Friday, December 10, 2010

With A LIttle Help From My "Friends" - The Busselton Report

In the four years we've been going to Langkawi, we've always enjoyed the support of our friends, who would take the trouble to travel all the way there to cheer us on. They would cheer, motivate, run along with us in those moments when we've hit the wall or when we've abandoned hope. They encourage us to go on when we're about to give up, they help keep our sanity while we're doing something completely insane.

Pre-race: The whole town gets ready for the Ironman. 

Going to Busselton to race in Ironman Western Australia, I knew we weren't going to get that level of support. It was too much to ask of our friends to come along for the ride. So, we just had to make do with what was out there; watching people cheer for others. It was going to be a lonely race for us with no one to cheer us on, no one to motivate us.

I was wrong.

The 1500 volunteers and the supporters lining up the run course were great. They cheered everybody on, regardless of whether they knew them or not. They called you out by name. They kept you motivated. They kept you going. In the absence of our friends, this was the next best thing.

Pre-race: Sofian and I goofing around. 12 meter draft zone is looong.

If it wasn't for the great crowd support, I'm not sure I would have been able to finish this race. It was a tough race, for sure. I had known from about 100k on the bike that the target I had set would not be met. From then on it was a case of damage limitation and just finishing in the shortest time possible. In fact, even a PB looked out of the question. When it mattered most, my legs didn't have it.

I had a decent swim. It was the first time swimming in a wetsuit so it felt a bit weird. I think I didn't put it on properly because it felt tight around the shoulders. Ezer helped to hike it up a bit in an attempt to loosen the shoulders, but only the right side loosened up. The left side still felt a bit constricted. Sure enough, 100m into the swim, my left arm went dead. It was just so tiring to try and move the left arm. At one point, I was even swimming with just my right arm toe give the left one a rest! Not funny.

Pre-race: The famous jetty we had to swim around. It was a long way to the end. 

We got to the turnaround and I was afraid to check my time. Didn't want to cause myself any unnecessary panic if I were too far behind. I looked around and there were quite a few heads bobbing around me so I knew I was ok. By now the left arm was already numb from tiredness and didn't put up much of a fight. Water was a bit rough on the way back and at one point it didnt look like I was making any forward progress. But since the water was sooooo clear, I could see the floor and that assured me that I was, indeed, moving forward.

Race: This wetsuit makes me look fat!

Finally got out or the water in 1h34m. Now comes the difficult part: getting the suit off! Luckily, I had practiced this the day before and got out of the top part relatively easily. A quick run through the showers, grabbed my T1 bag and I was met by helpers in the change tent. These guys are great. They helped take the rest of the suit off, emptied your bag, and set about putting your stuff on. Before I knew what was going on, my race belt, helmet and shoes were already on! One guy was putting sun screen on, and another one was packing my swim stuff into the bag. And just like that, I was ready to go riding!

Out on the bike, I was going at a good clip. Within the first few kilometres, I was already passing people. I was averaging about 32-34km/h without exerting myself too much. With such a flat course doing a 6 hour bike shouldn't be a problem, right?


As I approached the 15km turnaround, I was pedaling along at about 35km/h. Hit the brakes for the very narrow u-turn, turned and suddenly my helmet was filled with the sound of the wind. I got out of the saddle to power on the pedals and the bike just didn't move. This must be the nastiest headwind I've ever encountered! I was pushing on the pedals like I was doing 40km/h but the speedo said, "Sorry, it's only 25!"

Race: Heading out towards the first turnaround, before facing the headwinds.

And that really was the story of my bike leg. Nice tailwinds heading east and north, nasty headwinds heading west and south. And the more I tried to pedal through the winds, the more tired my legs were getting. It was the same for everyone, but my legs just couldn't cope. The worse part is, the winds got stronger and stronger with each passing loop.

Race: End of first loop, can still smile.

At 100km, my legs cramped up. At this point, I was on pace to do a 6:30-6:40 bike. But now, I could no longer push the big gears without my my legs seizing up. I took salt tablets but it didn't seem to help. I had to just get through the next 80km and hope the legs don't completely seize up.

Race: Starting the second loop

The last 10k was probably the longest 10k I've ever had the pleasure of cycling. The headwinds heading back to town had really picked up and I was pushing on the pedals to just do 20km/h. I swear if I stopped pedaling, the wind would push me backwards! But it was difficult to keep pedaling because then my legs would seize up. I put the chain in the small ring and tried to spin all the way back. Anything to get home.

Arrived at T2 after 7h01m on the bike, and I couldn't even manage a flying dismount. As it was I couldn't even lift my legs over the saddle! Again, the helpers were wonderful. They held my bike while I slowly tried to get off. In the change tent, same thing. The helpers unpacked my bag, put my stuff on, repacked my bag and sent me off.

Race: First loop of the run leg, when I can still run!

Now this is where it gets exciting. I ran the first km ok then my legs cramped up again. That was the story of the run: run, cramp, walk, repeat. But throughout the 42k journey, the supporters lining the streets kept me going. At the beginning of every loop, you have to go into the town centre, right next to the finish line where they've erected grand stands and a large screen. The atmosphere here is electric! You hear the Voice of Ironman, Mike Reilly, announcing the finishers, you hear and see the crowd in the grandstands cheering on all the athletes, calling your name like they know you!

Race: Start of the last loop, reduced to a walk. 

I wondered how this was possible: how did they know my name? Did I meet them during these past few days and, in my delirium at the time, forget who they were? Then it dawned on me: my name was on my bib! So I responded back, slapped their outstretched hands, joked around with them a bit. And this happened all throughout the 42k, save for that lonely 4k stretch by the beach. When we ran (or walked, in my case) past the houses, the residents would come out and give us more of the same. On my last loop, one family even took out a string of coloured lights to mimic the finishing arch. I crossed it like I crossed the finish line and high-fived the whole family. Another household was blaring music and encouraged us to sing along. And when they saw you walking, they offered words of encouragement: "keep going", "you're going in the right direction", "you're still moving, that's all that matters". Here, the crowd would probably tell you to get on the bus!

Race: The finish line. Finally!

