Tuesday, 18 September 2018

ITU Age Group World Championships - Standard Distance

Which also coincided with the World Triathlon Series Grand Final for the elite races. I am truly humbled and honoured to be given the opportunity to race and represent my home country, Malaysia at this event. Sure I could have done the Robina triathlon a week after, which probably sits better at the end of my training block for Ironman. And I could have saved myself $750 in entry fees, ITU trisuit and accommodation but it’s not often that the world championships are held in your own backyard (well not quite, but 45 minutes drive away is as close as it gets) in the Gold Coast. Thank you Triathlon Association of Malaysia (TRIAM) for giving me this opportunity.

Race pack pick up was on Friday and I’m thankful that I have an understanding workplace that allowed me some time off without having to apply for leave. Multiple events had been going on since Wednesday and I appreciate the local residents having to put up with the road closures that took place pretty much from early morning until 6pm each day. I drove down with my wife and son just after lunch on Saturday (so that Sebastian can have his nap first) and made it just in time for the bike racking. I found it a bit amusing that each bike was scanned for motors, the official said to me in jest “Sorry mate, no motor, you have to pedal tomorrow!” Remainder of the evening was fairly relaxed, with dinner at a nearby Italian cafĂ© and then it was time to call it an early night.

Then… the drama started to unfold. At about 8.30pm, my phone buzzed with a notification from the event app. “Due to high winds, no disc wheels allowed for the age group standard distance event.” WTF! I was stunned for a moment and started losing it. Well, nothing else I could do. Luckily I live fairly close by, so a quick drive home to pick up my alloy wheels and back. Had to set the alarm earlier too by about an hour so to allow time to swap the wheels over and change brake pads. As well as to bring the carbon wheels back to the motel. Fortunately, the motel was near to the swim start but transition is about a 20 minute walk away being a point-to-point swim.

So at 3.30am the alarm went off. I don’t generally sleep well in a different bed and on the night before the race. So I didn’t fancy having my sleep time cut any shorter from the debacle. My arms felt sore from carrying the wheels while walking to transition – such a first world problem, not wanting to expend any more energy just before a race! The good thing was transition was well lit while I changed the wheels and brake pads so no need to worry about losing any small parts. Got it all done without any issues and back to the motel. One last toilet visit in my own comfort (rather than at a portaloo), kissed my wife goodbye and then a brief trot the swim start just around the corner.

Swim 1.5km
We were released in waves and my Male 35-39 age group was split into two waves, about 45 in each, so it didn’t feel too crowded. It was a deepwater start and very straightforward swim, just keep going south and then a short right turn at the final buoy. Apparently tide assisted but I didn’t feel the effect much. I was pleasantly surprised as I thought I would have been left behind with this event being the World Championships, but I was actually swimming through the field for most of the way until I got to a couple of swimmers who were just a bit faster and just stuck to their feet. Water visibility was decent, not super clear and we were swimming away from the sun rise so that helped too. I got out of the water in 24:20 with recorded distance of 1,615m on the Garmin. Average pace of 1:32 per 100m, so a bit faster than my usual swims so I guess there was a tide after all.

Transition 1
It was a pretty sandy run to the bike racks. I didn’t spend too much time wiping the sand off before I put my socks on. Yes, being used to longer distances I’ve always put my socks on and I wasn’t going to do anything different for this race. My left shoe came off as I pulled my bike off the racks. Took me a while to clip it back on. The mount line was pretty busy and I patiently let a few others head off first before I got on my bike, instead of risking knocking someone over. Time taken 2:40

Bike 40km
Two lap bike course with mostly flat and straight sections but a few twists and turns at the beginning of each lap and just before the turnaround. I have to admit that the alloy wheels do feel slower and the numbers backed that up. It was windy but nothing too extreme. Pretty busy course and there was constant overtaking and being overtaken. I was asked to drop back a couple of times by the technical official as I was getting too close to the front cyclists. I averaged about 32kph at first and slowly climbed towards 34kph when I got to the straight sections. And then the next lot of drama unfolded. Halfway between the turnaround and towards the end of the first lap, my ride was starting to feel a bit wobbly. So I decided to stop and check. True enough, my front tire went flat!

I was debating whether or not to carry a spare tube for this race as it was only a 40km ride and foolishly I didn’t. Then I remembered, I still had my other wheel in the motel and coincidentally I stopped right next to it! So I climbed over the fence (as roads were closed) and quickly asked Li-Ann to open the door. It did past my mind briefly that I could be disqualified for doing this but I just wanted to finish. But alas, when I picked up my carbon wheel, I remembered now that I’ve let the air out and I foolishly left the pump at home too! Almost wanting to throw the towel in, I decided I’ll run to transition with the bike to get it pumped. But first, to swap the brake pads – again!

So off I went pushing my bike for the remaining 1.5 to 2kms to transition, my feet were hurting from pounding the ground just with socks on. People were cheering so for that moment I did feel a bit like a hero. Got to the intersection where we were meant to head off for the second lap and asked where were the mechanics, the officials there seemed to have no idea. Stuff this, I was going to push my bike the second lap if I had to! Luckily I found a supporter carrying a bike pump and he willingly lent it to me. Again, risking a DQ for outside assistance but that ship has sailed long time ago.

Second bike lap didn’t feel too much of a rush for me as the momentum was gone but I reminded myself that I was still in a race so I better get going. There were still many people on the course from the later waves. Many 40+ females (I could tell from their age group stickers on their calves) were overtaking me. I finally finished the bike in 1:25:47. Garmin recorded 39.5km and just over 20 minutes from when I stopped to when I started pedaling again.

Transition 2
No dramas here. Bike on rack, helmet off, shoes on, sunglasses and race bib on the go. There was a little bridge that we had to cross coming out of transition but luckily no stairs. Time taken 2:26.

Run 10km
Two lap run course with a short detour before the turnaround. About 3kms out and 2kms back, repeat. Pretty much flat all the way. I was still trying to salvage my race as much as I could, though I was pretty certain I was going to be dead last in my age group. Hovered around the 4:05 per km pace with a couple closer to 4:10 and a few just under 4 minutes. It was getting windier and it felt like mostly tailwind on the way out and headwind on the way back. I have lost track of time after the puncture and it wasn’t until the end of the first run lap when I realized if I maintained my pace, I would finish just over 2.5 hours. I thought I was getting close to the 3 hour mark!

Had to dig deep on the second lap and it was great to see Li-Ann and Seb cheering me from the esplanade. I waved and gave them my best effort of a smile at that time through my gritted teeth. Finally got to the finish line in 2:34:32, my second slowest time for the standard distance. But with a run split of 39:21, my Garmin recorded 9.9km so even adding another 30 seconds for the 100m would still be a run PB for me. And only a few seconds slower than my standalone 10km PB. And I didn’t come in last in my age group!

The finish atmosphere was very different from any Ironman event. People were hugging each other, carrying their national flags, taking group pictures in front of the ITU signage. It was fantastic and heartwarming at the same time. It took me a while to get back to the motel with all the road closures. Even leaving the motel after check out was a bit of a challenge as we were still fenced in and had to get clearance from traffic management as the elite events were about to start that afternoon.

So that wraps up probably my only ITU World Championship event. Coincidentally, on Malaysia Day! Sure I would have liked to finish with a better time and placing but I’m pretty proud with how I turned things around after the little mishap. It’s a good feeling with the final build heading into Ironman Malaysia, Langkawi in 2 months’ time.