Ironman 70.3 Vietnam 2018
From Beer boys to Iron men…
It began the year before over a few beers as a bit of a joke. ‘How fast do you think the 3 of us could do the relay at Ironman DaNang I said…
As the fastest time trialist among us, Gary already had the bike leg sewn up. Mark was a county swimmer in his youth, so that left me with the short straw. The only running I had done in recent years was on my work travels whenever it seemed easier than taking a bike.
The Team left to right Luke, Mark and Gary
From there we formed a discussion group and started a bit of half-hearted training. However, despite our best intentions, the months went by, life took its usual twists and turns and training tailed off. It was looking like an unlikely event. But after another moment of madness and a beer or two, entry was secured and flights were booked. Suddenly it dawned on me that this cyclist needed to become a much better runner.
I started running more regularly and increasing my distance but progress was not instant; some days were good, others were painful but it was the thought of letting the group down that kept me going. Amazing how motivating mates can be when it comes to training. A busy 3 week trip to the USA for the Sea Otter event (running shoes barely left my bag) left only a 10 day turn around before we were heading off to Vietnam. Packing in as much training as I dared this close to the event and pushing through the jet lag, everything felt possible until the 12th mile of my final run when I blew up. Such a basic error - I had forgotten to take any food and my blood sugar crashed. On a bike I would have limped home but here I was, an empty heap on the floor, reduced to making that call to my wife for a ride home in the car. Not the way I wanted my last run before the flight but too late to worry.
I’ll cut a long story short by saying that our journey from Heathrow began with a broken plane and a 24 hour delay.
Many movies later we were greeted by that all familiar wall of heat and a welcome beer in Hanoi Airport at 9.30am (seemed to make sense at the time). Another plane to Da-Nang where we found our hotel and had to resist the temptation to fall straight into bed at 11am. With the relay only hours away, we needed to adjust quickly and did everything we could to keep our eyes open.
The answer was the best Pho (beef noodle soup) and crispy spring rolls which we found at a roadside stall beside the beach. And then there was coffee. Nowadays, not the local stuff I was used to with condensed milk over ice but high-quality European style coffee which kept us going til nightfall. Our little friend jet lag gave us a wake-up call at 3am.
Pho (pronounced fer) beef noodle soup Drip filter coffee.
Luckily for me, there was a social run before the main event, organized by the local hospital where Newborns Vietnam operates - the charity we were fundraising for and the real reason for our mad endeavour. Hundreds of us ran the 2km in the cool of the early morning and I was glad of the chance to loosen my heavy flight legs. Back at the event village, I met Mark and Gary where we registered, collected our race bags and socialized with some of the other teams. Beside the event wall splashed with all the competitors’ names, I began to feel a bit of a fraud – whilst I only had the run to think about, lots of these people would be completing all 3 parts solo.
After we dropped all our things back at the hotel we had some time and headed into nearby HoiAn. The old town is bustling with shops and street vendors and we enjoyed an amazing lunch. This was the opportunity to do a little souvenir shopping and I whipped around the town collecting a few items for friends and family back home. We had been invited to dinner with friends who live locally and hopped aboard a riverboat - the perfect way to escape the heat and travel to meet our hosts.
I couldn’t find a picture of Mark swimming but this was him after a day’s cycling the day after the race and perhaps one too many celebratory beers (just one too many I promise).
113km Bike 2,27.27
Gary was underway and now finally I turned my attention to my own preparations. The first thing was to head out of the heat so I found an air-conditioned café to wait in, grabbed a little food and kept hydrated. Using the event app we could see that Gary was going well, pulling back a lot of the teams ahead of us. While I was pleased he was going so well I could feel the pressure of his effort on my own impending performance. With the wait almost over I headed to transition and then disaster struck - Gary punctured! Not knowing why he was delayed, those 3 minutes felt like a lifetime. By the time he had racked his bike, I was a ball of nervous energy. I grabbed the timing transponder, wrapped it around my ankle and took off.
Gary on his bike a few days later.
21.1km Run 1,56.30
Starting out the gate like it was a 400m track race I had to calm myself down; I was going too quick and the heat was such that I couldn’t afford to make that mistake. I had enough experience cycling in Vietnam to know you have to respect these conditions - 35˚c and high humidity as well as full sun. I settled my pace down and got a couple of km under my belt. My heart rate was still too high so I slowed the pace a little and then slowed it some more. Eventually finding a sustainable pace I plodded (slower than I would have liked) to the turn at half way. I had settled into a routine of small sips of water and a pale over my head every 1.5km which seemed to do the job. As the water evaporated from one station to the next, I imagined myself being boiled out there. From the turn I accelerated my pace and held onto it for the next 4 miles, passing a lot of runners who had probably gone out a bit too hard. Although my target time was long gone, I was focused now on finishing this as well as I could. Pride and a sense of responsibility to Mark, Gary and our many supporters kept my feet moving. With 3 miles to go and struggling with the heat, I dug in and told myself as long as I avoided walking, all would be well. I was focused on another runner near me and tunnel vision ensued. I started to feel sore in places under my arms where my vest had rubbed all the skin away, and my feet hurt like never before. But I pushed through. I would usually try and push the last mile but this time all I could do was keep running.
Trying to look like I was enjoying myself during the race.
No Usain Bolt finish for me today. The last km marker was not in the right place ( I knew from my watch that it was nearer the 1.3km mark) which felt like another blow to my depleted body. As I came off the road and onto the carpeted finish area there was about 500m to go. Giving it all I had, a final push for the line and there were Mark and Gary. Full of mixed emotion, I was proud to have pushed through my mental and physical pain threshold but disappointed not to have produced the time I had trained to run. It was consoling to hear from many a good runner after the event that they too were 20 to 25mins behind their usual performance in cooler conditions. Beers were drunk and calories replaced, friends greeted and new ones made. The camaraderie of shared suffering amongst competitors at these events is incredible.
We came, we tried our best and we finished 7th out of 114 finishing teams. Many failed to complete the course and hours later when we returned to our hotel, some were still out there giving it their best efforts.
Since returning from Vietnam, I’ve been trying to run once a week but my bike is keeping me occupied enough and is my first love in sport. I expect I will run more in the winter as I did before. I briefly tried my hand at swimming 1.9km and recorded 42mins on my first attempt, floating the idea that I could do Ironman DaNang solo next time. Then I came to my senses and got back on my bike. For me, there is nothing like the feeling of the wind in my face and the miles rolling away under my tires.