Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Ironmam 70.3 by Graham Rands

Ironman 70.3 World Champs - Zell am See

How did I end up in Austria at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships with some of the best 70.3 Triathletes in the world??

This is a long one, but i think the back story is part of it. So grab a brew!

Late in 2014 i entered Ironman 70.3 Wimbleball mainly because Kim had said she fancied doing a tough half ironman and also because I like hills on the bike.  Wimbleball is in Exmoor and has plenty of them, the bike course is one of the toughest 70.3 bike courses on the circuit due to its relentless up and down.  There are really only 2 'tough' hills on the course, but you are never riding on a flat surface and all this totals to around 5000ft of climbing in 56 miles, not to mention the 13.1 mile run that follows and has about another 1000ft of climbing on mixed terrain.  All this just saps your legs as you can't get into any sort of rhythm.


I had put some good training this year and had my most successful year of triathlon so far, and about 2 or 3 months before Wimbleball someone had mentioned to me about trying to qualify for the World 70.3 Champs.  If i'm being honest i never even knew that this event existed, probably because it has always been held in North America and 2015 was the first year it was being held outside of the US.  It was being held in Zell am See, Austria (another place i'd never heard of).  So after many discussions and daring to dream with Kim I decided that if I qualified that I would take my spot as I might not get the chance to go again.  


The race went ok, but not entirely as well as i'd hoped.  I had a good swim and bike, but had faded quite badly on the run.  I ended up finishing in 49th place and 15th in my age group in 5hrs 12mins  There were only 6 spots available in my age group for Austria and I thought my chances were gone (especially as it was the first year the World Champs were taking part in Europe and we thought everyone would be chomping at the bit).  We hung around for the presentations just to take in the atmosphere and to let most of the traffic die down and the Slot presentations took place shortly after this so we hung around on the off chance that it would roll all the way down to me in 15th.  It came to awarding the slots in my age group and the first 2 places had already been taken by people in the top 6.  As names were called out it was getting closer and closer to me, it reached about 9th place and there were only 2 slots left.  Kim and I were sat holding each other and our hands were getting sweatier by the second. Nobody was taking their slots from 9th to me in 15th!, we couldn't believe it and i had scraped in by the skin of my teeth.  I jumped up and took my slot.  I felt like the luckiest man in the room (probably not as lucky as the fella in 17th place, who got the last slot in our age group though).  The jubilation soon turned to reality when Ironman deducted over 200 quid from account before i'd even left the tent!


Here we are in Austria, and its hot. Oh poo!  I had done some research on the temperature averages for this time of year and it was around mid 20s.  Yes thats hot, but i could cope with it.  Instead its low to mid 30's and my race has just got even harder.  We arrived on the Thursday evening and we were immediately taken back by the stunning views and scenery everywhere.  We dumped our bags and headed into Zell am See to get some food.  We were greeted with a massive street party going on as part of the race week events.  It was a mixture of the young local kids in their dancing shoes and the triathlon community in leisure wear and IM branded clobber, but all having a great time.  There had already been a womensonly run race that day called 'Irongirl' and the customary 'Ironkids' was on Friday, then there was another 70.3 race on the Saturday that anyone could enter followed b y the World Champs on the Sunday.  It was just a massive event week with 2700 competing on Sunday alone! All the bars and restaurants were rammed and some had put special menus on that were healthier to try and draw the athletes in. Everyone seemed happy to welcome such a massive event.


Race day came and i had my usual breakfast of porridge (albiet a funny version of it that looked like baby sick)  The nerves were ever present as they are at any race and I was actually feeling quite good despite this being the first time i'draced abroad and the enormity of the occasion.  We got down to transition and i said my goodbyes to Kim and hoped that iwould get chance to see her before the start, but as it turned out it was impossible to find each other again.  I attached my shoes to my bike (on the right pedals this time, but thatsanother story ;0)) and sorted my nutrition for the day before heading out for my warm up run.  30 minutes before my race start I got into the water for my warm up swim in a balmy water temperature of 21 degrees! and listened to the pro field being introduced which included the likes of Javier Gomez, Tim Don, Frederick van Lierde, Jodie Swallow, Jan Frodenoand Daniella Ryf.  True triathlon royalty!

