Ironman 70.3 Ecuador. It was a race that had been in my mind for such a long time. After putting in a hard block of training in Boulder I had high expectations for this race. I really wanted to go podium and get a slot for the world championships in South Africa in 2018. I was feeling very good coming into the race and was ready to enjoy myself on the course in what is by far the ‘craziest’ race I’m doing this year. Ecuador is a beautiful country and the people are super nice. In Manta, where the race is held, the Ironman really is the event of the year and tens of thousands of people were expected around the course on race day.
Regularly, the day before the race is pretty uneventfull, but this time was different. At Ironman races you have to check your bike into transition the day before the race, only to see it again at the morning of the race for the final preparations. At the bike check in the officials warned me to take pressure out of my tires because of the burning sun. According to them tires could explode and result in a flat tire the next morning. I thought my tires were fine and not maxed out on pressure anyway, but it didn’t feel super good. After the race briefing in the afternoon I decided to go back to transition and check on my bike one more time. When I got to my bike my rear tire was flat. WTF. How could this be possible. After only a couple of hours in the sun? The tire wasn’t completely empty as well, but about 80% of the air was gone. I was panicking, it was 4pm and all bikes have to be checked in at 5pm or you can not compete the next day.
I took my bike out of transition super quick and rushed towards the mechanics. They could help me right away but didn’t have matching tubes for my valve extender. WTF again. I had to go back to the hotel to get my own spare tubes… I left Marloes with the bike and rushed into a taxi and got back at around 4:30. The mechanic helped me right away and changed the tube. When he was finished he did a quick check and then found something crucial. The original tube hadn’t exploded and wasn’t punctured, but the valve core in my valve extender was leaking (ok, this might be quite technical, sorry). He used the core out of my new tube to fix the problem and fixed the valve with plumbers tape so it wouldn’t leak again.
The tire finally was well inflated, the guy installed my wheel and lubed my chain some more. I was good to go. By this time I was so happy and anxious at the same time. What if the new valve with plumbers tape wouldn’t hold up? It would mean I would find my bike with a flat rear tube at race day and the race would be as good as over before it started…. Needless to say this thought didn’t make me super ‘zen’. I barely slept the night before the race with this thought in mind. I had been training so damn hard and really wanted to go podium at this race, and now this tire problem could ruin it all….
With or without sleep, race day came and when I got into transition (crazy early so I could try to fix the problem, worst case scenario) my heart was raging while my hand went for the tube…. The tire was hard. The fix was still a fix. I was going to race.
While the stress fell of my shoulders it was time to focus on the race set my mind towards beast mode. It was time for the race I had been looking forward to for so long. It was ‘go time’.
The swim was a non-wetsuit ocean swim alongside Murcielago beach. It was a wave start swim which I don’t like at all. It means a super busy swim in which you have to navigate through all the weaker swimmers in the waves before you. It also means you will probably have to swim on your own and won’t find any fast feet to follow. My agegroup also was being split up, I was in the first group and the second group was starting 4 minutes behind me.
After the gun went off I sprinted to the water and with a couple of other guys from my agegroup we went for a fast sprint towards the first buoy. Reaching this buoy we were already swimming into ‘the back’ of the previous wave. From here on it was a a dodgy swim, but I felt really well. I had a good rythm and passed tons of people.
When I got out the water I saw my garmin noted 31:50. This time was super disappointing, but I also saw that the swim had been way too long. 2100m instead of 1900 which translates to about 3 minutes more. I was happy, I swam a very good pace of 1:31 for a non wetsuit swim. Time to get on the bike.
While the problem with the tire seemed to be fixed, it was quite a nervous moment to jump on the bike and ride it. Riding a new tube in a race is a stupid idea, all kinds of things might be off, but in this case I didn’t have any options and just had to hope that the tire would hold up. After hearing some crazy sounds (which was of course an other cyclist with bike problems) and feeling crazy bumps (which were of course the shaky roads and not a flat) I settled in a rythm and pushed hard.
I didn’t have super legs on the first part of the bike course. I had to work hard to reach my target power output of about 260 watts on the hilly bike course. I passed tons of people again and didn’t get passed by anyone. On one of the final hills before the turnaround (the course was 45k out and 45k back) a guy came flying by however and by his marking I saw he was in my agegroup as well. There was no holding back. I had to stick with this guy. I had to dig really deep on the short climbs pushing around 400 watts. This was way higher than my race plan, but hey, do you want to win or not?
On a flatter section I found that my good legs were slowly coming back. I passed the guy and took some turns (all within draft legal distance of course). On the way back we had a head wind and I felt like my new partner in crime/rival (his name was Pachi from Ecuador and we had so much fun on the after party btw) was suffering more than I was. On a gradual climb of about 3k long I put my head down and started hammering. I was hurting very bad by this time, but ‘if it’s hurting me it’s killing them’. On the top of the hill I saw that a gap had opened up. There was no holding back now. I rode full gas for about 10k until I was sure I was out of sight. I really didn’t wanted to start the run together, because I knew it would be a sufferfest and being out of sight is a huge advantage.
The final km’s on the bike I took my foot of the gas a little bit. I felt smashed and knew by then that the run was going to be carnage. But this would probably be the case for everybody….
After a quick transition I was out on the run course. The crowds were amazing. I couldn’ t help but waving to them, it felt so awesome to be there. I saw Marloes who was supporting like crazy again. So cool. She yelled harder than the crowd and let me know I was in 1st place. Wow. There was really no way back.
I tried to settle into a rythm on the run. Before the race I was anticipating kms of 4:05 but there was no way this was going to happen. It was warm and humid. My body felt like it was exploding. After some kms just below 4:10 I found somewhat of a rythm in running kms around 4:15. I wasn’t happy with this but at the turnaround point I saw that there wasn’t really anybody running into me. I guess everybody was done and if I could bring it home in this pace I might win my agegroup.
After the halfway mark I really really started to work harder and harder to maintain the pace. This is the phase in the race where you start caring less about your position and just want the pain to be over with… However, the faster you run, the sooner you get to stop so I kept pushing. I wasn’t sure about position anymore, because I realized that there were also guys in my agegroup who started 4 minutes behind me. Finishing in front of them didn’t necessarily mean beating them…
Entering the final stretch I was really happy. As always, the pain dissapears and happiness and pride takes its place. After finishing I saw Marloes and asked her right away if I still finished on the podium. In my mind I melted down so hard that I was probably passed by a couple of guys starting behind me. ‘Dude, what? I think you’ve won!’ she answered. I was so happy. After waiting for 4 minutes on the finish line it was for sure. I won my agegroup!
It was time to celebrate! After a great podium ceremony I accepted my slot for the world championships in 2018 and it was time for a party. We met amazing people and it was so much fun celebrating this great race with them.
Question remains what would have happened if I would not have gone back to my bike after checking it in. I would have found the flat the morning of the race and would have replaced it with a new tube before heading towards the swim start. Then after the swim I would have ran to my bike, ready to race it, but would’ve found it with no air in the rear tire because I never thought of the valve being the problem…. Crazy thought right? But it’s a ‘what if’ and, if anything, this amazing year is about leaving the ‘what if-s’ behind and going for it full gass. It’s time for some traveling in Ecuador and then the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS. Let’s push hard one more time.