Saturday, December 3, 2016

Ironman Langkawi Malaysia - Race Report

In memory of Kew Chee Wai - SuperKew
Ironman is not just a race, is not something you brag about... is a journey


To some Ironman race is a walk in the park, but for me is a race that define all odds racing against what I was capable of 10 to 12 months ago. Before going into the drama of the race, I'm taking a moment to reflect the past 10 months and would like to say a few words of gratitude to #GCAM running team which I have been running with since 4 years ago, you guys helped shape the runner/athlete I am today.
I look forward to every weekend run with you guys, the jokes we shared together, the many overseas running trip I had with you guys and not to mentioned the nickname Ah Onz given by you guys. For that, I thank each and everyone of you, Jamie, Nick, Yan Leng, Piew, Richi, Foo, Frank, Zijill, Jeanie, Leong, Selin, Poh Lai, Kew, Julia, Zane and many more (you know who you are) for the support, the many  advises given, the vote of confidence in every race I go to, races that we raced together and the family liked friendship built


Back in May 2016, I found this wonderful running family by the name of Mou Man Tai running group #moumantai or #MMT, they welcomed me like they have known me for years. They showered me with their No Problem spirit and "abuse" me on every Tuesday night. Coach Sue and Jessen (thanks for the potato race day fueling receipe)  would spring a jaw dropping surprise every session, then the many fast legs in the group pushing me to the limit and the "fans" and friendship gained. You guys are awesome in every way.

Back to the drama bits. It was 24rd Dec 2015, the idea of racing in such a prestigious event was rooted into my 2016 goal with the passing of a dear friend whom we deeply missed. He (SuperKew) introduced and supported me into the multi-sports world, brought me to duathlon and triathlon races, but to his colorful life, there was only one race left that he dreamed of completing, but God needed him by his side and it was the Ironman race that he left un-check in his bucket list before going. He asked for me to fulfill the dream for him, so I made a promise to him on that faithful day that I will go racing with him in my heart

Kyoto Marathon PB
10 months of training averaging 9 - 11 hours a week (which is not enough really) was not easy. Without a plan to follow, the amount of work and family commitments that I had, things may not necessary work out as expected. I will have to take what comes along and trained on how little time that I can squeeze out from the busy week months after months. Along the way. I signed up for races from half marathon, marathon, century ride, 70.3 and Olympic Distance triathlon races to keep things going. Although most races are set to give me a taste of what lies ahead before the big races and mostly it when well, but the 70.3 decider race in August before committing to the November race received a big blow similar to the legendary Mohd Ali delivering a knock out punch to my confidence level. Not letting a bad race knock me out and I sign-up it anyway hours later and continue participated in some smaller races to build things back.

Half Marathon Sub 2 PB

First bike ride over 100km.. literally on my knees
First Century Ride

Gold Coast Marathon PB
Relay Champ

First Trail Podium.. Champ

Challenge Iskandar Puteri 70.3.. I sucked big time

PD Olympic Distance PB
Sunset Triathlon with my Brownie brother





All or nothing

Tapering

Fast forward to Oct, I was exhausted, body beaten up, muscles were tight, recovery was slow and have lost pounds. However, I am leaner and fitter than ever (if you have to ask, yes the tummy is still there) going into tapering week, charting out a good nutrition plan. Plan and re-plan on the would be strategy for each of the 3 discipline, logistic and tried out everything I could possibly do. Then it was time to fly in to Langkawi island where the center stage would unfold.


Thursday - Time to fly in
I had to rescheduled to an earlier flight not knowing earlier that I need to complete athlete check in (race pack collection) by Thursday 6pm while my original flight would only touch down at 2pm. It was too rush to my liking hence took a switch for the first flight in instead and reached the race venue early in the morning. Picked up my rental car and roamed around a little to look for my hotel (which was beautiful) and took an early lunch before heading to the race expo for athlete check in. The race pack collection was smooth, after all this is not a race that see tens of thousands participants like a marathon, nevertheless kudos to the official and volunteers on site. Expo was not as big or happening as I was expecting, but big enough to burn a small hole into my bank account purchasing a few official merchandise including the athlete name printed tee which one would brag about.



