Sunday, September 17, 2017

Ironman Gurye—Part 2: The Race

At the beginning of this year, I was waiting for the announcement of the Ironman Malaysia (IMMY) in Langkawi. I joined the race in November last year, and although I finished the race, I wasn't happy with my performance, and I was hoping to be able to have another chance to redeem myself. Unfortunately, many people said that there will be no more IMMY. I therefore started looking for other Ironman races in the region. For a while I was seriously contemplating doing the Ironman Western Australia again. But then I received a Whatsapp message from my friend, Anslem, about the Ironman Gurye, and before long I found myself in a Whatsapp chat group for the event. The funny thing was that just shortly after I registered for Ironman Gurye, it was announced that IMMY is on again this November, and so I registered for that race too.

Anyway, I found myself at Lake Jirisan in Gurye last Sunday morning. Of all my Malaysian friends, I could only remember Quintine's race number, and I could remember the location of his bike because it was in the same row as mine. I had no idea where the rest of my friends were. Later, however, I saw Anslem when I was queuing for the toilet; and let me tell you that too few toilets were provided!

It was just about 10 minutes before the flag off when I was done with the toilet visit, and I took my time getting into my wetsuit. And then I bumped into Amy, and she took this shot.


I've never really felt comfortable in a wetsuit as it's very tight; and I'm not such a big fan of wearing the swimming cap as the top of my head looks quite a lot like the tip of a condom! Yes, I know what you must be thinking, but I can't change the fact that I'm born with a very creative imagination!

Anyway, participants were flagged off in waves, and I watched from afar as the first few jumped into the water at 6:40am. I was still a little nervous of the swim leg. It didn't help that it was a misty morning, and standing there in the crowd, I couldn't even see the far end of the swim course. I felt like I was up for a huge challenge to even finish the 3.8km swim. It must have been close to 7am when I finally entered the water, and as I had expected it was so chaotic. Too many people were blocking me; and I dare say I was blocking other people behind me too. As always in the swim leg of the triathlon, I received a few blows to  my body from unruly hands and ridiculous kicks of breaststrokes swimmers. I tried to remain calm as best as I could, but it's not so easy to remain focused for over 1.5 hours!

One would imagine that in such a chaotic situation, I would be occupied in solely focusing on survival—and only survival. But then some of my loyal readers are aware of the disease commonly known as KIASUNISIS which I'm suffering from. In between the slapping and kicking and swallowing a few gulps of the murky lake water, I still had the time to worry about the rest of my friends being ahead of me! I remember telling myself that whatever happens the rest of the day, I must make sure that I won't be the last guy to cross the finish line. Kiasunisis, as you can see, is a terrible disease! Well, eventually I emerged from the lake after 1 hour 41 minutes of nightmare, and once I was up on the pontoon, running towards transition, I felt a huge relief. Thank god I survived the swim leg.

As I was running towards Transition 1, I spent the time to wriggle myself out of my wetsuit, and when I reached my T1 bag, I only had the lower half of the wetsuit to deal with. Then I put on the socks, my cycling shoes, wetsuit into the bag, and I was ready for the bike leg. But first I made a quick visit to the toilet. In the end, I spent roughly 10 minutes for T1. As I was pushing my bike from the transition area to the mount line, I noticed that Quintine's bike was no longer there, and just for a brief moment, I felt a bit of adrenaline surge in my system! Amy was there to take this shot.


In the months leading up to this race, I had come up with a game plan. I would spend a bit more time working on my bike strength and speed in the hope of leaving a bit extra for the final 42km run at the end. The plan was to ride a steady 33kph-35kph on flat roads, and take my time climbing up the slopes as slow as I can on very light gears to conserve energy. According to my plan, I would target an overall 6:30 to 6:45 for the bike leg, having taken into consideration that the total elevation for the entire course was over 1200m.

Now the hardest thing about having a game plan in any race is of course to stick to that game plan. Most people would abandon their game plan as soon as they are flagged off. On many occasions during the bike leg, I was so very tempted to go all out. When going down the slopes, it was possible to reach 50kph fairly easily, and it was so tempting to keep going at 40 kph thereafter. But no, I kept reminding myself of my plan.


