Sunday, September 10, 2017

Cobra Energy Drink - IRONMAN 70.3 Philippines - Race Report

They call it the Kona of Asia. The climate, the crowd, and the atmosphere all create an environment similar to Kona. It’s by far the most popular 70.3 in Asia, and probably one of the most popular in the world. With registration closing mere hours after it opening, it’s a hard one to get into. The flights and hotels also fill up quickly.

If you need pointers on where to stay and the general logistics of the event, refer to my Cebu race report from last year (2016). But for this race report, I’ll focus on my race performance, supported with some technical analyses.

This race was a B race for me, just one of a few leading up to my A event, the full IRONMAN in Busselton, Western Australia in December. I had been training regularly since early March, putting in 12-16 hours a week, spread out over about 10 sessions per week. So while I was not specifically training for Cebu, I was in pretty good shape.

I stayed at the Shangri-La, which is the official event hotel. The swim and the transition are both on the hotel premises just like previous years. And although other hotels nearby are great (like the Movenpick) I promised myself last year I’d stay at the Shang for its convenience.

The kids and I checking out the finish line the day before
My coach Colin had me down for a short recce ride, run, and swim the day before, so I went out with Mitch, who also is coached by Colin. On the bike, we followed what I remembered the route to be the previous year, including going over the big Marcelo Fernan Bridge, which is just about the only uphill on the course (besides a tunnel).

Mitch and I happy we made it back unscathed
The roads aren’t great – but passable if you’re careful and keep your eyes open. On the way down the bridge, however, Mitch lost one of his bottles. Just a few minutes later, one of mine launched, too. But I was using one of the Cobra Energy Drink bottles given to us in the race pack, and I had not proven them to be secure in my cages behind my saddle. I had left my better Canyon bottles in Singapore, a mistake I would later regret.

Racked & ready to rock & roll
With the race on Sunday, we had to rack our bikes on Saturday. I carried all my gear down and starting setting it up. I noticed nobody seemed to want to leave their shoes, helmets, or anything else – just their bikes. But why not? I didn’t want to have to deal with this stuff later, so I just left everything in transition, protected from any rain in plastic bags.

I mixed my Hammer Perpetuem and Precision Hydration 1500 into two Cobra bottles in a formula I had previously calculated in Excel. I needed 800mg, 300 calories, 60 carbs, and 1.0 litre of water per hour. Along with this I had two Hammer gels, but I’d bring about four, just in case. I would take my nutrition down to the bike in the morning.

I slept well that night, but only after envisioning the entire race in my mind. I had done it before, so knew how to recollect the start on the beach, the swim, T1, the bike, T2, the run, and the finish. I believe that this is an effective way to mentally prepare and get in the right mindset.

I woke up at 3:30, plenty early to get a light breakfast of toast, coffee, and some cereal, and then set up my nutrition and Garmin on the bike. From there, I headed down to the beach, looking for the right start pen for my swim pace. But beforehand, I was lucky enough to stumble across my group (Terai Melayu) taking a photo.

From there, on the beach, we proceeded to funnel into the start pens based on self-declared swim times. The first was sub-30, then there was a sub-45 I think, and a sub-60 or 70. Something like that. But everyone was crowding to the sub-30, including people with white swim caps. White meant that they were not confident in the water. The organizers would pay special attention to them on the swim in case they needed rescuing. Yet these guys (and everyone else) were pushing their way to the front of the sub-30 pen. The entire system broke down, but whatever.

Like the year before, we started in 2s, about every 10-15 seconds. The guy whose job it was to release the athletes had his heels dug into the sand and was physically having to force people back with his arms. The pushing was truly ridiculous. I think by the end of the swim start he'd be more shattered than any of us after the race!

As I was approaching the water, a fighter jet flew over. That was very cool. I knew it was from the nearby airport but wanted to think it was in celebration of our race.

My swim started OK. I was both relaxed and excited and appreciated the warm, clear water. We had to do a long rectangle, clockwise. The segment out to the first corner was not too bad. I could see the bottom most of the time, which was rather pleasant, and the punching and kicking was kept to a minimum. I smiled to myself, in recollection of how happy I was during my first 70.3 swim ever (Putrajaya, 2015), trying to keep spirits up in the most challenging (for me) segment of the race.

But after I rounded the second corner for the long stretch along the back of the course, I felt the current. The pace sure was slow, especially for a race. At one point a few guys hit each other and I hear some aggressive yelling. I thought a fight was going to start and I was in the middle of it. Not fun. At another point, there was a huge jam of swimmers, all kicking and climbing on each other. You know how a breast-stroker can sometimes annoy the hell out of you with his deadly kick to the side? Imagine eight of those guys all in one place, each confused about which way to go, all panicking at once.

Well, that sucked
Eventually, I made it to the beach, in a depressing 52 minutes and 29 seconds. I registered 2,199m, so if my Garmin was accurate, that’s an extra 300m. how was this possible? I was doing three swim sessions a week, totaling about 6-7km. Yet no improvement over last year. I’ll blame the conditions.

All that echoed in my mind was, "Did I not train?"

See my swim on Strava here.

Glad that swim is over
I jogged up to T1, my mind rewinding back to one year prior. Last year I was sloppy and missed my aisle. Dodging the sharp rocks and roots which were barely covered by the thin red carpet (some 'red carpet!'), I made it to my bike quickly.

Along the way I yanked the shoulders of my speedsuit apart to unzip it, and rolled it down to my hips. (See picture above.) I pulled my goggles and swim cap off.

Actually I had a little trick going. I found some blue tape along the carpet and moved it be be positioned right in line with my bike. So I just ran for that blue line and was at my bike. It's amazing how difficult it becomes to find your own bike in the sea of machines.

I reached the bike quickly and everything went smoothly. I threw my swim cap down, started the Garmin on the bike, saved my swim activity on my watch so it would synch with Strava then and there (my phone was right there in transition), pulled my socks and shoes on, helmet, race belt, and sunglasses were next. Last, I dumped sunscreen on my pale shoulders, worried about the inevitable burn I’d be subjecting myself to.

The night before I had secured one of the Cobra bottles to the bottle cage with two rubber bands to prevent it from launching: The recce ride showed me that was going to happen. The rubber band was still intact and I was ready to roll. But as I jogged down the transition, the race belt unstrung itself and fell. I had to take some time to re-thread it and clip it back on. OK. A few seconds lost but no issue.

Exiting T1, everybody was fumbling to clip in and climb the very bumpy, broken concrete surface. What a way to get a flat or slip and fall. I decided I’d jog all the way up that incline past the fumblers, and mount my bike later, where it was flat - in fact about to descend. This was a good choice as I got around the rough surface and swerving guys just getting their balance.

A quick mash down the hill and I started settling into an aero position. I put my left hand back to check on bottle 1; no problem; right hand to check on bottle two (which had been secured with a rubber band) and !! What? I was only 50m into the ride and the bottle was gone! This was my lifeline! My fuel, my nutrition, my food! Without this I’d bonk and never finish the run!

Quickly, I removed the other bottle, containing half my Hammer Perpetuem, and stuffed it into my tri suit. At least I’d guard that close to my chest with no chance of losing it. But would this be enough? Well, I had extra gel. Good move. And I could pick up some Gatorade, bananas, and more gel along the way if needed.

But then I also noticed that my speedsuit from the swim was still on, bunched up around my waist, flailing in the wind. Oh well, nothing I could do now, except roll it up a bit and tuck it into itself in an attempt to reduce drag. This was the first time I was using it and a race is no time to learn from your mistakes.
Here's how you protect your last bit of nutrition
So it was down the road I had ridden the day before with Mitch, between fanatic crowds of cheering kids, students, office workers, soldiers, shopkeepers, and ordinary Cebuanos just out for a good time.

