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Friday, May 15, 2015

My Arctic Circle Story (Ep. 4 - Final)

This might likely be the last episode of my Arctic Circle story. I'm going to focus only on the topic of how to photograph the Aurora. And as I mentioned in my previous post, I'm not a pro-photographer, I only learnt these tips from YouTube and reading from internet. I just want to share how I captured the Aurora Borealis. So if you are interested, read on.

Aurora Borealis at Ersfjordbotn, in Tromso, Norway. The little red guy there at the bottom center of the picture is me trying to take a picture of the Aurora.
(Picture credit: Nikita Pere, another awesome solo traveler I met in Tromso)
1) Basic Equipment

- DSLR camera - or any camera that has the option for manual setting (i.e change aperture, shutter speed, ISO, timer, white balance). I used Nikon D7000.

- Tripod - a must have item.

- Wide angle lens, especially with f/2.8. The smaller this f number, the better. I used a 11-16mm f/2.8 lens for this aurora shot.

- Spare batteries - because in colder temperature the battery may dry out quite fast.

2) Camera Setting

- ISO: High ISO setting is required. It ranges from ISO1000 to maybe ISO2000 or higher, depending on the ambient lights at the surrounding.

- Aperture: I set it at smallest 'f'' number I can, based on the lens I used. In my case, it was f/2.8.

- Shutter speed: Similar like ISO setting, it varies depending on the ambient lights, as well as the intensity of the aurora itself. My setting ranged from 10secs to 25secs exposure. You have to keep on trying and changing the shutter speed setting to get the best exposure. Because of this long exposure requirement, that's why a tripod is a must.

- White balance: This was something I didn't know much. But my friend Nikita told me to use 5000K for the white balance setting to bring up the dark-blue-ish colour temperature of the night sky. 'Warmer' white balance setting will make the dark sky turns slightly brownish-yellowish.

- Change to manual focus on your lens, and set the focus to be at infinity. In the dark you cannot rely on the auto-focus as most of the times your camera won't be able to focus in the darkness.

- You can either use a remote shutter, or you can also the built in auto-timer on your camera (e.g. 2secs or 5secs). We do not want to have any vibration at the camera when the shutter opens for long period of time or else the image captured will be blurry.

3) Others

There's only one final thing.. well, perhaps two things.

First, wear warm clothing and use proper snow boots if the area is covered in snow. You need to be standing outside in the cold for hours.

Second, be patient. Be extra patient...



It may not be clear in this picture, but there were purple and blue-ish colors too in this aurora.

A shooting star decided to join the aurora party.

These are the very first set of pictures when  I first saw the aurora in my whole life. Taken at Skibotn near Tromso, Norway.
My camera setting were a bit haywire. I used auto WB therefore the color appears to be a little bit 'warm'.

My jaw dropped upon seeing the lights dancing and flickering in the sky above my head at Ersfjordbotn, Tromso, Norway.
Speechless moment it was.
That's roughly how I captured the aurora that I saw during my short trip to Tromso. However beautiful you may see it on a picture, it is much much much more beautiful and breathtaking in the real life. You just have to see it by yourself. It was such a spectacular and memorable experience for me.

I'm lost for words...

P/s: You can read about how to search or chase the aurora in my Ep. 3 here.

THE END

Thursday, May 14, 2015

My Arctic Circle Story (Ep. 3)

In this episode, I just want to quickly share about how I chased the Northern Lights while being in Tromso (that's my main objective for travelling this far away from my homeland), and perhaps if I have the time I can also squeeze in a few tips about how to photograph this beautiful natural phenomena called Aurora Borealis. Mind you, I'm not an expert, also not a pro-photographer either, I will just share how I captured this picture.

The Aurora Borealis seen at Ersfjordbotn in Tromso, March 2015
And before I proceed further, let me clarify that there are two basic ways to chase the Northern Lights.

1) Go with a tour group specifically chasing the Aurora. They will pick you up from the city center and bring you to wherever place they predict to have a clear view of Aurora for that particular day. Sometimes you may be on the road for 2 hours just to get to a place, and sometimes only 30 minutes. Plenty of tour package offerings you can find out from the net, and prices may range depending on group size, season of the year etc.

2) Chase the lights by yourself - which requires you to know more about how and when and where to go, plus with a little bit of luck. This was my choice.

Question 1: Where?

