Thursday, November 15, 2012

Taiwan 70.3

Poor old WTC (the company that owns the Ironman brand). They have had a rough time of it in Asia over the past few years. There are no full Ironman branded races at all anymore in Asia with Korea, Japan, China and Malaysia all folding recently (but keep an eye out for Japan Ironman returning very soon and close to home.....). The half Ironman’s have not been much more successful with Japan 70.3 suspended after 3 years of mostly negative reviews (including one from me) and Phuket, China and Sri Lanka all cancelled after short lives.
Oi! You! You're off.

It is tough to run these events at a profit in crowded countries with little understanding of triathlon or the culture of the sport. Taiwan 70.3 (Half Ironman) was in its third year and had been a success in the first two years, and my blog from last year was quite flattering on the race organization and location.

They picked up BMW as a sponsor - good work!

This year the race was even bigger with almost 2,000 athletes on the start list. I had come off a big training block in Hawaii and was feeling in really good shape on the bike, posting some big numbers on a few test rides in Singapore.  I knew my swim was a bit off as I had not done enough, and the run was always variable but seemed to be going OK in training.

I looked through the start list and knew in my age group my main rival was the winner of the age group last year, Richard Hall, a Brit from Hong Kong who has raced Hawaii World Champs a number of times and I’d ridden with him for a while last year in Taiwan. Ness was still going really well and her race in Hawaii seemed to take hardly anything out of her. We targeted on overall female Age group win for her and an AG win for me or 2nd in AG as a 'B' goal.

You can do it, Duffy Moon!

The flight to Taiwan is pretty easy from Tokyo about 4 hours to Kaohsiung: a city in the south that I had never heard of before this race, but there are about 4 direct flights there a day from Tokyo, mostly business trips I guess. We were flying China Airlines with about 6 friends from the Tri group in Tokyo.  Ness and I flew overnight from Singapore to Tokyo, then spent half the day in Tokyo before getting the bus to Narita airport. Needless to say we were pretty tired when we got there. 

When we got to the check in counter we saw a standoff of sorts with Mary and Kim in prolonged discussion with the check in lady and a manager. It turns out the check-in crew had been worried about the number of bikes going on the plane as there were 20 or more Japanese triathletes going to the race on this flight, and they were making people who had not pre-warned the airline that they were bringing a bike, sign a waiver that said if our bike did not show up until Saturday that was OK by us. As the race was Saturday Mary and Kim did not want to sign. I wasn’t sure if they were dividing the bikes into “gave notice” and “did not give notice” and the “did not’s” were going to be booted if the plane was full. Like so many finicky rules in Japan the situation was so farcical you had to just step back and laugh at it. I was wondering if they would have ordered a larger plane if the four of us had told them we were bringing bikes.

Bulging Belly on this Bad Boy. Obviously too many carbs. Or bikes.

Once a Japanese person (especially female) has decided something is a rule, they are never going to back down, even if it means them committing ritual hari kari. You can see it in their eyes, it would be easier negotiating with a terrorist. And there was no way this stern, wordy girl from JAL was going to let us on the plane without signing these forms. She was going on 5-minute monologues about it and I could not wait to sign in the end just to remove myself from her presence. I took my wet suit, bike shoes, pedals and run shoes out of the bike bag so if the bikes didn’t make it we could borrow one and still race.

False marketing desu.

We all went for a dinner afterwards and a Mega Beer made everything better.  On board my mate Paul Riddle who was on the comeback after a speedily healed collar bone, had a window seat and gave the thumbs up when he saw all the bikes go on the plane and they all arrived.

All better now

We arrived late at night and a few more drams with pre-booked taxi drivers who were supposed to take four people and bikes show up for the gig in little yellow taxis. All was settled in the end as some more van-taxis arrived and we took the two-hour drive with a taxi driver who was a little bit too fond of road shoulders and managed the two-hour drive on roads completely without street lights in 90 minutes.

The resort “The Yoho Hotel” has a few separate themed areas, last year we were in the Kids section and this year the “Bike Hotel” section. They had some wall mounted bike racks in the room and pictures and models of bikes to make you feel at home. When you turn on the TV in the room the default TV channel playing on loop was a one-hour highlight package of last years race, complete with Chinese commentary and really creepy music.

Traditional Taiwanese dance ceremony from the Mao era. Revered by all.
Next morning, we slept in and smashed the buffet with several of my athletes and friends. It was great to catch up with so many of these people who you have close relationships but rarely see in the flesh. These races at resorts are a bit of a trip. Everyone at the resort is racing or supporting and everyone is checking each other out and whenever you see someone they say something like “have you lost weight?” or “been training hard?” within the first two sentences. The tri world in Asia is pretty small and it was cool to catch up on the latest news. 

At the briefing, I asked about coke on the run course (they even handed me a microphone) and he said "Yes it will be there," but when pressed on which aid stations - he said he didn't know.  There were to be 20 draft busters out there, but no pre-race ‘carbo-loading’ dinner.  The course was flatter, discs were actually OK – (they were banned last year, first year they were allowed), and the run was 7kms to the resort, 7kms south of the resort and 7kms back.  

