A tale of what you planned and what actually happened – 2016 Vietnam 70.3

running in Danang Vietnam 2016 70.3 half ironman

running in 70.3 VNG 2016

The VNG Ironman 70.3 2016…a diary

End November 2015…

Should I? Maybe I should … Just need to focus for a few weeks right? I have done more in the past…I think it’s possible… My ex student is going…so logistics are kind of settled, and if I fall sick I won’t be alone. 

That was how I ‘conned’ myself into signing up for 2016 Vietnam 70.3 half ironman race. s“H”

But I forgot;  

1. I’m older now and I don’t recover as fast. 

2. Very busy at work and I have less time and energy to train and recover. My job is very physical so it is physical fatigue that gets to me. 

3. No team or ex-student to train for this time. I will have to train alone but I am motivated by people. So that makes this harder.  

4. I now have knee pain from tight quads and sore hips. 

I had a plan! I thought I could better and more efficiently manage my resources by; 

1. Signing up with an online coach. You can’t really coach yourself because you can’t deal with your own reality objectively. Paid money already so you will follow advice and training program. 16 weeks should be long enough to train safely. 

2. Booking weekly sessions with my physio.  

3. Announcing to the world you are racing and training and get others to ‘check on you’.

4. Starting training with a running group weekly. 

5. Getting new toys; new second hand time trial bike that I have been dreaming of, a new pair running shoes (my 2 pairs of DS trainer died 2 weeks before race), borrowed a pair of fast wheels and a pair of hospital grade mechanical compression leg sleeves. 

6. Using new recovery modalities with Flossband to release tight kneecap, and supplements like Gaba for better sleep. 

February 2016…

What actually happened… 

1. I looked forward with fear and frustration for the weekly training program to be uploaded by my online coach. In reality I did not trust the program too much. I don’t have a relationship with the online coach who recommended training that ran contrary to my own coaching philosophy. So, I modified the program according to my energy level and the time I had. It was almost like writing my own program…except that I had conversations with the writer to hear her comments. I know myself better than someone I gave data to customise a training program. The program would work well if I had been completely honest, and had a more sedentary job. I only did 3/4 or less of the weekly training program and only the main sets of training. I modified the strength and conditioning to weight training instead of plyometrics training. I did less than recommended. Longest bike 82km at zone 2-4 pace once, longest run 12km at zone 2-3 pace and longest swim 2100m compared to my usual of 2500m.  

2. I had more and more work and after the first week of training, I could hardly keep up with training and rest. I was sleeping 6 hours or less. Running on less sleep and stress, my HRV (heart are variability which is a key metric to track recovery) was lower than average in general. And when I planned to train, I didn’t because I was not physically ready to work hard. I cancelled or reduced training when it was time to train. Only in the last 3 weeks when work got better and I could be more focused on training. By this time, I lost steam. 

3. My kneecap became less tight with less jumping and running during my coaching. However I started having tight planta fascia, sore hips and lower back. I am unsure what happened. I got too busy to see my regular physio weekly and ended up with only 3 sessions in 16 weeks (from planned 16!). 

4. I thought I would enjoyed the journey more but was so stressed that toeing on the starting line was already a win for me! 

Race week… 

I was too busy and strung up to rest much.  My training was so low (below par) that tapering was more like having time and energy to pack and prep for trip. I did not do what I always tell my clients… race plan, race diet, race recovery. I didn’t even have a list – only mentally walked through the trip and race and packed accordingly.

2 days before race (in Vietnam)… 

Tried to eat better for race but only managed to get eggs and instant noodles. Tried to sleep more but drank Vietnamese coffee. Those strong robusta beans and condensed milk… it is a killer combo of sugar and caffeine. Ate burgers and simple carbs… not ideal. Too lazy to even swim in the sea, only checked out race site when I collected the race pack. It was scary to see the waves and hear other athletes having problems even getting out in the swim. The race pack collection process was more than smooth – it was actually nice! The free coffee at the reception, the volunteers every 5m, the entitlements of Vietnamese hat, coffee, coffee filter, towel and number tattoo and not forgetting the free chiropractor treatment.  

Race day… 

Got up early enough at 4:30am… without the alarm because I couldn’t sleep! Slept total of 10 hours in 2 days. Had liquid meal, coffee and tried to poop. Off to the race site… more gel and said hi to many friends there. No electrolytes, no spare tube, no spare bottle and just go! 

I didn’t go for race briefing – I only know on race day, my wave is rolling start, and the swim is anti clockwise, loads of sea bugs and jelly fish and finish is at the beach.  

