I can't remember how I got to know about the Ironman 70.3 Bintan race. Perhaps some of my Whatsapp friends mentioned it, and I ended up visiting the organiser's website. It must have been about half a year ago when I decided to register for the race. Mia decided to join too, but of course because of habit, she almost never do things early. No, she would wait till the very last minute to register, and even that was because I was nagging and reminding her to do it on a daily basis.
As soon as she registered, I embarked on making all the arrangements, i.e. flights, hotel reservation, ferry tickets etc. I had to be the one to make all those arrangements, because if I leave it to Mia, she won't do it till the day before we fly, if you know what I mean.
Anyway, it was then that I found out that practically everything about Bintan is expensive—astronomically expensive. There were some other friends from KK who've registered for the race, i.e. Ahmad Syuaib a.k.a. Peechee, John Kok, Anslem and Amy. Some west Malaysian friends were also going, i.e. Quentin and Felix.
In the months prior to Bintan, I bought a new trisuit, i.e. a single piece which I wore without any underwear (please remain calm, ladies). I also shed about 2kg as I heard that the bike course elevation was 700m. I used to believe that losing weight is very easy, but actually it's extremely tough if you eat like me; and have an obsession for ais kacang.
The journey to Bintan was quite something, to put it mildly; from KK, we took an approximate 2-hour flight to Singapore last Thursday. It was an afternoon flight, and it was about 6pm when we emerged from the arrival hall of Terminal 4 of Changi Airport. We then took a taxivan to the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal. After checking in our bike boxes and luggage, we had dinner at the terminal while we waited for the departure. The ferry ride was just about an hour, but although I thought the ride was very smooth, Mia was at the verge of getting sea sickness when we disembarked on the other side.
The next morning we headed down to breakfast at about 7am; and oh boy, we ate like there's no tomorrow! It's so easy to get carried away with the concept of carboloading. The athlete check in wasn't till Saturday though. Having set up our bikes, we took the shuttle bus to the race venue. We checked in and got our ID tag. We spent perhaps 5 minutes to ride our bikes to make sure that all's in order.
The race day was on Sunday. We took the 4:45am bus from the Bintan Lagoon Hotel and arrived at the Lagoi Plaza at about 5am. Then we went into the transition area to set up our stuff at the bikes. Soon, it was the flag off for the pros—first the males, and then followed by the females. After that, the so-called age groupers were flagged off in waves, and I was among the last to be flagged off.
It was low tide that morning, and we probably had to wade in the water for about 70 metres or so before we started to swim. And the swim was as always very chaotic despite the calm water. The kicks and elbows are something that I can never get used to, and for the life of me, I can't quite understand why some people would grab my feet from behind; I had the right mind to just give him a good kick. But I remained calm. It must have been about halfway through the swim when Quentin came from behind, and we swam abreast for a couple of minutes before I lost sight of him. I was tempted to swim faster, but I'm not a fast swimmer, and I knew that trying to swim faster would mean a higher energy cost for me. Accordingly, I decided to just swim my own pace. The tail end of the swim was again an approximate 70 metre's worth of wading, and I was pleased to see that I did the swim in about 45 minutes. I took my time to make my way to the transition, stopping by at the shower for a moment to rinse my body.
What can I say, the bike leg was akin to a nightmare to me—hills, hills and more hills; and then winds, winds and more winds. Some portions of the bikes course were also quite technical as we had to make sharp turns and make our way into some villages where young kids would rush out to the road to ask for sports bottles from the cyclists.
I had recently bought the Garmin Forerunner 935 which is equipped with a heart rate sensor. I tried to keep my heart rate within 140 bpm, but I went beyond that whenever I was climbing hills. The head winds were something to be reckoned with. The rest after each climb was hardly any rest, because just a few seconds later, it's another climb! I caught up with Quentin again about halfway through the bike course, and swiftly overtook him. I caught up with Mia too, as she was flagged off about 20 minutes before me.
As I was climbing a big hill just a few kilometres before the end of the bike course, I caught up with Amy. She was also struggling up the hill. So far there was no sign of Anslem, John and Peechee. But I wasn't even expecting to be able to catch up with them, as they are strong cyclists.
When I arrived at the transition for the second time, I felt like my quads were just at the verge of seizing up. I briskwalked for a good 50m to test my legs, and after a while I started jogging. Soon enough, I arrived at the aid station where I grabbed iced sponges to cool myself down. As I had expected, it was an extremely hot day, and there was no shade at all.
And then to my surprise, about 3km into the run, I caught up with Anslem. In my mind, he must be running his second loop. But making some calculation in my head, if it was his second loop, then that would mean he's extremely fast! Shortly later, I saw Felix coming from the other direction. Felix is perhaps about 2 years younger than me, but his body is as strong as a teenager. I'm not sure if he's got the genes of either Edward Cullen or Jacob Black of the Twilight Saga.
A little further down the road, just shortly after the turning point, I overtook John who was obviously melting in the hot sun. But little did I know, Amy had caught up with me by then. From that point onwards, Amy and I took turns taking the lead, but my main focus was on keeping it steady till the end of the race. Sadly, by the second loop, I started to run less and walk more! If only my legs could speak, I can imagine what they'd say to me! The sun was brutal, but thankfully there were aid stations approximately 1.5km apart.
Just as I was approaching the finish line, I saw Mia running very slowly, and she hadn't even finished her first loop. I can never get used to seeing my wife suffer. Just a brief advice to say "take it easy" as I was overtaking her, but I knew it won't be easy in that ridiculous heat.
Soon, I was already running the homestretch on the red carpet towards the finish line.
And I finished the torture in about 6.5 hours. It was a big relief...
After I had crossed the finish line, I went to the tent for participants. There I sat down on a plastic chair. Oh it was such a joy giving the rest that my legs deserved. After about 10 minutes, I collected my street bag, the finisher T-shirt. I had coconut water. I had Indomie and some chicken. I had some ice cream too. I walked around a bit. I sat down. I walked around some more...
A little over 2 hours later, Mia arrived at the finish line, and I became a little emotional seeing her making the finish line but beyond the cut off time. She did get the finisher T-shirt though. Well, she has a few more months till November before attempting to conquer the same distance again in Langkawi; whereas I only have approximately 5 weeks' worth of training before I attempt the full Ironman distance in Penghu, Taiwan, in October.
In the end Peechee finished a few minutes faster than I did. Amy finished in about 6:49. Anslem, due to lack of training suffered cramps during the bike leg and eventually finished in about 7.5 hours. John did a 7:18. Decidedly, it was a tough, tough course.
So the diet continues for me. Have to maintain an optimal weight for racing in Taiwan, which I heard is a tough race. Bring it on!