Monday, 18 February 2019

Tweed Coast Enduro 2019

This is my 4th year in a row doing this race - it's a top notch organized event with great community feel. And less than 2 hours drive from home (just a bit longer now that I've recently moved further north) makes it pretty convenient. Barring any upsets, I'll definitely be back again next year. Only wish is that organizers move it closer to March like in the first year I did it, so I can be in better shape after the festive season.

The initial plan was to travel solo, so I booked myself into a room at an airbnb about 1.5km from the race site. Li-Ann and Sebastian decided to come along but we managed to squeeze ourselves on the queen size bed pretty comfortably. With the heavy evening traffic, we finally got to Pottsville just after 5pm NSW daylight savings time. One thing I love about locally run races is that there was no big fan fare at the race packet pick up. We went straight to Cabarita Beach after where the little one had a ball of a time. Just like last year, we had pizza from Cabarita bakehouse - they were really generous with the toppings. And then it was a bit of a struggle to get to bed as our body clocks were still in QLD time. It did not help that the winds were constantly howling outside and made me brace for what could be in store the next morning.

Next morning, 5.30am alarm set me off into the darkness as I rode to the race site. I had my bike lights with me but it was still almost pitch black, luckily I did not hit (or got hit by) anything. It was good to meet with fellow Logan Tri Club members at transition - the casual chats did ease off some nerves. A last minute visit to the portaloo and it was an easy 15-20 minute stroll to the swim start.

Swim 1.9km

Point-to-point swim with some tide assistance in Mooball Creek, deepwater start. I was in the second last wave to go off. There was a fair bit of contact for the first few meters until the first buoy where we turn left and went with the tide flow. From then on, we all had our own space and while I made some attempt to draft off some feet, I was on my own for most of it. Water was crystal clear and while it was pretty shallow overall, it wasn't too shallow like in the previous year where there were some instances we were forced to stand up and wade. Pretty uneventful up until the mid way point where I started overtaking the earlier waves, which gave a bit of a confidence boost. Only to be totally diminished later on when the fast swimmers from the later wave went past me as though I was lying still!

We went under the bridge before we finished the swim, this part always made my heart rate spike up a couple of beats, for fear of swimming into some concrete. I wasted a bit of time getting to shore as I definitely wasn't swimming as straight as I should. The Garmin recorded 2,137m when I hit the first timing mat, which included about 100-200m run on land. Time was 30:49 which is about what I expected, I figured that it'll be unlikely that we get same the strong tide that we did in my first year where I swam 27 minutes.

Transition 1

Didn't forget to remove my swimskin this time, yay! Wasn't too busy at the bike mount line either, so was able to get moving swiftly.

Bike 90km

Four lap course in an L shape - about 8km south, 3km west, return and repeat. Road conditions were patchy and there were some decent pot holes to look out for. I lost a water bottle one year and my tire kit in another. For no good reason other than to reduce weight and to look good, I only had ONE water bottle for this ride and it was the Elite Chrono on my seat tube, which rattles a bit in its cage on good roads let alone these ones. Thankfully it remained in tact by the end of the ride. The roads were pretty wet too from the overnight and morning shower. And it rained intermittently throughout, not heavy but enough to keep the roads wet. While it wasn't as windy as the day before, it was still pretty strong and combined with the rough roads, a lot of effort was required to bring the speed up.

While there weren't any big draft packs, the short lap did make it difficult to space ourselves out. Even myself, I was trading places with a couple of cyclists for a while and there were definitely instances where the distances between us were legally questionable. But we race as honestly as we could as we were after all, doing it for our own personal challenges. There is of course healthy rivalry - and my friend and fellow club member, Philippe was absolutely flying on the bike course! Putting in at least a km at each turnaround, he was off the bike close to 20 minutes ahead of me. I finished with a bike split of 2:35:35, averaging 34.7kph. Not my best but it was all I could give that day. Official time was 2:37:56 including both transitions. Average power was 175 watts and NP was 186 watts, which was pretty much in line with my TT efforts.

Transition 2

A fair bit of grass got caught in between my rear wheel as it went through the transition area, which made it a bit difficult pushing the bike back to the racks. Once I had my run shoes on, I hastily grabbed my visor, sunglasses and number bib only to lose a few seconds as I had no idea which direction was the run exit. I'm pretty sure it changed from last year, but I guess it always pays to check for these little things pre race. Even for the experienced.

Run 21.1km

3 lap course in a shape of a crooked T. The light rain and overcast skies made this the most pleasant runs in all the years I've done this race. That is of course, in relative. There was still plenty of hurt whilst I was out on the course. Having not done any run-off-the-bike sessions since Robina tri four weeks before, I started the run with some nervousness. But my legs felt good, the carried over cadence from cycling helped with the turnover. The first km split was 4:17 and we all know that this is never the indication of the rest of the run. But surprisingly, I held under 4:20 pace up until just before the 10km mark. It didn't slow down much either and stayed under 4:30 pace for another 6km more. I could see I was gaining ground on Philippe on each turnaround, about a couple hundred meters each time, but his lead was too far to bridge.

Another reason why I love the run the most is the interaction - with the volunteers, the supporters and fellow club mates as well. Seeing other gold kits on the course was encouraging and helped me find that extra bit of energy to push a bit harder. As the temperature rose, my pace slowed down in the final 4km or so, creeping into the 4:40s for a couple of kms but I knew it was the home stretch and my practical mind convinced me it was not worth risking pushing too hard to save about a minute or so from the overall finish. I finally got to the finish with a run split of 1:33:56, the distance was spot on with an average pace of 4:28. Overall finish time was 4:42:41, a course PB by about 30 seconds and 14th in M35-39 (what a tough age group)!

The beer at the finish line was a nice touch. Though I could only stomach half of it, Li-Ann had the rest. We lingered around Pottsville Pantry cafe while Sebastian had his nap and then headed back, stopping by Coolangatta for some Messina gelato. It was a great outing for the family and a rather sentimental race for me, being my last one with the Logan Tri Club as I move to another club (yet to be known) closer to home. I will miss them for sure, but shall see them out there in future races - bring on TCE 2020!

