There is this race…. it’s a 3.8km swim in the sea, or a river or a lake, followed by a 180km cycle race, followed by a 42km run. That, by the way is followed “directly” … you don’t get one hour to rest, eat, shower.. you only get the time you want to take to change gear and get on with the next section.
Crazy right? Well, I thought I might possibly be.. I had to get a game plan together, I had been told that physically I must do more than each of the distances at some point, so psychologically I could handle the idea and the stress of the day.
It was a few months back that I had a meeting with my boss, where there was a huge onus on me to work longer hours or to change my current hours, as supervisory staff were not doing their jobs correctly and I was the only one capable of ensuring the factory ran properly, so as usual, I am pulling extra rope.. well hey, what to do?
This however, was a disturbing thought, because I had this Ironman race booked and I needed to train, so I had to get myself a training program and try to fit it around the 6 days and 60 hours per week of work. Strangely enough, this was the perfect opportunity to get myself organised.
Starting at 10am and possibly working till 9pm or 10pm, I tried to continue waking up as early as possible and swimming in the morning at the condo before work, it was a great buzz in fact, it’s very invigorating and gets the metabolism moving in the morning. I could swim up to 2kms, though some mornings it would be 1km or 750mts or 1.5, just depending on time, mood and of course mental state. Swimming is really fun, however, training can get boring, going up and down, or rather back and forth in a 25mt pool is hardly stimulating, so you have to be a good conversationalist and not be too argumentative whilst talking to yourself for half an hour up to maybe 90 minutes in the pool. I often found myself enjoying it so much that I would be smiling in the water, sure signs of madness… talking to myself and smiling to myself whilst swimming… but hey, if it gets you where you are going …..
My bosses generally go off at about 5pm and as I am only required to supervise the workers and fix things if they go wrong, I decided to take the turbo trainer (that’s a device that you clip your bike into which gives drag to the back wheel, allowing you to simulate the physical stress of cycling on your own bike) to the office and do some “brick” training, which entails, cycling then running, so that your body gets used to the change..
Several nights per week I would train like this at the factory, putting in anything from a meagre 20 minutes on a heavy setting on the turbo, right up to 90 minutes if I could, followed by a change of shoes and a run round the factory, typically 5kms up to 7kms and sometimes close to 10kms.
On nights where I didn’t want to cycle I would jog and walk around the factory, sometimes up to 21kms, this training proved one of the most important I would do. My factory is only 100mts by 30mts, so I have a lot of loops to do to reach 21kms, this taught me the joy of running again and I became accustomed to boredom, weird huh? Well, really, I knew on the day of the race I would have 4 loops of just over 10kms, so that would surely be better mentally than 70 or 80 loops of my factory.
Still, I hadn’t really gotten up to the big distances on anything and the first was going to be the swim… I use swimming to wind down from exercise, to relieve lactic acid and to invigorate me in the mornings, however, with the long working hours, the only time I was going to get any serious swimming in was on Saturdays or Sundays and Saturday is a half day, so I am limited there too… So, the plan went like this, Saturday afternoon, swim, get over 3kms to start and then build up.. I have to say, if you have only done 2kms previously, 3kms and above seems like a long long way, just lucky I suppose that I enjoy swimming, because I hate training, it’s too “compulsory” for me, that’s why I had to go through the boredom and regimental stages to mentally overcome them.
I found a pleasant Saturday afternoon, after work and got my gear together, stop watch, goggles, hat, tri suit all in my little swim bag and went down to the pool, it was quite bright and looked as though the sun was taking it’s chances to get out in the open amongst the clouds and I got my self ready and sat on the edge of the pool, there were a few people around, some kids (usually swimming across the width of the pool, but this time just moving randomly) I don’t know why but parents don’t seem to think there is much danger or offense in letting their kids swim all around you, when you are going up and down at speed, but anyway, if they bump into me, or vice versa at my size, they will surely only do it once… as a collision with a submarine of my size is gonna hurt…
Anyway, I slid into the warm pool and took a few slow breaths, looked at the far side, knowing I would be seeing it close up many, many times. I Started the stop watch and began my first strokes. My swim has improved a lot over the moths of training, slowly and steadily, I hadn’t yet learned to breathe both sides in my crawl style, but I had improved my reach, I learned how to catch better, how to relax and glide, whilst still keeping an aggressive speed, but I hadn’t tried it at such a distance. Well, I was swimming, that was for sure, bum wiggling, random kicks but with my calm reach, turn and catch moving me nicely through the water, it went on and on for what seemed like forever, I had to count the laps, and looked at the watch when I had done 1.5kms it was around or maybe a little more, but anyway.. I just kept going and every now and again, looked at the watch to see the time and how I thought I should do, I had the calculation in my head that Ironman time would be 1.30 to 1.35, though I preferred 1.30 or even less, it felt quite aggressive and tiring, so I just kept at the pace and tried to get my way through it. I had a couple of problems that were a little off putting, my goggles steamed up as normal, but I got some weird glare issue with my eye, which started getting sensitive at about 2.5kms, then at about 2.8kms, as well as feeling the weight of my work load, I started to get a cramp in in my left foot and then a slight niggling in my hands. The cramp was expected, each time I have gone beyond the previous best distance, I would get a cramp, so I knew eventually they would go, but, it doesn’t stop the fact that I am 500mts from my target swim and my feet are doing weird stuff and now my hands too.. anyway, just fight through, finish the distance and then it’s done…. right?
