This was my journey as a spectator and a supporter.
My plan to go to Langkawi to support fellow triathlete friends competing in the IM Langkawi 2010 was very much of an add hoc. I didn’t even make any reservations for any accommodations or transportation. I just booked for the flight ticket about three weeks earlier, and I gambled my way to Langkawi on Thursday night, cowboy style. After a few phone calls to some very handsome triathletes arriving few days earlier, I managed to get a place to straighten my back for that night. Luckily I managed to get myself a rental motorbike upon my arrival at the airport. Getting a motorbike is highly recommended in this situation when coming alone to a big event like this where many road blocks were expected here and there. Easy to get around
and also easier to get sun burn.
A DAY BEFORE THE RACE
As the sun rises the next morning, I took the opportunity to accompany them for a short run of 4km (2km out, 2km in) along the race course. Some other triathletes were seen either on their bikes, or with their running shoes. They must be doing their final fine tunes.
After the run, we grabbed our breakfast and quickly went to the jetty as Ayet wanted to have a swim try run. This was where the race start will take place, and also the bike transition area. The ocean that particular morning (it was about 9am-ish) was very calm, though I could see a slight current pushing inwards shore, which should be a torture for the swim out, but will provide some help for the swim back. No sign of jelly fish presence was reported that morning.
The swim course. Scary isn’t it? You can’t even see the turnaround point which was located 1.9km away from the starting line.
Some say the distance between those small flags are approximately 30m apart, well I don’t know..
Click the picture to appreciate the distance. I purposely upload this one in its original size.
We then went to the host hotel, Seaview, for the race briefing. The room was almost filled with participants coming from 41 countries, the pro’s and the age groupers. The organizers explained about the race course, the rules, and answered the questions these participants had. I managed to snap some more shots.
Just about noon, I left the hotel for lunch and then went searching to secure myself a room to stay for another two days somewhere nearby the race venue. Stopped by at few hotels and motels, many were already full house. At last, I managed to get a room at a deserted motel without any air conditioning or water heater. Well, what can I expect? I was on low budget, and I didn’t make any prior bookings. I can live with ceiling fan, no worries.
That evening, I went to the bike transition area where participants needed to deposit their bikes and race bags. The bike mechanics (from TheBikeBoutique) inspected the bikes to make sure every components are secured (handlebars, aerobars, saddle and seat posts), before granted the participants to proceed to their transition points.
It was great to have a chance to chat with some of the participants. I got some more photos, but I think I’ll just dump them in my Facebook or Picasa albums (once I have more extra free time to do that). When the sun set in, I joined some of them for an early dinner as they planned to hit the sack pretty early. I hung around alone after the dinner not knowing what exactly to do, roaming with the motorbike. And just before I called it a day, I helped myself with a plate of tosay and I then forced myself to sleep at 10.30pm, as the next day will be a very long day for everybody.
THE RACE DAY
If there is any time where you don’t want things to go wrong, is the morning of a big race like this. One veteran participant from Germany forgotten something at his hotel, and as soon as I arrived at the Kuah jetty, he asked whether I could bring him to his hotel to pick up his stuffs. Without any hesitation (as it was still early, 6am) I invited him to hop on to my trusted rental motorbike, dropped him at the hotel, waited for a while (though he didn’t ask me to), and transported him back to race site. He then wanted to give me a red note as a token of appreciation to which I rejected kindly and replied him, “Thank you sir, but it was my pleasure to help Ironman triathletes. You can keep the cash.”
Another case I heard was that, one participant lost his timing chip. How disastrous could that be, especially if you are aiming to be the first Malaysian triathlete to finish the race. Fortunately the timing chip was later discovered.
These are the special aids plastic bags. One for the bike course, another one for run course. Participants can put their nutritional supplies like fruits, Big Mac (ahaha), PowerBar gels, cupcakes, or whatever they wish to eat while racing as they come to the special aids point.
The morning started off with participants getting their body marked. Most of the faces I saw that morning were nervous faces. I used to have this kind of nervous face when I get my body marked during smaller triathlons, but I believe nothing can beat the nervousness of being body marked for an Ironman triathlon.
By about 7am, the participants were called to standby at the pontoon. It was still pretty dark by that time and not having a pass to enter the transition area, we all spectators were only able to view from afar.
By 7.30am sharp, the pro’s were released for their swim. The numbers were quite small. And 15 minutes later the age groupers were gunned off for their swim start. The Ironman triathlon race has begun in the calm morning of February 27.
Normally, the first pro swimmer would be back after about 40 minutes, but this time it took them slightly longer. I thought the current must be pretty strong this time. I was checking my watch now and then while having my breakfast to make sure I was ready to snap the first bike out of transition.
I wanted to get into the transition area to snap closer shots, but without media or crew passes, I was sure enough that I will be chased out by the officials. Fortunately, a friend of mine lent me a temporary media pass and with that, I went inside for better photo snapping opportunities.
Not many knew, but I got an ad-hoc volunteer job for that day, which was to transport one of Snap Attack’s (www.snap-attack.com) cameraman wherever he wishes to go during the race. So, after he finished up taking photos at the swim course, I took him into the cycling leg where he continued his job taking photos of his clients in action. Since he can’t be shooting everybody, so I had to slow down and hunt each of his clients on the bike course. It was somehow fun. Plus, I got the chance to give my support by cheering while on my motorbike.
His (the cameraman) first photo shoot spot was at the long stretch by the airport. So, I picked up a good spot, which was just before the triathletes make the big turn at the end of the airport runway. The long stretch provided good scenery to capture the struggling faces as they ride on the long straight windy road.
