Friday, September 16, 2016

Racing down under: Ironman 70.3 World Championships

The Ironman 70.3 World Championships were not originally on my radar for 2016. Ironman's decision to relocate the 70.3 championship race on an annual basis has made the 70.3 race-cation a staple on the Blanco calendar. However, this year's event in Australia would require long-haul travel just weeks before Ironman Hawaii... and team Blanco had qualified for Kona in 2016.

It will be my 5th time racing Ironman Hawaii and while the race is usually a celebration for me and I have zero performance expectations, I take the race pretty seriously and get anxious in the weeks leading up to the race. It's a tough race that doesn't play to my strengths... hot, humid, not-wetsuit swim... all of that causes me great anxiety! The last thing I wanted to do was travel halfway across the world just a few weeks before Kona, disrupting my Ironman build and dealing with jetlag, pre-race taper and post-race recovery.

Roll back the clock to Oceanside 70.3 in March this year and I attended awards with my husband, mostly to chat and hang out with friends since neither Blanco or I had podiumed (I finished 6th and Blanco was 16th in his AG). I was half paying attention to the 70.3 Worlds rolldown while chatting to someone when suddenly, Blanco's name is called for a Mooloolaba slot and he thrusts his arm in the air to accept the slot. WTF? They turn to my age-group and the slot rolls down to me and suddenly I'm accepting the slot too. How the heck did this just happen? I think I turned to Blanco at the time and said something to the effect of "we just spent at least $5k!"

I've been to Australia at least three times in the past but Blanco had never been and the country was *sorta* on our destination bucket list so once the slots were accepted, I launched into my typical travel agent, hyper-organized, planning mode and had flights booked, accommodation reserved and dinner plans with Aussie friends confirmed within days. We also had to withdraw from the Santa Cruz 70.3... I was not about to do back to back 70.3 races and this was supposed to be the year of California racing with the exception of Hawaii! I suppose I was 50% excited and 50% frustrated... LOL!

We flew to Brisbane, via Sydney, on the Monday night prior to the Sunday race... however, crossing the international date line meant that we arrived on Wednesday morning. The travel was not without incident, we missed our connection in Sydney and then Qantas seemed to have entirely different baggage rules to United and even though our luggage was checked and paid for through Brisbane, it took some discussion to persuade the airlines that we should not have to pay twice. However, I will say that on our return flight from Brisbane, Qantas didn't bother (or forgot) to charge us for the bikes.

Blanco eating vegemite on toast... when down under!
I was pretty stoked with our condo location... random internet search FTW! It was on the beach just 500 meters from transition and while the interior was dated to the late 80s, it didn't really lack for anything. The location also meant that on race morning, I could wander down to pump my tires, put bottles on the bike and then walk back to the condo and chill for a couple of hours before my wave... all while watching the pro swim from my balcony!

Surf's Up! Day prior to race-day... those ripples are big waves
The Aussie surf had been up for the two days leading into the race and I was nervous about the surf conditions but I woke to see that the winds had shifted and the ocean was almost glassy. I lined up on the front row of my swim wave and for the most part, it was a clean and tussle-free start. However, it didn't take long to catch up to prior swim waves which dispersed the small pack I was swimming with and disrupted the rhythm a little. I was slightly worried about the surf exit but it was pretty straightforward and as I exited I saw 32 and change on my watch but with the timing mat at the end of the run up on the beach, my swim time was 33 flat.

Race day sunrise and clear skies

Transition was long at more than 750 meters and crowded with narrow lanes to pass. I reached my bike and was about to run out to the mount line and I was asked to stop as the pro men were returning from their ride and I had to let the pack of 10 or so guys go by. Once on the bike, as the second to last wave, it wasn't too crowded for the first few miles but as soon as I hit the freeway section, the packs of AG men riding in the opposite direction were huge. 50+ men per pack. Thankfully, at the back of the race, the roads were quieter for me and it was just a question of calling "on your right" as I passed by. 

On your right
Plain sailing that is, until we hit the rolling hills, double loop section where we merged with athletes on the second loop. It was a cluster as I was trying to pass athletes that were passing other athletes passing others... all on fairly narrow roads without a shoulder. The steep hill was also a bit of a disaster with people on both sides of the road hiking their bikes and dropping chains. D'oh! I felt better during the hilly section as it was a chance to change up the muscles I'd been using. Also, given all the Ironman training I've been doing, I think my legs were finally starting to warm up after mile 30. Just as I finished the second loop, I passed a friend and AG competitor. It caught me by surprise as I usually swim a few minutes faster than her. Of course, my conclusion was that I must have had a bad swim and I was at the back of the age-group race. Stupid how those things mentally play with you. It turned out that she missed a loop on the bike in all the crowded confusion (along with about 50 other athletes) so I felt awful to hear that post-race

Once back on the freeway section to return to T2, the wind was strong but the wider roads made it easier to navigate traffic until we returned to town. In T2, I was excited to run but I was also anxious to find out who won the pro races. Last I had seen was my friend, Holly Lawrence, out front on the bike. As I ran out of T2, a volunteer told me that Holly had won so that was a nice little boost as I stared down 13 miles. The legs felt great and the first two miles were in hit in ~7:15-7:20 pace and felt so easy. Downhill with a tailwind will do that! 

The elusive *both feet off the ground* shot
I hit the first turnaround and the tailwind I had been enjoying became very apparent as the return journey was uphill into a stiff headwind. Lap one down and I got to appreciate the tailwind again, and hear some cheers from Laura Siddall who had finished 12th in the women's pro race. My pace picked back up with the tailwind but my stomach was not happy (coach Dixon thinks I ate too much on the bike) and lost a few minutes in two separate porta-potties :( 

I finished in 5:12 which was good enough for 10th place in my age-group after running yet another 1:45 half-marathon. 3rd time this year that I ran a 1:45. My pace is closer to a 1:42-43 but stomach issues keep costing me minutes each race. You would think I have this dialed by now... 

Next up is an Olympic distance race next Sunday in Santa Cruz... the day after that, we fly to Kona for Ironman Hawaii on Saturday October 8th!

Winner Winner! World Champion, Holly Lawrence

Post-race celebrations with college friend and *Team Blanco Groupie*, Helen

Too many cocktails later...