Thursday, 17 November 2016

Ironman Malaysia 2016 - third time lucky!

I wasn't planning to do this race. Firstly with a young child, I wasn't sure how I would cope with the training. Secondly, after two consecutive DNFs on this course, I'd be lying if I wasn't a bit spooked by it. But my wife Li-Ann is ever so supportive and with rumours (which were later confirmed) that this would be the last edition (at least for now) of Ironman Malaysia, I knew I had to redeem myself. My preparation went pretty well, although a far cry from what I used to be logging years ago. But I was building up my miles consistently... until 7 weeks before the big race, during my long run, I tripped and fell and sprained my ankle in the process. I had to limp 7kms home as I did not have a phone with me. While the sprained ankle affected my mobility a bit on the bike and swim, it affected my run the most and I had to take a couple of weeks off running. I pretty much recovered the final few weeks but didn't manage to build up the run mileage. And then I got hit by a stubborn cough, while it didn't put me off much training, it made me feel a bit weak, resulting in some inconsistent sessions.

But enough of my excuses. Come race week, I was all healthy. A bit underdone in training but fit enough to take on an Ironman. I decided to fly in to Kuala Lumpur a week before the race, to get myself acclimatized to the weather but it has been relatively cool this time round. Did a few sessions, got my bike serviced and had a massage before flying out to Langkawi. I also decided to borrow a better ventilated aero helmet (thanks David for the loan!) and got myself a sleeved tri suit to protect against sun burn (the Scody Optimise Air is the bomb!). Hopefully, with these minor but crucial adjustments, I would avoid a hattrick of DNFs!

Pre race

We caught the earliest flight into Langkawi, two days prior to the race. Myself, Li-Ann and Sebastian, a bike bag and baby car seat. Transporting luggage from one spot to another was a bit of a juggle, but we managed just fine. Picked up our rental Toyota Avanza and checked in to Chenang Inn, which conveniently upgraded us to a family room. I was pretty tired from the early rise but couldn't quite catch a nap with all the adrenaline. Did the pre race procedures of race pack pick up and attended the video briefing, it was nice to catch up with many friends at the expo. In the evening, I did an hour easy spin up the Datai climb and back. We skipped the welcome dinner and had some nice Syrian food in Chenang.

Could barely keep my eyes open!
With relatively late start the next day, I managed to get a sleep in. Bringing my bike along for the swim practice, so I could rack it straight after. It was nice to meet fellow Red Dog triathlete Michelle that morning. With the bike and gear bags checked in, the rest of the day was a pretty relaxing one and all of us, including Li-Ann and Sebastian had a bit of a nap.

At least I get to be amongst the first at something!
Race morning

Up at 4.30am to have breakfast and go through my race morning routine. Mum, siblings Karen and Keith and brother in law Gary arrived the night before and we all met at 5.30am to head out to the race start at the Danna, Pantai Kok. After pumping up my bike tires, filled in the bidons and made sure everything was all set to go, I queued up for my 3rd toilet sit down that morning. Once done, there wasn't much time left and we could only get a quick photo before sending me off. I did manage to squeeze in a quick warm up swim before lining up for the start.

Dad to arrive later that afternoon
Swim 3.8km

With a rolling swim start, it's always hard to tell where you would place throughout the race. I got myself as close as I can towards the front but I could see the top Malaysian triathletes were a bit further in front. It was a two lap triangular shaped swim course and we were released 4 at time with a few seconds apart. I got a good start running off the beach and then diving into the water. But was caught up with many other swimmers and had swim over some of them (sorry!) to get moving forward. Sighting every 5 strokes or so, I kept close to the buoys and didn't get off course much.

With a higher tide this year, we were able to do a short run on the beach before going for the second lap. I clocked 33:42 for the first lap and felt pretty comfortable. It was less crowded on the second lap and I had more space to myself. There was a bit more chop in the water which caused me to swallow some sea water but nothing too dramatic. A bit of sea lice here and there, which gave me some burns under my neck but didn't affect me much throughout the race. The second lap was a bit longer at 34:18 although I felt I swam faster (must be the couple of times I stopped kicking so that I could pee!) I had a total swim time of 1:08:00 which is fairly consistent to the last two Ironman swims in Langkawi, which typically tends to be a bit long. My watch recorded a distance of 4km.

Photo credit:
Transition 1

I came into the change tent with two top Malaysian triathletes - Mohd Amran and Allie Helmy. There were not many chairs left and I had to get my socks on while standing. This time round, we had to place our bags ourselves into cages provided. But things went smoothly for me and I got out of transition quicker than the other two. Time taken 2:42.

Bike 180km

Despite coming out of transition first, both Amran and Allie quickly overtook me. I wasn't going to give chase as I'm way out of their league. There were two other Malaysians who came out of the water first, about 3 minutes ahead - super fish Abdul Hai and recent sub 10 hour Roth finisher Rupert Chen. The former still new in this sport took his time in transition while Rupert who's made massive improvements in his swim was powering ahead on the bike. Another top Malaysian and multiple Kona finisher, Hafiz Wong overtook me just after we got down from Datai.