The final 20km or so of the bike leg was through a highway, and I felt like I had the energy to ride at least 35kph on that stretch, but I kept at about 32kph. I eventually finished the bike leg (180km) in about 6:37. As I was crossing the bridge across the lake, leading to the end of the bike leg, I saw Dr Yap running across the bridge. So that would mean he's about 15 mins ahead of me at that point.

I spent another 10 mins in transition as I made another visit to the toilet. I felt a bit of pain on my right foot, but it soon went away, and I was able to run quite comfortably. In fact so comfortable to the extent that after all the hard work of sticking to my plan, I finally lost it at that critical moment. I had planned to keep a steady 6.5 min/km pace, but instead I ran a 6 min/km, and that soon became 5:45 min/km. I felt like I was dreaming to be able to run that fast after the 3.8km swim and 180 km bike. Then about 7km into the run leg, I finally caught up with Quintine. A short while after I overtook him, I saw Anslem on the return leg of the loop, and I estimated that he must have been about 10km ahead of me at that point. After running about 10km or so, the exhaustion finally began to set in, and I realised there and then that I should have remained true to my game plan. But alas, it was too late. I could feel the fatigue quickly building up in my legs, and I could foresee the rest of the run leg will be a run-walk-run-walk affair.

After I made the U-turn of the first loop, I caught up with Dr Yap. By then I was down to about 6.5 min/km. And a few km later, I had to slow down to a walk. Coincidentally, Amy was waiting at the roadside and took this pathetic shot.


I caught another glimpse of Anslem on the second loop, and I also saw Nick on the other side of the road. But for the most part, I had no idea where the rest of my friends were. Soon it was nightfall and although the run course was mostly lighted, there was no hope of finding my friends in the crowd. By then I was walking much more than running, but I tried to at least jog slowly as much as I could. About 1km to the finish line I started a steady jog again, and the pace kept building up until I crossed the finish line.


This was how I performed in the race.


Obviously it's not anything to shout about, but I'm still happy to have achieved a personal best anyway. 

In the end I received this finisher medal.


I'm also glad that I wasn't the last to finish in my group. But actually, just finishing an Ironman race, time regardless, is a big achievement in itself. Been a lot of fun. I mean the race, not the Korean food and the diarrhoea that followed. If ever I'd join this Gurye race again, I think it won't be so soon. I will allow a few years for the organizer to fine-tune on some of the minor points on how they're organizing the race before I even consider if I'd want to make a second visit.

I'd like to mention here a few factors which I think have had some positive effects that had helped me in achieving a better performance in Gurye. First and foremost, I think the slight tweaking in my training programme which shifted the focus from run to bike, as well as sticking to the game plan on race day. As far as the training goes, I must say thanks to a friend, Dennis Tan, who's residing in Perth, Australia, as he was kind enough to share his training programme with me. Although I was unable to follow his programme to the T, I was at least able to mimic some of the schedule. I've also dealt with replenishment of electrolytes, thus correcting my mistake in Langkawi last November. And finally, I must thank my new friend Felix Tan who introduced me to Fitnessdrink of the Fitline brand, which I consumed during the bike leg of the race.

I'm also grateful for making new friends from West Malaysia. It's been fun chatting through Whatsapp, and I couldn't help providing the entertainment to the group. Now a short rest, and then will be back in action again next Saturday in the Challenge Iskandar Puteri. I'll be seeing some of you there!


Ironman Gurye 2017—Part 1: The Journey

The inaugural Ironman Gurye 2017 was my fourth Ironman, and it was quite an experience like never before for me. 

As you can see from the heading of this post, I'm posting the story in two parts: Part 1 will be mainly about The Journey, and related events along the way, to the race venue in Gurye up to the eve of the race; whereas Part 2 will be about the race itself.

I had expected to have some difficulties to communicate with the Koreans, but it was worse than my expectation. Of course Google translate helped to a certain extent, but at times I found that South Korea was even worse than France. They kept speaking Korean to me even though I said I couldn't speak the language. I'm beginning to believe what my friends said to me—that I look a lot like a Korean?

