Thursday, March 29, 2012

Ironman Melbourne Thoughts

Ironman is a long long race. For me it's a 13-15 hour journey all on my own. Plenty of time to let all sorts of thoughts to get into my head.

So what does one think about during an Ironman? Here is an account of the thoughts that crossed my mind during the my recent 13h45m Ironman Melbourne.

15 minutes before: Ok... Show time. Let's get into the water.

14 minutes before: Brrrr.... so cold. 

10 minutes before: I can't feel my feet... Do I have to do this???

5 minute before: Ok, warm up... swim to the start. Put the head underwater. Great, now I can't feel my face

2 minutes before: Where the hell is the turn buoy? It's so dark I can't see...

(Horn goes off for swim start)

Start: Was that the start? Do we go now?

10m: Ok, here we go, follow those feet.

100m: Ouch! Where did that foot come from?

200m: Ok, got people around me, I'm not that slow.

500m: Am I going the right way? Where is everybody?

800m: Shit! Where am I? Waaay off course....

900m: Where's the turn buoy? Should have seen it by now...

1000m: Kadush! Another kick, must be back on course again.

1.2km: Ok just keep that blue seventy guy in sight, I'll be ok.

1.5km: That looks like the turn buoy just ahead. That was quick. Good swim!

1.6km: Damn it wasn't the turn buoy. It's the midway buoy. This is sooooo slow...

2km: Where did everybody go? 

2.5km: That looks like a buoy. Swim towards it...

2.8km: Damn... it wasn't the buoy. It was a marshall. 

2.9km: Great... Off course again

3.2km: Ok... home stretch, not far now. 

3.6km: Finally, the last turn buoy

3.7km: Ok, hands touching ground. Get up.

3.8km: Yes! Done with the swim. Shit! Can't get this wetsuit off!

T1: Ok. Slowly! Take left arm off, take right arm off. Opps stuck on the Garmin. Take Garmin off. 

T1: Wow! Big crowds. Look it's dad! Hi Dad!

T1: Ahh the showers look inviting... BRRR.... too cold, get out of the showers. 

T1: Ok grab bike bag, put helmet on, put arm warmers on. Why is everyone putting gloves and windbreakers on? 

T1: (leaving change tent) Damn, it's cold!!! Not very smart leaving my windbreaker with dad :(

T1: I'm shivering... how to ride?

Bike 0km: Strangely not that cold on the bike. Ok, let's go...

2km: Food! Eat eat eat!

2.5km: Burp! Ok let's go

5km: Need to pee. Should have gone at T1.

8km: Passing people! This is fun!

15km: Ok pee break.

20km: I love this course. So easy to go fast.

28km: Why am I going so sloooow? Are we going up a hill!

30km: Yay! Two-thirds of the way to the halfway point of the first half of the bike!

40km: Here comes the tunnel

43km: Wooo hooooo! 60kmh!

44km: This climb out is damn steep!

45km: Halfway there! 

62km: 46km/h and I'm not even pushing! Woo hoo!

80km: Why can't I hit 30km/h???

90km: Big crowds here! Off the saddle! Look good!

91km: Need to rest. Let's stop at special needs.

100km: Legs are cramping, pop some salt. 

110km: Pushing so hard but still going 23kmh!!! What's going on??!!

125km: Second wind!!! Woo hooo!!!!!

127km: I'm tired... What am I doing this again???

133km: Tunnel again! Wooo hooooo!!!

134km: I hate the tunnel I hate the tunnel I hate the tunnel....

135km: Less than two hours to cover 45km to break 7 hours, can be done....

145km: Cannot be done. Another 7 hour bike, looks like

150km: I really want to break 7 hours...

160km: Not going to happen, not at this rate...

175km: Only 5k to go, push push push.

178km: Easy, still got marathon to run...

180km: Made it! Sub-7 bay beh!!!! Wooo hoooo!!!!

T2: Rest! Phew!

T2: Oi! Race still on, get off your ass and get going!

Run 0km: Eh? What's Senn doing here? Oh missed bike intermediate cutoff. She must be bummed...

1km: Maybe I should join Senn and DNF, I'm not looking forward to this run. 

3km: Trail run???? I thought this was Ironman, not Xterra...

