Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Road To Putrajaya 70.3 2015—The Dive-In

In a few days' time, I'll be racing the Putrajaya 70.3, a half Ironman distance triathlon which shall include a 1.9km swim, 90km bike, and 21km run—in that order. I feel that I'm lack of training because I've only resumed swimming and cycling in March, after I recovered from a broken arm last December. To be honest, I'm quite confident that I can finish the race well within the cutoff time, barring any problems with my bike.

Truth be told, I'm not very good in swimming and cycling. I consider myself an average runner and able to handle up to the marathon distance (42km) fairly well. However, the run leg in the triathlon comes at the end, and if one's swim and bike isn't very good, he is bound to spend a lot of energy in those two legs, and then arrive at the start of the run leg exhausted. By then, it really doesn't matter how good a runner one is; if he is exhausted, he is not gonna run very well. As a matter of fact, maybe he will walk a fair bit. 

So when I embarked on serious training for the Putrajaya 70.3 in early March, I gave priority to swimming and cycling, but a few weeks is just not enough.

Between the two disciplines that I'm weak at, i.e. swimming and cycling, I'm more concerned about the swim. In fact, most new triathletes are concerned about the swim; which is quite an irony, really. You see, the swim is the shortest discipline in the triathlon, but based on statistics the majority of deaths in triathlon races happens in the swim. This is true even for the elite category.

My worry about the swim leg is not because I think I'm gonna drown. I reckon that the worst that can happen to me is maybe I would swallow a few gallons of water, but drowning is far-fetched. I don't come from a swimming background, and the kind of "swimming" that I know is not the best for racing the triathlon. I've never really had a coach; as a boy, I merely tried "swimming", starting with the dog-paddling thingy, and gradually progressed to the breaststrokes, which I realised later on wasn't really the right way of doing the breaststrokes anyway. Much later, I went on to learn the freestyle, though again doing it all the wrong way!

However, in the months before I broke my arm last December, I've been working on my freestyle, and am now quite confident to swim at least 50%, if not more, of the 1.9km in Putrajaya with the freestyle. That should help in saving my legs for the bike, and then the run. Of course it would be even better if I can swim freestyle all the way, but I guess this is as good as it gets for Putrajaya. I shall continue working on my freestyle, so that I can go freestyle all the way at IMWA in December. 

I was quite happy with the progress in my swim, until yesterday, when I was chatting with a friend about the Putrajaya 70.3. I was told that the start of the swim leg would be a "dive-in". I'm still having issues with open water swim (I'm swimming in the pool all the time), and sighting etc, and then now the "dive-in" is thrown in at the last minute!

So off I went to the pool this evening to do something about sighting and the dive-in. As for sighting, I would rate my current skill perhaps at 50%. I can dive into the water without any fear of drowning or swallowing water, but after a few tries this evening, I still can't figure out how to prevent my goggles from getting dislodged every time I enter the water.

Therefore, I'm hoping that some of you who're good swimmers might give me some tips on how to do the dive-in right, so that I can pretend to be a decent swimmer in Putrajaya this Sunday? Failing which, I will have to shamefully jump into the water legs first—a very un-elegant way to start the race. But I'd rather start the swim like a bloody fool, than risk dislodging my goggles, and then waste time adjusting it into place.

I'd really appreciate your tips please...

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Formal Complaint

Some years ago, I opened a savings account for JJ in a bank along Jalan Gaya, and because she was then under 12 years old, I had to be her guardian. However, I have since lost her savings passbook. A few weeks ago, I went back to the bank to enquire what should be done, and was advised that I should close that account, and then reopen a new one. But since JJ is now over 12 years old, she can own a savings account independently; there is no need for my name to be there as her guardian. Just that she is required to appear in person to sign some documents, thumb prints etc.

That is a little inconvenient; school is from Monday to Friday. I asked the teller if they're open on Saturdays. He said as a matter of fact, they will start operating on Saturdays beginning from 21 March. So I went to the bank on that date, which was last Saturday, only to find that it was closed!

