Friday, December 16, 2011

2011 Ironman 70.3 Asia Pacific Championship - Race Report

For this report I'm going to jump straight in to the race coverage and leave out my usual efforts at providing peripheral detail.  You can find all that stuff in my report of the 2010 race.

The Day Before

For anyone not following my history of racing, I should mention that the 2010 Ironman 70.3 Asia Pacific Championship was my first long distance triathlon. Despite having completed the 2010 race as well as two other 70.3s (Singapore and Taiwan) and a full IM in between (France), I was just as nervous as the year before. I kept telling myself that it was irrational nervousness since (1) I know the course, (2) I've had a solid year of racing and (3) my preparatory training was very solid. Unfortunately, I think that "irrational nervousness," despite it's semblance to some chapter that one might expect to find in a sport psychology journal, doesn't exist. I was nervous thus there must be a cause. Two guys sitting at a bar having a beer. One guy asks the other, "Why do you think I was so nervous?" the other guy replies, "Dude, cuz you're a pussy.". I'm always fascinated by American use female genitalia as an adjective to describe weakness when in fact it is one of the most powerful things on earth. Seriously, ask yourself, which had more impact on the history of mankind, the vagina or the gun? To further the digression I'll add here that in Italian, a negative connotation of the female genitalia does not exist. Oddly I think the Italians understand that you don't mess around with the Figa. Anyway, so I was nervous and after some thought I considered nervousness to be a good thing. I think it mainly came from the fact that mentally I was prepared to race on the edge and push the limits of my ability. No matter what your preparation is, knowing that you are deeply committed to inflict considerable pain upon yourself will make you nervous.

Registration and check-in at transition were simple and straightforward. This event is extremely well organized so you can basically shut off the part of your brain that would normally worry about logistics and administration. I went for a short 30 minute run at a relaxed pace with a few sprints to wake up my legs and remind them that they were about to get tested. I also took a very short dip in the sea just to say hello to the liquid that I'd be fighting to push behind me the next day. I also spent quite a bit of time and money with the bike mechanics making sure that my machine was perfectly tuned.

After the official carbo loading pasta dinner, I was back in my hotel room at 7:30pm and in bed by 8. It took me at least an hour to fall asleep. Damn nerves.

Race Morning

At 4:00am my alarm went off and I went straight for coffee. As usual, no breakfast other than two cups of coffee. Emptied the bowels, downed a liter of Nuun enhanced water and then by 5:00 I was leaving my room for the short walk to transition.

As I was going through body marking they made an announcement on the loudspeakers that compression calf sleeves were not permitted during the swim.  No sense in trying to argue so I took my calf sleeves off and stuffed them into my run bag.  They are a pain to get on and I knew that most likely I would not take the time to fight that battle in T2 but figured I may as well toss them in the run bag in case after the bike I felt that my calves were on the verge of having cramping issues.

It had rained all night so my bike was drenched.  I came prepared with a rag to wipe it down.  Fortunately I didn't leave my shoes on the bike overnight and was happily snapping them in the pedals next to a bunch of bikes with soggy dripping shoes attached.  I cleaned up my bike, tested the gears and brakes, added my nutrition and fluids and then headed off to the swim start.

The Swim - Andaman Sea (1.3K)

After a brief 10 minute warm-up swim I joined the queue for  the start.  I had hoped to be closer to the front (not because I am fast but because this would allow me to get quicker access to my preferred line to the first buoy) but in the end I found myself stuck smack in the middle of all male competitors ages 18 to 39.  I worked my way to the left-most side and waited for the gun.  Having tried and failed going out hard and fast a month earlier at Ironman 70.3 Taiwan, I'd decided to stay smooth and consistent this time.  I planned to avoid the melee at the start by swimming to the outside of the pack and then move up the field once the breast strokers were dropped.

At the start I shuffled among the crowd down to the water and out toward the shallow breakers.  I didn't dolphin dive this time as it was fairly crowded and instead decided to stay on my feet and keep working toward finding an angle on some open swim space.  By about waist deep I dove in and quickly found a good rhythm without too much kicking and punching.

Halfway to the first turn buoy I came up for a 3-stroke sight and saw that I had plenty of room to veer toward the inside line without putting myself into chaos so I did just that.  Shortly after I was on a beeline for the buoy and feeling good.  There isn't much to report for the remainder of this swim leg.  I stayed on my best pace and had no issues with breathing or clashes with other swimmers.

I hit the shore and climbed out of the water feeling much more in control than the year before.  Instead of gasping for breath as I ran over the sand mound toward the lagoon I was running comfortably and looking forward to rinsing off the salt in the murky pond.

The Swim - Freshwater Lagoon (600m)

Learning my lesson last year, I stayed to the left side after entering the lagoon and was able to jog out into the water a very long way before diving in to swim.  As I was jogging I focused on taking deep breaths to get my heart rate and general composure under control.

