Diesel, yuck! My senses were overcome by a hint of fuel during the bayside swim in Clearwater, Florida. It was the last thing I expected at a race in a place called "clear water." But, as they say, it's Ironman, and anything can happen.
In the case of the 2009 Ironman 70.3 World Championship, a lingering storm in the days leading up to the race forced the swim from the Gulf into the nearby bay.
Clearwater is typically a hot, tropical environment, and chances are race day will be just that. Race day 2009 ended up having a high of 76, and the wind and storminess had virtually disappeared.
Being a November race, temperatures in Clearwater average in the mid- to high-70s for the highs, with lows in the 50s. On top of good weather, the flat course makes this race a great place for a personal best. Yes, the flat bike course also results in illegal drafting, but more on that later.
The following is a complete breakdown of the Clearwater 70.3 Championships coming from someone who just lived it. Read on for tips, course info and more:
How Is the Swim?
I didn't get a typical Clearwater swim (remember, the diesel?). Still, what I know about the Gulf swim: 1) the water is warm, in the 70s, and 2) the course is rectangular-shaped with only a couple turns, buoys on your left and no tricky maneuvering. While swimming back into transition, expect the rising sun to blind you. Typically, there are wave starts. Though, time trial start is possible (what we had).
Anything Special About Transitions?
Most 70.3s don't require gear bags, athlete changing tents and volunteers handling your gear. But this is the World Championships, so expect to be treated like a VIP. Most of your stuff will be in transition on Friday, so minimal setup is required race morning—putting bottles on the bike is about it. In T1, wetsuit strippers are there to rip off your suit, and once you get your gear bags a volunteer will clean up your mess while you head out on the bike.
The Real Deal Behind the Bike
There are a good amount of turns before you get to the flat straightaways—head out of Clearwater Beach, over the causeway (big bridge), through downtown, city streets and neighborhoods.
Starting on a positive note: The bike course is generally flat, roads are smooth and spectators are cheering throughout the entire 56 miles—it's never lonely. There are some gradual climbs, so don't expect all 56 to be cake walk.
The unfortunate aspect of this course is the drafting. You wind up on long, flat freeway-like roads, and it's here where drafting takes place. I was astonished at the blatant drafting—packs of 20 to 30-plus riders would woosh by at insane speeds. There simply aren't enough USAT officials to catch them all.
It doesn't help that narrow roads and occasional sharp U-turns bottleneck everyone together. Some roads remain partially open to traffic, so at times bikers only have one lane—a recipe for drafting.
One of the only ways to avoid the draft is to sit up out of aero and slow way down—or stop even—and let the pack pass. Many people aren't really willing to do this, but I did. I wanted to ride my own 56 miles. In this case, unfortunately, the drafting situation can serve to hurt your split because you're wasting time to avoid it. Undoubtedly, my bike would have been four to five minutes faster had I been able to maintain my own speed out there and not slow for drafters.
But don't get me wrong. It's still possible to PR on the bike riding at your own effort. I PR'd by more than 16 minutes with a 2:31 split.
Again, Clearwater has a "clean transition," meaning no gear is lying around the racks. You'll pick up your second bag with run shoes, etc., and make the switch in the tent. Oh, and volunteers take and re-rack your bike. Pretty fancy.