Monday, 14 January 2019

QTS Robina - January 2019

This is my first time doing this race in January. My previous time racing in Robina was in October 2017. I didn't get to do any QTS races last year. I was looking forward to doing this race, it's not often that I get to do the same races as my tri club members. The trouble with mainly doing long course triathlons is I tend to skip the shorter races so I could focus on training. And with multiple events held - kids, enticer, sprint, Olympic all held on the same morning, it's a good social outing for the club as well. The excitement was high up until a week out when I was still recovering from the holidays and the travel where I did a mediocre park run and slow jogged to finish. I felt dejected and pretty much put off from signing. But the next morning at a club ride, I was convinced to signing up and I glad I did.

The alarm went off at 3.30am on race morning for a 50 minute drive to the Gold Coast. We had the option to register and rack our bikes the day before I chose not to do the extra trip and just left a bit earlier. There were no queues at the check in but there were not many spots left on the bike racks as there were only designated according to event distance but not specifically numbered. My spot was a bit further away from the bike exit and entry. There was a short queue for the portaloos but I got all ready with some spare time to chat at the Logan Tri Club tent before heading towards the Clear Waters Island lake for the 6.30am start.

Swim 1.5km

A deep water start to a two lap swim course, shaped like a triangle with final right turn towards the ramp at the end of the second lap. Water visibility was fair, could see for about a couple of meters ahead. My wave start was with the Open and under 40 males as well as the relay teams. So plenty of aggressive swimming at the start but the groups broke off pretty quickly and I was able to settle into a steady pace early on. Managed to stay on some feet up until the second buoy of the second lap where we converged into the later wave starts. It got a bit messy for a while but soon I was able to find some feet again and before I knew it, it was the final straight line towards the boat ramp. There were no timing mats after the swim and I hit the lap button on my Garmin the moment my foot landed on the tarmac. It clocked right on 1,507m with a time of 25:13, averaging 1:40 per 100m. Compared to my previous swim on this course was 1,413m with a time of 24:25, averaging 1:44 per 100m. So an improvement in my books. And I definitely felt that I had a better swim this time.

Transition 1

As the bikes weren't racked in numerical order, I was looking out for my lime green shoes. Socks on, helmet on without too much hassle. But yet again, I forgot to remove swimskin past my waist! I was about 25m from bike rack spot when I realised. Gingerly placed my bike leaning against another, ran back and yanked the suit off and got back on the bike again. Whatever apparent gains I had from swimming with the suit was likely lost in this stuff up. This has happened too many times now, I need to consciously remind myself in future. It was a bit crowded at the bike mount area, I hesitated a few seconds before getting on the bike as I was nervous I would fall over and knock someone over. My Garmin recorded 2:37 for time taken before I hit the lap button when I started pedaling.

Bike 38.5km

Yes, you read that right. It's a bit shorter than 40km. And it was explicitly stated on the website as well. It's a 5 lap course shaped like a T, some small inclines but mostly flat and non drafting. The sprint distance did 3 laps, so they would have cycled just a bit over 20km. It was around the 3rd lap when the sprint athletes joined us, so the course did get pretty crowded. While it wasn't very windy, there were some areas where I caught some sideway gusts and the return lap definitely felt like riding into a headwind. Fellow LTC member and cycling powerhorse Philippe passed on the first turnaround and continued to put in distance on me at each turnaround. I still rode my own race, paid attention to my cadence and power output. I've only started riding the tri bike this week after a two month hiatus since Ironman Malaysia. I also experimented by lowering my aero bars by 5mm, didn't make me feel less comfortable but it gave me the illusion that I'm more aero! My average speed was climbing up to 36kph and I was happy to stay there but another LTC member Ryan was gradually gaining ground at each turnaround. Eventually I got to the end of the bike in 1:03:46, average speed 36.3kph, average watts 184 and NP of 198. The previous time I raced here, the bike was actually 37km so I felt that it was long this time. I averaged 35.5kph the last time, so happy with another improvement.

Transition 2

No dramas here. Bike on, helmet off, shoes on and grabbed everything else on the go. My Garmin recorded 36 seconds from when I got to my bike rack spot.

Run 10km

3 laps, shaped like an L. Slight change from the last time, the end of each lap is placed a bit earlier this time. The sun was up and it was getting hotter each lap. The first km went pretty quick, I clocked 4:05. I knew that was too fast but I was going to see how long I could hold on. Surprisingly, I stayed below 4:10 for the next few kms. Philippe was much further ahead but I was slowly reeling him in as he just recovered from a knee injury. However, Ryan who runs 18 minute parkruns was just behind me as well! While it wasn't planned to be a 3 way battle, it certainly panned out that way! Running past the LTC tent at the end of each lap was a huge boost and made the hurt locker a lot more bearable. Final lap, my pace slowed down to the 4:15 to 4:17 but I managed to hold Ryan off. Philippe however was too far ahead to be caught. Finally got to the finish line in 2:14:06, the three of us finished within 36 seconds apart! My run split was 41:29 for 9.9km recorded on the Garmin, averaging 4:12 per km. Last time was an average of 4:11 per km, so just a tad bit slower.

Thanks Cathy for this picture!
It was good to catch up with the club after the race and share a few laughs. I'm very pleased with how my race turned out and looking forward to this season, next one Tweed Coast Enduro in 5 weeks!

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

IM Malaysia 2018 - DNF

The title says it all. Although I didn't finish the race, I still did about three quarters of it and I believe it still deserves a report. Plus, I think it's a good way to pen down my thoughts so I can move on.

There's something special about racing at home that keeps on bringing me back. The feeling of having family and friends around is something that cannot be replicated elsewhere. I flew without my wife and son this time as Li-Ann had to work. But my sister Karen and brother in law Gary, who also raced, arrived shortly after. And my parents and brother Keith came two days later. My arrival was not without drama. Having not able to check in the hotel yet, I drove the rental car to the foot of Datai hill to assemble my bike and take it for a spin. Upon return, I noticed my wallet and phone were no longer in the glove compartment, so I panicked! Someone must have picked the car lock or I may have left it unlocked! With not much fuel in the car and with no money, I didn't have any choice but to head to the expo and wait for it to open so I could meet some friends. During my wait, I had a another search throughout the car and hooray, I actually placed my wallet and phone in the top compartment instead! My long flight and lack of sleep must have made me very forgetful.

