Thursday, 16 October 2014

Ironman Langkawi

Thank you all for your kind words of encouragement to get this blog up and running again! Didn’t know there was much response here and have left it in a lingo for a while. My bad!

Lets get started shall we? J_

Langkawi has always been this mystical place to do a ironman to me. For one, it is ranked as the 2nd hardest Ironman race in the world (based on the average finisher timing). Second, I have trained on the soil before and have a understanding of what awaits on the bike course.

Ewin, Alan and myself touchdown on Wednesday. Alan and myself stayed at De Baron Hotel. It is exactly 20m away from the transition area, which will make my pre-race ritual and pilgrimage all so much more convenient.

It is always nice and comforting to be at a race with many fellow friends and familiar faces. It made my lead-up to the race so much more relax and never a day passed with all the friendly banter and joke cracked at every corner of the island. The folks from SeaMonsta and SBR were a great and fun bunch to hang around with!

I my personal ‘soigneur’ took leave during my race week from his busy schedule so that he can ensure that everything for me is well taken care off.  He built up both our bikes within an hour so that we can go out for test ride first thing in the morning!
By the time we were all settled down and was nearing the evening, we went to collect our rented motorbike to do a motor tour of the bike course.
With Alan’s past experience racing bicycles, we marked out areas and segment where there may be potential elements that might be key to my performance on race day. This is critical on a bike leg of a ironman as that will be where you will spending the most hour on and in order to limit that duration spent, everything must be well calculated and anticipated for.  From the gearings to be used, line to pick and power meter readings, these are all important aspect of racing as too much or too little you give could cost you in the final run leg of an ironman.

Race day.

Transition check-in at 0600hrs.
This must have been the fastest I have ever done my bike set-up. 15 mins in total was all it took for me to get everything race ready. I decided to head back to the hotel for another quick 30mins snooze since it was just a short walk away as transition closed at 6.30 and race starts at 7.15.

This is the first time Ironman is trying out the new format where we no longer start the swim as a mass start. Rather, we start off as a ITT format of 4 per wave into the water and your timing will only start when you pass the timing mat.
Myself along with many fellow female athlete’s think that this is a great idea and shows that the voices of women in the sports I being heard by IM. More often than not in the races I have been to where there is a mass start swim, women are typically the last wave and will need to be fighting and jostling for space with the slower AG men and breast stroke swimmer.
This puts all women on a leveled field and gives one another a better chance of winning the coveted Kona slot allocated to each age group.

The swim all in all, was extremely well organized and was very clearly marked out with ample kayaks. Water was warm and murky but nothing I need to worry about at this point. Race plan was to keep myself within striking distance. Swim time 1.12hrs, position 3rd.

My favorite leg of the Ironman race.
It was a no brainer for me when the #1 bicycle brand in the world, Specialized decided to offer me a contract to work with them once my contract with my previous bicycle sponsor expires. I laid out my big goals for 2014 and immediately, they came up with the SW Shiv TT to race on the whole year. This was the lightest TT bike and fastest TT bike I have ever came across.

The bike profile was undulating and made up mainly of rollers followed by some pretty short but steep ramp between 6-14 %. With only the exception of one 16% ramp but nothing of the rumored 20% climb I was hearing prior to the race.

In less than 5 km of the bike leg, athletes will all need to tackle a 5km stretch of rollers called Langkawi highway. It has 3 big rollers in it. It starts off with a 800m climb at between 4-8% gradient and a super flowing decent that an take your up to speed beyond 70km/h for me. The 2nd roller is much shorter around 600m and with the speed you manage to gain on the decent prior, you are to coast up to the halfway mark of the ramp until the point where the gradient starts to hover around 10-14%. At this point, I keep checking on my power output to make sure I don’t get overly excited and overcooked myself. The race is still young and I needed a constant reminder to myself to keep it steady.
After going through the first two rollers, the 3rd one felt so much easier and should only be around 6-8% max gradient.

After the stretch on Langkawi Highway, it was a right turn towards a small town where the first drink stop awaits.
From the pre race moto-recce, I’ve have marked out a power station on the left side of the road as a land mark to indicated a steep ramp ahead. The ramp started off as a 4-6% gradient for approximately 300m and shoots straight up to 14-16%. At this point of the race as early as it may seems, many of the Age groupers before me is starting to show signs of fatigue from their efforts they might have expelled on the Langkawi highway. This spurred me on and affirmed that my game plan is starting on a right note. Patience is key on a course like langkawi.
By the 30km mark, I manage to caught up with Cintia, a fellow accomplish age grouper whom herself, have tasted success in Ironman and been to Kona. At the mark, I was still around 3mins behind the leading women in my age group.

Alan being my race day support crew was present at the 45km mark to relay splits to me and that I was making up time on the leading girl before heading into the stretch in Datai. I know that was good news as I especially like a rolling terrain on the bike course.
Datai is a notorious stretch where its undulation can spike as high as 10% across the 10km course of it. As I have trained on these roads prior, I started to gain time on my sole remaining competitor, approaching each ramps with more effort knowing that a nice smooth descend awaits after every single climb.
Once out of Datai, the remaining stretch of road back to the 90km u-turn point had nothing eventful besides gauging my efforts in the cross wind while riding pass some short stretch of rice fields.

Come the 110km mark, I suddenly found the leading girl stopped at the side of the road with her helmets off. Alan relayed back to me that she seems like she was unable to cope with the humidity and heat on the course and had to stopped. By the 130km mark, I had a 4mins lead on the 2nd girl and decided to keep a strong and steady pace and take lesser risk for the remaining of the ride. Alan relayed at one of the strategic point he stationed himself and on the course telling me that the leading girl has resumed the race in 2nd position and has gained 30-35sec on me within the 10km stretch in Datai. No doubt I didn’t push hard along Datai, I was pretty sure I was not riding at a pace to have 30 secs gained on.  I decided to go off in the 150km mark to start stretching my lead again and see where my legs will take me on the run. I had to seize whatever opportunity I had now that I am in the lead.

