Ironman World Championship 2012 Report

I had a great night’s sleep and woke up at 3:50am to prepare breakfast, which was 2 plain bagels, 3 scrambled eggs and sliced ham.  I went through body marking shortly after it opened at 4:45am, then went to transition to prepare the bike and left transition at 5:15am.  I went for a 10 minute jog along a very dark Kuakini Highway, thinking about the day ahead and what I had to do.  The benefit of staying close to the pier was that I went back to the condo to relax and sunscreen up before the swim start.

I lined up towards the left in the second row from the front, confident that this would lead to a less physical start.  As soon as we got going I realised I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Of all the races I’ve done, the first few hundred metres was the most physical I’ve ever experienced.  After kicks, punches and one guy literally having me in a head-lock, it was clear that I was surrounded by weaker swimmers than me.  I was expecting to come out in an hour, so I couldn’t fathom why these guys had put themselves so close to the front.  I kept to the left and found myself with loads of space for the majority of the outward leg until we hit the turnaround.  I’d kept the effort steady and was passing people who has obviously gone out too hard and were faltering. 

Someone in front of me turned on his back, which could only mean that he was at the front of our group and wanted someone else to do the work at the front.  I wasn’t about to sit behind him and let the pace slow, so although swimming’s not my strength, I wasn’t afraid to do some work.  I consciously upped the effort and bridged my way to other swimmers ahead.  The swim seemed to pass by quickly and I was really pleased to see 59:23 on the clock coming out the water, 11th in my age-group. 

I had a big advantage in T1, which was that I was wearing the ZEROD oSuit and didn’t have an extra swim skin to remove.  I quickly removed my cap and goggles, put on my race number belt and grabbed my headband and sunnies and was out.  After stupidly running a few metres past my bike, I put my helmet on and it was time to roll.

Going along Kuakini there was one guy I was looking out for, and that was Matt Burton, last year’s 18-24 winner.  I couldn’t see him and assumed that I must have missed him somehow.  It turned out I was out the water before him, but climbing Palani he passed me and put 20 seconds into me by the time we reached the top.  I wasn’t going to try to ride with him, as that would have been akin to suicide.  I was amazed at how sparse it was for the first 10 miles along the Queen K, which is the benefit of swimming <60 minutes in a competitive field.  All of a sudden things changed and there were herds of riders passing by.  As with the last two years, things were starting to get messy.  Surprisingly, it seemed to be even more congested on the road to Hawi, as I saw at least five red cards being handed out along this stretch.  The marshals weren’t pulling any punches and were card happy, and I noted to myself to be extra attentive of not encroaching on the 7 metre draft zone.

We turned at Hawi and Matty had put 4 minutes on me – but I was confident that I’d be able to ride strong on the way back to town.  The crosswinds were minimal so staying down in the bars wasn’t too challenging, but as soon as we reached Kawaihae the headwinds were in full force.  By now there were very few riders around me and I could concentrate on sticking to my target wattage.  I was on top of my nutrition getting in about 330 cals/hour, putting out good power and everything was going perfectly.  That is until we hit mile 94 at the climb past Scenic Point.  I was climbing at 11mph and moved to the left as I came within 7 metres of a rider ahead of me.  Before I knew it there was a red card in my face.  I asked the marshal what it was for – I couldn’t believe that it would be for drafting.  ‘Drafting’. 

I was fuming, both at the marshal and at myself.  I’d managed to safely negotiate hundreds of riders, but now at the tail end of the ride with only two other riders in sight I was pinged.  According to the rules I was guilty – I came within 7 metres and didn’t pass within the allotted time.  There was nothing I could do, I bit my lip and had a 4 minute penalty to serve at the next penalty tent.  I debated what to do – ride angry and say to hell with it?  That’s not really my style.  I tried to stay calm and keep on going as if nothing had happened.  I came into T2 in 2nd place with a 4:56 bike split and ran to the penalty tent.  I was given a stop watch and had to wait for 4 minutes, watching people I passed run by, including Philipp Mock in my age-group.  To say it was the slowest 4 minutes of my life would be an understatement.  After what seemed like an eternity I ran out and prepared for the marathon ahead.

I grabbed my bag from a volunteer and ran into the change tent, sat down and emptied the bag in front of me.  The floor in the tent was wet and gritty, so I wiped my feet with a towel before putting my socks and shoes on.  I tucked my salt tablets down the front of my suit and ran out whilst putting my watch on.  Like last year, my legs felt magic running up Palani and along Kuakini – the chase was on.  After a few hundred metres I caught Sergio Marques – one of the best runners in Ironman – and paced off him.  This was cool, here I was near the front of the field running alongside the Sergio!  I went through the first mile in 6:40 – too fast.  It felt easy, but everyone knows that running along Ali’i is just a prelude to what’s to come. 

I backed off and settled into my target pace.  I caught up with my friend Rachel Joyce, who was having a tough day after suffering a chest infection earlier in the week.  Though she was struggling, she was gutsing it out, which was inspiring and motivating to see.  Having the extra support from friends on course was amazing and a huge boost.

