Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Hervey Bay 100

I've not done this event before mainly because it always clashes with some other event late in the year. But I've heard good things about it. With Ironman Busselton cancelled, I was looking forward to another long course event before the year ends. The event sold out on the same day entries were opened, I got myself onto the waitlist and fortunately scored a slot. I was probably among the last few, as soon as I registered, the race organizer started sending out emails on race packet pick ups etc.

Hervey Bay is about 4+ hours drive from home, it's a nice spot and I've been there a couple of times for work. So I thought it would be good to bring the family along this time. The traffic was pretty good on Saturday and Sebastian didn't make a fuss at all (thanks to pre downloaded Netflix videos)! We had an early lunch break in Gympie and arrived in Hervey Bay just after midday, to be greeted by strong winds and the scorching sun! I was bracing myself for some tough racing conditions the next day. I met up with the South Bank tri clubbies at the race pack pick up while Li-Ann and Sebastian played at the beach. We had takeaway pizza and Japanese for dinner and soon it was time for bed.

Race morning, 4.30am alarm goes off but I was already awake for over 30 minutes before. Our accommodation was conveniently close, about 200m from transition. I racked my bike and then went back to the room for breakfast and final toilet visit. The swim was a point to point swim and I was in the second last wave at 6.47am. I still had plenty of time and sat at the beach for about 15 minutes before going in for a quick warm up swim. Even then, I probably did it a bit too early and was shivering in the wind while waiting for my wave start. 

Swim 2km (supposedly)

The event prides itself with a unique whale tail shaped swim course. However, due to high waves, the swim was shortened and it was shaped more like a trapezium. The wind was coming from the north so the first outbound swim was tough. But once we turned right, though it was still very choppy, I felt that there was a bit of current assistance. There were only about 30 or so people in my wave start, so it was difficult to draft or to sight, made even more challenging by the choppy waters. But I didn't waste too much time finding my bearings. Overtaking different coloured caps from the earlier starts always gives a bit of a confident boost. The swim back after the final turn didn't seem much easier as I felt as I was being pushed away instead of doing a diagonal swim back to the beach. I hit the lap button as soon as I got onto the beach, to give me an accurate reading of the distance and pace. Garmin recorded 27 minutes on the dot for 1,543m. Average pace of 1:45 which is pretty much an aerobic pace in the pool for me. Given that the pros were swimming just over 20 minutes, I'm pretty happy with how I swam comparatively. The first timing mat was another couple of hundred meters away and official results had me clocking 27:53 and 7th in age group at this stage.

Photo credit Nicci

Transition 1

I was disappointed to see that there weren't many bikes left on the rack and then I realised that most of those who were on the same rack as I were from earlier wave starts. I spent the extra couple of seconds wiping the sand off my feet and put the socks on. Only to realise that I haven't taken off my swimskin, not going to make that mistake again! Mounting the bike at the mount line was a bit scary as we were very close to the actual bike course. I looked back to make sure no cyclist was zooming towards me before I got on my bike. Time taken 1:14.

Bike 80km

Pretty straightforward bike course. Four laps out and back. I was expecting a fast and flat course. The winds were not as bad as the day before but it was still strong. The outbound journey had some deceptive inclines and there were a few roundabouts and plenty of corners that I had to get off my aerobars so that I could steer better. There were a few speed bumps at the start and concaved surfaces at the other end to look out for as well. My Garmin Edge 500 cycle computer went totally flat despite having fully charged it before. Probably time for a change as it is about 7 years old. So I relied on looking at my wrist every now and then to get some data feedback. It didn't help that it was on auto scroll! But I kept to a pretty consistent effort for each lap. It just over 17 minutes on the way out and just over 16 minutes on the way back. And that included a the infamous short steep climb on Gatakers Hill on the way back. I initially planned on just cycling in the big chainring but the climb came so suddenly that switched into the small chainring each time, praying that the chain doesn't drop! Interestingly there was one other cyclist from Redcliffe tri club who would always pass me on the return lap but I would overtake him again towards the end of the outbound lap. We never rode near to each other but this went on for all four laps. 

Photo credit https://www.dsaimages.com.au/

I finally got back to transition with a bike split of 2:14:50, averaging 35.5kph and 185 watts. Probably a bit conservative. Clocking closer to 36kph and shaving a couple of minutes off would be better. Distance was pretty spot on at 79.8km. Official results included transition time at 2:16:00 and I gained a spot to 6th in my age group.

Photo credit https://www.dsaimages.com.au/

Transition 2

After racking my bike and removing my helmet, for some reason I froze a bit. My helmet visor was broken before from getting knocked off my bike. So I took that extra care to place it gently on the tarmac and ensured that it wasn't in anyone's way. Then back into game mode, shoes on and grabbed everything else - sunglasses, race belt and run visor putting them on the go. Time taken 1:04

Run 18km

3 lap course on the foot paths, starting from transition in the middle. Mostly shaded and thankfully it had been overcast skies mostly throughout the day, except towards the final run lap or so where the sun started peeking out. But it was certainly warm and humid. I have been struggling a bit with my long runs lately, been breaking it into smaller distances as I haven't been able to execute them in one go. And it showed on race day. I started off at around 4:30 per km pace, which is usually what I do in training but couldn't sustain it and dropped it to just under the 5 minute mark. We were told to ensure that our cups made to the bin and there was one section in the middle of the first lap, I was so focused on looking out for the bin until I missed the intersection and almost ran back into the transition area, I even crossed that timing mat again! Quickly turn around and went back out on course, could have been disqualified if officials were being strict.

Photo credit https://www.dsaimages.com.au/

Seeing Li-Ann and Sebastian cheering from the playground did lift my spirits. And so were the cheers from the South Bank tri club tent and Greg and Cathy from my former Logan tri club at the run turnaround. But there is only so much my tired body could do. At one stage I dropped even further to 5:30 per km pace. I was surviving on the (warm) coke from each station. The final lap came and I found a bit of a second wind and started clawing back to the low 5 minutes pace.