Photo credit: Jack Ah Beh
But I raced within myself and was extremely conservative with my cycling, pushing about an average pace just above 30kph and average power output 150 watts, a bit lower than what I would do on my long training rides. I was actually enjoying myself without much pressure. I shifted to the small chainring many times for the climbs and especially for the steep ones on LISRAM highway and Padang Gaong just after the 50km mark.

The bike is two laps with the first lap being longer at 100km. Just after the turnaround point, Michelle overtook me and looking strong. As we made our way up Datai the second time, I could feel my energy levels dropping. This, despite a conservative pacing and relatively cool weather (for Langkawi standards) with plenty of cloud cover. Nevertheless I pushed on with the descend and along the flat sections towards Ayer Hangat. But I was slowly getting a feeling a deja vu from the previous two years. I struggled to stay on my aero bars and was desperately looking for the next aid station. At the 135km mark, I stopped for a 5 minute breather under the aid station tent, something I've not done in any of my races.

Photo credit: Jack Ah Beh
That refreshed me a bit but only for a while. When I got to the 150km mark before the two steep climbs, words cannot describe how relieved I was to see my family support crew waiting for me. Took another short break and exchanged some hugs and kisses, and that powered me through the final stretch. It was more powerful than 1,000 gels combined!

Poor Sebastian looks so tired here!
I finally rolled myself into T2 along with another Malaysian, Fazreen. Bike split was 6:16:49.

Transition 2

The legs didn't feel too great and being held in an air conditioned hall in Mahsuri International Exhibition Centre, I was tempted to linger but I wasted no time to get in and out. Time taken 1:29.

Run 42.2km

The first 300m or so was done in the convention centre, there was plenty of cheer from the crowd to lift our spirits. My legs were wobbly and I was clocking close to 7 minutes per km when we got to the airport road. Another Malaysian, Choo Wooi Sing shot past me just after 4km. And I noticed another Malaysian, Rafiq was further ahead. And while I was never in contention to be amongst the top Malaysian, I would still like to keep my position relatively high.

The run was 2.5 laps from MIEC to Chenang, where we would eventually finish. I was walking at all aid stations, grabbing Lucozade, Coke and watermelon. But my body could hardly process the liquids and I was peeing immediately after taking them in. Luckily, organizers provided big basins of water with small buckets to splash water over us. So this went on for pretty much most of the course - run, drink, eat, pee, splash, repeat.

Photo credit: Finisherpix
As the run progressed, my legs got back it's rhythm and I was getting back to under 6 minutes per km pace. The torrential downpour at the end of my first lap lowered the temperature and I was getting down to 5:30 pace. But it was freezing as I got back into MIEC, only to be warmed up by the greetings of Li-Ann with Keith and Gary. Mum and Karen must have gone to pick my dad from the airport.

The rain died down a bit soon after. But the rain left plenty of big puddles and some sections were pretty badly flooded, it was like doing an Xterra race! I managed to overtake Simon Cross who passed me at the 115km mark on the bike, he gave me some words of encouragement. Not long after that, I overtook Michelle, whom I later found out had a nasty fall at 140km of the bike course but finished strong regardless.

Photo credit: Jack Ah Beh
My pace started falling back into the 6:30s in the final stretch but I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. I overtook Hafiz who was struggled later in the run. I was starting to get a gag reflex in the last few kms, probably from dehydration or lack of nutrition. At the final turn towards the finish, Karen and Gary were playing spotters to my parents, Keith, Li-Ann and Sebastian back at the finish line. This gave me a little burst of energy to run towards the finishing arch. Tears welled up in my eyes as I got onto the red carpet. Crossed the line kissed the ground, and pumped my fists into the air - I've done it, I've finished Ironman Malaysia!

My run split was 4:23:51 with overall time of 11:52:52, my slowest Ironman time ever, but I was happy. 206th overall and 33rd in my age group, and the 7th Malaysian to cross the line.

Post race and acknowledgements

I actually had a bit of a scare and felt nauseous. As we walked back to the hotel, there was an ambulance and my family suggested I get myself checked out by the medics. I laid there for a while and they took me back to the medical tent for further observation. But nothing serious, just needed something to eat. Had three bowls of pumpkin soup and felt much better after.

First and foremost, I want to give thanks to my wonderful wife Li-Ann, for your support, for juggling working from home and caring for our son Sebastian and tolerating my absence in body when I'm out training and in mind when I'm back home but all I could think about is the race. While I crossed the finish line, soaking up the glory and glamour, what people don't see is the massive effort and sacrifice Li-Ann has put in so that I can actually cross that line.

My pillars of strength
My family - mum, dad, Karen, Keith and Gary (yes, you're part of the family now!) for taking care of my needs on the days leading up to the race and going through the trouble making the trip, giving me moral support. I love you guys! Dad actually spent a total of 20 hours in Langkawi, arriving straight from a business trip before joining the rest.

My training partners in Red Dog and Logan Triathlon Club for keeping me honest in the sessions, fellow like minded triathletes keeping me motivated with their social media updates. The enthusiastic volunteers and the awesome support from the Malaysian triathlon community who weren't racing but flew in to Langkawi to cheer - Bunanamo, Tadonamo, Underdog and many others. Family and friends who gave the countless words of encouragement and well wishes through Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Instagram etc.

