It is not often on race day morning that you arrive at the race start on the back of a Honda Scoopy moped!! That’s just one of the many unique experiences of the Foremost Thailand Ironman 70.3 in Phuket. Not to mention having your pre-race training ride interrupted by a heard of water buffalo crossing the road or eating cat fish from a street vendor as part of the post-race relaxation. This was my third visit to this lush tropical island for what is a really great race experience and highlights all the reasons of why we do this sport. It is already in the race calendar for next year. The food is amazing and you can have a Thai massage virtually every day!
This race is renowned for its swim and bike courses. Back in the day of 2011/2012, the first part of the swim was in the ocean for about 1300 meters and then you would get out, run across the beach and dive into a freshwater lagoon for the final 600 meters. On the bike course, there was the famous footbridge crossing where you would have to dismount your bike and put it on your shoulder and carry it across the main road. Remount the bike and get back on the course. The well-known Naithon hills were at the end of the course in previous years. The course has now changed but still offers a great racing experience.
This must have been the first Ironman event that I have done where you were able to leave your gear next to your bike. No bag racks or changing tents- it was all very informal and laid back. Race brief was made interesting by the appearance of Ironman legend Belinda Grainger who has raced this event numerous time and Ironman coach Lance Watson. Both gave some excellent tips on race management and the importance of nutrition, especially on the run. Belinda’s big tips were to eat a large breakfast on the day before the race, graze for the rest of the day and have an early dinner to ensure it digests through your system. Make sure you get along and deep sleep on a penultimate night before the race. This was probably also the first race where, on the night before, I had dreamt about being late for the start and falling off the bike during one of the downhills.
It is not your typical race. The swim is a non-wet suit and what could be better than a beautifully calm crystal clear sea as the start of a race. So on with the speed suit and no need for the wetsuit. There were a few jellies around but nothing stingy. Had my best swim at this event. The bike course is challenging. At the ten km point, you encounter the Naithon national park with its steep inclines and treacherous descents. Rain the day before and on race morning made for a very wet road surface and there were no overtaking zones on the steepest parts. The marshalls did a great job but there were still a few spills. In places, the inclines reach 20% and there is no shame in walking up or even down some of the steepest sections of the course. Your heart is certainly maxing out at the top of those hills. The climbs go on for about 3-4 km but then flatten out and the rest of the course is gently rolling hills across and around Phuket island. I stuck to my nutrition plan of Stealth gels every 20 minutes and 1.5 liters of 4% hydration mix.
The most daunting part of this race for me is the run because you generally start around mid-morning just as the humidity is beginning to rise. At the race brief the weather forecast had been for 30 degrees but feels like 34 and rising to 34 feels like 38. Great!! Thankfully the clouds that brought rain during the bike course stayed and this kept the temperature down. I really paid attention to Belinda’s tips for nutrition on the run and my own plan which was to take three Stealth Gels with Caffeine and Betaine over the second half of the run, put ice down my pants at every aid station to keep my body temperature down, drink coke and keep hydrated. The first 10 km of the run was tough but at the halfway point I found my running legs and had a very strong finish to the race.
The post-race party was a legendary event in the past – dress shirts, bow ties and shorts for the guys. However, that tradition has gone by the way-side, and this year there was chocolate milk and Singa beers. Foremost, the event sponsors, manufacture chocolate milk and there were copious amounts at the finish line! Wonderfully welcome ice- baths to ease aching muscles and surprisingly free-flowing supply of super cold beers which didn’t touch the sides on the way down.
There was much excitement at the slot allocations for Kona and Ironman 70.3 worlds. Great news for Lisa Hancox who was second in her AG and got a Kona slot! Well done.
So I will be signing up for next year!