2023 Ironman World Championships
12 September 2023
Ben Hill’s race analysis
Just 16 months after my first triathlon and one year on from my first pro race, I lined up alongside the best athletes in the world at the Ironman World Championships.
The final two week preparation
I arrived in Nice on Saturday 26 August but my bike didn’t. It was a few nervous days waiting, but it was finally delivered late on Tuesday evening. So I was off the bike for five days. The purpose of getting here a full two weeks before the race was threefold; to get over the jet lag, to adapt from the 10 degrees maximums in Canberra to the 26-30 degrees in Nice and to recon the bike course. It was a hilly course with some technical descending so knowledge of climbs and descents was going to be a big time saver. With that in mind I jumped on the bike and did a full lap of the course the next day.
Over the next 10 days I went for a two days on, one day off approach taking it day by day on feel. I would not normally taper so hard for a race but in the final two weeks you need to listen to your body and with the travel I just needed more rest. It was not really until the weekend before the race that I did a bike and run session where I was happy with how the body felt and I pushed a little on some efforts.
You can see how the overall swim/bike/run CTL went from 227 down to 196 for race day. This is probably more of a hit than I would have liked. And with some inconsistent training the last few weeks before the race the confidence was not at an all time high. But after getting all the race gear and attending the Pro briefing I was full of excitement and feeling ready to go.
I had as good a preparation as I could have hoped for. No major setbacks in the last few months. I was here to find out where I stood compared to the best athletes in the world. I just wanted to deliver my best physical performance and if that was last place then I could accept that. Let’s go!
The water temperature was above 24 degrees so no wetsuits. I started wide on the left to try and avoid the fight. I was not aiming at the front pack. I was just hoping to keep up with someone, anyone really. So I was with the people around me for around 600m before I could not keep up anymore. My body was full of lactic and I was thinking my day was over already. Luckily there was one other guy with me and after a couple of easy strokes I tucked in behind him. It did not take us long to get back to a group in front of us. Phew. So at the first buoy around 800m in I was in a group of 8 guys. From here on the swim was actually pretty comfy. I didn’t pull a turn, I was just happy to be in a group. I saw that Joe Skipper was in our group (we had white caps, his was green) who was one of the pre race favorites so I knew I would have at least one strong ally on the bike. All that swim training paid off as it was the last group out of the water so if I missed them I would have been solo. Swim done. I came out 35th out of the 40 starters in 53:11, +5:25 from the front. It’s faster than my previous Ironman swim and that was in a wetsuit and this time I was 2min closer to the front of the race so I was very happy with that.
My plan was roughly to ride 270w (zone 2) on the flats and 330w (zone 3) on the climbs. Once we got going though I tried to use the other riders around me. I just stayed in my group for the first 10km flat section then we hit the first climb. I went to the front and lifted the pace thinking when Joe comes to the front I can just stay in second wheel and try to stick with him. But he never came. I’m not sure what happened to him but he did not have a good day and dropped behind. I kept pushing on until the main climb at 40km in. Here I was passed by one of the riders in my group (Arthur Horseau). He was riding the climb about the pace I was aiming for so I just stayed behind him. We picked up a fair few riders at the top of the climb and just before the top we caught a group of four. I stayed with them thinking we could work together along the plateau from kilometer 59 to 110. However, Arthur took off and out of sight. I stayed with the group but it was just me and one other guy doing turns.
At the only u-turn on course, 94km through the bike, we got an indication of how far behind we were. I was leading my pack of four in 21st place +15:28 behind the leader, and a minute behind Arthur who I let go at the top of the climb 35km ago. I was frustrated with the guys sitting on and that we had lost so much time to the front. Instead of attacking which I normally would do, I stopped. Just sat up and coasted out of the u-turn. They didn’t want to go past but eventually they did and I went to the back. Where I stayed for the next 15km. I had a feast, drank lots and freshened up. At 110km in I was 24th +16:55 and now 2min behind Arthur. We hit the top of the first descent and I pulled the trigger, it was time to put that descending practice to use. Over this last 70km I was the fastest rider. I caught and passed many guys and I made back 40 seconds on the leader, Sam Laidlow and over two minutes on the next fastest guys Cam Wurf and Magnus Ditlev. I caught Arthur again on the descent and we finished the bike together. I came into T2 in 16th +16:15. In a time of 4:42:31.
I got into the transition tent in T2 and saw Braden Currie and Jan Frodeno. Braden races a lot (and wins) in Australia so I know him and Jan is Jan so everyone knows him. It was Jan’s last race so I was pretty happy to be on the start line with him, let alone see him in the race. Now I know it was not his best day but still I was pretty excited. It was hot so after putting on my shoes I stopped immediately at the first drink station and skulled two water bottles then got to work.
I have been training to hold a 4 min/km pace marathon. This was something I believed I could do comfortably aerobically but still was not sure if I had the muscular conditioning to hold it together for a full 42km. I took off a little quickly at 3:45 but after 2km I had caught and passed Braden and Jan. After that high had worn off I settled into around 3:55 pace. Arthur had taken off on me and ended up running his way into 7th. I was never going to go with him but I was looking good to hold my own around 14th. After 10km I was still floating along, drinking at all the feeds, using the ice and eating. The crowd was amazing and I felt like I could keep running laps all day. I was overtaken by Braden again and one other and dropped back to 16th. I was tempted to lift but it was still early so I kept to my plan for now.
It was around 18km into the run I had my first feeling my legs were starting to get sore. I kept sticking to the pace as it was not so bad and I could see Braden coming back again. I managed to pass him and another athlete and move back into 14th. Coming into the last of four laps I had the euphoric feeling. I was trying to take it all in, the crowd was roaring and the music was pumping. I was coming 14th at the World Championships! It was truly surreal. At the same time my legs are now screaming at me to stop! Turning around with 10km to go I was in a world of pain. I kept thinking it’s just mind over matter, the legs still hold you so just keep turning them over. My strides were getting shorter and shorter to reduce the impact on my quads and I kept increasing the cadence to hold speed the best I could.
I overtook Cam Wurf with about 4km to go and rode the wave of the crowd home to finish in 13th place! I ended up averaging exactly the 4 min/km pace I’d set out to, with a run split of 2:48:39.
All in all the day went as well as I could have possibly expected. I got absolutely everything out of my body and finished in a time of 8:29:41. A PB for me on a mega tough course. For that to place me 13th in the world is just unbelievable.
I’m super grateful to work at Today’s Plan. It not only provides me with such incredible tools to train so well. They are so supportive of my ambitions to take on this challenge.
|PACE||1:23 / 100 M||38 KM/H||4:00 / KM|