Friday, 24 October 2014

National Lampoon's Vacation - part 1 of 2

Well... not quite. But we did have our share of laughs and memorable moments. It was the trip that my parents and I have been looking forward to for months. They haven't been to the United States before. It was an action packed trip - covering both the East and West coast in less than 20 days.

Our first time sitting on the upper deck of the plane!
Day 1 - We arrived on Tuesday, October 7 (my birthday too!) late morning but we have a few hours rest and to get over jetlag before the first item on the itinerary, night tour in New York city.

General Electric (GE) building at the Rockefeller Centre. This was my 2nd time here and I'm embarrassed to say that I mistook it for the Empire State building the first time!
Following a tour on a tight schedule, we only spent less than 15 minutes at Times Square
Day 2 - We were still in New York but we packed over 6 places of attraction in the same day.

New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street
Looking forward to a bullish year!
Views from the Empire State Building observation deck
We were a bit disappointed that the cruise organized by the tour company didn't get us to the Statue of Liberty island. That was as close as we got to the Statue.
On board the USS Intrepid, World War II aircraft carrier, now being used as a museum for air, sea and space
On the other side of Metropolitan Museum of Art, overlooking the many food trucks
Madame Tussauds, we sure did have some fun here!
Day 3 - first stop was Princeton, on the way to Philadelphia - a place full of American history. It was the temporary US capital from 1790 to 1800 and also where the Declaration of Independence was signed. We stopped by an Amish farm for a tour of the Amish community before arriving in Washington DC.

Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was signed. On top is the Liberty Bell.
Hello Benjamin!

Day 4 - Washington DC, so many historical sites! The tour group split and we had the rare opportunity to explore Washington on our own. It drizzled a bit but that didn't spoil the day. We actually made it to Washington's Chinatown!

Outside the Lincoln Memorial
Inside the Lincoln Memorial
Playing with the Washington Monument
Korean War Veterans memorial
In light of recent years events, this is as close as tourists can get to the White House
US Capitol, meeting place of the Congress. Notice the scaffolding around the dome? Redevelopment works have been going on for a couple of years
Touching a piece of moon inside the National Air and Space Museum
Washington's Chinatown!
Day 5 - A long 8 hour drive to Niagara Falls. We arrived in the late afternoon, just in time to visit the historic Old Fort Niagara and catch the night view of Niagara Falls after dinner.

My first time at the USA side of Niagara Falls. There are more buildings at the Canadian side, so a nice change to the view.
Day 6 - We did the Maid of the Mist boat ride before leaving Niagara Falls, which takes us to the bottom of the falls. A fun ride (and wet!) and a handy tip - bring a fresh change of socks and shoes, if possible! Then, another long drive to Boston, arriving just in time for dinner.
It`s not very often that I get to see my dad dressed in pink!
Day 7 - A brief tour of Boston in the morning, covering Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). We had a couple of hours to ourselves to explore Boston downtown before catching our flight to Los Angeles. My parents managed to get a pair of Skechers shoes each at great discount.

The John Harvard statue, rub his foot for good luck! Apparently, the sculptor did not know how John Harvard looked like, so this statue ain`t all that true!
The tour bus dropped us at the airport at noon and we had a long wait before our 8pm flight. It didn't help that the flight was further delayed for another hour or so.
It`s a good thing the airport had rocking chairs!
 Stay tuned for part 2... the West Coast!

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Ironman Malaysia 2014 - the race that did not happen

By now, most of you would have known that I DNF-ed at the recent Ironman Malaysia. My first DNF for the Ironman distance and hopefully, my last. It was a decision I made partway through the bike leg. Whether or not it was the right decision, it seemed right at the time.

I don't have any excuses to offer. I wasn't feeling particularly unwell but I sure wasn't feeling my best either. From the start of the swim, I didn't feel too comfortable. My forehead ached, the googles seemed too tight, which was odd because it felt alright the day before during the practice swim. I came out of the water in 1:08:11, my slowest Ironman swim by about 3 minutes. I thought the distance was long but judging by the times of other participants, it was actually on the spot. Just a slow swim for myself, I thought, as that tends to happen sometimes in open water, when it's difficult to gauge your progress without constant feedback.