I swam 3.3kms total in a time of around 1 hour 25 minutes, this was pretty off from where I wanted to be, but lets face it, I’m not chasing podiums, just trying to finish a huge race before the cut offs, so I’m still ok at this kind of time for the swimming. This was a wake up call to improve this discipline, I needed to improve my style and find out what was wrong or how I could get better, from this point onwards I studied up on swimming and listened to people’s advice or observations about my swim technique, from dragging my feet to wiggling my bum and a great piece of advice in Chrissie Wellington’s book about breathing both sides. This was a great attack point, I started to vigorously train to breathe both sides and to try to straighten my body up, I still didn’t kick, but I had watched the Olympic 1.5km swimmers and they were not kicking much, but.. they were very straight, so I needed to emulate some of these assets and use them to my advantage, I continued to swim every few days and longer swims at weekends until I reached a 4km (actually 4.24kms because the pool is 26.5mts not 25mts.. and GPS missed off a lap) swim one Saturday afternoon… then I know I was ready.. http://www.movescount.com/moves/move38445367
Cycling was a thing that could be done on Saturday after work for heat training and Sunday for 5 or 6 hours for duration training. I had never gone beyond 100kms in my weekends at Hulu Langat on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, so I knew I had to whack that distance then slowly build up, it was the following Saturday after I had done my epic 4.24 swim that I packed the bike on the car and headed out in the afternoon to cycle in the heat.. it went ok, it was hot and I wasn’t sure if my clever idea of cycling 180kms at an Ironman was really such a well thought out scheme after all, I have to say, cycling alone in the heat is a weird experience. When I got off the bike, my butt and neck hurt, I was hot and very tired and a little “confused”. I am riding an ordinary Trek 1.5 aluminum bike, no aero bars etc, just a straight up road bike, I was starting to doubt if this was a good idea, when I had numbness in both my hands and in my wedding tackle.. yes.. even that was a bit numb…
I got a contact for Patrick Potvin at Cycle Studio in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, some months before, from my mentor Dave Spence and a couple of other cyclists who told me, he was the guy to see about a bike fit, I made an appointment and had a bike fit done… wow, what a difference, comfort was better, power was better and I wasn’t leaning on the handlebars with all my weight, it took a couple of hours, but it was worth the money, I got a full set of measurements and a report emailed to me so that I could have any bike set up the same way in the future and Patrick was very helpful and informative, so I walked away with some useful knowledge, the key one he and several other people gave, was again… do the distances and a little more and try to do that a few times, so you are prepared. This advice was great, but a little unnerving, I knew I had very little time left to fit in the distances, so I had to get to work training and fast, so you can imagine how mush time the body needs to get used to these elements, as even with a bike fit, I had a little numbness and some pains, the end of the day, you just have to put the hours in.
