2017 Ironman 70.3 World Champs Chattanooga Tennessee USA – Marc Wrobel

I arrived in Chattanooga around 9pm on the Wednesday evening after 30 hours and 3 flights. I woke up early on the Thursday and attended the AWA breakfast which was a nice and relaxing boat cruise up and down the Tennessee River. Special guests Mark Allen and Dave Scott spoke in length about their careers and current thoughts and involvement in the sport. This was also my first opportunity see Chattanooga in daylight. I was suitably impressed with the town but the only issue with Chattanooga was that the airport was small and only narrow bodied small planes went into it. There were 4,500 competitors arriving with lots of bikes and baggage and probably a good share of those people did not receive their bags or bikes on the same flight. I did not see my suitcase until the Friday which caused much stress and frustration.

I really struggled to sleep at night and adjust from the travel and the new time zone, plus I could also feel the onset of a cold or flu coming. Woke up the Saturday and bang I was sick with fever, hot and cold sweats and zero energy. Doubts and negative feelings really flooded my thoughts and I really debated what I was doing. However, you don’t sign up for Ironman races because they are going to be easy so I knew this was yet another problem to deal with.

This year was the first time they were trialing a separate race for the male and females. Despite how I was feeling I ventured out early on the Saturday to watch the start of the female race. The excitement and atmosphere was incredible, the reality really kicked in at this point that I was at a World Championships. After watching the top 100 or so come out of the water I headed back to the apartment to get some more sleep. A few hours later I ventured back out to watch the final stages of the run, the crowd and atmosphere was amazing as Daniella Ryf took the female crown. I only heard positive feedback from all parties involved of the split male and female races, it was incredibly well run and organised by Ironman.

Spent the rest of Saturday arvo checking in the bike, having the most amazing carb loading pasta lunch at Tony’s Pasta and doing all the final race day prep along with trying to sleep and rest as much as possible. Woke up early on the Sunday with nerves like I’ve never had before. Anyway, it was time to rock and roll, I hadn’t come all this way, spent all this money and gone through all these problems not to get my frigging medal!!

Walking into transition 6.30am Nuna Tri Club got the first of many shout outs over the commentary speaker. Our resident Australian Ironman commentator Pete Murray was commentating athletes as they walked into transition and obviously noticed I was Australian with the NTC uniform so we had a chat. He was then on the run course commentating so another two shout outs on each lap of run, he even went out of his way to pull me up around town for a chat a few times when he saw me walking around.

Swim – I was looking forward to the swim and confident I had made improvements in this area after spending the past two months with our new swim coach Sean Blackley. He had tweaked a few things with my technique and given us some great sets each week. All the talk leading up to the race was it would be non-wetsuit. There were many age groupers anxiously watching the water temp drop over the last few days. Wasn’t till the morning of the race that the water finally just managed to dip under 24.5 degrees allowing wetsuits. At least I knew for certain now I would float and not sink into the murky waters of the Tennessee River and quite possibly never be found.

Start was a dive from a pontoon, what an epic fail this was for me. As I dived in my goggles filled with water and I tweaked my back. Swim started with a 300m swim across the river, had to make sure we aimed correctly otherwise with the current we would end up lower downstream from the first turn buoy and make the upstream swim even longer. I was very happy with the swim across. I started on the very right of the pontoon, aimed right of the first buoy, arrived perfectly on the first buoy and watched many other people end up further downstream then they would have wanted. To complicate the swim further, the sun was directly above the water right in front of us making it virtually impossible to see any buoys. 43 minutes for me, I was neither happy nor sad with this, I was hoping for faster but upstream definitely added extra time and distance and I was just happy as usual the swim was over.

Bike – Onto the bike and it was heating up, not a cloud in the sky and we were heading towards 30 degrees. A bad start on the bike as well, within the first 3k we crossed 2 rail crossings and I lost all my Pro4mance gels that I had stored in the compartment of my profile design water bottle. I was left with one Pro4mance bar thank god, but then had to resort to using the on-course Cliff gels, yuck! I had one Cliff gel and decided to just stick with the Pro4mance bar and the Produrance in my bottles. We were warned pre-race of the climb up lookout mountain. In cycling terms, they said it was a category 2 climb. We had just enough time to warm up and get the legs going before the climb started about 7k in. The first pinch was steep at around 14% and snuck up on us very quickly. We were warned pre-race to make sure we were in the right gear as they were worried about people stopping, falling, losing chains etc. The climb then settled into an average gradient of around 7% for another 5-6k. Reaching the top of Lookout Mountain was like a mountain stage of the Tour de France, hundreds of spectators lined the road and cheered us over the top. However, this wasn’t the end of the climbing, we then rode along the top of the plateau for approx 25k. There were some magnificent views down into the valley. Halfway through the bike I had only averaged 25kmh and I was thinking OMG this is going to be well over a 3 hour ride.

Thankfully, at around the 45km mark we came down from the plateau, a sensational 5k+ downhill, great road surface, no technical corners so was comfortably able to sit between 65-70km an hour. The only alarming moment of all places on this downhill a squirrel decided to cross the road just 20ms in front of me. The trip back to Chattanooga was still full of rolling hills but not as bad as the first half. My injury had greatly reduced the amount of bike training in the past 4 months. Only had completed one small ride outdoors, the rest was upright on the indoor bike. So with zero time on the tri bike in tri position I was really feeling the back halfway through. I pushed really hard for the second half as I wanted to bring up my average and I really wanted to get off the bike. My bike time was 2.52 with an average of 31kmh, so I must have averaged well over 35kmh on the second half. Was happy with the ride all considering.

Run – Ok this was not going to be fun and where things would get ugly. I had not completed any running in the past 4 months, except for two sessions on an anti-gravity treadmill. Running would flare up my back injury so I had decided unless back symptoms totally went away I would forego the running to try and get my back as good as possible for the race. 5km into the run and I was not feeling well, both calves seized, the back pain was real, my chest was burning from the cold I had and I felt light headed and nauseas. It was at this point I was worried of what damage I could do or what might happen to me so I decided to back right off and go into self-preservation mode. Was not worth risking everything, my number one aim was to get to the finish. I walked most of the hills and jogged the flats and downhill to get home on the run in 2.11.

Total time was a 5.54, a little surprised in the end to go under six hours on what was definitely the hardest 70.3 course I have seen. At some point nearing the finish I had calculated a 6.10, which I had obviously got wrong in my delusional state. An hour from a PB time but crossing the finish line was an unbelievable feeling and never fails to delight. It had crossed my mind 1,000 times in the past 4 months that I probably wouldn’t make it. But I had also dreamt and thought positive 1,001 times that I would get across that line so I did. Wish I had been in better condition for such a major race, however the entire World Champs experience was amazing and one I will never forget and cherish for a long time.