Photo credit Nicci

Finally crossed the line a run split of 1:30:02, official split of 1:31:04 including transition. Garmin recorded 18.3km with an average pace of 4:55. Overall finish time was 4:14:58, falling short of my sub 4:10 target which I had plenty of time after the bike but it all came apart after that. Surprisingly, I gained another spot and placed 5th in my age group. Fourth place was a fair bit away and it was unlikely for me to beat even at my best.

While I am somewhat disappointed with the results, especially since I felt I under performed at Sunshine Coast 70.3 two months ago and was eager to redeem myself, I truly enjoyed the experience. The race organizers put on a good show and it's hard to believe that this is an event organized by the local tri club. The family enjoyed the trip and if the race calendar permits, would definitely have another go at this race again!

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Sunshine Coast 70.3 2020

Just like racing, it seemed like it's been a while since I've posted a race report. I can't reiterate enough how fortunate and privileged we are to be racing. Massive kudos and appreciation to everyone involved - race organizers, local council, health authorities, sanctioning bodies and volunteers to getting this event up and running whilst still keeping us safe. 

I came into this race with big expectations given the solid training I had leading up to it. Depending on the conditions, I was aiming for a PB, the time to beat was 4:36:38 also in the same event in 2018. The weather forecast was 50/50 with strong wind and showers meant to clear on race day. Following advice from the surf lifesavers, the swim course was revised to a more protected section of the open water, which added about a 900m run into transition. So, these little things add up and definitely makes it difficult when you are looking for marginal gains. But it is a level playing field and everyone goes through the same course in the end of the day.

There were some subtle changes to the athlete check in and bike racking process. We had to pre book our times and sanitize our hands upon entry. There were also many stop and wait at the different points to allow the previous person to go through the process. All done in the interest of keeping us COVID safe. This year's transition was held at the Wharf, which provided much more space. I chose to rack my bike in the final slot of 4pm at the skies were looking pretty dark. It was nice to be racked second row from the front, one of the perks of being an AWA athlete. Dinner was takeaway pizza and pasta from Cala Luna in Maroochydore but we ate them at Macca's as Sebastian had a McHappy Meal.

Race morning, alarm went off at 4am. But I was woken up by rain about 45 minutes earlier. Had breakfast and second toilet sit down and it was time to go, but not before kissing Li-Ann goodbye, who was also up already with all the noise I've been making. The motel was a short 5 minute walk from transition. I wiped down my bike from the rain, but it was a futile effort as it continued to showered intermittently. I probably didn't take into the account the walk to the swim start and was still waiting for the portaloos for one final go. Zipped up my wetsuit, dropped off my gear bag, bumped into Mark from South Bank tri club and walked together to the swim start. Only to notice that the pros were already starting while we were still a couple of hundred meters away from the starting area. Oh well, it's a rolling start for the age groupers anyway.

Swim 1.9km

I weave through the waiting crowd as close as I can to the starting queue. There was more stagger to the starts to give everyone more space and my watch showed 6.14am when it was my turn, about 9 minutes after the first few age groupers started. There was a bit of sweep from the waves into the beach but it wasn't extremely choppy. Definitely not calm waters but I've swam in much worse. Swim course was in anti-clockwise direction. Swim out, turn left three times and final right turn to finish somewhere midway at the beach. Throughout the swim, I didn't get to find any feet and was mostly overtaking other athletes. Guess I should have started earlier. Apart from a couple of moments where I had to stop to check my bearings as I couldn't sight properly with the waves, I kept mostly on course. The timing mat was placed immediately as we got onto the beach, which is handy. Clocked 31:48 for 1,876m according to my Garmin. An average pace of 1:41 per 100m. Only 21 seconds slower compared to last year when it was in calm waters. But I know I can do better and should be coming closer to the 30 minute mark. Just need to get more used to swimming in a wetsuit as these times are too similar to my non wetsuit times. 

Transition 1

With the long run along the beach and into transition, it became a foot race. But it gave me time to unhinge the back of my wetsuit as the zipper can get tricky sometimes. Wetsuit came off without too much issues. Slipped on some very soggy socks. Helmet on and off we go. The bike mount area was very crowded and I pushed my bike a bit further in front for a bit of space before I mounted it. Official results had me clocking 3:03 but I had it over 5 minutes on my Garmin. I'm guessing the time must have been taken from a mat somewhere during our run into transition.

Bike 90km

Had to be really careful on the first few hundred meters of the bike. It goes along the esplanade, it was narrow and there were plenty of speed bumps. Plus the road surface was still wet from the rain. And then after there were a few climbs before we hit the Sunshine Motorway. So it wasn't until about 10 minutes into the ride where we could get some decent speed. And we sure did. A two lap course, traditionally tailwind on the way out and headwind on the return. This year was no different. Clocking close to 45kph but knowing it would slow down exponentially on the return, this was the time to patiently build up the speed and a buffer, if there is a targeted overall average speed you are after. It continued to shower intermittently but thankfully there were no huge puddles on the roads that we have to avoid. I reached an average of 37kph at the first turnaround but braced myself for the headwind to consume me on the way back. But surprisingly, I held it together, the average speed steadily decreased to 36kph and naturally with the few turns and climbs as we got back into town, it dropped a bit further to the low 35s. 

Okay, 2nd lap, time to put my foot down on the pedals if I want to achieve a sub 2:30 bike split. Knowing the descents and corners the second time round always helps and I could just put my head down and go full aero. The tailwind fun came and went. On the last return lap, one athlete passed me but I kept close. And we pretty much swapped turns for most of the way back. We did our best to keep to a legal distance but no doubt there were some moments where it was definitely questionable. In general, despite not much of a presence from the draft marshalls, I didn't see too any trains out there. I guess we were all experts in social distancing now! 

Bike split on the Garmin was 2:29:53 for 89.84km, average speed 36.0kph, average power 192 watts. Consumed three Endura gels and about three quarters of 750ml of Powerbar electrolyte, split between two bottles to keep them balanced. Official results had me doing 2:32:25, I guessed that's where the 2 minutes difference from T1 comes in.

