Cyclist to IRONMAN in 6 weeks

4 May 2022

IRONMAN 70.3 PORT MACQUARIE – My First Triathlon by Ben Hill

After E-Sports worlds I was having a bit of time off when my friend and former cycling team mate Ayden Toovey mentioned he had just done his first 70.3 triathlon. He said he loved it and was planning on doing Port Mac at the start of April. The seed was now planted. Over the next 9 weeks that seed grew from a fun idea into reality.

Ben Hill IRONMAN
Photo credit: Sportograf

The Build Up

On March 6, 8 weeks out from Port Mac I did my first run to test the waters. It felt good and I decided I’d like to do a little more running and see how the body coped. Over the next 2 weeks I started building back my cycling fitness, I was running 3 times a week and I did my first swim. All was going well and 6 weeks out I decided to enter. 

Shortly after entering I injured my knee and had to stop running. I kept swimming and cycling. However, over the next 4 weeks I have a few more setbacks with a nasty bout of gastro running through my family and my knee injury getting bad enough to take me off the bike for a few days. This left me 2 weeks out from the race with little to no improvement on the bike and back to square one on the run. But I was starting to see some good reward for the consistency in the water.

The last 2 weeks went smoothly and I was able to manage my still not 100% knee through to fit in 4 runs and some good training on the bike. Leaving me a little more confident on the start line.

IRONMAN analysis

Pre race

A 70.3 triathlon is a half Ironman. This means we do a 1.9km swim, 90km on the bike and a 21.1km run. This adds to a total of 70.3 Miles, hence the name.

Even though it was my first one and there were a lot of unknown factors, I still had a few goals for the race. I was aiming for a 30 minute swim time, one of the fastest on the bike (if Ayden beat me that would be ok), eat and drink all my race fuel and finish. Hopefully under 4h:30m. 

A 6:20am start meant a 4:20 am alarm (but I was awake at 2:45 am and practicing transitions in my head until 4:20). We went to transition, pumped our tyres, set up our gear and headed to the start. That’s where I made my first mistake. We lined up right at the back of the fast wave. Everyone left 4 at a time, in 5 second intervals. So by the time we got in the water there were hundreds of people in front of us.

The race

Swim

The swim was wild. I took off like a mad man. And although I had done a few open water swims in lake Burley Griffin I was not ready for all the bodies around me.

Ben Hill IRONMAN
Photo credit: Sportograf

I kept bashing into people and swimming over the top of others. At one point I was swimming 90 degrees over someone’s legs so at least one of us was going very much the wrong direction. I probably needed to look up more often as I found myself swimming directly into oncoming swimmers around the halfway mark. The current in the river made for a big variation in lap times so hard to tell if my pacing was good but when I got out of the water I had hit exactly my target time so I was off to a good start.

IRONMAN analysis

Bike

After a reasonably smooth transition I was off on the bike and in my happy place.

Ben Hill IRONMAN
Photo credit: Sportograf

I’ve had a target power of around 300w but was happy to be a little less if I felt I was going over my limit. As I wasn’t wearing a heart rate strap, I have no heart rate data from the head unit but I did have heart rate from my sports watch. My head unit also froze after 70 km but as you can see from the below screenshot I was sticking to my pacing strategy pretty well. I was still feeling in control at this point and looking at my heart rate, from here I maintained this pace before backing off a little leading into the run.

IRONMAN analysis
IRONMAN analysis

Run

Again another smooth transition and onto the run. I came onto the run in 2nd place but I was virtually leading by a few minutes due to my delayed start time. Not that it mattered, I was sticking to my pacing and my feelings. Well that’s what I told myself. As I’ve never run over 15km, let alone after a swim and a bike, I was aiming for around 4:10 – 4:15/km pace to start and see how I felt. Out of transition and off I went.

Ben Hill IRONMAN
Photo credit: Sportograf

I was floating along at what felt like a comfortable pace when my watch beeped at me with the first 1 km split. 3:41! OK Ben, steady on, still a long way to go. I could feel my legs beginning to cramp already so I stopped twice in the first 3km to get some Gatorade and settled into what felt like a maintainable pace. I was one of the only runners out on the course at this point and as you have your name on your race number, all the spectators are yelling for you. “Go Ben!”, “You’re coming third, you can get them”, “Nice Ben, looking good.” I felt special and I just couldn’t help myself but run faster. You gotta give the people what they want. As a result I was sitting above my target pace. Under 4 minute pace for the first 14 km. 

This is when I really started to feel sore. My legs were getting so stiff and it was like I forgot how to run. In cycling we call it pedaling squares. I’m not sure what runners call it. The next 3 km I was really fighting each step and struggling to keep form. My knee was now starting to hurt and I was just ticking off the km’s hoping my knee would hold out.

About 17 km I had a sharp pain in my knee and was reduced to a walk. I’d gone too hard for too long on a knee that was not 100% to begin with and I paid the price. For the next few km the pain would come and go and I was a mix of walking, limping and running again. With under 2 km to go another runner from Canberra passed me and I bit the bullet and tagged on the back of him. Funny enough I don’t remember the knee hurting that final section as we raced to the finish. We had a sprint to the finish but I couldn’t match him. It didn’t matter, I was just so happy to finish.

IRONMAN analysis

Results

4:14:35 
1st 30-34 age group
3rd age group athlete
Fastest bike split

Ben Hill IRONMAN
Photo credit: Sportograf
IRONMAN analysis

Personally I was very happy with how it went. Despite blowing up in the finish I nailed all my goals. I probably wouldn’t have been satisfied if I hadn’t blown up. At least I know I left it all out there.