70.3 Clearwater Bay 2020
Background: Since wrapping up my 2019 races in late November, I'd been looking ahead to my 2020 race calendar with some uncertainty - my kids both off to Uni in September, so summer and autumn not ideal for racing. With no plans for a full-Ironman, I scoured the various race calendars for an early-ish 70.3 (Half Ironman) race, but nothing was jumping out and I didn't want to race anywhere for the sake of it. I'd have gone back to Colombo, but it was no longer on the schedule after last year's bombings. Danang in May is an old favourite, but after doing it twice before, I didn't fancy another hot sufferfest. Thailand in late February was an option for a while, but after an initial search, accommodation looked pretty scarce and I let it go.
Without preaching too much, I was also starting to be aware of the pointless of it all - flights, hotels, t-shirts, free-swag that never gets used - the sheer amount of waste involved. Plus of course the cost - probably US$1,500 in all - which I could do without spending. So in early January, I made the decision give myself 12 weeks to train for my own 70.3 in the local area. We were also moving house in April, so this was my last chance to have a long day on roads that I've trained on for the past four years, covering three IMs, four 70.3s and three Marathons.
Then of course came COVID-19, which meant that I couldn't have done an official race even if I had wanted to.
Overall, my training was okay without pulling up any trees. I was training between five and six hours per week - swimming and running consistently, and although my biking was also on par, I wasn't seeing much progress. Training on the hills in Clearwater Bay has previously translated well to racing on the flat, but this time I'd be racing on the same hills as my training. My longest ride was only 55km, so I wasn't feeling too confident and with the weather warming up, I wasn't looking forward to a hot half-marathon after a long slog on the bike.
Race week: Obviously no travel involved, which meant less logistical stress and a more relaxed 'race-week'. I was sleeping okay, but as the day approached, I was starting to over-think it and had a couple of poor sleeps. Looking at the weather, I had penciled in the Thursday or Friday for the race - Thursday would be slightly too soon in my taper, but (Good) Friday would mean busier Public Holiday roads for the bike. As the week panned out, I settled on the Friday with an as-early-as-possible swim, meaning I could wrap up the bike before the traffic built up.
Race morning: Aside from a 1-2 hour sleepless period, I slept okay with 5-6 hours in all. As mentioned in recent race reports, after the previous year's thyroid surgery I have to take my thyroxine as soon as I wake up, then not eat for an hour, so this plays into my planning. Sunrise was at 6:08am, so I planned a 5:00am alarm and a bonk-breaker with water as I walked to the swim before a sunrise start.
Swim: As mentioned before, I had been training pretty well and was starting to see some progress in the pool. With a revised technique (basically a stronger pull), I was now able to creep just under the 2:00min/100m mark for 1800m. Having said that, my open water swims never seemed to reflect that and I was logging pretty average times. Anyhow, my daughter was also up early to join me for the swim and after a ten-minute walk, we were at the beach by around 6:05am. With no pre-race T1 preparations, it was all on me and I didn't hang around before starting at 6:10am. There were 2-3 other swimmers out there, so that was a little reassuring - for some reason I didn't want to be swimming completely alone. I got into my rhythm early and was planning 5-6 laps of the swimming area, with my garmin buzzing every 500m to keep me on track. All went pretty well, although I did lose direction at one point after poor sighting - mistaking the railings at the beach building for the railings of the platform in the swimming zone. The good thing though when you're not following a set course, all metres are the same and they all count! After the third buzz of my watch, I finished my lap and headed back to the beach. I exited the water with yet another average time of 44-minutes - way below my recent times and my target of sub-40 minutes. I really must try to figure this out, but that's another story.
T1: I'd practiced this walk a few times, but T1 was always going to be long, with an 800m walk up numerous steps with a total elevation of close to 100m. I chose not to run it, but kept it steady to keep my heart rate in check. T1 for real was in my front yard, so once there I did my thing and was out the gate in around 11 minutes.
Bike: Clearwater Bay is hilly. It's either uphill or downhill, with literally no flat sections at all. I knew the roads well, and I wanted to find a route that would allow me to keep my average speed up. In training I averaged below 25km/hour, so this would mean close to four hours on the bike. I therefore chose the flattest section possible, which was a stretch of just over 1km with 24m of elevation, which I could do back and forth. So the plan was to do 40 of these loops with an average speed of at least 26km/h to keep my time below 3'30". On the downhill stretch I was typically able to keep around 35km/h average, but the uphill stretch would be slower at around 22km/h. The drawback was the turn at each end when my speed went down to almost zero. My nutrition plan was new to me too, I was going to rely on one Pocari bottle each hour together with three bonk breakers. Looking back, I didn't really get enough down - just one bonk breaker and around two bottles of Pocari.
It was a tedious ride, but my kids came out at intervals to give me drinks and take photos. It wasn't particularly challenging, but the 1000m of elevation gradually wore me down and it was quite hard to keep motivated after 30 or 40km. As it was Good Friday and a Public Holiday, I was conscious of the roads getting busier all the time, but fortunately they were pretty clear up to around 55km. After that, it was more of a challenge and although I had a couple of close shaves, I had no serious issues. I plugged away and gradually ticked off the remaining kms, with useful garmin reminders every 5km. My pace was pretty good, keeping my average above 27.5km/h until the last 15-20km, when I started to tire and eventually slipped to a finishing average of 26.9km/h. Not great, but glad it was over.
T2: Once 90km came up on the garmin, I headed back to T2. This was much faster than T1, and I took around 3mins including a crafty pee in the back garden.
Run: As mentioned previously, I had been pretty consistent with my run training, but didn't go much beyond 12km. No brick sessions either - more out of choice really - I never really felt up for it in my training - I needed more bike work, so always seemed to opt for an extra 30-45mins on the bike instead. Not ideal, but fairly typical for me. The day was warming up, but I was starting around 10:30am, so wasn't too bad in the low 20s. I chose the same route as on the bike, so had some gradual slopes to get through, down and up, down and up, eight times. As you may see from my previous times, I've never run well off the bike in any of my 70.3s - only once have I broken 2 hours. This time, I was determined to put in a reasonable effort and managed to string together a fairly decent first 10km before settling in for a run walk strategy to bring me home. I ended up running all the downhill slopes, then walking the uphill slopes. Not my best work, and certainly not my best time, but I got through it. As it was a public holiday, the police were out in force and kudos to one policeman who cheerfully counted my laps as I passed him at the turnaround. With 20km on the watch, I turned for home and was greeted to a great finish line experience in my front yard. My family pulled out all the stops and made for a memorable finish as I broke the tape and got my medal.
Post-race thoughts: I cursed myself many, many times throughout this race - a few times in the swim, pretty much constantly throughout the bike and several more times on the run. It was probably the most mentally tough 70.3 I've done and I didn't help myself by constantly telling myself that I just did not need to do any of this. But I got through and despite a pretty below average time, I'm happy with it. This was my tenth 70.3, and my ten year streak is alive despite the possibility of there being no official races this year. It was great to do a 'race' in Hong Kong and even better to do one from my own front yard with my family there all the way through.