Singapore Half Ironman 2012

Had I attempted to write this on Sunday afternoon, or even on Monday morning I would simply have said. NEVER EVER AGAIN!  The Singapore 70.3, was simply so tough, that for pretty much all of the run, I just wanted it to be over.

But let’s take a little step backwards.

I have to say that my lead up to SHIM wasn’t good at all. For some strange reason, I seem to get sick just at the end of Summer. Last year I was hit with the Flu right on race day of the Falls Creek Long Course. This year I was doing great right up until around 10 days ago, when I started with a head cold and sore throat. Thankfully though, as we hadn’t left Australia I was under the impression that all would be ok for SHIM.

What I was really trying to clear quickly was the head cold. For anyone who has flown with one, you’ll know that they are no fun. And in this I succeeded. What I didn’t anticipate was that instead of the cold coming out of my nose, it went straight to my chest.

The full course of penicillin the Doctor gave me only just kept it under control, but did nothing to clear the infection in my throat. So for the past week I’d been chewing on Strepsils like they were Smarties. By Tuesday (5 days before the race) things weren’t improving so drastic measures needed to be taken.

One of the advantages of travelling with Emma is that we always travel with pretty much every drug under the sun (just in case), so I had the opportunity to play Dr Scott and self prescribe a different type of antibiotic. Normally this is something to be avoided but with our experience we now know what works for pretty much every type of infection. Within 24hrs I finally managed to get some sort of control over the fever and sore throat. On Thursday (3 days before the race) I even managed to do a 30min run session, albeit coughing up a lung and with a huge amount of non exercise induced perspiration.

By Friday I could breathe again and by Saturday I even managed a swim warm up.

Not the best lead in to a race I’ve had but at least I made it to the start line.

By way of an aside, has anyone ever mentioned the weather conditions in Singapore. Hot and humid, something akin to exercising in a Sauna and for the most part no wind.

So why should race day be any different?

As dawn broke over the ships in the South China Sea, there was hardly a ripple on the ocean, a beautiful morning for a swim.

The swim course for the SHIM, is a two lap affair with a LeMans type start.

That is, a run down the beach and into the frothing mass of humanity, arms, legs, kicking, thumping, muffled screams that is a Half Ironman start. In the previous HIM’s I’ve done they have been deep water starts and due to the length of the course you usually quickly separate from other swimmers, so while the start is chaotic, things normally settle down after 5-10minutes or so.

H’m, not quite the same with Singapore. Because it is a two lap race there is quite a complicated swim affair.

The first lap is between lane buoys. A bit like swimming in the width of a normal pool.

Great, except that with 80 odd swimmers in my wave it was quite tight.

Add to that a fierce current that had to be swam directly into for most of the first lap then a cross current that pushed everyone into the lane rope on the cross swim. This meant that for most of the first lap there was no option but to keep banging into people, getting thumped, kicked and generally beaten up. If that wasn’t enough, there were a number of swimmers from earlier waves that insisted on doing the breaststroke around the course. Now whilst in most cases I’m in awe of people who can do the breaststroke successfully (I actually swim backwards when I try), getting kicked in the chest and head while you are trying to pass them is just bloody rude. And to the person who scratched me down the back of my leg, please cut your fingernails next time!!!

By the time I’d exited the water at the end of the first lap, was a relief and I was glad just to have survived. I would seriously have liked to have given up there, but when you’re following everyone like lemmings there is no option but to go in for a second round.

Thankfully the second lap was a little smoother. The current was still fierce but as we were now on the outside of the swim course there was a lot more room to swim and for the most part I managed to avoid being thumped.

I was out of the water in just over 45minutes, which is 10minutes slower than I normally swim 1.9km, but given the current, the complicated course and the traffic, was better than I’d expected.

I was really looking forward to the bike, as I knew it would be my strongest leg, though I almost didn’t make it out of transition. For the most part the organizers do an absolutely fabulous job of organizing and setup, however to keep the athletes from turning the grass into a quagmire they had put down plywood and steel ramps to walk on. Now I have to say that trying to run in cycling shoes on steel is akin to trying to run on an iceskating ring without shoes. I did notice that by the time we got back in from the ride, this had been fixed and carpet stapled down, but just getting out onto the road was a death defying experience.

Firstly, I have to say that I take my hat off to anyone who cycles regularly in Singapore. If the heat and the humidity doesn’t get you, then the car drivers certainly will. Traffic in Singapore is horrible and there is nowhere for cyclists to ride safely. I know we complain about how dangerous it is to cycle in Oz, but honestly cycling back home even in Melbourne is just bliss when compared to Singapore. There is no such thing as bike lanes on a road and I’m sure that lights on your bike are simply used as aiming points for the cars to try and hit. But that is another story.

That being said, once the cars were removed on the closed course, the roads were simply SPECTACULAR to ride on. Probably the best road conditions I’ve EVER experienced. Absolutely smooth ribbon tarmac for the whole 90km and except for a couple of flyovers we had to negotiate, absolutely flat as a tack for the whole ride. The scenery was excellent as well, palm tree lined boulevards and lots of shade.

