Sochi OD Race Report — June 2015
by Neil Flanagan
Apologies for the tardiness, but better late than never.
Going against the grain of the typical race report, you aren’t going to find a detailed analysis of swim times, power data and run splits. I fell more than a little bit in love with Sochi, so this is as much of a commentary on Sochi itself, and the event organisers, Ironstar (the Russian equivalent of Race Events ME) as a race report.
Before we get into it, let me start with a fairly bold statement. If you are considering doing the 70.3 race in September (IRONSTAR 113 SOCHI), DO IT — you will NOT regret it for a moment. Whilst I was there we drove out to the Winter Village up in the mountains, which is to be the route for the half-iron distance, and it rolls along serenely on a road that is cut straight out of a first, it really is picture book stuff.
Sochi itself is absolutely stunning — it sits located on the Black Sea coast, and being part of the Caucasian Riviera, it is one of the very few places in Russia with a subtropical climate, with warm to hot summers and mild winters. Having hosted the Winter Olympics in 2014, it is clear that a huge investment has been made in infrastructure and tourism, and with exchange rates being as they are, it’s incredibly cheap to get there and stay there.
I had no idea what to expect from the event itself. I had turned up expecting it to be a fairly low key affair, with maybe a few locals and a smattering of athletes from across Russia. Little did I know but it was more of a triathlon festival, with the Russian Elite and Junior Elite National Championships, and Paratriathlon events all taking place over the same weekend. It had the feel of a huge 70.3 or Ironman race with a full expo, flags and banners everywhere and hundreds of incredibly fit looking people on every corner. There was also a bit of excitement (amongst the guys mostly!) with the news that Ukranian Elite triathlete Yuliya Yelistratova would be racing as a special guest of the event organisers.
Having come out of a 2 year triathlon ‘retirement’ in Dec 2014, the plan was to regain some tri specific fitness, get in some racing towards the back end of the UAE race season, and then focus on strength and mobility, biomechanics etc through the UAE summer before resuming tri training again on 1st September. This process wouldn’t work for a lot of people but it works well for me. Managed to get into half decent racing shape with a few podiums and an overall win at the last Aquathon race of the season at the end of April. When I took the late decision to go to Sochi I knew I was going there having not done any tri training for the best part of 6 weeks, so I went with little expectation and determined to simply enjoy the event. Had checked out the course and it had the feel of an ITU style event, 2 lap swim, 5 lap bike and 4 lap run.
The racking and registration process was very smooth, and before I knew it, the wetsuit was on and about 300 of us were being shepherded down the pier for the deep water mass start.
Swim (1700m — 26 minutes) The age group swim course had been adapted from the Elite course and was a little bit long, which was fine by me. In what was a surprisingly calm start, a few rockets went off the front, and I settled onto the back of the 2nd pack happy to be towed around the course. Couldn’t have gone any faster on my own but never in trouble hanging on. Not a fast time, but about what Id have expected for 1700m having not swam at all for 6 weeks.
Bike (39kms — 1.02) The bike course was flat and fairly fast on nice roads, with just a couple of u-turns and small roundabouts to keep you honest. Settled into a nice rhythm, and made sure to get the gearing right going into the u-turns to avoid stressing the legs too much accelerating out of them. Highlight of the bike course was overtaking Yuliya Yelistratova and having her sat on my wheel for a short time before she got warned off by the draft busters (she’d obviously forgotten AG racing is not draft legal)
Run — (9.8 kms — 46 minutes) This was the part I was least looking forward to. Being a big guy for a triathlete my running goes south very quickly if I don’t run, and I’d only trained for Sprint Distance earlier in the season. Decided to just settle into a rhythm, not try to race or keep up with anyone who was going faster than me, enjoy it, and tick off the laps. And it was hot! My new friend Yuliya came absolutely storming by about halfway through the first lap (she eventually ran 32 minutes) but I stuck to the plan and decided not to go with her!. Have to give a shout out to the volunteers, for whilst I had absolutely no idea what they were shouting at me, their energy and enthusiasm was totally infectious, and kept me going when the going got tough. Seemed like no time at all and I was running by the transition area for the 4th time and heading into the finishing chute.
The finishing chute
One of the problems with multi-loop races, especially when you don’t know anyone, and all of their names end in ‘Ev’ or ‘Ov’ is that you have no idea where you are in the race. I thought I was maybe in the top 20 but wasn’t going to kill myself in the last 200m to go 10 seconds faster. As I was coming up to the finish chute a few new friends were screaming at me (in Russian) but I thought they were just being friendly and cheering me on. Apparently not! So whilst I was composing myself for the finish line photos and zipping up my race suit etc some old dude (my age group) came storming past, literally 20m from the finish line. I had absolutely no idea at the time but it turns out that I was in fact leading my age group and in the end had to settle for 2nd. Lesson learned for the future!
Total time – 2.16 2nd in AG by (2 seconds, dammit!), 14th overall (but I’m not kidding myself, 16 minutes behind the winner)
The event and in fact the whole weekend was brilliantly managed from start to finish. The registration and racking process was simple, the course was great, well signposted, very clear. The volunteers were very well organised, and incredibly cheerful and supportive. There were more than enough drinks etc out on the course and after the finish. I really can’t credit them enough.
Beautiful place. Impeccably organised race. Cheap and fast to get there and stay there. As I said right at the start, if you’re even for a second contemplating the IRONSTAR 113 SOCHI in September, I’d strongly recommend it. I won’t do the race myself, but I’ll definitely go back for the trip!
All the best, and thanks for reading