Sundried ambassador Pablo Marcos is a promising young triathlete who has enjoyed a fantastic season this year. He gives us a detailed report of his experience competing at the renowned Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA and meeting legends of the triathlon world.
I qualified for the Ironman 70.3 Championship after racing Ironman 70.3 Weymouth. The run is my worst discipline when it comes to triathlon so I spent 8 months from the end of 2016 into the middle of 2017 committed to improving my run with the help of a triathlon coach. My hard work paid off with a 3rd place result at the Marlow half iron distance triathlon and this gave me the confidence I needed to secure a great result and qualify at the Weymouth event.
Meeting legends of triathlon
We arrived in Tennessee the day before the Ironman village opened and we decided to do some shopping before the race products sold out. As everything was in one place, I registered for the race to get it out of the way for the rest of the weekend. Despite feeling okay, I decided not to train and to rest well instead.
Thursday started at 6am. I had a small snack for breakfast and went for a run to kick off the day. No pace or time as a goal but just moving the legs and feeling how they were. It was when I was out for my morning run that something amazing happened. I bumped into a man and woman who were also out for a run and they asked if I wanted to run with them. The man was Ken Glah, a triathlon legend who has competed 33 times in a row at the Iroman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, first as a professional (10 top ten finishes with a 3rd place in 1988) and now as an age group athlete. He is also part of the triathlon hall of fame in the USA. He not only gave me lots of advice, but also helped me to mount my bike and one of his mechanics did a pre-race bike check for me. It was a pleasure and an honour to spend some time with someone like him and also to see what a normal guy he is (thanks triathlon for not creating athletes like footballers!)
After this incredible encounter, we headed to the riverfront where we went for a swim in the river and finally experienced how strong the current was going upstream. It was a short loop, about 450m, that we completed in almost 10 minutes. Looking at the Garmin stats, our pace upstream was 1’53/100m. After a couple of laps trying different things, it was time for the athlete briefing and the press conference where we took some photos with the pro athletes and I had a chat with Ironman legend Javier Gomez Noya and his coach Carlos Prieto.
We then headed for food and enjoyed some tourism in Rock City and Lookout Mountain. What a place to visit! We found ourselves so impressed with the incredible landscapes and such amazing nature. We were so surprised with the trails in the middle of the rocky mountains that we spent almost 3 hours visiting them and enjoying the views at the top, being able to see the 5 states on a perfectly clear sunny day.
Friday was very similar to Thursday. I started with a gentle run, had another swim in the stream, and took the bike for a test spin. As with all the other sessions, it was about checking that everything was alright with the bike more than anything else. For me, it also meant trying the disc wheel on the killer Lookout Mountain Climb. First impressions were that the climb was real. It was a tough one peaking at a 13% gradient but one that could be done “easily” sticking to the watts and being conscious of the length of the course ahead.
I woke up at 5 am, before my alarm went off, and realised that it was finally race day. The past year of training and working all led up to this point. Surprisingly, I slept really well that night and I woke up feeling rested and ready for what was ahead of me. With the feeling that today was going to be my day no matter what, it was time to get ready. Breakfast was the same as what I had been eating for the past two months: 2 scrambled eggs on toast with honey, porridge with oats and chia seeds, orange juice, a banana, and a coffee. By 6.30am we were on our way to the athlete village. The event was organised very well and we were able to park easily only 100m away from transition. I performed some last minute checks on the bike, pumping the tyres, getting food and drink on the bike and spending some time with other athletes. Nothing to stress about as everything was going according to plan. I even got a photo with the Prince of Bahrain! We watched the start of the elite race with Javier Gomez Noya leading the swim and then was our time to get ready. Time to put the wet suit on and get the body pumping. At this point, I particularly like getting away from everything for a few minutes and just spend time with myself visualising everything that I want to do and reviewing my race plan in my head.
With the rolling start, we jumped into the water in groups of 7 in intervals of 10 seconds, which guaranteed there would be no fighting in the water. There was a 900m upstream section with the sun high enough to blind us all the way. I remembered all the tips my coach gave me and focused on keep my core strong to avoid going sideways and I guess it worked as we soon were getting to the first of the two bridges we had to cross. From that point I could take the other bridge as a reference and go from there as we had trained the day before exactly on the same place. I knew what to expect and hence tried to make the most of it. The current was incredibly strong but I had trained hard with my coach and the practice the previous few days really paid off.