Attended the race video briefing while trying not to nod off to sleep, waited quite a bit in line for the athlete check in as their systems were slow - note to self, don't be the first few ones to check in to avoid teething issues! Caught up with a few friends then headed to the hotel. It was late afternoon by then and I thought why not just get my run over and done with so I can take a shower. Picked Karen and Gary from the airport later that night. And I was dead tired but as usual couldn't sleep very well in an unfamiliar bed for the first night.

The next day was a lot more relaxed. Swim practice and then breakfast with my sis while Gary did his last brick training. I had a good massage at the expo too. A final bike tune up with the good guys of 2Escape at their make shift workshop in Four F motel had my Felt IA running smoothly. The welcome dinner at Meritus Pelangi hotel was much better this time with plenty of food and countless refills. Mum, dad and Keith arrived the next morning. We had a good lunch with friends and soon it was time to check in our bikes. A pretty mediocre dinner at the nearby Italian restaurant but it did the job.

Race morning, I felt calm. It rained a bit overnight but it cleared up in the morning. The 70.3 athletes started first and our rolling start wasn't until just before 8am. I had time to queue up for the portaloos, take some pictures and do a warm up swim. Sat down beside the start line and was able to squeeze in among the first few swimmers when it was time to go.

Swim 3.8km

The swim course, located at Kok Beach is two laps in a triangular shape with a short run on the beach in between the two laps. Very well marked, which has it's downside as well if you focus too much on keeping close to the line rather than swimming towards the next turn buoy. Mostly protected with slight currents but barely any waves - at least while I was swimming, I was told that the later swimmers had their swim cut short due to a brief storm.

My swim training has been pretty erratic in the last couple of months. While I've been consistently swimming, I haven't been hitting my target pace and been struggling with my strokes. Up until the final couple of weeks where I could see some improvement. Despite all this, I was pleasantly surprised with my swim pace. I was keeping well under the 1:45 pace per 100m. Didn't manage to draft off anyone but I did enjoy having my own space. Coming out to the beach between laps was a nice break and a sip of drink helped  remove the salt water taste. First lap was just under 32 minutes. Second lap pretty much the same except it took me a bit longer for the last couple of hundred meters to get to the beach. Swim split was 1:05:05, my best swim here for the last few years, so I got off to a good start! Garmin recorded just over 3.8km so it was pretty spot on.

Transition 1

A brief run into the change tent. Towel to wipe my feet, socks on, Clif bars into back pockets, pick up the helmet and about to head off - wait! Almost forgot to remove my swimskin, luckily the person next to me did so I remembered! Ran the bike to the mount line and got on it without getting too nervous of falling over or knocking someone over. Time taken 2:42.

Bike 180km

Two lap bike course with rolling hills, some false flat sections and two big climbs at the 50-60km mark (and repeat at the 150-160km mark). Different start and end points, only the final 10km is a slight detour to finish at the Mahsuri International Exhibition Centre where the expo is held. Total elevation is about 1500m and road surfaces could be patchy at some parts. Also, the course is not closed off to traffic, only the intersections are controlled - something to note for those who haven't done this race.

I basically did the same bike training as I did for Port Macquarie but with the added daily commute to and from work. And I have that to thank for my bike confidence. I rarely braked at the descends and corners and I was able to see the directional line ahead much better. One thing I still needed to work on though was the narrow u-turn at Datai, still had to stop and unclip one shoe before turning around. There was one short period where a brief storm erupted as I was leaving Datai, trees shook and leaves fell but luckily I did not encounter any crashes. That went away quickly and soon the sun was up in it's full heat and glory.

I kept the effort fairly conservative, around 150 watts. I started the bike in 3rd place in the Malaysian standings but got overtaken by two stronger cyclists around the 30km mark. Before the end of my first lap, I was called out by technical official, I was in the draft zone but I was making forward progress. I didn't notice a card before he sped off. Luckily I checked at the next penalty box and true enough was given a drafting penalty. Didn't argue just took it as a break, it was only 2 minutes - no idea why it wasn't 4 but I'll take it. It was the second break during the ride after a brief chain drop from riding with extreme gears (big chainring, big sprocket) on the second Datai climb.

Still feeling comfortable, saw my family just before the final two big climbs and that gave me a boost. My pace was consistent up until the last 10kms where I started feeling a bit nauseous. From 32kph average it dropped a bit after the two climbs and soft pedaling to transition, to 31.5kph. Bike split was 5:46:11, pretty happy with this given the challenging course.

Transition 2

Immediately after I got off the bike, I could feel I definitely do not have the same sprite as I normally do. My back felt a bit stiff and my leg turnover was low. But no matter, just keep things in control. Grabbed my run bag, helmet off, changed to a fresh pair of socks, put on visor, sunnies and race belt on the go. Time taken 1:56.

Run 42.2km (or rather part of it)

Run course is 2.5 laps from the convention centre to Cenang Beach and back, repeat for another lap before finishing at Cenang Beach. The organizers changed the course slightly this year, removing the jetty break point after the Meritus Pelangi hotel turnaround and instead, extended the lap to run along the Cenang Beach restaurants and shops. Also, no running through the go-kart circuit this time as it has been closed down for reworks.

The run is usually my strongest leg but this time it was different. While I started the run slow at around 6 minutes per km pace, I was still in control. I dunked myself with a pail of water at each aid station, dranked coke and nibbled on watermelon, dunked with water again at the end. Repeat this for most of the way. Except started having some pretzels when I felt the body needed some salt and more calories. I was still in the 5th Malaysian place as I finished the first lap but the gag reflux was getting stronger. Willed myself to run another 2kms and the stomach began to churn with some dizziness getting to the head. It was then the mind talked the body to stop. I was contemplating whether or not to walk back to the expo but then my family was waiting at Cenang and it would probably take just as long for the SAG wagon to send me back than if I walked that distance. 

So I walked. The more I did, the more convinced I was that I was pulling out. I felt cold. I was clutching onto my guts as I could feel them pulling. Anything I put into my mouth apart from water made me gag but there was no vomit. I still kept my Garmin on so that I knew how far I had to walk. The kms went by slowly. 13 minutes, 14 minutes, 15 minutes. I have utmost respect who repeatedly race into the late hours, I can never do it - I just don't have that strength.  I sat for a while and had some syrup thanks to the Tadonamo tri club support tent. Finally after a long 6km walk, I got to my worried parents who supported my decision to quit. I went to the medic tent and got my vital signs checked - all were normal. I laid there for about half an hour before started feeling a bit better and had a bit of warm soup at athlete recovery. As the hours went by, the feeling improved but I could still feel some nausea so I reaffirm to myself that it was the right thing to do to pull out.

