The Ironman 70.3 Marbella is the race that starts the European season of the franchise. There is no lack of Ironman races throughout the year, but the Marbella event is the one that opens the competition round within the whole continent.
In spite of being only the second year that it is celebrated, Marbella has already earned a special place in the Ironman calendar. It stands out above all its cycling segment, with a positive slope of about 1,600m, and that this year because of the elections and the change of day of the race the circuit was slightly modified, losing the area with the hardest climbs (although also the most beautiful by far).
Although the race is totally flat, the difficulty of the bike segment makes it one of the toughest on the calendar, being one of the biggest attractions for this competition, both for professionals and amateurs.
Of course the location also helps. Marbella is a well known city, with a special charm especially for visitors from outside Spain.
Ironman 70.3 Marbella, the home race
Running at home is always special, because you are surrounded by your people, because you do it in places where you usually train, because you know all the locations perfectly and... why not say so, also because for a race that needs as much logistics as a medium or long distance triathlon it is infinitely more comfortable.
If you have run any race of this type you will agree with me that the amount of material you have to carry is sometimes overwhelming. And believe me when I tell you that doing it at home is infinitely more comfortable. You don't have to prepare a trip, or pack for several days, or take twice as much equipment for the race (just in case...), and of course nothing to train for the previous days.
However, it also has the negative side. You keep working until race day as if nothing happened, there are no new experiences to live or new places to enjoy. You lose that emotion of moving hundreds or thousands of kilometers just to enjoy a race in an unknown place, of finding new routes full of surprises. I was not going to find much news, in fact I trained the route quite a bit during the weeks before the race.
And not only in what was to be the cycling segment, but also in many of the other famous routes in the Marbella area such as the climb to Istan.
Returning to the race, what there is no discussion about is the logistics of everything that surrounds the race: from bib pickup, to preparing the box, through the briefing or the "pasta party". You know that in an Ironman race you spend the previous days going to and from the race area, and when you don't know the area or you are not close to it, it can be a headache for transportation, parking, etc.
However, I had it all worked out. With the nerve centre just 3 kilometres from home I could come and go as I pleased and with the greatest of ease. In fact I did my registration and bib collection on the same Thursday shortly after the opening on my way home. As I say, that's just one of the steps you have to take in a race of this kind, the next one is to attend the briefing for runners a couple of hours later.
And of course, the first (of many) visit to the shop and the Expo area to see what we are up to this time. Well, also to check if you are correctly registered in the race. You only know that you are participating when you see your name on the merchandising, it is more important than the bib itself.
Oh, and the posture photo! The one we won't forget!
The day before the race (Friday) was also going to be a full day, full of excursions to the Ironman area. In the morning I wanted to go to the beach and take a dip in the area where the swimming was going to take place, especially because this year I hadn't got my foot in the open water yet and it's always good to remember a little bit about what the subject is...
We also had to take advantage of doing a few meters with neoprene. After a winter of swimming pool the sensations are totally different. And in passing to acclimatize a little, they said that the water was going to be warm.
So I prepared the rucksack and went on my (mountain) bike. Another advantage of running at home, having a bike to move around without having to compete with the next day.
After "cooling off" on the beach, back home for lunch and a final check of the bike. Check that everything was in place, regulate the distance from the tire to the frame (after changing the wheels it rubbed from 300W ...), review brakes and gears ... because a while later I had to leave the box prepared with almost everything I would need the next day.
So on Friday afternoon again to the starting area of the Ironman (already 4 trips there and I have not yet started the race) to leave, this time already with the goat, to leave it hanging on the saddle. On my way I cross with Ivan Raña and overtaking him I wish him good luck for the next day (I think I jinxed him) and I will put all my stuff.
I hang up my bike and my two bags ready for T1 and T2 and I get ready to make some time until 19:00, time when the Pasta Party started, so it's time to go for a ride and see the atmosphere...
I go over where the swimming was going to take place, which that afternoon was like a swimming pool.
And that finish line we all wanted to reach the next day.
Attending the Pasta Party is more than just the food itself (which is pretty bad), it's about trying to eat early, and if you have the opportunity to share dinner with legends such as Ivan Raña or Alistair Brownlee, then it's more than worth it.
Once the press conference was over, it was time to go back. My transport to get there had been stored in the transition area, so to get home I had two options: by foot or by taxi. Initially I had shuffled off to do an activation shoot, but since I had already swum in the morning and cycled about 15 kilometres, I opted for the taxi option.
Six in the morning, the alarm clock rings and I'm up and about. There are days when it's hard to get up at that hour, and others when you just can't wait to walk out the door.
Breakfast and I finish preparing the hydration and nutrition things that had to be left in T1 before entering the water and we leave for Puerto Banús. I arrive around 7 a.m., quite right considering that we have to give the bike a last check-up, inflate the wheels and organize the transition bags; everything with the idea that there are a few minutes left to get into the water and acclimatize to the 15º temperature.
