Adventures, Races, Kit and Life
7 months into fatherhood and it’s time for the first proper race as a dad. It’s suddenly a very different world ! Time has accelerated and is now measured in the development of a small ( and very cute ) child and seems to move far, far faster than it ever has before! Personal time ( a.k.a. training time ) is also now an incredibly scarce resource, as there is a strange urge to invest every spare minute, outside that demanded by work, to playing with the baby and collecting little smiles. This means that the core fitness has fallen, in fact plummeted dramatically! Luckily I had a rude awakening during a King of the Hills race about 2 months earlier which left me massively over heating ( too much lard ) and gasping for air and ultimately a LOT slower than the previous year… It’s going to be a challenge! It is always good to get your wake-up call early!
My normal “famine and feast” approach to the occasional big race also seems to be failing me more than it used to. Normally I get a little injury in the build up to a race as I increase the intensity of training dramatically ( from not much at all ). This time, following my rude awakening, my attempts to ramp up pronto to an appropriate level resulted in a knee issue and then a shoulder injury ( apparently a little joint swelling from a repetitive strain injury ). As a result my physio is re-learning my life story! He politely pretends to enjoy the chat. Good chap! During my regular visits he slowly patches me up with exercises and physio tape, to get me through the race! On the plus side, it means I’ve spent more time on the bike, probably a good thing, as it’s normally my weakest discipline due to the horrible heat and terrible driving in HK.
Hong Kong to Kaohsiung is just an hour’s flight, so easy! This is followed by a 3 hour journey over the mountains and along the coast until we are right outside the “Yes Hotel” in sleepy little Taitung. The Yes Hotel was good. Probably the worst ever breakfast I’ve ever had but the location was great, right in the middle of town with easy access to everything, especially the race. The overpriced “Race Hotel” was a long way out and I’m glad we weren’t tempted.
The organisation up to and during the race was spot on. The locals were absolutely brilliant. What they lacked in language skills was more than compensated for by bundles of enthusiasm and plenty of big smiles. It’s so close, yet so different, to China! There was no pollution, no litter and people were really friendly and wanted to interact. The whole area was well groomed, investment having been made in statues and art, all of which were very well maintained. However the food was generally terrible!
The race was a cracker!
The baby, fresh from her first ever swim in the race lake.
The swim, which was 1km out in a man-made lake about 1m deep, was around a huge orange buoy and then back again. The water temperature was 23 degrees, so it was a wetsuit swim. Most people seemed delighted by this! I was nervous of the extra strain on my shoulder and the fact that I last wore Greg’s Blue Seventy for the Alp D’Huez, a long time ago!
The starting area was wide which meant that people were not all on top of each other and could get going at their own pace. It was actually quite pleasant. I lost the people around me after about 300m and was left to try and concentrate on streamlined gliding… It didn’t work very well! I generally struggle with the rhythm when racing and can’t manage to breathe on both sides as I seem to need more air. Soon I was alone. No heel tappers pushing up my adrenaline levels and no one within 20 meters of me, so I worked hard to try and develop a good rhythm.
The 1,900m swim section took me 32.38mins ( the winner took 29.21 ). I was pleased with this. I bounded up into transition and charged off towards the bike. These bikes can be surprisingly hard to find when you have oxygen deprivation and are giddy with the excitement of the race!
Before I knew it I was mounted up and peddling hard to get up the initial incline. Hi Ho, Silver! Away! Cue the Lone Ranger music!
A few people on very expensive wafer-thin bikes, looking more suited for space travel, started to woosh past me immediately. Interestingly both bikes ground to a clunking halt within minutes and they disappeared from my race. It wasn’t me governor, honest! I did grunt to myself with masochistic satisfaction though, “Fancy pants bikes that don’t work, Ha!”and having re-focused on my own little world, pushed on knowing there was a long way to go.