Then the food—oh! Korean food was just awful for my taste buds—I'd say it's safe to estimate perhaps 80% to 90%  of so-called Korean food is hot; like really hot. Chili, chili and more chili. I don't know if the Ironman God up in the heavens had wanted me to hydrate myself well before the race; I drank jugs upon jugs of iced-cold water each time I eat those food. I felt like I was eating dynamites!

Generally, hotel rooms in South Korea provide coffee and tea sachets and tiny cups. And when I said tiny, I really mean tiny. Not to mention the tiny towels which were actually just face towels as far as I'm concerned. Although I did not try to search in the departmental store, I bet it would have been quite a challenge to find a decent bathing towel in South Korea.

I landed at the Incheon International Airport in the morning of the 6th of September, having departed Kota Kinabalu International Airport in the evening of the 5th. I spent the night in a nearby guesthouse named Harumi. I would usually stay in a hotel when I travel overseas, but Harumi was a convenient place which was just about 7km from the airport. I was the only guest at the time, and I was greeted by a tiny furry dog which had some sort of pathetic condition with its voicebox—its barks were almost comical! I spent almost the whole day trying to catch up on my sleep, as I didn't get any sleep throughout the flight from Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 the night before. 

Before nightfall, however, I walked to a nearby shop for an early dinner. I don't even know what I ordered, but of course it was hot; I could almost sense that I was venting steam through my ears. 


After dinner I stopped at a pharmacy on my way back to Harumi where I picked up a pack of Vaseline lotion for the race. I had wanted to buy Vaseline in KK before the flight. But as Murphy's Law would have it, when I was rushing in the last few hours before my flight, the pharmacy that I went to had run out of Vaseline lotion. The only available lubricant was KY Jelly, but I decided against it. I thought it's not a good idea to provoke too many questions from my wife, if you know what I mean?

The next day, I made my way back to Incheon Airport where I met the rest of my group from Malaysia. I had known Anslem and Amy, of course, but the rest of them were only friends that I've "met" through the Whatsapp chat group that we had created specifically for this trip to Gurye. Quintine and Victor were there at the airport, and I can confirm that they looked like what I had imagined them to be, that is to say not as handsome as me. Their respective spouses were there too. Nick and Wee Wong were there too, and Dr Yap Eng Hui was also there. Kenny Tan, the young lamp post from KL, arrived just shortly before 10am. Apparently he enjoys making a big last-minute entry to add to the thrill of his travel itinerary, you see. 


We have all reserved our seats in the 10am shuttle bus to Gurye, but the South Koreans are not generally known to be punctual people. I was at the airport as early as 7:15am, and I took my time having breakfast at KFC. I was the at bus counter way before 10am, but to make the long story short, it was about a quarter to 12pm before we finally embarked on our journey to Gurye. We were travelling together in the same bus, except for Kenny. He was somehow put into an earlier bus, but of course that bus was also delayed.

We finally arrived at our hotel late afternoon. The name of the hotel was S Hotel (not ASS Hotel). Next to that hotel was K Hotel. Kenny was supposed to have reserved a room in K Hotel, but somehow the organizer had messed up with his reservation, and his name was not in the list. When our bus pulled up near S Hotel, Kenny was standing alone at the roadside, looking so pitiful with his bike box and luggage. Eventually he was able to get a room in S Hotel too.

I was still feeling sluggish after the long journey, and I felt like my legs have not fully recovered from the months of training, even though I've had a 2-week taper period. Accordingly, I put on my shoes and went for a very short run. The rest of them decided to assemble their bikes and go to the race venue for athlete's check-in.

As the days got closer and closer to the race, the excitement was mounting. And we had our swim practice session on Friday morning at the lake. We all rode to the lake and put on our wetsuit. It wasn't funny at all. 200m into the swim, I was already gasping for air. I held on to the ropes for a good 5 minutes before making my way back to shore. Everybody was in good spirit though. We met some more friends from Malaysia. Among them was the famous Rupert Chen and his underlings. We took the opportunity for a quick photo session.


