Age-grouper Clearwater review

Drafting, records falling and bones being broken. It all happened at this year’s Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Clearwater. But how was it from an age-grouper’s perspective?

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Drafting, records falling and bones being broken. It all happened at this year’s Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Clearwater (for a race report see January’s 220, out Dec 15). But how was it from an age-grouper’s perspective? How was the heat? What bikes filled transition? And was there really so much drafting?

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We’ll hand you over to Clearwater first timer, Nicolas Carreras, and Christy McKee, now on her third consecutive year, to give you selected highlights from their race in the Sunshine State…

“Christy and I met almost six years ago under the “pretense” of training for a marathon. To be clear, the “pretense” was from me, while Christy had already completed more than seven marathons and was in actual training. Since then, Christy convinced me to run several marathons and we eventually moved to longer distance triathlons.

After watching Christy qualify and race Clearwater in 2007 and 2008, I joined her in 2009. Since qualifying for Clearwater at Antwerp 70.3, we’ve been counting down the days to Clearwater (103 days).

At the BA check-in counter, we were stunned by the number of lean, Ironman backpack carrying travellers. The Ironman 70.3 World Championships had unofficially begun.

Our parents were waiting in the arrivals area, and we drove to the Clearwater beach resort. The Transition area was organised and spacious: we’ve never seen so many gorgeous bikes so we’ll make a few observations: (a) close to 95% triathlon bikes; (b) close to 95% of bikes had combination of deep dish and disc wheels; (c) carbon, carbon, carbon; (d) the biggest and prettiest toy store.
At 6pm, we were told that due to the current and waves the swim would be moved from the ocean to the gulf. No real difference in terms of distance to the transition, but we were disappointed.

We woke early to ensure a healthy pre-race meal. When we went outside at 5:15am, we noticed the absolute lack of wind relative to the previous mornings, and the heat. We quickly did our body markings, a final bike check and off to the swim start.

Christy’s Swim
: I was excited to start the swim and end the anticipatory nerves that were making me feel like I’d require another visit to the mobile toilet. I did have some reservations. The Thursday before the race in Clearwater I had done one too many pull-ups and pulled a tendon in my left arm causing it to swell to twice its natural size. Until the day before the race, I still looked a little like Popeye. The swim started okay but after a few metres I’d caught a number of people. Unlike a normal wave start, with the time trial start you can never break away from the group. To make matters worse, the rising sun made it impossible to see the buoys that were intended to guide us to the turnaround point.

Skipping to the end of the swim, as I approached the strippers (not naked ladies but people that help remove the wetsuit) I couldn’t get either of my arms out of the suit. I pulled and pulled and finally got one arm out, yes right into my eye, a loud squish and momentary blindness. Not one of my most graceful transitions.

Nick’s Bike
: Although nervous about the disc wheel and my ability to reach and maintain the high cadence tempo I ride, I was ready to rock. With my uncle’s words echoing through my head, “take the first 10 minutes on the bike easy, keep the gears low and get into a rhythm,” I got into a medium to low gear and just turned the bike loose. Over the first 20 miles, I was racing on my own and passing racers (I think less than ten cyclists passed me in the first 20 miles).

One of the criticisms of Clearwater is drafting, and I’ll admit that I drafted in a group of 20. However: (a) the course is flat which doesn’t give racers the opportunity to separate; and (b) the race course is very narrow for the first 40 miles often on one lane of a still open highway. Drafting during a triathlon is positively frightening. Racers are in front, behind and to the side and all are in their bars. Should anyone go down, everyone would be assured to go down. While in the pack, I didn’t have the confidence to eat or drink, so I eventually dropped to the back, stopped pedalling and took in some food (Bikefood bar and Accel gels) and drink (Gatorade and Nuun). 
Toward the end, we crossed a long bridge with frontal wind that took a lot out of me. As I felt the wind increasing and my speed decreasing, I decided to focus on my pedalling and cadence.

Christy’s Run: I came off the bike feeling fresh and strong. I thought I’d set a 1:45 if not sub 1:45hr time. I felt great at the first loop and even down the start of the second loop. Usually during the run portion of races, I have digestive issues and have to take my per-mile time down to cope with unhappy intestines. But this was something completely different, something I’ve never experienced. Right before the bridge on the 2nd loop, nearing the 7th mile, suddenly my face felt hot, and I felt dizzy. Then some unusual thoughts came into my head, not negative thoughts, but thoughts that didn’t make sense. I thought I’d gotten my nutrition right. I had to think about how I was going to get through the rest of the race without losing too much time. I started throwing one glass of water on my head and drinking another at each water station and slowed my run. This seemed to work. It cost me a sub-5hr race time but it allowed me to finish in not-too-shabby a state and with a run time around 1:50hrs. There’s always next year, right?”

Overall: We had the time of our lives and enjoyed the racing setting personal best times.

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Christy: Swim 34:12 (2nd best ever time); Bike 2:30:49 (avg speed of 22.3mph personal best and 10-minutes faster than last year); Run 1:51:00 (4mins faster than 2008): Total race time 5:03:35 (personal best 70.3 compared to 5:11:17 at Antwerp ‘09).
Nick: Swim 31:09 (personal best and 1:50 faster than Antwerp ‘09); Bike 2:14:49 (avg speed of 24.9mph and 15min faster than previous personal best); Run 1:46:52 (personal best and 4mins faster than previous personal best): Total race time 4:39:43 (personal best compared to 4:58:05 at Antwerp).