My product sponsors - Lifeline ID, Saucony, Rocktape, N8 Nutrition for having faith in an everyday average triathlete. I practically depend on these products to get me through not just on race day but with my daily training as well.

Thank you everyone for making my 10th Ironman possible.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Bukit Merah 113 triathlon - DSQ!

Bukit Merah triathlon is the final leg of the 113 Triathlon Series. Initially, I wasn't planning on doing this race after the trauma from last year's crash. But it fitted nicely with our travel plans, being just one week before my sister's wedding. So I thought I'd give it another go. Most of you would have known by now, that I had to own up to a disqualification due to misdirection by the volunteer marshal at one of the intersections, resulting in the first few athletes having the bike distance cut short by about 10km. Nevertheless, we continued with the race and had a good training day. As such, still worthy of a race report.

Pre race

We flew into Malaysia just two days before the race. This is the first time we are taking Sebastian on a plane and we were pretty nervous as to how he would react. But he was surprisingly fine and in fact, he cried more in the car on the way to the airport. The 3 hour drive to Bukit Merah the next day wasn't too bad either as he slept most of the way. We stopped by Larut Matang Hawker Centre in Taiping for some char kuay teow and I even bought another packet from another stall to take away as I wasn't quite pleased with the first one. That's the downside about racing back home as I tend to get carried away with the delicious food that I've been missing!

The drive up and down the steep and winding road leading into Bukit Merah Laketown Resort still sent shivers down my spine. Once checked in, I headed out to give that slope a try. I survived and came back in one piece but it was still as scary as hell - on one of the corners, I swerved into the opposite lane and there was a car actually coming up! Thank goodness, the driver took notice and gave me enough space.

In the evening, Sebastian hogged most of the limelight at the race briefing/welcome dinner. Race director Andy, who's a friend of mine made a nice mention of Sebastian being the youngest member of the 113 family.

Photo credit: Kental Fan Club
Race morning

Having the race hosted in the resort was so convenient - the transition area was in the carpark right outside our room! I was the first to rack my bike and then went back into the room to get on with my own business. Sebastian decided to give me a big present on the sheets, luckily we were checking out straight after the race!

Photo credit: Tony Tan
There was a slight delay in the start as the athletes were already all in the water doing their warm up swim when organizers asked us to come back up onto jetty again so that they can stagger the start into separate waves of 100 athletes each. I cheekily changed my registration from age group to elite after seeing there were only two other elites. It was a nice feeling having my name announced as the elites were introduced one by one.

Photo credit: Nik Fahusnaza
Shaking hands before the battle begins!
Swim 2km

The three of us were positioned at the front end of the pontoon. The moment we plunged in, I tried keeping up with super fish Sawada san, but only for a few meters. My open water skills still needed a lot of work as I was zig zagging. Jason the other elite, was a slower swimmer but I allowed him to get bridge the gap each time I swam off course. The downside of swimming in a small field was that I had to do a lot more sighting. Although there were lane ropes marking the course, you had to swim pretty close to them in order to see them. The swim is a two lap rectangular course. It was only towards the second half of the first lap that I was getting the hang of it and started making a gap from Jason, while Sawada San was already miles ahead. 

Photo credit: Jack Ah Beh
Being in the lake, the water was calm. Visibility wasn't too bad but it wasn't as good as last year due to more rain in the past few days. My watch showed 18 minutes after the first lap and just like last year, it was over distanced. Towards the second half of the second lap, there was a little bit more crowd, hence requiring a bit of manoeuvering. Carefully climbed up the steep wooden ramp as I got out of the water, clocking 37:57 which is about 3 minutes down from Sawada san and 4.5 minutes ahead of Jason.

Li-Ann and Sebastian patiently waiting for me after the swim
Photo credit: Running Malaysia Magazine

Bike 90km

A quick transition and off onto the bike course. I started the bike with the small chainring for the steep climb and then bracing myself for the fast, tight descend. But as I got onto the crest of the climb, I chickened and decided to unclip to walk down the hill. Maybe if I had alloy wheels and brakes, I would have had more confidence riding down the slope, It was only about 700m and I figured not to risk it. Once I got to the bottom of the hill, I was expecting Jason to catch me soon but he only got to me in about another 7kms in.

Photo credit: Nik Fahusnaza
The bike course is lollipop shaped with two loops and turning around at the bottom of the hill, meaning only going through the hill once. The remainder of the course is mostly flat with some gentle inclines. There was a bit of headwind on the way out, not as strong as what I usually experience in Brisbane but enough to require a bit more effort to maintain the desired speed. I was racing within myself but still keen to bring the speed back up after the slow start from the hill. I got up to about 33kph average towards the end of the first lap... and that's where it happened.

At the final intersection heading back into the resort, the volunteer marshal directed me to turn left. Having analysed the course numerous times, I was pretty sure we were meant to turn right so that we can make a U-turn just before the resort. Once I turned left and cycled for a bit, I knew the course was cut short because I've missed a few landmarks at the start of the course. At this point, I thought it was a last minute modification due to traffic and safety. I was beginning to lap the later athletes, much earlier than I expected but I kept going and didn't think too much about it.

