Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Putrajaya Ultra Aquathlon 2016

A friend of mine, Andy Foo, whom I got to know when he organised the 113 Sabah Triathlon 2015, sent me a text message some time towards the end of last year, asking me if I'd like to join his ultra aquathlon in Putrajaya on the 24th this month. I was then about to race the Ironman Western Australia (IMWA) and wasn't even thinking about yet another race so soon in 2016, especially a race that contained the word "ultra" in its title. It wasn't until after the IMWA when I was compiling my racing calendar for 2016, and I ended up revisiting the official website of the Putrajaya Ultra Aquathlon 2016.

I was pleasantly surprised that that word "ultra" was rather misleading after all. Earlier, I had the impression that the race was one that would take perhaps over 5-6 hours to finish. But actually it's much shorter than that. The race comprised a 2.25km swim, followed by a 22km run. However, the run distance was later reduced slightly to 21km. Although I'm not a good swimmer, 2.25km is not such a dreadful distance in the water for me these days. As far as the 21km run, I haven't been training on my speed for ages now, because when preparing for the Ironman, my focus was on endurance, not speed. Still, 21km is the minimum distance that I run on every weekend these days, although I'd run it very slowly.

Photo credit: Rany Tan - Start of race; about to enter lake

And so I was there at the starting line at the lake in Putrajaya last Sunday for my first ever aquathlon. The ultra participants had to swim 3 loops. Standing there at the edge of the lake, and looking out to the buoys, it seemed like such a long distance to swim. But like in any other race, I measure distances in sections, not its total. So I'd worry about the first loop of 750m first. When I have conquered that, then I would worry about the second 750m loop; and when I'm done with that, I will worry about the final loop. Something like that. I find that it's not too intimidating seeing the distance that way.

There are pros and cons about swimming multiple loops of course, but if I had it my way, I'd prefer it to be a single loop. I can still remember swimming a single 1.9km loop in the Putrajaya 70.3 last year. The reason I prefer a single loop is that during the start of the race, it will be chaotic—people are all over each other; there will be lots of kicking and slapping and elbowing. For a lousy swimmer like me, it can be quite a nightmare. But later on the crowd will begin to thin out, and it will be much easier to swim. In this particular event, however, we had to swim 3 loops. And then later on, we were joined by another crowd of a different category; and then again by yet another group later. So we had to go through the chaotic episodes several times in the same event. I suppose this is small matter for good swimmers, but it's a big deal for me.

Anyway, I'm happy to say that I did not swallow a lot of water during this event. I don't know if that could be interpreted as having improved in my swim or because I was extra careful to prevent swallowing the lake water. That in itself was quite an achievement for me. I felt a huge relief as I exited the water, and I took my time jogging up the path to the transition area, passing the shower on the way there.

Photo credit: Eddie Wls - Post-swim, on the way to transition

I had my Garmin 920XT set for the aquathlon. But during the chaotic situation mid-swim, someone kicked my watch, thus switching it into the transition mode. I stopped swimming for a moment while trying to remedy the situation, but it was no good. The transition mode was not reversible. I pressed the button and set it to the running mode anyway, and then continued swimming. Actually, the time-keeping process is of little consequence; after all every participant had the timing chip on, and proper timing will be captured by the respective sensors along the way till the finish line. But many of my friends would know that I'm suffering from a common disease known as KIASUNISIS. These days, most people just can't live without their GPS watches, you see. They just have to keep looking at it every few minutes, all the way to the finish line. But anyway, when I exited the swim, I pressed my watch again, and it registered the end of the race, when actually I haven't even begun the run yet! However, I was still able to get the total time of the workout thus far, i.e. 55 minutes. So at least I knew the time I took for the swim was about 55 mins.

As I was about to start running, I reset my watch again; this time just a plain running workout mode. I had no idea how much time I spent for transition. Perhaps it was a mere 3-4 minutes, but because of the KIASUNISIS disease that I mentioned earlier, it felt like 10 minutes.

Switching from swimming to running was quite a shock to my system. My legs simply refused to fire up. I felt like I had to drag my feet and somehow my quads felt overworked. It probably had a lot to do with the sudden change in position from horizontal (flat) on the surface of the water to upright in the running position. But if I have to go through this whole thing again, perhaps I'd make it a point to switch from the 2-beat kicks to the 6-beat kicks in the last 50m-100m of the swim. That ought to pump more blood into my legs in preparation for the run.

The first half of the 21km run was rather pleasant as the sun was just beginning to show its true colours. But the second half was very hot. In fact, so hot that I must have consumed twice the amount of water than the first half. And the last 5km or so was exceptionally tough for my tired legs. I had to alternate between running and walking. It was rather embarrassing that it became obvious to me by midway that I wasn't even gonna be able to finish the 21km in under 2 hours. But pride was just one part of the story. I was also thinking of finishing among the last few in my category. Oh! let me tell you, KIASUNISIS is a terrible disease!

Photo credit: Eddie Wls - Midway of the 21km run

I came into this race thinking that I was not up to the challenge. I would have preferred to train at least a little bit on my speed. But I reckoned that I would be more than happy if I could finish the race somewhere in the middle of the pack. Of course winning has never even crossed my mind!

When I finally crossed the finish line, I felt a big relief, and after I grabbed a drink, I started queuing up for my finisher T-shirt. Then I noticed that participants were able to get a printout of their respective results on the spot too. Accordingly, I requested for mine. My total racing time was 3:08:46, but I was shocked to note that my category position was shown as 13/15.

Although I felt like I was slow in this race, I thought it was enough to secure at least the top half within my category. That was why I was rather surprised that I finished 13th out of 15 participants in my category. In fact, I was almost the last! It made me think that I had to work really hard if I wanted to do this race again next year. Finally, my curiosity got the better of me. Because I knew the timing consultant personally, today I sent her a text message, asking about my result. She explained that my position was shown as "13/15" because when that result was printed out, only 15 participants in my category had crossed the finish line. But actually there were many other participants in my category. In fact, I was 13th out of 35 participants. Phew!...that was quite a pleasant surprise. That must have helped to bring down my blood pressure to normal level again. May I repeat, KIASUNISIS is a terrible disease!

So anyway, this was the medal I got for all the mental and physical stress!

Mia was also there in this race, but she finished much later; and as usually is the case for this organiser, there was no more size S finisher T-shirt left by the time she crossed the finish line, even though the size of the shirt had been duly stated in the registration details. I think the organiser should make it a point to brief the volunteers to pay close attention to the size of shirt as shown on the bib, and no exchange with other sizes should be allowed, because if no such briefing is done, that's why Mia now has ended up with an XL T-shirt. She will probably wear it as a pyjama. So far, she has collected 2 pyjamas from this organiser. We will be joining the 113 Sabah Triathlon of the same organiser in March. Let's see if Mia will increase her pyjamas to 3!

But anyway, on the whole, the Putrajaya Ultra Aquathlon was well-organised. The water stations for the run leg of the race were well-positioned at appropriate intervals. The volunteers, apart from those handling the T-shirts did an awesome job. In fact, I thought some of those cheering the runners were rather too excited! I would certainly recommend my friends to join this event next year.

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