Coming off the bike leg in 5hrs 45mins, 1st position in my age group.

The run course was pan flat with no elevation beyond 8m. Sounds easy right?
What the organizers failed to mentioned was how open and barren the canopy was going to be. And the temperatures were soaring’s around 40 deg Celsius.

I know I could not just sit up and wait for a sprint in a race. I HAD to gain time on everybody in my age group.
Keeping the pace around 5.15/km on my first two lap was relatively manageable at that point with my mind fixed on not getting caught.
When I started my 3rd lap was when Alan relayed to me I had a lead of over 25mins at that point.
I told myself I needed to stay focus. The race is not over until you crossed the line. The was almost nothing more left in the tank for me at that point but my hunger for that coveted Kona slot kept playing in my mind. The children of Smile Asia that left such a deep impression in my on my mission trip to Yangon in May. My sponsors that had believed in my ability to represent them well. The friends and family who are ever so supportive in me when I decided to not have a mainstream day job and focus on being the first full time Female Ironman Athlete in Singapore.
I needed to press on. I cant stop my competitors to try and gain time on me at that point of the race, what I can do is not to do anything stupid on the run course to jeopardize my lead in the race. This is all very new territory for me being in a lead of an ironman race for so long.

By the start of my 4th lap, I had a lead of 30mins and I know I had sealed the deal.
I pick my run lines smoothly and not have any awkward movement that may offset a cramp. Timing my nutrition properly so that I do not run out of mojo on my last lap. I was really struggling at this point and at some point felt my femur starting to haunt me.
At this point I saw Ewin on the opposite side of the run course who was struggling with his back, still not throwing in the towel and calling it a day and continued pressing on in the run. Having trained with him on a weekly basis and I know he was not having the best of days, he still respected the race and push on. That really strike a cord in me during that race that nobody should ever make me quite or stop, unless I allow it to.

A good friend of mine Lappo, shouted on the run course words of encouragements and it spurred me on to keep digging deep even when I had resulted in a my ever so familiar, limp-a-jog.

I crossed the line eventually in 11 hrs 18mins. Same as my personal best, but certainly on a much more demanding course.

I was overwhelmed with emotions as It was always something i wanted to achieve since the start of the year and I was so glad all the sacrifices and efforts was not in vain.

I finally won my age group in 2014 and secured a Kona slot in 2015, making me the 1st local girl from Singapore to ever qualify twice.

 Thank you to everybody cheering me during the race may it be on the island, Singapore or all over the world.
Thank you to my beloved Sponsors: Smile Asia, Key Power, Specialized Bicycle, RockTape, LifeCycles.
Without all your support and beliefs in me, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve and believe what I am today. Last but not least, Thank you Alan. :)


Photo Credits to SBR and Joyce Chang

Sunday, 29 December 2013



Its’ been over a year since I last made my last entry! I cannot believe it!

So many races I have done this year and right now as I speak, I am already in the mist of my final preparations works before I cross swords with my other opponents in Auckland 70.3, come 19th January 2014.
One of the greatest highlight of 2013 I can recall would be to leave my mark as the fastest female age grouper biker at the CEBU Cobra 70.3 ironman. And to pick up my new Argon E118 race bike from my generous sponsors, Entro cycle who has been ever so supportive of me pursuing my passion over the years. (Which girl doesn’t love presents?!?!)

Cebu was a race where I eventually break the Sub 5 hours benchmark which is usually the unspoken time to go under for a guy to be considered fast. To do it with such a big contingent of Singaporeans as a chick just sweetens the whole experience. 4hrs 58mins is the time.

With the success at the race, the race did however, leave a tinge of bitterness for me. Coming into the finishing 5 km stretch, my left femur decided to act up again and I had to change my running tempo and stride to accommodate the twitch it was giving. It was at that point that I was passed by Jamie Jacobs( 2012 Ironman Pete Jacobs wife!) who’s strength lies on the run. I eventually finished 2nd position in my age group. Such a race left me a lot of question on “what if’s”. It wasn’t about me not being in shape for the race but rather, my biomechanics which could not pull it together on race day.
Now I have mentioned in the past that I was really lucky to have my partner Alan in my life, he couldn’t have come to me at a better time. He pulled me to a corner when I was soaking myself up in the post-race ice-bath pool. Spoke to me in a clam and collective manner, telling me to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of the mark than I have made today. And most importantly if the results are correct, I would have been the fastest female age group bike across all age group today even with the human traffic of people cycling abreast holding me back at times along the bike course. And of all that I have done was not to prove my doubters wrong but rather, it was just a glimpse or tip of the iceberg of what more I can give to the sports.
Triathlon indeed, never fails to amaze and humble me.
Coming back to Singapore, I was greeted by a surprise message from Eugene of Entro Cycle telling me that both he and Bernard has a surprise for me. A new Bike.
It was a very joyous moment for me, knowing that all my hard work is acknowledge by my friends, family and sponsors. Recognising the effort I am putting in hope of becoming Singapore first Professional Ironman Triathlete.

Now with all the sunshine and fireworks of racing in 2013. The one race where I learnt the most about myself as a person would have to be Japan Ironman, Hokkaido.

Race conditions were less than ideal with neighbouring country Taiwan, threatening the race with a monsoon storm on the weekend of the race. It was simply wet and cold from morning till night when I tested my equipment and travel around town to satisfy Alan’s gastronomy of Japanese food.

I don’t take long flights very well and along with the drastic change of climate, I soon went under the weather and develop a fever. It was just before the race start did I manage to shake of the feeling of being sick and psych myself back into race mode.

