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!

Monday, 14 January 2019

QTS Robina - January 2019

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

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

Swim 1.5km

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

Transition 1

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

Bike 38.5km

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

Transition 2

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

Run 10km

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

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

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

IM Malaysia 2018 - DNF

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

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

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

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

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

Swim 3.8km

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

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

Transition 1

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

Bike 180km

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

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

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

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

Transition 2

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

Run 42.2km (or rather part of it)

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

ITU Age Group World Championships - Standard Distance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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