The Aurora Borealis is only visible inside the Arctic Circle (i.e. about 66 deg north of Equator). Based on my little search over the net, apart from Tromso in Northern Norway, other popular places to chase the lights are at Northern Finland, Northern Sweden, Alaska, and also Iceland.

So, once in Tromso, where did I go to find the Aurora?

The best place to see it is at the darkest place possible, i.e. away from light polluted areas such as city center and some small villages. You may choose to either go further inland (i.e. towards Finland border), or you may opt to go to the shore side. Make yourself familiar with the map so that you can make good decision on where to go.

I used Google Earth apps as a basic guideline to understand the geographical information of places I want to go
Once you know the darkest area (from searching from light pollution map from the net - sorry I can't recall what website I used), you may want to survey those areas during daytime to check for the landscape, or suitable parking area, as well as the time taken to drive there. This will be a good thing to do if you want to capture the picture of Aurora with a nice background landscape which may include mountains and fjords.

Question 2: When?

Generally speaking, Aurora is said to be visible normally during the time period of November to March. I went there in the middle of March, so I was really praying hard that the solar activity is still active by that time of the year. Outside of this time window, there may still be some aurora activities but the chance of seeing them is much lower.

Ok, another aspect to answer the question "when" is, 'when exactly' is the best time to chase the aurora? I think this is the most important thing to know, because aurora does not happen all the time or at the same time everyday. It's very random, as it depends on solar activity.

Upon talking to the guides at Tromso's tourist information center, they recommended me to check on these few websites as a guidelines.

www.spaceweather.com gives you some idea (with recent updates) on the general aurora activity at the Arctic Circle
www.aurora-service.eu also provide very updated forecast of aurora activity.
The higher the Kp number, the higher the chance you'll be seeing the aurora.
I was a bit carried away with the chasing of Aurora, that I even checked the real-time magnetogram spectrum so that I know roughly about what time the solar activity is at its peak.

Google up "flux phys uit no", and from this Geophysical Observatory website you can find a lot of  information about geomagnetic data.
In this chart above, whenever you see big separation between the blue and green lines as well as peaks, it shows there are a lot of aurora activity going on at that particular time (on X-axis) - that's the time to look up into the sky.
Apart from the predictions of solar activity, another important aspect to consider is the weather of the day. Best day to see the aurora is when the sky is clear from clouds. When I was there, out of four nights, two of the days were very cloudy they even snowed. On the two clearer nights, I was able to see Aurora at two separate locations. So, here are some websites you can use to help with the weather predictions.

www.yr.no is where you can find weather forecast for Norway as a whole.
Check for clouds and precipitation, and go to places with the clearest sky.
Any trace of clouds in the sky and you won't be able to see the aurora.
www.windyty.com is another good website you can use to predict the cloud movement, especially in predicting whether or not the sky will be cleared up from the cloud, which depends on the wind movement.

With these information, you should be able to intelligently plan for your aurora chasing activity. However, because this is a natural phenomena, there's no 100% guarantee you will get to see it.

At some point, you may have a slight feeling like you are becoming a meteorologist hahaha...

Anyway, I have to stop here. I guess I have to continue in another blog entry for the topic of how to photograph the Aurora. Good luck with your chase!

P/s: Read here for Ep.1 and here for Ep. 2

Sunday, May 3, 2015

My Arctic Circle Story (Ep. 2)


It has been a month since I returned from my trip to Tromso, Northern Norway. I have plenty of photos yet to share, but in this post I would like to share the places I went to.

My first trip into a Scandinavion country. It was exciting!

I started my journey from London, right after I finished with my conference. From Gatwick airport, I took a flight to Oslo above the very cloudy day. It was the same day as the sun eclipse happened, but unfortunately I couldn't see any of the effect from of the window during the two hours flight. 

Another two hours flight from Oslo to Tromso, getting inside the Arctic Circle zone.

After a quick layover at Oslo airport, I then hopped onto a domestic flight to Tromso. It took me another two hours to get there. I purposely booked for a window seat as I don't want to miss a view of how the land at Arctic Circle looks like. Below is one example of many other shots I managed to take from the flight.

Frozen lakes and snowy mountains entertained my eyes throughout my flight from Oslo to Tromso.

It was only end or March and I never thought there were still lots of snow down there and the temperature was still lingering below freezing point. I was slightly worried as I know I didn't bring so much of thick winter clothing except for one sweater and one jacket.