My race plan stated that I had to keep my bike wattage at 200 even with a Variability Index (VI) of 1.05 or less. VI is a reference to how smooth the power is over the course of the ride. With a variation of more than 5%, I’d bust the VI, and place myself in a perilous position in the run. This is best achieved on a flat, smooth, and straight course not unlike the one I was on.

So when it was time to ride up the big bridge I paid close attention to my power reading. It is all-too easy to spike up to 5 or 600 watts on a hill like this, especially if you get caught up in racing the guy next to you. I managed to not exceed 300w on the climb despite my eagerness to reach the top.

Coasting down this bridge is always sketchy. You’ve got a sharp-edged expansion gap, just waiting to pop your tire, unpredictable guys in front of you on their brakes, and the prospect of bottles launching in any direction. All at 60 km/h. Nothing to do except get aero and narrow and coast.

According to Joe Friel, in The Power Meter Handbook, the 50-40-30-20-10 rule says:

If your goal power for the race is expected to produce an average speed of about 30 KPH, then…

With this in mind, I had nothing to do except get aero and narrow and coast. Oh yeah, and bunny hop that gnarly metal-toothed expansion gap (but not in an aero position - I wish!). And watch for flying bottles. And avoid swervers. And get back on the power when I slowed down to about 40.

Soon, I settled into a nice pace, fluctuating between 33 and 36 km/h. Watching the numbers intently. Wondering why nobody was passing me. But then I felt my race belt slide against my hip and snake itself down to the street. Again, the strap became unraveled. Everybody who has ever run a 10k knows the first rule of racing: Never use new equipment on race day. And I had violated this rule three times so far, and it bit back promptly and viciously each time. (New bottles, speedsuit, race belt.)

As I tucked down, I was amazed at how many people I was passing. It was like all those faster swimmers were slow cyclists. All the while I was focused on my numbers, intently monitoring my power, average power, averaged normalized power, speed, average speed, distance, elapsed time, heart rate, and cadence with obsession.

I try to do everything with deliberate intent while on the bike. I do not want to let my mind wander. I try to monitor each figure as often as possible. Is my power ok? Speed looking normal? Heart rate fine?

This mindfulness can be obsessive and draining but it almost guarantees I will meet my target figures. If you want to perform your best, ignore the crowds, the scenery, the novelty of a new place. Focus, obsess, worry. Count, calculate, add, divide, multiply, subtract, average, estimate. Repeat.

Write your race plan and commit it to memory
Soon, the pros were coming the other way on part of the leg in. The course was shaped like a giant M and they were in the middle point of that M. I was averaging 34.7km at the first U-turn, and I knew I was on track. I was a bit over my target speed and my power was a bit low, but I figured I’d just maintain that: A power reading of 180-something and 34.7 kmh. And as long as my NP was less than 5% above my Avg P I was in business.

Before I knew it, I was more than halfway in, and still, not a soul had passed me. I'm not such a great cyclists but have trained religiously for the past 6 months, and my biggest improvements were clearly on the bike.

Things were going well, and I was nicely rationing my 2-scoop bottle, supplementing my nutrition with my emergency gels. I didn’t feel a need to waste time stopping at aid stations to pick anything up. A few times, I flew through and grabbed bottles from the awesome volunteers at speed. I dropped some but managed to snag a few.

At least one thing to feel good about
See my ride on Strava here.

Rolling into T2, I was looking forward to the run, which in Cebu is more like just a big party. Little did I know, I was to tie for 2nd place for the bike leg in my age group: 2:29:58.

After racking the bike, saving the file on the Garmin, and switching shoes, I was off. Again, my mind rewound to last year: an all-too-high heart rate coming out of T2 and severe plantar fasciitis worries.

But I had kind of beaten that injury, and I had more pressing things to worry about: the nascent twitch on the left (inner) side of my right knee. I had never had an inner-knee cramp. I figured I’d take it easy and just hope for the best.

Was it my lack of nutrition? How come I had such a cramp so suddenly? That’s not normal for me. I was shooting for a 5:25 pace with my heart rate below 156 and a finish time of 1:54. But that wasn’t to be the case.

See my run on Strava here.

The cramps worsened, and my pace deteriorated. Things got really bad at km 14, and I had to schlep through the stations, keeping cool with ice and water. The only thing that kept me happy was the amazing spirit of the Cebuano crowds, but somehow, I had higher expectations of myself.

My loyal fan club
I crossed the finish line at a disappointing 5:46:56. But one amazing thing was that my wife and two kids were in the stands at the finish – my daughter’s shrill voice desperately screeching “Papa!!”. Not unlike this same little girl had done for me in the Gold Coast, Seoul, Putrajaya, Bintan, and even Cebu last year.

Reflecting on this, I consoled myself by acknowledging that the swim conditions were hard, I put in an exceptional ride, and, well, not much to say about the run. But this was not my A race, and it was only one in a series of preps for December. In fact, I had the Bintan 70.3 coming up just a short two weeks later.

After crossing the finish line, knew what I’d do next: Cool off in the ice bath, get my free massage, drink some beer, eat some ice cream, pizza, and other junk. Then I’d head back to transition and get my bike and other stuff ASAP and bring it all back to the room. By then, the family would be ready to pig out at the hotel restaurant.

At least that part of the day worked out as planned.

Friday, March 3, 2017

PowerTap P1S Troubleshooting: What the Manual Doesn't Tell You

When I received my PowerTap P1S pedals in the mail I was pretty excited. Excited to get them on my bike and start figuring out how to optimize my power output for long rides, especially half Ironman and Ironmans.

And one of the reasons I bought the PowerTap pedals was because of their easy installation which is really no different than putting on any other pedals. So after threading them into the cranks of my Canyon Aeroad, I took the bike out for a quick spin. Just to see if they worked and to prepare for the next morning's ride.

But to my dismay, nothing showed up on the screen of my Garmin 520, even after riding about 150m. This was after the usual ANT+ pairing process that we've all done. Well, not nothing, but no power reading. Cadence, however did appear. And I knew this was being transmitted by the PowerTaps and not my Garmin because I had removed the Garmin cadence sensor from my cranks.

So that meant an ANT+ signal was getting through.

Then a message appeared on the screen: "No right pedal detected". Which was fair enough, since the right pedal is a dummy and the left is the power pedal.

Then another: "Calibrate power meter". OK, I thought, and I selected it. After a few seconds the Garmin gave a seemingly-random number reading: "9".

A quick glance at the manual that came with the PowerTap and there were no references to calibration or troubleshooting ANT+ or Bluetooth connections. But then I had an idea: Download the PowerTap app and see if I could get it to connect there.

Then I'd be testing if it was an ANT+ antenna issue somewhere (either in the pedals or the Garmin). I quickly got the app installed and had the same result: Cadence showed up but no power.

Next, I called 1-800-246-5975 (the number on the PowerTap website) and was surprisingly attended to immediately by an informed and helpful human being.

He systematically walked me through a few steps:
1. Is the green light flashing on your left pedal?
2. Are you sure you have paired it with the right ANT+ ID number? Double-check.
3. Does your Garmin have the latest firmware update?
4. Do you have the PowerTap app installed and can you pair the app and the pedals?
5. If so, do you have the latest PowerTap firmware update?
6. Next, can you see a power reading on the app?
7. Can you see a cadence reading on the app?
8. Have you calibrated the pedals and did it return a figure between -26 and +26? (I may be mistaken on those values, but I think that's what he asked me.)
9. Finally, he told me that if I really couldn't get them to work, I should contact Clever Training (the shop I bought them from) and they'll be able to work out a return.

