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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.


TriStupe said...

Inspiring read.

No easy journey to be one and I am honored to be mentioned in your blog.

Thank you for the encouragement along the bike route and running loops. :)

RaYzeef said...

Tahniah Enaikay, from pirating 84km with Kash to IM, never failed to inspires me. Congrats again mister Ironman

amsyah said...


..::EnAikAY::.. said...

My utmost respect to you too IM Stupe - for having the strength to carry on with the race despite having ITB issue.
Well done brother. And thanks for the help during the quick stop at bike aid station :)

..::EnAikAY::.. said...

Barang yang lepas usah dikenang... hehehe.
Thanks bro. And all the best in your many other endeavors too.

..::EnAikAY::.. said...

Wah, bahasa Avatar kah ini? hehe
Thanks bro.

Anonymous said...

Sedihnya baca yg last tu.Thats why i dont want my hubby to participate i dont want him to feel guilty.aci tak hihihi.


..::EnAikAY::.. said...

Hi Sarah! Long time no hear from you. Hope you are doing just fine :)

Yes, we are just normal people with family, work and many other things in life.
Not easy to find the right tune for everything and everyone, at every time...

Julin Julai said...

Congratsy Nik!
And terimakasihterimakasihterimakasih for publishing an inspiring report as such.
Dah lama dah tak baca report cenggini.
OK,esok ai lari 5 miles, huhu

Anonymous said...

Hope its not too late to congratulate you Nik for realising your dreams.

..::EnAikAY::.. said...

Thanks missjewelz :)

..::EnAikAY::.. said...

Tenkiu doc!
Amacam progress larian anda setakat ini?