4km: Wow, they're really taking us on a tour of Frankston.

5km: McDonald's! I'm hungry. Should have stopped with Senn.

6km: Ooooh.. tummy ache, pitstop

10km: Yay! A quarter of the way!

15km: Oooh... Mexican restaurant... A burrito sounds good right about now...

18km: Mental! This road is soooo long and straight!

19km: Hey look! It's Senn and family on the bus! Hi!

22km: Oooh... we're down by the beach! How nice...

24km: We have to go up that bitch of a hill??!!! Seriously???!!!

28km: 2 more k to 30k. Then can walk. NOPE! NO WALKING!

33km: Damnit! Garmin's dead... So much for 20 hours

34km: Ok, one hour for the last 8k and I'll break 14 hours... pick up the pace!

35km: 8k is one loop of the Ironman Langkawi loop. That's quite long, better ease the pace. 

36km: 6k to go. Let's pick up the pace!

37km: Maybe pushed to soon. Let's save it for the last 2k.

40km: Last aid station! Woo hoo. Speed up speed up speed up!

41km: Last k, last k! I can see the finish line! That looks more than 1k to go!

41.5km: What?! turn right here? But the finish line is straight ahead!

42km: The finish chute. Woo hoo! High fives high fives!

42.2km: There's the line. Let's do a leap across the line. Here we go: One... Two... Lea.. OW CRAMP!!!!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Melbourne Chronicles - Race Day

Wow! What a day!

I know I always said that my target was just to finish, but to be honest, I did set some goals, I just didn't want to share them. So now that the race is over, I'll let you in on what my targets were.

Target 1: Sub-14 hour finish, under 13:30 would be a bonus. Failing which,
Target 2: New PB, which means going under 15:20, Failing which,
Target 3: just finish the damn thing.

Waking up on race day, I was a little apprehensive. Weather had been bad the past few days, to the point that they had to cancel a few swim practice sessions due to rough seas. Travelling to Frankston early race morning, it started to rain, which did not bode well for the race. In order to meet any of my secret targets, I'd have to get out of the swim, and if the sea was as rough as the day before, that wasn't going to happen. Luckily, when we got to Frankston, we were told that the sea was calm (I didn't even want to look at the sea, for fear it might add more anxiety).

What the hell are we doing up, dressed in
rubber, so early in the morning??!!!
As usual on Ironman morning, the transition area was abuzz with activity. Athletes pumping up their tyres, lining up to use the portaloos, wriggling into their wetsuits. Our pre-race went without a hitch, dropped our Special Needs stuff, our street gear bag, then it was off to see Senn's family. After a quick chat we made our way to the beach. It was still dark when the pros went off, and it wasn't any better when we started getting in to the water for our start. The water was cold. Very cold. But once you start swimming, it was alright.
Our support crew for the day. Thanks Mom, Dad and Uncle
Loong and Aunty Nancy for waking up at this obscene hour
to watch us do some fool's errand!

As we were making our way to the swim start, we heard the horn go off. Immediately all those around us changed direction and headed to the unseen first turn buoy, about 1km away. The course was poorly marked with only the turn buoy as a sight marker. It didn't help that there were a few swells, making sighting even more difficult.

I think I must have swam at least 4000m because I kept getting lost. I'd follow feet as much as possible but one turn to breathe and the feet were gone. As long as there were swimmers around me, I knew I was on track, but when I lose sight of people's feet and there's no one around, I can't be sure if I'm on course or not. A few times I had to take my goggles off to look around for the buoy. With the goggles on, you just couldn't see a damn thing!

Coming back wasn't so bad, at least you could see the lights of the pier, but it can be disorienting at times. Again, strategy here was just to follow feet as much as possible, and if that fails, stop and look around. There were times I found myself in the middle of nowhere, with the closest swimmer about 100m away! That's how far off course I got!

Finally, I managed to get back to the beach. I'd hoped for a 1:20-something but all the zig-zagging slowed me down a bit. Conditions were the same for everyone so I guess I just had to deal with it like everyone else.
Just happy to be done with the swim. 
Swim: 1h33m (a PB by just over a minute)

Struggled a bit to take the wetsuit off (actually didn't want to take it off because it was too cold!), and made my way to the change tent. It was packed, which was good. It meant I wasn't all that slow after all! Took a bit too much time trying to figure what to do next, so had a very slow T1.