There was a constant stream of fireworks going off all afternoon that would put Sydney harbour on New Year's Eve to shame. Unfortunately it was daylight out and we could only hear them. I assumed if it was night time they would have been spectacular! The woulda been awesome! And thanks to the perseverance of the locals they kept them up for, oh, about 4 hours. I was beginning to think we were in Baghdad and looking for ear plugs and the finally they decided to stop them when it got dark. Who wants to be able to actually see fireworks anyway right! We went to the buffet and ate way more than we should have (was an awesome buffet) and went to our rooms early.

Woulda been awesome!

SWIM 1.9kms 31.30
The start was way too early for a half at 6.15 and we loaded onto the bus at about 4.30 after a short ten-minute run. The swim is pretty cool in Taiwan, a couple of small waves to start and a two-loop big rectangle course. The buoys were not very well marked and sighting was tough.  I was making sure just not to swim too hard as I knew I was not swim fit.
Go once the last pro starts on their second lap. Don't worry about the gun.

 I came out about 2 minutes slower than last year and heard Richard Hall’s name being announced – he was about 40 sec ahead, last year I was two minutes up on him. I felt ready to ride hard though so was glad I didn’t push the swim. I think in Murakami I swam really hard and not being swim fit I never recovered on the bike, as I was full of lactic acid. I’m swimming my butt of now cramming for IMWA.

Heel striking rulez OK!

Ness had a better swim
BIKE 92kms 2.23

Onto the bike and was riding a nice controlled effort about 310 watts and it was feeling sustainable. I passed a few Taiwanese (they have some bladdy good swimmers in Taiwan – well they were all a this race anyway).  About 5kms in a guy who was really hammering – probably doing 500watts as he went by passed me. After that he slowed down and I tried to keep my effort steady at 300-310. The draft zone in this race was 7ms from front wheel of the front bike to front wheel of rear bike. I hang back at least this distance and probably more and this guy starts looking back every 20 secs. I called out something to him about watching the road but don’t think he heard. I dropped back even further as I could see this guy was paranoid about being drafted and fair enough I don’t like that either. Funny thing was despite me being so far back he kept looking back every 20 seconds, he did have a big nose, so I thought that combined with his penchant for looking back, maybe it was the third Schleck sister. 

Third sister obviously photoshopped out here.

Some people have weird ideas about drafting so I decided if he was that worried about me being at ten metres I’d go around and take the lead, which I did. I was trying to keep the power steady. I was in front for about 5 seconds and he passed me straight back. Well e is nuts but at least he was riding with some balls. I said to him – “mate keep looking back every 20 seconds just to check, if you like, but to save you the trouble – I’ll be there. I’m not going anywhere”. Some strong riders get so used to passing people when pumped up on race day that they think that once they pass someone that person is then automatically removed from the course and their day, by aliens. He keeps looking back and I stayed ten metres, shouting – ‘yep still here mate’. He then starts weaving all over the road like a cyclist in the final stage of a bike race before the sprint. 

Next time for sure!

‘This guy is either totally insane or never raced a triathlon in his life’ I thought.  I went passed him again to the front to show I was happy to do some work, and he passes me again 10 seconds later. This time he says, “are you just going to draft the whole race?”  That set me off and I said something about being more than 7 metres being legaland then dropped back the distance. We then came upon Richard Hall and I saw him pull up and say something to him about me as he pointed back. That did it for me – he was now ruining my reputation and with a rival. I came up beside him and let him have it. Threatening to put his big nose across his face, and took off up the road riding about 500wats to drop him and Richard. I rode as hard as I could for about 5 minutes and this was probably my big mistake of the day. I am an emotional racer and need to work on that but I don’t think I’ ever been so angry in a race before. I was really very close to smashing this guy while we were riding along at 40kph. Need to work on keeping cool in IMWA.

Almost needed this guy....Jerry, Jerry!
I came across the big lead pack that had some of the top guys in Hong Kong, Dane Cantwell, Michael Bucek (my mate from last year), a few Taiwanese guys and Alex Kolesev a Russia mate from Tokyo who was 4th overall in the old ironman Japan the last two years. I sat at the back for about 30 seconds but they were going so slow and I was still a bit pumped up feeling good, so I rode straight by them all. The timing was bad as it was just before the only hill and I cursed my impatience as I let several of them pass back up the hill. On the side they all grouped up again and I didn’t feel like sitting in like a pussy so rode through them all again. After a few minutes by my mate big nose rode up and apologized for what happened earlier. I appreciated it and we did one of those fist touches and rode on with a Taiwanese guy who had broken from the main group.

