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Rock/Creek Race Team member John O’Brien qualifies for Ironman 70.3 World Championship

As a triathlete, qualifying and racing in the Ironman 70.3 World championships is a dream. Only 1,700 athletes in the World qualify and its becoming increasing difficult to win a spot.

Last year I was fortunate and qualified along with my son Patrick, and fellow Rock/Creek team member John Wiygul. So as we planned our 2012 season, it was a priority to qualify again.

Wiygul and I raced 3 official ironman 70.3 events this year, and in St. Croix John placed 3rd in his age group and won a spot to the Championships. I did not have the same results and it’s been killing me that I didn’t qualify.

I searched the web and found the only Ironman event that still had open registration was in Calgary, Canada. It was a long way to travel on 2 weeks notice, but I signed up and made the trip, with the sole purpose of chasing the qualifying spot.

The course was incredible as I expected from the picture gallery. It was a point to point race and the swim was held in Ghost lake. I learned the name was derived from the fact that so many lives were lost in the icy waters. It was 58 degrees race morning and when the cannon went off I started my normal pace but quickly realized I couldn’t catch my breath. After 200 yards of hypoxic effort, I had to breaststroke for 50 yards to recover. After the initial shock, I settled in for a decent 1.2 mile swim.

The bike course claimed to be hilly and challenging, but since we train on the mountains around Chattanooga it did not seem too difficult. I had a great bike split, averaging approximately 22 mph for 59 miles. I knew I was was in the hunt for a world championship slot and took off on the run course.

In the previous three races, I was in a similar position off the bike but totally blew up on the run. However, each of those races were in the mid 90’s and Calgary was a cool 79 degrees.

The run course was incredible, but I felt like I was on a Rock/Creek trail race. There were 4 hills that were so steep I had to walk up that section and then check my speed as I screamed down the asphalt path.

It was an out and back run, and I saw 2 competitors at the turnaround not too far ahead of me. I caught them both with 3 miles to go and they got right behind me. I put in a surge and dropped one. The other guy stayed on my feet the next 2 1/2 miles.

With what I thought was a half mile to go, he sprinted past me and put about 10 yards on me. I thought he just made a mistake and went too early, and I’d put in a hard 1/4 mile effort and overtake him. We came around a corner and to my dismay the finish was 80 yards away.

I went in a full sprint and was closing fast, but I came up one step short and half a second from placing 3rd in the age group. A half second in a 5 hour race. I was devastated, but fortunately, the first two finishers had already qualified and I won one of the two spots to the World Championships.