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Andrew Connolly - Ironman Asia Pacific Championships 2013 (Melbourne)
CBD Cycles - 27/03/2013
Ironman Asia Pacific Championships 2013 (Melbourne)

Ironman is supposed to be a 3.8km swim, a 180.2km draught free bike and a marathon. I’m not quite sure what Sunday was, but it wasn’t ironman. Swim conditions in the bay were admittedly pretty gnarly although as Luke Bell tweeted, “it ain’t pipeline”. So the swim was shortened to 1.5km and lots of people have lots of opinions on it one way or the other and I’m not nearly arrogant enough to suggest that mine is any more valid. What I would like to know is whether anyone at WTC (the owners of ) asked the question, “Hey, what if we let 2,200 people enter and then the swim needs to be shortened because we may get a day with extremely common and normal westerlies on the bay – will this completely f(*& the race ?” (I can answer that for you.)



Swim

Swim went great I guess … except for it completely altering the race, screwing the strong swimmer-bikers and turning the whole thing into a runner’s race resulting in lop sided age group results and Kona qualifiers. The swim in ironman is already far too short – it’s origin in replicating the distance of the Waikiki Rough Water swim doesn’t allow for the fact that in terms of race fairness – extending well and truly onto the bike – the swim needs to be at least 6km long. Preferably 10km. And no wetsuits. Then – and only then – may we see fair racing in the age group ranks. But we aquaphiles cop it like we always have and accept that at best it gives us some clear road on the bike.



I got out in 25 minutes. As a statistical aside, over 1,000 people got out between 26 and 31 minutes. That’s 3-4 people per second in the peak, all trying to start the bike together and fairly which is defies all laws of the space-time continuum. Quite frankly, I’m sick of the judgement passed upon the athletes over the last couple of days when the fault lies with the acceptance of 2,200 entries. The acceptance of $1.7M in entry fee revenue should have come with the corresponding acceptance of responsibility.



That’s not to say that some athletes weren’t to blame, although I believe them to be in the minority. There were clearly people turning around at the first buoy on the swim course cutting about 200m and 4 minutes (in those conditions) off their times. Plenty, I saw them. Plus I passed a whole bunch of very, very ordinary swimmers on the way back in. Given that I started on the front, I’m not sure how they got in front of me. About half way out – the end of the pier – I had a very clear look at the field in front and saw maybe 50 or so in front of me. On the way back in to shore, no-one passed me. And I ended up in 220th position. Doesn’t add up.



Bike

Boring. Headwind-y out, tailwind-y back. Headwind-y out, tailwindy- then crosswind-y back. The draughting was rife of course but in most cases it couldn’t be avoided. There were a few blatant cheats some of whom were caught; loads of people pushing the grey areas, some of whom were caught; and loads of honest people trying to do everything they could, some of whom were caught. It was a lottery. I’m extremely comfortable with how I raced – I did two massive turns into the wind – both of about 30km at the start of each lap. Both times I was caught by a bunch of at least 100. Both times I sat up and rolled along in the emergency lane still taking the wind – I’m not sure I was even allowed to do that but I don’t care. I rode 4:58, but I’d be tempted to ignore everyone’s bike times into the wind and count only the downwind sections.



Worse than that was how bad I felt. It’s been 10 years since I’ve felt that bad in an ironman bike ride. Power: gone; Energy: gone; Will to Live: gone. Couldn’t wait to start running which for those of you who know how I run is really saying something and my time was miles outside what I know I’m capable of, regardless of the wind. BTW, I measured it at 184km …



Run

The great redeeming feature of this race is the run. It’s the best run I’ve done in ironman, following the shoreline in parts, supporters the whole way and the best supporter station I’ve come across (the Giant / Tour de France-like throng at the Great Provider, 40.5km in). The finish line was almost a let down by comparison. What is there of note to say about the run ? I ran well for 10km, then okay for the next 9, then terribly for 8km, then well at the end for the last 15km and I finished. 9 hours 16 minutes or so and the most underwhelming feeling and sense of emptiness in my brief – and now concluded - ironman history.



I take hear tin the fact that 6 weeks after a 14 hour race in New Zealand I can have a terrible, terrible race in Melbourne and still finish in the top 10%. It shows I have at least come somewhere so maybe I need to relax a little.



Where to for Ironman ?

No doubt Ironman will continue to thrive. The fact that people tattoo a corporate logo onto themselves shows they are on to something. And while the lure of Hawaii is there, the punters will keep on coming. But I can’t help but think that their brand – so zealously guarded over such a long period of time – was damaged on Sunday. What remains to be seen is at what point the unabashed greed of WTC will supersede the feel-good factor we are supposed to get when we cross the line.



The problem was very, very clear – and it’s not athlete integrity (although that is in part to blame), and it’s not the shortened swim either. There were at least 1,000 people too many on that course on Sunday, even if the swim was the correct length. But that’s $1M they’d be giving up so I don’t’ see it changing any time soon. The Ironman brand worldwide is (my back of the envelope calculations) a $200M business in terms of gross revenue – thinking they are motivated purely by altruistic motives is naïve. They’re there to make money and it shows.



Where to for me ?

No more ironmans for me. Don’t get me wrong, Kona in 2005 remains one of the greatest memories of my sporting life – right up there with Coast to Coast earlier this year (see previous email !) and far more important to me than any of my junior sporting successes. But no more ironmans. Right now I’m looking forward to getting home and eating pizza without guilt which means that – like always – I’ll get dropped in the hills after Oliver’s …



Thanks as always to Lisa first and foremost and Dave and Antho at CBD cycles. I’ve never had a problem with my bike, that’s for sure. And I’ve never raced naked.