Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mind Games - The PD Triathlon Report

The mind lost the PD Tri way before the race even started. It lost the battle when I signed up thinking, "Yeah, let's just do this for fun. Forget the PB, forget the timing even."

So, going into the race with that mindset, it was no wonder the mind gave up early in the race. In all fairness, it wasn't too bad a race. I was outside my PB here by about 12 minutes so, really, it's all good.

I've always maintained that having good mental strength is the key to finishing any race strong. And this race just proved my point for me. Had I gone into this race with a different goal, then possibly the outcome would have been different. Looking back now, a PB was definitely possible with the right mindset.

But anyway, what's done is done. The important thing was my goal of "just do this for fun" was achieved. And that's all that matters.

So how did the race go?

The usual cam-whoring pre-race

As usual, I started off in the second wave. The BeyondTransition Racer's Guide to PD (which I wrote, incidentally) said to start the swim as far right as possible to avoid the crowds by the bouyline. What did I do? I started on the left, right where everyone was. Practicing what I preach much?

Anyway, by the time I realized I was by the bouyline, it was too late. Commence the kicking and punching. Got a solid breast stroke kick in the chin early on. But for once, I wasn't timid. I was aggressive but fair in the swim, not wanting to give up my space and it paid off. Got to the first bouy in no time and once in the marina, I had some space, save for the occasional swimmer zigzagging.

Was quite surprised to see the turnaround bouy so soon. Turned around and had no contact with anyone whatsoever. After the right turn towards the beach it got a little messy. By then I had caught up with the the mass of slower swimmers breaststroking their way to shore. Frustrating, but managed to sprint past them.

When the water was shallow enough, I stood up and looked at the watch. It said 28-something. PB! First time I broke 30 minutes! But I wasn't out of the water yet, there was about 50m or so to go in knee deep water. Too shallow to swim, but deep enough to wreck your calves running through it.

See how far we had to wade in knee-deep water

So I waddled my way to shore and already I could hear my calves protesting. And this is when the legs said, "OK the race is over. I'm wrecked." And the mind agreed. After about a minute, I finally got out of the water and onto the soft sand for that long run to T1.

Finally, out of the water. Already exhausted from all that wading.

This time, the heart and lungs protested. And the mind went along. Game over. But I didn't come all the way to quit at the swim, so on I went. Into T1, sunglasses on, helmet on, race belt on and off I went.

Out on the bike, I pushed hard early on, trying to maintain a 30+km/h pace. I thought when the fast train from the next wave caught up, I'd be ready to hop on. Just under 10k in, they caught me but I was struggling up a hill, and failed to latch on. The legs said, "You're wasting your time. We'll never catch them." The mind said, "Shaddup!" On the other side of the hill, I tried to get some guys to work together to catch the train. We pushed and pushed, but that train was getting smaller and smaller. The legs said, "I told you so!" The mind tried to ignore it but couldn't.

I knew there would be another train coming along and just after the turnaround, Japanese Sam's train caught up. I jumped on and managed to stay on. While enjoying the free speed, the mind teased the legs, "Nyeh nyeh!".

Legs said "Just you wait!"

And sure enough, with about 12k to go, we headed up a hill. And I got spat out the back. "Told you so :p" said the legs. Damn you, legs!!!

Luckily, there was a guy in a Garmin Cervelo jersey with me and without saying a word, we worked together to get home, each taking a turn at the front.

Relieved that the bike leg is almost ending.

I was quite surprised to see the time when I got to T2. The 40k was done in about 1:16. I thought it would have been at least in the 1:20s. It could have been quicker if I had managed to hang on to the packs but I'm pretty happy with the time considering there was not that much drafting.


Now it was off for the run. But the legs said, "Dude, I had to work extra hard on the bike, now you want me to run?" I said, "Uh huh, let's go!" But the legs refused. Ended up walking the first 500m. When I got to the main road, the legs relented and we went running.

Up until the new section of the course, that is. "The new section took us on to the beach, across a little bridge to an island then back on the beach before joining up with the old course again.

This is when the legs just said "Forget it, dude. I ain't running on that sandy shit! Remember how much pain I was in at the swim exit?" And the mind complied. So it was about 3km of trying to coax legs and mind into running but to no avail. We would run a bit and then walk. It was like this all the way till we got back to the main road.

