Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Sunshine Coast 70.3 2017

I've been longing to do this race since we moved to Brisbane but just didn't get to. Held in Mooloolaba, only about 80 minutes drive north from home it was a no brainer. The first year, I did Bukit Merah 113 instead in my home country, Malaysia. The second year, it hosted the 70.3 World Championships so it was by qualification only. So this time, since the stars were aligned, I signed up the moment registrations opened! Plus, it was a nice lead up race to IM Western Australia later this year.

We went up to Mooloolaba on Friday morning as most places only accepted minimum two nights stay. I would have preferred to go up on Saturday and return on Monday after the race, but I had auditors coming in that day. Yes, for those who were wondering, I do have a day time job outside of triathlon. Central Motel was about 600m walk from transition on the esplanade, which is pretty convenient. It was pretty quiet when we arrived and I took the car out to drive the hilly parts of the course to avoid any surprises on race day. In the evening, the crowd started coming in and it took me about 45 minutes in line to get my race pack collected.

All set up but still very quiet
The next day, we took it pretty easy. Just a short swim to test out the wetsuit. Sebastian played at the beach for a while. I checked in my bike pretty early at 11am followed by the video briefing. Had a quick lunch and then we rested at the motel for most of the afternoon. Finished up the day with my standard pre race pizza dinner.

Still pretty empty at bike check-in! Big contrast from race day!
Race morning came soon enough. My age group wave start was at 6.37am and transition closed at 5.40am. So I had some time to spare. It was already very busy in transition and this has got to be one of the tightest transition area I've ever been in. If you weren't careful, you could bump off the bike behind you, no kidding! One of the upsides of being in one of the last few waves, was the queue for the toilet is not as long. While waiting in queue, I got interviewed by a guy who was setting up a new tri website based in South Korea called Push Push Multisport. Almost had to cut short the interview as it was my turn to use the loo! Soon it was go time and I was lining myself at the beach for my wave start.

Swim 1.9km

The swim is a dry land start from the beach. Then about 100-200m swim towards the first buoy and then turning right into a rectangular course in an anti clockwise direction before swimming back to beach. Only one lap. The water was relatively calm but as it was in the ocean, there were some mild waves as we started from the shore. Swimming into the sunrise with my yellow lensed goggles didn't pose too much of on issue. I did have a few gulps of sea water but I didn't panic. I swam pretty much on course except for one occasion where I mistook a lifesaver for a buoy. But luckily it didn't waste too much time. They should really consider having different coloured uniforms or buoys. It was also a confidence boost swimming past those who started in the earlier waves, you can tell from their different coloured caps. The last turn back into shore was a bit challenging, as I felt the currents pulling me away. I clocked 31:14 for the swim, which has been of my better swims recently. But I know I can do better. Hopefully joining a swim squad again will further improve my times as you can get complacent swimming on your own.


Transition 1

As the transition area was pretty narrow, so was the lane to run towards our bike racks. At some parts, I was able to squeeze through to overtake the person in front. At other parts, I just had to be patient and not fret over a few seconds. Wetsuit came off rather easily without any dramas. It was cold in the morning but it warmed up nicely before the swim. So my hands weren't frozen and I could put on the helmet without fumbling it. The bike mount line was a bit hairy with so many other participants around. I decided not risk it and unclipped my shoes off the pedals and clip back on again, instead of doing a fly mount. Time taken 3:02.


Bike 90km

The bike course started with a few twists and turns coming out of transition and then onto the fast flat smooth roads of the Sunshine Motorway. We rode north for about 20kms before a U-turn and back, and then into the hills in Rosemount. Two laps of these hills and then 20kms back to transition. Total elevation is about 600m, which is moderately hilly for a 90km course. It wasn't too windy but there was a slight southerly, so a bit of tailwind going out and slight headwind coming back. As usual, it took me a while to get into rhythm cycling in high speeds with the deep race wheels. But once I got them going, it was nice to see the speed climbing up. Although the motorway was relatively flat, there were some gentle inclines and descends, which I kinda like as it was a nice break from being on the aero bars all the time. Just before we got to Rosemount, I averaged just under 36kph but I knew that this would drop once we hit the hills.


True enough, some of the climbs were pretty steep and I could see the average speed falling. This is made worse by my passive descending. There was one long descent which then goes straight into a 90 degree right turn. Luckily I checked out the course before hand and I was braking very much early on, otherwise I may have come unstuck. But I enjoyed the challenge. It is definitely more interesting than the old course which was two laps of the motorway. My average pace dropped to just under 34kph by the end of the ride. Average power was 178 watts and normalized power was 198 watts, which I was pretty happy with. Bike split was 2:38:55. I would have preferred it if it was in the low 3:30s but I was pretty satisfied with that split given the course.


Transition 2

The bike dismount line appeared out of nowhere so I wasn't ready for a fly dismount. But my shoes were already unstrapped, so just remove one foot and place onto the ground first before moving the other over. Running to the bike racks with my bike was a bit of a challenge and I had to trot patiently behind those in front. Did I say before that this transition area was tight? Helmet off, shoes on, sunglasses, visor and race belt on the go. Time taken 2:01.


Run 21.1km

The run course is two laps, heading north towards Maroochydore and back. There is a hill about 500m long, about 1km out from transition, so we climb it four times throughout the entire course. While it was relatively cool at 20 degrees Celcius, the sun was shining in all its glory. Most parts of the course were exposed but some parts where we run through the parks were pretty shaded. My legs surprisingly felt pretty good, despite not tapering much for this race. I had high turnover and the first km I clocked 4:02! I thought I would slow down a lot after that but I settled into 4:15 pace for the next few kms until the first turnaround point. We then faced a slight headwind coming back to Mooloolaba and the pace dropped further to the 4:20s.