We watched Gary finish a moment later and celebrated that. The next 24 hours was a mixed bag of feelings. I knew I made the right decision and having finished 12 Ironmans already, I'm eligible for the Kona Legacy program regardless if I finished this race or not. But seeing the feeds of celebration on social media always made me wonder what if, could I, should have. Nevertheless, I did not regret this trip. I had a great time with my family and it was a good holiday for all of us.

So that's wrapping the year of racing. Despite not finishing my season on a high, I did have a good season. And I'm proud of that. Moving on and looking forward to improving next season!

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

ITU Age Group World Championships - Standard Distance

Which also coincided with the World Triathlon Series Grand Final for the elite races. I am truly humbled and honoured to be given the opportunity to race and represent my home country, Malaysia at this event. Sure I could have done the Robina triathlon a week after, which probably sits better at the end of my training block for Ironman. And I could have saved myself $750 in entry fees, ITU trisuit and accommodation but it’s not often that the world championships are held in your own backyard (well not quite, but 45 minutes drive away is as close as it gets) in the Gold Coast. Thank you Triathlon Association of Malaysia (TRIAM) for giving me this opportunity.

Race pack pick up was on Friday and I’m thankful that I have an understanding workplace that allowed me some time off without having to apply for leave. Multiple events had been going on since Wednesday and I appreciate the local residents having to put up with the road closures that took place pretty much from early morning until 6pm each day. I drove down with my wife and son just after lunch on Saturday (so that Sebastian can have his nap first) and made it just in time for the bike racking. I found it a bit amusing that each bike was scanned for motors, the official said to me in jest “Sorry mate, no motor, you have to pedal tomorrow!” Remainder of the evening was fairly relaxed, with dinner at a nearby Italian cafĂ© and then it was time to call it an early night.

Then… the drama started to unfold. At about 8.30pm, my phone buzzed with a notification from the event app. “Due to high winds, no disc wheels allowed for the age group standard distance event.” WTF! I was stunned for a moment and started losing it. Well, nothing else I could do. Luckily I live fairly close by, so a quick drive home to pick up my alloy wheels and back. Had to set the alarm earlier too by about an hour so to allow time to swap the wheels over and change brake pads. As well as to bring the carbon wheels back to the motel. Fortunately, the motel was near to the swim start but transition is about a 20 minute walk away being a point-to-point swim.

So at 3.30am the alarm went off. I don’t generally sleep well in a different bed and on the night before the race. So I didn’t fancy having my sleep time cut any shorter from the debacle. My arms felt sore from carrying the wheels while walking to transition – such a first world problem, not wanting to expend any more energy just before a race! The good thing was transition was well lit while I changed the wheels and brake pads so no need to worry about losing any small parts. Got it all done without any issues and back to the motel. One last toilet visit in my own comfort (rather than at a portaloo), kissed my wife goodbye and then a brief trot the swim start just around the corner.

Swim 1.5km
We were released in waves and my Male 35-39 age group was split into two waves, about 45 in each, so it didn’t feel too crowded. It was a deepwater start and very straightforward swim, just keep going south and then a short right turn at the final buoy. Apparently tide assisted but I didn’t feel the effect much. I was pleasantly surprised as I thought I would have been left behind with this event being the World Championships, but I was actually swimming through the field for most of the way until I got to a couple of swimmers who were just a bit faster and just stuck to their feet. Water visibility was decent, not super clear and we were swimming away from the sun rise so that helped too. I got out of the water in 24:20 with recorded distance of 1,615m on the Garmin. Average pace of 1:32 per 100m, so a bit faster than my usual swims so I guess there was a tide after all.

Transition 1
It was a pretty sandy run to the bike racks. I didn’t spend too much time wiping the sand off before I put my socks on. Yes, being used to longer distances I’ve always put my socks on and I wasn’t going to do anything different for this race. My left shoe came off as I pulled my bike off the racks. Took me a while to clip it back on. The mount line was pretty busy and I patiently let a few others head off first before I got on my bike, instead of risking knocking someone over. Time taken 2:40

Bike 40km
Two lap bike course with mostly flat and straight sections but a few twists and turns at the beginning of each lap and just before the turnaround. I have to admit that the alloy wheels do feel slower and the numbers backed that up. It was windy but nothing too extreme. Pretty busy course and there was constant overtaking and being overtaken. I was asked to drop back a couple of times by the technical official as I was getting too close to the front cyclists. I averaged about 32kph at first and slowly climbed towards 34kph when I got to the straight sections. And then the next lot of drama unfolded. Halfway between the turnaround and towards the end of the first lap, my ride was starting to feel a bit wobbly. So I decided to stop and check. True enough, my front tire went flat!

I was debating whether or not to carry a spare tube for this race as it was only a 40km ride and foolishly I didn’t. Then I remembered, I still had my other wheel in the motel and coincidentally I stopped right next to it! So I climbed over the fence (as roads were closed) and quickly asked Li-Ann to open the door. It did past my mind briefly that I could be disqualified for doing this but I just wanted to finish. But alas, when I picked up my carbon wheel, I remembered now that I’ve let the air out and I foolishly left the pump at home too! Almost wanting to throw the towel in, I decided I’ll run to transition with the bike to get it pumped. But first, to swap the brake pads – again!

So off I went pushing my bike for the remaining 1.5 to 2kms to transition, my feet were hurting from pounding the ground just with socks on. People were cheering so for that moment I did feel a bit like a hero. Got to the intersection where we were meant to head off for the second lap and asked where were the mechanics, the officials there seemed to have no idea. Stuff this, I was going to push my bike the second lap if I had to! Luckily I found a supporter carrying a bike pump and he willingly lent it to me. Again, risking a DQ for outside assistance but that ship has sailed long time ago.

Second bike lap didn’t feel too much of a rush for me as the momentum was gone but I reminded myself that I was still in a race so I better get going. There were still many people on the course from the later waves. Many 40+ females (I could tell from their age group stickers on their calves) were overtaking me. I finally finished the bike in 1:25:47. Garmin recorded 39.5km and just over 20 minutes from when I stopped to when I started pedaling again.