Anyway, I touched down at Tromso airport almost sunset time there. I rented a campervan, and the lady was kind enough to send over the campervan to the airport.

I was more concerned about the new place I just arrived and didn't have much clue about where to go or where to sleep later, but the lady's main concern can be summarized with this simple question, "Can you drive manual gear?"

Not wanting to make her worry about her brand new Volkswagen campervan (yes, I was the first person to rent this particular one), I had no other choice but to affirm her that I can drive manual car even with one eye closed. Ha ha ha.. (that's true anyway).

Her last words to me as I took the key from her was "Be adventurous, and keep exploring. I'll see you again at this airport in few days time".

And that's how my journey in Tromso began.

Places I went to: Tromvik, Ersfjordbotn, Sommaroy, Skibotn, and Finland border.

I didn't really do much in-depth research about the places I wanted to go. It was more driven by what I wanted to see. Three things made me want to come to Tromso:

1) Based on Wiki, Tromso is listed among the top ten best places on earth to look for Aurora Borealis. Wiki also said Tromso is an expensive place to go - yeah, no doubt about it. I was hunting for the Northern Lights each and every day I was there.

2) Tromso also has a few beautiful fjords nearby worth going to and only requires short drive (1-2 hours).

3) Like many other places in Northern Norway, Tromso is also a place where you may be able to see whales at the fjords - if you come at the right season.

I made my plans based on these three things I wanted to see. As you can see on the map above, I named the places I went to. The following places may not necessarily be in any kind of order, but the places I went to are:

How it looks from Google Earth apps.

Ersfjordbotn is a very small village by a fjord. Even with Google Earth you can imagine how beautiful it may look in the real life. Prior to coming to Tromso, when I searched for the best places to photograph the Aurora, Ersfjordbotn is listed as one of the best spot.

And yes, I would say this place is beautiful not only when you can see Aurora at night, but it is also beautiful during daytime.

Ersfjordbotn: I would say this is my favourite spot throughout my trip. Beautiful by day time, even more pretty at night with the dancing Northern Lights show.

I went to Ersfjordbotn on the next day after arriving Tromso to take a look, and managed to do some self potrait shots. Too bad the day was overcast, or else a blue sky would make this picture looks much better.

I went again to Ersfjordbotn a few nights later when the sky was predicted to be clear, to shoot the Aurora Borealis (I will share the pictures on another post, with some tips based on my experience).

Tromvik is a very small fishing village with only about 50 houses. I was hoping to see some whales at the fjord there, but I came a bit too late for their feeding season.

Next, I also made a short drive (around 1 hour) to go to a very small fishing village, Tromvik. On one blog I read, this guy managed to see a group of whales coming up to the surface at the fjord as he was driving towards Tromvik.

I stopped by the roadside at the fjord every now and then, and spent few minutes each time to spot for whales. Luck was not on my side. Later on when I was talking to a local, they said the whales have left the area since February when the feeding season has ended. Too bad I came a bit too late.

However, the drive towards Tromvik was fun and the view was fascinating. I departed from Tromso town very early in the morning, hence I managed to get some good sunrise view by one of the lakes there.

I drove East-wards into Sommaroy. The view by the roadside towards Sommaroy from Tromso was beautiful and I saw many people ski-ing up the mountains.

I also went to Sommaroy. Many tourists mentioned that this is another good place to visit in Tromso. I can't say much about it because the two times I went to Sommaroy, weather was not on my side. It was super cloudy and super snowy when I went there, hence I didn't have any chance to take many good pictures, and it was a bit disappointing that I couldn't see any Aurora Borealis from this little island or else I'm sure it would be great because this island is very dark and suitable for viewing the Aurora.

I spent one night sleeping inside my campervan at the yellow X mark on the map above. It was snowing quite a lot and pretty cold. My night ended early that day.

The next morning after spending the night at Sommaroy beach. I parked the campervan nearby this very small camping site with simple toilet facility.

From Tromso, I drove southwards to Skibotn. And the next morning, I drove further south into Finland!

I practically was hunting for Aurora Borealis each and every night I was there. One of the day, after a short discussion with the guide at Tromso's visitors centre, he suggested me to drive down south towards the Finland border to a place named Skibotn to look for it.

