Wednesday, 27 July 2022

Desaru Coast 70.3 2022

Where do I start? From an event that I signed up almost 3 years ago that I reluctantly decided to go ahead with due to travel and busy work commitments, to one that I am really glad I raced and in fact looking forward to doing it again next year, if the timing is right. Desaru has hosted a half ironman distance for many years but this would be the first time under the Ironman brand, I last did this event 10 years ago. The journey started with a Wednesday night flight from Brisbane via Singapore, which I only slept about 2+ hours during the flight. I did this trip without Li-Ann or Sebastian, as Sebastian had school. But it was good to be home after having not returned for more than 2 years. Did an easy run with some short efforts at my old stomping ground Subang Ria lake in the afternoon. Was initially planning to get a massage but decided against it to avoid catching COVID. So a quiet dinner with mum and dad at home and I went to bed really early that night. 

Friday morning, I did a swim with some short intervals at the Club, it was one of the few pools that opened early enough at 7am for public swimming. More hawker food breakfast before we made our journey to Desaru, about 4 hours drive from home. My brother in law Gary was racing too and we took his bike along as there were no space in their car with the kids seats. Race expo was like a reunion gathering, so many friends I've not met for the last two years and for these guys who only started racing again this year, it was the first M dot event since 2019. Desaru have changed a lot since I last came here 10 years ago. There are a lot more restaurants and shops. We stayed in Lotus resort, which was about 3kms away from the race site. Organizers provided shuttle buses but my dad chauffeured us back and forth, really getting spoiled. Dinner with the family, including meeting one of my nephews for the first time. Saturday I spent most of the day in the room, catching up on work. I misread the event schedule and thought the bike check in closes at 5pm when in fact that was for the athlete check in and bike racking closes at 8pm instead. We didn't need to cycle there under the scorching sun if I had known but I guess an early racking allowed us an early dinner, which mum cooked using limited appliances - microwave, rice pot and steamer pot as there wasn't a stove. Did I say again we got really spoiled?

Race morning - 4.30am alarm, first toilet visit, sunscreen on and get dressed. Transition area was very well lit. They had an unusual rule to place nothing but the run shoes on the floor, everything else were to be placed in a green transition bag given to us, to be hooked next to our bikes. There were many empty spots and my bike rack only had one bike next to mine. There must have been many deferrals or transfers. Got the bike set up, munched down on my bread rolls, bananas and Clif Bar, lined up for the portaloo - thankfully only a short queue and then made our way to the swim start.  

1.9km swim 

7.05am rolling start. I squeezed my way through as much as I can towards the front and I was only a minute or so away from the first ones who entered the water. Swim course was one lap triangular shaped in clockwise direction. Desaru waters can get pretty choppy but wasn't too bad for this race. There were some currents though. My swim split was significantly slower going out, very fast after the right turn and then somewhat closer to my usual pace on the way back. One feedback I would like to give was to not have the kayaks too close to the swim buoys. There were several occasions where I nearly swam right into them. As we got close the first turn buoy, I felt like we were attacked by a swarm of sea bugs. They didn't sting but it felt like getting hit by plastic bullets. This attack continued for a fair bit after we made the right turn and it only cleared on the return leg back towards the shore. I was told by others that they could be shrimp.

The waves and the minimal sight buoys made it hard to see if I was swimming straight. In the end I gave up looking for the final finish buoy and just aimed to swim towards shore. I wore a swimskin over my trisuit and was beginning to feel pretty warm, I just hoped that my core temperature did not rise too much before I started my bike. About a couple of hundred meters from the beach, I stopped kicking and emptied my bladder. Crossed the first timing mat in 36:45, a bit slower than my usual swim time but comparatively seemed to be where it should be. Although a couple of minutes quicker would have put me in a better position. My Garmin which normally understates the distance, recorded 1,938m for the swim. I was 11th in M35-39 age group at this stage.

Transition 1

Bloody long. It was about 300-400m from the beach to the bike racks. And then another 300-400m from the bike racks to the mount line. It was carpeted but some of the surface was still pretty rough. Plus a sharp downhill as we pushed our bikes out. Official time had me clocking 2:45 as we left the bike racks, my Garmin recorded 4:01 up until the mount line.