And so it was, with the help of my newfound friends, all of whom I don't know their names (though they certainly knew mine!), I finished the Ironman Western Australia in 15h20m, a personal best by 5 minutes but nowhere near the 13h32m target I had set for myself. I ran down that finishing chute, slapping high fives to every outstretched hand as I heard Mike Reilly yell, "Nik. Arif. Sidek. You. Are. An. Ironman!" over the PA system. I crossed the line and let out a primal roar. This was probably the hardest Ironman I've ever completed. The cold weather, the strong winds, the cramps didn't make things any easier.

Race: The finisher picture

But it was certainly one of the ones I enjoyed the most. The only thing that would have made it better was to have all my friends there to support as well. To the 1500 volunteers and countless supporters that day, this one's for you!

Post-race: All that money and effort for a towel, a t-shirt and a medal!

Post-race: The medal I worked so hard for

Post-race: "WE DID IT!" The Malaysian contingent

Photos courtesy of Claris and Finisherpix

Monday, November 29, 2010

Race Week

This Sunday, I'll be toeing the start line at Ironman Western Australia in Busselton. It'll be my 5th time starting an Ironman race, my first one overseas.

The final week heading into a race is always a tricky one. Without fail, my head will go through the same motions:
"Finally! Can't wait for the race!"
"Woo hoo! It's race week!"
"Taper time!"
"By this time next week, I'll be done!"
"Let's get this over and done with!"
"OMG! It's this week ah???!!!"
"Shit! Didn't train enough!"
"Oh no! I'm gonna die!"
"Die! Die! DIE!!!!"
"Taper?! What taper?! Didn't even train, want to taper ah!!!"
"Ok, still got one week, let's rack up more mileage!"

This last thought is the dangerous one. This is the week you're supposed to be resting and carbo-loading, workouts to be kept short and low intensity. And yet, your mind is saying, "Dude, you haven't trained enough, let's go get that ultra-long ride in, let's jump in the pool and do 5000m, we need that 35k run done."


The temptation to go out and whack a the long miles will be strong this week. Especially when you know you haven't done enough. But at the same time, you also know you don't want to tire yourself out. And you want to stay injury-free (yesterday's short 10k run already put a strain on my left calf. Thankfully, it's all good now). I was already warned last week that I was heading towards burnout. A friend sent me a long email, saying she saw some of the danger signs I was displaying. The funny thing is, you don't see it yourself. You need someone to point it out for you. She also gave me some really good training advice. And when that advice comes from a Kona qualifier, you listen!

Now that race week is here, I'm going to do myself a favour, I'm going to do what I do best: be lazy! This Sunday will show whether I've trained enough.

Wish me luck!

Monday, November 15, 2010

PB at PM thanks to SSS.

I know the title of this post seems a bit weird, but read on and you'll be able to figure it out.

I just scored a personal best at one of the races I usually suffer at. In fact, I gave Powerman a miss last year because the mere thought of suffering through that second run was enough to make me wish I'd never started running. But for some inexplicable reason, I let my mouse wander over the registration button on the Powerman website and clicked it. Next thing I know, I'm registered for this year's event.

This year, I had the bonus of having my kids, Shafeeq and Shaqeel, come watch me race. And Senn was more than happy to give up racing to help babysit them while I was out there suffering.

Having them there really made a difference. For one thing, I didn't want them to see me fail again like what happened in Langkawi this year. So that gave me an extra incentive to do well. For another, having them there made it feel like we were on holiday, so I was completely relaxed the night before and didn't feel any pressure. And also, having them there made me want to hurry back to the stadium so I could see them and I knew the boys were going to be restless waiting, so I knew I needed to hurry through the race to save them from prolonged restlessness!

Shafeeq and Shaqeel with me at the start.

I was one of the last ones to start the race because I was giving instructions to the boys to listen to Senn when the gun went off. The first run was in cool conditions from the rain that just stopped. Within the first k I found Azmar and Fadil, so just paced with them throughout. We were running a decent pace, about 5:45min/km which may have been just a bit too fast, but I felt good and we continued. At the end of the first loop, there were Senn, Shafeeq and Shaqeel waiting for me. Boys looked quite happy to see me and that made me feel good. High-fived them and it was off for another loop. Another half an hour before I see them again.

More of the same on the second loop and we finished the run in one hour flat. A little faster than I had intended but it was ok. Off with the running shoes, on with the helmet and grabbed the bike. And there, at the bike exit, were the best support crew in the world: Senn, Shafeeq and Shaqeel. Another round of high-fives and I was off on the bike. One hour before I finish the first loop and see them again.

The first loop was pretty uneventful. Was going at a steady clip of about 32-36km/h. Legs felt good, aero position felt good. Got over the bridges without drama and headed back. Azmar passed me going up the bridge and I just couldn't hang on to him. But no big deal, just run my own race. Fadil, too, passed me on the way back to Manjung and again, I didn't even attempt to chase. Got back to the stadium and saw the boys and Senn again. Gave them a wave and I was off on the second loop. Another hour before I see them again.

Really getting into the spirit of the race!

Second loop wasn't so smooth. I could feel my calves starting to cramp up. Squirted some water on them and the cramps went away. Then I heard a thud behind me and AJ yelling I'd dropped something. At first I thought it was a water bottle, so I went on since I didn't really need that. Turns out it was my gel flask. That I need! So had to stop, lay the bike down, and run back the 20 or so metres to retrieve the bottle. Cost me a minute or two and about 10 riders passed me. Got back on the bike and it took a while for my legs to get back into the rhythm. Once I did, I caught up with the riders who passed me and was going back and forth with this lady on a Cervelo S2, being careful to stay out of her 7m draft zone. We were like this all the way back to T2. I gave it all I could since I knew my second run was going to be screwed anyway, thanks to the cramps that were developing in my legs.

After 2h07m I was back in transition. And as usual, there were my SSS (Senn, Shafeeq and Shaqeel) support crew out by the run exit. Gave the boys a quick hug (much to their disgust!), and I was off for the second run. Senn told me she was going to take the boys back to the car to rest. That was my cue to try and finish as quickly as I can. Wouldn't want the boys to get too restless.