I stepped up with a slightly more than 100km cycle and then with my last big one at 170kms, where unfortunately my GPS battery died and I only got 151 recorded, this was a month out from the race, after this I had to taper down… this was a nervous time, I had never swam 3.8 in the sea and I still hadn’t cycled more than that day at 170kms… http://www.movescount.com/moves/move39652488
how about the marathon? Someone told me I needed a couple of 30km runs in the build up, I had been slowly running half marathons in training at work, running and walking actually, I was Hashing whenever I could fit it in and brick training at the office in the evenings and so once again, I finished work on a Saturday afternoon and resolved to do 3 10km laps around the rolling slopes of the Mont Kiara, Solaris, Publika and Hartamas area, I figured the heat would be the perfect way to train, I had actually booked the Jungle Marathon for the Sunday morning, but decided to scrap it in favour of the mid afternoon heat, I figured it was more appropriate training and I needed to know what level of dehydration and tiredness or confusion I would hit… The plan was run the first loop, walk and jog the second and walk the third. I set off about 2pm from the apartment and did the loop heading from Plaza Mont Kiara to Solaris, through Publika, on to Plaza Damas and then decided to hang a left up the small hill towards the condos and make a loop round the housing area, then head back the reverse way, when I reached back to the condo, I found I had 12.5kms, not a bad number, it was about one and a quarter hours, so I set off on the second loop, however, contrary to the plan, I was able to run it with just a little walking, I had to stop at the garage for drinks and I had some Salt Stick pills to keep up my electrolytes, the garage had Gatorade and I combined that with cold bottled water which went over my head and down my dry throat, second loop was a hot 1 hour 16 minutes, I figured I had another loop in me and after a brief stop at the convenience store for more water and a 100 Plus, I set off with a jog and walk, that last loop burnt into me the realisation that the Ironman race was going to take a lot of nutrition, was going to be mega hot and after a 180km bike ride (which I still had not covered in training) was going to need an Iron will…. the last loop was j over , but, I had covered 37.5kms in a net time of just over 4 hours, this was great, it put me where I needed to be mentally, yet still, the thought that I had never run a marathon before, also burdened my mind, but as I was to far in and couldn’t go crazy on training, I had to just accept what I had done and that I had made the best of the limited time I had.
Dont forget, during all this time I have a full time job, need to eat, sleep, recover, do domestic stuff, try to live a life, the race is not everything, just a part of life, albeit at that time a huge part…..
It’s one week before the race… my wife asks me “Are you nervous?” … I answered that “If I was nervous now, I would be a wreck by next week, no I’m not nervous, it’s all trained for”.. I was telling the truth, I was going to finish this race, even if I had to crawl, I was mentally ready for the biggest race of my life..
My wife was performing at Genting Highlands the night before the flight, so I was alone that night at home to pack and prepare everything, running through the lists and the gear, over and over again. I had been lent a bike case by a triathlete who lives in my condo Chris Krang, who was really kind to help me out with the box, otherwise I would be in trouble, Tri Stupe AKA Lim Ee Van lent me a double rear bottle holder for the bike, which I couldn’t get a hold of in the shops, another saviour, whose kind advice and friendly nature was of great support. In fact a striking point is that I have met almost no one in the triathlon circle that is rude, unfriendly or particularly competitive on a one to one basis, everyone is like a big family, all competing against themselves, instead of each other.
Anyway, I had to strip my huge Trek down and wrap it in foam, this was a big job, I hadn’t done it before and so I got on youtube for some quick video tips, making sure I used liquid paper and insulation tape to mark important position settings before moving anything… the last thing you want to do when you get to the race is to try to do a home made bike fit, because you forgot to mark the important settings.
I can’t say I was sure of the gear, despite the lists and OCD moments checking and re checking the gear, the food and my holiday togs. In fact, ridiculous as it sounds, I had forgotten the race bib belt… it occurred to me as I went to bed the night before the flight… lucky though not super serious.. they sell those things at the merchandisers too and quite cheap.. it’s only things like helmets or bike shoes or tri suit that are really crucial as you have trained with them over and over again, you wouldn’t really want to try a new helmet at the last minute.
I had a great sleep, called Poova in the morning to make sure she was on track to get down from Genting Highlands and to the airport in time, we had rebooked our flights from Firefly to MAS, because of baggage complications and allowances, at a loss of RM800 (…ish). Lucky really because the Ironman organisers, released the athlete info booklet only a few weeks before the race stating that all athletes (I like that word.. makes me feel fit!!) should be in attendance for registration by 5pm on the Thursday before the race, which is bit silly really as all flights and hotels etc were booked months back… initially Firefly changed my flight from 5 in the afternoon to around 3, then I changed it to around 11 in the morning, then ultimately we cancelled.
I was glad to be on MAS.. I like the airline, service is good, flights are usually on time, Firefly does have a rep for moving things around and besides, it was a nice big plane with that familiar Malaysian Airlines look that we associate with our trips overseas, so there was something comforting and homely about the whole thing.
The wifester met me in good time and we got our baggage sorted, the staff stuck on big “Handle with care” stickers and we had a very uneventful flight, bumping into Roberto Carfagno another (much faster) triathlete whom I had met at Port Dickson and Morib triathlons before. There were several other people who looked very fit and tanned and whom I assumed were also going, it was starting to feel like a race was coming… we disembarked at Langkawi to a mass of people with huge bike boxes and had a long wait for our baggage as perhaps a hundred bikes came and went with their masters and families.
