*Pictures courtesy of Li-Ann, Breakyourlimits Facebook page and Finisherpix*
This race is my 4th Ironman event. My best result was actually from my first Ironman race in 2009 in Langkawi, Malaysia where I finished in 11 hours 15 minutes. Since then, I have been desperately trying to improve on that result and break the elusive 11 hours… but without success.
Tired of this, I decided to take on the coaching of none other than Bill Scanlan, top 10 in Ironman France this year and have raced in the World Championships in Kona, Hawaii before.
When I first started, I told Bill my goal was to go under 11 hours. Bill, however believed that I should aim for 10:30. I, on the other hand was apprehensive at that target, which seemed lofty at that time.
On Sunday, 4 December 2011… I crossed the finish line in the centre of Busselton town centre in 10:24:38 – more than 70 minutes quicker than last year, knocking off 50 minutes from my PB. I was ecstatic! So here’s my detailed account of the event. Have a cuppa and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed racing and writing about it.
Myself and Richard, who touched down from Malaysia earlier in the morning, drove down to Busselton on Friday. It’s no secret that there is a bit of competition between the two of us, our conversation topics in the car ranged from fantasizing about the latest bikes to psyching each other out for Sunday’s big race haha. We arrived in Busselton around midday, checked in to Amaroo Motel, then straight to collect our race packs from the race expo. I like this year’s setup much better, although I didn’t buy any merchandise apart from a $10 timing band from the Blueseventy stall as the ones provided tend to cut into my ankles. I bumped into Nat and Lisa from Breakyourlimits, as well as Chris, a friend of Li-Ann’s, all are doing their first Ironman race.
We did an easy 30 minute ride and Li-Ann arrived later, she took a bus from Mandurah where she attended a conference. Soon, it was time for the welcome dinner. Honestly, I preferred last year’s both in the setup and the formalities. Although this year's briefing was more informative and more comprehensive. We met my cycling buddies, Sam and Dennis there. The next morning, we did a wetsuit swim at the jetty. The currents were pretty strong but manageable. For the rest of the day, I didn't do much and managed to take a couple of naps. I had an early bike check-in as it was according to race numbers, mine was the first slot at 11am but not everyone followed their designated times.
Surprisingly I had a good night’s sleep. I was either tired or just relaxed. We got to transition at 4.45am, pumped up my tires and did some stretches. I then felt the urge to visit the toilet, so I queued up with a bit of panic as the race was about to start at 5.45am… and I still had my wetsuit to put on! I made it with about 5 minutes left to spare. Exchanged many hugs and kisses with Li-Ann for good luck, and it was time to go!
Swim 3.8km – target 1 hour
But I couldn’t be more wrong. As I turned back to the other side of the jetty, what seemed like a relatively calm weather in the morning really wasn’t reflected in the currents. We were pushed further and further away from the jetty. I stuck to one swimmer and then I noticed he was swimming alone, I was worried that I was going off course, so I stopped a couple of times to re-position myself. The choppy waters pushed my swim cap upwards, and I was worried that it would be washed away, so I kept pulling it down. That affected my goggles, which allowed water to enter, so I had to adjust them too. As I got to the floating buoy closest to shore, it was already past 55 minutes, and I had another 500m to go. I knew that it will be unlikely to break 1 hour for the swim.
Finally, I crossed the first timing mat in 1:02:33, I shrugged my shoulders as I passed Li-Ann cheering from the side, indicating my disappointment but would make up for it as the race unfolds. The one hour swim still remains elusive. One consolation was I came out about the same time as Viv Oldfield, formerly my podiatrist, who swam 56-58 minutes for the last two years.
Bike 180km – target 5 hours 35 minutes
I managed to take a minute off transition from last year. And yes, I remembered to remove my swim cap this time! I decided to put on my bike shoes in the change tent, rather than balancing myself while strapping them on the bike. The weather was warmer this year, hence I wasn’t freezing as I rode out and there weren’t any cramps or tightness in core area, so that was good. I soon got into a comfortable pace and felt strong to enough to attack the headwinds as we rode out. For some reason, Viv and myself kept taking turns at overtaking each other… inadvertently and legally of course!
I overtook Sam just before the first Tuart Drive turnaround, which is just after 30km. Sandy from Breakyourlimits overtook me after that, followed by Tom on our return journey back at Layman Road. The two of them are such strong cyclists, and they rode exceptionally well that day, they got further and further away from me as the ride progressed. I did the first lap in 1:47, much quicker than I planned for. But I think I paid for it later on. I felt weaker on the later stages of the second lap, but it was great to see the Ray and the Breakyourlimits support crew, who came all the way from Perth, cheering us at the Tuart Drive turnarounds. That did give me a bit of a boost, thanks guys!
