Mandurah 70.3 – The logic behind doing this race was pretty straight forward; it is about an hour’s drive from my house. A 70.3 that I can drive to, it didn’t really seem like it needed more of a reason than that.
Other than the proximity to my house, there were other reasons to do the race. This year is only the second year they have run the race, but after last year it has a reputation for being a quick course, so there is a lot of potential for PBs. As well as that it is the 70.3 Australian Professional Championships, so it attracts a very impressive professional field, for example 1st and 3rd from the 70.3 World Champs in the women and 2nd from the 70.3 World Champs in the men. This year there were also Kona slots on offer for the age groupers, which meant it attracted a large, and fairly quick, age-group field. All these factors, in addition to a course that incorporates the Mandurah town centre, means the race has a lot of buzz and a pretty good feel.
The race itself is a pretty straight forward half ironman. No tricky different T1s and T2s, no gear bags, all very simple, other than the fact that there were about 2000 competitors, it was almost low key. The only unusual parts of the course are the swim and the finish of the run. The swim is a point to point course; I will get to the run later.
The swim obviously finishes at transition, but the start isn’t far away, 5 or 10 minutes’ walk (more like 5 I would say, it really wasn’t far). Being in a canal navigation is pretty straight forward. I think there are probably 3 or 4 buoys for the entire swim, which isn’t many, and to be honest I found that you didn’t need them much. Just follow the channel, dodge the moored boats. Whilst I can’t say for sure, I think you can be pretty certain that they will always run this race with tide assistance, if they tried to run the race against the tide I think half the field wouldn’t make the swim cut off.
There really isn’t much more to the swim, it is pretty straight forward. The exit is via a large temporary stairway built from scaffolding, which functioned perfectly well. The course is protected by the houses around it and so it is pretty flat. Simple, fast and fun.
Once you are up the stairs out of the canal it is a couple of hundred metres run up some carpet and footpath, through a shower to transition. Once in transition it is straight to the bikes, no gear tent, or change tent, transition at the bike, just leave the wetsuit at the rack.
Out of transition and you are onto the bike. The first section of the ride heads through the café strip of Mandurah which has a nice atmosphere. The café strip has a number of roundabouts, but once you are through them you are on a road called Mandurah Terrace. A bit later Mandurah Terrace merges with Mandurah Road. These two roads are where you spend most of the next 90kms. Once again very simple. The entire ride course is closed to traffic. It all works very well.
The bike course is two laps, but you don’t ride all the way back to Transition between laps. Instead at the end of lap 1 you turn once you hit the Mandurah café strip. You repeat the whole lap again and then once you are done with lap 2, you return to Transition, obviously. According to my Garmin there is 122m of elevation gain on the course. Over 90km, 122m counts as not much. The road surface is pretty good, but not wonderful. Some of the northern parts of Mandurah Road are a bit coarser, but only in sections. Paganoni Road is a lovely surface. On the whole the surface for the ride isn’t bad, not wonderful, but certainly not the worst either.
The ride is all pretty flat. There are a couple of long, slight hills on Mandurah Road, and a couple of bumps on Paganoni, but they really aren’t serious. Off the bike, back into transition and you are out onto the run. The athlete information says the run is two laps, but it is actually two and a bit. That brings me to the other tricky bit about Mandurah 70.3, besides the swim, the finish line isn’t at transition; it is about 1km away on the Mandurah café strip. That means you have to cover an extra bit of a lap to account for the distance between the start and finish locations for the run. So once you leave transition you run to the café strip. Once you are there you turn around and your first lap officially starts.
As with the ride, the run is pretty flat, 118m of elevation gain over the run. Unfortunately nearly all of that elevation gain is in one place, at the far turn around point. At this point you climb a long (just short of 1km long), but gradual hill to the far turn around. You then turn around and get to run down the hill, so it isn’t all bad.
There are officially eight aid stations on the run, but in reality there are two double sided aid stations on the lap. You run through each one on the way out and then again on the way back, so four aid stations per lap, two laps, you can probably figure out the rest. The organisers don’t give you the distance between the aid stations, but I would say they are probably pretty evenly spaced. Given the hot weather that was forecast on race day, the organisers also provided another aid station at the far turn around, but it was only water. Most of the run is pretty open; there isn’t a lot of shade. So if you have a hot day like we had, it gets hot.
So how did my race day pan out?