The first km was quite tough and I was thinking, "Oh no! Here we go again! This is why I don't like to do Powerman." The crampy feeling had moved up to my thighs and it was getting really hard to run. But I refused to walk, walking would have been the end of it and the SSS support crew would have to wait two hours for my return. Not gonna happen. So I shuffled along to the first water station where there was a medic holding up that spray, so I told him to give me everything he's got. I swear that's a miracle spray because after that, the pain was gone. I just had to tell myself to run to the next water station, take a drink, then run to the next. And that's what I kept doing. Saw SSS by the car at the end of the first loop and gave them a wave. By now my pace was between 6:15-6:30min/km. All I had to do now was maintain this pace and I'll be able to see SSS in half an hour.

Waiting for their slow-ass dad to finish the race.

It's quite amazing what the mind can do. By now, the sun was out in full force, and my legs were getting really tired. But I just kept telling myself to run to the next station, run to the next station, run to the next station (it also helped that there were more water stations this year!). My mind refused to let me stop and walk. Just wanted to go see SSS as quickly as I could. And before I knew it, I was rounding the final corner and heading into the stadium. As I turned into the finishing chute, I saw, just beyond the finish line, SSS. It was all I needed to pick up speed and cross that line. Nailed the second run in 1h06m for a total time of 4h17m. A PB by half an hour.

Finally! Can we go home now???!!!

And I owe it all to having the boys there and to Senn for having to put up with their restlessness. Please forgive her if she wasn't as chatty as usual, she had to put up with my boys' boredom. And that was not an easy task to do. Thank you, baby, for putting up with that so I could go racing. I owe you big time!

In case you haven't figured out what the title of this post means, it means Personal Best at PowerMan thanks to Senn, Shafeeq and Shaqeel.

Pictures courtesy of Senn.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fellow Triathlete in Hit and Run

Esmenn Mohd Mokhtar, a local triathlete, was hit by a taxi last night in Cyberjaya. He has a fractured collarbone and some head injuries.

Esmenn is warded at Ward Neuro 4 A2, Hospital Kuala Lumpur. Visiting hours :- 12.20pm-2.30pm and 4.30pm-7.30pm.

It's a dangerous sport we partake in, and unfortunately, sometimes things like this do happen. Please be careful when you're out there guys, especially when riding solo. Be vigilant of your surroundings, take off your ipods so you can hear traffic better and always assume the driver is not going to see you. Also always carry some form of ID and emergency contact number (this reminds me I need to get my RoadID ASAP).

Here's hoping Esmenn recovers soon and is back in top form in no time.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hill is "Hell" Mis-spelt

The title of this post just about sums up the Newton 25k Challenge. It was all about hills and the hills, yes, they were hellish. Combine it with the heat, then you have one of the toughest events in Malaysia. Frank of Runnerz Circle had already warned us that the usual Bukit Aman - Hartamas loop was just an appetizer compared to the Newton route. Guess I was hoping he was exaggerating a bit. He wasn't!

The run started well enough but within 4k, we hit the first hill. Legs still fresh, the first series of hills were not too bad. And the sun hadn't come up yet.

When the hills were not a problem... yet.

It was after the 12k mark that hell came. By then the sun was out in full force. It wasn't that the hills were particularly steep (ok, some of them were) but they were just long and relentless. I was beginning to think the 140k ride the day before maybe wasn't such a good idea.

Before hell came!

By 18k, I was reduced to walking. Walk up the hills, and try to run down them. At this point I was wishing I had just done the 12k!

With about 3k to go, Emma caught up with me (feels funny saying that since Emma is normally miles ahead, but today she was just having some fun and taking it reeeaaaallly easy) and saw me walking. She kept urging me on, telling me it's all in the head. When she found out it wasn't my injured knee that's making me walk, she said, "C'mon Arif, baby steps." So from there on I mustered up whatever I had left and just followed Emma and Lydia home. Thanks for the encouragement, Emma.

Almost there!

And so I crossed the finish line in 2h47m. One of the toughest races I've ever done. And I was lucky enough to get a medal for my troubles. And a pretty medal it was. Hard-earned too!

Just glad it's all over!

Senn did quite well. She did the 12k and finished in about 1h45m. Not too bad for someone who hasn't been running at all!

I must say Uncle Chan loves to inflict pain on athletes. Who else would organise a run in such hilly terrain? It's kind of reminiscent of his Lake Kenyir triathlon. Anyway, it was quite well organised with some lovely freebies.Traffic management could have been better though and the water stations could have been closer together, especially with the heat. But other than that, everything went well. Once again, another good job from Uncle Chan.

From this run, I can see that I still have a long way to go to hit my target in Ironman Western Australia. Bring it on...

Pictures courtesy of Emma, Tey and Julie.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ironman Western Australia Target

I normally don't set specific time goals for any of the races I do. My target has always been to PB or do better than last year. But since this will be the first time in Busselton, there is no benchmark to measure against.

So now I'm going to put it out there, I'm going to set a time goal for IMWA: to finish the race before nightfall. Sunset at Busselton on 5 December is 7:17pm, last light at 7:46pm. The race starts at 5:45am. That gives me 13h32m to finish the race, almost two hours under my best IM race.

Which means I'll need to shave about 10-15 minutes off my best IM swim, an hour off my best IM bike time and an hour off my best run time.

So that's it, it's out there: 13h32m. 13h32m. 13h32m.

Maybe I'll get it. Maybe I won't. But now that it's out there, I have no choice but to work my ass off towards it. Full time Ironman training begins after Raya.

Shit... What did I just get myself into?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Pedal Away Polio

Ride for a good cause, guys...

Monday, July 26, 2010

I got my mojo back!

I lost my mojo in PD.

During the 2008 PD International Triathlon, on my way to a personal best, I hit a pothole and crashed hard onto the tarmac 1.5km from transition 2. Among the things scattered on the road was my mojo. As i got going again, pushing the bike to transition, I must have left my mojo there.

In 2009, I returned to PD to look for my mojo after a season of dismal results. It wasn't to be. Thanks to a knee injury and some drama that had me driving all the way back to KL and back to PD again in the middle of the night, my mojo was nowhere to be found.

Fast forward to the PD International Triathlon 2010. The search for my mojo continues. A friend said, after screwing up in PD two years in a row, you better do well this year. Talk about added pressure! I was more determined than ever to find that elusive mojo.