Transition 2
No dramas here. Bike on rack, helmet off, shoes on, sunglasses and race bib on the go. There was a little bridge that we had to cross coming out of transition but luckily no stairs. Time taken 2:26.

Run 10km
Two lap run course with a short detour before the turnaround. About 3kms out and 2kms back, repeat. Pretty much flat all the way. I was still trying to salvage my race as much as I could, though I was pretty certain I was going to be dead last in my age group. Hovered around the 4:05 per km pace with a couple closer to 4:10 and a few just under 4 minutes. It was getting windier and it felt like mostly tailwind on the way out and headwind on the way back. I have lost track of time after the puncture and it wasn’t until the end of the first run lap when I realized if I maintained my pace, I would finish just over 2.5 hours. I thought I was getting close to the 3 hour mark!

Had to dig deep on the second lap and it was great to see Li-Ann and Seb cheering me from the esplanade. I waved and gave them my best effort of a smile at that time through my gritted teeth. Finally got to the finish line in 2:34:32, my second slowest time for the standard distance. But with a run split of 39:21, my Garmin recorded 9.9km so even adding another 30 seconds for the 100m would still be a run PB for me. And only a few seconds slower than my standalone 10km PB. And I didn’t come in last in my age group!

The finish atmosphere was very different from any Ironman event. People were hugging each other, carrying their national flags, taking group pictures in front of the ITU signage. It was fantastic and heartwarming at the same time. It took me a while to get back to the motel with all the road closures. Even leaving the motel after check out was a bit of a challenge as we were still fenced in and had to get clearance from traffic management as the elite events were about to start that afternoon.

So that wraps up probably my only ITU World Championship event. Coincidentally, on Malaysia Day! Sure I would have liked to finish with a better time and placing but I’m pretty proud with how I turned things around after the little mishap. It’s a good feeling with the final build heading into Ironman Malaysia, Langkawi in 2 months’ time.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Ironman 70.3 Sunshine Coast 2018

Coming into this race, I've had somewhat mixed feelings. On one hand, I was treating it as a lead up race to Ironman Malaysia, Langkawi in November and hence just had a pretty big training weekend just prior (135km bike and 24km run). Also, I continued commuting to work on two wheels 20+km each way during race week because I was too tight arsed to pay for bus fares, except for Friday as I had a massage appointment after work. On the other hand, with the revised bike course - two laps of the motorway as opposed to the previous year where we went into the valley for some hill work, it was a great opportunity to score a PB (I haven't had one for a few years now). Plus, I have been training well so I might as well give it a shot and see how far my legs can take me.

Mooloolaba is an easy 90 minute drive from home, which makes signing up for this race an easy decision (so much so that I've signed up for 2019 already)! The initial plan was to take Sebastian to SEA Life Underwater World but it was his nap time when we got there and by the time he woke up, there wasn't much time left. Still, he had fun playing at the beach and playground and I managed to get registration done while he was napping. AWA athletes had their bike racked closer to transition exit with AWA Gold being next to the Pros. My bike was a corner spot next to the mechanic tent so I had a bit more room. Dinner was a simple takeaway Domino's pizza for myself, sushi for Li-Ann and Macca's happy meal for Seb as we all had too much ice cream in the afternoon. We stayed at Twin Pines Motel, a convenient 400m walk from the esplanade where transition is. Basic but clean and spacious.

I've always been a light sleeper but I slept alright. It didn't help that it was pouring outside in the early hours of the morning. Transition area had big puddles everywhere when we got there in the morning. I had never biked without socks and I wasn't going to try it in a race, so I'll have to wear soaked socks throughout the race. Thankfully, my feet were okay and blister free - here's a plug for Steigen socks, they're awesome! Staying close by meant I was able to get most prepping done before leaving the motel - including multiple toilet visits! So after leaving my gear in transition, all I had to do was put on the wetsuit and head to the start line, no need for portaloo queues!

Swim 1.9km

Unlike last year's wave starts according to age groups, it was a rolling start this year. I was able to get pretty close to the front swimmers, only 2-3 minutes from the first release. The swim course is rectangular shaped - swim out, turn right towards north, short left turn, swim back towards south and then turn left back to shore. Water was pretty choppy, I actually had time before the race to do a warm up swim but the waves kept on crashing into the beach that I decided against it. I had to modify my breathing a bit by looking backwards as I breathed to avoid drinking water when the waves were coming in. Didn't dare to look up much to sight but the water was clear enough to see other swimmers under water, so just follow along. But once we got past the first turn buoy, we were swimming along the beach which was a bit better.

The surf lifesavers had different coloured vests from the turn buoys this time which helped, so I wasn't swimming towards them rather than the turn buoys. Because of the choppy conditions, I struggled to stick to anyone's feet for long periods but still I kept pretty much on course and was very close to touching each buoy. The final turn back to the beach was pretty fun riding the surf. I came out of the water in 32:07, not great but okay. About 50 seconds slower than last year. My Garmin recorded 1,869m which was pretty close. Average pace of 1:43 per 100m which is pretty much my pool swim times but should be better with a wetsuit on.

Transition 1

Somehow this year's transition did not feel as tight as last year. I wasn't trying to squeeze through anyone as I was running to my bike. Wetsuit took a while to remove especially over the ankle with the timing chip. But everything else went on pretty smooth... until I got to the mount line. It was pretty busy and with the wet road surface I decided not to do a fly mount just to be safe. Unclip one shoe, foot in, other foot in then clip back on. Time taken 2:57.

Bike 90km

Bike course is two laps, mostly on the motorway with some small inclines when going up and down bridges and then some twist and turns at the beginning of each lap when we're back in town. Some short but steep climbs in town as well but overall, a fast and flat course with good road surfaces and overall elevation of about 300m to 400m. With a course like that, there are likely to be large packs. A group of 3-4 cyclists passed me and soon after the TO came and handed the back cyclist a penalty. They were arguing and obviously slowed down and I had to inch my way between them to get through. The guy clearly wasn't happy but he did't need to be a prick about it. In fact, shortly after he zoomed past me and overtaking me from the left, nearly taking me out! Apart from that, it was pretty uneventful.

