Hefei 70.3 Race Report

Racing at 70.3 Hefei in China was one of the coolest experiences of my life and I want to take some time to share a little of my journey with you.

First off, I chose to race in China this year because I wanted to have a different experience. At points in your triathlon career, you want something a little different to help put that extra fire in your belly, something that makes you want to train and race harder. Having the opportunity to race in Asia, promote triathlon in a new place, and promote triathlon in a new culture definitely provided me with this extra motivation. I put up some of my best numbers on the swim and the bike as I trained for this race.

This particular race was in mid-eastern China (see Hefei on the map below). Amber and I flew out of New York, up Canada, over the North Pole, down Russia, all the way down to Guangzhou in Southern China and back up to Hefei. Total travel time was about 24 hours. Luckily, Amber and I were tired when we got on the plane. I slept about 12-13 hours total, so the first of two flights only seemed to take about an hour. We had a three hour layover in Guangzhou which was ok since the airport was huge. It was so big that we had to take a shuttle for 20 minutes on the tarmac before we could get on the second plane. 

One thing that stood out was that the Chinese were very eager to get where they were going. Even though we had assigned seats, everyone was very pushy as they got on the plane. I do not believe that anyone meant to be rude, I think this is just part of Chinese culture. Amber and I are a little easier going, so we allowed some people to pass ahead of us. 

Once in Hefei, we felt very welcomed into the country. In fact, every other billboard out of the airport (there were about 60 billboards on the way out) had Ironman advertised on it. It felt a little overboard, but it’s much better to feel welcome than not welcome at all.

The airport was roughly 50 minutes from our hotel which gave us a good look at the surroundings. Near the airport, there were mostly fields and a few shacks. As we got closer to the city, however, brand new apartment buildings began to appear. At first it was just two clusters of roughly 10 brand new apartment buildings each. We didn’t think much of it until we kept going and there was another and another. The buildings were all built within the last year and it was clear that no one lived in them. Because of the fog, it felt kind of eerie, like a pop-up city. We learned later that the Chinese like new places and that all these buildings were going to be filled up within a year. It’s hard to believe. I will have to take their word for it.

Out our hotel window

Our hotel 

More new apartment buildings  

As we pulled up to the hotel, we could see that it was brand new as well. It had opened only one month before. It was huge and elegant. You could tell that someone spent a lot of time on each and every detail. 

Despite the language barrier, everyone was very nice and accommodating. The concierge would hook us up with plenty of free water bottles, the front desk was very attentive, and the Ironman staff helped us out with any other information we needed regarding the race.

The one thing that I was most worried about before I left was the Chinese food and water. I did not want to get sick before the race. In Hefei, it did not turn out to be a concern. There was plenty of bottled water available for purchase and the hotel had good quality food. We ate at the hotel morning buffet breakfast which was an absolute feast. They had french toast, danishes, eggs, rice, noodles, very crispy-delicious bacon and fruit. For dinner we hopped around, but mostly ate at the hotels evening buffets. At first, it was hard to get used to how they leave the heads on duck, chicken, shrimp, and fish, but we eventually got over it.

We did have a few language barrier issues. One was when Amber and I went out for lunch at a sushi restaurant. The seating was positioned around the sushi chef. He would put fresh sushi on a revolving conveyor belt and you could take it off if you wanted to eat it. Although we didn’t ask for one, the chef made us a special avocado and spicy tuna roll. I wanted another one, but the chef didn’t understand when I asked. He got the store manager, a waiter, and another waiter involved. It took 20 minutes and a phone voice translator to get my second roll. Everyone laughed about it.

Loving the sushi

Another issue came up when we went to lunch a different restaurant. Amber wanted to order some coffee with milk in it. The waiter did not understand the “with milk” so I made the universal sign of milking a cow (you know, squeezing utters in mid air…). The waiter thought she understood and brought Amber out a glass of milk. Amber and I took a sip and were immediately sure that it was not cow’s milk. On the bright side, the milk came with a straw shaped like a heart. 

Milk problems

Another language barrier issue, that was more of just a thing we noticed, were these signs set around the lake outside our hotel….Amber and I weren’t sure what to make of the English translations.

Strange placement... 

As for the race, it was one of the best organized, most attended Ironman sanctioned events that I’ve ever raced. It was a closed course, point-to-point race which started about 11 miles from our hotel. 

Near the swim start

The race began in a  highly populated part of the city where people actually lived and worked. It reminded me of New York City a little bit with the beautiful sky scrapers.  One of the things that Ironman was a little bit nervous about was the crowd, car, and moped control. In this part of China, the cars and mopeds seem to follow guidelines of the road, but those guidelines are not hard and fast rules. It was not uncommon for cars to go through stop lights or drive down the wrong side of the road. To prevent anything bad from happening, Wanda- the guy who owns WTC- provided 15,000 security guards who lined up about 10 meters apart over the entire 70.3 mile course. That was a bit overkill, even extravagant, but very cool at the same time!

