*** many thanks to Paul Stevens for this race report ***
I just completed possibly my toughest race to date, I almost DNF’d a dozen times but kept going and somehow at the end of it qualified for the 70.3 World Championships (on roll down – 9th in AG), truly triumph over adversity. I hasten to add though that amongst this other TriDubai compatriots raced a lot better and faster than me on the day and yet didn’t qualify due to the complexities that are Ironman slot allocation. This is honestly embarrassing but not accepting the slot I believe would have been disrespectful. This race taught me a lot about myself and how the little things add up, my parting advice to anyone racing long distance is: Treat every race with respect and adjust accordingly; each course has its own unique challenges and therefore lazily choosing to replicate defacto preparation is as they say preparing to fail.
I’m sure there will be an in depth race report coming from the TriWings crew so will try (and fail) to keep this short, but as said above having qualified for 70.3 World Championships, despite having in my mind a shocker, I thought I’d share some valuable lessons I learnt in the intense Malaysian heat.
Firstly some background:
Putrajaya was my 5th Half Ironman in 20 months (not counting the bike leg of DIT relay) a journey that has seen my PB move from 6:18 in Wiesbaden 2013 to 4:48 in Luxembourg 2014 just 10months later. Since Luxembourg I have improved further, am stronger, and as a result have been focusing on a big PB effort at some point this year. Ultimately my goal is, and still remains, qualification for the 2016 70.3 Worlds in the Sunshine Coast. To do that I have had 4:30 in mind as the time I will need to achieve in order to qualify (he says having just qualified with 5:19 for 2015!). What does this mean? Well I suppose I was starting to think that I knew the 70.3 game and didn’t have much left to learn… oh how wrong could I have been.
I signed up to Putrajaya way back in October before Challenge Bahrain and Dubai were options as a goal to train towards. I knew the race would be hot but severely underestimated the effects it would have on me. I raced in Puerto Rico in April 2014 and thought the conditions would be similar so from the very beginning started the snowball of disrespect to the course and weather. Having raced very well in Challenge Dubai just 5 weeks before (up until I withdrew for no good reason with only 10km left to run) I was confident I would replicate bike power and run well. Stupidly not wanting to change a ‘winning formula’ I set my bike and gear up the same as Dubai and set also about the same pre-race ritual. In doing this I actually failed to learn from my own experience in Puerto Rico a year ago by putting myself in a position to be over-reliant on aid stations to supply my fluids once again.
I woke as usual got my breakfast down sunk a 500ml bottle of water and started making my way to transition, in hindsight 500ml was far too little. In transition the humidity was intense and I was very aware I was sweating heavily but being busy with the ‘important things’ like putting rubber bands on my shoes (which broke before I got to my bike anyway) I decided I would neglect hydration and could catch up on fluids before the swim. Bad decision… I got to the swim downed most of a 500ml bottle water but soon realized this wouldn’t be enough when my final pre-race pee was bright yellow, opps!
Anyway I got on with the swim, which had a weird rolling start, and got out in a slow (for me) 30mins. I rushed through transition and hit the bike forgetting immediately that I was already dehydrated, I should have hit the fluids hard and fast but was more interested in getting onto my power number than anything else. 3km into the bike I started to realize my disrespect for the course was coming back to bite me again, my Kask Bambino’s (an aero helmet renowned for being very hot) visor was steaming up uncontrollably even when cruising down a slight incline at 40kph. I made a rapid decision, tore it off, and discarded it thinking I’d be ok. As the first proper inclines came to play 10km in I started to realize my head was beginning to overheat. Despite this feedback I pushed on and when I hit the first aid station at 22km I had only managed 300ml of my first water bottle. I exchanged it for what I believed to be a fresh full bottle of water but instead I received a leaking aqualite bottle which was only ¾ full. Unfortunately in my hast I didn’t realize this until I was 100m past the aid station and therefore too late to remedy. I needed a full bottle of water (not leaking warm rich sticky aqualite) and had had plenty of time to check, reject, take another bottle in the aid station zone if I had not been so concerned with losing 5 seconds.
