Two of the best and deepest men's and women's fields in the history of the Ironman 70.3 World Championship. A tough, fair hilly bike and run course designed to expose any weaknesses. Some of the headliners and key players shared their thoughts with Slowtwitch.
Slowtwitch: Does the necessity of being hyper aware of everyone around you to avoid getting a drafting call in this type of racing make it hard on you?
Jan: You know it’s the way the sport is. It's a part of the tradition. It does sort separate the sport into two types - the drafting and the non-drafting. But as long as everybody sticks to it, it is OK. And I think we do have good marshals out there - within their measures they are absolutely fair. It's a good thing y'know? In the pro race, it works. With age groupers I see it as quite difficult. Because there are just too many out there for a course of this size. I think most of the pros are genuinely getting to a point where it is fair and everybody has to ride on their own.
ST: What is most important leg of this race? Sebastian Kienle might say the bike, you might say the run?
Jan: Well you know I think there bike here is absolutely crucial. You gotta be fast on the first 70k. And you gotta be hard on the last 20k. But you can't go all out either. If you go all out on the bike, this run course is gonna eat you up and spit you right out the back of the field. So I think the run course ids crucial to A, get there as fast as possible and B, to give you a chance to win the race
ST: Can you imagine a scenario where you will be able to beat Javier Gomez?
Jan: Well Javier is as good friend of mine and the guy I respect the most. and he is an all out purebred racer. I've been looking forward to going head to head with him. And hopefully that is actually going to pan out. But you know, everybody is taking risks. I am taking risks in my taper and he just won a world title. I mean, it's good on him to be motivated to tackle another world championship the week after he won one. So I really hope it turns out that way and we get to go head to head.
Slowtwitch: How fit are you after the incredible world championship last weekend? You weren't totally as you might have been if you hadn’t competed at Sweden the week before - so you took 3rd at the Grand Final in a strategic move to win the World title?
Javier I think I am pretty fit. I am recovering pretty well. Basically, I am fit for Olympic distance. That is the race I train for. So this distance and this style of racing I am not sure what to expect. I am going good,. I am pretty motivated. I feel no pressure at all. This is not my world - yet. You have to be great to race the best in the world. So I will see how it feels.
ST: How will you adapt to pace with sharp hills on the bike and save enough energy to be ready to run?
Javier: It will be hard to do that. I will try my best to pace myself. But I will also try to be with especially the best runners on the bike. And see how it feels. But it is a very tough run course and you can make a big difference there.
ST: Does this course fit you like a glove?
Javier: Yeah I think the course fits me. I like it more than a flat course. But I need to be fit and I need to be fresh. So I don’t know. We will see.
ST: Great races this year. Course record third straight win at Ironman New Zealand and beating Melissa Hauschildt at Vineman 70.3,
Meredith: I feel very fortunate with the five wins and a 3rd at Oceanside. We are just kind of nourishing that and trying to parlay that into a good race on Sunday. But there are 30 girls out there who can win. So that is the beauty of the World Championships.
ST: How do you like the sharp hills?
Meredith: I love that. We train in those kind of hills in the Bay Area. And here I can see where I am descending. That is my biggest fear when you have all these downhill switchbacks. But I can see ahead on this course and I am really happy about that. Also, I have trained on this course a total of about two weeks.
ST: Are you afraid of any of these women? That some are simply better than you? Or did that fear go away after you beat Melissa Hauschildt at Vineman 70.3?
Meredith: No not at all. I am a person who likes to live in a world where you are the first person to congratulate the girl who beat you. If and when that happens in Sunday, I will be the first to do that.
ST: But are you afraid that somebody else is simply better than you and there is nothing you can do about it?
Meredith: Oh you know what? I feel we are all on the same level. I think everyone can swim bike run the hell out of it and I think that will happen Sunday. I don’t think someone is gonna run away from the field.
ST: How have you recovered in the six weeks you have been able to run again after your leg injuries?
Heather J: It is getting better. I have been careful because you don’t want to reinjure it. So it’s just been a lot of interval training. No real long runs yet. Just a lot of 800s and mile repeats. Just all speed work. LAUGHS. We will see how it plays out.
