I qualified for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship at Ironman 70.3 Kraichgau which had a massive rolldown for my age group 35-39. Racing at the biggest stage of the Ironman 70.3 was a great opportunity that I couldn't miss! Obviously my goal was not to compete with the best athletes in the world, it was more about enjoying the experience and giving my best on race day. It was also about representing my country Tunisia for the first time at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship! It is rare to have the opportunity to make history at my level and I feel very proud to be able to do it. On top of that, we were four athletes from Coaching Zone team to make it to the World Championship, Pauline, JP, Seb and myself. We were there accompanied by our coach Chris. It was very exciting to be there with my teammates!
The Ironman 70.3 World Championship race in Chattanooga is a tough race. Each discipline is a challenge on its own. The swim course is a 1.9km loop in the Tennessee River with a challenging 860 meters section against the current. The bike course starts with a flat section from Chattanooga then quickly goes to a steep climb of the Lookout Mountain with few kilometers at an average gradient of 8%! That's a tough climb! It is followed by 25km of rolling hills then a fast descent and a relatively flat section back to Chattanooga. The total ascent is about 1000 meters. The run course is also very challenging with around 300m of climbing. This is the hardest Ironman 70.3 course I have had but I was looking forward to the challenge.
On race day, the alarm went off at 5.30am. Seb, Chris and myself woke up instantly and started getting ready for the big day. We were very quick since everything was already prepared the night before. We had an energy cake as breakfast, put the race kit on and left the room at around 6am. Just before leaving, we learned that the swim will be wetsuit legal. We were at the transition at around 6.30am. The atmosphere was absolutely great! The athletes were totally focused on getting their bikes ready before heading to the swim start. Since it was a men's only race, it felt more like soldiers getting ready for a war, and there were definitely thousands of war machines in the transitions area!
The swim has a rolling wave start. I was in the 35-39 wave which starts at 8am. I set myself after the 36 minutes mark. That would be my expected swim time without the current. When the gun went off, athletes were jumping into the water by waves of 10 with 10 seconds between each wave. I was in the water at 8:06am. I settled in a good rhythm from the beginning. I swam a relatively straight line until the first buoy before turning right and facing the current and the sun. From there I could barely see the yellow buoys and had to rely on other swimmers for sighting. This led to a lot of zigzagging until the next turning buoy. The way back was much easier and faster. I finished the swim in 41'23''. According to my watch, I swam 2180m at a 1'50''/100 pace. I should seriously start working on my swim sighting!
At the swim exit, a volunteer helped me to get out of water, two other volunteers removed my wetsuit and a fourth one brought my transition bag. They were very efficient! I was still fresh after the swim and ran at full speed to the changing tent.
T1 time: 4'11''.
I drove the bike course few days prior to the race, I knew exactly what to expect and my main goal was to stay within my power ranges and save my legs for the run. Since biking is my weakest discipline and I have no natural feelings about pacing during the race, I was armed with my power meter and my Garmin head unit programmed with power targets from Bestbikesplit (I will write a separate post regarding this). I had already some training rides with this setup, I was very confident that it would help me to a good pacing on race day.
The first kilometers of the climb are really tough, the average gradient is around 8%. At some point, my Garmin showed a 16% gradient! I was pedaling between 60 and 70 rpm. This first climb is followed by some rolling hills until the 38th kilometer. When I started the descent, my average power was close to my target but my legs felt tired. I thought I would better hold back a little bit to avoid suffering on the run. From the bottom of the mountain until T2, there were some rolling hills then a flat section with crosswinds and headwinds. The power average was a little bit below my target for this part of the bike leg but it wouldn't have made much a difference in the final time. I would have finished just few minutes faster if I had pushed harder on the way back to Chattanooga. Nutrition wise I had one gel right after the swim then one gel every 30 minutes and one salt tablet per hour. Bike time: 3:16:58.
After the bike dismount line, there were volunteers to catch the bike which made the transition faster. I lost some time putting on my socks and shoes, I should practice this more often! T2 time: 3'50''
The run course is tough with a total ascent of around 300 meters over the half marathon combined with temperatures approaching the 30°C! This year, I have had bad experiences running in the heat on hilly run courses. In both Ironman 70.3 Kraichgau (+120m) and Challenge Roth (+230m), I struggled to run but I learned a lot from them. I came to Chattanooga physically prepared and mentally ready for the challenge.
In the first few hundred meters out of T2, my legs felt very fresh. I ran the first 5k at a 4'40''/km pace. With the climbs, I settled into a 5'00''/km pace. I cooled down down my body temperature at every aid station, it worked pretty well since I did not feel the heat at all during the run! In terms of nutrition, I had one gel every 5 kilometers until the 15th kilometer. My energy level was good from start to end.
Even though I was feeling good, I kept a conservative pace all the way. I have been struggling with a hamstring injury since the end of last year, I did not feel any pain during my last runs but I didn't want to take any risk. I allowed myself a nice finish with 3'57''/km for the last kilometer. I ran the half marathon in 1h46 and crossed the finish line in 5h52.
I was very happy with my effort during the race and the outcome of it. My pacing was conservative, I was within my comfort zone in the swim, bike and run. This race gave me lots of inputs and things to work on for next season:
- The swim has improved a lot this year since I am now able to swim comfortably at a decent pace and exit the water without any fatigue. But I definitely need to improve my open water sighting. The gains I had in speed are all lost because of not swimming straight lines between the buoys!
- I think I still have a huge room for improvement on the bike and I am committed to work hard to improve my bike split. I was happy with the pacing during the race though. I ended the ride feeling good and started the run with fresh legs.
- I was extremely happy with my run in Chattanooga. In term of feelings, it was my best run since November 2016, before I injured my left hamstring! I had absolutely no pain and the pace was under control the whole run! The heat and the climbs didn't impact me at all and I really enjoyed the hilly course! Now that the injury is behind me, I will finally be able to work on my run. I am confident I can run faster off the bike.
- I had my best race experience ever at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship, mostly because of the presence of my teammates from Coaching Zone. A big thank you to all of them!
This was my last triathlon this season, and what nice way to end it at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship! :-)
Thanks for reading! ;-)