What a weekend… !
I did make it to the IM magic carpet
The dust has finally settled on the IM 70.3 World Championships and, despite a 48 hour delay in leaving Chattanooga due to Hurricane Imra, we are finally home from an unbelievable trip to Tennessee.
The race was split over 2 days, with the women’s race on the saturday and the men’s on the Sunday. On the Saturday we went down to the river to see the start, taking our places around 7am. The atmosphere was amazing as the crowds started to arrive and the excitement levels grew. Just minutes before the start, AC/DC thunderstruck was blasted out adding to the anticipation. We stayed for just over an hour watching the professionals exit the water and followed by the age groupers. Everyone was super friendly on the river bank with Harrison giving out high fives and fist pumps to anyone taking them. Being able to spectate for the day gave a real sense of just how big an event this was (as if i needed reminding).
A big surprise was that females age groupers were allowed to wear a wetsuit for the swim. In the days building up, the water temperatures had been too warm to be wetsuit legal; 24.5 deg C is the cut off so athletes don’t over-heat. I must admit, after testing the waters on the Thursday and Friday, i didn’t think there was any chance of this happening, but the unseasonably cool over-night temperatures were in my favour. For a weaker swimmer like myself the wetsuit makes a huge difference as it gives extra buoyancy. I was therefore hoping the conditions would be the same on Sunday.
Team Brems taking in the womens swim start
The rest of Saturday was spent eating and getting my bike and transition bags organised for drop off that afternoon. I had a bag each for both my bike and run stuff. After dropping my kit off in the respective transition area’s by 5pm I headed back to the hotel and actually got a good nights sleep, being KO’d by 9pm! No doubt time zones played a big part in this.
This started early, heading to the 24 hour diner with Julie and Harrison at around 5am. Although i likely woke early due to nerves, I also wanted to eat early enough that i wouldn’t feeling full come my swim start at 8am. After breakfast I got down to transition around 6:30. This was perhaps too early but i wanted to get the bike loaded with my nutrition and fluids and check my tyre pressures. Once that was done i found a spot on the grass to have a warm up; an easy run and stretching. I was beginning to feel pretty good at this point. Before getting the wet suit on, I went round to the swim exit area to see if i could find Team Brems…they were already in place. This certainly settled my nerves knowing that they were there for me.
Harrison getting ready for my swim start
We had to be in our start pen 20 mins before the race start time. Over 350 of us men aged 35-39 years made our way down the jetty to the swim start pontoon. I positioned myself near the back of the pack. I suspected that with this being the World Championships there would be some pretty handy swimmers in the pack (WOW, more on that later!).
We were set off in groups of six every 15 seconds. It came round very quickly…3-2-1 I was off! Jumping off the pontoon and quickly into front crawl! The initial reaction in my head was “this isn’t too bad”, then bang! Holy shit! I can’t catch my breath! Slow down you idiot this is going to be a long day! After a couple stutters i eventually found a rhythm, but by this point the pack had nearly disappeared out in front. By the time i got to the first buoy at 300m and turned right into the current, i felt like i was pretty much on my own. Now heading upstream i really began to struggle, particularly with my sighting as we were staring straight into the rising sun and the glare off the water made it incredibly difficult to pick out the buoys.
I eventually got to the turn that brought me heading back downstream. Although Ironman had worked with the hydro-electric dam to dramatically reduce the up stream current of the river, I was able capitalise on what current there still was and managed to overtake some guys in my start group. On exiting the water I glanced at my garmin…42 mins! Gutted! This was my slowest swim to date! Surely the current wasn’t that strong?
Just glad the swim was over
I got through transition without an issue and headed out on the bike course.
