This is a long winded story, so get a cup of tea and some biscuits, a big bag of crisps or a pack of beers, sit back and let me take you on a journey, to the Island of Langkawi, Malaysia for the 2014 Langkawi Ironman race.
I have spent the last 18 months or so in triathlon, starting with the Xterra Malaysia 2013 sprint distance triathlon, a 750mt swim, 20km mountain bike cycle race and a 5km trail run, if you don’t know about triathlon, that’s all done back to back with a tiny break of 2 or 3 or 6 or whatever minutes just to change clothes etc to compete in the next discipline.
I have done Malakoff MUDS duathlon, Powerman Duathlon, Port Dickson sprint and olympic distance triathlons, Morib triathlon and Xterra 2014 triathlon teaser, Putrajaya Ironman 70.3 2014, that’s the extent of my triathlon and duathlon experience. There are some people, far beyond my imagination, for whom their first triathlon is a full Ironman, that is some serious undertaking which requires very, very strong and long committment. I being a little less ballsy in the balls department, wanted to build up and “see how first”, which worked out well, as I really had time to enjoy triathlon, well, the few I have done….
Lets not get too wrapped up in other events and a long history of how, what and where, lets start with the decision to attempt an Ironman and we find ourselves in August 2013 on a Saturday afternoon travelling to Lembah Beringin for the Saturday Hash, the Petaling Hash House Harriers, they do good solid long runs in the jungle up to a couple of hours and I felt that both the heat and the length and difficulty of their runs would be an asset to my training. It was a my first run with them in around 6 years, so I wasn’t sure what to expect and it took a long time to get to the run from Kuala Lumpur, ending up on narrow windey country kampong (village) roads.
My wife was in the beautiful northern island of Langkawi on a hens weekend.. so when I arrived at the run site to find a little river and an old iron bridge beneath sprawling palms, I was in love. I took a photo of the place on my old Nokia and sent it to Poova, but due to the far out location, the picture couldn’t be sent because of a lack of signal. The run was pretty good, a lot of checks and some good ups and downs through the palms and forest, I was one of the front runners and the front runner at many points, I felt pretty good and had a great fun run, it was a little overcast nearing the latter part of the run and eventually, the heavens opened and let loose a torrent of rain. It was a very wet experience, we had a brief circle and the river where the bridge was, began to flood, the river which had been some 8 feet or so below the level of the bridge, was now over the level of the bridge and some of us decided to move off, making our way back through the wining kampong roads towards the little town of Kerling, we came across a small section of flooded road, so we got out and tested it to see if we could cross, it didn’t seem so bad so we got back in the cars and continued with a problem, until a little while later, we came across a longer stretch of road, once again flooded, so the few of us that were together, around 3 or 4 cars, stopped and we got out and checked the depth, which was just about half way up our calves, so again, it didn’t seem much so we continued on, I was the last driver and following the other cars closely. The water seemed to be rising, it was certainly deeper than when we tested it only a few minutes before and it seemed very little time before it was at the height of my headlamps and then a small wave from the cars infront ran over the front of my bonnet, my car stalled and in a horrible moment, I started to feel water in the bottom of the car, I tried to sound the horn for help, but then felt the car starting to float and realised I was in serious trouble, the car drifted towards a tree and I managed to push against it with my arm out of the drivers window, which luckily I had left open to get some fresh night air after all the heat of the afternoons running. I quickly realised if the car began to float on very high water, I might not be able to get out without tilting or even capsizing it and by this time, water was up to the window and windsreen level and I had to make the decision to get out and swim…..
The car was a write off, it couldn’t be towed until the next day after the water had subsided, the tow truck operator took pictures of the car, it was only a few feet from the river, the area was a football field and it had flash flooded. It was probably one of the most stressful episodes in my whole life and even worse, it was a company car…….
Was this an omen? Was this something telling me I was not destined to, or that I should abstain from, Ironman?
When registration opened for Ironman Malaysia, there was an offer for a discounted package for Ironman 70.3 and Ironman which meant a discount and which also meant I had to commit, no messing around, no more talking, it would be time for serious action and training.
