So picture this scenario. You are standing on the start line of your season's A-race. All your training has been leading to this moment. You know what you have to do and how to do it. Game face on, good to go....
Then all of a sudden you hear an announcement telling you not to go into the water. In fact the announcement is that the swim leg of your A-leg triathlon is cancelled and all people need to meet at the swim exit as your race has just become duathlon of sorts.
That of course is exactly the scenario that faced everyone at the Busselton Ironman and 70.3 on the weekend.
For everyone in the 70.3 is all happened quite quickly. They either got pulled out of the water or they didn't enter it and they went straight from there to the swim exit. After a short delay they were started from there. They didn't have too much time for pondering and they got on with it relatively quickly.
For the Ironman athletes though, they were all told to stop what they were doing and stand by their bikes if they were in transition and await further instructions. 45 minutes later those instructions came and it was to tell people to go to the swim exit and prepare for a duathlon. Between that news and race start there was a good 45 minutes and so everybody had a good chance to have a think about what was coming next. From that thinking, by far the most common question I was asked was, 'should I race any differently?'
It was quite understandable that the question came about. After all, the race dynamic had just changed significantly. No swim leg meant that people who would usually be 10 minutes back started the bike with no deficit. No swim meant that people were fresher too. People wondered if they should go harder on the bike, really push it to try and maximise the advantage.
My advice to those people who asked was,
'Dear god no, do not change your race plan. This race is simply an Ironman that starts after the swim, nothing else has changed'.
The reasoning for this advice was this:
An Ironman is a really, really, reallllly long race. It is not a sprint, or a walk in the park. If you work beyond your limit at the start of an Ironman bike leg, you will pay the price either in the second half of the bike or on the run, it really is as simple as that. Go hard early, hurt later. Ironman is just too damn far to fake it. Have a plan and stick to it. No swim leg doesn't change that plan, it doesn't suddenly increase your FTP by 20W, doesn't suddenly make you an uber biker or make the ride 160km. Ride to your plan just as if the swim leg had happened.
The fact that the day ended up being searingly hot just made this advice even more relevant.
Interestingly, watching the bike times, I am not sure how many people followed my philosophy for the bike leg. I wasn't watching everyone in the race, but from what I saw there were some very quick bike times. I think I saw more bike times in the 4:40s and 4:30s than I would normally expect for an age-group field, and this wasn't a particularly fast day. To me that says quite a few people simply went too hard, either by design or because they got excited and carried away.
What I saw after the bike though was that on that brutal run leg, the people who got off the bike first weren't the people who crossed the line first. There are exceptions to that observation obviously, but I saw the top 5 of a few age groups completely change during the run leg as people suffered and faded away. That says to me that those people suffered for their cycling efforts on the run.
In the end all this is easy to say in hindsight, 20 20 and all that. Anyone who raced on Sunday, and particularly those who made the finish line are very worthy of respect. However, watching the race unfold, I can't help but wonder if some people could have executed their days just a little bit smarter., whether doing so may have made their days a bit more manageable.
Ironman is definitely a test of body and will, but it is also a test of the mind, and I don't think I have seen that more true that at Ironman WA last Sunday.