I figured I'd give it one more shot and try riding again. So I took the bike outside and starting riding circles around my condo, but nothing. I kept watching the app, kept checking the Garmin, but only cadence would come through. So it felt like it was an ANT+ issue.

My next course of action was to try to pair it to another Garmin, in this case my watch (the amazing Fenix 3 HR)...when suddenly, a power reading appeared!

It seemed that I just had to ride a bit more for it to somehow happen. The instruction manual never says this is the case, and mine may be an exception, but if you have trouble getting the power to show up, ride your bike for a few minutes longer than you may expect. I ended up having to ride 600m before it appeared.

Other than the issues getting it hooked up, I'm pretty confident this was an excellent purchase.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The North Face 100 Race Report - 50k Trail Run in Singapore

There are two kinds of races. One is the kind where you train for months on end, with a devoted, almost religious fervour, and the other where you, uh, don't train.

With the first type of race, the endless pre-dawn hours of solitary drills creates and investment that is hard to quantify. This investment can be so huge, both physically and emotionally, that the stakes come race day are as high as ever. It all comes down to that event, and if anything goes wrong, the loss can feel catastrophic. But if everything aligns and goes your way, you're set for a personal best, and it will all be well worth it.

With the second type of race, there are really no pre-race jitters or much to worry about. You've invested nothing, and you're at the casino rolling the dice with hardly any investment to lose, so no sweat. But you're not going to win big either. It's like you're playing the penny slots as far as the win is concerned. And although you won't lose your capital, you will experience quite a lot of pain.

At this year's TNF I fell squarely into the second category. No training to speak of, no real commitment, no real race goal in mind...and frankly no way to get through this damn thing without enduring a world of hurt.

For the past few years I have done the TNF 25, and loved it every time. It's well organised, has great volunteers, excellent food at the finish (Subway sandwiches and ice cream), and is one of the only major trail races in Singapore. And for those prior years, I had trained beforehand.

They call it TNF 100, but there's not actually any 100km category. I believe there was a 100km category in previous years, but the closest we get to 100km now is the 50km duo category (50 + 50). And while I had done pretty well in the 25km category in the past, and 25km is a palatable distance, I decided I wanted to take it a step further.

I signed up for the 50km, excited to see just how hard this would be, and to push my limits of distance and endurance into new territories. Thing is, it was already October and the race was the end of November. I had no time to train, and was just coming back from a year-old torn plantar fascia on the left and a worsening impinged anterior tibiofibular ligament on my right.

On top of that, I had ever done anything past 42km, so not only was a unprepared physically, I lacked the experience of an ultra.

But I told myself that if I could finish the Newton 32k race in a respectable time (which I did, at a pace of 6:04/km) I'd be alright and I could probably do 50km a month later. So I signed then with a month to go. I didn't really train, because what can be accomplished in a month?

My plan to finish was to eat regularly and keep my heart rate low so I wouldn't ever go anaerobic. You only have 2-3 hours of glycogen in your body, which is the primary source of fuel for your body at high effort. But if you keep your heart rate low, you can extend that. Consider that you would be able to walk all day (10+ hours) with no training, as long as you didn't get your heart rate up too high.

I had set my Garmin Fenix3 HR to alert me if my heart rate went above aerobic. I also put a timer alert to ring each hour to remind me to eat. I packed quite a lot of Clif Bars and gels - bonk insurance - or so I thought.

Does it look like a lot? It was.
My packing list included:
  • Visor
  • Sunglasses
  • Garmin Fenix3 HR
  • Heart rate monitor
  • Lobo CamelBak
  • Safety pin to pop blisters
  • Alcohol swab
  • iPhone 7 Plus
  • Selfie stick
  • Route map
  • Sunscreen
  • Tom's Sports Shield
  • Extra socks
  • Race belt with bib
  • 1.5 litres of water
  • Buffet of gels and other assorted nutrition
  • $50 (just in case)
  • New Balance road shoes

The Event
The race started at 7am at MacRitchie Reservoir, right in the heart of Singapore's considerable jungle. The race materials instructed us to arrive at 6, but due to my nervousness and fear of being late, I was there at 5:30. Nobody else was there. And I mean nobody. Even at 6, at the starting point, I was alone. I was waaay early. A few familiar faces appeared, including the ever-cheerful Fuse Lee.

Pre-dawn wefi with Fuse
But quickly the area filled up. And after the race officials weighed our packs to make sure we had 1.5 litres of water or more, we proceeded into the starting pen. At that point, Singapore Blade Runner was there, as usual (he's a TNF Ambassador) and he interviewed me and others on his phone, which would later be posted online.

The countdown came and went, and we were off. Down the paved sidewalk, around the reservoir, and soon into the trees. The sun was just coming up, and it was a great feeling to enter the jungle just after dawn. The trail was damp from heavy rain the night before, but there were no major puddles or mud pits like I had hoped for. (It's fun!)

Along the way, I shot footage of the race on my iPhone - you can check out the full video above.

The first few kilometres take you up and down undulating hills that are fairly well-trodden: A mix of gravel, small stones, and the occasional root. Nothing too tricky or technical.

With my plan to keep my heart rate so low, I had people passing me left and right. Now I'm not that fast but I'm usually in the top quarter or better and it was a bit of an unsettling feeling. But my watch just wouldn't shut up.

I trudged along, at about 7-8 minutes per km, waiting for the crowd to thin out and to settle into a rhythm. Soon enough, we hit the first aid station where they served us cold water and Plenish. This was the first time I had tried Plenish, but it was pretty much the same as the Pokari Sweat - non-carbonated, and easy to go down. This first water stop was right at the paved road by the golf course at the end of the fourth km.

From there, we headed deeper into the jungle, over a stream (yes, a stream in Singapore), and up towards Rifle Range Road. I thought the ascent up to Rifle Range would be very slippery and muddy, but it was fine, even in my well-worn road shoes.

After one hour, my watch beeped, reminding me to eat something. I ripped open a Stinger gel and a Carman's bar. I found that they have the perfect 5:1 ratio of carbs to protein, supposedly the optimum combo for endurance sports.

Along the way Fuse and I met up and we chatted and joked.

"It's hard to keep this pace," I complained, knowing he's done multiple ultramarathons.

"I know what you're doing," he replied. He was doing it too, pacing himself for the impending pain.

Fuse knew how I had over-packed gels and food and joked about it.

"I'm going to 7-Eleven later," he warned, eyeing my pack.

"Then I'm going to pick up the pace with you snapping at my heels," I replied. This is the guy who usually wears a shark hat to races, which now started to make sense.

Up the paved Rifle Range Road we proceeded, fast-walking when it was too steep, speeding it up on the flats and downhills. We both felt fine and were about to be greeted with another water stop - right and the junction of Rifle Range, the Durian Trail, and the edge of the Bukit Timah Trail.

Two loops of this. Starting from the East. The loops around Bukit Timah are clockwise.

Our course would enter the Durian Trail, circle around the Bukit Timah hill, and eventually come out on the other side of the road, from Bukit Timah.

I was carrying a 1.5 litre hydration pack, which honestly was too much, despite the usual heat and humidity. I don't think I ever even drank half of it. At each water stop I drank the Plenish they had there for the electrolytes that water can't provide, and only twice did I refill my only half-empty pack. So if you're conditioned to the climate here, don't worry about 1.5 litres not being enough. It's plenty.

The Durian Trail was a stretch that we did in previous years (so in 2017 and beyond I'd expect it to be kept). It was the most technical part of the course mainly due to the large roots and a few short stairways. I know how badly a sprained ankle can ruin your day so I took it easy here.