We were booked into the Langkawi Seaview hotel, someone had jokingly said “beware of names like Seaview, it’s a cover to make a bad place sound good”. We got a large taxi to the hotel, the gentleman driving was very pleasant and was trying to coax me into a conversation in Malay, though my Bahasa is not great for chit chat so we had a broken discussion about the current weather and the value of Ironman for tourism and commerce for the people of Langkawi, which seems to be very positively welcomed by the locals, which is great, because it would be sad to see the race disappear again after a 4 year hiatus.
It didn’t take long to reach the hotel, the driver had reassuringly said the weather was damp and rainy the past few weeks so I was hoping for at least cooler weather, in Malaysia cooler does not mean cool… it means less bloody hot!!!
The hotel was pleasant, very close to the transition and registration, so not far for my wife to carry my bones back after the race… if there any bones left….
Check in was super slow.. I commented to the 20 other athletes waiting that this was our first test of endurance, it seemed to take forever just to get me checked in… I wondered how long it would be before the poor guy at the end of the queue got through. Once done, we got our room sorted, got the place feeling like home, the wife went to sleep (which was her MO for the next few days) and I went off to register. The registration was swift, I got my bags and goodie bag and I was quickly weighed… 87kgs in my clothes, about a year before I was 97kgs.. that’s what this level of training had done for me… after tripping over the second weigh scale and filling in a questionnaire, I shyly made my way to the merchandise area to check out the gear, there were a lot of very cool items, great designs, quality materials and it was hard not to go on a spend fest, however, I bought some tees and visors and a tri top and was happy all round, I bought a package for RM50 with Power Gels and bars, I’m not a fan, but they are very useful during races to boost the salts and sugary fuel, though I would advise keeping off the ones with caffeine, as you can get lit up like a Christmas tree off those things.. 5 seemed enough for me.. I had chocolate bars, muesli bars, Horleys replace in my water tanks and Hammer Anti Fatigue Caps and some Octane Ultra Endurance salt pills. This plus bananas and water on the way round would surely do the trick…
These pills were split into two bags.. the red pills and the blue pills.. one pill makes you bigger and one pill makes you small… just ask Alice…
The evening was a mix of organising my gear into the bags and getting ready for the welcome carb dinner and compulsory race briefing. There was a shuttle service from close to the hotel and whilst the wifester tried to break her world sleeping record, I attended the dinner, I landed myself on a table with a Danish chap and an Aussie chap and soon the table was filled with complete strangers all exchanging conversation, me being overly talkative as usual.. and I got chatting to Steve Harley from the UK who was on his fifth or sixth race, the whole group was a big mix of German, Danish, Aussie and us Brits, with a Brit from Dubai who had done an Ultraman.. (I can’t even begin to imagine).
Not surprising really to have such a mix on our table, considering there were around 60 countries represented. With over a 1000 athletes present, I was surprised to recognise only a few faces, Rupert Chen, Damian Baines and my mate Dave Spence, chirpy and full of beans as always…
Dinner seemed to be a bit disappointing to many but the briefing was great and I had a slightly better knowledge of the whole thing. As I left I bumped in to Lee Kok Kee and Chris Krang and had a bit of a natter about things and was invited to hook up with them at the trial swim the next morning at 8am.. although it went in my head as 7am…. silly boy… I headed back to the coach and ended up next to Steve again and continued my yakkety yakking… he was very calm and had plenty of useful advice, likewise he asked me about the heat and I gave my (humble) opinions on the use of salt pills, factor 110 sunblock and building up electrolytes before the race.
I got off the coach down from transition and ran back to the hotel in the rain, Poova was awake and we decided that a beer was in order and got ourselves to the Cappucino Cafe, a life saver if you ask me… draught Guinness and pub food.. just what we needed.. and guess who was there? Steve and his partner Trish, so we hooked up and had a few more beers and a good old chin wag.
Sleep went well and I headed off for the swim bright and early to meet those guys at 7am, going the wrong way, I bumped into a gentleman from Singapore called Joseph in his 60s who was kind enough to point me in the right direction and we chatted a while on the way to the jetty. I asked him the usual questions I asked everybody.. “How many have you done? Any advice? What’s your age group? Where was your favourite race?” stuff like that..
