Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Revenge is Sweet

First of all, my apologies if this post is long. But there is just so much to tell. So please bear with me.

A year ago, I returned from Langkawi disappointed and depressed.

What a difference a year makes!

This year, I approached the race differently. Despite all the pre-race stress and the psyching out my team-mates were dishing out, I was determined to stay positive and have fun during the race. And as the race unfolded, that made all the difference.

We arrived in Langkawi on Wednesday evening. Some of our friends had already arrived by then. Although there were a lot of smiling faces, you could sense the tension in the air. Everyone was hiding how nervous they were.

On Thursday, more friends arrived and we went to register. Went through the medical and got our race kits. The wristband this year was much nicer than last. Saw a lot of friends and the Ironmonyets at registration.

In the evening, Edwin got a call saying that Faris' bike needs to be looked at. We thought it was some Malay feller's bike. Turned out to be 2005 World Champion Faris Al-Sultan's Cannondale Slice!

Anyway, we went for a ride with the Ironmonyets after that to check out the course. We didn't do the entire loop, just the Airport highway. It was hilly, exposed and windy. We thought we were in trouble.

During race brief on Friday, the race organisers decided to make our lives even harder. They introduced intermediate cutoffs on top of the regular swim bike run cutoffs. If you're not on your third bike loop by 3:45pm, you're out. If you haven't started your final run loop by 11:15pm, you're out. Thanks guys, you just added more to our stress.

In the evening, we checked in our bikes then it was back to the condo for an early dinner and bedtime. Tomorrow, we meet the Ironman...

Race Morning
Up at 4am, breakfast and downloads. Then it was off to the start.

This year's body marking was more sophisticated than last year's. Instead of just handwriting the numbers, the organisers used stamps.

Pumped up my tires and just walked about the transition area, trying to calm the nerves. Ugly thoughts about last year kept popping into my head. Had to try and push them out and stay positive.

At 7:30am, the pros were let loose. We then made our way to the pontoon for our start. With two minutes to go, I jumped into the water and made my way to the startline.

At 7:45am, the gun went off and the chaos ensued. I stayed at the back to avoid the kicking and punching. By now, adrenaline had taken over and the nervousness was gone.

We swam for what seemed like forever and the turnaround bouy was nowhere in sight. I had an off-course excursion, which cost me a little time and a lot of effort but was soon back on course again. At this point I saw Senn, so I thought I was doing alright. But where the hell was the turnoraound bouy?

Finally, I saw it. I swam around it and looked at my watch. Despair! It was showing 56 minutes, 6 slower than last year. And I thought my swimming had improved a bit. Felt like quitting there and then. "Think positive, Arif," I thought to myself, "Think happy thoughts and keep going."

Swam back towards the pontoon. No off-course excursions this time around. Just kept going and going and the next thing I knew, the pontoon was in sight!Picked up the pace a bit and reached the pontoon. With a little help, I climbed out of the water and looked at my watch. 1h38m! A 25 minute savings from last year! There were definitely currents helping us on the way back/

Picked up my bike bag and headed into the change tent. Looked like a party going on! Last year, I walked into an empty tent, this year, it was crowded! Alex (Powered by Jesus) was already in there. So were Stupe and Jeffery. We started chit-chatting, congratulating each other on finishing the swim. Then Azmar and Dicky walked in. It was like a reunion! I was enjoying myself so much, I stayed for more than seven minutes!

Left the change tent and went looking for my bike. And couldn't find it! I was starting to panic. I had counted the number of racks to my bike the day before, but where was the bike? Did someone accidentally take mine instead! Would I have to do the entire 180km on someone else's bike?

Turned out I had miscounted and overshot my rack. The bike was there all along. I just missed it.

Got on the bike and started riding, making sure I take it easy in the first few kilometres. Passed Senn in front of the SeaView hotel. Unlike my transition, hers only lasted two minutes!

Soon I got to the first big challenge of the day. The daunting climbs up the LISRAM highway. This was where I overworked myself a year ago, ultimately leading to my blow-up. I made sure I took the climbs very, very slowly. No attacking, just ride it out. Got to the top of the first hill and blasted down the other side on my big ring. Immediately after was the second shorter but steeper hill. Shifted down to a lower gear and slowly went up. But the bike felt heavy, for some reason. Went all the way to my 27t cog and still it felt heavy. As I reached the top, I looked down only to discover I was still in my big ring!

Again, negative thoughts started entering my head, "Stupid, Arif," I head a voice say, "Now you've gone and blown the whole race." And if this happened in 2007, I would have listened to that voice.

