IM 70.3 World Championships 2023: One to learn from
by Sophie Kirk
Back in August four Ful-on Tri’ers’ headed over to Finland for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships. For those of you newer to the ‘Ironman scene’ the middle distance world championships is held annually over a weekend in a different country each year. Next year it is in New Zealand and the following Spain.
Myself (Sophie) and Lily Mannion raced on the Saturday followed by Jonathan Koos and Charlie Rogers taking on the Men’s race on Sunday. There is also a professional field alongside the age group racing. With around 5000 athletes competing over the weekend it was a big event with a lot of excited triathletes buzzing around Lahti, Finland.
I qualified for this race by entering IM 70.3 Davao (Philippines) earlier this year (see below). I was the first overall age grouper there and so got a slot to the World Championships. It’s not free mind! You can read more about how to qualify here. Attending the roll down ceremony is a must as you never know if you might secure a slot!
After what felt like a very long summer of training and entering small races I was glad when race day finally rolled around. Those who know me will know I LOVE training and don’t love racing quite as much. I tend to get super nervous and suffer with a severe lack of sleep in the days prior.
I headed out a few days prior to the race to give myself time to settle in before race day on the Saturday. I was staying in a truly multi-national house (A German, an Australian, an Israeli and a Frenchman….yes I know it sounds like the start of a joke) 30 minutes from race HQ on the lakeside. It was a stunning location and made for a somewhat relaxing trip. Registration takes place just like a regular 70.3 race in the days preceding. So the day after arriving I drove to collect my bag (no.1 reason to do the race ;)), race numbers and check out the expo. I do try to avoid as many ‘hyped up’ triathletes as possible because I just don’t like to add to my already building nerves.
I took the opportunity to recce the lake temperature (nice!) and the last 15km of the bike course (smooth). So I was pretty excited for a fast and fun bike course. That evening was the welcome banquet and race briefing – an opportunity to find out any last minute details and brush up on the rules.
The next day it was time to rack the bike and hang up my bike & run bags. In most Ironman races you have bags on hooks where you have to keep all of your stuff such as helmet, trainers & nutrition. This event had a split transition (T1 & T2 in different places) making it slightly different to smaller events. T2 was also inside a huge building much like the London triathlon.
On race day I was up at 5.30 to eat breakfast (bagel & banana) and drive down to the start. Luckily one of the guys agreed to drive me there so I didn’t have to worry about parking. I got to transition at around 6.45 added my shoes to the pedals and put the race nutrition onto my bike. Checked the tyres and gears and headed out in record time at 7am. My start time was supposed to be 8.15 but there was a 30 minute delay due to fog on the lake. So I found some friends and chilled out for longer than was expected!
By this time the nerves had actually subsided and I was excited to get going. Each age group had their own start time with a rolling start of 10 athletes every 5/10 seconds within that. I tried and failed to get near to the front of my wave but I told myself it didn’t matter. We had a big drop into the water, with the option of diving. As I approached my time to go I bottled it and jumped in instead – woah that was high! It also looked like if I dived I might land on someone.
Swim: The swim was fairly uneventful, lots of space due to the rolling start and I found some feet. Swam the classic pace I always swim – but was happy to see I placed 20th in my age category some way above those who would later go on to finish in the top 5!
Bike: The bike started well with nutrition going down well and finding some cyclists to legally work with (12m draft zone). However, occasionally slower riders would try and jump in the gap which meant I often had to sit up and drop back to avoid drafting. I lost a few faster ladies because of this. At around 50km I really started to struggle, feeling sick and losing power in the legs. Looking back I think I did too many surges trying to keep up and took on too much nutrition early on instead of spreading it out. Despite this my normalized power was on target. Just seems like everyone got faster (again!).
I was grateful to see the end of the bike course as the last 30k wasn’t much fun. I really didn’t have high hopes for the run and wondered if I’d actually find any legs at all.
Into T2 I spotted some friends and that gave me a huge boost – I totally forgot about my lack of legs! Run through a million bike rack, rack the bike, helmet off around to the run bags. Shoes on gels grabbed and off we go. There were my pals again cheering so loudly. I was just thinking ok right let’s see if we can finish this.
Run: My run has improved so much this year and it was only two weeks before the race when I realised I probably wouldn’t be able to show this off. The course was HILLY – not my strong point. In fact a year ago I wouldn’t have been able to complete it due to ongoing achilles issues.
My coach and I decided on a conservative approach to get me up the long climb at the start of the two lap course. I managed to maintain pace of around 4.35 mins/km for the whole course which overall I’m happy with. Plus I passed a lot of people on the downhills! I just know on a flat course I can do so much more these days. I finished up 33rd in my age category.
After the race I felt like the whole thing was a bit of an anticlimax. Maybe I forgot to really ‘race’ this one? Something to work on with the brain. Or maybe it because I was up super early the next day to support the men’s race! However I really enjoyed my other races this year a lot more! Most importantly I know where I can improve and I’m looking forward to a little bit of time off after a long year. Up next is my annual winter avoidance trip to Phuket to coach for my (ssshh) other club and for some Asia races – starting with Laguna Phuket Triathlon in mid November and then the big scary goal for 2024 is Challenge Roth.