Ironman 70.3 World Championships Mooloolaba – September 2016

My A-race of the season was finally here, all the lengths in the pool, miles on the bike and steps on the run were all in preparation for this race. Being in Australia, this wasn’t the quickest race to get to so on a sunny afternoon on Sunday 14th August I was on my way to London to stay the night by Heathrow airport ready for a morning flight on Monday 15th. I flew out with Singapore airlines, who I would recommend, the cabin crew were excellent and the food was very good and plenty of it. It was a 13 hour flight to Singapore, with a 4 hour stop before a 7 hour flight to Brisbane. When I landed in Brisbane it was 7:30pm local time so to save travelling all the way to Mooloolaba I had booked an air B n B only a few miles from the airport for the night. By the time I arrived in my room it was late so after grabbing a quick bite to eat I fell straight to sleep. I didn’t have the best of sleep suffering from jetlag but luckily it was only a short train and bus ride from here to Mooloolaba. Upon arrival it was a mile walk from the bus stop to my friend Alice’s house, which was hard work with 40kg worth of bags, jetlagged and in the heat of the day. The rest of the day I chilled, explored the centre and managed to get a little evening jog in along the waters front – I couldn’t believe how many people were out running, skating, dog walking or just socializing at the BBQ’s dotted along the sea front. I knew Australians were sporty but it was good to see so many people out and being active. Thursday 18th till Saturday 20th passed quickly apart from waking every morning between 2am and 6am with jetlag – I’ve never watched so much Netflix. I managed to get some good training sessions in though as my body slowly started to feel normal again after all the travelling. Jordan and his family arrived on Saturday so I moved from Alice’s down to their apartment where we were staying for the next 2 and a half weeks. The apartment was stunning and right on the run course and was only a 2 minute walk to where transition would be and 5 minutes from the swim start. After spending the last few nights on my own, it was nice to have company and enjoy a good family meal Saturday night as I was competing in the Sunshine Coast 10km the next day. I wasn’t sure if I would compete in this race before heading out but as I was feeling good in training, and it was on the same course as the 70.3 I thought I’d use it as training, not go too crazy and get a little race under my belt, with it being two weeks before the race it was the perfect time.

The race didn’t start till 9am but I woke up early naturally so I watched the highlights of the Rio Olympics Women’s race which was on while I was asleep. We didn’t have much food in the apartment because when we went to the supermarket the night before we didn’t realise it shut at 5:30pm on a Saturday, so after a quick bit of toast and jam followed later by a Torq energy gel I was on the start line and beginning the race. Cycle Logic member Dave Bartlett was also racing with me, the first mile was quicker than I had wanted to start so I settled back into my own rhythm. One guy was already miles up the road and 2nd place was 50m ahead. Dave and I were running in a small group of three, slowly catching the runner ahead and by the half way turn around we were 2nd and 3rd with a small gap back to 4th, 1st was already a good 45 seconds ahead come the 5km mark. I carried on running at 5:15min/mi pace on the way back, managing to get a small gap on Dave crossing the line 2nd overall in 32 minutes 51 seconds which was a new personal best. This did my confidence a world of good as I knew I could off run a little faster if the bigger picture wasn’t the 70.3.

The next 10 days were all about training, eating and hydrating well and doing a few touristy bits. We all went whale watching one afternoon and had a few day trips out – one day we visited Steve Irwin Australia Zoo which was ready good and we had a couple of day trips to Noosa. I also noticed from a week out just how many triathletes were here to race, everywhere you looked there seem to be athletes, every other person either had Ironman clothing on, compression calves or walking around in running shoes. On Thursday 1st September I took part in the Ocean 1000 Race, which was a 1000m swim race organised by Ironman. It started off on the same beach as the 70.3 so was a good chance for me to race in the same conditions and roughly the same time as I would a few days later. The race wasn’t as popular as I first thought it was going to be but was still a good sharpener. There were a few different age group waves but think I was 10th overall, 3rd in my wave. The race started at 7:10am so I was finished early and able to have a quick breakfast before registration opened at 9am for Sunday’s race. Thursday afternoon and Friday were completely relaxing days. I didn’t do too much walking around and enjoyed being lazy for a change – I did a lot of reading, made sure I was well hydrated and kept checking my race gear over and over again to make sure everything was primed and ready to roll.

The day before a race is always when I start to feel really nervous (more than usual) and take myself off into my own little bubble. After a morning loosener jog and final bike check I took the bike down to race and hang up m T1 bag (which included my bike helmet and sunglasses) and my T2 bag (which included my running shoes and socks, a visor and energy gel).  After 30 minutes of being surrounded by hundreds of triathletes I’d had enough so went and met Neil Eddy at a small café tucked around the corner which I don’t think many people knew about as it was quiet when we got there and could talk about normal stuff rather than tyre pressure and gear ratios. Saturday night was very relaxed with Jordan and his parents. I cooked my tried and tested fitnaturally approved meal of spaghetti pomodoro followed by a big bowl of ice cream before climbing into bed early ready to switch off.

