Although having done only 2 Ironmans, I would say that this is my toughest race ever. This, taking into account the 3 stand-alone marathons I've done and other half Ironmans and half marathons. I had several encounters where I was at the brink of quitting the race.
I came to this race with a target of 11 hours. A target I knew was challenging, but was definitely achievable. I was a lot more confident with my preparation on the bike. Of course the new bike, new wheels, new helmet helped too. My strokes in the swim were a lot more efficient. I had a bit of layoff on the run, but I felt a lot fitter and stronger.
Now, most of you know that I DID NOT break 11 hours on that race day. In fact, I finished nearly 18 minutes slower than last year. Some might say, that it was understandable given the tough conditions. Most of us posted slower finish times than last year. But yet, there are some who actually improved. Whatever it is, I'm glad I survived the race and added another Ironman finish to my triathlon career.
We all know how tough it was on race day, hence this post wouldn't be a very descriptive one. Nevertheless, it would still be a pretty long one (you have been forewarned!) of our anecdotal 4 day trip in Langkawi, the home of Ironman Malaysia for 11 years running.
Li-Ann and I took a MAS flight and arrived at Langkawi airport at 9.30am. The rest of our gang arrived an hour earlier and they were kind enough to wait for us.
We then proceeded to Seaview Hotel for the registration and medical check up. We met Stupe and Kam there. Stupe was very kind to show us a short cut to avoid the queue, hehheh. My heart rate was 57, blood pressure was about 128 over something, I can't remember.
We then headed to check into our accommodation, Kondo Istana. We shared a 3 room unit with Frank and Yip. This was followed by a quick lunch at Kenny Roger's, as with last year. I then assembled my bike, met up with Shazly who gave me some stickers so that his photographers can recognize me, then went out for a short spin. I was quite glad I still remembered the bike course. And somehow it felt easier than last year. Cycled about 46kms with an average of 29.8kph.
Later that night, for dinner, we ate at Oasis Cafe, overlooking the sunset at Pantai Cenang.
I ordered the Mick Jagger burger. Definitely a satisfying meal with about 2 inches of beef patty. You can say I slept well that night.
RACE DAY EVE
We all met just before 8am for a swim practice. The good thing about this year's swim course is that buoys are placed every 50m, and there is a marker for every 200m. I swam about 1200m. It took me about 24 minutes (2 minute per 100m), a lot slower than usual. I wasn't sure whether the markers were over distanced, or maybe I was just taking an easy pace.
After washing up, I had a quick bike check-up with Edwin of Joo Ngan Son bike shop, who conveniently stayed in the unit next to us. Thanks, Edwin for the free service! Then, we were at Seaview Hotel again for the technical briefing. Personally, I found that just because it was the same course as last year, this year's briefing wasn't as thorough as last year. This shouldn't be the case, as there were still a few who got confused with the number of loops.
Another quick lunch followed, and we rested a bit in the afternoon before getting ready for the bike check-in and race bag drop off. Last year, I packed too many Powergels on the bike (8 of them!) and most likely downed too many of them too. So I stuck to packing just 4 this time.
I always enjoyed the bike check-in atmosphere. The energy was overwhelming and you could sense a bit of tension going around. Also, it's a great opportunity to perve at other bikes, hehheh.
I met Sofian there who commented that my new wheels are very deep. I also formally introduced myself to Emma who was very kind to let me have bike checked first before her. I supposed that's the only chance I can get to be in front of her, not like the race day!
After drooling over some very nice looking bikes, we had a quick Chinese dinner in Kuah town before heading back for a good night's sleep, to prepare for one of our biggest races in our lives the next day.
We woke up at about 5.15am to arrive at the race venue at 6am. The usual business ensued - number marking, special needs drop-off, pre-race weigh in. I only dropped off my bike special needs as I didn't use the run special needs last year. Can save a few kaya buns! I was also heavier this year, 62kg, must be all the Chinese New Year delicacies!
After I got those sorted, I did a few last minute checks on my bike and then did some stretching. I met Abu and his cousins then and wished them good luck. I then had my Powerbar and got into my race suit.
And of course, just like last year, a pre race photo with Keat Seong.
It was then, when I kissed Li-Ann farewell and headed into the start area. I had a few minutes to spare, so I lay down for a while on the mats to calm the nerves. I chatted with Meng a bit then.
3.8KM SWIM - TARGET 1 HOUR AND FIRST MALAYSIAN OUT OF WATER
The PROs started 15 minutes before us. Once they were let off, I went in for a quick warm up swim. Ahmad Fathi from Brunei was at the platform to greet me. I wished him good luck too for his 1st Ironman attempt.
Then it was time for us to start. The usual rushing madness ensued in the beginning. With punches and kicks flying everywhere, everyone trying to get a good start. I later came to know that Keat Seong was hit unconscious and spent about 10 minutes on the lifeboat! Good thing he was alright, and was still able to continue the race.
