Each year, my sister and I plan out our racing calendar for the following summer choosing 1 race in particular to be the “A” race. This year’s “A” race brought us to Delaware, OH for Ironman 70.3 Ohio. Centered in and around Ohio Wesleyan Universities football stadium, Ironman turned the area into an amusement park for triathletes. We were immediately filled with excitement at the sight of Ironman Village. It was filled with vendors galore and……..the “Ironman” store. It was as though a choir of angels were singing as we stepped foot into the erected store. It had everything from clothes, socks, bags, and hats to dog collars and aprons all carrying the universally recognized Ironman logo. There was no way anyone was walking out of that store without making some sort of purchase.
According to the Ironman website, Delaware, OH is said to bring together urban amenities and rural Midwestern charm. It is accessible and awesome with Columbus less than 30 minutes away. Delaware was a quaint town and I would have loved a little extra time to shop and dine. However, the town did bring a few challenges. There was very little parking to accommodate the plethora of athletes and spectators that had converged on the town. Hotels were hard to come by if you waited until July to make your reservation as I did. The nearest lake suitable for a 1.2 mile swim was 6 miles away which brought the need for 2 separate transitions. Logistically, this flipped my normal race day planning and prep out the window.
I love the local 70.3 races I have competed in the last few years. So, what sets an “Ironman” branded race apart from these local races? The whole event seemed to be on a grand scale. Ironman rolls out the red carpet, literally! However, this does come with a heavier price tag. There were photographers all over the course capturing the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat from start to finish. The result was some pretty awesome photos that also came with a hefty price tag and, as you’ll see here, I could not resist buying them. I was surprised to find race number tattoos were available for purchase and were not included in the race packet. Each local 70.3 race included the tattoos at no additional charge. This Ironman event drew as many participants as the local events. However, the local events consist of multiple races within the 1 event, whereas, Ironman consists of a single race. Ironman provides sunscreen stations as you exit both T1 and T2. Volunteers slather you with lotion as you exited T1 onto the bike and spray as you exited T2 onto the run. I have to admit this is the first 70.3 in which I did not walk away with a sunburn. The differences that surprised me the most were the rules and officiating. Being a USAT sanctioned race, I expected the rules to be the same as any other sanctioned race. The wetsuit legal water temp was 76.2, versus 78 degrees. The drafting rules, which are normally 3 bike lengths and 15 second to pass, were 6 bike lengths and 25 seconds to pass. Penalties were handed out by way of a blue card (5:00 minute penalty) or yellow card (2:00 minute penalty). These time penalties were to be served during the race when you encountered the next penalty tent. During the entire 56 mile bike ride, I only encountered 1 official and a lot of drafting that went unnoticed. Ironman incorporates a volunteer appreciation into the race by providing the athletes with red wristbands at athlete check-in. These wristbands are to be distributed during the race to your favorite volunteer to thank them for their service.
The 1.2 mile clockwise swim was a very well marked course with yellow buoys marking the first half of the course, orange the second half and red marking each turn. In anticipation of a non-wesuit legal swim, I took advantage of the Aquaman Black Friday sale to purchase the Speed Speedsuit. As predicted, the water temp was 79 degrees on race morning. The swim start was a rolling start with 4 competitors leaving every 3 seconds. The calm waters prior to the race turned into choppy waters as 2000 swimmers converged onto the course.
The bike was a blazing fast, flat course. At the athlete pre-race meeting, a few of the roads were described as a little rough with fresher chip seal. Even the roughest road, was far better than anything in Michigan. The first 46 miles were straight and flat through the bean and the corn fields. With all 2000 athletes competing in the same race, the course was solid bikes as far as the eye could see. The last 10 miles were winding with rolling hills. The last mile of the course leading into town was on a narrow bike path with a 90 degree turn and a downhill decent to T2. After 56 miles, this made for an interesting dismount on the asphalt with wobbly legs and slippery bike cleats.
The run course was a lollipop shape of rolling hills with a repeat loop on the pop before returning to the stadium. It was named as one of the top run courses in the Ironman athlete choice awards and was filled with great volunteers and spectators cheering along the way. Mile 6 and mile 11 were the most mentally challenging sections on the repeat loop with a mile stretch uphill in full sun. The best part of the run was a little girl I would guess to be about 4 or 5. She was standing near the road outside her home cheering on the runners. As I approached, it appeared she had a broken arm with a red cast starting at her wrist and extending the entire length of her arm. On closer inspection, as I extended my hand to give her a high five, I realized her arm was not broken. It filled with the red volunteer wristbands. By lap number 2, she had so many bracelets; she had moved them from her arm to fill a shepherd’s hook.
Ironman 70.3 Ohio was a great event and I would highly recommend it for anyone wanting to try an Ironman branded race. Plan ahead! Sign up early and reserve your hotel well in advance to ease some of the expense.