Ironman 70.3 Worlds in Mont-Tremblant
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Blog: Tackling Ironman 70.3 World Champs on the road to Kona

Australian age-grouper Tim Ballintine describes his injury-hit race at Ironman 70.3 World Champs at Mont-Tremblant, Canada

Ironman is so much more than the race itself. In week two of my preparation, I was in for surgery to remove a cancerous melanoma from my back. Currently in week 19, I’m in the ER of a Californian hospital, but I’ll come back to that.

My first event on foreign soil would teach me more than I could possibly imagine. It hadn’t fully sunk in: here I was representing my country (Australia) against the best of the best.

Road to Kona

My expectations for the race were tempered – at the end of the day I had been preparing for Kona and knew perhaps in a local race you can get away with it, but on a world stage, these guys (M25-29) were going to be fast! A previous PB of 4:43 would probably have me in the last few in my age group on the day.

A finish time of 4:20hrs was the A-goal, and with a few hills and nasty run anything could happen. Throw in arriving 72 hours before the starting gun (or in this case a fighter jet and cannon), perhaps I had set the bar a little high?

The race was in week 18 of my 23-week preparation for Kona. The first 17 weeks had gone perfectly, I even managed to squeeze in a few more sessions along the way and clipped out a PB half-marathon as part of a team at Challenge Gold Coast (1:16).

Ten days before the race, I felt an ever-so-slight ache coming from my left foot. I initially thought I had knocked it and was hopeful it would bruise and eventually go away, However it got worse. I lightened the load leading into Tremblant and went for a short run on the Friday morning. After five minutes I had stopped to a slow walk. The run course was not a heavily populated area, so letting off a few loud profanities was acceptable for this situation. Pre-race jitters and niggles come and go. I knew deep down this was not one of those. I’ve broken bones and had multiple knee operations. Even though this was not my A-race, I was gutted, I wanted to give it my best shot.

After 24 hours of reflection and consultation with my much better half (who is a sport scientist), my race strategy had taken somewhat of a deviation. Swim, bike and walk it home. Even if by some miracle it felt good, stay in control and DON’T pull the trigger.

Swim

Tim Ballintine preparing for the swim

At the swim start I was as calm as the waters that awaited us – calm. If a doctor checked my pulse I may have been pronounced clinically dead. With the preceding 48 hours, I even felt a little dead inside. As dramatic as that may sound, I love racing, really love it, and today I couldn’t do what I love to do. I love the battles, the glares, the lip, the surges, the bonks, the medals, the spirit and the chute. A poker face was required.

“1 minute!” the starter announced, as the cool fresh water lapped at my feet on the shoreline. Although my gun was empty I stood on the frontline as if I was packing an AK-47. “10 seconds!”, three deep breaths and BANG. My best swim start ever, after 200m - without exaggerating – nearest swimmer to my right was a full body length back. I had been working so hard at my swim starts since Ironman Melbourne.

Cruising along at a reasonable pace, after around 700m we had soon caught the back end of the previous age-group wave. This is where you need a little bit of luck and a touch of ‘get out of my way’ – unquestionably the most traffic on a swim I have ever dealt with. Sighting every eight strokes, I must apologise to the dozen or so I swam directly over the top of, but it was just crazy. Out of the water in 25:41. For those 25 odd minutes I had forgotten about my injury, until I took that first barefoot step on terra firma.

T1

Consisting of a 400m jog to the gear bag area, this was not ideal given my predicament. Put simply, it bloody hurt. My coach sent me a message following the race wanting to know how my picnic was in T1, at 4:22, I don’t blame him! I quickly stuffed my wetsuit into the bag and proceeded to my bike.

Bike

As one of the later age-group waves, the bike course was busy from the moment I hit the saddle and clipped in. I felt great for the first 10km on the bike.

I have 5km alerts set up on my Garmin 910XT and I hadn’t seen a six minute-something split flash up since Melbourne. This got the juices going. In most cases, being a strong swimmer helps. At about the 15km mark I took a quick glance over my left shoulder. At first I thought solar eclipse, however it was most certainly the largest pack of cyclists I had ever seen in a triathlon, Tour De France style. I was looking for the Omega Pharma jerseys leading out Cavendish.  

Within two minutes I was swallowed up and spat out the back. Perhaps the highlight of my day (as sick as it may sound) came around 20 minutes later when I could see around 1km up the road the whole pack get red carded. I laughed out loud - cheap thrills.

The ‘motorway’ section of the ride was just a matter of head down, eyes forward and be strong. At 68kg, uphills were my friend and downhills my enemy. I would pass 10 on the way up and the same 10 would pass me on the way down, the classic yo-yo.

The last 15-20kms of the bike course contained some punchy sections and hard corners. It made for some serious leg burn and high heart rate riding. There was a moment where I looked up and noticed I was riding on possibly the most beautiful road I had ever ridden, until the next punchy uphill. This was an honest bike course, it was just a shame it was hijacked by so much drafting. I’d love to see some figures on how many sub-2:15 bike splits. I’d be shocked if it wasn’t a course record, let alone overall record!

T2

Coming into T2 I thought I was in around 30th - 19th was the actual. A bike split of 2:17 and race time of 2:46. Back in Australia, my coach and I had aimed for a 1:18 run split. Oh, how this would have made things interesting.

Run

From the very first stride the pain was so much less than the Friday, I figured it had to be adrenalin. The next hour would test my maturity like never before. A lap course with out and back sections would give me a feel of where my nearest rival would sit. One by one I would usually pick them off - if running is my greatest strength, discipline and patience certainly is not. I even walked a few steep downhill sections.

The local crowd was amazing. Most of the cheering was in languages I couldn’t understand, but I got the gist of what they were saying “Go!” or “Push harder!”

I sat on a moderate four-minute pace for most of the run and finished with a 1:24hrs and a race time of 4:13hrs – 17th for my age group. I was over the moon with my time and just happy to stick my foot in a bucket of ice. Never have I crossed a finish line leaving so much of myself still out on the course.

Just eight days after Mont Tremblant I found myself in a fairly serious cycling incident while out training for Kona. I was alone and still can’t remember much, other than waking up down the bottom of a small cliff off the side of the road. Suffering multiple abrasions, contusions and a severe concussion, my road to Kona has taken a slight deviation. As of now (mid-September), I can walk just 10 metres at a time. At the end of the day I will make a full recovery, but I’m not so sure whether I’ll make the start line in Kona.

Tim Ballintine in a hospital bed

In a case of ‘when in Rome’ I had them assess my left foot, which confirmed a fracture of my second metatarsal. To achieve that result in Canada on essentially one foot only gives me great confidence that I can overcome this accident and take my place in Kona.

Like I said, Ironman is so much more than the race itself.

Did you race in Mont-Tremblant last month? Let us know in the comments!


 
 

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