Coach Alyce Ooi Lee Tze reflects upon her training and performance at her maiden IRONMAN 70.3 race. Catch some OWS tips from her too!
IRONMAN is such a big name, I wanted to understand why my students are all so crazy about it, some people sign up before they can even swim. The plan was to take part in my first IRONMAN 70.3 race in April 2020 when I was in peak condition, everything was good back then, and then Covid-19 hit. Finally in April 2022, the event re-registration was announced. But 2022 was a challenging year for me. I was working hard in the water as a swim coach everyday post-MCO and my body was stressed. Then 3 weeks before the event, I came down with viral fever, followed by Covid-19 infection. I know many people had the same story too. I recovered just before taper week, which is such good luck still. 😊
With less than 3 months to train, I knew I had to adjust my expectations on my performance and design my training to fit my full coaching schedule - my students themselves were training for IM70.3 Desaru. How does a coach balance their hopes for their students and their dreams for themselves? To be honest, this is what I could do with less than 8 hours/week available to train:
Wednesdays are my off days which I call “hammer days”: do it all 3 in a day!
Swim 1.5 hours (4km) with my MySwim squad
Strength & Conditioning with Samantha Tan
Bike 45 mins at Cycology
Brick run 5KM at night
During peak training, I try to cover the above + 1 long ride outdoors + another 5KM brick run.
Without the support of triathlete and swim friends around me, I couldn't have made it to my first IRONMAN 70.3 race. And I finished it beyond my expectations and full of love! Special thanks to Stella Ong for a pre-event 5-star breakfast, for which she woke up at 4am to prepare a superb meal for us.
Actual Event Day - Swim
Warming up together with my Myswim gang before entering the starting arch made me calm and ready to start the swim. Normally I will go to the front pack to avoid breaststrokers. But surprisingly when I swam out, there were so many breaststrokers in front of me and I got my 1st “Bruce Lee” side kick on my stomach. I decided to use my gentle art to prevent another kick.
If you want to avoid breaststrokers, this is what you should do: Swim past them in a diagonal direction, crawl on their hamstring or hip before gently pushing them to the side (never press above their hip e.g. at their torso or on the head as it can make the swimmer panic; never try to swim past them ‘early’ when they extend their legs for the kick as this is the strongest force and you can get the “Bruce Lee”). After passing them, kick a bit stronger and at a fast pace to get away. This was my first time experiencing this kind of non-stop kung fu practice in the middle of the sea. 😊 My advice to those swimming breaststroke is to learn to swim freestyle. In breaststroke, you use a lot of your legs for kicking which will tire you out for your bike and run.
1st 600m out towards the ocean, these were 'wind waves', which makes the sea look rough but they are just waves on the surface of the water, with only a little current pushing to the right. I sight every time the wave pushed me up a little. I know a lot of swimmers found it hard to sight at this point as the waves blocked the buoys every time they came up to sight. So you have to ‘ride the waves’ in these situations actually.
The first 600m is also when you need to keep moving to find your space. Swimming in an IRONMAN race is unlike other events where the competitive conditions make participants more aggressive. My arms were swinging at a higher stroke rate to avoid others from getting closer, keeping my focus on sighting the 2nd white buoy and reaching there as soon as possible.
The 2nd 600m felt smooth, easier to swim and I could pick up a faster speed to the 3rd white buoy. While we were swimming parallel to the shore, swimmers gradually spread out and broke into their own groups according to swim speed.
On the 3rd 700m back to the shore, this was where most people struggled and caused the large number of DNF’s (did not finish) in this race, sadly. We can’t underestimate the South China Sea where the sea conditions are changing, all the time, at one point to another, just as we experienced during the three legs of the swim course. The current was pushing strongly to the left side in the last 400m. Navigating the current is really like a fine art as it is very hard to notice the current when you’re swimming. In my opinion, you have to depend on your experience and your skill in sighting.
