1.9km Swim 90km Bike 21km Run - Temperature 18oF
Swim 33:00 - T1 05:01 - Bike 02:30:14 - T2 05:10 – Run 01:28:33 Total Time 4:41:58
50-54 Age Group Champion, 53rdoverall
The first part of the year was always going to be dominated with getting into shape for the 3100mile Race Across America bike adventure I am undertaking in a team of four riders in June. For my second adventure of the year, I was lucky enough to win a start for the legendary Norseman iron distance extreme triathlon taking place in early August. RAAM training meant that I would only be able to squeeze in a minimal amount of swimming and running but I still wanted a shot at qualifying for the 2018 Ironman World Championships. When I scoured the events list for 2018 the only event I would be able to shoe horn into my training plans was the Ironman 70.3 Liuzhou in China and I would have to win the age group to secure my slot for the Big Island. It’s was a far from perfect plan, but it was that or nothing.
After 36 hours of travelling we landed in Liuzhou on Thursday, in time to register and attend the English briefing. At the briefing it quickly became clear that any non-nationals competing were there for one thing and one thing only, a converted Kona slot. There would be only ten guys truly competing for the win, but they were experienced and high-quality athletes. Friday was spent kit racking and wrestling with jet lag.
Storms had been forecast for race day but as we made our way to the swim start all looked calm. It was a rolling swim start and I now have established a tactic of starting further back so that when I see people on the run, the chances are they started before me and I am genuinely racing them. The swim was billed as a fast, currant assisted downstream swim. It was indeed fast initially but as we rounded the 1000m buoy the promised storm was starting to show its hand with the waves come crashing in. The pace plummeted as it became a fight to battle one stroke at a time through the waves with the packs of swimmers being widely scattered. Somewhat battered, we exited the swim, ran to T2, changed into bike gear and set off on bike leg.
No sooner had I put the hammer down than I hit a bump and my nutrition bottle popped out. I had no option but to jam on the anchors, jump off the bike and run back up the road to retrieve my precious calories. Reset and go again but very quickly the rain started to come down and roads became greasy; they would bring down a number of riders before the day was out. The race was split, the seasoned Ironman athletes gunning for slots and the nationals getting their first taste of racing a triathlon. The consequence was that the front end of the race was an eye balls out time trail at world class pace and then a big gap to the main field. I locked into the zone and just cranked out the planned power numbers, mostly riding alone. The flat, pristine roads had promised record breaking times, but the weather had undone any chance of bagging a PB, I was just pleased to put in a solid effort and get off unscathed.
I glanced across at the bikes already home as I racked my bike in T2, not many but there were clearly a handful of athletes already out on the run course. The chaotic numbering system made it nigh impossible to know how many were racing for the age group win and The Slot. Head down and see what my legs had for the first few kilometres. Woefully short of run training volume, never mind running at pace, meant it really was an unknown. I figured that I would need to go faster than seven-minute miles to be in with a chance of a podium and as the first few ks unfolded, I started to build a small buffer of seconds against my target pace. As athletes came back from the turnaround I couldn’t spot any of my competition who were undoubtedly ahead of me, I just didn’t know how many and how far ahead they were. I just kept pushing to maintain the pace and as I reached the half way mark I passed a UK athlete in my age group. He spotted me and latched onto my heels so I upped the tempo and eventually the elastic snapped. I discovered later that he didn’t fold but kept chasing and ended up with second spot and only just over a minute behind me. At 15k I passed an Italian in my age group and I felt I must be near the front now but couldn’t ease up. I held my pace right to the line but crossed really not sure what position I was.
It took nearly an hour for my result to be confirmed, age group champion and my ticket stamped for Hawaii – BOOM! The first Ironman was held in 1978 in Hawaii and this will be the fortieth anniversary and my tenth competing there. Racing in Liuzhou and talking to other athletes gunning for that slot makes me appreciate how lucky I am to be going back to the Big island. Now back to the bike and the small matter of a 3100 mile ride across America.