10k into the race, at the end of the Durian Trail, crossed Rifle Range, entered the Kampong Trail, and finally came out near Hindhede Dr, near the carpark at the beginning of the Bukit Timah mountain bike trail.

This is where the trail gets a bit boring, but technically easier. We entered the Rail Corridor (former train tracks) which is a raised and flat section that continues 1.5 km down towards Rail Mall. While easy, it's also sunny as there is limited cover from trees.

I was still feeling really good at this point, which was nice because we were about to attack a long uphill section behind Rail Mall. The only consolation is that it's paved, making it much easier, but borrr-ing.

Eventually, we found ourselves alongside Dairy Farm Road, where there was another aid station set up. This was about 14.5 km into the course. They had water, Plenish, and bananas. At this point I saw Norhazry Johari, from Terai Melayu, and Fuse met a few other guys he knew. He took a break and I pushed on.

From here, the course took us past the Dairy Farm carpark, up the paved walkway, and into a short stretch of the Bukit Timah mountain bike trail, to Belukar. My average pace was still about 8:15 per km, and my heart rate was acceptably low, only peaking every so often. I felt great.

Right after Belukar, the trail opens up to the area along the pipeline, with no trees. Despite there being no shade or shelter, there were medics along here, dutifully observing runners and ensuring our safety. Up and down, mud and grass. Repeat about three times. Now you're back out at Rifle Range, right at the entrance of the Durian Trail.

Along the pipeline area, just outside the Bukit Timah MTB trail, there were some nice puddles
Although this was only 17km into the race, by this point, we had covered the entire course. This was different that past years, in which the course stretched out up to T-15, crossed Mandai, and entered Lorong Asrama and the Pengsan Hill area.

Many runners were disappointed with this change of course, as most feel that multiple loops of the same course can be boring or emotionally harder to palate. There was also a stretch on this course, at the halfway mark (25km) which was an out-and-back, which gave us the opportunity to see who was ahead (and behind).

I ran pretty much alone from km 17 to the starting point at 25, and still felt okay. But it was hard to eat every hour, on the hour. I had absolutely no appetite. My stomach felt fine, I had plenty of water, so I didn't force myself.

It must have been at km 21 where I saw the leader pass me. I did the math in my head: 21 plus 4km to the u-turn, plus the 4 back to here equaled 29km. So he was 8km ahead of me. And soon, as I made my way toward 25, more and more passed me.

Before I knew it, the trail was overloaded with runners, wearing the 13km and soon the 25km bibs. There were hundreds upon hundreds of them, taking up most of the trail, making it very hard to get past in some instances.

Most were very polite and accommodating and allowed us 50 km-ers at least a narrow spot to squeeze through, but not all. I had quite a few slam into me, one hitting so hard I'd be surprised if he didn't get hurt (he was just a little guy).

I also recognised a few faces, exchanging high-fives with a few guys, including Blade Runner. Just a few minutes after the u-turn I saw Fuse, probably less than a kilometre behind me.

By this time, the trail had thinned out, with the other categories of runners well ahead of me, and fellow 50 km entrants pretty well spread out. My pace was slowing, and I could tell it was going to be hard to maintain anything below 8:30 or even 9 minutes. At least I had just run this trail, and knew exactly what to expect for the second half of the race.

I knew I was entirely capable of running a good 25 or even 30 km at a decent pace, but what lay ahead of me I was not prepared for. They say that running a marathon is all about the last 10 km, and that anybody can make it to 30 or 32. It's no coincidence that this is where your glycogen runs out and you hit the wall, if you haven't trained properly.

I told myself that it wasn't that bad, and that I wasn't bonking, but I was. My food tasted worse and worse. The simple act of chewing became a monumental feat, until I would soon give up.

At 4 hour and 44 minutes I had just passed the Rifle Range aid station and was just about to enter Durian Trail again, just starting km 33. I had my phone on my and figured I'd give a call to my parents, in the US.

"Hello, have you finished your race?"

"Hey, no, I'm running right now," I replied, wondering if they could even hear me over their loud background. They were having a nice dinner in an Italian restaurant.


"I'm still running. The race isn't over," I clarified.

"Well...what...why are you calling?"

"I figured I'd give you call to get my mind off things. I'm 33 km in and it's kind of hot and it's getting hard," I answered.

That was a good respite from the pounding I was taking and it got me through much of my second lap of the Durian Trail. Soon, I came up alongside two guys with matching Asics shoes and started talking to them.

They were medical students who were planning on raising $25,000 (I think) for a charity by running in Nepal. They're doing something like 250km over a week or so. I always like talking to people as I run as a way to distract and entertain myself.

Later I'd meet a Dane, a Norwegian, a Hungarian, and of course Singaporeans.

"We just passed the marathon mark, 42 kilometres," I announced, to anybody who would listen.

"That's great, but my watch says 43," a tall guy next to me replied. This was the Norwegian, who had just finished a 50k in New Zealand only two weeks beforehand.

It was a significant milestone, as I had never gone past 42. But I was OK with the fact that I still had a distance to go, despite my discomfort, and I trundled on, down the muddy slope away from Rifle Range Road.


Suddenly I stopped and yelled in agony. My right calf had totally cramped up and was convulsing and contorting into strange shapes. It felt like my leg was the host to Alien and it was going to explode. Maybe that would actually stop the pain.

"Do you want some salt tablets?" asked a nearby runner.

"Yes, please!"

"Here are two - I don't need them. Chew them," she instructed.

This was the Hungarian who was doing the duo - each runs 50k. I thanked her and went on.

But towards the end, as my cramps worsened and my pace slowed, I was in no mood to speak with anybody.

It started raining, which I welcomed. I pressed on, trundling through the forest, in a world of my own. At times, I even walked backward, to alleviate my calf pain. Somehow it didn't use the muscles in a way that hurt as badly.

Now that wasn't that bad, was it?

Finally, I crossed the finish line, happy to have finished. Not exactly happy with my performance, but fully-well knowing I'd be back next year.

I'm not sure if I hit my step goal for the day. I only did 64,581.

Check out the run on Strava here, or watch my video for the full story.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

2016 Port Dickson International Triathlon: Race Report

Don't Take things too Seriously
The Port Dickson International Triathlon is probably one of the oldest in SE Asia, having been around for the past 15 years. So it stands to reason that it's well-attended and popular, though most of the athletes are from Kuala Lumpur or Singapore.

Hopefully this post will give you an idea of what to expect should you want to compete in 2017 or beyond. Therefore, in addition to attempting to give you a fun and entertaining read, I'll be noting practical tips to make your trip and race a bit more pleasant.

In addition, I'll show you how this event taught me not to take all races so seriously.

Sign-up was done at Triathlon Malaysia. Registration and payment were easy enough, and the price was reasonable.

I signed up for the Olympic Distance for myself and the Under-10 Kids' for my son who is 8. My race was on Sunday but the kids would race Saturday at 4pm.

In the days or weeks leading up to the race, I needed to find out more details on the hotel and also the start times of both the Olympic Distance and Kids' triathlons. I kept trying to search for the website, but could never find it. Turns out, they don't have one - they just use Triathlon Malaysia for everything. Another place to check is their Facebook page here.

This is another great event to bring your family to (in addition to the 70.3 in Cebu which I had just done two weeks beforehand). I brought my wife and two kids, ages 6 and 8. We traveled with the extremely fun group Terai Melayu. They organized a bus (two actually) and the hotel arrangements. This simplified logistics for us, and it was all managed very well.

