Thursday, 19 November 2015

Heartbreak in Langkawi... again!

Most of you would have known by now that I did not finish my Ironman race in Langkawi, Malaysia over the weekend. Having to pull out the year before and to have history repeat itself this year, was disappointing, to say the least. But as with each setback, it's good to reflect so that we can reset and move forward.

Knowing how I measure up against the top Malaysian guys, I sort of took the pressure off myself this year. I had a decent swim, didn't get too off course. It was a rolling swim start, staggered into different groups based on self seeded expected swim times. However, it was still fairly crowded at the start, there were a few participants swimming breaststroke despite starting off in the fastest group. But once I got through the initial crowd, I settled into my own rhythm. The organizers did a last minute change to the 2 lap swim course due to low tide, so we made the lap turn in the water rather than through the beach. As usual, I had a habit of swimming too close to the buoys. And a few times, I almost swam into them - about 10 times or so! The salty water caused my upper arms to chaff a bit as I pulled the water against my chest but it was near the finishing. I finished the swim in 1:08:01, not too great and looking at the swim times after, most people swam slower than last year and I actually swam half 10 seconds quicker. Also, I was 2nd Malaysian out of the water, after Allie Helmy and Barry Lee.

Photo credit: Tey Eng Tiong
Transition was smooth and had major dramas. 3:47 with a long run along the beach before we entered the change tent, so I can't complain. But I did drop two Clif bars just after leaving transition, they fall out of my front pocket of my tri top. No matter, as I still had two more in the back pocket.

Although most of the bike course remained the same as last year, because we started and finished at different points, we encountered the hills at different times during the ride this time. We went through the winding hills along Jalan Datai within the first 15kms of the ride. I was pretty conservative especially at the descends. Mohd Amran, last year's first Malaysian overtook me at about the 7km mark. Hafiz Wong, overall Malaysian winner for many times now, then overtook me after the 15km turnaround point. Still, I rode within myself and did not give chase. After the Datai climbs, the terrain was mostly flat for about 40km or so, so I was able to build the speed back up. My CO2 canister unscrew itself and dropped off somewhere. Still I did not panic, just try not to get a puncture.

Photo credit: Jack Ah Beh
We then came to the steep dragonback hill at the start the LISRAM highway. Shifted into my small chainring to save the legs and climbed up steadily. Same deal with the longer Bukit Hantu climb on Jalan Padang Gaong. Then back to some flat sections again and was able to build the speed back up. At the end of first lap at 100km mark, I have built back up to a 32kph average. Was pretty happy with that as I was still keeping the efforts in control.  I was even more delighted that when I got to the Datai climbs, the front 4 Malaysians were only within 10-15 minutes ahead.

And then it happened, at the 127km mark, one of the my saddle clamps came loose and dropped off. At first, I wasn't sure what came off, and kept pedaling while looking down to my seat area to check. I was worried that the saddle may come off at any time, so I stopped and back tracked for about 1 km or so, looking for the missing part but to no avail. I think that's the straw that broke the camel's (or my) back as it seemed I hit an invisible wall right after and there was no more energy in my legs. I struggled for the next 20kms or so. I started to feel a bit faint and at one point I was cycling at 15kph on a flat road - that's slower than my 1km run efforts!

I got off my bike to answer nature's call to see if the rest could help. An official on a motorcycle rode by and at that weak moment, I decided to throw in the towel. Coincidentally, an ambulance was already there and I went in to have a lie down and load up on cold drinks. The medic lent me a phone to call my parents. Li-Ann tried convincing me to continue. I did feel better after resting a while but the medic said it was communicated to the race officials that I've already withdrawn.

So again, a premature end to my race in my home country. Disappointed, of course. I've not made any commitments to iron distance races in the coming year, so to spend some solid months of training gone down the drain and going into off season without completing a race definitely leaves an emptiness inside of me.