Still images are often a bad way to judge drafting in a race, but apparently there were several 'peletons' in the middle of this race and draft busters basically ignored. It was hard for people t break from these packs as they were not strong enough to get away. No such hep in my part of the race.
These two guys (Big nose and Mr. Taiwan) were some match. One would pass at 500 watts, then slow right down, then the other would pass back about 15 seconds later. I am all for sharing the work in a pace line but these guys were insane. I don’t know why they couldn’t go in front for 3-5 minutes then let someone else do the same the way it should be. I was sitting back shaking my head, I didn’t know what to do and was tired from the previous all-out effort, so watched the lunatics go at it. The problem was it was not helping my race much as with all the spiking in power they were not riding very quickly and I don’t think we made much time on the big group of guys behind. We eventually came upon a German guy from the new triathlon resort in Thailand (Thanypura) and I asked him if there were anyone else ahead. "No only pros" he said – this was the front of the AG race.

Cool looking sports resort in Phuket.
 I was feeling good and planning to shoot off solo with 15kms to go, but Big Nose had the same idea and went with 20kms to go. I waited until after the last hill and went out after him solo. It took about 5kms but I made it and the two of us rode the last 10kms together. We were taking turns in front (2 minutes I told him – not 20 seconds) and as we came into transition I was a bit ahead of him, but because I sat back when him and Mr. Taiwan were going crazy, and credit to him he had rode hard the whole ride and was a very strong cyclist, I backed off waited for him to bridge up and gave him the honours of being first into transition. First time to be (equal) FOTB (first off the bike) in an M dot race, so was pretty chuffed with that. As I racked my bike I lifted it up from the saddle and the whole seat post came out leaving me holding the saddle and seat post in my hand like an idiot. Hmm – ‘Not Normal’ Lance would say, so I laid it down on the ground next to my bike with my helmet, got my shoes on and was onto the run.

Y Pan Y Agua. Without the pan.

RUN 21.1kms 1.46

Onto the run and I was feeling good, trying to keep the pace around 4.15min k’s but my watch had bloody auto scroll on and virtual partner kept coming up every time I looked at it. When I eventually saw it I was doing 3.55-4.10 pace). I tried to slow down, but it was tough to. Big Nose was up the road and I saw the big pack all come into transition much closer than I would have liked, we only had about a minute on them – should have been much more. Dane Cantwell, a very good kiwi based in Hong Kong, passed me. I kept waiting for Bucek and Richard hall to come but ten k’s in and aside from a male Phillipino pro (who started 15mins ahead of us) there was still no one running through. J├╝rgen Zack was riding next to me telling me I was third age grouper and I was feeling good. Eventually Richard and Bucek came up about 13kms in – damn that sucks I thought. The aid stations were really bad on the run and everyone was complaining about it after the race. They were every 3kms apart, and every second one had water only. There was no coke at all and the sports drink tasted like water – very diluted. So hardly any calories on offer at all. I kept coming to the ad stations like Macca – shouting “Coke, Coca Cola” over again and the volunteers either clapped and said “Jai Ho” or laughed at me “Ha-ha coke you funny guy Mister”. No, not funny guy, pissed off bonking guy.

Gimme summfink, anyfink!

I eventually tried a gel as it was the only calories available, but immediately vomited it all up, along with all my fluid. I was heading south quickly the big efforts on the bike coming home to roost. I ended up crossing the road to a bike aid station and grabbed a bottle from behind from a lady who was holding it out for cyclists. I ended up just getting slower and slower, running 6min k pace plus and having more walks than I should. I was over it. Needed to do a No. 2 at the 18km mark so did some fertilizing on some dude’s hobby farm.  Hobbled into the finish one of my slowest every Half IM run splits, but hung on for 2nd in my AG after Richard Hall.

Ness naied the run again and was 2nd overall AG female.

The post race had heaps of beer and Red Bull and you could jump straight in he resort pool which was cool. After that the post race organising and experience went downhill fast. You had to rush out to T2 to pick up your bikes, then have the 'celebration buffet' in the same area as the breakfast buffet and finish that by 3pm.

Cool pool.

 After that the awards started at 3.30 and probably half of the awards winner were not there, and the ceremony was really rushed through and did not really have a special feeling that an IM awards ceremony should have to make those on stage feel their hard work was worth it and those on the ground feel they will train harder and get there next time. Also they gave out trophies to the top ten in each age group - which was generous but kind of lame - top 5 is even a stretch for mine.

Tokyo Crew!

Even worse was the Vegas slot (Half Ironman World Championships) ceremony. It started at 5pm, and at 4.55 the organiser said "OK we have 40 slots, there are 35 of you here, so you all qualify". Then another 40 people come in and turns out the guy running it did not have the results list in front of him! He was also conducting proceedings it like we all had to be out of the room by 5.15 before it exploded.

 Each age group went something like "OK Men's 30-34 there are 4 slots - who is in that age group? - Raise your hand". Ten hands go up. "Who was first, who was second" and on it went. until some age group rolled down to 20th and he said - "where were you in your age group and what was your time?". Then the guys go "umm maybe I was 25th and 5.15...." Another guy says "I think maybe I was 28th and 5.10". It was a joke and embarrassing to watch what is supposed to be a special achievement belittled as it was without one person's name being uttered by the host.

"Who was first place in the 30-34?".

Anyway the organiser Remy has apologised since by email to participants for the race's shortcomings this year, which was well received and hopefully it is better next year. But at the end of the day, it is developing Asia, so this is what you sort of expect. 

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