We met at about 6 or 6:30am on Saturday morning at Tanjong Katong carpark, where the two buses were waiting. After carefully packing all bikes into the cavernous holds of the buses, we set off to Malaysia.

The ride was really fun (it always is when you're with such a great crowd) and was pretty stress-free. Normally I'm the driver, so I was really happy to be a passenger and get some rest. But most importantly, I wanted my son to be relaxed and comfortable - and arrive in time - for his race that afternoon.

The Hotel & Race Pack Collection
We reached the hotel at about 1pm, which gave us enough time to check-in and collect our race packs.

The transition area is directly behind where I was standing
We stayed at the official venue, Hotel Avillion, which was pretty good for our needs. We rented a suite (a bigger room with a sink!). It had definitely seen better days, but was totally functional and acceptable considering we were just there for a night.

It's a big hotel, and it took me a long time to find the race pack collection area. I asked at the reception, "Do you know where the race pack collection is?" "It's at BR4." "Where?" I replied, totally clueless as to what code she was using. "Oh, go outside, and down there," she answered.

The rooms were pretty good.
Her directions sounded simple enough, but I would soon learn that it was more than just "outside and down there". I had to go around a pool, up some stairs, be met with a closed gate, go back down the stairs, up some more stairs, be met with a closed restaurant, down the last stairs, around the pool, down even more stairs, through a tunnel thingy next to a big-ass yacht, into a barren lobby, up some more stairs, and lo and behold, I found it. Yeah. BR4.

After picking up the race packs, which included a shirt, tattoos, free dinner vouchers, and the usual flyer spam you throw away, I rushed back to the room and started setting up my son's bike.

Kids' Triathlon
150m swim - 4km bike - 800m run

4pm is about the worst time of day to hold a triathlon in Malaysia, due to the searing/evil afternoon sun. But on the other hand, had it been any earlier, I don't think we would have made it there in time.

At about 2pm, my son (Ezio) and I racked his bike and set up his transition. This being his first triathlon, I showed him how to place his stuff in order to get to it as fast as possible and not forget anything.

Ezio insisted on using a Camelbak as his bike doesn't have a bottle cage, so I brought a small one I had from mountain biking, lined up his shoes, sunglasses, race belt, helmet, and gloves. He says he can't shift gears without his gloves.

The race organizer - Mr. Chan I believe - was standing around, and I needed to find out what the kids' course would be like. "Excuse me, can you tell me where the kids start?" "Yes, at the beach, under the inflatable arch." "Ok, and which buoys will they swim around?" "Oh, we'll set those up later. The tide is moving around now."

Okaaaaay, so now I know this is a pretty relaxed setup. It's not a highly-planned Ironman-like event. More of a, 'we'll-do-whatever-we-want-whenever-we-want-however-we-want-seat-of-our-pants-deal'. Which I like. I really do. In fact, I'm pretty relaxed about most things...except racing. But maybe this was a sign to me to not take things so seriously...

At around 3pm the inking opened up. I'm not sure why they do number inking for kids but have tattoos for adults. Either way, we got his arms inked up, but it wouldn't stick well due to our liberal application of sunscreen. Whatever, it's better to not get burned. Trust me, I know.

From there, we started walking to the beach. At that point, we started seeing our Terai Melayu comrades, and boy were they supportive! "Come on Ezio!" "You ready Ezio?!" "Let's go man!" These were the types of things he heard. He acted cool but he loved it.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the giant inflatable arch being moved down the beach. It was low tide, and the organizers were bringing it closer to the water. It was still higher up the shore from the sprint race they had early Saturday morning.

Out on the water, boats were moving white buoys around, and it was now clear that the swim would be around those. Meanwhile, the kids lined up under the arch, and the organizers started briefing the kids on the rules.

After a tense 5 minutes of standing there, the air horn sounded, and the kids were off. In fact, most of them started running even before the thing sounded. See for yourself in the video below.

The kids in the front really ran for the water fast, while those in back couldn't. Ezio had said beforehand he'd be in the back, as it was his first race. I told him he would have a better advantage by starting in front, but he replied, "Papa, I don't care if I'm first or last. It doesn't matter."

Most of us say this, but deep down inside we really want to finish well. But he genuinely didn't care. At all. But still I persisted, giving him tips and advice on how to be faster, even making him practice his transition the night before at home.

He obliged, and didn't complain, but maybe was doing it just to make me happy. He didn't care about his time. The fact that he was wearing a Garmin said otherwise, but again, I put that on him.

All the while, I thought I was teaching him, but in retrospect I realize I was learning from him more than he was learning from me: Don't take things so seriously!

He's a great swimmer, and has been taking weekly lessons since he was 5, so had no problems in the sea. But with the splashing and commotion I couldn't tell where he was or how he was doing until the kids started running out. He was towards the end. Turns out, later, he told me he had walked most of it! He said there was another kid that he made friends with and the water was so shallow they just strolled along!

As you would have seen from the video, his pace up the beach was pretty relaxed, and so was his transition. The bike took quite a while too. Later he revealed to me that another kid couldn't ride because his front wheel was pointing almost backward and he couldn't pull the handlebar around. So Ezio stopped to help him. This was nice to hear.

His T2 was pretty fast, and soon he went out to the 800m run (walk if you don't care about your time). By this time quite a few kids had already finished the race, but that was ok.

A few minutes later, I saw him walking down the red carpet towards the finish, and that's where we hyped it up. I cheered, and so did my wife and the people around us, and he burst into a sudden sprint, passing a few other kids, and charging over the finish line. It may not have been fast, but that's not what he was going for, and I was proud.

Individual sports, like triathlon, expose you for what you are. There's no team to hide behind, no other successes to take credit for, no excuses; just you and your own results. They keep you honest.

At the same time, had Ezio been on a team that didn't do so well, he (or I) could have attributed (blamed) the poor result on the team, when really the individual didn't care.

In such a case, we'd be fooling ourselves, saying, "He's actually fast, but the team brought him down." In reality, it was all him. And that's ok. I'm happy to have this clarity.

After the race, a large group of Terai Melayu went out to get some satay kajang (deer satay). We walked about 1km out to a bus stop on the main road, and waited for the bus. It had seemed that the sun's temperature had somehow been turned up. It was totally unbearable unless we stood in shade.

We waited. And waited. And waited. Some of us got so thirsty, we ran to an nearby 7-Eleven to grab some drinks. Then, we waited. And after that, we waited. Somebody threw his shoes into the middle of the road. I have no idea why, probably frustration, before waiting some more.

Must have been half an hour before we realized this may have been a bus stop...but busses may have not even been running that day!

So many walked to a nearby restaurant, where I heard they waited again just as long. But the three of us headed back to the hotel where we could eat the free dinner that was waiting for us.

The food would have been ok, but it was all cold. I ate salad, spaghetti, really good fish in tomato sauce, and some potato wedges. A good carbo dinner for the night before.

The Main Event
As usual, I went to sleep as early as possible - maybe around 10pm. As usual, I woke up as early as possible, with no alarm. From there, it was over to the breakfast, where I consumed just enough fuel to keep me from getting hungry later - nothing too filling. Never eat things you're not used to eating before a training ride.

The fact the transition area is basically at the entrance of the hotel meant that nobody racked their bikes the night before. So this was super convenient. I rolled down with my bike and my stuff and started setting up.

I did my routine racking, checking, double-checking, and feeling usually-nervous. Then I thought of Ezio. He was cool the whole time - why shouldn't I be? This isn't an IRONMAN.

About then I saw Idham and Chris, both from Terai Melayu, and we talked a bit, further relaxing the mood. Soon, we were out of the transition area, mingling with more and more Terai Melayu-ers and posing for photos.

