Chasing the 70.3 Dream

It all started with a dream… a dream of wanting to push one limit, a dream of wanting to complete an Ironman race.

I was never a competitive person to begin with, but I was doing it more for self accomplishment and achievement. Regardless of gender or age, I know and believe that if I were to put my heart and soul to do something, “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE”. That is what being an Ironman is all about.

After completing my first Olympic Distance (OD) triathlon race in August 2014, I was itching to race in another triathlon. Unfortunately, one of the races I had signed up for got cancelled and there weren’t any other races nearby around the corner. So instead of training for nothing, I begin to search for a customized coaching program to cater to my needs and fitness level. Reason being is because I like having a program that I can follow for the entire month.

To race a 70.3 Ironman was one item on my bucket list, but there was a problem, I wasn’t sure where or how to begin. Going from an Olympic Distance triathlon to a 70.3 distance, effectively doubling my distance would not be an easy task. A 1.9km swim starts the day of, with a 90km bike ride before finishing up with a 21km run – each of the sport is already tough on its own, what more having to complete all of them in one day.

Having little experience in triathlon races, begin looking for triathlon coaching. I spent the first 3 months to train on my base with Coach Philip Yip purely on running and cycling, and later did my 70.3 training program with Coach Felipe Loureiro of Breakaway Training.

Breakaway-Logo

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Two days before the race, I had the opportunity to be one of the selected contestants to have dinner with Craig (Crowie) Alexander. We had an evening of questions and answers where Craig shared some advices and his personal experience in the triathlon field.

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With Craig ‘CROWIE’ Alexander himself. Photo courtesy of Ironman Malaysia

Being someone renowned in the triathlon field, Craig is really humble and honest about his struggle in life with juggling training (a.k.a. work) and family like all of us do. He emphasised the important of having family support and having them be part of your sport, which I totally agree.

Each of us (contestants) was given an opportunity to ask Craig a question and mine was – “What would be your advice for someone who attempting to do their first Ironman distance? What would be the advisable duration or build up to that level and should it be just training all the way or should there be races to build up?”

His answer was (in my own words):

The ideal duration is to give you one year to build up the distance and endurance; adding 1-2 half-Iron distance (70.3 miles) and OD races to keep the momentum going. Reason being if you just train for a year without putting in few races, you wouldn’t push yourself to the limit to improve your performance.

Race Day

Swim
We were grouped in 3 batches based on our estimated swim time for 1.9km and the triathletes were release in wave of 4 each to prevent collisions, which was really helpful for first-timers like me. I struggled with my sighting at times and swam off course several times, ultimately increasing my distance by a fair bit.

I felt good when I came out of the water, having survived the swim and ready to go all out on the bike and run!

I completed the swim leg in 52minutes despite having swum 300 meters extra.

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Photo courtesy of ET Tey

Transition 1
I made my way to the transition area, trying not to panic; I took my time to ensure I do not miss out anything. Before getting onto the bike, I had a little accident on the carpet, felt really bad as it was an area shared by other participants.

I also wasted few precious minutes, with a small problem I encountered with my shoes.

Pro-tip: Practise flying mounts

Bike
I took it easy on the first few kilometres to warm up my legs, reminding myself to constantly sip water to prevent cramps or dehydration. I played it safe by wearing a cycling jersey during the bike leg just so I could keep my fuel in the back pocket without risking dropping anything.

During the first loop, I tried riding as quickly as my legs allowed. While in my second loop, I started to conserve my strength, to avoid hitting the proverbial wall before the run leg. The heat and humidity started to take its toll on me and my average pace dropped from 25/km to 23/km. By then I knew my targeted finishing time was slipping away, but I didn’t allow that to dampen my spirit as all I was aiming for was to finish.

Few kilometres toward the transition, I slowly increase the cadence for the last few kilometres to avoid squats cramp on the run leg.

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Photo courtesy of Ultraman Malaysia Kannan Murugasan

Transition 2
When I arrived in transition 2, I knew I’m very close to finishing. I changed into my running tee, cap and shoes and off I went into the run.

Run
It was around 1pm in the afternoon when I started running. I was already feeling exhausted and the heat did not make it any better. But I was thankful that there was water/shower stations every 2km of the run for us to cool off.

