Thursday, November 10, 2011

2011 Ironman 70.3 Taiwan - Race Report


This year was the second running of the Taiwan 70.3.  Before getting into the nuts and bolts of the the race, I'd like to highlight some key points: 

  • Race Organizers:  Taiwan Ironman Triathlon Co., Ltd. did a brilliant job of putting this race together.  Every detail was looked after and this resulted in a very smooth experience for the athletes.

  • The Venue:  Kenting, Taiwan.  I have been to Taipei more times than I can count on my fingers and toes and only now finally ventured to the south side of the island for this race. I seriously wish that I discovered this place earlier!  Its a gorgeous beach town with lots of nature, small local shops / restaurants and crystal clear sea water.  For anyone looking for a weekend getaway alternative don't forget southern Taiwan!  Two thumbs up.
  • The Locals:  Surreal is the only word I can think of to describe what it was like to experience such an abundance of genuine friendliness.  The Kenting locals will infect you with their smiles and warmth.  
I took a 9:00am flight out of Hong Kong on Friday morning and arrived in Kaohsiung just over an hour later.  From there I loaded my bike and bags in a van that I had arranged in advance and rode for an an hour and forty five minutes down to Kenting.  My hotel, Yoyo Resort B&B, was directly across from transition.  For anyone looking to do this race next year I highly recommend this hotel.  Its a tiny boutique spot but the rooms are spacious and clean and most importantly its super convenient on race morning. 
By the time I finished checking into the hotel it was about 12:30.  I had roughly 6 hours remaining to assemble my bike, journey 20 kilometers to registration at the official race hotel (YOHO Resort), check in my bike at transition and have a short trial swim.  It was a busy day but I managed to get it all done.
After a nice dinner near the beach I hung out for a while on my hotel's open rooftop and watched the buzz in transition as other athletes were making their final preparations.

At 9:30pm I switched off the lights and hit the sack.

Race Morning

4:00am my alarm went off and I headed straight to the kettle to boil water for coffee.  I took the coffee up to the rooftop to relax and watch the volunteers arriving to prepare transition for opening at 5:00.  Sitting there on the rooftop I started to think about how unprepared I was for this race.  Heavy work commitments in the month of October resulted in numerous missed training days.  I felt that my swim and bike were fairly sharp but I lacked decent long runs.  After a brief moaning session with myself I decided to start thinking positively about the day ahead.  I figured at T2 I'd remind myself to stay relaxed and aim for 5:30/k splits to put me under a 2 hour half marathon.  Relax, smile and get it done.

Photo by: Darryl Carey
At around 5:15 I grabbed my gear and headed over to transition to add  nutrition to the bike, make final checks and then have a warmup swim.  Just before 6:30 they called us out of the water to clear the way for the pros to start.  The pros were to go off at 6:30 and then over a thousand age groupers would start all at once after the pros completed their first lap of the course.  I decided to test myself this time and instead of lining up conservatively toward the outside, I stood right at the front with the most direct line to the buoy.  In order to avoid getting buried by other swimmers I would have to go relatively hard from the start and then ease into a more reasonable pace once the breastrokers were at least 50m behind me.  As I was going over this plan in my head I looked to my right and saw Chris McCormack "Macca" standing a few meters away. Awesome!  I didn't hear any buzz in advance that he would be racing and it was an nice surprise to see him on the start line and be in the same race as the two-time Kona champ.  If I would have paid more attention to twitter I see now that he did give some hints that he'd be there.

The gun goes off for the pros and we watch them swim off into the distance.  As expected, Macca is first to pop his head out of the water after the first lap.  He puts on a bit of a show by stopping, turning around and walking back toward the second place swimmer.  Just as I'm thinking WTF it all suddenly makes sense as he latches on to an incoming wave and body surfs most of the remaining distance to shore.  Once all the pros had come around it was time for the age group madness to begin.