But already the dramas had begun. On the way to PD, the airconditioning in the car broke down. Not a big deal really, except that since the aircon runs on the same belt as the water pump, and other vital systems, it made the problem terminal.

As I sat there waiting for the car to be fixed (courtesy of a bunch of mechanics who roam the highway looking for car trouble), I started to wonder whether it was a good idea to race the next day. Could today's incident be a sign of things to come? Will I never find my mojo?

Or is this simply a case of getting all the bad luck out of the way today, so I can have good luck tomorrow?

Four hours and RM800 later, we rolled into PD. At this point, I have to say I was really glad I had Senn with me. She kept calm the whole time and helped keep me from pulling my hair out. She said that whatever I wanted to do the next day, she will support. Thanks, babe, I needed that.

We skipped the carbo load dinner. As much as we wanted to catch up with old friends, the thought of fighting for food with 1200 other triathletes turned us off. So we had a quiet dinner near the apartment and then went to go buy water and breakfast for the next day. On the way, we found a mamak shop that was showing the Tour de France final time trial on TV (earlier I had been fretting about how I was going to catch this). What luck! And while walking back to the car, Senn found a RM10 just lying there on the road. Even more good luck! Maybe I had gotten rid of all bad luck. Maybe my mojo was coming back to me. Maybe I should race tomorrow. Funnily enough, these two good luck incidents happened a few metres for where I crashed two years ago!

So race I did. And I have to say, it was the best race I've ever had.

We got there late so didn't really have time to mingle. Set up transition and headed straight to the start. Managed to take this picture though.

The swim was decent. I was in the battles all the way. Which meant that I was keeping pace with the others. When I had calm water, I thought I had strayed off course. As it turned out, I had dropped the group of swimmers I was battling with and was moving towards the next group for more battles.

Out back onto the beach and only 33 minutes had elapsed. 35 by the time I crossed the timing mat (running on the beach is not easy).

On the bike, I started looking for a train to latch on. For about five or six kilometres I kept looking, then I realised there was a short train behind me! OK, game on. As soon as a faster rider overtook me, I latched on and so did my little train. We went forward, tagging on to the next train in front of us, then the next and the next. Pretty soon, we had a decent sized pack. From then on, It was an easy ride back to transition.

Off the bike in 1:09.

A quick transition and it was off on the run.

My legs felt a little jelly like and I had trouble finding a rhythm. The athletes in the train I was with were starting to drop me one by one. And the side stitches came. I thought this was going to be a tough run. Fortunately, the weather was overcast, so that helped things quite a lot.

3km in, I started to find my rhythm. Stomach cramps were still there but not to severe. I started passing people again. Coming back I saw people who would normally be ahead of me on their way out. That gave me the motivation to push that little bit more.

Crossed the line and my watch said 2 hours and 40 minutes. The run had been done in 52 minutes. A personal best! I was shocked! Elated! Happy!

I had found my mojo.

Photos courtesy of Aileen/Stupe, Yit Thing/Zabrina and Keni K.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

What a week!

Monday: run 6.4k
Tuesday: swim 1500m, bike 27k
Wednesday: run 12k
Thursday: swim 1200m, bike 36k
Friday: swim 1200m
Saturday: bike 115k

Wow! I haven't had a week like this since the buildup to IMMY08. All in all, 4000m swimming, 178k biking, and 18.4k running. I was so beat up after saturday's ride, I decided to skip Sunday's run.

Hopefully, this is just the beginning. If I can keep this up and slowly add more quality mileage as the weeks go by, I'll be in good shape for IMWA.

Ironman training has begun!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Not the Best of Marathons...

Thankfully not the worst either.

If anything, the 2010 Standard Chartered Kuala Lumpur Marathon taught me the importance of training. Without which, be prepared to suffer.

And suffer I did, from about 25k all the way to the end.

But before I get into my race, let me just say that this year's edition was a marked improvement over last year's. There was plenty of fluids at the water stations, the route was great and the medal collection was excellent. It's good to know that the organisers learnt their lessons from last year and made efforts to improve.

There were still a few issues though: traffic management was ok throughout but there were a few intersections where it could have been handled better. Particularly at the Jalan P. Ramlee/Jalan Ampang intersection but you can't really blame the cops when the motorists decide to ignore them and almost run down a few runners. Another issue was that there was no water given out at the finish line. If there was, it must have been hidden somewhere because I didn't see any. They should have given us water together with the medal/finisher t-shirt. Would have been a lot better that way for runners.

Anyway on to the race: it started wet. Really, really wet. But after a few km the rain stopped. I was doing a pretty decent pace, a pace I thought I'd be able to sustain for 42km. Hit the first 10k and I was going slightly quicker than I thought. My first 10k was 1h03m.

Continued on. By now the thighs were starting to feel the burn. Thought I'd slow the pace a little. But apparently, I didn't. Second 10k was 1h04m!

Now was when it started to unravel for me. At 25k, I lost it. Just couldn't run anymore. So I walked/ran. It was painful. Runners were passing me left, right and centre. It was quite demoralizing. At this point, I was wondering if I called it quits, how would I get back to the start line. Then Sofian runs by. He must have sensed my agony because he yelled out, "C'mon Arif, don't give up!"

That really helped. I went on till the 28km water station. I had some of my EFS gel, rubbed some ointment on my legs and took some ice from the nice medic there. This gave me a bit of a second wind. I managed to run till the 31km marker. Saw Jason going around on his bike, he asked if I needed anything. A taxi back to the start line perhaps, I wanted to say. But I kept on going.

Finally hit Jalan Kuching. Sun was up and blazing by now. This is one mentally challenging stretch. It goes on for only about 2km but it feels damn long. Meng, the 5-hour pacer, caught up with me now, and urged me to run with him. Made it as far as the 34km water station before I had to walk again.

At 35km, Adeline passed me. She looked damn strong. Guess all that distance/endurance training has paid off for her (she achieved her first sub-5 marathon!). She motioned me to tag on but at the pace she was going, there was no way I could. At this point, I couldn't tag on to anyone, no matter what the pace!

Shortly after the 36km water station, there was some welcomed relief. Kash, Rais and Uncle Allen were there with a mobile kedai runcit. Rais gave me some Counterpain, Kash offered me a Gatorade and Uncle Allen offered me encouragement. Thanks guys, you really helped! Thanks to them, I managed to run all the way to the bottom of that steep hill near the little roundabout.