90km bike 

We came to long gradual climb just a few hundred meters from the mount line. But nothing that needed shifting into the small chainring. We head out for about 10kms up to roundabout and turn left for a short detour before u-turning to the same roundabout and head out again for about 20kms. We return on the same route and make a second lap through the same roundabout. The roads seemed to have been recently resurfaced, making it a fast and smooth. There were some rolling hills but nothing too steep. Overall elevation was just under 400m on my Garmin. There was a bit of headwind on the way out but not too extreme, in fact felt like a normal breezy day in Brisbane. We were very lucky with the weather, it was overcast throughout and it started drizzling halfway through the first lap, which helped keep us cool.

I rode conservatively on the way out, was averaging just over 180 watts and just over 34kph. On the way back with the tailwind, I overtook a few more. And then just as we started the second lap, I noticed the few cyclists in front were not getting further way so I decided to make a go for it. Having more cyclists now on the course, some on their first lap - whilst it be more distracting, it also allowed me to leap frog ahead easier. I was riding at lower efforts but clocking higher speeds. On the final lap back with the tailwind, I knew doing a sub 2:30 bike split (36kph) was in the bag. And I started focusing on loosening up posture and getting ready for the run. There was only one cyclist who passed me and I did not overtake back, but we actually finished together with me just dismounting right behind him. My Garmin clocked 2:28:47 for 90.2km, average speed 36.4kph and average power 184 watts. But that bloody timing mat was just before the bike racks, instead of the mount line, giving me an official time of 2:31:03. I went up to 6th in M35-39 at this stage. I had 3 Endura gels and 400ml of Infinit Go Far.

Transition 2

Long run in along the carpeted rough surface, including pushing the bike up that same steep hill. It was good to see there were only a few bikes in transition. Put on my shoes but my helmet fell off the bike as I was pulling out my gear from the transition bag. After the race I noticed there was a small crack on the the visor and this is my second set! Running out of transition whilst putting the race belt, visor and sunglasses on and doing a bit of the YMCA dance as the music was playing. Official time had me clocking 1:57, with my Garmin adding about a minute from the dismount line.

21.1km run

I wasn't expecting a fast run given the tropical heat and apparently a pretty hilly course (I didn't get a chance to see it pre race). But the cheers and support from family and friends always gave me an extra boost. Special mention to the RC Coaching team for the high fives at the start and end of each lap. It was a 3 lap course, with the first 2kms of two way traffic and 4kms of looping around the park. There were a few punchy hills and it was mostly shaded. Again, the weather was very kind to us with mostly overcast.

I started again at a conservative pace, just under 5 minutes per km. The first lap was pretty lonely, especially on the loop. The second and third lap were much better and I picked up the pace as well. I pretty much had the same routine at each aid station, sip of cold water and the rest down my head and legs, a big gulp of Coke, another sip of cold water and pouring the rest over me again. Starting the 3rd lap, I noticed leading Malaysian Teh Kuok Yuen was about 10 minutes ahead. Little did I know that he was struggling with cramps and I finished just under a minute behind him. 

Running into the finisher chute, the music, the cheers from the crowd and seeing my family waving at me. I couldn't help but to feel emotional. Gee, I'm such a cry baby - I used to only cry at full ironman finishes. Crossing the finish line with tears in eyes, fist pumped into the air, giving race director CG Lim a hug after I crossed. I finished in 4:54:11, run split of 1:41:42 for 21.2km recorded on the Garmin with 130m elevation gain. I was 18th overall and 6th in M35-39 age group.

Post race

Briefly caught up with Kuok Yuen and shortly after the 3rd and 4th Malaysians came through. We each were interviewed on how our race went. Reunited with the family and it seemed that my poor parents had a big day too, chasing after my nephews. It wasn't long until Gary finished too and we then had some lunch. Then it was bike check out and the sun was out as we cycled back while the rest of the family drove back to the hotel. Gary and I attended the World Championships roll down ceremony later that afternoon. Whilst initially I wasn't planning to go, it would be in Finland next year but I then became tempted knowing I am unlikely to place this high in my age group again. I even rang Li-Ann to get the green light. But alas, there were only 3 spots in my age group and the last spot was taken by 4th place. Try again next time I guess! 