Had a gel while walking around, then had a last dump in the toilet that couldn’t flush before I wandered down to the beach and waited around with the 1300+ athletes and their fans, friends and counters. I was waiting at the pen before I was pushed to the rolling start. Off I went, walked almost 100m with some dolphin dive before I could start swimming. The sea bugs! The kicking and wild swinging arms, makes the swim memorable… Seems to take forever to get to the first buoy, then another eternity to the 2nd buoy to the 180° turn of the longest stretch of the ’T’ route. There was current pushing you to the side and people were swimming over you, beside you, kicking and all. Slowly but surely the last turn and back. Greeted not by cheers of the crowd but sea bugs once again.  

Then I realised I hadn’t started my timing of the race.  

At times like this, would knowing my timing change anything, especially if I am not racing at my best? The race clock said 46min for my 1.9km swim and with my later start maybe I swam 40min? Too slow and I felt slow.

Off the beach to the long run towards the transition area. Long is the word! One of the few times in my life, I wore socks, and even had time for a drink of Optimum Nutrition’s energy boosting Amino Energy.  

First 1km out, I tried to drink from my 500ml bottle, the holder was tight and bike twitchy. Another thing I forgot to do – try out my hydration strategy before race! Knowing that I needed more water, I should have a hydration bottle. It was hard to grab bottles from volunteers with my new hardly used bike, I had to stop and pick up bottles, and I couldn’t even pull out the bottle from my saddle holder and so could only have one bottle at a time. Quite worried about not having enough fluid, but luckily the weather was cool compared to Singapore and I wasn’t working too hard to become overheated.  

The route was mostly flat and without wind, I was riding faster than I thought I could and hit the half way point at 1:27hour. That is better than 30km/ hour pace. I am usually just under 30km/hr. The only non flat portion was up the bridge. I felt real good and was even able to pass quite a few cyclists along the way. And some that I passed, passed me when I had to stop three times to change bottles. It was a cat and mouse game! All felt quite good until the last part when we had to ride pass Hyatt hotel before the 8km turn around back. There was headwind and slight uphill. I started to cramp here, and had to sit up to ride, and slowly grindingly got to the turnaround, and it was ‘speed’ home. Then I started to cramp up on my abductors again due to the body position and effort. I drank about 3x 500ml of water and 3 100-calories caffeinated gels only.  

I was so happy when I reached the transition area, and off to drop off the bike. There were so many bikes in the area already, and there was me. Put on my shoes, my cap and a drink from the last serving of Amino Energy. I jogged out feeling good. In less than 6min, I cramped. So fast!!!??? I prayed for my God to take away the cramp. Cramping now means it would be walk and jog and more walking not to have my VMO (vastus medialis oblique, one of the four thigh muscles) seize up. I walked and took a small cup of electrolyte and walked. The cramp just went away! Thank God! Then it was 1km by 1km of walking at aid station, sponging and sipping the cold mineral water. I was 1:11 hr at turn around and maybe it is not as bad. I still felt good and looked strong. My hips were not sore and foot ok. But it was getting hotter and hotter, I am cramping now from fatigue. Had to walk off more than I thought. If I run harder, my heart rate goes up beyond 145 and I cramp. I slowly grinded on, a step at a time, looking for any sign of cramp and slowed to a walk to ward it off. And finally the last 2km sign showed up, and by now so many had passed me. I wanted to run ahead to catch up but I can’t. I just have to be patient, just go at my own pace, a step at a time. I cannot rush, my mind must be in control and be clear. 

And then it was the 1km mark, and still the cramp is just about getting to me. I ran into the transition area, down to the beach, up on the red carpet to chute and finish arch! I am finally here!! 

The journey started in end November 2015, the training started in Feb, 16 weeks of training and stress. And it ended here 8 May 2016.  

I was so happy to finish it. 

I made it with so little training, with injury, with so much increased stress and load from work, with the drama of accident being hit from behind by a motorbike during training, and another accident of my new van rolling into a Volvo, and new projects on the way.  

It was like managing a project with stakes that is beyond money, it was ego and pride as well. 

I was happy to finish to the best of my abilities and could hardly move and talk after, I knew I gave it all.  

What I learnt – articles to come… 

1.   The mind has a large part to play in the how I perform. 

2.   A training program is a guide, if (and only if!) you have enough experience, you can modify it to suit your lifestyle and demands.

3.   Be clear about what motivates you.