Although I could definitely feel the difference in buoyancy, I was able to stay on form since, contrary to last year, I had done the bulk of my swim training in the pool.

As with the sea leg, there isn't much to report here other than to say I kept a straight line to the exit and managed to stay consistent in my strokes throughout the swim.

2011 Swim Time: 41:11
2010 Swim Time: 43:43


I wasted no time in transition since I had everything I needed already waiting for me on the bike.  I stopped by my bike bag on the rack briefly but only to toss in my swim cap and goggles and then was on my bike and pedaling shortly after.

2011 T1 Time: 2:29
2010 T1 Time: 2:16

Bike (90K)

I set out on the bike feeling weaker than expected.  My respiration and heart rate were in check but my legs felt tired.  Nevertheless, I knuckled down and worked into an average speed of 32kph for the first 20 kilometers.  I figured that I just needed to get the blood flowing in my legs again and then I'd feel better after a while.  Luckily I guessed right and was feeling much stronger after about 20 minutes.  For kilometers 21 to 40 I managed to pick up the pace to 35kph.

I managed the first short climb at the 42K mark without without any issue.  As before, a good percentage of the riders around me dismounted to walk their bikes up the hill.

Kilometers 41 to 60 were a notch slower at 28kph due to the rolling hills and the start of a torrential downpour.  I started to see numerous crashes along the course and had to be extremely conservative cornering in order to stay upright.  My plan was to embrace the rain and try to enjoy its cooling effect rather than let it ruin my race.  I took the corners and descents ridiculously slow but dug down deep on straight sections.  Despite my enhanced caution I think there was about 5 or six times where I was fractions of a second away from losing control of the bike.  I recall one long straight downhill that opened up into an exposed valley after emerging from the trees.  As soon as I left the protective cover of the treeline, I was getting blasted by heavy rain and cross-winds while going over to 50kph.  One particular gust of wind knocked me sideways and my counter-weight-shifting caused a bit of fishtailing with both the front and back wheels.  Once balanced out I jumped on the brakes and cut my speed in half while my heart rate practically doubled at the same time.

At 72K I reached the final climb.  I was feeling slightly beat up after being pummeled by rain and questioned whether I had the juice to power up the last and most difficult climb of the bike leg.  I debated with myself whether to walk the hill or not until the just a few meters before the base of the hill.  Call it ego I guess but I just didn't want to dismount and have to deal with myself the next day.  The road was essentially a waterfall.  It was a steady downhill stream of rainwater about 2cm deep.  I saw a couple of riders next to me lose traction  and go down.  I knew I had to focus.  Fortunately I had some experience climbing similarly steep but much longer climbs during typhoon storms in Hong Kong.  I knew that staying upright required extreme attention to detail.  Shifting the body weight too much over the front end reduced the rear wheel's traction and can result in spinning in place which then leads to toppling over sideways.  As I climbed I was carefully examining every inch of road in front of my and steering toward any pronounced granulation I could see.  The picture below is not of the Phuket climb (and only probably half as steep) but more or less illustrates what I'm talking about.  The green dots show the line I would take in order to avoid spinning out.

Once the final hill was behind me I cranked the speed back up to around 32kph and rode steadily on through to the finish.  It turns out that my average heart rate over 90K was only 128bpm (77% of max HR).

2011 Bike Time: 2:56:51
2010 Bike Time: 3:07:42


After passing off my bike to a volunteer I ran to the bag racks grabbed my run bag and ducked inside of the changing tent.  After dumping out all of my run gear a volunteer inside helped me stuff my bike helmet and shades back in the bag. Nice!  I greased my toes in Vaseline, put on my shoes, visor and run belt and then headed out to run.

2011 T2 Time: 2:17
2010 T2 Time: 2:42

Run (21.1K)

Throughout the day I never once hit the button on my watch that would show me cumulative time elapsed.  I figured that I would definitely beat last year's time and that was good enough for me.  So when it came down to the run, I only had one goal: sub 2 hours.  Previous 70.3 times: 2:05, 2:12, 2:22.  Best stand-alone half marathon time: 1:43.  I was super determined to have a solid run.

So what did I do?  I came out of transition running like a bat out of hell.  The odd part is that in my head I was keeping the pace nice and steady to save myself for the second 10K lap.  But after the first kilometer I realized I was running a sub-5 minute pace.  I think I said "whoa" out loud and dialed it down aiming for 5:30/k pace.  The next split was 5:08, then a 5:14, then 5:19.  Finally I managed to get on a 5:30 pace after 5K of running.  That first 5K felt too easy and despite knowing better I ended up running it too fast.

To make a long story short, I ran the first 10K in 55 minutes and the second in 1:01.  Tack on the final kilometer then damn, over 2 hours again.  I'm generally happy with my effort on the run since I think I pushed myself quite hard; however, I didn't at all run as smart as I should have.

2011 Run Time: 2:03:11
2010 Run Time: 2:05:45

2011 Overall Time: 5:45:56
2010 Overall Time: 6:02:08

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