Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Challenge Iskandar Puteri 2016

I had quite an adventure, racing the Challenge Iskandar Puteri in Johor Bahru last Saturday (13 August 2016). It's a half Ironman distance triathlon comprising 1.9km swim, 90km bike, and 21km run.

In the months, weeks and days leading up to the race, I experienced a bit of anxiety, not only because I felt that I didn't train sufficiently for the race, but also because the organiser seemed to be in a mess. I have lost count of how many times the race routes were changed, but of course in the end what mattered most was that the event went ahead as planned.

It was the first time I joined a race organised under the Challenge brand, and because it's a world-known brand name, I had high expectation of the event. Let's just say that the event fell short of its reputation, as well as my expectation by a long shot. I'm not suggesting that it was a lousy event; just that I thought it could have been better. But this post is not about criticizing the organiser. After all, under the circumstances, I'd say the organiser did reasonably well.

Being in the 50 - 54 category, I was among the last few participants to start the race that morning. I can still remember grumbling to myself when I did the Putrajaya 70.3 a few months ago when I had to struggle in the crowded swim. Well, the swim leg last Saturday was unusually quiet, and I realised then that that wasn't such a good thing too. Many of my loyal readers would know that I'm not a good swimmer. In fact, I've shared about my swimming ability in this blog, here. I haven't improved very much since then, and having to regularly sight in the open water is something that doesn't come naturally to me. Shortly before the race started, I made new friends with Henry Wong. This wasn't the first time I met him though; I think we met in Miri a few years ago, but then we became friends on facebook, and we finally met in person that morning. Dr Pui San was there and took this photo (Thanks, doc). It's always fun to make new friends.

I found myself swimming alone for the most part, but I'm fairly amused that I was able to catch up with some of the earlier participants. It must have been around 1.5km into the swim when I caught up with Wendy Tan, the sexy creature that you could just spend the whole day drooling and admiring, much the same way you could enjoy watching Kate Beckinsale over and over again in the Underworld series with the sound muted. Her long hair...and those wicked legs... oh! don't let me start on those! I've exchanged messages and comments through facebook with her—I mean Wendy, not Kate Beckinsale—but had never really spoken to her in person. Anyway, as I came up beside her, I had a glimpse of her graceful strokes, and of course my eyes were drawn to her legs for a bit; you can't fight instinct, if you know what I mean? I think I caught her turning her head to look at me for a split second, and that absolutely resulted in an adrenaline rush through my veins. Accordingly, I felt a little stronger and was able to swim just a tad faster.

A few minutes later I arrived at the end of the swim leg, panting as I climbed up the ladder. Damn! I really need to improve my swim! From that point, I had to run approximately 300m up the ramp through the shower, passing a drink station all the way up to my bike. I thought I'd take no more than 2 minutes for the transition, but it's not as smooth sailing as how it seems when seeing the pro athletes do it on telly. In the end, I spent over 6 minutes at T1. Finally I took my bike off the rack and started pushing it towards the mount line, and that in itself was quite a challenge.

There were several other participants at the start of the bike leg, and we were essentially quite close together. I'm not an experienced triathlete, and I wasn't sure if the fact that we were that close together would constitute a breach of the 12m non-drafting rule. Anyway, a short distance later, we began to disperse, and the gaps between us began to build up. In my mind, I thought that the 12m-gap rule was rather overdoing it by the organiser. I mean, I'm not even sure if there is any benefit at all in tailing a front rider at 6m gap, let alone 12m. But what do I know?

Once we hit the main road, I began to work on the pedal. There was this guy in front, perhaps he was riding at around 35kph, and I reckoned I'd just follow him from behind, making sure that I had that 12m gap between us. There were several U-turns in the bike loop, and we had to do 3 loops altogether. But it's strange that I saw no timing mat anywhere throughout the bike route; and neither was there any elastic bands handed out at any of the turning points. Sometime during the bike leg, suddenly there was a freak heavy downpour. But it was just for a mere 2-3 minutes. We also had some nasty headwinds at some sectors. There were ups and downs, but they were generally not very steep. By the end of the second loop, my legs were already a little tired. That's the outcome of insufficient bike training, so I'm blaming nobody but myself! And speaking of legs, did I mention Wendy's legs? Oh! never mind!

