IM70.3 World Championships 2018 – Race Report

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  • September 9, 2018
150 150 Stephen Redwood
“Molo!”, was the thematic word for IM70.3 World Championships this year, held in Port Elizabeth/ Mandela Bay, South Africa. “Molo” means “Hi, how are you” in Xhosa, and is a term of welcome that these championships really lived up to. The local population embraced the event and were clearly proud of the opportunity to showcase Port Elizabeth, or “The Friendly City” as it is otherwise known.

Mandela Bay: Near T2 flags of competing nations were on display on the pier

From an organizational point of view this was a pretty flawless event and the few niggles were pretty much out of the event organizers control. So let’s put them to bed straightaway: the airlines transitioning people and gear from Johannesberg to Port Elizabeth were totally unprepared for the number of travel cases and bike bags, resulting in many people not getting their gear until some time after arrival; and the heart of the event is around the Boardwalk Hotel, which has a small area of shops and restaurants nearby to service visitors to the Bay and Casino. The shops and bureaux de change were at full stretch, resulting in big queues for athletes looking for early and speedy dinners close to the competition and the money for currency exchange ran out fast. Other than that, this was one of the best organized races I’ve attended.

As is now the pattern for the 70.3 world championships, this was a two day event with close to 5000 competitors: ladies on the Saturday (impressive 97% completion rate), men on the Sunday (don’t have the stats for men finishers). For great reports on the inspiring professionals races for each day, these reports by Timothy Carlson in Slowtwitch are very readable and give you the important facts:
  • Women (Ryf and Charles battled it out, chased by fastest runner of the day Anne Haug)
  • Men (epic confrontation between Frodeno, Gomez Noya, and Brownlee)

Swim practice was well organized with plenty of lifeguards and bag security

The swim was in Mandela Bay, with a beach rolling start within age groups (somewhat controversial for a WC event, as this means AG leaders have no idea if they are winning or not when they cross the line). Athletes ran down the beach into and through the surf (pause for a moment to reflect on the varied and often hilarious ways athletes achieved this balletic feat). For the women it was a chilly swim (15 deg C), but warmer for the men (19 deg C). Who knew an ocean temperature could change that much in 24 hours? The water had swells and some chop, but blessedly not nearly as rough as it could have been if the winds had been up. The buoys were easy to see and the course (and rolling start) which was an anti-clockwise rectangle, allowed plenty of room so you could get a clean swim. The race had a split transition, so the end point of the swim and T1 was across the bay a few hundred yards from the start.

Talking of transitions: this race gets the award for the best porta-potty management of any race I have attended. Really. Not just plenty of loos, not just staff to manage the lines and direct people to available cubicles, but they actually checked each potty after each person to ensure it was clean and ready for use. If it wasn’t, they cleaned it. Yes, if it wasn’t, they actually cleaned it. HELLO, RACE DIRECTORS, this sets the standard that all events should aspire to. Super impressive.

The bike course took in some spectacular views, if you took the time to look

The one loop bike course was a reasonably challenging roller – pretty fast with a few longish uphills and long fast downhills (easily taking you over 40mph in sections), taking the riders through some built up areas early on and then through the Island Nature Reserve and along the coastline, back into town. Not very technical, it had plenty of long straights and only one tight 180 turn, and roads were closed to cars. There were some beautiful views in places, it you took the time to look around – some people even saw monkeys crossing the road. My Garmin measured it as 55.9 miles, so it seemed accurate on distance. Official elevation was stated as 2105ft compared to 2346ft on my device. The surface was variable, with nice smooth asphalt in places and long stretches of chip-seal which made for a lot of vibration and anything not locked tight on your bike was going to come off – there were plenty of bottles, cages, CO2 cartridges scattered on these sections.

It was wet and cool for the men, ranging from 55 to 63 deg F (average was 59), whereas for the women it was dry and hot. In the mens race the rain meant the crazies amongst the downhillers could terrify the more careful of us, by taking risks that accounted for the ambulances you could hear from time to time. But at least it wasn’t windy: this course can have blustery winds of 20 mph or more that had blown some riders off their bikes on practice days. Thankfully, on both days the wind was relatively calm – albeit some head wind going out and a nice tailwind coming back.

Daniela Ryf, running with a wardrobe malfunction, continued her dominant season

The layout of the 2 loop run course was perfect for spectators and for runners to feel the support of the crowd. T2 exit and the finish chute were in the middle of each loop, so runners passed that point 5 times and the compact course meant there were spectators most of the way. The course was pretty flat with a total advertised elevation of 305ft (354ft on my watch), but each end of the course had a steady climb of 3-4% up to the turnarounds, just enough to suck some pace out of those legs. By my watch (13 miles exactly) the run course distance was pretty accurate.

The crowd was fantastic and there was a big turnout, with many locals staying put even when it rained. Similarly, there were plenty of volunteers, who really lived up to the The Friendly City designation, and were constantly encouraging athletes to come back next year. Believe me, not all host communities feel that welcoming. For the mens race, the rain was pretty manageable until the very end, and then it started to chuck it down. By the evening a full-on rain and wind storm hit the town.

A solid race for me, despite mechanical issues on bike

I loved this race and was really able to enjoy it despite the relatively low key preparation I had done in the weeks since IM Lake Placid. My swim and run were good (by my standards), and the bike was also looking to be a solid ride until about a third of the way through when my rear cassette (or maybe it was the wheel hub?) started malfunctioning. I had to come to a dead stop every few minutes to get the cassette/ hub to reset and enable some power to be generated – frustrating, but a new lesson in mechanics for me. My transitions took forever too as I committed some rookie errors, reminding me not to get complacent about my race preparation. Coming to the World Championships at my level is a humbling experience, but that’s a good thing – it inspires, it means the journey is never complete, and it justifies the Championship status. I would definitely go back there to race again.

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