Signing off, I am very happy I made this trip. I am pleased with my race performance and ticked off a few boxes - sub 5 hours finish and 2nd place Malaysian, 6th place in M35-39 was unexpected. But what was more special was catching up with family and friends, getting spoiled by mum and dad, spending time with my nephews. This is why I enjoy racing in Malaysia so much. Hopefully I get to do this race again next year!

Wednesday, 15 June 2022

Cairns 70.3 2022

It's been a while since I wrote one of these. I was evidently disappointed with my race at IM Busso in December. Then I sprained my ankle late January, which took forever to recover. Even now it's still not a 100%. I've signed up for this race last year - having done the full distance on this course many times and it is one of my favourite race courses. But it wasn't until a few weeks ago that I decided to go ahead with it. Li-Ann and Sebastian were away for two weeks and conveniently, a work travel to Cairns was planned for the week leading up to the race. So I had my flights paid for, which was handy.

The temperature difference between Brisbane and Cairns was pretty significant during the week. It wasn't until Friday that it started to cool off a bit in Cairns. Once my work week was done, I checked into Caravella Backpackers, about 1.5km from the race precinct. I had my own private room, it was pretty decent with ensuite but boy, it was really quiet. I guess the backpacker crowd hasn't quite returned to Cairns yet post pandemic. Saturday morning, I picked up my race pack, dropped off my bike at the transfer service. Had a haircut at the local barber. Chilled for a while, met a relative for lunch (thanks for lunch!) and then onto the shuttle bus to Palm Cove to rack our bikes. Only to find out that our bikes were already racked and 70.3 athletes were only to bring our bike gear bags the next morning. Could have saved the trip! Anyway, it was useful to listen to the transition briefing as I've never done the 70.3 distance here before. Back to Cairns, takeaway pizza from Dominos for dinner. Then an early night.

Race morning

3.30am alarm went off. First toilet visit. Suit up and then easy stroll to catch the shuttle bus to Palm Cove. There was a bit of chatter in the bus but most, like myself, were quiet. I was trying to catch more shut eye. Got told off by the athlete next to me as I was setting up my transition as apparently I was standing too close to his helmet hanging by his saddle. Mate, we are all trying to set up in very tight spaces here, you don't have to be a dick. If you're so concerned about your helmet, maybe just wait until I leave and you can put it back on. Sheesh. 

Once set up, I went away to eat my breakfast. I may have eaten 2 slices of toast too many as I had a bit of acid reflux for a fair bit of the bike later. Queued up for the portaloos, it didn't take too long. Put on the wetsuit and headed to the swim start. I was able to warm up a bit in the water for a few minutes... and release more excess water. There were some waves but definitely one of the calmest conditions I've had in Palm Cove. Lined up, turned on the GPS and put some spit into the goggles. 10 deep breaths. 

1.9km swim

Rolling swim start at 6.35am, it was about 7 minutes past the horn when I ran from the start line, heading into the water. The swim course is rectangular shaped, swim south for a bit, then turn left out into the ocean and left again with tide assistance for most of the course before a final left turn back to the beach. The full Ironman athletes would have to go through it twice, so their tide assistance gets balanced out. I was swimming mostly by myself when we went against the tide but on the way back I had some company to draft off. One last bit of releasing excess water - I had to stop kicking for a bit to do this, before I get onto the beach. Time clocked was 31:51 with 1,812m recorded on the Garmin, which usually understates the distance. I was pretty happy with the time, I guess the tide assistance helped. But looking at the results after, I was relatively slower compared with my peers. I didn't have any wetsuit practice since Busso last year, so would definitely get more of that in before my next wetsuit race. 31st in M35-39 at this stage.

