Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Half Ironman Putrajaya, Malaysia

(Photos courtesy of Tey, Lynn, Shazly, Michelle, Carmen and Shilpa - thanks guys, I can't begin to tell you how much these photos are appreciated by everyone, they really make the races special when you can look back at such high quality photos).

It's on, it's off, it's on honest, no one believes you, it's on, it's on, it's on. I have to say that I only started to believe that it was on when I heard rumours that the entry fee might be free at the last minute to boost the numbers (it didn't turn out to be free but at least it was on).

With the lack of confidence that the race would be on I relegated it to a "C minus" race in terms of importance and commitment for the season, i.e. it was a training day with no taper leading up to it. In fact I did ease off my training in a couple of days leading up to the race and instead of a 20hr training week I settled for a 16hr week - I did want to actually finish the race after all.

Race Morning
I woke up at 4:30, a bit keen for an 8am start but I wanted to be relaxed about it and didn't want to be rushing around (for once). Did the usual 4 strong coffees, 4 "sit downs" (very important prep), a Powerbar for breakfast (I like to eat light on race mornings especially if I feel I've still got food to be digested from the day before).

Living less than 20k from the race sight is a pretty cool experience, especially as a little stretch of the bike course was also on one of my main training routes. I was one of the first to get there and was numbered up and ready to go well before 7am.

I was very keen to listen to the briefing (the third one apparently, there was one on Friday, one on Saturday and there was going to be one this morning). The bike course was going to be tricky and there were going to be a lot of people screwing it up - that was my prediction and I didn't want to be one of those people.

The problem was that there was a loop within a loop and it needed some serious explanation AND understanding. The route WAS NOT CLEAR to me from the map so IT WAS CLEAR TO ME that I needed to listen carefully. Unfortunately I reckon at least a third and possibly up to half the competitors didn't listen carefully enough and/or didn't read the clearly laid out sign on the course giving directions.

It sounds like I'm laying blame on the competitors that went the wrong way - yes to a degree but let's clear here IT WAS A VERY VERY STUPID COURSE. The organisers are the same as Langkawi Ironman and I predicted last year that there would be people doing too few and too many loops in IMMY. Sadly I was right.

When the body gets tired so does the mind, when the mind is starved of oxygen and fuel it doesn't compute complicated course routes too well - I had hoped the organisers had learned their lesson (I heard a rumour today that the IMMY course will be the 2008 route again [not a bad course] but time will tell). If the course needs to be a few K long or a few K short then so be it but don't give competitors puzzles to solve on route.

I also heard that one team got a DNF solely due to a technical error with the timing chips. Timing chips are awesome and great kudos to the organisers of any race for having them, but if you ain't gonna take a manual check as backup then please don't make a big inky number mess of our arms and legs, scratch our bikes with plastic numbers and gunk our helmets up with number stickers that never come off, not to mention numbers flapping around our waists.

So to the race, I only managed a few minutes swim warm up before I was told to get out of the water; which on reflection was probably the main reason my swim was so slow (no one's fault, I needed to hear the briefing, it was just an unfortunate timing thing). I was in the third wave to go and soon enough we were off.

The Swim

I can't write too many exciting things about swimming so I shan't bore you. My last race, Alpe d'Huez, was a swimming disaster and that preyed on my mind a little so together with the lack of proper warm up the first half was not great, struggling to breath properly etc. On the way back it was a lot better and I started to push the pace and limit the damage.

Swim time 37:57


Transition was simple, number, helmet, go. Quick and simple, shoes already on the bike, nutrition also.

The Bike
As soon as I started I could feel the weeks of training and lack of taper in my heavy legs. To be expected but an unusual feeling at the start of a race. I'm pretty strong on the bike and I knew the training would carry me through. It took the first lap of three to stop noticing the fatigue but at 47mins (lap 1 of 3) I was happy.

I overtook a guy in my age-group on the second lap that I'd already overtaken on the first!!! I overtook him again on the third lap!!!! Strange considering no one overtook me all day - clearly a guy that didn't go round the inner loop. Oh well I thought, he'll either be DSQ'd, or not, so just to be sure I'd better stay ahead of him on the run. My second lap was 46 minutes and the last lap 50mins.

