Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Ironman Malaysia 2014 - the race that did not happen

By now, most of you would have known that I DNF-ed at the recent Ironman Malaysia. My first DNF for the Ironman distance and hopefully, my last. It was a decision I made partway through the bike leg. Whether or not it was the right decision, it seemed right at the time.

I don't have any excuses to offer. I wasn't feeling particularly unwell but I sure wasn't feeling my best either. From the start of the swim, I didn't feel too comfortable. My forehead ached, the googles seemed too tight, which was odd because it felt alright the day before during the practice swim. I came out of the water in 1:08:11, my slowest Ironman swim by about 3 minutes. I thought the distance was long but judging by the times of other participants, it was actually on the spot. Just a slow swim for myself, I thought, as that tends to happen sometimes in open water, when it's difficult to gauge your progress without constant feedback.

So I carried out, sprinting the long 200m transition to make up as much time as possible. The swimskin came off without too much issue and I had a decently quick transition time of 3:26. Though I did not make it public, it was no secret that I wanted to challenge for the position of first Malaysian in this race. There were two Malaysians already ahead of me as I started the bike on the 2 loop bike course. Abdul Hai is a very good swimmer but still relatively new to triathlon, whom I was able to overtake at first couple of kms. Allie Helmy, usually among the top finishers in the local races was about 5 minutes ahead. But the biggest threat, Amran Ghani, who also won the fastest Malaysian at the Putrajaya 70.3 in April, was powering from behind. He caught me with less than 10kms into the  bike. Much, much earlier than I would have liked.

Still, I maintained my composure and tried not to let the first two get too far away and hopefully I would still be in contention when it comes to the run. As we made it past the Datai Hills section, a bit after 50km mark. They were still about 10 minutes ahead of me. My pace so far was about 32kph average, a bit slower than I hoped, but as the later parts of the bike were mostly flat and rolling hills, with most of the steep climbs gone, my pace should get quicker. Or so I thought.

I just did not have the power or energy to increase my pace. I wasn't particularly suffering, but just didn't have the output. As I got to the end of first lap, mum, dad, Karen and Gary were near the special needs station to cheer me on. That gave me a bit of a boost. I grabbed my vegemite sandwiches and carried on. But it did not get any better. Still couldn't push the pace. The first few steep climbs made it worse. I stood up on my base bar and was reduced to a pedestrian pace, just soft pedalling away.

I thought maybe I could just wait for my fastest coached athlete, Rupert to catch me so I could pace with him. But it was evident, that as he passed me I could not go with him. He did ask if I was okay though, I just said I just didn't have it that day. About 120kms into the ride, I made the call to spin to the nearest aid station to pull out of the race. Plenty of thoughts went through my mind. All the months of training and my wife Li-Ann enduring me being away, both in body and mind. My parents and sister along with her boyfriend Gary, coming all the way to support. The radio interview I have been allocated to do on BFM 89.9 after the race, what would I say if I did not finish?

But I could only ask my body to do so much. I could just carry on in this dire state but at the back of my mind, I've already decided to let it go and focus on my next Ironman, which is Port Macquarie, Australia in early May next year. So there it was, the race which I have anticipated for the whole year came to an abrupt anti climatic end. The journey back to transition was a long one. It took a couple of hours before the sag wagon came to pick me up and it was slow too, as they had to go through the entire course, checking for others who may in trouble.

I was really disappointed but I did pick myself up pretty quickly. Showered and changed, and came down from the hotel to cheer the rest of the athletes, especially the ones I coached. This was the first time I stayed at the finish line until the last finisher crossed the line. The atmosphere was electrifying and it was a feeling I never felt before, especially when watching my coached athletes finish. I have utmost respect for athletes who finish in the later hours of the race. I don't think I have the tenacity to persevere through.

I have more or less put this DNF behind me. Of course, every now and then, I still think to myself, what could have been. Racing on home soil is always special but it comes with a bit more pressure. Pressure which I did not handle very well, which crippled me. I allowed the negative thoughts and emotions to prevent me from going on. And I guess, I have overestimated my own abilities. Looks like I still have a lot of work to do to challenge for the top Malaysian position. Well done to the big boys for being so strong in such tough conditions. Even in my best days, they would be hard to beat.

But I'm ready to come back. If circumstances permit, I'll see you in IM Malaysia, Langkawi 2015. This time, I'll be better prepared, both physically and mentally.