But this was 2008, and I was determined to go through the whole race feeling good. So I ignored the voice and just went on.

At this point too, I changed my bike target from seven hours to seven and a half. Might as well take the pressure off a bit and enjoy the bike ride.

So off I went on my merry way. I didn't struggle, I didn't suffer. I didn't feel the need to chase friends like a little puppy. When someone passed me, I let them go. No point wasting the energy.

I even stopped for a shower at the 140km aid station. The van was there so I stopped to chit chat a bit. I would have stayed longer but Patrick reminded me that the race was still on. So I got on the bike and continued. At 150km, a referee pulled up to me and asked me how I was doing. Told me to keep it up, only 30km to go.

I was really enjoying the bike. I think I was probably the only one who thought it wasn't as tough as last year's course. I was singing songs and talking to myself to stay positive. And I think that made all the difference. I could have pushed a bit more, I think, but what was the point in that? As it was, I rolled into T2 in 7h04m, just four minutes slower than my initial target time. And more importantly, I got my revenge on the the bike course that killed me last year. And I was still feeling good. So good, I even managed a flying dismount, just like the pros.

There was another party in the change tent. Abu and Stupe were already in there and we were soon joined by Mejar Kalam, Bacin and Yusran. The atmosphere in the change tent was festive. Being the slowest runner among them all, I decided to leave the party earlier but even so, T2 took more than seven minutes. Apparently, Stupe was enjoying the party so much, he stayed for 27!

Run strategy was simple. Run to every aid station then walk while drinking then run to the next, essentially breaking the marathon down to 42 one-kilometre runs. It's amazing how this strategy works. Before you realize it, you've hit an aid station. Then another. And another.

I did this for the first 20km resisting the urge to walk. I kept telling myself that unless I had two wristbands on, I didn't deserve to walk. And even after I acquired the two wristbands, I still felt i didn't deserve to walk. But by then my legs were starting to feel the pain of having gone over 200km. So i walked a bit, then ran, then walked a bit.

By the time I hit 30km, I was reduced to a fast walk. I still could have run, but I was beginning to feel the cramps and the soles of my feet felt like one giant blister. Plus I wanted to save energy for the last ditch effort at the finish line! The last 12k took me close to two hours but it didn't matter. I was still full of energy.

I got to the final kilometre. And I got my second (actually by now it was probably the third of fourth) wind. I started running again. Then I heard the music from the finish line and I started thinking about last year's failure. And I felt the tears welling up in my eyes. I've been waiting for this moment an entire year, and now I was finally going to taste an Ironman finish. That last kilometre was very very emotional.

Finally, I turned the corner and saw the finish line. Out of nowhere, my pace picked up. And I heard my number being called out. I heard my name. I saw the crowd. I saw hands reaching out to me from the crowd. I gave them all high- fives. I saw the finishing tape. I ran up the ramp. I grabbed the finishing tape and held it high above my head.

I crossed the finish line.

"You are an Ironman!"

I fell to my knees in tears, still holding on to the finishing tape. I wanted to stay there forever and savour the moment.


I got my revenge, yet I was humbled.

After the race, I was still feeling fresh. My secret target of 15 hours had not been met but it didn't matter, it was still 15 hours and something.

I got weighed at the medical tent and showered and had some hot soup. then went back to the finish line to wait for Senn. There was no need for an IV drip.

While waiting for Senn, I sat on the podium, dancing away to the music. It was starting to get tense though as the cutoff time was approaching and there was no sign of her. I last saw her in front of Kondo Istana on my last loop when she still had 8k to go. That was about an hour ago.

The clock kept ticking away and still no sign of her. By now, almost everyone had finished. Her father was getting anxious, asking everyone who crossed the line if they had seen her.

Then we saw Soffian coming in, but wait... who was that behind him?

It was Senn.

She had toughed out the last few kms and was now within cutoff. Her finishing time: 16h48m03s. Well within cutoff. She ran past the finish line ino the arms of her very proud father. Her dad wasn't the only one proud of her, I was too. And so too was everyone else at th finish line. Looks like she'll have to change her blog title now.

In the end, almost everyone finished on this gruelling day. There were some casualties unfortunately. And to them I say come back next year. Your finish will be that much sweeter.

And to those who took the time to come to Langkawi to lend your support, I say thank you. Your support meant a lot to those of us racing and really spurred us on to give our best. It meant a lot to us.