My second lap was about 1:50, but as I started my third and final lap I was running on empty. I have taken nearly all my gels and even started asking for coke from the aid stations. The headwinds started to pick up and I felt a bit miserable, I wondered if I could actually finish the race! But I reminded myself to be patient and this will pass. I took it easy – spin and roll, spin and roll. I got to the special needs and asked for my vegemite sandwich. I decided to have it on the go but as I still needed to steer the bike with one hand, I had to gobble the whole thing down and flush it with my drink later. Good thing I have a wide jaw!
I felt a bit better after eating but that only lasted about 20 or so minutes. I noticed Richard was getting nearer and nearer after each turnaround, and so was Sam. Richard passed me just after the final turnaround, with less than 15kms left to go. I expected Sam to do the same. My goal now was to just get back to transition! It started raining a bit, but not much. I sneaked into transition just before Sam, taking more than 2 hours for the final lap, completing the whole ride in 5:39:01.
Run 42.2km – target 3 hours 42 minutes
The run target was calculated based on a 5 minute/km pace plus 1 minute walk for every 2km. That’s only in theory of course and as the aid stations are about 1.75km apart and in order to get my nutrition in properly, I had to walk through the stations. So some adjustment to the pace is required. My legs felt fresh as I started the run, probably because I took it easy for most of the 2nd half of the bike. My race number snapped off on one side as I got off the bike, so I had to tuck them into my race belt, otherwise it would have been flapping around. I was slightly concerned that I would be penalized for this, but that would have been really over zealous for the organizers to do so.
I ran strongly for the first lap – clocking under 10 minutes for most of the 2km markers, even 9:30 for some. After the first lap, Bill gave me some words of encouragement and further down the road, the Breakyourlimits support crew were already there - more boost! Towards the end of my second lap, I was beginning to feel a bit hungry. I started taking watermelons at the aid station, in addition to coke, Gatorade and water. The rain was totally gone and it started becoming a bit hot, but luckily it wasn’t nearly as hot as the days before.
I gave Li-Ann a peck/kiss as I ran past the Equinox Café on my third lap. That spurred me on! And I continued to draw the positive energy from the crowd – doing a bit of a dance move as I ran past the supporters who blasted music from their boombox and were dressed in all sorts fancy costume. There were some who were nice enough to spray us with their garden hose. I called out to fellow participants I saw on the course whom I knew – Nat, Fiona, John Cooke. Last year’s overall winner, Courtney Ogden who has been bogged with injuries, walked the entire marathon. I called him a true champion, a lesser individual would have pulled out.
On the fourth and final lap, I noticed my pace was slowing down but I have been surpassing my targets for the first 3 laps, so I wasn’t overly concerned. There was even a point where I was clocking 6 minute/km pace. I just need to reach the finish line in one piece! Just 2kms more to go, I looked at my watch and I knew I could give 10:25 a crack. So I skipped the last aid station, even yelled from behind for those stopping for drinks/food to let me pass (sorry!) Took the orange wristband, as the final wristband to take and got to the finishing chute. I missed out giving high fives out to Steve, Adele and Shao from Breakyourlimits, cheering at the side (sorry again!) Li-Ann passed me the Malaysian flag… and I crossed the finishing line, waving the flag proudly above my head with plenty of emotions, that I cannot describe! The clock on the finishing arch showed 10:24:38, my run time was 3:37:15, I finished 9th in my age group and 155th overall out of 1,360 participants.
Bill was nearby as I came out from the finishing area and I gave him a big hug. Thanks mate, for your coaching and guidance. You were spot on when you said I should aim for 10:30, thanks for believing in my capabilities. I have been injury/illness free since taking up your coaching. You are a true mentor and a good friend!
My family was tracking me online all the way from Malaysia. Dad was posting up my splits on Facebook and sis wrote a blog post specially dedicated to my race, which is very heartfelt. I’m very lucky to have the support of my family in this sport and in life. I love you very much!
Richard didn’t get the race he wanted. He had stomach issues on most of the run. However, 5:16 is a killer of a bike leg and to call his overall time of 10:53 minutes respectable, is a massive understatement! Don’t worry my friend, you’ll be back hungrier for more!
My training buddies Sam and Dennis, as well as the rest of the Breakyourlimits crew, be it the Monday social rides, Tuesday interval runs, Thursday King’s Park rides and/or the fun loving bunch at the BYL camp. You guys made my Ironman journey this year a whole lot enjoyable, and if there is such a thing... easier! Thanks guys!
My wonderful fiancé Li-Ann, who had a super busy couple of months before and after this race, travelling to the States and at the time of writing this post, is currently in Shanghai for another conference. Despite that, there were no end to her smiles as she supported me for this race. Thank you for being so understanding, for enduring the long hours I was out training and when I’m back home, I’m either icing myself for recovery or looking at bikes on the internet. I love you!
To all well wishes – one way or another, via Facebook, SMS, Whatsapp, blog comments… you know who you are! Thanks for your support throughout this journey. This is why my passion for this sport keeps on going, because of this great support network! It makes it all worthwhile!
And… as a bit of an announcement, I managed to sign up for next year’s race, which was sold out in less than 70 minutes. I have to say, the process of signing is nearly as stressful as doing the race! See you there!