Thursday, 14 November 2019

Xiamen 70.3

When it was announced that the 2020 Ironman 70.3 World Championships are to be held in Taupo, New Zealand, I thought I would give it a shot as it isn't too far or too expensive to get to. I chose Xiamen as my qualifying race as it offered 80 qualifying spots (30 for Kona and 50 for Taupo), a few more slots than average. Based on previous year's results, if I can come close to my PB, I should place somewhere between 10 to 15th place and there could be potentially 9 to 10 spots for my age group, so while it is still far from being guaranteed, I still stood a chance if the spots rolled down a few.

I haven't been to China before and my Chinese isn't that great. Usually I rely on my wife Li-Ann to translate but I am travelling alone this time. Ryan, whom I met through my former club Logan Tri Club made a last minute decision to tag along after closely missing out on a spot at Shanghai 3 weeks before. And it was good to have him as I made a few new friends through him. Xiamen is located in the Fujian province, which coincidentally is the same province where my ancestors came from. So you can kinda call it a trip to trace my roots.

I flew in via Singapore and had a reasonable overnight flight. There was a bit of delay getting our bikes off the plane in Xiamen but I made it just in time to attend the one and only briefing session for the day, as the airport was only 30 minutes away. I stayed at the International Seaside Hotel, it was the closest hotel and I was lucky to book early at a very good price. The room is very spacious and we had plenty of room to set both of our bikes up. The expo was a small affair and I was in and out within 15 minutes. That night I took a 10+ minute walk out for some dinner and came across JFC shopping mall with plenty of takeaway options. Ryan arrive later that night and we both were pretty tired from the travel, so it was an early night. 

I woke up early intending to do a practice swim but it seems there was no one swimming. The organizers fenced up transition area tightly so I had to do a long walk around it to get to and from the swim area. We then went for a short spin and along the way back, I noticed there were some people swimming. I guess I'm just too used to starting early. So I did a short swim and noticed the currents were pretty strong, hopefully it calms down a bit on race day. A local contact of Ryan's took us out for lunch and then a drive around the island, this gave us a bit of insight of the bike route. After that it was time to rack our bikes and we can't help noticing how long transition is, my Garmin recorded 500m to be exact. Apparently last year there were less rows, so it was even longer! We had to use bike and run gear bags, just like in an Ironman race. For dinner, we met up with a couple of guys Ryan met at breakfast and took a cab (save the legs!) to JFC mall for pizza before calling it another early night.

5.20am alarm went off. Our race only starts at 8.15am but transition closes at 7.30am. I actually brought a loaf of bread from Aldi with peanut butter and hazelnut spread, you would laugh but I'm glad I did as I did not have the chance to get any supermarkets. After setting up my bike in transition, I did my final toilet visit to the portaloos. They were squat types and unfortunately did not have any flush water. No wonder there wasn't a queue as not many wanted to use them. Then I had about 45 minutes of idle time sitting in the shade before my race start, while the opening ceremony was going on.

Swim 1.9km

Rolling swim start, the closest I could get was 7 minutes after the first swimmers went in. Swim course is triangular shaped, in a clockwise direction, buoys always on our right. This changed from last year when it was a point to point swim with the currents, so this year's swim would definitely be slower. There was barely any visibility in the water but the buoys were placed quite close, maybe less than 200m apart. There was a bit of petroleum smell, probably coming from the boats. Currents were pretty strong and in some parts, there was a bit of wave chop as well. Apart from a brief moment where I swam too inside and had to correct myself, I kept pretty close to a straight line. I was holding around the 1:45 per 100m pace up until the final straight back to shore, where the currents were pushing us away. I struggled a bit here but I think I still swam to my ability in those conditions. The swim felt long as well and true enough my Garmin recorded just over 2km. I clocked 35:23 with an average pace of 1:47 per 100m, a bit slower than what I do in training. Coming out of the water in 17th position in my age group.

Transition 1

Still getting used to my new wetsuit so I struggled a bit getting the zipper down. Luckily the transition is long and I just managed to get it down and pull off the sleeves just before I got into the change tent. Wetsuit came off without too much hassle. Wipe the feet down and put on the socks, grabbed my helmet and off I went. Put on the helmet as I ran along the bike racks, it became a foot race just getting to my bike. My AWA bib number had my bike placed very close to the exit. A guy went down at the mount line just before me, so I cautiously hopped on the bike as not to cause any accidents. Time taken 4:19.

