Tackling Ironman 70.3 World Championships

Taking on the World Champs is tough enough and to throw a injury-hit into the mix doesn’t make things easier. Age-grouper Tim Ballintine describes his road through the World Champs at Mont-Tremblant and Kona

Ironman is so much more than the race itself. In week two of my preparation, I was in for surgery to remove a cancerous melanoma from my back. Currently in week 19, I’m in the ER of a Californian hospital, but I’ll come back to that.

My first event on foreign soil would teach me more than I could possibly imagine. It hadn’t fully sunk in: here I was representing my country (Australia) against the best of the best.

Kona

My expectations for the race were tempered – at the end of the day I had been preparing for Kona and knew perhaps in a local race you can get away with it, but on a world stage, these guys (M25-29) were going to be fast! A previous PB of 4:43 would probably have me in the last few in my age group on the day.

A finish time of 4:20hrs was the A-goal, and with a few hills and nasty run anything could happen. Throw in arriving 72 hours before the starting gun (or in this case a fighter jet and cannon), perhaps I had set the bar a little high?

The race was in week 18 of my 23-week preparation for Kona. The first 17 weeks had gone perfectly, I even managed to squeeze in a few more sessions along the way and clipped out a PB half-marathon as part of a team at Challenge Gold Coast (1:16).

Ten days before the race, I felt an ever-so-slight ache coming from my left foot. I initially thought I had knocked it and was hopeful it would bruise and eventually go away, However it got worse. I lightened the load leading into Tremblant and went for a short run on the Friday morning. After five minutes I had stopped to a slow walk. The run course was not a heavily populated area, so letting off a few loud profanities was acceptable for this situation. Pre-race jitters and niggles come and go. I knew deep down this was not one of those. I’ve broken bones and had multiple knee operations. Even though this was not my A-race, I was gutted, I wanted to give it my best shot.

After 24 hours of reflection and consultation with my much better half (who is a sport scientist), my race strategy had taken somewhat of a deviation. Swim, bike and walk it home. Even if by some miracle it felt good, stay in control and DON’T pull the trigger.

Swim

At the swim start I was as calm as the waters that awaited us – calm. If a doctor checked my pulse I may have been pronounced clinically dead. With the preceding 48 hours, I even felt a little dead inside. As dramatic as that may sound, I love racing, really love it, and today I couldn’t do what I love to do. I love the battles, the glares, the lip, the surges, the bonks, the medals, the spirit and the chute. A poker face was required.

“1 minute!” the starter announced, as the cool fresh water lapped at my feet on the shoreline. Although my gun was empty I stood on the frontline as if I was packing an AK-47. “10 seconds!”, three deep breaths and BANG. My best swim start ever, after 200m – without exaggerating – nearest swimmer to my right was a full body length back. I had been working so hard at my swim starts since Ironman Melbourne.

Cruising along at a reasonable pace, after around 700m we had soon caught the back end of the previous age-group wave. This is where you need a little bit of luck and a touch of ‘get out of my way’ – unquestionably the most traffic on a swim I have ever dealt with. Sighting every eight strokes, I must apologise to the dozen or so I swam directly over the top of, but it was just crazy. Out of the water in 25:41. For those 25 odd minutes I had forgotten about my injury, until I took that first barefoot step on terra firma.

Consisting of a 400m jog to the gear bag area, this was not ideal given my predicament. Put simply, it bloody hurt. My coach sent me a message following the race wanting to know how my picnic was in T1, at 4:22, I don’t blame him! I quickly stuffed my wetsuit into the bag and proceeded to my bike.

Bike

As one of the later age-group waves, the bike course was busy from the moment I hit the saddle and clipped in. I felt great for the first 10km on the bike.

I have 5km alerts set up on my Garmin 910XT and I hadn’t seen a six minute-something split flash up since Melbourne. This got the juices going. In most cases, being a strong swimmer helps. At about the 15km mark I took a quick glance over my left shoulder. At first I thought solar eclipse, however it was most certainly the largest pack of cyclists I had ever seen in a triathlon, Tour De France style. I was looking for the Omega Pharma jerseys leading out Cavendish.

Within two minutes I was swallowed up and spat out the back. Perhaps the highlight of my day (as sick as it may sound) came around 20 minutes later when I could see around 1km up the road the whole pack get red carded. I laughed out loud – cheap thrills.

The ‘motorway’ section of the ride was just a matter of head down, eyes forward and be strong. At 68kg, uphills were my friend and downhills my enemy. I would pass 10 on the way up and the same 10 would pass me on the way down, the classic yo-yo.

The last 15-20kms of the bike course contained some punchy sections and hard corners. It made for some serious leg burn and high heart rate riding. There was a moment where I looked up and noticed I was riding on possibly the most beautiful road I had ever ridden, until the next punchy uphill. This was an honest bike course, it was just a shame it was hijacked by so much drafting. I’d love to see some figures on how many sub-2:15 bike splits. I’d be shocked if it wasn’t a course record, let alone overall record!

Coming into T2 I thought I was in around 30th – 19th was the actual. A bike split of 2:17 and race time of 2:46. Back in Australia, my coach and I had aimed for a 1:18 run split. Oh, how this would have made things interesting.

Run

From the very first stride the pain was so much less than the Friday, I figured it had to be adrenalin. The next hour would test my maturity like never before. A lap course with out and back sections would give me a feel of where my nearest rival would sit. One by one I would usually pick them off – if running is my greatest strength, discipline and patience certainly is not. I even walked a few steep downhill sections.

The local crowd was amazing. Most of the cheering was in languages I couldn’t understand, but I got the gist of what they were saying “Go!” or “Push harder!”

I sat on a moderate four-minute pace for most of the run and finished with a 1:24hrs and a race time of 4:13hrs – 17th for my age group. I was over the moon with my time and just happy to stick my foot in a bucket of ice. Never have I crossed a finish line leaving so much of myself still out on the course.

Just eight days after Mont Tremblant I found myself in a fairly serious cycling incident while out training for Kona. I was alone and still can’t remember much, other than waking up down the bottom of a small cliff off the side of the road. Suffering multiple abrasions, contusions and a severe concussion, my road to Kona has taken a slight deviation. As of now (mid-September), I can walk just 10 metres at a time. At the end of the day I will make a full recovery, but I’m not so sure whether I’ll make the start line in Kona.

In a case of ‘when in Rome’ I had them assess my left foot, which confirmed a fracture of my second metatarsal. To achieve that result in Canada on essentially one foot only gives me great confidence that I can overcome this accident and take my place in Kona.

Like I said, Ironman is so much more than the race itself.

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