayden took the leap into triathlon after suffering from an injury, which saw him learning how to swim. From there, the rest is history.

Some of Jayden’s recent results include 8th place at the Asia Pacific Champs at Langkawi 70.3 and a smoking 4th place at NZ Nationals in the Half Marathon Distance (1:09:01).

Follow Jayden

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