But still, I try to look at the positive side of things. I managed to catch my sister along different parts of the course as a supporter, something I wouldn't be able to do if I continued racing. She finished her first Ironman way ahead of her targeted time and to witness those emotions in person was just surreal. My wife enjoyed a well deserved holiday back home and we spent some special time with both our families.

Photo credit: Fendy Ahmad
Many thanks to sponsors, Compressport Malaysia, Lifeline ID, Rocktape Malaysia and Saucony Malaysia for the support. Friends and family who came all the way to cheer us during the race and those supporting from far, much appreciated. I apologize that I couldn't get the intended results. Hope to redeem myself in races to come! Down, but not out.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Felt IA

Some of you would have known that I crashed my Boardman TTE at the Bukit Merah 113 triathlon about 9 weeks ago. Whilst having another identical frame replaced would be nice, it wasn't going to arrive in time for Ironman Malaysia. Still, I'd like to thank H2C bike shop for their dedicated support all this while. I decided to seek a new bike for myself (thank goodness for bike insurance!) in Brisbane. I went to Avantiplus in Fortitude Valley which stocked some nice Felt IAs. I rode Felt bikes for my second and third tri bike (the first one was an alloy Quintana Roo Kilo) and been really happy with the experience.

Apart from the Dura Ace Di2 build IA2, there weren't any other frames in stock that suited me. So they ordered an IA1 frame kit and I spec-ed it with Ultegra Di2 build, with my existing Power2Max crank and Caden carbon wheels. The end result? Very stealthy looking weapon, I call it the F Bomber! Hahaha.

House brand Zero saddle to keep the costs low
I needed 45mm of aerobar spacers for the perfect fit

I've had this bike for about just over 8 weeks now and it feels great. Unlike the previous Felt DA models, this bike is narrower, so I'm positioned closer to the handlebars. Being a relatively tall frame, I went down a size to 48cm frame, I feel like a midget! With the wide tubes, the frame is tad bit heavier than most frames but it acts like sail once you get it moving.

Can't wait to put this to the test on race day next weekend!

Monday, 26 October 2015

Final few weeks

It's been ages since I've posted anything about my training. Ironman Malaysia, Langkawi is less than 3 weeks away and I'm just glad to have made it through. I'll be toeing the start line of what I hope for my 9th Ironman finish and it sure doesn't get any easier.

I've been satisfied with my overall training build. Sure I've missed a few key sessions here and there, mainly due to the misfortune of flat tires. But generally, I'm much better prepared and I'm in much better shape than I was for Ironman Australia, Port Macquarie back in May. I've gotten in a few more long rides and long runs than I did while preparing for Ironman Australia.

With only two proper training weeks left (race week doesn't count!), the key is not to overdo things and focus on keeping the sessions short and sharp. There is a bit of a black cloud of uncertainty (excuse my pun) with the hazy weather in Malaysia and how this would impact the race. But it's beyond my control and I can only make sure I'm fit and healthy at the start line if the race would run as planned.

Recent readings look favourable, so let's keep our fingers crossed and think positive thoughts!

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Be triumphant with Saucony Triumph ISO

I've been fortunate enough to score myself another pair of Saucony shoes to wear and test, and of course review. The Saucony Triumph ISO is one of the premier range shoes from the Saucony catalogue. The pair I received came in a limited edition box, which makes it a little more special.

The Triumph ISO falls under the neutral category. Meaning to say that the shoes are designed to promote neutral foot motion, rather than correct pronation. The arch support is intended for runners with medium to high arches. To be honest, being someone with virtually no arch at all, I was a bit skeptical in using these shoes. Historically, I've believed myself to be an over pronator but in recent years with continuously working on my running biomechanics, I've been able to adapt more neutral like shoes.