I'm still very pleased with the pace, given that I usually run around the 4:30s for my long runs and this was what I was expecting to hold. So I'm exceeding my own expectations. It was getting cheers from the Red Dog tri club tent and a handful of fellow Logan Tri Club members who came up to support us, thanks guys! My pace did start to fall towards the final few kms, with a couple of 4:40s especially on that darn hill! But I knew I was on the home stretch. Finally reached the finishing carpet leading up to the arch, saw Li-Ann cheering from the side and gave her a wave. Crossed the with a run split of 1:33:27, one of my fastest half Ironman runs.


video

My overall time was 4:48:41, about 5 minutes slower than my half Ironman PB but I'm happy with the results given the challenging course and the focus of my training was more on the Ironman later in the year. If this was a mid term test for the final exam later, I would give myself an A minus haha. The finisher medal was a unique sunglasses shape which I thought was pretty cool.



I had a well deserved lunch of burger and beer after the race. And then some gelato before heading back home. I couldn't have done this race without the support of my wife Li-Ann and son Sebastian, so big thanks to them! And thanking them in advance as the longer miles start creeping up in the upcoming months towards Ironman. I would love to come back to do this course again if the timing is right. Cheers Sunshine Coast, see you again!

The best support crew need to be fed well too.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Springfield Duathlon 2017

I wasn't expecting to write another race report, just 6 weeks after Ironman Cairns. But I decided to do the Springfield Duathlon for a number of reasons. In the last few weeks, I have been building up my weekend ride and run distances, towards Ironman WA end of the year. Having a race like this after a training block gives a nice break to the monotony. Plus, I last did this race two years ago and was totally freaked out by the fast descends and sharp corners, so I was keen to see whether I have improved or not.

The event was held on the grounds of University of Southern Queensland, Springfield Central about 40 minutes drive from home. Each year it was one of the coldest days to have this event and this year was no different. A crisp 4 degrees when I got to the car park but thankfully it warmed up to about 6-7 degrees when the race started. There was quite a long queue for race pack pick up and I was a bit worried that I'll miss the transition close time of 6.15am but looks like it wasn't strictly enforced. The race stickers were not very sticky and the one on my helmet actually came off during the bike. I still had some time for a last minute visit to the portaloo and a 5 minute warm up run before my wave start.

The sun could not have come up soon enough!

1st run 10km

The run course has changed from two years ago but maintained the same format. 4 laps of 2+km with a few hundred meters in and out of transition at the start and finish. Slight incline at the turnaround. Pretty straightforward. I actually like this new course, plenty of trees and nicer scenery. My run speed was not what it was two years ago, but I was able to keep a pretty consistent pace and still felt pretty comfortable by the end of it. First km was 3:53 with the excitement at the start but I settled into around 4:10 to 4:15 for the remaining. Timed 40:31 and it was about 500m short when I got to transition but here's how I made up for it!

Fumbled with my frozen fingers to get the helmet on and rushed my bike off the racks, got to the bike mount line and realised I still had my run shoes on! I laughed at myself and the officials were laughing with (or maybe at) me. Brought the bike back to the racks as I wasn't sure if I could just leave the bike at the mount line. Removed my run shoes and got back out again. I felt like a complete muppet, clearly I don't do enough duathlons - this is my 3rd one so far.

Caught in the act with two pairs of shoes on!

Bike 40km

The bike course stayed the same as last time. 6 laps - about 2kms of climbing, 2kms of descending, 2kms of flat, repeat. It was about 3-4kms too short the last time, so organizers extended the final turnaround by a few hundred meters. Clocked 39kms this time, not quite 40kms but close enough. Overall elevation of over 400m, so a pretty hilly course.

I was very nervous on the descends and cornering the last time. While I admit I was better this time round, I still have much to improve. I had a very modest average pace, just over 28kph and I still lost a lot of time on the downhills. My initial target was to beat my Olympic Distance triathlon PB but with a 1:24:42 bike split including transitions, that target went out of the window very quickly.

Transition 2 wasn't without drama either. As the bike racks weren't numbered and we could rack our bikes in any order just as long as they were according to age group, I had a bit of trouble looking for my spot. I made it harder by not bringing a towel to look out for as there was no swim and my run shoes must have got pushed around during the confusion in Transition 1, but I eventually found my spot.

2nd run 5km

The 2nd run goes through the same laps as the first run, just with two laps instead of four. Despite not doing any brick runs since the Ironman, my legs felt pretty good but it was only a 40km ride before anyway. I held between 4:10 to 4:20 pace and was able to pass a few competitors who were ahead of me after the bike. The 2nd run was about 150m longer and I clocked 21:41, giving overall time of 2:26:55. I was 6.5 minutes slower than the last time but so were most people with the bike being short the last time.

Digging deep to improve my position

Overall, I'm pretty happy with how my race went. Kudos to Triathlon Queensland, officials and volunteers for a well organized event. It was great way to dust off the cobwebs and kick off the new season. There were quite a number of Logan Tri Club members who did this race, whom I don't normally meet in the training sessions so it was nice getting to meet them. I'm looking forward to the next race - Sunshine Coast 70.3!

I need to get myself an LTC kit! Thanks Erika for the photo!



Friday, 16 June 2017

Ironman Cairns 2017

There's something magical about Cairns that keeps on bringing me back. This is my 4th trip to Cairns, 3rd time for an Ironman. The decision to do this race was done rather late. I had a great race at the Kingscliff Olympic Distance in late March, falling short on my PB by just 23 seconds. I progressively increased my weekend mileage each week, with two weeks of traveling in Europe in early May but I kept myself active. The training results had been good and I had no injuries apart from some minor niggles. Still, with a short build and limiting the weekly hours to a minimum (I peaked at about 12.5 hours) so I don't miss out too much of my young son's growth, I can't help being nervous about my preparations. But with 10 Ironman finishes prior to this, I was hoping to bank a bit on my experience.

A fellow Logan Tri Club member drove to Cairns and offered to bring my bike up. I can't thank you enough Shane and Kirsty, you can't imagine how much hassle you have saved me! We caught a midday flight into Cairns. We stayed in Cascade Gardens, a nice self serviced apartment about 15 minutes walk from the race expo and finish. I had an hour before the athlete check in closed. As I was only meeting Shane the next afternoon at the bike check in at Palm Cove, I had it pretty easy going pre race. I even skipped the pre race briefings. Until I collected my bike and I realised the front brake wasn't releasing too well. I panicked a bit and luckily there was a mechanic tent at the check in. The mechanic widened the gap a bit and sprayed some oil, it wasn't 100% fixed but it will have to do. I almost missed the last shuttle bus back to Cairns! I guess a bit of stress was what I needed to get the heart rate pumping before the race!

