PRE RACE JOURNEY
I woke up on 7am Friday morning to the noise at my front door. Richard, Sofian and their wives, Claris and Tip just arrived from the airport. We chatted a bit before starting our trip, first dropping by Subiaco markets to pick up some fruits and have breakfast. I had to collect my Timex watch too, which I had to replace for battery and waterproof seal. Unfortunately it wasn't ready, so my trusty old Casio Phys (which is more oftenly used by Li-Ann now) will have to do for the race.
We then headed straight to Busselton, arriving at about 1pm. Checked in to our respective accommodation, I was staying at my usual place Amaroo Motel, whilst the rest at Gale Street Villas just a few hundred metres away. We bumped into Ezer at the reception, who was about to go out for lunch with his mum. Arif and Senn then joined us, and we proceeded to Signal Park for our registration. I was delighted with the efficient process, no queue at all. Also took note of a banner depicting the new 12m drafting zone rule, which seemed pretty long.
The finishing chute in the middle of Busselton Town on Queen Street had already been set up. On Sunday, we would actually be running right next to the finishing chute for 3 times before we go through it at the end of our race. Might be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you are feeling on that day haha.
A quick lunch at an Asian take-away (thanks Sofian for the treat!) and we were all set for a test ride on the course. We cycled for about an hour at an easy pace and noted the strong winds, but pretty manageable.
That night, we attended the welcome dinner at Barnard Park. It was in air conditioned tents. It was a great experience. The food was pretty good with plenty of pasta. There were big screens showing video clips of past Kona races. Mike Riley, the voice of Ironman was a good host and the talk by John MacLean, the first wheelchair athlete to compete at Kona was truly inspirational. I also enjoyed the interviews with the pro triathletes, who all have their own sense of humour. The mandatory race briefing though, I wished that it was a bit more informative. The pretty girl on the screen was not bad to look at, but she made a lot of references to the athletes' guide. There was no description about the race course at all, I supposed it was assumed that we all understood it from the athletes' guide.
Had a good night's sleep following the tiring trip, woke up fresh on Saturday morning, ready for a quick swim at the Busselton jetty. Richard, Sofian and myself went together and we met Ezer there. I probably made a mistake of not applying vaseline around my neck and my erm... chest area. And I experienced some slight chaffing from the wetsuit, it is more likely the salt water as I don't get this problem testing it in the pool. The water was reasonably cold but a lot warmer than when I did the half Ironman in May last year.
After the quick swim, I headed back for breakfast and noticed that I left my goggles and cap at the washroom. Luckily it was still there when I returned, thought I might as well visit the expo to see if there were any good deals (a dangerous thing to do, especially when Li-Ann is not around!). Fortunately, nothing tickled my fancy, there were a lot of Ironman branded merchandise and some K-Swiss products. The only thing I got was a $30 Ryder sunglasses and it was from unofficially setup shop in town. *phew*
I rested most of the morning before joining the rest for lunch at their villa. Many thanks to the ladies - Claris, Tip and Melissa (Claris' cousin from Brisbane who's also competing), for getting the groceries and cooking up such a wonderful meal!
After lunch, I got my bike and race gear ready. There was no race T-shirt given in our race bag (we Malaysians love our T-shirts!) but I was pleased to see the organizers gave us individually numbered swim caps and named running bibs. The Ironman branded fuel belt was also a delightful surprise.
I probably spent too long setting up the bike and I got to the transition area about 15 minutes prior to closing. That's where I saw Arif running out, who later told me that Senn forgot to number her helmet and he was rushing to get the number sticker. My bike was placed opposite Carle, who sold me the Spiuk helmet and also competed at Kona this year. He teased me about my 80mm clinchers, saying that a guy my size would be blown off straightaway with these wheels.
After rushing through the bike check in and race bag drop off, I could relax a bit. I chatted with Li-Ann on the phone, shaved my legs (yes, it has become a race ritual!) and got ready for dinner. I went over again for dinner, a delicious meal with chicken curry, thanks ladies! After dinner, I went back and put on some Rock Tape, samples which I got, recommended by Sofian and got ready for bed.
THE BIG RACE
Got up at 3.40am with a surprisingly good night's sleep. 9pm is an early time to go to bed even for my standards. Had 2 bowls of Nutrigrain cereal and a banana, managed to put on my contact lenses with ease (getting easier with practice) and a quick visit to the toilet. Got to the race site at 4.15am, again no long queues to get marked. Only our category letter (mine was B) was marked on our right calf. That's where I saw Viv my podiatrist and Phil my bike mechanic who was there on mechanical support.