The only time I smiled, was before the race started. Thanks mum, dad and Karen (and Keith cheering from Australia and Li-Ann in Canada) for being there for me. Having family around me puts a DNF into perspective. Photo credit - Gary Fong

Monday, 22 September 2014

The final countdown

Less than 5 days away from the big race - Ironman Malaysia, Langkawi. It`s always a surreal feeling and hard to believe the past 5 or so months of training is coming to a close. For many of us, that anticipation started from the time the race was officially announced a year ago.

Come this Saturday, I would be toeing the start line for my 8th Ironman and 3rd time in Langkawi. I'm as prepared as I can be and looking forward to put the many months of blood, sweat and tears to the test. As I always say, the race is the reward for all the hard work and training.

Racing in my home country is always special. But this time round, the experience would be a whole lot more meaningful. When I started my small coaching service last year, I totally did not expect for it to grow to what it is now. Joining me on the race course would be 8 other amazing individuals - some taking on the challenge of their first Ironman race, others adding another Ironman finish to their collection. Whatever the reason, they have all done the hard work and gone through a major transformation, and I believe that each and everyone will reap the benefits come this Saturday.

The Ironman race is going to be a long day. Some claim it as the toughest single day endurance event. There would be ups and downs - both on the race course as it is pretty hilly, and in each athlete's moods and energy levels as well. It is important to focus on the current moment and task at hand... and bad patches will pass.

To all my coached athletes, thank you for including me in this significant milestone of your life journey. Wishing all of you the best of luck mechanical wise and weather wise. Regardless of the finish time, it does not define you. Soak up the race atmosphere and enjoy every moment of it... because no one else can do that for you! See you at the race, we'll be the life of the party!

Week 25 of 26 - home is where the heart is!

I was pretty excited from the start of the week. I had only two days of work, the lady I was covering for returned from maternity leave, so a very brief handover. But she remembered most of the stuff, so it went pretty well. The department gave me a nice farewell lunch with a very generous gift too.

Monday evening, I swam at the Stoney Creek YMCA as my membership at Western recreation centre ended last week. There were swim classes at the Y up until about 8.30pm, so I was only able to swim then. 400m warm up, 400m pull buoy -150m pull/50m fingertip drag, 400m pull buoy, 200m pull buoy, 400m swim, 400m - 150m swim/50m fists, 400m pull buoy/paddles, 200m kick with board.

Tuesday was a nice 75km ride to Thorndale and Vanneck. Summer is definitely gone and it got a bit chilly past 7pm. My last ride in Canada actually. Wednesday I was no more working, I did a 90 minute run in the neighbourhood just before lunch. Then after lunch, I swam - 200m swim, 200m pull buoy, 5 x 200m swim, 1000m pull buoy/paddles, 5 x 200m pull buoy, 400m swim, 200m kick with board. My last session before the long flight back to Malaysia.

So I was travelling from Wednesday evening starting from catching the Robert Q bus from London to Toronto. A long 30+ hour journey ensued, including transits - an especially long 6+ hour one in Manila, The Philippines. It didn't help that my final flight from Manila to Kuala Lumpur was delayed by an hour. But at the end of it, I was really glad that I'm finally home - on Friday evening! A nice bak kut teh - herbal pork soup with my parents and sister, at the nearby restaurant also owned by a fellow Ironman triathlete. Then quickly assemble my bike for the ride the next morning.

Didn't sleep very well and up by 5.30am for the drive to Putrajaya for the ride. My sister's boyfriend was very nice to come pick me up. It was nice to meet the rest of the gang, some whom I coach but was meeting for the first time. It started pouring a few minutes into our ride and so, after 15km in, we decided to sit it out at the local mamak restaurant. We resumed our ride but as we were drenched, we decided to head back. Some of us changed into dryer clothes to continue with our ride while others, with the slippery roads, were a bit more conservative and decided to run instead. I was with the former and we did another 60km of cycling. It warmed up soon and we didn't get too wet. Followed by a quick 6+km brick run. And I meant really quick as one of the guys pushed me to a low 4 minute per km pace for the last km! We then had a nice lunch at Padi House and exchanged some handy tips, especially for those doing their first Ironman next weekend.

Big turnout! Photo credit Gary Fong
Some strong runners here. Photo credit Affendy Iskandar
You bet I slept well that night. Sunday morning was another early one. Both my parents and my sister as well as her boyfriend signed up for the Forest Trail run in FRIM Botanic Park. I didn't sign up as I wasn't sure how the route would be like, didn't want to sprain an ankle a week out from Ironman. But I decided to tag along and do the route after the crowd has gone. The first 2-3km was a very steep incline. The downhills were not too steep but I still had to take caution as it was quite slippery. I did most of the route except the final part around the footpath, 14.7km clocked for 80 minutes of running. My sis tied with another girl for women's open champion - a nice trophy and Sworke sunglasses along with a free gym membership trial.