So, I drove down south for almost two hours to reach a small camping site. I actually met another tour van who was also on their way to Skibotn, so the guide was kind enough to let me follow them for their Aurora hunting.

Upon reaching the camping site, that was the very first time in my life where I see the amazing Northern Lights with my own two eyes. It was truly amazing, beyond words. I find it hard to explain with words, but I can still remember the moment very clearly in my mind even until today.

The show that night was not long, as the sky was quickly being covered by thick coulds. We made our way home after 1.5hours there, and it was already almost midnight.

While the tour group disappeared in the dark with their van back to Tromso city center, I was clueless of where to sleep for the night. I initially thought of looking for a petrol station at Skibotn but it did not open 24 hours, including the toilet. So, I drove in another direction and shortly I found a truck stop area where there were a toilet facility with running tap water, and I saw another campervan there so I thought it might be a good place to sleep for the night.

I arrived at this site at midnight to sleep without knowing how the surrounding looks like. The next morning, woke up to this beautiful view of mountains covered with snow.

This truck stop site is at Oteren, and I woke up to this view of snowy mountains.

Weather forecast was showing a very cloudy day with lots of snow that whole day. I initially made a plan to drive to Senja, another place famous for having many beautiful fjords. But I cancelled my plan due to the thick snow.

So, instead of heading west towards Senja, I drove further down towards Finland border. It was still snowing very heavily however I somehow like the experience of driving in the heavy snow. I was also actually looking for a better spot to look for Aurora at night, but too bad the whole day and night was forcasted to be covered with thick cloud all around the area.

Reaching the Norway-Finland border on the famous E8 road.

I drove further ahead into Finland for another half an hour before making a turn back at the first petrol station I met. That was the furtherst I drove throughout my whole trip.

I then made my self back to Tromso town centre and just explored the nearby places while waiting for the sky to clear at night to hunt for more Aurora Borealis.

That's all I can share about the places I went to. I may write more about other things in another posts, like how to hunt for the Aurora Borealis and how to photograph it. Stay tuned!


Saturday, April 25, 2015

My Arctic Circle Story (Ep. 1)

To be honest, I've not been travelling much for the purest sake of exploring new places. Most of the times when I travel abroad, they are for business trips. And my business trips are normally very short, and schedules are often very pack.

Until one day when I was invited to present a technical paper at a conference in London in March, I had this crazy idea - to go to the Arctic Circle. Dah alang-alang dekat sana kan...

But, why Arctic Circle during winter?

This picture will explain why...

Aurora Borealis a.k.a. Northern Lights

P/s: I'm going to start blogging purely on my mobile device. Not really sure whether it is sustainable, exciting... or it will just be another "mentally" big hassle for me to continue sharing my experience...

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

My 2014 in charts

As you may have known, 2014 was the year where I did my two main triathlon events which were the Ironman Putrajaya 70.3 in April, and the Ironman Langkawi in September. Not really sure if I would venture again into doing Ironman after this, I would like to put up this post to commemorate my training history which was not spared without drama (i'll keep them to myself - for now). While this may not mean anything much to you all, they are part of my big achievements (so far).

Dailymile.com, being the place where I record all my training stuffs, has just produced the annual report. Looking at it, it brought back some memories of stories and struggles through out the year. I regret a bit for not actively blogged about my training as it went (well.. some say FB has partially killed blogging, not sure if that's politically true). So, here are some snapshots..

The overall view. July was the Ramadhan (fasting) month so I cut down lots of training.
Ironman 70.3 was in April, and the full Ironman Langkawi was in September.
Swimming: The least I trained among all disciplines. Since my aim was just to finish the swimming leg during races, I didn't spend much time in enhancing my speed. Most of the (last minute) training was to develop my endurance.

Cycling: Being the longest discipline in triathlon, I had no choice but to buck up on the saddle-time. I can't express how much grateful I am for being introduced to a very healthy cycling group, else I won't be able to get all these high mileages riding during the weekends.
My preparation pre-April was really pathetic, hence during the 70.3 race I almost gave up when cycling.
However, I managed to get back some confidence for Langkawi race - thanks to the many hill climbing rides like Ulu Yam, Fraser Hill, Genting Sempah etc. 

Running: Last but not least, my love-hate kinda workout. Looking back, it was pretty consistent month after month. The distinctive drop in May was due to a major 'almost-breakdown' post-70.3-race drama. Time was running out, so I picked up myself to do more high mileage long runs on Sundays.
Glad to know the struggle and pain I had during training paid back very well during my running leg at Ironman Langkawi race.