Welcome to Cairns!
Sebastian made sure I didn't overspend at the expo
One of the last ones to be racked in
Race morning, the alarm clock went off at 4.30am so that I could catch the 5.15am shuttle bus to Palm Cove. We decided that Li-Ann and Sebastian would not follow me that early in the morning and would only catch me after I finished the bike. It was unusually quiet in my transition area as I prepped my bike up. Then waited in queue for the portaloos for one last toilet visit. Put on my wetsuit and then it was show time!

3.8km swim

There were some crashing waves from the ocean into the beach but the water wasn't as rough as last year. The 70.3 swimmers were done with their swim as we started ours. I lined myself up with the first wave (< 1 hour) but in hindsight I should have stuck to my own wave (1:00 to 1:07) as the rest were swimming past me as though I was laying still. The course was a rectangular one. We swim out into the ocean and then a right turn to start the rectangle and then left turns at each corner until we swim back to the beach. It was a single lap swim, changed from last year's two laps. It was difficult to find good feet to draft off due to the waves. But some managed to draft off mine and got a bit aggressive too - this one guy literally grabbed onto my ankles! I was worried my timing chip would fall off! I didn't think I swam too off course, I was reasonably close to all the buoys. As I got back to the beach at the finish, I noticed my watch was already in bike mode. Must have gotten knocked around a bit during the swim. Official results showed 1:09:18, my slowest swim to date including non wetsuit ones. It's a shame I don't have any swim data to check if the swim was a bit longer or not. Maybe I just haven't been swimming hard in enough in training.


Transition 1

It was a pretty long run in and out of transition, I estimate about 400m in total. There weren't many volunteers in the change tent but I got my stuff sorted without too much dramas. After the race, I picked up an extra towel and arm warmers in my transition bag, with a Japanese athlete's name so I had to return them to Lost and Found. There was a bit of crowd at the bike mount line including a fall right in front of me, so I played it safe and slowly got on my bike. Total time for T1 4:54.

180km bike

This was the leg I was most concerned about, being the longest part of the race. Whilst I did build up my training rides to this distance, I didn't do enough of it. Thankfully, it wasn't as windy as last year and it didn't rain as well, only the occasional drizzle every now and then. So my amateurish bike skills can take it easy around the corners. The ride heads north from Palm Cove towards Port Douglas and back, turning around in Wangetti before going back up to Port Douglas for the final turnaround and then all the way back to Cairns. It's one of the most scenic Ironman bike courses I've ever done. And with good weather, you can really appreciate it's beauty, even while racing!



On the first ride up to Port Douglas, I averaged 33kph. There were some narrow stretches on the roads leading in and out of Port Douglas, where part of the roads were coned off for vehicles, which caused some riding packs to bunch up. I felt a bit guilty being latched on to these trains but I had no where else to go. Once we got back to the hills, the group dispersed again. The slight southerly winds brought my pace down but not by much. Li-Ann made me pack extra food in addition to my Clif bars (glad I listened!). I chose to bring some pizza bread rolls from the Woolworths bakery. Even the volunteers had a bit of food envy as I rode past! It was a nice change in taste from the Clif bars but I would choose something other than spicy pepperoni next time!


At the final turnaround at Port Douglas (thanks MC Joel for calling me out as a new dad!) and it was the home stretch. Might as well, as my energy reserves were starting to wane. More and more were passing me, including an amazing Japanese athlete with a prosthetic leg! I had my second wind as we got to Yorky's Knob at the 160km mark the speed got up again but as soon as we passed the airport, the wind was howling and I could only muster a roll back into Cairns. It was nice to see Li-Ann and Sebastian cheering as I rode towards transition and I gave them a wave. Got off the bike with a split of 5:34:52 (an average speed of 32kph), just over a minute slower than last year, which isn't too bad really. My Garmin measured the distance to be about 178kms, just like last year so a pretty fair comparison.


Transition 2

Helmet off, old socks off, new socks on. Put on running visor, sunglasses and race belt on the way out. Time taken 1:16.


Run 42.2km

Last year it was raining as I started the run. This year it was dry but we had cloud cover throughout with relatively cool temperatures. The run course is 3 laps starting in transition and then heading south along the jetty and then north towards the airport with a slight detour into the park. My legs felt surprisingly fresh and I had good turnover. My first km I posted 4:37! But I settled into 4:45 to just under 5 minutes for pretty much the next hour or so. I was pleasantly surprised at how well I could maintain this pace. I did not stop to walk at the aid stations, just grabbed the Coke as I go. Having Li-Ann and Sebastian cheer me on both directions of the lap certainly gave me a boost.


But as I got close to the half marathon mark, I was starting to feel some gag reflex coming up my throat. Not sure was is causing this. I still held under 5 minutes but I had to break my no walk momentum when I got to the aid station at the 24km mark. I walked through every aid station from there onwards. The pace dropped to above 5:30 per km then.


Final lap and it was getting dark. The volunteers were handing out glowsticks and my ego got the better of me so I refused. The floodlights kept it pretty bright anyway. Another thing that boosted my ego was overtaking the same Japanese athlete with a prosthetic leg and not getting beaten by star 55-59 female athlete Jenny Alcorn! I know, I should be ashamed of myself haha. The pace slowed down nearing 6 minutes per km. But I knew if I kept it that way, I would still finish under 10.5 hours. I did a wager with 90 minute handicap with my friend David Zi Xiang in Malaysia who's aiming for 12 hours in Challenge Roth in a few weeks. So that spurred me to keep on pushing for this time. Coming close to the finish, getting cheers from Shane and Kirsty, Trent from the Reddog tent and finally getting a hug from Li-Ann and Sebastian just before entering the chute. My tears welled up as the MC Pete Murray called out - Kevin Siah from Malaysia, you are an Ironman! I crossed the line in 10:28:56 with a run split of 3:38:33, overtaking 122 athletes on the run itself.



