Historically, the first race of the season has never been a good one for me. It does not help that the 70.3 distance is “too short”, for me to perform well. I definitely lacked the high speed a PRO swim start required, struggled with the surges on the bike and never had a superb short distance running speed. This year, however, that has changed. While swimming still is my weakest discipline, the improvements have been good. More high-intensity training on the turbo has increased my legs tolerance for the surges and the run training have been better than ever. For that reason, I wanted to get an early season start to get a thru measure of my standing, and a calibration of where I should invest time improving.
I felt good and confident doing my final race preparations on race morning. The tires were pumped to 75 psi, my bike shoes were clipped to the bike and fastened with a rubber band and all the other nitty gritty (NBNBNB) details was done according to plan. I put on my wetsuit and went down to the beach for a swim warm up. I looked down at my goggles and saw that something was missing. The seal for the right goggle was not there. Panic struck, as a small black rubber seal is not easy to spot on a beach with a couple of thousand athletes. I went back the way I came scouting the sand for the seal. Nothing. I went towards the sign where the spare goggles were to be found. Not my spare, but general spare goggles, which I reckon had 10 % chance of fitting, based on my experience from my long search for goggles which fits my relatively narrow eye distance and bone structure. On the way, I saw a black rubber seal in the sand. It was my seal and it was undamaged. The short moment of “thank-you-God”-relief was replaced by the feeling of stress, as I had 5 minutes to complete my warm up.
Standing at the start line together with nearly 60 other PRO men I just felt relieved. It could have been a better morning for sure, but it was really close to being a disaster. I was ready to roll.
While improving a lot in the pool during the winter, my open water swimming has been less than 1 hour, since the water temperature still is less then 10 degrees C. My confidence for swimming in open water, especially with the relatively large waves coming right ahead was not high. Having been out swam by Lars Christian Vold in those conditions the day before did not help. I struggled to get my stroke rhythm, hold my body streamline and the breathing. For that reason, I also took a defensive position at the start line trying to get in the water without problems and find my pace. The start went of and I was definitely in the mix. Obviously far back in the mix but there was arm, feet and white water all around me. After turning with the first buoy we settled into a group. It was the last group, but it was a group. Compared to swimming behind the last group that was a huge improvement. When we turned back and got the waves coming in from behind I knew I would swim better, as I had done the day before. I focused on my stroke and streamline, and pulled out in the front. Not only was I in a group, I was leading it(!). That was good because it made the group reduce the loss up to the next group, but it gave me a problem. I did not know exactly where to swim. I saw a big buoy ahead and thought we might swim to shore after passing it, but was very uncertain. The swim course had been set out the night before the race and did not look 100 % like the one on the swim course map in the race briefing. It turned out to be the last buoy before heading to the beach and we set out for the final swim stretch. Normally I am time blind when swimming, but this time I knew it was a fast time. Up at 22:43 with those choppy waves and a relatively poor swim meant only one thing, the course was short, very short. Being my weakest discipline, it is obviously advantageous for me with a short swim. While listening to my moral compass I still know that it is wrong, from a sportsmanship perspective and hope that Ironman will be stricter in the future to keep the distances correct.
The transition did not go as smooth as it should, and getting on the bike was rather clumsy (note to myself: train on it a few times before the next race). While on the bike I felt good. Not great, but solid. I started out at around my planned race intensity for the early segment, just around 300 watts. The first part is flat and fast out on the highway out of town. It does not take long before the course turns against the mountain and becomes steep. Earlier I had been riding as even as possible with only slightly more power in the hills compared to flat and downhills. Using the BestBikeSplit analysis program I have understood that a bigger variation gives more speed for the watts (and total fatigue). As high as 360 watts going uphill and as low as 260 in the flats with the wind in the back. I gained ground in the field always passing, never getting passed. As we did a small out-and-back stretch I could see that there was plenty of pros ahead of me, but the gap was not huge. It motivated me to keep on pushing. Shortly after I passed Boris Stein, the guy with bib nr. 2 in an uphill. In the long downhill which followed I got in deep aero position as I span out my 53/11 gear combo. Then Boris Stein came from the left, sitting on the frame. Another guy followed in the similar fashion. I have tried it a few times but always concluded that it is too unstable and also a bit straining for the legs. Painfully seeing the effect of not doing it made me rewrite my conclusion. If the downhill is steep and steady, always get down on your frame.
Marbella is a playground for the rich. The density of Bentleys, champagne, wealthy silver foxes and silicon is world class. Understandable because it is a beautiful place. When coming up on the mountain it is even better. The green hills reminded me of my paradise, the Serra the Tramuntana in Mallorca. The bike course was superb and right up my alley. I gained ground going uphill and kept a steady pace on the flat and downhill. The strong headwind coming from the side suited me perfect. It made my disc wheel better than the 80mm-ish high profile wheels most of the other rode with. More important it reduced the around 20 watts gain the group in front of me got from being behind another rider in the draft legal distance. Passing the final climb was nice with a very long downhill back to town. The roads quality was very good and it was not technical at all. While not having ridden the course before I was not 100 % sure if I could go all out in the turns. You could go all out, and I lost a bit time of not having prioritized getting down to the venue earlier and done a recon. Still, worth losing a bit time to be 100 % sure to not hit the ditch. A bit more time was lost in the final downhill before hitting the highway back to town. It was signs and course guards waving me to slow down. From some of the AG triathletes coming after me that would be wise, but completely unnecessary for someone with medium descending skills. I felt good coming into town but was surprised by the dismount line as I turned left and saw it 10 meters in front of me. That was unexpected and I had not put my feet upon my shoes like I always do. I had to stop completely, step of the bike, and run with the bike shoes until I racked my bike and unbuckled my bike shoes and took them with me as I ran. Not very PRO.
Out on the run, I felt stiff in my thighs but not extraordinary. The legs were good. I had hoped for great, but my last great run in a race was IM 70.3 St.Pölten, so I guess good the best I could realistically hope for. Together with my coach, we planned to go out conservatively, at least the first 5 km. I went out at a decent pace without going in the red. After 5 km I honestly did not feel for going faster, but keeping it steady. Steady is the right word for my state, as I felt I was pushing, but not as hard as I should. It did not feel as hard as it should feel and I should have been able to bump up my HR another 5 BPM. I was not. Running 3:39min/km pace was good but I had hoped for 3:30, or at least 3:35. I had competitors all around me and every little more effort would give me a better result. It ended up in a four-man sprint finish, with me coming in third, 1 sec behind the two guys in front. While not having the sprint in my legs, I know I could push harder the last 2 kilometres, which would most certainly shake of the others. But I did not. I did not have what it took.
I finished as number 17 of the PRO field with a 22:43 swim (42th best), 2:26 bike (13thbest) and 1:16:58 (9thbest) run. It does not look that great, but it is my best 70.3 performance to date. With the large PRO field, the margins were small. A 5 minutes improvement would have given me an 8th, and I know that is not an impossible improvement just in a few months. For the first time, I have actually been in “the race” surrounded by athletes the whole race, compared to losing it the first minute in the run. Especially happy I am with my bike and run combination. Except for Über-biker Andreas Dreitz, I was really close the top, without getting any advantage cycling in a group. Average normalized power was 298, or 4,15w/kg, which is very good to perform without ruining my legs for the run.
For being an early first season race coming from an unusually long winter it was a very positive result. Everything worked as hoped and I learned a few things for future races that will make me faster 🙂
As for the Ironman 70.3 Marbella as a race and event. It was well organized, the course was beautiful and it was nice local support along the way. If you are looking for an early season race, it is a very good alternative.