A little voice in my head told me that early nutrition was a good tactical approach and I nailed a few gel blocks. Just then as I powered into a long gentle and therefore fast decline, I felt the shudder of the first bump ripple through the bike and watched my race nutrition bounce out of my bento box onto the tarmac!A definite school boy error and learning for next time… Luckily there was an abundance of well stocked aide stations scattered along the route, with everything you need for the 90km ride.
The ride charged 45km up the beautiful coast line, then looped around 180 degrees and returned back again. It was stunning and a delight to ride along! It felt even better to riding fast along it!!
On the right hand side was the full power of the Pacific Ocean, with reasonable sized waves breaking therapeutically on the beach. I noted that they were surf-able but didn’t allow myself to day dream too much. Hawaii 5-O music back to Lone Ranger…. The water was blue, the air was clean and you could cruise through a variety of points and bays. The route was punctuated by surf shack style eateries that looked as if they serve up great seafood. In places we passed through small villages, minimally touched by development, with their immaculate paddy fields and palm tree lined roads. It was tropical perfection and more because scenery like that just wasn’t expected.
To the left the hills rose steeply to become mountains. They were covered in thick green jungle. Clouds loomed around the peaks, keeping a little of the sun off the course but were not threatening. As you progressed further out along the flat fast course the mountains rose up faster and felt much closer. You almost expected to see a pterodactyl soaring way up above. I had to remind myself to take a few moments to keep looking up ( from my incredibly stream lined tuck position ) and absorb the scenery.
Every now and again we crossed a bridge spanning a deep gorge. The gorges are filled with clean blue water that flows down towards the sea. Everything was pretty much perfect and I found myself wishing I wasn’t racing through the scenery at the speed of a bullet…..
The ride felt good. A few overtake me but far less than I expected. I got a few back myself ( all on better bikes and with tri bars ). I felt strong through to the last 20km where I started to suffer a little in the slight head wind and increasing heat of the sun. The adrenaline fuelled thought I’ve been toying with of popping back next year to do a quick full distance begins to fade quickly !
The bike took me 2hrs 42mins, verses the winner’s 2hrs 14 mins.
Then it was straight into the run. Through transition and off around the lake, glistening in the full on sunlight, through the welcome shade of a small forest section and along the coastal boardwalk, looking out to the ocean. The route then headed up away from town along a fantastic renovated rail track. Once more it was a great course and a brilliant opportunity to get a feel for the town of Taitung. It was a real pleasure to run along it, although admittedly I was not thinking that at the time ! It was hot and I was struggling ! The tactic was simple –break it down into little manageable chunks and run to each aide station, one at a time. Take your time , ensure you have good banter with the staff, take on plenty of water and bath in the pleasure offered by the cold sponges, throw a few at the staff ( they like it really ! ) then head off 2.5 km to the next station. Repeat process !
In summary it worked! I didn’t get my second wind but after about 7km the ongoing primal urge to walk seemed to fade and I plodded on at a steady pace, bouncing along the wooden slats of the train track. There was no knee pain so I tried to enjoy it. In fact I did enjoy it ! I feed off the stations and the other competitors and supporters where possible and pushed myself on. “Guy-O, Guy-O” ( Go ! Go ! I think ).
A few athletes stalled before me, struggling with the heat, yet more overtook me. Finally Emma, who was in the gang passes ! Wow, what a little legend ! She “chicked” both me and her hubbie ! Good lass ! She was impressively fast too.
A slow 20km for me taking 2hrs 6mins ( winner 1hr 29mins )
The finish was a delight ! A family affair with Lyns and the baby there to greet me. Awesome ! Time for a beer ( later found to be non alcoholic ), some proper food and a little stretching.
The real recovery was in the Chihpen ( meaning source of wisdom ) hot springs the next afternoon. A short trip up into the mountains.These hot springs were absolutely fantastic and a great post race chill. We feasted on naturally cooked eggs and sweet potato and took full advantage of the facilities.
The race gang glorious and somewhat relieved it was over.
Recovery at the Chihpen Hot Springs in matching pink head-wear !
One of the famous fig trees, with its weeping roots, in the Forest Park in Chihpen
10th in my age category. Pleased !
Taking advantage of the massage tent