All hyped up for the race
It was cool to see bomba (fireman) boats with divers on them out around the buoys, in addition to guys on paddle boards and even a camo-blue navy or police boat.

But the water was fairly calm and easy, unlike the day before, which Idham said was choppy and rough (he did the Sprint). This made the swim all the more pleasant - welcome conditions.

Let's do this
My age group set off second, so we had prey to chase and a clear route to follow. I hadn't studied the course, but how hard could it be? From the beach, it was clear that it went out a few hundred metres, took a 90-degree corner to the left (parallel to the shore), went into the marina with the big-ass yacht, and then came back out again.

But once I made it into the marina area, all I could see on the horizon was a mess of red or orange buoys with other orange safety floats bouncing all over. See, some swimmers chose to tow those inflatable floats along. And they really got in the way as each sighting glance is maybe only a half-second (you need to breathe, too).

Within a minute or two, I was next to a red buoy, and about half the swimmers were turning there. There were guys in a boat nearby and they weren't stopping them. Maybe this was the way to go!?!

I paused, my head bobbing up with a confused look on my goggled-mug, and one of the boat-boys gestured to me to keep going, and not U-turn. Yet he wasn't making any effort to stop the short-cutters AKA cheaters.

It's ok, they can cheat. It's their loss, and they'll have to live with the knowledge they cheated. Go ahead.

I'm a slow swimmer but it was at this point I started catching up to the even-slower swimmers, as identified by their swim caps. I passed a few, and kept cruising. It was nice that in this marina there were pretty much no waves.

Soon I was out, running up the hard, wet sand of the beach, and towards T1. A nice touch were 6 showers set up between the beach and T1 to wash the sand and salt off. But they were so crowded, I cut around them and entered transition. Run in.

Notice how the swim enters the calm waters of the marina
Swim: 35:06

See my swim on Strava here.

I love this part. Garmin stop, goggles and cap off, socks and shoes on (sand included), belt clipped, helmet and glasses on, chug water, grasp bike, run out, ride.

It always takes me a few minutes to get into a groove, and this ride out was no different. Involuntarily I let out a little chuckle as we passed the bus stop (with no busses), thankful that episode was over.

The bike, being the longest segment, is where I tend to recover the most lost spots (lost to faster swimmers). So I counted how many guys I passed and how many passed me, to get an approximation my progress. If more passed me that I passed, that meant I was lagging behind.

I'm not the fastest cyclist, but after about 25, I lost count. It was right there where a guy on a black and neon orange tri bike with a full rear disc just totally surged past me. He was doing 40+, and if I'm not mistaken, it said "Volt" on his bike. Was this an e-bike?

We were on an out-and-back, 20km each way, and the roads were [supposed] to be closed off once we hit the main stretch, outside the town. There were police at most junctions stopping cross-traffic and guiding us the right way. Volunteers with flags helped, too, as did signs with arrows indicating any upcoming corners. Overall, I think the course was well-marked and well-managed.

About 12 or 13 km into the ride I think, I started noticing the leaders on their way back. That meant they were about 15 km ahead of me - quite a huge lead. Nevertheless, I kept my head down and before I knew it was at the 20km turnaround.

Right after the U-turn was a water stop. However, they didn't have any more cups filled up, so they handed me an entire 1.5L bottle of water, with the cap removed. Which was cool by me.

I swigged a huge gulp of it, and poured the rest through my helmet. My helmet is a Lazer aero helmet so there are no holes. But it has a little hatch on top just so you can pour water in it. Little channels from there drain the water around your head. Cool feature.

The last 20km was fun. A big group of guys on pretty high-end tri bikes caught me and passed me on the flats. They were the first to pass me; about 5-6 of them. But then on the hills I caught all of them, and kept my lead until the flats. This cycle repeated about half a dozen times.

I'm not used to drafting in triathlons, so instead of hanging in the group I surged ahead as many times as possible. It was a race and I don't quite have the relaxed attitude (or ego maybe) of my son. I wasn't going to let them pass.

But each time, they tagged on to my tail, sucking my wheel like this was a Sunday group ride. I didn't mind though. They were pushing me, encouraging me, challenging me, and I was up to it.

After a while, we came up behind another guy who was down in an aero position. I was going to pass him on the right. This was tricky because the other cyclists behind us were coming the opposite direction, in the other lane. And the occasional car would get into the mix, so we had to be careful. Not to mention those hemispherical glass reflector thingies on the dashed lines.

Sure enough, a car was coming at us. It was a silver Perodua Myvi, and it was trying to pass the cyclists in front of it. His right wheels were over the dashed line, creeping into our lane. I made a violent gesture with my arm, ordering him back into his lane, or distance closing quickly.

We were flying at 40+ on a downhill, and the guy in front of me, aero and narrow, suddenly noticed the offending vehicle. His reflexive instincts kicked in, and he flinched to the left, away from the car. This caused his front wheel to turn 90-degrees, subsequently catapulting him over the bar, rear wheel launching into the sky in front of my face.

"Oh shit this is going to hurt. A lot. I'll mess up my bike, too, but it'll be salvageable," I thought to myself.

In slow motion, he hit the ground, right shoulder first. His head hit the side (not front, thankfully) of the car. A pump went flying to the left at twice the speed of his bike.

I had a sudden, deep sense of pity for him. He's in extreme pain. The race is over for him. His possessions are scattered across the road.


A loud, hollow thud was produced by his helmet striking the door of the car.

A quick look over my shoulder, and I saw the stupid car slam on his breaks. A cyclist going the opposite direction smashed into the back of the car. Mayhem had officially ensued.

I did nothing other than stopped pedalling. Somehow, I cruised on a razor thin line between him and his bike, unscathed. As did the group behind me. I had a sudden pang of guilt for not stopping.

My son had stopped in a race for someone who wasn't even hurt. Shouldn't I do the same? Then I realized had I stopped, I would have caused even more blockage.

"What a CHEEBYE!" I screamed. "He's moving!" one of the guys replied. "OK, so he's alive?" I asked. Seriously, we thought he could have been killed.

I told the others to please report what they had seen to the organizers or the police so as to ensure that they knew it was the driver who was at fault, not the rider. At this point, we had all slowed down to about 20. We were all fairly shaken up.

Miraculously, only about a minute later, an ambulance was on its way, lights flashing. Good.

Again, how seriously could I take this race after seeing that? How important is your race time when you're in the hospital? I'm worried about my time while someone else is worried about his life? It doesn't add up.

Back to the grind. Hammering it up hills, down hills, and along straights with a few guys glued to my wheel. The group thinned and it was just me and one guy on a Cervelo P5, I believe. At about KM 38 he passed me, and said, "Thanks for the draft, man!" or something to that effect. He was bib 4222.

I gave him a thumbs up, and then a torrential rain began. Chasing him, we made our way back to T2.

Perfect timing for the rain.

A nice out-and-back with small hills
Bike: 1:10:18

See my ride on Strava here.

The first thing I noticed when I racked by bike in T2 was the puddles in my running shoes. The rain was that heavy. Helmet off, visor on, tip the water out the shoes, slip them on, spin the race belt around, and dash for 'Run Out'. Glasses? I'll keep them, it might heat up.

This is the part where your legs feel like bricks, especially if you haven't done any brick training in a year, but this is also the part where you realize you're at the beginning of the end. The end of an awesome race that you've completed thus far with no issues. No crashes, flats, or mechanical failures. Unlike some others.

It's you against the world
Here's where you challenge yourself in the most primal possible way. It's you against the world. Running from a predator, prey, being chased to the death. Got a cramp? Too bad, nobody cares. Don't like the rain? Too bad. That's your problem. Wet shoes give you blisters? Enjoy them.

