Ironman 70.3 Pula, Croatia – Sep 20, 2015

Thanks to my Thailand-training buddy Riccardo Kuhar from Croatia, I had received an invitation to a special event this year, the inaugural Ironman 70.3 Pula, Croatia. So only few days after the 2015 Zofingen ITU Powerman Long Distance Duathlon World Championships in Switzerland, I was on the road again traveling to Croatia.

I was really lucky and thankful that Riccardo had offered to host me at his place and the week before the race I stayed at beautiful Hvar island in the south of Croatia, training in perfect but tough conditions on hilly roads and in windy weather.

Few days before the race we traveled to Pula to get ready for the first ever Ironman 70.3 Croatia. The city was impressive with many historic sights and especially the more than 2000 year-old arena, which was once the venue of gladiator fights and built under Emperor Augustus (what a funny coincidence) and was going to be part of the race setting. We also had the chance to check out the swim course and part of the bike course.

I was used to race under cold and rainy conditions in Europe but it seemed that finally the curse was broken because we woke up to blue sky on race day. But it was a chilly morning and very windy compared to the days before. The start was at 10am and gave us plenty of time to get ready and head to swim start and T1. The bike was checked-in from the day before and according to the Ironman rules, we were not allowed to have anything except gels and shoes on the bike, it is the clean transition concept, so my set-up was done rather quickly as my helmet and shades were inside the transition bag that was hanging before the changing tent just at the entry from the swim to T1.

I did a short run warm-up and then put on my wetsuit and headed to the swim start. The start was in waves and according to estimated swim times. I had planned to line up in the 2nd wave but then Riccardo waved me to his coach, Dejan Patrčević, the fastest Croatian on the Ironman distance and race ambassador for Ironman 70.3 Pula, so in the end I started in the first wave, first line.

Because of the strong winds the ocean looked a little choppy and just minutes before the start we saw that one of the buoys went away. Everyone was a little confused as the start was announced in 30 seconds and then suddenly we all were sent off, so what to do? I just followed the fast guys. The swim was an one-lap triangle swim and the two main turning point buoys were still there, so we swam around them. It was really choppy, especially on the way back to the beach and having the sun light against us, didn’t help either, but we made it back and I was happy with the swim, although I knew that I had a lot of guys in front of me.

While running to T1 I grabbed my transition bag and headed to the changing tent where we had to get out off the wetsuit, put on the race belt and helmet and stowed the swim stuff like wetsuit and goggles. With helmet on I ran to my bike and out of T1.

I knew the first part of the bike course but the difference on race day was the strong head wind which unluckily was there on the whole course. It was just 1 loop at the 90km course and it was challenging not only because of the wind but also because of altitude, sharp corners and a railway crossing. But it was still fun and I felt good, and I was thankful for the sun.

In T2 we just had to put our bike on the next free space and again, as not allowed to leave anything at/around the bike except shoes, run to the transition bag that was hanging in front of the changing tent set up at the T2 exit. I grabbed the bag and ran to the tent to put on my shoes and leave my helmet in the bag.

Out on the run course it was sunny with almost no shade and we had to run 3 ½ loops through the historic city center. It was great! The aide stations were welled-equipped and it was also nice to have the personal assistance area where you were allowed to receive your personal drinks or food from a friend or supporter. I was happy having Anna handing me my drink every lap and taking pictures. I felt good in the run but had the feeling I was missing some speed and that the legs were still a little tired from the up- and downhills two weeks earlier at the Powerman.

Still I was very pleased with the race and extremely impressed with the finish line in the arena interior. It was great to be saluted by Roman soldiers and to feel like a gladiator just for a moment! After finishing and because of the smart swim start, I was not sure about the result but I was surprised that my finish time was shown as 4h01min which felt impossible and unreal.

Then after some time we heard the news that the swim times had been cancelled for all participants. Because of the buoys that had moved, the swim course had not been accurate and participants had been swimming different distances, especially the later waves had to face a much longer swim than the 1.9km (some swam 2.6km or more) which made the organizers take the decision to take out the swim times in order to have a fair competition. It felt strange but most people accepted the decision.

I was pleased to find out that I had finished 2nd in my AG and 11th overall. I don’t know if or how the inclusion of the swim time would have change the result but in the end, it was the decision of the organizer and at an inaugural race you just have to be prepared for some surprises!

Overall, I feel blessed to have been part of this race and I’m very grateful for the experience. Once again I want to thank all my sponsors for their support, especially UNILAB Active Health and a huge thank you also to my buddy Riccardo and Ivana for their friendship and kind hospitality!