As I said, these are just the numbers. The statistics. And I'm far from being at the top of the leaderboard listing, as some of my triathlete friends were clocking almost double my distance especially on cycling. Imagine how their annual reports would look like (i'll be stalking them on FB for sure).

Good bye, 2014.
You've been awesome.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Brand new 2015


I can't really remember when was FB's cover photo being introduced. I first put up my cover picture in October 2012 and until November 2014 there were only 6 pictures. Very little I know. I'm not really a fan of changing my cover photo every now and then.

But...

Coming to 2015 I want to start a new project which is to change my cover picture every single week. So hopefully by the end of 2015 (IF I can be very dedicated in doing it) we can see a collage of 52 totally random photos decorating my FB cover.
And this is also my first mobile blogging. We'll see how far can this go...

Monday, October 6, 2014

M-Dot Dream Came True

The initial intention sparked when I first started doing triathlon back in 2008. From time to time I drew inspiration by watching this big events on YouTube. When I went to support some friends doing it in Langkawi in 2010, I was so resolute that I decided to give it a go in 2011. Unfortunately, the event was cancelled.

One day in 2013, friends were spreading the good news that Ironman triathlon is making a comeback to Langkawi in September 2014. Without much hesitation, I signed up for it.

Fast forward to the beautiful early morning of 27 September 2014, there I was, feeling nervous among other 1400 triathletes from all around the world, getting ready to start the race. And I was dearly hoping my breakfast stays where it should be.


The 3.8km Swim

I kept myself calm prior to the start. Once I settled with pumping air and taped my gels onto my bike, I went back to my room to lay down and clear my head. By 7am, I slowly made my way back to the transition area where we were gathered before the swim. I took 2 gels, few gulps of drinks and tried my hardest to keep staying calm and content.

Minutes before the swim start
(Photo credit Frank)

One main trepidation I always have when doing triathlon is the swim start. I can normally cope with beach wave start as I can plan properly on my swim entrance. However, deep water start is at the bottom of my favorite list. Deep water mass start would be totally chaotic. Luckily this time around, the swim start for Ironman Langkawi 2014 was set to be a rolling start.

Rolling start simply means, self-seeding. We select which group we want to be in (according to target swim time), slowly walked towards the pontoon and our race time will only start when we cross the timing mat right before we enter the water.

The swim course was a straight 1.9km out and back with a short turn-around in clock-wise direction. From the pontoon, you can barely see the last distance marker buoy. It looked far. During the swim test which I did two days earlier, the water was warm, pretty calm with a slight leftwards current, but very muddy and smelly nearby the pontoon. Some even get stung by jellyfish. I was praying hard for a smooth swim, for not being kicked in the face, and for not being stung by jellyfish.

My strategy was to swim as close to the buoys as possible. Fortunately I’m a right-side-breather swimmer and the buoys are on the right side. The first 500m was ok, I was swimming and sighting pretty calmly, but then after it got even better. One big guy came across and he swam right in front of me, at the same speed as I was. I decided to draft him straight away, saving my neck and lower back from becoming sore due to excessive sighting.

I can’t really tell my swim speed except that it felt smooth and easy. At times we were overtaking and some other times other swimmers came past us. I kept on drafting this guy, following the bubbles from his kicking. I think he got a little bit tickled because he sped off when I accidentally touched his feet a couple of times. We get to the turnaround point without much drama and made our way back to the land, this time with the sun brightly shining ahead of us, and a slight wave now and then.

Upon reaching big buoy number 9, the second from last, lots of swimmers were zig-zagging nearby so I made the decision to stop drafting the guy and slowly moved towards the left side for lesser crowd. By this time, my tongue started to feel numb. Perhaps because I’ve swallowed a tad too much salt water.

Not long after, I arrived back at the pontoon and carefully climbed up the stairs. A quick glance at my watch and it showed 1hr 31mins. I was elated. Arms still felt fresh, energy level was still in good condition. The crowds were cheering and that simply boosted my spirit to continue running towards swim-bike transition, the T1.