Being of fairly unsound body and even more unsound mind, I booked both and despite the stress of the accident with the car and some downtime in activities because of that, I began to get into gear training, in between would be several other races, to help me on my way and get my body used to the heat and the individual disciplines, not that I hadn’t done triathlon before, just that this is an Ironman race, even the 70.3 is a big job.. 1.9kms swim, 90kms cycle and 21kms run is not to be taken lightly, even for that distance, the heat of Putrajaya would not be a sympathetic task master, Malaysias daytime temperature can reach 36, 38, sometimes close to 40degrees and with humidity that saps the life from you, one minute at a time….
The biggest weekend would be the Xterra Malaysia weekend in May 2014, which I would be doing both the triathlon on the Saturday and the 22kms trail run on the Sunday, so I booked the Xterra Teaser to get an insight into what I would be facing.
I live in a condo with a pool, so swim training is not an issue, I am a Hasher, so when I’m not destroying company cars in floods, I can run in the jungle several times per week, just the mountain biking part is a bit of a blank spot, I’m not very good at it, I don’t know if I really even enjoy it and I know it’s very different to riding on the road for Ironman, so trying to get practice would be tough, but not impossible, so I tried to fit everything together as best as I could. Admittedly, I only got on the MTB a couple of times, so when it came to the teaser, I was still a bit … well… rusty.. but anyway, anything too technical and I would walk.. easy enough…
I got the bike serviced and checked my gear, organised everything as best as I could and eventually, I was back at the lake at Putrajaya, nice and early, as I had done the previous year for my first sprint triathlon. I bumped into some familiar faces, Jason and Paul, two Aussie triathletes, Dave my mate who is the race director in Malaysia and who had been helping to mentor me and a few other guys I had seen at the sprint last year and at Port Dickson triathlon in 2013.
It wasn’t a particularly striking morning and there were the usual group of people all showing off about their times and how they expected to do many of them claining “I haven’t trained at all….” I think that is a very over used line in triathlon, because they do train.. they just don’t want you to know it some of those guys. I was nervous but it wasn’t fear, just nerves, the teaser was supposed to be a 750mt swim, 30km cycle and 5km run, so I was ready for it mentally and that is half the battle, then as long as I don’t go blowing off all your energy racing like a mad fool, I will be able to finish fine and strong.
When the horn sounded, I was already in the water, I had slipped on a concrete block that was submerged and cut my shin, which hurt, but wasn’t particularly of bother to me, we started swimming and I calmly started to make my way past swimmers who had set off at the front and who were now slowing down, it seemed to take a long time to get around and there was the usual jostling and getting kicked by those people that breast stroke all the way round, but it was ok, it did feel a little tiring, but no big deal.
Coming out of the water was a chore, I was trying to avoid that stupid block of concrete, so I was very tentative in my movements, but eventually found my feet on the red carpet to exit the water. I barely remember transition, I just remember getting a few gulps of drink and heading on my way. We left the water area exiting to the right up a concrete stairway, me carrying my Scott Genius MC30 MTB, and when we reached the road at the top, we were allowed to mount the bike and get going.. we crossed into an open area and I was flying (well, so it felt) and around a bend and onto the trails, at which point, almost as soon as I started climbing, my deraileur started acting up and I was suffering cluncking and ckicking and slipping out of gear… I was pretty angry because I had the bike serviced recently and it was not helping my concentration, however, if I couldn’t cycle any parts, I had asserted to walk, so that’s what I did, and as fast as I could. The trails were pretty well set, a mix f ups downs, twists and turns, open trails and tight, winding trails, I had a lot of walking episodes, but hey, MTB isn’t my thing, but I do love sweating and a bit of speed. The small villages we passed were great and the use of concrete roads made some parts very very fast. Eventually, we came to a large hill I had heard there would be a decent climb, so, despite the stupid deraileur playing up on me, I made a point to keep on going, it went very well, I hacked into a few cyclists ahead of me and gained a few positions, some guys shortcutted on the hill, as there was a point where the up trail and down were very close together, there are always cheats, so I just carried on sweating and climbing, without sparing too much thought for the clowns.