Race morning and I was up at 4am so my breakfast would have 3 hours to digest. Even on the other side of the World I kept to my usual routine of two bagels, 1 with scrambled eggs and 1 with peanut butter and honey. I still had just under an hour to go till I had to leave the apartment so I climbed back into bed to watch Netflix while sipping on an electrolyte drink. I left the apartment at 5:20am and made the short walk to transition. It was still slightly dark out but knew from past mornings that the sun would soon be up and we would be racing in stunning sunshine and warmth. I didn’t have too much to do in the transition area as a lot of my kit was already hanging up in my transition bags. I connected my bike shoes to the bike, pumped up my tyres, then added all my nutrition for the bike leg. I had an electrolyte drink in my front aero bottle (and planned on filling this with a carb based drink during the 56 mile cycle from one of the aid stations). I also planned to consume a flapjack bar (broken into smaller mouth size pieces) and 2 x torq raspberry ripple gels – I always make sure the first half of the bike I have the solid food, and then move to carb based drink and gels for the remainder as this sits better in my stomach starting the run. My age group started at 6:50am but I had to be down in the starting area at 6:35am ready to go. The 1.9km swim was a deep-water start adjacent to Mooloolaba Beach. At 6:45am we were allowed to enter the water and make the 50m swim to the start line and wait for the horn. The horn blasted at 6:50am and 200 of the best 25-29 age groupers in the world were off. The first 200m were like a washing machine, arms and legs everywhere, it was crazy and I struggled to get going as my initial sprint speed isn’t the best. After the craziness I managed to settle into a good rhythm and find some space. The course ran in a South Easterly direction for 700m before making a left hand turn at the first buoy. I got held up a little at this first turn but luckily by not too much. We then swam out to sea for 150m before making another left hand turn and swimming back the way we had come. It was around this stage I started catching athletes from the wave in front who started 5 minutes before. Luckily the sun was behind us now so was easier to see. I felt really good during this 800m and felt like I was over taking a load of athletes (most being from the wave before but I noticed I was over taking athletes from my wave who had obviously started to quickly from the excitement). We took a final left hand turn then were only 250m swim to the shore – I was hoping for a wave to catch but typically it was the flattest I’d seen the sea in two weeks and like a millpond. I exited the water in 25 minutes and 25 seconds, 23rd in my age group.

On exiting the water we had a 50m run on soft sand followed by a few stairs to reach transition. When running I pulled my wetsuit down to around my waist and noticed that in the chaos of the swim start I had managed to start my Garmin 920xt but also managed to pause it again. So after 25+ minutes of racing my Garmin showed I’d been racing for a second. The transition was the biggest I had ever experienced at a triathlon. First stop was the blue T1 bag area where I grabbed my helmet and sunglasses, and then stuffed my wetsuit, goggles and hat back into the bag. Then I had the small matter of finding my bike out of 3000+ bikes and I was good to go. I managed to reset my Garmin during this time too and had it setup on the right profile for the bike to show my heart rate and power output. The 90km bike started with an out and back section along the Sunshine motorway, I wasn’t able to cycle this during the lead up with it being a motorway but knew it would be a quick section of road so I wanted to make sure I didn’t get too carried away. The first few miles weren’t too busy and I settled into my race pace holding 300 watts and sipping on my electrolyte drink to stay well hydrated, it still wasn’t overly hot as only 7:30am but knew by the time I hit the run in 2 hours time it was be a lot warmer. After the first 10km into the bike it became apparent how much of an issue drafting was going to be in this race as I approached and overtook a couple of packs from the waves before. With so many athletes starting at such close intervals I knew this would be a problem on the flat section but not this bad. As I was reaching the turnaround point on the highway I saw the first pro men heading back on the other side of the road, they were all in one long line and didn’t look like they were following the 12m drafting rule. Then I saw the big packs from the waves in front, the 35-39 year olds and the 30-34 year olds. I just focused on my power and made sure I was never just sat behind another athlete. There seemed to be a good number of draft busters but I don’t think even they knew what to do with such big packs. After the turn around point and heading back to Maroochydore I was still feeling good but always made sure I sat around my race wattage as knew the hillier section was still to come – I’d had been able to get out and cycle the hill loops quite a few times in the two week build up. Around the 40km mark we made a sharp left hand turn and started heading out away from the coast. Hitting the windy roads through the gum tree lined course I hoped it would separate a few of the packs. Coming up to the 50km mark and we hit the steepest climb of the course, it wasn’t too long but really snapped the legs. The hill managed to separate a few of the cyclists I was with, a couple of guys made a break and come the downhill were gone. I managed to get away from a few athletes in my age group but cresting the top of the hill and there were athletes everywhere from the earlier waves. After a short downhill we came back along the flat – passing an aid station where I grabbed a carb drink to fill up my xlab aero bottle. We then had another loop to do around the Sunshine Coast hinterland, this loop was longer but the hills not as steep and more like long drags. The draft buster came along and made everyone separate on the long drag, luckily I was right at the front of the pack so I didn’t have to slow down like the others. By this stage I had already had all my flapjack and just kept making sure I was on top of my fluid. The last 25km we cycled back along the windy lanes all the way back to Mooloolaba and transition. I had a gel with 25km to go and then one final one at the 80km mark to help see me through the run. I entered transition after a 2 hours 16 minutes and 38 second bike split. I had a new average normalized power for the bike of 301 watts, Julian and I have been working hard over the summer months to get stronger on the bike, even choosing turbo sessions at times when the sun was shining. Seeing this new PB it was great to see all the hard work coming together. During the bike leg I managed to move myself up to 13th in the 25-29 age group.