T1: 9m34s

The bike course was great! Long rollers which are not steep but you'll never know if it's flat, going up or going down. The tunnel at the far end was great, an excellent touch to the course. I hit 60kmh going down the tunnel, but of course what goes down must come up, so the climb out of the tunnel was a bit of a struggle. Unfortunately being on a highway, there was very little in terms of the scenery. A couple of sculptures here and there and that's about it.

I had quite a bit of fun out there, maybe a bit too much fun at the beginning. I might have pushed a bit too hard on the first lap, but it was good fun blowing by other cyclists, and that doesn't happen very often for me! Because of that, I struggled quite a fair bit on the second lap, I just couldn't put the power down. Having a brand new tri suit on didn't help either, I had massive chaffing on the nether regions and this didn't allow me to sit on the saddle properly.

The wind also picked up quite a bit on the second lap, making it much tougher than it needed to be. And it was a strong sidewind, so that made it feel like there was a headwind both ways.

For a while it looked like it was going to be another one of my typical 15-hour races. I needed to break 7 hours on the bike if I wanted any shot at Target 1 and by the time I got to the far end turnaround on the second loop, it was touch and go. I had 45km to go and a little under two hours to cover it. At this point I just told myself to HTFU and go for it.
Starting the bike. It was freezing cold
The trip back was slightly easier as it's mostly downhill, but the last 10-15k, it gets harder for reasons I will never know. All the way back I wasn't sure I'd break 7 hours but just kept telling myself to keep going. When I got back to transition, I wasn't sure if I had done it, but later I saw that I did, but only just.
Lap 2, The wind is about to pick up.
A little disappointed with the bike time, thought I could have done much, much better but it wasn't to be. Forget about that and let's move to the run.
Happy the tunnel is over and done with.
Senn exiting the tunnel. 
Bike: 6h49m (PB by about 12 minutes)

The change tent wasn't as full as before but there was still quite a few guys in there. Again, a little kelam-kabut with what to do next so spent more time in there than planned. Gotta work on my transitions. But the extra time did give me a bit of a breather, it let me set down, rest and think about the torture ahead...

T2: 7m:08s

As I ran out of the change tent, I found out that Senn had not made the intermediate cutoff on the bike and was pulled out of the race. I was bummed for her, she had never not gone the distance at an Ironman race. And to travel so far to get a DNF was just not on. But she kept her spirits up and now I knew I had another supporter to carry me through the marathon.

The run was a point-to-point run starting from Frankston and finishing in St Kilda. The course was very interesting, first taking us along the beach to the southern end of Frankston, then along some trails by a small river, before finally taking us out onto the main road. Along the way to St Kilda, the course would again take you off the road and onto a footpath a few times. Sometimes we'd be running by th beach, then we'd be atop the cliff looking down on the sea.

I was a bit worried that a point-to-point course would be mind numbing and lonely, since you won't get to see other athletes coming back the other way. But the way it was set up here, I didn't have to worry about that. Because there were a few twist and turns, you're always looking forward to see what the organizers were going to throw at you next. And you're never quite alone, there's always houses or shops to look at while you're running past. And of course the great Aussie spirit, strangers cheering you on as you run by.
The start of the run gave us an off-road
tour of Frankston.
Out of T2, I knew I was at 8h40 race time, so if I was going to finish and meet Target 1, I'd have to run a 5h20m marathon. My last marathon at SCKLM was 5h25m, and that was on fresh legs. My Ironman marathons have never gone under 6 hours. So Target 1 was looking like a big, big ask.

It was an interesting run course:
we'll be down on the beach one minute,
then up on a cliff the next. 
At km7 Emma came riding up to me on a mountain bike and said I was looking strong. She rode with me all the way to 10k and chit-chatted with me. And she said that if I can keep this up, I might be looking at a daylight finish. From that moment on I knew that I wasn't going to stop running. I'd walk the aid stations, but between them (they were 2km apart), I would run. I would not be tempted to walk, I would just run.

