Thursday, 13 June 2019

Ironman Cairns 2019

Cairns has always been one of my favourite courses, not surprisingly as it was where I achieved (and still remains) my PB of 10:15:10 in 2012. I knew it would be a hard ask to beat that now, with 7 sessions a week (2 x swim/bike/run plus 1 gym session) and peaking at just under 14 hours. With a young family, that's all I'm willing to commit - that's my choice, not an excuse. After our move to Annerley in early February, while my weekend solo training have remained relatively similar to previous builds albeit with adjustments to the routes obviously, I did the mid week intervals run with South Bank triathlon and squad swims at UQ. Having a bigger group to train with definitely helped pushed me further. So with a consistent build in the last few months, I thought I would give it a crack given the right conditions.

We arrived in Cairns on Friday and were greeted by plenty of rain. We stayed at Cairns Plaza Hotel, which was conveniently located on the run course. I did the race pack pick up while the family rested in the hotel. It rained buckets during the pasta party but it was nice to catch up with fellow Malaysian Mun Seng and other like minded people seated at our table. The next morning it showered intermittently and I was reluctant to take the bike out for a ride as I've wiped it down already (a clean bike is a fast bike... apparently). So the only pre race ride I did was the 1.5km along the Esplanade to the bike transfer drop off. For lunch, we met up with Li-Ann's relatives who are living in Cairns. Then, Li-Ann and Sebastian followed me on the shuttle bus to Palm Cove for the bike gear drop off, only to hide away from more rain. We had glimpse at the crashing waves and the palm trees being blown around by the wind. We can only hope that it would calm down for the race the next day. After that, was take away pizza for dinner before calling it an early night.


Race morning came and I surprisingly had a pretty decent night's sleep. Strolled down to the shuttle bus pick up spot and there were plenty of buses, so it was really a seamless process. I arrived at Palm Cove just before 6am and had plenty of time to get my bike set up. Only to realize that I left my phone on the bus, but nothing I could do at that stage (I did get my phone back after the race from the information booth). So just queued up for the toilets while I ate my breakfast. The queue was moving slowly and I got out of the toilet just as transition was about to close, as the 70.3 athletes were coming in from their swim. There was still a fair bit of time before my race start and I managed to get a warm up swim in and have a quiet moment to myself.

Swim 3.8km

It was a rolling start on the beach, the line did take a while to move and it wasn't until 8am before I actually started. The swim course is one lap, rectangular shaped in anti clockwise direction. The water was pretty choppy, though I reckon it was worse when I did in 2016. I reckoned I probably lined myself a bit further back as I found I was overtaking quite a few swimmers even towards the later stages of the swim. Water visibility wasn't great, I couldn't check my progress very well and had to actually look up at my watch when my arms were above the water. The swim did feel long and I thought I would be close to the 70 minute mark, if not slower. I was about to give up hopes of any PB that day but surprisingly, I came out in 1:06:10, only 3 minutes down on my swim in 2012 when it was held in the calm waters off Cairns pier. That also meant that I still had a fighting chance for a PB, so had to actually work for it. Garmin recorded 3,863m so pretty much spot on.


Transition 1

A couple of hundred meters into the change tent. I found that there weren't as many volunteers as there used to be - I had to catch the attention of one before ensuring my swim gear was packed away. Helmets were put on the bike this time, rather than in the change tent. I clipped mine over the aerobars rather than leaving it hang loose as I didn't want a repeat from Moreton Bay tri where my helmet fell off and broke its visor. My water bottle came off as I went over the first bump after the mount line but was told to stay put as a volunteer came running towards me with it, thank you kindly! Total transition time taken 3:41.