The weather was calm and cool, a perfect day for a PB unlike last year's scorching 38 degrees. I met Pete Jacobs, the pre race favourite and wished him good luck. My tires were pumped from the evening before, so all I had to do was remove the plastic bags covering the handlebars, saddle and shoes. I then downed a Powerbar Performance Bar, did my stretches, applied sunscreen. One last visit to the toilet where I met Shao who swims in the same squad as I. It was time to get into my wetsuit and line up for the 5.45am start. Thanks Sofian for supplying me with vaseline at the last minute!
3.8km swim, target 1 hour
The swim is out and back, around the Busselton Jetty, water temperature was 21 degrees. With nearing 1400 competitors starting at the same time, the swim was going to be chaos. But this was reduced with the start line being spreaded quite long. There was some contact here and there for the first few hundred metres where I had to fight for my space, but soon after I was swimming normally. A rookie mistake I made - not clearing up my goggles before I started. I was swimming with poor visibility with fogged up goggles for the first half of the out lap until someone knocked my goggles out a bit and let some water wash them clear.
And then I could see! I managed to find a few people to draft behind but I probably made a mistake of keep on changing persons that led me to lose time. I didn't check my time at the turnaround point, but about few hundred metres after that, it seemed my watch was showing 31 minutes. It looked like I was going to be on target then, but little did I know that there were currents pushing us out. As we neared the shore and the water became shallower, my watch showed 50 minutes, I thought I had it in the bag. But it took us a while before we actually got to the finish and I crossed the first timing mat at 1:01:15, just off my target. Slightly disappointed but nothing I could do about it, I was keeping positive for the remainder of the race.
I had some slight cramps around my calves and at my abdominal muscles. It could have been the cold water. It took me a while to remove the wetsuit and get it into the race bag. But the volunteers were very helpful, as soon as I got all my gear on (sunglasses, helmet, race belt, Injinji toe sock - I marked them L and R this time to avoid wearing them on the opposite sides like I did in Langkawi early this year!) they chased me off and said they'll sort out my bag. Got my bike off the racks without much problems. I didn't do the fly mount but the rubber bands tieing my shoes did make it easier for me to slip into them. T1 time was 5:04.
180.2km bike, target 5 hours 50 minutes
The bike course is fast and flat on a capital-I shaped course, over 3 laps. It was pretty open to winds in some areas, but it started off pretty calm that morning. The tightness around my abdominal muscles took a while to go away, and then only I could go on to full aero position. Someone yelled at me (or at least I thought it was at me) See you later when we get back! I think that was Viv who's a good swimmer and great cyclist, I usually beat him on the run. But he was flying that day and finished with a 10:40 overall!
Somehow with the legs spinning and in an aero position, made it difficult to pee while cyling, although I had a strong urge. It was only until the 2nd lap that I was able to release erm... excess water but not fully. I stuck to the plan of maintaining an average of 31kph. I was surprised that Shao only passed after I stopped for the first special needs stop, which was at 90km. I was even more surprised when I passed him soon after that.
Throughout the ride, Sam a friend of Eric's was out on the course cheering me each time I passed him. So were Tip and Claris at the end of each bike lap. Thank you all for the support! It really did spur me on. I was probably overly cautious at all the turns and corners, going wide and letting others pass. At the narrow turnaround at Tuart Drive west side, I intentionally unclipped one foot each time just to balance myself. Yes, I need a lot of work on my bike handling. After each turns, I could see Richard slowly catching up with me.
I left remaining 2 mini muffins at the final special needs stop. There were 8 of them but I could only managed 3 in my mouth on each of the stop. On the last return lap to transition, the winds picked up and I slowed down my pace. But I was still on track to meeting my target. I finished my ride in 5:50:56.
Now here's a funny story. After I removed my helmet and placed on running visor, I felt something smooth on my head. You guessed it, I had my swim cap on for the entire ride! Luckily the weather was cool, otherwise I would have passed out. And imagined if I didn't intend to use a running visor, I wouldn't have noticed it and ran out with it! Time for T2 was 1:54.
42.2km run, target 3 hours 50 minutes
The run is made of 4 laps along Geographe Bay by the water. The first part out actually takes us running next to the finishing chute. Hence, the crowd cheering there was really uplifting. After turning around that short lap next to the finishing chute, Shao was closing in and soon after, so was Richard. When we got to the first marker of 2km and shortly after the first aid station, I was well ahead of my planned time. I walked for about a minute as planned as I got through the aid station.