Swim conditions in the morning was surprisingly calm and warm. It was a pretty straight forward swim course with two triangular loops before transitioning to the T1. I spotted Alan when I was about to exit T1 where he would usually give me information’s of the time splits between me and my competitors. There was a surprising lead of 15mins from the Japanese girl in front of me. Bike profile was a hilly ride around Lake Toya. Game plan was to keep a strong pace on the bike given its hilly profile and to see how it pens out. Everything was on schedule until the 120km mark. There was a sudden change in the weather and the storm which went into hiding in the morning just jumped out and overcast the whole race with its insane wind conditions and freezing rain. According to Alan and our good friend, Joyce, who was a photographer for her husband participating in the race, temperature went from 17deg to 10deg due to the chill factor. This made biking on the course very technical and treacherous. For every steep climbs comes an equally steep decent and usually followed by a narrow and tight bend on the road. The colder temperature also mean that traction and grip on the tires also deteriorates compared to riding in a dry and warmer conditions. I decided to be safe and not take risk on the bike from that point so as for me to reach the run leg of the race unscathed.

Run was 4 times along Lake Toya with half the run course totally exposed to the elements of the wind and rain. The once peaceful lake in the morning that I swam had waves gushing onto the pathway as if Medusa herself was trying to make a cameo in the race! My palms was turning whitish at his point from the drop in temperature. I was really lucky to have my saviour went back to the hotel room and grab a running jacket for me to allow me some form of comfort from such horrible weather.

I eventually finished 2nd position in the race with the 1st position Japanese girl having close to an hour lead on me. I was really disheartened when I saw the time gap she had. I had put in so much to get to where I am, only to be distant by and hour by a competitor. It certainly wasn’t a position I was used to.

I found out from my Taiwanese Professional Triathlete friend Jenny, that the Japanese girl raced on the professional circuit and might just have her racing license expired before the race and henceforth racing in my category. Those words did offer me some level of comfort. Know that I know I was beaten by a worthy opponent and she duly deserve the respect from me. I lost out on the only available Kona slot to her. But the knowledge and experience to race with a pro should I move up the ranks in the future, could only give me an advantage and a better head start.

As Alan always tells me, to take a step back and appreciate the finer things in life. I still took home a 2nd position in an Ironman race. A feat which I have reason to believe has yet to be achieve for any Singaporean men thus far.

From now on, it can only get better from here.

Bring on 2014!!!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Phuket 70.3

I completed Desaru with a lot of questions unanswered and needed to move on with it so i plunged myself deep into the preparation works for my last Ironman sanctioned race of the year. I was back into full-on training mode a week right after Desaru and i was very motivated at the tough of it.

Weeks passed and before you even know it, i was right on schedule with my training up to the tapering week. My schedule was packed as I was working longer hours and had two very important weddings to attend within that week. Only having time to pack my stuff in the wee hours of my departure date, i had less than 4 hours of sleep before taking a early morning flight in a compressed cylindrical filled with many people high up in the sky. My nose was watery and my eyes were getting wet. I caught the flu bug not long after getting onto the plane.

After touching down, Alan will be running around and getting all the necessities for me in place. All i can do is to hydrate as much and hope for the best come race day. 
2nd December and Race Day. As my hotel was only 500m away from the start line, i only needed to wake up 2 hours before race start. What luxury an extra hour of sleep can do for you! Race morning are usually hectic but i was surprisingly calm this time round. I only reached the race start along the beach at 0615hrs to warm up and everything was in place. The sea conditions were the only thing that was worrying for me as there were white caps not too far out from shore with the occasional wave hitting the shore well over 2 metres! Looks like it was going to be a rough swim! At 0640hr where the female age groupers were flagged off, i struggled even to get past the first buoy at 100m. It took me close to 5mins to reach the buoy. The tough of wasting vital energy and coming down with a flu played in the back of my head. I came out of the 1.3km swim feeling totally spent before even transiting to the remaining 600m swim in the freshwater lake. I had a swim time of 38mins which fell short of what i know i can do. I am just glad i made it out to continue on with the race.

I took my time at the transition area and cleared my nose,that proved to be just what i needed. I told myself that it might have been a horrible start but the day is still long and it might play into my favour when the weather gets hot later in the afternoon. Feeling better coming out of transition, i looked at the small bike course manual which Alan had stick onto my bike to let me know where are the key crucial area. It reminded me of all the hard work and effort he has put into just supporting me and making sure that everything is perfect on race day, and that was just the wake up call i needed for myself.

16km into the bike was a narrow bridge crossing where every athlete had to come off and push their bikes across, i was disturbed by the fact that it bring down my average speed on the bike. After travelling around 36km/h-42km/h, i managed to bring my average speed up to 34km/h on the 45km mark. The 40km was one of the crucial area marked out on the small bike course manual, a 1.2km climb with an max gradient of 19%. I knew i needed to approach the climb tactfully if i were to get over the climb unlike the guys on the big fancy bike and disc wheels whom i am passing. I just needed to ride into a steady tempo seated(even if my cadence was only 50rpm!) and not standing up to crank as i may not distribute my weight on the bike evenly resulting in a wheel spin. By the halfway mark up on the climb, my heart rate was hitting 92%. Thanks to Alan for finding me a rare 29teeth cassette were my legs able to be kept fresh throughout the climb!

With such a climb comes a long decent and i was able to recuperate and continue with the initial pace that i was setting. Riding a bike in an Ironman is all about pacing and moderation, if something had to be given, something else had to be taken. The 65km mark was crossing where we all had to dismount but what makes it another crucial marked out area was the fact that after having spend close to 2 hours on the bike, the bike course will start taking its toll on athletes and thats where you have people crashing and resulting in mechanical failures. I had to keep myself safe and thats why i muscled my way through the transit point. I was really fortunate to get back on my bike unharmed as i could hear in the background of athletes slipping and crashing, over the bridge crossing right after i started riding off. Such a mayhem!

