Monday, April 27, 2009

Hillary Biscay's IM China Race Report

ISM had some great results at this year's Ironman China.
Tereza Macel 3rd
Hillary Biscay 6th
Jocelyn Wong 9th

Below is Hillary Biscay's race report.

Most people probably know that I’ve crammed my fair share of racing into the past three years. By now it’s difficult for me to find a precedent-setting challenge at ironman. It’s always a hard day, comprised of numerous tests that make finishing seem somewhat incomprehensible at times—but I now feel like I’ve encountered nearly every sort of test once or twice before, and have always been able to make it through to the other side.
That said, Ironman China, my 34th ironman, set a new precedent: it was the toughest day of racing I have ever experienced. However, while this fact in itself would usually rank a race amongst my favorites, I don’t think I ever need to return to this one . . .
The race started with a two-loop swim in a river that I did not touch until race day, for fear of getting sick. The banks were lined with trash, and the water was an opaque brown; there was no sight even of one’s own hand. It was warm brown slush, though, and that was part of the reason I chose this race: it was to be a non-wetsuit swim. Swimming is my strength, so the tougher the swim is and the less assistance everyone has from layers of neoprene, the more I can benefit from this strength. So when we were informed the afternoon before the race that we’d be getting out and running a substantial part of each swim loop in order to avoid swimming too long into the current, I was more than a little disappointed.
The chaos that was the ironman swim began with a unique mass swim start, in which the pros started amongst the wetsuit-clad age group athletes. Because of the currents, people took off in every which direction, and there were heaps of age groupers around and in front of me; I immediately lost track of the pro race. I just tried to find the next buoy and swim hard towards it, despite the fact that people seemed to arbitrarily playing choose-your-own swim (run) course….So when I found Teresa Macel, who I knew was the other top swimmer in the field, halfway through the first loop, it was reassuring. We swam together on and off for the rest of the race, getting separated on a couple of occasions when each one of us strayed off course. I took the final wrong line, however, and she gapped me by half of a minute into the current on the way home. So I followed her in, while watching age groupers next to me walking in the shallow water faster than I was swimming into the current.
I hopped onto my bike feeling fine and ready to push it. Teresa was down the road already, so when some pro men passed me just a few kilometers in, I decided to try to keep their pace for as long as I could. These were guys that I can’t usually ride with, so I was pretty happy to be able to keep their pace for about fifteen kilometers. It turns out , however, that 180 kilometers is a long way when the highlight comes in the first twenty!
The bike course was predominantly flat and rarely even necessitated coming out of the aerobars; in other words, there is no reason I shouldn’t have been able to ride well on this course. But I didn’t. For whatever reason, I just didn’t “have it” on the bike on Sunday. I started the ride in second and came off the bike in fifth.
However, since I felt like my head was going to explode while I was cycling, and I was desperately needing to dump water all over myself, I knew it must be hot. I’ve always found that when it feels hot on the bike, it is REALLY hot. So I stayed positive, thinking, “This is will be my kind of run!”
My suspicions were confirmed when I was doing the last kilometers of the ride and I could see the runners doing their first few kilometers. There wasn’t a whole lot of running going on. Most of these were athletes in the half ironman, who apparently couldn’t even run 21 kilometers . . . not a good sign. Then I saw a couple of the top pro men—two guys who are known for their run are always easy to spot because of the killer rhythm that characterizes their marathons. I had never seen them look like this. These guys were in the first few kilometers and already looked like death?! That was not a good sign. The next sight was the women’s race leader, already walking. Carnage. In some sick way I was excited to know that I was in for an epic day at the races.
This excitement was short-lived, however, as the reality of attempting to run a marathon in these conditions set in very quickly during the first couple kilometers of my own run . I have done ironman marathons in 100-degree heat, but never 110+. Turns out there is a difference. And it’s not pretty.
I am so glad that I knew better than to ever look at my watch during this marathon, because I just kept telling myself that I only had to run around while baking on the asphalt for three hours and change . . . Turns out it was 4:17, or the longest it has taken me to do 26.2 miles since my first ironman. And yes, that was “running.” To provide some perspective, my Czech counterpart, Petr V, who consistently runs sub-3, ran a 4:18. And he was also “running.”
I spent the first 15 kilometers doing what I would describe as a really bad impression of jogging, which means making a running-type motion while actually going up and down on the spot. This stretch marks the most difficult time I have ever had not quitting one of these races and sticking to my “no walking in ironman” rule; it was very daunting to think about how many miles I had in front of me while suffering so much, and knowing that it was all just to complete the race and likely still end up with a disappointing result.
And then I encountered a sight that gave me a major boost: my friend Charlotte (Paul) had taken over the lead of our race. The last time I had seen her she’d been running in third, and I had a hunch that the little running machine would make her way to the front. I certainly can’t win every race, and I’ve always thought that the next best thing is seeing my friends do it; so seeing Charlotte running so strong really re-energized me.
At this point I believe I transitioned to actually jogging. In fact there were times when I felt like I was really moving, like “Yeah, I’m flying right now!” And then I’d get passed by a first-lap guy, and think “Wow, that dude looks like he is suffering,” and realize that the fact that the same dude just dropped me like a bad habit meant that I looked even worse. This actual jogging continued til the end of the race, excepting a couple of coke-deprivation-induced lows…As we always say, once you go on Coke in the ironman marathon, you can’t go off—you need another hit every mile or so. I “went on” halfway through the marathon as per usual, but unfortunately I failed to realize that A) there weren’t aid stations every mile and B) there wasn’t coke at every aid station.
I should note here that the aid stations were another interesting element of this race. Fantasies about water and anything cold kept me moving from one aid station to the next. However, when we’d arrive there, the volunteers were so busy trying to refill cups that they weren’t very ready to hand us coke, etc. So many aid stations required stopping to search for what the cups contained, grabbing what one could, and then carrying on. Often we were handed liter-sized water bottles, which I certainly wouldn’t even carry on a training run. Yet on this day, fearful of parting with our precious water, many of us were running along between aid stations, carrying these massive bottles, alternately drinking and dumping water on ourselves.
Another bright spot in the day was the inevitable camaraderie that seems to form in the most nasty races--this was one of those days. So because people were often handed these huge water bottles, they’d use them for awhile, and then hand them off to another parched athlete who they’d encounter between aid stations, or offer to pour water on a passing runner. And I am talking about professionals as well; so many people found a way to reach out from the depths of their own suffering to help others on their way.
Strangely enough, I finished the marathon feeling noticeably stronger than when I started, in sixth place. This was not the race that I had aspired to have, but it was one of those days where just finishing had become enough of a challenge in itself; so in doing that, a bit of my performance-related disappointment diminished. I’ve got seven more ironmans on the calendar over the next several months, and I expect to remedy the latter over this time!
Finally, I want to thank my sponsors for their support. First and foremost, I must thank K-Swiss, who is not only my personal running shoe and apparel sponsor, but was the race sponsor. Having the K-Swiss team in China with us made the whole experience far more pleasant than it would have been otherwise. Their passion and enthusiasm for the sport makes me so proud and grateful to be a K-Swiss athlete. Additionally, one of the few issues noticeably absent from my Ironman China sufferfest was blisters—normally a big problem in this kind of heat when feet swell and we are continually soaking ourselves with water. Besides being light and fast, the K-Swiss K-ona has holes in the bottom that allow water to drain, so I never have to run in sloshing shoes now. They are just awesome.
I also very much appreciate the assistance of my other sponsors: PowerBar, Zipp wheels, FuelBelt, ORCA wetsuits, and ISM saddles.

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