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October « 2010 « James Cunnama’s Blog


Archive for October, 2010

Ironman 70.3 Austin

Thursday, October 21st, 2010


Following on my win at Rev3 a few weeks ago (see highlights here), I went into Ironman 70.3 Longhorn in Austin, Texas full of confidence and looking for another win. But a 70.3 is a different ball game to a full-distance race, and the field was stacked with big names. But my confidence was justified and now I am two for two wins on the continental US!

Last week I left the DeFilippis beach house in New Jersey for Austin, the Capital of Texas. A short and painless flight with JetBlue got me to the comfort of the Marsh’s house. Everyone had told me that I would love Austin as it is a great city, and they weren’t wrong. It really is a great city, and I am not a fan of cities in general… And now, as the site of my first Ironman 70.3 win, it will always be a special place for me.

So race day dawned and we (Brandon, Amy, Nicola and myself) could be found in the car. We had been in there for an hour and you could cut the tension with a knife! Traffic into the race venue was insane – the last mile of a trip that should take 10mins total took about an hour! And the race start was ticking ever closer. After eventually parking and taking a shuttle to the start, we made it into transition to sort out our bikes 10mins before they closed transition (25mins before the start)! The announcer, very calmly, said “We’re sorry, there was an accident on the highway so the traffic is backed up and everyone is late. Don’t worry most of you have plenty of time as we have 17 waves. …But the race will start on time regardless.” Thanks for that. It was a rushed morning with high tension. Not an ideal way to start the day. Definitely not ideal! But we all made the start in time…

My swim went okay. The Pro men had their own wave so there were not a lot of us, but I managed to stay on the feet of the front group for longer than I have ever before. Unfortunately that was still not the entire way, and I ended up swimming solo for a long while. I came out a minute behind the main group…

On the bike I soon found my rhythm and worked to pull back the lead group which I knew was up the road ahead. I did not get any splits so I never knew where they were, so I just kept going believing I would reel them in eventually. I had one other guy for company, Lewis Elliot, but he didn’t have the same faith that I did that we would catch the leaders so his motivation waived. We did catch them, but only about 8miles from the end of the bike leg – 48miles of hard riding done! I sat up and checked out the competition ahead of me. There were 7 guys there and I was confident I could out-run them all based on my current run fitness, so my spirits soared. I went past most of the group, not wanting a repeat of Singapore 70.3, where I lost time by being at the back of the group through T2. On my way up near the front I got some choice words from Richie Cunningham – apparently the work in the front had not been evenly shared throughout the ride, and he thought I was one of the guys who had slacked off only to come through near the end. I wish!

As we pulled into T2, the front two riders went straight into the penalty tent, leaving me first into T2, and first out side by side with Richie Cunningham, the race favourite. As we exited transition someone shouted that we were 7mins down on the leader (Marko Albert). Whoa! I thought we were the leaders! Damn. The pace was blistering from the start and Richie and I traded the front a few times, neither giving much. About halfway through the first lap a flying Allesandro Degasperi came by us both, which was really surprising considering our pace! Richie went with him, and I kept my rhythm a little off the back. Soon they both slowed, particularly on hills. And there were enough of those! It was one of the toughest run courses for a 70.3 I have ever done – mostly off-road with thick grass and rolling hills the entire way. Near the end of lap 1 I gapped the other two up one of the longer hills and they dropped off quickly. Coming through to start lap 2 I was given the split that I had only made up 90secs on Albert. I figured I was racing for 2nd and a flash of fight went through me – I’ve had enough 2nds for one career already! I have a deal with myself now – no 2nd’s – if I am in 2nd either I win or I blow up trying and finish way down… Despite this ‘rule’ I’m not sure I really believed I could catch him, but ran like I did anyway. I got no splits for a long time, and then, with 3.5miles to go my MTB escourt, who could apparently see better than my effort-induced tunnel-vision allowed me, turned to tell me the leader was 32secs ahead. Sweet! All I had to do was keep it together for 3miles and I would win!

As I crossed the line, now more than a minute ahead of Albert, to win my first Ironman 70.3 the rush of emotions was incredible! There was way more prestige and recognition around this victory and it is still a little surreal. Like I said, I was confident before, but I am not sure I really expected to win. Undefeated on the continental US! One more race to go to make it three from three. Ironman Florida here I come…

A huge congrats to Nicola too for an incredible performance dominating the race from start to finish! And a big thanks to Amy and Brandon for their great hospitality here in Austin – they must have done something right as they hosted both the winners! ;)

Onwards and upwards!


Friday, October 8th, 2010

Kona looms… Ironman World Championships. It is on the minds and tongues of triathletes and triathlon fans everywhere. It is the hot topic on all the triathlon websites. And of course it is the only thing on the mind of all the triathletes actually competing…

But I am not one of those triathletes, not this year. And people keep asking me why not. Especially since I am ‘on form’ when you look at my recent results. In fact, even I have asked myself this question a few times recently. So why? Firstly, I didn’t qualify. I was forced to DNF Ironman SA and DNS Ironman Austria and never did another M-dot race. …But I could have done one, or more, so that is not really the reason.

The real reason is that I, together with Brett, decided early in the year that 2010 would be about getting me on my feet as a Pro athlete. This obviously included getting stronger and trying to get some good race results, but mostly this meant financially. I had spent 3yrs ‘investing’ in becoming a pro and it was time to get out of the red for the first time since 2007. Going to Kona this year therefore would not help this goal. Kona is an expensive trip. Very expensive from South Africa, which is almost exactly the opposite side of the world. (Okay, so I am not in SA anyway, but I would have to get back there – and Kona is pretty darn far from everywhere!) And the prospect of me finishing in the money (in the top 10) in Kona this year was remote (and it seemed far more remote back then…). So we decided to skip Kona and go where I could make money, rather than spend it. So far that plan has worked out well!

But that is not the whole answer. Every time I am asked why I am not in Kona (and that’s been a lot of times already!) I am tempted to give them a different answer, the answer in my head, the real answer:

I am in Kona! Everyday I am in Kona. When I am swimming. When I am cycling. When I am running. Even when I am sleeping. (Actually, especially when I am sleeping!) I go to Kona all the time. More often than anyone. People who know me know that every year since I started this sport I have watched the entire World Champs race online, start to finish. In SA this meant staying awake until 3:30am, usually on the floor of Triangle Sports -the local bike shop and the only place with good enough internet. No-one could understand how I stayed awake when it was so long and boring… but it was the most important day in my training. The images were used for months in my head to visualize where I was going. They are still being used today. Last year I got to see it all first-hand for the first time, and although it was not a good day of racing for me, as an experience it was invaluable. This year I will again be watching on the internet, thankfully from a more forgiving time-zone, while I add fuel to the fire.

Everyone knows that winning Ironman World Champs is why I am doing this. I have never been shy to tell people my goals, even if they are a size too big for me at the time. So when I am on the track running my 27th 800m repeat and it is hurting, physically I may be on a small high school track in New Jersey, but in my mind I am on Alii Drive in Kona fighting for the lead… When I am time-trialling on my bike and every muscle is burning, I am on the Queen K highway having the race of my life…

So when I watch Kona this year, while I will be supporting my team-mates and friends, and while I am very interested in who wins, I am even more interested in how they win. And in my head I will be there in Kona racing them, putting myself in their shoes, imagining how I would be feeling and how I would respond. And how I would beat them. Because that is where I am going. Soon it will not all be in my head. Soon my body will join my mind racing in Kona.

See you in Kona… even if you can’t see me yet!