IM Gurye, Korea 2017
Background: I started Triathlon in 2011 with a Sprint, a couple of Olympic distances and a 70.3. By 2017, I had done a bunch of 70.3s and felt like a crack at the full distance. Living in Asia, training and racing in the heat is the norm, but it inevitably sucks the life out of me, especially on the run. So my interest was piqued when I saw the new Ironman in Gurye, South Korea – a new country for me, nice surroundings, decent (cooler) climate, a 2-lap lake swim, a not too hilly bike course and to cap it all, a flat run. IM were offering a 24-week training plan with every sign-up, which helped sway my decision, and I adapted this plan to my schedule for a minimal but consistent 5-6 hours per week, increasing to 8-9 hours towards the end.
Travel/Gurye: I went with my family, which was great but as a worrier, it adds to the stress with the extra logistics. I always over-think races and didn’t do myself any favours in the build-up. Looking back, my main issue once on the ground was the limited food options, but I found a local tea-house who sold a mean Club Sandwich and I ate those almost exclusively in the 2-3 days before, and even on the morning of the race. Shuttle bus logistics were also a problem - a brand new race and the bus drivers seemed to be bemused by the whole thing and spoke no English. We got around, but not without general confusion and sometimes excessive waiting times.
The Race: As usual I slept badly, and was up early to get the 4:30am bus to T1. I thought I could nod off on the bus, but I was literally at T1 by 4:45am. T1 didn’t even open until 5am and I didn’t start swimming until 7am, so I really messed up my timing. My wetsuit was cold and damp from the practice swim the day before, so after dropping off my spare clothes, it was a pretty miserable two hours waiting for the start. But I got to the start-line in one piece, although suddenly very conscious of never having swam 3.8km and biked more than 101km. I’d run a marathon PB 6 weeks before, but was under no illusions of running much of the marathon.
Swim: It was a lake Swim and despite heavy fog which I gathered later almost caused them to cancel, it was surprisingly uneventful after one or two early kicks. Unfortunately the two-loop swim, which would have given me a chance to pause for breath half-way through, had been changed to just one-loop, but I plugged away and got through in 1’32”. A few minor cramps at the start, but it was just a question of focus. Just keep turning the arms and counting off the 100m buoys - all 38 of them. As a poor swimmer, the Swim is always my biggest fear - it's a long way to go and a lot of cash to throw down only to be pulled out of the water after a panic attack. But I'd done the work, and although by no means a great swim, it felt great to me.
Bike: The bike course was a little hilly, but I’d done more hills in training than ever before, so fitness-wise I was okay. Just had to stay out of trouble and not make mistakes like the guys I saw crash and burn coming down the steep hill after just 10km. What a way to end your race just trying save literally a handful of seconds. Ultimately for me, an uneventful ride, but the main issue I had was sheer boredom. My main fear on the bike is always mechanical and I was just so bored and fed-up by 100km, that I almost wanted something to happen to bring an end to the race. I wouldn’t say I’m mentally tough, but you need some level of mental toughness in those moments. I slogged it home in 6’47”. The last 20km was the worst - a false flat endless highway that actually takes you past the finish line at one point, just to kick you when you're down.
Run: I was delighted to get off the bike with a good 7+ hours to finish the marathon. Of course my main goal was simply to finish, so the pressure was off. I had a 5-hour marathon in mind, and ran well for the first 10km, only to settle into a run/walk shuffle for the next 20km. With 10km left I started on the Pepsi (for the first time in a race) and it gave me enough of a boost to run it home for a 5-hours flat marathon. Great having the family there at the end, truly a once in a lifetime moment to share with them.
Post-race thoughts: The day itself is a sometimes lonely slog, but at my pace, it's really just a well-paced and focused day. The pre-race fears partly diminish once out of the water and the DNF (Did Not Finish) fears evaporate (for me), once off the bike with time in the bank. You never forget your first and I'm glad my ever-supportive and encouraging family were there from start to finish. This was the first of the new Ironman Korea and although it wasn't as smooth as it could have been, most of those issues were ironed out by the following year. For a first-timer this is a great option - the location is idyllic, climate is almost perfect and some great local support.