Once we got the the main road, the mind simply said, "Ok, we're on the road now, can we go?" Reluctantly, the legs agreed. Got to the turnaround, over the hill and, according to the Racer's Guide, hit the gas. And promptly ran out of gas. But I knew we had 2km to go, so we ran on fumes for the last 1.5km.

Run form going off. Just wanted to get back to the finish.

Never was I so glad to cross the finish line. Couldn't even muster a sprint at the end. Just an easy jog back to the finish. Crossed the line in 2:52 which was only possible thanks to the short run course. If the course was 10k like it should have been, I wouldn't have been able to break 3 hours.

Finally over. Just a few more meters...

See how important it is to go into a race with the right mindset? Without it, the mind will easily give in to the legs' requests to give up. I knew this was going to happen and I let it happen, so it's all good. And most importantly, I did have fun during this race. And that, ultimately, was the goal.

Pictures courtesy of Paul Lee, Maybel Chung, Hsing Ling, Reza Ali, Leong Kwan Weng, and Janice Chan.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Energizer Night(mare) Run 2011


Just whoa!

What the hell was that? Was that supposed to be a world-class international event brought to us by a world-class international brand? I've been to primary school sports days better organised than that.

What happened last night at the Energizer Night Run was just plain shameful. The way the organisers handled the situation was beyond shameful.

Most people who know me know that I don't normally complain about race organisation, not so publically at least. This is because I believe that race organisers are actually doing us a favour by hosting these events. Having been on the organisers side before, I know this is a thankless job.

Without these organisers, we wouldn't have any race to participate in, so we owe them at least some support. By all means criticise when things go wrong, but make sure it's constructive so they can learn from it and improve. And when they do, they improve a thousand-fold. I've seen this happen before. And that's how the sport has grown so much these past few years.

However, last night's run was so badly handled, I cannot keep it quiet. These goons who organised the Energizer Night Run don't deserve anything but the scathing comments they've been receiving on Facebook. As of now there are is a boycott group, a boycott page and a we want justice page (I'm on all of them!).

It was shocking considering all the pre-race hype. Even the race kit collection was smooth, giving me a false sense of security that this was going to be a well-run event. But as soon as we got to the circuit, my friends and I saw that it wasn't to be.

First off, parking. How bad was that? I've heard that the parking fees were RM10! Highway robbery. And not all were charged apparently. My friend, Keni, who drove us there, was just waved in. He had already wound his window down to pay, but the jagas just waved him in. We were the lucky ones.

We walked to the circuit and everything was fine. Till we saw a bunch of runners being shepherded into a tiny door, which led four floors down into a narrow tunnel under the track. Having been to the circuit before, I know there are a few other tunnels that lead to the paddock, but they only opened the one. Now, if you know you've got 10,000 eager runners coming through at roughly about the same time, why the hell wouldn't you open the other tunnels?

I soon found the answer. After going the crowded, stuffy tunnel (which has been dubbed "Tunnel of Death" by the way), we found that it led to a small room where the headlight collection was. And it was utter chaos there. I couldn't see where the collection table was but apparently there was no one manning it. Keni braved into the crowds and grabbed one each for him, Shifa and me.

We left that room into a large open space wondering why the hell they didn't do the headlamp collection there. It was much more spacious and a hell of a lot cooler. But these smart bastards just had to inconvenience everyone and do it in a small confined room. Bloody brilliant. I also heard that when things got out of control, the volunteers and organisers high-tailed it outta there leaving the participants to fight it out like wild animals.

Unfortunately, as Malaysians, we don't know how to queue so the situation got very chaotic very quickly. They should have had some kind of system in place to ensure order. But instead, they ran. Useless.

Anyway, after that I went off to look for the baggage handling area. Senn was coming later to pick me up so I didn't want to leave my stuff in Keni's car. There were no direction signs telling me where what is, you just have to go scout around and if you find it, you find it. Otherwise you're shit out of luck.

I finally found it after going round and round the so-called carnival area. Another chaotic scene. After standing in line for about half an hour, I finally got to the front to see that there was no one manning that booth either. I saw loads of runners just tagging their own bags and dumping it in the room so I did the same. Suddenly I heard someone shout, "Everybody! Get the hell out of here! GET OUT ALL OF YOU!" Ahhh.. so that's where the volunteer was, busy yelling at people. Well, if you were doing your job efficiently, we wouldn't have to go in there to do your job. I mean, how difficult can it be to take the bag, tag it and pass the baggage claim tag to the runner? Seriously? A lot of full marathoners missed the start because they were still in line at baggage handling!

