There are things you can never prepare for no matter how much you try. Only a few hours left before my IRONMAN 70.3 attempt but I couldn’t calm myself down. Deep down, nerves were jangling and the race day pressure was slowly bearing upon me. It was time for another adventure, the IRONMAN 70.3 Bintan in Indonesia.
You can keep going and your legs might hurt for a week or you can quit and your mind will hurt for a lifetime. – Mark Allen
Going into the event, my lack of preparation was an understatement. For any age group athlete, life gets in the way and work-life got the better of me this time. Untimely fever also didn’t help. The more I thought about those factors and race day strategies, the more I felt restless and pessimistic. I was bracing myself for the worst-case scenario.
A few hours till race start
The transition area was scheduled to open at 5 am in the morning so the alarm was set at 3 am. This time we stayed in Bintan Lagoon Resort, one of the official partner hotels for IRONMAN 70.3 Bintan. They specially arranged breakfast for the athletes from 3:30 am, which was a huge help in terms of race nutrition before the race.
After breakfast, it was time for the mandatory preparations and catch the shuttle bus. This time 3 other participants from Team BDTri, Imtiaz bhai, Imran bhai, and Mahbub joined me for this race along with Seuty Apu as the support crew.
As usual, the transition area was hectic and dark. Athletes were frantically moving and setting up all the gears. After pumping up the tires and setting up my transition gears beside my cycle, it was time to head for the swim start point. Embraced all my BDTri members before the race and joined Imtiaz bhai towards the holding pens.
IRONMAN 70.3 Bintan swim start
The swim start was divided into various holding pens depending on the estimated swim finish time. I’m a very slow swimmer and I didn’t want to jostle with others as I did in IRONMAN Malaysia hence I picked the very last pen.
Slowly the sun was rising and at exactly 6 am, the race started. The swim start always feels so surreal. The faster guys were disappearing into the water. It took almost 10 minutes to reach the very last pen. As I and Imtiaz Bhai were slowly walking towards the starting gate, we chanted “Bangladesh” to the announcer and he said it aloud in the microphone.
Soon enough I jumped into the water with a slight glimpse of Seuty apu cheering me up. The water temperature was perfect and the water was absolutely crystal clear. It was so clear that I could see the natural beauties such as the corals and sea life under the water. It was one of the best swimming experiences ever.
The course shape was kinda weird though. It was an anti-clockwise circuit with all left-hand turns shaped like a star. The course was confusing and I ended up swimming way more than the required distance. Also, there weren’t enough buoys to help with the visibility hence I was always trying to track fellow athletes for directions which almost caused near collisions and more confusion.
After 50 minutes of swimming, I finally reached the shore.
The swim was beautiful but I wanted to finish a bit sooner. My slow pace coupled with extra distance cost me at least 5 minutes. Time to run to my bike. Met Seuty apu again during the transition. Talking to her made me more comfortable for the next leg. I can’t express how much the support crew means in terms of morale during an IRONMAN event.
With a quick transition, off to the cycling leg of the race. Cycling is my strongest discipline so I was looking to make amends and cover as much ground as possible to everyone. The first 20 km of the course was very tough. It had two long climbs and various short steep hills with technical descents. As a result, the power numbers were very high but the average speed dropped at that phase.
After the initial struggle, severe headwind and rolling hills took over for the IRONMAN 70.3 Bintan course. The open and undulating roads reminded of stage 1 of the T Cup cycling race in Sri Lanka except for the hills here were steeper. 70% of the total course was block headwind and side winds also affected the ride. I used deep sections wheels for the first time in any race and there were some sketchy moments but I kept control.
Making progress in cycling
Just like IRONMAN Malaysia, my strength in cycling was helping me recover good grounds. I pushed through the headwind and the steep hills to nudge up the average speed. Managed to keep the speed around 33-36 kmph and was dropping so many cyclists like a stone. I crossed around 300 cyclists and only 7 athletes crossed me during the whole ride.
