On Sunday in Mont Tremblant, a ski resort town in Quebec, I raced the Ironman 70.3 World Championships. I placed 11th and was the first American finisher in 3:50:10. This was my first year committing to this distance I learned a ton through the experience.
Before I arrived in Mont Tremblant I made a point to ask several more experienced pros for advice on what tactics to use in a field of 50 talented men. The two competing philosophies were 1) go early and go hard and 2) wait until half way through the bike, then go really really hard. Both camps of advisors agreed that when I go, I should plan to spend at least 10 minutes trying to break the spirits of people trying to hang on.
[clearly this particular advisor didn’t agree with my eventual choice of tactics]
The problem was, the men who were riding behind me were strong willed and too stubborn to let me get away on the bike. I tried the early tactic, I tried the middle tactic and I tried the late tactic, but when I hit the run I was in a pack of 17 men and my running legs were spent from the efforts. I ran a 1:18 off of a 2:05 bike split and a 22 minute swim. And it was a strange type of fatigue too, because it wasn’t that my legs were buckling, it was that I just couldn’t run any faster. I started off feeling pretty good. Running about 400 meters, to the top of the first hill, with the leaders. But when we started downhill my legs couldn’t keep up the pace and watched guys like Javier Gomez, Tim Don, and Jan Frodeno (the eventual podium) run away from me at an alarming pace. I took out my first 5 kilometers in about 17:30, which is the pace I trained for, but despite additional effort on my part, my pace only slowed.
In short, I put everything I had into the course. I raced as hard as I could, and finished 11th against what is being touted as the most talented 70.3 World Championship field in the races history. It was one of the most challenging races of my career, and I did my best.
Out on the bike it was an interesting dynamic. Basically Jan Frodeno, Josh Amberger and myself were the only three athletes to lead the race for the first 70 kilometers, at which point Joe Gambles took a few turns in an attempt to split the pack apart.
Despite our best efforts, it was impossible to get away from the athletes who were sitting behind us. Part of this is due to the talent of the group. It may be that some of the great runners are also great cyclists, but since they know they can run faster than the athletes around them they need only to stay close on the bike and have no desire to set the pace. It is also true that a race like this provides camera crews and large bunches of athletes that move lots of air, such that to stay with a leader requires significantly less effort than to be the leader. And I, nor Josh, nor Jan – despite our best efforts – were strong enough to overcome that advantage and separate ourselves from the 15 athletes behind us. Still, I’m glad I tried. I put myself out there to try to get away and win the race. It didn’t pay off, but I’m more proud of 11th place with a failed attempt to win than with a 6th or 7th without the risk.
A short side note, from an insider’s perspective it was pretty clear that Frodeno (above, left) was the strongest and best prepared man on the day. I really regretted seeing him place second. I estimate he put 10% more effort into the bike portion of the race than anyone outside the top 3 riders and he still ran a 1:10 on an extremely challenging course. But I guess that’s racing.
Next time I might make a smarter bet, but that’s what experience is all about.
A big thanks to Paul Phillips for letting me use these pictures.