Monday, October 31, 2011

Miri International Triathlon 2011—Sprint Event

It was shortly after running the Hong Kong Marathon last February when we were all in high spirit; most of us achieved our respective personal best times, thanks to the cold temperature. I was sharing a room with my friend, Andrew Voon. I was wondering what other sports we could do, when suddenly an idea struck me.

I suggested to Andrew that we should train up for a triathlon event and then surprise another friend, Teo Chen Lung, by signing up for the Port Dickson Triathlon without telling him beforehand. Although Andrew liked that idea, he said he was unable to make it, as the date clashed with his daughters' birthday. As an alternative, I suggested that we should do Miri Triathlon instead.

The plan was for us to keep all this to ourselves until the very last minute. We would train secretly and pretend that we're not joining the event; but we would go to Miri a day earlier and surprise Teo at the airport when he arrives. All this was because Teo had been pestering all his friends to join the triathlon, hence we gave him a nickname—Kipas King, based on the idea of using a fan to blow a charcoal into burning flames.

Once we've decided on Miri, and knowing that Teo was planning to compete in the relay event, I suggested to Andrew that we should form our own team so that we could go head to head against their team. Andrew was doubtful at first, saying that Teo would make sure that he selects the strongest in each discipline from among our friends. But I convinced Andrew that the point was not really about winning; rather, to surprise Teo at the airport and for the fun of it.

It was then that I decided to buy over Andrew's bike, a GIANT TCR, since he was already planning to buy a Cervelo roadie. The plan was that I would be the running anchor and Andrew should do the bike leg. I had my mind set on one of my staff who's a reasonably good swimmer. We would all do a sprint event apart from the relay.

Soon after we returned to KK, I bought Andrew's bike. But I did not start cycling until a few weeks after the Borneo International Marathon. Things were going as planned when we were all devastated by Andrew's death just a week before our trip to KL for the Standard Chartered KL Marathon. At first I was overwhelmed by sadness, and I abandoned the Miri plan. But a few weeks later, I revived the plan again; I decided to carry out the plan anyway in memory of Andrew. It was our last project together!

In the following months, Teo managed to convince many unlikely people to join him in Miri. He kipassed Judy to join the relay together with Ah Diong. Bob who did not know how to swim was also kipassed into cycling; and Kevin to run the 10km leg. But tried as hard as he could, I was adamant; no amount of kipas could make me say I'm going to Miri. I secretly enjoyed torturing Teo. In the last few weeks leading up to the event, Teo was even more aggressive in his kipassing, even to the extent of calling me names. I was enjoying every minute of it!

Actually, I had earlier on made room reservations, bought plane tickets and wrote secretly to the organiser, seeking his cooperation not to reveal my participation.

Last Friday, I sneaked out of KK to Miri on the 12:40pm flight. A few friends were also flying on Friday, so I had to plead with them to keep my secret too. That night I went to a bookstore to buy some stuff and then made a welcome placard. As late as Friday afternoon, Teo was still calling me chicken.

When Teo emerged from the arrival hall on Saturday morning, he saw a huge white display welcoming him; and the person holding that display was hidden behind. Teo was taken aback for a minute, and you can imagine his reaction when I finally lowered the cardboard to reveal myself!

Now, the sprint event was scheduled for 3pm that afternoon. I would have preferred to do the Olympic Distance. Unfortunately, I have also signed up for a 100km ultra trail marathon next weekend. So I did not think it's wise to tire out my body a week before that event. After assembling my bike, I went for a very short ride to ensure that all's in order.

While waiting for the event, we sat at the pool terrace chatting with each other. Teo was there sharing his valuable experiences from past triathlons he had joined. He said that at the start horn, he would prefer to wait till everyone is in the water, because he said he'd rather avoid all the stampede and kicking in the crowd. He said he could always try to overtake some of them later. Sounds like a logical plan to me, though I thought it didn't accord well with the kiasuness disease he's suffering from.

Since it was my very first triathlon event, I was kinda nervous—felt like I had butterflies in my stomach. We were all set to go at 3pm, but fate would have it that there was a road accident somewhere along the cycling route. So the organiser had no choice but to delay the flag off more than half an hour than originally planned.