Then it was time for me to travel to the hotel check in in the afternoon. I was very pleased with the accommodation which sees a stories kampung house sit and surrounded by padi fields. I for one, has never had such experience before. With a hectic racing week, I wasted no time and immediately setup the bike within 10 minutes and I was proud with the little I time took setting it up which was proven a flopping job (I'll leave the story for the later part). Not letting go any opportunity of taking vain shots, I immediately took the bike down and took some pics along the padi fields.
Press Conference

Hotel by the padi field


Time to unpack and setup the bike

3:30pm I drove to pick up Fan, Kok Mun and Rakesh to racee the 90km 2 loops bike route. The bike leg to many will be the toughest part of the Langkawi Ironman race with many gradual and steep climb which could break a triathlete and call it a day. True to the badge of one for the toughest Ironman race, the bike route did scare me a little and at times the cars would down shift going up the hills... not a good sign as I'm weak on the bike. We then cut a little short on our recee mission rushing back to the Expo to collect Rakesh's bike from the race mechanic and the welcome dinner. The dinner hosted Triathletes from 60 over countries, some has completed 20 over, 30 over and one completed 45 Ironman races... that was mind boggling, don't they need to work? Highlight of the dinner was the induction of Uncle Chan into the Ironman Hall of Fame who has contributed countless to the multi-sports community over 20+ years. Congratulations Uncle Chan!!!

Welcome Dinner
Friday - one busy day
Waking up early was not foreign to me, did some stretching and a good breakfast before going into the busy day. By 8:30 am, I was at the Danna Langkawi Resort where the swim race start and Transition 1 would be. There were already many triathlete at the location and without wondering much around I head out for the 800m practice swim hoping to acclimatize the swim in the open water. Nope nothing has changed, the slight fear and panic were still haunting me on an open water swim, nevertheless I have come this far and I'm not backing out now. Took me 20mins to complete the practice swim, no drama apart from the slight fear. I quickly went back to the car and took out my bike for a 20km test ride on the bike race route. Although I have racee the route the day before, but this time, it was the legs that received the direct feedback from the many climbs from the short 10km out and back. It further stamped its reputation of a tough race to come and this time I was better prepare mentally, sticking to the strategy for a rough race.


Practice swim 800m done
Blue Bike Bag

10am Transition 1 (T1) tour. It was pretty straight forward... from the swim out, run to collect the Blue Bike Bag and discard swim gear and change into bike gear within the male changing area before run out to bike rack collecting your trusty partner for the 180km bike. Sounds easy? Trust me on a race day, unless you are an experience athlete, with the adrenaline rush things can go wrong. Things like forget to pack your nutrition, where is my drink bottle and the worst where is my bike??? It all happened to me before and I know too well things like this will add on to the pressure on race day and the last thing you want is to let all these little negative incidences gets into your mind. After the tour, is time to check in the bike.. Drama #1, I forgot my bike sticker. Now you see what I mean? I can only bang my head against the wall for such carelessness. Fortunately, it was still early of the day and I have until 3pm to check in my bike, so I went off immediately back to the hotel, took a quick shower and make sure the bike sticker is on the bike this time hmmprhh. Recheck and recheck all the gears in the Blue Bike Bag, damn stressful. Took a quick bite and back to the race expo for a qucik bike check on brakes, chain, cables by the race mechanic before head back out to Transition 1 again to complete the bike and bag check in, collecting race timing chip, released the tyre pressure, talked to the bike a little before farewell to Ah P (my bike's name)... I was praying and praying for not having anything that I forget to pack for T1


Blue Bike Bag Rack

Bike Rack




Red Run Bag
Then it was time to head to Transition 2 (T2), same venue as the race expo where I would complete the bike leg (finger crossed) and transition into running the full marathon. Upon reaching, I took out all the items in the Red Run Bag going through it again making sure everything I need was there.