Photo credit: Running Malaysia Magazine
The temperature was rising towards the end of the second bike lap. I think I may not use a helmet visor for the Ironman in November to allow more ventilation. When I came back to the same intersection, there were a couple of confused athletes stopped there. This time the marshal directed us to turn right. And here's where I confirmed that I've cut the course short. The later athletes were cycling along this route and making the U-turns before going out to the second lap. When I got to the bottom of the hill, Sawada san was there talking to the officials. I guessed that he was in the same boat. Whereas, Jason took it upon himself to make the U-turn and head back out on the course. Sawada san and myself decided that we will own up to the disqualification and climbed back up the hill into transition. My bike time was 2:24:53 for 80km distance.

Run 21km

The competitive spirit was lost and both Sawada san and myself took our time, clarified our situation with race director Andy in transition. He allowed us to continue with the race but our results would show DSQ. I forgot to activate my watch and I waited for it to get a GPS signal before I started my run. I caught up with Sawada san before the first km and we paced each other until the first turnaround point which was just under 6kms. He asked me to go on my own as it was getting hot and he wanted to slow down. On the return, I was beginning to see other athletes in the opposite direction and I made it a point to give them a nod of encouragement in this tough part of the race.

Photo credit: Nik Fahusnaza
The pace before this was just under 5 minutes but the heat was taking a toll and I started slowing down to about 5:30. Jason was coming in the opposite direction and I mentioned to him that Sawada san and myself have already been disqualified, so he's currently in first place. Onto the second lap, I was slowing down even more, getting close to 6 minutes pace. Despite being disqualified, I still wanted to cross the line first as it's something I've never experienced before although it was already irrelevant at this point. Both Sawada san and Jason were getting closer - at the last turnaround, the gaps were about 4 minutes and 7 minutes respectively.

Photo credit: Cycling Malaysia Magazine
So I dug deep, pushing the pace back towards 5:30. It didn't help that the course was overdistanced and I was still meters away from the finisher arch after clocking 22kms. Got to the finish line and the emcee obviously wasn't informed of my disqualification, announcing me as the overall winner. I didn't cross over the finishing banner but I made sure my foot just crossed the timing mat so I could get a timing reference to analyse after the race. I made an awkward side step into the recovery area with Li-Ann and Sebastian by my side. My run time was 2:01:15 with the slow transition and overall time of 5:04:06 even with a reduced bike leg, indicating how tough it was under the heat and how much I need to adjust my expectations for Ironman this November.


Post race

While it was an error made by the volunteer marshal, ultimately it is the athlete's responsibility to know the course. We didn't stay for the prize presentations. On hindsight I should have made up the remaining distance on the bike like what Jason and some of the other athletes who were also misdirected did, then I could have gotten a prize. But winning prizes isn't why I do triathlons and I was happy with how I finished the race. It was good training for the Ironman in November. Having ais kacang was good enough of a prize for me and we had a nice holiday with plenty of food in Ipoh after.

Moving on and forward to the next race... see you in Langkawi!

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Ironman Cairns 2016

*Edit - my thoughts and prayers for the family of the Japanese athlete who died in hospital on the Thursday following the race. He was taken to hospital in a critical condition after being pulled unconscious from the swim during the race. May he rest in peace. News report here.

Ironman Cairns have always had a special place in my heart, being my long standing Ironman PB when I last did this race 4 years ago (race report here). With my DNF at Ironman Malaysia in November last year, I was keen to redeem myself but with our newborn being only 7 weeks old on race day, I wasn't so sure how things would pan out. Still, I continued training as if I was going to race. And when it was rumoured that entries were selling out, I got the green light from my ever supportive wife to sign up. Luckily, I did as it did sell out soon after.

Pre race

So fast forward to the couple of days pre race. Caught myself the first flight in the morning and arrived in Cairns at about 9.30am. I stayed at Caravella Backpackers, something I don't mind putting up with travelling solo. It was clean and I had a private room with ensuite. The staff were pretty strict with a 11pm curfew in common areas, so it was quiet at night too. With about 15 minute walk from the race expo, it was near perfect. The line for race packs pick up was pretty long and I was glad to use the AWA priority line. The stuff at the expo was pretty standard, so I didn't buy anything apart from a couple of co2 canisters. The video race briefing sort of repeated the info in the athlete's guide, so while I sat through it, I didn't pay much attention. After I unpacked my bike, the screws to the cap covering the Di2 battery couldn't quite go in all the way. I asked the on-site mechanic for help and they reckon the screw thread is partly damaged. Anyway, we got them as in as they could. A quick spin and drop off for the bike transfer.

There was no carbo loading dinner, as we were given restaurant vouchers instead. But there was a welcome function at the convention centre but I have to say, there wasn't much of an update from the race director, so I could have saved myself the 20 minute walk to and from. A nice sleep in before catching the first shuttle bus to transition 1 in Palm Cove, about 30 minutes away. My bike arrived soon after me and once I have my gear bag checked in and have it all set up, I had a quick swim practice, my first swim in this new wetsuit - talk about not using anything new on race day! Water was pretty choppy but manageable. I met Harum and Knut, from Malaysia and they gave me a ride back to Cairns. The rest of the day was just taking it easy preparing for the big day.