The Triumph ISO is one of the three Saucony models that comes with the new ISOFIT system (the other two being Hurricane and Zealot). Put simply, the ISOFIT system is the entire construction of the upper part of the shoe. The inner sleeve is made out of ultra soft stretchable mesh, providing more ventilation and improving comfort. The lacing of the shoes goes through a zig zag cage like material, which would cradle the foot and morph to it for a sock like feel.

The shoes come with the IBR+ (Injection Blown Rubber) for it's outer sole construction, a feature which most Saucony shoes would have. The rubber is liquid molded rather than cut, is lighter than standard blown rubber yet more durable and provides better cushioning. This is great for those who enjoy a plushy feel in their running. Tipping the scales in 10.3 oz, the shoes are relatively lighter in comparison to shoes from other brands with similar features. These shoes are great for the everyday mileage clockers but also would come in handy for those seeking extra cushioning on the race day.

Powergrid+ is used for it's midsole, another feature present in most Saucony shoes. This goes very well with  with the SRC Impact Zone in the back part of the sole towards the heel, The molded stabiliser of the Powergrid+ over the lateral crash pad of the SRC Impact Zone prevents the heel from leaning too much towards the outside. These shoes provide full outsole ground contact and therefore improving stability. With an 8mm heel to toe offset, there is ample heel and forefoot flare, making for a solid base underfoot.

At the nose end of the shoes, the honeycomb mesh like construction provides great ventilation for those running in the tropical climate. The silver strips that contain the wordings of Triumph and PWRGrid+ are luminous in the dark, which is great for those running before sunrise or after sunset.

I've had these shoes for about 4 weeks now and pleasantly surprised with the results. My skepticism with whether or not neutral shoes are suitable for me, have been thrown out of the window. It's nice to have another pair of shoes in addition to my Guide 8 for the long miles.

The Triumph ISO comes in a variety of colours, some louder than others, depending on your preference. Thank you Saucony Malaysia for these awesome shoes!

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Pacing the Twilight Bay half marathon

My last post on my DNF at Bukit Merah triathlon has been rather depressing. Incidentally, I haven't had much luck with my long rides since with several punctures, so I thought I better post something happy quick in hope of changing my fortunes a bit.

One of my Reddog tri club members, Ian approached me a month ago about pacing the half marathon distance at the Brisbane marathon. I was a bit too late to accept and my spot got taken. But I was roped in for the next event, which is the Twilight Bay Run, which would take place along the Wynnum foreshore, about 20kms east of Brisbane. I thought why not? It would be a good training day, I'll get a free entry into the race and be given a couple of singlets as well.

So the day came. It was to be an evening run starting at 5pm. Not only have I not been a pacer before, but this would also be my first time running at night! The sun sets at about 5.45pm, so pretty much at least the second half of the run would be in the dark.

Some heavy showers came upon us at about 3pm but luckily it cleared after. I arrived at the venue about 1.5 hours before to get some extra mileage in, ran 6kms in just under 30 minutes. Swapped my shoes from the Guide to the Fastwitch and made my way to the expo tents. InTraining Running Centre were the ones organizing the pacers. Collected my race kit and just enough time for another toilet visit. Luckily the queue wasn't that long. A quick group photo with our pacer balloons and we're ready to go!

Photo credit: Katherine Stark
As I was walking towards to the start line, I noticed a few curious stares and a couple of people actually tailgating me to the start line, I'm not used to all this attention! The winds were picking up and as I'm shorter than the average crowd, the poor guy standing next to me was getting hit from my balloon being blown around.

Being the 1:35 pacer for the half marathon, I stood in the second wave. Off went the gun and I started my watch straightaway instead of waiting unless I cross the start line. The aim was to get a gun time, rather than a nett time of 1:35. I ran for what felt like a 4:30 per km pace and true enough, when my Garmin picked up the 1st km signal, it was 4:30. However, it took me another 15 seconds before I reached the 1st km marker. So I knew I had to go a bit faster.

