I have participated in almost 20 Ironman-branded races, including the Ironman World Championship. When I was invited to race with Team USA at the Long Distance World Championship in Weihai, China on September 21, 2014, I thought I knew most everything about long distance triathlons. But, hello Lori. This wasn’t an “Ironman” event–it was an International Triathlon Union (ITU) event.
This wasn’t an Ironman or Ironman 70.3 distance either. The swim was 4K/2.5 miles, the bike was 120K/74.5 miles and the run was 20K/12.4 miles. (I heard that the run would typically be 30K for this event. I don’t know why it was shorter, but rumor said it was because of the difficulty of the bike leg.) The cut-off time was 9 hours. Pros raced with age groupers just like at Ironman, competing for a purse totaling $85,000. However, here they wore their country’s kit. It was the first time I saw Craig Alexander competing for Australia. Sorta cool.
ITU rules supersede the rules of USA Triathlon, who organizes Team USA, and I learned that some rules vary noticeably from USAT and Ironman. For example, the wetsuit cut-off temperature for age groupers varies by the swim distance–the longer the distance, the higher the temperature. In this case, the water temperature had to be below 24C (75F) for a wetsuit to be allowed. Speedsuits were not allowed at all, unless you wore them under your country’s race kit and kept them on for the entire race. (Ha ha. I didn’t see anyone attempt that!) And, they didn’t make the call on the water temperature until the morning of the race.
Transition was another big difference. Instead of having T1 and T2 bags packed with everything you might need, and tents with volunteers ready to assist, everything for both transitions had to be right by your bike and within a provided bin. So, I had to better anticipate what gear and nutrition I might need and then go with what I had, no matter what.
And this race made me feel very special as an athlete. The town (small by China standards at only 2.5 million people) went all out for us. Banners, signs on taxis and buses, landscaping and much more welcomed us as athletes. Opening and closing ceremonies were amazing, making me feel like an Olympian representing my country. And, participating as part of a team–Team USA–was unique and fantastic as we cheered each other on, particularly during the multi-loop run. I made new friends I would not have connected with were we not on the same team.
I know many people who have the Ironman World Championship on their “hope to do someday” list. After this experience, I would definitely recommend adding “hope to do an ITU Championship someday” to that list. Locations for qualifying events and championship races change annually, so visit www.usatriathlon.org to find out more. You may end up traveling “way far”, but I guarantee the experience is one you’ll treasure for a long, long time.