||Ironman China 2008
Race report for the inaugural Ironman China 2008, Haikou, Hainan Island, China, April 20, 2008.
I highly recommend if you do this race to use a service such as Ken Glah’s Endurance Sports Travel (EST). They were there at 1:00 AM to pick me and my bike case up at the Haikou airport when I arrived. EST provided bike maintenance, bike rides of portions of the course, bus rides of the course, and trips into Haikou to grocery stores. Included was a great breakfast every morning and at 4 AM full breakfast on race morning.
Practice rides revealed a course that on paper sounded easy but in reality with the winds, heat, false flats, and gradual up hills, it demanded respect and on race day that became more apparent than ever.
Practice swims, were greatly effected by an approaching typhoon. The conditions on 1st practice swim were relatively flat with some light chop. But a wickedly strong current would appear later in the morning. The 2nd morning the ocean was flat as glass, ideal conditions to swim, there were 6 buoys forming a rectangle, the 3rd morning the ocean was roiling with high swells and strong current caused by the approaching typhoon. Swimming was difficult and I hung with a group that only went to the 1st buoy. The typhoon was headed directly for the Island of Hainan and directly for the city of Haikou. But the day before the race it had veered to the west and missed the island.
Race morning, with the typhoon gone, the weather was unusually hot and humid. And the winds had switched directions from being a tailwind during the practice rides during the week to headwinds on race day. The temperature at 9 AM on race day was 90 F and would reach 104 F during the afternoon, making a race billed as fast (easy) into a real beast, that demanded respect. 20% of the field dropped out, only one pro went under 10 hours. 15 people in my age group alone dropped out.
Swim, 2 loops of 1.9 Km (2 x 1.2 miles)
The water was flat with light chop, but a strong current would appear later in the morning. The typhoon had taken two buoys, so now there were only 4 buoys. There were too many fishing boats out on the course. The swim caps were the same color as the buoys making sighting nearly impossible. Some boats were moving around and blocking the buoys. The 1st loop run around mat was not near the swim finish arch, it was to the side without a land mark that could be seen from the water making it difficult to find. On the second loop, I had people swimming directly head on into me and perpendicular to me. It was utter chaos. The current was stronger then and just added to mayhem. I finally finished the 2nd loop swimming a lot more than I had to and ran over the timing mat. My heart sank, 1:37:10, a slow swim, I’d missed my target by 17 minutes.
Bike, 2 loops of 90 km (2 x 56 miles)
I was sick. I couldn’t hold anything down for the 1st 34 Km. My Perpetuem had gone bad, I made it up that morning and it was a weird color and tasted awful. I had to switch to my back up supply of Gu gels. The Gu seemed to taste OK and I hoped it would stay down. One problem that the race organizers warned us before hand was that Gatorade regular not Gatorade Endurance would be served and it would be in the screw top bottles not the sport top bottles, which meant you should have a podium quest or aerodrink on your bike because the bottles will not fit in your cages and will not have tops on them. It was monstrously hot. Sometimes an Ironman is a race of compromises, so I stopped at every aid station motioned to them to get the cold drinks out of the ice chests and the volunteers gleefully drenched me with water until I was soaking, which would dry up quickly in the 104F heat. The only real hill was going through the village. It was 104 and the villagers were out in force chanting “Jiao You” which means go in Mandarin. Riding through the village and seeing the villagers’ living conditions made me feel grateful and very fortunate that I had the means to participate in this race. The road surface was clean and smooth. Through the village sharp turns were clearly marked off and all the buffalo dung had been removed. Most of the ride was on smoothly paved highway the only saving grace in battling the heat and headwinds. I was feeling better on my second loop and actually had a negative split. My bike time was 6:39:32, about 20 minutes faster than my target time. Never give up sometimes things will go your way.
Run, 3 x 10.5 Km 10.5 Km to make the full 42 Km (26.2 miles).
The happiness from my faster than predicted bike time quickly wore off as I started to run or should I say started to jog. At the first aid station there was ice. I put a hand full under my cap and kept on going. They originally said you can run on the asphalt but that was where the bike course was so the choice we had was to run on some smooth concrete or some type of uneven tiles. I picked the smooth concrete because that was where most of the shade was. The shade was better than being in sun but it still was really hot. I stopped at every aid station and made them douse me with water, I traded my sponges in for new wet ones, drank as much as I could, took Enduralytes every 15 min, carried a bottle of water and drank and doused myself between aid stations. My Perpetuem had gone horrible bad in my special needs bag. But I had more Gu gels and more Enduralytes enough to get me to the finish. I had some oranges, cookies, and some strange looking soup that was salty, exactly what I needed. Part of the run was near the shore, it was on some type of cushioned synthetic turf that felt like running on pillows after 20 Km on concrete, but most of the run is on concrete so one should wear a substantial shoe because racing flats may not provide enough cushioning. The largest climb on the run is running up the New Century Bridge. It is a large landmark and it means that there is less than 10 Km to the finish. The climb up the bridge was much easier than I expected but it was because of a strong tail wind and when I made the turn around that tail wind become a wicked head wind that force me to walk down the bridge. With less than 6 Km to go the crowds were out in force chanting Jiao You! Jiao You! There was an evil steep little bridge just before the finish, which felt like climbing Mount Everest. At the top it was all down hill to the finish. At the finish there were numerous Chinese flags once again reminding me I was far from home, but more importantly I was about 500 meters from the finish. The announcer said there were two guys from the US, I thought “Oh no some one is going to pass me at the last moment and spoil my picture”, I sprinted to the finish which probably was a speedy jog. I guess the other guy waited for me to finish so his picture would not be mess up. They put me in a wheel chair and whisked me off to the med tent. They put me on a stretcher face down and placed ice on the back of my neck, armpits, back of my knees and gave me my finisher shirt. After 20 min I sat up and placed the ice under my aching feet for another 20 minutes. It was over my second Ironman in the books, 14:43:56 almost an hour faster than my first (Ironman Louisville KY), not at all fast (a horribly slow run of 6:14:49), but today I was more than happy to finish.
There were only 450 Ironman competitors and 50 Kona slots making this race very attractive to people wanting to qualify for Kona. The reason that there were so many DNF’s is because people just threw down what they thought they needed to qualify and if they blew up they blew up and the weather made a lot of them blow up. But the people that did well in the heat or just plod along and can do a 10:50 no matter what could snag a spot, because the attrition rate was high. I met a lot of people that had done more than 10 Ironman races and the only reason they came to this race was to qualify and this is what they relayed to me.
The 6 day China trip with CITS was a great experience but the commercialism was a little much and having traditional Chinese food twice a day for 6 days gets old plus plays havoc with your digestive system. But the Shanghai acrobats, Great wall, and the Forbidden City made the whole trip worth while.