Always nice to be running with the family!
I just realize that there is not much to update for week 26 of 26. I have a 50 minute run tomorrow and a 3km swim set the day after. I'll be in Langkawi from Thursday onwards and probably just do a practice ride and swim. Then it'll be the big race! I'd like to thank everyone for following my posts and hope to write up a nice race report when it's all done.

Week 25 of 26 statistics:

Swim 6.8km (2 hours 1 minute)
Bike 148.7km (4 hours 53 minutes)
Run 41.1 km (3 hours 19 minutes)

Total 196.7km (10 hours 13 minutes)

Monday, 15 September 2014

Week 24 of 26

So 3 weeks out from Ironman and this week was meant to be a lighter training load. Or so it seemed....

Monday was a 3.9km swim in the afternoon. Warm up 400m, 10 x 100m swim, 1000m pull buoy/paddles, 10 x 100m pull buoy only, 400m swim, 100m cool down. Pretty tired after the big weekend. The pool was very busy too, as the uni students are all back. Tuesday I did an hour's gym session - alternating arms, legs and core, 30 repetitions each. The gym was even worse, it was like in a shopping mall during year end sale!

Wednesday I swam again. It was my last day for using the Western recreation center facilities and I wasn't going to renew my membership as I wouldn't be here for long. 2 x 2000m - swim 33:16, pull buoy 35:11. In a 25m pool too. Luckily I had the digital pacer clock, otherwise I would be sure to lose count!

Thursday I was planning to ride but the weather didn't look very promising. So I took a rest day and did some errands. Friday I rode, it was still cold and I had the full winter gear - beanie, gloves, long pants and two layers of long sleeves. Rode to Lakeside and back for 90km.

Saturday, the original plan was to ride long for 120km. But it started with rain. So we had breakfast at Angelo's and did some groceries. The rain seemed to have stopped at 10am or so, so I took the risk to ride 90km. Very, very windy and headwind all the way back! There were short periods of shower but luckily, I didn't get too wet. In the afternoon, I ran for 75 minutes. Not exactly a brick run but I had a short 2 hour break in between - lunch and a nap. It was still gloomy and there were some moments of light drizzle.

That night, we had dinner at Peter's with some of our regular training buddies. We had great food and wine - okay, maybe I was the only one who didn't have wine as the rest are done with their racing for the year. It was nice to do something other than swim, bike and run. But we still talked about triathlon a lot. Thanks Peter for hosting and thanks for the thoughtful gift - very Canadian! I'll be missing everyone.
Some sweet memories of Canada!

Sunday, I did my long ride of 120km to Talbotville and back. It was a bit chilly to begin with - about 6 degrees Celcius but it soon warmed up and it was a nice day after all, some mild winds and mostly tailwind on the way back. My Garmin didn't show the decimal points in the distance and it was not until I finished the ride and checked the history that I was short by 400m, didn't know it would round up! I rested for a few hours and then did my 2 hour run in the afternoon. Legs were pretty tired after the 3 days of consecutive cycling but still managed to clock just over 26kms.

My final pit stop at this intersection. There's probably a patch of dead grass here somewhere... hahaha
The official taper begins this coming week and I totally look forward to it. The past couple of weeks have been solid training but I can see signs that my body is craving for the rest. I only have 3 days here before I leave for Malaysia for the Ironman.

Week 24 of 26 statistics:

Swim - 8.0km (2 hours 20 minutes)
Bike - 299.9km (9 hours 52 minutes)
Run - 42.9km (3 hours 15 minutes)
Gym - 55 minutes

Total - 350.8km (16 hours 22 minutes)

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Run like a pro with the PRS V2 Running Compression Socks

In one of my earlier posts here, I mentioned that I was very fortunate to be given the opportunity to be part of the Compressport Malaysia team.

Here is a review on another great product from Compressport - the PRS V2 Running Compression Socks.
Picture taken from
I have a confession to make. I do have a bit of a sock fetish. Especially those that are Left-Right specific. Not to say that I don't run in other socks but I do keep these Left-Right specific ones for special occassions i.e. major races. To date, I have gone through my fair share of racing Left-Right specific socks. I have been looking for a pair for my main race this year - Ironman Malaysia, Langkawi at the end of September and always wanted to try the Compressport ones for their compression features. So, looks like my wishes have been answered!