Bike 180km

There was a slight change to the bike course compared to previous years. It still remained as two laps to Port Douglas and back. But the turnaround at Port Douglas has been moved further south (and the other turnaround at Palm Cove just after we exit from transition), means we no longer go through the Port Douglas town. Which is a shame as this is a good spot for spectators to cheer from the cafe strip. However, this change did reduce the long stretches of single lane cycling and thus probably helped to reduce the drafting. What this also meant was there was proportionately less flatter sections and more climbing sections. Garmin recorded 1,480m of elevation - about 200m more than the previous course. I was clocking between 18 to 19 minutes per 10km at the start. A bit slower than what I should be clocking if I wanted to match my 2012 split (sub 18 minutes). It was even slower on the return southbound journey with the headwind. Still, if I could run around 3.5 hours, the PB was still within reach.

But the body started hitting a wall after the second Port Douglas turnaround. The winds started picking up. I was shifting into the small chainring for every little climb, whereas on the first lap I only did that on the big climb at Rex lookout. I thought things would get better after the Rex lookout descend as it was pretty much flat all the way back to Cairns. But it was also more exposed to the headwind. I was on survival mode from then on and pretty much soft pedalled the last 30kms. I had almost all of my nutrition (4 Clif Bars, 2 bananas, 5 out of 6 gels plus some salt tablets) so it wasn't a nutrition issue. I guess whilst I have done my long rides, I haven't done any specific Ironman efforts to be able to nail it during a race. I took a brief 2 minute toilet break at the 160km aid station, just to reset myself. That helped but only for about 5 minutes or so, then I continued to roll at a pedestrian pace back to Cairns. My bike split including the break was 5:53:03. Garmin recorded 178.5km and average power at a low 144 watts. Li-Ann caught sight of me as I rolling into transition, which gave me a bit of a relief as I was afraid that she would be worried because of my delay.


Transition 2

The run into the change tent was rather unpleasant on muddy grass. Thankfully I had another pair of socks to change into. Grabbed my visor, sunglasses and race number on the go. Time taken 2:08.

Run 42.2km

My legs felt heavy coming out of transition, which was quite abnormal as I'm usually sprinting to make up for lost time. But I soon settled into a rhythm, albeit a slower pace. Mentally I have given up the fight as the PB seemed no longer achievable. But I was in good spirits and soaked in the atmosphere and cheers from the crowd. The run course was changed slightly as well to 4 laps, instead of the 3 laps in previous years. This made it better to get the support from Li-Ann and Sebastian. And I took brief moments to exchange a few words each time I passed them. It rained intermittently throughout the run course and while this helped kept the body temperature cool, it made certain sections, especially on the boardwalk a bit slippery.


I felt comfortable throughout the run and was keeping it around the 5:30 pace per km. I ran through aid stations for most of the first two laps. It was only from the 18km onwards where I started walking through the aid stations. Even then I kept the walking very brief and there were only a couple of km splits where I was just under the 6 minute pace. As I got to the final 6km or so, I thought I'd might aim for a sub 4 hour marathon. So I dug a bit deeper and ran through the remaining aid stations.


Finally, as I approached the intersection for the finishing chute, Li-Ann and Seb was there and I gave them a hug and a kiss. Before I make my towards the arch with the crowd cheering and tears in my eyes. This was my 13th Ironman finish (4th one in Cairns) and it's no different - I still sob like a sod crossing the line! Overall finish time was 11:02:02, run split was 3:57:02 with Garmin recorded distance of 41.9km.


It wasn't the finish time I was hoping for but it was a finish nonetheless. And it validated my legacy spot for Kona in 2021. And I couldn't have done this without the support and sacrifice of my wife and son. Not just at this race itself or any other race but every day for the many years leading up to this and probably would be for years to come. Until I get sick of this selfish hobby of mine, which is unlikely. And to them it didn't matter whether I came in 10 hours or 17 hours. They were just happy that I was happy, doing something that truly love.

Thank you to everyone for your well wishes as well. 





Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Moreton Bay Triathlon 2019

I usually sign up for events way in advance, but the decision to do this race wasn't until a couple of weeks before. There were a few changes to my plans - first it was Port Mac 70.3, then it was an Olympic distance back in Malaysia (Malacca), then it was Kingscliff. I made several entry transfers (and flight changes as well) and by the way, NXSports who organizes Kingscliff had the best transfer policy - 100% credit to the next event! Moreton Bay tri is organized by the Event Crew, the same organizers as Queensland Triathlon Series. Held in Pelican Park, near Redcliffe, an easy 45 minutes drive from home. The event is also host to the Club Championships and doubles up as the Oceania Triathlon Union (OTU) Championships for the elites.

With the race site so close to home, my alarm was set to my daily wake up time of 4.40am. Got to the race site with plenty of time to pick up my race pack and rack my bike, only to be stopped from entering transition as the OTU race was in progress. It was at least a 20 minute wait and the queue was getting pretty long. I had a nice chat with Ian from Red Dog during the wait. There wasn't much room left on the bike racks (not individually numbered), many must have racked the day before. I quickly got my bike set up and joined the queue for the portaloos. Then, wasted no time to put my wetsuit on and only a couple minutes left before the swim start.

Swim 1.5km

Mine was the first wave for the non elite non drafting Olympic Distance. It was a beach start with two lap rectangular swim course. The winds were picking up by the minute and the water was getting choppier as well. The swim to the first buoy was the toughest as the waves kept pushing us in. I had to look backwards when I breathed to ensure I didn't cop mouthfuls of saltwater from the waves. Then a right turn and we swam parallel to shore which wasn't too bad. The swim back to shore was the easiest, though I wasn't sure if I was making full use of the surf. Another right turn to start the second lap. I almost missed the buoy, with it being yellow in colour and the sun in my eyes, my yellow goggles didn't help either. Had to correct myself and added a few extra meters but still better than cutting the course short. There was no right turn at the end of the second lap and we just rode the waves back to the beach. My Garmin timed 27:09 at the first timing mat with a distance of 1,573m,which included the short run from the beach. Not great, but okay given the conditions. Also it's my first swim in the wetsuit in about 7 months, so it took me a while to get used to it again.

Transition 1

Pulled the wetsuit off quickly (I won't forget to do this!), wiped the sand off my feet and slipped my socks on. About to put my helmet on, only to find, to my horror - my helmet is on the floor and next to it, was the visor split in half! Nothing I could do but to delicately put the pieces together and re-attach the magnets back to my helmet. And get on with the race. My pedals weren't in the correct position when I got to the mount line, so I had to reposition them before I got on. Total time taken 1:30.

Bike 40km

The bike course is 4 laps, with about 2/3 of each lap on the Ted Smout Memorial Bridge. And for those of you who ride along this bridge on the weekends, you would know that it is fast. That is, of course if the wind is blowing in the right direction. It was mostly head wind on the way out and tailwind on the way back. Before we end each lap, we climb a small incline just after the park and make our way back to the park before we start the next lap. There was converging traffic from cyclists of the later waves and other events, so we just had to be careful at this section of the course. By the time I started the 4th lap, it got really busy with kids and enticer distances starting the bike. I felt alright during the bike, my speed and power output was climbing steadily but I just did not have it in my legs to hammer it, balls to the wall. I finished the bike with a split of 1:07:40, averaging just over 36kph and 185 watts (NP 198). Again, not great but okay.

Transition 2

No dramas here. Just get in and out. Putting on the cap, sunnies and race belt on the go. Time taken 0:49.

Run 10km

Also 4 laps, on the footpaths along the park. I quite enjoyed the short lap and mentally, it went by quicker. And for the better, as the sun was getting brighter and temperatures were rising. It was nice to have my former club, Red Dog cheer me on as I ran past their tent. I carried over the cadence from the bike for the first km and clocked 4:05. The cadence dropped a bit after but surprisingly, the pace didn't. I was anticipating the decline as the kms go by but I was really happy that I was able to maintain the form. Apart from creeping up to 4:12 for the 3rd km, most of it were well under 4:10. Finally, I got to the finish line with a run split of 41:01 - an average pace of 4:07, my second best OD run which I was really happy with. Overall time was 2:18:10 and 9th in my age group.

