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  • Writer's pictureJason Fonger

Ironman 70.3 Bangsaen 2019

Since the bike course at Challenge Kanchanaburi 2018 was cut short, Ironman 70.3 Bangsaen was my first official time racing a 1.9km swim, 90km bike and 21.1km run. I had been looking forward to this race for a long time. The main goal was to win my age group and secure my spot at the 2019 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Nice, France.

My training was pretty solid leading into this race. After Challenge Kanchanaburi last October, I took a relaxed and unstructured approach to training throughout November. I ran a local 10km running race towards the end of November for fun, but I definitely pushed myself trying to win it (I came 2nd) and my legs were begging for a rest after that. I put in a couple of big weeks on the bike while I was still in Chiang Mai for the first half of December before heading to Canada for a few weeks since I knew I would be riding indoors there. I got in a bit of quality training on the Wahoo KICKR (my dad’s new favorite toy) at my parent’s place while I was home over the holidays, and did just enough running and swimming to keep a bit of feel for the movements. I flew back to Thailand in early January and that’s when the real training started.

I averaged 16 hours a week for the 5 weeks leading into Ironman 70.3 Bangsaen. The first week was almost exclusively cycling and then I increased the swim and run volume over the next 4 weeks. I had a flexible approach to training during this time, but I trained every single day of these 5 weeks with the exception of a rest day on the Monday before the race. Each week I had a few key sessions that I made sure to execute but I would work my training around other things happening in my life. Looking back, there were a few things that I overlooked in this training block, but more on that later. Let’s talk about the race itself.

It was a rolling swim start, something that I had not experienced before. Everyone racing was put into one of 4 swim groups organized by speed. I was in the first swim group and within that we self-seeded our positions with 4 athletes starting every few seconds. I was 5th in line, which meant about 16 people were released before me in the swim. While I don’t mind this style of race start, I still prefer the mass starts. I like to know exactly where I am in the race amongst my competitors. If people start at different times, and the end results are based on individual start times, you never really know where exactly you stand in comparison to other people on the course. On the other hand, the rolling start does make the swim start much less chaotic and more comfortable for the majority of participants.

The water was the choppiest that I had ever raced in, but that’s not saying much. The waves were probably about half a meter high. My limited experience swimming in open water has been in fairly calm conditions, so I was slightly out of my comfort zone. I managed to stay calm despite a few mouthfuls of saltwater and was able to find some good feet to swim behind. The first 650m of the swim out to the first turn were the toughest, swimming against the chop. After that, the chop was coming from the side and then finally from behind after making the second turn to head back to the beach. I finished the 1.9km swim in 32 minutes and 37 seconds which is about the time I had expected for myself.

Coming out of the swim is always a highlight for me in any triathlon that I do. I’m always excited to get on my bike and chase down the faster swimmers. Since this was the longest bike leg I had ever done in a triathlon, I had an extra bounce in my step running into T1. So much so that I even dropped my goggles and had to lose a few seconds to pick them up!

I was totally pumped once I got going on my bike. As ambitious (naive?) as it may sound, the possibility of winning the race overall was definitely on my mind. In order for that to happen, I knew I needed to make my way to the front of the race on the bike. My plan was to average somewhere between 250-270 watts but I felt good and was determined to bike with Jaray Jearanai, Thailand’s fastest long-course triathlete, who had finished the swim around the same time as me. I averaged 285 watts for the first half of the bike.

Throughout the second half of the bike, it became more and more difficult to hold power. This is to be expected to a certain extent, but it was getting exponentially more difficult because I had made one huge mistake. Going too hard on the first half? Perhaps a little, but there was a more significant problem. I was becoming increasingly dehydrated.

Looking back, I am amazed that I made this mistake. I consider myself to be pretty good about keeping my hydration in check, but clearly was not on this day. By about 90 minutes into the bike, I had consumed a 750ml bottle containing 210g of rock sugar dissolved into water. It was about 30 degrees Celsius and not even 9am. I remember looking down at my legs which were soaked in sweat and thinking “Hmmm, looks wet.” It was around this time that I realized how thirsty I was getting. That’s not good. In endurance racing, you need to drink before you feel thirsty because by that point you’re already dehydrated and it’s very difficult to bring your hydration levels back up while still exerting yourself. At the last aid station on the bike, I picked up a bottle of water and had consumed the additional 500ml of water well before entering transition 2.

At one point during the last few minutes of the bike leg, it was like my mind was signaling to my body that the work was done and that it was time to go kick my feet up on a sofa and down a few bottles of ice cold water. Then I remembered that it was actually time to run a half marathon. My power had dropped significantly throughout the second half of the bike, and I ended up averaging 271w for a bike split of 2 hours, 17 minutes and 24 seconds. I finished the bike riding in a small group with Jaray and another athlete, and there were only 3 athletes ahead of us.

Mentally, I was highly motivated to stick it out and suffer through this run. The thought of finishing in the top 5 overall in my first 70.3 was at the front of my mind. Unfortunately, as soon as I started running, I could feel that my body was not in good shape. My legs felt very heavy, and I had some pretty bad abdominal pain. I pushed as hard as I could for that first km of the run but the abdominal pain kept getting worse. The two athletes I had come into T2 with were getting farther and farther ahead and were quickly out of sight.

I tried to wrap my head around what was going on and why I was feeling this way. Was the sugar water too concentrated? Was I dehydrated? Had I done too few brick sessions? In hindsight, I think the answer to all of those questions is YES. As I mentioned earlier, I had overlooked a few things in training for this race. One of them was brick sessions. I did not run off the back of long bike rides often enough, and so once the bike leg was over, my body thought it was time for recovery. It wasn’t ready to keep going through a long hard run. Another one was training with nutrition that I would use on race day. I kept putting off sessions where I was meant to be using the same nutrition that I was planning on using on race day to see how my body reacted to it. This simply came down to being unorganized. I will be sure to incorporate these important elements into my training for future races.

At that point in the race, when I had just started the run but was already feeling so rough, I was just trying to figure out what to do. I was thirsty and wanted to drink heaps of water, but I didn’t want to drink too much because I thought it might have made my abdominal pains even worse. I decided the best thing to do was to walk every aid station, taking my time to get in some fluids, cool off with a sponge, and recharge a little bit every few minutes.

I just kept thinking about what my main objective was in this race: securing my spot at the 2019 Ironman 70.3 World Championship. I had to do all that I could to keep pushing forward and finish as fast as possible. I had seen about a dozen people run past me on the run and I really thought some of them were in my age group, but there was still a chance that they might not take the slot to world champs and it could roll down to me.

After completing the last of 3 hilly loops on the run course, I found myself in the last kilometer of the run. I pushed as hard as I could and all I could manage was a 5-minute kilometer. I finished the 21.1km run in 1 hour, 55 minutes and 26 seconds, bringing my total race time to 4:49:02 when you include the transitions.

I had a big smile on my face crossing that finish line, mostly because I knew I could finally quench my thirst. I drank 3L of water, 2 coconuts, and 1L of Sprite in the 3 hours after the race, and only after all that that did I finally pass some dark yellow urine. Definitely dehydrated. Turns out that most other cyclists had took in about 3 to 5 times as many fluids as I did during the bike. Lesson learned.

As it turns out, none of the people who passed me as I stumbled through the run were in my age category, so I came first place in the 25-29 age group. I had earned my spot at the world champs. At 4pm that afternoon, I attended the roll down ceremony and paid my entry fee. It’s booked, I’m going to the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Nice, France!

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