Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Hell of the West 2016

Hell of the West also known as the Goondi tri, held in the country town of Goondiwindi, about 4.5 hours west of Brisbane, by the Queensland and New South Wales border. With Li-Ann nearing the final few months of pregnancy, making it a bit more uncomfortable to travel, I decided to join the Red Dog boys bus this year. This made the experience a little bit more colourful, which is a massive understatement! Hats off the Trent and the crew for organizing the whole trip. Everything was well taken care of - bike transportation, accommodation and food.
Big responsibility having to be the one driving this ute and trailer!
It was an early race start at 5am, as with the previous years. The alarm was set at an ungodly 2.45am. I had a decent night's sleep. Myself and my roommate along with a couple of other Red Dogs were the first few ones to head to the race on our bikes, at about 3.40am. It was about 2kms away from transition. I racked my bike next to two other Red Dogs. The atmosphere was fairly relaxed. This year the swim was back in the Macintyre river, so there was no need to go to the botanical gardens. One last visit to the toilet and then it was time to make our way to the swim start.

Swim 2km

A fairly straightforward course, single anti clockwise lap and straight out-and-back and making the U-turn just after we swim under a bridge. An interesting fact, we'll be swimming past the state border and back, so actually crossing two time zones due daylight savings in New South Wales. My swim wave was the first just after the elites. Although we could catch a very slight glimpse of daylight, it was still very dark. Having the swim in the river meant more space and I find that I didn't get as clobbered as much compared to the swim in the botanical gardens pond last year.

I wasted a bit of time trying to find a good pair of feet to draft and soon came to realization that I was better off swimming on my own. After the U-turn, it was already much brighter and I noticed there were not many in front who were within sight. I overtook a couple more and then I was pretty much on my own and had to do my own sighting. I managed to pass an elite female who started 5 minutes earlier, that gave me a bit of a confident boost. I was 15th out of the water in my age group, my watch showed around 34 minutes. I dropped my goggles during the run towards transition, a volunteer picked it up and called out, so was able to grab it off him without wasting too much time. Crossed the first timing mat in 36:49. About 4 minutes slower than last year, but typically the swim in the river tends to be a bit slower than the botanical gardens pond, so I was happy with that.
I overshot my bike rack by a couple of steps but very quickly was able to back track and get my gear on before heading out on the bike course.

Bike 80km

Just the like swim course, the bike course is also a 1 lap, straight out and back course. Virtually flat and this year we had the rare luxury of a tailwind on the return. Last year I raced on my road bike with alloy wheels. This time, I had the whole race kit with my Felt IA and the carbon race wheels. So I planned to make some gains on the bike. It was fairly uneventful. I just knuckled down and monitored my pace and watts, just so I don't burn out. Every 10 minutes, I sat up to drink and gave myself a brief break from the aero position. A few cyclists overtook me on the way out but I rode within myself. Reached the turnaround in just under 1:09 with an average pace of 35.1kph. I'm ashamed to admit this, but I actually unclipped my shoe at the turnaround! I panicked and decided to play it safe, as to not fall over. Gotta keep working on 'em bike skills!
After making the U-turn, the tailwind was truly refreshing. The pace easily went above 40kph for long periods of time. There were still some sections where the road would wind a bit and we got a bit of cross wind, causing the speed to drop a bit. I was surprised to overtake a few more cyclists on the return, as I thought those ahead would be gunning it in the tailwind. Guessed I paced myself pretty well then. Upon reaching transition, my average speed built up to 37kph. I was going to make it to 2:10 for the bike split, almost 20 minutes quicker than last year and well within my 2:20 target!
The official results showed me with a 2:12:33 bike split which includes transition time. I had to spend a few seconds removing a small stone off my foot as I put on my shoes, could have been a game changer otherwise! I was 13th off the bike in my age group, so I actually gained two places during the bike which tends to be rare for me!

I try to be a bit more analytical with my results and I'm still learning as I go. From an average and normalized power perspective, I'm pretty happy with the results. They are just a bit lower than a 40km time trial I did in September last year. They sit around 90% of FTP of 224 (not 200 as shown above) when I did an FTP test middle of last year. Full stats here

Run 20km

The run course is 3 laps, also out-and-back except for one short section where the course splits for the opposing directions before joining again. Having activated my Garmin earlier while racking the bike enabled it to pick up a signal almost instantaneously as I ran out of transition. Last year, we had to run broken up into 3.2km pre bike and 16.8km post bike. So naturally, this year's run would most likely be slower.
The run leg is what I look forward to in any triathlon. The support crowd is closer. Trent and the Red Dog crew were cheering at the start of each lap. I started my first km really well, 4:13 I clocked. But I knew that was too quick and I settled in to around 4:30 pace. But that was only up until the end of the first lap. The temperature started to rise very quickly after and I started slowing down, maybe I went a bit too hard on the bike. I started the second lap with a female relay runner, we stayed together for a while and kept the pace to about 4:45.
By the third lap, my lack of run fitness showed and I was into survival mode. My runs for the past few weeks have been in the 12-13 km mark. Still, I kept it to around 5 minute pace and that stayed for the remainder of the run. Reaching the final stretch, with the encouragement from the Red Dog team, I picked up the pace and sprinted towards the finishing arch. My run split was 1:33:40 and overall finish time of 4:23:03, an improvement of 7 minutes from last year. Despite my run being slower than expected, I gained a few more places in my age group and just managed to get 10th position, which is 8 position upwards from last year. Overall, I placed 50th - a 50 position jump from last year!

Nothing much to say, really, from the run statistics - apart from a steady decline in the pace as the day went by. I still race without a heart rate monitor, just because I don't feel comfortable wearing a chest strap. But would consider using it more often in future to get better data. Full stats here.

Considering the longer swim and tougher run, I'm pretty happy with the results. Sure we had a fairly easy bike with a tailwind on the return, which is quite rare. But it's good to know that my cycling form is getting back to where it used to be about 3 years ago, still need to work on sharpening my skills though. My running is something I've taken for granted and this race served as a reality check, that I can't be lazy anymore and need to start building up those long miles. I have the Tweed Enduro half Iron distance in a few weeks, so I need to get off my bum and start running!
Full results here
The after race party was fun, to say the least and as for the trip back to Brisbane with the boys.... well, what happens on the bus, stays on the bus! Until next year!
This year's event is the 25th anniversary, which made it extra special!

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Happy new year!

Wishing all my blog readers a very happy new year! May this year bring you many awesome returns! We're already 3 days into 2016, time really flies!

We had a good 10 day break in Malaysia. It wasn't that relaxing though. Christmas and New Year holidays are always jam packed with activities. But it was definitely good fun!

Cousin's wedding in Penang. Pity we couldn't stay long enough to savour the yummy hawker food!
Family portrait shot. We never do things the conventional way!
My little sister's Registration of Marriage in Thien Hou Temple

Meeting up with friends, some whom I've not met for many years!
And still managed to sneak in a training session or two
I'm just a few hours from boarding my flight back to Brisbane. Time to get back into the routine again. I'm definitely looking forward to 2016! As some of you may know, Li-Ann is pregnant and we are expecting our first child - a baby boy in late April! Triathlon training would be taking a back seat but I'll try my best to fit that in. It would be challenging but also exciting times ahead!

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Heartbreak in Langkawi... again!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 6 November 2015

Felt IA

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 26 October 2015

Final few weeks

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Be triumphant with Saucony Triumph ISO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Pacing the Twilight Bay half marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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