Starting the run I didn’t have a clue what position I was in with so many athletes around me, I knew I was in the best run shape I’ve ever been in. The 21.1km run was a two-lap course which was mainly flat but had a small hill called Alex Hill which was approximately 400m. Unfortunately, this hill was within the first 1km so it was hard to get into my initial pace having to run up and back down the other side, luckily it wasn’t overly steep and more of a drag. I had run this route so many times along the front in training I felt I knew it with my eyes closed. Once on the flat I settled into a good rhythm and made sure for the first 10km I kept my heart rate as low as possible. I was feeling strong and over taking lots of athletes. On the aid stations I kept just to water and most the time I only sipped on this just to keep on top of fluid – it was a warm day but luckily not as hot as it could have been –  there was a few patches of shade on the course so I made sure I always ran in it when possible. The course really suited me with nice long sections where you could see down the road so I had targets I could aim for and pick off. Starting the second lap I saw team mates Dave Bartlett and Neil Eddy (even on the other side of the World it was good to be racing with the two guys who have pushed me so much in Cornwall). I started to suffer the last couple of km’s from the end and had to dig deep during the final km where we climbed Alex Hill for the last time. I still had no idea of what position I was in but looking at my watch I knew a new half marathon was possible off the bike so I dug deep and pushed hard over the top and down the other side. I ran hard to the finishing chute and was glad to see the finishing line – I couldn’t have given much more to the race and executed the run just how Julian and I had planned. My run split was 1 hour 14 minutes and 14 seconds. Crossing the finishing line I was lead to the recovery area, I managed to find a spectator who was on the live timings so he kindly found my result and let me know I had finished the race in 4 hours 2 minutes and 58 seconds, 3rd in the 25-29 age group and 3rd age grouper of the day. I was so happy when realised I had made the podium as my goal for this race was to make top 10.

At the recovery area I caught up with Dave and Neil and also Jordan who I was room sharing with. We all shared our race stories chilling in the sun. There was a great atmosphere at the finishing area with everyone happy. The rest of the day was spent chilling on the beach with good food and company. The next day we had the finishers banquet and that’s where I was able to go on stage and receive my third position trophy. Season over and it was nice to have a couple of weeks travelling in Australia. Heading back home I have the small matter of a hernia operation and recovery before starting winter training for the 2017 season.

2016 has been more successful than I could of asked for at the start and I couldn’t of done it without so much support. My coach – Julian Wills – every session has a purpose and he has made sure I haven’t over trained or raced and that every race I was ready to go. I trust him with my racing and training schedule and am looking forward to working with him again next season. Cycle Logic, after moving race teams during the season Cycle Logic have been fantastic support and have kept my bike in perfect working condition, they even sorted me with a race wheel for Australia at the last minute as mine wasn’t back from Zipp when they made a product recall. Steve and the team are a great bunch and I’m glad I’ll still be with them next year, they are changing to Giant Helston which is really exciting and can’t wait to get my hands on the Giant Trinity Advanced Pro TT bike. Snugg Wetsuits, for the best wetsuit out there, my swimming has come a long way this year and I feel it’s down to the Slipstream suit which is made to my measurements and fits perfectly. Once again nothing is too much work for Malcom and the team are always there to help. The team at fitnaturally for making sure my nutrition for the season has been spot on, I’ve hit every session confident that I’ve fuelled correctly and I have the right nutrition to recover well. I’ve learnt a lot about sports nutrition over the past 2 years from these guys and it’s definitely becoming an important role in becoming the best triathlete I can be. They’ve got me to my lightest racing weight in years yet I’m still as strong. Laura at Verve Fitness and Therapy for all the physio work, she’s the best physio I’ve worked with and has got me into the best shape possible before races. Even after France when I could barely walk on my ankle she had me ready for the British Age Groups when at one stage I thought I’d have to miss it. Torq nutrition for the best energy gels and powder on the market, all natural tasting and I’ve had no problems in races consuming their products. Datasharp UK have supported me every step of the way since I started racing at a higher level back in 2009 and are always the first to help me out when needed, the support from my work colleagues is unbelievable. Then finally my friends and family who are always helping and supporting me, they’re the first to pick me up when down and are at every race cheering away. With such a great team behind me it’s not surprising 2016 was so successful – roll on 2017!


Michael Birchmore

Training hard is what I do

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