Right… I shall just go straight to the race report proper and leave out the race day prep and other details, which I shall cover in another write-up. In this report I’ll just talk about the things observed and done during the days leading up to the race and the race itself.
IM 70.3 Auckland is the first IRONMAN race in the 2014 calendar hence there’s a bit of buzz about it. The race debuted last year and it was deemed a success though there were some technical discrepancies brought up by some pros. And the buzz doubled just a month away from the race when a power-packed field of pros taking part were announced and one of them is the proverbial king of triathlon, Craig Alexander himself. The show is on for 2014.
DAYS LEADING TO THE RACE
We arrived in Auckland on 15th Jan Wednesday, with 4 days more to the race. It was only 3 days before the race that we headed over to the race venue to check it out. Being a half-iron distance race, the race venue set-up was a bit less of a carnival compared to a full scale iron distance event. It was evident by the presence of lesser known exhibitors during the race expo. No booths carrying major bike brands were at the venue.
We did a recce of the transition area and found that it was quite small. Hence the space in between racks were quite limited and it posed a worry for us because it’s not going to provide enough space to lay out our transition gear properly. Something to ponder on when we have to organise our gear when transition opens before the race start.
A bike course recce was also done using our rental MPV and we concentrated on the northern section of the bike leg, which was rolling and filled with short and long climbs but the gradients were kept at a maximum of 10%. The longest climb was up the Harbour Bridge that provides a spectacular view of Auckland and it was followed by a long decent after cresting the bridge that can allow us to hit speeds in excess of 60km/h if conditions allow.
A sense of doubt followed thereafter because a lot of energy will be dispensed for this section, which is the 1st third of the bike leg and it’s going to affect my target bike time if I don’t manage it well. I was mentally prepared to expect another 5 to 8min added to my bike time.
The run course was straightforward and flat that’s just along the wharf area and out to the bay and back twice over to make it 21.1km. Using the advantage of the flat run course, my main strategy was to bike hard and then maintain a smooth run at 4:40 to at least under 5min/km pace, depending how I feel after the bike leg.
I had my sights on setting a under 5hr overall time but had some reservations after the bike course survey. I can’t remember when was the last time I rode over hilly terrain and I’m on a completely new set-up with my Speed Concept, along with a rear disc wheel and short cranks, which is not meant for climbing. Luckily I opted for a close and large ratio cassette (12-28 teeth) so the climbs won’t be too much of an ordeal.
We also went out for an easy ride along the flat southern part of the bike course to get a feel of road and wind conditions. The winds were bl**dy strong and we had some difficulty maintaining in aero tuck position for prolonged periods because the gusts made the handling twitchy and unstable. We considered ourselves ‘lucky’ to experience some windy conditions so we wouldn’t be in for a rude shock on race day.
RACE AND BIKE CHECK-IN
2 days leading to the race… Friday was when we did our race check-in to collect our race pack. We spent a fair bit of time in the queue and did a bit of shopping at the race expo. The race briefing was just flashed using narrated slides and it kept rolling so participants didn’t have to worry if they missed out anything. Thereafter it was a hunt for spares around town by Ben and Chris to prep their bikes for bike check-in the following day.
The bike check-in was done on the eve of race day and as expected, the transition looked like a heap of carbon fibre and aluminium. All the bikes had to be spaced very close apart which left almost little or no space for transition gear and I could hear some of the other participants having the same complaints.
We also went to survey the swim start point, which was located at the Maritime Museum. It’s a jetty for smaller boats with only two berths. This explains why the swim start was carried out in waves because there’s no way that the small jetty can accommodate a mass swim start.
The course is an inverted ‘K’ with 5 buoys to negotiate, which is not too complicated. Some aids in navigation will be the built-up area of the harbour with many reference points and boats berthed to cherry pick from during the swim.
We’ve also found a spot where we can have easy access to free parking but it’s about a 5min walk to transition. With the recce complete, bike checked in, race gear prepped, carbo loaded and with a favourable weather forecast, the adrenaline crept up our spines leading up to the race which is the following day. Lock and loaded!