So I carried out, sprinting the long 200m transition to make up as much time as possible. The swimskin came off without too much issue and I had a decently quick transition time of 3:26. Though I did not make it public, it was no secret that I wanted to challenge for the position of first Malaysian in this race. There were two Malaysians already ahead of me as I started the bike on the 2 loop bike course. Abdul Hai is a very good swimmer but still relatively new to triathlon, whom I was able to overtake at first couple of kms. Allie Helmy, usually among the top finishers in the local races was about 5 minutes ahead. But the biggest threat, Amran Ghani, who also won the fastest Malaysian at the Putrajaya 70.3 in April, was powering from behind. He caught me with less than 10kms into the  bike. Much, much earlier than I would have liked.

Still, I maintained my composure and tried not to let the first two get too far away and hopefully I would still be in contention when it comes to the run. As we made it past the Datai Hills section, a bit after 50km mark. They were still about 10 minutes ahead of me. My pace so far was about 32kph average, a bit slower than I hoped, but as the later parts of the bike were mostly flat and rolling hills, with most of the steep climbs gone, my pace should get quicker. Or so I thought.

I just did not have the power or energy to increase my pace. I wasn't particularly suffering, but just didn't have the output. As I got to the end of first lap, mum, dad, Karen and Gary were near the special needs station to cheer me on. That gave me a bit of a boost. I grabbed my vegemite sandwiches and carried on. But it did not get any better. Still couldn't push the pace. The first few steep climbs made it worse. I stood up on my base bar and was reduced to a pedestrian pace, just soft pedalling away.

I thought maybe I could just wait for my fastest coached athlete, Rupert to catch me so I could pace with him. But it was evident, that as he passed me I could not go with him. He did ask if I was okay though, I just said I just didn't have it that day. About 120kms into the ride, I made the call to spin to the nearest aid station to pull out of the race. Plenty of thoughts went through my mind. All the months of training and my wife Li-Ann enduring me being away, both in body and mind. My parents and sister along with her boyfriend Gary, coming all the way to support. The radio interview I have been allocated to do on BFM 89.9 after the race, what would I say if I did not finish?

But I could only ask my body to do so much. I could just carry on in this dire state but at the back of my mind, I've already decided to let it go and focus on my next Ironman, which is Port Macquarie, Australia in early May next year. So there it was, the race which I have anticipated for the whole year came to an abrupt anti climatic end. The journey back to transition was a long one. It took a couple of hours before the sag wagon came to pick me up and it was slow too, as they had to go through the entire course, checking for others who may in trouble.

I was really disappointed but I did pick myself up pretty quickly. Showered and changed, and came down from the hotel to cheer the rest of the athletes, especially the ones I coached. This was the first time I stayed at the finish line until the last finisher crossed the line. The atmosphere was electrifying and it was a feeling I never felt before, especially when watching my coached athletes finish. I have utmost respect for athletes who finish in the later hours of the race. I don't think I have the tenacity to persevere through.

I have more or less put this DNF behind me. Of course, every now and then, I still think to myself, what could have been. Racing on home soil is always special but it comes with a bit more pressure. Pressure which I did not handle very well, which crippled me. I allowed the negative thoughts and emotions to prevent me from going on. And I guess, I have overestimated my own abilities. Looks like I still have a lot of work to do to challenge for the top Malaysian position. Well done to the big boys for being so strong in such tough conditions. Even in my best days, they would be hard to beat.

But I'm ready to come back. If circumstances permit, I'll see you in IM Malaysia, Langkawi 2015. This time, I'll be better prepared, both physically and mentally.

The only time I smiled, was before the race started. Thanks mum, dad and Karen (and Keith cheering from Australia and Li-Ann in Canada) for being there for me. Having family around me puts a DNF into perspective. Photo credit - Gary Fong

Monday, 22 September 2014

The final countdown

Less than 5 days away from the big race - Ironman Malaysia, Langkawi. It`s always a surreal feeling and hard to believe the past 5 or so months of training is coming to a close. For many of us, that anticipation started from the time the race was officially announced a year ago.

Come this Saturday, I would be toeing the start line for my 8th Ironman and 3rd time in Langkawi. I'm as prepared as I can be and looking forward to put the many months of blood, sweat and tears to the test. As I always say, the race is the reward for all the hard work and training.

Racing in my home country is always special. But this time round, the experience would be a whole lot more meaningful. When I started my small coaching service last year, I totally did not expect for it to grow to what it is now. Joining me on the race course would be 8 other amazing individuals - some taking on the challenge of their first Ironman race, others adding another Ironman finish to their collection. Whatever the reason, they have all done the hard work and gone through a major transformation, and I believe that each and everyone will reap the benefits come this Saturday.

