Saturday, December 11, 2010

2010 Ironman 70.3 Asia Pacific Championship, Phuket, Thailand - Race Report

2010 Ironman 70.3 Asia Pacific Championship, Phuket, Thailand

The Night Before

By 5:30pm I had everything set for the race.  My bike was racked in transition and run / bike bags were stocked and checked in.  I had some minor mechanical issues to sort out with the bike during the day.  My stem cap was shredded but thanks to the on-site mechanics they were able to sort it out.  I also discovered my shifting was a bit off and I dropped a chain during a test ride but this was fine-tuned by the mechanics as well.  Perhaps stupidly, I swam two laps of the Lagoon swim leg (total 1.2K).  A day earlier I had already test-swam the sea leg (1.3K) and I didn't plan on doing any swimming the day prior to the race.  I changed the schedule at the last minute in order to swim from my hotel room (at one side of the lagoon) to meet JoggerJoel at the transition area (the other side of the lagoon).  JoggerJoel and I then swam back across the lagoon after the mechanics exhausted themselves on the extensive last minute repairs required for his little Cervelo P3.  I say little because...really..its sooo small and should see it!  It must be the smallest frame size Cervelo produces.

Bike bag: Giro helmet, Oakley Jawbones, O2 Creations Racebelt, 2,400mg Ibuprofin,
Run bag: Profile Design 4-bottle Fuel Belt (Nuun enhanced water, 2 chocolate Gus, 2 Cliff Shot Blocks), 2 bananas, Powerbar, TeamTBB visor, Asics Tarther (Japan Version) running shoes with LockLaces.

Note:  The above was in the bags the night before the race but I made some changes on race morning:  I took the helmet and glasses out of the race bag and set them on my bike's aero bars.  There was a rule against leaving anything on the ground in transition area so I wanted to keep my bike bag simple: swim gear in and race number out.  Also, I knew my run bag was heavily over-stocked but I wanted to have tons of options in case I was really hurting off the bike.

I went to the pre-race pasta dinner at the Laguna Beach Resort.  I was expecting a bit more hoopla but it turned out to be a fairly relaxed meal.  I suppose most of the athletes were trying to stay emotionally compressed.  Our table was mostly occupied by the JoggerJoel and McFee family entourages but we had an interesting guy (I think French?) next to us that was telling us horror stories of the race's bike leg.  Apparently he had ridden the route on a rented motor scooter and said that it was absolutely insane.  "In Europe we would make a tunnel, but here they make a crazy road going vertical over the top of the mountain!" The table became a bit quiet while JoggerJoel and I were thinking to ourselves, "Ummmm....I hope he is exaggerating..."

After 2 plates of pasta I was well full and headed back to the hotel room to get to bed early.  Gladly, I wasn't experiencing any pre-race jitters at all.  Somehow I had managed to keep myself in zen mode. Psychologically it was as if I had only planned a light jog the next day.  So far, this part of my race plan was falling perfectly in place.  I decided that rather than fill my evening with re-thinking every aspect race preparation I would be better off enjoying a full meal followed by a couple of beers and some laughs with the family (just like any other non-pre-race-day).  Whatever I lost in nutritional preparation I regained tenfold in mental framework and pure sleep.  I knew that sleeping so early was going to be a bit difficult as I was staying with my wife and 1 year 363 day old  daughter.  My daughter was definitely not ready for bed and was full of energy.  Thanks to the super support from my wife (aside from her comment that she noticed the yellow warning flag for jellyfish was raised at the beach) I was allowed to toss a pillow over my head and crash.  I woke up once in the middle of the night, checked the time on my phone...12:30am...okay good...zzzzz...back to sleep.

Race Morning

I woke up again at, what some might still refer to as the middle of the night, 3:50--just ten minutes before the alarm was set to go off.  I had to creep around the room like a ninja to avoid waking everyone else up.  I had two cups of nasty Nescafe instant coffee out on the patio in the dark.  Lesson learned:  (1) Bring my own good coffee to enjoy on race morning and (2) don't sit outside in the dark near a lagoon and expect not to get killed by mosquitoes.