Photo credit: Cycling Malaysia Magazine

By the time I returned to the transition, I had been cycling for almost 3 hours. When I got off my bike at the dismount line, my legs felt like jelly. That's not supposed to happen, but, you know, getting old sucks sometimes. I can still remember saying to myself that I'd stop all this nonsense when I'm 50. Yet now, at 51, I'm still torturing myself on a regular basis!

When I reached transition for the second time, there was a bunch of spectators near my bike, making small talks with me. They asked me how far was the bike ride; and I replied that it was about 90km. They responded with some sort of exclamation noises. And I tried my best to look like the 90km ride was no big deal, even though I felt so exhausted already! As I was taking a sip of my Carbopro concoction, one of the guys asked me if I was topping up petrol? I replied in the negative, explaining that I'm a diesel engine. That set them off in a fit of laughter. I think they said something about being in awe of my fighting spirit, and of course the customary "You can do it!", followed by "Run!....Go, Go, Go!". I merely responded that I'll take it slow and steady. Putting on my cap, I told them over my shoulder, that the tortoise beat the hare. And that set them off in a fit of laughter again. Damn! I should charge them for entertainment fee!

So off I went on a slow jog, conscious of the admiration of the spectators. But then, as soon as I made the corner at the end of the carpeted path up a small climb through the arch, I started to walk! I could tell that it was gonna be a long and torturous 21km for me.

A little further down the road, I saw a white man limping. He was obviously injured. As I was overtaking him, I said, "And this is supposed to be fun!"

The sun was up above my head, and although the organiser did keep the promise of tree-lined route for the run, they have forgotten to say that those were very young trees. Oh boy, it was an extremely hot day. I felt like vomitting, and the only logical thing to do was to quit. This was just not worth dying for! But then again, when in a race, sometimes we tend to do things illogically. So I continued torturing myself, jogging and walking alternately while gradually getting roasted in the hot sun. It did not help at all that the water stations were too far apart. It was perhaps about 2 hours 40 minutes later when I was finally approaching the finish line; and as the excitement was building up, so were the cramps that were developing in both my calves. I crossed the finish line in the official time of 6 hours 32 minutes and 22 secs. All the muscles in my body were screaming.

Photo credit: Jack Ah Beh

Anslem and Dr Shah had finished a few minutes ahead of me. After getting my finisher medal, I found a plastic chair that was positioned immediately in front of the finish arch. I sat there rehydrating myself as I watched other participants arrive one by one. 

Not very long later, I saw from afar Wendy Tan approaching the finish line. I don't know if it was hallucination arising from severe exhaustion, but I think I was hearing the song "Beautiful Girl" in my head, and seeing her running in slow-mo. Then the strangest thing happened. After she had crossed the finish line, she stood there for a minute, as if trying to savour the moment. And then suddenly she smiled at me and said "Hi!". She walked over and extended her hand. I was unfortunately too exhausted to stand, although still managed to muster enough energy to extend my hand to shake hers. After that, I was toying with the idea of wrapping my hand in an air-tight plastic bag and refrain from washing my hand for at least a week. But luckily I managed to shake myself out of that ridiculous idea! Oh! did I mention about her legs? Oh! never mind!

Then the funniest thing happened that evening. At the prize-giving presentation, I was announced as the 2nd runner up in my category. Not sure how that happened, but I'm obviously not complaining! I received a huge medal which caused a bit of a stir at the airport, when the officer saw through the scanner machine what appeared like hand-cuffs! I also received an impressive trophy and a 3-month free membership in a gym in Johor, but for which I have to pay RM49!

I have to admit that I'm thrilled for the trophy, but actually I was rather disappointed with how the event was organised. But keeping an open mind, I will come back for this event again next year if I'm fit enough to do so. And oh boy... those legs...

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