After a few hundred meters, the crowd dispersed. I found myself swimming very close to the buoys, nearly swimming into one of them! There was the occasional sea lice but no jelly fish issues. Yes, I peed in my suit again before the start to ward off any stings!
Came to the 1000m mark, I was clocking around 20 minutes, which seemed unusually slow. I needed a lot of time to make up for it! The long swim continued until the turnaround point and I was quite glad to know that there were not many in front of me.
The return lap was a lot easier as the currents were with us, although it was pushing us slightly away from the buoys. The 200m markers came by, one by one, and soon it was the finishing.
I clocked a time of 1:05:34, about 4.5 minutes slower than last year and 5.5 minutes outside my target. I also came to know that Kohing Antak, a fellow Malaysian beat me by 1 minute. Anyway, I found out that most people swam slower than last year. Perhaps it is the currents, or the slightly curvy buoy lines. Nevertheless, looking at the times of the PROs, they were still clocking the same times. I guess that's why they're PROs and we're age groupers.
I fumbled a bit with putting on my Injinji toe socks. I had them on the opposite sides and couldn't be bothered swapping them. It also took me quite some time to put on my race belt. The volunteers in the change tent were pretty helpful with offering Coke and cold water, but I didn't have the time. Some sunscreen would be nice, but there weren't any.
Bringing my bike out from the racks was a bit of a disaster. I visualized every process except the direction of where I should turn. I took a longer route and had to weave in and out the other racked bikes. My minimal fly mount practice didn't pay off and I had to unclip my shoes before starting my ride. Total T1 time was 2:16.
180KM BIKE - TARGET 5 HOURS 55 MINUTES
The discipline which I normally dreaded the most, somehow I was looking forward to it this time round. The roads were a bit rough, so I had to be careful not hit any sharp stones. I was keen to make up for the lost time in the swim and T1, but yet wanted to cautious not to overburn myself. I was spinning comfortably, averaging about 32kph.
Top Malaysian triathlete, Hafiz Wong overtook me at the 26km mark, as opposed to 30km last year. I got a bit concerned if I'm slower relatively, but I guessed his cycling must have improved too.
I downed a Powergel at the 40km mark, but I skipped the first special needs station. Soon at 60km, we arrived at the infamous Bukit Hantu, where we had to do a steep climb, my speed was reduced to about 10kph. This was also where race leader Mareno Vanhoenacker lapped me, the same spot where Bryan Rhodes and Luke McKenzie lapped me last year.
Up until now, there had been quite a bit of overcast from the sun, but no doubt temperatures were still pretty high and it was quite humid. We were into our second loop, and the thought of my kaya buns at the special needs station were pretty tempting.
I arrived at the station, only to see the volunteers unprepared (they were actually taking group pictures!), as opposed to last year, where they positioned some volunteers few metres before the station to yell out our numbers so that the others can be ready. Anyway, time was still on my side, and I gobbled down two buns and sped off. Also, I kept one bottle cage empty this time, so I was able to carry additional water bottles from the stations.
I was still maintaining above 32kph until just after 90km where fatigue started to creep in. The sun was coming out and my heart rate was rising. I was told that it reached a peak of 46 degrees that day. My pace slowed down. I was feeling very uncomfortable and almost thought of giving up. But I told myself that I was most likely just going through a bad patch and willed myself to go on.
Surprisingly coming back to the hills was quite a relief, as I pedaled slower, and my heart rate dropped. Very soon, I came to the special needs station again, and it was time to refuel. To my dismay, there was no more water! I'm lucky to have some extra fluids with me, but what about the others?!
Anyway, no point getting frustrated over something I couldn't control. Also, my body still had quite a lot of water, as I felt the urge to pee. And folks, I've finally mastered the art of peeing while cycling hehheh, did it a few times actually.
The lack of water continued for a while, and later on, the aid stations did replenish their stock. But with plastic bottled water! How are these supposed to fit into our bike cages?! Anyway, I sipped the water where I could without wasting too much time. Good thing I did not throw away the Ironman bottle that I took from the last station, I wasn't able to get any as a souvenir last year (this year, Li-Ann collected another 3 for me).
Very soon, it was the final lap and I was growing anxious. Miraculously, meeting Li-Ann at the last 20kms was such an energy booster, that I was speeding home in excess of 35kph. I even held off Emma until she overtook me at the final 5km.
I clocked 5:43:57 for my bike split, more than 24 minutes quicker than last year. But I was told that the bike course is shorter, sort of made up for the longer swim. My bike computer tells me the distance was 175.5km, giving me an average speed of 30.4kph.
As I already peed (several times!) on the bike, I didn't need to visit the toilet unlike last year. My T2 time was a 1:45, which I later found out was the quickest in my age group (the only thing I could top my age group, hahhah). Could have been slightly quicker if my race bag wasn't tied so tightly, I had trouble fitting my helmet in. In the end, I asked one of the volunteers to do it for me.
Coming out of transition, fellow triathlete Nik was cheering me and snapping pictures. Thanks mate, and I look forward to reading your progress to your first Ironman next year!