After that steep hill, I knew we'd have a nice downhill stretch. I love going downhill, you can pick up speed with hardly any effort at all. But it was not to be this time. There was just so much lactic acid in my legs that each step was agony! And to make things worse, at the bottom of the hill, they made us go up another hill just to u-turn midway up. Cruel.

From there it was a slow run/walk all the way to the last turn at Pertama Complex. By then we had maybe about 800m to go so I threw all caution to the wind and ran all the way to the finish. It was painful, but it had to be done.

About 100m from the line, I saw Senn cheering me on and I knew I couldn't stop now. Passed a few other runners along the way too and finally crossed the line. Felt like collapsing right there and then.

The race clock showed me finishing at 5h10m. For a while I thought I'd come in closer to six hours, maybe even after six hours. I guess when I hit that wall at 25k, I knew sub-5 was out of the question so then it became a matter of limiting the damage. I hadn't set a target for this race as I knew I was unprepared for it. Still I wanted to do the best I could. And If I could go under 5, all the better. So doing a 5h10m was ok. Painful, but ok.

Lesson learnt. To run a marathon, you must get the miles in. Last year I was running 40-50k, sometimes even 60k, a week in the build-up to the marathon. This year, I was lucky to get in 20k a week. So for me, to finish itself is a result.

But I couldn't have finished it without the help of friends. Special thanks to Sofian, Eugene Teoh, Jason Hue, Dr.Sya, Kash, Rais, Uncle Allen, Bro Md Nor and a whole bunch of others for pushing me on in one way or another. That percussion group in front of Pavillion, all the medics and volunteers, you all were a great help.

And finally, a big special thank you to Senn, who was there for me after the run and took care of me when I could barely walk. Love ya, babe!

Monday, May 17, 2010


The NB15k run this past Sunday was probably my best race so far this year. There were minimal dramas and no injury issues. The only drawback was that I hadn't done a long run since the Energiser race back in March.

There was a bit of drama the night before when we heard of Ngae's passing. Ngae was a legendary character in the runners/triathlete's circle. He always ran barefoot in a sarong, was always humble and always had a smile on his face. He's never one to forget his roots, always telling stories of his days as a young boy in the kampung. He was loud and witty, and always a joy to hang out with, ready to dispense some friendly advice if it were needed. We were amazed at how quickly he got back into action after having gone through brain surgery to remove a tumour last year. Within a few months, he was running again. His passing was a big shock. Ngae, you will be missed.

The morning started with a one minute silence to remember this great man. A few were running in sarongs.

My personal best at this race was a 1h30m. Thought I might be able to improve on that but the question was by how much. The dinner at Laif's house the night before certainly wasn't going to contribute to any improvement. But really, on a day like today, it wasn't about the time. It was about honouring a friend.

In the end, I managed to better my PB by almost 5 minutes. It was as if Ngae's spirit had come to join the run and was pushing me on. My finish time was a 1h25m58s. As I crossed the line, I pointed up to the heavens, at Ngae. This PB I dedicate to him.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

PCC Inter-State of Mind

Wow! What an epic 3 days.

So much to tell I don't know where to start.

The annual PCC Interstate this year took us through Perak, Kelantan and Terrengganu. All in all, a little over 480km over three days. Tiring? Yes. Painful? Yes. Fun? Hell yeah!

Before I go on and on and on, I'd just like to thank PCC for organising such a wonderful ride. This is my 4th Interstate and like every year, they've worked tirelessly to bring us a great event yet again. Kudos to James, Ivan, Dennis, O'Neil, Christina, Annie, Sellina, Don, Vong, Ashley and the entire organising committee. It was a great route and the organisation was perfect. Thank you.

To the support crew, especially Willie, Joanne, Patrick (half of day 2 and all of day 3), Wong CC (half of day 3) and PK and family (day 2 and 3), thank you for bringing us home each and every day. We wouldn't have made it without you. I know how tough it must have been for you guys to wait for us. And Patrick, the spray bottle was genius!

And to my little peloton: Amanda, Azhar, Clarence, Patrick and Wong CC, you guys rawk!. Thank you for letting me in on your little group. You guys made the torture fun. Couldn't have completed the distance without you. Thanks for the pulls, the pushes, the camaraderie and the laughter.

Anyway, on to the report:

Day 1 - Kuala Kangsar - Pulau Banding (140km)

Woke up to the sound of pouring rain. Half contemplated sleeping in but heard the cyclists gathering outside the hotel room. Looks like the ride is on, rain or shine.

Got out and there was a mass of riders in the resort carpark. The mood still seemed chirpy and festive, despite the rain. Well, it is day 1 and the riders were rearing to go.

All smiles before the start.

After a quick briefing, we were off, crossing the bridge over Sungai Perak. By now the rain had stopped and left us with some cool, comforting weather to ride in.

I was settling myself in towards the back of the pack, not really knowing which group I'd end up riding with. Then, not 10km in, I saw Amanda pulling off. She had a flat. I stopped to help, as did Azhar, Clarence, Patrick and Wong CC. This would eventually be my little peloton over the next three days.

As we worked on changing Amanda's tube, we saw the whole peloton passing by. Once we sorted out the tube, we were off, in chase mode. We were now the tail-enders and wanted to catch up with the main pack.

So focused were we on the chase that we actually missed a turn! Actually, we were too busy posing for the cameras to hear the marshalls yelling out, "Turn left!"

Back on track, we continued the pursuit...

All smiles still. Three hours later, the smiles would be gone.

As this stretch of the route was flat, it was easy to give chase. In fact, as the picture above shows, we were still smiling. We were making good time, so good that we didn't notice that Vong's pack had stopped and we had passed them. It was only when we stopped, at about 90k, that we realised we did.

As we refilled our bottles and refreshed ourselves with Patrick's spray bottle, we saw Vong's pack coming. We quickly latched on and got a free ride for a while. At Gerik (100km), Vong's pack stopped to refill. Our little peloton decided to go on ahead, since we had just stopped 10km earlier, no point stopping again. Also, Vong's pack was pretty big and that could be a little dangerous, so it was safer to go on our own.

