IM Gurye, Korea 2018
Background: I loved my first Ironman experience in Gurye, so took no time to sign up for the following year's race. I was a bit more savvy in terms of the training, location and logistics, so hoped for a smoother experience and ultimately a faster race. I trained well - similar to 2017, but added a little more swim and bike training. I eased off on the run training after a spinal stress fracture which I experienced in the off-season.
Travel: I flew into Busan this time, just a two hour bus ride to Gurye. I stayed in a different area (Gwangui-Myeon), with more food options this time but as last year, pretty much all Korean. Not ideal, but I blagged my way through the days before the race with Korean omelettes and noodle dishes.
Gurye: Logistics were much smoother this time, with a better organized bus service which picked up and dropped off just outside my hotel. Race venue was similar, but the expo and finish line were now in the main stadium of Gurye town itself - in hindsight, much better than the previous year.
The Race: Race morning was pretty straight-forward. I was more confident with the bus service to the race start, so I got the later bus and I was nervous, but ready to go by 6am and in the water just before 7am.
Swim: I knew the drill this time, so got among the early starters and eased into my slow but sure rhythm. I felt good as I patiently ticked off the 38 buoys and although I didn't think I was much faster than the year before, I was delighted to exit the water and see 1'23 on my watch - 9 minutes faster! It's a one lap course and you don't exit the water half way, so there are no 'breaks' along the way which always adds to the pressure, but with the training in the bank, it was a much better swim.
Bike: The bike was the same suffer-fest as the year before. I was ready for it, but there is no getting away from the tedium of the six-hour plus slog. The hills were fine, I knew them well and I ticked them all off nicely until the last one when I changed gear too early, had my first mechanical and I lost 5 minutes getting my chain back on. During the six hours, you pass a lot of people with mechanicals or flat tires and I usually utter some vague thanks to myself that I'm lucky not to be in their shoes. Now it was my turn, but at least I managed to fix it, and got back on the road to finish 21 minutes faster than last year. So far so good, but I wasn't sure my run would hold up with the reduction in training.
Run: I started well and ran a decent first 8km before settling into my run/walk shuffle. I kept the pace to a reasonable minimum and kept the nutrition flowing in the hope that I'd find a better pace for the last 10km. It came eventually and I managed a decent last 8km for a sub-5 hour run, 5 minutes faster than last year and a sub-13 hour total.
Post-race thoughts: I was delighted with the time and it's a great feeling when it all comes together and you execute your race plan effectively. It hasn't happened very often, but this is one I'll look back on for a while. Much better organized than the first year and well worth doing, especially if you're based in Asia and looking for your first Ironman.