Our plan was to leave our accommodation to the race venue by 0500 but we left a bit later than planned so it turned out to be quite a rush. The transition closes at 0615 regardless of wave start. It was a bit of a panic for me because I had quite a fair bit of stuff to prepare. So my gels weren’t really taped up properly and my transition gear wasn’t really well arranged. But since we had limited space I guess it wouldn’t make much of a difference.
0625 was the start time for Ben and Chris so they had to scurry to start point right after transition closed. Mine was at 0717 so I still had the luxury to take a leak, have an apple and slowly cover every inch of my neck with body glide to prevent chafing. But I went to the start point early anyway to get myself ready for the start with some land-based warm-ups.
There’s a huge turnout for my age group so it was a bit of a squeeze to get into the water. The temperature is about 19 deg C therefore the water wasn’t that cold anymore due to our late start time. It’s still fairly cold but not as chilly. It was a deep water start so also I had the chance to do a few quick pulls in the water to warm up a bit more.
It’s a moment of reckoning(again). For those who had a look at my training plan and log, the programme that I’d embarked on was to be able to race aggressively and go hard when the need arises. Though I suffered a bout of illness midway, I’m fairly confident about doing a good timing even if it’s off my planned target because I still fulfilled about 80% of the programme and I made some improvements on my weaknesses, namely the swim and transition. So I’m pretty psyched up this time round.
And moments later, the horn went off…
My aim is to go hard at the beginning and try to keep up with the majority by the 1st bouy, which I did. After that, I was on my own pace and picking off the next bouy. I was able to draft some of the other guys so things were looking good. The water wasn’t too choppy and the course was easy to navigate until we turned east again towards the red bouy as shown on the map.
The sun was still rising so it made the bouy quite hard to sight. I lost a bit of bearing initially because there were some guys who went in different directions, they were more lost than I was. So I took a bit more sightings before confirming that I was in the right direction. Knowing the layout of the course helped as well because you can roughly know where the buoys will be located. For a 1.9km swim, thats quite a lot of turns to negotiate. So, a top tip there.
The rest of the swim went smoothly and I was able to keep pace with the other slightly faster swimmers. I had a look at my watch when I got out of the water; 32:05. Good.
T1 was about a 200m jog from the swim end point so it gave us sufficient time to remove the top half of our wetsuits. Once I found my bike, sat down and stripped the rest of my wetsuit off, stuffed 2 party pack Snickers in my shorts, buckled up my helmet and got out of T1. A look at my watch again after mounting my bike and it read 33:50.
The course had a lot of turns out of transition due to the built up area near the venue hence it was hard to get up to speed. Not that it really mattered because at that point, my HR read 167bpm. I was at my threshold! So I backed up a bit and only sped up once we got near the Harbour Bridge.
Oh yes… the bridge. From the earlier photos you can see that it was a curved bridged. So it’s quite a long but has a gentle gradient. Energy management is key for the 1st third of the bike course. As you can see from the map of the bike course, the gradient profile clearly depicts the amount of climbs we need to do, and we need to use every inch of descent and reduce any form of drag in order to gain speed.
The northern part of the course was through a light industrial area where it’s littered with all the climbs. I was lucky to be part of a group who were doing a good pace. There were about 5 to 6 of us and most of them belong to my age group except for one, whose tag looks like he’s in a relay team. We were taking turns doing the pacing and our average speed was within pace. And good news was that I’m able to maintain about 140bpm PE throughout without burning myself up. On the way back down south and towards the bridge again, the group somehow broke up and I was pretty much on my own with only one of them in front of me. Winds were pretty light that day as compared to our route recce and I could only hope that it stays that way throughout.
The southern leg consists of 2 loops of pancake flat tarmac along the bay. The winds stayed light and calm so the stage is set for my next strategy; giving it the beans on the flat section of the bike leg since my rig is set up for its intended purpose. So I was belting along the straights and I was going considerably fast even along the bumps that I lost a gel taped on my top tube. It didn’t mattered because I carried spares and my race nutrition went well as planned. At certain sections I was even maintaining speeds in excess of 40km/h.