Anyway, I dumped my bag in plain sight so I could (hopefully) retrieve it easily later and went off to meet Emma and the RoE gang to begin our run.

The first kilometre or so was not too bad. It took us from the track, to the paddock area and out to the main road via the paddock access road. This is when it got a bit scary. Understandably, because it was a main thoroughfare, they couldn't close the whole road. So they had us running down a busy road with cars coming from behind. What they could have done was create a contraflow on the opposite side so the runners could have the whole two lanes to themselves. Running down that road with cars whizzing past your shoulder just inches away was bloody scary.

Emma and I skipped past the first water station and proceeded down the dark road that serviced the circuit's car parks. We were doing an ok pace (slow by Emma's standards, I'm sure) and soon came to the second water station. Chaos again! Volunteers there weren't ready. Cups were still in their packaging as the volunteers were busy trying to retrieve the cups from the packaging and pour the water. In their panic, they just threw the cups, packaging and all, onto the table, leaving the runners to take the cups out themselves. Runners were pouring water for other runners, while the volunteers stood idly by! What the hell are you there for, son?!

Emma was smart, she just grabbed a Gatorade from the ice tub and we were off. Soon, we got to another water station. More of the same. Were these volunteers not briefed before the run?

When we completed the outer loop, we were supposed to grab a wristband then enter the circuit. I moved to the left where I saw three volunteers standing there with the bags of wristbands in their hands. The first two did absolutely nothing. Nothing. Just stood there with their mouths agape. Again, what the hell are you there for, son?!

I grabbed two wristbands from the third guy and passed one to Emma and continued down to the circuit. We were directed to go down the pitlane then make a u-turn onto the start/finish straight. Now the track is so wide, one of the widest in the world in fact, yet we had to funnel into a narrow section to cross the timing mat. Again here, there was chaos. 5.5k runners, having completed their run, were just loitering around the area, getting in the way of the 21k runners. Also, we were given more wristbands here, which turned out to be of no use because no one checked them at the end. We navigated through the chaos and found some open space and ran down to Turn 1.

This is where I saw the ugly side of runners (oh yes, runners, you are not going to be spared from my scathing remarks either!). There were a whole bunch of runners cutting the corner at Turn 1. They shamelessly ran on the grass cutting the whole corner and rejoined the track at Turn 3. Those of you who took the shortcut and think you're being sooooo clever, you're not. You're a total disgrace to the running community. They cut Turn 1, Turn 4, Turn 9. They would have probably cut Turn 14 too if the water station hadn't been positioned on the outside of it. If you feel the need to cut corners, please stay home next time. You're a waste of space.

Speaking of water stations, the map had shown two station on the circuit: One at Turn 6 and the other at Turn 14. Guess what? The one at Turn 6 was just there for show. There was no water, no Gatorade, nothing. Just two volunteers sat there twiddling with their cell phones. Once again, what the hell are you there for, son?!

The water station at Turn 14 was slightly better. But only just. They had water and Gatorade, but like the earlier water stations, the volunteers just weren't ready for the onslaught of thirsty runners. And because the volunteers were ineffective, runners had to resort to getting their own drinks from the ice tub. Runners were grabbing 1.5 litre bottles of mineral water, taking a few sips, and dumping it to the side of the road. What a waste.

As we finished our first loop on the circuit, we again had to go through the chaos at the start line. If you're done with your run, get off the track, people! Don't impede those still running. Apart from that, the second loop went without much incident, save for the useless water stations. The worst part happened after crossing the finish line. Total chaos. There was no one to tell us where to go, there was no water available, nothing. Just a whole bunch of people looking important but without a clue.

We crossed into the pitlane and saw a long queue of people. We found out that it was the queue for the goodie bags. We waited in line for a while and saw that it wasn't moving, so I decided to go get my bag instead. This was the only part that went smoothly. Because I put my bag in plain sight, when I got to the counter, I just pointed at my bag and the volunteer went and got it. There were no queues (mainly because everyone else was on the other side queueing for the goodie bags!) and I got out of there in under three minutes.

After that, we decided to try our luck with the goodie bags again. We had waited in line for only about five minutes when we heard the announcer rudely announce that no goodie bags will be handed out because of the riot earlier. All goodie bags will be couriered, now please disperse!