Post race, I caught up with the Logan Tri Club crew at our tent for a chat. I've said this before but this would definitely be my last race in the LTC kit as I changed clubs after our house move. And no better race to do it than the Club Championships. I'll definitely consider doing this race again next year given the convenience. Overall I'm happy with my performance and there are a few things I have to work on. Next up, Ironman Cairns - only less than 2 months away!


Monday, 18 February 2019

Tweed Coast Enduro 2019

This is my 4th year in a row doing this race - it's a top notch organized event with great community feel. And less than 2 hours drive from home (just a bit longer now that I've recently moved further north) makes it pretty convenient. Barring any upsets, I'll definitely be back again next year. Only wish is that organizers move it closer to March like in the first year I did it, so I can be in better shape after the festive season.

The initial plan was to travel solo, so I booked myself into a room at an airbnb about 1.5km from the race site. Li-Ann and Sebastian decided to come along but we managed to squeeze ourselves on the queen size bed pretty comfortably. With the heavy evening traffic, we finally got to Pottsville just after 5pm NSW daylight savings time. One thing I love about locally run races is that there was no big fan fare at the race packet pick up. We went straight to Cabarita Beach after where the little one had a ball of a time. Just like last year, we had pizza from Cabarita bakehouse - they were really generous with the toppings. And then it was a bit of a struggle to get to bed as our body clocks were still in QLD time. It did not help that the winds were constantly howling outside and made me brace for what could be in store the next morning.

Next morning, 5.30am alarm set me off into the darkness as I rode to the race site. I had my bike lights with me but it was still almost pitch black, luckily I did not hit (or got hit by) anything. It was good to meet with fellow Logan Tri Club members at transition - the casual chats did ease off some nerves. A last minute visit to the portaloo and it was an easy 15-20 minute stroll to the swim start.

Swim 1.9km

Point-to-point swim with some tide assistance in Mooball Creek, deepwater start. I was in the second last wave to go off. There was a fair bit of contact for the first few meters until the first buoy where we turn left and went with the tide flow. From then on, we all had our own space and while I made some attempt to draft off some feet, I was on my own for most of it. Water was crystal clear and while it was pretty shallow overall, it wasn't too shallow like in the previous year where there were some instances we were forced to stand up and wade. Pretty uneventful up until the mid way point where I started overtaking the earlier waves, which gave a bit of a confidence boost. Only to be totally diminished later on when the fast swimmers from the later wave went past me as though I was lying still!

We went under the bridge before we finished the swim, this part always made my heart rate spike up a couple of beats, for fear of swimming into some concrete. I wasted a bit of time getting to shore as I definitely wasn't swimming as straight as I should. The Garmin recorded 2,137m when I hit the first timing mat, which included about 100-200m run on land. Time was 30:49 which is about what I expected, I figured that it'll be unlikely that we get same the strong tide that we did in my first year where I swam 27 minutes.


Transition 1

Didn't forget to remove my swimskin this time, yay! Wasn't too busy at the bike mount line either, so was able to get moving swiftly.

Bike 90km

Four lap course in an L shape - about 8km south, 3km west, return and repeat. Road conditions were patchy and there were some decent pot holes to look out for. I lost a water bottle one year and my tire kit in another. For no good reason other than to reduce weight and to look good, I only had ONE water bottle for this ride and it was the Elite Chrono on my seat tube, which rattles a bit in its cage on good roads let alone these ones. Thankfully it remained in tact by the end of the ride. The roads were pretty wet too from the overnight and morning shower. And it rained intermittently throughout, not heavy but enough to keep the roads wet. While it wasn't as windy as the day before, it was still pretty strong and combined with the rough roads, a lot of effort was required to bring the speed up.

