Sunday, May 3, 2015

Ironman 70.3 Putrajaya Race Report

Ironman 70.3 Putrajaya: It has a reputation for being a hard one - brown fresh water for the swim, hilly roads for the ride, and a brutal, shade-less course for the run. Sounded perfect!

I had only ever done one triathlon, and it was the mini distance. I got first in my age group, but that's not much of an achievement - we were all beginners just seeing if we could do this revered trifecta of sports: Swim, bike, run.

I'm an experienced cyclist and an OK runner, but a weak and vague swimmer, with terrible technique and no real skill. I only learned to swim the crawl in October 2014, and had been practicing on and off, eventually working my way up to 2km. Really just building the confidence I could power through that segment. Everybody knows the bike and especially the run are where you have to be strong to do well in a tri. As long as I knew I could do these 1.9km of swimming, I didn't much care how fast I'd be. I had the ride and run to make up time.

Registration was very easy and clear on the official Ironman site, and post-registration communications were regular and reassuring (unlike the Seoul Marathon - see my previous post).

The big question was whether to drive or fly to Putrajaya, the government district outside Kuala Lumpur, incidentally, not far from the airport. Flying would be nice as it would be faster than driving the 350km, and would make the return trip home easy, when I'd likely be fairly tired. However, I wasn't thrilled with the idea of getting a bike bag or box and checking my bike. I'd have to take quite a few parts off and it might be a hassle. Finally, it would end up being pretty expensive paying for airfare for me, my wife, and two kids when we could just drive.

Driving would be good because I could just put the bike on the roof rack and not have to worry about any mechanical issues. Plus, if I took the Monday off (the day after the race) we could drive back a day later and I wouldn't have to worry about being too tired to drive.

Car loaded with my bike and my son's
We left Singapore on a Friday, 3 April (Good Friday), and had a nice drive up north, even passing a few others with tri bikes on their cars headed to the same race.

There are a number of good hotels in Putrajaya - we chose The Pullman, mainly because my friend and experienced Ironman Clarke Wan was staying there. It's about 10 years old and in decent condition. Some parts of it are well-worn and need help, but overall it was nice.

We did have a few problems, though:
  1. Check-in took more than an hour, despite us arriving late in the day (2:30 pm - you'd think the previous party would have checked out at Noon or so and the room would be ready).
  2. Our booking on indicated we had breakfast included. The reception told us otherwise.
  3. The air-con in the room was very weak.
  4. The phone in the room did not work.

...but the view from our room was nice!
I would not stay there again - there are others in the area such as the Shangri-La and Everly which would likely be better.

Saturday morning Clarke and I headed out to the race start area for an orientation swim. The water was very pleasant (albeit brown and murky). The swim was about 800m, and simulated the actual race in that we had to follow the buoys. This really helped me learn the system (white buoys marking the straight areas of the course; yellow the turns).

There I am admiring Clarke's graceful arm stroke

Into the warm pool of algae
Clarke gave me a lot of tips and pretty much showed me how it would be on Sunday. Guys on kayaks and jet skis patrolled the area, and platforms in the middle of the course were set up for tired swimmers. Observing these things, plus my easy finish of the 800m really made me feel confident for race day.

With the swim out of the way, and one less thing to stress about, it was time to collect my race pack. Collection was extremely fast and efficient. They had the usual race expo stuff where I bought a few extra gels for good measure, plus an Ironman bento box to hold the gels on my top tube.

Race pack collection with the future Ironman, Ezio

Bibs, timing chip, tattoo

That evening, Clarke and I headed over to the transition area to rack our bikes and set up for the next day's big race. We let some air out of our tires to prevent them from expanding in the sun and possibly popping.

Superman tatted me up

Early to bed was the next prudent step, as we had to be at the start line before dawn. Clarke and I agreed to meet early, and drive over in my car.

When we arrived, carrying bags of shoes, water, gel, Clarke's floor pump, and other necessary race stuff, there were quite a few people already there. We laid out our gear, pumped our tires, and waited.

The pros started first, showing impeccable form, swimming at an awesome pace. The way they sighted the course and just glided through the water was really something to admire. I waited anxiously, Clarke less-so, and we proceeded to the 45 min - 1 hour start bin. Of course Clarke is faster than that, but he was just being nice, keeping his anxious friend company.

These start pens were up to us to choose (meaning you could start in a faster one if you really wanted without proof that you could swim that fast - but you'd probably pay the price by getting run over and end up feeling slow).

I dove in, right behind Clarke. This would be the last I'd see of him until km 5 of the run.

As I swam, I involuntarily smiled, happy that I was doing this, and generally enjoying the experience. I knew I wasn't fast, and unlike other races (marathons) had no expectations. For once, I was truly and honestly just having fun, not competing.

I latched onto a guy, who was paddling at my awkward pace, but straighter. Not a bad strategy, assuming he knows where he is going. None of the swim was hard or tiring. Just slow, though I did finish in the middle of a huge crowd. I thought I'd be last!

Feeling great - don't get used to it

Out of the water, through an arch of showers on the incline up to the bikes, and to rack spot 662. Content with my swim, I pulled on my socks, shoes, helmet, race belt, and sun glasses. I trotted out to the start area, mounted the bike and clipped in.

The ride felt incredibly harsh - did I inflate the rear too hard? More than the normal 120psi I'm used to? Something was off. Oh well, time to hammer it. I yelled with excitement, "Yeah!!" and mashed down the road, lined with a few spectators.