And so it went, 2km run, walk the aid station, 2km run, walk the aid station and so on. At 18k, the bus that was transporting supporters drove by, the doors opened and there ware Senn and her parents cheering me on. At the 20k live site, there they were. At the 34k live site they were there too. This really gave me the push to continue running. Unfortunately, they couldn't catch a bus in time to watch my finish.

Also, I knew there a lot of friends back home that were tracking us. This too, gave me the motivation to try and finish this as quickly as possible. Thanks everyone.

With 8k to go, my Garmin died (so much for 20 hour battery life, huh!). I knew at that point I had just over an hour to make it to the finish to meet Target 1 and started wondering if I could get the bonus as well. At 5k to go, I picked up the pace a little, wondering if and when I was going to hit the wall. At 3k to go, it was clear the wall had been demolished and was not going to get in the way. At 2k, i took my last drink at the last aid station and knew this was it. I had no idea what my timing was, how much time I had left, but I knew, I just had to go for it. At 1k to go, I ignored all the pain in my legs and just went for it. I picked up the pace and ran. Next thing I knew, I was in the finisher chute, I could hear Whit Raymond's voice calling me in and the crowd was cheering. Hands reached out on either side and I slapped them all! Then I got to the little ramp at the finish line and started to leap, only for my quads to start cramping up, giving me a lame, half-jump.
The atmosphere at the finish was electric!

My victory leap became a lame-assed
trot across the line, thanks to a cramp!
Aaaarghh... cramp!!!
Run: 5h06m (PB by almost an hour and a half!)


That was my finish time. A personal best by an hour and half. The run was my third best marathon time ever, even faster than my last two standalone marathons. Had I not gone to the toilet several times, I could have gone sub-5 on this one. And I'm really happy I managed to run all the way, something I've only done once before. I think that was the key to getting that time.
Yeah, baby!
Ironman Melbourne was a superb race but it does have a few niggles. It's the first time ti's being held so we did expect a few hiccups. I think the swim course could have been better marked and the finish area could have been better organized, I wasn't sure what to do next or where to go. Thank God there were plenty of volunteers to help.  I'm sure it was a logistical nightmare getting more than 1600 bikes and gear bags from Frankston to St Kilda, but the organizers handled it well.
The finisher swag. This is what we worked so hard for. 
A nice touch: for AUD10 you can have your name and times
engraved on the back of the medal. 
This race is definitely on my Can-do-again race, and Senn has unfinished business here. It's an expensive race, but given the experience we got, it was well worth it...

Pictures courtesy of and Grace Tabitha Lim Clark

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Melbourne Chronicles - Day 4

Race day eve.

Excitement's building up now. Since the 11am swim practice at Frankston was cancelled, we slept in a bit and took our time. We packed our bikes and transition bags (after checking and re-checking several times to make sure everything was there) and took the long way to Frankston. We did this so we could take a drive down the Eastlink Tollway, where the bike course is.

Overall, it's pretty flat-ish. Except for the tunnel section with it's steep descent and steep climb out, the rest of the course looks flat with slight inclines and declines. Of course, there are false flats but nothing much to worry about. Unless there's strong winds tomorrow. Scenery-wise, the course is pretty boring although there are some interesting-looking sculptures along the way.

When we got to Frankston, the water was really rough. But since Senn needed to try her new wetsuit, and I wanted to see how cold the water was, we jumped in for a swim. We didn't get very far before we decided the swells made it unswimable. We weren't the only ones, there were a few others who jumped in, swam a few strokes, then called it quits. They say the winds won't be as strong tomorrow, so the water should be calmer. Water temperature wasn't too bad, cold as you first get into the water, but it warms up after a while.

Then it was bike check-in time. And for the first time since we started Ironman, there were no dramas. We queued up, got our bike's picture taken, racked the bikes up, deflated the tyres, racked our run bags, collected our timing chip, weighed in, racked our bike bags and that was that. Done. No bike dramas. Phew!
Racked and ready

After that, a quick lunch, then we drove back to St Kilda along the run course. Again, it's pretty flat, especially the first 20k. Then there are a few small hills, nothing too serious. No double hills or Hartamas or Ammah Hills. Just small little "pinches", as the Aussies call them.

The big worry about the run course are the long, flat straights. You can literally see the road for miles ahead of you. That's going to be mental! Well, I guess if it was easy, it won't be Ironman!

