It is no secret that my start to 2011 has not been the greatest of my triathlon career. So as I watched the year progress I became eager to hear if there would be a return of Ironman Korea, after its absence for the last 4 years. In the past I have had good results in Korea and discovered that the extreme conditions and tough course were to my strengths. Fortunately my feeling was good and an announcement of the reinvention of the race was made some time in May. Not long after, I had made my decision and planned the trip to JeJu Island South Korea for the July 3rd race date.
I had a reasonable lead up with a 5th place at the Cairn’s Half Ironman at the beginning of June. I followed that up with some good base training at home in Noosa Heads just as the winter chill started to creep in.
The view from my little hotel room, without mist!!
Once I arrived on JeJu Island it took little time to settle in and I found that not all that much had changed since my last visit to the island, for a training camp in September 2008. JeJu is a small Volcanic Island to the south of mainland South Korea. To ride a loop around the island is almost 180km along amazing coastal roads with rolling terrain. The Ironman bike course had changed from its previous 1 loop to a new 2 loop condensed version which included a few out and backs with some small climbs and testing coastal roads which were very open to wind. This years run course had been modified from previous years but more or less on the same road out to the Football World Cup stadium, as in the past. The new swim venue was chosen to eliminate the chance of a rough water swim as in the past the use of Jungmun Beach - a surf beach, could get a fair amount of swell rolling into it. Not to the liking of the Korean athletes!!
Hwasun Golden Sand Beach. Yeah - I can’t see the golden sand either!
The protected Hwasun Gold Sand Beach, 10km from the Hotel area and new Ironman finish line in the Jungmun Tourist Complex, is a protected waterway and a good choice.
In the past the race was held in August, the very peak of summer. This usually meant extreme heat and humidity. The move to the start of July (the end of the wet season) was to reduce the chance of ridiculous heat and conditions that were more predictable. I arrived on JeJu to cooler weather than I had experienced there before and to a mist or fog that hung around for at least half the day. My immediate reaction was that this years race would not be a killer like past races on JeJu but told myself that this place was still very much unpredictable as far as the weather goes. We had a couple of rainy days during race week and one day where the mist burnt away to expose the true heat when the sun comes out on JeJu. Little did everyone know, but that was what we were in for on the run leg for race day!!
Well race day arrived with the usual misty morning start, which almost jeopardised the chance to hold the swim leg. To the full credit of the race team the swim went ahead as the mist slowly lifted and the swimmers could safely be watched from the water safety craft on the water and on the beach. During the swim I was having a battle of my own and really struggled to maintain the pace of my fellow professional athletes. I dropped from feet to feet and eventually found myself distanced from the chase group of swimmers where I should have stayed. I soldiered on solo for most of the 1st of 2 laps and had some company on the second lap - of one other swimmer! (was that you Ed Hawkins?) I felt tired and energy less, not a great start!
Once on the bike I realized that today was going to be a bitch of a day, and had to come to terms with the fact that I had no high end race pace and would complete this one on pure determination and head strength. Leading into this event I had been dealing with fatigue for a couple of months but on arrival I had gotten a huge amount of sleep in my little hotel room. I had tapered well but was still showing signs of tiredness with bags under my eyes and a cold sore! Anyway onward I went and I actually didn’t feel too bad the last 1 hour of the 180km ride.
Through T 2 and out onto the run I went. By this time I was not really sure what was happening at the front end of the field since the bike leg gave you very few chances to keep an eye on your competitors. The sun was out by now and the heat and humidity was at full force - Ironman Korea was amping it up to live up to its hot hot reputation! After 9-10km I got a chance to see what was going on up front since we had a run turn around point at the Football World Cup stadium 10.5km into the marathon. I had calculated that I was running in 7th place by then - 1 position out of the prize money. Not all the athletes ahead looked convincing and I had my hopes set on claiming a few scalps as time progressed. Not that I was feeling fantastic, I was struggling like a dog! But this had been the theme of the day and the run has always been my thing so I just had to keep the head in the game and keep moving forward in this killer heat! Mid way back to complete the first lap of 2. I was passed by my Japanese friend and fellow pro, Hiro Nishiuchi. As he passed me I also passed a fading ( and walking) spanish pro who had started an IM Korea melt down. I thought, some progress, but I am still in 7th?! So I completed lap 1 and had a reality check as I started lap 2. At this point my head and body were locked into warfare! I thought about having a cry as the idea of going through that run loop again made my head hurt. All of a sudden something changed my mindset and I just continued on and went into run economy mode for another round! Ironman is a strange thing! During the 2nd loop of the marathon I passed my bike sponsor the
Ceepo Bike - flashing by!
legendary creator of Ceepo Bikes, Joe Tanaka doing his 1st loop. Joe was looking great and running very well. It was a real buzz to cheer him on.
So the long and the short of it is that by the time I reached the run turn point for the second time ( 31.5km into the marathon) I was in 5th place, since two other pros in front of me had dropped out after 1 lap. This was enough for me to gain some confidence and run it all the way to the finish line where I was rewarded with 5th place on an absolute brain draining day for me! My good mate Tim Beardal was there waiting for me at the finish since he had finally raced to his full potential and come in 4th overall as an age-grouper, some 15min before me. Well done Tim, time for a career reassessment! (Pro triathlon awaits you!!) I sat down and had a few waters with Tim before I dragged my tried and sorry ass off to the recovery zone of my little Korean Hotel room.
My little piece of JeJu Island to take home.
The next day I started the day with a coffee with Hillary Biscay. We caught up on life and then had a recovery swim at the Lotte Hotel swimming and gym facility. I did some hot and cold treatments and made the most of the KW 20,000 entry charge! We had the awards presentation at lunch time and swapped war stories amongst one another. That night I had a traditional Korean JeJu seafood meal with my Singapore mates Nicole and Arnaud. It was allot of fun we all walked away not quite sure what we had put in our mouthes or what the consequences would be the next day!
Fortunately I woke up the next morning without any consequence from the meal the night before. The weather today was incredible and the best of the whole trip, with sun shining and clear skies. I didn’t have to leave for the airport until 1pm so I thought that today would be the best day for a ride up the volcano. The highest point that the road takes you is 1100m high. Last time I was in JeJu for a training camp in 2008 we ran up the mountain. So I figured the ride up there, even after an Ironman, would be a nice thing to do.
The road up the mountain to 1100m is amazing
I was right and it is by far the best part of the island up there on a sunny clear day. The ride made my morning and I had a good day of travel from there.