Muncie 70.3 wasn't on my race calendar four weeks ago, and to be honest I never expected to return to the namesake town after I raced there two years ago. It was one of the most desolate race experiences I've ever had as the event was held in the middle of the heatwave. The earth was scored and the land was barren. The atmosphere, the vibe of the race has to be right for me to go deep, and mother nature didn't present Muncie well the last time we met.
That being said, if the timing is right for a race, I will still show. Muncie fitted well as it has HyVee points attached (I didn't make the first round of qualifications), and it was better to get a 70.3 out of the way a week earlier before I traveled back home, rather than travelling home straight off the 70.3 race course. I'm racing Kansas 5150 tomorrow and then travelling, which makes more sense (again, I need the HyVee points).
Straight up, my experience this time around in Muncie was fantastic. The climate was nice, the fields were green and my mind was in a great space after a successful training block. The course is fast, but not entirely flat. There was still gain on the bike and run to be found, though the run was certainly more challenging than the bike. The competition was tough but not deep, though I knew winning here was always going to be a challenge on two accounts. Arguably the best cyclist (on flatter courses) in the sport, and best runner in the sport (valid but I confess still moot) were both present. I would need to be on top of my game to conquer both Andrew Starykowicz and Lionel Sanders. If you haven't heard of the latter athlete, get out of the gutter and pay attention!
The race plan was simple. Swim strong and at the front. Ride until Starky catches me then grit the teeth and see how long I can play, then run faster than he does, whether I'm behind or in front. Lionel has been cycling very inconsistently, but I knew that his bike leg was lethal enough to put him close behind and in striking distance for the run if he was having a good one.
The day started with a wetsuit swim in dangerous 24c/75f water temp (measured with the 'WTC' thermometer). This swim was all about trying to keep to a steady pace without overheating. As soon as the gun went I took my cap off and went about breaking things up. I was swapping leads with David Kahn until I make a push for the front at half way and stayed there. I could see the shore from 800m out, quietly teasing me while I baked in the reservoir. The water was warm and the core temperature much warmer.
I had anticipated the discomfort in the swim and had left an bottle of iced Instinct electrolytes at my transition spot. I sculled half a bottle while stomping out of my wetsuit. I did this so I didn't immediately drink my half of my biddon as soon as I mounted the bike, which would have left minimal amounts for the 90km ahead.
I felt good from mount line, but I was frequently glancing down seeing what was coming out of my Quarq. I was holding a tick over 300w average and knew this was uncharted territory for a half. I had done 297w in Port Mac 70.3 last year which was my best ride to date, and even though I'd done these numbers in training there was a chance it was still too much. I was focused though, and feeling good. When I have minimal movement in my hands, I know it's going to be a good day. I was steady, and Starky was still behind by about 45 seconds at the first turnaround. I had him under pressure, but I knew he would catch me by the next turnaround. Going over the race plan in my head before the race, I toyed with potentially riding easy until he caught me, or alternatively running the risk of burning some matches before the battle began. I was in control, so I wanted to run the risk. I also had a feeling he was not expecting this and perhaps didn't know anything about my abilities on the bike, so I wanted to intimidate him a little.
He rode up to me at 41-2km into the cycle. I expected him to attack, and predictably he did just that. I had spoken to Andrew Yoder before the race to gain an understanding of his tactics, so I was fortunate to know the moments to raise the watts. Admittedly, he had me against the ropes for the first 10 or so minutes, but I was able to quickly dissect his ride style which made for many opportunities to recover and relax, helping me regain my breathe and poise. There were points where I thought I was as good a dropped, but I always found my way back to his 6.
I had the support of Zipp legend Dave 'Rip' Ripley out on the course, and it was motivation enough to be riding with Starky everytime I passed Rip. I knew once I passed Rip for the last time at 70km that I would be with Starky until the end. Naively, Starky didn't realise I was still with him until about 10km to go, but I had enough attention to realise Lionel Sanders was also having the ride of his life and wasn't losing much time to us at all. Starky kept the pressure on until the end to try and notch one under 2 hours, but he fell just 20 seconds short. I tapped the lap button at 90km just short of the dismount line, and recorded my best ever time of 2:01:12, with a 304NP (4.75w/kg) and VI of 1.01. I couldn't be happier with my ride. A lot of respect goes out to Starky who literally does this every time he toes the line. I'll keep dreaming... and training.
I was fortunate to have good legs off the bike. I was unsure whether at some points to just let Starky go and try to catch him on the run in fear of tanking myself, but I was just to obsessed by the goal of riding with him that I just pedalled and hoped. I took the lead a couple hundred meters in the run, and just did my thing trying to dial in a good pace. It was a very rolling half marathon, hard to get any sort of rhythm for a few minutes or longer before you were belted by the next hill. I was slowly making distance in front of Starky, but just before the turnaround Lionel Sanders came burning around me with his freakish foot speed. The chance of running with him was nil, and thus so was the win. I felt a little deflated and had a small loss of speed, but knew second was still where I wanted to be rather than third. I still was able to run in well after dropping down a gear and finish over a minute ahead of Starky.
I crossed the line satisfied with 2nd place, but still yearning for a win. Out of nowhere the Canadian Lionel Sanders has set a new bar for us all, and he had a jaw dropping performance to take the win. This result leaves me confident for Mont Tremblant in September, and my form is still building. I'm looking forward to returning home after Kansas 5150 tomorrow to refresh and cap the last few months of training. I'm always able to find another gear in my home environment of Brisbane, so it's an exciting prospect for me to return home.
An epitaph from this race is to further admire Starky. He has little to work with in terms of efficiency, but he has been able to maximise absolutely everything he has to work with. It's amazing to think someone with a body like he has can run as fast as he does after punishing the pedals as hard as he does. It's commendable, and something I hope I'm able to get out of myself, to squeeze every last gain I can out of my body. At that point, I will be content. Until then, the training must go on.