As i continued my ride towards the infamous 'Tiger Hills', the worst kind of thunderstorm hit us on the bike course. With the rain droplets piercing through my skin, i was well aware of the risk i should not be taking once the 'hills' arrived. As per the marked out key areas on my handlebar from 71km, the roads starting to ramp upwards un-relentlessly. And, so did the rain. Rainwater was flushing down the slopes and causing some athletes up the road to slipped and fall. Even though such fall on climbs may not break an arm, it sure was enough to break a derailleur and ruin your race. I kept my distance from the other riders and rode in my own tempo and passing them along the way. On the 77km mark with a left turn climb at 22%, i heard Alan and Joyce cheering hard for me. The voices of those two amplified the voices of my friends and family supporting me back at home many miles away. The conditions of the weather and the steepness of the climbs were taking a lot of victims as it question oneself in the sanity to do so, but i was not prepared to be one. I pressed on harder for every pedal stroke not wanting to get off and push my bike up. My wheels were slipping. Images of myself training during my thursday morning ride clocking 15laps at Mt Faber after the end of my morning ride flashes through my head. I look at the white paints on the road while climbing not knowing how much more i needed can give, questioning myself how much is enough and is this where i want to stop. I eventually prevail in the battle with my inner demon and crested the climb with my heart rate in the region of 95%. Only 3 alphabets could sum up my emotions at the top, and they are O.M.G.

Descending such a long climb was always going to be a challenging one, even more so with the weather conditions. On the winding road down the 'hills', there were numerous crashes along the decent. With some of them looking really bad and most certainly a very painful trip to the showers after the race. Even with my brakes fully clamped down, i was still travelling down with speed in the region of some 30+km/h. Really thanked my guardian angel for looking over me when i reach the bottom of the climb and was able to ride back into a comfortable pace back into transition.

From the bike to the run, it wouldn't be to ridiculous to say that some will go through an emotional trauma over it. The weather soared from a freezing 20deg to a scorching 42deg when i hit the run! Even a little too much for my liking!!! I was much better equip for my nutrition plan this time round as compared to my Cairns Ironman with 5 packet of gels for the 21km run. Most part of the run course was in open and barren roads along the private housing estate, solely at the mercy of the sun. Much of the athletes resulted to a walk at this point in the race. As it was a fairly straight forward run on the run leg of the 70.3 Laguna Phuket Ironman unlike the previous 2 part of it, i did not have much problems during the run and eventually finished in a reasonable 1hr51mins. Final race time of 5hr 27mins.

Phuket has been a wonderful host to me with its beautiful place and i can only be glad to end my 2012 season doing this race. Beautiful beaches and friendly locals, I enjoyed myself so much for my post race holiday travelling all across the island.

Next year the race will actually be taken over by Challenge family instead of the ironman organisation. I believe the race will be run equally as well, if not even better with each passing year. I will recommend all other athletes to come and do this challenging race as it really puts your body and mind into question and than spent a couple of days after that to bask yourself into the sunlight of Phuket.

I will like to sincerely thank everybody who made it happen, Key Power for you never ending support of Newton shoes and 2XU custom apparels, Entro Cycles for the best triathlon bike and race wheels throughout my race season and most of all, my family and friends for ever being so supportive and understanding towards me. Thank you.

With that, i shall end my last race blog of the year and look forward to what else more i can do in the next. Off season here i come!!!!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Great eastern women's run

I raised a lot of questions to myself in the weeks leading up to the race.
Running has never been the same for me in the past 3 years since coming out from the accident with a broken femur. I recover slower and have an awkward running gait whenever I run.
Not doing a run specific race in the past 3 years and starting it off in the women’s professional category, I must have damaged my brains to do so.
I told myself that if things falls into place and works out, this could be the breakthrough I needed 3 weeks before Phuket 70.3. My last race of the season and I am looking to do very well in it.

As the professional flag off time was 0530hrs, I had initially planned to sleep at 2000hrs the night before so as to ensure I have sufficient rest prior to it.
It was a less than ideal preparation for me the day before the race. I got a call from my partner, Alan telling me that he crashed and is being evacuated back to Singapore from Tour de Bintan.
I picked him up from the jetty that he came back from and spent many hours at the hospital A&E doing scans, injection, test and scans again. It breaks me to see him in so much pain and it was a big relief for me to know that there was no need for him to undergo the knife for his fractured ribs, Just 2-3 months of complete rest should do the job.
It was close to midnight before he discharged himself from the hospital after signing the papers. Knowing that things are better in place, I can’t help but to worry that I am left with 3 hours of sleep by the time I get home.

Race day morning, I drove to the Ritz Carlton for the Elite runner’s briefing at 0415hrs and were all guided to the VIP warm-up tent at 0430hrs on the floating platform.
It was the first time I experience the culture of a professional athlete, as there were never-ending camera flash from the photographers. Every action of yours is constantly under a camera lens. Everything was in such a blur to me. Couldn’t have asked for a better start that this. Can it?
0515hrs and I was at the start line. I was amazed by the mount of runners already waiting for the race to start since before 0500hrs! One of the perks of racing as an elite runner is that you do not need to hustle for a starting position and you are flag off 2 mins before the next category.

0530hrs sharp, the horn went off to signal the start of the Elite runners. By the 1km mark, I was close to 200m behind the group of girls. This is going to be such a long day if I blew up now and I need to keep my composure to have any chance of finishing it in a respectable timing. No matter what the outcome is, I will finish the race. I have always respected the race and the other athletes in a race I join and it shall not be the first for me.
In the first 11km, I was running between 85%-90% of my max hear rate.

