Go with the roll of the dice and you could soon find yourself in kona, says Steve Trew


The roll-down can be the most rewarding part of an Ironman race (Illustration: Peter Greenwood)

Sometimes, even when you’ve planned perfectly, things just don’t go right. It’s a roll of the dice. Stuff happens, and you have to deal with it.

I’m not long back from Ford Ironman Cozumel, Mexico, and it would be fair to say that the weather was not quite what you’d expect from the brochures! So much so that the race organisers had to make a judgment call, quite rightly in my very humble opinion, about safety on the swim course.

A hard ocean swell, very strong winds and a deceptive current meant that the rectangular 3.8km route had to be changed to a one-way 3.1km swim along the coast.

And then the gods of weather and triathlon conspired. Race day dawned calm and flat. The current, which was expected to be no help to the swimmers, turned into an (almost) raging torrent. Result? The top swimmers emerged in just over half an hour rather than just under-50 minutes as anticipated. But the safety call had to be made and had to be made early.

Roll over? Or turn up?

The mind can be a funny old thing, and the mind can play wonderful tricks. When you hear that the swim course has been changed, all sorts of terrible thoughts occur: it’s too dangerous; I’ll lose time; I’ll struggle; I won’t make it. Or the positive thoughts: it’s shorter; how much time will I gain? Think how the top swimmers like Amanda Stevens and Rachel Joyce will have dealt with the course shortening on their strongest discipline. In short – it’s changed, deal with it! It’s your decision: turn up and attack or roll over and give up. Even with the loss of their advantage, there was no way that Rachel and Amanda would even contemplate rolling over, and they took first and second place at the race.

On a roll for the race roll-down

Even when the race is over, being on a roll still continues. For Hawaii Ironman qualification, there are a number of slots for each particular event, and the slots will be allocated to age groups depending on the number of athletes in each age group. So maybe just one slot say, for men in the 70-74 age group, and possibly seven or eight for men in the 35-39 age group. You have to be at the slot allocation meeting to take up your start in Kona, you have to pay there and then. No excuses, no way out, no lay down and roll over.

It goes something like this: “Women’s 30 to 34 age group, there are five slots available for Kona. First slot by right…” and then the athlete’s name.

“Yes!” Cue one very happy triathlete, lots of clapping, whooping, handshakes and kisses. Then second, third and to the last slot. But, and it really is a HUGE but, if the qualifying athlete isn’t there, or doesn’t want to accept the Kona start, then that place goes into the roll down.

And this is where it gets interesting. Slot allocation lasts for one hour. The names of any no-shows are called one final time, and then it’s roll-down time.

Let’s go back to our example of the women’s 30-34 age group. Let’s say that one athlete has decided not to accept their slot. The name of the sixth-placed athlete (effectively the first reserve) is called out and an even happier triathlete shouts “Yes!” and gratefully accepts. Or, if sixth place doesn’t want it, the offer rolls down to seventh, eighth, and so on until it’s claimed.

But still it isn’t over (no fat lady singing just yet). This is where it gets even more interesting. Let’s say that there is just one slot available for men’s 70-74 age group and the winner of that age group doesn’t want his Kona place. No worries, but he – the winner – is the only competitor in that age group. There is no roll down therefore in that age group, so the roll down then goes to the biggest age group in the same sex.

If the biggest age group in the men 35-39 years and seven slots have been allocated by right, the newly available 70-74 slot goes to them; so position number eight has a chance, and if he’s not there, then ninth and so on.

Complicated!? Just a little, but the real crunch comes when finishers near to possible roll down don’t turn up for their outside chance of a slot, and it can roll down to 14th, 15th or even lower. Moral of the story? Turn up and pray! Don’t roll over!

Check out more of Steve Trew’s triathlon blogs here