42.2KM RUN - TARGET 3 HOURS 50 MINUTES
After coming out of T2, my watch showed that even if I made the same run split as last year, I would have been at least 6 minutes inside my overall 11 hour target. So I kept my cool, and maintained short, steady steps with high cadence.
Feeling a lot stronger than last year, I did really well at the start, soaking up the atmosphere, I even overtook Emma and Heidilee, another top Malaysian triathlete after the 1st km.
I completed the first 8km lap in about 42.5 minutes. A pace I knew I could not maintain for long and true enough, I slowed down after that. The 2nd part of the lap was pretty lonely, there were not many places for supporters to place themselves. Though, occasionally, we meet other participants at the opposite direction. Keat Seong, Yip, Raymond Tan, Tomato Ray, Lee. It was dusty too with lots of construction. I clocked my 2nd lap in 44:44.
Heidilee has long overtaken me. Emma was coming closer and closer each lap. I managed to steal a kiss from Li-Ann just at the start of the 3rd lap, that kept me going for a while :)
But the heat was getting onto me. And so were the intermittent cramps on both legs, both quads and hamstrings. My third lap slowed down to 48:31. It was then I knew it would be difficult to finish under 11 hours.
Nevertheless, I plodded along but I became more and more tired. My run/walk strategy to each aid stations, which were supposedly 1km apart became more of a jog and the walking distance increased. I clocked the 4th lap in 52:11. With one more lap to go, I knew I would not be able to beat last year's timing, let alone go under 11 hours.
It was then, I gave up pushing too hard and decided to walk all the way. Emma overtook me soon after that. My toes being soaked in the socks, hurt each time I took a step. Hence, I had to take them off. Maybe it was partly caused by me wearing them on the opposite sides! It was only towards the later stage of the last lap, where I picked up by pace. By this, I meant fast walking with big steps, sort of like marching. I didn't want Li-Ann to worry as I knew she would be waiting for me at the finish line once I started my last lap.
Mich was running with Tomato, providing him some company. Soon, young Chan came and marched with me. He too was having a rough race. He joined me for a while and then he jogged off at his own pace. At the opposite direction, I hi-fived the courageous May Senn. It is this sort of spirit that gets us through the toughest of races.
Last 1km to go, I was greeted by an angel. Li-Ann came looking for me. We walked together. She willed me to jog the last few hundred metres. Somehow all the pain in my feet went away. Soon, I could hear the sounds coming from the speakers at the finish line. I was keen to run through the finish with her, but Li-Ann was worried that the organizers might disqualify me for that, as they were quite strict this year.
So while she went through the gates to the other side of the finish line, I gather whatever strength I have left to sprint as fast as I could. The crowd cheers became louder and my legs felt stronger, sprinting faster. I felt like Usain Bolt breaking a world record!
I crossed the finish line in 11:33:12, about 18 minutes slower than last year, but nevertheless, the feeling of completing another Ironman was indescribable. I gave a yell of relief for finally completing one of the toughest race I've ever done.
I finished 72nd overall, out of 538 participants, of which 116 did not finish. My position actually improved by 35 places. I was the 9th Malaysian, as opposed to 4th Malaysian last year. Looks like the local Ironman scene has become more competitive.
I joined Li-Ann in the recovery. Had my shower and massage, while we waited for the rest. It was tough day, and many of us although with months of intensive training were reduced to pure survival mode, just to get through the finish line.
Some concluding comments... I really could not have done this without the support of my loved ones. Li-Ann at the race site, my family at home, and friends tracking our progress from their PCs. Thank you also to Jennifer and Siok Bee for organizing and coordinating us around Langkawi, it was no easy task as we were such a big group.
Frank for snapping most of the pictures you see in this blog post. Other photographers include Shazly and gang, evergreen Tey, Mich and Nik. Your pictures make this whole experience an unforgettable one.
To all the other supporters who were on the course, either under the sun or in the dark. From those in our own group and those who happen to be cheering their family and friends, also provided the support we needed when it got tough. Our group only got back to the Kondo at 11pm, and we were up since 5.30am. There were still quite a few on the course then.
To the volunteers, I apologize if I have vented my frustrations onto you. You still did a great job but I would probably like to inform the organizers that there is definitely room for improvement. Yes, I am proud that Malaysia has our very own full distance Ironman race. In fact, the only one in South East Asia. But that doesn't mean that you can take a lackadaisical attitude towards it's organizing. It was reported we had participants from over 40 countries taking part in this event. Malaysia's reputation is at the international stage. Sadly, I cannot label this event as international standard.
Finally, if you've asked me whether I'll do another Ironman just after the race, I'll say no way I'm putting myself through such suffering again! In fact, partway through the race, I thought of quitting triathlon totally.
But old habits die hard. And now, my fire has started burning again, so I'll definitely continue doing this sport as my body permits. See you at the next Ironman! (be it Busselton or Langkawi, I haven't decided yet :P)