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.