So that's it. I'm done with the Ironman. Unfinished business is finished. Will I do it again? Probably not. The pre-race stress, the distance, the hours in training, the sacrifices were just a little too much.

But then again, the feeling of crossing that line is priceless. So ask me again in a month.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I did it!

Just got back to KL after being stranded overnight. The van broke down and we had to spend the night in an empty rental house in Tapah.

Anyway, like the title of this post says, I did it. I finished an Ironman.

Race report to follow soon, as soon as I'm rested and get my thoughts in order.

Watch this space...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Ironman is Here

As I write this, I am about four days away from facing off with the Ironman. The training and planning is done. Whether I've done enough, we'll know on Saturday.

Since this will most likely be the last post before the race, I'd like to wish all Ironman hopefuls the best come raceday. Enjoy your day in the sun.

To those coming to Langkawi to cheer us on, thank you for taking time off to do so. It really means a lot to have someone in the crowd rooting for us.

And to those who have given support but cannot make it to Langkawi, your well wishes will drive us on as we make our way to the finish line.

My next post will be the race report. Will it be a tale of truimph? Stay tuned...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Junior Veteran

Registered for the KL International Marathon today. Found out I'll be in the Junior Veteran category.


I feel old.

P/S: no offense to the veterans out there. I've just never been regarded as a veteran before...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Injured... Dayem...

That 20k run on Sunday was definitely not a good idea.

Something is wrong with my right calf. Can't put any weight on it. Can't walk properly. Been limping since Sunday afternoon.


Monday, February 11, 2008

The Big Bang before Ironman

Just finished my last week of training for Ironman. In total, I did about 340km cycling and 45km running. Probably my highest mileage week ever. This is how my week unfolded:

Monday - 10km run.
Nothing much to report. Just a fairly decent 10k from Taman Tun to Damansara Heights and back. Finished in approximately 58 minutes.

Tuesday - 1 hour swim
Went to Sri KDU pool with Adrian and was introduced to coach Peh. Didn't take any coaching from him then but went ahead and swam for an hour. Plan was for a non-stop swim, but stopped many many times. Probably covered about 1.7km, lost count of the number of laps after a while.

Wednesday - 16km run.
Ran from my mom's house in Damansara Heights to Taman Tun, made one loop in the park then back to Damansara Heights. Nice, easy pace. Finished in 1h42m.

Thursday - 193km ride
Did the Fraser loop with the mutant monkeys. What a ride. The first two climbs (Genting Sempah and Gap) were long but easy to manage, the last two (Ulu Yam and Batu Dam) were real bitches. They were short but steep and under the scorching sun, they were not a lot of fun. Ever get that feeling of just wanting to throw the bike into the longkang? Well, I did while going up Batu Dam. Good thing I couldn't find the longkang...

Friday - rest
Was supposed to do a brick in Putrajaya - 50km bike, followed by a 10 or 20km run. But I was so knackered after Thursdays ride, I decided to sleep in instead. And had Nasi Kandar for brunch. Yum.

Saturday - 145km ride
The Classic Broga Loop. A ride many fear. 140+km across 4 climbs. We decided to make it 5 climbs by going through Bukit Hantu a.k.a Stairway to Heaven from Batu 14. Took this ride way easy. I've done this one before and climbing up the 14km Perez reverse when your legs are knackered isn't funny. In a way, I'm glad I decided to wait for Senn to fix Jaja's flat coming into Lenggeng. If I had followed the mutants, I would have probably blown up during the climb. As it was, I managed a nice easy pace. And when I got to the climb, I managed it with relative ease, not even having to engage my lowest gear. Of course, the stop at the waterfall midway was welcoming.

Post-edit: The Broga debate still remains unresolved. Senn found reverse to be the tougher loop and based on this particular ride, I'll have to agree. More on that in another post.

Sunday - 20km run
Perhaps not the best of ideas but I woke up early anyway to finish off my high mileage week. I ran from Bukit Aman to Hartamas and back, incorporating that small loop after Petronas around the playground. Not as many people running this time around. I suppose it's because of the CNY break. Finished that in about 2h18m, then went to Kampung Baru to tapau Nasi Lemak Mak Wanjor.

Monday - I'm in pain...
My right calf is in terrible pain. Sunday's run definitely not a good idea. I've been limping since last night. I guess this is good practice for the day after Ironman, when we'll all be limping! Thank God it's time to taper. Hopefully, after a couple of days rest it should be ok.