Bike 90km

The bike course is shaped like an inverted T with the transition in the middle. It goes along the coast, heading north towards Wu Yuan bridge and turn around just after the bridge. We then return in the opposite direction on the same route before making a short detour with some gradual inclines, turnaround and then head further south before turning around and going back to transition. The brief moment of going under the tunnel before the end of each lap was pretty cool. Two lap course with some gentle inclines and false flats, the longest climb being up the bridge. Overall elevation of just under 400m so moderately hilly. Roads were smooth as silk and totally closed off, we had all 3 lanes to ourselves in most parts in each side of the road, so much so cyclists were passing each other on the inside frequently.

My power meter battery decided to die as I arrived in Xiamen. I knew I should have changed it before the trip but there was no indication of being low prior to this. While I don't mind racing without power data, I do rely on cadence measurement to get the gearing right. And with the many false flats and rolling hills on this course, there were many moments I was second guessing my gearing choice. 

The wind did pick up that day and while it wasn't gusty, it was constantly blowing and it did slow us down especially when there was a headwind. While I averaged 36kph for the first lap, I slowed down a little on the second lap, finishing with a bike split of 2:31:39 and overall average of 35.66kph. Garmin recorded 89.8kms, so pretty much spot on. Cycling continues to be my weakest leg and I came off the bike in 24th position while many of the top guys were posting 2:20+ bike splits.

Transition 2

To my pleasant surprise, the bike racks seemed relatively empty as I got in. On to a foot race again to the change tent. On hindsight, I should have kept my helmet on for a while longer so I did not have to hold onto it as I was running. Into the change tent, helmet off, shoes on and grab everything else on the go. Time taken 2:51.

Run 21.1km

Two lap run course, out and back along the coast. Mostly flat but there were a couple of deceptive inclines as well. Minimal shade and it got pretty hot. If we had started just after sunrise at around 6am, it would have been a totally different story. There were sponges at the aid stations and I made full use of them, though I have not learnt to stuff them under my suit just yet. Crowd control was very strict and the entire course was fenced up. So apart from the music blaring from the DJ on the middle part, it was pretty quiet out there. But there was the occasional cheer from athletes running in the opposite direction. I gave Ryan a cheer as well who was about 10 minutes ahead of me as I first saw him on the course.

I probably started off a bit too quick, carrying the leg turnover from the bike, clocking the first km in 4:11. I then dropped to 4:20 for the next two kms but even then it was still a struggle in the heat and I settled into 4:30 for the remaining of the first lap. Fatigue then started to kick in and my pace gradually dropped again to 4:35 and again past 4:40 in the final return. As I came to the final split between going left for the finish instead of turning right for the next lap, the remaining few hundred meters seemed to go on forever. Finally I can hear the announcements from the finish line, I didn't have much left in the tank for a sprint finish. Crossed the finish line with run split of 1:36:29 and overall finish time of 4:50:41. Garmin recorded 21.35km. I ran myself to 18th position and while I was happy with my race, the chances of getting a World Championship spot seemed unlikely.

Post race

Ryan finished just before me and hung the finish medal around my neck, which was really cool. We then hung out at the recovery area for our massage before heading back to the hotel to rest a bit. We then picked up our bikes and packed them up and soon it was time for the awards banquet and World Championship slot ceremony. The banquet was pretty posh but our minds were just on the slots. This is actually only my 2nd time attending the ceremony and it was pretty exciting and nerve wrecking at the same time. Ryan took a well deserved slot in his age group and so did some of the ladies sitting at our table. When it got to my age group, there were 9 spots (2 Kona and 7 Taupo) but unfortunately 13th position took the last spot - I was 3 minutes behind! I waited until all slots went through the other age groups in case, there was a roll down but there were none. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed but nothing worth getting ever comes easy so I just have to keep on trying. 

Xiamen 70.3 is a really well organized race. Sure, there are some language barriers but these can be easily overcome and the organizers did an awesome job having bilingual volunteers in the key areas. Kudos to the organizing committee and volunteers! I don't have any more races planned for the rest of the year, will take a bit of a mental break and come back focused on my next qualifying race.

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