Finish

I went to the food tent and soup was the only thing I could stomach. I slowly sipped it down as Li-Ann talked to me over the fence, as she wasn't allowed in. She went to get dinner and then I started feeling a bit faint. Mike kindly took me to the medic tent (thanks Mike!) and I rested there a while. Li-Ann came to get me and after feeling a bit better, I went to collect my bike. Shane (you are a champ mate!) was in town for dinner after finishing his 70.3 race earlier and offered to collect my bike then so I didn't need to push it back to the hotel.

Not-so-glamorous shot in the medic tent with a tiny finishers medal
So that wraps up Ironman Cairns once again. My 11th Ironman finish and 3rd one on this course. It has been a while since I've felt this great in an Ironman race and am truly happy with my time. No doubt the race conditions were favourable this year with both overall men and women winners crushing course records. I couldn't have done this without the support of my wonderful wife Li-Ann and my son Sebastian. Not just on the course but off the course is where the big sacrifices are made, just so I could have a play of my hobby, which let's be honest is more of an obsession really. I made a promise last year that I would only do one Ironman this year and that has already been broken, having signed up earlier for Ironman Western Australia later this year. And Li-Ann did not make a big fuss over it and just went for the ride. I love you both!

And thanks everyone - family and friends, for following my race and the cheers, whether on the course or through social media. You don't realise it but this definitely makes a difference. Thank you.

Will I be back again next year? Let's not make any promises just yet, shall we?

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Kingscliff Triathlon 2017

Affectionately known as Kingy Tri, a triathlon festival with a wide range of event ranging from the kids race to the Olympic distance. All held on one day, twice a year with the second event usually around late November. It was a last minute decision for me to do this race, signing up only a week before the event. My last Olympic distance was in Guelph, Canada nearly 3 years ago where I had my PB of 2:18:31. Not that I'm an endurance snob or anything but having to prepare for two Ironman races each year for the previous two years, quite often I can't justify the costs and logistics of doing any event shorter than a half Iron distance or it simply just doesn't fit within the plan.

With only one Ironman signed up for the end of the year, I thought why not do a race, just for fun. After all, isn't it why we do this sport anyway? Kingscliff is about 75 minutes drive from home so I didn't even need to stay the night. I left home at 4am so that I could get my bike racked before the start of the kids triathlon at 7am, taking into account daylight savings for crossing the border. Getting a parking spot was quite a challenge as most spots were full but I managed to find a quiet residential street, which a few cars later followed. And made it just in time with 10 minutes to spare in transition!
The officials kept on yelling, only 10 minutes left!
I had about 2 hours before the start of my race but as it was a point to point swim, we had to walk about 15 minutes to the swim start. After 45 minutes of scrolling through social media on a park bench, it was time to get ready. Surprisingly there wasn't a queue for the toilets but I guess it was partly because I was in the 2nd last wave and most have made their way to the swim start. Handed in my bags to the bag drop off area, conveniently located near the toilets and took the easy stroll to the swim start.

Although the 1500m swim was in a single direction, it wasn't a straight course. It snaked in a somewhat S shape along Cudgen Creek, going underneath bridge just after the first few hundred meters. There usually is a tide pushing us forward, giving fast swim times. This time it was no different although a bit weaker compared to previous events. I definitely felt the push the moment I passed the bridge. Visibility was good too and I could see schools of fish every now and then. I overtook quite a few of green capped swimmers in the earlier wave, which gave me a bit of a boost. The swim went by quite quickly and soon we were reaching the boat ramp for the exit. I got out in 21:15 in 15th position in my age group.

Into transition and consciously reminded myself to strip my swimskin off, to avoid a repeat of Tweed Enduro. My bike was located near the bike exit so I didn't have to push it too far. Mounting got a bit hairy as there were plenty of other cyclists at the mount line, but fortunately no dramas. Transition time was about 2 minutes according to the Garmin.

The 40km bike course is 4 laps with short right hand detour at the end of each lap as we get back into town and then rejoining the main lap. Mostly flat with one small climb about a couple of kms before the end of each lap. Road surface is fair with the occasional port holes. It was relatively calm with some light gusts of wind when we were near the coast. It seemed to be more of a headwind on the way out and a tailwind on the way back. I started off a bit nervous on the aerobars with the deep carbon wheels catching the wind, I really should ride in them more often. But it didn't take me long before I got the hang of it. The course was pretty crowded as you would expect with a short distance lap and plenty of waves, so you would have to pay attention to those around you. It wasn't until my last lap that it got a bit more quiet as I was in the second last wave. I was pretty comfortable with my cycling efforts and was able to push the pace a bit, though it got undone almost at the end of each laps with my timid cornering and U-turns. I averaged 34.3kph with a split time of 1:09:28 with the official result showing 1:12:05 including transition time.

I took the legs off the pedal probably a bit too early, at the 100m to dismount sign, and had to freewheel a bit before I got to the dismount line. Lost a few seconds there but no dramas. Just slipped into my shoes and put on the sunnies and cap on the go to make up for it. I was in 20th position in my age group into transition.

Run course was two laps of 5km with a steep hill within the first km, long enough to break your spirit if you are not strong, but you get a nice downhill roll after. Towards the 2.5km turnaround it is pretty shaded and there's a small section where we run on some sand towards the coast breakout point, also known as the wall. There were plenty of aid stations but I remembered only getting water and not any electrolytes. I started off with a pretty fast pace of 4:15 per km but hovered around the 4:30 pace for the next few kms. I started to struggle a bit towards the end of the first lap and started seeing 4:40-4:50 on my watch. But the great thing about short course racing is at the halfway of the run, you only have 5kms more to go. After the second turnaround at the wall, I felt my second wind as it was the home stretch. Looking at my watch, beating my PB seemed virtually impossible. But it was never the target given my current level of fitness.