After the pro men had women had gone it was my turn ientered the water for the 1900m swim.  It was straight out and back course.  I set myself up at the end furthest away from the line of bouys and pretty much on the front row.  I like to have clean water in front of me at the start at least and get into my rhythm if i can. It usually means swimming a bit further than the direct line but it works for me  and means i can maintain my stroke without the clatter of arms and fists and swimming over people.  My plan worked and almost immediately i'mleading out from the far side and cutting across more to the main pack which i can see clearly as i breathe to the left.  My swim was a steady 28.22 a  couple of minutes down on my time from Wimbleball, but a solid confidence building swim for me.

Out onto the bike and i see Kim for the first time about a mile from the start.  She gives me a few words of encouragement and I'm off.  My main focus is stay within my target power zone and make sure i drink plenty of fluids in preparation for the run.  The first 7 or 8 miles are pretty uneventful apart from a the odd person passing me which i was expecting before reaching the main obstacle for the day  'The Hochkonig' a 7 mile ascent.  The first 5 miles or so is a pretty steady 5 or 6 % gradient before the last mile and a half ramps up to 14 or 15 %.  I make my way up the climb and do most of it seated apart from the last  steeper bits where I alternate between sitting and standing to give my muscles a rest.  Like i said before, ilike hills and i'm not used to people going passed me up them but on this occasion i couldn't believe how many people were passing me.  It felt like literally half the field overtook me but i stuck to my targets and hoped that they were going to pay for it later in the race.  I did take some of them back on the steeper bit and was surprised at how heavy they were breathing and felt quite smug inside.  The descent of the Hochkonig started as steep as it ended but with the added bonus of about 6 switchbacks to contend with,  Bike handling isn't my strong point but even i managed to pass a few more riders on the very fast descent and avoided blowing my tubs with excessive braking.  The rest of the course was back to flat and took us through the town of Zell am See and out to Piesendorff before returning to transition.  I was little off my target pace for the bike and was wary of forcing it too much especially in the heat but i got around in just under 2hrs 41 mins and averaged just under 21 mph.  


I came off the bike feeling pretty good and hydrated, after slapping on a load on suntan cream to protect my white bits iwas off on the run.  At previous races this year, i have gone off way too fast and paid for it later on so i again had a target pace that i thought was sustainable and had to slow myself at the start.  About half a mile in i saw Kim again and i stopped for a quick kiss and a grope and was just the boost i needed.  My strategy for the run was to try and hold my pace for the first 7 or 8 miles and then see how i felt.  This soon turned into just try and hold my pace and then regresssed into just finish the dam race!  I walked through the aid stations just to try and keep cool by pouring water on my head, put sponges down my top and put a cup of ice under my cap. The sponge and ice ideas came from a fellow brit who i spoke to at the start of the day and i was thankful for his advice.  Lots of people seemed to be passing me early on in the run and it was hard to stay focussed in the heat, but as the run went on istarted passing people myself and that kept me going.  I naturally slowed through the run and was way off target again but finished the run in 1hr 47 mins and 37 seconds to give me a total time of 5hrs 7 mins and 6 seconds.


It was a tough day as you'd expect  but the atmosphere and surroundings were amazing and like nothing i've experienced before.  A few years back i was watching Alex, Lewis and Linda achieving massive success on big stages and that has been a motivator for me to see if i can do the same. I've improved a lot in a year and still have a long way to go.

Thanks to Kim for all the support through the year and pushing me out the door and making me believe i could acheive it.  Thanks to A & T members for all your encouraging words and support at the few races i've done this year and on Facebook and the advice that people have given me for training and racing.  


I have been following training plans from Paul Savage this year and my massive improvements are clear to see so big thanks to him.  Check out his website





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