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Photo courtesy of Darren Chan

The made a huge mistake by getting my shoes soaking wet. Halfway through the run, I started to get chafing from the tee underneath both side of my armpit and blisters on my feet. I was so tempted to walk back but it hurts more to walk, thus jogging was a lot easier and I try to get back as fast as I could to the finishing arch. At this point, I was just trying to survive.

Running towards the finishing line, I was glad to see my dad present at the finishing line. I felt great having to complete my maiden 70.3 Ironman, and my second triathlon, in 7:42:32. And having my dad witness the event itself it would help him understand the sport better and all the training that I’ve put in the past couple of months.

I’ve really learned a lot from this experience. I dedicate my finishing to God – for blessing me with supportive family and friends, especially my parents for being supportive in my sport/fitness journey; training friends – for putting in the miles with me; swim coach Amir of Swimon – for stroke corrections sessions; Coach Philip Yip – for the foundation training; and Coach Felipe Loureiro of Breakaway Training, for the effective training coaching program and believing in me. THANK YOU!

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My first 70.3 Ironman Finisher!

The Day I Became a Triathlete is the Day I Learnt How to Swim

After years of running and cycling, I recently completed my first Olympic Distance triathlon at the Port Dickson International Triathlon (August 2014), organised by Uncle Chan, who is famous for adding surprises into the triathlon, I found the easygoing atmosphere and the festive mood there welcoming for a first-timer.

I chose Port Dickson to be my first triathlon as the sea is typically calm for this event, the bike route is flat and fast, and the run along the coast being very scenic, all added up to a very pleasant first triathlon for me.

I would not say that the journey to being a triathlete was easy, but at the same time it was made a lot easier with the help of many experienced athletes.

My Main Obstacle
As a long-time athlete, I have always had this desire to be a triathlete. Maybe it is because triathletes are known to be some of the fittest sports people on the planet, or maybe magnetic attraction to the sport via the Ironman brand, I just wanted to be a triathlete. Unfortunately, I could not swim.

Like many other people, swimming is the biggest hurdle to overcome, with a common saying “If you’re tired on the bike, you can coast; if you’re tired while running, you can still walk; if you’re tired or panic during the swim, you’re out of the game” showing with the most common fear associated with swimming being drowning. The fear of aggressive marine animals, no thanks to movies like Jaws with its distinctive, ominous soundtrack, is perhaps a close second.

With my problems being an open secret, I was introduced to the Total Immersion Freestyle Mastery Malaysia Program. Total Immersion, a method of swimming instruction, was developed by Terry Laughlin and focuses on efficiency. The basic philosophy is energy conservation, where energy wastage is minimised and instead putting potentially wasted energy to good use, namely propelling oneself forward. Teaching method is structured, with a systematic progression of skills that applies to entry-level swimmers, triathletes, distance swimmers or recreational swimmers.

Having experienced both a conventional, and Total Immersion Freestyle Mastery Malaysia’s swimming method, I found that Total Immersion’s method easier to learn. Emphasis on the correct form and technique does not only help make one a stronger swimmer, but also builds confidence in the water. Total Immersion’s focus of efficient energy usage ensures that triathletes are not worn out, saving their strength for the latter legs of the race.

With the increasing popularity of triathlons, the Total Immersion does not only cater to basic swimming skills, but also covers skills required for triathletes participating in open-water swims. Accustoming oneself to messy and potentially scary mass starts, learning to draft faster swimmers, and proper navigation skills to stay on course, are all essential skills to helping triathletes set new personal records.

To further develop swimmers’ skills and confidence in the open water, Total Immersion Freestyle Mastery Malaysia conducts monthly open-water swim sessions, in collaborates with Swimon. Swimon organises open water swimming event and provide lessons to acquire necessary open water swimming skills. It cater from beginners to well as recreational swimmers and triathletes. These open-water sessions are conducted by experienced lifeguards and swimming coaches, and safely introduces open water swimming to inexperienced swimmers in a gradual manner, helping them overcome their fear of the sea.

Having experienced the euphoria of completing my first triathlon, I would urge anyone with similar ambitions and fears to give the Total Immersion Freestyle Mastery Malaysia Program a shot. For more information, do check out Total Immersion Freestyle Mastery Malaysia on Facebook.