Among those at the beach were Jack, and his wife, Jill, who flew all the way from Singapore to witness the excitement. They behaved every bit like a newlywed couple, when actually they have teenage children. I'm not sure what they were doing there at the beach, but I'm guessing they were just passing by on their way up the hill to fetch a pail of water?

After waiting for several minutes, we became somewhat restless. Amelia decided to do her wicked stretching routine...

While Anslem decided to amuse himself by playing with his left nipple...

But in the end the accident site on the road was cleared off and the race was duly started. Teo, Paul and I had decided to make a bet. Whoever comes last among the three of us should pay for lunch. Then a few seconds before the horn, Teo said, "OK, we stand in a straight line and start together." I thought that was very gentlemanly of him, still remembering that we were supposed to let all the other participants go off first.

At the sound of the start horn, I looked down to my stopwatch to start it; and when I looked up again, Teo was already galloping into the water a good 30 metres ahead. I have said it before, of course, kiasuness is a strange disease.

The current was quite strong on the way out; I had to work very hard against the current, as the longer I take to fight it, the longer I would have needed to swim. About 200 metres out, we made a turn to the right. Lots of kicking, and I received 3 blows to my face, not to mention the other kicks I got all over my body. But in the height of excitement, there was no pain at all.

It seemed like less than 10 minutes, but actually it was 16 minutes later when I finally emerged from the sea. By then, Teo was already out of the water and making his way to the transition area, which was at least 300 metres away on land.

I found myself gasping for air as I waded through several metres of knee-deep water; and running that 300 metres to my bike was the longest and most painful run I've had in a while.

Before reaching the transition area though, we passed the sprinkler which was, well, sprinkling pathetic amount of fresh water, as if some rats were pissing from the ceiling. Although it was my first outing, I pride myself with the efficient transition. By the time I reached my bike, my swimming cap and goggles were already off. I tossed them aside and grabbed my bib which was attached to a runner belt. Next came the shades, and then the helmet. Immediately after I put on the helmet, I took my bike off the railing, and off I went, pushing my bike with my right hand, and making final adjustments to my helmet and shades with my left hand. When I hit the bike mounting line, I stepped on my cycling shoes which were already attached to the pedals, and off I went. Upon reaching an appropriate pace on the highway, then I maneuvred to put my feet into my shoes and then continued cycling. The transition process itself was accomplished in under a minute (not counting the run from the water, of course).

As I was cruising on my bike, I decided to catch my breath, thus allowing some other participants to overtake me. But as I was approaching the first loop, I saw Teo coming from the opposite direction. Knowing that there's a hill coming very soon after the loop, I decided to play safe. I climbed the hill slow and steady, but was surprised when Anslem, Amelia and Paul came zooming past me halfway up the hill. But I stuck to my plan, thinking that I would catch up later.

Unfortunately, I could find no one to draft, and I ended up with a hard ride throughout. Paul and Anslem, I was given to understand, were able to draft each other. As I was approaching the final loop, Teo was already a few kilometres ahead from the opposite direction. Then I saw Anslem, Paul and Amelia. My heart sank, as it was clear that I would be the one paying for lunch! But giving up is not my kinda thing. Never ever give up, unless I'm in mortal danger of losing my life!

I think I must have been still climbing the hill on the return leg when Teo arrived at the transition area for the second time. Dismounting his mighty KUOTA, he made a quick transition for the running leg. He was followed by Paul and Amelia and Anslem.

I was still struggling on the hills when all this happened. It was such a relief when I finally reached the top of the hill. When I reached the bottom of the hill, I made the preparation for the final transition. Going at the pace of about 34km/h, I maneuvered to get my feet out of my shoes; and as I approached the transition area, I dismounted exactly at the dismount line.

The first thing I did when I reached my spot again, I threw my bike onto the railing. Then I slipped my feet into my running shoes and off I went. Unfortunately, it wasn't until a few metres later when I realised that I still had my helmet on! So I had to run back again and wasted precious seconds!

The first 500 metres of the running leg was a torture. My legs were just too stiff and would not cooperate to move. But later I found my rhythm. It's tough running in exhaustion; and it's even tougher running when you know you're already losing. But I kept going, and going, and going...

And then I saw Paul up ahead... walking! About 2km into the 5km run, I overtook Paul. A few hundred metres before reaching the loop, I saw Teo coming from the opposite direction. And shortly after, I saw Anslem and Amelia. I kept running anyway, but I knew it was too late to catch up.

