2018 and the Ironman 70.3 World Championships were in South Africa. Unlike the crown jewel of the Ironman full distance World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. The 70.3 equivalent has rather attractively been given free reign to roam across the globe. With previous years in Austria, Australia and 2017 the USA, it was the turn of a whole new continent for Ironman to host a premium event, with Nelson Mandela Bay, Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
Rolling back through the process of getting there you have to qualify, my race for this was Weymouth 70.3 a whole 12months back. A top 5 giving me a automatic slot for the race in South Africa if I chose to take it. At the time there was no intention of taking the slot, and it wasn’t until meeting some friends at the slot allocation and then the killer blow of Ironmans motivational 5min video that sells you the race…that by the end of the night and a few £ lighter from my wallet, I was heading to Africa in 2018.
Planning for such a race seemed actually pretty simple after having a few years of triathlon under my belt. That included a few longer races including LCW Tenby to aim for but most importantly, all of which I found motivating and something to actually look forward to.
Triathletes with such a premium race in the calendar can get carried away with self pressure for performance and a obsession for numbers heading towards the race. Leaving them actually not enjoying the process at all. Now as much as I’m committed to day to day training and doing the necessary. I very much push my training choices to what is fun, and try take that exact same approach into race day itself. If nothing else it gives longevity to enjoy all these races year in year out.
South Africa gave the opportunity for a racecation, 5 days in Port Elizabeth solely Triathlon orientated, then 7days in Cape Town exploring a seemingly stunning part of the world.
Arriving in PE bike intact and present, and a fly around the swim/bike courses, it was apparent you got a ‘real’ triathlon with this race. A sea swim, from a beach start into the waves. And a stunning undulating coast road along the Indian Ocean as just part of a 90k bike leg, you can really go at…thumbs up from me.
Race day came and with Jan Frodeno, Alistair Brownlee and Javier Gomez all on the Pro start line, it was all quite surreal to be setting off in the same race behind them. 9.10am came and the Male 25-29 Age Category was off, with waves of 8 leaving every 15seconds making a much calmer swim start than the usual fight expected. Another local triathlete Jack Skelton in the 25-29, who became a good travel companion across the trip set off in the exact same 8 as myself. Making a fun duel for the day for the trackers at home to watch.
The beeps count down an GO! A 50metre ish run to the waves and it was into the wet, 800m before the first turn and it was a real sea swim, no major waves but certainly enough chop so you couldn’t see the buoys if you sighted at the wrong point. I felt prepared though after working on a faster turnover of stroke for such sea conditions in my training. As far as a swim goes it was fairly uneventful, I felt good and passed what felt like a constant stream of the starters before me. Out of the waves to shore and a what must be close to 100m run to the timing mat for a late 26min swim…I have no judge of this in race as i dont use a watch. But post race it’s a time I’m happy with given the timing mat placing and being a ‘proper’ sea swim.
T1, and wetsuit off in a second thanks to the wetsuit grabbers who pull it off your legs. Something completely new to me but hey they made it so easy. Grab helmet/bike, noticing Jack’s still there so I’m up on time (thank god as I felt I needed it for the bike).
Continuing through T1 and errm a gentle shout to hurry up to the guys taking too long to run to the bike mount line and the it was off on the 90k leg.
Now the bike can go many ways for me, often suffering from the cold, crashing, blowing up or generally the part I enjoy the least. This time I felt different, legs got going straight away and I was just chasing every bike up the road I could. With 10 waves and probably over a 1000 men setting off already there was big groups to get past. Sitting behind all these athletes was useless as they were so much slower, but due to the numbers it was a large effort to keep overtaking so many at once and not be at the risk of a 5min drafting penalty from the many bike marshals predating the course. I rolled the dice every time, wanting to ride a clean race I took on the ‘GO FOR IT’ theme and to find out the hard way how it would feel. Ultimately I road the best I ever have in a 70.3, a 2hr25 split and feeling good with it the whole way. Maybe I just enjoy having the competition of so many fast athletes around me. And importantly for my own morality exiting the bike with the final satisfaction I rode as honest as I possibly could the whole way around.
T2 and another new, no bike racking, just throw it at the marshalls. Kit on and off we go to see how a likely, ‘best’ 70.3 swim/bike combination would lead me on the run.
The run…they said flat and fast, they must have forgotten the 2 long hills at either end! Nothing major but in any race of these distances you never really fancy seeing them on each lap.
As for the actually running, well, it wasn’t feeling fast, my head felt good but the legs said no. Trying to run at a stride length I feel I can do to go quicker just wasn’t happening, and trying it seemed to twitch cramp in both my hamstrings and quads. So a case of management of what would be most efficient and not leading to firing that those twinges into full blown cramp.
Lap 2 and spotting Jack again with the relief of now knowing I wouldn’t be caught by him (small in race competition) the signals were he felt equally in a state of management rather than life best run split.
5k to go and I desperately wanted to nail everything to the line, but the legs wouldn’t give it. Frustrating yes, but equally satisfying that I’d reached a point I couldn’t actually give more. And for a World Championship, that is really what you aim for.
The red carpet, something I’d been waiting for over 12months for, your name being called out to the crowd’s and the chance to take in what months of your year had gone into. I genuinely had no idea of my finish time coming to the line with my preference for lack of watches and data. Sub 4hr30 was the target…4hr22min11 the time, and most importantly a strong finish line photo to suit, we all know that’s important haha.
The first 70.3 World Championship in the bag, 156th of 3675 including Pro’s. A performance that gives large satisfaction but scope for improvement at another 70.3 Championship race..of which I leave with hunger for.
South Africa delivered and Ironman delivered the best race experience yet with every detail covered.
Memories that I will never forget and a experience that I’m truly grateful for having the opportunity to race.
With finally a overly large thanks to both Britcon and OTCF for the support and advice towards making this all happen, you guys really make the process much easier.