Nearing the finisher chute, with a bit of hurt I picked up the pace to get to the arch. My run split was 45:34 and surprisingly, I finished in 2:18:54, with the fast swim, I was only 23 seconds slower from my PB. I finished 15th in my age group, so I'm glad I was still able to overtake a few after the bike.

Kudos to the organizers for providing instant finisher photos
The organizers QSM Sports put up a great event as they did with Tweed Enduro. This is my first time racing Kingy Tri and I'll definitely be back as Kingscliff is a pretty place.  On the way back, I picked up a French work and holiday traveler who was hitchhiking back to Brisbane. She also volunteered at the event so it's only fair to repay the favour. Maybe this counts towards brownie points for future races!

Monday, 27 February 2017

Tweed Coast Enduro 2017

It seems like the only times I'll be posting on this blog are for race reports. And seeing how often I race nowadays, it'll be pretty infrequent. I was one of the first few ones to sign up for this race, at a heavily discounted early bird price - almost a third cheaper than the regular entry. Being only 80 minutes drive from home and the organizers put on a slick event, it was an easy decision. With a tide assisted swim, many do this event in pursuit of a half Iron PB. How wrong we were!

The very cool bag given out at registration, one of the incentives of doing this race!
The 3 of us got to Pottsville about 5pm NSW time (I still get amused at how we lose the hour by just crossing the border) and while wife and son get settled in the airbnb, I went to get my race pack. With no one with me to tell me otherwise, I dropped $29 on an Orca cycle bib knicks on clearance. The wind was howling later that evening as I set my bike up with the race stickers, which pretty much set up the conditions for the weekend. We ate Thai takeaway by the pool and settled in to an early night. Our son was quite unsettled that night but Li-Ann was very good with him, keeping his disruption to a minimum so I could get rested.

The large number sticker could barely fit on the Logan Tri Club number tag
I rode to transition which was only about 2kms away. It was a bit tight on the bike racks but just enough for us to lay out our gear. After setting up and a last minute visit to the toilet, it was time for the 20 minute stroll to the swim start. We were told that the tide is just about to turn but what we experienced throughout the swim was totally different. My wave started right after the Elites, which is good as it was a pretty late start (8.15am) to begin with and but bad, because we swam right into the tide. I kept looking at my watch and could see the minutes ticking away but no end in sight! Shallow waters with the occasional schools of fish in sight helped passed the time. Relatively, I felt I swam pretty well. I swam past quite a few in my wave and was only caught by the faster swimmers from the later wave towards the end of the swim. Swimming under the bridge was a little bit eerie, I forgotten how low the bridge was. Came out of the water in 8th in age group in 42:36 for the 2km swim, more than 15 minutes slower than last year!

I need to tie a string to the zipper for easier removal!
Into transition with a couple other guys in my age group. Went a couple of steps in the wrong direction and had to u turn but didn't lose too much time. But I started losing time once we got onto the course. The winds were blowing hard with the occasional gusts. I train on my alloy wheels all the time and just swapped the deep carbon wheels over before the race. It took me a while before I got used to them again. After a few kms of cycling, I wondered why my waist felt so tight - I've pulled down my swimskin to my waist but forgotten to take it off! Oh well, just have to bear with it until the end of the ride then, luckily it wasn't causing too much of a drag.

My lack of effort training rides showed. Whilst I was consistent in my pace, I couldn't quite bring up the speed. The course was L shaped and 4 laps. While it seemed we had headwind on the way out and tailwind on the way back, the cross winds made it somewhat challenging in both directions. I hovered around an average speed of 31kph and average power of 150 watts, very much like an aerobic training ride. On the 2nd lap, I actually dropped my water bottle over one of the pot holes. Had to stop to pick it up and lost about a minute or so there. Lots of cyclists were overtaking me and by the end of the 4th lap, I was just glad to get back into transition! Bike split for 90km was 2;54:59, almost 25 minutes slower than last year! I've also lost 6 places to 14th in age group.

Clutching onto the side bars so I don't get blown off the bridge!
Was hoping for a speedy transition, slipped on run shoes on and then I realised I still have my swimskin on. Took off the shoes and pulled off the swimskin, put the shoes back on again. Okay, onto the run - where I normally try to gain a few more places. But my long runs have been somewhat inconsistent, so I had to be conservative. First km was too fast - under 4:30 but I settled into 4:50 for the next few kms. The run course was 3 laps with some sections were pretty shaded which was much to my relief because the sun was blazing by then. My pace started creeping past the 5 minute mark as I got towards the end of the first lap. Li-Ann and Sebastian was there cheering me on and that kept my spirits up for a bit. The winds were still strong and it was like running into a wall on the way out. The pace slowly began to move towards 5:15 - 5:20 and I knew I still had a bit of buffer to finish under 5.5 hours. 

The volunteers were great handing out the drinks and local residents were all out to support by spraying us with their garden hose. The pace slowed down again towards 5:30 in the final few kms but the end was in sight. I finally crossed the line with run split of 1:47:28 for the 21km, about 5 minutes slower than last year (but last year's run was about 500m longer) and gained 3 more places to 11th in my age group. Overall finish time was 5:25:04, over 40 minutes slower than last year and my 2nd slowest half iron distance time by about 8 minutes.

Just.Want.To.Get.To.The.Finish
A bottle of beer was handed out at the finish which was very much welcomed. A finishing photo and a print out of the provisional result were given to us, which I thought was very nice. And a personalized finisher medal with our name as well. Didn't I already mention this was a great event? We spent another night in Pottsville and had a nice dinner at Byron Bay. I don't mind doing this event again next year, it's a nice weekend getaway. Now to get back to training so I can do a better race in my next event, likely Sunny Coast 70.3, which seems such a long way from now!

See you again in 2018!

 

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Ironman Malaysia 2016 - third time lucky!