As the bike went on my head grew hotter and hotter, the helmet choice was now obviously a big mistake, and I became acutely aware I was starting to suffer from heat stroke when I drifted off-line (on a straight section) into the course marker cones and almost crashed for no reason at around 60km. I cursed myself when I saw local athletes on their first lap emptying water bottles through their standard road helmets, I was now seriously considering stopping to take my helmet off for just a minutes rest bite from my self imposed sauna. I immediately started to concentrate on survival and let the power tumble.
Coming into T2 with a 2nd lap bike split 9mins down on first lap I dismounted very cautiously, got to my rack and took time to sit down and slowly pull on my shoes. As I got up and started running with a pre-mixed bottle of water and gel I gagged and couldn’t keep it down, now I was really starting to worry. The first 5km were a blur of pain, cramps and countless thoughts of withdrawal. At the first 2 aid stations I tried to take on fluids and again failed to keep them down, I knew if this continued I wouldn’t make it to the end so started to slow and walk. Then out of the darkness came a light… Marco Morelli, smashing his AG (and sporting some funky sunglasses), came up behind me as we entered the 3rd aid station. I cant remember exchanging any real words but as I managed to keep my first fluids down we left the aid station at the same time and I told myself to just stay with him for 500m at least, that became 1km and then 2,3, and 4. For the rest of the first lap we ran around each other averaging 5:30/km pace between aid stations in the now 35’C 70% humidity (real feel 40’C) heat, way off my 4:30/km planned pace. Marco literally saved my race, had I not saw him when I did I would have probably approached the medics at the 3rd aid station, but who can resist running with TriDubai’s biggest smile?! Henry came storming past us towards the end of the 1st lap and I think that’s when Marco stopped taking pity on me and found his second wind. I learnt from my 1st lap and latched onto a Bahraini athlete just starting his 1st lap for my 2nd. My pace slowed to 6:00 between aid stations but it was all about just finishing. When I got to the line I had nothing left.
My fiancée was waiting for me after I had spent 10mins in 1 of 6 iced plunge pools, and after collecting my gear she set about nursing me back from heat stroke and dehydration back in the hotel quite shocked at the state I was in. At around 5pm feeling much better I decided to pop my TriDubai tee on and head to the prize giving to support the TriDubai heroes of the day with no intention of taking a roll down slot. The rest is history; my AG was large, we had 4 slots and I was 9th. Other age groupers behind me were waiting to take the slot had I not, meaning it would unfortunately never have been reallocated to more deserving TriDubai team mates in other age groups.
So what have I learnt?
1. I completely mis-judged the course and conditions through misplaced self-belief and this lead to all of my mistakes. This was due in most to my unfounded confidence that I was a becoming a seasoned pro and knew most of what I needed to know about Half Ironman
2. Replicating a set routine is good to avoid missing key things and also helps calm the nerves but failing to adapt it even slightly for each race is plain stupid
3. Hydration is key and yet I foolishly continue to disrespect it
4. Aero is NOT everything:
a. I chose my helmet because it was fast and paid the price, losing 9 minutes to heat exhaustion on the bike and then being in a very bad place for the run does was not worth the seconds I thought my aero helmet would bring me over a standard road helmet
b. Choosing to race with only 1 bottle (between my aero bars) (and 1 in reserve, fiendishly difficult to access behind my seatpost) instead of carrying an extra bottle cage on the down tube was plain stupid in a hot race and again cost me more than it would have taken in aero disadvantage
5. Not giving up even on your worst day can bring surprising results (perhaps not deserved on the day but maybe for all the days spent training before). I believe I am fit and fast enough to deliver sub 4:40 in a normal 70.3 tomorrow, and yet I got so many things wrong and qualified with a 5:19 because I didn’t give up
6. World Championship slot allocation is not fair. Hitting my true potential and going much faster in another race will not guarantee me qualification, therefore taking this opportunity is the only way to guarantee I will make a World Championships. I now believe everybody should always attend the roll down event.
Finally congratulations to the whole TriDubai and TriWings group who battled through this race, there were some incredible performances on a very tough day. Ed and Henry I’ll see you in Zell am See, and to Marco, Lisa and Andy I hope you get the slots you thoroughly deserve in your next races.
As for anyone considering 70.3 Putrajaya; it really is a great race, but prepare for an exceedingly tough day. The organization was excellent, it is a stones throw from KL International Airport making travel from Dubai simple, and the draft busting is the best I’ve seen anywhere.