Anyway, we've just checked into a hotel about 2k from the finish line. Gonna have a quick dinner then it's off to bed. It's only 7:30pm now, but we've got a long day ahead.

To those doing Kenyir Tri, Kuantan Century, and Sarawak Cyclefest, all the best, stay safe and have fun. See you all at the finish :)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Melbourne Chronicles - Day 3

It's getting closer. The atmosphere is getting hotter, even if the weather is getting colder.

Today, we headed back to the expo because there was some stuff I didn't get to buy yesterday. Walked out with a 2XU Ironman fleece and an Ironman Melbourne t-shirt.

The obligatory Ironman Melbourne t-shirt. They don't give freebie race t-shirts here. 
A really great buy, since I didn't pack any warm clothing...
Senn got new tri shorts and top to wear on Sunday (so much for never trying anything new on raceday, huh?)

Senn's new tri kit
The highlight of the expo? Meeting the 2010 Ironman World Champion Mirinda "Rinny" Carfrae! I was looking at the map of the expo, turned around and there she was! I was star struck, but managed to calm down enough to ask for a picture.

A star-struck moment: Me and Rinny :)
Senn and Rinny
After that, we headed home and did a short run to test Senn's new tri kit. About 1km into the run, in true Melbourne fashion, it rained. So we turned back and got ready for the carbo load dinner.

Due to me misreading the race week schedule and a miscommunication with the GPS, we arrived at the dinner just as they were closing the buffet. We were then rushed to the nearby Palais Theatre for the Welcome Show. You really have to love the laid-back attitude of the Aussies; there were no formalities at all during the presentation and the whole event was a laugh-a-minute.

It started with a comedy intro by one of Australia's local comedians, then a musical number, followed by the event proper. Ironman Greg Welch came on to tell a funny story about one of his first Ironman races, which included being tricked into taking a shower at T2 by his friends who have pulled out of the race!

Then Chris Legh and Whit Raymond came on to introduce the top 10 men and women pros who will be racing. Among the pros,  Eneko Llanos, Luke McKenzie, Craig "Crowie" Alexander, Jessica Jacobs, Mirinda Carfrae and Rachel Joyce were invited on stage to answer some questions. Another star struck moment for me!

The pros up on stage, Luke Mckenzie being grilled
A few weeks ago I entered a Facebook competition to win a free trisuit from BikeSure, a company that insures bikes in Australia. I won! After the show, I met the Marketing Manager of BikeSure to collect my prize. Guess I'll be trying something new on race day too!

I'm now a proud member of the BikeSure Triathlon Racing Team!
The back of the suit. 
Day 3 was quite exciting but the weather was not very good today. We had very strong winds and our plans to do a swim to test Senn's new wetsuit had to be scrapped because the sea was way too choppy. Tomorrow's official swim practice has also been cancelled, I'm guessing due to choppy seas. We'll be heading down to Frankston anyway to try our luck and get a test swim in. They did promise better weather on Sunday.

Hope they're right, otherwise the inaugural Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship might be reduced to a duathlon, and Senn may not get to use her brand spanking new Rocket Science wetsuit :(

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Melbourne Chronicles - Day 2

Today we headed down to St Kilda Sea baths for the first time. On Sunday night, this will be the place people turn into Ironman. Registration was also held here and the atmosphere was excellent.

St Kilda on any other day is a wonderful place to hang out. The streets are lined with cafes and there are quaint apartment buildings facing the beach. There are dedicated bike lanes so cyclists mingle freely with automobiles. If I ever move to Australia, this is where I want to live.

But this isn't any ordinary day, this is Ironman week, so everywhere you look, you see fit athletes on uberbikes and aero helmets zooming past. The expo and registration was held in a marquee by the beach, with an outdoor lounge, complete with easy chairs and beanbags out by the entrance.

Walk in and it's a tri geek heaven! Zipp, Zoot, Profile Design, Rocket Science, Trek and more were all in there. We must have spent at least two hours just gawking at the stuff. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring any cash so I couldn't buy much. I'll be back tomorrow.

Registration was simple: fill out a waiver, sign your name on the Wall of Fame, then go get your stuff. The goodie bag was awesome: the stuff inside was the normal shit, but the bag itself was nice. They gave us each an actual bagpack!

