Ironman 70.3 World Championships Las Vegas

Before anyone suggests I am having too much fun in Kona to remember my responsibilities… I thought it was about time I shared my thoughts on the smoking hot 70.3 World Championships in Vegas which took place a couple of weeks back. If you are to take one thing from this post it would be this… Acclimitisation works. Or rather, complete absence of acclimitisation does not! Apologies for the lack of photos – I’ll add some once I can get to a working computer…

 

With the second half of my season firmly focused on Kona it was an unexpected bonus to qualify for the 70.3 World Champs in Vegas in a rare outing at the distance at 70.3 Florida. Having not raced this event before it seemed like a good opportunity to race both World Championship events this year and to use Vegas as a stepping stone in my Kona preparation – in more ways than one as having travelled from the UK to the West Coast I would fly straight to Kona after the race. With both races on the calendar and coming off the back of a big training block I was more fatigued for Vegas than would be typical, and the timing of my trip meant only a couple of days to acclimatise, but I was looking forward to the race and felt in shape to do well. The course is challenging and not necessarily one that plays to my strengths: I was always likely to struggle in a non-wetsuit swim and I generally prefer a less hilly bike course, although a good result at Ironman St George on a more challenging course certainly gave me confidence. I had paid very little attention to my competition and hadn’t even seen a start list but based on previous results I thought a time under 5 hours was achievable and would be competitive. The overriding theme of the few days before the race was the temperature – well into the 40′s was unlike anything I had ever experienced before and with nighttime temperatures still in the 30′s there was little escape from the heat and I was a little apprehensive about how this would impact race day.

 

The swim went pretty much as expected, although a combination of seeding myself more aggressively and the higher quality of the field meant I took a good bashing throughout the first km, including losing my hat and becoming involved in a small fight to retrieve my goggles before I lost them too. A little becalmed on the way back and not impressed when my Garmin buzzed for 2km (either the course or my line a little over-distance) I was not best pleased to see 36.50 on my watch but for a non-wetsuit swim I was a little relieved it wasn’t worse. While it seems like a recurring theme I do know how I need to improve my swim, and am grateful for Dan at SwimForTri for his help in figuring this out, but Vegas was certainly a race too soon for any dramatic improvement.

 

Onto the bike and almost immediately I was feeling the heat. I knew coming to Vegas only 2 days before the race was a risk and allowed little time for acclimatisation and I was effectively relying on time spent in the sauna in the UK and a measure of blind optimism that race day might not be too warm. I also expected the heat to be a factor predominantly on the run and had been relatively unconcerned about the bike, reasoning that you would be early enough in the day to avoid the really hot weather and that the cooling breeze generated by riding would offset the worst of it. The first few miles out towards Lake Mead National Park were fine and I settled into my usual routine of passing the fast swimmers and looking out for girls in my age group. But as we headed into the hills I found it difficult to maintain my effort level, watching my power numbers dwindle to a level completely out of kilter with my perceived effort and in fact far below what I would consider even a respectable Ironman pace. The dryness of the heat seemed to strip any moisture out of your throat immediately and even drinking a full 750ml water bottle between every aid station (every 40mins or so) amounting to around 4.5 litres in 2hrs50 did not feel like nearly enough. I was pouring bottles of water through the vents in my helmet at each aid station which helped but only briefly. By the turnaround I was being passed by age group girls and knew my chances of a decent position were gone; I thought long and hard about pulling in at our hotel (at around 45miles) but talked myself out of this with the promise of trying to take some positives out of the run.

 

From this moment on my thoughts were occupied with Kona and more specifically whether pulling out would help or hinder my Kona prep. The first few miles of the run I was deeply unconvinced of the merits of carrying on, as following a fast first mile I had to spend around 10mins at an aid station packing ice around my neck and chest in a vain attempt to cool down. Miles 2-6 were a bit of a death march; short bouts of running at a decent pace punctuated with lengthy and frequent walking breaks and severe dizziness. There was nothing wrong with my legs (which incidentally 2 days after the race felt fresh as a daisy) but the problem was convincing the body and the brain to get them moving. It wasn’t much consolation but you could see a number of the women pros suffering badly in the heat too as they went through the latter stages of the run. For the middle part of my run all but one of the aid stations had run out of ice which notwithstanding the conditions and the high level of demand was disappointing for an event of this level. As well as slowly melting I was also coping spectacularly badly with temperature changes – at one “misting station” where there were people spraying ice cold water I had to sit down abruptly with a bad case of “ice cream head” which made me feel really dizzy and oddly emotional.

 

Two moments of the remainder of the run stand out: hearing Leanda’s victory speech as I passed transition to start lap 2 was great and shortly afterwards a brief chat with pro superstar Natascha Badmann initiated by her giving me some encouragement on the uphill section perked me up no end. I also had the small carrot of a certain Mr Molloy chasing me down and following some pre-race banter I was determined to preserve my 30 minute head start and cross the line first, despite us both going rather more slowly than we anticipated.

 

But in the end continuing for me was all about confidence. Like many athletes I thrive on confidence, feeling invincible when on good form but liable to convince myself following a poor session (typically due to tiredness) that I have somehow lost all fitness with no prospect of it ever returning. Often these occur within days of each other. And for me to finish that day was to walk away with my head held high and to take to Kona the confidence that while the body sometimes refuses to play, whatever the race threw at me I didn’t give in.

 

Writing this overlooking the ocean in Kona I have already moved onto the next challenge and with 5 weeks of acclimatisation to come before the race I will never have a better opportunity to prepare and familiarise myself with the conditions. Being back in Kona is fantastic and I’ve thrown myself into island life already, the highlights so far being 3x weekly masters swimming (more pros turning up each time), getting comfortable in the ocean (no dolphins yet but always on the lookout) and of course having a few of the legendary Island Style pancakes. More to follow on Kona over the next few weeks… but in the meantime I can only thank all those who’ve been in touch since the race and who took the time to follow on the day, to my sponsors TheTriTouch and Powerbar and to the great training buddies I’ve been lucky enough to have over the last few months. It’s not over yet.

One Response to “Ironman 70.3 World Championships Las Vegas”

  1. Mel says:

    Great race report and well done for toughing it out. It’s always inspiring to hear how people deal with races that don’t go to plan. Good luck in Kona!! Mel