This was when the smiles disappeared. This was when we started climbing. The first 10k was rolling so it wasn't so bad, then then it was 20k of hell. The climb was relentless and by now the sun was out in full force. Our little pack slowly got separated, with the faster climbers like Azhar and Clarence moving on ahead. I was struggling to keep up with Amanda and eventually got dropped.

The climb begins. Smiles all gone now. Amanda still smiling as she drops my sorry ass!

As we went higher, I found my legs working again and soon caught up and passed Amanda. Further up, Clarence had stopped because he ran out of water and was waiting for the support car.

The peak never seemed to come. Each time the road went down, I was filled with a sense of relief, thinking the climb was over. But no, the road would then point skywards again. This went on a few times, and i had just about given up on seeing the final descent.

Then it came. And it was a steep, fast descent. Almost too short because just as I was starting to enjoy it, I saw a marshal saying we have to go up this really steep hill to get to the hotel. One last kick up that hill and day 1 was done. Just in time too, I felt the cramps coming in on those last few pedal strokes.

Day 2 - Pulau Banding - Kota Bahru (180km)

Day 2 started early, before the sun came up. It was the longest day and we had a 30km climb to start the day. It was nice of the organisers to want us to clear the climb before the sun came out.

An early start to avoid climbing in the sun.

We started by crossing the bridge into Banding, then out the other side before the climbing proper started. Hardly enough time to warm the legs up before we went skywards.

The start of the climb on Day 2.

It was good to start the climb so early. The weather was cool, there was a nice mist hanging in the air. The mist helped disguise how steep the climb really was.

Reaching the top.

Clarence, Wong CC and me at the top.

Our little peloton regrouped at a rest stop at the top. After a quick refill, and something to eat, we were off again. This section had some nice downhills but there was still a bit of climbing to do. It was only when we crossed the border into Kelantan the the road dropped. It was an exhilarating descent, all 30+km of it. Some sections were so steep that some riders hit speeds of up to 65-70km/h.

We regrouped again at the bottom and made our way to Jeli. At the Petronas there, we were treated to a little surprise. One of the Bukit Jelutong boys owned the Petronas and his mum runs it. So they had a little kenduri for us there. Since our team captain, Azhar, was one of the Jelutong boys too, we were treated to a scrumptious lunch of nasi berlauk. We let Vong's group go, and enjoyed the little makan.

By now, PK and family had joined us in their car. They had driven from KL that morning and was now here to lend us their support. After lunch we continued on our way. The road here was flat and windy and really tested the mental strength.

Doing my share of the work.

As we were riding along, PK had gone ahead to see where the rest of the peloton was. He came back to report that Don and Vong's group were only 5km ahead. He motorpaced us for a while to try and catch up but we gave up when we saw a air kelapa stall. By now we were still another 30km away from KB and it was really, really hot.

Approaching KB, we got another surprise. Amanda had suddenly got a second wind (it was the power gel, she claimed) and started pulling us all at 36km/h, blowing our little pack to pieces!

Amanda killing us all with her sudden pace.

After a lot of yelling and begging for her to slow down, we got into KB town. We rolled through town and to our final stop for the day, the hotel. End of day 2.

Day 3 - Kota Bahru - Kenyir Lake (160km)

Captain Azhar's mission to us: Get in ahead of Vong today.

The score between our little pack and Vong's was one apiece. We won the first day, they won the second. Now to move in for the kill.

The last ones to leave.

We started late because Azhar had to change a flat but didn't take long to join the rest of the pack. At the 40k mark, we broke away. It felt like a real cycling race: breaking away and the four of us working together to stay away from the pack.

But we had to stop 10km later when we realised Amanda was still stuck in that pack. We waited for the pack to arrive, she joined us and off we went again, well behind Vong. It wasn't long before we saw them stopped at a petrol station, so we picked up the pace and pushed on.

Working hard to accomplish our mission.

So eager were we to accomplish our mission, we made our stops as short as possible. A quick refill and spray from the spray bottle and we were off again. Each refill stop lasted no more than 10-15 minutes. Thank God for support cars. Patrick, Wong CC, Joanne, Willie, PK and family were always there when we needed them.

Pushing really hard now.

At 130k, we heard that Vong was about 20k behind us. Later we found out from Vong that had we been any closer, he would have picked up the pace and given chase. As it was, we were safe so we could have eased up. But we didn't. We were further bouyed when we saw Don sitting at a roadside stall with about 15k to go. Double bonus! Get in ahead of Vong AND Don. So we pushed on even more.

This proved to be a mistake for me. Little did we know there was going to be a huge mother of a hill coming up. Not the hill we usually climb during the Kenyir tri, but one that was steeper. Much much steeper. And to make it even worse, the hill was covered in gravel and rubble.

As we approached the hill, you could hear the cussing from the riders. I zig zagged up the hill to try and reduce the gradient, but at one point I felt I had to stand up to pedal through. Big mistake. I lost traction, the rear wheel spun and I almost bit the dust. After that, there was no way to get back on the bike. Frustrated, I threw the bike down (I was looking for a longkang), threw my helmet down, and just collapsed. Luckily Joanne offered to pushy my bike up the rest of the hill for me, saving me the indignity of pushing up the bike myself!

At the top of that hill, I got back on my bike and continued. I was totally spent by now. Fortunately, we were at the entrance of the resort already. Just a couple of short, steep hills to go and we were done. We passed the resort gates, and sprinted up the hill to the lobby. It felt like the uphill finish of Flech Wallone! I got to the lobby and raised my arms in triumph.

That's it. Ride done. Mission accomplished. Three grueling days in the saddle.

Koyak-ed at the end.

By far the toughest Interstate I've ever done. But also by far the most fun. The company, camaraderie, the little friendly unofficial competitions is what makes the Interstate such a fun event. This year's was no different. Let's do this again next year!

Pictures courtesy of Jamie, Janice, James, Patrick, Mac and Miow Chin. All taken from Facebook.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Race Calendar

Lately, I've been feeling kinda demotivated and put off by this whole multisport malarky. Could be that I'm jaded already, having been doing this without much significant improvement since 2006. It doesn't help that I've not had a single good race this year. Not a one.