Happy with the pack list, I walked to the T2 bag hanger, hang up the red bag and visually marked down some pointer on where my bag would be so to not make a blunder on race proper. Now is all set and done, it is what it is, whats' left right now is completing the race incident free. That's nothing much I can do now, but to eat clean and rest well for the rest of the day

Bag Rack
The Run out at T2




My number 1 supporter, my number 1 fan.. my dear wife arrived on time at the airport. I'm so happy to see her after a stressful morning, she was equally happy to see me. We went to Chenang town to have lunch and shop around for some snacks. She was absolutely trilled to see the price tag of the many imported beers lol, we walked by a section of Champagne and feeling determine I told her that we would come back to buy a bottle of Moet to celebrate when I crossed the line tomorrow night. We left the place shortly and went back to the hotel for some rest. Apart from the squeaking sound on the wooden floorboard of the hotel, otherwise she was happy with the place that we would spend a few nights.
Traveling in Style.. so happy to see her
After some rest, we head out again to have an early dinner with Fan and family before call it a night. Re-check the gears and nutrition in the Black Street Bag, Bike Special Need and Run Special Need bag (yes lots of bag for one race) and is time to catch some sleep after a long day. What do you know.. I can't sleep. The nervousness starts kicking in like you would when you met the girl of your dream and butterflies are everywhere... oh boy this is not good and for the remaining of the night I would only catch maybe 3 to 4 hours of disturbed sleep.

Raceday - Drama unfolds
Giddyup.. rise and shine.. NOT. This is it all or nothing!!!
Catching the 1st bus out to the start line at 5am with 3 big bags and a bike pump, not a glamour sight for a triathlete, but that's what it is. Reaching the race site after 30 mins of bus ride, athletes are waiting for the T1 to open at 5:45am. Everyone rushed to their bike once the TI opens, I whipped out my bike pump and start putting back the air pressure into the pair of rubber, then the power drinks bottle snugly into the bottle holder and lastly salts, gels and bars. I would then placed the remaining of the 3 bags into the respective transport for the bags to be transported to the designated pick up point for refueling during the race. T1 closed, receiving a few well wishes from my wife and I found myself walking to the beach waiting for the race start.

3.8km Swim
Seas are calm but the tension was high, by now nervous is an understatement, convincing myself that panic during the swim would be absolutely normal. Elites were flagged off on time and next the age grouper. It starts to drizzle and a look up the sky emotionally, shed a tear remembering why I'm here racing and I asked Kew to race with me.
Thanks Fan for the many tips

We were flagged of in wave of 4 and I don't give a damn really if I'm at the front or at the back, today the aim was to finish and finishing time is irrelevant really. I hate swimming in cold, fortunately the water temperature was just nice and warm. Had a good start to the swim and soon I found myself gliding smoothly with good strong strokes after strokes. For the first time ever, I did not feel any fear or panic, heartbeat was absolutely fantastic and well under control.. yippy. Saying that, swim start has always  been tricky with many swimmers swimming close and kicking each other. I tried my best to stay out of trouble and didn't want my goggles to be kicked off. I soon found a clear line to swim through far away from the crowd doing my own thing. Sighting was easy compared to other races, helped by the flags put along the bouy line that can be easily spotted when you breath on your right.
1st loop swim done
400m later we make a right turn for a long 700m stretch, breathing continue to be easy and sighing was good without going off course. Incident free and a smooth swim brought me to the next turn bouy for the home 800m stretch and soon completing the first loop of 1.9km swim. Athlete would then need to come out off the water, a short 50m run on the sandy beach and start my second swim loop. The run break after the first swim loop was a good thing breaking the 3.8km swim into a more manageable 1.9km which helps mentally thinking that is not such a long swim.

Second loop started slightly easier as I have all warmed up and swimmers are not swimming close to each other fighting for space. Continue to do my own thing and soon I found myself counting my stroke to have a gauge on how far I have swam on the second loop and how for before home. Second loop final straight to home was slightly tricky as the sun has rise with right breathing having the vision directly to the sun blinding me with my clear screen googles and I had to close my eyes for every right breathing I took. Nevertheless I have never found myself happier seeing the swim gantry appearing bigger and bigger on every stroke. 3.8km swim done and I shout out "wohoo" running passed the emcee as I knew I just had a big swim, definitely the best swim among all my races. Running to the shower area, I saw my wife right at the barricade snapping away with the GoPro. Took my time at the shower area and was hoping they provide shampoos too haha.

Running into T1, I remembered where my Bike Blue Bag was and had no problem looking for it. In the changing area, I took a few deep breath before discarding the swim cap and goggles into the bag and change into my bike gears. Few gulp of waters later, I was running out from the changing area with my helmet secured and sunnies on. This time I have no problem finding my bike, run out with the bike and off to a flying mount in style.