The sensations when getting into the water are the same as the day before. The neoprene helps a lot, but the impact of the water on the face makes it hurt for 3 or 4 minutes. The beach is already full of anxious green hats waiting for the departure time.
I look for my box for the swimming start and I get into the sub 35:00. I go with the idea of doing a quiet swim because fighting to reduce a minute and a half to the time in the water with what comes next on the bike does not seem the best decision.
The sun rises in Puerto Banús and it is time to take to the water. 1,900 metres of swimming, 90 kilometres of cycling and a half-marathon before lunch.
The start is in Rolling Start format, as it is being imposed in all Ironman competitions, except that this time we do not go out in groups of 6 with a predefined time between us. We go out of the box more or less spaced, but without forming crowds of any kind.
I start to swim calmly and without excessively uncomfortable groups. Some stick here and there (given and received), small tumults especially at the turn of the first buoy, but nothing out of the ordinary.
After making the turn, we began to swim towards the east, at dawn. Despite the enormous size of the Ironman buoys, navigation became very complicated as I was totally blinded by the sun when I looked ahead.
It also doesn't help that before entering the water I "cleaned" the goggles with my fingers full of sunscreen. But well, I trust the feet in front of me and hope they will carry me through.
The route is like an inverted L, the return being a little longer as the starting point of the swim is a few meters beyond the starting point. After the difficulty in the first moments looking for the correct buoys, we make the first buoy turn and, shortly after, another right turn.
The water was very calm, almost like a swimming pool. However, every now and then a slightly higher wave would arrive. It didn't shake too much, but it did become uncomfortable if it coincided with looking ahead to get my bearings.
I feel quite fluid in the swimming and I do a few overtakes, more than I am overtaken in turn. I have a feeling of having a good rhythm but I don't force it at all, I keep the idea of doing a relaxed swimming because the day was going to be very long.
Last turn and we go out towards the shore. I increase the pace of the kick to recover the feeling in my legs and I do the last meters "at the leap of the frog" because at that point I cover very little.
I get out of the water and see the clock at 33:43, much better than the time I was looking for. Official time of 34:03 where the chip reading zone was placed, and position 131 in my age group.
Very satisfied with the segment because I was not looking for that time at all, and for the few hours I spent in the pool is better than good. It will be that I have been a fish in another life.
After the good swim segment I was ready to start the day. I had done the course two or three times in the last weeks and I knew what to expect. I had a calculated time of 3h30m so as not to compromise the race on foot.
My race plan was very clear: I would be calm on the climbs without going over 260W and take advantage of the descents to make up time since I am a good driver and I know the circuit, but saving all my strength for the return, without a doubt the hardest part of the course.
The first kilometers I did feeling a little strange, still a little dizzy after swimming. I could not look down because I lost my balance a little and began to do eses with the bike. Despite being a fairly favorable straight I do not feel particularly fast, I estimate that did not exceed 33-35 km / h.
In other circumstances this would be the moment when I am overtaking quite a few cyclists but that day it wasn't happening. I wasn't too worried either, the climbs were going to start in a few minutes and there it was going to be a bleeding of positions (against me, of course).
I arrive in Marbella and make the turn in the ring road, small plate and stuck to the right side of the road. I am the furthest thing from a climber you can find, it's just not my terrain. I weigh a lot and that has to be paid for, so I just watch everyone overtake me without me overtaking anyone.
We leave Marbella and start the ascent of the port of Ojen. I see more than one and more than two climbing with too much joy... and I am convinced that many of them would pay for it later, from the point of return. Now the forces are at their maximum and the route and the slope invite to squeeze.
I crown the port and we arrive at the first refreshment post. I pick up water and it's time to start working because this is where I stand out. Between Ojen and the exit of Monda there is a descent that is not too steep, but very fast. So I get into gear and start to put in watts, overtaking all those who had overtaken me on the climb.
Many of them are stuck on the left side of the lane and force me to move to the opposite lane (cut to traffic) or to overtake on the right and risk a disqualification. So I have to pass the center line that is "engraved" on the ground so that if you are in a car it vibrates and you know you are getting into the oncoming lane.
That's a real torture with the bike, and in fact in one of those changes I lose the bottle of water that I had just picked up. Great, first refreshment and I already lose a bottle of water...
We got to Monda and it's still a very fast section, but now there's a little more slides. If there's one thing I learned from previous practice in that area it's that if I continue to squeeze like I did on the previous downhill I'm going to end up cooked, so I'm taking it relatively easy, speeding up in the uphill areas and letting go on the slight slopes.
Detour from the Coín exit to make the "extra" filler at 90km uphill and downhill and return to the main road with a descent. VERY fast (+80km/h) in which there is usually a strong side wind, so you have to be alert so as not to get a scare.