So in hopes of turning my season around, I thought I'd sort out my race calendar. Hopefully, this will give me something to aim for and help motivate me to get off my ass and start training. So without further ado, here goes:

May 16: New Balance 15k
Jun 27: KL Marathon
Jul 11: Siemens 10k Run
Jul 24: Malakoff University Duathlon Series Round 1
Jul 25: PD International Triathlon
Jul 30: Malakoff University Duathlon Series Round 2
Aug 7: Malakoff University Duathlon Series Round 3
Nov 14: Powerman Malaysia
Dec 5: Ironman Western Australia

Also, I've found a new running group who put the fun back into training. They've had me set up an account at dailymile and I'm enjoying the banter that goes on after we've all posted our workout for the day.

Dailymile also helps keep me going as I can't stand to see an empty day on the calendar!

So there it is, my race calendar for the rest of the year. Will I be motivated enough to go through with it? Will I finally have a good race this year? Find out...

Monday, March 1, 2010

Dee En Eff

A DNF is always hard to swallow. Especially when it's your A-race, the one you've been gearing up for all year long. Making that decision to quit, to DNF, to retire wasn't an easy one. What made the decision tougher was the fact that for the first time, my parents and my boys were in Langkawi to watch me race. I didn't want to disappoint them, having dragged them all the way here just to watch me fail.

But looking back, I suppose quitting and having them disappointed was a better alternative than having them worry about me while I lay in hospital had I chose to go on. Yes, it may sound dramatic, but it certainly looked like it was heading that way.

Here's the story:

The swim was a killer. Even before the swim, I was feeling a little gassy in the tummy. I put it down to nerves, but little did I know how much of a big part this little problem would play later on in the race.

At the gun, I was swimming briskly. There were swimmers all around me and after the first 50 metres or so, I got into a rhythm. I felt my strokes were long and smooth, and I was gliding well. Being surrounded by other swimmers gave me this false sense of confidence, that my pace was good.

At the 1600m mark, I looked at my watch. 1h04m! WTF! I usually hit the turnaround at 50-55 minutes. Now I'm at 1h04m and I still have 300m to go. Not good.

Hit the turnaround at 1h10m and started wondering if I was going to make cutoff. It looked marginal. My strokes were now shorter but the push was stronger. Breathing was getting laboured. Short and abrupt inhaling and exhaling. Currents kept pushing me away from the bouys, so it was a bit of a struggle just to get back on track. While I felt I was swimming in a straight line, the currents were actually making us swim at a 45 degree angle away from the swim lane.

Finally made it back in 2h01m. The last time I swam this badly was my first IM, back when I didn't know how to swim. I was completely winded by the time I got out that I was barely able to walk to the change tent.

By now I was feeling bloated. But because of the seawater taste in my mouth, I just downed any liquid I could find. Water, Gatorade and even Coke became victims of my thirst. That would prove fatal later on.

Spent more than 10 minutes in the change tent. Most of it trying to get my arm coolers on. Grabbed my bike and saw my dad, yelling words of encouragement. But I couldn't really hear what he was saying, my mind was just a blur. Mounted the bike and went about 100m before I saw my boys. Stopped to get a hug and kiss from them and moved on, being very careful not to push too hard.

Started on my nutrition plan. Took a bite out of my EFS bar and then it happened. All the liquids I ingested in the change tent was starting to rise. AS I chewed on my bar, trying to swallow it, the liquids started coming out the other way. Puke number one, while I still had the bar in my mouth!

I later lost count how many times I threw up but it's safe to say I decorated the road to the Padang Lalang roundabout with my sick. At 20k I decided to stop a while and just get rid of it all. Spent 20 minutes puking my guts out till I was sure there were no more liquids in my tummy. This worked last year when I had the same problem and I was able to continue after that.

This time, however, it wasn't to be. Any time i took a sip from my bottles, whether i twas Gatorade or water, it all just came out again. By now a couple of other problems were starting to creep in: I started getting chills and every time I stopped pedaling, I started to fall asleep. Not good.

I decided to stop at the 40k aid station to shower so I can get the sleepiness out. Another 20 minutes spent. But then the chills kept getting worse. Continued towards Bukit Malut, shivering and sleepy. A nice ice cold Coke would probably help wake me up and get rid of the gassy feeling.

Saw Bandit as I apporached Malut and asked him to buy me a bottle of Coke. Shortly after, saw Mac taking pictures of riders going up the hill and stopped. I needed to take a nap!

I laid down and took a nap while waiting for Bandit to return with the Coke. Right there on the grass in the hot sun! The Coke came and I downed it. I felt the burp coming and I let it out. Unfortunately, it came out with all the Coke too. All over my white tri top.

It was at this point I contemplated a DNF. I had heard over the SMS grapevine that Ishsal had called it quits and that there was no more water on the bike course. Do I really want to continue? The foremost thought in my head was that I didn't want to let my parents and boys down. They came all the way to watch me finish. I wanted them to be proud of me. I couldn't possibly let them down with a DNF.

Bandit suggested I take an easy spin through Malut towards Kuah and see how. I took off my arm coolers (which were giving me the chills) and changed my aero helmet for a normal ventilated one (thanks Mac, for lugging my spare helmet around and switching the helmet stickers) and continued. I felt better slightly and was able to hold a good pace. Started passing some riders (probably unlapping myself). But the puking continued.

Then I reached the dreaded Bukit Hantu. I started climbing it but midway, I felt a big one coming. Stopped and let it out. Continued riding up the hill, but was now feeling quite woozy. I think dehydration and lack of nutrition was setting in. I was wobbly at the top, so I decided to ride on to the next aid station and try to eat. I was scheduled for a bar anyway.

I got to the next station and tried to get off the bike. But cramps started to set in. Bandit was there and passed me some water and ice, made me sit down by the side of the road and gave my leg a massage. I tried to drink the water but I coudn't even swallow, I was dribbling like an idiot. I looked at the time and decided I wasn't going to make the intermediate cutoff and it would have been foolish to try. I told Bandit to call Mac to pick me up. I had no choice but to let my parents and kids down.

I passed out while waiting for Mac to arrive. Apparently, the temperature had hit 46 degrees at that point! Senn came by after I woke up, needing a new watch, hers had run out of batteries. Bandit passed her his and she passed a message through him that she loved me. That was comforting.