I wasn't planning to do this race. Firstly with a young child, I wasn't sure how I would cope with the training. Secondly, after two consecutive DNFs on this course, I'd be lying if I wasn't a bit spooked by it. But my wife Li-Ann is ever so supportive and with rumours (which were later confirmed) that this would be the last edition (at least for now) of Ironman Malaysia, I knew I had to redeem myself. My preparation went pretty well, although a far cry from what I used to be logging years ago. But I was building up my miles consistently... until 7 weeks before the big race, during my long run, I tripped and fell and sprained my ankle in the process. I had to limp 7kms home as I did not have a phone with me. While the sprained ankle affected my mobility a bit on the bike and swim, it affected my run the most and I had to take a couple of weeks off running. I pretty much recovered the final few weeks but didn't manage to build up the run mileage. And then I got hit by a stubborn cough, while it didn't put me off much training, it made me feel a bit weak, resulting in some inconsistent sessions.

But enough of my excuses. Come race week, I was all healthy. A bit underdone in training but fit enough to take on an Ironman. I decided to fly in to Kuala Lumpur a week before the race, to get myself acclimatized to the weather but it has been relatively cool this time round. Did a few sessions, got my bike serviced and had a massage before flying out to Langkawi. I also decided to borrow a better ventilated aero helmet (thanks David for the loan!) and got myself a sleeved tri suit to protect against sun burn (the Scody Optimise Air is the bomb!). Hopefully, with these minor but crucial adjustments, I would avoid a hattrick of DNFs!

Pre race

We caught the earliest flight into Langkawi, two days prior to the race. Myself, Li-Ann and Sebastian, a bike bag and baby car seat. Transporting luggage from one spot to another was a bit of a juggle, but we managed just fine. Picked up our rental Toyota Avanza and checked in to Chenang Inn, which conveniently upgraded us to a family room. I was pretty tired from the early rise but couldn't quite catch a nap with all the adrenaline. Did the pre race procedures of race pack pick up and attended the video briefing, it was nice to catch up with many friends at the expo. In the evening, I did an hour easy spin up the Datai climb and back. We skipped the welcome dinner and had some nice Syrian food in Chenang.

Could barely keep my eyes open!
With relatively late start the next day, I managed to get a sleep in. Bringing my bike along for the swim practice, so I could rack it straight after. It was nice to meet fellow Red Dog triathlete Michelle that morning. With the bike and gear bags checked in, the rest of the day was a pretty relaxing one and all of us, including Li-Ann and Sebastian had a bit of a nap.

At least I get to be amongst the first at something!
Race morning

Up at 4.30am to have breakfast and go through my race morning routine. Mum, siblings Karen and Keith and brother in law Gary arrived the night before and we all met at 5.30am to head out to the race start at the Danna, Pantai Kok. After pumping up my bike tires, filled in the bidons and made sure everything was all set to go, I queued up for my 3rd toilet sit down that morning. Once done, there wasn't much time left and we could only get a quick photo before sending me off. I did manage to squeeze in a quick warm up swim before lining up for the start.

Dad to arrive later that afternoon
Swim 3.8km

With a rolling swim start, it's always hard to tell where you would place throughout the race. I got myself as close as I can towards the front but I could see the top Malaysian triathletes were a bit further in front. It was a two lap triangular shaped swim course and we were released 4 at time with a few seconds apart. I got a good start running off the beach and then diving into the water. But was caught up with many other swimmers and had swim over some of them (sorry!) to get moving forward. Sighting every 5 strokes or so, I kept close to the buoys and didn't get off course much.

With a higher tide this year, we were able to do a short run on the beach before going for the second lap. I clocked 33:42 for the first lap and felt pretty comfortable. It was less crowded on the second lap and I had more space to myself. There was a bit more chop in the water which caused me to swallow some sea water but nothing too dramatic. A bit of sea lice here and there, which gave me some burns under my neck but didn't affect me much throughout the race. The second lap was a bit longer at 34:18 although I felt I swam faster (must be the couple of times I stopped kicking so that I could pee!) I had a total swim time of 1:08:00 which is fairly consistent to the last two Ironman swims in Langkawi, which typically tends to be a bit long. My watch recorded a distance of 4km.

Photo credit: AsiaTri.com
Transition 1

I came into the change tent with two top Malaysian triathletes - Mohd Amran and Allie Helmy. There were not many chairs left and I had to get my socks on while standing. This time round, we had to place our bags ourselves into cages provided. But things went smoothly for me and I got out of transition quicker than the other two. Time taken 2:42.

Bike 180km

Despite coming out of transition first, both Amran and Allie quickly overtook me. I wasn't going to give chase as I'm way out of their league. There were two other Malaysians who came out of the water first, about 3 minutes ahead - super fish Abdul Hai and recent sub 10 hour Roth finisher Rupert Chen. The former still new in this sport took his time in transition while Rupert who's made massive improvements in his swim was powering ahead on the bike. Another top Malaysian and multiple Kona finisher, Hafiz Wong overtook me just after we got down from Datai.

Photo credit: Jack Ah Beh
But I raced within myself and was extremely conservative with my cycling, pushing about an average pace just above 30kph and average power output 150 watts, a bit lower than what I would do on my long training rides. I was actually enjoying myself without much pressure. I shifted to the small chainring many times for the climbs and especially for the steep ones on LISRAM highway and Padang Gaong just after the 50km mark.

The bike is two laps with the first lap being longer at 100km. Just after the turnaround point, Michelle overtook me and looking strong. As we made our way up Datai the second time, I could feel my energy levels dropping. This, despite a conservative pacing and relatively cool weather (for Langkawi standards) with plenty of cloud cover. Nevertheless I pushed on with the descend and along the flat sections towards Ayer Hangat. But I was slowly getting a feeling a deja vu from the previous two years. I struggled to stay on my aero bars and was desperately looking for the next aid station. At the 135km mark, I stopped for a 5 minute breather under the aid station tent, something I've not done in any of my races.

Photo credit: Jack Ah Beh
That refreshed me a bit but only for a while. When I got to the 150km mark before the two steep climbs, words cannot describe how relieved I was to see my family support crew waiting for me. Took another short break and exchanged some hugs and kisses, and that powered me through the final stretch. It was more powerful than 1,000 gels combined!

