What a fantastic experience. When I look back 3 years ago when I started doing triathlons I would have never imagined that one day I would be competing with the best athletes in the world in a 70.3 World Championship race (including my hometown buddy Javier Gomez Noya). I got my qualifying slot at Geelong 70.3 back in February and since then I knew that I was on the right path of training and improvement. I still remember one of my first rides with the BRATs back in early 2015 when I had to get off my bike in the last 2k hill at RNP and had to walk up (John and Karen will easily remember), it was probably disappointing but hey here I am now, a 70.3 World Champ!
The short trip to the US made things even more interesting, flight cancellations, delays, heavy jet lag to overcome, etc. Departed from Sydney on Thursday morning 7th September and arrived to Chattanooga, TN, same day after 24 long hours travelling. Before landing in Chattanooga I already knew a few good facts about the challenging 70.3 course thanks to John Hilldaily reports but key was to familiarise with at least part of the course.
Friday morning started with an early practice swim in the Tennessee River. I have to say that although we swam with wetsuit on race day the water was pretty warm, probably just on the edge of a non-wetsuit swim. Final decision did not come till morning on race day. Being used to swim in Australian crystal blue waters, the Tennessee River was everything except crystal! The main challenge of the swim course was the current, which included 860m against it.
Following the practice swim, quick athlete check-in and then off to a short bike ride to at least check the first kilometres of the tough bike course. The rumours were confirmed, from km 8 nice long climb ahead with 10% -12% ramps and one or two close to 16%. This did not disappoint me at all, as I knew it would not favour the big gear guys.
Sunday RACE DAY - Transition open from 5:30am but Age Groupers will not start till 7:38am. It was a fresh morning despite the nice and sunny day ahead. Entered transition around 6:30am to get final things ready, pump tires, nutrition, some final stretching and ready to see the Pro Men gun start at 7:30am. What a competitive Pro field, amongst them Sebastian Kienle, Tim Reed, Javier Gomez Noya, Tim Don, etc. Following the Pros a total of 12th Age Groups swim waves all very organised by times, like horses leaving the barrier stalls. My Age Group 30-34 was the 6th wave to kick-off at 8:22am.
Just after watching Javier Gomez Noya coming out of the water in second it was time to head to the start box and do the same! I decided to position myself within the front pack but slightly behind. 8:22am race is ON! Off to the river; I dived with full head into the river but a small mistake made some water come into my googles, I said Borja no stress, I kept swimming a few meters more before it cleared and I was able to lift my googles and take out the water. I felt really good on the swim despite the current which I did not notice it much and was able to enjoy a clean swim along the 1900m course stopping the watch in 30:40 and quick into transition.
Out of T1, we exited Chattanooga on the way to Lookout Mountain. The bike course, 90km between the States of Tennessee and Georgia, a combination of tough climbing, including 1000 meter of elevation gain followed by some up and downs before hitting the nice downhill around km 37. First 8 kilometres of the bike, the flat suddenly gives way to a beautiful scenery like any hilly stage of the Giro, Tour de France or La Vuelta. I set the lowest gear on my bike and started climbing with a good cadence while my watts were actually going up very quickly. I tried not to go too crazy but I was actually enjoying it, so I looked to make up most of the difference in the climb. Finally from km 37 into the nice and fast descent, easy turns, no brakes, just a bit of attention as every athlete is getting really excited on the downhill adopting various sorts of superman positions. From here till the end of the bike, a flat rough course with some light up and downs. I tried to concentrate on power without burning myself as I knew the half marathon was going to be a killer. Last kilometres of the bike course and back to Chattanooga for T2, 2h31 split bike time.
If the bike course was tough, the run was more of the same, including two killing hills over the 2 lap course. The 21.1km run along the Riverwalk with two different crossings over the Tennessee River. Unfortunately I did not have the chance to familiarize with the run course before the race, so all was new for me. Out of T2 sun was shining and it was pretty hot, I set the pace in the lows 4:00/km, I knew the first lap was going to be key to familiarise with the course and be able to set the pace in the second lap without killing myself too much. The run along the Riverwalk included a set of up and downs, so I tried to make up the most of it setting a 3:30'-3:40' pace on downhills (Javier Gomez did a 3:29’ avg half…) and trying to hold the pace below 5:00’ on the "Annapurna" hills... During the second lap I was able to maintain the pace and crossed the finish line in a 1h28' with an overall time of 4h37' placing myself 75th out of 318 athletes in my Age Group and 277th place overall out of 2380 athletes.
In summary an amazing experience, very happy with my whole performance and result in a pretty competitive and brutal race, but that's the World Championships, no mercy out there.