By Leigh Schvartz
After about 5 or so years of age group racing at mostly sprint distance (duathlon mostly, but some triathlon too) I thought it was time for a new challenge. Strangely for me 2020 wasn’t a total write-off, I managed to race 3 times – twice at sprint and also my debut Olympic distance tri. I enjoyed the step up in distance, if nothing else it justified a bit better the early starts and travel times!
After a few glasses of wine when the lockdowns were starting to ease, I threw in an optimistic entry to Ironman 70.3 Tallinn as my first crack at 70.3 racing. To be honest I didn’t really expect it to happen – and it seemed less and less likely as the months progressed – but we kept the entry in and about a month before the event it looked like it might be on the cards. Because of the uncertainty, I hadn’t really done the structure and build in training I’d have liked too, but my hours were good and after moving to Thame in March I had been building up the training time to get to know the local area and some good training with Oxford Tri!
Because of the relatively last minute confirmation and debut at 70.3, I went into the race with the single goal of just enjoying it and seeing how I could cope with the distance, with no real expectations / goals, which I have to say was a really nice way to go to an event, and not my usual ultra-competitive mindset…
We (my wife Becky and I) flew out to Tallinn on the Thursday before the race on the Sunday, as we aren’t double jabbed yet we then made a start on the testing – which was the fifth discipline of this race.. I think we worked out in total we’d had 7 tests in total for this trip.
Anyway, that aside and after some reccying of the bike and run courses, race morning came along. Ironman Tallinn’s swim takes place at Lake Harku which is about 10km outside of the city, so I hopped on the bus and got out there. Conditions in the morning were about as perfect as you could get (the same couldn’t be said for the Ironman race the day before – which was about as bad as I could imagine…) so I splashed some cold water down my wetsuit and on my face, and got into the line for the rolling running start into the lake.
Swimming is a discipline I’ve worked hard at over the last couple of years, and it’s now starting to pay off. That said, I don’t really have much experience yet racing on feet and pack swimming, so mostly just swam my own race – the water was a lot choppier than expected as it wasn’t that windy and it was a pretty grim lake, but otherwise I navigated the very simple 3 turn 1900m and hopped out of the swim with a time of 31:45 which I was pretty pleased with.
I decided before the race to stick my stocks on in T1 rather than T2 (I use aero socks, so seemed sensible to get the bike benefit..) so for the first time in my triathlon career I sat down in T1 (felt a bit weird – not going to lie) and calmly got sorted before heading out onto the bike.
The bike course in Tallinn is totally flat, and Estonia is another country which knows very well how to properly lay tarmac (I wish we could learn from our European friendshere…) so headed out and quickly got up to speed. The bike is usually my strongest discipline, but I was very conscious here that I’d never actually biked a hard 90km before and ran a half marathon off, so I was conservative (in hindsight probably overly conservative) but the miles ticked by and I hopped off the bike in 2:18 and into T2, a fast change and then out onto the run.
Now I was into pretty unknown territory aside from a couple of longer brick runs, so mentally I was telling myself to just keep it comfortable and enjoy it – and I really did. The beauty of doing a race without a time in mind is that losing a few seconds here or there to take a drink or say thank you to supporters doesn’t matter, so I did! The run is a 2 lap “rolling” course, and the first lap I was thinking to myself at what point was I going to kick here and up the pace, but as I got over the climb into the second lap my legs were starting to tire, I opted to try and hold the pace I was at and avoid blowing up, and whilst I slowed a bit in the final 10km, I got around OK and had enough energy to spare to enjoy the finishing line experience, even with a little jump across the line… did the run in 1:36 and with that, my first Ironman experience over. And it was epic.
Overall I finished in 4:32, which was good for 42 / 930overall and 11th in AG (which I guess would suggest it was a pretty strong line-up in the 30-34 AG). Loved the experience and think there is a lot more to build on here, with a more confident bike and a bit more long run training I’d be pretty confident in getting this time down quite a bit and challenging for a world champs spot, but – that can all wait until next year!