Saturday, September 27, 2014

RACE REPORT: Ironman 70.3 World Championship



In my last post I wrote about 'chopping wood' (a.k.a Doing The Work) from the 'Winter Window'. I had 6 months between Wollongong Oly/NSW State Champs to put my head down and,with the guidance and support of Alex and the AP10 team, put in consistent work ahead of the season. 

Last month I toed the line at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Mont-Tremblant, Canada, in my first goal race of the year.

Having qualified on a roll-down slot in Auckland in January, I considered myself privileged to be racing. But, at the same time, I knew I merited that place. Alex encouraged me to take on higher expectations of myself: "you're a different athlete now."

With that in mind, I was excited to get amongst it and test myself. It would be a lie to suggest I didn't have some high expectations of myself - not in terms of a time, or rank, but performance. I expected to be able to swim faster, push more watts on the bike, and run better. Simple: get the most of out myself, leave nothing out there.

Race week approached quickly, and with vigor. On Tuesday, I awoke with rapidly-progressing head cold which wasn't promising to be a great travel companion. As it turned out, the plane's AC may have dried out my sinuses enough to give the cold a good kick in the viral guts. Arriving in Ottawa on Wednesday evening I felt considerably better, just carrying a bit of a sniffle.

We headed up to Mont-Tremblant on Thursday and excitement was running high. 

The few days prior to the race were really nice - gorgeous weather and plenty of time to hang out with friends and enjoy the atmosphere. Once check in was completed, things felt pretty real!

Checked in - it's getting real.

Race morning:
With a 8:40 start there was plenty of time to get things done race morning. I woke up, made a coffee and a bowl of porridge, then headed down to transition to do a few things. I was back by 7:30, made another coffee then the crew and I headed down to see the PRO start at 8. 

After seeing the F-18 fly over and the studs take to the water, it was my turn to put my wetsuit on, and warm up.

After getting a good warm up in, I was one of the last guys to make it to the starting corral. Trevor was there marshaling folks in, was good to see him just prior to the start. He snapped a quick pic of the AG prior to the gun going..

SWIM (1.9km): 29:54

It was a bit of a puzzle where to place myself among the guys on the beach. Being a World Championship, I expected most of these guys to be swimming in the 27-30 minute range. I swam under 30 in Auckland on a more technical course in a smaller group, so I hoped for a bit better on the feet of some of these guys. I lined up about 3 rows back, mid-pack.
The gun -well, the fireworks and military cannon- fired and we were off very, very quickly. Lots of fast guys in front of me, but none of them very good at a running start into the water - they kind of fell down in front of me and started thrashing. No duck dives and very little running into the water. Made it a bit weird when I dove onto a dude right in front.
After the chaos of the entry, it was the most hectic first 300m I have ever swum (with the exception of Ironman Melbourne last year). There were a lot of limbs flying and 200-odd guys fighting for position in a pretty tight field. M35-39 had just started ahead of us with 400+ guys - I certainly didn't envy them!
I tried to stay on some sharp feet but the faster guys had already put a big gap on. Train had left the station, unfortunately.
There were always a bunch of guys around swimming the same pace so that was handy to jump on feet as much as possible and save some pennies.
Exiting the water, I was a bit disappointed after hoping to swim a low-29. Still, it was nice to be a minute faster than my 2012 swim on that course.

T1: 4:57

Obviously a massive T1! Wetsuit strippers fumbled a bit helping me get my suit off, not too sure it helped in the end. Being right at the swim exit, I still hadn't got my top-half off so that was probably a poor decision.
Not sure how far exactly the run from the swim exit to the Transition is, but it's certainly a few hundred metres. This time, the AG competitors had to detour via the banquet tent to pick up our T1 bags. I found mine, chucked on my helmet and stuffed my wetsuit into the bag before legging it out of there to the bike.

Bike (90km): 2:26:48

With Alex's guidance, I'd made some pretty solid gains on the pushy over the winter. So, I knew I would be in a position to ride well. My goal was to ride strong, 230-240w, but within limits, as I knew shredding the pins on the bike wouldn't be a good idea ahead of the run course Marc and Dom had put together.


The course in Mont-Tremblant is gorgeous. Rolling out on Montee Ryan, turn right onto the highway and gun it out to the turn around, return via a quick lap of St Jovite's main street, and then head up a few climbs towards Lac Superior before flying back down to T2. It's 1000m-or-so of climbing don't tend to stop it being a fast bike course.
With a head cold in race week,
there was a fair bit of this happening

The problem, though, is that, until La Conception at 50km, it's flat enough for people to draft (intentionally or not) and get a free ride. I certainly found this to be the case, particularly given the thin spread in swim times.

