70.3 Worlds has been a tough race to swallow. In the months leading into the race, I said to myself many times: If you keep the swim deficit to 3 minutes, push 360w on the bike, and then run 3:20/km for the half-marathon, you will win the World Title. On Sunday, I came out of the water with a little over 3 minute deficit, averaged 364w normalized power on the bike, and then averaged exactly 3:20/km for the run. It was good for ninth place, nearly 3 minutes behind the front of the race. I can’t get down on myself, as this is likely the best performance of my career, and was exactly what I had hoped to accomplish.
It’s obvious that my assessment of what is required to win a World Title was way off. I think the root of the problem was that I based my assessment on the races I had done earlier this year. Those races had many great athletes, who were also in the race yesterday. What they did not have was a very large and well organized front pack on the bike. What I failed to appreciate prior to yesterday, was just how strong the drafting effect is, when in that front bike pack. Despite pushing the highest average power I have pushed all year, I still was out-biked by nearly twenty guys. The reason the pill is difficult to swallow is that off of lesser power outputs, in prior races this year, I was able to pull back 3 to 5 minutes from many of those same people.
As the rules currently stand, the draft zone is 12 meters from front wheel to front wheel, which makes the space between bikes 10 meters. It is obvious from Sunday, that despite this distance, there is still a significant draft effect occurring. That is where the rules currently stand, and everyone played within those rules, so I can’t be upset with any of my competitors. I would say the reason this particular performance stings so much is because of my expectations.
We describe the Ironman bike leg as being “non-drafting.” One would think that if it is truly “non-drafting” then there should be no draft effect occurring on the bike whatsoever. This just simply is not the case. Unfortunately, I came to this race thinking it would be a non-draft bike, and had a rude awakening. In reality, as the rules currently stand, Ironman biking is “semi draft-legal.” I have not done anything to change the rules, so I can’t complain about the rules.
I think everything happens for a reason though, and suddenly this issue means a lot more to me. Moving forward I see only two options for the future of Ironman racing. Either we stop pretending that the bike ride is non-drafting, and call it what it truly is: A semi draft-legal bike; or we change the rules and the method in which they are enforced, so that the bike ride is truly non-drafting. That way no one’s expectations differ from the reality that they experience, and athletes can make more informed decisions on which races to do and which ones to stay away from.
Moving forward I am going to investigate which direction the pro field would like to take. I will say, in speaking with some athletes after the race, there certainly seems to be a sentiment that the rules need to change. It appears that Ironman racing has evolved significantly over the last few years, yet the rules have remained the same. Perhaps a 12 meter draft zone created the desired effect in the past, but this is not the case anymore.
Of course, I am very aware of the age old argument: Why don’t you just swim faster, so that you can participate in the draft dynamics? My response to that argument is this: You are missing the point! If I was a front pack swimmer, the draft rules would still be disadvantageous to me. As you saw on Sunday, the uber-bikers like Andi Drietz and Sebastien Kienle were unable to get away; largely because of the sheer size of the pack, and the fact that the drafting effect becomes progressively larger, the further you go back in the pack. If the race was truly non-drafting then the race would have looked significantly different.
Another argument that I am sure will be made is that the pro men have already voted in favour of “semi draft-legal” racing, by virtue of the fact that many of the top contenders rode as a pack, spaced exactly 12 meters apart. My response to this argument is: Not everyone was in that pack, and not everyone who was in that pack wanted to ride within that pack. I think many guys were forced to adopt a “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality. And of course, everyone who was not in that pack, was disadvantaged by that pack.
I greatly appreciate everyone’s messages and support before, during and after the race. I gave it everything I had on the day. Moving forward, I will be hitting the pool hardcore, while rallying for change.