He gave me a beautiful piece of advice that I used and I will never forget… he said “Warm up on the swim, eat on the bike and race on the marathon” …… he had done 6 Ironman races so I figured he knew what he was talking about.. unfortunately when I looked back at the results I think this one was a DNF for him.. but big thanks .. your advice helped a first timer a hell of a lot…
The trial swim was just over a kilometer, no big deal, just sea, markers and mud.. the same mud I believe is the reason for many DNFs on race day. it was a sludgy feeling stepping off the jetty, but the swim was ordinary, I didn’t pay attention to the view, I just swam and in the last 100mts the water was very black and muddy from the sediment kicked up by the swimmers in front… no big deal.. I got out, rinsed myself off and on my way out bumped into Chris an Kok Kee and gang… “Finished already?” they asked.. duh… silly boy.. next time I will pay more attention.. really thought it was 7am…
After breakfast and a good rest, I got my bags together, the blue for the bike and the red for the run, I decided not to use my special needs bags, I would take what I needed with me.. after all, carrying a few extra grammes here or there won’t hinder me as I’m not going to be winning medals, so seconds don’t count. Besides it would just add stop time or confusion for me.
Poova and I went to transition after assembling the Trek, carrying gear bags and bike, I was still running through everything but I had packed it so that was that… no more messing around.
The transition is very well organised and even a confuserator like me can find their way around no problem.
Notice the blue skies.. it was very hot when I took this picture….
I dropped off the gear bags and at that point, I realised that the next time I see this stuff, I will be on the race.. wow.. 18 months since my first triathlon and I was about to take on what is described by some as the 3rd hardest Ironman, due to the heat and humidity… gulp…
Poova and I went back, she was a lot more nervous than me strangely enough and I stopped to buy a beer at a nearby shop, one can of Heiniken to ease me into an early sleep and at 7pm, after a huge bowl of local style rice porridge, I drifted off.. I only had one incident of waking up during the night, which was a panicked moment, caused by a strange dream about forgetting my gear… apart from that, I slept through till 5am, woke up to my usual bowl of oats, honey, virgin coconut oil and milk and two cups of strong coffee… I drank lots of water, had a shower and answered the call of nature.. all the usual banal stuff and I took some of the red and blue pills, got my body markings on, immediately screwing up my age group calf sticker, which we wrote on in permanent marker later. I got my goggles and Ironman swim hat, got myself together and we tentatively walked in the dark the few hundred metres to transition.
I managed to hook up with Steve and saw a few familiar faces Kok Kee, Chris, Tri Stupe, we drank water, chatted, tried to sit down for a while, there was a very electric vibe in the air, there were lots of people rubbing their partners back saying something into their ears.. I imagine it was “Don’t be scared you’ll do fine”, because some people looked genuinely freaked out. I was very calm, partially thanks to Steve and partly because it was too late to panic, this is it, like it or lump it.
We eventually moved into our predicted swim time groups, I was unsure if I really could do the predicted 1.05 to 1.10, so I stayed with Steve in the 1.10 to 1.30 group and we bumped into Simon Cross who has done Ironman 24 or 25 times… nuts.. really.. wow.. we exchanged banter and I was kinda honoured to be with these two guys at the start, though I felt like a lightweight next to two guys who don’t go below 12 hours or so.. my budget was 15… ?..?..?
As we made our way to the jetty I got another mind altering piece of info from Simon.. “Don’t bother with the GPS watch, only use it to monitor you heart rate on the run, other than that, don’t bother with it.”..
I had a stopwatch on one wrist and the GPS on the other because I knew the battery wouldn’t last because I forgot to change the power setting, so the advice from Simon was perfect, I left the GPS off and only started the stopwatch, so that I could see it every now and again if I needed to. It was soon time for goggles on and we were at the steps of the jetty about to get into the muddy water, Steve reckoned he would draft me and as I wasn’t sure about how much power or aggression to put into the swim, I decided I would keep an eye on his position so as not to get ahead of myself, remember, I never added these distances together and I never cycled 180kms before or ran 42kms, if I kill myself on the swim I might not finish the race, that would be a disaster, for me it was all about power and mental state management. As I slid into the water and made the first reach and catch, I was starting a 226km battle with my body and mind, that with a bit of luck would not last more than 15 hours.