Picture from Supersport Images
I ran the next few kms in about 4:25 pace. I had a small group of 5 or so people around me, and that helped keep things in control. There were a few short climbs on the course. I wanted to increase the effort so as to maintain the pace, but had to be sure that I don't drop the group behind. After the turnaround we came smack into the headwinds and again had to dig deeper to maintain the pace. We crossed the starting arch at 10km and we were about 15 seconds inside target.

A few started to drop off the group. I felt a bit sorry but had to keep pushing to ensure we meet the target. It was at about the 15km mark where we were about 30 seconds inside the target and that's when I started taking my foot off the gas a bit. Towards the final 2kms, we started catching up with the two lead females. We ran together for a bit and then for the final km, the guys in the group started to make a surge for it. One of them thanked me for pacing, which was nice of him.

Doing the slow mo walk towards the finish line
Nearing the finisher chute, there weren't any others around me. I may have gone a tad bit too quick but not by much. I strolled the last 100m or so and crossed the line with a gun time of 1:34:48 and net time only 13 seconds quicker.

Pretty consistent if I say so myself :)
I truly enjoyed my first experience as a pacer and look forward to doing it again. The balloons did get in the way in some sections depending on the direction of the wind, but just required to be pushed away every now and then. And be mindful to ensure that they don't hit someone! Thanks InTraining for this opportunity!

Saturday, 12 September 2015

DNF at Bukit Merah 113 triathlon

Bukit Merah 113 triathlon, the third and final triathlon of the 113 triathlon series in Malaysia. What was meant to be my major lead up race in preparation for Ironman Malaysia, Langkawi in November. As the title suggests, I did not make it to the finish line. Sure I'm disappointed but I always believe in moving forward. And in order to do that was to accept what has happened and move on from there.

I arrived into Malaysia on Friday, two days before the event. Mum cooked us a nice bak kut teh dinner and then we adjourned for ice cream at Inside Scoop. The next day, we left for Bukit Merah, which was about 3 hours drive up north. We went in 2 cars - myself with mum and dad, my sister Karen with her fiance Gary. We stopped by Taiping for nice hawker food for lunch and shortly after, arrived at Bukit Merah Laketown Resort. As we drove up the winding and steep roads towards the resort, my heart skipped a beat. I have been struggling with descending at tight corners all this while and though I have been working on it, there is still quite a lot to do.

After we checked in, I suggested to Karen that we do a test ride, so at least I know what to expect on that steep descent on race day. Gary who wasn't racing brought his bike along so he joined us as well. The road out of the resort started with a steep climb about 1km in length and then a fast winding descent about 700m all the way out of the resort. And true enough, I came off my bike coming down the second corner. I wasn't going very fast so I wasn't hurt too bad and my bike was slightly scratched. I walked my bike down the remaining of the descent and get on my bike and climbed back to the resort. I was pretty disheartened and contemplated not starting the next day as I'm still unsure how to get through those corners.

Anyway, after collecting my race pack and meeting up with friends at the welcome dinner, I felt a bit better and decided to give the race a shot. Speaking to my wife Li-Ann on the phone gave me the extra encouragement as well.

Race morning came and to start the day off, I accidentally peeled off most of my race number tattoo as I stuck it on. Luckily the organizers had marker pens as back up. Having the transition area right outside the hotel rooms was handy. I was able to get on with my pre race routine in the comfort of my room after racking my bike

Photo credit: Gary Fong
Photo credit: Sean World of Marathon
The swim course was 2 laps and took place in the resort lake. The flag off started at 7.30am, about 30 minutes later than scheduled to allow for more light. There were about 200 age groupers and we started about 1 minute behind the elites. As the announcer was counting down to the age group start, those in front began swimming already! I wasn't sure whether to hold back or to start along... in the end I decided to get a head start as well, about 10 seconds into the gun off. I accelerated to get ahead and within a couple of hundred meters, I overtook the lead swimmer. What I was pleasantly surprised with was that he didn't latch on after and soon I was swimming on my own. About three quarters into the first lap, I overtook Shahrom, one of Malaysia's top triathlete who started in the elite wave. After that it was pretty uneventful until towards the end of the 2nd lap where there were a handful of swimmers finishing their 1st lap and I had to zig zag between them a bit. There was a bit of chop too by then.