Sign your name on the Wall of Fame

Registration time

The goodie bag. Cool huh!
After spending so much time at the expo, we went off to drive the run course. It's a mind-job, for sure, but from the looks of things, you're never really isolated: there's always something out there to see, whether it's the coast or one of the lovely beach houses along the way. There's also quite a number of shops, so maybe I might bring some money to buy ice cream or something!

Well, that's it for today. We're headed back to St Kilda again tomorrow for the dinner and welcome show. This time, I won't forget to bring my cash :p

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Melbourne Chronicles - Day 1

It was way back in early August when the announcement was made. Told Senn about it and we were both excited. "Yes, let's do it!" was the common reaction. After all, 2011 was an Ironman sabbatical year for us, and this race was the perfect race for a comeback, even more so now that IM Langkawi is gone.

Then on August 28, registration opened. It started at 11am Malaysian time. At 10:55am, my laptop was on, finger on the refresh button, ready to enter my email address to begin registration.

Five minutes later, the race was sold out. Fortunately, both Senn and I got our slots.

Fast forward to March and here we are: 3 days away from the inaugural Ironman Asia-Pacific Championships in Melbourne. 3 days away from racing with the likes of World Champions Craig Alexander and Mirinda Carfrae.

We arrived early this morning. Very early. We landed at Tullamarine Airport just after 2am. The good thing about arriving at this ungodly hour was that we were the only flight arriving, so passport control and customs were very quick. Kinda felt sorry for the customs guy though, he was overwhelmed by the number of bikes going through customs. There were about eight to ten bike on board our flight! The conversation at the Customs line went something like this:

Customs guy: What's in the box, sir?

Guy in front of me: A bike...

Customs guy: Ok, I need you to move ever here and open up the case. And how about you? What's in there?

Me: A bike.

Customs guy: Ok, Over here I'll need you to open it up so I can look at it. (Then to Senn) Is that a bike too? (Now he looks behind Senn and sees a few more bike cases) What is with all these bikes coming through???!!!

The bad thing about arriving this early was that nothing was open save for some fast food outlets. The car rental place only opens at 5 so we had a two and a half hours wait to get our car. We grabbed some food from McDonalds then found a nice comfortable spot at departures to plonk ourselves down and sleep.

At 5am, Senn's uncle met us and took us to the car rental office. Got ourselves a fiery red Ford Falcon XR6. It's got a huge boot so after unpacking the bikes, we managed to fit both into it. The cases folded flat and just fit the back seat. Our luggage went into Uncle's car and finally, we could leave the airport.

After about an hour's drive, we arrive at Glen Waverly. We were so tired, we didn't even bother unpacking the car. Went straight in and slept. Till mid-afternoon.

The afternoon was spent putting the bikes, then off to the nearby mall to get us a couple of local SIM cards. After that we took a short drive out onto the Eastlink tollway to see how steep the tunnel climb really is. The course description said 12% but it didn't really look like it.  But then again in a car, you can't really tell. It looks to me like it can be done in the big ring but we'll find out on Sunday.

We then took a short bike ride out into the park to see if everything was put together ok and that nothing broke during the flight. I must have looked like a major dweeb with an aero helmet and disk wheel, wearing a windbreaker, going all of 15kmh!

Tomorrow, we're off to St Kilda's to check in and check out the finish area and expo. Can't wait to see what the atmosphere there is like. I'll bet it's electric :)

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Orang Asli Trail Run

Here's your chance to get in a great trail run as well as help give back to the Orang Asli community.

This is only the second time this no-competitive run is being held. Last year's event was a big hit amongst the runners who took part, as they enjoyed the natural and the lush surrounding of the forests offered on the trail.

Like last year, the run takes place at Kampung 16, Jalan Bentong Lama (GPS coordinates : 3.325979, 101.754792) and is organized by the Running for Orang Asli support group. The run is held on a 12-15km trail, scouted and marked by the Orang Asli themselves.

You can read more about this run and how it benefits the Orang Asli on Ironman Stupe's blog.

So if you've got nothing to do on April 28, do take part and support this great event for a good cause.  Registration is at The Marathon Shop and should go live by the weekend.