My swim was very safe, the sea was calm, unlike some of the swimmers and Steve and I had a reasonable pace, every now and again, I looked up into the distance, however the orange buoys were so far away I couldn’t see them, Steves age group had pink hats so it was fairly easy to keep him in sight, I went on the far left of the swimmers away from everyone and we kept ourselves to ourselves. I got kicked a few times and the out’s or over enthusiastic people who will swim 1.30 but set off in the front group were already there, blocking the way, but with the split start, there was a much better swimming environment than other triathlons I had attended. I was enjoying the swim until about 1.5 in when I burped and a large amount of coconut oil seemed to be expelled.. I don’t know what happened it just came out, there will be a small oil slick in the sea there now I guess, but I had no discomfort, no cramps, nothing whatsoever, just the odd stinging sensation here and there but nothing I couldn’t handle.
I remember the first sight of the orange turn around buoy, it still seemed an eternity away.. and it wasn’t getting closer, not by a long stretch, I just tried not to look for it and keep swimming. I was smiling as I swam, I felt great that I was finally racing, this was the day!
Another great piece of advice from my mentor Dave Spence had been to “Enjoy the race”, it popped into my head about 1.6kms into the swim when I took the time to actually look at the bay through my fogged up glasses and enjoy the scenery and the flashy looking yachts that were scattered around the bay.
When I finally reached the orange buoy, I told myself that I was halfway through the first event, lets get back to land and then there’s just the cycle ride around the lovely island before the … gulp…. marathon…
I felt like I was going quite fast and had passed a lot of swimmers, similarly a few had passed me too, I thought it might be a 1.15 or less, the last few hundred meters were amazing, the feeling as you know you just swam all that way in the sea and ae about to do a 180km cycle is really quite a buzz…
As I got out of the muddy water onto the jetty the strain of the pull up the steps gave my right leg a cramp, but only momentarily and I looked at my stopwatch as I got on the wooden boards of the jetty… 1.20 and a few seconds… great.. that’s going well… not as fast as I thought but I wasn’t as aggressive as I could have been, this one is about finishing my first and becoming an Ironman, not about racing and screwing up months of training.
It was a short jog to the transition tent, I knew my number, I was coherent, I had to get going but keep focused. I got my blue gear bag, got out the bike shoes, helmet, vaseline, sunblock, sunglasses, the blue pills and the red pills and I ate a gel and a muesli bar, whilst spying on the other guys to make sure I was doing everything right. I plastered sunblock on, this was really important, Langkawi sun is not a forgiving master, I like being a pale chap, it’s fine by me… I then took a huge lump of vaseline and lubed up my thighs, butt and general nether regions, 180kms of rubbing would not be fun, so again, better dont take chances on pain….
I had a half litre bottle of water in the bag, which I gulped down, this was to ensure I had some water in my stomach when I set off, because I had a lot of electrolyte drink on the bike and water too, so I was going to avoid the first two water stations and use my supplies. I has 4 water holders, 2 rear with Horleys Replace and 1 front with water, there was one empty holder to use the Ironman bidons, that means I carry less weight and refill from their supplies.
So all prepared, I dumped the goggles and the swim hat in the blue bag I passed the bag to the attendants and stopped for a pee on the way to get to the bike. Pointy helmet on, waddling in bike shoes, I grabbed my bike, one of a few with no aero bars or fancy wheels and dashed to the mounting point. Once on the bike I was soon at a happy spinning pace, I had decided where possible to just spin but on the big crank and I would get into a standing position on the hoods for the climbs, so sort of keep my blood flowing, my bum off the seat and keep those running muscles awake.
As I headed out of the town I immediately started passing riders and had to calm myself down, if I start racing I might blow and then I won’t finish, must stay steady, focused and stick to the plan… 15 hours.. 1.5 to 2 for swim, 7 for the bike and 6 to 6.5 for the marathon.. I already got swim plus transition 1.30… ish, so take it easy.. silly boy…
As I started the first climb out of the town, people got off the bike and pushed. I thought if you are gonna save energy well ok… if you can’t climb this.. you are screwed.. because there’s gonna be a lot more ahead… I know the Datai are where the hills are “rolling” they are not killers but we have to do this loop twice, so I got up and climbed as planned. It felt tough because of the muscle groups getting used to the work and the heart rate was getting into the work zone. It was morning, so not intensely hot and my helmet, which Simon had said would be very hot, actually gave good shade on my neck against the sun, so I was feeling ok, I started to tuck into my muesli bars and gels and chocolate bars bit by bit, I tried to enjoy the scenery as much as possible and not race anyone, the marshalls shouted at a few riders out in the middle of the road and I was aware of my self, my safety and other riders, I drank constantly and tried to spin and not over work at any point, I got past the first couple of water stops without bothering and found myself with a Japanese lady with her name Minoka on her bib (not compulsory for the bike). We had a reasonable pace and were in and out of each others space from time to time, I didn’t push as she was on an aero bike and I am probably 30kgs heavier so just keeping a nice pace at a non draft distance was perfect. at 45kms I told myself “half of the first half Rob..”
