On 7th September 2014, Maltese couple Ben Psaila and Anna-Marie Watson took part in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships held in Mont Tremblant, Canada competing in the 35-39 Age Group categories. Psaila was 100th in his category out of over 220 qualifiers, while Anna-Marie was 26th out of over 110 qualifiers.
First held in 2006 in Florida, this championship race is the pinnacle of the Ironman 70.3 series of races – a triathlon race consisting of a 1.9km swim, 90km bike ride and 21.1km run. Over 2200 athletes aged from 18 to over 80, earned the right to compete in Canada this year by qualifying at one of over sixty Ironman 70.3 events around the world. Psaila had qualified for this race in Canberra, Australia in December 2013 while Watson was a relatively late qualifier at Luxembourg in June 2014.
They had not had the perfect preparation for the race as they currently live in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and had been lacking open water swimming practice, while cycling and running training was difficult in the heat of the summer, when they often saw temperatures of up to 49º Celsius while training. They had managed to get some respite with some trips back to Europe to take part in Ironman 70.3 races in Aix en Provence in May and then Luxembourg in June as well as the St. Patrick’s Aquathlon in Marsaxlokk at the end of June. 3rd and 5th place finishes for Watson in Aix en Provence and Luxembourg, and a 4th place finish for Psaila in Marsaxlokk gave them confidence that they were getting into shape for the big race in Canada.
They had planned to get to Mont Tremblant 4 days before the race to give them time to prepare and check out the race route as well as get over the jet lag caused by a 7 hour time difference. Unfortunately, Air France managed to lose Psaila’s bike box, which also contained his running trainers and wetsuit. When it hadn’t turned up 24 hours later, he approached the wetsuit and bike makers Quintana Roo who were able to provide him with a bike and wetsuit for the race. He also managed to buy a new set of running shoes from a local shop, although they were quite different to his normal shoes and would take some getting used to.
With large crowds watching on and a high quality pro field at the start line, the race got underway in spectacular fashion with a low level flypast of a Canadian Air Force fighter jet to signify the start. As expected, Psaila was the quicker of the two athletes representing Malta out of the water in a very respectable 27min 56sec placing him in the top 50 of his age group. While Watson did have a swim PB of 35min 6 secs, she was still only 81st in her category and would have a lot of work to do to move up the field.
Their fortunes on the bike went in different directions with Psaila losing considerable time against a lot of the other male athletes, which was unsurprising considering that he was riding on an unfamiliar bike. He was to eventually getting off the bike in 166th place with a bike split of 2hr34min39sec. Watson, on the other hand was flying through the ladies field, moving up over forty places to 39th with a bike split of 2hr41min29sec.
Watson continued her upward climb past the other female competitors on the run – a two lap course including a number of challenging hills. Setting off hard, she immediately started going past a number of the other female athletes, and although she did slow slightly over the final 5km of the run which included some of the hardest section of hills, she managed to finish the run in 1hr 37mins 17 secs, for a total time of 5:00:17. This put her in 26th place in the tough female 35-39 category, improving her position from last year’s Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas by 5 places.
Psaila’s race on the other hand had another major reversal of fortunes after the poor bike. Keen to make up lost time as he came out of transition two, Psaila immediately started to dominate the run.
Finishing the first 10.6km lap in just over 43mins, he was flying through the men’s field, and while he had a touch of cramp around the 16km mark brought on by the change in footfall caused by the new shoes, he was still able to finish the half-marathon run in a PB of 1:27:41. This very quick run had allowed him to re-pass 66 of those that had gone past him on the bike, finishing the race in 4hr37mins16sec - 540th overall out of over 2200 of the best male and female triathletes in the world.
Their next major commitments will be at the Dubai International Triathlon on 7 November 2014. This is another half-Iron distance event where Watson will certainly be looking for another podium finish and Psaila will be looking at trying to break the 4hr 30min barrier. This should set them up nicely for competing at the full-Iron distance race at Challenge Roth in 2015.
The official press release for the professionals category is available here: http://eu.ironman.com/triathlon/news/articles/2014/09/ironman-70.3-world-championship-recap.aspx#axzz3DqJdlxMu
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