And then later that day we went to deposit our transition bags and attended the reception dinner for the participants. We took the opportunity for another photo session, especially to show off our T-shirts sponsored by Ultron.


Back at the hotel room, the plan was to sleep early, as I had planned to wake up at 3:30am the next morning to prepare for the race. But I could hardly get any sleep, as I kept thinking about the 3.8km swim in the Lake...


Friday, August 25, 2017

Strange Priorities

There was once when I went for my grocery shopping in City Mall. As I was pushing my cart out of Giant Supermarket, suddenly there was a commotion. The alarm was blaring and people were running all over the place. Evidently the huge generator in the basement floor of the building had caught fire. Black smoke engulfed a major portion of the basement floor. Those of you who're not familiar with City Mall, the basement floor also accommodates the car park.

There's the so-called "travelator" which Giant's shoppers can use to bring their shopping carts from the ground floor to the car park in the basement floor. But because there's fire in the generator room, all access to the basement floor was blocked for safety reasons. Although I have paid for my groceries, I decided to abandon my cart, and although my car was parked in the basement, my first instinct was to just get out of the mall into the street. 

On my way to the front entrance of the building, however, I noticed a woman arguing with the security guard. She wanted to go to the basement floor to get her car, but the security guard said nobody's allowed to enter the basement until the fire has been put out. The woman continued arguing though. Then the guard raised his voice and said something profound in Malay. 

He said, "You value your life or your car?"

One would expect the woman to change her mind about rescuing her car, but I was surprised to see her insisting to go get her car anyway!

I find it rather strange that some people take very lightly the circumstances which may be life-threatening. They would ignore all well-meant warnings of danger, and go about doing the things they're doing as if there is no danger at all. I guess that that shouldn't bother me if they're risking their own lives, but I sometimes get very annoyed when my life is put into danger too because I have no control of what other people are doing. 

For example, it's quite common that there will be the announcement in the airplane that all cellphones are to be switched off because they may cause interference with the aircraft's equipment. But all too often people don't really care—they won't switch off their cellphones anyway. And I can't help thinking that if the plane crashed because other people have failed to heed the warnings, I may also lose my life due to something that's beyond my control.

How important is it that the cellphones must be left on? I'm guessing maybe it's because people don't really believe that the cellphones can really cause an interference with the aircraft's equipment; or if they do, perhaps the effect won't be significant?

Some people, I've noticed, get their priorities all wrong. These people, for example, demanded to fly home despite a "No. 10 typhoon" warning, i.e. the highest for Hong Kong storm warning system, because their priority is to "return immediately for work or school". I was, like, what's the point of work or school if you end up dead? There are some risks just not worth taking for the sake of work or school. There will be other jobs to secure; there will be other days to learn in school, but when you are dead, you are dead—period.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Power of Money vs Love

My late father used to say that people generally seek three things in life—Money, Position and Fame. According to him, some people work very hard to earn money; and then with money they can buy position. When they have achieved wealth and holding high position in society, they would eventually get the fame too. On the other hand, some people start off with getting the position first, and from there they get the money, and then the fame. And finally, some people would have fame first, which they then use to get the money and position. But no matter how you see it, eventually it almost always boils down to those three things that people are seeking in life.

Not many of my readers knew what my father was like. He was blessed with the gift of charm. I don't mean charm as in being handsome; rather, he had the ability to speak well. Maybe if he were to have told a cow that it could climb up a tree, the cow would be convinced too! Which is strange when you come to think of it, because my father lived a life of failures upon failures, and he left a trail of destruction behind. As you can probably guess by now, despite his way with words, I don't always agree with his opinions; or at least I don't always agree fully

I find that those three things that he spoke of in the opening paragraph above are hard to disagree with, but it's somewhat disturbing to me that Love is not included there. Although I agree that money is quite a big deal in life—people with money usually have power—but sometimes money just can't buy love.

I read with interest this article of an example where one is willing to forego wealth for love. Angeline was willing to give up on her inheritance for the love of her life. I can't help thinking that perhaps her father, Tan Sri Khoo Kay Peng, despite being such a successful and wealthy man, is in a strange way a poor man, really!

