Ironman 70.3 World Championship – Mooloolaba, Australia – 4 September 2016
by Catherine Thomas
It all started in Luxembourg at the end of June when I found myself at the roll down ceremony after the Ironman 70.3 race being offered a place for the World Championships in Mooloolaba, Australia. Without really thinking too much about what it would mean in terms of training, logistics, cost etc, I readily jumped at the chance to pitch myself against the best in the world.
Fast forward 2 months and here I am in Australia reflecting on the ups and downs of what was the most amazing experience of my short triathlon career.
One of my best friends grew up in Mooloolaba and I was lucky enough to be able to stay with her parents who live a hop, skip and a jump away from the race venue. This made life so much easier and meant that I didn’t need to think about where the briefing, registration, swim start etc were and more importantly how to get there.
Like all studious triathletes, I had read the athletes guide before arriving in Mooloolaba and studied the bike and run profiles. The bike profile showed the course as being predominantly flat with a short steep hill in the middle, so absolutely nothing to worry about…or so I thought until I reccied the course the night before the race and saw what lay in store for us. In fairness, the organizers had warned us at the race briefing that the course would be extremely challenging and how right they were. Anyway, more about that later…
I was up at 4.30am on race day still feeling a little jet lagged but ready to go. I had to be out of transition by 6am even though my race was not due to start until 7.35am so there was very little time to get breakfast, sort my gear out and pump up the tyres on my bike. As I was finishing prepping my bike, the sun rose up over the sea. A stunning sight. Wind was not forecast until 10am and the sea was expected to be flat so all good.
As many people know, I have never been the world’s best swimmer but I do not dread the swim like I used to. Yes, the buoys that I would have to swim around, seemed to be miles away but this didn’t phase me. As I climbed into my wetsuit, I watched the Pros go off and wondered what would go through their minds when racing. It was not too long after before my wave was called. There is no self seeding in the World Championships so all competitors in each age category go off together regardless of ability. It was a deep water start so we all swum out to the start line and trod water for a minute or two waiting for the klaxon. On the dot of 7.35am, we were off. I had decided that rather than hanging at the back like I usually do and then having to contend with having people’s feet in my face, I pushed to the front elbowing other people out of the way as I did so. Very unlike me but I wanted this swim to count. As we made our way down the first stretch of buoys, it was difficult to sight as we had the sun in our faces so I followed the woman in front who had a wetsuit with fluorescent orange arms which you couldn’t miss. She proved to be a very useful sighting tool. As we turned around the first buoy, the water started to get a bit choppy and I seemed to be taking several strokes forward only to go a few back. It was hard work but I persevered. It was the same story along the back straight but I was feeling good and I kept going. I couldn’t stop in this race. Things became easier when I got around the final buoy and as I neared the swim exit, I managed to catch a wave which took me to the shore and to my support crew who were shouting their heads off. I was really happy with my swim. I completed it in 42 minutes (which, by the way, is a record for me) and what’s more, it is the first time that I have front crawled the whole distance of a race without stopping. So, a good start to my race.
T1 was a bit of a laborious process as you had to run up the sandy beach, pick up your bag, change (the transition bags were ridiculously small and trying to get my wetsuit into the bag was like wrestling with an octopus!) and then run what seemed miles to get to my bike. As I hopped (not literally obviously!) on to my bike, I thought about what lay ahead.
The first part of the bike course was an up and back along the Sunshine Motorway. In theory, this should have been a piece of cake. However, we had cross winds on the way up and head winds on the way back. Nevertheless, I forged ahead and manage to average 33km/h for the first 23km. This had dropped to 27km/h by the 40km mark. Then came the hills and life got much much worse. There seemed to be a whole lot of up and very little down. The short steep hill was a shocker – I was in my easiest gear and standing up the whole way up and I only just made it! Had I stopped half way up, there would have been no getting back on my bike. The next 30km had been billed as flattish but I think that ‘high rollers’ would have been a more accurate way of describing them. The scenery was stunning but needless to say, I didn’t have time to hang around and take photos!
I was very glad to get off the bike – usually it is my favourite discipline but not this time. Lots more whooping from my support crew got me through T2 and before I knew it, I was on the run course. This had its own challenges, the first of which was a steep hill (Alex Hill) which came in the first km and tested my already tired legs. The run was 2 loops of an out and back along the coastline under the blazing sunshine with 4 hills thrown in for good measure. In any other circumstances, I would have relished such a course but after the battering I had received on the bike, I would have preferred something a bit flatter! However, I had so much support along the way, not only from my support crew but also from the volunteers and spectators who shouted encouragement, made jokes and were generally amazing, that I got through it, albeit not quite as rapidly as I would have liked. As I descended Alex Hill for the final time and headed for the finish, I felt a sense of relief. It had been such a difficult race and I had a huge smile on my face as I ran down the red carpet. I high-fived so many people in the finishing shute that my hands were sore by the time I crossed the line! Waiting for me was the Ironman team plus my fabulous support crew and the biggest medal I have ever seen!
I feel very lucky to have been part of such an amazing event. It was by far the most difficult race I have ever competed in but I would not have missed it for the world. The Aussies were so supportive and the ambiance second to none. If there is a next time (and I hope there is), I will be stronger and better prepared to challenge the best in the world.