The trees don't care how tired you are. They will exist and stand strong, looking down on you, no matter what. You envy them and their resilience, but the feeling is only one-way.

Whether you succeed or fail is up to you. You can't blame anybody else. But you can revel in the strength of your self-sufficiency, independence, and individuality. You can run with dignity, no matter the pace, under your own ambulation, locomotion, bipedal propulsion. Even if you're last. But nobody's going to stop you. Rain or shine.

It's all you, for better or for worse. Run.

It's all you.
Again, I was playing the how-many-places-can-I-jump-forward game by counting whoever I passed. One, two, three, four, three, two, three, four. Not quite as clean as the bike. I was getting passed a fair amount.

Some super skinny guys with no shirts were flying the other way on this out-and-back course. Yep, they were on their last kilometer, about ready to take the podium. It was 9:45am.

The rain was still heavy, but not apocalyptic-torrential like 20 minutes beforehand. Still, there were massive puddles on the road, and mini sandbars snaking out from the side of the road from the flowing water. Most people avoided the puddles, but last time I checked, the shortest distance between two places is a straight line, so I b-lined right through them, splashing everyone in a 1-m radius.

My pace was okay, around 5:30 per km, which wasn't quite where I'd normally want to be in an OD, but not too bad considering my only training in the past 3 months was the Cebu 70.3 two weekends before. I was still gaining more places than I was losing, so I was in high spirits.

"How you feeling?" I asked to the guy next to me. "OK, how are you?" he replied. "Fine, but I thought it was swim-bike-run, not swim-bike-swim," I joked, as we splashed through an ankle-deep mud puddle. He chuckled at my un-funny joke, trying to be polite.

At about KM 4 I spotted Chris from Terai Melayu running the other way, on his way back. He had quite a lead and was looking at a good finish, it appeared.

The run alternated from the shoulder of the road to dirt mud paths, to both paved and unpaved trails through a beachside park, and eventually out to the highlight - a boardwalk raised above the sea. It appeared to be high tide, and the water was a really nice aqua green. It was actually clear enough to see the bottom which was a change from the murkiness when we swam.

I tired to keep the pace at around 5:30, which with my poor endurance at the time, became increasingly more difficult. But that's the fun - that's what I'm here for - to find and respect my limitations, and face them head-on. All with the distinct possibility of failure, injury, or defeat.

Bringing it home
It wasn't long before I found myself rounding the corner to the road leading down to the hotel, where I picked up the pace, close to 5:00. The cheering as I entered the finish chute was awesome, one guy even shaking his water bottle at me like it was Champagne, and I was hyped. I heard the cowbells ring, reminding me my wife and two kids were there, further raising my spirits.

Chris finished second in his age group!

After catching my breath, I headed over to the ambulance to find out if they knew anything about the guy that wrecked on his bike. Turns out he only had a dislocated shoulder (and the obvious road rash). The worst part? His bike disappeared. When they picked him up in the ambulance, they left his bike, and somebody took it. The medic then asked me if I knew where it was!

From there, I proceeded over to the police van and reported what I had witnessed to the cops. I wanted them to know the vehicle was at fault, and hopefully charge him with something. I gave them my name and number but never heard anything.

Notice where the run goes out onto boardwalk on the water
Run: 52:56

See my run on Strava here.


The Port Dickson International Triathlon is definitely one I'd return to - especially with the Terai Melayu group. It's one I'll treat as a fun, training event - one to relax in and not take to seriously. There's plenty of other time for that, but not here.

#29 in my category

  1. Study and understand the swim course. If it's like I experienced, it's a bit confusing, and you may take a wrong turn or even be accused of cheating.
  2. Beware of traffic. Even if you think the roads are closed, some rogue vehicles may find their way into the course.
  3. The way it's organized and set up is pretty casual, so don't take things too seriously.
  4. The kids' event was superb, so if you have children consider it.
  5. Eat in the hotel. Don't even try going out.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

2016 Cobra Energy Drink IRONMAN 70.3 Asia-Pacific Championship in Cebu Philippines: Race Report

In a way, no race report for Cebu is even needed: The race sells out in mere hours of registration opening, and most people who race it one year return the next. However, if for whatever reason you're on the fence, or would just like some practical tips, read on.

In addition, I'd like to offer some practical advice on the event - like where to stay, how to get around, and tips about the course.

With slots filling up the same morning the registration opens, you'll have to be quick with your mouse. Apparently, there were 2,500 slots sold in four hours with 500 people on the waiting list.

All this for just a few hours?

The day it opened, I waited until after lunch to register, and to my disappointment, it was full. But I found a few other ways to get in:
  1. I managed to register by buying the charity entry, which means that I paid double, but half the fee went to a local charity.
  2. Refresh the site and keep trying - slots can open up if people's sessions time out.
  3. Email the organizer and ask if you can get in. I'm not sure if this will work but it's worth trying.
In the meantime, keep checking back on the Ironman site to see when the registration opens. Or become a fan of the event here on Facebook.

Update: Registration opens for 2017 on 1 October at 8am (GMT +8). See official announcement here.

If you have kids, this is a great even to bring them to. You might be going for your race, but they can look forward to the beaches and treat it more like a vacation. I brought my wife and two kids. A friend of mine, Masri, did the same, but he (wisely) left a few days in advance and was already there.

We flew from Singapore to Cebu on Silkair. It was on a direct flight that left at about 9am on Saturday. This was really cutting it too close for me, as it only left me a few hours to get to the hotel, get my race pack, organize my bike and gear, and get to sleep for the race the next morning. Not even enough time to eat!

With Masri's kids in the airport
Upon arrival, there was someone from our hotel waiting for us, with a van. We emailed them in advance to request this airport transfer, specifying that we had a bike and seven people (we gave Masri's family a lift to their hotel, the Shangri-La), to make sure there was space. We had to pay for this van (not included in the hotel). I forgot how much it was - maybe about SG $30, but it was worth it. The ride from the airport to the race site is only about 20-30 minutes.

The official hotel is Shangri-La Cebu, which had supposedly-discounted packages for the participants. But if you want one of those packages, you have to stay during their specific dates, which are not flexible. I asked if I could arrive a bit later (I was arriving Saturday, but the package included Thursday-Sunday or Monday) and pay the same rate, and they said no.

The suite is nice, with a sea view
Instead, we booked a room (suite, actually) at Movenpick, which is just 700m up the road. This is a nice hotel with excellent service, but quite a bit less convenient than the Shangri-La, as I had to lug my stuff back and forth on a narrow and busy road (with two little kids). It may have been cheaper, though, but next year it's the Shang all the way for us.

Race Pack Collection
I almost missed the deadline of 4pm on Saturday, but picked up my race pack and walked through the expo. This was one of the busiest expos I'd ever seen - I could barely walk through the crowd it was so packed.

Right after having picked up the race pack
This is where you pick up your 'loot bag' which is really the sponsor part of the race pack - this year it was a yellow waterproof backpack with a shirt, a Cobra energy drink, a Cobra water bottle, some junk food (this didn't make sense to me), Rock Tape, lots of other little samples, and the usual spam/flyers plus the race program.

Checking out the finish line.

I made it back to the hotel in time to organize my stuff and eat a big plate of pasta in the Movenpick restaurant, before going to sleep as early as possible (about 9:30pm). Since I'm a light sleeper I brought ear plugs, and asked for a separate bed. I let my wife and kids sleep in the room and I slept in the outside room of our suite where it would be quieter, and I could wake up without disturbing them.