Photo credit: Sean World of Marathon
Photo credit: Ang Wan Theng
Towards the last 100m or so heading into the boat ramp out of the water, Rupert indicated that I was leading the age group race. I was pleased that the second age grouper was over 1.5 minutes behind. I clocked just over 37 minutes, I then knew the swim was a bit longer than 2kms. The Dare2tri swimskin slipped off easily and I was on the bike and ready to go. The first 1km of climb was okay and I pedaled through. Once it got to the crest of the hill, I braced myself for the fast descent. I got through the 2nd corner this time... but not the third. I fell off my bike again but luckily I wasn't going very fast, so I wasn't seriously hurt. As I was already in the middle of the descent, I decided to walk my bike down those couple of hundred meters. Two age groupers overtook me at this point.

Photo credit: Ang Wan Theng
Photo credit: Y C Tan
I pushed on but I noticed something wasn't right. Each time I shift towards a lower gear cog on the rear cassette, there would be a loud rattling sound. I slowed down a bit and a few more others overtook me. There was a slight incline as we crossed a bridge about 5km into the course. Once I crossed it, I shifted towards a higher gear and then it happened... loud rattle and then the whole rear derailleur fell out. The rear hanger came apart, must have been the impact from the fall. Once it was safe, I crossed over to the other side of the road and flagged down a marshal vehicle. An athlete whom I mentor, Fadzil stopped to offer me his bike. But I was worried I would do the same to his bike so I urged him to continue with his race. Shortly after, my sister passed by, she looked worried but I indicated I was okay, so she pushed on.

The damage done
So that was a very early end to my race. The medic treated my wounds when I got back and luckily they weren't too deep. Another participant was at the medic tent and he needed stitches and had to be sent to hospital for further observation. He was keen to continue racing but was advised against doing so. I met up with mum and dad, had a bit of breakfast and decided not to waste the day. After seeing Karen finish her first lap of her bike, I waited a bit more for the elites to start running before I started my run. Boy, these elites are in a class of their own. Despite me running on fresh legs I could not bridge the gap.

I ran the first lap and then waited a bit for Fadzil, and I paced with him for most of the first lap. It was nice as we never really had a face to face conversation prior to this. My sister then came in the opposite direction and I did a U turn and paced with her then. Being a local race, there weren't any rules against outside assistance or pacing. The poor volunteers at the turnaround point was so confused and wondered why I kept on refusing to take the lap bands. I ran with my sister until the end of her first lap and that was enough for me, a total of 25kms of running in the heat!

Photo credit: Enaikay
Photo credit: Enaikay
After that, I took my time cleaning up and then gathered at the finish line awaiting for Karen to finish. It wasn't long until she came through, winning her age group with a massive PB! Well done lil' sis!

Photo credit: Enaikay
I was pretty tired on the trip back home but dad did the driving. Sure I was disappointed for not finishing the race but I had a great time spending time with family and catching up with friends. And again, it highlights how much more I need to work on my bike handling skills. I flew back to Brisbane the day after the race, it was a very short trip. I haven't quite got back to full swing of training routine as I've been feeling pretty tired in the mornings. From the bike accident, I have a few things that I need to sort out - either the insurance option or the warranty option. But hope to get this sorted soon so that I would have a tri bike to ride for Ironman Malaysia, Langkawi.

Photo credit: Kental Fan Club
Keep moving and move forward!

