Race Report – Ironman 70.3 Gurye South Korea, 2016 – Matt Whelan

Please grab a hot cup of something, pull up a pew and settle in for a bit of a read.

So coming off a sub five hour 70.3 at Busselton in May 2016 (4:58:37) and in 83/267 I came to a decision to race overseas as a better chance to place higher and maybe, just maybe secure a coveted spot for the Worlds in Chattanooga, as this would never happen for me in WA.  I had a look at the courses and dates for Busan, Bintan, Gurye and Xiamen. I had this flirtation of doing the Full IM in Busselton in December and thought the timings of Gurye would be the best fit for me as the course was described as flat and fast. So, the plan was put to the wife and she agreed to a racecation, so I took the plunge of booking in my first international triathlon!

As we all do I had a look at the 2015 race results and saw the top 3 for my AG were all sub 5, with the winner being around 4:45. Fourth place came in over 5 hours so I had a strange idea I may place well, top 10 at least, and this drove me in my training through the coldest Perth winter since the ice age.

10 days from race day and I was involved in a four car crash at work. My car was at the pointy end of an incident and three cars smashed into the side of the car where I was sat. I am lucky as it could’ve been much worse given I was trying to get out the door just before a car smashed into my door, and there’d be a good chance I wouldn’t have been here, let alone racing. It’s fair to say I came out feeling very sore, and training over the next four days was non-existent.  I was just so sore I don’t think I could’ve done much anyway, I consoled myself with the fact my fitness gained prior to the incident was already in the bank and it was time to taper anyways.

Pre-travel, I had to arrange a bike case and thanks to the wonderful members of FTC I had a number of kind offers to borrow bike bags, and decided on a hard case (thanks Scott). I had never used a bike case before, so it was with trepidation I packed up my trusty steed using plenty of bubble wrap and towels. Fingers crossed I had done my job well enough.

Also considerations before leaving were international insurance for competing overseas as standard travel insurance did not cover competing so thanks to Triathlon Australia I was covered. I also got stand-alone Bike Insurance to cover the bike on its travels to and from Korea. Also added baggage with Air Asia for each flight (PER-KL-KOR, and back) was added too. There was so much more to arrange prior to travel I was surprised but it was all arranged fairly easily, although it’s a cost of overseas events.

We travelled to Korea via KL on the Monday before race weekend. We booked travel to the race location and accommodation there through Open Care from the Ironman website, and had three full days in Seoul to acclimatise and chill. There is no real time difference too and initially the weather was perfect. My wife was still in training for the Six inch Ultra so I accompanied her on a couple of early morning runs and found a wonderful man made river path that ran through the centre of town to run along. A few easy 10km runs wouldn’t hurt I guessed, run off the effects of the crash and help firm up in my mind I was ready to race.

We decided on a bit of tourist touring of the temples and palaces of Seoul on these down days, and accidentally ended up covering over 30 km one day with the run km included.

Thursday came and we met up with the tour company to be transported to Gurye, which is a four hour bus ride south east of the airport. There everyone arrived with their bike bags and there was nervous chatter between us about our expectations of the race and past experience. There were people from Singapore, Hawaii, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand and a few expats from WA. Quietly everyone was eyeing each other up, trying to work out what age groups they were in and if they were potential competition. I say we all were, I know I was quietly and can admit it now!!

We got to Gurye which is a small town nestled in some great Korean countryside. English is not widely spoken in general in Korea, even less so here. We got to our hotel and found it to be a ‘Love Motel’. Apparently it is custom for Koreans to have mistresses and our hotel was one used for these discreet liaisons. This in itself was an experience. One of the guys on the bus was Kiwi but had lived in Korea for six years so it was good to have a guide of sorts.

Bikes were built and an easy spin taken to see the town and make sure the bikes were in working order. That night we went out in town for dinner and found a little Chicken and Beer joint, but there was not too much else open even though this influx of visitors brought extra trade with them it seemed Gurye wasn’t too bothered.

The next day involved registration, a trip to the lake and a tour of T1, drop the bike off, then back to the local shops to source food suitable for breakfast, then rest up for race day. Breakfast is not an experience as you would know by western standards and the local Parisian style bakery had a few baked goodies that would do.

The arvo was spent resting before the evening’s pre-race buffet. The ceremony was great and there were large numbers there. I got to meet the legend that is Julie Moss, of Ironman fame, she was the nicest and most encouraging legend I’ve met, after our own FTC stars. Unfortunately the announcement of the buffet opening was in Korean and due to this all the local athletes raced up and formed the world’s most unorganised huddle to grab as much food as they could. By the time I got to the front I found all the platters to be bare, it was if a plague of locusts had been through the venue. This was one of the low points of the race and I was disappointed, it was not how I expected my pre-race nutrition plan to be. Even one of the Pro’s from Hawaii got not food as he chose to sit with the bus group rather than the separately organised dinner for the pros.

I complained quite loudly to the organisers, in hand gestures, iPhone photos of empty platters. I must say they went above and beyond in trying to remedy the situation and got us takeaway pizza and chicken. They even ferried us in their personal cars back to the hotel.