John Chin, a friend I met a few times at the swimming pool, finished the race shortly before Teo.

Teo came in, and while making his final approach, was cheered on by Kevin.

Then the sexy couple Anslem and Amelia came in obscenely strong (Isn't there any rule against overly-sexy outfits?)

And then I came in like a representative of 2XU compression gears.

Paul had the honour of buying us lunch, and was pleased to finish his first ever sprint triathlon anyway.

And Claire came in strong with her long sexy legs and strikingly colourful running shoes.

And this, folks, is the newly inducted sprint triathlete. I still need to work on developing some muscles to be a more convincing triathlete. I suppose I can start working on that for the next event!

1:21:44 for a 750m swim, 20km cycling and 5km run. Gotta find ways to improve that!

Kinabalu Cycling Challenge 2011

I really should be blogging about the Miri International Triathlon, but I promised Teo that I'd post about the Kinabalu Cycling Challenge (KCC) 2011 first. So here goes nothing.

The KCC 2011 was held on 18 September. I woke up at about 5:30am to find that it was raining. Looking out from my bedroom window, I saw the wet road outside; and I wondered if the event would still proceed as planned. I thought it would. So I changed into my cycling gear, loaded my bike into my truck and headed out to Taman Awam, the venue of KCC.

When I reached the park, there was already a big crowd there, and I had to park my truck along the highway. My cyclist friends were already there; and they gave a short exclamation upon seeing my arrival.

I'm relatively new to the sport, having bought a secondhand bike from my friend Andrew Voon just a couple of months ago, after the Borneo International Marathon 2011. Since then, I have been cycling about once a week on Saturdays. However, because of other commitments, I was unable to go cycling on some Saturdays.

The other guys in my group are seasoned cyclists, and I have to admit that I've learnt quite a thing or two from them. I did not think I could win the KCC—far from it! But as in any other sports that I have joined before, I would be all out to do my best. However, I secretly entertained the idea of trying to beat at least my friend Teo Chen Lung, since he had only started cycling about a year earlier than me. I thought I could hope to beat him, but not those with many years of cycling experience.

Before the flag off, as usual we were busy preparing safety nets as a precautionary step for possible bad performance. Alex was saying that he had just gone training together with Bob at the mountain two days prior to the race; so his legs were still tired. And he had very little sleep the night before. Teo and I were saying we're just hoping not to finish last. A bit of pain and discomforts here and there—just in case we did end up last anyway!

The mountain bike category went off first; and then five minutes later, it was the road bike category. I felt a bit awkward to start racing at the age of 46, and I made sure that I started way at the back of the pack where hardly anyone would notice me. But Teo was still not done with his safety net thing—he started about a metre behind me. According to him, just in case he's the last to finish, at least he had the excuse that he started last anyway. Kiasuness—as you might have realised by now—is a strange disease, you see.

At the back of my mind, I knew that Teo's KUOTA was a much more superior bike than my GIANT TCR. Remembering that he's younger, bigger built and more experienced than I was, I didn't have much hope of beating him. But then again, my regular readers would know that I am also a greedy fellow when it comes to these things. I can't resist the challenge, you see.

I started the race with an average of 32-33km/h, which could be considered very slow for a race. But I had to be careful not to overdo it, bearing in mind that we're racing 100km, and we had to pass several small hills along the way.

All the time, I kept track of Teo's position. I couldn't afford to let him out of my sight. Going up the hill heading to Sepangar Port, I picked up a bit of speed; and as I decended the hill, I saw the rest of my cycling friends on their return leg from Sepangar. I kept my pace steady, although I slowed down a bit as I climbed the hill again before entering the Nexus Karambunai road. It was around then that I took an energy gel.

The internal road leading to Karambunai was quite rough, and that was very unfriendly to the road bike. At the end of that road, we made a sharp turn at the loop and made our way back to the Sepangar road again. By then I could feel a little bit of exhaustion building up in my thighs, although it was still bearable. Shortly after the loop, on my way back, I saw Teo charging from the opposite direction, followed shortly by Derek.