Transition 1

A bit of running through some rough sand and grass. Also had to watch out for some root branches and drain curbs. Somewhat disappointed that many of the bikes on my rack were already gone, but such is a rolling swim start. Wetsuit off, wipe the sand off my feet, socks on, helmet on. Would have liked to just grab the bike and go but had to pack the wetsuit and swim gear into bike gear bag first as well made sure it was tied securely so that nothing fell out. It was a fair bit to run to the bike mount line too. It was pretty crowded there but I got on without too much drama. It did take me a while to strap my shoes in though. The straps on the Bont Riot Tr+ shoes are very short and tend to come of the buckle easily. Trying to get them back in whilst pedaling proved to be pretty challenging! I lost a lot of time here. Total T1 time 3:34.

90km bike

One lap bike course, starting from Palm Cove, heading north for 30kms and then all the way back to Cairns. With one big climb at the Rex lookout in both directions but plenty of rolling hills in between until we get closer to the city where it was mostly flat. Full Ironman athletes had to do two laps between Palm Cove and Port Douglas and twice the climb at Rex. I felt fairly comfortable on the bike, was building my pace up well past 36kph with the tailwind of course. It would help though to know the course a bit better, so I could just let loose when descending on the corners and not have to brake a bit prior. The road surface was also pretty coarse and I would definitely reduce the tire pressure (I was at 100psi for 25mm tires) the next time. Cairns has one of the most gorgeous bike courses out there, definitely a must do if you haven't done it before. 

With the rolling hills, there were some sections where everyone got bunched up, but overall I didn't see any blatant drafting, at least for me anyway. I thought I was able to get an average of 36kph with a 2:30 bike split. But the hills plus the rough road surfaces made it challenging and when we got closer to the city, although it was mostly flat, it was more exposed to the headwind. So glad I was only doing the half. I then revised my target to a 35kph average (just under 2:35) but eventually I got to the end in 2:37:24, thanks to Garmin recording it as 91.13km. Elevation gain was 450-460m. Average speed was 34.7kph, average power was 179 watts - a little bit lower than my usual race output but not too far off. I gained another 4 spots to 27th in my age group at this stage. Nutrition taken was 2 SIS gels and about 400mls of Infinit Go Far. 

Transition 2

Did a pretty good dismount, legs did feel a bit tight running the bike to the racks. I overshot by a bit and had to back track. Racked my bike, untied run gear bag and let everything fall out. I don't know why but I took the time to pack my helmet into the run gear bag and placed it neatly on the grass. Slipped the shoes on and grabbed everything else (sunglasses, race belt and run visor) and go, putting them on as I ran out of transition. Time taken 2:41.

Run 21.1km

Run course was 2 laps, first going around the marina and then out along the esplanade towards the airport and back. Full Ironman athletes would have to do 4 laps. Virtually flat and pretty shaded when we were running through the park. I always loved the run. The atmosphere was electrifying, crowds were cheering from the restaurants and club tents. I felt fairly comfortable and was holding around the 4:30 per km pace. Not as fast as I was before but given my dodgy ankle, I was pleasantly surprised. I held this pace until about 7km mark, which was somewhere in between the first turnaround and on the way back towards the end of the first lap. I caught up with my friend Nathan ahead and decided to run with him for a bit. The pace slowed but it was more pleasant having some company. We ran together until just before the final turnaround where he said he needed to take a break, so I pushed on. 

My pace didn't get much faster after though. My ankle was beginning to hurt. Again, so glad I was only doing the half. The last few hundred meters was bit of a hobble, hang in there, don't fall apart! Got to the finisher chute and was able to do a bit of a dance before I crossed the finish line. Announcer Pete Murray saw my Malaysian flag on the screen and promoted the upcoming Desaru Coast 70.3. I asked if he would be there and he said he would. Run split was 1:39:06 with distance recorded as 21.23km. Average HR was 148bpm and the max temperature recorded was 27 degrees Celcius. I ran myself into 22nd position in my age group (128th out of 1,434 overall) with total finish time of 4:54:37. About 25 minutes slower than my PB from Sunshine Coast 70.3 last year but in my current form and the more challenging course, I guess clocking sub 5 hours is nothing to be ashamed of.