The transition area was scheduled to open at 5am in order to allow athletes last minute access to their bikes and bags for final adjustments.  After a kiss on the forehead to wife and daughter I was out the door at 5 sharp for the 15 minute walk to transition.  The walk was perfect.  It gave me the chance to get a little blood flowing in my legs and enjoy the warm Thai morning air. I saw a few other athletes emerging from their rooms on the way out.  Greetings were usually exchanged in the form of a grunt responded to by a grunt...but there was one guy that came out the door yelling "wahooooooga!!!" to which i answered "ahh heheh..err..g'day" (guessing he had to be an Ozzie).  I was wearing my racing singlet, flip-flops and an old race t-shirt.  I also brought my iphone and headphones so I could listen to some moto music before the start.  Officially I will only admit listening to Metallica but anyone that knows me well might suspect I was rocking out to Korean pop (long story).  All but the singlet, swim cap and goggles would be ditched at a drop bag check-in just near the start.

I arrived at transition to find only about 50 others ahead of of me.  Body marking was quick as there was no queue.  I pumped my tires to 160 psi (tubeless) and did a quick test of mounting over my rear bottle cage since it appeared I might have trouble swinging my leg  high enough to clear it.  I haven't raced or trained with one of these before and despite the age-old wisdom of never trying something in a race for the first time, I decided a new type of bottle cage wouldn't be a big deal.  No worries though as the mount went smoothly.  I set the chain on the small ring and in a medium gear on the cassette.  I noticed a few bikes around me had the chain on the big ring which boggled me.  Lastly, I set my helmet and glasses on the bike and ran through a visualization of transition: jog to bike bag, put on race belt (with race number already affixed), put swim cap and goggles in bag, jog to bike, glasses on, helmet on, un-rack bike, jog to mount line.  Good. Nice and simple. I met JoggerJoel shortly thereafter in transition and helped him with his set-up.  Then we both went over to the ferry that would take us across the lagoon to the swim start at the ocean front.

At thirty minutes til race start I was still managing to keep my emotions in check and hang on to zen mode; however, this was becoming increasingly difficult as my rival JoggerJoel was quite the opposite.  I can only describe him as pumped up to the tenth power.  I had to manage the situation similar to the way one might handle an engaging conversation with a person struck with the flu.  In other words, "Its nice to be here in this moment with ya buddy but please don't get any of that shit on me."  For some, the whole get-pumped-up thing might work but I knew that, for me, a successful swim depended heavily upon my ability to stay cool.  As they say, "whatever floats your boat"..or in this case your body..from point A to B in the fastest way possible.  JoggerJoel and I jumped into the Andaman Sea for a short warm-up.  I swam an easy 50m or so and was more focused on getting a feel for the water than getting the blood flowing in my arms.  I looked out at the swim course and had a one-way conversation with it.  "So, we meet again bitch. I swam you day before yesterday and it was easy.  Today I'm gonna make you hurt."  Now, I know this sounds like the antithesis of zen but rewind that conversation and play it back slowly with a calm smile.  There, that's more like how it happened.  Looking back to the shore from the water I miraculously spotted my wife and daughter looking for me at the crowded start.  I scrambled out of the water and jogged up the steep sand slope to meet them.  I didn't expect that they would make it out of bed on time to be at the start so seeing them there was an awesome surprise.  We took a couple of photos and then it was time for the first wave (Pros and age 18 - 39 males) to line up for the start.  The announcer sounded very similar to Michael Buffer (famous boxing announcer that coined "Leeeeets get ready to ruuuuummmmmble). I let the music, cheers and hype go in one ear and out the other. I worked my way roughly toward the left side of the starting queue on the beach so that I could have access to my preferred swim line on the outside of the chaos.  At 6:59am the horn sounded and the pro athletes were off--less Raelert and Crowie (still curious why they REALLY no-showed).  From where I was standing in the pack of age-groupers I couldn't see them go or enter the water.  All I heard was Mr. Super Announcer say "The 2010 Ironman 70.3 Asia Pacific Championship is underway!"  For me, this translated to "Danny McFee you have 59 seconds until you are in the water swimming."  The horn sounded again for Wave 1 and we all sprinted for the water.