After a bit of deliberation I opted to stay in Mandurah the day before. All up I found that I was pretty relaxed race morning. Since the swim course is so tide affected, staying on the start line can be a bit of a challenge. I just told myself the station keeping could act as a good warm up. After a bit of swimming backwards, the gun went and finally we were away.
The canal we were swimming in was pretty wide and so there was plenty of room, so pleasantly little carnage off the start, which was nice. I was pretty sure the swim was going to be quick and so headed off pretty hard. After the usual 200m of everyone sprinting like mad, the field started to thin and I saw that I had a friend. This was a bit of a new experience for me. Usually in my swims I end up by myself or behind a pack or something. I have never done the swim leg with somebody else. However, this time around this guy was almost exactly the same speed as me. Right I thought, time to put all the drafting and pack swimming theory to work. We spent pretty much the entire swim together. Sometimes I would draft off him, sometimes he would draft off me. Once or twice I thought he had got away, but I kept telling myself to make sure I stayed with him. I knew I needed to push the swim and I also knew this was the perfect way to do it. Navigation wise I found the swim was good, I never had trouble finding my way. The canal you swim in follows a big arc, so it really was just a case of sticking to the inside of the arc and dodging the moored boats.
Once I hit the stairs at the end of the swim I had a swim time of 31 minutes 35s. With the tide I knew the swim was likely to be quick, but I hadn’t wanted to assume it would be, so I had been conservatively planning for a 35 minute swim, as I had not really put too much emphasis on swim training, so being quicker was a perfect start to the race.
Onto the bike and with forecasts to be around 35-36 degrees Celsius, I actually decided to put long sleeves on, as I didn’t want to get too exposed to the brutal Australian sun, particular with a half marathon to follow after. I knew the day had been forecast to be windy, but just how that wind was going to manifest itself was something I was interested to see. Head wind on the way out as it turns out.
Most of the way out was pretty quiet, since by that stage the course was still mostly empty. I focused both on keeping the pressure on, but also not on fighting the headwind too much. I also focused on slowly working my way through the cyclists ahead of me who were from the earlier wave. Whilst the wind was pretty nasty (approx. 20km/h north easterly) I didn’t feel it too badly on the way out. Certainly the speed was lower and there were a couple of exposed bits where it was particularly horrible, plus it made small hills feel like big hills, but other than that I didn’t find it too much of a chore. I was very happy once I turned though and then it was tailwind time. Whilst the headwind hadn’t been too bad, the tail wind was awesome. Except for the detour up Paganoni Road, the spin back to Mandurah was just a case of enjoying the tailwind and sticking to the nutrition plan.
As fun as the tailwind had been I knew I had to fight that headwind again, which I wasn’t looking forward to. I knew though that if I could stay strong in the headwind, it was probably where I would make the biggest gains on any competitors. I also knew that I could hurt myself a little bit going into the headwind since I had about 20kms of tail wind to spin the lactic out. So I was keen to keep the pressure on.
Even with somebody to keep my focus on the pace, the 2nd lap was tough. If anything the wind was a bit stronger and I was certainly a bit more tired. At the 2nd aid station I took a moment to grab a two bottles since I was feeling pretty dry. The exposed sections of road were particularly brutal. I was very happy to see the far turn and get back into the tail wind.
I hit transition feeling good. My goal for the bike had been sub 3 hours, so was happy with 2hrs 58 mins. My race plan was tracking along nicely.
Once out onto the run I found that I was feeling pretty comfortable. The weather was starting to warm up by this stage (it was on its way to 34 degrees), but I didn’t find it too bad. I had my usual heat mitigation measures in place, grabbing as much water as I could at every aid station, over the head, in the mouth, everywhere, ice at every chance. The organisers also had a couple of showers on the course which I used as well. I found that by utilising that approach the heat didn’t bother me too much.
By the second lap I was feeling the heat, which made me really focus on monitoring my body temperature and ensuring I kept myself cool. A bit of ice under the hat seemed to help. By the time I hit the line I was hurting, but then that is the point of the finish line. Each lap of the run you ran through the crowds at the Mandurah café strip and each time it was a big buzz, but running through them heading to the finish chute was particularly sweet.
The run was the slowest I’ve done EVER for a half marathon, so coming home with a 2hr 14 min half marathon was a bit sad, but it did still mean I was in under 6 hours (5:54 in fact).
Overall, it was a testing day, being my first race in this type of heat. Sadly I did also lose out to my mate from work, who came in 8 mins quicker, but I reckon I can get him in our next main race, Busselton Half IM, in May 2014. Watch this space.