Now, there's nothing to do but hope and pray that whatever training (or lack of) I've done will be enough to take me through Ironman. I'll still do a couple more rides and runs but they will be short and easy ones, just to remind the legs of what they're supposed to be doing. My next scheduled run will be next Thursday (21/2) morning, covering one loop of the Ironman run course. Anyone game?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Lessons from an Ironman Dropout

Well, this is it. Ironman is a little over two weeks away. There's nothing much else to do. Just one more week of big miles then it's time to taper and hope that what little training was done is going to be enough.

Now is also the time to reflect on what happened last year. Review what went right, what went wrong, look at the glaring mistakes and learn from them.

For starters, nothing much went right. The swim was decent (in that I made the cutoff time) but everything went balls up after that. So now we move on to what went wrong, what mistakes were made. And how this year will be and should be different.

1. Respect the distance. Respect the Ironman.
I guess I took things a little too lightly last year. I was still partying the week of the race which probably contributed to the severe cramping I had on the bike. Also, I didn't have enough mileage under my belt. My longest ride prior to Ironman was a 120k done during Interstate 2006 which I suffered massively.

This year, things are a bit different. I've stopped smoking, will refrain from partying and I've got more miles in. I've done over-distance rides, I've done long 6-7 hour rides, I've done a marathon and regular 20k runs. The only thing that's still slacking is the swim.

2. Never try anything new on race day.
A rule that's even more important in a big event like Ironman. I went to Ironman last year on a new bike. I only had roughly 100km on it, the longest being 50k. Position wasn't dialed in. Result: I couldn't get comfortable on the bike.
Another "new" thing I tried was having ribena during T1. Never done that before but thought it was a good idea to rinse the saltwater off my mouth. Bad Idea. Ended up puking it all out at about the 10km mark on the bike.

This year, I'm going in with everything old. I'm using my old beat up tri-suit, my old cycling shoes which are getting tight, even old socks for the run. The only thing new are my running shoes but I've put in more than 100km in them already so they should be ok. Nutrition-wise, everything has been tried and tested on long rides before this. I'll be using Clif Bars and vanilla flavoured powergels. No Ribena, nothing funny. I'll keep one of those vanilla cream buns in my special needs bag, just in case.

3. The race is long and it's only with yourself.
I have to admit, the ego got to me at the beginning of the bike leg last year. "Go faster," it said. "Look, there's one of your mates pushing the bike up the hill. Attack!" it taunted. And so I did. I went into an Ironman race with an Olympic distance mentality. Wrong wrong wrong. I spent too much time calculating what my average speed should be in order to finish within cutoff then spent too much effort trying to go over that average speed. My race was over in the first 10k. How I managed the next 120 after that, I don't even know.

This year, I'm going to take it easier. The trick to surviving the Ironman bike leg is to go slow. I will find a pace I feel I can sustain, then go even slower that that. Then (if I make it to the run this year) I will tell myself to run to each water station. I'm only racing myself, forget what the others are doing. That is the strategy for this year, hopefully it will see me through the race.

4. Pay attention to nutrition
I didn't have a nutrition plan last year. Thought I'd just eat when I felt like it. Felt too bloated after the swim to take a powerbar. Then drank something I shouldn't have. Told myself, "It's ok, I'll eat later." But then later, with all the frustrations going through the head, I forget to eat.

This year, I have a plan. Half a bar at T1 (bloated or not, just down it), gels every 20k, half a bar every 60k on the bike. Then gels every 10k on the run. Special Needs bag will have a High Five Vanilla Bun each or a peanut butter jelly sandwich, just in case. Of course, I will be flexible enough to alter this plan if the need arises, but I will try to stick to it as much as I can.

5. Think positive
Ironman is as much a mental game as it is a physical one. Last year, when things started to go wrong, when I couldn't get comfortable on the bike, I got frustrated. And instead of moving on, I let the frustrations dwell inside my head. Not good. I kept telling myself I want to quit, i want to quit. You say that enough, your body listens, and it will shut down.

This year, I need to learn to control my emotions. I need to let go of the whatever frustrations that come my way and just move on. It's not going to be easy, but i have to boost my mental strength. When things go wrong, I'll just have to shrug it off and move on. I can't let it ruin the whole race. I need to think positive.

These were just some of the lessons I learned from last year. I know I made more mistakes but these are the ones that stood out the most. I'm sure I'll make more this year but let's hope they don't give me another DNF.

Now I'll just keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best. See you guys in Langkawi!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Driving the Broom Wagon

Saturday was a whole new experience for me. I still went out for a long ride, but this time I did it in the comforts of my car. I drove the support car for a 200km ride to Lumut.