My average speed was up to about 37.6km/h as shown on my bike computer and the effects of it showed went I reached the aid station just before the start of the 2nd loop. A sharp cramp on my left calf almost slowed me down to a complete stop and that’s when I realised that I was a bit over zealous during the 1st loop. After a look at my bike computer and doing some mental arithmetic, I should be still able to complete the bike leg in 2:30 with a comfortable pace. The last loop was done at a controlled pace averaging 35 to 36km/h and I was metres away from T2 with my watch showing 3:05 ish and my bike computer showing exactly 2:30. I should be feeling carried away because I’m within a comfortable timing to achieve my sub 5 hour target! But the confidence waned a bit after dismounting from my bike because my legs were VERY wobbly… Not good.
RUN LEG- THE FINAL PUSH
T2 was done quickly despite having my legs numbed. My watch showed 3:07 and I gave it the last push of the Lap/Reset button to begin the clock for the run leg. I started off gingerly just to get the blood flowing to the legs and I quickly swallowed down a salt tablet because I can feel a cramp developing on my left thigh.
To my surprise, my watch still showed that I’m doing about 4:40-ish min/km run pace. So I just had to maintain my current pace but with caution because I don’t want to blow up. I’m on course to meet my race target and if I can continue at this pace. Heck. I may even do a better timing!
Fortunately, the run course was along the southern leg of the bike route so it was flat as well, as shown in the map above. It’s 2 loops of 10.55km to make 21.1km. I grabbed any form of hydration that I can use at the aid stations to prevent further cramps and moreover, the weather was getting warmer because it’s approaching mid day. I overtook Chris, then followed by Ben during the 1st loop and gave them some words of encouragement.
With the 1st loop completed, I was still maintaining a 4:45min/km pace. The cramps were gone but soreness took over. I took another salt tablet and a gel just to be safe while trying to maintain my current pace. When I was approaching the final u-turn of the 2nd loop, my pace dropped a bit but I knew that my target was in the bag and I had a chance to do an even better timing. So I opened up the taps bit by bit to get back to the initial pace while fighting soreness in the thighs. The last few hundred metres was an ordeal. I was in the hurt locker but I had nothing to lose. I just wanted to set the best possible time I can.
My name was announced down the finishing chute and my watch read 4:47:30 when I crossed the line! I was elated and surprised at the same time. I never thought that I’ll achieve this timing. My race was almost executed to perfection at least to my standards, and this was one of my best races I’d ever done. AWESOME!
Met up with Ben and Chris after their finish and we gave ourselves a pat on the back because all of us had achieved our respective targets. Ben’s was to finish under 6 hours and he did it in 5:53, which was commendable after a long hiatus from long course events. Chris’s effort, once again was commendable as well because it was his 1st long course event and he completed it in 6:06 on a borrowed Cervelo P1.
As for the race itself, there’s nothing much else to talk about except for the cramped transition area. Though the bike and run courses were full of tight turns around the race venue, it’s inevitable due to the built up area but signs were adequate and the set up was quite well done. And as with most overseas races, crowd and volunteer support was full of enthusiasm.
Hence we can conclude that the overall race experience was pretty good and well organised. Small wonder as to why the 2013 edition was deemed a success, which attracted a strong professional field this year. Jan Frodeno, the 2008 Beijing Olympic champ, with only his 2nd 70.3 outing grabbed the top spot for the men with a time of 3:45:40 and Catriona Morrison from Great Britain finished as top female with a time of 4:14:42.
This concludes my race report for IM 70.3 Auckland. It’s a great start to the new year and I’m also proud to announce that I accumulated more than 100 hours of preparation and training for this event, which is about $103.00 dollars that I’ll be pledging for my selected charity, Home Nursing Foundation. I’ll be back with some gear and training reviews in the coming weeks so stay tuned to IRON PROJECT, and thanks to all for your unwavering support!