Swim - 1.9K

I ran into the water trying to stay as close to the front as possible and once I was about knee deep I switched to dolphin diving until I was at a decent depth.  Unfortunately my plan didn't work out too well.  My swim speed just isn't fast enough yet to hold onto the front pack and it wasn't long until I stuck in a body blender.  I had the buoy rope line to my right shoulder  and bodies to the front, left, back, bottom and top.  There was so much chop that I wasn't getting any air and had to stop and tread water for a few seconds to regain control of myself.  I felt the onset of panic and knew that I had a short window to calm myself down before it destroyed any chance of having a decent swim.  I took a couple of deep breaths and looked for the nearest sliver of open space so I could ease back into swimming again.  Then it suddenly dawned on me that there was plenty of space to swim on the right side of the buoy line.  There was no regulation that required us to stay on the left.  I think most people stayed to the left simply because there was a rope and it had the feeling of being somewhat of a swim course barrier.  I swam under the rope, resurfaced and set off swimming practically alone in open water.  I didn't have to do any sighting at all since I had this rope next to my shoulder that would take me straight on a beeline to the buoy.  The only disadvantage to this approach was that I had nobody in front of me to draft behind.  The remainder of the swim was mostly uneventful.  I found a steady rhythm and just kept turning the arms over on through to the finish.  I should add that the visibility was amazing and allowed me to see other swimmers as far as 20 meters away.  The sea floor was nothing but white sand and there wasn't the slightest hint of marine life.  I couldn't help wonder if the nearby nuclear power plant had something to do with the absence of sea life.

Swim Time: 43:16 (new 70.3 PR)


After coming out of the water we had 500m to cover before reaching the bikes. I stripped my wetsuit down to my waist immediately after coming out of the sea and then removed it completely just after reaching the showers located half the distance to the bikes. We had to run up a couple sets of stairs as well but this wasn't too bad.

T1 Time: 3:43

Bike - 90K

The course consisted of two 45K laps. According to my internet research on the route I heard it was slightly hilly and apparently extremely windy. As a precaution, the race organizers banned the use of disc wheels. This wasn't a problem for me since I don't own a disc but the fact that they banned them made me worry a bit about my near-disc F9Rs. I was hoping not to have too much trouble with cross winds as this can lead to nasty high-speed crashes.

I jumped on the gas from the beginning and started passing people one after another. I had never ridden the course before so I set my effort level at my usual 100K pace and figured I would just adapt to the course dynamically as I discovered it. I'd go hard when I felt good and ease off a bit if I sensed my legs were in trouble. On the first lap I think I was slightly over ambitious and was getting hooked on passing others. In my mind I was hearing the click of a computer mouse moving me higher on the final result spreadsheet: tick, tick, tick, tick. It became addictive but at the same time harder to maintain. At around 43K I had a wake up call that put things in perspective. I heard police sirens behind me and glanced over my shoulder and saw Macca coming up behind me. For a fraction of a second I thought of picking up the pace to avoid getting passed but then my better judgement prevailed and I held my speed of 35kph (according to my Garmin) while he cruised by at what must have been around 43kph? The disgusting part was that he looked almost asleep at the wheel. Here I was dancing around threshold and he's dominating the race at apparent ease. It was nice to be able to experience first hand just HOW GOOD Macca is at his job.

I didn't have much trouble at all with the hills or wind on this course.  The hills definitely bit into my speed but they were mild gradients and easy to manage.  The wind was a little tricky on the down hills and I swerved just a bit adapting to a couple of gusts.  All in all I'd say it wasn't difficult to deal with.  In a post rate tweet, Macca exaggerates a tad by saying: "Nice race win here at Ironman70.3 Taiwan. If u think Hawaii is hot and windy, you should come here. Crazy hot & crazy windy. Glad to be done." 

On the second lap I had planned to ease off just a hair and ride a bit more conservatively in order to save juice in the legs for the run. But, something happened that changed my plans. I got pissed off. I started to see a ridiculous amount of drafting going on. I mean blatant in-your-face pace lines. Whenever I found one of these I tried initially to ignore them and keep my distance but then usually they became a mass in front of me that was causing me to slow my speed to maintain the legal gap. After a few seconds of slowing down my brain would start to boil and then I'd drop a gear or two and fly past the group weaklings and open a gap in front of them. Most of the time I never saw the group again but there was one occasion that really sent me over the top.  Just following a long downhill where I'd made up some major ground at 62kph I caught up to a pace line of about 8 riders.  Judging by their attire and bike selection I'd say that most of them were Taiwanese locals but sitting in the middle of the bunch was a western guy in Hong Kong kit (not sure which club or squad as I haven't seen this kit before).  Anyhow, long story short, I blew past them and opened up a massive gap and then dropped down to a steady pace.  I thought I'd never see them again but then about 10K later the group caught up to me and as the western guy passed he said, "Nice burst of speed mate" in a sarcastic tone.  Its like he was telling me that I was an idiot for expending that much energy since his team of cheating f*#%s would eventually catch me.  I reach down and wrapped my hand around the full water bottle on my down tube but then paused there for just enough time to come to my senses.  That guy is lucky I managed to control my road rage as he was damn close to being struck by my water bottle missile.