By the second lap the wind had been getting quite feisty and by the third lap the long long long drag of a hill really didn't look like it would end. One incredibly important saving grace though was the temperature, according to my bike computer it didn't get over 31 degrees on the bike which is unheard of in Malaysia - I was very happy about that.

I have to say I loved the bike, I stayed focused and was in the "Zone" from start to finish. Just a thought for the organisers though, I appreciate that you guys have a great sense of humour but having the drink station at the bottom of a hill was a tad silly don't you think? I cruised through at about 55kph the first time and left a trail of dropped bottles. Yes I did slow down on subsequent laps but there were so many perfect places to have the station - WHY PUT IT THERE?

Bike time 2:25:19


I came into transition and one of the Aussie race directors commented that I made easy work of the bike course. That was really cool to hear and gave me a real boost. There were not to many bikes racked up but ominously there was number "206" (I think) which must have been in my age-group. Work to do!

The Run
I swallowed a gel and set off at a good strong pace but remembering my last half Ironman (Desaru some years ago) and having to walk within the first kilometre I kept in mind that I had a half marathon to run. Things were going well and I got over the bridge heading towards Presint 2. I love this course, other than the bridge it's pancake flat. I was cracking out a really good pace, the temperature was comparatively cool and I was back in the "Zone" (Although you might not think so when you see the next picture - "Zone of Pain" more like). Suddenly I realised that I'd reached the turnaround and was a quarter of the way through.

Coming back I saw Aaron, not in my age-group but a great training buddy who loves to lay down the hurt. I beat him last year in Powerman by one place and he beat me in Phuket by one place. So I had a rabbit to catch in front, "206" and a wolf chasing me down from behind. Slowly I started winding up the pace.

I got to the half way point and took another gel. An interesting decision because clearly I needed it but unfortunately I spent the rest of the race throwing up a frothy mixture of gel and water. Must have looked a bit like the Exorcist.

Up and around, over the bridge and now time to turn up the afterburners again to notch up the speed a bit more. I was feeling really strong and not breathing heavily which was a good sign. Then I saw him, Mr "206", WALKING BACKWARDS and appearing to be looking for someone or waiting for someone - very strange! He looked in very useful shape but maybe in my tired state I'd got the numbers wrong - ah what the hell, keep going, every time I see someone in front of me try to catch them and then pass them - simple and effective strategy and it didn't take too much mental effort to work it out.

I hit the turnaround and in what didn't seem like more than 90 seconds I came across Aaron, a few words of encouragement to each other and then the last big push for home. He was maybe 3 minutes behind me, he was capable of making that up in 5k so once again I tried to pick up the pace a bit more.

Run time 1:34:37

Before I knew it the finish line was there 4 hours 40 minutes 51 seconds, almost a hour better than my previous half Ironman PB and 27 minutes ahead of the second placed guy. I was pretty sure I was on the podium, and quietly confident I was first or second but having been a bridesmaid so many times I wasn't going to get too excited. As it happened I won my age-group and was 4th non-pro overall. I can't tell you how chuffed I was. I'd qualified for the worlds in Clearwater too.

BUT! and here's the big but, a few actually. It was too easy, and by that I don't mean to be arrogant but there wasn't a lot of competition (probably due to the postponement of the race), I qualified as I did at Xterra earlier in the year, but I think to go to the worlds you've really got to feel that you've had to fight for it tooth and nail, you've got to earn it. That's my take on it anyway, I hope I'm not offending anyone, I certainly don't mean to take anything away from anyone else or undervalue their achievements, I'm simply talking about what I feel inside, about me.

The second BUT, is that let's face it, a half Ironman doesn't have the same romance as an Ironman (same as a Half Marathon compared to a Marathon), both races are great achievements but the full distance event take a damn sight more than twice as much out of you physically and mentally.

The third But, is that Clearwater just ain't Hawaii - period.