Race morning

Alarm set for 4.15am but I was awake since 3am. It's okay, because I did sleep pretty much through the night since 8.30pm. Got ready and a calm walk to the shuttle bus. The other competitors were surprisingly chatty on the bus. I was on the phone with Li-Ann for some final words of encouragement.  When I arrived at my bike rack, I was surprised to see the plastic bags I had covering my saddle and arm pads were removed, with a yellow sticker placed on my seat post. I was worried I was going to get an infringement before the race even started! Went around looking for a technical official as the volunteers couldn't quite tell me what it meant. Finally found one and was re-assured I won't be penalized. Phew!

With a 7.45am start, there was still plenty of time to get ready. The toilets outside of transition were pretty quiet and I had one final visit before putting on my wetsuit. Then it was go time. It was nice to bump into Tom from Break Your Limits, my old training group back in Perth while walking towards the race start.

Swim 3.8km

The water did definitely get choppier from the day before. It was a rectangular shaped, two lap swim course in anti clockwise direction. Along the shore and back, repeat. The first swim out to the first buoy was rough with waves keep on pushing us back to shore. After the right turn, it wasn't as bad, but I've given up swimming in a straight line. As long as I was heading in the correct direction, I was happy to keep swimming. It was difficult to draft too - one moment you can be next to someone, the next moment, they'll be a few meters away with the waves. I did swallow a few gulps of sea water but I tried not to get too worried about it.

My watch showed about 30+ minutes after the first lap, so I was on target to swim about 1:05 or so. Going through the second lap is always mentally easier as it seemed more familiar. Towards the end of the second lap, My eyes somehow caught hold of the start buoy rather than the end buoy, so I was swimming in the wrong direction. I went about halfway before realizing this and quickly made the detour. I arrived at the beach somewhere in between the two and had to run towards the swim finish gantry. It was nice to hear Trent from Red Dog was cheering as I got in. Crossed the first timing mat in 1:06:03, my slowest Ironman swim in a wetsuit, and about 3 minutes slower than 4 years ago. But the swim was in the calm waters of Cairns jetty then, so I was willing to accept it.

Transition 1

Wetsuit came off without too much drama. Quick wipe off the sand from my feet, socks on and two Clif Bars into my rear pocket. Fasten helmet on as I ran out of the change tent. The transition area was all wet from the rain and my socks were already getting soaked. It's a pretty tight area with plenty of kerbs to hop over and a small bridge to cross as well. It's a good thing my bike is racked in a straight line from the exit. Steadily mounting the bike, ensuring I don't wipe myself or any other competitor out in the process. Time 4:26

Bike 180km

Unlike 4 years ago where the bike started in Cairns CBD so there was plenty of bumps and turnarounds we had to get through to get to the highway. This time it was just a short U-turn (so that we don't collide with the 70.3 competitors who started earlier, coming in the opposite direction) and straight out onto the highway towards Port Douglas. The ride started with a south easterly wind, so although it was a bit of tailwind, there were definitely cross winds in the open sections. And I had to get off my aero bars onto the side bars to make sure I don't get blown off my bike. With a slight tailwind, the average pace climbed steadily towards the 34kph mark. But, as it was raining every now and then, and there were quite a few puddles on the road, I was really cautious and didn't hammer the speed up as quickly as I would have liked.

Got to Port Douglas and Joel from Red Dog was commentating as we did the turnaround. "Here comes Kevin who just became a dad few weeks ago!" I gave a big wave and the crowd responded. The headwind on the return leg was evident but still manageable. The pace did drop a bit but it was soon over after 30km or so, before we make a turnaround for the second lap. But the energy levels have dropped a bit and I wasn't getting the speed as I did before. The rolling climbs started to take a toll and I wasn't as springy going through them as I did earlier.

I picked up another two Clif Bars from special needs as I finished the first two. But somehow my stomach didn't feel like it wanted any more Clif Bars, so I stuck to the Endura gels for the rest of the ride. After the second turnaround at Port Douglas, I braced myself for the final 70kms back to Cairns in the headwind. The rolling climbs became more strenuous and I was glad to go through the big climb at Rex Lookout for the last time. I've given up chasing my previous time and I was just hanging on the survive.

But once we got into the flat sections with about 30km more to go, I felt a bit more energized and could maintain a decent pace. This kept on all the way back to Cairns. The curvy detours at Yorkys Knob and the airport annoyed me a bit as I rather just hammer through a straight road back. But got to transition 2 in relatively good spirits and ready to run. Time was 5:33:28, about 10 minutes slower than previously. The Garmin recorded about 1.5 to 2kms short but in the end of the day, everyone's cycling the same distance.

Transition 2

No dramas getting off the bike. Having pre activated my Garmin earlier in the morning during my walk to the shuttle bus and the day before, meant it picked up a signal instantly. I was glad to have packed a second pair of socks in my run gear bag as my bike socks were soaked. Quick swap over and shoes on. Race number belt, running visor and sunglasses on the go. Time 1:38

Run 42.2km

The run is 3 laps, out and back along the Cairns Esplanade with a slight detour into the park on each lap. My legs felt good and the crowd was cheering. I probably got way ahead of myself as I was clocking sub 4:30 per km pace for the first couple of kms. But soon settled into a 4:45 to 5:00 range. The rain came again and that kept us cool. The first part of the run went through some wooden board walk surfaces and it was pretty slippery with the rain. The port side section had lots of puddles too. With some mental calculation, I thought if I could run close to a 3:30 marathon, I could still just break my PB. But I was only able to maintain the pace up until 8km or so and then I started going past the 5 minute mark.

