The driving rain slacked off but the roads were slick as I approached kilometre 41 of the bike leg, the start of the hills that dotted the area of Phuket’s Supalai Resort and the Ao Kung Mangrove Conservation Project. I had the right timing shifting gears a few meters before the ascent. But when the gradient got too steep—I could hear my heart pounding in my ears because of the effort—and gravity threatened to topple me, I unclipped and joined a procession of about eight age groupers off their bikes trudging along uphill. And that was just the first of several hills.
The veterans among you might be snickering—Phuket ain’t Alpe d’Huez—but cut me some slack. I’m new to triathlon. The tri bug bit in 2009, when I did my first 70.3 in Camarines Sur, Philippines as part of a relay team (I did the run). In 2010, at the 2ndPhilippine 70.3 (where I did relay again), my running coach, triathlete Ani de Leon Brown introduced me to Phuket IM 70.3 race director Roman Floesser.
An uphill challenge
Roman invited me to do the inaugural race that year, but I wasn’t about to gamble my life on just three months of training. A year later, on December 4, 2011, I found myself standing on the shores of the Andaman Sea, bracing myself against a cool breeze as dawn rose before the swim start. Having done two half-Ironman distance races months earlier and checking out the bike course by car the day before (thanks to communications director Robin Wilson) did little to quell the butterflies in my tummy.
Filipino teammates who did Phuket in 2010 warned me about the steep uphills and the sudden turns on the downhills. A week ago, I heard that a compatriot crashed during the bike recon for the Laguna Phuket Triathlon and didn’t get to race at all. I put in the hours of training for uphills on a course south of Manila, or so I thought. But when 41 to 44K of Phuket loomed large and dipped low on race day, I realised I didn’t do enough. As I eyed the rivulets of rainwater running swiftly down the course and feathered my brakes, all I could think of was emerging at the end of the hilly loop at kilometre 45 in one piece.
I had no shame walking my bike uphill and ambling along downhill at one yellow-flagged descent. I wasn’t alone doing this as the bedraggled lot of us exchanged encouraging words and wry smiles at the challenging situation we found ourselves in. We all had the same thought—to make the bike cut-off and finish with limbs and bike intact.
I was humming to myself with relief when I hit relatively flat road from kilometre 46 onwards. But hammering it out through the rubber plantations, the quiet villages, and the tourist enclaves wasn’t in the plan. After Nathon Beach came another steep ascent at kilometre 80 (and I had no intention of bonking on the 21K). Boy, Roman and his team really made sure the triathletes enjoyed!
Tough weather conditions
By this time, the rain had stopped but humidity set in despite the cloud cover. As I shifted to light gears again to spin off the lactic acid in the last five kilometers, I was grinning from ear to ear when I arrived at transition, 3 hours 58 minutes after the start of my bike leg. I kissed my bike and the bike catcher laughed.
I felt great as I set off on my run, knowing my third half-Ironman distance was definitely in the bag. That night, my quads and hamstrings were a tad sore but not sore enough to keep me from partying hard at the bow tie and board shorts awards night. Will I do this race again? You bet.
Like this? Read our full Ironman 70.3 Asia-Pacific Championships 2012 race report.