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.