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. ☺