Sophie’s Race Report – Warsaw Ironman 70.3 – 5th September 2021

Warsaw 70.3 was a fantastic race day experience (with just a few minor blips before and after). It was a very spontaneous race for us as we had meant to go to Austria to race and were unable to go due to travel restrictions. Warsaw was the only viable option even though Rich and I knew very little about Poland. We had an awesome week there in the lead up to the race, exploring the city and enjoying our taper week. We had a somewhat stressful registration day (more about that in Rich’s race report). With split transitions 40km apart, it took all day rushing around to drop bags and bikes in the right places. It wasn’t the relaxing day we had hoped for, but we managed an early night. Rich was snoring within seconds (standard) whilst I took a couple of hours as my heart pounded in anticipation.

Race morning, we managed to book a lunatic driver on Uber who was driving like a maniac and paying more attention to his banging tunes than the sat nav. It didn’t do anything to help our nerves. In fact we both sat silently in the back holding hands, both secretly hoping to just make it to the start line alive. 

We gave ourselves loads of time but it was really cold so we were all reluctant to take off warm clothes and put our wetsuits on. Instead we faffed around with our bikes and made sure everything was working and ready. Eventually we reluctantly handed over our stuff and pulled on our wetsuits and swim hats ready to head to the swim start.

That’s when we realised how shallow the water was right up to the first buoy. It was going to be a Baywatch style start, running through the water for at least 50 metres. We got in for a quick warm up then quickly realised they were calling us to the start and legged it to get near the front of the queue. They set off the pros, then age groupers 8 every 10 seconds. I pushed through the water to the first buoy and my legs were burning, my heart rate pounding. I tried to do a few butterfly dives to get going and then we were off swimming. It was a bit of a wrestling match for the first 5 minutes and I was getting battered from every direction. I was also a bit breathless from the unexpected aqua aerobics start so I decided to try and get out of peoples’ way and swim my own line. I managed to relax into a rhythm then and focus on technique, breathing and sighting. I was hoping at some stage to hop onto someone’s feet and draft but it never happened for me. I swam the whole rest of the race solo. Other people seemed to be taking long routes around the buoys (maybe they hadn’t practised sighting) so I didn’t trust them and stuck to my own course, taking the shortest route between buoys. I finished my swim in a PB time of 33.41 and was happy with my efforts. I enjoyed the swim – calm waters one way and a little choppy back – but I didn’t feel any open water panic though the water was brown and visibility low.

Onto the bike. It was a 3 minute 50 second T1 with a long run from the water out to the bags and a sit down on a bench to pull out helmet and socks (too scared to cycle barefoot after Cotswolds crash), shimmy wetsuit off and shove wet stuff into the bag ready to throw in the drop zone on the way to the bikes. I grabbed my bike and jumped on, successfully placed my right foot straight into my shoe but heard the elastic snap on the other. Dammit! Velcro stuck to my sock and I couldn’t get my left foot in. I had officially messed up my mount! I just got off the bike and unclipped my shoe and hopped back on as I couldn’t be bothered with the drama of trying to get my foot in unsuccessfully whilst trying to stay upright on my bike. Once I was pedalling, I was happy and relieved. These little mistakes happen to everyone and they don’t have to define your race.

I went straight into tt position and straight into my happy place – the bike. Not long into the bike a female overtook me! How dare she! The bike is my domain! Haha. It was a kick up the bum immediately to get my watts going. I found myself in a group of around 6 riders. I was conscious of keeping the 12 metre rule even if these guys didn’t seem to care at all. Their drafting was INFURIATING. They kept cutting in front of me then slowing down. So I kept overtaking and passing everyone in the group to get to the front. I would put in an effort at the front then eventually, one of them would overtake to do their turn, but then the same two guys just kept overtaking me, cutting in the pace line so I would have to drop back, and not going to the front of the pack like they should. One guy was particularly ANNOYING and as a marshall drove alongside us, I tried to complain that all these guys were breaking all the drafting rules (and ruining my race!). The marshall was no help at all and shouted at me in Polish. 20km in and we caught up to the girl so she became part of the group and became equally frustrated with the men that were constantly cheating and cutting us both up. I witnessed at least 60 infringements of the draft rules and the marshall was right there on a motorbike next to us for about 30km witnessing every single one. It didn’t seem like the marshall understood the drafting rules to be honest because he was right next to us and watching it happen in front of our eyes and no penalties given. I saw the same two culprits cut up the other girl in front of me and saw her frustrated gesture. She also complained to the marshall alongside her. They did nothing. Eventually they drove up next to the guys and said something. By now they should have been disqualified from the race as they had no clue about drafting rules and were ruining our race. They continued to cheat. I was having to surge to the front, drop back when they cut me up. I was trying to keep the 12 metre rule but they used that space to cut in instead of heading up to the rider at the front before slotting back in. I think being female didn’t help as they seemed to be targeting myself and the other girl and didn’t seem to enjoy being overtaken constantly by us. 

