Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Ironman Malaysia 2016

After I completed the Ironman Western Australia last December, I knew that that wasn't the last time I'd be racing an Ironman, even though I said that was the last. Still, I had planned to take a break from an Ironman race for 2016. I thought I'd rather focus on the half distance for this year. I had a special interest in the Putrajaya 70.3 in April because I was disappointed with my performance in the same race last year. Not long after it opened for registration, I signed up for the challenge. I was also eying for the Ironman Malaysia 2016 (IMMY) in Langkawi, although I would have preferred to give it a shot in 2017.

Then my plan changed because of two very powerful words—LAST EDITION. It was announced that the IMMY 2016 will be the last, and I had to reconsider my racing calendar. Some of my friends were also joining the race. In the end, I decided that I might as well join too. There was a "bundle discount" for athletes opting to join both the Putrajaya 70.3 and the IMMY, but I was disappointed to have been told that since I've registered for the Putrajaya 70.3 earlier, I was no longer eligible for that discount offer.

It was a windy morning at the start of the race, and having seen the bike route 2 days earlier, I knew that it was gonna be a big struggle for me. I trained on my bike over the last 2 months with a long ride during the weekends. But the maximum elevation gain that I had was about 700m; whereas the elevation gain of the race course in Langkawi was about double that. I told my friends that I'd expect to finish the bike leg in about 7 hours.

The Swim

Anyway, the swim consisted of 2 loops with a short break of beach run in between. It was a calm sea, although it was rather frustrating that there was a lot of kicking (from swimmers using the breaststrokes). I received a few blows all over my body, and one of them kicked my Garmin. I didn't realise that that had caused my Garmin to stop. I had no idea how I did during the swim, but I  have a feeling there must be something wrong with the timing system. It was recorded that I swam the 3.8km in about 1:40. My own estimate is that I must have swum at least 1:45, especially taking into account that I wasn't swimming straight! I took my time at the shower on my way to the changing tent. I managed to restart my Garmin once again just as I was about to embark on the bike leg.

The Bike

The start of the bike leg was a pleasant flat road of a few km. But then soon after that, we had to turn in to a junction, leading to the hilly terrain in the direction of Datai. As I said, I didn't have enough hill training, so I decided to play safe—each time I reached a foothill, I'd shift to the lightest gear and take my time spinning uphill. It was still tough work though. I spent perhaps around half an hour for that part of the bike leg, and I was glad to eventually emerge from that junction once again to a relatively flat course. It wasn't till much later when I arrive at 3 consecutive hills immediately after the traffic lights. Again, I adopted the same approach—lightest gear and very slow gradual climb. I passed the challenge without the need to push my bike uphill on foot. Looking at my Garmin, I was pleased to note that I was on target for the 7 hrs bike leg finish.

It was a very hot day, and my sweat was dripping from my chin like a leaking tap. I thought salts were provided at the aid stations, but there was none. In fact, there was an aid station that ran out of water, and I was very frustrated, because I had run out of mine on the bike too. Bear in mind that the aid stations were about 20km apart. I was thinking maybe I could do with whatever electrolytes from the energy gels. Because of my controlled speed, I had no problems of cramping muscles, but nausea was building up in my system. I knew that I was in deficit of electrolytes.

A few km during the tail end of the bike leg, suddenly it began to pour. I mean raining cats and dogs like somebody was doing the ice-bucket challenge onto me. I could hardly see the road ahead, and I had to slow down substantially to about 15kph. I noticed several other participants behind me.

When I finally reached the dismount line, there were many people cheering us. One of them shouted "Well done!... you're doing great!"; and as a volunteer took my bike from me, I yell back, "I'm afraid I'm NOT done yet!"

The Run

I would estimate that when I started on the run leg, it must have been about 9 hours since the time I started the race that morning. It was still raining heavily. I was jogging very slowly, but it was no good. I felt like puking. In the end, when I reached the second aid station, I decided to enter the toilet to try to puke. After spending a few moments in the toilet, it was still not happening. Accordingly, I started jogging again, but the nausea was too much to deal with. Shortly after that, my friend, Dr Shah came passing by, and I could only look at him drifting further and further ahead of me.

Soon, I was just walking more than running. I wasn't sure how much more time I had at that point of the race, but calculating in my head, I realised that walking for the rest of the race wouldn't get me to the finish line within the cut off time. I kept trying to jog, but I had trouble balancing on my feet. In the end, I had to accept defeat. Arriving at an aid station about 10km into the run, I went to the side of the road and again tried unsuccessfully to puke. It was then that I made up my mind to quit the race... 

Quitting is something that I very rarely do in my life. I didn't get to be where I am; and what I am today by quitting. But this was my limit; and I had to reluctantly accept that there is only so much my body can do—the mind is willing; the body is unwilling.

Then a miracle happened. A participant named Yap (I found out after the race that his full name was Yap Eng Hui), when seeing me stooping at the roadside, asked me if I was OK. I said I couldn't continue because of severe nausea. He said he had salts with him, and then gave me a capsule. I took it and decided to walk a little. At the next aid station, I was still feeling horrible, and another friend, Henry Wong, came trotting along. I told him I wanted to quit, but he encouraged me to continue.

So I laboured on, and by about half an hour later, perhaps after the salts were in my system, I felt much better; and I was able to jog once again! I was confident once again that I would be able to beat the cut off. But alas, that one salt capsule did not last very long. about 2 hours later, I was once again feeling nausea. My Garmin had gone totally dead by then. Reaching the final turn at MIEC, I lingered on at the aid station. As I was walking out of the building, I struck a conversation with a lady. It turned out that she had salts too, voila! After taking that salt capsule, and waiting for some minutes for it to take effects, I came upon a man named Riedel. After walking with him for a few minutes, we started running the remaining 4km or so to the finish line together, overtaking several people along the way. 

You can imagine my elation when I crossed the finish line. It wasn't what I had expected when I entered the race. The changing fortunes throughout the race is something that was worth it. Valuable lessons learnt; new friendships forged. 

In the end, my official finish time was 15:46:23. My friend, Teo, teased me for being among the last few to finish. But I'm proud of that achievement, really. On the other hand, though, I'm rather disappointed in myself. The disappointment isn't about being fast or slow; or winning or losing. I mean, people from all walks of life, in different shapes and sizes enter this race. I can beat some of them; and get beaten by some of them too. I have long ago accepted that I'm not good enough to be able to beat all of them.

No, the disappointment is for a different reason. In whatever I do in life, I will always want to do my best; to realise my full potential. In the same way, whatever race that I join, I'd like to achieve my highest potential. It doesn't really matter if I can finish the Ironman in 12 hours; if that's not my best, I'll still be disappointed in myself. But on the other hand, even if I can only finish in 16:59, but that's my best potential, I won't be disappointed. I just feel that I did not perform to the best of my potential in this race, and someday, god willing, I want to try again to prove to myself that I can do better, much the same way I redeemed myself in the Putrajaya 70.3 on my second attempt. If this was really the last edition of the IMMY, then that is OK too. For even if that was not my full potential, I've given my best shot anyway. I'm still happy that I finished a race which I've actually surrendered already!

So, Teo  (I know you're reading this) don't just tease this old man, let's do it together!

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