Thursday, April 24, 2014

My First Ironman 70.3

After 4 years absence, the Ironman franchise is back in Malaysia, the Putrajaya 70.3 on 13th April 2014 and Langkawi IM on 27th September 2014. Since I have done the Ipoh Century Ride twice and Port Dickson International Triathlon once (in 2012, 2013 DNS due to asthma), the next endurance event to tackle would be the 70.3. It is called the 70.3 since you will be doing a 1.2-mile (1.9 km) swim, a 56-mile (90 km) bike ride, and a 13.1-mile (21.1 km) run. The total in miles would be 70.3 miles (113km).
On the 7th November 2013, I registered for the Putrajaya 70.3, taking advantage of the opening special of USD199 registration fee.

I kept it a secret since I didn't want to embarrass myself. Of course it was no longer a secret from my wife when the credit card statement arrived later but none of my triathlete buddies knew about it.
I thought the secret was out of the bag when Doc Zali Mohd posted this screengrab of the Ironman registration confirmation on the triathlete's WhatsApp group. But it turned out to be a fake created to fool others. Well, it almost fooled me!
Doc Zali's fake screengrab
Thus the training began in earnest. The schedule is simple enough, noon Tuesday to Friday I would be running on the treadmill at Sukmaria, usually for 3km. Tuesday to Sunday evening (6 to 7pm) I would be at Pusat Akuatik Darul Ehsan (PADE), learning and training to swim 1.9km freestyle (FS) on my own. On Saturday and Sunday, I would be cycling at the Guthrie Corridor Expressway (GCE). Monday would be my rest day since PADE is closed on that day :D
My cross training schedule
Undergraduate and postgraduate students examination in January 2014 disrupted the schedule but I tried to find time to train even during the family vacation time at Golden Palms Resort in Sepang.
Luckily the local triathlete group Tadonamo organized 2 swim clinics, the first one on 11th January 2014 and the second one on 9th March 2014. The swim clinic was held at the Putrajaya Maritime Centre and we swam loops in the lake. More than 160 participants turned up at each session. These sessions helped to generate confidence among the participants for open water swimming.

Part of the 163 people who turned up for the first swim clinic
5 of the Rangka Triers who registered for Putrajaya 70.3. From right; 1-Maddie, 2-Me, 3-Naza, 4-Acid, 5-Pejal & Luvis Phuah (Tadonamo) at the second swim clinic.
Safzan Tripaku & Me in the water
After the second swim clinic, I tried to ride along the earlier planned Putrajaya 70.3 Ironman route, a loop of 45 km distance but I got horribly lost and nearly ended up riding to Bangi after missing a critical junction. Trying to get back on track, I took the wrong slip road and ended up on Persiaran Timur instead of Jalan Wadi al-Ehsan. Exhausted and out of water, I went back to my car via Putrajaya International Convention Centre (PICC), the highest visible landmark in Putrajaya. Not a good sign!

The route that I took
Unfortunately 3 weeks before the Putrajaya 70.3 Ironman event, I caught the flu bug from one of my clinic patients. Gargling with Difflam didn't help. On Sunday 30th March 2014, 2 weeks before the event, the sore throat became a full blown asthma attack. Training ground to a halt and despair began to set in. The same thing happened the year before, a week before the 2013 Port Dickson International Triathlon and I had to give up the slot. I can't do the same for the Putrajaya 70.3 slot since I would have to forfeit the USD199 registration fee :(
I spent the two weeks before the event at home, on sick leave with acute asthma. I took two courses of antibiotics, hoping to somehow recover before the event. I did recover from asthma but physically I was ill-prepared for the event. There was no way that I could complete the event within the 8 hours 15 minutes cut-off time. Since I was in no physical condition to check out the new bike route announced by the organiser, I recce the route in my car on Monday 7th April 2014 and noted the many climbs (horror!). So when I sent my bike to Bike Tech Subang for the pre-race servicing later in the day, I had them installed my climbing cassette (11-28) on my bike.

Final cycling route for Putrajaya 70.3 and the elevation profile
After Friday prayers on 11th April, I went to Putrajaya to check-in and pick up my goody bag and registration material. Check-in was very professionally done and everything was settled in less than 5 minutes. Although there were many souvenirs on sale, I just bought the event official t-shirt for RM89 and RM80 worth of PowerBar & PowerGel. It was uplifting to see my name displayed at the entrance of the venue as one of the many participants.
My name at the entrance of the venue.
I listened to the event briefing and I was lucky enough to find an empty seat beside the national paralympic triathlete, Sabki Arifin!