The Swim - Andaman Sea Leg (1.3K)

Splash.  I dived into the the sea among the crowd.  Since I swam that course earlier I knew that it was shallow for quite a good distance so I dolphin dived a few times through the chop and out into deeper water.  On each dive I noticed I was passing quite a number of others that were trying to swim their way through the shallow section.  For about 300 meters I had some minor struggle with other swimmers.  I was either passing over slower guys or being swam over by faster ones.  Eventually I found a decent pocket toward the outside of the main pack.  I tried a couple of times to draft closely behind the feet of guys in front of me but that never lasted for long since the few guys I tried to glue myself to were inconsistent in kicking and would switch from flutter kicks to scissor kicks to no kicks.  I knew I had to get past these ones quickly before they formed a wall in front of me.  After moving forward a bit in the pack I tried drafting from the side and this worked out much better.  It was challenging to synchronize my strokes with the ones I was drafting off of without expending too much energy but I finally found a decent rhythm and flowed through about 500 meters with minimal effort.

Near halfway through the sea portion of the swim the pack began to string out and I started to become more aware of my surroundings.  This is usually about the point in my swims where irrational concerns arise about anything and everything. I repeated the following a few times over in my head: smile, enjoy this, exhale under water, body rotation, relax, effortless swimming.  This did the trick and I was completely relaxed and on a good pace (by my standard).  I saw a couple of white jelly fish a few meters below but wasn't really concerned since the current didn't appear to be taking them anywhere anytime soon.  The salt water was starting to create a minor friction burn in my armpits.  All things considered I was feeling good and enjoying the swim.  After a kilometer of swimming I could feel the onset of fatigue.  I was on the final stretch back toward the beach with 300 meters to go and losing energy. Time to introduce my back-up mantra, "Just keep swimming dada!"  This is a modified line from the Nemo story book I read to my daughter at night.  In the book its actually Dory telling Nemo to "just keep swimming" so he can make the swim team (but in Nemo the movie its of course Dory telling Marlin to "just keep swimming" on his quest to find Nemo).  I should end the tangent now before it gets out of control.  The Nemo mantra made me smile and keep hacking away.  Before long my fingers brushed the sandy bottom and I was up on my feet running over the 100m sand hill toward the fresh water lagoon.  I spotted my wife and daughter again cheering from the side--a nice spirit-booster just before plunging into the green pond for another 600 meters of swimming.

The Swim - Freshwater Lagoon Leg (600m)

The first splash was refreshing as the cool freshwater quickly washed away the sea salt.  I took a few strokes but my hands were still touching the muddy bottom.  I decided to stand up and see how far I could jog through the water.  I managed to take a good ten steps with slimy mud oozing between my toes before being waist deep. I dove back in and returned to swimming.  The 100m jog from the sea combined with the jog in mud raised my heart rate a bit too high and my initial breathing was a mess.  I switched to a side-stroke for about 30 seconds in order to settle my breathing. 550m to go.  With reduced buoyancy in freshwater I was having trouble keeping a streamlined position.  I slightly increased my kick frequency and took longer gliding strokes to compensate but it was clear that I was going to deal with this "sinking" sensation for the duration of the lagoon leg.  As in the sea, I stayed the left side of the main pack.  I'm currently a left-side breather (I'm slowly working on bilateral breathing) so this made it tricky to stay on course.  I didn't want to lose time in excessive sighting so I tried to find another swimmer to keep on my left and trust that they were following a beeline to the finish.  I settled in next to a pink cap swimmer (the pink caps were Wave 2 that started 5 minutes after I did).  Since he caught up to me I figured he was trustworthy for taking care of sighting.  I figured wrong.  The sounds of splashing arms vanished and I had the sensation that pink cap and I were the only swimmers in the lagoon.  I quickly sighted and noted we were quite a bit off course and hence made a major direction correction.  Bye bye pink cap, keep swimming toward the trees if you like.  Back on track and 200m to the exit ramp.  I opened the throttle to spend whatever was left in my arms since they are less needed for the rest of the race.  After a short shuffle through slimy mud again I felt the carpeted ramp beneath me and started my jog into T1.