This afternoon I went to that bank again to investigate if perhaps I understood them wrongly when they said they're going to be open on 21 March. Well, they were supposed to be open on that day, but somehow they weren't. I'm not sure why. Sorry for the inconvenience.

I shared the above on my facebook, and then asked, "What should I do?" 

My cousin replied shortly later, with a suggestion to "put in a formal complaint maybe."

I couldn't help but smile when I saw that suggestion. It's almost like a knee-jerk reaction. I was, like, that is so typical of Malaysians. Elsewhere in this blog, I have posted on the curious favourite national pastime of Malaysians in general—lodging formal complaints. I bet if the chicken crosses the road, many people would react almost instinctively by lodging a police report or some sort of formal complaint, perhaps just for the sake of lodging a police report; because that's what's expected of Malaysians.

Have you ever wondered what would the recipients of all those tons of so-called "formal complaints" do with all those documents? My best guess is maybe file them in an orderly fashion in duly-referenced files and then put them in a huge cabinet somewhere to be forgotten. Then each day perhaps retrieve a couple of those files for reading pleasure?

This reminds me of the time when I myself lodged a police report for my stolen motorbike as posted here. It was a very long time ago, of course, when I had a different idea what police reports are all about. If you are not careful, you may even be in danger of becoming impressed when seeing how these people do their job of recording the reports! 

Let me tell you that the making of formal complaints is almost like a beautiful art. You spend a lot of time making it; and some people spend a lot of time staring at it in admiration. And then in the end, you just hang it on the wall where it shall remain undisturbed for a long time.

That's how things go; get over it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

113 Triathlon Sabah

Shortly after the Putrajaya 70.3 opened for registration last year, I decided to sign up for the race. It's a Half Ironman triathlon race comprising a 1.9km swim, 90km bike and 21km run to be held on 5 April. I had just embarked on training, when I broke my right arm in a freak accident at the end of December. Consequently, I had to stop swimming and cycling for the months of January and February. However, I continued running and eventually ran the Tokyo Marathon near the end of February.

While I was still nursing my broken arm, I registered for the 113 Triathlon Sabah, which was also a half Ironman distance race. As soon as I came back from Tokyo, I resumed cycling the following weekend with a 90km workout with Mia. It felt horribly exhausting, having been away from cycling for over 2 months. I also resumed swimming, but I was careful not to overdo it, as the muscles in my arm were still recovering.

When I arrived at the start line of the 113 Triathlon at Nexus Karambunai Resort last Sunday, I've had 2 90km rides, and several 30-minute swim in the pool. I was a little doubtful if I could survive the swim, especially after I saw the rough sea condition that morning. However, just as a precautionary measure, I took Celebrex, just in case.

Many of my readers would've known that I'm not a good swimmer. Ordinarily, however, I'm not worried about the waves. But on this particular morning, I was rather concerned that I would injure my arm again. I had planned to take it easy, and then hoped to catch up during the bike and run legs.

There was a bit of a delay for the flag off, and all of us lingered around the start line for some minutes. Now waiting for something that one fears is quite a torment; the longer the wait, the more painful is the punishment. We tried to create small conversations, but I  never took my eyes off those forsaken waves.

Photo credit: Shahzan/Najib

I spent quite some anxious moments adjusting and readjusting my swimming cap...

Photo credit: Shahzan/Najib

I suppose you could tell how much I hate water getting into my ears? I was still in a kind of trance staring at the waves, when I was brought back to reality when we were about to be flagged off. I took my time to run to the sea. Actually, the toughest part of the swim was perhaps for a short distance of about 50m or so near to the shore. The swell was huge and the waves came beating angrily. After struggling for a few minutes, the waves were still quite rough, but it was possible to swim much easily. Unfortunately, we had to do 2 loops. So everybody had to go through the huge waves a second time. During the swim, I caught glimpses of my friends, Claire and Dr Shah, several metres ahead of me. I knew of several other local folks, of course, but I couldn't spot them then.