180km Bike
Suns are up and things are pretty warm. The plan was to go easy for the first 40km, getting into the rhythm was key and don't push no matter how good I felt. Since I have racee the route and cycle 10km into the race route, I have a mental picture of exactly what to come. The hill climb starts as early as 6km into the bike route, not attacking early and peddling steadily up the rolling hills. Some are steeper than others and that would also mean big downhill after the top of the hill. On the down, a slight paddle powered the bike over 50km/hr. Cycling for the first time not knowing of any uneven bumps or potholes at that speed especially on sweeping downhill corners proves dangerous. I held on to the bar tightly telling myself to stay alert and stay on the bike. Going through the uphill tunnel steadily brought me to the first U-turn point and back to the tunnel but this time a sweeping down hill. I was gaining speed fast before going into the tunnel and gained even more going though the tunnel with a left hand sweep out.


The near crash. Photo by Jack Ah Beh
Drama #2, a rider slowed down to almost a stand still right in the middle of the fast sweeping corner trying to grab something from his own support team I assumed. What an idiot putting himself and other fellow riders in danger, I had to pull the rear brake lever in the middle of the corner and nearly crashed into him, sliding out a little and adrenaline went to the max. I shouted my lungs out at him, he then realized he had put riders in danger and quickly moved to the side and that was a really close which could put both of us out of the race. The rolling continues back the same way and soon I'm back to main road at around 25km mark. There on, the route was smooth and flat-ish and my average speed was brought up closeing to 30km/hr. The scenery was beautiful along this part of the race, although I don't have much time to look around to enjoy it, but it was good enough to take some pain away from the race.

With fellow participants around, all I did was to trust them and go with the speed that everyone is doing around me. After some gels and a bar, soon we reached Kuah Town at 50-55km into the race, the 3 big climbs are just around the corner. Problem with the 1st climb was there is a L-bend rigth corner breaking up your momentum from the straight going into the climb. I don't know about the pros, coming out from the right harder, I'm going less than 18km/hr into the steep left sweeping climb that looks like a wall. Cycling being my weakest among the 3 disciplines, it was absolutely a nightmare, but fortunately I'm racing with a road bike which is a lighter package making the climb a little easier sacrificing aero gain. The second climb however was easier with the downhill momentum, again is a fast sweeping left down hill (come to think of it there's a lot of left sweeping corner in Langkawi) hitting 60km/h and for the brave you could go up to 70km/h travelling at least 2/3 of the second climb and just need to paddle a little more to go over the top. The third climb difficulty level was between the 1st and the 2nd, carrying speed into the climb is the way to quickly finish up the 3 brothers. In short, the first being the hardest as you don't have speed going into the climb and also the longest, the second would be the easiest among the 3 but still require abit of effort for the last 25% of the climb and the third was steep require effort for about 60% of the climb.

Single leg cycle managing cramp
I'm glad the climb was over for the first loop and had a pretty good idea of what to come for the second loop. Drama #3, not long after the climb, at around 65km I realized something was wrong with the way I peddle, the legs wasn't extending properly and feels weird. Take a quick peep on the bike to check on things, OMG to my horror, my seat post was dropping from my lousy 10 mins bike setup earlier!!! To make things worse, I did not bring my tool kit for the race, I was contemplating whether to bring along before the race but since I have never need it before during training, I decided to take the risk, it didn't pay off. Look for tools that's what was all written in my mind at that point of time, but who would stop for me? I kept going as best I could to stay in the race, but I know I will be forced to DNF if I don't fix it. After some distance, because of the not extending the legs while power down the crank, cramp from the inner tight starts to be an apparent problem and at times I would need to un-cleet one legs and peddle only with the other. Is horrible to think of it!! Then from a far a saw a participant by the road side changing his flat front and immediately I stopped and asked if I could borrow his tools to fix my seat post.. thank you rider. My seat height maker was no way to been seen as the paint was scrapped off from the slow drop and I could only do a rough measurement a adjust it up around my waist line. After a few clicking sound from tighten the bolt, I stopped and feared cracking the carbon and quickly say thanks and moved on. Phew.. that wasn't so bad but saying that damage was already taken to my leg muscles
80+ into the race.. not again!!! it dropped again, I look up at the sky and asked... "Apa lagi lu mau?" (what do you want more from me?) lol. The legs damage from awkward cycling position has caused quite abit of damage to my leg muscles and cramp starts creeping up from time to time. Fearing of not able to control the bike with both leg cramp-up, I was forced to stop for the second time. Tough luck. Bike mechanic came around and I quickly asked for tools, " bang, I takde tools la" (brother I don't have tools) What kind of bike mech doesn't have tools???? Arghhh!! but I only have myself to blame for doing a shabby setup job and not bring tools to race :( . I asked if the other Bike Mech carry tools and begged for him to call for one while I continued with my painful ride. Cut the drama short, a second Bike Mech caught up with me with the tools and this time I made doubly sure it is tighten and the seat post is secure properly. Nevertheless, cramp was the byproduct of the incidences and I had to stop another time to manage it and give it a stretch.