It was an eye opener for me to be overtaken by the Kenyan runners in the International category going up Nicoll Highway, which was flag off 2mins after me. I perpetually felt stationary when they made the pass!
Going down the ramp along Nicoll Highway, I found an Elite Runner from China in my category amidst the chaos of passing Kenyan runners. I passed her and increase my speed to gain a gap on to her.
Inside me, I gave myself a hypothetical high five! Knowing that if I keep this up, I am no longer the last runner in my category. With the increase in pace, I caught up with another athlete from China at the 7km mark.
I grew in confidence and kept on going with the pace without blowing it past 90%. I passed the 10km marker at 46.30mins. It was a first time for me as I had never experienced and know how it feels.

I have only manage a best of 1hr45mins for a 21km run in the past 3 years so next 5km, I was consolidating all my calculations. How many seconds per km I can give and where can I gain. If I ran under 5mins per kilometer, I should manage a 1hr41mins with my timing at that point of time.
By the 15km marker, I was on 1hr10min and heart rate at 92%. I decided not to let the figures play too much in my head, as I was still feeling good. Might as well go all the way and push for the remaining 6km. I just needed to hold on to the sub 5mins pace I was running to go under 1hr 40mins. Everything from now on is for me to lose. I can’t hold back anymore.

In the final 1km marker, I had 2 fellows Singaporean runner in another category running with me. It ended in a sprint for the line for them in the final 500m while I check my clock to embrace what has just happen. I am coming home with my 21km run below the 1hr 40mins mark.
I was over the moon when I eventually finished in 1:39:16hrs and 10th in my category.

Sports never fail to humble me at every race. I learn something and seen something new, each time I race. Racing on behalf of the beautiful kids of Operation Smile definitely spurred and affirm myself more that this is meant for me. I am really glad to be able to do this everyday.
I now have a greater sense of believe in my running ability and I am very much looking forward to battling it out on much familiar grounds at the Phuket 70.3.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Cairns Ironman

It has been almost two weeks now since I cross the finish line of the first Cairns Ironman along esplanade drive.
All those months of preparations and sacrifices I had to make since January just to make sure I have no excuses for myself not to perform. And I am glad I made the right choice. If having to put up with all of this to break a new PB of 20mins for my bike and overall 4mins for an Ironman, so be it. I will keep doing what ever I am doing and not let it break me.

Cairns is a beautiful place with its nice coastal area, people and awesome coffees.

I didn’t know how much to expect for Cairns as I was also realistic about my Kona chances this year, having moved up to a new age group and being the youngest in it. The one thing I was very sure of was that I needed to break a new PB for myself as what happen to me in Kona, given the short span of time to rest and train after I qualify in Korea, didn’t put me in the best position to enjoy and embrace my very first Ironman World Championships. I had unfinished business.

I had 3 days prior to the race to do all my equipment check and test my gears but the skies decided to come down on us every single time I put on any form of lycra. It was indeed frustrating as I spend most of the days waiting out the rain and storm.
Eventually, I only managed to do a short run on Thursday and a short ride on Friday before the bike check-in on Saturday. Without any swim, I had no idea what to expect but just hearsay from other fellow competitor that the water were calm.

The short run on Thursday helped calm me down a little as I know that my legs were good and I should have no problem with my shoe.
I could not say so for the short ride on Friday. Equipment wise I choose to use my F6R over my F9R generously sponsored by ENTRO Cycles taking into consideration the slight undulation and wind conditions that I will be riding along the coastal road of Port Douglas.
Traffic was live as due to the rain, I had missed the road closure window in the morning for athletes to ride so huge trucks and speeding cars were very much real. Just barely a few kilometers onto the Captain Cook Highway, I had to make a turn back to the hotel with Alan as I could not take the close proximity the trucks were driving alongside and the air turbulence they were stirring. It was really intimidating as the trucks in Cairns were all way bigger than the one in Singapore!!!
Not being able to do a complete ride left me clueless about how my legs will be on Sunday.
I guess I just have to relax and that everything will turn out just fine on race day.
Without wanting to stress myself out too much with the pre-race tension, decided to sleep in later on Saturday just in time to have breakfast and check in my bike at T2.

It was like the calm before the storm I guess as I spend much of the day relaxing at all the neighboring café’s, trying out all the different types of coffee with my partner in crime, Alan, before we started looking a right place for dinner. I went straight back to hotel for an early night right after that.

With one big stretch and one big yawn, I jumped out of bed. I never felt this fresh, I never felt this good before an ironman. I had a perfect and undisturbed sleep and I can already feel it was going to be a good day.
Alan and I packed up out street gear and headed down to the race start at 0530hrs. He’s racing his very first triathlon and already a 70.3! I have seen him on a good day and he can be really fast!! Huge potential from him
It’s nice going to a race with someone who is not stranger to you, their presence seems to help.

Swim start was as hectic as ever just like in every race. Ironman Cairns was unique in its way as it was a water start. Strong swimmers prefer starts like that as it gives them the confidence and edge over the average swimmers. The only downside of a water start is that you will first need to get on the pontoon via a narrow bridge, which acts like a choke point and cause some major human traffic delays and late starts for the competitor.

Off the sound of the horn and I frantically throw my arms as fast as possible to try and get into a good position and group for the swim. The murky water condition did not make it a fantastic swim for me. Visibility was low and I could not see past my elbow. Yes, it was that bad. I eventually make it out of the swim at 1.17hrs. Not the time I was expecting but the race was still long. I know I can and need to make up time on the bike.
It was a long run to the transition area, as we had to cover the full stretch of the jetty approximately 300m. The pebbles on the road made it really painful to run and I was really concern I may injure my foot again just like the stupid lump which plagued me just before Aviva. Thankfully, everything went well and I managed to slip on my bike shoe to run from the changing tent to the bike depot.