Then I struggled even further, even nearing the 6:30 pace. Trent and Ian cheering at the Esplanade and Mike cheering at the boardwalk, kept me going. I had my wife and son in my thoughts, who've given up so much for me to be here. I said to myself, no matter what, I was going to finish.

Somehow, the energy levels got back up on the third lap and with the finish being about an hour or so away, the spirits lifted a bit. I was back onto 5:30 pace. The short walk at each of the aid stations helped refreshed the tired legs and reset the fatigued mind. Cramps were starting to come in the final few kms, so I slowed back down to just under 6 minutes again just so my legs won't seize up. It started getting dark too and volunteers were starting to hand out glow sticks to competitors coming in the opposite direction. When I still could, I was going to make my run without glow sticks, just an ego thing.

Finally, got the cross path where the sign says turn right for finish or go straight for another lap, it was a big relief taking the right turn. Into the cheering crowd and flash lights blazing into your face. Tears welled up in my eyes as Pete Murray the announcer called out my name - Kevin Siah from Malaysia, you're an Ironman!

My run split was 3:57:07, about 15 minutes slower than last time but still happy to stay under 4 hours. Overall time was 10:42:45, about 28 minutes slower than previous Ironman Cairns. But I was happy with how I managed the race to the end. Position 37th/119 in age group and 225th/1309 overall.

Post race and acknowledgements

I went straight to get my phone from the street gear storage to call Li-Ann. I just wanted to thank her for everything she has done, the late nights caring for our young child so that I can be up early to train and the long weekend days while I'm out for my big rides. I'm so lucky to have her support this crazy idea of mine of doing an Ironman when our son is only 7 weeks old. Also, big thanks to mum and mum in law for all the help in the past few weeks, we couldn't have done it without you. And everything cheering on the race course and remotely - the Red Dog crew, Bunanamo Tri Club back home and especially my parents and siblings, tracking my race progress online and catching me on video as I finish. Kudos to my sponsors too - Lifeline IDSaucony Malaysia and Rocktape Malaysia for providing my race and training needs. It's the amazing support network I have keeps me going and continue to enjoy doing this.

I was in the queue in the massage tent but by the time I got off the phone with Li-Ann and checked all the messages, it got pretty late and I was getting hungry. The post race buffet wasn't bad and I was able to stomach some hot soup, pasta and hot dog. Skipped the ice cream though. Then it was picking the bike from transition and pretty long night getting the gear cleaned and packed for my flight back to Brisbane the next day.

Overall, I'm pretty satisfied with my race performance and it's nice to add another Ironman finish, which brings to 9 finishes. I've sort of gotten over the why am I doing this and looking forward to my next one. Which one? We'll just have to wait and see.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Tweed Coast Enduro 2016

Only in it's second year running, the Tweed Coast Enduro is fast becoming a popular half iron distance event on the calendar. Located in Pottsville, an easy 1.5 to 2 hours drive from Brisbane but remember that with daylight savings, we lose an hour once we cross the border to the state of New South Wales.

I signed up for this event late last year and with our first baby due in about a month's time, this is the last event I've committed to for the year (although I'm not ruling out signing up for any event at the last minute hahaha). The event was held on a Saturday. Li-Ann came along and we decided to stay for the weekend, also making this our last holiday (or as Li-Ann calls it ra-cation) before the baby arrives. We stayed two nights from Friday in a nice bed and breakfast, Escapebnb, less than 2kms from transition. It was a 3 bedroom place and all of us staying there were doing the race. The host was nice enough to get up at 4am to make us breakfast! She was just lovely and we really got spoiled throughout our stay!

We were given this awesome bag at race check-in, totally did not expect that!
I was in the last wave with an 8am start, so I got a bit of extra sleep-in. I decided to ride to transition on race morning, instead of racking my bike overnight. I'm glad I made that decision, because it rained overnight. With entry numbers around the 300 mark, transition wasn't as busy as what I'm used to seeing. We had the old school marker pens for our body numbering as well. Once I got set up, I found a nearby public toilet for that important last visit... and there was no queue too! And then, a long 20 minute walk to the swim start as it was a point to point swim.

Swim 1.9km

The anxiety did build up watching the earlier waves get into the water and starting their race. The swim was in Mooball Creek and the selling point was most of it - 95% was current assisted! We started with a short 90m against the current and a U-turn to swim with the currents for the remainder of the course. When we were waiting for our start, I realised how shallow the water was, about waist deep and it stayed that way for most of the swim. The water was crystal clear and we could see fishes every now and then.

I was a bit hasty at the start and got caught in the marker lines a couple of times. But once we made the U-turn, I found my rhythm and started gaining my way through the field. There were less than 30 people in my age group and I soon came to a point where there weren't many within sight ahead of me. The faster ones were probably well ahead.

