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...
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.
Then the sexy couple Anslem and Amelia came in obscenely strong (Isn't there any rule against overly-sexy outfits?)
Paul had the honour of buying us lunch, and was pleased to finish his first ever sprint triathlon anyway.
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!