I was relieved at the top, but a little bit concerned when I saw the downhill, as my technical expertise is really not great on the MTB, so I got off here and there and only did the easy downhill sections.we came to a winding section that was slightly greener and I was passed on a bend by Paul, the Aussie chap I had seen in the morning, he and one or two others were flying, so I let loose a little on the next downhill section, but this turned out to be a grave error and within moments I lost my line on the downhill and crashed headlong, falling sideways, my body rolling like a rag doll. I groaned in pain and as I tried to stand up, I realised I had messed up my leg, there were deep gashes on the knee, pouring blood out, my hands were bleeding and my side badly scratched, my upper left chest, near my armpit also hurt like hell.
I tried to get myself up and going, but realised the handlebars were bent on the bike and so I limped down the steep incline till I came to a road, following the signs, I carried on, bent handlebars and all, till I came to the water station and took water to rinse my knee, which looked terrible, though my ribs were concerning me too. The volounteers at the water station asked me if I wanted to go back, but seemed to know very little about how far in or how far away from the transition we were. At that point, I made the conscious decision to just drink loads of water and my electrolytes and get back to the transition and from there I would go home after a good clean up, so onward I went and much to my good fortune, it was a lot easier going, but I was in a physically bad state, I wasn’t sure if I was bleeding a lot, but my chest hurt and everything that had been scraped was sore as hell. Eventually, through the heat and the pain, I reached transition.
I racked the bike, sat down, started feeling sorry for myself and several people had been staring at the blood and mess, one triathlete, a large Malay chap, came over and looked down at me, he shook his head and told me, “There’s no way you are gonna finish like that, better to take it easy and go home”..so I got my plasters out (which I usually carry) and headed to the Water Sports building to clean myself up in the toilets before heading home, it was a slow and painful walk… when I got to the toilets and began to get some water flowing over me, it was a mess of blood and clots and grit, sweat and mud all over the place as I started to gently (like a big wuss) clean out the cuts.
I used a heck of a lot of tissue and a lot of water, managing eventually to get myself fairly well cleaned up and I stuck on a few plasters to hold the gashes on the knee together. Then , slowly and dejectedly I made my way back to the transition, there were still a few bikes that hadn’t come back by then, Jason wasn’t back when I arrived at transition, but his bike was gone when I returned from the cleanup operation. I sat down and packed up my gear, I grabbed the bike to leave and at that moment, I thought that if I was going to be an Ironman, quitting wasn’t going to be part of the plan, so possibly bravely or possibly stupidly, I put the bike back on the rack and I put my rucksack down and put back my bib and waterbelt and started to jog out of transition, possibly one of the last to do so, but at that point I wanted to prove to myself that I wasn’t going to quit, that I could handle the pain and that I was going to be an Ironman even if it meant going beyong myself on the day.
As soon as I started to jog, the ribs hurt, the first step caused intense pain, the next two or three steps, brought me to a walk, but it was a little more comfortable or less painful, is probably a more apt description. So that was what I had, a walk, the knee stung but was manageable, the ribs were making me feel dizzy, but the sight of the first tail enders was inspiring, I was walking but could catch them and was soon bearing down on their position. It took a while but I caught them and continued onwards through the trails, eventually, catching up with and passing the chap who had been shaking his head at me some half an hour earlier. I was a mess but that made me feel good, that even with a 20 minute or more head start, a bust knee and possibly a cracked rib or two, I could still catch the back markers….
It was hardly a record breaking time, but I finished and I was glad I did despite the weeks of pain afterwards from the ribs, the fever I had for a few days from the dirt I got In my knee and the mess that my bike ended up in. I told be if nothing else, I have the mentality to finish an Ironman…. so.. lets start working on the body… well…. after my ribs heal…
Dont worry, the Langkawi Ironman is coming in the next part… I promise… remember the rule about patience?
Never…. ever…… ever….. give up,
A committment to yourself is the least of your worries in life and it’s easy to give up on yourself, after all, who are you letting down? Only you right? However, if you can’t rely on yourself, how is anyone else ever going to? Besides, there is no better feeling than going beyond yourself, acheiving something others might not be able to, especially in the most adverse of conditions.