Wednesday, April 25, 2012

2012 Ironman 70.3 Singapore - Race Report

I am extremely late in getting this report done and posted because life, as of late, has gotten in the way.  I have quite a bit of interesting news to report in the blog posts to follow so stay tuned!

Last year I gave the race organizers for this event a bit of a hard time for a number of things that I found frustrating and poorly arranged.  You can find that report HERE.  I was really happy to see that this year they made several changes for the better.  Hats off to the organizers for their dedication to improving the entire race experience.

Improvements (2011 v. 2012):
  • 2011: Registration/Expo and Transition in different parts of town. (2012: Registration, Expo and Transition all in one location)
  • 2011:  Expo was jammed into two tiny rooms. (2012:  Bigger and better venue)
  • 2011:  Swim course design led to head-on collisions. (2012:  Course was altered to have safer isolation of the swim start and exit points.)
Changes to the Bike Course: 

From what I understand, the organizers worked very hard in negotiating with various local authorities to improve the bike course.  They were attentive to participant feedback about problems with narrow roads causing forced drafting, blocking and safety issues.  Accordingly they set out to open up the route to wider roads.  To a certain extent they accomplished this but also at the cost of including several sharp turns and a Jerry-rigged wood/carpet ramp crossing over a traffic island.
In my opinion the inclusion of sharp turns takes away from the terrain's natural propensity for speed.  Excluding climate, the elements of a bike course boil down to climbs, flats and technical difficulty.  As such, bike courses typically become categorized by their predominant element or as hybrid of sorts. So, to toss in a bunch of random sharp turns in a course that is begging to be left wide open seems like an unnecessary blemish on an otherwise perfect TT (minus the damn speed strips--more on that later). Alternatively, they could veer away from the flat and lean toward the technical. This would make for a fun ride twisting and turning through downtown Singapore streets. I doubt this could ever happen though since local authorities would probably not grant permission for the road blockage needed. My gut tells me the organizers want to make this flat, fast and open but are up against a nightmare of red tape. Anyhow, if they at least replicate their improvement efforts over the last year, you can expect one hell of an amazing race in 2013.

The Day Before

My alarm went off at 4am and I woke up and ran through a replication of what I would do for race morning.  After a couple of coffees and a visit to the facilities I was out the door for a short run.  I ran for 35 minutes and included 3 x 5 second sprint efforts to get the fast twitch muscle fibers firing and ready for racing speed.

Then I took the bike out for a very relaxed slow 1 hour spin.  My aim was to make sure that my machine was mechanically in order and all of my gearing was smooth.

After a quick shower I rode over to registration and bike check-in.  This year the process was super simple since they had consolidated everything in one location.  In about 45 minutes I had registered and set up my bike in transition for the night.  I decided not to leave anything other than my bike in transition overnight and I would deal with setting up hydration, nutrition, helmet, run shoes, etc., in the morning. 

Then I went out to the sea for a very short 10 minute swim with the intention of just getting a feel for the water's temperature and salinity.

I walked back to the hotel and spent about an hour setting up everything I would need for the race so that in the morning I would not have to reply at all on my brain.  I walked through the morning process at least three times.  Wake up, make coffee, use bathroom, have another coffee, shoes on, grab pre-packed bag, leave room.  As I was going through this routine I heard a loud crack of thunder.  I looked out the window just as the black could filled sky opened up a torrential downpour--great. 

I had an unusually difficult time in getting to sleep the night before the race.  Finally at around 10pm I managed to pass out.  This would give me a total of 6 hours sleep before the race which was definitely not ideal but, at the same time,  was more than I tend to get on any given training day.

Race Morning

At 4am I was up and ready to go.

Physical condition:  My leg muscles felt tighter than usual.  My hamstrings were felt as tight as piano strings.  I tried to do a bit of stretching but it didn't seem to help much.  I also had a strange niggle in my right elbow.  It felt like what I would imagine arthritis feels like.  I tried to just ignore it telling myself that this was just pre-race jitters manifesting itself as hypochondria. 

I took my usual 2 cups of coffee but my GI system was not responding as usual.  I forced out what I could but this left me wondering if somewhere on the bike or run I would find myself in serious trouble.