So, from about 10am until 1pm, I was there with the cameraman under the hot sun by the airport runway. He did his job as a cameraman, and I did nothing much, other than cheering for the all the triathletes. Oh yeah, I also took some more amateur photo snaps. And since I was the only soul there standing under the heat and cheering, I got some good feedbacks from them. Some gave thumbs up, some smiled back, and even managed to say thanks, eventhough they were struggling under the same heat as I was.
Satisfied with the photos he took by the airport, we went to another nice spot – the hill climbing spot. This was where I saw the real struggling efforts, especially to be facing the same steep climb for the second and third times. This was the time to prove whether or not you really love climbing. If I am to attempt for an Ironman, I would have to put plentiful amount of climbing training during the long rides.
Not long after, the cameraman told me that he needed to get back to transition area as his memory card was almost full. After dropping him off, I wanted to go cheer for those on the running course. And just as I exited the Kuah jetty area, I saw a group of superbikes, lead by a police traffic bike and a media bike, riding around and alongside one runner. I’m sure he was the champion of the day. Amazing timing. Just imagine, while some others were still doing the bike laps, this guy has done with his marathon run.
After watching he crosses the finish line, I made my way to the running course. Many of them were running loops after loops in the blazing hot evening sun. It was so tough I guess, that I always see someone walking along the course. Some were still looking good and strong.
Some other portions of the run course were very dusty as the roads besides it were kind of under construction. So, anytime vehicles passed through that area, a cloud of dust will cover the whole atmosphere, making the runners suffering more on their breathings.
And another area exactly in front of Idaman Suri shopping center, the civilians were busy crossing the running course to get to their buses or cars. What a bad scenario to be in during the last leg of an Ironman triathlon. I’m sure these had demoralized many of the triathletes who were already struggling even to put some effort of walking.
I don’t know exactly why, but I was attracted to go at the turnaround point. Going to that point with my motorbike was not an issue at all, and I managed to witness these triathletes battling alongside the run course. If I’m not mistaken the time was about 5pm to 6pm-ish, and the sun was still shining quite brightly. That surely put a lot of pressure and challenge to these competitors. The runners have to make 5 loops around a 8km running course (4km out, 4km back), which means they have to collect 4 ribbons before going for their home run to the finish line.
I read lots of our local triathlete blogs, so it happened to be that I know their names. So, to those that I know their names, I would be cheering and calling their names. Of course many of them did know even know me, and for that reason many of them were pretty shocked at first when I cheered out their names. It was really fun, though my skin were already burning under the hot evening sun.
As for other triathletes, I also cheered for them. Many who I believe came from Japan, I would cheer in Japanese language “Ganbare Nippon!” and they would always say “arigato”. The blind Japanese guy even thanked me in Bahasa Malaysia, “terima kasih Malaysia”. That made me smile.
While the sun was still shining its evening ray, many triathletes were still able to run, or managed some kind of jogging. But to be running a marathon in an Ironman race would require the strongest of mental strength. Your body was already hammered down, fatigue, cramp, sun burn, dehydrated, blisters, etcetera. And yet you still have to keep on moving forward to get to the finishing line for the Ironman title. To be doing the 5 loops run was a big mental torture itself, if you ask me.
Because that’s what I observed while cheering for them for more than 5 hours.
As the day turned dark, many have resorted into walking but still a few of them were still strong to do a slow jog. If earlier many could still put up some smile on their faces, later on the smiles have gone. I’m sure they have switched into their survival mode, trying to put one step in front of another. I kept on cheering for them loop after loop after loop, and in fact I realized some of them had noticed my presence in the darkness there.
The only way for me to recognize how many loops they have gone through, was to see how many ribbons they have collected. For those who have collected four ribbons, I would cheer for them;
“Come on, keep it up! It’s time for your home run, and it’s time to go grab your Ironman medal! It’s almost there… go go go!”
I hope that boosted up a little bit of their spirit.
The clock kept on ticking. Hour after hour, lesser runners were on the course. At some point it was pretty quiet at that turnaround point. I heard from the officials that they will only allow those runners who have collected the fourth ribbon (at the turnaround point nearby Seaview hotel) to be on the run course after 11.45pm. Which means, those who haven’t got the fourth ribbon before 11.45pm shall understand that they won’t have enough time to finish the race within 17 hours.
In fact, there were few of them who have given up, knowing that they won’t make it in time. And having a true spirit of an Ironman triathlete, they said they will come again next year. What a spirit!
By 11.30pm, I made a move towards the finishing line to catch the last glimpse of the survivors of the day. I have some other individual photos but too many to put them all here. Perhaps those will go to my Facebook lah.
The atmosphere at the finishing line was still uplifting with cheers and claps filling up the air. I started to feel a little bit tired of standing all day that I took the opportunity to rest my legs for a while, while chatting along with some of the Ironman finishers, congratulating them.
I stayed at the finishing line until 12:45pm as they counted down to the 17th hours of racing, the official cut off time. After spending more time for catching up with friends and a very late supper, I think I ended up my day at around 3am.
It was an amazing experience for me, being there to witness the preparation, the atmosphere, the race course, the hard work of the triathletes, the tensions, the struggles, the smiles, the tears (yeah, I really saw one triathlete cried on the bike), the support between them and the spirit.
Well done to all triathletes who crossed the finish line for their first time, or for a repeat Ironman title. Your effort to finish the race was truly amazing and inspirational, no matter how fast or slow you did it. The determination to finish counts! Very impressive indeed.
And to those who had a super tough day and did not manage to complete the race, your Ironman spirit will always be there. There’s always next time and I hope one day you’ll cross the finish line, smiling.
And I hope I will too.