I emerged from the sea shortly after 40mins and was relieved to run up the shore. It was quite a distance running from the sea, up the sandy path, passing a shower area, and eventually to the transition area. By the time I reached my bike, I noticed that Claire was already gone. Dr Shah was already halfway into transition. Another friend, Stephanie Chok was also there. She had finished her swim about 10 minutes earlier (she was racing the relay event with her friends). Stephanie yelled out, "Go Corny, go Corny!"...

But I took my sweet time; I ate some wafer biscuits, chased it down with cola which I had prepared. Then I spent some moments applying sunblock onto my shoulders, arms, neck and legs. Wiping my hands with a towel, I took several more gulps of cola. Stephanie soon lost interest in me. 

As I was doing the chore, Dr Shah was polite enough to say that he's going ahead first. I said "Sure, I'll catch up with you later!" Now that I think of it, that didn't sound right somehow! Perhaps it would've been much better to say "I'll see you later", rather than "catch up with you later"!

As I was just about ready to go, Teo Chen Lung arrived into T1 from his swim. He had taken his sweet time too. But when he saw me about to leave on my bike, he shouted out, asking me to wait for him! I was like, yeah right!...off I went in a jiffy!

Then, to my horror, just as I started my bike leg, my Garmin 910XT suddenly went dead. I tried pressing the buttons, but to no avail. I had to continue the rest of the race without a GPS watch. Now the mind plays tricks on one's sense of speed and time. The whole time riding out from the Karambunai Resort, I felt like I was riding too slow. I was alone for a while, until I got to the main road where I overtook another cyclist. I was still unhappy; it seemed like the miles passed too slowly. At the back of my mind, I was thinking of Claire and Dr Shah, perhaps they were several kilometres ahead of me...

Bearing in mind that there's a 21km run after the 90km bike ride, I carefully refrained from overdoing it. Accordingly, I controlled my speed, but always feeling that I was too slow. There were several hills to climb along the way to Serusop, and each time I was climbing, I was worried about the drop in speed.

Imagine my relief when at about 28km into the bike leg, I saw Dr Shah several hundred metres in front of me. I took my time to catch up though. I duly made the U-turn, and finally overtook Shah shortly after. Keeping my speed, I calmly continued on that return journey. A few minutes later, I caught up with Claire and finally overtook her too. But there was still a lot of work to be done, as we were not even halfway through the bike leg. Emerging from Jalan Serusop and going back to the Kelapa Bakar, I saw Teo on the other side of the road. He was probably almost 10km lagging by then. I also saw Mia a little later down that road.

On the second loop leading to Serusop, I saw Dr Shah again, and he had by then overtaken Claire too. I'm not sure if it was because of the excitement, but I felt very strong on my bike. It was very tempting to surge ahead, but instead I maintained my speed. At the back of my mind I wasn't very tired because I was going slow.

Photo credit: Shahzan/Najib

It felt like almost 3.5hrs later when I was finally approaching Karambunai again for the transition, all the time convinced that I was far behind most of the participants. Arriving at T2, again I took my time. several gulps of cola, my secret weapon. Then a pack of gels. Calmly, I changed into my running shoes, and just as I was about to start my run, Shah arrived at T2.

Then came the most embarrassing moment of the race. For a runner capable of running 10km-11km per hour fairly easily, it was quite a torture to find that both legs were somewhat "frozen". Never mind about running technique or pace. By then, the challenge was to focus on throwing one foot to the front of the other, and keep repeating the process! With so much pain, I embarked on the 21km run.

Photo credit: Jannette Hiu & team

The run started along the pleasant shaded stretch, but it soon became a frightfully long exposed road in the scorching afternoon sun. There was no cloud in the sky. At the back of my mind, I was thinking of Shah. He made sure that he dressed for the occasion, and I was conscious of Darth Vader hot on my heels...in fact, I could almost feel his breath on my neck!