Transition 2

Bike on, helmet off. Shoes were soaked despite covering them with a towel. Put on race belt, sunglasses and visor on the go. Time taken 1:52. Li-Ann and Sebastian were cheering me as I ran out of transition.

Run 21km

The run is usually where I look forward to making up most ground but my leg turnover felt slow. Plus I could feel some twitching in my quads and I thought I better not push it in case they turn into full blown cramps. We did the first climb and just after the 2km mark, knowing that I was no contention of breaking my PB, I decided to take a break at the portaloo. Those 45 seconds were well worth it and I felt much better after that. No doubt still keeping it steady at around the 4:30ish per km pace. It was motivating to get cheers from the South Bank tri club crew and friends from Reddog and Logan Tri Club as well. Also, getting shout outs from friends who are competing at the same time. Unfortunately, I could only respond with a smile or a thumbs up as I was hurting a bit. 

The run course changed slightly from last year and this year, another small climb was added just before the turnaround for the second lap/finish. Big kudos to the very enthusiastic volunteer directing us to that detour. The rain stopped during the run but this meant it felt a bit sticky. Volunteers were not allowed to hand out cups anymore, but the cups were well spaced and each table were labelled clearly. I did not stop at any of them and grabbed the cups as I ran. Had no issues apart from knocking off a couple of other cups at one of the stations. 

Final few kms become a survival, I was creeping close to 5 minutes per km pace. Eventually reached the finish line with a run split of 1:36:53, spot on 21km on the Garmin. Overall time was 4:46:01, surprisingly 10th place in M35-39 and 98th overall. State border closures for a Queenslander only race may have helped with that. A somewhat different experience after the finish line, where we pick up our finisher medal and towel in a bag, as opposed to having them put around us by a volunteer. 

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed with my race results but I can't count my blessings enough that we had this luxury of even racing at all. I was meant to do Ironman Western Australia later in the year but that has been cancelled, so I have deferred to next year. With no major races for the rest of the year, I'm a bit at a loss now but I'm sure I'll find my next goal soon enough!

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Tweed Coast Enduro 2020

This is my 5th year in a row doing this race. A half iron distance, about 90 minutes drive (in good traffic) from home, a couple of months into the year - just nice to have a good crack as a lead up race to bigger races at the end of the season. Always held on a Saturday, I took the Friday afternoon off work to drive down to Pottsville, just across the QLD NSW border. We picked our son from daycare after lunch, the journey was a bit of a crawl with the pre weekend traffic, took us nearly 2.5 hours. We stayed in the Pottsville Beach Hotel, which is only a few hundred meters from the race site. So I was able to rack my bike overnight. The past few years we stayed a bit further and I rode down on race morning. I volunteered to bring the South Bank tri club tent down and had Daz, a fellow club member help me set it up. Then it was time for dinner, we did the the usual - pizza from the Cabarita Bakehouse. It rained a bit that night and I was keeping my fingers crossed that it would be the end of the rain and it would stay dry the next day.

Alarm went off at 5.15am (NSW daylight savings time). Took my time having my breakfast and two visits to the toilet in the comfort of my hotel room. A short walk to transition but I just had enough time to get my bike and gear set up before the marshalls were shooing us out as the sprint wave was about to start. Had a bit of banter with the people from my former Logan tri club, whose tent was conveniently located next to South Bank's. And then a relaxing 15 minute stroll to the start, as it was a point-to-point swim.

1.9km swim

Prior to the race, there was talk about the swim being shortened or cancelled altogether, due to debris from fires and flooding. Which would have been real pity as this race prides itself with the downhill swim being tide assisted, flowing from the creek out into the ocean. The swim was shortened in the end but only by a fraction. We used to do a short u-turn before swimming down the creek. This year, we just head straight out without doing that turn. I had a pretty average start, I always get beaten up a bit with the crowd. It was a wave start and there were about 30 participants in the Males 35-39. But once I settled into a rhythm, I had started overtaking many in front. I passed Philippe, about halfway through and I swam harder to grow the gap a bit. I managed to latch on a good pair of feet and stuck all the way until the finish. Overtaking some of the earlier waves later on gave a further boost. As always, held my breath a bit as we went under the bridge, don't know why but it creeps me a little. And then it was the final couple of hundred meters to the beach. I hit the lap button the moment I pass the first set of flags, clocking 27:31 for 1,815m according to my Garmin, averaging 1:31 per 100m thanks to the tide. The first timing mat was about another 200m run further ahead and gave me swim split of 28:23, in 11th position in my age group at this stage.

Transition 1

Stripped off my swim skin - yes, I didn't forget! I probably took a bit longer than I should wiping my feet and putting socks on. Helmet on and had a second look as to which direction I should go. It's always a bit confusing, for me anyway, in these smaller races. There were a few others at the mount line, so I was a bit cautious getting on the bike but glad that I could pedal off without any dramas. Time taken 3:25.

90km bike

4 lap bike course in an L shape. A couple of short climbs just before the southern turnaround. Garmin recorded a total elevation of 250m for the whole ride, so mostly flat. Road conditions were average, with a few potholes and I noticed many dropped bottles and other stuff on the course. But I actually thought the roads were better this year, either I'm imagining things or I've just gotten used to it. It was forecasted to rain but it didn't. However, it did get very windy and at some sections, the cross winds were borderline dangerous in some sections. Generally, it was headwind on the way out, cross wind in the middle, then tailwind on the way back. Philippe passed me early on the bike, which was expected. But I did not expect to pass him again. This off and on overtaking with him was something very new to me and he clearly wasn't himself at the race. This occurred with some other cyclists as well and there were a few whom I was able to drop later in the ride. Hey, perhaps I'm a pretty decent cyclist after all! Philippe finally put the gap on me just before the last lap. But I was able to come into transition just a few seconds after him. My Garmin recorded bike split of 2:29:59 (yay sub 2:30!) at bang on 89.9km, average speed 36.0kph and power output of AP 188/NP 198. Official bike split was 2:34:07 which included both transitions. My 2nd best bike time here, pretty happy given the conditions. I was 8th place in my age group, after the bike. Gaining 3 positions, again who would have thought!