A final anecdote, on finishing I received my finisher's "tent" (a rather large T-shirt). I asked if I could change it for a medium. The IDIOT of a man said no they'd all finished.

"But I was one of the first finishers, they can't be all gone yet!" I said.

"If everyone wanted to change their shirts where do you think we'd be?" he retorted.

"You mean if everyone wanted a finisher's shirt that actually fitted them" I said with an air of irony "And anyway I put medium on the entry form"

[This is a classic] "That was for your entry T-shirt, this T-shirt is a free giveaway, it's not one you can change" said the rather flustered bureaucrat who was rushed off his feet having to pick up a T-shirt and hand it to his helpers at a rate of one every 3 or 4 minutes!!!!![He was referring to the shirt you earn for this gruelling race but only provided you finish, having already paid a huge entry fee for - what a tosser]

I wasn't moving and his argument was embarrassing everyone around him, sure enough he dug out a medium and tossed it at me. I politely thanked everyone; then I thought for one split second whether I could ask for a blue one instead of the red he gave me but thought better of it.

A few shout outs: -

Jens 1st 30-34 - Blistering speed (5th overall including the Pros)
Aaron 2nd 30-34 - Your turn in Powerman dude
Cort 2nd 35-39 - 3hr38, tough age-group (3rd non-Pro)

Sofian 3rd 50-54 - Historical podium finish and the biggest smile of the day

Sam 1st 55-59 - Jet lagged, in cruise control, and still crushed the opposition

Emma 1st 35-39 - Swam triangular course 2.2k but still won by miles (1st non-Pro)

Don 1st overall in the inaugural "90.3 Half Ironman and a bit" - he kindly did 4 laps on the bike to take the pressure off the rest of us.

Shilpa for coming to support me at the race and constantly in my training

Sid and Seb for their unconditional support - they say they only do it for the free Milo and ice-cream but I know better.

A final note: - It's very easy to criticize and point out what was wrong with a race but the good stuff usually outweighs the bad and is quite often forgotten. All in all, this was a great race, on the whole good organisation, a fabulous location [Take note - MORE RACES HERE PLEASE], great food (for a change), almost without exception (let's forget the T-Shirt man) wonderfully friendly and helpful organisers, marshalls and volunteers. Marks out of ten? "Six", but the potential is huge and I dearly hope that the race is here in 2010 AND that the organisers listen to the competitors, learn from their mistakes and give us a race to remember next year for only the right reasons.


Cheong said...

Very well done Simon! Enjoy the report. Good insight on the race & what to expect from the organisor.

Just curious... 4 cups of coffee before race? How does it help (apart from keeping you really awake)?

Simon said...

Thanks Cheong,
As for coffee, it's very well documented in just about every tri and running publication that coffee and more particularly caffiene in advance of an endurance race enables the athlete to go further and faster. There is les evidence to support the benefits of caffiene during a race i.e. in gels and drinking coke but it's undisputed now that if you don't take caffiene before an endurance race then you're leaving time on the course.

Lynn said...

well done again simon! :)

yipwt said...

your timing is superbly fast...you did made me think, why the organisers didn't do manual check on the route. And while we were all plastered with it.

plee said...

Sweet Splendid performance Simon.... in absence of a taper too! I noticed I was overtaking the same cyclists 3 times as well and thought I was hallucinating ( but I did follow yr nutrition advice closely)... twilight zone.

Thanx again for all yr advice


sofiantriathlete said...

Well done Simon. Good report.
Thank you

heckler said...

congratulations Simon. Happy for you. Next time I'll take coffee!

btw, Don technically did an additional loop = 30km on the bike course. So it should be 70.3+18.7= 89 miles

Yeah, I can feel for him... what to do.

Ngae said...

Buddy: congrats again..one thing i just noticed your race no. 167 hehe... interesting no. i would like to have....ask your cantonese frens the meaning :))

Anonymous said...


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Jano Soto said...

Congratulations on your race in Putrajaya Mate! And let me tell you that even the level of competition was not that high, your finishing time is really good!
Thank you for the comment in Blog, and see you at Clearwater!
Jano Soto

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