The Ironman race is going to be a long day. Some claim it as the toughest single day endurance event. There would be ups and downs - both on the race course as it is pretty hilly, and in each athlete's moods and energy levels as well. It is important to focus on the current moment and task at hand... and bad patches will pass.

To all my coached athletes, thank you for including me in this significant milestone of your life journey. Wishing all of you the best of luck mechanical wise and weather wise. Regardless of the finish time, it does not define you. Soak up the race atmosphere and enjoy every moment of it... because no one else can do that for you! See you at the race, we'll be the life of the party!

Week 25 of 26 - home is where the heart is!

I was pretty excited from the start of the week. I had only two days of work, the lady I was covering for returned from maternity leave, so a very brief handover. But she remembered most of the stuff, so it went pretty well. The department gave me a nice farewell lunch with a very generous gift too.

Monday evening, I swam at the Stoney Creek YMCA as my membership at Western recreation centre ended last week. There were swim classes at the Y up until about 8.30pm, so I was only able to swim then. 400m warm up, 400m pull buoy -150m pull/50m fingertip drag, 400m pull buoy, 200m pull buoy, 400m swim, 400m - 150m swim/50m fists, 400m pull buoy/paddles, 200m kick with board.

Tuesday was a nice 75km ride to Thorndale and Vanneck. Summer is definitely gone and it got a bit chilly past 7pm. My last ride in Canada actually. Wednesday I was no more working, I did a 90 minute run in the neighbourhood just before lunch. Then after lunch, I swam - 200m swim, 200m pull buoy, 5 x 200m swim, 1000m pull buoy/paddles, 5 x 200m pull buoy, 400m swim, 200m kick with board. My last session before the long flight back to Malaysia.

So I was travelling from Wednesday evening starting from catching the Robert Q bus from London to Toronto. A long 30+ hour journey ensued, including transits - an especially long 6+ hour one in Manila, The Philippines. It didn't help that my final flight from Manila to Kuala Lumpur was delayed by an hour. But at the end of it, I was really glad that I'm finally home - on Friday evening! A nice bak kut teh - herbal pork soup with my parents and sister, at the nearby restaurant also owned by a fellow Ironman triathlete. Then quickly assemble my bike for the ride the next morning.

Didn't sleep very well and up by 5.30am for the drive to Putrajaya for the ride. My sister's boyfriend was very nice to come pick me up. It was nice to meet the rest of the gang, some whom I coach but was meeting for the first time. It started pouring a few minutes into our ride and so, after 15km in, we decided to sit it out at the local mamak restaurant. We resumed our ride but as we were drenched, we decided to head back. Some of us changed into dryer clothes to continue with our ride while others, with the slippery roads, were a bit more conservative and decided to run instead. I was with the former and we did another 60km of cycling. It warmed up soon and we didn't get too wet. Followed by a quick 6+km brick run. And I meant really quick as one of the guys pushed me to a low 4 minute per km pace for the last km! We then had a nice lunch at Padi House and exchanged some handy tips, especially for those doing their first Ironman next weekend.

Big turnout! Photo credit Gary Fong
Some strong runners here. Photo credit Affendy Iskandar
You bet I slept well that night. Sunday morning was another early one. Both my parents and my sister as well as her boyfriend signed up for the Forest Trail run in FRIM Botanic Park. I didn't sign up as I wasn't sure how the route would be like, didn't want to sprain an ankle a week out from Ironman. But I decided to tag along and do the route after the crowd has gone. The first 2-3km was a very steep incline. The downhills were not too steep but I still had to take caution as it was quite slippery. I did most of the route except the final part around the footpath, 14.7km clocked for 80 minutes of running. My sis tied with another girl for women's open champion - a nice trophy and Sworke sunglasses along with a free gym membership trial.

Always nice to be running with the family!
I just realize that there is not much to update for week 26 of 26. I have a 50 minute run tomorrow and a 3km swim set the day after. I'll be in Langkawi from Thursday onwards and probably just do a practice ride and swim. Then it'll be the big race! I'd like to thank everyone for following my posts and hope to write up a nice race report when it's all done.

Week 25 of 26 statistics:

Swim 6.8km (2 hours 1 minute)
Bike 148.7km (4 hours 53 minutes)
Run 41.1 km (3 hours 19 minutes)

Total 196.7km (10 hours 13 minutes)