In due course my daughter will grow up some day, and there is just a chance that the man she chooses may not suit the bill of a man that I consider worthy of her. Maybe a truck driver or a manual labourer or a garbage collector. Perhaps I can foresee a life of hardship waiting for her? How would I react then?

Well, to start with, I don't have anywhere near the kind of wealth of Tan Sri Khoo for my daughter to inherit. But I will try very hard to talk her out of it. In the end if she is adamant, then I will let her do it. For it is her life, and that is a choice for her to make; not mine. When and if things don't work out, if I'm still alive, I will be there to support her. If by then I'm no longer alive, well then, that's the mistake that she's got to solve as best as she can. After all, we all make mistakes sometimes.

Twenty-five years ago, I was a nobody. I had nothing to shout about when I met my then girlfriend's father to seek his blessings for his daughter's hand. Before that, I was aware that I was the less preferred candidate. But her father was admirable; he put the happiness of his daughter before his own. When the time comes for my turn, I would also give my blessings to any man of my daughter's choice. If she is happy, then I will be too. 

Angeline Khoo is obviously happy with her choice, and I dare say Tan Sri Khoo is happy with his money too. But if it were me, I hope that when I die, I'm rich in love, maybe not so much rich in money; although of course if I can be rich in both of those, that would be even better!


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Domesticating Wild Animals

A friend once told me of a very cruel joke. He said when a Filipino is put into a boat, he is a fisherman. But when you have ten of them in a boat, they are a bunch of pirates!

It is my firm belief that people of whichever race and family background have a fair share of rotten apples in them; not just the Filipinos. I've always noticed a peculiar human behavior—when they are alone and without the power to do things, they are generally more timid. But when they are in a group or have the power and strength, they will suddenly have the courage to act; and sometimes impose their will upon others too. 

Come to think of it, in that sense humans are not very different from animals after all. Have you ever seen how a dog, say, would be timid when it's alone? Yet that same dog can suddenly become fierce when it finds itself in a pack? It is the same with other animals like lions and buffaloes.

Thankfully, however, humans are generally more intelligent than animals. We are civilized—or at least I hope so—and one aspect of being civilized is that our acts are not necessarily governed by our animal instinct that I speak of above.

We have all experienced that feeling when watching movies such as Superman and Spider-Man. These super heroes have special powers which they can use on other humans with serious and far-reaching consequences. Yet they do not abuse their powers. The movie makers have the habit of teasing us, the viewers, by inserting parts where these characters are being bullied. Just watch any Superman or Spider-Man movie, for example, and you are bound to find such "getting bullied" parts. Yet they have amazing control by refraining from engaging in a fight.

The truth is that there is that animal instinct in all of us to fight back; and that instinct is even greater if we know that we can win. That is why many people are feeling some sort of frustration—although perhaps in a pleasant way—when Superman or Spider-Man refuse to engage in a fight with the bullies. 

Now a part of being civilized is about having the sound mind to control what we can do to harm others. In other words, controlling our animal instinct. As a parent, I try very hard to instill in my daughter the habit of acting based on sound judgement, and not based on the animal instinct. Act because it is the right thing to do, and not just because you can do it.

I think at this stage, many of you are wondering what's all this about? Why am I suddenly rambling about animal instinct? Well, it's just something that crossed my mind when I was reading this article. Some kids are feeling great and above others because they have the might to hurt others. Little do they know that actually they are so small. In the grand scheme of life as a whole; of this world; of whether there is respect from others, they have nothing! But some day who knows, there is just a chance that they, too, will become civilized human beings. I hope for their sake they will...


Monday, July 10, 2017

Return of the Monitor Lizard

It's been almost 5 years ago when I posted "Surviving A Heart Attack" in this blog. It was a special post because while the story tells of how I survived a heart attack, many of my readers also almost died of a heart attack due to uncontrollable laughter.

Well, this is going to be a fairly short post from me after a long break from blogging. But I just want to report that another monitor lizard has visited JJ's toilet this evening. And this time JJ was in time to take a photo of the visitor.