One of the security guards on the course

My beautiful wife...and T1
The conditions were decent. The water was a little green, the air quality was foggy, and the temperature was about 68-73 through the entire race. I can’t say that any one of these things negatively impacted my performance on race day. The one thing that stood out, though, was the road surface. Those brand new glassy roads made the race very enjoyable. On top of that, we got all 4 lanes of road to ourselves! This really made the race stand out compared to other US races. Closed courses with wide smooth roads made this racing experience that much more exceptional.

A small aside.... One major difference between racing in the US and racing in China are the Porta Potties. In the US, there is a seat. In China, there is just a hole and a handle hold. Frankly, I was a little nervous about this experience, but it was actually not that bad. One Pro actually came out and described the experience as "life changing." I'll leave it up to you to interpret that one. 

As far as my race performance went, it was similar to most of the other races that I’ve done. The only thing that was a little different was the lower number of pro's. I’m use to racing with 40-60 pro’s which makes for a very tactical race. There were 15-20 pro’s racing which lead me, and everyone else, to race their own race. I enjoy both styles, but it was nice to change it up. 

With swimmers like Olympians Stewart Hayes and Brad Kahlefeldt in the front group, I knew that I would be swimming primarily on my own or with only one or two guys around me. I ended up swimming quite a bit with Brad Williams (that is, when he decided to swim straight). He came out of the water just ahead of me and we both were about 3 minutes behind the front group. This swim performance was pretty consistent or a little better than usual for me.

The transitions were set up like a full distance event where you had to get your transition bag. If there was one thing that was not quite right during this race, it was that the male pro bags were set up right in front of the women's change tent. This would be fine if there was not a fountain between the basgs and the men's change tent. We either had to backtrack or jump over a fountain. I ended up jumping over the fountain and falling off the other side, on top of my helmet. Both my helmet and I survived and it only cost me a second or two. I heard that other male Pr's actually went into the women's change tend by accident. Good thing we were the first one's off!

The bike was pretty consistent with my results from this year. I really enjoyed riding fast on the wide open road with all the security guards lining my way and fireworks going off at the half way mark.  I road conservatively and evenly with a VI of 1.04. I caught 1 or two guys including AJ Baucco who was having a rough day. AJ and I worked together for about 5-10 minutes, but he ran out of gas and I chose to keep on going. I ended up riding down Chinese Pro Hao Miao in the final three miles and ran into T2 just ahead of him. 

Out of T2, Miao floored it and I took it more conservatively. My run was a bit of a question mark going into this race. I had a knee/IT band injury that popped up right after Timberman 70.3 in August and I ended up taking two weeks off of running. After that, I had a rocky build up with low mileage and low intensity. Luckily, my knee had not bothered me since I got off the plane in Hefei.  Despite being more conservative than Miao, I ended up running a little too fast at the beginning and slowed a bit in the final 4-5 miles. That said, I kept moving strong, reminded myself that I wanted to come to China to perform well, and never gave up. I ended up with my best run so far this year.   

The finish line was outstanding. It definitely rivaled Kona and 70.3 worlds. I’m not sure if the Chinese were excited that I was a pro, that I am a tall Caucasian, or simply that this was the first time these people saw a triathlon, but the crowd went wild as I went down the finish shoot. It is always an amazing experience crossing the line at an Ironman event, but this one felt special because of how hard I worked for it. I ended the race with my race best time for this season.

Everyone seemed to want a picture or selfie with an American post race. There were literally 40 Chinese people who lined up. I’m not going to lie, the attention felt really good.
Ted Breault,  qualified for 70.3 Worlds!

One of the Power On athlete's I've coached for a long time, Ted Breault, traveled over to Hefei as well. He came within seconds of his PR time and ended up qualifying for 70.3 Worlds. It was great to see him finish up his race.

Overall, my experience at Hefei was very good and I’m looking forward to going back to China on November 5th to race Xiamen 70.3. I expect that the experience will be different since the city of Xiamen is in Southern China and seems to be more established.

On a side note, if you are looking for a coach, reach out! I have some openings for the 2017 season! E-mail me at jafecik@gmail.com

As always, special thanks to Jon Fecik Racing sponsors Zane's Cycles, Southern CT Muscle and Joint Chrio, Low Cost Oil LLC, CT Cycle Center, and Diabetes Training Camp! Use these great organizations that help support me and so many other things in our community!