Since the completion of Ironman Gurye three and half weeks ago, I’ve been taking things pretty easy. I’ve put in a handful of runs of around 30 minutes, plus another couple around the 60 minute mark. Added to that have been a few short indoor bike sessions and at least one relaxed swim per week, as well as some strength and conditioning work to round out my recovery phase. I’ve also had the pleasure of a full “up and down” gastrointestinal colonoscopy to try to find reasons for my issues with lack of iron/endurance , but all they found was that I really am a tight arse, to the point that they could only complete 50% of the procedure, which in my opinion was already 100% too much.
As you may have noticed I have yet to write a race report, mainly because I was still processing everything, but being stuck on a 11 hour flight seemed the perfect opportunity to do so!
Ironman Gurye, Korea 2018. Race Report
The early morning start was cool and dark, but I could hear all the other athletes moving around in the hotel, everyone going through their own routines in preparation for a long tough day. I always find this part of race day exciting, still sleepy but at same time wide awake, not knowing what the next 20 hours will bring, hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.
My breakfast was a mixture of food I’d brought with me and that which I’d bought locally including fruits, breads and rice balls, which I consumed in the room. Last year getting simple basic food that I could easily digest had been a problem, and I had brought enough packs and cans to last for the whole trip, although it wasn’t necessary as this year the hotel had gone to some efforts to ensure there was familiar foods for us non Koreans.
I ate my fill and had my umpteenth bathroom break before heading out to the bus stop with some other TiT competitors. The journey to transition was in the pitch black and mostly silent as we all contemplated what lie ahead. It was all uneventful until on arriving at the swim start I realised I couldn’t find my timing chip. Luckily after 10 minutes of panic I went to the help desk and was given a replacement without any questions asked.
Set up was smooth with a good buzz, was nice to have so many club mates around to chat with and share the Vaseline! As the start time approached I did my normal of slipping away from everyone to zone out and focus inwards.
The rolling start went smoothly despite the mist obscuring the course. I jumped off the pontoon this time, having learnt last year that it’s impossible to slip in(I had ended up doing a belly flop), and was straight into my stroke. I didn’t really seem to get out of the rugby scrum (even had goggles kicked off my face), basically due to everyone following a rope the whole way round, meaning the pack kept tight and never really spread out as you do when swimming between buoys. Other than that was all pretty comfortable and I came out in 1:29, which is actually my best Ironman swim.
T1- I managed to go a little faster than my normal transition, bumped into a team-mate, which is always nice, and set off on the bike.
The Bike. It was a tad chilly with the early morning sun only making brief appearances but I quickly began to warm up once the first and only real climb started. I had memories of struggling up the incline last year but the end seemed to arrive much quicker this time, and then it was off down the hill to start the main set, which is three loops in beautiful countryside, the tree-lined roads both smooth and reasonably flat.
I enjoyed the bike a lot, surprising myself how well I was going, which I put down to the regular outdoor rides I had managed in Spain. The only real negative were the number of people drafting, it was so blatant and full on, I ended up calling out the cheaters a couple of times, especially when I caught them drafting behind me secretly. I really don’t understand people who cheat, I don’t see the point, it’s not as though you can win, you’re only racing yourself so the only person you’re cheating IS yourself.
I was going pretty well, I kept down on the aerobars for the first 100k or more, enjoying keeping my eyes peeled for various club mates whom I saw regularly on the 3 lap course. I felt comfortable holding around 30kph, deciding I had time to make a pit stop at special needs around the 130km mark. I usually do stop on the bike as I believe a 10 minute break at this stage sets me up well for the run, and has always worked well before.
The final 20km straight back to T2 was on the highway, and was just as nasty as I remembered, probably worse. There is a constant slight gradient that eats away at your soul, with a head wind doubling the effect. Added to which there is fast traffic zooming by on both sides so it really is a tough way to finish such an enjoyable ride. It feels like the organizers are getting in a joke, laughing at us for thinking they’d allow an Ironman bike section to be that enjoyable all the way through!
T2. I had just completed my best bike time to add to my best swim , and calculating in my head I realised I could be in for a sub 13 finish, which would be a huge PB for me. My run had always been my strongest part although my run training had been badly interrupted by the iron/endurance problems. However even if I just matched my worst ever marathon time, I was still on for a PB. With this thought I hurried through transition in another best ever time.
Well, what can I say. I knew it was going to be tough considering one month previously I wasn’t able to run over 12km without stopping, but I couldn’t imagine how tough it would be.
It actually started fine, and my pace was on target. The whole course is pretty flat and is a mix of well paved roads and paths, so no real reason to worry. I slowed a bit but went through half way at just over two hours. And I continued to grind on until suddenly at around 30km, the wall hit, and hit BIG. I don’t think I’ve ever been so badly effected, while I’ve certainly hit the wall before, I usually manage to recover after 5km or so of walking, but not this time.
The only thing that kept me going was I the fact I knew there were 3 other TiT athletes behind me, and having seen them on the loop I had worked out that as long as I kept at a walking pace of X, I would still manage to finish in front. I also had regular shout outs to other athletes on the course which made me at least pretend to be in control.
To cut a long story short, I was less than 1km from finish when our own Triathlon super hero and bundle of smiles Mika Kume ran past. She saw me and shouted “c’mon Richard, run with me”, I shook my head feeling too exhausted to try anymore. But she didn’t give up, shouting at me again so I broke into a slow trot and slotted in 20m behind her.
As I entered the finishing shoot I was happy to see the line, getting ready to raise my arms in the iconic finishing shot. However one total idiot stopped dead on the line and stood there holding a banner, totally blocking my way. I waited patiently as the photographers beckoned to him to cross the line but he continued standing there, until I crept around the side of him. My finisher pics basically show him standing like a world beater, arms raised and a massive look of triumph on his face, with various body parts of mine peeking around him. Dickhead!
After that finish I was so disappointed in myself, ended up just over 14hrs, of which 5 and half hours was on the run. My club mates were all around offering congrats and support but I just couldn’t get in the mood at all, and sloped off to catch the bus back to the hotel by myself.
The next day was much better, I felt more positive and was so nice to have a bunch of friends around to talk and eat with. We did the normal bike and gear pick up and then broke it all down and packed it away, ready for the early morning bus back to the airport on Tuesday. And that evening, for the first time in over 5 years, I went out and partied, drinking and eating and having a wonderful time. The shared sense of achievement and relaxation after months of hard work made it a very special night, and I’m proud to say that even if I partook of alcohol I was sensible enough to know my limitations and I left at around 10pm, leaving the majority to party on into the night.
So in summary it was a much better organized event than last year, still a few rough edges and kinda missing the normal Ironman hype and pizzazz! It’s relatively easy to get to and has no nasty surprises, with the locals being kind and supportive, however maybe the whole thing is a little too gentle and restrained, feels it needs some Ironman magic stirred in the pot!
Personally I had PBs in both swim and bike, but a worst ever run, sinking my chance of making real progress on my dream to one day qualify for Kona. But I’ve shown that with focus I can make big improvements and I’m sure I will do even better if I can train without cars hitting me or unexplained crashes in endurance.
However, the big big takeaway for me was the difference a good bunch of “mates” can make, the positive energy a group of like-minded athletes can produce, I knew around half the group before going, but felt a real sense of comradeship with all by the time I had left. And that really made the difference, that’s what really made Ironman Gurye such a great experience, that’s what reignited my desire to keep training, racing and being part of the Triathlon family.