Swim time: 43:43
Average Pace: 2:18/100m


T1 went relatively according to plan.  I had a brief hangup trying to untie my bike bag to access my race belt and ditch my swim cap / goggles but quickly decided to rip the bag open instead.  I skipped the changing tent since I didn't require privacy to put on a race belt.  Everything else went just as visualized earlier.  Glasses on, helmet on, bike un-racked, go.

T1 Time: 2:16

Bike Leg (90K)

I felt good from go on the bike.  Mounting was a breeze and just as in my earlier ITU race I cruised ahead of a few other faster swimmers that were at a dead stop looking like they were trying to mount an elephant.  The first three kilometers vanished at a 1:49/K pace and then after a rough section of road I heard a bang behind me.  I looked back to see one of my rear water bottles, together with its cage, flying down the road. I shrugged it off and kept on pace figuring I had plenty of fluid remaining with a down tube bottle and one in the back.  As I rode through a few more kilometers it was clear that the roads were not in ideal condition and would require constant focus.  One lapse in attention could lead to a dropped wheel in a crack or an encounter with a deep pothole.  I then noticed a jingling sound as if something on the bike was loose.  I was reaching around shaking every component with in reach to see if I could identify the problem.  I cycled through the full range of gears to make sure it wasn't either of the derailleurs--no problem there.  WTF?  Was I being followed by an invisible rain deer?  My best guess was that it was somehow related to the lost bottle cage in the back but I couldn't reproduce the jingle by shaking the cage from side to side.  At 16K a minor speed bump caused my second rear bottle cage to dislodge and go flying. Aggh.  At this point I didn't care so much about the lost water since I was too pissed at the stupid design and/or my bike shop's installation of the cage.  I had to enjoy the sound of jingle bells for the rest of the ride.  I discovered only after the race that the sound was coming from two retainer nuts that came off of the bottle cages and fell into a small plastic pocket in what remained of that stupid Profile Design setup.  See it here.  At 17K I arrived at the ramped bridge to cross the highway.  I dismounted and made the short trek up and over to the other side.  I remember reading about these dismount areas before the race and thinking it was lame to insert such a thing in the middle of a bike race but in hindsight I have to admit that it wasn't too bad at all.  It gives everyone a chance to see how the legs are feeling while jogging--a sneak preview before the run of sorts.

With the bottle cage distraction behind me, finally I started to get into cycling mode.  The scenery was awesome.  We weaved through various villages, towns and farms and quite often there were supporters on the roadside cheering us on.  In many sections of the ride there were school classes in uniform who seemed to be competing with each other for the loudest cheer.  I'm sure after 5 hours of screaming they were voiceless but it was great for us riders.  For most of the first 40K I was down in the aero position and it was slowly taking its toll on my lower back. My local bike shop guy strongly advised against using a road bike fitted for a "tri-ish" body position.  He said he has seen too many lower back injuries resulting from this over the years and a TT bike should always be used for 70.3 and full Ironman races.  Hrrmmm....I was starting to think he wasn't lying to me. Come IM Singapore 70.3 I will definitely be on a P3 TT.  But then what about IM France?  How am I supposed to conquer Cote d'Azur on a TT bike?  Wait, am I on tangent again?  Sorry.