I passed a few riders stopped here and there and I made sure to ask each one if they were ok or needed help, there were many with jumped chains, on the first lap I wasn’t expecting any weird stuff and the Datai section came and went quite well and I managed to begin slowing down and collecting drinks and bananas at the stops. The plan was working, all was well, I came into town off a lovely ride but the last 15 of the first lap seemed a long way, however, I was soon in town and greeted by a familiar voice “Come on Robbie.. you’re going well” it was Dave, as ever, cheering everyone on, there were lots of people with cow bells making a ton of noise and so many people just encouraging us on it was very inspiring. As I headed out of town again for the second loop, I was almost tempted on the hills during that first 10kms to get off and push, just trying to conserve energy and not overwork, but the old legs were feeling alright, so I just kept on steadily motoring, the only difference was that I shifted to the bottom crank and was spinning even more, I had to remember, there is a 42km run coming, I didn’t know if I could even stand at the end of this, so I had better take it easy.
I decided to stop completely at the second water stop and take the pills that I had, because I had forgotten to take them and I didn’t want to end up in trouble due to a lack of electrolytes. I got my water, hundred plus another muesli bar and a banana and I was a happy monkey, this was to be my only intended stop. The second loop was where the heat and fatigue in some people started to show, wobbly cyclists, people I flew past who fell behind very quickly after that, people stopped in the road, one particular chap on the Datai section at the top of a hill, bike across the road, stopped, staggering around, I asked if he needed help and he said he was ok, so I told him he better move out of the middle of the road as there were much faster cyclists coming.
There were also some cars, still being aggressive on the roads, total idiots, but then Malaysian driving is notoriously bad and the respect for cyclists almost non existent, I heard a few riders were bumped by a car and I had a close encounter which ended with me screaming bad words at the driver… just finishing this thing is gonna be an ordeal..!!
I had a lot of time to think on the bike, I was mentally ready but was I physically ready to finish this thing? I recall passing a small group of kids out in the country area who were chanting “Ironman, Ironman…” I felt quite emotional at that point as I realised that in a few (or a lot of) hours, I was hopefully going to be an Ironman, 18 months in triathlon, 6 months or more of (fairly) dedicated training, on the other hand I could still crash, pass out who knows what..
As I neared the last 20kms it occurred to me that beyond 170kms I had never cycled before and I was daydreaming momentarily as I looked down to reach for my water. This one moment of distraction was brought to a terrible halt as I looked up and realised I was bearing down on a huge metal grated water rank only metres ahead and I yanked the braked, the bike skidded and I frantically in those couple of second tried to uncleat, I broke so hard my water bottles were ejected from the back holders. If I had hit the water rank it would have definitely been game over and I possibly would have suffered a serious injury from the fall. Luckily I stopped short by a few inches and some Ironman marshalls were there quickly to check if I was ok. I got back on the bike and rode the remaining 20kms or so to town, constantly splashing water on my face to stay alert. Silly mistake and it could have cost me everything I had worked for.
You know that feeling you get waiting outside the headmasters office when you are in trouble… I had this foreboding about the marathon as I rode into town, I thought … 42kms.. even walking it is tough.. nevermind trying to run it, but I told myself that if I can stick to the plan, then 6 hours or so and its done, you are an Ironman and you will have made some money for charity(we’ll get to that later)…
Transition was a welcome sight, by butt was hurting and my neck too slightly, when I got off the bike at dismount I wasnt sure I could get my leg over the rear bottle holder height and had to stop a while to slowly attempt it. It went well and I gave the bike to the attendants and jogged, pointy hat and all to the changing tent, the change, eat and drink session, plus the vaseline and sunblock took 10 minutes again and I was off jogging, with the GPS on as instructed, to monitor my heart rate, which in the heat went up and down like a kangaroo…
I started the marathon with a German athlete I had met at the dinner, he was tired, he said he messed up on the bike and did an extra 30kms or so and I said I would stay with him, but I was now thinking about my possible time and my speed was slightly faster and I moved off in the first 2 or 3 kilometers, running and walking to keep the heart rate from soaring. It was hot and I was tired, my gear was good, it was just me, I was working to my limits, I ate the bars, I had the salts and I stopped at the water stops. I did enjoy the water stops, I poured water all over my head to cool down, took on liquids, had a bite of watermelon or a banana and plodded on, as I entered what I fondly term “the rats nest”, the stadium area with it’s plastic cones and mazelike barriers, I passed Simon Cross, who was heading into town, with his two sons, I asked him if he was on his last lap, as I know he is very strong and very fast, he answered that he was on his first and I took it as sarcasm, Steve passed on the other side ahead of me and a few other familiar faces, one, strikingly was Chris Khrang who is a very fit lady and I said “hi”, she looked broken and gave me the “time out” sign and I laughed, thinking she was referring to the heat, as I also felt like “yeah.. enough heat already.. and it’s only my first lap outward bound
I didn’t see Simon again, only his bike much later in the evening with his family who said he DNF and that got me scared as to my state of wellbeing, further down after the rats nest, was Chris by the side of the road, also DNF. This was tough to take as I had seen her training so much recently, poor girl, but you know what, she is a multiple Ironlady already so there’s always the next time.