100km, special need stop. I felt relieved that I could finally take a proper stop at the special need station to refuel and give the legs a needed recovery break. Took maybe only a third of the food from my lunch box, change the drinking bottle and repacked some of my fueling and quickly move on as I know I have lost too much time from the earlier incidences and stops. Cramp did not subside, but cleverly me asked for 2 ziplock bags fill with ice from the medic at one of the aid station and stuff it in my suite freezing the tights up and move on. With the cramp, I was at one point worried if I could finish the ride and if I do, would I be able to run a marathon? Days are long and the sun was blazing down with no mercy, second loop of the 90km loop would prove to be a hard ride. Same rolling up and down 25km and a flat-ish for another 30 clicks brought me back to the Kuah Town's 3 brothers, this time I came down and push the bike up... yes I walked and pushed with no shame haha. While I'm at it, I even took some photos with friends and ask "where's my beer?". When the going gets tough, you have got to lighten up man.. you don't lose a nickle, cheer up and race on!

By now my target of finishing the bike under 7 hrs slowly diminished and I told myself I would settle for 23km/h average. I wasn't tired, there is no back pain or butt pain just the cramps has eaten into me too much and I could only cycle at a consistent damage limitation pace without any sudden power push and hill dancing. But the spirit were still high and I'm not complaining as it could have been worse if I was forced to DNF with the mechanical problem. 160km into the race... jeng jeng jeng Drama #4. Rain, this time I did not ask "what more do you want" but instead I said "Thank you". Someone up there didn't have a sense of humor and though I was serious about the Thank you and decided to being a rainstorm. Blardy hell, soaking wet with no brakes was a horror to cycle above 30km/h and to top it; strong cross wind brought tree and coconut branches flying down in front of you. I need to constantly second guess what will fly across me and will I have enough bite on the wheel to stop avoiding any disaster, Bike are going sideways from time to time from the blow, but I wasn't dampen by the new challenge, I charged on, taking risks, cycling cross certain part of the road with streams of flowing rain water perfecting the recipe for aqua-planning. Dangerous to say the least, but fortunately the challenge only lasted 20km for me as I finally see myself reaching T2, Crossing "rivers" before dismounting from the bike with bike catcher waiting for you. Yes bike catcher, I feel like a pro and said to the catcher "Damn happy to see you"
Lunch at 100km. Finished the whole eggs and 1/3 of the rice
Run the the Red Run Bag racks, picked up my bag into the changing area and phew I was glad to survived the bike with so many incidences. Not the time I was hoping for, but I'll take it with full pride. Unload all the bike gears, put on my running shoes, race bib and fueling belt, off I go without wasting too much time this time round.. I just want to finish.

42.2 Run
It was still pouring outside and my run would start under the rainstorm. No doubt it helps to cool the body temperature down which is crucial for the run, but on the flip side my shoes are soaking wet and risk blistering. I have planned my race to the point of finishing the bike, and once I'm off the bike I knew with 4 years of running experience under my belt, I am done, I'm home free and I would cross the finishing line. Probably because of the upbeat feeling, I started my run very strong with the first 2km running at a 5:30min/km pace and 5:50min/km for the subsequent 2km. Legs were feeling great, no body ache and I wasn't tired to begin with. But I know this is a trap and I would struggle beyond words if I continue to go at that pace. So I slowed down really slow and saw me finished my 10km with a 7:20+ min/km on an average with a run walk strategy.