Despite my trial runs of race morning the night before, I felt completely scatter-brained.  After leaving the hotel room I decided to go back (twice) to check if I had forgotten anything.

Finally I was on the way to the transition area with a 4 kilometer walk ahead of me.  I had my ear buds in listening to music and felt relaxed yet still scatter-brained.  On the walk over I remember seeing camping tents set up all over the beach.  At one site I saw  guy roasting hot dogs on the grill while a group of toddlers were playing in sand--in the dark.  Call me crazy but shouldn't they have be asleep?

I arrived at transition and went straight to body marking.  That was over and done with in a flash and then I headed over to slowly set up everything in transition:

-added a water bottle (with Nuun enhanced water) to my XLab cage on the aero bars.
-added a water bottle (with Nuun enhanced water) to my down tube.
-added gels/salt tablets to top-tube E-pack
-set helmet, shades and race belt on the bike
-Shoes, Vaseline, Spibelt with gels/salt tablets on the ground next to my bike.
-re-checked gears, brakes, quick-release levers, etc.
-dried off the entire bike with a rag and re-oiled the chain.
-pumped the tires up to 140psi (broke my speed chuck in the process).

With the bike all set I then dropped off my street wear bag at the collection tent and headed down to the water for a warmup swim.  With the blood flowing in my arms now I came back to shore and ran into JoggerJoel.  As we stood there chatting on the beach, I was taken off guard by a sudden "pop" sound.  My goggles, which were up on my forehead, busted at the nose bridge.  Time check: 15 minutes until my wave was scheduled to start.  I ran over to the exhibition tent but noticed that they had not opened yet.  I waved down one of the nearby staff and he was gracious enough to pull a pair of Barracuda goggles off the rack for me.  He took down my race number and I promised to pay for the goggles after finishing (which I did).  I told the guy he was my hero and then rushed back to the water to test out the new goggles.  Aree bhaiyaa aal izz well!, Aree chachu aal izz well!, Aree bhaiyaa aal izz well!!!

The goggles seemed to work well so I made my way to queue up for the swim start.  I decided to put myself 3/4 of the way to the outside and roughly halfway between the front and back of the crowd.  The idea was to be ahead of the breastrokers that hopefully congregated toward the back and just enough to the outside to avoid the melee at the start but still have a reasonable line to the first turn.

Swim - Singapore Straight (1,900m)

 The swim start was much less chaotic than the year before.  Other than some minor pushing and shoving for position, it wasn't much of a washing machine and I was able to get quickly into a decent rhythm.  At the first turn I crashed into a pile of flailing bodies.  I had to fight quite hard to get beyond the mess and when I finally came through my heart-rate was skyrocketing.  I knew that If I didn't find a way calm down quickly, I'd end up in a panic and have to break from the freestyle stroke.  In order to stop the snowball effect of panic I decided on taking exactly 10 long over-gliding strokes.  Doing so reduced my speed considerably and I was passed by several others but in the end it paid off.  Shortly after I was back in control and starting to move my way up through the field.

For the first lap I tried to keep the pace relaxed.  The plan was to increase effort on the final lap and finish strong.  Unfortunately, things started to get increasingly congested the further I got into the swim.  The compact swim course contains 8 turns and not a single one of them went smoothly.  Also, I was not able to find a decent set of feet to draft behind or clear stretch of water to swim solo for more than a minute or two.  In short, it was a crowded swim throughout.  I spent much more time concentrating on weaving through the crowd than about swim technique.

Somewhere in the middle of the second lap I took a quick look around to note the color of the swim caps around me.  I was happy to discover that I was surrounded by swimmers that started 5 minutes before me.  Granted, these were "one and done" athletes but nevertheless it helped to boost my spirits a bit. I also saw a couple of swim caps from the wave after mine reminding me that I'm no Phelps.

Exiting the water after the final lap I glanced at my watch and saw 48 minutes.  Not great but not a disaster either.  I ran strong into T1 ready to get to work on the bike.

Swim Time: 48:53
Last year: 53:09


As I ran into T1 I had a hell of a time getting my swim skin off.  The BlueSeventy zipper has a self locking mechanism and it usually unzips very easily--usually.  After 10 seconds of tugging and yanking I decided to just open the zipper by brute force.  This was a painful decision to make having shelled out USD$250 for the suit.  I guessed that I had ripped/ruined it in the removal process but was happy to discover after the race that it was still in one piece.

