Sunday, March 15, 2009

Best Birthday Ever!

I turned 37 on Satuday in what was the best birthday anyone could have.

It started with my sons' sportsday where I was invited to run in a 4 x 100 parent vs teacher race. Being used to longer distances, doing a flat-out 100m sprint wearing tennis shoes and cargo shorts is pretty painful. I can still feel the pain today. With the help of fellow LeTuanger Yusran, we won the race.

Then my kids took me for a birthday surprise. Half an hour in a fish spa. We spent the first five minutes daring each other to put their feet into a tank filled with lots of hungry little fishies. Once we put our feet in, the next 10 minutes were spent giggling away as the tiny fish started nibbling on our feet. It was very ticklish, especially when the fish got between our toes and under the soles. When we finally got used to it, we only had about 10 minutes to enjoy it before our time was up. It may seem disgusting to have little fish nibbling at your feet but once you get over that and get used to it, it's actually quite therapeutic. It felt a little electrifying, like those vibrating massage chairs.

The day got even better after that. My beloved Senn took me out for high tea at the Saujana where we "bumped" into AJ and Julie. They were apparently on the way to go flying but decided to stop at the Saujana to wait the rain out. While having tea, AJ invited us to join them and me, who has dreamed of being a pilot ever since I was 9, couldn't refuse.

We drove out to the hangar at the old Subang Airport and there it was: a Cessna with a big Happy Birthday banner strung across its wings! AJ, Julie and Senn had been planning this all along! I suspected that it was more than coincidence for us to bump into them at Saujana!

The deal was I was to fly the Cessna with an instructor and Senn, while AJ and Julie would tail us in another aircraft behind. I was actually going to pilot an aircraft! A lifelong dream come true!

We took off and took a hard right towards Kapar, where the instructor showed me how to do some maneuvers. We did a long left turn, then we pitched up, then did a stomach-lurching pitch down, which almost threw my lunch out! Then the instructor showed us a couple of stalls before we headed back to Subang. Then the instructor said, "I assisted you on the take-off, and those other maneuvers, now you're going to assist me on the landing." What?! He wanted me to help land the plane? The last time I tried that in a simulator, it wasn't very pretty.

Anyway, I lined the aircraft up to the runway using the instruments and pretty soon we were on the approach. We got lower and lower and then he eased off the power and asked me to pull back on the yoke. And before we knew it, we were back on terra firma.

Man, what a rush! I finally flew a plane, an actual plane! I was just speechless throughout the flight and after I was grinning ear to ear like a Cheshire cat on the way back in the car!

But the day hadn't ended yet. There was still the satay feast with the LeTuangers at Restoran Malaysia in Kajang. It was a long drive but the food was worth it. And the company was priceless.

So a big thank you to all LeTuangers. You guys have made my special day even more special. Especially AJ and Julie who made a lifelong dream come true. And a big, huge thank you to my darling Senn, who painstakingly made this all happen.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! You've all made me enjoy birthdays again.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Why I Love Ironman Langkawi

For three years now, I've been making a trip, a pilgrimage so to speak, to the mystical island of Langkawi at the end of February for what is billed as the toughest show on Earth.

The Ironman Langkawi.

The reason I make this trip every year is not for the race. Yes, the race is an integral part of the trip but it's not the most important.

The most important part of the trip is the trip itself.

Going to Langkawi, to me, is akin to going on a company trip. Except the company is called triathlon.

From the moment you arrive in Langkawi, you meet up with like-minded people. When you land, when you check-in to your hotel, when you register and pick up your race kit, when you attend the briefing, when you check your bike in, when you check-in for the swim, you are reacquainted with your mates from the local triathlon scene.

It's like a big party. A party that goes on for a week.

And it's not just participants. It's also the supporters. The first time I went, we had a handful of friends who were there to support us. The numbers grew the second year and this year, with the formation of the LeTuang group, the numbers grew even more.

The atmosphere is always festive. Local eateries, who have gotten to know us over the years, are always looking forward to our arrival. They know we can really eat. Yusran has taken the extra effort to do some major PR with the owners of these establishments to ensure the we enjoy only the best culinary delights in Langkawi. One restaurant even makes us autograph the Ironman poster every year which he will then display proudly in his restaurant!

Of course there's the small matter of the race. But like I told Stupe, we're going for a holiday but, since we're there, we might as well swim 3.8km, bike 180km and run 42km!

Speaking of the race, mine was not as heroic and inspirational as Senn's or Stupe's. Nor was it as dramatic as Ishsal's or Barath's or Bean's.

The day started slow. The swim was slow, not because I was struggling, in fact I thought I had a good swim, but I was just slow.

My bike leg was painful. For the first 50km, I couldn't hold any liquids down. I basically redecorated the Langkawi landscape with my puke! I had puke on my arms, my legs and down my chest. At 35k, I stopped by where Mac was parked to puke my guts out.

At 50k, I had to stop to pee. After that, I started feeling a bit better but still didn't have the legs. I was secretly wishing for a flat, or a broken chain, or a snapped cable so I could pull out.

But I had to beat Bukit Hantu, my nemesis from two years ago. I was not going to quit until I had conquered it all three times. Then something happened after the third time I climbed it, my legs suddenly realised they were in a race! After that, I was flying.

After going all out in the last 40k, I thought I'd be walking the marathon. And the first 1k was difficult. 3k in I caught up with Senn who'd been racing with a one-inch gash in her right foot, and did a run/walk with her. At 8k, she told me to go ahead. She would continue to set her personal best by 48 minutes! That is an Ironman!

Because of the run/walk at the start of the marathon, I was able to save my legs for the end. And that saved me a good 13 minutes from last year's marathon.

In the end, I crossed the line 8 minutes faster than last year. It was a tough race, and one I thought I didn't deserve to finish, what more set a personal best, but I'll take it anyway.

In truth, all that didn't really matter. What really mattered was the spirit of camaraderie and friendship that prevailed throughout the race week. It was this spirit that kept me going, even though my race was not as inspiring as the others. And it is for this reason, that I'll be back in Langkawi next year. And while I'm there, I may as well swim 3.8km, bike 180km and run 42km.