Knowing that this was going to be my strongest leg I was feeling pretty good about putting in a decent performance. 5K into the ride we had the big climb of the day, ‘Lookout Mountain’, a 5Km distance at approx 8% incline. Historically it is a famous battle ground from the civil war. Now it meanders up from Chattanooga through small suburbs. Having done the climb a couple days before i knew what to expect. It was tough but manageable. At the top it felt like the whole suburb had come out to support the event, lining the final 500m or so with banners and screaming their encouragement. At the top a DJ was set up in the back of a pick up truck blasting out more tunes. Not long after the top we entered Georgia, there was a noticeable difference in the road surfaces, they were like silk. For the next hour the course just worked its way up and down, sapping your strength on the rolling hills. Once we made the turn and started to head back towards Chattanooga the course flattened out slightly giving us long stretches between short climbs aidding to picking up some steady speed. It was here that i really began to notice the difference in class of the age group athletes. I’m pretty used to being one of the stronger riders in my group at home, but here there were guys flying past me for fun. As much as i tried i just couldn’t hold on to the groups that were passing. It was impressive to witness, but also a bit of an eye opener of the level you need to be at for the championship races.
Finally getting a rhythm going on a flat section
My garmin read 2:48 as I entered the second transition area. Although I thought a 2:45 was possible at one point, I was pretty happy . I handed my bike over to the volunteer who racked it for us, grabbed my run bag and headed to the next transition area. Trainers quickly on, race belt, sunglasses and cap, lets go!
The run was a two loops ,amounting to 21Km (13.1Mile), around downtown Chattanooga, then crossing the Tennessee river, onto a REALLY hilly loop before returning over a pedestrian bridge constructed from old railway sleepers. On starting the run I deliberately took it easy as i tried to get some calories in me. ‘Honey Stinger’ stroup waffles seem to work pretty well with me and are easily digested. After a couple of waffles and some fluid and i was a kilometre into the run, I started to feel the heat building. Even though i had continuously fuelled while on the bike i knew that this heat and humidity was going to take a lot of guys out of the race. Thankfully there were five aid stations on the course, meaning 10 in total. I made full use of these making sure i took water and gatorade at each of them.
Crossing the bridge on the second lap
Once onto the second lap the pain start to kick in especially across the river on the hilly section. Finally I was onto the bridge and on the final stretch. The last 2Km of the run was lined either side by spectators cheering on the athletes. At the last turn there was a full on party with DJ’s playing and crowds dancing. A lot of the crowd were composed of the female athletes from the Saturday race. Finally at the downhill section and onto the magic carpet, the noise just got louder and louder and the crowds built higher and higher the closer I got to the finish line. It was so emotional seeing everyone out supporting, knowing the hard work that had gone in to getting to this stage. Even better was to come when i saw Julie with Harrison on the finish chute. Good job I had oakleys on or the tears would’ve been visible! I got one last high five from Harrison just before i crossed the finish line. I was wrecked!
70.3 Worlds Done!
Straight after finishing I met up with the rest of TeamBrems feeling delighted to see them. It was hugs all-round before i collapsed onto the grass. The whole event was fantastic and it was amazing to share it with Julie and H.
Waiting for Daddy to finish
It was really humbling to get all the messages of support from back home. People were even tracking my race progress through the Ironman App. Unbelievable! Even my friends who had been watching the live feed of the finish line saw me getting my high five from H..
I beat myself up pretty bad in the subsequent few days. I wasn’t happy with my swim time, I wanted a quicker cycle and I felt my placing just sucked (2034/2858 over all and 359/386 in my age group). It was really tough. Ironman had set up a course worthy of the World Championships thus highlighting any weakness that you may have. It was nonetheless awesome. A challenge throughout.
As the dust settled and I had time to reflect, i was able to give a bit of perspective to my performance. This race was only my third attempt at the 70.3 distance and there is certainly a lot to learned. In fact, it was actually only my sixth triathlon ever. So perhaps not too bad qualifying for and completing the World Championships in such a short time. Looking at my previous 70.3 results this year in Mallorca and Edinburgh my bike leg in Chattanooga was actually 3 minutes quicker than what i had done before and on a much tougher course. So I was pretty pleased with that improvement, even if i did want more!
The main take away for me was the high standard of the age group athletes. I had expected it to be high, but this was on a different level to anything i had seen before. Incredibly motivational to see and certainly something to aim for. Next year the Worlds are in South Africa…how do I get back?