Photo credit: Jannette Hiu & team

There isn't much to tell about the run leg, except that it seemed like a never-ending workout in hell. I made it a point to stop at every water station to douse myself in cold water, a process that can very easily become addictive. I was humbled by the harsh weather; I slowed down to a walk several times, and in my mind I felt like I must have taken more than 3 hours to finish the 21km!

Imagine my surprise when I saw 6hours 27minutes when I crossed the finish line. I received the finisher T and medal. I sat on a chair for a long time and felt relieved. I watched the other participants arriving one by one at the finish line. Not long later, Shah crossed the finish line. We congratulated each other. I continued waiting, until I decided perhaps I should go take a shower and change into fresh clothes.

It was rather amusing that I actually rode for about 3hrs and not 3.5hrs. But I took almost 2.5hours to run the 21km. Claire eventually finished in about 7:20, and Teo in about 7:30.

Then the final surprise of the day. At the prize presentation, I was announced as the runner up in the veteran category. The funny thing was that the main reason was because there were just 8 competitors in my category, and if not mistaken 3 of them did not even start!

I have to admit that I didn't expect this to be a well-organised event. But after I have experienced it, I think it was a good job, considering the shoestring budget. Perhaps there is still room for improvements in terms of the number of volunteers at the water stations; and marshals to enforce the non-drafting rule etc. But on the whole, I would say the organiser passed with a flying colour. The size of participation really did not do justice to the 113 Triathlon Sabah. But perhaps it had something to do with wrong timing. On the same day, some of our local triathletes were racing the Penang Triathlon. Others were at the Viper Challenge.

Unfortunately, it's unlikely that I'm able to join the Desaru race by the same organiser, but I'm seriously considering the Bukit Merah event in September. I look forward to the 113 Triathlon Sabah 2016. I'm sure it will be even better!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Borneo International Marathon 2015—Medals

My friend, Teo Chen Lung, has an incurable fetish for medals. I reckon he must have accummulated up to a few hundred medals of wide-ranging sporting events as well as other non-sporting competition. I dare say he even considers himself something in the order of an expert when it comes to medals in general.

I'm not in the habit of discussing about running medals for 2 reasons. The first is that I don't think I'm qualified to give any meaningful comments or suggestions as far as the design and beauty of medals are concerned. And the second is that I think these are all subjective assessments anyway and depend very much on personal tastes.

This morning, a friend brought to my attention that the organiser of the Borneo International Marathon (BIM) had unveiled the medals for this year's races which include the 10km, 21km (half marathon) and 42km (full marathon) in its facebook page.

Apparently, Teo is of the view that the medals appear a little "messy", but as I said earlier, it's difficult to agree or disagree as it depends on personal tastes. I'm not sure whether "messy" is a good thing or not in this case. Personally, however, I think this year's medals are much more colourful than those in the previous years, and that is an exciting and refreshing departure from the "norm". I must congratulate the organiser for its efforts. The new design satisfies the requirement of "uniqueness" to me, and I'm guessing the colours and ribbon are more appealing to the younger runners. Some people are very sentimental though, and there will be bound to be some who're not very happy with the new colour scheme.

Looking at the comments in the organiser's facebook page, it seems that the majority are happy with the new design, although admittedly, some said they preferred the previous medals. But there are some who raised the issue of the missing mascot. They noted that the "orangutan mascot" is no longer found on the medal. For those who have not seen any of the previous BIM medals, here is an example from BIM 2011.

Notice how colourful the medal has become for the coming race. However, colours aside, I find the comments about the missing mascot very interesting. I note that several of those commenting about the mascot were Sabahans.

Being a Sabahan myself, I take pride in posting this article in the hope of educating not only the foreigners, but also some of my Sabahan comrades. That mascot you see on the BIM medals all these years is NOT an orangutan, would you believe it! Actually, it is the proboscis monkey. You'd probably know why when you look at its nose. These are two different species, although both are famous in Sabah.