I was expecting Teo to come surging ahead at Jalan Sepangar, but he didn't. I was tempted to increase my pace, but remembered that we still had many more kilometres ahead, I carefully refrained from speeding up.

Well, I went on to Salut, crossing the long Mengkabong Bridge. And then as I was approaching the round about before entering Jalan Serusup, I was beginning to worry that Teo had still not caught up. I began to suspect that he had some sort of trick up his sleeve. I slowed down a bit and ate a banana, followed shortly later with another energy gel. I was beginning to feel tired, but I kept going behind two other cyclists who had also slowed down to about 25km/h.

At about Km50 of the race route, Teo finally emerged from behind, overtaking us. I stepped on my pedals and caught up with Teo and followed him from behind, entering the loop, going through some rough patches. Teo ate an energy gel, and then turning to me, he announced that we had reached Km60. I was of course already tired by then, and my quads were burning, but if I had any dreams to beat Teo, I would have to start attacking soon. I knew that Teo had the habit of sprinting back to Likas at the Indah Permai traffic lights. If I allowed him to reach that point together, it would be all over for me!

It was shortly after that that Teo suggested that we should draft each other; and I obliged. This thing about drafting is an excellent idea—both of us could benefit in the sense that we could take turns resting. However, when we reached Km65, it became clear that it was time for me to step up the pace again.

Teo slowed down to drink while I was ahead. I upped my pace and started to build up the gap between us. After a while I looked back and saw Teo perhaps 100 metres behind me. I took the opportunity to eat a banana, and then swiftly resume building up my pace again.

Coming out Jalan Serusup and after passing the roundabout, I maintained 33-34km/h, thus leaving Teo further and further behind. But I knew that he would come surging again very soon. He had the habit of letting his rivals lead before he attacks at the Indah Permai traffic lights. I thought if I could build up sufficient lead by the time I approach Indah Permai, maybe I had a chance to struggle to keep up the pace. The finish would be close no doubt.

I pushed through the Mengkabong Bridge, through several more hills, passing Salut, all the way to Indah Permai. At the traffic lights, I turned back and was happy to find that Teo was there. Getting out of my saddle, I climbed that hill, and then zoomed down the other side, cycling with the heavy gear, building up speed up to 54km/h, although for a few seconds only. As I said, kiasuness is a very strange disease—it can make you do things you never knew you could do!

When I approached the Yayasan Sabah Bridge, I looked back once again. Teo was nowhere to be seen. It was then that I realised that the unthinkable could happen after all. Thus encouraged, I started pounding on the pedals again. So much worked had gone into the last 30km, it would have been a shame if I let it all go to waste. I made my way to the Likas mosque, then the Wisma Perindustrian roundabout, making the final loop and finally approaching the finish line.

When I reached Taman Awam again, I had cramps in both my quads. I had to ask for a friend's assistance to get off my bike. I then sat at the curb for a bit to loosen up my muscles before finally joining the rest of them who had finished the race a good 10-15 mins earlier.

Teo arrived about 5 minutes later. It turned out that he, too, suffered cramps in his legs. So it was my lucky day. If he did not suffer cramps, there was no way I could dream of beating him. But then, y'know, it's all in the game! (smile)

Well, no one in our team won anything that day, except that Robert won a lucky draw, courtesy, I believe, of Hyatt Regency Hotel. In the end, I still consider it a fruitful outing, as it was a valuable experience.

Well, one more last pose before we went home that day.

Now a bit of comment for the organiser—the event was awfully organised. The marshals did not know what they were doing. According to the rules, no support vehicles were allowed. Yet the winning team had support vehicles all the way throughout. I doubt that I could win the race anyway, had the rules been adhered to, but maybe some of the other strong cyclists might have a shot at it.

Now perhaps I should refrain from competing next year to deny Teo of the chance for revenge!? (Go on, Teo, call me chicken!)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tragedy & Blessings In Disguise—Part 2

Mom has been working on a jigsaw puzzle of a beautiful family picture over the last 35 years. She has seen the complete picture in her dreams way too many times over the years. Yet because of a single missing piece of the puzzle that she had lost a long time ago, she was unable to complete the picture. No other piece could fit in that hole in the middle of the puzzle.

Fate would have it that that missing piece which would fit the hole perfectly had gone through too many rough rides throughout the years, rendering it suffering chips and distortions around its edges. When mom finally found that missing piece after a very long search, it was heart-breaking to discover that it no longer could fit perfectly into its original space.

