Tuesday, September 8, 2015

113 Triathlon Bukit Merah Perak 2015

The 113 Triathlon Bukit Merah Perak 2015 promised to be yet another exciting race in my build-up to the Ironman Western Australia (IMWA) this coming December. Normally, I have a phobia of the swim leg of any triathlon event, because I'm not a very good swimmer. Arriving at the venue on the eve of the race, I wasted no time to check out the lake wherein the swim was to take place, and it was rather intimidating. Seeing the positions of the buoys, it seemed like the swim was gonna be longer than the supposed 2km, but I guess that was perhaps due to my fear of swimming.

On the way to the Bukit Merah Laketown Resort, we went through the ridiculous hill which was going to be a part of the bike route. I knew there and then that that hill was gonna be big-time trouble for me during the race. You see, I'm using racing tyres which are thin and had no thread on them. Certainly a no-no for hilly terrain. But I remained positive. And then it rained that afternoon, and I had to cancel my plan to test-ride on that hill. That night it rained again. The next morning, I was glad to see that the rain had stopped, but I knew that the roads would take longer to dry up.

Photo credit: Ashley Uhen-Tan

I found my way to the lake, and just as I had expected, the flag off was delayed by more than half an hour. It was initially intended that participants would be flagged off in waves, but because of the delays, only the elites were flagged off separately, and then the rest of the participants were flagged off together.

Needless to say, it was chaotic during the start—there was the customary kicking and slapping and climbing all over each other, and I had a fair share of kicks all over my body. But I remained calm and swam as best as I could. We had to swim 2 loops and it was fairly congested during the entire first loop. As I made the first loop, I had a quick glance at my Garmin 920XT, and noted that I had spent a little over 25 mins, way too slow than expected. On the second loop, however, the swimmers had thinned out a bit, and I was able to make up some lost time. However, after arriving at the last buoy, we had to swim a little further to the swim exit which added to the distance. In the end, it was about 2.2kms, although some friends said their watches recorded up to 2.4kms.

The swim exit was a little tricky, and not for the faint-hearted. It was just a tiny piece of ramp where marshals stood to assist participants to climb up. Those with weak upper body would have had some trouble pulling themselves up that tiny ramp. I think this is one aspect that the organiser should look into for future triathlons. I completed the swim in about 55mins. As I ran to the transition area, I paused for a moment under the shower to rinse off the murky water. Then off to my bike in a jiffy. There, I saw Anslem who was in the midst of transitioning for his bike leg. The first thing I did after almost an hour's swim was to guzzle 500ml of sports drink. Then helmet on; followed by the shade. Then the socks, and the cycling shoes. Bike off the rack and off I went. Once I reached the bike-mount line, I got onto my bike and started what I knew was gonna be a torture!

I was still gasping for air when I arrived at the foot of the steep hill. It was an approximate 1km climb of ridiculous steepness. I shifted to the lightest gear and started spinning up the slope. Well, actually the spinning part was just for a short moment. I slowed down to 15kph, then to 10kph, to 5-6kph. Halfway up the hill, I decided it's not worth the energy investment to continue cycling uphill. I thought the amount of energy spent for that 5-6kph was just not worth it. I'd rather push my bike uphill at 3kph. I was conscious of the precious time ticking away though, but as soon as I reached the top of the hill, I mounted my bike again and carefully negotiated the steep downward slope on the other side. Unfortunately, my thread-less tyres had very little grip onto the wet road, and I started to slide down the slope. I applied both brakes, but it was no good—I kept sliding down, and as I was building up speed, I could feel the impending crash.

Let me tell you that when you are on your bike, and it is building up speed down a steep hill, and there is nothing you can do about it, you tend to feel that "this is it for me, my life may just end here this moment!"...

As it was obvious that a big crash was going to happen, I undid my cleat shoes to prepare for the impact. The only thing to do was to remain calm in the face of trouble, and then hope for the best. As I reached a sharp corner, it happened...

A fraction of a second later, I was down on the hard asphalt road. My left hand which took most of the impact hurt like hell. My left elbow and knee (which was slightly twisted during the fall) were also hurting. I wasted no time though, I had to pull myself and my bike to the side of the road, as there were other riders coming down that hill. I sat there for a few minutes in pain, and watching other participants passing by. It was frustrating that I had to work so hard during the swim leg to be ahead of them, and then they're overtaking me now!

