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


John Cooke said...

great piece Sorry about the Race but thats what makes Ironman so interesting Read a piece by Geoff Roes on DNFs in ultra: "Sometimes, we can have some of our best races when we ignore any temptation to drop and just keep moving forward, and other times the further we go the worse things get. Sometimes, it seems like we just know when enough is enough, but more often than not we second, third, and fourth guess each DNF. In the end, the more we think about it and try to break it down, the more mysterious it becomes.

To me this is one of the most appealing things about racing and competing. Without the mystery and confusion it would all be quite boring."

Kevin Siah said...

Thanks very much John. Yes, nothing is ever certain and especially so in this sport. We enjoy the challenge and it would not have been challenging if the outcome was guaranteed.

Down but not out. All the best for Ironman WA!

Steve said...

Kevin, hope you'll be back in Langkawi for Ironman Malaysia 2015. Watching the athletes run their final laps made me even more determined to be back next year for my first IM Malaysia attempt. Good luck with your future races.

Kevin Siah said...

Thanks Steve! Yes it was really inspiring! Hope you'll be back too!