One of the broom wagons, called such because it sweeps up tired and fatigued riders.The other was a Toyata Wish.

At 6.30am, four brave souls (suckas!!!) gathered at Centrepoint in Bandar Utama to embark on this epic ride. Driving support was me and Shen.

The four brave souls: Adeline, Ishsal, Senn and Alex

By 7am we were on our way. The first 40km of the route, up to Ijok, were fairly rolly, but once you hit Ijok, it's flat all the way. And believe me, flat for 160km isn't as easy as it sounds.

The route was rather scenic. After Ijok, you go through plantations, then along the coastal road, you have swaying palm trees and on the road to Lumut, there were padi fields. Nice if you're driving, not so nice if you're pedaling.

Some of the scenery we traveled through

But alas, it was a ride of attrition. None of the four riders finished the distance. The first casualty was Adeline, whose night light had broken loose and shattered on the ground, causing a puncture in her front wheel. Shen stopped to assist her in fixing the flat, then drove her ahead of the pack to catch up, but when she got her bike out of the van, both tyres were flat. So ride over for Adeline. For now.

When we made our first stop, at KM60, Ishsal (who, for some reason, brought four spare tubes) lent her two so she could continue. So as the rest of the riders continued, I set about fixing her two tyres (as support vehicle driver, you have to do mechanic duties as well). Got both tyres inflated, dumped everything in the car and off went Adeline and I to chase the other riders. I dropped her off about two KM ahead of the rest and she was on her way again. It was quite exciting, pulling the car off the road, jumping out of the car, putting her bike together then pushing her off as the other riders went by. I felt like a mechanic on a Protour team!

The next casualty was Senn. She was trying out attire for her Ironman and had settled on a pair of Descente shorts that she uses for Olympic distace tris. Good for Olys, unfortunately not so good for anything longer. The shorts started chafing at about 100km. As we rolled into Sabak Bernam for lunch, it got unbearable. So, she rolled into the broom wagon. It was quite unfortunate, she was feeling strong and riding quite consistently. She probably had the legs to go the distance. Anyway, good to know that those shorts won't last the distance. Imagine if this was Ironman...

After an hour and a half, we set off again. I could tell that Ishsal was starting to fatigue. He wasn't staying in his aerobars for long, his elbows were locked, pedaling inconsistent. But he kept going. We went through a 15km patch of road construction that couldn't have been very nice for the riders. It was dusty and bumpy and it left them all feeling shaken.

After the construction, we made a right turn at the Hutan Melintang cross junction. Here the roads were wider and it even had a dedicated bike lane!

We then made a left turn to cross the Perak River. There was an R&R stop here so we made and unscheduled stop because Ishsal was feeling knackered. Here he was given a choice of saving his pride, or riding in air-conditioned van with two chicks. Like all cyclists, he chose his pride.

But it wasn't to last. As he climbed the bridge across the river, his calves started cramping. He fought valiantly through the pain, cresting the top of the bridge and coasting to the end of it. He started pedaling again, but then starting coasting to a halt. Cramps were too much. He hopped aboard the broom wagon.

Now this stretch was a pure test of mental strength. You've ridden 152km, the sun bearing down on you, and the flat, straight road just seems to go on forever. You could tell the riders were struggling, speeds dropping from 40km/h to 20km/h. Driving behind them, I was wondering what was going through the riders' minds. They were probably cursing me for taking them out on this ride!

At 192km, we came to our last refill stop. As Alex and Adeline rolled in, you could see the fatigue in their faces. When I told them they had less than 20km to go, Alex said, "No thanks." His thighs were starting to get stiff. And with that, we packed the remaining two bikes into the broom wagons.

Total distance covered by the riders:
Alex - 192km
Ishsal - 152km
Adeline - 136km
Senn - 122km

Although none of the riders completed the distance, they can be proud to say they attempted it. It was a tough and grueling ride, physically and mentally. Kudos to them all! Even I didn't have the guts to ride that day.

We all learned that day that flat isn't necessarily good. With rolling hills you at least get to rest a bit when the road goes down. With flat roads, you have to pedal all the way. The second you stop pedaling, you're down 2-3km/h.

For me, it was a whole new experience. Driving support can be exhausting as well. Driving long distance at 30km/h by yourself can be mentally taxing too. Not as bad as what the riders went through, of course. But I had fun, playing directeur sportif, soigneur, and mechanic at the same time.

That said, all the riders want revenge on this course, so we will definitely be doing it again. And maybe this time, I'll ride and get swept up by the broom wagon.