Soap Box Rant:  Seriously people.  Why intentionally draft in a non-draft-legal race?  If drafting is your thing then sign up for an ITU or other draft-legal race and have a blast.  I'm curious if these cheats also take the same approach to the swim and the run. Would you sneak on a pair of swim fins? Take a short cut to save a few Ks on the run?  Probably not right?  So why blatantly take the piss on the bike?  The answer is simple: because it is easy to get away with.  In the end it comes down to the character of the athlete.  If you aren't there to truly test yourself against the distance and simply want to get from point A to B by whatever means possible then I suppose cheating doesn't really matter to you.  If that's the case than I honestly cannot understand why you signed up for the race in the first place.  Do you want impress your friends with the t-shirt, finisher medal and photos?  Hmmmm I might be onto something here.  I think I should start organizing super ultra mega distance triathlons around the world. 10K swim, 500K bike and 80K run.  The catch is you don't actually have to swim bike or run more than a few meters.  In my events we will take your photo in the water, on the bike and on the run.  We will even dump buckets of sweat from real athletes over your head for effect.  Then we will give you a t-shirt and finisher medal than you can wear around town with pride.  Based on the number of cheats I've seen I think this idea would make me a fortune. Entry fees will be similar to WTC events in order to maintain socioeconomic prestige.  End rant.

After the drama was over I looked down and saw that I only had 20K left to ride so I eased up a bit and started to minimize fluid and nutrition intake so as to ensure a relatively empty gut at the start of the run.  Soon-after I was cruising into to transition with my feet out of the shoes and then jogging to rack my bike and get ready for the run.

Bike time: 2:44:19 (Average speed 32.86kph)


I was quite happy with this transition. Rack the bike, shoes on, helmet off, visor on, go.  No dilly-dally whatsoever.  I was anxious to see whether my lack of run training would be a problem or not.

T2 time: 2:43

Run - 21K

I set off running uphill.  What I didn't know at the time was that I would be running uphill pretty much non-stop for the next 8 kilometers.  My first two kilometers ticked off right on scheduled pace--even 5:30s. Then I started to feel hot and weak.  My next split was in the low 6s and then I ended up stuck there.  I was over heating and simply out of gas.  At 7K I passed a fellow Dragon that was having dizzy spells and unfortunately wasn't able to finish.  By the 8K aid station I resorted to taking walk breaks.  The aid stations appeared every two kilometers and I was grabbing every ice sponge I could get my hands on to cool myself down.

The excessive indulgence in sponges created another problem.  My shoes were completely soaked and by the halfway point I developed painful blisters on both feet.  Then somewhere in the the latter part of the half marathon I caught up to another Dragon that was also taking a walk break.  I made the pass but then turned and saw that he was trying to run again and so I slowed to let him catch up so we could run together.  The two of us kept each other going on through to the finish by walking the aid stations (and a couple hundred meters after each) and running as fast as we could in between.  I'm still quite irritated with my performance on the run that day.  In the end I suppose its reflective of my training to a degree but I also made some poor choices on the bike and with sponges on the run that also played a factor in my result.  Live and learn.  I have another 70.3 in Phuket coming up in less than a month so I intend to seek full run redemption!

Run time: 2:22:13

Overall Time: 5:56:14

I'll end by saying that even though I'm not happy with my performance, the experience was fantastic.  The course is challenging and scenic and if my schedule permits I will definitely be back in 2012 to have another crack at this.

    1 comment:

    1. Hi Danny,
      Great race reports, really enjoyed reading them. I raced Taiwan 70.3 in 2011 also and had a great time.
      L Lee