Can you believe that?! No apology, no sympathy, nothing. Just a terse get-out-of-the-area-now-you-hooligans! So we left. I found out later that the bags were just left on the floor for anyone to take. And when it got crowded, volunteers were throwing the bags at the runners. How utterly disgraceful. To top it off, they gave the wrong bags to the runners. Some of those 11k runners were probably delighted to discover they had gone home with 42k finisher t-shirts and medals!

Now, all those disappointed runners had to leave but the only way out was that horrid Tunnel of Death. By now, the runners were all sticky and sweaty and had to go through that narrow, stuffy tunnel to get out. If someone had fainted, there'd be no medics around (not that I saw any medics the entire night). Even if there were medics in the tunnel, with the throngs of people going through, they wouldn't be able to get to there on time. Good thing there was no stampede, else things could have gotten really ugly.

Luckily for me, Senn had parked her car at the Paddock entrance, so I was spared that trudge through the tunnel. I walked in the open air, cheering on the full marathoners who were now making their way onto the circuit. I feel sorry for what they were about to face. After busting their asses for 42k, they would not be getting a medal, a t-shirt or even a drink. In fact, by then, I heard even the organisers had left.

The company responsible for this shamble is called Expose. How appropriate for on this night, they had exposed themselves as being incompetent, money-grabbing fucks. A friend told me they charged RM3 for a bottle of mineral water after the race! Who brings money to a run? And those things were supposed to be given free!

Beside the organisation, or lack of, the MC, a Josie Huang, I believe here name was, was utterly rude. No professionalism at all. She flat out called the runners hooligans and claimed that the runners were the ones causing a riot. And she did this over the PA system for all the world to hear. Fact is, had she gotten her shit together, none of this would have happened. And instead of being apologetic, she chose to instead shift blame to the runners, the very people that helped fund the event. Professionalism at its best.

I have been to many races in the past 5-6 years. Some have been well organised, some badly organised but I have never been to one this badly done. Even the KL Marathon of 2009 wasn't this badly organised. I worry about how the backlash of this will affect future running events in Malaysia. Already a lot of people are turned off by running events here and this may lead to less participation, local and international, which in turn will lead to the number of events decreasing and the growth of the sport stunted. I hope it doesn't happen, but we are well on the way.

Thanks a lot Expose, you have single-handedly ruined running for Malaysia.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Good-bye Ironman... for now

Ironman Langkawi. On? Off? Who knows.

Whatever it is, I've said good-bye to Ironman racing. If it's off, it'll be a shame. I was looking forward to going and lending support to my friends who were going to race. After four years of getting continuous support from friends while I was participating, I figured it's time to give back.

I've always enjoyed racing in Langkawi. Many have complaints about how it's organised but I have to say, with the exception of 2010, it's been one of the best organised events in this country. 2008 was exceptionally good (I guess they had to step it up there because Faris Al-Sultan was racing and the ESPN TV crews were covering it). Maybe I'm just easier to please than most athletes here.

I have very fond memories of Ironman Malaysia. My first big-time disappointment DNF-ing on '07. The biggest high of finally crossing the line in '08. The camaraderie of athletes and supporters. The makan at Wonderland. Istana Condo. The list goes on.

Having since done an Ironman in Australia, I have to say, nothing beats racing at home. Sure, Busselton was great, well-organised, great support from the community, etc, but it still felt cold (and I'm not just talking about the weather). You don't get the warmth of having your friends around cheering you on.

This post is not meant to eulogise the demise of Ironman Malaysia (we don't even know if it's gone yet). The good-bye is from me to Ironman itself. I've done 5, finished 3, and I've not gotten anywhere. My times have always hovered around the 15:30 mark and it seems to all be in vain. I need to make massive improvements everywhere before I can even begin to think about doing another one.

For the first half of this year I will focus on improving the run while enjoying the bike. Sub-4 marathon is the goal. Impossible? Maybe. But we try. Then if that is achieved, the second half will focus on improving the bike and enjoying the run. Will get a turbo trainer and possibly a powermeter, if I can afford one. Swim, we'll just throw it in there.

If all goes well, I'll reacquaint myself with Ironman in New Zealand in 2012, which will coincide with my 40th birthday. If it doesn't go well, I'll just find another way to celebrate the big four-oh.

So, for now, it's good-bye Ironman. If you do show up in Langkawi in May, I'll see you there, but I'll be there supporting my friends, and not to face you. But I'm sure I'll face you soon enough...