The results of Ironman 70.3 Ohio might suggest that Mike Vulanich crossed the finish line July 30 at Ohio Wesleyan University and was able to cool down and greet any well-wishers before the rest of the field arrived.
That was not the case, but everything else about the day exceeded Vulanich’s expectations for what he already considered a special race.
Vulanich, a Dublin native who now lives in San Francisco, repeated as champion, winning in 4 hours, 6 minutes, 8 seconds. The 2004 Watterson High School graduate was 15:24 faster than runner-up Alex Drozd, although Vulanich had little to no indication of exactly how well he was doing for most of the day.
Because of the staggered start, Vulanich was in one of the last groups to begin competition.
“Maybe 2,000 people went ahead of me,” he said. “Someone yelled at me with about a mile-and-a-half to go to let me know how I was doing, and before that I had no idea where I was in the race. …
“It is really special to come in here and defend (my championship). It truly felt like a home race.”
The Ironman 70.3 Ohio consisted of a 1.2-mile swim in Delaware Lake followed by a 56-mile bike course through Delaware and Marion counties and a 13.1-mile run that began and ended in Ohio Wesleyan’s Selby Stadium.
A total of 2,349 athletes participated, 441 more than last year, when the event was held in Ohio for the first time.
Vulanich completed his swim in 30:06 and the biking portion in 2:12.33 before sealing his win with a time of 1:19.47 in the run. Like last year, he was the event’s fastest runner.
“I am not sure if any of (those times) was a (personal record), but I was able to string together a really solid race,” said Vulanich, who credited the instruction of Los Angeles-based swimming coach Gerry Rodrigues and Matt Dixon, a triathlete based in San Francisco, as well as longtime mentor Meredith Kessler.
Kessler is a 1996 Columbus Academy graduate who has won several Ironman 70.3 and 140.6 events.
“Mike was pretty raw when I started working with him, but his athletic prowess from other sports carried over,” said Rodrigues, who has coached long-distance swimmers for 35 years and worked with Vulanich for about six weeks. “We didn’t need to work on his conditioning. He needed specific technical instruction from his mechanics and to learn how to become comfortable but fierce in open-water swimming, and he did a great job. He knew how to navigate through the maze. Mike made my job easy.”
Although Vulanich’s win automatically qualified him for the 2018 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa, he declined to participate. Thirty slots were available from Ironman 70.3 Ohio.
Vulanich did participate in this year’s world championship May 21 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and finished third in a personal-best 3:57:02. That was 12:40 faster than his previous best, set July 15, 2015, in the Ironman 70.3 in Muncie, Indiana, in which he placed second in his age group and third overall.
Vulanich got to spend three days at home after Ironman 70.3 Ohio before returning to San Francisco, where he works in marketing for Fitbit, which sells fitness trackers and other apparel.
“It was great to have the support of my parents and friends on race day,” Vulanich said. “I called them my ‘race Sherpas.’ They helped carry my stuff. They gave me my water bottles. That’s mental energy I don’t have to expend.
“It takes so much going right to put together a full day like that — good health, mechanical issues with your bike, conditioning. Everything just came together.”