After Borja, my World Champs 70.3 Race Report for people not friends with me - got a bit long in the end - sorry :)
One week ago, I went to rack my loved Cervelo P3 in Chattanooga to compete in the 70.3 World Champs for what I thought might be my best race yet, given I’ve done the work and felt I was bouncing back pretty well from IM Frankfurt 2 months ago. How wrong I was as I crossed the finish line after 6.14 hours ranking pretty much at the end of the field. But it still ended up both being a fantastic experience and the race I’m most proud. And all of this after I started the sport only less than 3 years ago, shortly after I moved to Australia being unable to swim 100 meters without fear to drown, never possessed a road bike in my life and having had a 10k running PB of about 50 minutes.
So the trip started with my travel buddy, training partner and good friend Borja Franco Moreu on Thursday morning, half a day earlier than planned, as our flight to Dallas was cancelled and we flew via LA to Nashville. Arriving after a trip that lasted >30 hours, I was hoping we would get a good night of sleep – again, I was wrong as we started putting our bikes together the next morning at 3.45am.
On Friday, we went for a little ‘spin’ on the bike course with my PB3 squad mates. On the first hill I immediately realized that the race plan ‘start easy and ride up the hill at about 250W’ was naïve and impossible as I struggled to stay below 300W given the average gradient of 6-7% with a fair amount of 10-15% ramps in there. Well…nobody said it was going to be easy.
On Saturday (and finally after a good night of sleep), we went watching the girls finish from the Pro Lounge, thanks to my training mate Monica Juhart, who gave us access (and finished 30th Pro woman). I was pretty awesome to be so close to Daniela smashing the race and once again showed why she is number 1 just killing everybody on the bike. However, a bit sad to see Holly dropping out of the race, I would have loved taking a picture with her too ;)
Race Day – In contrast to most triathletes, I never had problems sleeping the night before (it’s just a hobby, right?), but again this time was different. After sleeping barely an hour I was woken up by the not-so-happy kids of our room neighbours and laid awake for 6 hours, waiting for the clock to turn 4.30 to get up and finally race.
Arriving in transition my front tire was flat. Given that I only had one spare on the bike and no additional one with me (note to myself: amateur mistake!), I decided not to change it and just hoped the tube was ok, and somebody either let the air out, or the valve got stuck when I slightly deflated my tire the day before. What a good decision: It meant I could actually finish the race, but more on that soon.
Swim – After we watched the Pros come out of the Water for what was going to be an epic race (watch it on youtube!), we went to the start pontoon and I seeded myself somewhere in the middle, behind Borja (which meant good luck in the past in NZ and Busso). Diving in head first, my goggles moved a bit, and some water got it, but not enough to really bother me, so on to catch some good feet of which there were plenty (it was still the World Champs, after all). Swimming about 900 meters upstream made the swim pretty tough and exhausting. Given these circumstances coming out of the water after 34m and right in the middle of my AG was good for me - as I am the last person to be considered a swimmer, so well done Coach Chris Hanrahan.
After a fast and hard transition (luckily, there was still air in my front tire), I jumped onto the bike at almost max HR. Trying to bring it down a bit, I took the first few km easy, knowing the hill was coming. That only worked to a limited extent, but I knew from past races, it could take 20-30mins for the HR to normalize, so I didn’t worry too much. Up the hill, I felt good and started well overtaking some people of the AG before me (I think 65+) as well as people in my AG which seemed to be better swimmers than bikers. Now the drama was about to start. First, the bike mechanic car cut me in a corner making me have body contact with a spectator and I was very close coming off my bike, which resulted in some verbal abuse of that car and another spike in my HR. Little did I know that I was going to desperately want that car showing up later.
So, just as I approached the first aid station, I heard a bang, and I immediately knew my tire (the back one, not the one that was flat in the morning) had a puncture. Luckily, the mechanic at the aid station helped me fixing it quickly, but as he only had 80mm tubes, I had to use my own 40mm for the disc wheel at the back. I continued riding hard still believing a decent result was in the cards, but after 15km it blew again. Knowing I had no more spares quitting crossed my mind, but then I remembered all the money and time I had spent on this trip as well as Lionel Sanders (big inspiration for me) winning the Penticton ITU Long Course Title a couple of weeks ago after having a flat tire (only one though) saying in the post race interview ‘it ain’t over until it’s over’, which I made my race mantra for these World Champs. So I made the decision that I’m going to finish this damn f***ing race no matter what and take home the finisher medal. So I started walking with my bike as the next aid station couldn’t be much further away than 5km while I was hoping for the bike mechanic car show up again (that one at which I swore a bit). A bit disappointing that neither the car nor any other race personnel was to be seen in about 45minutes of walking, despite a policeman and a volunteer saying they gonna inform somebody to help me. But I guess they were just busy with helping other athletes. Finally, I arrived at the aid station just to find out, that there wasn’t a bike mechanic and hence also no spare tubes. Luckily, I remembered I had at least a patch kit in my bento box, so I fixed the tire up myself (not before double- and triplechecking if there was any stone or glass at the inside or outside of the tire), and continued riding taking the downhills quite aggressively. (Actually got the shits a bit, because if you had two flats, a third seems not that unlikely. Not that pleasant when you going around 70 km/h). But it worked all out, I rode hard again and took rider after rider (I guess I was pretty much at the end of the field and the AGs around me were 50+). After another 30km I realized I had a slow flat again. As I was trying again to get a bit closer to the next aid station, I continued riding very slowly putting all the weight on my front tire, just to get as far as I could. But that wasn’t very far. So I stopped again, and wanted to check the tube again to see if I could apply another patch. Now I started to loose a bit of faith to finish this, but I hadn’t given up yet. Luckily, a bike mechanic on an Ebike showed up (so not the car, that I had ambiguous feelings about). Same old again: Checking for glass etc, changing tire and off I went. But after about 500m the tube exploded again. At this point, I got the feeling that this doesn’t make any sense anymore. I wouldn’t make the cut-off if I have to change the tire every kilometre now. But I knew the bike mechanic was about to pass me again, so I waited for a couple of mins again. When he showed up, he offered me a new (heavy duty - YEAAH) tire, which finally fixed the problem and I could ride back into town and T2. (Just thinking about the reasons, it must have been that my superlight race tire was just to weak for the American country roads build decades ago, given that the mechanic and I checked the tire really carefully for anything that could have caused the punctures)….Well, I guess that’s racing, and given I had never had a flat in my 10+ races before, it had to happen at some point. And looking at the bright side, this was better to happen in the World Champs, than in the qualifying race for them.
So, now onto the run after spending 4 hours on the bike course. I decided I gonna have a good run, prove to myself that my running has improved and give my quads a good smacking especially on the fast downhills running sub 4. Long story short, this worked out, in the end happy with a 1.34 on a very tough and hilly course and in the increasingly warm weather (after all, I finished at about 2.30pm). One might think now it’s easy to run after so many breaks, but still, riding 84km at 235W or about 84% of FTP had to have some impact.
In conclusion, it was great race. The course was beautiful, challenging and honest. I performed in line with my expectations with regards to the swim, run and bike (when I biked). I comp(l)eted with some of the best triathletes in the world, both professionals and Agegroupers, which was also a very humbling experience. But most importantly I finished this race which became my main goal during the day and in the end, the finish line feeling was very special and truly deserved this time – probably the best one I ever had!
But ranking 313/318 in the AG, I feel there is still some unfinished business and I will be back!
Thanks to Chattanooga, its people and Ironman for putting on a great event and congratulations to all my friends and also everybody else qualifying and finishing this tough race!