Heading out on the initial rollers of Montee Ryan (the first 7km), it was nuts. It's a very narrow section (relative to the hwy and Lac Superior sections) and there were folks riding 3-wide and not passing. Most folks were pretty happy to roll through to the hwy like this, it appeared. You could either sit on the right and be blocked continually, or get on the pedals and pass folks continually. I chose the latter, but it did mean a few bigger power spikes early on.

Onto the hwy we were faced with a mild head wind out to the turn around (from km 7 to km 30). It became pretty clear that it'd be one of the those days with a bunch of packs hanging around. The first big one I saw was m30-34, who were the first AG to start. Riding behind the pros, there was a massive pack of 50+ guys heading south. Could only shake my head.

I think the headwind must have encouraged the poor decisions for a lot of these people on that way out. I passed two large packs (20+ competitors) all riding with little respect for the drafting/blocking rules (p.s. 7m is not enough, WTC).

At the 30km mark, I was right on target, averaging 230w and feeling good. Heading south, the packs tended to spread and the pace quickened. There were 4 of us riding together in a legal pace line set up until La Conception where I climbed ahead of them and didn't see them again after cresting the hill.

All remained pretty uneventful after that somewhat 'busy' start to the race. I was pretty solo through the village of Ste Jovite and then back into town, again over the the undulating Montee Ryan. Up, then, towards Lac Superieur for the final ~20km out-and-back section which is the hillier part of the course. I pushed up strongly, but tried to remain under CP. 

After making the turn and heading down, I was passed by a small pack of 10 or so guys (mostly Europeans from what I could see on their kits) riding very tightly. I was blocked by them a couple of times, which was really frustrating and, frankly, pretty damn dangerous on a fast, descending section of the course.

*There are quite a few other disappointing reports from the race, regarding drafting amongst both professionals and age-groupers. Take a read.. ST Thread.. Josh Amberger's Race Report (best pro recount I've read - because it's honest!)

T2: 2:06 

Nothing to report here. 

Run: 1:36:33

This was a disappointing end to the day. My run has always been my strong suit and not being able to deliver was a bit heartbreaking, particularly having worked so hard over winter. 


I figured I was in shape to run a 1:28+/-1min. I'd run 1:27 to qualify and figured I was in better shape and likely wouldn't run into a big pole this time on this course (which happened in Auckland!). 

The first 5km or so, out to the turn-around, I felt great and thought I was on-track to post a great run. I clicked off the km's at a consistent effort (though the splits are a bit more varied due to the hilly nature of the course) averaging about a 4min/km pace on the [net] uphill to the turn-around.

On the way out, lap 1. 

It hit pretty quickly: after turning and beginning the trip back into town, my began to feel like they were burning. I tried wriggling my toes a bit and getting on with it, but it was to no avail. The downhill sections were brutal. I wasn't sure how, or why, this was happening. I had done a bunch of runs off the bike in this same sock-shoe combo, never having this pain - though I'd never done more than 30 minutes in them. 

The burning stayed with me for the rest of the run, and I tried to walk a few times at aid stations to give them a brief reprise, but it didn't really help. In the end, I failed to really push through the pain and get on with it. 

Despite the pain in my feet, I was still having a pretty good time on the course. It was nice to see Trevor, Gilly, Morgan, Diane and MC on the course and cheering. The cobblestone section (which was insane, by the way) climbing up to the top of the first ski lift, was amazing to run due to the crowd support. 

Crossing the line, it was hard not to be dissappointed with the thought of not leaving it all out there. But, I was really stoked to have had the opportunity to be out there and amongst it all. It's not every day you can race the best in the world. It's fair to say the calibre of age-groupers is mind blowing at events like this. We had 20-odd guys go under 4:15, including overall AG winner (yes, ignoring Colom's result) Robin Schneider. Those 20 first guys in my AG made up 1/5th of the first 100 finishers overall, including the 40-odd Pro males. Pretty stacked. I think, looking at the results, on my best day, I may have been around 70th. 
Top of the cobbles - awesome atmosphere!

That sets a solid benchmark for 2016 Ironman 70.3 World Championships on the Sunshine Coast, for which I'll try and qualify along with the guys from Ottawa - it's on boys!!

In the meantime, onwards to Port Macquarie 70.3 in a few weeks. 

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