There was a 180-degree U-turn a few hundred metres up ahead. I had heard (and seen) roadies who can't control their bikes and spill in these turns. I saw this in a duathlon. As a mountainbiker with decent technical skills, I don't have this problem, and am happy to take these turns fast. So I rounded it at a spirited pace, and what do you know? Rear wheel slid out and I almost low-sided.

In the meantime, the rear tire and tube totally slid off - a dramatic flat. I clipped out, flipped the bike, and started changing it. A race volunteer ran over with a CO2 cartridge, and helped me inflate it, after I had pretty much already pumped it up. It took about 9 minutes.

Turns out I had been riding with a flat rear tire from the beginning!

Bring the pain
With that solved, I continued on, actually looking forward to the two 45km laps around scenic Putrajaya. The course was hilly and hot, but well-paved, with no gravel or potholes. There were some fast downhills, slow uphills, and plenty of in-between. I'd hit up to 60 km/h on the downhills, usually screaming with enthusiasm, and generally trying to keep a happy and positive mood.

The water stops were very well set up, with plenty of volunteers handing out red bottles. Grab, drink, throw. The only thing we had to watch out for was the empty bottles - they could make for a very bad crash.

My goal was to do the whole thing in 3 hours flat, or an average of 30 km/h (no drafting allowed). I did almost exactly 30 km/h for the first 45km. But the sun and the hills took a lot out of me - it was really heating up and there was no shade. I finished the second a bit slower, but still behind my goal time. Moving time, according to my Garmin, was 3:05, 5 minutes off my goal, but actual time was 3:13, due to the flat tire. Not so great.

Having done a few duathlons, (but no brick training!!) I knew the hard part was about to hit me. But I had just done a great marathon in Seoul 3 weeks prior and was in excellent marathon race-ready running shape.

Ditch the bike. Chuck the helmet. Flip the race belt. Toss the bike shoes. Pull on the running shoes. Swig some water. Pop some Hammer Endurolytes. Sunscreen, visor, Garmin, go.

Here we go. Yeah my legs feel like bricks right now but I'll get into it, that'll go away. How do you know, you've never done any brick training? Whatever, I just ran a full marathon, this stuff is easy. It's four segments of 5km each. I scoff at 5km runs. 10km runs too. Who does runs that short? Nobody I know. My average training run is 18km. This is a training run. I can do this in 1:50, 2 hours max. Well, maybe 2:05. Hold on, my legs still feel funny. Actually this is pretty hard. Damn, it's hot. This sucks. Have I done one km yet? 700m? What?

That's pretty much what went through my head during the first kilometer. Confidence. Then some second-guessing. Then a stomach cramp. But I plodded on, at about 7 min/km. Slow but not hopeless. Soon enough I caught Clarke. We power-walked, and joked that it was easy. I needed more of his positive attitude.

I hung with him for a kilometer or two then tried to pick up the pace. Cramps came and went. Run. Jog. Walk. Run. Walk. Jog. Everybody was doing it, that was a consolation. The sun was relentless. No shade.

"There's a camera! Make it look like you're running!"

I caught people and joked that I was on my third lap, and that they'd have to do three as well. Some laughed. Others didn't. Either way, it kept me sane. Sane but in pain.

Despite my struggle, I enjoyed it. The drink stations were the best I've ever seen, better than those at the Seoul Marathon. Giant tubs full of ice and water, with huge plastic ladles to dump it over your head. I'd dump ice down my bib. Cold sponges. Isotonic drink. Jellybeans. Watermelon. Bananas. Coke. Friendly volunteers. Showers.

Another consolation was that hardly anybody was passing me. Some, but not many. This made me realize that it wasn't just me being uncharacteristically slow - everybody was suffering.

At one point, towards the end, and at the one and only shady drink station, I approached one of the volunteers, a guy in his mid-20s. I put a hand on each of his shoulders, music pumping in the background, looked him square in the eyes, and screamed the cheesiest thing I could think of, "MAKE IT RAIN, MO-FO!!" He laughed, and poured about a litre of frozen water over my head. Everybody cheered and I ran off.

2:43 is the worst ever half-marathon time I've done in my life, but it's the only one I've done after 1.9km of swimming and 90km of running.

Smiles can be deceptive

Help me
It's a waste of time smiling, who cares if I paid $70 for these stupid pictures
Upon crossing the finish line, they announced my name, and draped a frozen 70.3 towel over my shoulders (that was great) and gave me my medal. My family saw me finish, but they looked about as worn-out as I was - they had been sitting in the heat for a few hours.

Please, no comments about a full Ironman

I finished under 7 hours, in 6:58:50.

Swim: 53:58
Bike: 3:13:53 (Garmin read 3:05 but 9 minutes was spent changing a tube)
Run: 2:43:41

Sure it was hard, but it was supposed to be. Next time I'll train for it specifically instead of doing it off the back of my marathon training.

What I liked:

  1. Flawless organization
  2. Amazing drink stations
  3. Warm swim, with a rolling start (no boxing)
  4. Roads totally closed off to traffic
  5. Great atmosphere with excellent volunteers

What I didn't like:

  1. No shade (I got terribly sunburned, but that was my fault)
  2. That's all I can think of

The day I returned home, I registered for the Bintan 70.3.


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