Podium storming Liz Blatchford

Brit Liz Blatchford had a superb rookie race at the 2013 GoPro Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. Her 9:03:45 overall time allowed her to get the third place in the Pro division. This feat is not easily done and we had a few words with her about her race and the Kona experience in general.

Slowtwitch: Nice work in Kona Liz.

Liz Blatchford: Thanks Herbert its very satisfying when your A race for the year is a success and even more so when its Ironman World Champs!

ST: Had you actually been at the race as a spectator before?

Liz: No this was my first time to The Big Island. I did go out early to Kona and had been there for 4 weeks come race day. I really enjoyed my time out there training on the course and getting to see some more of the Island. There really is a lot to the Big Island apart from Kona, the Queen K and Hawi.

ST: Clearly you ought to be confident going into a big event, and you were someone who needed to be watched, but did you expect a podium spot in your first attempt?

Liz: No I didn’t expect a podium finish first time out on Kona. You always dream about that scenario but being a realist I was aiming for a top 10 and gaining valuable experience for the coming years. I did have some confidence as I have raced most of the top girls in years gone past in ITU and 70.3’s races. It was just a matter of whether I could try and match them over the Ironman distance.

ST: Who coached you for this big day?

Liz: I have been working with Mat Steinmetz from 51 Speedshop for the past 12 months. I had met Mat a few years back in Boulder and he has been looking after my bike fit for the past few years, so when I changed to racing 70.3 late last year I spoke with him and we began to work together last December.

Matt has been a great ‘steady head’ for me this season in the transition to Ironman. We had to change our focus early season after I raced Koh Samui and decided to take on Cairns as my first Ironman. The original plan was to focus on Vegas Worlds but after success in Cairns we changed the focus to Kona. He has a great team in Boulder who have helped look after my heath and body this season and his knowledge of the bike, set up, aero dynamics, training programs and everything Ironman is second to none in the triathlon world.

It’s been great to work closely with a coach who can look at my background, work on my weaknesses and set out to achieve my new goals.

ST: Were you able to stay away from the pier and all the other Kona hotspots before the race or was that something you checked out?

Liz: Because we had been on the Island for so long before race week there was no real need to swim the course or be near Dig Me beach in race week. We did go down one day to swim out to the coffee boat, bit of a novelty, but apart from that I pretty much stayed in my apartment all week apart from my training. I was proper boring!

ST: Was Mat a good Kona guide?

Liz: Mat has been to Kona a few times with some pretty experienced and successful athletes so when I was there for the first 2 weeks training he could tell me which rides to do and where was best to do my key runs etc leading into the race.

Mat arrived 8 days before the race so having him around race week was invaluable. To have another training partner (I’d worn my husband out in the first 2 weeks) and someone to chat with and bounce ideas around with was very calming, so yes he was a great guide.

ST: When you swam out to the start and heard the helicopters above, what went through your mind?

Liz: My thoughts are always on the first few hundred meters of the swim, focusing on getting clear water off the start and then getting onto the right feet to set my swim up. After racing ITU for so many years that is always what is going through my head pre swim start. Staying focused on the job and staying in the moment. Not that I had 9 hours of suffering ahead.

ST: Did you notice all the folks on the seawall or were you able to tune that out?

Liz: I definitely took a moment before getting in the water to stop and take a look around me, to take it all in. It got me excited and fired up to start. I’d been quite nervous the days leading in but at that point it switched from nerves to adrenaline and excitement.

ST: How much of a fight is the swim in an Ironman race versus at a big ITU event in your opinion?

Liz: The swim start for any Ironman or even 70.3 is far less brutal than an ITU race. The ITU pontoon starts with 50 to 70 girls can be an absolute s@%t fight for the first 400m to the first turn buoy. It can make or break your race in the first 5 minutes. Ironman is a much easier start, more space, less girls who swim at a similar speed.

ST: Did racing in Kona actually make the ITU days seem to be far away?

Liz: I think my other 2 Ironman’s felt a bit more lonely and extremely distant to ITU than Kona. The women’s race in Kona changed a little this year with the big front swim pack making for a bike group of 10-12 out to Hawi. Not that it was like an ITU race but it was good to have girls around you during the 180k on the bike to pace off and focus on. It was less than 18 months ago that I did my last ITU draft legal race, so it isn’t that long ago but now it does feel like it was a lifetime ago.

ST: When you saw your time coming out of the water, was that about what you expected?

Liz: I wasn’t sure on times for the Kona swim…. I was thinking that the group would be a little smaller, maybe 5 -7. So I was a bit surprised that there were 12 girls out of the water together. I think we had a strong current heading out to the top turn and more strong swimmers then ever before. So I think swimming into the current made it easier to sit on feet and once the group is large, even easier to sit on feet.