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Greater Springfield Duathlon 2015

I generally don't do duathlons. I'm a fairly decent swimmer and I like starting my races with a swim. My running isn't bad either but my strong point is running on tired legs after the bike, not to hitting the gas as soon as the gun goes off. But I signed up for this race anyway. In my lead up to Ironman Malaysia in mid November, I've been scheduling a race every 4-5 weeks just so I can drop the weekend volume in the race week but still keep the intensity fairly high at the race. Plus, it's good practice as we don't always get the opportunity to put race pace efforts into our training.

Springfield Central is located a good 30kms from home. It was a cold morning and I could see the temperature drop from 9 degrees Celcius as I left the house to 5 when I got to the race site. The venue was held in the campus grounds of University of Southern Queensland. When I arrived just before 6am, the roads into the campus were already blocked and I had no idea where the detour was. I parked at the nearby residential area, about 1km away.

Picked up my race pack and racked my bike. With only 125 participants for the full distance and another 127 in the sprint, it was a fairly quiet and low key affair. I met up with the others at the Reddog tri club tent, everyone was wrapped up with gloves and beanies from the cold! There was a long queue for the portaloos but luckily someone pointed us to the public toilets a few hundred meters away. Then it was time to start.
The first wave was at 6.50am for the males over 45, mine was the second wave, 2 minutes after. The first run was 10km broken into four 2.5km laps. We went through the park and there were a couple of twists and turns. There was steep descent before the turnaround and we climb up that same slope. The final few hundred meters of each lap was a slight descent as well. From the start, everyone sprinted forward and very soon I was towards the back of the pack! Though I would have liked to clock a sub 40 minute 10km, I kept it in control and maintained just under 4:06 per km pace. Even then, it was still pretty hard work!

Reached the transition area in 40:50, it was good that my body was beginning to warm up. My transition wasn't as quick as I would have liked but there were no major dramas either. I even overtook a few as I got off the mount line. But here's where the wheels came off.... not literally, but it might as well! The bike course was 6 laps, each lap about 6km or so. We started off with some climbing and then a descent, a u-turn, sharp corners, small climb, another u-turn, small descent, another sharp corner and repeat. My bike handling has been an issue in the past and with a course like that, this issue stood out like a sore thumb! I ride past Springfield Central regularly in my weekend rides but I never did these laps within the town.

The longest straight line was probably about 1km or so, and that's probably the longest I stayed in my aerobars. It was embarrassing for me to be braking until almost a complete stop at each turn. I rode like a novice and Coach Trent did have a word with me after. I did get better after a couple of laps but the damage has already been done. The course was meant to be 40km but each lap was measured short and by the end of the 6th lap, it was just under 35kms. In fact, I doubted myself and almost went for another lap but I noticed there weren't many others left on the course and I took note of those who lapped me before.

I wasn't prepared for the dismount line, so my feet were still strapped in the shoes. Running into transition with the bike shoes slowed me down even further. Bike split was 1:17:45 with a slow average of 27kph. To be honest, I was glad that the course was under distanced!

I did still find my running legs and managed to keep about the same pace as the first run. And happy to be able to start overtaking a few in front of me. The second run was 5km and we did the same laps as before but only 2 laps this time. I was aiming to be my Olympic Distance triathlon PB and especially now, with the shortened bike course. I was close but after the 2nd run lap there was an extra 200m we had to do before we go through the finish line. 21:43 was my second run time, giving me an overall finish time of 2:20:19, about 2 minutes shy of my OD tri PB. I was 10th out of 17th in age group, enough to add 3 points to my tri club tally as there were some non TA members before me. Overall, I was 60th out of 125.

A nice non alcoholic Erdinger beer in the recovery area followed by a painful but effective massage. I didn't quite get the result I wanted but it's pretty obvious which area I need to keep working on. Coach Trent was very kind to give me a one on one bike skills session a few days after the race and passed on some very useful tips for me to put into practice.

Next race - Bukit Merah 113 triathlon! Would be making a quick trip back home for this. Let's hope there are no more than 3 laps for the bike course this time!