Ironman 70.3 World Championships Race Report
The first ever Ironman 70.3 (Half-Ironman) World Championships took place last Saturday, November 11th, in Clearwater, FL. With a big series of races leading up to it, the race featured one of the most competitive fields in the sport today, with the 70.3/Half-Iron distance attracting both long-course and short-course athletes from around the globe. With a clear forecast and minimal winds, the flat course was going to be extremely fast.
The swim took place in the Gulf of Mexico, and unlike during last year devastating hurricane season, the Gulf was a very cool 71F, meaning that the swim would be wetsuit-legal. As I did my warm-up, I felt very good. I’d been doing a lot of swimming, and I was confident that I could come out “in the mix” on the swim. I’d gone from being a “third pack” swimmer last season to comfortably being in the second pack this year, which was really great. But, as confident as I was in my swimming, I was also very nervous about the race. At one point, it suddenly hit me that I was getting ready to do the most competitive race I’d ever done, and I had a sudden bout of panic, which ended with me throwing up three times into the ocean. I felt better afterwards, but I was a little nervous about how the lost fluids and food would affect me later in the race. I also knew there was nothing I could do about it.
The swim course was a clockwise rectangle, going out about 0.6 miles, then making a short jog to the right, then coming back in 0.6 miles. I got a good run in on the start, and ended up near the front of the large second pack, right next to some of the swimmers I’d hoped to key off during the race. The water was really calm, and I felt very comfortable with the pace heading out to the first buoy. I kept good position around the first turn, but then got pushed to the outside coming around the second buoy, and slipped towards the back of the pack. I managed to stay in the pack, but lost about 10 seconds to the front of the group, which ended up being unfortunate starting the bike, since 10 seconds on a bike can be a long distance, especially when everyone tends to charge hard out the gate. Hopefully with another good winter of swimming, I’ll be able to lead the pack I’m currently trailing and maybe bridge up to the front runners. The first group of swimmers were out of the water in about 24:00, with the second group, which I was in coming, out in about 26:00 (my time was 26:12).
After coming out of the water, I had a good transition onto the bike. The transition set-up was a little different than I was used to with changing tents and wetsuit strippers (which I did not use), and I think I could have taken advantage of those to make the change a bit quicker. Overall, I think a lost a handful of seconds in transition. Coupled with the handful of seconds I lost being at the back of the first pack, I ended up being in “no man’s” land, passing the slower riders during the first section of the bike. The 15 seconds or so I could have made up with a better executed swim and transition would have put me around stronger bikers that I could have “raced against” more effectively. These are all the little details that add up.
The bike course is very flat and is basically a counter-clockwise square with a 15 mile out-and-back section about halfway through. I felt very strong, although I was a bit more uneven in my pacing than I would have liked, partially because I kept catching and passing people. But the course suited me very well, since it was a good rhythm course without too many turns and lots of time to just settle into the aerobars and ride hard. I moved up through most of the field with a 2:05:15 time on the bike, which ended up being the second fastest split of the day. I came into T2 in 7th place overall, but with two of the sports best runners right on my heels. They passed me both about 1 mile in, but at that point I was still running well, right on my pace with the first mile coming in just over 6:00, which was right on for my goal of running about 1:20 for the half marathon.
Then, as I ran up and over the causeway towards the two mile mark, I suddenly got an awful side-stitch cramp. I felt like I’d been stabbed in the side with a knife. I tried to relax and breathe deep, hoping it would go away, but it never happened. Looking back, I think I could have used a bit more fluids and electrolytes on the bike, and one of my goals this offseason will be to work on that, since I’ve had problems in humid weather before with cramping, most recently at the NYC triathlon. I also think that riding in the aero-position for so long makes it very important to really focus on breathing, both to keeps your abdominals and ribs loose, and also to make sure to prevent the buildup of metabolic waste in that area. The races where I’ve had trouble have also tended to be races with very flat bike courses where I’ve pushed hard for long sections in the aerobars. I think some deeper breathing and remembering to stretch my stomach on the bike will help as well. And, lastly, I’ll also try not to give-up my breakfast before the race even starts!
Once the cramps hit, that was basically the end of the race. I was forced to slow down and run about 7:00 miles, walking the aid stations to make sure I got lots of fluids down. The cramps seemed to work themselves out about halfway through, and I tried to pick up the pace a couple times, but my rhythm and speed was totally lost at that point. I’d also given up a lot of spaces by that point, and I realized my goal of finishing in the top-10 was now impossible, which was also disheartening. I was happy to finish the run at a steady pace, since when the side-stitch first hit, I thought I might have to drop out. The biggest disappointment was that I didn’t get to have my best race on a day that required it. I put myself where I wanted to be after the bike, and I know I am physically capable of running well enough to have held onto a top-10 spot. But I also see know that I need to make sure to pay attention to all the little details of nutrition, hydration, and staying loose during the race, since over four hours, all those things add up. I ended up running just over 1:30 for the half-marathon, my slowest time of the year.
Final race time was 4:05:59, which was an average time, but 20 minutes off the winners time which was also my worst “differential of the year,” all due to running very slow. In my best races in Florida and California, I’d been about 7 minutes back of the winners, and that’s what I know I’m capable (and which would have put me in the top-10 on Saturday). But it was a good learning experience. And finishing 17th in my first World Championships was also a positive. I’m looking forward to taking a bit of a break before getting ready to take everything I learned this season and applying it to getting ready for next season, where hopefully I’ll swim, bike, and run both faster and, more importantly (especially on the run), more consistently.
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