Poor Sebastian looks so tired here!
I finally rolled myself into T2 along with another Malaysian, Fazreen. Bike split was 6:16:49.

Transition 2

The legs didn't feel too great and being held in an air conditioned hall in Mahsuri International Exhibition Centre, I was tempted to linger but I wasted no time to get in and out. Time taken 1:29.

Run 42.2km

The first 300m or so was done in the convention centre, there was plenty of cheer from the crowd to lift our spirits. My legs were wobbly and I was clocking close to 7 minutes per km when we got to the airport road. Another Malaysian, Choo Wooi Sing shot past me just after 4km. And I noticed another Malaysian, Rafiq was further ahead. And while I was never in contention to be amongst the top Malaysian, I would still like to keep my position relatively high.

The run was 2.5 laps from MIEC to Chenang, where we would eventually finish. I was walking at all aid stations, grabbing Lucozade, Coke and watermelon. But my body could hardly process the liquids and I was peeing immediately after taking them in. Luckily, organizers provided big basins of water with small buckets to splash water over us. So this went on for pretty much most of the course - run, drink, eat, pee, splash, repeat.

Photo credit: Finisherpix
As the run progressed, my legs got back it's rhythm and I was getting back to under 6 minutes per km pace. The torrential downpour at the end of my first lap lowered the temperature and I was getting down to 5:30 pace. But it was freezing as I got back into MIEC, only to be warmed up by the greetings of Li-Ann with Keith and Gary. Mum and Karen must have gone to pick my dad from the airport.

The rain died down a bit soon after. But the rain left plenty of big puddles and some sections were pretty badly flooded, it was like doing an Xterra race! I managed to overtake Simon Cross who passed me at the 115km mark on the bike, he gave me some words of encouragement. Not long after that, I overtook Michelle, whom I later found out had a nasty fall at 140km of the bike course but finished strong regardless.

Photo credit: Jack Ah Beh
My pace started falling back into the 6:30s in the final stretch but I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. I overtook Hafiz who was struggled later in the run. I was starting to get a gag reflex in the last few kms, probably from dehydration or lack of nutrition. At the final turn towards the finish, Karen and Gary were playing spotters to my parents, Keith, Li-Ann and Sebastian back at the finish line. This gave me a little burst of energy to run towards the finishing arch. Tears welled up in my eyes as I got onto the red carpet. Crossed the line kissed the ground, and pumped my fists into the air - I've done it, I've finished Ironman Malaysia!

video

My run split was 4:23:51 with overall time of 11:52:52, my slowest Ironman time ever, but I was happy. 206th overall and 33rd in my age group, and the 7th Malaysian to cross the line.

Post race and acknowledgements

I actually had a bit of a scare and felt nauseous. As we walked back to the hotel, there was an ambulance and my family suggested I get myself checked out by the medics. I laid there for a while and they took me back to the medical tent for further observation. But nothing serious, just needed something to eat. Had three bowls of pumpkin soup and felt much better after.

First and foremost, I want to give thanks to my wonderful wife Li-Ann, for your support, for juggling working from home and caring for our son Sebastian and tolerating my absence in body when I'm out training and in mind when I'm back home but all I could think about is the race. While I crossed the finish line, soaking up the glory and glamour, what people don't see is the massive effort and sacrifice Li-Ann has put in so that I can actually cross that line.

My pillars of strength
My family - mum, dad, Karen, Keith and Gary (yes, you're part of the family now!) for taking care of my needs on the days leading up to the race and going through the trouble making the trip, giving me moral support. I love you guys! Dad actually spent a total of 20 hours in Langkawi, arriving straight from a business trip before joining the rest.

My training partners in Red Dog and Logan Triathlon Club for keeping me honest in the sessions, fellow like minded triathletes keeping me motivated with their social media updates. The enthusiastic volunteers and the awesome support from the Malaysian triathlon community who weren't racing but flew in to Langkawi to cheer - Bunanamo, Tadonamo, Underdog and many others. Family and friends who gave the countless words of encouragement and well wishes through Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Instagram etc.

My product sponsors - Lifeline ID, Saucony, Rocktape, N8 Nutrition for having faith in an everyday average triathlete. I practically depend on these products to get me through not just on race day but with my daily training as well.

Thank you everyone for making my 10th Ironman possible.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Bukit Merah 113 triathlon - DSQ!

Bukit Merah triathlon is the final leg of the 113 Triathlon Series. Initially, I wasn't planning on doing this race after the trauma from last year's crash. But it fitted nicely with our travel plans, being just one week before my sister's wedding. So I thought I'd give it another go. Most of you would have known by now, that I had to own up to a disqualification due to misdirection by the volunteer marshal at one of the intersections, resulting in the first few athletes having the bike distance cut short by about 10km. Nevertheless, we continued with the race and had a good training day. As such, still worthy of a race report.

Pre race

We flew into Malaysia just two days before the race. This is the first time we are taking Sebastian on a plane and we were pretty nervous as to how he would react. But he was surprisingly fine and in fact, he cried more in the car on the way to the airport. The 3 hour drive to Bukit Merah the next day wasn't too bad either as he slept most of the way. We stopped by Larut Matang Hawker Centre in Taiping for some char kuay teow and I even bought another packet from another stall to take away as I wasn't quite pleased with the first one. That's the downside about racing back home as I tend to get carried away with the delicious food that I've been missing!

The drive up and down the steep and winding road leading into Bukit Merah Laketown Resort still sent shivers down my spine. Once checked in, I headed out to give that slope a try. I survived and came back in one piece but it was still as scary as hell - on one of the corners, I swerved into the opposite lane and there was a car actually coming up! Thank goodness, the driver took notice and gave me enough space.

In the evening, Sebastian hogged most of the limelight at the race briefing/welcome dinner. Race director Andy, who's a friend of mine made a nice mention of Sebastian being the youngest member of the 113 family.

Photo credit: Kental Fan Club
Race morning

Having the race hosted in the resort was so convenient - the transition area was in the carpark right outside our room! I was the first to rack my bike and then went back into the room to get on with my own business. Sebastian decided to give me a big present on the sheets, luckily we were checking out straight after the race!