At 42K I started the first major climb of the course.  I knew from studying the elevation profile that it was short in duration so I had no intention to go easy.  I downshifted completely but stayed on the gas. To my surprise almost everyone was dismounting to walk their bikes up the climb.  I saw about 15 walkers while just myself and another guy stayed on the bike to gut out the ascent.  Next thing I knew I was at the top then flying down the backside.  The descents throughout the entire course were usually controlled yellow flag areas.  The rules required that we not exceed 20kph in these zones and no passing was allowed until the green "all clear" flag was waved.  The next 30 kilometers were rolling hills and I was up and down out of the aero drops accordingly.  My splits in this section were all over the place but looking at the numbers I was probably averaging high 1:50s.  Twice I was passed by mini pelatons.  I was surprised to see this as the organizers were quit firm on their anti-drafting regulations during the pre-race brief.  Apparently these people (I saw both men and women in these groups) didn't mind cheating and were happy to risk time in the penalty box if caught by a drafting marshal.  One of the women might have been from Hong Kong since as she cruised ahead of me she said, "good job Dragon!"  Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not a champion of justice here--particularly since anyone cycling in my vicinity was hours away from cash prize contention; however, personally I'd like to sleep at night knowing that the finisher medal on the mantle was earned fair and square.  At 65K we had the second and final dismounted bridge crossing which went just as smoothly as the first.

At 72K the start of the last two climbs began.  Same as before, everyone was walking.  As I was out of the saddle cranking away I started to wonder if maybe I was the stupid guy and these walkers knew that staying on the bike would destroy the legs for the coming half marathon.  The first of the final climbs was brief and I enjoyed a bit of downhill to bleed out lactic acid build-up.

 Then the final big climb began.  Holy shite.  Surprise surprise, everyone walked it.  I was getting a bit pissed as the walker's lolly gagging looked extremely tempting.  A quarter of the way up the climb I had to ask myself a hard question:  When the day is done and someone asks you, "did you walk the hills?" how do you want to answer?  My answer must have come at a primal subliminal level because immediately I felt as if every artery, vein and capillary in my body was injected with adrenaline.  Excuse my Chinese but this is what went through my mind:  "Fuck you little mountain and all your walking slaves, I am going to kill you and everything that breathes around you."  I started hammering away and it hurt like alcohol and razor blades.  The more it hurt the more I pushed.  As I neared the final meters before the summit a roadside comment from a dad with his two sons calmed my profane approach to the climb and brought a huge smile to my face (wherever you are, THANK YOU).  He said, "Now THAT is how its done boys!"  At that point I didn't care if my legs were trashed for the run.  I had conquered the famous Phuket climbs and now I could ease into a reasonable pace to the bike leg finish (avg 2:05/k).  During the final kilometers to the finish I remembered that JoggerJoel was still chasing me down.  I had no idea where he was but figured that he had to be close.  He is lighter, tougher and faster than I am cycling hills so I knew he must have made up some time lost to me on the swim.  I was looking forward to him catching me on the run and testing my ability to respond.  I took my feet out of the cycling shoes about 300m shy of the dismount line. I also came out of the saddle to stretch my lower back and calves as I spun toward the end.  Dismount went smoothly and I passed the bike over to a handler then started the jog through T2.

Bike Time: 3:07:42
Average Speed: 28.77kph


I was a bit clumsy in T2.  I grabbed my run bag from the rack and jogged into the changing room.  I think that the changing rooms are generally a waste of time and unnecessary.  For anyone racing this event in the future I would suggest (1) Do not tie your transition bags (not even a slipknot) and (2) pack only the bare minimum essentials in the bag so that you can grab them at the bag area instead of taking the entire bag into the tent.  This is a bit challenging because hanging around too long in the bag area could cause congestion for other runners.  Plan on grabbing what you need in a matter of seconds.  Once inside the changing tent I ripped open my run bag.  I set my bike helmet on the floor then put on my shoes, visor and fuel belt.  I stuffed the bike helmet bag in the bag and then tossed in a pile of other bags (I wasn't sure if that was where it was supposed to go but I wasn't going to stop and ask).  Finally, I was out the door and on the run.

T2 Time: 2:42

Run (21.3K - aka Half Marathon)

From the start I could tell that this was going to be a tough half marathon.  My "running legs" were there and I could keep them turning over but definitely not at my usual pace for a half.  I was hoping to average at least 5:30 kilometer splits.

Split 1: 5:02
Split 2: 5:10
Split 3: 5:21
Split 4: 5:32
Split 5: 5:45

See a pattern?  Yeah, I did also and immediately tried to correct it.

