Ironman 70.3 World Championships: A Race to Remember

Jonathan Koos

I recently had the opportunity to take part in the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Lahti, Finland and I wanted to share my experience with you all as the club and its members have been greatly supportive of my training and more since I joined a few years ago.

Preparation and Training: Preparing for an event of this magnitude is no small feat. It starts in the cold, dark months of winter, early in the mornings… when you leave for work to earn enough money to pay for Ironman’s entry fees, various aero gadgets and Maurten gels.

Supplementing passive recovery (aka sitting) in an office for 9 hours a day was my “highly regimented and scientific training plan” put together by yours truly, built on such credible sources of additional training wisdom such as the Triathlon Mockery podcast, pro triathletes’ Instagram accounts and friends’ training on Strava.

After training (training is an odd word, really. I would just call it “having fun”) for 15 hours a week for months on end I was ready to toe the line in Lahti, Finland.

Thursday: After arriving in Lahti, I was ready to soak in the race atmosphere. Having picked up my race pack I headed to the Welcome Ceremony for some free food. With thousands of other Type-A athletes in a barely lit convention centre and limited food supply I knew the race already started here and there. Having secured some odd-looking but delicious Finnish calories, I sat down to eat. Suddenly, my carb loading process got interrupted by loud music, sport gear commercials and Ironman motivational videos, an experience that felt like a cross between an electrifying sports celebration and a Scientology convention. 

Fully carb loaded and motivated it was time to get some rest in our quiet cabin in the Finnish countryside, an hour from race venue, saving big £££ in the process to spend more on aero calf sleeves (effectively trading hours of my time in driving for seconds on the bike – a no brainer!).

Friday: Shakeout ride and chill. We rode an hour easy in Z1 and somehow averaged close to 40 kph… Roads near Lahti are incredibly smooth and fast with only a few rolling hills. 

Saturday: Women’s race. I was going to follow it closely for two reasons. 

Firstly, I skipped the athlete briefing knowing that women would race first and that I could just ask them afterwards for real insights so I watched an eventful race via the excellent live coverage. 

Secondly, there was going to be a much anticipated dual of titans that only I knew about. Not talking about the hype of world class triathlete Taylor Knibb vs female GOAT Daniela Ryf… A year prior at Ironman 70.3 Swansea where I qualified, I somehow managed a faster time than female pro Kat Matthews. From then on, the benchmark was set for me. She had an amazing day in Lahti and finished second with a blistering half marathon of 1:16 in a total time of 3:57:05 (plus some extra due to longer age group transitions). There was my target time. 

But before that I had more race prep to do so I headed to Transition 1 with my bike to leave it there overnight. Tires pumped to the tilt? Check. Overreading power meter? Check. More carbs than any doctor would sensibly recommend (110g/hr for the sciency folks)? Check. With my bike checked-in I had a quick look at the three thousand bikes lined up, their value rivalling the GDP of a developing country, with the beautiful lake in the background. Time for more carbs and chill.

Sunday (race day):

Swim Leg: My original race plan envisaged going out for the first 500m at our normal Lane 5 Sunday “endurance speed”, i.e. absolutely redlining it until either I cramp up or run out of breath, but because my start was in the 4th age group wave an hour after start there was no point in trying to catch some “fast feet” as the bike course would be congested with athletes from other age groups. So I settled in for a steady pace in the lovely waters of lake Vesijärvi. Pacing a swim in open water is always difficult for me when I can’t rely on 1) Garmin or 2) Lucy Iball’s metronomic pacing in the pool. After a frenzied start we in the 30-34 age group in blue caps started to overtake the slower swimmers of the previous age groups. Then the pace dropped to what felt like catch-up drills so I picked it up and swam on my own until transition.

Transition 1 (T1): Exiting the water, the transition to the bike leg was a test of efficiency to pick up valuable seconds. I rushed through a narrow corridor of people walking and fiddling with wetsuits (excuse me, are you racing, sightseeing or what?) and finally located my bike.

Bike Leg: The bike leg was uneventful. I had my head-down, riding at 320 watts, sipping on delicious sugary water and dodging other riders. As close to inner peace as it gets in triathlon (life?). For those who want more detail I copied a paragraph from ChatGPT which happens to be accurate:

“The bike leg took us through beautiful Finnish landscapes, complete with rolling hills that added both beauty and a touch of pain. My bike, well-tuned and ready, carried me smoothly through the course. Despite the occasional drizzle that seemed to be in cahoots with those hills, I stuck to my pace and enjoyed the ride, grateful for the ever-changing weather keeping things interesting.”

Transition 2 (T2): I changed my shoes and ran out.

Run Leg: This is where my real insights from the women’s race came useful. The run (and the bike) had almost double the advertised elevation for around 220m for the run and over >700m for the bike (by the way, somehow it is never less than advertised, but always more…) so I decided to take it easy on the first lap. But I couldn’t help myself and had to drop a few Maurten Moves (Ironman has replaced the verb “overtake” with the name of a gel sponsor on live TV coverage. Yes, really.) and surged ahead. Fuelled by the World Champs atmosphere, the 600mg of caffeine that I had consumed since 6am that morning and the desire to end the pain as soon as possible there was nothing to stop me. I paced the uphills, hammered the downhills, looted the aid stations of £2 Maurten Gels and finally rounded the corner to the finish line for a total time of 4:03:14 (bringing the score of Jonathan Koos – Kat Matthews to a tie of 1:1).

Conclusion: It was a good race and I would recommend. Again, for those looking for more of a closing, here is ChatGPT. Again, happens to be true: “The Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Lahti was a memorable experience. It showcased the importance of preparation, the thrill of competition, and the incredible spirit of the triathlon community. While I didn’t claim the top spot on the podium, I achieved a personal victory, and that’s what this sport is all about. It’s a journey of self-discovery and pushing one’s limits.”

Editor’s Note: Fortunately I was able to get this photo of Jon alongside another friend of mine. A great moment of them finishing at the same time with two great results. Just one more serious than the other 😉