Throughout the bike course we had intermittent showers and at some stages it did get pretty heavy. Even when it wasn't raining, I got splattered on from the bikes in front as they cycle past. It was during this time I was glad to have a helmet with a visor on. Also, thankful that I reduced my tire pressure by about 10-15 psi than what I usually do. My average speed climbed up to about 37kph but it dropped towards 36kph when we got back into town. Second lap was no different and I am pleased to keep it fairly consistent. The winds played nice this year and each direction didn't feel too different. Historically it has always been a headwind on the way back. I was chasing a sub 2:30 bike split as I had never done one before, I thought I had it in the bag but the final few turns back into transition almost got me. Managed to scrape in 2:29:48! Average power was 187 watts and normalized power 205 watts, just right on the ball.

Transition 2

It was a bit disappointing to see so many bikes back on the racks but cycling has always been my weakest leg. I just have to make it up on the run. Rack bike, helmet off, shoes on and everything else - race bib, visor and sunglasses on the go! Time taken 1:46.

Run 21.1km

Run course is two laps, out and back from Mooloolaba to Alexandra Headland, partially on footpaths, partially on roads. Mostly flat with one long climb just after transition and we return to that climb on the way back, repeat on second lap. Total elapsed time was 3:06 after I left transition. I knew that unless I blew up, getting a PB was almost in hand. But let's aim higher for sub 4:40, which meant I had to push harder. The rain sort of stopped during the run and there was a bit of humidity coming off from the moisture off the ground. But temperatures were still pretty low, so it felt relatively cool. Still, I dunked my head with water each time I passed an aid station, which was about every 2km. I had a taste of the Isowhey electrolyte at the first station but it was too strong tasting for me. It was Coke from then on. And real Coke too! None of that fake cola stuff from Endura or other brands.

The legs felt alright though they weren't going as fast as last year when I was averaging 4:10 to 4:15 per km in the first couple of kms. But I was more consistent this year, maintaining around the 4:20 pace for most of the way, apart from the two climbs where I went into 4:30. Getting a shout out at the end of the first lap from Joel the announcer, former Reddog member like myself gave me a bit of a boost. Li-Ann and Seb was there too and so was Anthony and Greg from LTC. Trent and Rosie at the Reddog tent also cheered me as I ran past. And along the way, Kirstine, Philippe (who scored a 70.3 World Championship slot, massive congrats!) and Nathan out on course gave kudos. All these gestures while they may seem small, they definitely gave me a lift. And I sure needed that as I was very much in the hurt locker, chasing that sub 4:40 finish time.

Coming into the finisher chute, I knew I had it and was even more surprised with a finish time of 4:36:37, a half ironman PB by 7 minutes! Run split was 1:29:57 and the Garmin recorded 20.68km, so allowing for a couple of minutes for the 400-500m still gave me one of my best half ironman run splits and still a sub 4:40 finish!

Post race celebration was a pretty quiet affair. Li-Ann and Sebastian watched me finish but the poor kid was so tired that he fell asleep right after! I met them at the Good Bar for burger and beer before adjourning to Macca's again for a Happy Meal for Seb. I'm ever so grateful to have them as my support network, while Ironman is an individual sport, the journey definitely takes more than an individual and lots of sacrifices from their end as well. And big kudos to the volunteers, officials and crew for braving the rain for this ironically, not-so-sunny Sunshine Coast event. While the athletes can dry up and take a warm shower after finishing, they had to stay out there until the end including packing up.  It started pouring buckets again as I was picking my bike up from transition so the dry clothes that I changed into got soaked instantly!

So that's a wrap for my lead up race. If it was my mid term exam, I'd give myself an A. Sure, there is always room for improvement but I surpassed my own expectations and more. I'd just have to build on this confidence going into Ironman Malaysia in 2.5 months' time. And I'll see you next year, Sunny Coast - hopefully with more sunshine!

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Noosa 80 event

Emphasis on the word - event. Organized by the Noosa Tri Club as a training event as roads weren't closed and normal traffic rules apply. We were however, given timing chips so everyone gave their best shot. Capped at 50 entries and T Rex tri club made up more than half the numbers. Entry fees were $50 and we were given a trucker's hat and a bandana, plus sausage sizzle and cakes at the end. What more could we ask for? The timing was just right - a month out from Sunshine Coast 70.3 and I haven't been to Noosa before, so it was a no brainer for me. I even tagged on a trip to the zoo in Beerwah with my son the day before, so maybe some brownie points for me!

We stayed in Noosaville, about 4km from Lions Park in Noosa Heads. As it was still in the middle of winter, it was still dark and cold cycling to the site. My back pack was strapped on too high and the tail of my aero helmet keep getting caught in the top strap as I look up, so pretty dangerous cycling for that 15-20 minutes but I got to the site safely. Got myself registered and racked my bike, took what seemed like an eternity to put the wetsuit on, listened to the final briefing and soon it was time to go.

2km swim

Deepwater start with two laps around one of the islands in the Noosa river canal. The last time I swam in my wetsuit was at Port Macquarie in early May and boy, did I struggle! I couldn't get my catch right and each stroke seemed like a fight against the water. Everyone else seemed to be getting further and further ahead. It was only on the second lap that I got into the rhythm. Finally out of the water in just over 30 minutes for 1850m recorded on the Garmin. Average pace of 1:37 per 100m, a tad bit faster than my long swims in the pool but could definitely be better.

60km bike

The short transition was a nice change compared to the bigger events that I'm used to. My helmet visor was all fogged up from the morning dew so I had to give it a bit of wipe before I hopped on the bike. And then, the fairing came off a bit as I put it on and I couldn't get it back in, so had to ride the whole distance that way. The bike course is shaped like a lollipop. We rode from Noosa Heads towards Ringtail State Forest and then making a loop around Cootharaba and Borean Point before tracing our way back. Being unfamiliar with the area and the small participant numbers, it was easy to get lost but the organizers did a great job putting up signage at the main intersections so it was all good.

As it was just before 7am when we started the ride, it was still pretty chilly. I foolishly decided to wear a sleeveless trisuit and I did shiver in some sections where the trees were covering the sunshine. My fingers did get a bit frozen and I had some difficulty pulling out my drink bottle. Also I've had some issues with my di2 not being able to change gears whilst in the big chainring, so I had to switch to the small chainring each time I wanted to change gears. Thankfully the course wasn't too hilly, about 200m elevation in total. I should really get it fixed though. Despite all these, I had a decent ride. It was only my 4th ride back on the tri ride since Port and I was stuck behind a car going slowly through the cafe strip in the final few kms, so an average speed of 34kph was pretty good in my books. Average power was just over 180 watts, which is in line with my racing efforts. Time was 1 hour 45 minutes for the 59km distance recorded on the Garmin.