My swim stats
I completed the swim in 30 minutes and 39 seconds at an average pace of 1’34/100m. Despite being slower than my target, this felt really good considering the current. Most importantly, I completed it with no fatigue at all and ready to enjoy the bike! At the beginning of transition, there were volunteers who help you to get your wet suit off. It did help as by the time I went up the 5 steps of the stairs, they had unzipped my wetsuit and I was ready to get my wetsuit off on my own. I enjoyed a quick transition in which once the wetsuit was on my hand, I ran the 100m to the changing area receiving my bike gear bag from one of the volunteers. At the changing area I only had to put my helmet on and left as quick as possible as another volunteer took all my stuff and put them in my bag. Super smooth work from them! That’s one of the reasons why racing at the worlds can’t compare with any other triathlon.
The bike course was an incredible one. Tough and quick at the same time. One that showed the best of every athlete in a bunch of different terrains. We started on the climbing section to then head into a rolling section with a couple of short efforts going up 10-12% segments. Then it was a super fast descent where a lot of time could be gained or lost depending on how much you were willing to risk leading to a long 20km of pretty flat roads were consistency was a key. One last climb for 2kms and down to the bottom of the Lookout Mountain Climb from were we headed back into transition in the same way than on the way out.
My bike stats
I completed the bike leg in 2h 27 min at an average speed of 36.8km/h and 245W. Overall, I believe I achieved my target on the bike cutting out a few minutes from my planned time and sticking to the watts and heart rate I wanted to do. It was a challenging course and I got to transition with legs feeling good to run and most importantly really motivated for the last split of the day. Getting to transition in just over 3 hours also meant I had a chance of beating my PB, although I knew this wasn't the ideal run leg for it.
The run really started as soon as I got off the bike. For the first time in my life, I could experience the difference of an Ironman 70.3 World Championship against any other race. Getting off the bike, I handed it to a volunteer and ran to the changing tent whilst another volunteer handed me my stuff. Absolutely nothing else to focus on than running in and out of transition!
The aim was to run a first km at 4:30 and from there get to my pace of 4’00 to 4’10 to aim for a 1h 25 half marathon. It was an optimistic target and in fact I knew from km 3 that that was not going to be the case. Anyway, I got out of transition and my legs felt great. I had eaten and drunk well in the lead up to the race so I was feeling good and full of energy. I saw my friends and family cheering me on from the riverfront and that gave me a huge boost. However, that was probably the last time I smiled on the run. The day was getting hotter (about 32ºC) and the humidity was high (about 90%) so we were about to start a mental battle with ourselves.
The run was a two-lap route with some tough hills. The first was half a kilometre of climbing a 7% gradient. I had to really dig deep to keep my pace, but thankfully we only had to tackle this hill once. However, there were going to be 6 more hills harder than this one. That made me change my race plan to a conservative approach. It was very tough mentally to realise I wouldn't stand a chance of getting a PB on this course, but I started saving energy going up the hills, letting myself go with the momentum on the downhills and in the short flat segments. I knew in my heart that if it weren't for the tough course I would've achieve a PB and that was enough for me.
After more tough hills I was struggling mentally. This is when I reminded myself that I was racing at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships and that all the tough training through the winter and all the support from my friends, family, and coach were leading up to this point. I pushed as hard as I could but did have to walk a little up the final tough hill.
The final part of the run was a blur where I didn't listen to my body and just kept on going. That's when i realised I could see the finish line in sight.
I had done it. 4h and 44 minutes later I was stepping on the red carpet and listening to hundreds of people from the city of Chattanooga cheering me on (and every other single athlete). I remember looking behind me to make sure I had nobody to slow down and enjoy the moment on the carpet, high five all the kids I could, make sure I had some good photos on my own looking to my friends, and scream one more time letting all the emotions leave my body. I crossed the finish line with a huge smile knowing I had given my absolutely best. Ironman 70.3 World Championships is a dream no longer and nobody will take that away from me.
I want to thank all my friends and family for being there for me through all the good and no so good times always believing in me and encouraging me to follow my dreams. I also want to thank Sundried and ProBikeTool for believing in me and let me part of their team. And also to my coach and physiotherapist who have been by my side from the very beginning of this adventure, you have made this a possibly!