Photo credit: Tony Tan
There was a slight delay in the start as the athletes were already all in the water doing their warm up swim when organizers asked us to come back up onto jetty again so that they can stagger the start into separate waves of 100 athletes each. I cheekily changed my registration from age group to elite after seeing there were only two other elites. It was a nice feeling having my name announced as the elites were introduced one by one.

Photo credit: Nik Fahusnaza
Shaking hands before the battle begins!
Swim 2km

The three of us were positioned at the front end of the pontoon. The moment we plunged in, I tried keeping up with super fish Sawada san, but only for a few meters. My open water skills still needed a lot of work as I was zig zagging. Jason the other elite, was a slower swimmer but I allowed him to get bridge the gap each time I swam off course. The downside of swimming in a small field was that I had to do a lot more sighting. Although there were lane ropes marking the course, you had to swim pretty close to them in order to see them. The swim is a two lap rectangular course. It was only towards the second half of the first lap that I was getting the hang of it and started making a gap from Jason, while Sawada San was already miles ahead. 

Photo credit: Jack Ah Beh
Being in the lake, the water was calm. Visibility wasn't too bad but it wasn't as good as last year due to more rain in the past few days. My watch showed 18 minutes after the first lap and just like last year, it was over distanced. Towards the second half of the second lap, there was a little bit more crowd, hence requiring a bit of manoeuvering. Carefully climbed up the steep wooden ramp as I got out of the water, clocking 37:57 which is about 3 minutes down from Sawada san and 4.5 minutes ahead of Jason.

Li-Ann and Sebastian patiently waiting for me after the swim
Photo credit: Running Malaysia Magazine

Bike 90km

A quick transition and off onto the bike course. I started the bike with the small chainring for the steep climb and then bracing myself for the fast, tight descend. But as I got onto the crest of the climb, I chickened and decided to unclip to walk down the hill. Maybe if I had alloy wheels and brakes, I would have had more confidence riding down the slope, It was only about 700m and I figured not to risk it. Once I got to the bottom of the hill, I was expecting Jason to catch me soon but he only got to me in about another 7kms in.

Photo credit: Nik Fahusnaza
The bike course is lollipop shaped with two loops and turning around at the bottom of the hill, meaning only going through the hill once. The remainder of the course is mostly flat with some gentle inclines. There was a bit of headwind on the way out, not as strong as what I usually experience in Brisbane but enough to require a bit more effort to maintain the desired speed. I was racing within myself but still keen to bring the speed back up after the slow start from the hill. I got up to about 33kph average towards the end of the first lap... and that's where it happened.

At the final intersection heading back into the resort, the volunteer marshal directed me to turn left. Having analysed the course numerous times, I was pretty sure we were meant to turn right so that we can make a U-turn just before the resort. Once I turned left and cycled for a bit, I knew the course was cut short because I've missed a few landmarks at the start of the course. At this point, I thought it was a last minute modification due to traffic and safety. I was beginning to lap the later athletes, much earlier than I expected but I kept going and didn't think too much about it.

Photo credit: Running Malaysia Magazine
The temperature was rising towards the end of the second bike lap. I think I may not use a helmet visor for the Ironman in November to allow more ventilation. When I came back to the same intersection, there were a couple of confused athletes stopped there. This time the marshal directed us to turn right. And here's where I confirmed that I've cut the course short. The later athletes were cycling along this route and making the U-turns before going out to the second lap. When I got to the bottom of the hill, Sawada san was there talking to the officials. I guessed that he was in the same boat. Whereas, Jason took it upon himself to make the U-turn and head back out on the course. Sawada san and myself decided that we will own up to the disqualification and climbed back up the hill into transition. My bike time was 2:24:53 for 80km distance.

Run 21km

The competitive spirit was lost and both Sawada san and myself took our time, clarified our situation with race director Andy in transition. He allowed us to continue with the race but our results would show DSQ. I forgot to activate my watch and I waited for it to get a GPS signal before I started my run. I caught up with Sawada san before the first km and we paced each other until the first turnaround point which was just under 6kms. He asked me to go on my own as it was getting hot and he wanted to slow down. On the return, I was beginning to see other athletes in the opposite direction and I made it a point to give them a nod of encouragement in this tough part of the race.

Photo credit: Nik Fahusnaza
The pace before this was just under 5 minutes but the heat was taking a toll and I started slowing down to about 5:30. Jason was coming in the opposite direction and I mentioned to him that Sawada san and myself have already been disqualified, so he's currently in first place. Onto the second lap, I was slowing down even more, getting close to 6 minutes pace. Despite being disqualified, I still wanted to cross the line first as it's something I've never experienced before although it was already irrelevant at this point. Both Sawada san and Jason were getting closer - at the last turnaround, the gaps were about 4 minutes and 7 minutes respectively.

Photo credit: Cycling Malaysia Magazine
So I dug deep, pushing the pace back towards 5:30. It didn't help that the course was overdistanced and I was still meters away from the finisher arch after clocking 22kms. Got to the finish line and the emcee obviously wasn't informed of my disqualification, announcing me as the overall winner. I didn't cross over the finishing banner but I made sure my foot just crossed the timing mat so I could get a timing reference to analyse after the race. I made an awkward side step into the recovery area with Li-Ann and Sebastian by my side. My run time was 2:01:15 with the slow transition and overall time of 5:04:06 even with a reduced bike leg, indicating how tough it was under the heat and how much I need to adjust my expectations for Ironman this November.

  video

Post race

While it was an error made by the volunteer marshal, ultimately it is the athlete's responsibility to know the course. We didn't stay for the prize presentations. On hindsight I should have made up the remaining distance on the bike like what Jason and some of the other athletes who were also misdirected did, then I could have gotten a prize. But winning prizes isn't why I do triathlons and I was happy with how I finished the race. It was good training for the Ironman in November. Having ais kacang was good enough of a prize for me and we had a nice holiday with plenty of food in Ipoh after.





Moving on and forward to the next race... see you in Langkawi!