The next 4 miles went by smoothly in 6:50, 6:47, 7:04, 6:56.  At the turn on Ali’i Drive Philipp was still ahead maintaining his 30 second lead over me.  I was confident in my run and in no rush to bridge the gap.  The miles seemed to fly by – 6:59, 7:03, 7:14, 7:01, 7:14.  Running past the crowds outside Lava Java was fantastic and I was feeding off their energy.  Just as we made the right turn on Hualalai I caught him and we were ready for the long climb up Palani.  He gapped me slightly, but I kept the effort under control up the climb.  As we crested the hill, some of his fans were shouting at him in German.  ‘What did they say?’ I asked.  After 5 years of studying German I knew exactly what they said, but I still asked him.  I’m not sure why.  I think the competitive racer in me wanted to know whether this guy was going to tell me that we had an 8 minute deficit to Matty, which he did. 

He then said something along the lines of ‘I don’t think we’ll catch him’, to which I replied ‘You never know’.  There were still 15 miles of the race to go and I wasn’t about to give up hope.  Once you resign yourself to 2nd place, that’s it.  Game over.  I believed it was possible.  I had to. 

Running north along the Queen K was desolate.  I stayed a few steps ahead of Philipp, trying to assert some sort of authority.  Around mile 12 I started to pull away slightly, although at no stage did I look back.  I passed mile marker 13 in 1:32, which was right on target.  After running out of T2 a little too fast, I’d settled down into a comfortable rhythm.  The 4 miles heading towards the Energy Lab seemed to take an eternity as the pain started to settle in.  I was still making decent time with the miles passing by in 7:11, 6:58, 7:11, 7:06.  Coming into the Energy Lab I knew that I’d see Matty soon and would find out exactly how far behind I was. 

When I hit the turnaround I looked at my watch – 10 minutes.  Another 2 minutes had slipped away and I’d run well on the Queen K.  I was doing all I could, but he was putting together a great run which I couldn’t respond to.  That was a turning point, with 8 miles to go I knew that I’d be racing for 2nd place.  It was my first sign of mental weakness and immediately my pace slowed.  The mile split climbing out of the Energy Lab was 7:54, my slowest by far.  When I reached mile 19 by the aid station on the Queen K I walked for the first time, making sure I got in plenty of fluids.  7 miles isn’t far, but at mile 19 of an Ironman, it can seem insurmountable.  I remember saying to myself, ‘Come on, come on, come on’ over and over.  After psyching myself up the next mile went by in 7:18, but everything seemed to be catching up with me.  I walked every remaining aid station (except the final one coming down Palani) and the miles went by slowly – 7:57, 7:37, 7:59, 8:11. 

When my watch beeped to show an 8:11 mile split something ticked.  Even though I wasn’t closing out the run the way I envisaged, I hadn’t worked all season to run 8+ minute miles.  I was better than that and I needed to prove it to myself.  With nothing to run for but pride, I picked up the effort for the final 2 miles.  I saw my friend Scott at the top of Palani, who said I was just outside the top-10 age-groupers.  I ran down the hill as hard as I could, my quads and ITB’s screaming at me.  I gritted my teeth and tried to push aside the pain.  As I made the right hand turn on Ali’i Drive the crowd was dense with everyone cheering you on.  I saw my Aunt and grabbed the Seychelles flag, my eyes watering from the discomfort as I ran towards the finish. 

I slowed a few metres from line and raised both hands.  My 3:09 split was a 9 minute run PB for a 9:13 finish, 5 minutes faster than last year on a day where times were 15+ minutes slower.  2nd 18-24, 11th age-grouper and 40th overall.  I must congratulate Matty on the win and thank him for motivating me to train harder than I ever have this season.  He’s a great athlete and I know we’ll have many more races against each other in the future.  Even though 2nd place is no improvement on last year, it was a privilege to race against the best guys in the world and to come away with another Umeke bowl is an achievement that I’m very proud of.

Post Kona Interview

Thanks to Rich from Beyond Going Long for the interview below:

I’ve followed Nick Baldwin a couple of times this season – the talented age-grouper kicked off his season by winning his age-group in Abu-Dhabi and his season has just gone from strength to strength. Crowned the Ironman 70.3 World Champion for 18-24, Nick followed this up in Kona by claiming silver for the second year running and finishing in a very impressive 40th overall.

I caught up with Nick to reflect on his amazing season and what come next for one of the hottest age group talents in the World.

Nick Baldwin was born and (mostly) raised in the South of England, but he represents the Seychelles on the international arena due to his mothers heritage and an affinity to the location having spent time there growing up. Triathlon nearly lost him to academia and the world of finance after he graduated from Cardiff University in 2010 with a degree in Business Economics and French. After graduating, Nick started to apply for graduate schemes in finance, which allowed a time of self-reflection before deciding the corporate world wasn’t for him. Triathlon was his passion and he hasn’t looked back since.