As we got through the bridge nearing the finish, the sand build up made the water even shallower. I saw a few from the earlier waves in front were already standing up. I stood up for a while and tried walking and found that made me slower, so I got back to swimming again. Once I made the left turn towards the end of the swim, immediately I could feel the currents pushing me away. That's when I had to stand up and wade my way for the last few meters of the swim. My swim time was 27:05, much quicker that what I'm used to clocking. Though I was expecting quicker with the currents. But looking at the results, it seemed overall swim times were slower than last year.

Bike 90km

I probably had one of my messiest transition in recent years, just one of those days. I fumbled with getting my bike saddle off the rack, with the rear bottle getting stuck. Then as I passed the mount line, I needed several attempts before I could mount my bike without falling over. I was about 9th or 10th in my age group out of transition, and a couple of guys overtook me within the first few kms of the bike.

The course is L-shaped and we go through it 4 times, with a small 40m incline before the turnaround. As my bike handling skills continue to be a work in progress, I was more concerned about the turnaround than anything else! At least this time I didn't have to unclip one foot at each turn. And at the end of each lap, we make a U turn at a roundabout. That's where the Trent and the Red Dog crew positioned themselves to cheer us, I had to take extra caution not to come off my bike but not going too slow either so that I don't look like a novice - such pressure!

We generally had a headwind on the way out and tailwind on the way back, with a bit of cross wind at some open areas. There were a couple of occasions where it was pretty gusty and I had to get off my aerobars onto the drops to steer, just so I don't get blown off my bike. The wind sort of changed directions a bit on the 3rd and 4th lap. And on my 4th lap, it was pissing in rain! There were some puddles forming on the road and I had to make sure that I did not ride into any potholes that were now difficult to look out for. I was happy to overtake one of the guys from my age group towards the last few kms.

My bike split was 2:33:15 including transition time, I was hoping for sub 2:30 but was willing to accept anything below 2:35. I averaged 193 watts, just one watt lower than Hell of the West few weeks ago and my NP was 202 watts, 4 watts more. So despite the slower average pace, I was putting in almost identical efforts, hence I can't complain. Full bike data here.

Run 21.1km

Got into transition still about 9th to 10th place in age group. A quick slip into my shoes and putting on sunglasses, visor and race belt on the go. My legs felt okay and I was able to turn them around fairly quickly. But I forgot to turn my Garmin on as I entered transition and it kept on searching for a signal as I was moving. I've already activated it at the bike racks earlier in the morning and usually it would have located a signal fairly quickly if I had turned it on closer to transition. But it didn't bother me that much and I just focused on racing - searching for those from my age group ahead of me.

The run course was 3 laps and sort of like T shaped. It was mixed with grassy areas and pavement. There were some small rolling hills on the pavement, nothing major but can be challenging on tired legs. With the change in terrain and surface, I felt a cramp coming on in my left inner quad at one point but I managed it by changing my stride length and it soon went away. The weather wasn't too bad, it stopped raining and it was a fair bit overcast. The volunteers and drinks stations were awesome with plenty of flavours in electrolytes to choose from. Local residents were great too showering us with their garden hose.

I managed to overtake one from my age group towards the end of the first lap. My watch finally picked up a signal as I got close to transition. Li-Ann came out to watch and she was cheering me on, just before I passed the Red Dog tent and got cheered again - double boost! My second lap was a fair bit slower and by the third, I was just trying to survive! Don't know why, but can't seem to find my running mojo lately.

My run split was 1:42:50, a far cry from my intended 1:35 but it was all I could give that day. I slowed down by about 2 minutes each lap, which was pretty significant over a 7km distance per lap. But I actually ran myself to 5th place in my age group, so relatively I didn't do too bad and gained a few more places. My overall placing was 30th. Full results here.

My overall time was 4:43:11, bettering my personal best over the half iron distance by just over 1.5 minutes. But with a current assisted swim, I may keep this off the record books for now and look to improving this time on the same course next year. And I highly recommend doing this race. A small but well organized and supported event, just how triathlon at its grassroots used to be. Something which is rare these days.

Individually engraved finishers' medals too! What a pleasant surprise!
That's it for me... not sure when will my next report be. Maybe sooner, maybe later. We'll just have to wait and see! *wink*

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Hell of the West 2016

Hell of the West also known as the Goondi tri, held in the country town of Goondiwindi, about 4.5 hours west of Brisbane, by the Queensland and New South Wales border. With Li-Ann nearing the final few months of pregnancy, making it a bit more uncomfortable to travel, I decided to join the Red Dog boys bus this year. This made the experience a little bit more colourful, which is a massive understatement! Hats off the Trent and the crew for organizing the whole trip. Everything was well taken care of - bike transportation, accommodation and food.
Big responsibility having to be the one driving this ute and trailer!
It was an early race start at 5am, as with the previous years. The alarm was set at an ungodly 2.45am. I had a decent night's sleep. Myself and my roommate along with a couple of other Red Dogs were the first few ones to head to the race on our bikes, at about 3.40am. It was about 2kms away from transition. I racked my bike next to two other Red Dogs. The atmosphere was fairly relaxed. This year the swim was back in the Macintyre river, so there was no need to go to the botanical gardens. One last visit to the toilet and then it was time to make our way to the swim start.