Post race

Felt pretty sore but generally okay. Had a chat with another South Bank tri club member in the recovery area and then bumped into Nathan again while waiting for the massage. After picking up my bike, I went back and cleaned up and didn't come back out until later in the afternoon to cheer the full Ironman athletes. It definitely did ignite some fire for my next Ironman race but let's see how this ankle holds up as I increase the training load in the coming weeks. I had another day of work in Cairns before flying back to Brisbane. Getting back into the routine again now, next up Desaru Coast 70.3 - see you there Pete!


Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Sunshine Coast 70.3 2021

This would be my 5th year in a row racing this event. We are very fortunate to be in Queensland, with only a handful of COVID cases to have events like this. But the possibility of a snap lockdown happening at any time is very real, so we should really thank our lucky stars that we got to race over the weekend. Albeit being primarily a Queenslanders only event with most of the state borders closed to each other. 

Earlier in July, I decided to engage coach Duncan from South Bank tri club in my preparation for Ironman Busselton later in the year. I've been on coached programs before in the past but this is the first time I've had it done through TrainingPeaks and finally made proper use of my power meter. There were more sessions during the week and I can't express my appreciation enough for the support from my wife Li-Ann and my son Sebastian these past two months or so and going forward as well until end of the year.

The drive up to Mooloolaba the day before was a bit slow with some congestion but at least there was no standstill. Took us a couple of hours but we got there just in time to set up the club tent in the last available spot. Sebastian could not wait to get to the beach, so Li-Ann took him while I had a quick lunch and went to pick up my race pack. Then we checked into our hotel, we picked a nice one this time - a 2 bedroom apartment with 2 bathrooms, so I didn't have to worry about waking the others when I'm up early preparing for the race. Bike racking in the afternoon, a new transition area situated over 1km from where we were staying. Dinner - take away pasta and pizza for myself and Li-Ann, chicken katsu udon noodles for Sebastian, all in the comfort of our apartment. It didn't take me long to fall asleep after.

3.45am alarm. But I was up about 2 hours before and couldn't go back to sleep. 1st toilet visit, breakfast - 4 slices of toast with peanut butter and nutella, 1 banana. Some dynamic stretches (to get the motion going) and 2nd then toilet visit. Suit up and kissed Li-Ann goodbye. Easy stroll to the bike racks. Clip in bike shoes and lay out my run gear. It was still dark but luckily my bike was positioned near the spot lights. There was still time for yet another toilet visit, so why not. Wetsuit on, couple of minutes of swim strokes in the water and it was time to line up for the rolling swim start.

Swim 1.9km

The age group rolling swim start kicked off at 6.05am, it was just after 6.11am when I got into the water. The swim course is rectangular shape in anti clockwise direction, over on the eastern side of Mooloolaba beach by the spit. Just like last year but at least transition is closer to the swim this time. There was a fair bit of chop in the water. Not extreme but rough enough to make it a slow swim. I swam on my own most of the time as it was difficult to get close enough to any feet to draft of. I think I swam pretty close to the course. Last turn towards the beach, tried my best to empty the bladder, legs naturally stopped kicking, thankfully there were some currents pushing us in. Hit the first timing mat in 32:43, one of my slower swims but it seemed that was the case for most of us. My Garmin 935 tends to under report the open water distance at 1,850m and that was after running up the steps from the beach as well. Showing a pace of 1:47 per 100m, which is my easy pace in the pool. 28th in my age group at this stage.

Transition 1

It was pretty narrow with the bike racks being pretty close to each other and being held in the park, there were tree routes and bumps to look out for. While wetsuit got off the arms easily during the run into transition, it took a bit longer to get off the feet. Wipe the feet, socks on, helmet on and pressed the button of the bike computer as I ran the bike out. Mounting the bike was a bit of a disaster, there were many others around at the mount line and I didn't practise enough with these new shoes. Coach Duncan was at the side giving me a bit of pressure. In the end, I did the basic standing crossover mount and got going. Total transition 1 time 2:18.


Bike 90km

The first couple of kms out of transition was a bit hairy. Sharp turns, speed bumps, roundabouts. There was even a section where the road was flowing wet, I think from sprinklers. Then there were some rollers before we got to the Sunshine Motorway, but it was hammer time after that. 2 laps of the motorway with about 4-5 kms along the Esplanade in town. The conditions were pretty good, started off with light winds but it picked up significantly on the 2nd lap. In contract to previous years, this year it was mainly headwind on the way out and tailwind on the way back, so that made for some fast bike times for most people.