As an age-grouper in the 18-24 category – Nick has done it all. AG wins came at Ironman Austria, Ironman South Africa and Ironman Western Australia (along with some UK podiums and wins, such as New Forest Middle). In 2012, he started training full-time and was rewarded by AG wins at places such as Abu-Dhabi and then a World Championship title at Ironman 70.3 Las Vegas.

In Kona, Nick matched his 2011 result by picking up silver in his 18-24 category but what marked out his progress was the stunning 40th position he held overall. I caught up with him to reflect on this season and what the future might hold for this talent.

Hi Nick, you’ve just taken 2nd at the Ironman World Championships 2012 – how does that feel today and how did the race pan out for you?

It wasn’t the win I dreamed of, but I’m very pleased to have come away with another 2nd place finish in Kona.

The swim went to plan, coming out 11th in my age-group in 59 minutes. As soon as we hit Kawaihae on the way home I knew it would be a slow day, but I was riding well and was in 2nd place. Everything was going to plan until mile 94 where I received a 4 minute drafting penalty – my first in 32 triathlon races – for not completing a pass in the allotted time. This was a huge blow to my hopes of challenging for the age-group win, but I remained positive and concentrated on the run ahead.

I paced the run well until mile 19 where I had to walk the remaining aid stations. My 3:09 run split was a 9 minute PB for a finish time of 9:13.

I think even more impressive was your overall finish of 40th. Did you think you would finish that high up? What were your special moments from Kona 2012?

The overall finish position is what I’m most pleased with. Last year I finished 108th overall, so to come 40th is a big step up.

There wasn’t a particular finish place I was aiming for – it was more a case of executing the race plan and letting the result take care of itself. The final few hundred metres along Ali’i Drive with crowds lining the streets cheering you on is always special. Crossing the line as one of the top finishers with the Seychelles flag was a very proud moment.

Surely with such a competitive year its soon time to turn pro? Your age group success has been amazing this year!

Thank you. I’ve had another consistent season, finishing on the podium in all 8 of my races. I didn’t want to rush the process of turning pro and the experience I’ve gained as an age-grouper in the last few years will put me in good stead for future races.

Having achieved the results I have this year, I’ll definitely take my pro licence at some stage during the 2013 season. I’m eager to take on the challenge of carving out a career in the sport.

Kona aside, what stands out as your highlights this year?

 Winning the Ironman 70.3 age-group World Championship title was a huge moment. As an athlete you dream of winning races and titles, so to come away with the age-group win at such a big race was the highlight of the year. Having the opportunity to train in the US this summer was another fantastic experience.

I got to know some amazing people and left with great memories.

Tell us a bit about your preparation – as you have a top training camp and schedule – for instance I see you have spent some time in tri-mecca, Boulder…

When the opportunity arose to spend the summer in Boulder I didn’t hesitate to take it. The training there is fantastic with great running trails and stunning cycling routes. Of course, training at 5000+ feet also has altitude benefits, which I’m sure helped me in Las Vegas. Although there are plenty of triathletes there, I did the majority of my training alone.

Looking ahead, I’d certainly like to do more training with others to help get the most out of myself.

What have you learnt about yourself, your spirit and your capabilities within the sport from 2012?

I’m an extremely motivated and committed athlete. I can’t put my finger on what my biggest driving force to succeed is, but I know it’s there.

More than anything this season has given me the confidence and self-belief that one day I can and will be one of the best triathletes in the world.

I’ve said it to myself before, but now I truly believe it. Hopefully others are starting to believe it too. It’s going to be an incredible journey and so far I’m loving every minute of it!

What might your targets and ambitions be for 2013?

I’ll spend some time in Tucson, AZ, with my coach over the next few weeks and we’ll discuss plans for next season.

As a first year professional, choosing races wisely is important as I’ll need to start earning an income through racing. I’ll likely race regularly over the half distance and may try to chase points to qualify for the 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas.

I’m sure there will be an Ironman distance race thrown in somewhere, too. Returning to Hawaii is a focus of mine, but I won’t go there with the aim of being a mid-pack pro.

When I’m ready to return, it will be with the ability to get on stage as a top-10 finisher.

I’d like to thank my fantastic sponsors who have contributed hugely to my success – UK based Click Fragrance, Seychelles based Eden Island Marina, Hunt Deltel and Vijay, and of course Compressport, ZEROD, Drag2Zero, ENVE and Extreme Endurance.

Thanks Nick and congratulations on a fantastic season – can’t wait to see you racing pro!

Kona 2012 Race Week: Saturday - Race Day

I’m shelled – here’s the details:

Swim: 59:23

Bike: 4:56:09

Run: 3:09:47 (PB)

Finish: 9:13:39

2nd in the 18-24 age-group, 11th amateur and 40th overall.

I’m extremely proud of my race today in what was the toughest Ironman race I’ve done to date.  It’s not the win and the double World Championship that I dreamed of, but I’ll walk (or hobble) away from this race with pride in my effort and execution.  Full report to come next week.