Ironman 70.3 Phuket (1.9 km Swim, 90 kms Cycle and 21.1 km Run) Race Report (2nd December, 2012)
The Ironman Phuket is organized at the Laguna Resorts Complex. It was a triathlon festival over there, with two races being organized back to back, the first being on 25th of November and the Ironman 70.3 race on 2nd of December. The race on 25th of November is a smaller distance Triathlon (1.8 km Swim, 55 kms Cycle and 10 km run), which is considered as a warm to the 70.3 race on next Sunday. Around 1000 athletes were registered to participate in the Ironman race representing 56 different nationalities.
Build-up to the race
We (Myself and Mukul) reached Phuket on 28th of November and after checking-in to the hotel, immediately went to the Laguna complex to check out the race office. There I saw few athletes who were cycling and running in the heat to get acclimatized to the conditions. Then we went straight to the beach to see the swim course and was quiet surprised to see a calm and quiet ocean in the afternoon. I could not stop myself and went straight ahead to have the first dip and to my surprise it felt quiet easy and nice in the ocean. Swimming in open water and ocean has always made me nervous and it has always been the weak link in my preparation for the race.
Next day morning on 29th Nov, I again went in for a swim in the ocean and wanted to practice some cycling on the roads of Phuket. Hence, I joined the group of cyclist which was going for the practice bike ride on the same race route. I didn’t wanted to do the entire route as I thought it will too much of practice before the race, so I turned around to go back half-way into the route and I was able to find company of a pro-triathlete Chris Lieto, who was also going back half-way. It was kind of dream come true to meet him as I have only seen him in videos leading some of the Ironman races on bike. I had a quiet a long conversation with him, on training and about India. I was also able to meet Chris McCormack (two time winner of Ironman World Championship and most successful Tri-athlete ever). It was quiet an atmosphere in the Laguna complex, where you come across so many pro’s and age-groupers and it does get quiet intimidating after looking at the equipment with which they come for races. After coming back from cycling, I followed it up with a small 7 km run in 11 o’clock heat of Phuket to get a preview of what is going to happen on race day.
On 30th Nov, we went cycling to some other beaches of Phuket like Patong and Surin beach to check out the ocean over there and get more practice for ocean swimming in different conditions. It was followed by another swim again on the swim course in the evening.
On 1st December, I met Richard and Rohan for the athlete briefing. Now the entire Laguna complex was full of all kinds of Triathletes from all over the world, everyone trying to get their last bit of preparation right and be ready for the next day. I checked in my bike, bike-bag and the run-bag everything a day before the race day, walked backed to hotel to get some rest. I kept on eating in small quantities the entire day, just to be sure to have enough fuel for the next day.
Learning – if you think that you are going to get a lot of rest before the Ironman, then that is not going to happen. It might get more stressful…..
Race day….2nd Dec
I could not sleep the entire night properly, kept on checking the time. Bang…at 4 AM, started to get ready, had another 4 slices of bread with honey and then we were off to the starting point. Went up to the bike, checked the tires and whether everything was fine. Put on the swim cap and goggles, got on to a ferry to reach the starting point. I must say the arrangements for the race were absolutely amazing but it was already sweaty at 5.30 in the morning.
Surprise…surprise, it was lot more windy, there was lighting and dark clouds over the ocean. The ocean was no where calmer and quieter as it has been for last 3 days. Wind and big waves go hand-in-hand and break your confidence, especially for a person who is attempting his first Ironman 70.3. Before the swim, I started doing some warm up and did around 20 Surya namaskars before the start, went into the ocean do a small warm-up swim. To start with, the pro’s went in first and then the yellow-caps for the age-group 30-34 years. I was also in the yellow caps; I went slowly after all the really confident starters. It was struggle to get across those big waves and keeping your nerves together. The first 50-100 meters gave the feeling of huge washing machine but finally I managed to get across the big waves into a little quieter ocean. Then I was just following the buoys and keeping myself on the left had side to make way for the fast swimmers. But, then swarm of women age-groupers and 40-45 starters came from behind, so it was like washing machine again. One has hardly any time to enjoy or think that you are in the middle of the ocean on the race day, forget the jelly-fishes, it’s the fellow racers kicks and strokes which are more lethal and dangerous over there. On the way back, I kept myself little away from the crowd but it was far better but I must have ended swimming extra 100 to 150 meters. After finishing the ocean swim, then came the lake swim for last 600 meters. One has to run across the beach to get to the lake. The water in the lake was warm and dark and at the end of the swim there is lot of slush mud and it is kind of crazy situation, where you can neither swim nor walk properly. Somehow, I managed to walk across it and might have lost around 10 minutes un-necessarily due to these conditions but the best part was that I was done with the weakest part and it was time for the stronger parts. Mukul was already there cheering me up….