Had a smooth sequence picking up my bike and gears and I wasn’t as frantic by this point. I knew the bike would be strongest leg. All I needed to do was to do what I do best, love riding my Argon bike! As the saying goes, plan your race and race your plan!
One by one as I overtook the faster swimmers, I was feeling even more confident in my ability. One look down on my right wrist was all I needed as I continue to power down with every stroke of the pedal. On the first u-turn point at Port Douglas, I spotted Adrian and tried to Gauge his distance from mine. It was not as much as I expected, it was either Adrian was easing off the pace or I was going much better on the bike this time round compared to Korea.
By the final u turn point, I knew I could and should not hold back, I needed to give myself a good ride rather than finish the race not giving anything at all. By this time I was climbing the Infamous the 4th time back, it was a brutal 900m climb with a max gradient of 11%. I ate a bar and fill myself up with all the nutrition I will need for the run later on. I was so dialed into my position and wouldn’t swap my beloved Argon E116 for any other bike; I actually ate a bar while climbing and overtook the other competitor on the climb with me at that point of time. This is indeed turning out to be a good ride compared to the murky swim start!

30km soon turned into 10km and before I knew it, I was jumping off my bike and into T2 to change into my favorite pair of Newton Running shoes proudly sponsored by Key Power International. Thank you Robert, Joey and Raymond for making it happen for me!!!

Just like any ironman race where if you give too much on one leg, the following leg will have to pay for it. The initial 23km of my 42km run went pretty well for me as I always enjoyed running from one point to another, I clocked in a time of 2hrs 10mins. My form was good and I had a steady rhythm running through the scorching cane fields. Having been accustomed to running in such heat, I saw many other competitor resort to walking, boosting my confidence even more.
With 19km more to go, it was than at this point where the fatigue begins to take its toll on me. I reach out into my pocket to grab my secret stash of electrolyte gums only to find my 300calories worth of nutrition transformed into a lump of sour-smelling goo. It had melted in my pocket under the heat of the day. I was more concern about having an upset tummy after consuming it for the remaining of the run and decided to throw it away.

With no more nutrition left, I resorted to the remaining cokes left at the aids station for whatever calories I may be able to consume. On my way to the final three loops I needed to do along esplanade drive, my trusted supporter Alan appeared and shouted and cheered me on. It gave me the assurance that the day was all coming to an end soon as long as I pressed on hard. My legs were giving way as my left thigh was retarded in keeping up with my right. Still, it was never an option for me to quit or start walking. One stride at a time, I travel and move with my arm swing in sync with the motion.

 I crossed the line at 11:21:00. It was not good enough for a Kona slot this time round but I broke my previous record of 11:25:07. An extra sweet consolation this time round for me would also be my bike timing of 5hrs 35mins. I may not necessary have the best run this time round but and I won’t make up excuses why it didn’t work out for me. Rather, I am already looking into besting myself even more for the next race and how I am going to do it. I went through crap and back again for this and I am proud of my achievement as a woman.

I would recommend anybody who is looking to take on a beautiful bike course Ironman to race Ironman Cairns. The course overall was great, people were all very helpful and friendly and most of all, the food here are awesome!!!

For everybody who made it happen, thank you all. I couldn’t have had a better race than this.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Aviva 70.3

I return from the Aviva 70.3 with so much more returns. Much more than I can possibly imagine.
I have mixed emotions as to how my race went. As this year I am no longer racing for myself but rather, I am racing for a foundation that I very much support. They are a non-profit charity organisation who raises funds for children with clef lips called Operation Smile. I have the responsibility of racing for a good cause and to me, which is a very important factor why I should be racing. I did not manage to accomplish my goal of setting a new women’s course record in breaking the 5hours mark. I prepared and did everything I physically could for it but that’s the beauty of triathlon. You can never be totally prepared and sure of what is going to happen. I am still a student of the sports. And I am humbled by this very experience.

On a lighter note, I did however break my previous course record, aviva 70.3, of 5.08hrs and came in 5.07hrs. Ran a personal best for a 70.3 at 1.50hrs. So I guess the record is still mine and remains unchanged as the fastest local female for now. The weeks pertaining to Aviva were extremely stressful. I am not a professional athlete so I need a day job to pay the bills. I do not seek this as an excuse as we all are the choices we make in life.

I guessed the most disturbing part was that I develop a lump just next to my previous accident operation scar, under my right foot 4 weeks before Aviva and it affected both my rides and runs a lot. The lump had a growth inside and hurts very badly whenever I churns the pedals harder, affected my running form as I am unable to take much impact and pounding on my foot, and I grew increasingly frustrated at it.

Multiple visits to different doctors, x-rays with no results and doctors who misdiagnosed the lump and asked me to go under the knife. So many different opinion and conclusion but the one thing that was affirmative across the doctors was that racing was definitely not possible for me.

Miracles do happen to people who believe in it. And it happened to me.

Just a week to go before Aviva, the lump had some secretions coming out from it. I got Alan to make a puncture with a sterilized needle as we attempt to squeeze out all the pluse. Countless painfuls tries later, we more or less got everything out. The sigh of relieve I had was indescribable as I felt immediate relieve and assurance that everything was going to be okay and racing was once again the top of my agenda. Four weeks having to deal with the lump, I must admit it was draining to keep up with a positive mind at time and hiding it from everyone else so as not to show any sign of weakness. I did everything within my abilities to salvage what I could do in the final week.

Race day came and all my close friends came by to support me. I managed to find a quiet spot for some tranquility to do my pre race rituals and final preparations. Everything looks set in place.

The sound of the horn went and I soon plunge myself into the human washing machine just like any other triathlon races. I got hit on my arm from a few other swimmers but to be fair, I too gave a couple of blows back to fight for my rightful position. Thoughts were running through my mind as to how I should execute my race plans, it was probably for this slight moment of thinking did I dropped a few positions back. I let a few swimmers pass by me taking into consideration that the race is still long ahead and that I could easily make up the few positions on the bike. That decision proved costly.