Split 6: 5:37
Split 7: 6:03

Oops.  My attempt to squeeze more out split 6 left me dry for 7.  I was feeling like I was running at the mercy of whatever my legs would give me.  At the 5K mark I saw JoggerJoel's wife and daughter at the side of the road.  I took the opportunity to ditch my fuel belt as the aid stations were frequent and well-stocked with water, sports drinks and gels.  As I ran by JoggerJoel's wife asked me, "Where is my husband!?" to which I could only reply with my arms in the air, "I don't know but he should be close!"  I also saw three other Dragons on the course--this proved to be helpful as we shouted out encouragement to one another at each pass.

At 8K I finally saw JoggerJoel on the other side of the road.  I estimated that he was about 3 kilometers behind me.  Not knowing at the time that he had a nasty spill on the bike, I shouted out "JoggerJoel is moving slow!" in order to egg him on to putting in a good fight.  Here's an attempt to lay out the crazy math I was trying to sort out while running the next kilometer. 21-8=13, 21-5=16, If J and D pace both = 6:00/K, then D has an 18 minute lead, if J increases speed to 5:20/K and D stays constant at 6:00/K then D should still cross the finish first by 2 minutes.  I'm not even sure this is correct but this exercise in stupidity took my mind off what my legs were doing for a few minutes.  The takeaway from the math exercise was that victory was within JoggerJoel's reach if he carefully increased his pace and I faltered.  12K to go and I had one focus: no stopping to walk, just keep running.  The halfway point was a turnaround right near the final stretch to the finish.  There was a sign directing finishers to the right and "2nd lappers" to the left.  Oddly enough I wasn't depressed by the sight of the finish line so close yet far away--somehow it motivated me. Keeping with my strange habit of speaking to race obstacles, I looked at the finish line arch and said, "See you in a little while, bastard."  Enter modified Nemo mantra:  "Just keep running dada!"  I smiled and continued slogging forward.  At 16K I saw JoggerJoel again at the exact same place I saw him on the first loop of the run course.  This meant he hadn't gained any ground over the last 10 kilometers and I had hung onto my 3K lead--Sweet!

5K to go.  I checked the total elapsed time and had another math moment.  I calculated that if I could pull out a 27 minute final 5K that I would be under 6 hours for the whole race.  I tried to pick up the pace for about 500 meters but my legs were not going to give me any more speed.  My thoughts of sub-6 quickly evaporated, until the final 2K.  I found myself in a comfortable stride with two other runners and one of them suddenly said, "If we pick it up a notch we're sub 6."  I decided to forget checking his idea against my watch.  We all started pushing harder toward the finish.  Somehow running in a pack let me squeeze out energy I didn't know was there.  I made the last turn into the final stretch and saw that the clock had already ticked past 6 hours. Doh!  I saw my wife and daughter standing on the outside of the barriers as I ran toward the line.  I turned to wave and just then the announcer yelled into the microphone, "Here comes Daniel Malcolm McFee from the USA!"  The next thing I know I'm holding the finish line tape above my head and someone is placing a medal around my neck.  three steps forward and someone else takes two ice clod sponges and drains them over my head.  Somewhere mixed with the cold water and sweat were probably a few tears of relief and joy.  I staggered forward a bit more while wiping the various liquids out of my eyes and then saw my wife and daughter again.  Although my daughter was only a day shy of two years old, judging by the expression on her face I am sure that she at least understood that her dada just did something crazy.  We linked up with JoggerJoel's wife and took a spot in the stands to watch JoggerJoel finish.  Outstanding race course.  Awesome experience.  I will definitely be back again next year to break 6 hours.

Run Time: 2:05:45

Final Overall Time: 6:02:08


  1. nice blog, good luck to your future races

  2. Awesome Report. Its almost Verbatim.
    I am from HK and doing this race in Dec for the first time. Really worried about the bike course. How would you recommend training in HK for it? As i have my bike in disco bay have been doing hill repeats.
    You said the 42km mark was a nasty hill, would you say the rest undulates or is it flatish?