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...
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 imcyclist.com 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.