I did not use the finishing arch as my reference point but I was sighting the orange column of the Westin Hotel behind the finishing arch. Always find a much larger, immovable object to sight as it would be easier to see and follow. When you sight every 3 strokes, the object you are sighting must not be changing that much but this time, it kept shifting and I knew I was fighting with the current. When I first came up to sight, I was facing the orange column, after 3 to 6 strokes I was facing the hotel rooms on the left side of it; after I adjusted the direction to face the column again, the same thing happened, which means the current was pushing me to the left. So I shifted my direction sharply and purposely started swimming towards the right, sighting the right most orange column instead. This felt uncomfortable because I was not swimming straight at the finishing arch but away from it. I almost doubted myself “did I sight properly?”, “is that my problem?” but I reminded myself to be confident in my training, react and adjust my direction accordingly, while never forgetting to keep swimming strong as this was the last stretch towards the finishing arch. Self confidence is also one important element in open water swimming.
40 mins to finish the swim, this was 5 mins slower than what I targeted.
This discipline was the newest to me and the one which I have the most people to thank. They helped me get started with gear, training and advice: Jacqui Brinkhorst, Lee Min, Patricia, Megabike, Ingshern & Lee Lee, Miss Leng from Meng Thai, Vong and Daniel from Cycology and not forgetting my swim lane-mate Steven Tan for answering all my stupid questions about bike. I received so much love from them, it is deeply appreciated.
Big thanks to Apek Pacer who eased my trauma from repeated falls on the bike - our weekly long rides started first with city tours, then semi long rides without cleats and over time, I managed our 100km rides with cleats comfortably. Overcoming the fear was my biggest achievement.
On race day, we had blessed weather, it was drizzling a little throughout. The wind was changing direction all the time and with no drafting (as this was a no drafting race), I felt like the wind was coming from all over the place so I had to ride with my body lowered, holding the drop down bar. I was feeling my quadriceps taking on all the work load for the 90km.
The route was 2 loops of an L-shape. The fun thing about doing 2 loops is being able to meet your training buddies, in particular, dD (da Duck) who was shouting at me the 2 times we passed each other, which really made me laugh out loud. It gave me some entertainment as the scenery was a bit boring. 😉
Finished on the bike in 3 hours 4 mins, at an average speed of 29.3km/hour.
Running is the discipline I was most worried about. I know that I can finish 21km for sure, but at what pace is another story.
I have to admit that I did not have enough training for this discipline. I only managed a brick run after each bike session, no more than 5km each time. To add to that, I have very bad running posture, which I call “breaststroke legs on run” - my legs swing outwards and then come back to the centre for landing.
I’ve been working with Strength & Conditioning coach Samantha Tan to fix my posture. I am thankful that she wrote a programme for me that is easy to slot into my schedule and which I can do beside the pool. The whole set takes around 45 mins to complete but if I only have 10 mins, I will choose the block that I am most uncomfortable with (glutes and hamstring) - it’s better than nothing. So while I could not cover mileage, I focused on preventing injury, specifically firing up the weak muscles to support my quads which I overused. We had a back up plan too - if I had any knee pain during the run, I was to alternate between a slow jog and walk just to finish the race.
During the run, when I needed it most, that was the first time my name was called out so many times. At other events, rarely do you get so many supporters shouting your name. I loved the surrounding energy, without which I don’t think I could have performed well. Special thanks to the cheering squad aka Sapot Kru from MySwim: Shauqie, Pui Yan, Zi Lui, Stella and so many others. In the end, I managed a smooth and strong run. Thanks to the strength and conditioning by Samantha, which saved my run.
I finished the run in 2 hours 12 mins, average pace 6:20mins/km.
Overall, I completed my first IRONMAN 70.3 event in 6:05:41, coming in 5th place in my age group. Now I got the poison from IRONMAN. I loved the energy on that day and I want to beat my timing. I'm going for sub-6 hours next time!
Coach Alyce Ooi is a Senior Swim Coach at MySwim Coaching and a Triathlon Coach, certified by the International Triathlon Union.