Monday, October 19, 2015

Sarawak International Triathlon 2015

Just a few years ago, I would never have imagined racing a triathlon. It seemed such a far-fetched thing for me. I've never been any good at swimming, and it doesn't seem like I will ever become any better than how I swim now. It's a long story, but I eventually did my first Sprint Triathlon in Miri anyway in late 2011 as reported here.

I then went back to Miri again the following year as reported here, with the intention of racing an Olympic Distance (OD), but the organiser changed it to a so-called "modified-distance triathlon", which was a little longer than the OD. After that, I made up my mind to never again return to Miri for the triathlon. I found the event wasn't well-organised. Even seemingly simple things like providing a proper shower for triathletes to pass through after the swim was just awful.

I had bad experiences—particularly in the bike legs—in both the Putrajaya 70.3 as well as the 113 Triathlon Bukit Merah in recent months, so I was desperate to find an event to redeem myself. But I would prefer to do at least a half Ironman distance. I could find no such distance within Malaysia before December, and I had to narrow down my choices to either the Port Dickson International Triathlon or the Sarawak International Triathlon, which were just a week apart. In the end, I decided to do Miri. Who knows, maybe I would do Port Dickson next year.

It turned out that there was quite a big group of us from Sabah doing the Miri triathlon, and it was quite exciting to see some of the big names in the sport fighting it out in Miri. Famous names in the sport such as Ahmadul Tahir and Stephanie Chok from Sabah were also in the fray. Not to forget big names from the west such as Richard Tang and Chris Ka Krang (even the names rhyme, don't they?), although I can't quite decide in the case of Chris Ka Krang, whether it's her excellence in sports that I admire or her wickedly sexy figure that most men can just spend the whole day drooling and fantasizing about. I had the pleasure of sitting at the same table as hers during dinner on Saturday night, but I had to refrain from staring for fear of being labelled a dirty old man!

Anyway, I joined the race this year for the sake of training, and wasn't really thinking about prizes, let alone fighting for the win, because after all I did not think that I had it in me to win even if I tried! I wasn't planning on very sophisticated transition technique; I merely took my time changing shoes etc at the transitions. I just wanted a decent finish to redeem my pride and gain back my confidence after disastrous races in Putrajaya and Bukit Merah this year.

Before I proceed with the report though, let's quickly deal with the customary "safety nets" first. I will just mention some of the more significant ones here. Stephanie Chok was of course tired from the Royal Belum Ironbound Challenge the week before (which her team won), so she wasn't having very high hopes for the race in Miri. Yet she decided to race Miri anyway "for training". Amelia, of course was still exhausted (probably still suffering from jetleg) from the long flight from Melbourne. Claire had a fever coming into this race, and Teo was exhausted—"gone case", according to him—having driven from KK to Miri up to over 12 hours the day before the race, Sandi did not really prepare for this race. I suppose if I had asked the rest of them, everyone would have some sort of safety net nicely prepared for the Sarawak International Triathlon! In other words, we had an exciting race of which everybody was totally unprepared for!

Apparently, there was a race briefing on Saturday evening, which I did not attend, though I was in time for dinner after that briefing was over. I was unaware that the swim leg had been cancelled due to rough sea and replaced with an approximate 2km run instead. I prepared for the swim as usual and made my way to the transition area to set up my bike. On the way there, however, I stumbled upon Sandi at the hotel lobby, and she informed me—with a disappointed face—about the cancellation of the swim leg. The supposed triathlon had become a duathlon. So anyway, there was nothing I could do about it.

After setting up our bikes, all of us walked to the sea shore where we were flagged off a few minutes after 8am. I felt somewhat sluggish, and took a bit of time to fire up my legs. I was amazed seeing the front pack running like this was just a 100-metre sprint event. I ran at perhaps a little under 5:30mins/km pace, and by the time I finished that 2km run, many of the bikes at the transition had disappeared. Teo had trained for a quick transition; as soon as he took off his running shoes and putting on his helmet, he was off to the bike mount line where he started cycling, putting on his bike shoes while in motion. I took my time at the transition, drinking some sport concoction, and changed from my running to bike shoes. All in all, perhaps 2 minutes behind Teo by the time I started cycling.

As I hit the main road, I started worrying about punctures. My rear tyre wasn't cooperative in Putrajaya and Bukit Merah, and by this race, I've developed a kind of phobia of punctures! After making the U-turn, I started to build up my speed. I knew that there's a steep hill to climb shortly later. I took my time climbing that hill, and once I went down the other side, I started getting into my rhythm, and building up my speed to about 36-37 kph. Although this was a drafting bike leg, I was too slow for the fast cyclists, and too fast for the slow cyclists, so I just kept going at my comfortable speed on my own. 

After making the final U-turn, on  my way back, I saw Amelia, Sandi, Claire, Aldillah, Symus and Mia on the opposite side of the raod. They were all spread quite well apart. As I was approaching the last few km of the bike leg, it started to pour; I mean really pour tigers and wolves! The wind was blowing, and thunder in the sky. Visibility became a little poor, and I had to slow down to about 32kph. Then I came to the massive traffic jam because there was a fallen cable post across the road. I slowly made my way in between the long stretch of vehicles until I passed the fallen post. Then a few more km before reaching the hill again. Climbing that hill, I was worried of the going down on the other side. As I was descending the hill, I hit my brakes, as I was a little scared of losing control of my bike in the wet condition. My bad experience in Bukit Merah a few weeks ago was still fresh in my mind. But eventually I arrived at T2 safely, and I could breathe a big sigh of relief.

I took my time once again at T2, and changed back to my running shoes. At the start of the final run leg I just maintained a slow pace to fire up my running muscles. But after a few hundred metres, I began to build up my pace to a comfortable 5:30mins/km. It was perhaps 4 or 5km into the run leg when I felt a little exhausted, so I slowed down my pace to about 5:45mins/km. By then the rain had stopped, though the roads were still wet. In the end I crossed the finish line in about 2:07. Actually, if the swim leg was in play, I had expected to finish between 2:30-2:45, but I guess I will only find out if I can really achieve that timing in Port Dickson next year.

One by one the rest of my friends crossed the finish line. Amelia, Sandi and the rest. Then the surprise—I'm not sure how, but I somehow got 4th in my category worth RM300 in cash. Of course it's never been about the cash prize, and it's not even close to covering the cost of the trip. But the thrill of winning cash felt a lot like a child winning a bag of candies. Come to think of it now, I bet I would have felt exactly the same had I won just RM30. I fancy that my 4th place finish probably had a lot to do with the small number of participants in my category, but I'm not complaining! Stephanie Chok was declared champion in her category, as was Amelia in her category. Ahmadul and Sandi both achieved podium finishes; and the rest from Sabah all did well to finish the race. Mia wasn't happy though, as the organiser ran out of finisher medals, and she was left with none!

The finisher medal has improved by leaps and bounds when compared to a few years ago, which is a good thing. Of the organisation of the race as a whole, however, I'd say there is a huge room for improvement still! Perhaps next year, I will finally join the Port Dickson International Triathlon, but I will only think about that after the Ironman race this December.

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