Flora, though blood and flesh of the Koh family, is in reality a total stranger to us; we knew next to nothing about her. However, when my sisters established contact with her a couple of months ago, all of us were excited by the prospect of seeing mom completing her jigsaw puzzle. And it's about time too!

It didn't take me very long to get to know Flora. Well, at least for the things that mattered. She put up in my house during her one-week visit together with her children; and I had glimpses of her attitudes and characteristics.

Flora was—and still is—for the most part, a very frustrated and angry little girl. Yes, I see her as just a "little girl" (even though she is 38) whose driving passion in life is hatred against almost everybody around her. She is essentially a mentally-disturbed child whose universe revolves around herself; and only around herself. For her miserable failures in life, she blames everybody—her foster parents, her in-laws, even her husband, and ultimately, mom. The only person she forgets to blame is herself. She is a child who has long ago lost track of reality and can never proceed beyond the first chapter in the book of life.

Throughout her life, she has never forgiven mom. And she's been waiting patiently for the opportunity to strike back with her might. That opportunity presented itself when my sisters played into her hands by initiating the move to establish contact.

Flora played her part all too well—she's the victim of circumstances. She grew up in a home of wicked foster parents. And now that she has found us, she's looking forward to find love and support from us.

But alas, the kind of "love and support" that Flora has in mind is the kind seen in Anakku Sazali. It's unconditional love of the purest form that she's seeking. She expects us to support her husband even though he's a drug trafficker; she expects us to support her affair with a man 10-years younger than her, while her husband rots in jail. But we will not have any of it.

And so in the end Flora showed her true colours. Over the phone one day, she vented her anger bottled up from all these years. She blames mom for her failures. In fact she told mom she doesn't want to ever see her again.

And at this juncture, knowing that many of my nephews and nieces are reading this, let me give you all a special advice, kids; it's the same kind of advice I gave your uncle Dennis a while ago:

When all you've got in your life are your two balls, try not to make more enemies. It is always a better idea to have more friends than enemies.

I'm thinking maybe Flora could use the same advice too.

Mom has led a simple life. In a way, I suppose one might say that she's had a rotten luck, really. Of all the men out there, she fell in love with and then married the Playboy. That marriage didn't work out though; and I'm happy that it didn't. In fact, I see it as a blessing in disguise for obvious reason!

As cruel as this may sound, in spite of all that mom had gone through in life, I think God has been kind to her; He made mom give Flora away all those years ago. For she did not deserve to suffer the heartaches of seeing an evil child around her. She's been spared the torture for 35 years. Yes, I do see it as a blessing in disguise.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Tragedy & Blessings In Disguise—Part 1

It’s been almost 2 months since Typhoon Diana arrived around the end of August. And this morning we saw her off at the airport for a long journey home to Vancouver, Canada. Lots of tears in the dying minutes over breakfast at the airport; and sad to say that those were not happy tears—quite on the contrary, very, very sad tears.

Regular readers of this blog will remember, of course, that mom has a curious tendency to leave a trail of destruction each time she leaves after her visit; hence “Typhoon Diana”. During mom’s last visit, the drama centred around Dennis. I was secretly hoping for this visit to be different for a change, but of course that’s just too much to hope for.

Unfortunately, what seemed to be a promising start for a happy ending, had all the ingredients of a disaster-waiting-to-happen. The clashes of personalities and events unfolding in a dramatic fashion which completely obliterated any hope of a happy ending.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. To really understand the characters in this real life drama, it is necessary for us to travel back in time to a good 35 years ago. That is the proper beginning of this journey of how destiny had taken a cruel turn in one of those saddest tragedies of this world.

On the one hand, we have a divorcee who had to support 3 of her 6 children with her job as a maid. At times, her brother helped her financially, but because both siblings were not highly educated, there was only so much they could earn from their respective jobs. Needless to say, there were times when it became quite a challenge even to put three square meals on the table.

It soon became clear that she could not possibly afford to support all her children, so she had to make the painful decision to give away the youngest child, who was then only 3 years old, to a distant relative. It was a decision that kept haunting her for the rest of her life; and over the years she attempted to win back custody of that child to no avail. The feeling of guilt and sadness of that decision would never free her completely to redeem total happiness in her life.