The rest of transition was quick and smooth. Helmet on, glasses on, race belt on, un-rack bike, go.

T1 Time: 2:28
Last Year: 3:52

Bike (90K)

I launched into the bike aggressively ready to get to work on my target of holding 36Kph.  My legs weren't exactly feeling great but I knew they would feel better after warming up for a few kilometers.  On the second kilometer, the wind visor on my helmet blew off violently in the wind.  Agggh!  This was a minor event but I couldn't help but to be surprised by the growing list of small problems I was encountering.  If I had taken 2 seconds to check and tighten the fastening screws on the visor before the race this wouldn't have happened.  It was turning out to be a day of rookie mistakes--sad considering I'm not really a rookie at this point.

I averaged 33.10Kph over the first 30K lap.  Although this was under my target speed I was feeling good and guessed that I could pick it up a bit over the next 2 laps.

Despite my optimism after the first lap, I started to feel awkward in the saddle.  I had a bike fit done 3 weeks before the race but due to a business trip only had a few training rides in the new position. Once again: rookie mistake.  As I approached the turn around to complete the second lap, I heard a "pssssshhhhhh" sound.  I was riding in between two concrete road dividers and sounds from the cyclists in front and behind were echoing all over.  I looked down at my wheels and everything seemed to be in order.  At the sharp u-turn, I noticed that my front wheel was not hugging the road well.  Now, here is where I am impressed by my own stupidity.  Any nimwit could figure out that pssssshhhhhh + loss of traction on a turn = flat tire.  My overage speed on the second lap was 31.1Kph.

I simply didn't want to admit the possibility to myself (probably because I wasn't carrying a spare tire).  So here I was facing another 30 kilometers of cycling with a completely flat front tire.  My efforts to ignore the problem became impossible when I reached the series of speed strips on the road adjacent to the airport.  These are not gentle rolling speed bumps.  These little buggers are 3-4cm high and come in rows of 5.  I can't describe in words how horrible the sound of my all-carbon front rim cracking against these strips was.  I tried my best to keep my speed up but no matter what gear I went to it was clear that my legs were having to work much harder to ride with a flat.  At the turn around halfway through the final lap I pulled into a Shimano bike aid station and asked to have my front tire pumped up.  I was in and out in less than a minute and prayed that the air would last until the finish line.  No dice.  After a few minutes my tire was completely flat again.  Pissed off and feeling stupid for not carrying a spare tire, I struggled on through to the finish.  Enter the next rookie mistake.  I realized that for the last hour my mind had been completely wrapped around the flat tire and I had completely abandoned my nutrition plan. This left me under-fueled and dehydrated going into the run.  On the final lap I averaged 28.72Kph.  That's not a bad speed for cycling on a flat but it came at a cost which I would soon discover on the run.

Bike Time: 2:52:30
Last Year: 2:33:34


Transition was quick and to the point.  I took a little extra time than usual to smear some Vaseline on my feet in order to avoid the blisters that I experienced at 70.3 Taiwan.

T2 Time: 03:08
Last Year: 02:13

Run (21.1K)

I set off running aiming at a 5:15/k pace.  Although my first two kilometers were close to target pace,I knew that something didn't feel right.  Then suddenly it was if I was slammed by a wave of exhaustion bringing me to a walk.  I've never had this happen so quickly in any endurance race.  I've faced fatigue, exhaustion and pain but they typically come on gradually which gives me time to think through it and overcome the desire to slow down.  But this time it came in a rush without warning as if something flipped a switch controlling my brain and body: flick-power off.

After walking the 3rd kilometer feeling sorry for myself, I finally hashed together a plan to get me to the finish line.  I settled on running 500m intervals over the remaining 18 kilometers.  Run 500, walk 500, repeat.  This was a miserable way to finish a race but I figured it was better than quitting or walking the entire distance.

Eventually I glumly came across the finish line ending a crap day of racing.  I can only point the finger of blame at myself though since the course and conditions were great.  Anyhow, live and learn, onwards and upwards.

Run time: 2:41:05
Last Year: 2:12:36

Total Race Time: 6:28:05
Last Year: 5:45:24

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