Monday, March 14, 2016

113 Triathlon Sabah—The Nail-Biting Finish that Didn't Happen

I've raced so many types of endurance races, each with its own epic excitement. I thought the Ironman Western Australia (IMWA) last December was the ultimate challenge against my friend, Teo Chen Lung. But when I beat him in that race, he swiftly challenged me to yet another race, which was yesterday—The 113 Triathlon Sabah, held in Nexus Karambunai. 

In the IMWA, I beat Teo by a mere margin of approximately 15 minutes, and according to Teo in that race he beat me in the swim and run legs, although he acknowledged that I won the bet, because I crossed the finish line first. As soon as I agreed to the challenge in the 113 Triathlon Sabah, Teo bought a new bike, i.e. the P5 Cervelo which he said was the "fastest bike in the world" based on wind tunnel testing. Upon reaching KK, he made further upgrades to include a power meter and some other installations. Although he was supposed to have gone for the Hong Kong Marathon earlier this year, he decided to cancel that trip, so that he could focus fully on beating this old man!

I knew that I would lose to Teo in yesterday's race, because it was a much shorter distance. I have said before that I just don't have the speed to put up much fight against younger opponents. But although it was an uphill task, I decided to at least put up a good fight for an epic finish. I reckoned that even if I'd lose the race against Teo, I'd at least make him run for his money! What made me even more pressured was that Teo said he will try to beat me in the run leg; and when he has caught up from behind, he would tap me on my shoulder before overtaking me! That absolutely made me even more determined not to let him tap my shoulder! To achieve that, I would have to attack his weaknesses starting with the swim. 

Well we are both not very good in the swim, but I felt that I had a slight advantage. You see, both of us used to have the "sinking-legs" problem when we started swimming a couple of years ago, and I've invested a lot of time and efforts figuring out a way for a solution. I have since solved that problem, and gone on to work on my strokes and kicks. On the other hand, Teo's biggest mistake was when he bought a wetsuit almost 3 years ago. That wetsuit absolutely sealed his fate as far as swimming was concerned. He's been training with the wetsuit about 90% of the time, and at times he'd swim several kilometres in the pool per session. I'm not a big fan of yardage when it comes to swimming; I'd rather focus on the technique. But just to make sure, I made more visits to the pool starting from a couple of weeks ago.

On the other hand, I've been neglecting my run a bit, but I thought no matter how fast I can run on an ordinary day, during the 113 Triathlon, I would be very slow anyway. So I had to gamble a bit on how I would balance between the 3 disciplines. I also decided to shed 2kg over the last 2 weeks from 72kg to 70kg, just to make sure that I get to my optimal racing weight.

Yesterday morning was an amazing start to say the least. I arrived at Nexus Karambunai at exactly 6:30am, and then as I was unloading my wife's bike, I realised that I had forgotten my cycling shoes at home. A single journey from my home to Nexus would usually take about half an hour, and the flag off time for the race was at 7am. It was obvious that there's not enough time, and I resigned to the fact that this was gonna be the end of what would have been an epic challenge against Teo!

But the thing to do in an emergency is to keep a cool head. After offloading my wife's bike, I floored the accelerator in my crazy attempt to get my shoes at home. I must have been going at an average of 120kph for most of the journey home, my front wheels vibrating violently; and of course I was cursing everybody on a leisurely Sunday drive who's blocking my way. It was still very early in the morning, and there wasn't any traffic jam, but I felt like the whole world was conspiring to slow me down; all the traffic lights along the way were red! But in the end, I made it back to Nexus at 7:15am, clearly I had missed the flag off. Still keeping my cool, I parked my car at the roadside, offloaded my bike and rushed to the transition area. I had planned to beg the Race Director to still let me join the race even though I was late. I didn't mind the late start as long as I could still join the race. Upon reaching the transition, I quickly racked up my bike, laid out my stuff, grabbed my googles and swimming cap, and rushed to the beach.

Then the second surprise of the morning. The race had not started! It must have been about 7:20am when I arrived at the beach, panting and my heart rate over the roof! I was accorded with a loud cheer for making it to the start line after all. I felt like I deserved a special trophy for the new record I've set for making that journey from Nexus to Damai and back in just a little over 40 minutes!

It turned out that the flag off was delayed because the Fire Brigade folks were late. They were supposed to inspect the swim course and then give the greenlight before the race was to start. Thank goodness this is Malaysia, and tardiness is a common thing; and in this case it helped me to catch my breath! But soon the wait became unbearable. The participants were rather anxious and everyone was worried about the precious time slipping by. The temperature was rising by the minute, and everyone was becoming restless.

Some tried to remain calm by meditating...

Some were discussing about bike technologies and bike splits...

While some were actually doing the split...

But in the end, at about 8:15am, we were finally flagged off. Because of the long delay, the organiser decided to shorten the swim leg from 2 loops to just 1 loop. However, one of the buoys had drifted slightly farther from shore, resulting in the swim leg becoming a little longer than 1km. The foreshore area was a little rough and the waves were hard to swim in. But as we got beyond the second buoy, it became much more pleasant to swim. I had by then lost track of Teo, but there was no time to worry about him at that point. I just continued swimming as calmly and consistently as I could; and a little over 25 minutes later, I emerged from the sea, not knowing if I was ahead of Teo or not. But no matter, if Teo's ahead, I would fight hard to catch up in the bike leg.

