Ironman 70.3 North American Championships in St.George Utah is certainly the most competitive race I have ever entered. There was a lot of buzz about the race because of the number of huge stars on the start list, including Alistair Brownlee (2x Olympic gold medalist), Lionel Sanders (defending North American 70.3 champion and Ironman world record holder), and Sebastian Kienle (2016 runner up at Ironman 70.3 world championships and Ironman world championships). There were several others with multiple 70.3 and 140.6 wins as well. My credentials going into the race were as follows: Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico- 7th place, Barrelman half iron distance triathlon-DNF, and a few top 5 performances in short course pro races. All that being said, I went into the event with no pressure, nothing to lose, and the motivation to prove that I can compete well against very tough competition.
The swim start went perfectly. I was lined up right beside fellow Canadian and strong swimmer Antoine Jolicouer DesRoches. The gun caught me off guard a bit and Antoine got a better start than me. I immediately got right behind him and stayed on his feet for the first 200-300 meters! That got me into the main pack of 12 ish swimmers, but I could only hold on with them for the first half before getting dropped. I swam as well as I could the last 900 meters or so an came out 20 seconds behind that group all on my own in 14th place. I was only 1:07 behind the fastest swimmer (Ben Kanute) over the 1900m swim, I would say that makes this my best swim ever.
I had a great transition and got on my bike only about 10 seconds behind the last guy from the pack ahead. I immediately went to work and had a strong first 30 minutes of the bike, getting myself right into the mix. I settled in and stayed with Joe Gambles and Tim Don for the next 30 minutes or so. Then Lionel Sanders and Sebatian Kienle went by us about 45 minutes into the ride. This happened around the same time as we were about to catch a few who were still ahead (Appleton, Costes, and Kanute), and most of them tried to match the pace of Sanders and Kienle. Gambles and I let them go as the pace was too strong, especially on the climbs, and shortly after I passed Gambles and rode on my own for about the next 20 minutes. As we got to the base of the Snow Canyon climb, I had caught the pack that got dropped by Sanders and Kienle, this pack included Don, Kanute, Costes, and Appleton.
During this grueling climb, I had planned to spike the power a little bit, but my legs would only allow me to push an average of 290 watts. I passed Appleton, but the others pulled away, I still pushed hard up the climb knowing that I would get some relief on the fast descent into town. I rode as well as I could down the long descent into transition. I had previously planned to take in a lot of carbs and fluids on this part of the course, but the descent was too fast for me to feel comfortable with one hand on the bars, so I ended up with about 25% of my fluids and carbs still sitting on my bike to start the run. I got off the bike in 7th place with Costes in sight, and Appleton only a few seconds back.
I had a great transition, but I didn’t feel great to start the run. I got a bad stitch in the right side of my abdomen. I thought maybe I took in too much carbs on the bike? Of course this didn’t make much sense since I had taken in less than planned. At the first aid station I drank 2 cups of gatorade and 1 cup of water, this helped the stitch immediately. I then realized my stomach was completely empty which may have actually caused the stitch, so I took my gel. Sam Appleton passed me at approximately mile 2 and I chose not to go with him, I knew pushing the pace this early, and on such a steep climb wouldn’t be wise. At the next aid station I took more gatorade and water, and the stitch disappeared. Shortly there after, the climb subsided and there was even a bit of downhill, finally. I ran smooth for the whole middle part of the run, I didn’t feel strong, but I knew that was the price I had to pay for biking very hard.
Brent McMahon and Joe Gambles both passed me between miles 6 and 7. I knew they were both very good runners and I had no chance to stay with them that day. As the next couple of miles went by, I held my pace and didn’t think anyone was within reach, but you never know what can happen in front or behind you in a race. At mile 9, I saw Antony Costes coming back to me. Although I wasn’t running great, this had become a survival fest, I simply “blew-up” less than he had, and I rolled past him without a response. Then I was in 9th. Around mile 10, I saw the gap shrinking between Sam Appleton and I.
I knew I sure wasn’t feeling any faster, my legs were wobbly, but I held pace with hopes that he would fade. I counted 20 seconds between he and I at mile 10, and at mile 11 it was around 12 seconds. 1 mile to go and it was only 5 seconds. I caught him with about 600 meters to go, stayed on his shoulder for a few seconds (3 seconds or 30, I really can’t remember), then I gave it everything I had left to try to drop him. The sound of his footsteps disappeared as I came into the finishing chute, and I crossed the line in 8th place.
This result was the absolute best I could have hoped for. I think I raced well tactically and wouldn’t change much. I definitely went harder than ever before, and I am glad I pushed this boundary. One area for improvement could be to take more carbs and fluids before coming into the last 10 miles of the bike (on that course) , and possibly trying to take more carbs with me in general to help feel better at the start of the run. I will try doing this in training, and see if it helps me run better in future races.
Thanks to all my supporters for allowing me to get this far: The LPC Hurdle Project, Prolutions Project Managment, Dundas Speed Shop, Felt Bicycles, ZiZU Optics, and Pearl Izumi. Also thanks to my dad Brian who helped a lot on this trip, especially when I had a mechanical issue the day before the race! Last but not least, thanks to Carolyn and Dean Cooper who hosted my dad and I while in St. George.
Next up for me is a few good weeks of training and then IRONMAN 70.3 Raleigh.
Thanks for reading!