After the steep descent begins a slide area in which in the direction of Malaga is mainly downward, perfect for preparing for the return.
Oh, the lap...! This is undoubtedly the hardest part of the course, not only physically but also mentally. About 30km of almost constant climb, in straight lines, we have lowered this before, so the feeling of speed that is brought from the previous minutes is important.
After more than an hour of constant ascent I finally reach the Ojén pass. Next is a descent that is even faster than the one to Coín, but in this case it is a bit more technical. It is not a difficult descent but with constant curves. The end of the pass is long straights with 11-12% of positive elevation gain, so again I "fly low".
I brake in the area of the cemetery because although I know perfectly the curves, those coming from outside do not, and I do not want to scare when overtaking. It is not that 20 seconds means nothing for my race...
Back in Marbella all that remains is to make the return trip to Puerto Banus for the Golden Mile, completing the cycling segment in 3:13:55, 16 minutes below the time I had estimated to do so without too much pressure.
I enter T2 getting off the bike with a good feeling, so despite having made a good personal time on the bike (not so good overall compared to other riders, but I repeat that I am far from being a climber) I am in perfect condition for the race.
Running on foot
The hardest part of the race is over and "only" running is left. But it's totally flat, except for a small bridge, so I don't expect any surprises.
We leave the transition area and go to the area of the breakwater, where you can see that the air is getting quite thick. The entrance through Puerto Banús is magnificent because there is a lively area with a lot of people as well as a large number of supplies.
I start at a constant pace, 5:00min/km, with the intention of keeping it as much as possible during the race. I make the first refreshments without slowing down, but at the turning point closest to Marbella I make the first stop for the refreshments and recharge my strength calmly...
At the restart, I've already slowed down a bit, losing a few seconds per kilometre, but I'm still well composed.
I arrive at the finish line and walk to the refreshment area. It's already hard to hydrate and eat, I don't feel like it but I know I have to force it because I'm already feeling the lack of gas. My legs are already heavy and the rhythms I see on the clock are 5:20min/km.
Second pass through the breakwater, and it was time to return to Marbella for the second time. For the moment, despite the tiredness, the sensations are good. Without stomach problems which have always followed me in previous races, it seems that this time they will not bother me.
In the meantime I am enjoying the race, the family that has gone to cheer - and how good the spirits feel and the look that distracts you from the fatigue and tiredness for a few moments - and the fantastic atmosphere that is lived.
The atmosphere deserves a special mention... many people cheering like I have never seen in any other triathlon race. Many volunteers who are not only there to give you food and drink, but also to give you their encouragement and words of encouragement. In that sense I can only say a 10 for Marbella, its organization and its volunteers, the best I have seen in all the races of the Ironman circuit in which I have participated.
When I go through the Red Bull refreshment stand again, the truth is that I'm already very, very close to the top, but I'm controlling the time with 6 hours as a goal in mind. There are only 6 kilometers left and I'm running 5h20m so I have a lot of margin to get under 6 hours. It's very bad to get the thing to not make it.
From that point on, I start to manage the margin and the moments of stopping to walk are more frequent. I am fused but satisfied because I am on time.
I make the last stop to walk up the bridge to recompose myself and do the last stretch running (there is a lot of atmosphere and you can't be seen dragging ????).
This time I had to turn towards the finish line and walk the red carpet with the big M in the background, crossing it with a final time of 5:55:55. A time not too fast but, given the orography of the race and how little it fits my characteristics, I would have signed with my eyes closed before starting the race.
Ironman 70.3 Marbella, goal achieved
In this Marbella Ironman 70.3 I did not go with a set goal time (beyond getting under 6 hours), I was looking for more control of the race and be able to manage it in a positive way by finishing with good feelings.
Regardless of having finished with a relatively slow time, I can proudly say that I am very happy with the race. I swam much better than I thought, because without putting too much effort into the swimming segment I was close to my personal record in the distance.
The bike was not too bad. It's usually the segment where I "shine" the most, but on this course it's more about getting around damage than getting time. I avoided the temptation to push on the climbs but made good descents making up most of the lost ground. I was quite far from my usual times for the bike segment, but I defended it pretty well.
With the foot race segment I didn't finish so satisfied. I was looking to average 1:50 and I didn't get over 2 hours by a matter of seconds. I could have scratched a little more if I hadn't been satisfied with the 6 hour target.
However, I'm happy because I know I've given everything, reaching the finish line empty and having been able to manage the energy throughout the race. I haven't had any stomach problems beyond a couple of cramps, something that has always haunted me in the past.
Looking at the race time with some objectivity, I took only 5 minutes longer than my best race time in an Ironman medium (Vichy 2018), but here the competition has lasted 40 minutes longer.
I will stay with the positive (which has been a lot) and the good overall result. By final category position it will have been my worst race, but nevertheless I think it has been the most complete because of how it has developed and how I have managed it.
And with that... thanks for reading!