I gave a smile and a bit of chit chat here and there, saw Stupe and Rupert, Robert Carfagno, Steve (several times) I ran with Victor Chan quite a way and with Uncle Yee too, Piu San and Agnes, Kok Kee, it was like a big family day out and all the while those Japanese ladies were ringing cowbells near the park and talking Japanese to us as we passed…
My first two loops were going well, until about 18kms in where I started to notice the familiar sting of blisters and my little world was about to change for the worse. I had not had experience of this before in races, but of course., due to pouring water on my head, it had run down into my shoes and despite the Vaseline, it had soaked my feet, I was now 23kms from the end, the night was encroaching, the temperature falling and the very point where I could start really running was here and now I have blisters and boy.. did they start to hurt.. step by step, meter upon meter, kilometer after kilometer, they got worse and worse.. and worse.. I had to walk on the sides of my feet like some kind of giant chimpanzee, I was looking at the watch now and wondering how long it would take to finish, when I realised that at around 22 to 23kms in, I was at about 11 to 12 hours .. I was confused to say the least, my budget was 15, at this rate I might get 14 and a half even with the blisters and that reminded me of the Hash House Hazards pledges, which had added up to a total of just over 100 Malaysian Ringgit per minute below the 17 hour cut off time, this would mean just over 6000 per hour and so I started to jog, even with the feet burning and my ankles now in pain from the funny way I had been walking.
It wasn’t long before I was approaching the U turn at transition and I saw a familiar tattoo on the back of someones leg.. it was Stupe.. I thought he was on his last lap and congratulated him, but he said he wasnt and I got confused as I thought he was a lap ahead of me, he looked a bit distressed and it would be later I would find out he had an ITB problem which slowed his run down. as I got through that 3rd lap and collected my white band to signify I was starting the last lap, I looked at my watch and it was around 12 hours and some spare change, I knew in my current state it would take about 1 hour 15 to 1 hour 30 to finish, I was a little tired and blurry about the times, but I walked and limped and forced marched all the way round, trying to encourage others who were far behind to keep up the good work, some people were puking, some walking, eyes fixed like zombies, some talking to themselves.. one guy was saying “I must win, I must win..” it was a very strange and surreal last lap for me in the dark, with my glo stick necklace around my neck and my blisters crippling me, but as I looked at the stopwatch I realised if I keep up the momentum I would reach home below 14 hours and I was elated (though painfully so).. I headed through the park and out onto the road, past the gates for the bands, through the water stop area and over the bridge and along to Dataran Lang to make the final loop and run down the finishers carpet in the lights and night air of the Langkawi Ironman 2014 and I started to run, I think I didn’t feel the blisters for that few minutes as I ran down the red Ironman carpet, high fives from all the spectators at the sides and the race director, shouts “Robert, you are an Ironmaaaaaaaaaan!!!” and I was so elated I threw my arms up and jumped through the finishing line, getting my Ironman medal and towel was a small thing next to seeing my wife in the back area, waiting in tears and my dear friend Dave giving me a big hug, despite the 6 gallons of sweat that I was exuding and I realised when I looked at the watch that I had made over 18,000 for the Hash charity and I was now finally and Ironman… no one can take that away… and be sure I’ll brag for the rest of my life as the slogan says….
What a wonderful experience, not simply for the race, but for what it taught me about myself, what I can do, what I can become.. for the friends I made and the friends I know I am going to make….
Rule 10 ….. Enjoy the race
Life is short, try to smile, try to find the best you can in everything, take pride and joy in the things you do, whether small or great and take pride and joy in the things others do whether less than your achievements or greater… a little love and support goes a long way…