Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Tweed Coast Enduro 2020

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

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

1.9km swim

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

Transition 1

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

90km bike

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

Transition 2

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

Run 21.1km

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

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

Monday, 13 January 2020

QTS Robina Olympic Triathlon 2020

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

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

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

1.5km swim

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

Transition 1

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

40km bike

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

Transition 2

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

10km run

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

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

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Xiamen 70.3

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

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

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

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

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

Swim 1.9km

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

Transition 1

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

Bike 90km

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

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

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

Transition 2

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

Run 21.1km

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

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

Post race

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

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

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Sunshine Coast 70.3 2019

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

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

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

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

Swim 1.9km

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

Transition 1

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

Bike 90km

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

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

Transition 2

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

Run 21.1km

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Ironman Cairns 2019

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

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

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

Swim 3.8km

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

Transition 1

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

Bike 180km

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

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

Transition 2

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

Run 42.2km

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

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

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

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

Thank you to everyone for your well wishes as well. 

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Moreton Bay Triathlon 2019

I usually sign up for events way in advance, but the decision to do this race wasn't until a couple of weeks before. There were a few changes to my plans - first it was Port Mac 70.3, then it was an Olympic distance back in Malaysia (Malacca), then it was Kingscliff. I made several entry transfers (and flight changes as well) and by the way, NXSports who organizes Kingscliff had the best transfer policy - 100% credit to the next event! Moreton Bay tri is organized by the Event Crew, the same organizers as Queensland Triathlon Series. Held in Pelican Park, near Redcliffe, an easy 45 minutes drive from home. The event is also host to the Club Championships and doubles up as the Oceania Triathlon Union (OTU) Championships for the elites.

With the race site so close to home, my alarm was set to my daily wake up time of 4.40am. Got to the race site with plenty of time to pick up my race pack and rack my bike, only to be stopped from entering transition as the OTU race was in progress. It was at least a 20 minute wait and the queue was getting pretty long. I had a nice chat with Ian from Red Dog during the wait. There wasn't much room left on the bike racks (not individually numbered), many must have racked the day before. I quickly got my bike set up and joined the queue for the portaloos. Then, wasted no time to put my wetsuit on and only a couple minutes left before the swim start.

Swim 1.5km

Mine was the first wave for the non elite non drafting Olympic Distance. It was a beach start with two lap rectangular swim course. The winds were picking up by the minute and the water was getting choppier as well. The swim to the first buoy was the toughest as the waves kept pushing us in. I had to look backwards when I breathed to ensure I didn't cop mouthfuls of saltwater from the waves. Then a right turn and we swam parallel to shore which wasn't too bad. The swim back to shore was the easiest, though I wasn't sure if I was making full use of the surf. Another right turn to start the second lap. I almost missed the buoy, with it being yellow in colour and the sun in my eyes, my yellow goggles didn't help either. Had to correct myself and added a few extra meters but still better than cutting the course short. There was no right turn at the end of the second lap and we just rode the waves back to the beach. My Garmin timed 27:09 at the first timing mat with a distance of 1,573m,which included the short run from the beach. Not great, but okay given the conditions. Also it's my first swim in the wetsuit in about 7 months, so it took me a while to get used to it again.

Transition 1

Pulled the wetsuit off quickly (I won't forget to do this!), wiped the sand off my feet and slipped my socks on. About to put my helmet on, only to find, to my horror - my helmet is on the floor and next to it, was the visor split in half! Nothing I could do but to delicately put the pieces together and re-attach the magnets back to my helmet. And get on with the race. My pedals weren't in the correct position when I got to the mount line, so I had to reposition them before I got on. Total time taken 1:30.

Bike 40km

The bike course is 4 laps, with about 2/3 of each lap on the Ted Smout Memorial Bridge. And for those of you who ride along this bridge on the weekends, you would know that it is fast. That is, of course if the wind is blowing in the right direction. It was mostly head wind on the way out and tailwind on the way back. Before we end each lap, we climb a small incline just after the park and make our way back to the park before we start the next lap. There was converging traffic from cyclists of the later waves and other events, so we just had to be careful at this section of the course. By the time I started the 4th lap, it got really busy with kids and enticer distances starting the bike. I felt alright during the bike, my speed and power output was climbing steadily but I just did not have it in my legs to hammer it, balls to the wall. I finished the bike with a split of 1:07:40, averaging just over 36kph and 185 watts (NP 198). Again, not great but okay.

Transition 2

No dramas here. Just get in and out. Putting on the cap, sunnies and race belt on the go. Time taken 0:49.

Run 10km

Also 4 laps, on the footpaths along the park. I quite enjoyed the short lap and mentally, it went by quicker. And for the better, as the sun was getting brighter and temperatures were rising. It was nice to have my former club, Red Dog cheer me on as I ran past their tent. I carried over the cadence from the bike for the first km and clocked 4:05. The cadence dropped a bit after but surprisingly, the pace didn't. I was anticipating the decline as the kms go by but I was really happy that I was able to maintain the form. Apart from creeping up to 4:12 for the 3rd km, most of it were well under 4:10. Finally, I got to the finish line with a run split of 41:01 - an average pace of 4:07, my second best OD run which I was really happy with. Overall time was 2:18:10 and 9th in my age group.

Post race, I caught up with the Logan Tri Club crew at our tent for a chat. I've said this before but this would definitely be my last race in the LTC kit as I changed clubs after our house move. And no better race to do it than the Club Championships. I'll definitely consider doing this race again next year given the convenience. Overall I'm happy with my performance and there are a few things I have to work on. Next up, Ironman Cairns - only less than 2 months away!

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!