I went into transition 1 hoping to be able to make up time on my bike. As I ran across the wooden walkway, I slipped and flung myself backwards. Landing my right ankle in an awkward angle, I stood up and realised immediately that something was not in place. My shin felt sore all the way down to my ankle as I pick up my bike in a hop-jog manner out of transitions and back onto the race course.

A million thoughts went through my mind and my legs definitely did not felt good. I could barely push down hard on the pedals and it really did play with my mind, ever more than I could imagine. I was definitely in a position that I was not used to. I held back for the first 30km and by the time I realised it and going into my 2nd lap, I was already too far back on my target. I could not let this happen, I needed to press on to make up whatever time I could, as much as possible. It’s not just me I am racing for, it for all the children of Operation Smile. The bike course was a fairly technical one with a couple of sharp and slippery turns and a ramp midway into the course. I could work in a group with the boys but I would lose time everytime we hit the turns. Eventually when I came back into transition 2, I did a below par timing in my opinion and once again, it played in my mind. 
All my supporters were shouting and cheering me to press on along the run course. It was because of them, it spurred me to press on even harder for the run. I needed to put up a good fight and show for them even if the odd of breaking the sub 5 was stacked against me. First and second lap went pretty well as the course was still fairly clear and I ran in a good tempo. The final lap was a lot messier as the majority of the age grouper started their run with the less experienced one running all over the place and deviating from their line. At the last water point, I had to really shout and shove just to fight for my drink as the water station was crowded with the weather taking its toll on all the competitors out on the course. I could barely remember who I passed and what I did; only crossing the finish line matter now.

I raised my hands to salute all my friends and supporter and had Alan already waiting for me at the finishing line with my recovery drink. I could barely stand when I crossed the line, this had really been a emotional race for me with so many moments and happening.

I must say I was disappointed in not making a podium place but I was still consolidated with the title of first Singapore Women’s finisher and still being able to break the last year course record by a minute. With all due respect to the top 3 ladies, it would have been even sweeter if one Singaporean Woman could have been represented on the podium for my age group and also as a representative of Operation Smile. Triathlon will always be a part of me and I dedicate my love towards it. This race has been truly humbling for me having dominated the previous age group for 3 years. I now seek a even bigger challenge to put myself up there in the bigger and much more experience league in the 25-29 age group as a true competitor and I am already looking forward to the next edition of the Aviva 70.3 Singapore. I am fuelled to want to perfect myself to strive better.

Congratulation to all aviva 70.3 2012 finisher and of cost to a good friend whom i got to know for my KONA ironman 2011 experience,
李筱瑜, being the fastest female age group of the day.

I would like to take this opportunity to say a special thanks the following people and sponsors for beliving in me unconditionally. They are:
Entro cycle for all my biking necessities.
Key power for my 2XU race suit and newton racer.

Last but not least Alan. Thank you. ☺

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Journey to my world championship part 3

Race day is here

8th of October is my calling. The most anticipated day in the whole year for me.

Woke up at 0400hrs and munched on my cereal. Taste was bland and the restless night of tossing and turning didn’t help to the start of my day.

I was really lucky to have found a parking lot close to the race site despite all the hectic of a World Championship.
Got all my equipment’s out of my red truck and set off to the transition area.
Tires checked, chain checked, bike checked, swim and running gears checked. Last but not least, body marking checked. I am looking good so far.

Checked in my baggage at 0615hrs and it was a long wait up to 0635hrs before I was permitted to head into the water along Kailua Pier for my warm-up.
The swim start of the Ironman World Championships is like a bike washing machine. Nervous, intense and physical made me feel as if the clock has come to a standstill and that the moment would never pass.
Than it came, the traditional ‘boom’ from the cannon sounds off the start of the swim start.

It was chaotic during the initial swim, I felt it was only sensible for me to find a decent pack and follow them throughout the swim rather than risking myself out at the front and tiring myself out in such conditions.
It was really physical; up to a point where I did not dare to look up for sightings and just follow the pack to the PowerBar buoy, which signals the u turning point.
The u-turn was just as hectic as GSS when there is a 70%off sign. Pushing and pulling were all part and parcel. Nobody wanted to waste energy taking a larger turn around the buoy, thus creating a rubber band effect.
I’m lucky enough to spot another swimmer in a full skin-fit suit among all the chaos and tagged on to him for the remaining of the swim. We distanced ourselves from the initial pack and haul ourselves back to shore. I came out of the water with a timing of 1.13hrs.

Being the youngest age group, our transition area was furthest away from the bike out area. That would also mean that we would have to run the furthest within the transition area.

T1 went smoothly and it was time for the bike leg.
The first 10km was really harsh on my body. I was trying to ride into a rhythm with my legs and my lungs having to adapt to the sudden change of breathing.
It was all thanks to the wonderful volunteers and fans along the Alii drive that created such a great race atmosphere and ambience to get me through the 10km.

There was a slight incline before the Queen K highway but that didn’t deter me. I was soon riding into a good rhythm and was flying. Nutrition and hydration was good. The road conditions were relatively flat apart from the occasional gust of wind. The 50km of riding felt really good. This was one of those special moments where I couldn’t believe I was riding alongside of the famous lava field.
My special moments were however, short-lived.
The kilometer after the 50km mark could not be described better than the word unrelenting.
Wind conditions were erratic and coming at me fast and hard. Wind coming from all direction but never from my personal favorite, the tailwind. It was just crazy to be riding in such a condition.
The single file pace line that we had form cycling was now oscillated across the very wide and vast road here in Kona, Hawaii.
Having come across a near fatal accident in my life, I was more concern about crashing down on the road than finishing the race at the point of time. All I could recall was gripping as hard as I could on my aerobars and prayed for the best.