Left-Right specific
The PRS V2 (Pro Racing Socks Version 2) comes with the usual features with all Compressport products such as shock absorbers to reduce fatigue and aeroknitting which allows for maximum ventilation and quick moisture wicking. But one of the things that are specific to these socks (and the Compressport full compression socks as well) which is not present in the calf sleeves or quad sleeves, is the Dot technology.

They look like tiny mushrooms!
Located at the bottom of the sock in the forefoot and heel area, these dots increases the shock absorbing properties and optimizes inside out heat exchange, which allows for quick elimination of perspiration (for those with sweaty feet!). I was bit a concerned if these extra bumps under my feet will affect the way I run, but more on that later.

Roll them up!
As these are after all, compression socks, they are a bit tighter than your usual socks. Putting them on requires a bit more effort, but will be made easy after a couple of times. I find it easier by rolling them up at my toes and slowly sliding them up my foot. The small lever at the end of the sock makes it easy to hook it over the heel. This small lever also acts as an anti slip mechanism - to prevent the sock from sliding downwards while running. If you do intend to wear these socks in a triathlon and still want to do a speedy transition, I suggest practising a couple of times. I know I will!

Small lever at the end of the heel 
The PRS V2 running socks come in the high cut version and low cut version. And in a variety of colours - decals in pink, green or blue and black or white for the main fabric, that's 6 different colours! Being the fashion conscious triathlete I am (let's face it, this sport is mostly about the looks hahaha), I opted for the low cut ones because I like how to see my ankles while I'm running. And I chose the green and white ones because they match my new racing shoes!

I even have matching coloured Lock Laces!
So how did the socks fare performance-wise? To be honest, I have only ran in them once... for 30 minutes. As I mentioned before, I like to keep these socks for my major races, so I try to keep them as new as possible for race day. HOWEVER that 30 minute run was immediately after a very tough 180+km ride. The energy in my legs were all drained already but my feet felt springy yet well supported. The socks come with arch support, which maintains posture and prevent any degradation of movement. This becomes especially essential in a triathlon, when you are running on tired legs.

As for the dots? I didn't feel any numbness or rubbing coming from them. In fact, I think they gave a a nice massaging feeling, which helped activated the blood flow through the plantar area. My feet felt light and I was able to maintain a high running cadence despite on tired legs. I averaged 4:30 per km average for that 30 minute brick run, something I definitely did not expect after a 180+km ride!

A handy thing to note, is to wash them in a separate mesh bag in the washing machine or handwash them, in order to prolong the compression properties. I'm looking forward to run with these socks for a couple more runs - some longer ones, before the Ironman. Thank you, Compressport Malaysia!

The PRS V2 socks are currently available at Athlete's Circle Malaysia, Jaya One and Running Lab Malaysia, Tropicana City Mall at a recommended retail price of MYR 75.00 per pair.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Week 23 of 26

Wow, what a week!

Monday was Labour Day public holiday. Greg, Clare and Peter were going to do a 100km ride to Lakeside and back. So I started my ride earlier, went down Vanneck all the way to Gideon and back. Managed to get 43kms in before I met up with the others. It was a very foggy and pretty humid. It rained a bit while we were cycling too. It was nice to have some company and we took turns to lead and pushed the pace every now and then. After the rest were finished, I only had another 40km or so to go, so I did the same thing as I did before - Vanneck to Gideon and back. 183kms clocked with an average pace of 31kph, pretty pleased!

Tuesday was 75 minute run in Springbank. Same set as last week - 6 x 7 minutes fast/3 minutes easy. I was only a tad bit slower. Can't complain considering I had the big ride the day before. Wednesday was my only swim for the swim. But it was a long one. 400m warm up, 4 x 50m, 400m, 4 x 100m, 600m, 4 x 200m, 600m pull buoy, 4 x 200m pull buoy/paddles, 100m cool down - added up to 4.3km, my longest swim this year.

Thursday was the usual mid week 90km ride to Lakeside and back. I installed the Garmin Edge 500 and it was pretty cool to see all the data in one screen. I forgotten my HRM strap though. Friday was an hour's run from UWO campus to Springbank via Gibbons Park. It was very humid. My heart felt like it was beating abnormally higher than usual when I started but I shrugged it off. When I finished, I felt a bit faint and almost passed out! I leaned against my car and took some deep breaths and felt much better. Not sure what was that all about, maybe the sudden change in humidity.

Saturday was my last 6+ hour ride. It was pretty gloomy but luckily I didn't get wet. I rode to Lakeside and then towards Vanneck and all the way south to Talbotville and back. Very windy too and it had to be headwind on the way back. Managed just over 182km with an average of 30kph. I brought my HRM strap this time and nice to know that my average heart rate was at 129bpm, about 68% of my max HR.

