Friday, September 11, 2015

IRONMAN 70.3 Bintan Race Report

IRONMAN 70.3 Bintan Race Report - 2015

Racing is addictive. For me, it started with mountain biking, progressed to road bikes, then running, then swimming, and finally triathlon. And in April 2015, I did the IRONMAN 70.3 Putrajaya in Malaysia, and had a great time.

Putrajaya was hot off the heels of 16 weeks of marathon training, and the run being the most important part of the triathlon, I figured I'd be in good shape to finish strong, despite my lack of training for the swim and cycle (I was wrong).

So the day after Putrajaya, upon arriving home in Singapore, I signed up for Bintan, which was to happen just 5 months later, in end-August. Except this one was going to be different: I would find a proper 70.3 training plan, and follow it carefully, with specificity in mind:

Specificity: The principle of training that states that sports training should be relevant and appropriate to the sport for which the individual is training in order to produce a training effect. Source
So, in other words, I had better train by swimming, biking, and running to get better, faster, and stronger in each. I did quite a bit of research and put together a plan - that's a separate story.

The IRONMAN 70.3 Bintan website promised happy, cheering crowds. Would this be accurate?
photo credit
Fast forward 22 August, the day before the race. I had, under my belt, a good 11 weeks of swim-bike-run training, including six swim lessons from a former Singapore Navy diver. He's completed full IRONMAN races, plenty of shorter triathlons, has a US Navy SEAL certification of some sort, and plenty of other great swimming and sports credentials.

In addition to being a faster and more efficient swimmer, he had me do drills for sighting, taught me how to defend myself if someone swam on top of me, gave me exercises to teach me how to rest and breathe yet keep moving, and many other skills.

In addition to the swimming progress, I had actually chosen to train on the bike this time, and did many short rides (25km) with sprint intervals in them. My group rides were perhaps best for my fitness, as it's all one big race anyway, and they are longer (50-70km). Plus I did a few long rides, like 110+km round-the-island sessions.

For the running, the sport I'm most comfortable with, I just did a lot of 10ks in the morning (boring) and some longer runs on the weekend, but nothing much more than 21k.

In addition, I completed a few races (Pokari 10k and Singapore International Triathlon) which are good for speedwork and maybe most important, the experience of competing, especially the technicalities of triathlon.

Armed with this basic training, I went into the race with my normal attitude - a mix of focused seriousness and enthusiastic 'just-have-fun'-ness. I had a goal time which was based off previous races and paces, and adjusted to the progress I thought I could attain:

I had hoped to shave more than 45 minutes off my time - somehow I cut 1:22:29!

I went to Bintan with my wife and two kids, and we stayed at Nirwana - a pretty good place for families, as it has a nice big pool and is right on the beach.

Our room's balcony
The night before, I signed in, picked up my race pack, and racked my bike.

Check out all the nationalities racing
Racked and ready

That night, I had a hard time sleeping, as my mind was racing, thinking of paces, times, strategies, and really just being overly concerned with the next day. I woke up with no alarm.

After a quick breakfast downstairs, which opened at 4am, I boarded the bus and chatted with others who were equally anxious. Time flew by and soon enough I was at my bike pumping the tires, setting up my transition, and getting into the right state of mind.

After a test swim before the start (I'm on the far left)
I went for a quick swim to check the water - even taste it and smell it (advice from my coach) - and generally familiarize myself with the sand, beach, current (or lack-of), temperature and general surroundings.

Sighting and Fighting

Before I knew it, the horn blew and the pros were off! My group was next, just five minutes behind the pros. We started 100m out, as the water is so shallow, at that point it was only waist-deep. I was planning to have to punch my way through the aggression of the front-of-the-beach age groupers, probably receiving a few elbows and heels, all part of the game. But no, everybody was relaxed and spread out, better behaved and paced that the short OD tris most of us are used to.

And once we got going, it was great. We could see the bottom, which was initially just sand, but became colored with coral and the occasional small fish. It didn't feel so much like a race.

The swim, from Strava
Sighting has always been a challenge for me, and I used the bottom of the sea for that, much like you might do with swim lanes in a pool. I'm pretty sure this resulted in a straighter-than-normal swim for me.

The swim was thoroughly enjoyable - no punching, fighting, or excessive splashing slowing anybody down, and ended with us running in knee-deep water for 70-80m.

Googles and cap shed, I made a b-line to my bike. Socks, cycling shoes, race belt, helmet. Garmin 910 stop. Garmin 705 start. Jog to Bike Out. Ride.