As if Mother Nature was playing a trick on me, she decided to bring the wind conditions a couple notch higher for the next 16km, on a slight incline and just before the U-turn point.
Going at 19km/h, there weren’t any riders passing me. It somehow actually seems normal to be riding like this.
I told myself that such difficult wind conditions would not last and was sure that after the u-turning point there would be tailwind for me. Sounds very logical if you are someone who has spent countless hours out on the road riding and understand how wind conditions will help you save energy.
I was wrong.
There was no slightest change in the wind conditions at all. Not even on the downhill stretch. It was relentless.

It was only around the 120km mark when I returned back onto the Queen K highway did the wind subsided barely.
Up to this point, there were damages done to my body to a certain extent.
As I was not able at any point of time during those insane windy moments lift my hands off my aerobars, my hydration and nutrition plan was ruin. My initial goal of clocking a sub 6hrs ride was now seems not achievable.
It was damage control from now on. I need to make some changes to my game plan.
I pressed on hard for the next 50km before easing off on the last 10km stretch of the bike leg to save some juice for my run.

I completed the bike leg in 6hrs 3mins. 3mins off my initial target.
The wind conditions really took a lot out of my body. I was aching all over. I was really caught off guard by such conditions, as I never once knew.

I calmed myself down at T2. Took my time to get my gears in place and told myself to get over what I just went through and focus on what is ahead and coming for me.
I needed to prioritize finishing the race with a respectable timing over my personal ambition of setting a PB this time round. The race is very spiritual to the locals here and I too had the same believes as them. The race must be respected.

The initial 8km on the run was just as difficult for me during the first 10km on the bike. Having a nutrition plan that didn’t really worked out as a plan, didn’t help the situation.
All I could do was to take in as much hydration and nutrition that I brought along without over-doing it. And hope for the best.

Feeling better, I set myself a steady pace to make up for lost time.
After 10km of nice steady tempo, and approximately 2 stations before the turn into the infamous Energy Lab, my left leg began to crack under pressure.
I was in pain at the area of my broken femur and I had to stop and stretch just for it to ease off to a point where my legs could be walk-able.
What started off as a brisk walk within 1mins had slowly evolved into a jog and by the 20km mark I was back into a running rhythm.

A left turn, on the road and I was ready to tackle the infamous stretch along the Energy Lab. It was really hot and gruesome to be running in such conditions.
It was a low point for me in my run and if it was not for the motivational points and markers, my morale would sure to have been low.

Nothing felt more comforting and assuring than seeing your special needs tent, after having gone through what I had covered over the last 9hours or so.
I was so looking forward since the start of my run to my bag of gummy bears.
I could not take in any more gels at this stage of my race, as I have grown so sick of the taste. I was solely depending on coke as my primary source of fuel.

If some were to say I am stubborn with my approach to racing, so were my left leg injuries.
My legs felt worst after the energy lab.
I followed the formula, which worked very well previously that is to stretch, walk, and jog and than finally breaking into a run.

I managed to get into a tempo race pace and found myself running along with a group of 4 other runners.

We weren’t talking to each other about how our race has been so far.
It was the synergy and energy that we all felt bonded and obliged to make it to the finish line. We all worked well together pacing and having each other company up to the 40km mark.
I was feeling much better and decided to pull myself away from the group on the last 2km. I somehow felt a certain familiar pain creeping up into my body soon enough.
The final 1km was like liberation for all the pain that I have gone through and put up with. Those pains that I have grown so accustomed and familiar to during this race were just of non-existence now. It was a feeling of ten thousand volts of electricity flowing through your veins. Pride, fulfillment and the world greatest sense of accomplishment were just some of the emotions. I simply felt out of this world.

I reached out for my country’s flag, which I have been carrying all this while in my Spi-belt, and crossed the finish line in rapture. The feeing was insanely out of this world.

I was greeted and ushered by two volunteers, and was awarded with my extremely oversized and hard earned finisher medal. It was really the size of pancake!

The experience at the Ford Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii was just simple breath taking and out of this world. Every single finisher is treated just as if they were a World Champion themselves. Simply awesome.

Knowing I have just made history and broken a National Record in Singapore. I am in a world of my own.
Weeks after the World Championships, looking back at all experiences that I have gone through and put up with. All the wonderful people whom I have met. People who have help or advised me to be a better athlete myself. The strict discipline I had to go through. The bare minimum of social life that I had to limit myself to. The no-late night life-style that friends around my age are all living in. The sacrifices that I had to make. The insanely limited 24hours in a day that I have to work around my schedule. The constipating weather that I sometimes have to put up with during training sessions. Everything that I may or have given up and to put up with all the pain and suffering that lasted the 11hrs and 40mins.
It is not something that in the public eyes, normal people deemed as normal. Having broke your leg in a near fatal accident. Coming back to win races again and qualify for the World Championships.
It is with all this difficult time comes these opportunities for me to come back stronger and better.
Everything happens for a reason.

I would like to give a tribute to the people who have made all this possible for me. If it was not for them, my Ironman dream will still be just a dream.

My Family- For always believing in me and supporting in what I myself believed in. And never giving up on me, ever. Thank you all very much.

My BFF’s- You girls have been fantastic. You girls being in heels and me in sports shoes, I bet you probably understand only half the stuff I share and rant to you about but yet you never fail to spare a listening ear. It does help me think out of the box sometimes. Thank you so very much for sticking around.

My training buddies- For putting up with my erratic schedule and demanding training sessions at time. I am just glad I have all your company to pull me through each and everyone of those sessions. It makes training a breeze with you guys.

Entro Cycles- For choosing and believing in me to use your brand, Argon18. And for the flawless FFWD F6R wheelset that has travelled with me through hell and back on the bike. Thank you so much for your support and faith in me.

Key Power International- For having me as your Newton running shoes and 2XU triathlon series ambassador. Always accommodating to my last minutes changes and request. Thank you so very much for facilitating all my gears.

All the friends I have come to know in my life. The kind words and great support from all of you, and believing in me. Your beliefs acted as prayers to me, to move another inch further during my stint, racing in Kona. Thank you all so very much.