I ran off the bike for 30 minutes, trying on my new Saucony Fastwitch 6 and Compressport socks. They felt great and I was able to hold a sub 4:30 per km pace. That evening, Li-Ann and I celebrated my last long ride by having dinner at Marienbad, a nice Hungarian restaurant. We split the platter and it was just nice for us. I didn't order a drink for myself but I did have a few sips of Li-Ann's wine.

Sunday was my longest run in the build. My one and only 3 hour run as I bailed partway through on the previous one. I started at about 3.45pm, it was very sunny but cool and dry. I averaged about 4:35 per km for the first 75 minutes or so, then dropped it to 4:45 per km for the next hour, with the remaining about 4:55 per km. I'm surprised at how great my legs felt but the nice weather definitely helped. Did 4 loops around the neighbourhood. Covered just over 38km with an average pace of 4:43 per km.

Feeling really happy with the solid effort this week. The volume decreases in the coming week but not a full on taper yet.

Week 23 of 26 statistics:

Swim - 4.3km (1 hour 13 minutes)
Bike - 455.1km (14 hours 51 minutes)
Run - 75.4km (5 hours 45 minutes)

Total - 534.8km (21 hours 49 minutes)

Monday, 1 September 2014

Week 22 of 26

The week started off really well but let down by a dismal weekend. Read on and you'll know why.

Monday as usual, is a swim in the evening. 3.6km set - 500m warm up, 10 x 50m, 500m, 5 x 100m, 500m pull buoy, 10 x 50m, 500m pull buoy with paddles. Felt pretty strong despite the big weekend before. Tuesday, I initially wanted to run at Springbank but the skies were dark so I drove home first. It soon cleared and I did an 80 minute run around the neighbourhood. Very humid. I started off pretty sluggish but found my pace later and was able to negative split by a big margin.

Wednesday was a 90km ride to Lakeside and back. Very windy. Thursday I ran in Springbank for 75 minutes. I had 6 x 7 minutes fast/3 minutes easy in the program and felt really good. Nice cool weather. Averaged 4:20 per km pace with over 17kms covered.

Then things started to take a turn on Friday. I slept in instead of the morning swim, so would have to make up for it later in the week. Fortunately, it was the long weekend with Labour Day on Monday, so I managed to get off work early. I got 2.5 hours ride in but it was hot and windy and my pace was very ordinary. I was still able to go to the pool before it closed that evening. Felt great for the 3.7km swim set though. Main set was 4 x 800m - swim 12:46, fingertip drag alternate 50m 13:01, swim 12:45, fists alternate 50m 13:11.

Saturday I planned to do an 180km ride before leaving for Markham to visit Li-Ann's cousins. But I did not feel great during the ride. Same conditions as the evening before - hot and windy. At the 86km mark and 3 hours into the ride, I decided to call it quits and asked Li-Ann to pick me up. Maybe it was due to combination of the double workouts the evening before or a combination of a few factors. I still have public holiday Monday to ride 180km, so I wasn't too worried.

We stayed the night in Markham and the next morning, Li-Ann followed her cousins for a camping trip while I drove back to London. Yes, I was invited but being the no-fun-training-for-an-Ironman guy, I had to decline. Plus, by joining them meant I would have to take Tuesday off and I've used up all my vacation days for the Ironman later this month. As they all left early before sunrise, I drove home early too. Traffic was great and I rested at home before the long run in the evening.

It was also Malaysia's 57th independence day so it is nice to have a public holiday here as well to commemorate. I was meant to do a 3 hour run around the neighbourhood. Started off really well, my pace was well below 4:40 per km but I knew I had to slow it down later. About 20kms into the run, I had the sudden urge to rush to the toilet... for Number 2! I was about a couple of kms from home so I ran into the house, did my business (sorry for the oversharing!) and by the time I was done, I didn't feel like running anymore. So I made the call to leave the run at that with just over 22.7kms clocked in 1 hour 46 minutes. I still have my 180km ride to do tomorrow and God forbid I have to cut that short, again!

Disappointed? I'll be lying if I said I wasn't. But the years of Ironman training have taught me not to sweat over couple of sessions that were cut short or missed. It's the overall progress that matters and I reckon I'm progressing pretty well.

Week 22 of 26 statistics:

Swim - 7.3km (2 hours 5 minutes)
Bike - 252.5km (8 hours 26 minutes)
Run - 58.0km (4 hours 21 minutes)

Total - 317.9km (14 hours 52 minutes)