I made a very late call to race Phuket 70.3. Thinking that surely at the end of the season with Thailand being a fair hike for any Western athlete the pro field would be a little low on quality and an easy race to turn a buck. A nice thought in theory but straight after I booked the flights I found out I was very wrong. With great points for both Ironman and Ironman 70.3 world rankings and a $75000 prize purse some real legends of the sport were not missing out on racing and kicking back for some down time at some of Phuket’s nicest resorts. Chris Leigh (multiple 70.3 and Ironman Champ) , Faris Al Sultan (former Ironmman World Champion), Paul Matthews (70.3 Champ and Podium finisher in everything other race that counts), Matty Reed (US Champ and Olympian), Chris Lieto (Ironman champ and Ironman World Championships runner up) , David Dellow (fresh off winning Noosa Triathlon) , Paul Ambrose (70.3 and Ironman Champ) , Richie Cunningham (See Matthews) and 2 x 70.3 World Champ Michael Raelert were all racing.
After a couple of days of suffocating humidity, race day was relatively cool with some ominous clouds teaming up to bring on some interesting conditions.
The Phuket course needs to be raced to really appreciate how different and entertaining it is. The swim starts with approximately 1200m of ocean swimming before athletes jump out and hit a fresh water lagoon for the remaining 700m prior to hitting the swim to bike transition. Having spent hours swimming in the ocean at Lord Howe and being a tad on the runtish side I always prefer true ocean water swim for floatation and skills required to swim in swell. I was able to stay within a reasonable distance to the front couple of guys. By the end of the fresh water segment I had only lost about 30 seconds to Raelert, Matthews and Matty Reed which is good going for me.
Ambrose, Josh Mchugh, Chris Lieto and nuggety French chap, Roman Guillaume got out onto the bike together and started riding hard to get back that 30 seconds. Almost immediately the precarious nature of the course became apparent with Ambrose, Josh and I narrowly missing a wandering dog only to hear a thud as the Frenchman went into the pup, going down hard finishing his day. 5kms later and a there was a second thud as Lieto took a corner a little quick, losing control and wiping out also sending him back to the dressing sheds.
Ambrose and I pushed the power up until a bridge where you have to dismount and carry your bike before remounting. Soon after the bridge we caught up to the Barney Matthews, Matty Reed and Richie Cunningham with Michael Raelert and David Dellow a hundred metres ahead. I went to the front and slowly closed the gap only to realise immediately after that it was a pretty dumb move and I had probably spoilt the other guys plan of leaving Michael out on his own but within sight, to try something (anything) to slow down his rediculous run speed.
From there the ride takes you on the steepest climbs I’ve encountered in a race. Ambrose and Matthews were riding really strong but with madatory slow down zones on some of the wet and slippery descents it was always going to be very difficult for anyone to get away. I felt comfortable and was really happy with the current situation as often I’de be chasing these guys off the bike so to start the run with them would have me nicely positioned.
Soon after the climbs the tropical rain started to get so heavy it stung your eyes. It didn’t last too long but left the roads even more slippery with puddles so big they had their own tidal patterns.
On the final climb of the day at a bit after the 80km mark I felt the heart sinking feeling of a tyre getting very squishy as glass had sliced the tyre and tube. I signalled to the vehicles behind calling for the support vehicle that had been behind us most of the way which I knew was carrying spare wheels. However they were nowhere to be seen. It turns out that both the support motorbike and the race official, Jurgen Zach, had crashed their motorbikes. With the race media closely filming my tirade of abuse at the world I tried to put the latex sealant foam into my front tyre. However as I experienced at Challenge Copenhagen when it’s wet, that stuff does not work at all. I couldn’t bare the thought of just standing by the side of the road so I decided to just ride slowly on the flat tyre until the support vehicle caught up.
No vehicle came so I kept riding slowly. There was a minor descent where I was able to pick my speed up a little more despite the sickening sound of an expensive wheel on road. As soon as I hit the corner at the end of the descent I came down hard stupidly forgetting that I wouldn’t be able to corner with a flat tyre. I picked myself, examined the grazes, decided I was fine and kept bumping along. During the last period of very slow riding I started to think back to the many discussions I’ve had with my main mentor Grant Giles on the perfect mental state for racing.
Grant has always been a huge advocate of being able to ‘let go’, forget the past or concerns of what lies ahead and simply make the most of the present moment. So I did that. I fully relaxed, accepted that I was probably now sitting outside the top ten after dropping from the front few guys but I figured I could make the most of a bad day, run really hard and get 8th place to pay for the cost of the flights. I know a lot of people reading this will think it sounds like some weird hippy shiz but I swear, once you find this quiet place of focused calm in your mind, it’s the best feeling in the world. Whatever happens will happen, you only have to worry about maximising the next run stride.
I soon caught Massimo Cigana who was running well and by about 5kms Matty Reed who was not looking at all like the Matty Reed anywhere near his best. Matt continued to really rev me up every time we crossed paths telling me who was up ahead and how there were looking which was much appreciated. Fellow Aeromax team member, Josh Mchugh was next to fall. Josh was having a stellar debut long course race but being quite a bit younger and not having the thousands of kilometres in the legs that some of the other pros have was starting to fade in the last ten kilometres.
At about 15kms I was able to catch Ambrose and finally at about 19kms Dave Dellow crossing the line in fourth place. It was great to have my old man there to watch and I was hugely proud that I had kept my head together despite losing 5 minutes on the bike.
Big congratulations to Michael Raelert for winning. He made my 1.13 half marathon look slow. It’s so unusual in sport to have someone at the top of the game who is also so bloody likeable. Commiserations to the casualties of the race. Guys that I really look up to were taken out of the mix. To name a few, Chris Lieto with the crash, Chris Leigh with major mechanical issues and Christian Kemp with gastro.
A huge thanks to the race organisers. They did a superb job under very testing conditions. This race is truly an epic event and a perfect choice for an Asia Pacific Championships. I really hope to be back there next year. I really want to be the one running down the finish chute with the elephant.