Transition 2

Li-Ann and Sebastian were cheering from the other side of the fence. Philippe and I gave each other encouragement as I ran through the bike racks. But I can't help myself rushing to get my shoes on so I can leave transition earlier. And I did! Time taken 1:47.

Run 21.1km

Run course is 3 laps, shaped like a T, about 2km out, short left detour and another longer detour just after 3km. A mix of road, grass but mostly on footpaths with a couple of short, sharp climbs as we go around the park. There was a section on the path where it was flooded from the overnight rain and people were running up the incline on the grass next to it to avoid getting submerged in the puddle. There was quite a bit of cloud cover but it did feel warm and humid. I started my run in the 4:20 to 4:30 per km pace and I knew it wasn't going to be a fast run that day. But I kept it steady and I was still overtaking those ahead, one by one so I must be running well in comparison. I was also growing my gap from Philippe and I guess it was the only time I could finish ahead was when he wasn't at his best. The 3 laps course has it's pros with more frequent crowd support from the tri club tents at the end of each lap. But it also has it's cons, I felt that I mentally surrendered more and more and slowed the pace by 15s per km after each lap. True enough I averaged 4:30 then 4:45 and finally 5:00. Giving my total run time of 1:39:44, an overall average pace of 4:42. Overall finish time 4:42:15, my best time on this course by a small margin, making it 3 out of 5 times of finishing in 4:42:xx. I ran myself to 5th position in my age group, an improvement from last year's 14th. Gave Philippe a man hug as he crossed the line shortly after, well done in toughing it out despite not being at his best, looking forward to the next battle!

Lunch with the family, can't thank Li-Ann and Sebastian enough for putting up with my obsession. Pack the tent up, thanks to Logan tri club crew for giving us a hand. And then the drive back home, thankfully traffic was good. Overall, I'm pretty happy with the race result. I'd like to go faster but given the conditions, I can't complain that I was able to maintain the same time and even a small improvement. On to the next race - Desaru Coast 70.3!

Monday, 13 January 2020

QTS Robina Olympic Triathlon 2020

First race of the 2020 year, held in Clear Island Waters in the Gold Coast and the 5th round of the Queensland Tri Series. Robina is the only one that has the Olympic distance with the other one held in September last year. With a busy racing schedule, this was the only event of the series that I have signed up for. It's a good community event with the kids, enticer and sprint distances happening on the same day.

An impromptu decision by the family to head down to beach on Saturday meant that I was able to pick up my race pack and rack my bike early. Usually I would do all of that on race morning. The bike racks are not specifically numbered to each athlete, so it was nice to rack close to the exit for a change - I was the 4th spot from the exit. However, the drive home wasn't so pleasant, the Pacific Motorway was closed off in both directions due to a major accident and it took us 2 hours to get back.

Race morning, having done my pre race check in the day before meant I got some extra sleep in. Still got up at 4am to make sure I had enough time to set up my gear and visit the portaloos. It rained a bit overnight but it wasn't too soggy at the race site. Met up with fellow Southbank Tri Club members and my former Logan Tri Club for a bit of a chat and soon it was time to head to the swim start.

1.5km swim

Swim course is two lap triangles in fresh water with a comfortable temperature, no wetsuit. Visibility is decent and you can definitely find some feet in front of you to draft off. Which was what I did for most of the swim. There was one moment where I was forced the go on the left side, rather than the right side of the buoy. And it got a bit busy on the second lap when we converged with the later waves. But other than that, I had a pretty good swim. I hit the first timing mat in 22:14 which was shortly after we came up the boat ramp. Garmin recorded 1,341m and an average pace of 1:40 per 100m, which is close to what I my 100m intervals in the pool. I would have been around 24 minutes if it was 1,500m.

Transition 1

It was nice knowing that my bike is close to the exit so I just to run all the way to the front. I opted to wear my ITU racing suit sans the swimskin so chance of me forgetting to strip the swimskin off this time. I hesitated a bit more than what I would have liked putting on my gear, I guess I was just a bit rusty. It started pouring as I mounted the bike and I was a bit slow pushing off but better to be safe than sorry. Time taken 2:07.

40km bike

5 lap bike course shaped like a T, starting in the middle. For each lap, there were 3 u-turns, 2 left turns at 90 degrees and one roundabout at the start. Combine this with wet roads and my sub par bike handling skills, you bet I was cycling very cautiously. Thankfully the rain on the first lap didn't last long but there were plenty of puddles to watch out for. As expected, my mate Philippe passed me shortly after the first left turn. And another mate Ryan passed me somewhere on the 4th lap. If anything, I take consolation that I outswam them as we usually have similar swim times. I tried my best to bring up my speed but with a bit of wind, it was difficult. The course was mostly flat apart from some gentle inclines up and down a bridge. Strava had it as 250m elevation for the entire course. I had a bike split of  1:05:47, average speed of 34.9kph which was lower than last year but I had higher power output at 204 watts. Either it was windier this year or my bike is overdue for a service. The course is typically short and it's the same this year with Garmin clocking 38.3km. Official results had me doing 1:08:38 with both transitions.

Transition 2

Again, just run all the way to the front. Again, a bit of hesitation getting the helmet off and putting the shoes on. Grabbed everything else and put them on the go. I hit the button after I racked my bike and hit it again a bit early as I came out of the run exit. Time taken 20 seconds.

10km run

A 3 lap run just out and back, shaped like an L. The overcast conditions with light drizzle is a nice change from previous years when it was typically scorching hot. I was able to reel Ryan in shortly after I left transition but Philippe was too far ahead, and he was running well too. My legs felt alright, turnover was good but somehow I felt I didn't have that extra gear. Maybe it was still early in the season. I clocked just under 4:10 per km averages with the tailwind and closer to 4:15 with the headwind. Running past the tri club tents at the end of each lap was uplifting. Gave the final km an extra push to see if I can break 2:12 overall but alas, I crossed the line in 2:12:06. Still it was a minute PB on this course and I came in 4th in my Male 35-39 age group. Philippe was 3rd and he was 4 minutes ahead. My run split was 41:13 with an average pace of 4:10 per km, my fastest run here by a small margin. Garmin recorded 9.9km so was pretty close.

