Ironman 70.3 Steelhead

August 18th, 2011 by

Steelhead was never a race that I had planned to race at before I arrived in the US – but after the Boulder 70.3 last weekend I decided to make the trip over to Michigan and do my first ‘back to back’ in some time; it could end in tears, or – I hoped – act as another brick on the wall towards getting back to some good race and overall fitness. And it meant I got to go to sea level for the weekend and breathe (and sleep) with ease!

I hadn’t however counted on having to do a duathlon …. I barely have any wish to race one of those when at home! So when at the race briefing on the Saturday afternoon, as the wind picked up, the clouds rolled (extremely) quickly in and the chop in the water increased it suddenly seemed a real possibility. I left with my ‘crossables’ crossed.

Running with eventual (and very deserved) race winner Tom Lowe midway through the half marathon

Sunday morning arrived, and the wind was still blowing pretty strong. In fact it was quite a tricky task wheeling my bike along to transition. Things didn’t look good (and they always seems a magnitude worse whilst in the dark and at 5.30am) and sure enough the audible hubbub as I entered the race site was of it being a dreaded duathlon. In fact it wasn’t even a duathlon – this would have been a better (and altogether fairer) option. The race director had opted for a bike run – essentially a 70.3 minus the swim and T1 as the way forward.

There isn’t much that you can do other than accept the decision and make the most of the cards dealt. – I couldn’t change anything and so my job was simply to focus on getting on with the task as best I could. Albeit with some considerable grump. I won’t lie, I like a swim!

We were to hit the road at 30sec intervals in a true TT format, starting in reverse order with the highest number. Now, one thing about this type of racing is that you want to be starting behind your competitors, as that way, if and when you catch them, you are virtually in front on them on the road – a big mental and competitive advantage. By extenstion, the one place you don’t want to be starting is first, as you are essentially ‘racing’ (I use the term loosely as it really isn’t a race, it’s a time trial) nobody, and haven’t a clue how the ‘race’ is unfolding 10,15 or 20mins behind you.

I had number 38, and I started first.

This meant that i was starting 19 minutes in front of athlete number one, and a good quarter of an hour before the top 10 guys who would more than likely be duking it out for the paycheques. The upside (which I was doing my best to find) was that I got to follow the lead car which made it feel a little bit like I was ‘winning’ the race. I decided before I started that I would certainly attempt to ride the full 90ks without being caught by another rider. – A memorable comment from 2005 Hawaii Ironman winner, Faris Al Sultan, was that he loved being out front of the race that day as he got to, or at least try to, “chase the helicopter”. I chased the blue and red flashing lights of the Sherrifs’ vehicle instead.

I was mindful of not going full bore from the get-go, as you can dig a horrible lactic filled hole for yourself that way. I settled into what I supposed was a good speed and something that ‘felt’ quick and yet sustainable. The reality was that I had absolutely no idea on that course, on that particular morning, in those conditions, whether or not I was actually going quick. – I was after all, not racing, i was time trailling. I much prefer racing; there are far more controllables to work with.

As the ride progressed I new that I was going well and I felt strong. I had a few quick peeks behind and saw noone, so I figured I wasn’t going to be caught at least. Also, I am now racing with a power meter fitted into my disc wheel this year so I was able to pay some attention to those figures, and also to my average speed. I started to do the maths and realised that I was on course to ride sub 2hr 5mins which is I feel, pretty quick riding  especially for me. But again, I had no idea whether or not others behind were going much quicker … perhaps they were on course for a sub 2hrs?!

All I could do was keep on pedalling. And chase those lights.

A final glance at the computer as I rode into T2 showed an average speed of 43.8kph and a total ride time of just over 2hrs 4mins and a final distance of 91k. I was pleased with the ride and hit the run hoping not for miracles but to at least feel like I was running. And not jogging like last week.

He’s a big lad is Tom!

For 7 miles I was still the first athelte on the road, untill the metronic footfall of Tome Lowe came floating past. I will admit to having a bit of a sulk and loss of concentration, as I knew he was race number 21, which meant he had potentially taken a whopping 8.5 minutes out of me.  I knew I wasn’t running fast, but I felt I had ridden well and just couldn’t quite cope with the harsh reality at that moment that ….I sucked! As it turns out there had been about 6mins difference between us at that point, which is of course still a huge margin.

I managed to hold a solid enough pace till 9 miles and then I faded badly. Two further athletes rattled past before I hit the finish chute, and I ended up the day as the 13th fastest; my worst finish in a 70.3 to date! At least it was techincally only a 69.1 😉

It was a realy pity that we couldnt swim; many of the athletes were equally frustrated as we were in agreement that we had mostly swum in worse waters … it wouldnt have been any fun, (and of course safely must come first) but I do firmly believe that there should at least be some attempt to get the Pro wave in the water – even if that has to be for a shortened version of the swim. We are not only racing for a living and prize money, but with the new qualification system for 70.3 World Champs and Hawaii; for points. The results on Sunday were significantly altered becuase of the format that took place and I certainly hope that the WTC looks into implementing a sound procedure to follow should this situation (which is more than likely) arise again in the future.

Onwards and upwards. And back in the pool (I hadn’t swum in 5 days by the time I got home on Monday!)