Just after 3km, Shao overtook me and beckoned for me to follow him. But he was flying and there was no way I could match that pace. Two of the aid stations weren't placed consistently, leaving only 1km gap between one and 3km gap between another. But I was still feeling alright then, so no worries. I was still ahead of schedule after the turnaround point, so I dropped by the first public toilet I saw. I felt slightly bloated around my stomach and just above groin area, and it was a great relief to release all the excess water.
I finished the first lap in 55 minutes, 2 minutes ahead of schedule. Local hero Courtney Ogden was about to win the race then, beating all the other favourites. On the 2nd lap, the bloated feeling got worse and I felt a bit dizzy. I slowed down and finished 65 minutes and even walked for a couple of minutes while starting the 3rd lap. But it didn't end there, after I passed the first aid station, the dizziness worsened and that's when I gave up and started walking. I was not mentally strong enough to fight through this discomfort. It didn't help that Richard was reducing my lead by a minute after each turnaround! I couldn't cope with the pressure!
Hence, I walked and walked and... walked. Richard soon overtook me. It was until halfway through the third lap where I felt better and started running again. But it was more like I ran one km and walked for two after that. I finished the third lap in 1 hour 25 minutes. I met Arif as I started my last lap and he said he had cramps all over. We chatted a while before I moved on with quicker, bigger steps but still walking.
After a while, I felt better and wanted to finish the race with a respectable time. So I started running more, my walk breaks became shorter. John Cooke passed me as he was running consistently, but I overtook him again towards the last two kms. I stopped for about a minute while waiting for my Malaysian flag in my special needs bag.
But it was worth it, I carried it flying high as I ran through the finishing chute. The loud roaring cheers from the crowd brought out some emotions, and Sam was amongst them. I gave a roar as I crossed the finishing line but as emotional as I was, the tears didn't come out of my eyes. Maybe my body ran out of water haha. I finished with run time of 4:36:27 and total race time of 11:35:36, my slowest time in 3 Ironmans by just over 2 minutes.
The athlete recovery area was very well managed. It was canteen style with plenty of seats and had good food. The post race massage was a bit of a disappointment though with the therapist only massaging the back part of my legs and not the front, in no more than 5 minutes. Shortly after, I met Ahmad Fathi from Brunei, who did a great race just under 12 hours.
I stayed on to cheer our remaining Malaysian athletes. Sofian did a massive PB by more than 2 hours and his previous best was nearly 20 years ago! I had a good night's sleep that night. The next day, the ladies again put up a splendid meal and we had everyone over including Miro who stays in Malacca with limited training facilities but beat all of us with a finish time of 10:53!
Richard convinced me to stay another night at their villa. We watched the beer mile race and the hair shaving of overnight celebrity Gi Singh, who was doing it for charity. Later that night, I attended the awards banquet which I had never done before. It was great watching snippets of the race that took place the day before. Inspiring moments included the women's champion, Kate Bevilaqua, another local, crawling past the finish line and the oldest competitor Yutaka Kojima finishing in 13:52 at 75 years old (young)! That was when I finally met Denis whom I think was a bit drunk that night haha.
In the morning, Melissa made pancakes for everyone (thanks!) which was a great breakfast meal before I made my journey back to Perth.
REFLECTIONS AND CLOSING COMMENTS
Firstly it was great having a group of friends here competing and the support crew of Tip and Claris, which made a whole lot of difference. Thank you for the wonderful meals and great racing experience!
Darling Li-Ann whom I know was feeling all guilty being away in India, I know you would have been here if you could, so don't feel guilty! Your never ending support throughout my training regime and tolerance to my constant ramblings of Ironman topics in the past few months was invaluable. I love you!
My family at home nearly had heart attacks when my split times for the second part of the run took unusually long to be updated online. It is the support and encouragement of my loving family which made me become an Ironman, three times now. Thank you.
Also thank you to friends like Keat Seong, Yip, Frank, Emma, Paul Lee, Ray Ng, Ray Hee, Mich, Jenn, Meng, Matt, Fong, Reita, Lee, Enrico (who I didn't get to meet), Uncle Peter, Eric and others (sorry I couldn't mention everybody but you know who you are!) who have been giving me encouraging words all these while
When I gave up and started walking during the run, I was considering taking a break from Ironman races for a while. I supposed doing two Ironmans in just over 9 months is a bit too much for my mental state (more so than my physical state) to handle. I couldn't push myself when it got tough. And that was still my decision in the past few days.
But with the registration for next year's race opening next Wednesday, temptations start to grow and I'm also keen to redeem myself next year. This also happens to be the most convenient Ironman race for me. I have to decide quick as entries are likely to sell out fast!
*Pictures courtesy of Claris and Finisherpix*