18km run

Having not run off the bike since Port, I wasn't sure what to expect. But I was pleasantly surprised. Legs were turning over well and keeping to an average pace around 4:15 per km. The course was the first few kms of the bike course and it was 3 laps. We had volunteers handing out water and electrolyte at each turnaround. While temperatures were still in their high teens or low twenties, the sun rays were out in full force and the heat was slowly kicking in. I was making good progress getting closer to the ones further ahead. Run distance was a bit short though and I finally got home in under 70 minutes for the 16.3km distance recorded on the Garmin. Overall time was 3 hours 26 minutes, which I was happy with.

A bit of a catch up with a couple of friends and then it was time to have some brunch with my wife and son before the drive home. I truly enjoyed the event and many thanks to Noosa tri club for putting up a well organized and friendly affair! Looking forward to Sunshine Coast 70.3 in about a month's time.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

IM Australia, Port Macquarie 2018

My 12th Ironman finish and what I needed to be eligible to apply for the Kona Legacy program by the end of the year, just have to make sure I complete at least one Ironman each to remain eligible until I receive my Kona slot. This race has a lot of history, being one of the oldest at 33 years with the earlier years held in Forster Tuncurry up until the early 2000s. The choice to do this race wasn't an easy one. There was only one direct flight from Brisbane for $200+ per person each way on Fokker planes that could not fit in bikes. So we had to drive. On paper, it should take about 6.5 hours. But with the Pacific Highway upgrade roadworks and the stops we had to take before our toddler son gets too cranky, with each stops have to be at least 30-45 minutes so that he can have a bit of a play, the journey took much longer. We decided to break the drive, spending the night at Coffs Harbour on the way down and a night at Iluka on the way back. I'm glad we did. I can't thank my wife Li-Ann and son Sebastian enough for enduring this trip with me just so I can indulge in this silly (crazy?) hobby. The other choice was to do Cairns, which I did in the past two years so I wanted something different. Also, I was too afraid to descend down Matthew Flinders hill the last time I did Port 3 years ago and embarrassingly walked down instead (I was probably the only one who walked DOWN rather than UP the hill) plus I had a tubular puncture then that I couldn't fix and waited at the road side for about 45 minutes until I was given a spare wheel, so I wanted a bit of redemption on this course.

The training build leading up to this race was short, following the post Christmas/New Year holidays so it does the body and mind to slowly get back into things. I only started seriously into training in early February, so about a 3 months build. I took a different approach this time with a longer 4 week build (instead my usual 3) followed by a week's recovery. Even in one of the recovery weeks, I slotted in Kingy Olympic tri so although the weekend's volume was reduced, it was high intensity racing. But my body responded well to this new approach and I have to say, that I was feeling fitter than ever leading up to Port. After having been coached in my earlier years of Ironman racing, I'm enjoying the flexibility of doing my own thing now and still holding myself accountable. My weekly hours peaked at just under 13 hours with 7 sessions a week (2x swim, bike, run and 1 gym), I made sure each session counts and no junk miles. I owe it to myself and my family that time spent away from home training was as productive as it can be. Doing the longer miles towards late autumn helps too with the cooler temperature, so I was able to put in some solid sessions and feeling confident.

So onto the race, with no scheduled video briefing and welcome dinner (we were given vouchers instead to use at local restaurants) my time spent at the pre race events were minimal which I much prefer. I did a trial descend on Matthew Flinders hill not once but twice and I was relieved that I have conquered my fears, it didn't seem much of a fuss after all but I would be lying if I said I didn't have palpitations when I got to that intersection. Easy 10 minute swim on race morning eve, bike check in and then taking it easy for the rest of the day. Race morning came quickly, I was planning to walk to transition about 15-20 minutes from the motel but our son was already up so we all drove down together. It was a chilly morning but calm with barely any wind. The queue to the portaloos were long but there were plenty of them so we moved pretty quickly. A bit of stretching, put on the wetsuit, kissed Li-Ann and Seb goodbye for about 11 hours or so, and then line up for the rolling start. I was able to get as close to the fastest wave (sub 1 hour swim) as possible.

Swim 3.8km

Unlike previous years, the swim start and finish now are at the same location in Westport Park. Previously we had to walk about 500m towards the carpark closer to town and we had a bit of a downstream for a longer portion of the swim. This time it's more equal, in a rectangular shape in anti clockwise direction. While I enjoyed the still waters of Hastings River, I always found it difficult to sight the buoys with the many boats docked around the course. I almost swam into one after the first turn. Other than that I kept pretty close to the buoys. I had plenty of people around me but I did not stick to any specific feet for extended amount of time. Swimming underneath the bridge always freak me out a bit no matter how many times I do it, for fear of crashing into one of the pillars. The weir crossings at the 1.7km and 2.5km were nice breaks and check points to see how I was progressing. I had to be careful though not to trip myself or push anyone over while hurrying up and down the steps. Catching sight of the finishing flags was a bit of relief as I was getting bored of seeing nothing but water. My swim time was 1:03:18 which was a minute slower than the last time I swam this course but still a good swim for me. I have long given up chasing to clock a swim split under the hour and as the years go by, I become less and less of a swimmer (used to swim for club in my teens) so as long as I don't slow down significantly, I am happy. My Garmin recorded 3856m so it was pretty much spot on, pace was 1:39 per 100m, on par with my training splits.

Transition 1

It was great to see Li-Ann and Seb as I was running towards the change tents. I struggled a bit to find my wetsuit zipper and almost asked Li-Ann for help (could have risked a DQ for outside assistance!) but I found it in the end. Wetsuit came off without any trouble. Wipe down feet, socks on, 4 Clif bars into my pockets and put on helmet on the go. Volunteers in the change tent were great, pulled out all my bike gear and packed away all my swim gear swiftly. I was a bit wobbly trying to fly mount my bike, so I decided to be safe and unclipped one shoe before putting in the other. Time taken 3:11.