Swim 2km

A fairly straightforward course, single anti clockwise lap and straight out-and-back and making the U-turn just after we swim under a bridge. An interesting fact, we'll be swimming past the state border and back, so actually crossing two time zones due daylight savings in New South Wales. My swim wave was the first just after the elites. Although we could catch a very slight glimpse of daylight, it was still very dark. Having the swim in the river meant more space and I find that I didn't get as clobbered as much compared to the swim in the botanical gardens pond last year.

I wasted a bit of time trying to find a good pair of feet to draft and soon came to realization that I was better off swimming on my own. After the U-turn, it was already much brighter and I noticed there were not many in front who were within sight. I overtook a couple more and then I was pretty much on my own and had to do my own sighting. I managed to pass an elite female who started 5 minutes earlier, that gave me a bit of a confident boost. I was 15th out of the water in my age group, my watch showed around 34 minutes. I dropped my goggles during the run towards transition, a volunteer picked it up and called out, so was able to grab it off him without wasting too much time. Crossed the first timing mat in 36:49. About 4 minutes slower than last year, but typically the swim in the river tends to be a bit slower than the botanical gardens pond, so I was happy with that.
I overshot my bike rack by a couple of steps but very quickly was able to back track and get my gear on before heading out on the bike course.

Bike 80km

Just the like swim course, the bike course is also a 1 lap, straight out and back course. Virtually flat and this year we had the rare luxury of a tailwind on the return. Last year I raced on my road bike with alloy wheels. This time, I had the whole race kit with my Felt IA and the carbon race wheels. So I planned to make some gains on the bike. It was fairly uneventful. I just knuckled down and monitored my pace and watts, just so I don't burn out. Every 10 minutes, I sat up to drink and gave myself a brief break from the aero position. A few cyclists overtook me on the way out but I rode within myself. Reached the turnaround in just under 1:09 with an average pace of 35.1kph. I'm ashamed to admit this, but I actually unclipped my shoe at the turnaround! I panicked and decided to play it safe, as to not fall over. Gotta keep working on 'em bike skills!
After making the U-turn, the tailwind was truly refreshing. The pace easily went above 40kph for long periods of time. There were still some sections where the road would wind a bit and we got a bit of cross wind, causing the speed to drop a bit. I was surprised to overtake a few more cyclists on the return, as I thought those ahead would be gunning it in the tailwind. Guessed I paced myself pretty well then. Upon reaching transition, my average speed built up to 37kph. I was going to make it to 2:10 for the bike split, almost 20 minutes quicker than last year and well within my 2:20 target!
The official results showed me with a 2:12:33 bike split which includes transition time. I had to spend a few seconds removing a small stone off my foot as I put on my shoes, could have been a game changer otherwise! I was 13th off the bike in my age group, so I actually gained two places during the bike which tends to be rare for me!

I try to be a bit more analytical with my results and I'm still learning as I go. From an average and normalized power perspective, I'm pretty happy with the results. They are just a bit lower than a 40km time trial I did in September last year. They sit around 90% of FTP of 224 (not 200 as shown above) when I did an FTP test middle of last year. Full stats here

Run 20km

The run course is 3 laps, also out-and-back except for one short section where the course splits for the opposing directions before joining again. Having activated my Garmin earlier while racking the bike enabled it to pick up a signal almost instantaneously as I ran out of transition. Last year, we had to run broken up into 3.2km pre bike and 16.8km post bike. So naturally, this year's run would most likely be slower.
The run leg is what I look forward to in any triathlon. The support crowd is closer. Trent and the Red Dog crew were cheering at the start of each lap. I started my first km really well, 4:13 I clocked. But I knew that was too quick and I settled in to around 4:30 pace. But that was only up until the end of the first lap. The temperature started to rise very quickly after and I started slowing down, maybe I went a bit too hard on the bike. I started the second lap with a female relay runner, we stayed together for a while and kept the pace to about 4:45.
By the third lap, my lack of run fitness showed and I was into survival mode. My runs for the past few weeks have been in the 12-13 km mark. Still, I kept it to around 5 minute pace and that stayed for the remainder of the run. Reaching the final stretch, with the encouragement from the Red Dog team, I picked up the pace and sprinted towards the finishing arch. My run split was 1:33:40 and overall finish time of 4:23:03, an improvement of 7 minutes from last year. Despite my run being slower than expected, I gained a few more places in my age group and just managed to get 10th position, which is 8 position upwards from last year. Overall, I placed 50th - a 50 position jump from last year!

Nothing much to say, really, from the run statistics - apart from a steady decline in the pace as the day went by. I still race without a heart rate monitor, just because I don't feel comfortable wearing a chest strap. But would consider using it more often in future to get better data. Full stats here.

Considering the longer swim and tougher run, I'm pretty happy with the results. Sure we had a fairly easy bike with a tailwind on the return, which is quite rare. But it's good to know that my cycling form is getting back to where it used to be about 3 years ago, still need to work on sharpening my skills though. My running is something I've taken for granted and this race served as a reality check, that I can't be lazy anymore and need to start building up those long miles. I have the Tweed Enduro half Iron distance in a few weeks, so I need to get off my bum and start running!
Full results here
The after race party was fun, to say the least and as for the trip back to Brisbane with the boys.... well, what happens on the bus, stays on the bus! Until next year!
This year's event is the 25th anniversary, which made it extra special!