With Sabki Arifin
It was stated during the briefing that we would be using the bike lanes as part of our cycling route. I tried out those bike lanes during my cycling excursion on 9th March 2014, so I knew how bad were the lanes. The bike lanes were dangerous with tree roots growing underneath and creating dangerous bumps. Most of the drains lost their covers long ago. This is bad news indeed.
I spent the night preparing the items for the event. All these items were packed into the 2XU transition bag, a gift from my lovely wife.

Items for the event
All bikes must be checked in at the transition area before 5 pm on Saturday. So I went after zohor so that I could catch the transition area briefing at 2.30 pm. When I checked-in the bike, it was raining. I met Naza of Rangka Triers at the transition area. When we were listening to the Aussie guy giving the transition area briefing, the rain was pouring. But he continued to regard it like a light summer rain. Those who ran for shelter were derided as softies, so I stayed on :p

My bike at rack 449.
Despite all the preparation, I did not sleep well that night. I woke up twice with stomach upset. The anxiety was getting to me. So at 4.30 am I got ready and drove to Putrajaya, stopping by the Subang Jaya McDonald's for breakfast. I arrived in Putrajaya at 5.30am but I was not allowed into the transition area. Instead I made full use of the nearby public toilet :) So that's the third time I had to go that morning :D
Upon entering the transition area, I prepared my bike by inflating the tyres to the correct pressure, securing 4 PowerGels to the topbar and inserting the two water bottles into the bottle cages. I prayed fajr prayers within the transition area since it was a hassle going out and coming back into the transition area. Then I laid out everything that I would require during the bike and run leg alongside my bike. I took everything else that was not required, stuffed them into the transition bag and left the bag at the left-luggage tent. Once done, I again lined up at the toilets to relieve myself before the event started.

Me, Naza & Pejal. The Rangka Triers have too much free time! See what they come up with! Very good resemblance I must say!
We gathered at the swim start area and met with the other 1235 individual participants. I met with the other Rangka Triers participating in the event such as Ng KC, Acid, Naza, Pejal and Maddie. Two other Rangka Triers, Sayuti Zahit and Syariz Sehat were in the relay event, taking part as cyclists and/or runner. Anyway the swim event started 20 minutes later due to the tardiness of the officiating VIP. So instead of starting at 7.37am, I started at 7.57am. It was a water start but luckily they have a pontoon which I could hold on while waiting for the starting horn.

Can you spot me in this official photo?
Upon hearing the horn I swam at a leisurely pace to complete the 1.9km using breast stroke. We swam from Menara Monumen Alaf Baru towards the Iron Mosque then towards Seri Wawasan Bridge and then back to Menara Monumen Alaf Baru.

My swim

Halle Berry coming out from the sea :p
Coming out from the lake after swimming for 1 hour 8 minutes, I leisurely walked to the transition area. Putting on my cycling glasses, helmet and gloves, I pushed my bike towards the bike start. I put on my cycling shoes and immediately suffered cramps on my right thigh. Despite the cramps, I mounted the bike and rode towards Persiaran Timur. At Persiaran Utara, we rode in the bike lane. It was a dumb idea to force the cyclists to use the bike lane. It was a dumber idea to cover the drains with the unsecured red and blue cover which was not nailed down. So when the cyclists hit them, the cover moved and the cyclists went down with it. During the first loop a Malaysian Chinese cyclist fell a few minutes ahead of me and a Caucasian female fell right behind me. Even the national paralympic Sabki Ariffin fell there and ended up with severe injuries, requiring 6 stitches and not finishing the race.

Cycling near Iron Mosque
My cycling glasses fell apart at the end of the first loop. Luckily I had my normal glasses attached to my heart rate monitor strap so I put them on during the second loop. The weather was especially hot and I ran out of water quickly. I ended up taking 2 water bottles at the 3 water stations just to keep dehydration at bay. During this loop I suffered cramps of both my thighs and right knee especially during the climbs at Persiaran Timur, Persiaran Apec and at the end of Persiaran Tasik. I just reduced the intensity and kept on spinning the pedals. I also started to feel hunger pangs since it was already noon but I already ran out of PowerGels. All the other Rangka Triers overtook me at various stages of the second loop of the race so I was already far behind.