Bike 180.2km

Bike course is two laps along the coast from Port Macquarie heading south towards Camden Haven with two brief detours before heading back to Port. Roads are decent, not great. The hot mix surface can be rough and slow, it saps the energy out of you if you don't pace yourself well. Some areas can be a bit patchy with a few potholes. But all of this is expected and everyone's doing the same course. A few short steep hills with the infamous Matthew Flinders climb, about 8km before the end of each lap but we descend down this hill first. My Garmin Edge and 920xt recorded 1684m and 1162m elevation respectively, so you be the judge. We were really lucky to have perfect racing weather. Cool temperatures but very sunny. Light winds but it did pick up on the second lap. A bit of headwind on the way out, a bit of tailwind on the way back.

It took me a while to get my speed up during the first 10km. There were a few climbs coming out of transition and I was overly cautious on the descends especially with many other cyclists around me. So I didn't gain much speed on the descends either. On the second lap, when the pack thinned out a bit and I was more mentally prepared of the corners ahead, I was more confident. I was still nervous when I first approached the sharp turn on the adjoining road leading into Matthew Flinders, but it was over before I knew it so I definitely did better on the second lap, still relatively slow though. After the descend from Matthew Flinders, there were long stretches of flat roads where I could stay in aero position for extended periods of time, sitting up just to get my drink bottle. I don't have an aero bottle in between my aero bars and this has worked out well as it forces me to sit up every 15-20 minutes or so.

Climbing Matthew Flinders, thanks Brad for this picture
I paced myself conservatively, averaging 160 watts, which is 75% FTP for me. Average pace built up to just under 32kph by the end of the first lap but the wheels came off (not literally!) pretty much about 10km after the turnaround. While it was the complete bonk I felt in Busso, the body did feel a lot weaker. I was sitting up a lot more and I was getting more and more uncomfortable being in aero position, absorbing the vibrations from the road traveling from my hands all the way to my lower back. I was still eating well though. I alternated between having an Endura gel and a Clif bar at each aid station, finished 6 gels and 4 bars in total on the course. The weather was cool enough for me to keep to having a drink every 10km. I only had to change swap my bottle once for Isowhey that they provided, it sure has a very strong taste! Lots of people passed me on the second lap but I was still pushing consistently, albeit a bit slow. I decided to take a pee stop at the portaloo at the penalty box just after the 140km mark. It was 97 seconds well spent and I did feel a lot more comfortable after. Rolled on and soon it was the final big climb at Matthew Flinders, the crowds were amazing (no Elvis this year though)! Finally got back to transition with a 5:52:54 bike split, averaging just over 30kph. Average power dropped down to just under 150 watts.

Transition 2

Having done a short course race few weeks earlier, I wanted to run back to my bike rack even though I've handed my bike to the volunteers and I almost did! Luckily I was redirected to run straight towards the change tent. Again, volunteers were great. Unpacked my run gear and packed away my bike gear quickly. My movements weren't as quick as I would have liked but what's a few seconds lost. Socks off, new socks on, shoes on, belt on, sunglasses and visor on the go. Time taken 1:50.

Run 42.2km

Run course is 4 laps starting from transition, head east for about 2kms and turnaround before heading back past transition towards north past Settlement City. There's a gradual climb, which is part of the bike course just before the first turnaround but it moves quickly into downhill after that as well. Just have to grit your teeth and power up the climb and use the momentum to roll down the slope after. If there's something I would pick Port over the other races is the crowd support. You get more of that on the bike course and you get a whole lot more of that on the run course. There were no quiet zones that you had to dig deep on your own. Throughout the whole run course I felt being lifted by the crowd.

My legs seemed as though they turned on a switch the moment the run course started. Although I had to stop a couple of times at first to adjust the tongue of my shoes, they were powering through the first few kms. For the first lap I was clocking 4:30 to 4:45 per km. The long brick runs in my last two training weekends (20km and 15km respectively) definitely helped. Next lap I slowed down a bit to 4:45 to 5:00 per km but I wasn't too worried as it was expected. I was keen to catch my friend Nathan who passed me on the second lap of the bike and was about 15 minutes or so ahead when we started the run. I managed to pass him on the second lap and he encouraged me to push on. It's nice to do the same race as friends and club members, seeing them out on the course - Greg Z, Anthony, Shane, Philippe, Mel, Afrar, Trev, Ross, Greg S gives you more motivation. Supporting club members Helene and Brad and many others were great too, giving us the extra boost!

Once I passed Nathan, it felt that the rabbit chase is over. I started walking at the aid stations, I didn't prior to this. But I still kept the running effort pretty consistent albeit at a slower pace as the body gets more fatigued. The km splits from then on ranged from between 5:30 to 6:00 depending on whether there's an aid station or not. After the final turnaround, with less than 4kms to go, I decided that I wanted to beat my sister's sub 3:45 open marathon time at the recent KL Marathon. So I ran through the aid stations, grabbing the drinks on the go. This was also my first time getting the glow sticks denting my ego a bit, the marshalls were strict and didn't give us a choice. The downside of doing a late autumn race, it gets dark just after 5pm. But hey, it became a handy toy for my son after the race. Finally, could see the finishing marquee in sight, hearing the crowd cheering and clapping against the barricades, once again for my 12th Ironman finish, tears welled up in my eyes as I cross the line. And Li-Ann and Seb were waiting just at the side immediately after the arch. We had a few hugs and kisses before I was escorted to the recovery area. Finish time was 10:42:15 with a run split of 3:41:02. And despite finishing 15-20 minutes before Nathan, the sneaky bugger finished 45 seconds ahead of me, he must have started way later than I did. If only, if only, if only...

I placed 35th in my age group and 149th overall. While the finish time was a bit slower than I hoped, given that I was training well leading into this race and expected more, it was a finish that I needed and that's good enough. Coming in under 11 hours is still pretty decent in my books. There are many who helped me through this journey but top credits obviously goes to Li-Ann and Sebastian who made lots of sacrifices for me to get here. Logan Tri Club has been a great support network inside and outside training and on the race course as well. Mum and dad, and my siblings and brother in law, tracking me online and sending me well wishes leading up to the race, it's always a nice feeling that they are sending me love and keeping me safe even from so far away. And to everyone else sending me positive vibes through social network, thank you as they definitely kept me going when the going got tough.

Now for a bit of reduced (note not zero) training during the off season before building up again to Ironman Malaysia in November! Fun, fun, fun!