I place 23rd at the 2015 Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Zell am See, Austria. It was an incredible course, but an unexpectedly hot day.
This year there have been quite a few races with start-lists that resemble a championship, but the World Championship is unique in that it boasts the top names, and every one of them is ready to go. No excuses. The World Championships comes once a year, and even if the same people show up, there’s no faking your way to the top of this one.
It’s taken me a while to write this post. At first, I wanted to digest my race and come up with a reason for mediocrity. Then I was hoping to forget it. Then I realized that 23rd in the world on a day when suffering was a common theme among the pros, I really can’t be ashamed.
Did I have the race I thought I would?
I ran the slowest run split of my career (medical reasons excluded), and instead of leading off the bike like I did a year ago I found myself at a 10 minute deficit starting my 13.1 mile shuffle. But the fact is, I did everything I could have to prepare for that race. The conditions were the same for all of us and on race day, I was 23rd.
It started at quarter to eleven in the morning. The little mountain village of Zell am See was unseasonably hot, creeping over 80 before the race start where the professional field was lined up in wetsuits. The swim started off pretty gentle. By the half-way point I was feeling pretty relaxed, already thinking about the bike and how to conserve energy up to the start of the climb.
Then we rounded the buoys to head back to the transition area and the pace changed dramatically. The field, that was four wide prior to the turn, instantly strung out to a single file line before splitting. The guy in front of me lost the feet in front of him, I tried to go around but couldn’t quite close the gap.
I arrived at my bike in T1 as the last few guys in the front pack were pulling their bikes off the racks. In the first five kilometers I managed to pick off a couple of guys. First, Jimmy Seear, great swimmer, no surprise. Then I caught Kevin Collington. I’m pretty sure he will not be upset for me to point out that it’s not a good sign for me to come out of the water behind him. Different strengths is all.
So by this point I’m thinking, “Shit.” I can still see the lead group, but my power is low and I’m starting to regret wearing a heart rate strap because my pulse is around 180 and I’m not even close to the power I had planned.
That group was hovering out in front of me up until the bottom of the climb, around 20 kilometers in. The climb on this course is spectacular: 15 kilometers of steady climbing that varies from about 5 to 14 percent grade and finishes with a kicker. I started off following Joe Gambles and feeling pretty good. Then he dropped me. Then a group of Sebastian Keinle and Jesse Thomas caught me. Then dropped me.
And the whole time I have this unreasonably optimistic outlook like somehow I’m conserving energy and at some point I’m just going to light some matches and burn the whole place down… with my… um… awesomeness.
But I’m no alchemist, and as much as I wish optimism could turn my lead legs to gold, it didn’t. I started the run and it was the first time in my half-ironman experiences when I immediately wished I were still on my bike. I shuffled from transition and tried to get into a rhythm, but my first mile took more than six minutes and I slowed from there. It was clear pretty early that I was no longer eligible for a top 10 finish, but even without prize money or points I wanted to finish. I struggled through the 13.1 mile run and crossed the line in 23rd.
In the time I’ve spent reflecting before writing this, I wish I could make some great statement of what I learned from the experience, but there’s just no great lesson. On that day I gave what I had and it was not what I expected of myself. There were plenty of environmental factors, but I’ve faced and overcome all of those factors in the past. I didn’t try anything new on race day and I actually did a better-than-normal job of watching my nutrition and sleep before race day. After eight years of professional racing, this might be the first time I’ve bombed a race and walked away without any great lessons to take to my next race.
There were some positives to come from the race though. I had a really nice trip to Austria. I stayed with my long-time friend Peggy McDowell Cramer, who is always good for a story and some positive vibes. I met a bunch of great people, which seems to be common at world championships – the crème rise to the top. The area of Zell am See is absolutely amazing and I will want to come back for sure. Despite a disappointing performance, I left pretty happy with the week as a whole.
And as a final point: 23rd in the world is still pretty damn good.