Ironman 70.3 World Championships 2017 Race Report

Swim 1900m: 45:xx
T1: 6:xx
Bike 90km: 3:30:xx
T2: 2:xx
Run 21.1km: 1:58:xx
Total time: 6:24


Finishing with the Indian flag held high!

“Winter is coming, run faster”, one sign said on the run course, evoking the often spoke warning about upcoming hardships from the popular serial Game Of Thrones. The course was indeed challenging and it was a hard honest days work at the spectacular event that was Ironman 70.3 World Championships.

It was hard; the bike course was tough with 1100m of total elevation gain over 90km. The run course for Ironman events is not usually tough, but this one was, with 300m elevation gain over the half marathon distance. And who knew the swim could be “uphill” too? Out of the 1900m of the rectangular swim course, 850m were against the river flow, 450m with the current, and 600m were orthogonal to the flow. While the “uphill” swim was nasty, the orthogonal sections were also particularly tricky because the current kept veering you off course and you had to continuously compensate for this if you wanted to swim towards the buoys.

It was a honest days work: considering the bike training that I had done, this was about the time which could be expected on such a course. My run could definitely have been better, but considering how much I was depleted by the bike leg due to insufficient training, this was the best I could do. It is said that triathlon is a bike race with a swim warmup and a jog to the finish. This is indeed true considering that more than half the race time is spent on the bike. And during the race, I was reminded again and again of this.

The 70.3 World Championships rotates each year to a new place. Last year it was in Australia, the year before that it was in Austria, next year is going to be in South Africa. The setting for this year was the charming laid back city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA. The event venue was Ross’s Landing, in downtown Chattanooga, on the beautiful Tennessee River.

The 2017 race was a huge affair with more than 4000 athletes participating. With such a huge field, they had split the race over two days, with the woman’s race on Saturday and the men’s race on Sunday. I whiled away my Saturday morning and evening catching updates on the woman’s race every now and then. As expected, hot favorite Daniella Ryf decimated the competition on Saturday with a smashing performance to win her 3rd consecutive 70.3 championship title.

After the women’s race got over, I went to check-in my bike, did some final bike tune-up, and caught up with the rest of the Indian contingent participating at the event, then went back to the hotel for an early dinner and sleep.

I woke up nice and early come race day, much before the alarm went off. Had some breakfast, drank some coffee, cleared the stomach and waited for a while before leaving the hotel. While transition was going to open at 5:30am for the 7:30 flagoff, there was no point going so early and then standing around on your feet. I reached the venue at 6:30am.

The transition on race day.

To avoid congestion in the river and on the bike route, the 2400 strong men’s field (as also the woman’s field on Saturday) was to be flagged off in a staggered manner according to age group. The pro race got flagged off at 7:30am sharp, while my age group of 35-39 was to be flagged off at 8:00am. While that was an anxious wait, it was nothing compared to some other age groups which were to be flagged off as late as 9:00am.

Within each age group, athletes were supposed to self-seed themselves according to their expected swim finish times. A rolling swim start was implemented as is common for more races these days, which means that 8 of us were allowed to jump in the river every 8 seconds. A floating platform had been built from which we were to jump off. As I slowly made by way to the front, I deliberated whether to do a head-first dive or a simple leg first jump. Watching the others, it was 50-50, with approximately half of them launching themselves into a head first dive. As my turn came, I decided to go for the theatrical and launched myself into a proper head first dive. I gasped for breath as the cold water hit me. It felt like eternity before I finally emerged from the water and started swimming!

The shock and awe continued when I was kicked right in the chin just a few minutes later. I quickly regained my composure and continued, thankfully the rest of the swim was relatively uneventful barring the usual brushing of bodies, arms and legs, but nothing more severe. I usually do the swim in around 41 minutes, but the current meant that I took a little longer, completing in 45:xx minutes. Later I found that the pro men and women were also slower by a couple of minutes.

I exited the water, grabbed by T1 bag, changed into biking gear and did the long run towards by bike. The transition was huge – expected, given the 2400 bikes racked there!

Post swim, trying to get the wetsuit off.

Hopping on the bike, I settled into a nice easy rhythm, bracing myself for the climbs up ahead. The course is severely front loaded, with most of the climbing in the first half of the course. The climbs started at about 8km and were relentless.

On one of the climbs on the bike.

I held strong all through the climbs, but started tiring in the last one hour. It was a bit embarrassing that mine was literally the only road bike. Not exaggerating, THE ONLY ROAD BIKE. All the others were mid range and high end fancy tri bikes with deep section wheels, discs, electronic gears, and whatnot. Equally embarrassing was that I was not wearing cleats. I sure was getting looks while being passed – some weird, some surprising.

But I figure what use is a fancy tri bike and cleats if I am not going to put in the hours in bike training. At best, I was doing 2 hours of weekly bike training which is woefully short, bordering on criminal. The day I start spending 6-8-10 hours of weekly bike training is the day u will see me on a tri bike and cleats (and hopefully smashing 3 hours easily). But I wont do it just yet, my focus right now is elsewhere. I love swimming and running, biking not all that much. So although I like the idea of racing a bike as part of a triathlon, I am not able to race as such and usually suffer towards the end of the bike because of the lack of training.

Anyway, the bike section got done in 3:30:xx. A quick transition 2- getting all the bike gear off, putting on a cap for the hot sun shining down upon us, a quick bite and gulp of water, and off I went for the run.

On the run.

I started strong, slowing down a little on the climbs to conserve energy. I stopped at each aid station for the well familiar ritual – douse myself with water liberally, drink some gatorade and coke(heaven!). Pick up a handful of ice and shove it down the back of the tri-top, hoping it will settle down at the back just above the hips, cooling the critical blood vessels present there. Also pick up a wet sponge and do with it the same thing as the ice. Then off till the next aid-station.

Some funny signs kept the spirit up. “Smile if you peed during the swim” one sign said. “If this hill were easy, you would call it your mom” said another. And so on.

As the kms went by, the sun started to feel more and more punishing, and coke felt more and more like manna from heaven, rather than just a cold drink. The legs started feeling more and more heavy from all the uphills followed by the battering downhills.

I kicked it up a notch in the last km. Entering the finisher shute, I broke into a sprint, the Indian flag held high and proud, completing the run in 1:58:xx, and a total time including transitions of 6:24:xx.

The finish!

It was a very special one-of-a-kind experience to participate in this event, getting to fly the Indian flag high on the world stage among so many international athletes of the highest caliber.

Ironman sure does know how to throw a world class event, the event organization was top-notch all round, the crowd support was pretty great and the setting of Chattanooga and Ross’s Landing in particular was very pretty.

The beautiful finisher’s medal.

I sure hope to get a chance to qualify for the World Championships again someday in the future. Its a truly amazing experience.

Until the next race, happy training!

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