I contemplated withdrawing from the race at that point. My left hand was throbbing. My main concern was not to suffer further injuries. I tested my arm, hip and knee to ensure that I didn't break any bone. All still intact. That was just about 1.5km into the bike leg; I was aching, but the fighter in me refused to surrender. Accordingly, I picked myself up and continued with the race. The pain in my knee wasn't that bad. And since my left hand could hardly grip, I had to use my right hand to help with gear-shifting job on the left side. I reckoned that if things became worse, I could always throw in the towel later during the bike leg.

Now the problem with the hydration. I had on my bike 2 water bottles—one in front, and another one containing a concentrated cocktail at the back of my seat. The plan was to refill the front bottle up to about a third of its capacity from the back bottle when approaching a water station, and then I would grab a bottle of water at the station to fill up (thus diluting the concentrated cocktail). These chores are to be done while the bike is in motion, of course. But little did I know, as I was filling that front bottle, its cap dropped off and I had to ride with a bottle without a cap. I drank from that bottle like drinking from a cup! What more could go wrong?

Well, I survived the main portion of the bike leg and was able to overtake back many participants along the way. OK, so at least that's something to redeem my pride a bit. But now I had to go trough the hill for one final time. Pushing my bike up the steep hill after riding over 80km and aching knee from the fall wasn't amusing at all, but there was no time to complain; as far as I'm concerned, failure is not an option!

Soon, I reached the top of that hill and was happy to make one final down hill ride to approach the transition. But just a few metres later, as I hit my brake, my rear tyre burst! God dammit!...with just approximately 1km to go to the transition, this had to happen to me! So there I was, pushing my bike down the slope in my cleat shoes, and for the second time in the race, those that I've worked so damn hard to leave behind came passing by one by one. It was so frustrating.

Trotting my way downhill in the hard cleat shoes
Photo credit: Ashley Uhen-Tan

There are times in life when you are down on your luck, no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, nothing seems to help. You just keep losing it all. Well, that's how I felt as I was pushing my bike down the hill in the hot blistering sun. So much pain, so much time wasted. The feeling of wanting to give up was so overwhelming. It seemed like this race was just not meant to be. But, you see, life is like that—you win some, you lose some; but for the most part, you determine the outcomes. If you give up halfway through, there is only one possible outcome—failure. If you fight on, there is still always the possibility of conquering the challenge in the end!

I reached Transition 2 frustrated, exhausted and heart-broken. I spent a moment to calm myself down. I took my time to rack up my bike, drink a little, and then change into my running gear. And then I set out for the final torture of the 21km run. I was pretty beat up at that point, and I felt there was hardly an ounce of energy left in my legs. Under the hot blistering sun, I was sure that I wouldn't be able to finish that 21km. But for as long as I have not gone beyond the cut off time, I would keep going. It's not really about winning the race; it's about wanting to conquer the challenge. I did not come all the way to Bukit Merah to give up—not at the last leg of the race!

But oh boy!...what a long 21km—I ran and walked for almost 3.5hours for a miserable 21km! In the end, the distance proved to be a little over 22km. But it's OK, I would have fought on even if it was longer than that. There were enough water stations for the run leg of the race, but some stations ran out of water. Perhaps the organiser did not take into account that many participants would use the drinking water to douse themsleves with in light of the hot afternoon sun. Ice sponges were provided, of course, just that they ran out all too soon.

Exhausted, frustrated, dejected...walking...

A half Ironman distance race, and I took almost 8 hours to finish. I'm so, so, so humbled by the 113 Triathlon Bukit Merah. So embarrassingly slow and so much pain, but I'm so proud of crossing that forsaken finish line; it felt a lot like a victory anyway!

So would I recommend the 113 Triathlon Bukit Merah? You bet I would! Except that I'd strongly suggest that you train hard on hilly terrains. Otherwise, be prepared to push your bike up that long ridiculous hill!


Anonymous said...

Nice read and big congrats. I will see you in IMWA :)

Cornelius said...

Thanks. Not exactly how I'd like this race to end, but well, I guess I should be happy for not breaking any bone, and was still able to finish the race in the end!

Symus said...

Awesome write up. I can feel your pain. I too happen to have sprained my ankle badly during the recent TMBT 100k at km42. But I didn't surrender and cross the finish line at 29:40. Huhu

Cornelius said...

Yes, Symus, TMBT is a different beast, but one that requires a similar kind of fighting spirit. I'm familiar with the TMBT, having done it twice before. But the unique thing about the TMBT is that it doesn't go through the same course every year. Or at least not fully the same route.

I have the TMBT third in my list right now. I'm still hoping to get a slot in the London Marathon next year. Failing that, I want to try for TNF Australia. If I can't get a slot for TNF too, then I will seriously consider the TMBT 100km again for a third TMBT medal.