Race day came and we met up outside the hotel for the walk to the stadium to meet the buses to the start line. We got to the lake and found there to be an eerie fog over the swim course. The further buoys out in the distance seemed so far away!

The groups of local athletes went through a group warm up which was amusing for us westerners. Then the best part of the whole day was Gangnam Style coming over the PA. The locals went off and loved this song. It was amazing to watch a couple of the pros on the start line pontoon start dancing, Guy Crawford included, drawing a response which bordered on pandemonium. Brilliant.

We then had to self-seed for a rolling start. Most of the local athletes seemed to feel they were in the sub 30 minute swim. I doubted their ability and feel they may have over egged their estimates.

The rolling start was a new experience, different to Busselton and Mandurah. My swim was not great and felt I spent more time going around other swimmers. I came out of the water and saw 39 minutes something. I was pretty mad at myself.

Up into T1 and onto the bike. I tried to calm myself and not race too hard to start, letting the heart rate settle and get into a rhythm. The start of the bike course was good, a little false flat but a fair bit was downhill leading into the two lap part of the course. It was here I saw two guys who were tied to each other’s wheels. They were part of a larger group of about 10 riders who decided the no drafting rule did not apply here. I tried to pass them on a number of occasions but found the group jumped on my wheel and then passed me again. The course officials were out on their mopeds but only seemed interested in blowing a whistle at the large group, which had no effect as they just ignored him. One of the two riders who were glued together was in my age group I deduced from his race number. I saw his name was Alex and had his number stuck in my head. I got pretty mad, there was no way I could have a fair race against someone not following the rules.

About 30km in I saw a GK kit, and this tall fella riding a road bike. We exchanged our frustrations about the situation and decided if you can’t beat them……so spent the next 20 km encouraging each other. I must say at this point the course was less flat than I had imagined. Coming from a background of Busso and Mandurah I knew what flat was. I would say there were rolling hills on the course, but stunning forest scenery. Total elevation on the ride being 435 meters.

At 70km I blew up a little and was feeling cooked. The two riders took off into the distance with their group and I spent the last half hour grumbling to myself. I knew I had to just keep my cadence high and get out onto the run, this is always my favourite part of the event and I promised myself I wouldn’t allow myself to not finish.

The bike was also quite humid and I found I was losing fluids. It was a tougher ride than I had imagined it would be.

Off the bike in 2:39 and into the stadium for T2. Again I think I was a little bit behind where I had wanted to be with the bike leg but it was a tough day and time was going out the window, the finish was the most important thing now. I had a look at which bikes were back from my age group but decided in my tired haze I couldn’t really work it out so I put my shoes on and ran.

At 1km I cramped badly in my right hamstring. This is going to be a tough day I thought. I had a short breather and got going again onto the three loop section of the run.  I was feeling quite good in myself at this point and my fears of a DNF subsided but as I approached the first turn point I cramped up again in my quad. I stopped, took a moment, tried to stretch but cramped somewhere else and decided today was going to be a tough day at the office. I let it pass and I started again, this time I felt instantly better for the short rest and got into my zone, settling into a good pace. In the next two k’s I passed a number of guys in my number range, I started to feel better about this whole Ironman thing! In the distance, I saw Alex from the bike and I started to hunt him down as I reached the turn point on the first lap. I saw my Fran and got some needed cheers making me more determined. About a k into the second lap I passed him. I felt a strong smug feeling, can draft and get pulled along on the run leg I thought! I made sure at every aid station I took on Pocari sweat to help with the fluid loss, ice and water. I passed on the cherry tomatoes though as I had not trained with them as nutrition.

I ate up the K’s as I counted down three laps of the run and headed home towards the stadium. About a K out I passed Julie and she gave some cheers and encouragement. We both got to a slight incline and both had to walk it as we both felt the effects of the heat and the day’s efforts. Into the stadium, around the running track into the finish. I had done it. I stopped the watch and saw I ran in 1:49, the whole race being 5:14:00, being over 14 mins slower than I had hoped. I was just happy to finish at this point and was shattered. I think I also promised to sell my bike and never do a triathlon again!

I saw I was 13th out of 152. On reflection, this was not a bad result but not what I had hoped for. The winner was again around the 4:45 mark. I decided not to go to roll down as I had unofficially retired.

I later found out my AG winner took his spot rightfully to the worlds, and knew I hadn’t really earned the right myself, but I also heard that the older age group spots were offered to anyone and the first person to get to the stage grabbed the coveted coin after his first half in some ridiculously slow time.

On reflection, I didn’t want a spot if I hadn’t earned it. That said we went out as a group that night and downed a few celebratory beers. A finish is a finish.

So my Ironman Gurye 70.3 review,  t’s a great experience. You are not racing in Australia so things will be a little different from what you are used to. There are good points and bad points to every race. The experience of going to another country I had never been to before, and meeting like-minded people from all over the world was the best outcome of the whole trip. We made some great friends and awesome memories. I would whole heartedly recommend this race to anyone.

Race Report – Ironman 70.3 Gurye South Korea, 2016 – Matt Whelan
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