At the end of the second loop of cycling with Rangka Triers supporters cheering me on
I finished the bike leg in 4 hours 7 minutes, a very slow pace indeed but I was not expecting much due to my long illness prior to the event. In fact I already planned on quitting after the bike leg before even starting the race, since I knew I was not physically prepared for this. But upon entering the transition area, I heard the announcement that the event area would only close at 5 pm, giving me 3.5 hours to complete the run leg. So I ran. Run, Forrest, run!
Me trying to catch up with Azman BJCC aka Ironman during the running leg
As I was entering the run first loop, I bumped into Azman BJCC who was starting his second loop and he encouraged me to go on. But I was not able to maintain a good pace. Instead I was having epigastric pain and I was not able to differentiate whether it was chest pain or indigestion ("perut masuk angin"). At the first water station near the Pink Mosque, I saw a still, unmoving body on a stretcher being pushed into the ambulance. I asked them what's wrong and they said dehydration. If they said that the person had died, I would have given up there and then, due to my chest pain. Instead I pushed on. The water stations have also ran out of water, only isotonic drinks was available. Drinking that made my epigastric pain worse. So maybe it was indigestion.
After 8km, I ran into Naza Rangka Triers who was finishing his second loop. I told him about my epigastric pain and my desire to DNF. He asked me not to do that, instead he asked me to continue with the second loop until the sag wagon pick me up. DNF with honour. I also met BJCC Lini Kazim who told me to go on. Instead I took out my phone and called my wife. I told her of my desire to quit and she said it doesn't matter, I am still her Ironman despite all this. So my mind was made up, I would quit at the end of the first loop and walk into the medical tent and get medical assistance for my epigastric pain.
Rangka Triers hard core supporters
But how can I quit after seeing these Rangka Triers hard core supporters at the finish line? One look at their faces and I immediately continued the second loop. Apparently the gate to the second loop was closed after 5 runners behind me passed through the gate. I tried running but ended up with cramps of my calves so I brisk walked instead. After the 12km mark I tried to run to catch up with Samsul Bahari Adnan who overtook me but I ended up with severe cramps of both calves. Took me a while before I was able to start moving again. So I walked all the way.
At the 14km water station, I asked the volunteers where is the sag wagon? They told me the cut-off time was pushed to 5.30pm, so no sag wagon yet. Suddenly I felt hope, that somehow I could finish this event. I just had to make sure that I don't have any more cramps. So I pushed on. It was lonely then being the only guy on the running track but I persevered. 3 hours 57 minutes later I arrived at the finish line. The crowd had already left but the volunteers crowded at the finish line and cheered me on. I may be the last to arrive but these volunteers made me feel like a winner. Thank you guys!
Moments at the finish line. Pictures courtesy of Khairi Muin.
I finished in 9 hours 25 minutes. They took the timing chip and gave me a finisher's medal. Nice! I immediately walked to the left-luggage tent which was being dismantled but luckily my transition bag was still there. After picking it up, I walked to the transition area and my bike was once again the last bike there. Deja vu!
My wife called me to congratulate me for finishing when I was in the transition area. I was just glad that I didn't get a scolding for changing my mind about DNF at the end of the first loop :D
Last bike in transition
Since I finished well beyond the official cut-off time of 8 hours 15 minutes, I did get messages asking me whether did I get a medal and certificate? I am happy to say that I got both!

Finisher Certificate
Due to the long exposure to the sun and the lack of protection, I ended up being sun-tanned and sun-burnt. Even the race number was burnt into my skin.

Sun-Tanned Badge of Courage
Nik Om of Tadonamo shared the full results of the event with me. Out of 1235 people who registered, only 1081 turned up for the swim event. Out of these, only 992 finished the event. A total of 91 people did not finished. BTW I noticed 2 persons (Bib 600 and 876) who did not swim. They just cycled and ran. Maybe because they just want the finisher medal only. Something to show off at the office. So it is possible to beat the system if you just want the finisher medal.

Swim survival analysis
Among the finishers, I did okay in swimming. I was above the 90th centile but I was not the one with the maximum time. Overall swimming, Aussies were the best, Malaysians were the worst.
Bike survival analysis
Among the finishers, I did okay in cycling. I was above the 90th centile but I was not the one with the maximum time. Overall cycling, Aussies were the best, Malaysians were the worst.
Run survival analysis
Among the finishers, I was the third worst in running. I was above the 90th centile but I was not the one with the maximum time. Another Malaysian and a Japanese was slower than me. Nothing to be proud of. Overall running, Aussies were the best, Malaysians were the worst.
Despite the poor timing, I was so proud of what I had achieved that I stenciled the Ironman motto "Anything Is Possible" onto my name plate at the office :D
I wonder if they would make a fuss if I add the Ironman logo before my name? :p

Name plate on my door
Joe Woon BJCC produced an excellent video of the Putrajaya 70.3. You can see me goofing off at 1:23 and 18:35.
IM70.3 Putrajaya 2014 from Joe Woon on Vimeo.