Ironman 70.3 Liuzhou
My motivation to do this race initially was it being one of the 70.3 races that offer spots to Kona. I also love to travel, so regardless of the outcome I was excited to race in a new location. I decided to travel to Beijing first to see the Great Wall of China, which turned out to be a huge mistake as the next day I woke up extremely sore. I couldn’t even sit down without pain, and the next day I was even worse, questioning whether I should actually start the race. It was amazing to walk the wall, but in hindsight not ideal three days before a 70.3 Ironman (lesson learned)
The few days in Beijing gave me a good insight to the food and culture in China, which is very different. I am pretty open to eating new things but I wanted to make sure the two days prior, I ate foods that wouldn’t risk me getting an upset stomach on the day. This proved to be very difficult, especially with all the menus being in Chinese, so the night before the race I played it safe and ate a big bowl of boiled rice (carb loading at the max)
I woke up the morning of the race to torrential rain and thunderstorms. We jumped in a cab and headed to the swim start where everyone was huddled under the sheltered areas as it was quite cold. The swim was a rolling start. I optimistically positioned myself in the <30 minutes zone to avoid getting stuck behind slower swimmers, which turned out to be a good decision as I had a clear path the entire swim. Despite 13 degree water temperature, I felt good and settled straight into a rhythm and my pace was consistent for the 1.9km. The swim was fairly uneventful and I exited the water in a personal best time of 29 minutes, only to face over 80 steps and an 800m run to T1. As soon as we exited the water, the support was amazing. There were huge crowds cheering loudly, especially for Western people. Once I ran up the steps I was told I was a minute down on the leader in my age group. I grabbed my bags to go into the change tent and when I sat down to put my shoes on I realized she was right next to me, also putting her shoes on. This gave me a huge boost to hurry myself up and get on the bike.
It poured down rain for the entire ride. It was by far the worst conditions I had ever raced in, and it was very important to take the corners easy in the wet conditions. When I got onto the bike I knew straight away that I was in for a tough day. My legs were burning (from the Great Wall walk) and I had only just started! As soon as I went up the first climb, I could tell that my legs were far from being 100%. At 10km I actually checked my front tyre as I thought I had a flat, that’s how slow I felt! I was questioning if I was going to make this race. I kept going, all the while my legs and my head were having a huge battle. Should I just call it a day? I could still see the leader so I decided I would keep hanging on for a bit longer and see what happens. Despite my legs not cooperating, I finally managed to pass the leader at 25km. This gave me a new found motivation. After that, I put my head down and really tried to give it a push, as per the race plan discussed with Nathan. I was hoping I could drop her, and gain a few minutes but when we turned for the second lap at 45km she was still right behind me. I kept pushing, giving it everything I had, eventually putting 3 minutes between us. The scenery on the bike course was lovely country roads alongside the river, but given the conditions I had to focus on the road so didn’t get much of a chance to look around! I finished the bike in 2.45, which is a 15 minute PB for me. Coming out of T2 I was told I had a three minute lead, but was uncertain whether this would be enough.
It was going to be a foot race to the finish, and the run is my weakest leg... this was going to be a challenge. When I seen my support crew at 3km I said (quoted on video) “I feel really good!!” I continued to feel this way for the first 7km, and mentally I was in a good place. I was ready for the pain ahead. From then on I could feel my pace starting to fade a little, but I made sure I kept in my nutrition and hydration, and mentally kept strong. It still wasn’t over. The Chinese people were very excited every time they seen a Western person, so every time I would run past a group of people, I would get lots of cheers, as well as a lot of people taking photos of me. I was smiling and having so much fun! My legs felt a lot better in the run then they did on the ride and I felt like I was running well (for me). At 8.5km we made a turn and I could see 2nd place was only a few hundred meters back. She was looking really strong. I kept pushing, but eventually she passed me. I tried to hang on but I just couldn’t match her pace. Up until about 17km she was within sight, so I kept fighting with everything I had left. There was less than a kilometer between me and my Hawaii holiday, but I just couldn’t get there. The run was also a PB for me off the bike, so I had to be happy! I felt like I gave it everything I had, and the finish line felt really sweet (as did the post race beverage)
Despite not getting that top spot, it was still over 16 minutes faster then my previous PB over the 70.3 distance under less than ideal circumstances. I am glad I made the decision to go to China and race as I enjoyed the overall experience and met a lot of great people, including the girl who won my age group. She was a lovely girl from Japan who is only 18, and she thoroughly deserved the spot. It was a great experience to “race” as such, and we both agreed that we raced our best as we pushed each other. She even bought me some Japanese biscuits as a gift! Being a close race, I really enjoyed racing in the high pressure environment and loved the adrenaline. Doing a race in Asia was a fantastic cultural experience and I would highly recommend it.
Now it’s time to focus on getting fitter and stronger over winter and hopefully getting to the big island next year.
....... the road to Kona continues!