See my swim on Strava here.

Aero and Narrow

I was hot on the heels of an Australian guy (the bibs have flags on them) on a blue Giant tri bike with a rear disc wheel, listening to the WOOSH WOOSH of his mashing echo from the hub to the tire, sounding like ripping canvas. A good mark to follow, I thought.

We changed places for the next 10km or so, until somehow we separated, and I caught up to a French woman. She and I changed places too, for a good half hour. We had some small-talk, as I tried to speak to anybody who would listen.

"We went 62 km/h on that downhill only to have to do 6.2 km/h on this uphill!" I exclaimed to another Aussie.

"Yeah mate, makes no sense!" he answered, spinning in low gear.

I spoke to an Italian, a South African, a Japanese, and some Singaporeans. Somehow it reduces the competitive tension and just makes the race more fun. It didn't feel like anybody was passing me, and it was kind of nice to pass one guy with a full IRONMAN tattoo on his calf.

I tried to keep in the aero position as much as possible, and after having had a proper bike fit, I felt no neck or back pain or discomfort anywhere. I tried to keep spinning at all times, never coasting.

The bike loop
Over rolling hills, through villages, into some long straights, the road continued. I was amazed I could maintain such a good speed, even sustaining 41-42 km/h for 10-15 minutes alone on the straights, no drafting. Was it training or just pure determination? I knew I didn't want my average speed to dip below 30, or I'd end up with a 3-hour-plus bike time. 3:05 was my written goal but I was really shooting for sub-3.

None of the ride was ever boring or even very hard. The water stops, maybe about 20km apart, were just right. I'd save a bottle or two by stuffing it down my tri suit front, and toss it out to the village kids when I saw them. Eventually, they were all begging for one.

Finally, at about km 75 I started feeling a bit tired, but only very slightly. I was pleasantly surprised that I was still feeling so good, and started getting excited for the run. It was about this point I caught up to both the French woman and the Australian guy on the blue Giant, content to pass them both.

I pulled in with a smile on my face, glad that I beat 3 hours. The Garmin read 2:46:47, a huge improvement from my last 70.3.

See my ride on Strava here

Pace your Race, don't Race your Pace

Here comes the hard part: Switching from the ride to the run. That's what brick training is for. The moment I got out there, a pro passed me, likely on his second lap. He was moving - he had to be doing sub-4 min km splits.

Forget him, I had to pace my race, not race against him or my pace. I was shooting for a 2:15:00 - not fast for me by any means, but if my Putrajaya time was anything to go by, this would be a 30 minute improvement.

There was a guy standing on the side of the road - he looked American - and he looked very strong and fit, with a skinny but muscular runner's body. He was wearing running shorts and shoes, too.

"Hey, take my bib!" I yelled. He flinched towards me, eager to help someone he thought was in real need.

"Run this for me! You look fast!" I continued. He laughed, probably happy to hear such a compliment and I continued.

So after the first km was up, and my watch read 00:05:23 for that km, I knew I was overdoing it. 5:23 for the first km? Too fast! I was going to blow up! I figured anything under 6 would be too fast. Though I have no problems running a 1:50:00 half marathon, I had never performed well after the cycle. Well, that was what all that brick training was for.

After the first water stop, where I poured ice down my suit and drenched myself in water, I felt like I had my legs back, and the transition shock had gone away. All the way up to km 7, the distance of the first lap, I felt great, though I was expecting to catch a bad cramp or feel a sudden rush of fatigue, onset by the blazing sun and heat.

I ran the numbers in my head:

:46 + 2:46 = about 3:30...+ about :05 for each transition = ~3:40. Then add another 2:00 for the run = 5:40.

"5 hours and 40 minutes? Really? How could that be possible? My last one (first one) took me 6:58, say 7 hours. How could I possibly have cut an hour and 20 minutes?" I said to myself.

"Let me do the calculations again, I must have made a mistake..."

"Well, no, that's right, but don't get your hopes up. You'll hit the wall soon enough..."

Then lap 1 was up. And I still felt great.

Being between water and shade was stupid - lake on one side and jungle on the other!
Through the finish area, and around to the start of the second lap. The American Runner was still standing there, and he said hi to me. I waved and kept going.

I was smiling. Not really in pain. Happy to have made it this far, this fast. I was hooked. I wanted more. I could do more. Only 14km more, no biggie. Lap two was fine, and I kept an even pace. No cramps or issues.