I'm including in this post the photos of these animals of what they really look like in the wild:

Proboscis Monkey


One more final thing—as some of the commenters on facebook have correctly pointed out, the mascot has always been a part of the BIM, so I can appreciate their reaction when they didn't see the mascot on the medals. But please calm down, folks, the mascot is in fact there—just that it's on the other side of the medal. Here is another shot of the medals (as per Medal Depot) showing both sides.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Marathon—Pride, Ignorance & Achievements

I spent some years of my childhood living a seemingly-perpetual nightmare at my grandparents' house. In some ways, I'd say it was a worse nightmare when compared to the one at Elm Street. Notice that I'm not even using the word "home", because to me it wasn't a home at all—it was just a "house". I can still remember that it was for the most part a place I had hoped to escape from as soon as I could. Those of you who've just recently started reading this blog may be curious to know why. Here is a post to give you some idea of my childhood.

One of the many chores that I did as a boy was to do grocery shopping. As a routine, I'd ride my grandfather's bicycle to a shop in the village a few miles away to buy stuff almost on a daily basis. In the shopping list, you'd find words like Colgate, Lux and Kodak. And the word that I hated the most in the shopping list was Kotex, but that's a different story.

You see, many people are not particularly concerned about using the correct words when they speak. If they could be understood, that's good enough for them; they shall not waste the extra efforts in finding the best word(s) to convey the message. But sometimes, it's also because a word or brandname that has been used way too many times, that that brandname itself is adopted to take the meaning of the item. So when a toothpaste is required, there's that tendency to say Colgate, even though it doesn't necessarily have to be Colgate, specifically—Lion and Close-Up toothpastes are also fine. In a similar way, instead of saying soap bar, the preference to use Lux, although Palmolive or Dove can also do.

Since I started running seriously in mid 2008, I've seen and heard the use of that word "marathon" in the wrong context a number of times; and along with that, many people, especially those who've run the 42.195km marathons, criticizing the use of "marathon" to refer to races of anything shorter than 42.195km. In fact, I myself have tried to elaborate on the meaning of "marathon" in the Kota Kinabalu Running Club facebook page, of which I'm a co-Admin.

Those who've conquered the 42.195km race are of course proud of their achievement, and rightfully so too. The pride and bragging rights that last a lifetime. The pride that annoys them when others appear to equate their achievement with that of a mere 10km or less. They may suffer the pain akin to a bullet wound when some organisers of short races promote their events as "marathons".

The debate continues as to who's right and who's wrong. So here I am to give my two cents' worth of opinion on the subject! 

Let me start by addressing the organisers of running events first. My view is that whenever the word "marathon" is used in the context of running events by organisers, it should only be used to mean the 42.195km race. Likewise, when running clubs and journalists publish articles on the subject of marathons, that word should take the meaning—and only the meaning—of a 42.195km race. It is in that sense that saying something like "10km marathon" is wrong.

Having said that, however, I'm more lenient when people in general use the word "marathon" to mean any distance shorter than the 42.195km race, even if it's as short as 3km or 5km. After all, in most dictionaries, "marathon" has at least 2 meanings, apart from the name of a place in Greece. The first meaning is that of the 42.195km footrace that I speak of above. The second meaning is that of a general reference to a long, and often difficult, undertaking. It is in the context of the second meaning that a mere distance of 5km may be a "marathon" for some people. 

I can accept a novice runner's declaration that he has just completed a 10km "marathon", because, to him, that is a distance to be reckoned with on foot. Much the same way we can understand what one means when he says something like "I've just had a shopping spree marathon!"

Whatever the case is, one thing is certain—nobody can deny that when one conquers a distance that is tough for him by any means, that is an achievement worth celebrating. Taking the second meaning of the dictionary, a double-amputee completing a 5km race in a wheelchair has conquered a "marathon"; an obese person spending 6 months to lose 30kg has conquered a "marathon"; and a parent seeing his autistic child graduating from university has conquered a "marathon". Those are all extremely huge achievements that last a lifetime too; and they are all "marathons" of epic proportions, worth to shout about.