The aid stations were placed 20 km apart and I caught up with Imran bhai at the 60 km mark. He’s a fantastic swimmer so catching him so quickly was a bit worrisome for me. Back in the mind, I knew I was doing better than my expected timings. My average speed picked up from 28 kmph to 32 kmph in the middle.
The IRONMAN 70.3 Bintan organizers were very clever in planning the course as the final 20 km took us over the starting hills again, only in the opposite direction towards out transition. Again, the average speed dropped, and suddenly the legs were losing power. The last effort took out a lot and it was the time when the temperature was getting hotter and hotter. I could feel that the worst was yet to come, running!!
On the final climb met an Australian triathlete named Jo. She was in the 45+ age group and she was such a strong cyclist. Found out that she regularly participates in cycling races. It was a nice distraction on the climbs to have a short conversation with her. After the end of the climbs though, I powered on to finish the cycling leg.
The end of the bike leg and…
After 2 hours and 55 minutes, I reached the transition again. I was happy with the effort considering the course difficulty in regards to my fitness. The intensity factor was over .85 so I paced it perfectly. Again, I found Seuty apu waiting at the perfect time and talked with her most of the time during the transition. The transition was swift and I was on my way on the run course.
The run leg was designed inside a golf course and it was a 2-loop circuit. The running track was solid concrete and there weren’t any tree covers. So, the whole course was very exposed and extremely humid. As the sun rose, the temperature raised to an unbearable level. The difficulty of the IRONMAN 70.3 event is to run at exact noon with a beaming sun over your head. I started to suffer.
It was so disappointing for me to be overtaken by the athletes during the run whom I crossed on the bike course. I knew I could have run faster but the body was overheating and I couldn’t just raise my pace up. The body somehow didn’t respond at all.
I started to struggle
At lap 2, my body finally gave up and I had to start walking to lower the heart rate and body temperature. It was similar to how an engine ceases when it overheats because I felt the same way. I started cursing and questioning myself, why I keep doing IRONMAN and put myself in such suffering situations. Met Imtiaz bhai at that moment and he asked me how many kilometers left. I couldn’t answer really, I was in a completely different state of mind.
After walking for more than 30 minutes, my body recovered. I had around 5 km left. I wanted to finish fast and set a good time hence I started running pretty fast. The pace was around 5:30 min/km and I caught up with a lot of guys again who were struggling at the back end of the race.
Finally, the finish line beckoned for the IRONMAN 70.3 Bintan.
It was a relief crossing the line this time. Seuty apu greeted me after the finish and the only word to her from me was “Brutal”. It took me around 2 and a half hours to finish the run leg!! The hurt lasted for 6 hours and 27 minutes but I wasn’t happy with the timing at all. Recovery was key so I headed straight to the complimentary massage area.
The IRONMAN 70.3 Bintan athlete area had a good setup. There were foods, beverages, coconuts, medics, and other facilities. The great thing about such events is to meet so many fellow athletes from around the globe. I made a few friends there and also again found Jo there. Later I found out that she completed 12 IRONMAN 70.3 in 4 years!! That was simply mind-boggling.
All 4 of us from Bangladesh reunited after the race. Everyone performed well. The sense of belief and comradery made us even stronger.
Overall the IRONMAN 70.3 Bintan was a great event. The swim course was pristine with clear waters. The bike course was challenging yet fun. The running was a test of mental fortitude. No wonder it’s been rated as the best IRONMAN race in Asia. I highly recommend this race to anyone who wants to try it out or is thinking to add this to the calendar.
Looking back, I could have done better in terms of running at the IRONMAN 70.3 Bintan. It was disappointing for me to lose so much time as I was set for a sub 2-hour half marathon. The competitive nature of me was not satisfied. Still, time to move on and every experience is making me a better athlete.
In the end, I suffered but back to square one, I’m planning to participate in more IRONMAN racing!! Even though I cursed myself, I’m going back to training and grind again. Maybe I like suffering. Sounds crazy!! Next up, It’s IRONMAN Subic Bay for 2020.
A full distance IRONMAN is even crazier and if you want to read my IRONMAN Malaysia experience, click here to find out.