Learning- the more you go to races, the better you get at swimming in ocean. Just being more confident can shave off 15-20 minutes and train more to swim better. One needs little bit of bravery and courage apart from training to get through the big waves and washing machine on race day.
After the swim, I quickly ran up to the rack picked up the bike bag, put on the bike shoes and took a electrolyte drink and was quickly on to the bike. Then, suddenly realized, then I have forgotten to put on the bike computer on the bike in the morning. Hardly, I could do anything about it and went ahead with cycling and then after couple of kilometers of warm-up picked up speed. The route is just amazing as it goes through the long winding country side of Phuket with lot of forest and shade on the road. The traffic is almost blocked and controlled at all the important points. After 20 kms or so, came the famous pedestrian bridge, were you have to dismount from the bike, walk across the foot-over bridge mount back and start cycling again. After 43 km you have the first set of famous steep hills which everyone was talking about. I went across the first one cycling, but realized I could be lot faster, if I get down and just walk with my bike up. So on the next hill, I was running over the hill with bike shoes on. It was little difficult but on race day somehow one manages everything. Then the route was very quick and flat and it was very well supported. At few places they had yellow flags, where everyone has to compulsorily bike slow (20 kmph). These steep down hills were quiet technical and I have never cycled on such routes before. Handling a road bike was quiet a task. Then it started raining heavily in the last 20 kms till then the weather was awesome with lots of clouds and cool air. At 75 km came the last set of hills. This time again the strategy was the same – to get out quickly and run across and it was also a good warm-up for the run part. After crossing the hills, it was again a fast course up to the Laguna complex. At many places the roads were filled up with rain water and one had to slow down considerably and also came across few riders who had crashed and sustained injuries. The bike course had everything; it was just like “Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar” movie with all the drama and excitement.
Learning – need to put in more bike time in training and also need to change the gear-combinations according to the course. One needs different gear combinations on such course with very steep sudden hills.
After reaching back to Laguna, I dismounted from the bike again went running to the racks picked up my run bag and put on the running shoes. The rain had gone and it was hot and humid 10.35 AM in Phuket. I have ran an entire half marathon at that time but was prepared for the conditions. Just before the start of my run, I heard Chris McCormack has just won the race. So it was nice motivation to know that one of the guys who has inspired you to get into the sport has won another race. So started off with a bang, and I knew this was my strongest part and I can do it no matter what the conditions are. The run course was two-loop course of 10.5 kms each and it goes across different resorts at Laguna complex and golf course. It is a flat but winding and with lot of trail running and at few places it had become slushy and muddy due to rain and hence not the fastest course to run on. The first loop was quiet comfortable and I met Richard and Rohan in between. All along I was continuously drinking water and using sponges to keep myself cool. It was well supported all the way and there were gels available on the run course to keep the energy levels high. At the finish, Richard was already there to run with me to the finish line and Mukul was also there at the end.
Overall time – 5 hr 50 mins 38th position in age group (30-34 years) (could have been better just by keeping nerves together in swim and more bike training)
Learning – it does not matter if you are slower in one section, one can always make up time in the stronger sections. Just keep moving from one section to another…..!
It was very satisfying experience by participating in such a well-organized international triathlon race and being a part of Ironman race experience. It was quiet learning and exposure to the Triathlon racing atmosphere. I would recommend Laguna Tri-fest to anyone who is looking for a very good racing experience and doing an Ironman 70.3. I am surely going there again next year. Next year the Ironman title is not going to be there but will be replaced by Challenge series, which is another family of long distance triathlons. The organization is going to be same and better and it is quiet a nice place to visit.
I would thank all the Hyderabad Runners family and especially Rajesh Vetcha for his motivation and support. Anirudh Pandya and Sunil Menon to teach me how to swim and advice in the pool, without that I would have never swam into the ocean on the race day. Richard McDowell for his advice and support to built a new bike and race advice. Gupta Kandula and Venugopal Sir for getting me bike parts from US. Ramkrishna Sir for his advice and motivation. Maninder Singh for all his support and enthusiasm to built and tune-up the new bike.
Ironman can never be an individual effort and I thank everyone to who have supported me in this endeavor.