Post race, had nice chats at both South Bank and Logan tri club tents. Not a bad way to spend Sunday morning and to kick off the 2020 racing season. Looking forward to the season ahead!

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Xiamen 70.3

When it was announced that the 2020 Ironman 70.3 World Championships are to be held in Taupo, New Zealand, I thought I would give it a shot as it isn't too far or too expensive to get to. I chose Xiamen as my qualifying race as it offered 80 qualifying spots (30 for Kona and 50 for Taupo), a few more slots than average. Based on previous year's results, if I can come close to my PB, I should place somewhere between 10 to 15th place and there could be potentially 9 to 10 spots for my age group, so while it is still far from being guaranteed, I still stood a chance if the spots rolled down a few.

I haven't been to China before and my Chinese isn't that great. Usually I rely on my wife Li-Ann to translate but I am travelling alone this time. Ryan, whom I met through my former club Logan Tri Club made a last minute decision to tag along after closely missing out on a spot at Shanghai 3 weeks before. And it was good to have him as I made a few new friends through him. Xiamen is located in the Fujian province, which coincidentally is the same province where my ancestors came from. So you can kinda call it a trip to trace my roots.

I flew in via Singapore and had a reasonable overnight flight. There was a bit of delay getting our bikes off the plane in Xiamen but I made it just in time to attend the one and only briefing session for the day, as the airport was only 30 minutes away. I stayed at the International Seaside Hotel, it was the closest hotel and I was lucky to book early at a very good price. The room is very spacious and we had plenty of room to set both of our bikes up. The expo was a small affair and I was in and out within 15 minutes. That night I took a 10+ minute walk out for some dinner and came across JFC shopping mall with plenty of takeaway options. Ryan arrive later that night and we both were pretty tired from the travel, so it was an early night. 

I woke up early intending to do a practice swim but it seems there was no one swimming. The organizers fenced up transition area tightly so I had to do a long walk around it to get to and from the swim area. We then went for a short spin and along the way back, I noticed there were some people swimming. I guess I'm just too used to starting early. So I did a short swim and noticed the currents were pretty strong, hopefully it calms down a bit on race day. A local contact of Ryan's took us out for lunch and then a drive around the island, this gave us a bit of insight of the bike route. After that it was time to rack our bikes and we can't help noticing how long transition is, my Garmin recorded 500m to be exact. Apparently last year there were less rows, so it was even longer! We had to use bike and run gear bags, just like in an Ironman race. For dinner, we met up with a couple of guys Ryan met at breakfast and took a cab (save the legs!) to JFC mall for pizza before calling it another early night.

5.20am alarm went off. Our race only starts at 8.15am but transition closes at 7.30am. I actually brought a loaf of bread from Aldi with peanut butter and hazelnut spread, you would laugh but I'm glad I did as I did not have the chance to get any supermarkets. After setting up my bike in transition, I did my final toilet visit to the portaloos. They were squat types and unfortunately did not have any flush water. No wonder there wasn't a queue as not many wanted to use them. Then I had about 45 minutes of idle time sitting in the shade before my race start, while the opening ceremony was going on.

Swim 1.9km

Rolling swim start, the closest I could get was 7 minutes after the first swimmers went in. Swim course is triangular shaped, in a clockwise direction, buoys always on our right. This changed from last year when it was a point to point swim with the currents, so this year's swim would definitely be slower. There was barely any visibility in the water but the buoys were placed quite close, maybe less than 200m apart. There was a bit of petroleum smell, probably coming from the boats. Currents were pretty strong and in some parts, there was a bit of wave chop as well. Apart from a brief moment where I swam too inside and had to correct myself, I kept pretty close to a straight line. I was holding around the 1:45 per 100m pace up until the final straight back to shore, where the currents were pushing us away. I struggled a bit here but I think I still swam to my ability in those conditions. The swim felt long as well and true enough my Garmin recorded just over 2km. I clocked 35:23 with an average pace of 1:47 per 100m, a bit slower than what I do in training. Coming out of the water in 17th position in my age group.

Transition 1

Still getting used to my new wetsuit so I struggled a bit getting the zipper down. Luckily the transition is long and I just managed to get it down and pull off the sleeves just before I got into the change tent. Wetsuit came off without too much hassle. Wipe the feet down and put on the socks, grabbed my helmet and off I went. Put on the helmet as I ran along the bike racks, it became a foot race just getting to my bike. My AWA bib number had my bike placed very close to the exit. A guy went down at the mount line just before me, so I cautiously hopped on the bike as not to cause any accidents. Time taken 4:19.

Bike 90km

The bike course is shaped like an inverted T with the transition in the middle. It goes along the coast, heading north towards Wu Yuan bridge and turn around just after the bridge. We then return in the opposite direction on the same route before making a short detour with some gradual inclines, turnaround and then head further south before turning around and going back to transition. The brief moment of going under the tunnel before the end of each lap was pretty cool. Two lap course with some gentle inclines and false flats, the longest climb being up the bridge. Overall elevation of just under 400m so moderately hilly. Roads were smooth as silk and totally closed off, we had all 3 lanes to ourselves in most parts in each side of the road, so much so cyclists were passing each other on the inside frequently.

My power meter battery decided to die as I arrived in Xiamen. I knew I should have changed it before the trip but there was no indication of being low prior to this. While I don't mind racing without power data, I do rely on cadence measurement to get the gearing right. And with the many false flats and rolling hills on this course, there were many moments I was second guessing my gearing choice. 

