We travelled to beautiful Hainan Island, China last week-end so Dave and I could compete in the Ironman China 70.3 race (a half ironman distance triathlon). Hainan Island sits south of mainland China in the South China Sea. We spent a quick overnight in Kuala Lumpur in a hotel that would be better described as ‘just bigger than a breadbox’…it was so small, Caroline’s stroller would not fit anywhere in the room! Our pre-race workouts consisted of hauling three large suitcases, 2 tri bikes, a baby stroller with car seat, two backpacks, a 3 year old and 8 month old baby through 2 international airports (including making a 7AM flight) just get to the race! Despite the logistical challenges of trying to be triathletes and parents, we started to get excited when we were in the airport check in line next to two pro triathletes who were also headed to China! (Amanda ended up winning the 70.3 race and Luke grabbed 2nd overall! Woo-hoo, our brush with greatness!)
We spent Friday getting the bikes unpacked by the bike mechanics on hand for the race, checking in and getting our bib #’s, race chips, etc and eating dinner on the lawn of the hotel with the 600+ other triathletes from all over the world in town to compete. The weather was cooler than Dhaka, but certainly balmy and tropical. The hotel was big with pretty grounds, a huge pool, right on the beach. There was also a great kids playground that Catherine loved. Saturday, we had breakfast and attended a pre-race briefing with the other athletes in a huge ballroom at the hotel. We met a couple with 2 little girls, they were from Chicago and he was doing his first Ironman. In the afternoon, we grabbed our bikes, race bags AND two kids and got in line for the bus that would take us to the transition area, so we could get our bikes checked and racked for the next day’s race. The media coordinator (a beautiful girl we met in Phuket, she is a sweetheart that plays Rugby…what a combo!) snapped our photo while we stood in line with all our stuff and the two kiddies! There were lots of SERIOUS triathletes there and it was a bit intimidating to be standing in line next to some of them!
Dave and I were up at 5:30AM. The two babysitters arrived and we went down to breakfast. Only the half ironman racers were there, as the full ironman started at 7AM, so those athletes would already be at the transition area. Our race didn’t start until 9AM, it seemed like a benefit at the time to be able to eat breakfast at a reasonable hour (unlike the others who ate at 3:30AM), but as you will see the late start would be a significant factor in what unfolded during the day.
We arrived at the transition area and checked our bikes, got organized and WAITED. The racers in the full ironman were already swimming their 2 laps out in the river. We grabbed some shade (yes, it was sunny and hot at 8AM already) to try and conserve our energy. They directed us to the beach and we milled around waiting for the start. Someone snapped our photo just before we started the race. At precisely 9AM, 206 athletes ran into the water-our first ever mass start!
From this point forward, our race reports will differ. I will let Dave weigh in later.
The swim consisted of a counter-clockwise loop in a river. The current was reportedly strong. We were one of the few people that didn’t get a practice swim…think 2 kids, etc. I got past the 1st marker without too much trouble, but had lots of trouble getting around the 2nd buoy. I swam and swam and swam and every time I looked up, the buoy seemed FARTHER away. It was the current! I was stuck in an endless pool. I put my head down and swam AS HARD AS I COULD and looked up and I was even with the buoy but not around it. I held onto the buoy (allowed, as long as you don’t use it to advance yourself). I looked back and saw lots of swimmers coming towards me, but none of them were getting to the buoy either! I held on to the buoy for about 5 minutes! I knew I had ONE chance to get around this thing. I put my head down and swam as hard as I could to get around it and could feel the current pushing me up and under the buoy. I finally got around it. The downstream portion seemed to take me only a few minutes when I was forced to turn left and back up and into the current again. I struggled to continue in the direction of the swim exit and saw other swimmers getting pushed farther and farther downstream and away from our final destination. Every time I sighted (brought my head out of the water to check buoys, shore, etc.) I was getting pushed back. I had some fleeting thoughts/worries that I might not be a strong enough swimmer to get to the shore. I then, put my head down and just swam and swam. I finally arrived at the shore, MUCH more tired than I have ever been after a triathlon swim.
I got nearly an entire bottle of sunscreen lotion rubbed all over me in the transition tent by the female volunteers. This would end up saving my life (I am only slightly exaggerating). The first 10K or so on the bike felt uphill, but it was more rolling. There was a definite head wind. This would be an interesting 90K bike ride. The road was spotless; I mean not even a stray pebble on it. We had the entire right side of a four lane divided highway. When the bike ride started to get difficult, I would think how lucky I was to be out on the open road after being cooped up on spin bikes or on my trainer for the last 18 months in Dhaka! We rode through a couple of Chinese villages and got to finally climb! It was nice to get out of the saddle and on the last hill, I passed three people walking their bike up the hill. I drank Gatorade and got my bottle replenished at every aid station, or every 15K. The last 5-10K of the bike proved to be difficult, in that I felt that the heat was really starting to get to me. In the end, I would drink no water, seven 20 oz. bottles of different flavored Gatorades and eat only half of my PowerBar on the bike. This over and under consumption on the bike would end up being catastrophic for my run.
Oh yeah, my watch fell off at one of the aid stations and I was lucky enough to catch it, even though I was filling my Gatorade bottle and still riding! Turns out my bike time was just over 3 hours. Not bad (for me).
In T2 I felt myself overheating (I had no idea the temps has risen to over 42 degrees Celsius!) and knew I needed to cool down or the run would be a nightmare. I asked for ice in the transition tent, but the Chinese volunteers didn’t understand me and after some futile attempts at sign language, I gave up and headed out on the run. I ran about ¼ mile and then stopped to walk. My stomach was in terrible shape and I was really hot. I thought that if I continued to run, I might get heat stroke so bad, I would be one of those athletes you see on the side of the road or in the medical tent packed in ice. I couldn’t afford to end up in the ER, not with the girls back at the hotel with babysitters! I decided to walk until I felt like I could run. I saw Amanda, the Pro from the airport check-in line, coming towards me-she was already 45 minutes ahead of me! Around this time, I saw Dave coming in on the bike. I walked to the 5K mark-made it there in about 53 minutes…my slowest 5K ever (I hope!) At each aid station, I would have the volunteers pour ice water over my head and back. I would leave the aid stations feeling like I felt just good enough to WALK to the next aid station. I knew that I would not make it if I tried to run. About the 6K mark, I was walking along with an Aussie (also a Dave) living in Hong Kong. He and I walked and walked and walked. We saw Dave (my Dave) out on the course, amazingly he was running! I was so impressed. I would have given anything to just be able to JOG. My hopes for a 6 hour finish were dashed and I was scared to do the math and figure out how long it would take someone to WALK a half marathon. I have never DNF’d; (DNF=did not finish) and I did not want to start now. The 10K mark of the run took us painfully right through the transition area-I could stop and hop a bus back the hotel and the girls! SO tempting! But Dave was out there toughing it out also, so I forged ahead. The last 10K was tough and the final 5K-I was not really able to continue my conversation with Aussie Dave. We saw my Dave a few more times at some turn around/loop parts of the course. He was getting closer and closer to us!