Around 70km I found myself sucked into a vortex of around 20 drafting athletes in a big pack. Again I tried to stick to the rules and stay honest and kept my 12 metres at the back. A lapse in frustration and I realised I had lost everyone. I chased and surged up to 350 watts but it was no use and the large pack was away from me. I was frustrated with myself as it was well within my power to stay with the group but on the other hand, the drafting and cheating had been driving me bonkers. I then rode the fastest part of the course when I could have been going 40-50kph, alone in a head wind struggling with my own frustrations. It was a very lonely end to the bike and I didn’t see anyone for 30 minutes. It was quite bizarre as it was a huge open highway and only a couple of marshalls, no spectators and no other triathletes. Here is where I lost the fight a little and my power dropped. My average speed went from 40 down and down and down to 37.91km/h. I wish I hadn’t allowed myself to get frustrated by the drafting and allowed my concentration to drop. It is so much more motivating to have wheels to chase than just empty roads. I was relieved to see the city and crowds back in view and was soon at T2 ready to run. I slowed right down for my dismount as I was desperate not to crash again. However, going slowly meant I lost momentum and I didn’t swing my leg high enough. I nearly lost my balance so had to come to a complete stop and swing my leg a second time. Mount and dismount messed up! Something to practise more. Bike finished in 2 hours 22 mins (3 mins slower than Cotswolds and 5 watts lower but still a strong bike time).

A speedy 2 minute 12 second T2 and I was onto the run and the course was awesome. There were crowds either side and views along the royal route of lovely buildings, blue skies and sunshine overhead. The first lap was pretty quiet and I knew I was near the front. However, I was also certain I wouldn’t be breaking records with my run. I knew my bike and swim time had been good enough to get me near the front so it was now damage control and hoping I could keep a podium position and not be caught up by too many fast runners. It was a 4 lap course so fun to witness the pros smashing it. There were also lots of rapid females around. I gave it my all and kept focusing on technique and cadence. I passed Rich a few times on the course and blew kisses the first 2 laps until the pain of going hard really set in. I kept my heart rate consistent and knew I would be able to finish the course. I was grateful not to have any cramp or injuries other than blistered feet. The only pain was just the consistent pain of pushing hard. My watch times were consistent with my previous half marathon in Xiamen in 2019 so I knew there was potential to match that run or beat it by a small amount if I could just keep pushing on. Earlier in the year, my training indicated I was capable of running a 4.35 pace but I knew I wasn’t at peak fitness running wise. I managed a 4.54 pace. It is nowhere near my potential but I gave all I could give on that day. The run course was over 1km long and I was cursing the organisers. However, the final 500 metres were downhill so I sprinted to the red carpet. I really enjoyed the feeling of a crowd, sparklers, smoke and atmosphere. I have so missed that finish line feeling and it lived up to my memories. I was proud of my efforts and couldn’t have asked for more. Although I know I have so much more to give.

I finished in 04.49.47, 3rd in my age group, 6th female overall and 10th female including the pros. Despite everything that didn’t go to plan, there were no major dramas and I did enjoy the race. I was very close to PBs across all disciplines meaning my total time was a 20 minute PB for a 70.3. All the hard work and training is paying off and I understand my weaknesses. I know I need to do more open water to translate my swim speed in the pool to race day. I need to practise mounts and dismounts as they have become a mental block now since my crash. I know, with more hard work, I could be a powerhouse on the bike. I know that running does not come naturally to me at all and will be the discipline I work on the hardest. I am excited for what the future holds.