I’d be interested to hear how hard Hayley was swimming at the front of the group. Within the group it was pretty cruisy

ST: Were you hoping for tougher conditions in the swim and the bike?

Liz: The swim conditions were very calm, so this did help with the other factors mentioned above to help form a big group. I would have liked a bit of swell or chop on the water as I enjoy surf swimming.

For the bike we had pretty much perfect conditions. I’d ridden the Queen K and Hawi numerous times leading into the race with extremely strong cross winds. So I think I was prepared for tougher conditions on the bike. In saying that my plan was always to race my first Kona smart and not blow myself to bits. I wanted to learn about the course and the race and my own limits.

ST: As you were coming back towards Kona did you think much about the pending marathon?

Liz: Yes a little, it’s always there in the back of your mind. When the group started to split I made a conscious decision to not go with the front girls as I felt it would be above me and that I would pay for it on the run. So I stuck to the watts I know I can ride and tried to have confidence that it was the right decision and that I would run better because of it.

ST: You ended up with a long T2. Did you get a penalty?

Liz: Yes I received a littering penalty with about 20miles to go heading back to town. I was hot, a little delirious, suffering and had just finished a water bottle (clear plastic one). I’d squeezed it out of shape so it was all deformed and I thought ‘this won’t sit back in my bottle cage’ and then without thinking I ditched it. As soon as it left my hand I couldn’t believe I had done it. T otal brainfade. I still feel stupid now. Anyhow sure enough there was a marshal next to me and the red card come out – full deserved. Lesson learnt…

ST: When did you actually get that Norcom Straight race bike?

Liz: I received my Norcom Straight the week before Cairns IM in June. It was too late to use it for Cairns but I got onto it straight after that and it instantly felt like a sweet ride and really good fit. It’s very adjustable so I can just dial in my previous position without a worry.

ST: We assume that Mat Steinmetz helped you with the fit.

Liz: I was in Australia when I got my Norcom so I had Ben from Pave Cyclery on the Gold Coast do the build and he set the bike up to my Retul measurements that Matt had sent him. As I mentioned the bike felt instantly dialed in. Then once I got to Boulder Matt had me in to make a few small adjustments and ran his eye over my position. We did this within the first few days I was in Boulder and I couldn’t have been happier with the bike and the fit.

ST: When did you feel that you would end up with a solid day?

Liz: I was off the bike in 5th and then had to serve my 4 min penalty watching another 5 girls come and go through T2. Initially I didn’t know how far down I was off the bike to Rachel, Meredith, Jodie etc. So I just got out onto the course and settled into what pace I knew I could hold. It took me 5-10km to find my run legs and then coming back to town along Alii Dr I started to pick off a few girls. Once I was up onto the Queen K I could see Caroline and Michelle Vesterby down the road and knew that was around 5th place on the road.

I was super stoked with 5th but then down into the Energy Lab I could see Meredith and then Yvonne coming back to me. I passed Yvonne coming back out of the Energy Lab as she was cramping. I had moved into 3rd. From there it was all about getting back to town and trying to hold off Yvonne, who had recovered and was running about 200m behind me. Being my 3rd Ironman I still wasn’t 100% confident in my marathon. I’ve heard so many peoples “blow up” stories. Everyone says it hits you at 30km. Luckily so far I have not experienced that but it was on my mind. I didn’t quite relax or believe I had 3rd until I was running down Palani, and even then I feared doing a finish chute stumble and Yvonne running past me!

ST: You looked happy as you came down Palani and pulled your race suit back up.

Liz: Running back down Palani and back into the crowds was an amazing feeling and without doubt the best feeling I have had in triathlon over my many years. I was hurting but trying to smile and enjoy the experience at the same time.

There was a lot of familiar faces from my years of triathlon that were yelling and cheering for me and that’s such a special part of this race and the triathlon community as a whole. My mum and dad had flown over from a holiday in the UK so it was a very special day and one I won’t forget for a long time.

And yes its always important to finish with your race kit zipped and neat to promote my fantastic sponsors! Thanks to all of them for making 2013 a year to remember Scody, Enlighten, 32GI, Shimano, Fuji, ISM, Blueseventy, Volosport, Louis Garneau, Xlab, Oakley.

ST: So what is next?

Liz: I’m racing Noosa tri this weekend for a last little hit out for the year and a good party afterwards. Then I am heading to Bali for a few weeks of surfing, sun and fun.

I’ll soon sit down with Mat and make a plan for next year with Kona the focus. It’s a great position to be in to not have to chase points now. These past few months of 3 Ironmans in 4 months from ITU racing last year has been tough and probably a little risky for the body. Luckily for me it paid off.