1st Loop
The marathon format was a 2 and a half loop of 17.5 km, and would pass by the finishing area twice before the third time dashing cross the finishing chute and you would wonder when is your turn every time you run past the area. First time when I run passed the area, there were a lot of supporters which was a complete opposite from the bike leg and  I was happy to hear a familiar sound calling me out by the barricade, it was my wife. I was ecstatic to see her after the long hours of racing. I stopped briefly and tell her I would finish and she gave me a dose of  support in return. Soon, I'm completing my first loop running through the air-conditioned expo which is freaking cold. I stopped here to pick up my Run Special Need bag and change to a pair dry socks and some refuel. As it was cold, I didn't want to stop to long and quickly moved on after a with sip of water and head out for my second loop.

Sun starts to set and days are slowly turning dark on the second loop. Feet started to get heavier and I slowed down even more and taking longer walk breaks at every aid station. Saying that, I wasn't counting the distance and honestly after the 180km bike I really don't give a damn on the 42.2km and it really didn't feel like it. Probably I was numb beyond sanity haha. I would just chugged along and not concern on the finishing time anymore. I have came this far for my first Ironman race, it really doesn't matter, finishing itself is worth shouting for.

So I moved on as I should, saying hi to people and taking food and gels as I should. Passing the finishing area for the second time didn't see my wife at the same spot, probably she went for her dinner and drinking a few beers laughing at me suffering lol. Then again it wasn't all bad, I had made new friends on the bike and again on the run. Henry(6th time Ironman finisher..hats off with respect) and I would crossed path a few times on the bike and we ran together chit chatting to keep each other going after on a long day.

In the Expo Freezer
Soon I was running crossed the 30km mark and then at 32km point, I bonked out. With 10km between me and the emcee announcing "Choon Yuen from Malaysia, you are an Ironman! you are great, you are so good looking blah blah blah" I bonked out!! I don't feel like eating and would only take small sip of water along the way. Tired but not out, I walked like a zombie like those from the Busan Train. I dragged my feet for 4km without a single step beyond snail pace going back to the expo freezer completing my second run loop. I did not stop this time as it was really really cold and quickly get myself out of the area.

6km remaining. A lot went through my mind for the last 6km and found myself running again. I was very emotional and tears filled my eyes and would rolled down my cheek not because of the pain or the would be achievement, but from remembering why I'm here doing this crazy race. I remembered the race we race together, I remembered how you would charged up the hill, I remembered you would tease "Common you are not even trying", I remembered your come back race, I remembered you smile when you see the gang pay a visit to you, I remembered how proud and happy you were telling your family about the video Zijill made for you, I remembered the last moment when you were on the sick bed, I remembered the Christmas Eve of 2015, and I remembered the last mile you made us sprint with the gang together sending you off  for one last time..

Reaching the finishing area for the third time, more people were cheering, the claps were loud knowing at this hour everyone reaching the site would be running down for the last time and becoming an Ironman. Atmosphere was electrifying with neon lights, loud music and I could hear the emcee announcing finishers' name as they crossed the line. I took a moment to look around for my wife and there she was, jumping and waving to me and the bummer in me forgot to give a hug and kiss to my wife for her unconditioned support and love. I'm not gonna try describing how I feel running the last 100m on the black rain soaked carpet with red M-Dot logo printed on it, crossing the finishing line, as Zijill has warned me "don't try you, please don't even try, you will just spoil it and make it sounds like any other normal race which it isn't"... Kew this is for you!!


Photo Credit Tey Eng Tiong

A big smile to my wife, but forgot to give her a hug

"Kew this is for you"
"Choon Yuen from Malaysia, you are IRONMAN!!"



That's a warp!! Anything is possible as the tag line goes. Race was very well organized, truly a world class event with plenty of aid stations and drinks to go with the hot weather here. The volunteers were awesome, and I took every opportunity to thank them at every aid stations I stopped or rode passed. Race course was challenging, the heat and rain storm makes finishing the race even sweeter.  The million dollar question of would I race an Ironamn race again.. answer is no... but ask me again next year hah


To my dear wife, thanks for the support and patient you have for me. Wouldn't have done this wihtout you. Special thanks to Saucony Malaysia for providing a new pair of Ride 9 with Everun technology to smoothen the 42.2km run
Thank you
Photo Credit to respective photographers.. thanks for the memorable shots


Don't half -ass anything, Whatever you do, always use your full ass

I am IronOnz