Glad to reach dry land again.
(Photo credit Tey)


Swim-bike transition, T1

It was a good stretch from the pontoon to get to the changing room. I quickly grabbed my blue bike bag and went into the changing area. I saw a few guys changing into their cycling attire, calm and relaxed. I quickly put on my helmet and shades, stuffed my goggles into the blue bag for safekeeping, and held my cycling shoes in my hand as I ran towards my bicycle. So far so good. No hiccups. I carefully took my bike and put on my cycling shoes before making my way out from transition.

Coming out from T1
(Photo credit Shanaz)


The 180km Bike

The longest distance I’ve ever rode during training was only 164km. I wish I could have done more training, but time wasn’t really on my side. When we went to recce the bike route the day earlier, we get to understand the challenging climbs we had to tackle in the two 90km loops bike course.

I learnt from my previous training sessions and races that if I hammer hard on the bike, most likely my quads will cramp up and I won’t be able to execute a good run. This time around, my approach was very conservative. I climbed up each and every inclines slowly but steadily, and I just cruised along the flat without really pushing the speed.

The very first steep climb really had me go very slow. I had to use the lightest available gearing, and still I was only going up the incline at about 8 to 9 km/hr. Some triathletes already had to push up their bikes on the very first loop.

I made a quick stop at the first aid station. Mainly to grab the banana to fill up my tummy before it gets hungry. The volunteers were superb, they know how to pass the bottles and banana to those who did not want to stop. Supplies were also aplenty, and mainly the waters were icy cold.

As I continued on, that was my game plan. Simply paddled at my comfortable speed (which obviously gets slower as the day passed on), and made quick stop at the aid stations to refuel on solid food, drinks, gels and to stuff in my salt pills. I consistently looked at my watch so that I am reminded to take my gels and salt pills every hour. I also kept telling myself not to chase anybody, and to feel at peace even if I get passed by other triathletes.

Hot day it was!
(Photo credit Jack Ah Beh)

The day was getting hotter. I completed the first loop (90km) just slightly over 3 hours. So far all systems were still ok except I can slowly feel the fatigue in my legs has increased a little bit. 180km is not an easy distance to cover, let alone you still have a marathon to run later. Everything on the second loop felt tougher – the inclines, the heat, the remaining distance. I paddled even slower on the inclines in the second loop for the fear of cramping my quads muscles.

During the second loop, I had the urge to pee every now and then. Too bad I can’t ‘do-it’ on the bike so I had to stop at the port-a-loo at each and every aid stations. I also realized that I’ve stopped taking gels on the second loop, for some reason I didn’t feel like it.

After making the final turn-around at Datai, I started to feel relieved. “It’s time to go home”, as I always call it. I noticed my speed was getting slower and slower. I was merely doing 25-28km/hr on the flat, that was all I could muster at that point having the objective of saving up some energy for the marathon later.

I was doing some maths in my head by each km passed. Something like “can I finish the bike in such-and-such time?”, “how much time do I have for my marathon?”, and also something like “where on earth is the transition lah!?!?”

I finally made it to the bike-run transition, also called T-2. As I dismounted from my bike, my stopwatch was showing 9hrs racing time has been passed. My bike time was a slow 7hrs 22mins, plus minus. I’ll take it.


Bike-run transition, T2

I walked very fast during the transition, couldn’t really run yet. Another quick stop for toilet, a splash of cold water, and then I quickly went inside the tent to change into my running shoes. I met Ee Van (Stupe) inside the tent, taking his own sweet time in the tent. A quick chat and he said he had some issues with his legs. I didn’t really stop for long. Wished him all the best and I made my way out from the changing tent.

Trying to do some quick math on the timing
(Photo credit Shanaz)

Then suddenly, my eyes went teary. I felt so touched and happy, and also relieved that I’ve completed the longest distance I’ve ever rode, with un-cramped legs that I was very sure I can finish the marathon and the grueling race soon. I can already feel the sweetness of success at that point.


The 42km Run

I immediately pounded the tarmac at my comfortable pace. Fortunately, no such thing as jelly legs anymore. I just had to make sure I didn’t go too fast by means of how my heart rate was responding to my effort. I didn’t wear my Garmin because I don’t want to be bothered about my instantaneous pace and distance. I remember all the hard work I’ve done during the training with multiple long distance run sessions on tired legs, so this time around I was very confidence I can at least finish the last leg of the Ironman race.