The wind did pick up that day and while it wasn't gusty, it was constantly blowing and it did slow us down especially when there was a headwind. While I averaged 36kph for the first lap, I slowed down a little on the second lap, finishing with a bike split of 2:31:39 and overall average of 35.66kph. Garmin recorded 89.8kms, so pretty much spot on. Cycling continues to be my weakest leg and I came off the bike in 24th position while many of the top guys were posting 2:20+ bike splits.

Transition 2

To my pleasant surprise, the bike racks seemed relatively empty as I got in. On to a foot race again to the change tent. On hindsight, I should have kept my helmet on for a while longer so I did not have to hold onto it as I was running. Into the change tent, helmet off, shoes on and grab everything else on the go. Time taken 2:51.

Run 21.1km

Two lap run course, out and back along the coast. Mostly flat but there were a couple of deceptive inclines as well. Minimal shade and it got pretty hot. If we had started just after sunrise at around 6am, it would have been a totally different story. There were sponges at the aid stations and I made full use of them, though I have not learnt to stuff them under my suit just yet. Crowd control was very strict and the entire course was fenced up. So apart from the music blaring from the DJ on the middle part, it was pretty quiet out there. But there was the occasional cheer from athletes running in the opposite direction. I gave Ryan a cheer as well who was about 10 minutes ahead of me as I first saw him on the course.

I probably started off a bit too quick, carrying the leg turnover from the bike, clocking the first km in 4:11. I then dropped to 4:20 for the next two kms but even then it was still a struggle in the heat and I settled into 4:30 for the remaining of the first lap. Fatigue then started to kick in and my pace gradually dropped again to 4:35 and again past 4:40 in the final return. As I came to the final split between going left for the finish instead of turning right for the next lap, the remaining few hundred meters seemed to go on forever. Finally I can hear the announcements from the finish line, I didn't have much left in the tank for a sprint finish. Crossed the finish line with run split of 1:36:29 and overall finish time of 4:50:41. Garmin recorded 21.35km. I ran myself to 18th position and while I was happy with my race, the chances of getting a World Championship spot seemed unlikely.

Post race

Ryan finished just before me and hung the finish medal around my neck, which was really cool. We then hung out at the recovery area for our massage before heading back to the hotel to rest a bit. We then picked up our bikes and packed them up and soon it was time for the awards banquet and World Championship slot ceremony. The banquet was pretty posh but our minds were just on the slots. This is actually only my 2nd time attending the ceremony and it was pretty exciting and nerve wrecking at the same time. Ryan took a well deserved slot in his age group and so did some of the ladies sitting at our table. When it got to my age group, there were 9 spots (2 Kona and 7 Taupo) but unfortunately 13th position took the last spot - I was 3 minutes behind! I waited until all slots went through the other age groups in case, there was a roll down but there were none. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed but nothing worth getting ever comes easy so I just have to keep on trying. 

Xiamen 70.3 is a really well organized race. Sure, there are some language barriers but these can be easily overcome and the organizers did an awesome job having bilingual volunteers in the key areas. Kudos to the organizing committee and volunteers! I don't have any more races planned for the rest of the year, will take a bit of a mental break and come back focused on my next qualifying race.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Sunshine Coast 70.3 2019

Back again in Mooloolaba for my third year in a row for Sunshine Coast 70.3. An easy 90 minute drive from home, this race would likely stay in my calendar for years to come and I am confirmed for next year! This year's race is made more special with athletes from my home country Malaysia, my brother in law Gary and a few other friends. It would have been hard for my sis Karen watching from the sidelines carrying her 4+ month old baby but don't worry sis, your time will come! And it was lovely to meet my nephew for the first time too.

To be honest I was a bit apprehensive coming into this race. It has been a while since I've trained specifically for a half iron distance. Prior to this, it has always been a lead up race to the full Ironman. While I enjoyed the reduced training volume, I can't help feeling a bit underdone, especially with the bike. It wasn't until the last couple of weeks before the race where I felt I was close to my peak fitness. Being the first race since Ironman Cairns in June, this was always meant to be a test to see where I am at with the main focus for this second half of the year being Xiamen 70.3 in November. Having said that, given the right conditions I wouldn't mind giving a crack at last year's PB.

However, Mother Nature had other thoughts and it was pretty windy the whole weekend with some areas in South East Queensland getting hit with bush fires. The skies were pretty hazy when we drove up to Mooloolaba the day before. I would have loved to stay longer and spend the time with family and friends, but with work commitments, we could only stay for the night. The athlete check in was busy but it went through quickly. I rested after lunch and then it was time to rack the bike. Dinner was at a little Italian restaurant called Craft. With so many restaurants along the Esplanade, we were spoilt for choices but they were all pretty busy as well. Then an early night before the race.

Race morning, I was up at 4am for the race start in two hours time. Had my breakfast and with the motel being only 400m from transition, I was able to have my second sit down in comfort and not have to queue for the portaloos. Bikes were racked very closely and I had to place my gear underneath my front wheel as I had no space on either sides. Thankfully I am short, so my front wheel hangs a bit higher. Also, AWA athletes had their bike rack spots closer to the bike exit and mine was only 5 spots from the exit, which was really convenient. One last pee stop and then it was time to put the wetsuit on and get ready to swim. I only had a couple of minutes to do a warm up in the water and then it was go time.

Swim 1.9km

The water conditions this year was much better. Some mild waves near the shore but other than that, near perfect. Crystal clear water and you could look down all the way to the beach floor even though you were hundreds of meters out. The course is rectangular shaped - rolling swim start from the beach, turn right for the length of the course, turn left further out and then left again for the remaining length of the course, before another left turn back to the beach. I had plenty of other swimmers around me throughout but I did not deliberately draft off anyone and just kept to my own line. I was on track for a sub 30 minute through to the halfway point. But there was a bit of current assisting us for the first length and then we swim against it on the way back. So my progress dwindled a bit and I think I wasted a bit of time in the final straight into the beach, where I wasn't swimming as straight as I should be. Finally crossed the first timing mat in 31:27, over 40 seconds quicker than last year. My Garmin recorded 1,906m vs 1,869m for last year. I averaged 1:39 per 100m, which was also 4s quicker per 100m compared to last year. Off to a good start!

