A Podium at the Ironman World Championships

I finished 2nd in my age group at the 2021 Ironman World Championships.
[Splits at the bottom of the page]

A couple of days later, I posted the following on Instagram:

“Still struggling to decide how I feel about this one. It’s been an adventure, and I’m so incredibly grateful I had the opportunity to experience it.

It’s always nice to be on a podium, especially at a race like this. However, I am truly gutted I couldn’t deliver when it mattered. So much of this sport is producing the performance at the right time, and for whatever reason, I didn’t manage to bring my legs with me.

I’m happy with how I adapted to what my body had to offer. I started to fade about 90 minutes into the bike, so there’s definitely some positives to take from ending up where I did.

As some very smart people have reminded me, the journey to get here has not been wasted and is still one to be proud of.

Thank you again to everyone who’s sent messages over the last week, it means a huge amount.

And thank you to everyone who’s in my corner day to day… I’ll get right at some point.”

I was blown away by the number of people who reached out to me in the lead up to the race, and congratulated me following its conclusion. I also know that a lot of people were confused by my reaction, given the result.

I’ve had a bit more time to digest the race now, so I thought it’d be good to share some more details about how it played out and why I feel the way I do.

For anyone curious, this is what the bike course looked like:

180km, +2200m Elevation Gain

And the run course was 2 laps of this:

42.2km, +470m Elevation Gain

T–30 minutes.

Race Recap

My swim was decent (for me). It’s the first time I’ve gone under the hour in a race, so it’s great to finally break that barrier. My age group was given a relatively late start time, and it was pretty chaotic, weaving through slower swimmers from earlier waves to begin with. I lacked a little composure through the first section but ultimately executed the swim pretty close to the best of my abilities and finished feeling about as relaxed as I could.

Transition 1 went smoothly. Again, executed better than any other race to date. A sign of the preparation and confidence I carried into St. George, after using other opportunities to work out any kinks.

Once on the bike, I quickly settled into my plan. I’d meticulously planned my fuelling, hydration, and pacing strategy. I followed all to the letter, and over the first 65km, I was consistently within a handful of seconds of the time checks I’d predicted.

Then, around 90 minutes into the bike, I felt my legs fade slightly. Nothing overly significant, but more than I’d expect at this stage in the race. I was approaching a more forgiving section of the course, so I eased off the power, hoping it was just a phase. I maintained fuelling and gave my legs as much recovery as I could, assuming they would bounce back.

When I hit the start of the next major climb, 45 minutes later, I went to step on the gas again, and nothing came. Not only had my legs not recovered, but they’d continued to drop off.

I threw my plan out the window and rode on feel. I pushed with the energy I had when it mattered (on the hills), and eased off as much as I dared when the road dipped down.

Even so, by the time I hit the final climb, Snow Canyon, I was completely empty. My legs had nothing left.

Despite the wind blowing up the climb (which added to the heat), I’m pretty sure I rode it faster during my recon 5 days earlier.

Training on Snow Canyon earlier in the week.

Even after a hard, draining ride, there have been many occasions when I’ve still been able to run well off the bike. This race was not one of them. As soon as my foot touched the floor, I knew I was completely depleted.

In Transition 2, my hip flexors cramped up when I bent down to put my trainers on. Again, I had to abandon my meticulously planned strategy – that had been based around a 2:52 marathon split – which I did immediately.

I knew I wouldn’t be on for a quick run. I also knew that I wouldn’t be running a negative split – no matter how easily I ran the first half. The temperature was already over 30 degrees by this point, and only getting hotter.

I died a thousand deaths on that run.

By the time I crossed the line, an emotional 3 hours and 26 minutes later, I was heartbroken.


Before the race, I stated on both this blog and my Instagram, that I merely wanted to do justice to the fitness I knew I had. The result itself didn’t matter all that much to me. I wanted to show the fitness I’ve worked so hard to develop, and deliver on the support that others have given me.

Crossing the line, and crying in the finishers tent afterwards, I didn’t feel I’d done that.

This was after another race last summer (Ironman 70.3 Andorra), but fits quite well.

The achievement of coming 2nd in a World Championship is not lost on me. The fact that I had a bad day and came away with that result is something I’m sure I will look back on and be very proud of.

I came 4th in my age group in Ironman Tallinn 2020. I got lucky to qualify for the World Championships and I only accepted the place on the basis that I would justify my spot when it came time to race. Featuring at the pointy end of the field, I know I at least managed that.

The race was far from without positives. Given what my body had to offer on the day, I actually executed the race perfectly. I gave myself the best chance possible in the swim, my transitions were smooth, I followed my plan exactly whilst I could, then adapted quickly when I needed to. I corrected a lot of mistakes I’ve made in the past, and on top of clearly being fitter than any previous performance, I raced it with much more maturity. The reality is, I couldn’t have gone a second quicker on that course, on that day.

Considering how early the fatigue hit me, I’d be surprised if the heat was to blame, but I could be wrong. Perhaps it was the jet lag, or perhaps I got something wrong in the build-up. To my current knowledge, I did everything right. If I ever figure out what mistake I made, it’ll be a big lesson learnt.

As I said before the race, I have no regrets – and I stand by that.

I know it’s a result I can be proud of, even if it’s not one that lives up to my own expectations.

If it wasn’t already clear, my performance on the day wasn’t good enough to earn a pro licence. I’m sure this one will hurt less when I eventually make an opportunity count. If anything, I now have even more belief that I can perform at that level.

Tom.


Splits

Swim – 3.86km – 57:05 (1:29/100m)
Bike – 180km, +2200m Elevation – 4:55:42 (36.4 km/h) – Strava link
Run – 42.3km, +470m Elevation – 3:26:02 (4:51/km) – Strava link

Overall Time – 9:24:16 – AG Position: 2nd

4 Replies to “A Podium at the Ironman World Championships”

  1. Just back from Spain Tom, I was chuffed with my 26 mile daily route along the coast and up the mountains, (hills by your standards). Tom I wish I had an ounce of your energy, bloody well done and super impressive.

    Liked by 1 person

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