Because I’d been in the second to last wave in the swim, it meant that once I’d wound the bike up to race speed, I was flying past heaps of people and hardly being overtaken which was great for the confidence. What I didn’t expect though was to see my Heart Rate in the T3-T3+ zone which is at least 40-50 bpm higher than it should have been. No matter what I did or even if I slowed down, I couldn’t get it back into the T1 zone which is where I wanted it to be for the race. Obviously the chest infection hadn’t quite disappeared.

The first lap went through in about 57minutes and for the most part the ride was uneventful, except perhaps for the feed zones. Whilst there were two on the course they weren’t quite as organized as other races I’ve been in and there were bidon bottles all over the road. Over the course of the ride I saw 4 riders crash in and around the feed stations, one about 10 metres in front of me who thankfully I managed to avoid, and one poor soul who got caught up with one of the volunteers and both of them came down together, though thankfully outside of some injured pride no one seemed badly hurt.

Whilst I’m on the subject of feed and drink, I’ve been following a strategy outlined by my nutritionist that has me eating something every 20minutes and drinking regularly especially on the bike. With the heat and the humidity I made sure I followed my feed plan to the letter, though as I was to learn later whilst the plan worked brilliantly in Shepparton, it was to fail me dismally in Singapore.

(Just as a side note the drink bottles had these annoying carry straps on them. For the organizers, next time, please remove them, cyclists don’t need a carry strap and having them wrap up with your brakes isn’t safe.)

I finished the bike in about 2hrs 54min, which smashed my previous PB for the distance by about 6-7minutes.

Then the Run, aggghhhh the run!

Never my strongest leg, but I certainly didn’t expect my Heart Rate to hit T4 (equivalent of a sprint) as I jogged out of transition. By the end of the first kilometer I was feeling like I’d just done the hardest sprint of my life. My heart rate was sky high, the heat oppressive and unbearable and for the first time I simply had no idea as to how I would complete the next 20.1km’s.

One of the great things about having done a few of these races before and having done so much training is that I’ve learnt when things go wrong, the first order of business is DON’T PANIC!

The second order of business is to do some problem solving. The only trouble was that there were quite a few details to deal with

Problem #1: My heart rate was way too high

Problem #2: I was way too hot

Problem #3: My stomach felt distended and I’d consumed about 8 litres of water on the bike and hadn’t pee’d at all so either I’d sweated it all out or my stomach/kidneys had shut down.

Once you identify the problems in theory it is simply a matter of dealing with each issue either separately or as a block.

So Heart Rate is too high became, slow down to a walk until my heart rate came back under control.

I’m too hot became drink to cool down.

Stomach feeling distended becomes don’t drink.

So the theory was great, the challenge was that when I dropped back to a walk my heart rate only dropped to T2+ which is the limit of what I can hold in a run for a hard mid distance run. I needed to drink to cooldown but couldn’t because my stomach/kidneys weren’t working.

The one over riding memory I have of this stage of the run was, ‘Why the hell am I doing this to myself?’ and ‘This simply isn’t fun anymore, I want to stop’ and ‘I’m supposed to be doing double this distance in 9 months time, I don’t see any way that I’m going to do this’

I can’t claim any great reason as to why I didn’t simply give up there and then, except to say that a bit like the famous saying from the Apollo 13 movie, ‘Keep working the problems people… Never give up!’

And then I saw it.

At the side of the race there was a shower where a couple of the pro’s who had finished their race were having a shower.

I shuffled off the course, into the shower fully dressed and stood under the cold water.

Heaven!

Initially the Pro’s were impressed and asked me what time I finished in. Once I explained that I’d just started the run, they thought it was hilarious, but gave me lot’s of encouragement!

This has to be one of the great things about our sport. No matter what level you’re at, the encouragement and support is fantastic.

Though I was only in the shower for about a minute, it was pretty much the best minute of the day. At least with my temperature down a bit, I could get back into a bit of a jog.

And from what I can remember that’s how the rest of the run continued. Shuffle as much as I could, walk when I had to, shower when I could (about twice per lap), throw water over my head at each of the aid stations.

As for the finish, I have no idea how I actually got there, except that I burst into tears when I finally crossed that line.

In summary, the Singapore Half Ironman was extremely well organized, (though maybe a little short of say Shepparton). The supporters along the course offering encouragement were wonderful, though I could have killed the school girls who were continually encouraging me to run when I was in a world of hurt.

And without I doubt I have to say, the Singapore Half Ironman is the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do.

Would I do it again. At this moment I’d say definitely NO as it took so much out of me physically and emotionally. (But let’s see what next week brings)

To summarise:

Swim 1.9km, slowest time ever in a race

Bike 90km, personal best by about 6 minutes

Run 21.1km, worst ever

Finish time 6hours 46minutes

Fluid Drunk – 10litres without peeing

Toenails lost – 5

What did I do right? Finished

What went wrong? Lot’s, but I’ll reflect on that over the next couple of weeks.