Transition 1

Some minor changes to the transition set up this year which allowed more room to run to our bike racks. It took a couple of tries getting the wetsuit off my legs but I didn't lose too much time. Which was partly the reason I decided to wear my older and slightly torn wetsuit, as my new one seemed very sticky when I tried it on during the week. Bike mount line also had plenty of room this time so no need for nervous fly mounts. And compared to last year's puddles of water from the overnight rain, this was awesome! Time taken 2:45.

Bike 90km

If one were to make savings in time, it is usually during the bike, being the longest portion of the race. Having clear skies compared to last year's intermittent showers was a relief but the winds were beginning to pick up. The course is two laps - some short climbs out of town and then we head up the Sunshine Motorway up until the 20km mark and turn around. Back into town, we make a slight detour into Alex Headland along the Esplanade and then come back down the infamous hill which we would go through on the run course as well, twice. Then repeat for the second lap. It was mostly a tailwind on the way out and headwind on the way back. That made it a bit chilly at the start as well. It always takes me a while to get used to cycling with a rear disc. It made me even more nervous with the occasional gusts of cross winds. But I soon got the hang of it and was confidently getting low on my aerobars in high speeds. Just had to be careful when the gusts came and I noticed there were a couple of falls, some more serious than others - hopefully they turned out okay.

I only managed to build my speed up to around 36kph before getting back into town. From memory, it was around 37kph the year before. Towards the end of the second lap, I knew I would unlikely beat last year's sub 2:30 bike split but I kept focused and maintained the effort. Only to be disrupted a bit by a draft marshal who rode next to me and gave me a warning to keep out of 12 meters. He then rode off and I wasn't sure whether I was given a penalty or not. I stopped briefly at the penalty tent when I got back to town and asked but there didn't seem to be a system of whether my number was assigned a penalty. The timekeeper just said if I didn't get a card, I should be alright so I took a gamble and pushed on, rather than serving a penalty if I didn't need to. Finally got back into transition with a bike split of 2:32:06, over 2 minutes slower than last year. I averaged 35.6kph and 175 watts, 0.7kph slower and 12 watts lower than last year. Close but I have more work to do for sure.

Transition 2

Despite struggling a bit with the bike, I was pleasantly surprised that there weren't many bikes on the racks. Bike on rack, helmets off, shoes on and the rest - visor, sunglasses and race bib on the go. Time taken 1:29

Run 21.1km

I felt a bit tight coming out and transition and it took my legs a while to get into their groove. My first km was 4:19 but I got into the rhythm soon after and comfortably holding around the 4:15 per km pace. The course is two laps along the Esplanade and then a couple of detours after the first turnaround before heading back for the long climb at the end of the lap. Repeat for second lap. Tri club tents were conveniently located near this hill to give that extra boost. I'd like to give a shout out to the awesome South Bank tri club, which I had the pleasure of training with these past few months and also kudos to Trent from Reddog, which I used to train with a few years back, for giving the cheers as well.

The temperature was cool at low to mid 20s but the sun was shining it all it's glory. The occasional gusts of wind followed us through the run as well. I was surprisingly holding my pace up until 6kms to go, where I kind of switched off and slowed down by about 10 seconds per km. I was still pushing hard but with the PB out of sight, I wasn't going to kill myself just to get to the finish line a minute quicker. As I said before, the main focus is Xiamen in November and sometimes leaving a bit in the tank, both mentally and physically allows me to perform at my peak later on. Nearing the finish line, my wife and son along with my sis and nephew were cheering me on. I gave them a friendly wave before sprinting through the finish arch. Race commentator Pete Murray announced me as Kevin from Queensland and I said I'm representing Malaysia, so we both agreed that I'm a Malaysian Queenslander!

Run split was 1:30:37 and it was on the ball at 21km compared to last year's 20.7km, so despite being slower by 40 seconds, I had a faster pace at 4:19 vs 4:21 per km last year. Overall time was 4:38:24, just under 2 minutes slower than last year. But considering the different run distance, it could have ended up the same. I am happy with my performance and will build on this over the next couple of months before Xiamen in November.

After the race, I went to the tri club tents and had a brief chat with Trent from Reddog and then with the South Bank tri club crew. And when all of the Malaysian athletes got all together, we had plenty of laughter over burgers and beer at the Good Bar. Hope more Malaysians can make the trip to very friendly race and I look forward to my 4th year at this race in 2020!

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Ironman Cairns 2019

Cairns has always been one of my favourite courses, not surprisingly as it was where I achieved (and still remains) my PB of 10:15:10 in 2012. I knew it would be a hard ask to beat that now, with 7 sessions a week (2 x swim/bike/run plus 1 gym session) and peaking at just under 14 hours. With a young family, that's all I'm willing to commit - that's my choice, not an excuse. After our move to Annerley in early February, while my weekend solo training have remained relatively similar to previous builds albeit with adjustments to the routes obviously, I did the mid week intervals run with South Bank triathlon and squad swims at UQ. Having a bigger group to train with definitely helped pushed me further. So with a consistent build in the last few months, I thought I would give it a crack given the right conditions.

We arrived in Cairns on Friday and were greeted by plenty of rain. We stayed at Cairns Plaza Hotel, which was conveniently located on the run course. I did the race pack pick up while the family rested in the hotel. It rained buckets during the pasta party but it was nice to catch up with fellow Malaysian Mun Seng and other like minded people seated at our table. The next morning it showered intermittently and I was reluctant to take the bike out for a ride as I've wiped it down already (a clean bike is a fast bike... apparently). So the only pre race ride I did was the 1.5km along the Esplanade to the bike transfer drop off. For lunch, we met up with Li-Ann's relatives who are living in Cairns. Then, Li-Ann and Sebastian followed me on the shuttle bus to Palm Cove for the bike gear drop off, only to hide away from more rain. We had glimpse at the crashing waves and the palm trees being blown around by the wind. We can only hope that it would calm down for the race the next day. After that, was take away pizza for dinner before calling it an early night.