As I rounded the finish area, I scanned the crowd for my family, but nothing. There were a lot of cheering spectators, but not my wife or kids. I guessed they would only come about 6 hours after the start, when I told them to finish. But I was going to finish too soon!

Lap three began. The American Runner was gone. The water at the water stops was getting warm. People were limping. Nobody was talking. I was among the walking dead.

But like the ride, I didn't really have many people pass me. I knew my swim sucked, especially compared to all these 6'2" Aussies who have been swimming in the Pacific since they were toddlers. Could I catch them on the bike, and especially where it counted, the run? Looked like it.

Km 18, and it was Hammer Time. Screw the water, forget it all. Sprint to the end. Know the finish is just minutes away, and the faster you run the sooner you'll get there. Around a 90-degree corner, past a photographer, up a 50m dirt slope, onto the road, and into the race village. I had finished in an admirable 5:36:21, already thinking about my goal for the next one.

Happy with my time of 5:36:21
See my run on Strava here

Things you need to know before racing the IRONMAN 70.3 Bintan:


  1. Book your hotel months in advance - they fill up very quickly
  2. Try to book the one where the race starts and ends (In 2015 it was the Belhotel). This will save you from having to take the bus between your hotel and the Belhotel to set up the transition the night before, going home after the race, and some money as you have to pay for that shuttle
  3. Book the ferry as early as possible as well, as the ferries fill up quickly too. Keep in mind that on your way home, if you leave Bintan too late in the afternoon, you will have to pay for a half-day at the hotel (super late checkout)
  4. You don't have to pack your bike in any special way. Yow won't have to take your wheels off or even worry about protecting it much. The ferry and hotel crews seem to have been properly briefed on how to handle expensive tri bikes

  5. Pre-race

  6. You have to rack your bike the night before, which means you have to get a bus to the Belhotel if you are not staying there
  7. The race expo in 2015 was tiny
  8. The vendors at the race expo couldn't take credit cards or Singapore dollars
  9. There was a money changer in the same building (ground floor) as the race expo

  10. Race-related

  11. The swim started about 100m into the sea, because the water is so shallow so far out. So it's not a pure beach start, but a waist-deep start
  12. It seemed to be a very fast swim, with zero waves, zero current, and supposedly a lot of people set personal bests
  13. You can see the bottom of the sea, coral and occasional fish included, for about 40% of the swim. This helped me sight, as I just used the bottom to make sure I was going straight
  14. The transition isn't your typical row-after-row of bike racks; rather a long chute with racks on both sides. This is more fair as everybody has to travel the same distance in the transition
  15. The cycle is only one lap, unlike Putrajaya which is two
  16. The ride has a few small hills, but nothing large - less than Putrajaya
  17. There are a few good, fast downhills and I could hit 60+ on several different occasions
  18. Save the water bottles handed out at the water stops if you can to chuck to the village kids along the way - they love them and will ask for them
  19. Expect to find people cheering along the way as you pass through the kampongs - I saw a class of school kids, a tae kwon do group, workers, families, and all types of people, and they were all excited. Wave to them and reciprocate their excitement!
  20. The run was three 7km laps. They'll give you a different color rubber band to put around your wrist to mark your first and second laps
  21. In the run, there isn't a sliver of shade. Putrajaya had like three tree branches of shade, Bintan had zero. Not one limb, stick, or leaf overhead. However, Bintan was not nearly as hot as Putrajaya
  22. The water stops on the run were just about every one km apart. They had ice water, Pure, Coke, and some had watermelon, gels, and other snacks. But there were no showers or jellybeans like in Putrajaya. Some people carry water belts on the run, but that's totally unnecessary at Bintan.
  23. At the finish line, after receiving the medal and towel, they did not immediately give the finishers their finisher shirts. Apparently, we were supposed to have queued up somewhere to receive them. I was never told of this queue and never received my shirt


JT Gerke said...

thanks for sharing, some great tips for when I head over in a few weeks

Andrew Patterson said...

Great, hope it was helpful. Good luck!

bloggersentinel said...

Good write up Andrew. Looks like I will be missing the annual Port Dickson OD next year with our Terai Melayu group and try for Bintan instead. Take care Buddy.

Andrew Patterson said...

Yep I think I'll do Bintan again. Really a good event.

Iwan Kartono said...

thank you for the post.
I will be heading to Bintan this August.

very inspiring.
cheers :)

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