It was nice to see the transition area still crowded with people. In the past whenever I raced the triathlon, I would always arrive at Transition 1 just to find a deserted area with just a few bikes remaining. But not today. I put on my "wings", then my socks and cycling shoes, sunglasses and helmet. Then a few gulps of my trusted Carbopro; bike off the rack and off I went. 

At that point I still did not know where's Teo. But I was determined to fight during the bike leg. There's 90km worth of cycling to accomplish that! I wasn't gonna lose the bet without a fight! Little did I know that Teo was actually behind me at that point. I found out later that he was about 2 minutes slower in the swim. But 2 minutes is not really a big deal for a race of over 100km. That deficit can always be offset in the bike leg, especially with the help of his super P5! Coming out of transition, I suspect Teo must have started rehearsing his killer face that he's so famous for.

I took my time to build up speed during the bike leg. My heart was still beating like crazy from the swim. When I felt a little steadier, I began working on the pedals. Along the way, I overtook Hakimi and IM Dr Shah. Then some other participants. But after about half an hour, Teo was still nowhere to be seen. I began to feel a little worried. At the U-turn in Serusup, I took note of my time, and then on the return leg, I saw Amy, Hakimi and Shah. Shortly later, I finally overtook Vachel. Anslem was further ahead, and Boneventure of course was drafting behind him. Rayner was also a few minutes up ahead. Then suddenly I saw Teo coming from the opposite side of the road! Looking at my watch, I noticed that I was about 2.5 minutes since I reached the U-turn behind me, which meant, at that point, I was about 5 minutes ahead of Teo! Still not good enough, but it's a long ride still.

I continued focusing on timely nutrition and pedalling consistently all the way back to Kelapa Bakar, and as I was approaching that U-turn, I saw Anslem on the other side of the road with Bonaventure drafting behind him. Rayner was not very far behind them.

We repeated the Kelapa Bakar-Serusup for the second time. But on the return of that second loop, the wind started picking up like never before. It was quite a struggle. I saw my average speed dropped from 34kph to 33kph to 32kph; not so good news for my plan to build up the gap against Teo. The last few kilometres as I was approaching Transition 2, I had to slow down to rest my legs so that there's something left for the 21km run. As I was cruising that last stretch to Nexus, I saw Rayner up ahead, and I eventually overtook him too.

But Rayner was faster in his transition. As I started out for the 21km run, I saw Amy coming into transition. I wasn't sure how much lead I had against Teo then. But I knew that it's not much. Shortly after I passed the T-junction heading to the lagoon, Teo was making his approach to T2.

Making rough calculations in my head, I had perhaps a little over 10 minutes lead over Teo at that point. Teo was of course gonna catch up sooner or later, especially since my legs were getting tired. But I wanted to make him work hard for it! Still, because I had the lead, I decided to reward myself with a rest—a big mistake to make at this stage of the race. But I was feeling tired, and if I were to force myself, I may invite cramps.

As I was making the U-turn near the lagoon, I noticed that Amy had caught up with me. Still a long way to run, and I was torn between wanting to keep up with Amy and conserving energy in anticipation of a last-minute energy requirement to fight Teo. I ran and walked and Amy was coming closer and closer all the time. I could almost feel her breath behind me!

In the end, the inevitable happened. Amy overtook me at about 5km into the run. I felt tempted to increase my pace. But I had to be careful not to burn out. The exhaustion was overwhelming, and the temperature was sheer madness. In the end, I decided to be patient and played safe. It wasn't till we arrived at the next water station when I saw Amy again. I just grabbed a cup of water and continued. A short while later Amy came from behind and suggested that we pace each other. So we continued running and walking together for a few kilometres until we completed the first loop of the run.

During all this, I haven't forgotten about Teo, because I knew he would strike sooner or later. I knew that he couldn't resist the dramatic finish with the famous killer face. I just continued keeping my cool. All the muscles in my body were screaming for me to stop, but I wanted to fight till the end!

Well, I continued running with Amy for the next few kilometres until I judged it fairly safe to increase my pace. Whatever plans Teo had in his mind about a last minute strike, I was just gonna give it all that I had in my legs. Accordingly I started building up the gap against Amy. Slow and steady, one step at a time, just focus on the finish line. And then approximately 100m before reaching the finish line, one last pathetic look over my shoulder to find that Teo wasn't there! And this was how I finished the race in 5hours 59mins.

Never say die! If a nerd like me can do it, anybody can do it too! I'm not sure if the happiness was because of finishing or because I was able to beat Teo again. I only managed to get 6th in my category; and it was a very strong field. But I'm so glad the torture is over! Amy finished just a few minutes after me and emerged champion in her category. 

I waited for Teo to arrive. The minutes passed. Rayner arrived at the finish line, Shah and Vachel too. But still no Teo. In the end I decided to go take a quick shower. Later on, I found out that Teo had finished in about 6hours 41mins. I had expected a nail-biting finish against Teo, but it was an anti-climax. It doesn't matter; I'm just looking forward to a hard-earned dinner at Sutera!

It was a well-organised event except for the shortened swim. According to my Garmin, the run was only for 20km as opposed to 21km. And as expected Mia got yet another pyjama size L finisher T-shirt despite my special request to the organiser to set aside one XS T-shirt.

I was also honoured to finally meet the famous Rupert Chen whom had an interesting outfit when going up the stage to receive his champion trophy!

Photo credit: Tsen Shin Yon, Douglas Yu, and Dr Shah and friend.


sage said...

Nice read! I could feel the race!

Cornelius said...

Thanks for visiting my blog! It was a tough race, not so much because of the distance. Rather, the temperature that soared beyond 40C as well as the ridiculous headwind.