While there weren't any big draft packs, the short lap did make it difficult to space ourselves out. Even myself, I was trading places with a couple of cyclists for a while and there were definitely instances where the distances between us were legally questionable. But we race as honestly as we could as we were after all, doing it for our own personal challenges. There is of course healthy rivalry - and my friend and fellow club member, Philippe was absolutely flying on the bike course! Putting in at least a km at each turnaround, he was off the bike close to 20 minutes ahead of me. I finished with a bike split of 2:35:35, averaging 34.7kph. Not my best but it was all I could give that day. Official time was 2:37:56 including both transitions. Average power was 175 watts and NP was 186 watts, which was pretty much in line with my TT efforts.


Transition 2

A fair bit of grass got caught in between my rear wheel as it went through the transition area, which made it a bit difficult pushing the bike back to the racks. Once I had my run shoes on, I hastily grabbed my visor, sunglasses and number bib only to lose a few seconds as I had no idea which direction was the run exit. I'm pretty sure it changed from last year, but I guess it always pays to check for these little things pre race. Even for the experienced.

Run 21.1km

3 lap course in a shape of a crooked T. The light rain and overcast skies made this the most pleasant runs in all the years I've done this race. That is of course, in relative. There was still plenty of hurt whilst I was out on the course. Having not done any run-off-the-bike sessions since Robina tri four weeks before, I started the run with some nervousness. But my legs felt good, the carried over cadence from cycling helped with the turnover. The first km split was 4:17 and we all know that this is never the indication of the rest of the run. But surprisingly, I held under 4:20 pace up until just before the 10km mark. It didn't slow down much either and stayed under 4:30 pace for another 6km more. I could see I was gaining ground on Philippe on each turnaround, about a couple hundred meters each time, but his lead was too far to bridge.


Another reason why I love the run the most is the interaction - with the volunteers, the supporters and fellow club mates as well. Seeing other gold kits on the course was encouraging and helped me find that extra bit of energy to push a bit harder. As the temperature rose, my pace slowed down in the final 4km or so, creeping into the 4:40s for a couple of kms but I knew it was the home stretch and my practical mind convinced me it was not worth risking pushing too hard to save about a minute or so from the overall finish. I finally got to the finish with a run split of 1:33:56, the distance was spot on with an average pace of 4:28. Overall finish time was 4:42:41, a course PB by about 30 seconds and 14th in M35-39 (what a tough age group)!


The beer at the finish line was a nice touch. Though I could only stomach half of it, Li-Ann had the rest. We lingered around Pottsville Pantry cafe while Sebastian had his nap and then headed back, stopping by Coolangatta for some Messina gelato. It was a great outing for the family and a rather sentimental race for me, being my last one with the Logan Tri Club as I move to another club (yet to be known) closer to home. I will miss them for sure, but shall see them out there in future races - bring on TCE 2020!



Monday, 14 January 2019

QTS Robina - January 2019

This is my first time doing this race in January. My previous time racing in Robina was in October 2017. I didn't get to do any QTS races last year. I was looking forward to doing this race, it's not often that I get to do the same races as my tri club members. The trouble with mainly doing long course triathlons is I tend to skip the shorter races so I could focus on training. And with multiple events held - kids, enticer, sprint, Olympic all held on the same morning, it's a good social outing for the club as well. The excitement was high up until a week out when I was still recovering from the holidays and the travel where I did a mediocre park run and slow jogged to finish. I felt dejected and pretty much put off from signing. But the next morning at a club ride, I was convinced to signing up and I glad I did.

The alarm went off at 3.30am on race morning for a 50 minute drive to the Gold Coast. We had the option to register and rack our bikes the day before I chose not to do the extra trip and just left a bit earlier. There were no queues at the check in but there were not many spots left on the bike racks as there were only designated according to event distance but not specifically numbered. My spot was a bit further away from the bike exit and entry. There was a short queue for the portaloos but I got all ready with some spare time to chat at the Logan Tri Club tent before heading towards the Clear Waters Island lake for the 6.30am start.