I was pleasantly surprised with how well I was building my speed up, it went over 38kph average for the motorway section and only dropped a bit under after the town section. My previous best split was just under 2:30 and that's a 36kph average. There were a few packs that were barely legal and there was one particular one with the same group of cyclists that kept close to me. They would pass me, I would fall back and then have to do a surge to pass them, only for them to pass me again shortly after. This went on many times throughout the race. Draft marshal did come by a couple of times but I don't think any penalties were given. It was very annoying at some stage dangerous, when the pack came by so closely with some of them cycling two to three abreast. But, such is racing and we do the best we can to the best of our integrity.

Bike split 2:23:07 with the Garmin recording 89.6km at 37.7kph average. I was over the moon! The training is paying off and I felt relatively in control. Even had the confidence to do the surges to overtake the pack and back off again into cruise mode. Average power at 187 watts with normalised power at 203 watts. Nutrition taken - 3 Endura gels and 700ml of Infinit split into two bottles, but I somehow only drank about 60% of it. I'm a bit of a camel this way. 19th in age group at this stage.

Transition 2 

Ran the bike towards the bike rack but had to carry it over the curb. Somewhat disappointed that there were so many bikes back at the racks already despite me improving so much on the bike leg. But I guess everyone else did as well and with rolling swim starts, there could be others finishing earlier despite posting slower times. Helmet off, shoes on and grabbed everything else and put them on the go. Transition 2 time was 1:12.

Run 21.1km

Slight alteration to the run course this year. We did a 2km loop towards the eastern side and then onto 2 laps of 9.5km - pretty much the same as previous years except that we turn around earlier in Alex Headland. This time we run outbound on the road and inbound on the footpaths, opposite from previous years. I'm also glad that they removed the short but sharp climb on the driveway into the caravan park that is under construction this year. It was starting to get hot and the winds were up as well. Just like the bike course, headwind on the way out and tailwind on the way back, although it wasn't felt as much on the run. 

I haven't done much running off the bike in my training and was unsure how I would feel. But I felt great and the leg turnover was pretty fluid. Li-Ann and Sebastian cheered me as I got to the main roundabout which gave me a bit of a boost. My first km was 4:10 which was a bit too quick so I pulled it back a bit. We then got to the hilly section of the course and I went just over 4:20 for a couple of kms but I pretty much settled into 4:15 to 4:20 for most of the course after. I sipped coke for fuel and dunked water over my head at all the aid stations to keep myself cool. I always love the run leg as I can really get the energy off the crowd. There was so much support from people I've met through this sport, from former tri club members to current ones, such a strong community feel.

I was wearing my new Saucony Endorphin Pro, with carbon plated soles. This was only my 2nd time wearing them and on hindsight I should have broken them in a bit more. They felt a bit odd as they were higher and I felt a bit unstable around the corners. But I felt much better into the 2nd lap and they were indeed more responsive and I felt like I fatigued less with the springy feedback. It wasn't until about 6kms left to go where I realised I had a good shot of finishing under 4.5 hours, a target which I thought was over ambitious. But it was going to be close. I dug deep and wasn't smiling as much anymore as I passed the cheers from the South Bank tri club tent. I paced 4:08 for my final km and was relieved to see the red carpet with just a few meters away from the finisher arch.

I crossed the timing mat with a run split of 1:30:24, Garmin recorded a distance of 21.08km with average HR of 161bpm. And yes, overall finish time of 4:29:44 - a PB by 7 minutes, I was super stoked! 12th position in M35-39 and 94th overall, no doubt without many interstate or international competitors. 

Reunited with Li-Ann and Sebastian just after the finish line. Glad to we stayed one more night, so it wasn't a rush home and I got to catch up with club members at the tent. Also took my time picking up my gear and getting them cleaned or dried in the apartment before the drive home the next day.

I'm about halfway through the training build to Ironman Busselton later this year. If this race was a mid year exam, I reckon I would grade myself an A! Hopefully things go as they plan and I get to perform again.