I made a quick detour to the mosque besides the road nearest to the transition for my prayers. Then I headed to the Dataran Lang for the first turn-around to get my green wrist band, marking my journey of the first 10km loop. I started to see many strong triathletes ahead of me, surprisingly some were first timers like me too. I cheered for each and everyone I know, giving them moral support. The sun was still up, and some of them were already in bad shape too. “Something must have gone wrong”, was my thought.

Going strong on first loop
(Photo credit Tey)

As I continued running, at some points of time I felt a short spike on my heart rate. I had to walk a little bit, just to ease it off. I counted 10 seconds and then continued running. It dazzled me why my heart rate went high, because my legs were still ok. I also stopped at every aid stations for a glass of water and half cup of de-gassed cola, and the becoming-customary-pee-stops.

Every now and then as I run and walk, I kept on cheering on everyone I know on the opposite side of the running route. In my little mind, I had someone I wanted to chase during the run – just to keep me motivated to continue running. It was a mental game for sure, between the urge to go faster, and between wanting to save some more energy for the remaining 3/4 distance of the run.

First 10km loop was completed in around 1hr16min if I’m not mistaken. “Not bad at all”, I encouraged myself. Went to pick up the second arm band, and went on to complete another 10km loop. The day was slowly getting darker, and I hadn’t taken any gels anymore. Heading into the dark towards the stadium where we were to do our turn-around was becoming my ‘alone-time’ time. Many have become ‘zombie’ runners, especially those in front of me who had done 3 or 4 laps.

My only repeating-drama during the run was the ‘stop-to-pee’ thing. I can’t deny I felt frustrated with the abrupt stops, but I told myself that it was better than having cramped legs. I was still running strong (but not fast), and like before I only walked for maximum 20 seconds every now and then to lower my heart rate.

Not too shabby yet on the second loop
(Photo credit Tey)

Finished my second loop after 2hr35mins (or so I remember). It was already dark by then. Supporters were getting noisier though – which was good. Getting into my third loop, I managed to catch on the person I marked earlier, who seemed to have settled into more walking. I myself has slowly turned into a zombie during the third loop. Some pains in the legs due to blisters started to stir up my pace.

By the time I finished my third loop, I started to feel more tired than before. Grabbed the white arm band, indicating my last loop to finish, once again I felt elated. I told myself my race will end in another one hour plus time. It was already 9pm-ish.

My stopwatch was showing almost 14 hours of racing time has been clocked. I know my maths normally don’t work well during running, so at that time, with the current pace and the remaining 10km distance to finish the marathon, I was expecting a 15hrs plus as my finish time. I was already super happy, as my initial target finish time was 16hrs plus.

To my surprise, as I exited the stadium after the final turn-around, meaning I had about 4km to go, my stopwatch was showing something like 14h20m or so. I was in disbelief for a moment there. Another quick maths told me that I could hit sub-15hrs if I keep my pace steady, with lesser walking and toilet breaks.

So that was exactly what I did. I increased my pace a little bit, and I reduced my walk-break times. As I reached the transition area with the last 2km to go, my time was still good for a sub-15hours finish. I guess the final gush of adrenaline came out as I suddenly didn’t feel tired anymore. My strides were steady as I made my final approach towards Dataran Lang, and especially towards the finishing chute.

"I'm almost there..."
(The clock was showing the pro-gun time, which was about 20mins earlier than my swim start time)
(Photo credit Shanaz)

No words can describe the feeling as I ran on the M-dot red carpet, getting into the finish line. I can clearly hear the announcer painstakingly tried his best to pronounce my name and the loud cheers from the many spectators there. I raised both my hands into the air as I crossed the line – having the best feeling a triathlete could ever ask for.

I finally did it!
(Photo credit Shanaz)

It took me 10 months to continuously train for it.

It took away lots of my family-time from them (and honestly speaking I still feel guilty every now and then when I think about it).

It has caused lots of mental ups and downs, while trying to balance between family time, work time, and training time.

Most of my weekend activities were scheduled around my long rides and long runs.

Most of my lunch times were spent inside the gym, specifically on the treadmill.

Most evenings I spent time washing my training attire, to make sure they are dry and ready for the next day.

And on 27 September 2014 in Langkawi, it took me 14 hours and 50 minutes to complete my first ever Ironman triathlon.

That’s when I became an Ironman.

 Proud to be one!

Special thanks to those who have been involved in my M-Dot journey.
You know who you are!

Sincerely, I thank you.