Race morning came and I surprisingly had a pretty decent night's sleep. Strolled down to the shuttle bus pick up spot and there were plenty of buses, so it was really a seamless process. I arrived at Palm Cove just before 6am and had plenty of time to get my bike set up. Only to realize that I left my phone on the bus, but nothing I could do at that stage (I did get my phone back after the race from the information booth). So just queued up for the toilets while I ate my breakfast. The queue was moving slowly and I got out of the toilet just as transition was about to close, as the 70.3 athletes were coming in from their swim. There was still a fair bit of time before my race start and I managed to get a warm up swim in and have a quiet moment to myself.

Swim 3.8km

It was a rolling start on the beach, the line did take a while to move and it wasn't until 8am before I actually started. The swim course is one lap, rectangular shaped in anti clockwise direction. The water was pretty choppy, though I reckon it was worse when I did in 2016. I reckoned I probably lined myself a bit further back as I found I was overtaking quite a few swimmers even towards the later stages of the swim. Water visibility wasn't great, I couldn't check my progress very well and had to actually look up at my watch when my arms were above the water. The swim did feel long and I thought I would be close to the 70 minute mark, if not slower. I was about to give up hopes of any PB that day but surprisingly, I came out in 1:06:10, only 3 minutes down on my swim in 2012 when it was held in the calm waters off Cairns pier. That also meant that I still had a fighting chance for a PB, so had to actually work for it. Garmin recorded 3,863m so pretty much spot on.

Transition 1

A couple of hundred meters into the change tent. I found that there weren't as many volunteers as there used to be - I had to catch the attention of one before ensuring my swim gear was packed away. Helmets were put on the bike this time, rather than in the change tent. I clipped mine over the aerobars rather than leaving it hang loose as I didn't want a repeat from Moreton Bay tri where my helmet fell off and broke its visor. My water bottle came off as I went over the first bump after the mount line but was told to stay put as a volunteer came running towards me with it, thank you kindly! Total transition time taken 3:41.

Bike 180km

There was a slight change to the bike course compared to previous years. It still remained as two laps to Port Douglas and back. But the turnaround at Port Douglas has been moved further south (and the other turnaround at Palm Cove just after we exit from transition), means we no longer go through the Port Douglas town. Which is a shame as this is a good spot for spectators to cheer from the cafe strip. However, this change did reduce the long stretches of single lane cycling and thus probably helped to reduce the drafting. What this also meant was there was proportionately less flatter sections and more climbing sections. Garmin recorded 1,480m of elevation - about 200m more than the previous course. I was clocking between 18 to 19 minutes per 10km at the start. A bit slower than what I should be clocking if I wanted to match my 2012 split (sub 18 minutes). It was even slower on the return southbound journey with the headwind. Still, if I could run around 3.5 hours, the PB was still within reach.

But the body started hitting a wall after the second Port Douglas turnaround. The winds started picking up. I was shifting into the small chainring for every little climb, whereas on the first lap I only did that on the big climb at Rex lookout. I thought things would get better after the Rex lookout descend as it was pretty much flat all the way back to Cairns. But it was also more exposed to the headwind. I was on survival mode from then on and pretty much soft pedalled the last 30kms. I had almost all of my nutrition (4 Clif Bars, 2 bananas, 5 out of 6 gels plus some salt tablets) so it wasn't a nutrition issue. I guess whilst I have done my long rides, I haven't done any specific Ironman efforts to be able to nail it during a race. I took a brief 2 minute toilet break at the 160km aid station, just to reset myself. That helped but only for about 5 minutes or so, then I continued to roll at a pedestrian pace back to Cairns. My bike split including the break was 5:53:03. Garmin recorded 178.5km and average power at a low 144 watts. Li-Ann caught sight of me as I rolling into transition, which gave me a bit of a relief as I was afraid that she would be worried because of my delay.

Transition 2

The run into the change tent was rather unpleasant on muddy grass. Thankfully I had another pair of socks to change into. Grabbed my visor, sunglasses and race number on the go. Time taken 2:08.

Run 42.2km

My legs felt heavy coming out of transition, which was quite abnormal as I'm usually sprinting to make up for lost time. But I soon settled into a rhythm, albeit a slower pace. Mentally I have given up the fight as the PB seemed no longer achievable. But I was in good spirits and soaked in the atmosphere and cheers from the crowd. The run course was changed slightly as well to 4 laps, instead of the 3 laps in previous years. This made it better to get the support from Li-Ann and Sebastian. And I took brief moments to exchange a few words each time I passed them. It rained intermittently throughout the run course and while this helped kept the body temperature cool, it made certain sections, especially on the boardwalk a bit slippery.

I felt comfortable throughout the run and was keeping it around the 5:30 pace per km. I ran through aid stations for most of the first two laps. It was only from the 18km onwards where I started walking through the aid stations. Even then I kept the walking very brief and there were only a couple of km splits where I was just under the 6 minute pace. As I got to the final 6km or so, I thought I'd might aim for a sub 4 hour marathon. So I dug a bit deeper and ran through the remaining aid stations.

Finally, as I approached the intersection for the finishing chute, Li-Ann and Seb was there and I gave them a hug and a kiss. Before I make my towards the arch with the crowd cheering and tears in my eyes. This was my 13th Ironman finish (4th one in Cairns) and it's no different - I still sob like a sod crossing the line! Overall finish time was 11:02:02, run split was 3:57:02 with Garmin recorded distance of 41.9km.

It wasn't the finish time I was hoping for but it was a finish nonetheless. And it validated my legacy spot for Kona in 2021. And I couldn't have done this without the support and sacrifice of my wife and son. Not just at this race itself or any other race but every day for the many years leading up to this and probably would be for years to come. Until I get sick of this selfish hobby of mine, which is unlikely. And to them it didn't matter whether I came in 10 hours or 17 hours. They were just happy that I was happy, doing something that truly love.

Thank you to everyone for your well wishes as well.