On the other hand, we have a child who, at the age of 3, was suddenly thrown into the home of strangers. I would imagine it must have been very traumatic for the child during the first few weeks, months, or even years. And then what happened to her after that was unclear to the rest of the family, as her foster parents were extremely careful to prevent any contact between her and her biological family. Words had it that she was the black sheep of the family; she always got into trouble in school. In fact, she grew up to be a problematic kid. She was never any good in school, thus failing her SPM. But her foster parents took the trouble to forge the results somehow in order to help her secure a job.

She then married a man in a foreign country and had 2 children of her own. But by then, her relationship with her foster parent had become so bad that they were no longer on talking terms.

Somehow, her husband got into trouble with the long arm of the law and ended up in jail. She doesn’t get along very well with her in-laws. And of course before long, another man came along to fill in the shoes of her husband. Her life was obviously in a mess, although apparently, she did not realise it herself.

From far across the ocean, in Vancouver, Canada, mom heard about what happened between Flora and her foster mother. For 35 years, she’s been harbouring hope against all odds that she’d once again see the day when her long-lost child of 35 years ago would find her way home. Last year mom cheated death when doctors found and then removed a tumour from her uterus. Perhaps this is karma—perhaps her second chance to redeem herself has finally come after a 35-year wait? And hard upon that, when news of Flora’s husband got to mom, her motherly instinct suddenly took the driver’s seat. In the subsequent weeks and months, contacts were made with Flora, culminating in her visit to KK to meet us siblings for the first time in decades.

I don’t know if it was instinct, or because of something in her behaviour, but from the very first time I laid eyes on Flora, I did not buy her sob stories; far from it! There was an air of—how do you say it—artificialness in her; I just couldn’t tell exactly what, if you know what I mean. Perhaps it’s paranoia; maybe it’s all just my imagination, but I told my sisters to be careful not to believe her 100%.

Well, anyway, soon it was time for mom’s arrival, and the scene was set for a dramatic reunion. For the first time in 35 years we achieved the impossible feat—we managed to assemble all of us siblings together to celebrate mom’s birthday. We decided to have it at my place.

As we were about to start, mom pulled me aside and said she’d like to make a speech. Caught me by surprise it did. Clearing my throat, I called for everyone’s attention, announcing that mom would like to deliver a speech. Bear in mind that none of us saw this coming. So everyone gathered obediently around mom. There was dead silence—you could hear a pin drop—as mom produced a piece of paper she’d prepared from her pocket with an air of nail-biting suspense. Unfolding the paper, she started reading.

I cringed at the sight of mom reading, especially when she’s doing it without her glasses. Elsewhere in this blog, I’ve described how mom is never a very detailed person. She is one of those creatures who’d describe herself as a “homo”, when trying to tell others that she’s reached menopause; or say a foreign-sounding word, “calleb”, which means “collapse”. She wouldn’t even realise it if she’d read “circumstances” as “circumcisions”. But in the end, I’m pleased to say that she did a good job. The essence of her speech was of course centred around her elation of finally finding her long-lost child again after 35 years. And I have to admit that it brought a lump to my throat too. I think Audrey was complaining that mom’s speech messed up her mascara. Well, at the end of the speech, mom was accorded with a big round of applause. It was clear that everyone shared her joy that night.

Well, I'd say that it was a successful birthday party. But little did we know the storm that's brewing on the horizon...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Coming Back Soon...

It's been quite a while since the last time I updated this blog. Those of you who've sent me text messages and emails, or those who asked me directly in the street, let me hasten to assure you that I'm still alive and well!

I somehow did not have the mood to blog due to numerous reasons. But a major part of it was because I've been spending more time training for some sporting events in the following weeks. I have, still, a 100km ultra trail marathon in November; and a full marathon in Macau in December.

I've also been thinking seriously about some of the issues running through my mind—whether or not I want to blog about them. You see, it concerns people and clashes of personalities. Some of my thoughts are rather unpleasant; and most of you who've been following this blog would know that I am direct, and quite often brutal in the way I express myself!

Well, y'know what, I've decided to blog after all, but it has to be over this weekend; a good story deserves to be told in its entirety. I'll be back again!