ST: How are you approaching this once in a lifetime chance to go 5-4-3-2-1 in five straight Ironman 70.3 World Championship races?
Heather J: I have been swimming and biking a lot and hoping my run takes care of itself. That is my game plan.
ST: I was looking for your weakness. You won races against good people with 1:25 and 1:26 half marathons. But then someone reminded me you ran 1:17 at Rapperswil. How will your run stack up against this field?
Daniela: I think I am still running the same as I was running in Rapperswil. I would say the last few races I had to push it on the bike and then take it a little bit less hard on your body on the run. So that was the strategy, and it worked perfectly. I am definitely thinking that I can run fast. But also I believe there are some really good runners here and I am definitely going to try to push the bike.
ST: Does this course fit you? You have trained on tough hills in Switzerland?.
Daniela: Yeah it is a good course. I mean, you really have to be strong on the bike and it is definitely gonna hurt on the run. I don’t think there is anyone gonna come off the bike feeling great. So it is a matter of how much are your legs gonna suffer on the bike and how much you still have on the run.
ST: Brett Sutton get you ready physically and mentally?
Daniela: Actually he has figured out to give me less training just hammering all year long. That was probably the key -- to give me sometimes less work than I am used to. And, in phases, to give me more. I think he really figured out how to balance the body.
ST: And your life? With your graduate studies?
Daniela: I am studying food science and management. It is really interesting.
ST: How exciting is it to be one of the co-favorites in one of the great women's fields in history?
Daniela: It is very exciting. I've had a good season. [Five wins in five races] Now I am here racing in Quebec in the World Championship. I just want to see where I am at. So it’s going to be an exciting day and also compared to last year I am definitely fitter than I was in Las Vegas. That is why I am really excited -- to see how I can perform against the world's best.
ST: How do you like racing against so many top women?
Heather W: I am super excited about it. I love a good race. I've tried to pick the races this year where they were like this. I won Oceanside and I was 3rd at St, George, That was my worst placing so far this year - excluding fainting at Panama 70.3. In 2014. when I didn’t pass out 500 meters from the finish line in as I did in Panama, I was either 1st or 3rd. But yeah! Here I will experience a lot more of what St. George was. There was a group of 4-5 really strong swimmers breaking out together. And I was riding on my on trying to catch up. That was a big ask. So I was on my way to third. So here I know it is going to be pretty critical to try come out of the water close to the front. But I feel with the difficulty of this bike course that I will ride my way through quite a lot of people.
ST: The theory is that people who are larger are really handicapped on big hills? Theories of power to weight?
Heather W: The theories of power to weight ratio haven't really held true for me. The races I have excelled at and won -- have been all about tough hills. The Ironman races -- St. George, Lake Placid, Coeur d'Alene - and the halves as well. I had a big win at Oceanside this year. and there was a lot of steep climbing at the beginning of that bike leg. I feel like this course as well demands you be really strong and powerful. And I feel like I can carry a lot of speed up and over these short, sharp hills,.
ST: You ran well under 1:20 at Oceanside after that bike. How will you pace your race here?
Heather W: My run speed is pretty good. I know those kickers on the run will hurt everyone. If you are really strong you can tough that out. That will be critical. Honestly the downhills can be worse than the uphills. It is just hard on the quads and you just have to try to let it go and fly down those hills.
ST: How is your fitness?
Heather W: My fitness is fantastic.
ST: You are not lying?
Heather W: I know people hold their cards pretty close to the vest before these things. In the past I have focused a lot more on Kona. Sort of almost trained through this race. But this year -- because it the worlds champs and it is being held in Canada and it is a course that I can use my strengths - I have changed things around. It is not a course that demands pure speed. So I trained for this and I have peaked for it especially. I felt like pulling back from some of the super long runs and doing more speed stuff this time. I think it is going to be beneficial all around. I feel a lot more energized do this race than I have at past 70.3 World Champs. And also it's left me feeling pretty stoked about Kona.