Mac arrived shortly after and I got my phone out and called my Dad. With tears in my eyes, I had to tell him I couldn't go on and that I was sorry I dragged them all the way to Langkawi just to let them down. My dad comforted me and told me it was ok. Shafeeq, my eldest, called me soon after to find out what happened. He said he wasn't disappointed and that made me feel better.

Surprisingly, I wasn't too disappointed with this DNF as I was with my first. I guess already having two finishes under my belt meant that I could let this one go. I knew that if I couldn't keep anything down, I was going to end up with a massive bonk and severely dehydrated. It was a risk not worth taking. Better to call it quits and live to fight another day. I think my parents were glad I pulled out. Only Shaqeel was a bit disappointed. I thin he really wanted to cross that line with me. And really, that was the only thing that made me sad: not being able to run across the line with my boys.

I did some research the next day and it turns out that I swallowed too much air during the swim. If you don't exhale completely before inhaling, the excess air that you take goes to your stomach, causing bloatedness and subsequently vomiting. The tough swim made things worse. I have to learn to breathe properly before tackling my next Ironman.

Speaking of which, I don't have to wait a whole year till the next one. I've signed up and paid for Ironman Western Australia in December. I'll be looking to redeem myself then. Hopefully I can coax my parents and kids into going for that one so they can finally see me finish.

As for Langkawi, I'll be back next year. But as a supporter. This was a decision I made even before the start of this year's race so this DNF had nothing to do with it.

Langkawi this year was truly a race of attrition. Of the 538 registered, a whopping 116 did not finish. Nine of those didn't even make the start! It really was a tough day out there. Congratulations to the 422 finishers, especially the first timers. You survived on a day many did not.

Special shout out to Senn who finally had an incident-free race and Emma for finally getting her Kona slot. And a big big thank you to Bandit and Aileen for fussing over me like I was a prissy little princess and to Mac for taking care of me pre and post race. You guys rock!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

4 days to go...

Tomorrow I leave for Langkawi.

The bike has been packed up and sent to Langkawi. Most of my race gear is in the bag. Just a few things more to pack.

The training is done... well, not really but there's not much I can do about it now. Let's just hope that what is done is enough. I do feel stronger than last year, I've spent more time in the pool (even got a coach!), the cycling legs feel strong, the running legs are feeling ok.

But there's still a nagging doubt in the back of my head. Come race day, I'll need to try and shove this doubt out of my mind and send it away somewhere. Just gotta remember to think positively and have happy thoughts (how you're going to have happy thoughts while suffering in 40 degree heat is another matter altogether!)

On the plus side, this year, for the first time, my kids will be coming to cheer me on, so that is definitely motivation for me to finish. Hopefully, the rule about bringing your family down the chute to the finish line is not enforced here so I can cross the line with them.

To all those participating this year, good luck and all the best. Stay safe and enjoy the race. To all friends who's taking the effort to fly up and lend us support, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your support is greatly appreciated.

See you all in Langkawi!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A little gem :)

came across this little gem going through my hard drive. enjoy :)

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Longest Half

That's the best way to describe my Putrajaya Night Marathon.

I only ran the half but it was probably the longest half I've ever run.

I pretty much konked out at kilometre 4 when I stopped at the water station to get a drink. Suddenly felt like I couldn't breathe. My lungs were burning and I just couldn't seem to get any air into them. My head was spinning, and I felt ready to pass out. I was ready to quit.

Then Mac came along. He yelled, "C'mon Arif! Move it! Just walk!"

And so I did. Till about kilometre 7.5 where I saw Senn giving encouragement to other runners. Was she a sight for sore eyes! Sat with her for a good 10 minutes, contemplating giving up. It was quite a sight: she yelling encouragement to the other runners, me next to her half dead, with my head in my hands.

After puking my guts out, I decided to just continue. Slowly. And so I set off to finish the next 13.5 kilometres. It was going to be a long night.

But it was like Senn breathed new life into me. I was actually able to run! I couldn't hold the pace I was doing earlier but at least I was running again. Lungs were still burning but it was more manageable than before.

Soon I was passing people who passed me earlier. I still couldn't run all the way though, still had to walk a bit up those nasty hills.

At the top of the last hill, there was Senn again. Abu was with her this time and they looked like they were having a picnic. I stopped and joined them. After a few gulps of water and some grapes, Abu and I set off to finish the last 6 kilometres. We were keeping a steady pace and talking about aero helmets and aerobars for Langkawi. Of course, I wasn't able to keep up with Abu's pace, so I guess he must have ended up talking to himself!

Finally got down to the Boulevard. But the race wasn't over yet. The organisers, who thought we hadn't suffered enough, gave us a little detour round the back of the Palace of Justice. So close, yet so far away! Never mind, just keep on going.

Finally there it was: the finish line. I crossed it, grabbed my post-race goodies and found a spot to just collapse and lay down. That finish was like coming back from the dead. Literally. I don't know how I did it, from a near-collapse at kilometre 4 to a finish 17 kilometres later. It must have been the angel on a pink bike named Tortue that helped breathe life back into me. Thanks babe.

It's now three times in a row that I haven't been able to put together a decent long run. I've either had to cut short the run, or suffer some kind of ailment. With Ironman looming just a little over two weeks away, this is worrying. Some people tell me I'm fatigued, but how can I be fatigued when I took the whole of last week off (see previous post)? So if I can't put a decent stand-alone 20-30k run together, what hope do I have of putting a full marathon together after a 180 kilometre bike? I suspect this year's target of having to run the entire marathon will be scrapped.

I'm worried...

Thursday, February 4, 2010


This week was a total non-starter.

Monday's planned 30k run was cut short. First to 20k as I started then finally at the 6k mark, I called it quits. Nothing was working: legs, lungs, heart, mind all refused to cooperate.

The only other training I did this week was a two-hour gym session on Wednesday. That's it.

Tonight's turbo class and tomorrow's spin class will have to be called off because my son fell ill. Not that I'd have the strength to go through with it anyway.

I shudder to think what this Saturday's half marathon will be like. Hope I'm rested enough for it.

I guess the 19-hour week (including Saturday's monster 200k ride) last week is taking its toll.

Ironman Langkawi is three weeks away. This does not look good.