It's kinda sad, however, that it's JJ who found the lizard in the toilet bowl. I'm thinking it would have been very interesting to know how Mia would have reacted if it were her who found the lizard in the toilet bowl. Well, who knows, maybe in another 5 years from now, there will be yet another visit from yet another monitor lizard; and I swear this time it's most certainly Mia's turn to greet the visitor!


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Finisher Medals & T-Shirts—Who Deserves Them?

A few months ago, my wife and I joined the so-called Ultra Aquathlon at Pantai Klebang, Melaka. It was the first time that the event was organized there, and it wasn't a very big crowd. Before that my wife had never been to Melaka, and she thought it's a good excuse to visit the place.

Fate would have it that the size of participation was such that there were only 2 participants in her category—something that we did not know until we were back home to KK. My wife isn't a strong athlete, and in each race that she joins, she's bound to barely finish within the cutoff time. But since there were only 2 participants in her category in the Melaka event, she ended up getting 1st runner-up, even though she was actually last (of the only two participants)! The funny thing was that we didn't even know all this at the end of the race. We had to rush to the airport to catch a flight home that same afternoon, so we did not stay for the prize-giving ceremony.

However, when the results were officially published, we were amused to find that she got 1st runner-up and was entitled to a trophy. She was excited, and asked me if I could contact the organizer to arrange the delivery of the trophy. I duly contacted the organizer. I did so via Whatsapp and email. I agreed to pay for the delivery cost too. I was then instructed to contact one of the organizer's staff, which I did. From the exchanges of numerous Whatsapp messages and emails over a period of several weeks, I was repeatedly assured that the trophy would be sent to us. But excuses upon excuses, ranging from some confusions with the race results, to difficulties in locating the trophy, eventually having that trophy damaged in the store. In the end, it became obvious to me that the trophy was never intended to be delivered. So I gave up trying.

My view is that, regardless of the poor timing of the participant, if he or she really deserves a trophy, medal or finisher T-shirt, the organizer should see to it that these are duly delivered to that participant.

Now in the recently-concluded Borneo International Marathon (BIM) last Sunday, we had a similar situation at the end of the race. There were some runners whom did not finish the race within the cutoff time. Yet they demanded for the finisher medals and T-shirts, on the excuse that some of them did finish the 42km, although beyond the 7 hours allocated time.

I can understand the disappointment of these slow finishers, but rules are rules. I think the whole problem arose because many of these people came into the race with the wrong idea in the first place. They paid for the entry fee, and in their mind, they're paying for the medals and T-shirts. The truth is that they're not really paying for the medals and T-shirts; rather for the OPPORTUNITY to challenge themselves to finish the race within the cutoff time. This is a race, and time is an important factor—so get over it.

No—I'm afraid the finisher medals and T-shirts must be earned; not an automatic entitlement regardless of finishing time. For if that were the case, then there is no meaning to delay their delivery until after the race. It would have been much more efficient to put them in the race pack together with the bibs. 

Running 42km, even if it takes 12 hours to finish, is an achievement to be proud of, and we're not trying to belittle such an achievement. Just that it's still NOT within 7 hours, which is the cutoff for this race. Bear in mind that the Macau Marathon, for example, has a cutoff of 5 hours only. May I suggest that before registering for a race, it's a good idea to read the rules of the race first, including the cutoff time. We are not all born long-distance runners, but 7 hours is quite generous, provided that one trains for it.

I can understand why my wife is disappointed for not getting her trophy for the Pantai Klebang event because she really deserves that trophy. At the same time, I can also understand why these people whom did not finish the marathon within 7 hours cutoff in BIM last Sunday felt disappointed, but unfortunately they did not deserve the finisher medals and T-shirts. If my wife had been running the marathon in BIM last Sunday, and she failed to finish within 7 hours, it wouldn't have been an issue to me if she did no get the medal and T-shirt.

Whatever we want in life, we must work hard for it—we need to earn it. We must be prepared to accept the reality that sometimes we will fail. We work harder the next time. Sometimes it takes a few tries; and sometimes we keep trying until we die without achieving success. That's fine, as long as when and if we finally achieved it, it's because we have earned it.