Race Report: Ironman 70.3 Da Nang, Vietnam

Race Report: Ironman 70.3 Da Nang, Vietnam
DATE: 12 MAY 2024

Mental and Physical Preparation Coming into Ironman 70.3

Even though the actual training block lasted for three months, I had been mentally preparing to attempt this distance since December ‘23. Triathlon events are scarce in India, so I participated in every possible event to gain experience. I ramped up my fitness by completing a sprint triathlon in December and an Olympic distance triathlon in February, feeling that my body was in the best possible shape to attempt a 70.3. When I asked my coach if I was ready for the distance, he gave a thumbs-up, which boosted my confidence to register. I was accompanied by two friends, Pallavi and Bhanu Prakash, not just for the race but also to enjoy a short vacation.


Training Plan and Schedule

My training plan spanned 12 weeks, focusing on a balanced mix of swimming, biking, and running. Each week, I dedicated three days to swimming, four to biking, and three to running, often incorporating brick sessions to simulate race conditions.

The below metrics are used to set the workouts

Tempo pace for running: ~4.20 mins/km

Cycling FTP: 246W for cycling

Threshold swim: ~2.15 to 2.20 mins/100m

A typical week of training looked like this:

  • Monday: Technique swim
  • Tuesday: Tempo run (e.g., 61Km + 22K)
  • Wednesday: Indoor Maximum Aerobic Power (MAP) cycling and evening swim endurance (e.g., 3 * (3 min @ 259-278 W + 3 min @ 72-96 W) 5 min @ 108-132 W, 3 * (2 min @ 264-288 W + 3 min @ 72-96 W))
  • Thursday: Progressive long run (90 minutes)
  • Friday: Sub-threshold indoor cycling (e.g., 4 * (10 min @ 216-228 W + 6 min @ 84-108 W))
  • Saturday: Easy indoor ride (90 mins) and swim threshold sets
  • Sunday: Outdoor long ride (75-90 mins) followed by a 50-60 min run

Average workout duration/Week: ~14 hours (3 hours swim + 7 hours bike + 4 hours run) Average workout distance/Week: ~226 km (4 km swim + 180 km bike + 42 km run)

Key Workouts and Milestones

Key workouts included threshold swim sessions and 70-90 km bike rides, followed by 50-60 minute brick workouts. Brick sessions were the most challenging, with days when I had to do intervals in the run after an 80 km ride. This was to teach my legs to hit a higher pace when fatigued.

Transition from Running to Triathlon

Training and Preparation

Unlike my fellow runners who believe I transitioned directly from running to triathlons, that wasn’t the case. My journey began with learning badminton in 2019, then progressed to running in 2020 & 2021 while still playing badminton. In 2022, I took up cycling (which I only learned properly & had my first own cycle after moving to Bengaluru in 2017, never as a child), got a Wahoo Kickr Core trainer, and began exploring virtual cycling. Finally, after my LASIK surgery, I started swimming in 2023. I was never solely focused on running; it was always combined with another sport. Since I had already spent many years running, I didn’t want to rush into marathon training. Instead, I found joy in exploring other sports, and triathlons naturally became part of that journey. For triathlon, the major difference was the need to balance training across three disciplines, requiring a more complex schedule and careful attention to recovery while managing my day job. I followed a strict weekly routine, which was mentally draining.

Learning New Skills

Learning proper swimming technique and bike handling skills was crucial. I learned to swim in March ‘23 and made sure to hit the pool often, watching numerous instructional videos. It took me two months to go from floating to breathing, and in July 2023, I faced my fear by attempting an open-water swim. Two of my friends (Vinay and Anurag) helped me overcome this. Once I overcame that fear, I approached Nihal Ahamad Baig to train me and help me learn the sport of triathlon. I was a complete novice in both cycling and swimming and knew very little about the terms and metrics involved. Starting in August 2023, I began training under Nihal and completely transitioned away from running road races. Also, I started using cleats in September ‘23 for cycling, and that’s for sure a must-learn.

Adapting to Multi-Discipline Workouts

I incorporated brick workouts, practicing transitioning from biking to running, which helped my body adjust to the different physical demands. This adaptation was challenging initially, but it became smoother over time. Also, I had stopped running road races to keep myself focused

Mental Adjustments

Mentally, I had to gear up for the triathlon’s longer duration and varied intensity. There were days when I screamed during bike sessions in my room and experienced cramps during swim threshold sessions, but these challenges only made me stronger for race day.

Pre-Race Meal and Hydration

We arrived in Da Nang on the morning of May 9th. Upon arrival, we noticed that Da Nang’s weather was similar to Bengaluru’s but with much higher humidity. As it was my first international travel, I constantly reminded myself to be mindful of my food and sleep. We collected our bibs two days before the race to ensure we had everything we needed.

Before the race, we did a route recce, which included a 40 km ride and a 1 km swim. The route was mostly flat except for one small climb, and we got to swim in the open beach.