Swim 1.5km

A deep water start to a two lap swim course, shaped like a triangle with final right turn towards the ramp at the end of the second lap. Water visibility was fair, could see for about a couple of meters ahead. My wave start was with the Open and under 40 males as well as the relay teams. So plenty of aggressive swimming at the start but the groups broke off pretty quickly and I was able to settle into a steady pace early on. Managed to stay on some feet up until the second buoy of the second lap where we converged into the later wave starts. It got a bit messy for a while but soon I was able to find some feet again and before I knew it, it was the final straight line towards the boat ramp. There were no timing mats after the swim and I hit the lap button on my Garmin the moment my foot landed on the tarmac. It clocked right on 1,507m with a time of 25:13, averaging 1:40 per 100m. Compared to my previous swim on this course was 1,413m with a time of 24:25, averaging 1:44 per 100m. So an improvement in my books. And I definitely felt that I had a better swim this time.

Transition 1

As the bikes weren't racked in numerical order, I was looking out for my lime green shoes. Socks on, helmet on without too much hassle. But yet again, I forgot to remove swimskin past my waist! I was about 25m from bike rack spot when I realised. Gingerly placed my bike leaning against another, ran back and yanked the suit off and got back on the bike again. Whatever apparent gains I had from swimming with the suit was likely lost in this stuff up. This has happened too many times now, I need to consciously remind myself in future. It was a bit crowded at the bike mount area, I hesitated a few seconds before getting on the bike as I was nervous I would fall over and knock someone over. My Garmin recorded 2:37 for time taken before I hit the lap button when I started pedaling.

Bike 38.5km

Yes, you read that right. It's a bit shorter than 40km. And it was explicitly stated on the website as well. It's a 5 lap course shaped like a T, some small inclines but mostly flat and non drafting. The sprint distance did 3 laps, so they would have cycled just a bit over 20km. It was around the 3rd lap when the sprint athletes joined us, so the course did get pretty crowded. While it wasn't very windy, there were some areas where I caught some sideway gusts and the return lap definitely felt like riding into a headwind. Fellow LTC member and cycling powerhorse Philippe passed on the first turnaround and continued to put in distance on me at each turnaround. I still rode my own race, paid attention to my cadence and power output. I've only started riding the tri bike this week after a two month hiatus since Ironman Malaysia. I also experimented by lowering my aero bars by 5mm, didn't make me feel less comfortable but it gave me the illusion that I'm more aero! My average speed was climbing up to 36kph and I was happy to stay there but another LTC member Ryan was gradually gaining ground at each turnaround. Eventually I got to the end of the bike in 1:03:46, average speed 36.3kph, average watts 184 and NP of 198. The previous time I raced here, the bike was actually 37km so I felt that it was long this time. I averaged 35.5kph the last time, so happy with another improvement.

Transition 2

No dramas here. Bike on, helmet off, shoes on and grabbed everything else on the go. My Garmin recorded 36 seconds from when I got to my bike rack spot.

Run 10km

3 laps, shaped like an L. Slight change from the last time, the end of each lap is placed a bit earlier this time. The sun was up and it was getting hotter each lap. The first km went pretty quick, I clocked 4:05. I knew that was too fast but I was going to see how long I could hold on. Surprisingly, I stayed below 4:10 for the next few kms. Philippe was much further ahead but I was slowly reeling him in as he just recovered from a knee injury. However, Ryan who runs 18 minute parkruns was just behind me as well! While it wasn't planned to be a 3 way battle, it certainly panned out that way! Running past the LTC tent at the end of each lap was a huge boost and made the hurt locker a lot more bearable. Final lap, my pace slowed down to the 4:15 to 4:17 but I managed to hold Ryan off. Philippe however was too far ahead to be caught. Finally got to the finish line in 2:14:06, the three of us finished within 36 seconds apart! My run split was 41:29 for 9.9km recorded on the Garmin, averaging 4:12 per km. Last time was an average of 4:11 per km, so just a tad bit slower.

Thanks Cathy for this picture!
It was good to catch up with the club after the race and share a few laughs. I'm very pleased with how my race turned out and looking forward to this season, next one Tweed Coast Enduro in 5 weeks!