The night before the race, we found an Indian restaurant to eat familiar food. Since the event would last over 5 hours, I had to be very careful about my calorie intake. My fueling plan was to take in 90 grams of carbs per hour. I planned to consume a gel before the swim, followed by three Unived Elite gels mixed with water, along with 750 ml of electrolytes. I also planned to take gels at the 3rd, 9th, and 15th km of the run phase.

Bike Check-In and Race Briefing

The bike check-in was scheduled for the day before the race. I arrived just in time to attend the race briefing, hoping to hear if there were any changes to the course or event. The swim course was a particular focus, as the organizers were concerned about the currents and athlete safety. It was decided that the course distance and route would be confirmed the following morning.

During the Race

Arrival and Setup

I arrived early at the race, having a small meal (three slices of bread with jam), to set up my transition area, making sure everything was in place and easily accessible. I checked my bike, checked the air pressure, laid out my gear, and familiarized myself with the transition flow.

Swim Leg

The swim conditions were tough, with strong currents pushing us back. The course was reduced to 1 km (300 m jog and 700 m swim parallel to the sea), confirmed just before the race started. Most of us completed the swim within 15 minutes.

Transition 1 (Swim to Bike)

Transition 1 went smoothly. After an easy jog to the transition area, I removed my cap and goggles, put on my helmet and cycling shoes, and grabbed my bike. I took extra time in transition to stay calm, knowing it was a long race.

Bike Leg

The bike course featured scenic coastal roads and a flat route except for a small steep climb. My target time was 3 hours, but I had to break away from slower riders for the first 10 km due to narrow roads. After that, I settled into a pace of 31-32 km/h. However, a rider slipped while switching from aero bars to drop bars around the 55th km mark, causing a crash that involved several riders, including me. My chain came off, and I sustained small bruises, but the incident shook me. Fortunately, bike mechanics nearby helped me get back on track. Although I initially felt no pain, but soon my back and hip started hurting. I slowed down in the last 10 km to conserve energy for the run. I completed the ride at 2:56:42, faster than expected despite the fall. More than happy for this effort!

Transition 2 (Bike to Run)

Transition 2 was slow. I racked my bike, changed into my running shoes, grabbed my visor, and started the run. My legs felt heavy initially but adjusted after the first mile.

Run Leg

The run leg was extremely hot and humid, conditions that I had never faced before. I mean Chennai is nothing in front of this weather. Despite training to run in the heat, the humidity was overwhelming. This wasn’t the same when we had arrived, the weather had changed drastically. With no shade and the sun directly overhead, it was a real test of endurance. I planned to start slowly and maintain a steady rhythm, but I struggled to breathe properly and started puking after 3rd km. Walked for a few kilometers to gather myself, I felt restricted from running due to hip and back pain. Unable to take in more gels or food, I was running with a calorie deficit. From the 5th to the 13th km, I managed a pace of 5:50-6 mins/km but hit a wall again. After walking for a few more kilometers, I resumed running thanks to encouragement from Aishwarya Jagdish. My goal is now to reach the next aid station, where volunteers and I poured ice water on myself. With a few kilometers left, I decided not to walk anymore and jogged to the finish line, completing the run in 2:18:44 and the overall race in 5:37:29.

Race Summary

SWIM 00:12:13 T1: SWIM-TO-BIKE 00:03:44
BIKE 2:58:09 T2: BIKE-TO-RUN 00:04:49
RUN 2:18:36

OVERALL: 5h:37m:31s


Finishing the Race

Crossing the finish line was an incredible feeling of accomplishment. The support from volunteers and fellow athletes was uplifting. I felt a mix of exhaustion and exhilaration. Reflecting on the race, I was proud of my performance and how I handled the challenges. I cried after the race, not for finishing, but for the trauma experienced during it. It took me half an hour to regain my senses, but that was okay.

Recovery Process

Both my calves were cramped, and swallowing was painful for the next couple of days. I sat in an ice pool and called my friends to share my race experience. It took couple of days more for my body to recover from the cramps and stiffness, and by the end of the week, I was almost fully recovered. This quick recovery was surprising given the effort, but I believe the training load paid off.

Lessons Learned and Future Plans

This race taught me the importance of pacing and having a flexible nutrition strategy. For future races, I plan to focus more on brick workouts with proper nutrition and heat acclimatization. Considering this is my first 70.3 and my first international race, I would say I handled things that were in my control pretty well. The fall was unfortunate, but I realize I may need to do more group rides to improve my bike handling skills. Even though drafting was prohibited, I noticed many participants forming groups and riding together.

Future races/Goals: The only one on my mind for now is the Ironman 70.3 Goa and to learn other strokes in swimming.

Sunil Dev Choudhary

I am known as a passionate runner in the running community, but I’m a not-so-serious runner, always eager to explore new sports.

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