Race Day: Setup
After a decent sleep - not perfect though as I'm always nervous the night before - I woke up at 4:15 with no alarm. I had asked for a wake-up call from the front desk at 4:30, but it never came. Good thing I was already awake.

I felt pretty unprepared. I had totally stopped training my running due to a ruptured plantar fascia back in October 2015. Funny - this happened only a few weeks after registering for Cebu. But at the time I thought by August 2016 (race day) it would have been healed. So did my doctor. Even after a dozen doctor appointments, an x-ray, an MRI, physiotherapy, many podiatrist visits, custom insoles, and lots of very slow, methodical training, I could only work my way up to 14km without the pain coming back.

In April, the pain became so bad I almost lost hope, and completely gave up running. I still cycled, and swam just a little bit (less than once a week). But I knew my run condition was poor. I figured I'd go in with a decent swim and cycle, and then just walk/hobble along on the run, and not risk injury.

So after waking up I put some KT tape under the sole of my foot to support the arch, with one strip stretching up my ankle, on both sides, like a stirrup. This was to hold the arch up and hopefully minimize any injury.

With that in place, at about 4:30am on race day I went down to the Movenpick restaurant for the breakfast. Who wants a full buffet before a race? Not I.

You know the advice: Just eat what you normally eat before a long ride - don't try anything different - and don't risk upsetting your stomach. Following this, I just had my normal cereal and a bit of bread, and a few extra glasses of water.

Next, it was out the door with my bike and bag and on to the Shangri-La. There was supposed to be a bus that would take us there, but I heard some pros saying that last year there was a traffic jam and it would be faster just to walk. So I followed them in the dark, down the narrow and dusty road to the Shang. This would be the only time I'd be able to keep up with the pros!

I couldn't resist a photo of this huge sign of all the pros
The transition area was huge - the biggest I had ever seen - with many bikes already racked. But to get in, we had to queue up and have our bikes photographed, including the race number on the seat post, and our faces. This was to match the riders with the bikes as a security measure. This took a good 10 minutes of waiting.

Racked and ready
Once in, I set up my transition spot as the music played. I could feel the energy in the air - the anticipation, excitement, and maybe a bit of fear from the crowd. As always, I was early, and didn't have much to do, besides carefully arrange my running shoes, visor, glasses, cycling shoes, race belt, helmet, bike Garmin, water, nutrition, and anything else. And re-arrange it. And check it. And re-check it.

Soon, the sun started rising and I made my way to the beach. Still, we had more than an hour to go, so this was a good time to check the water. On the way to the beach there were plenty of drink stations, so I picked up a few waters and energy drinks - no way I'm dehydrating.

The water was very nice, and I entered, just one of hundreds of others warming up. I stepped on coral a few times, cutting my leg and foot, but it didn't really hurt. In a way, I liked it - it was almost a distraction from the real pain I was about to experience.

This is the part where I like to feel the current by observing boats and buoys and by floating and seeing where the water takes me. I picked out major landmarks on the shore to aid in sighting later, and even tasted and smelled the water. This little bit of familiarity helps plan, prepare, and even reduce tension.

Back on the beach, I waited among the thousands of others, for my group to swim. It was a beach start, with two swimmers entering the water about every 15 or 30 seconds. This is a pretty good way of starting the swim, as it avoids the huge crowds common with a mass start. Still, though, the beginning was very crowded, but it could have been worse.

The water was clean and clear, and for much of the swim I could see the bottom. But it was choppy, and some swells were so big I couldn't even see any of the buoys. Sighting was hard. Then my goggles started leaking. I tried ignoring it - I really don't mind getting saltwater in my eyes - but eventually it became so bad I couldn't see. But this meant I had to clear my googles at least 5-6 times, each requiring me to break my flow and dramatically slow down.

I finished in a slow 45 minutes, and ran up the shore, over the first timing mat and into the transition area. I saw my friend Masri who had just finished right before me, and he was getting his bike out. Normally my T1 is around 2-3 minutes, but I could tell this would take longer: There was actually a queue to get out! This was pretty frustrating, but I patiently waited, and 9 minutes later, was in the saddle.

Feeling glad the swim is done - now here comes the fun part!
View my swim on Strava here.

The second I was over the timing mat and on the bike all I could see was people. Crowds and crowds of smiling locals, cheering us on. It was insane. They were cheering - screaming actually. And so I reciprocated: I yelled back at them, "Yeah!!" "Let's go!" were some of the things I yelled. In return, their cheers became even louder and more enthusiastic. This was going to be fun.

The course was flat, and the roads were ok. Not perfect, but totally acceptable - no pot holes or gravel, but some minor bumps and seams where the road had been repaired. I heard they even patched some of it up just for our race. Furthermore, the roads were totally closed off to traffic, which was nice.

Soon, we had to cross from Mactan to Mandaue, over a huge bridge. This was supposed to be the only uphill. No sweat - I mashed to the top and then flew down, as fast as possible. I had to be a bit careful, though, because there were some very slow cyclists (and they don't necessarily go in straight lines). A quick glance at the Garmin showed 55 km/h at the bottom.

Since this was a double-out-and-back course, soon, I started seeing the pros coming back for a second loop, complete with police escorts. No way I could catch up with them, but I had to keep my head down and try to keep my average speed above 32. I was hoping to finish the cycle in below 2:46 (my time for Bintan 10 months beforehand).

One super fast part of the course was the tunnel. It goes down, where you can pick up some serious speed, then inside there's no wind. I was able to enter at 50 km/h and maintain above 40 all the way through.

I was doing my best to keep it at 34-35 but it was getting hard with the crowds. The road became narrower and in fact it was impossible not to draft. But these guys were at times going slower than 30, and there was no way to pass at times. Then, at the first u-turn (km 26 I believe), the bottleneck was so tight, the ground so wet, and the commotion so intense that behind me, I heard a terrible crash.

Lucky I was ahead of them and I had enough water on me to not need any. I'd really rather not deal with the crowds struggling to get a bottle until I really have to.

After the u-turn in Talisay, it was back towards Mandaue City where we'd do a second u-turn. Still, along the way, were thousands of spectators, standing on the sides of the roads and in the median. Many were asking us to throw them the yellow Cobra Energy Drink bottles handed out at the water stops. I wanted to, but didn't have one.

I rode on my Canyon Aeroad without aero bars - pure road setup
After the third u-turn, the wind really started picking up. It was pushing me all over the road (and I only have 62mm wheels). I wondered how the guys on full discs managed it. It was really hard riding, into the wind.

All that changed after the fourth and last u-turn. The tail wind pushed me above 40 most of the way and it was awesome. I picked up a few bottles, and chucked them to the kids. Then, it was over the bridge again, and back to transition.

I looked at my time, and it read 2:47 - a minute longer than I had wanted.

View my ride on Strava here.

I don't care how painful running can be, I love it. And somehow the jolt the body experiences moving from the cycle to the run just feels great to me. The stimulation and shock just reaffirm to me that I'm confronting, challenging, and defying my body and mind's limits. And that's living.

Problem is, I didn't train for the run. "It's ok," I told myself, "I've done a decent swim and bike and now I can walk or trot - doesn't matter - I'm here to have fun." And with the swim and bike behind me, it was just a matter of walking this thing out.

With one decent 70.3 behind me (Bintan 2015, 5:36) I had a lot less to prove to myself this time.

Shuffling out of T2, I considered my options:

  1. Just walk fast, at about 8 min/km, and not risk further damaging my plantar fascia (which hurt the day before). Finish the run in 2:50 or so.
  2. Walk-run. Try about 1 min of walking per km and increase my pace but risk injury.
  3. Run. It could be done, but without any real training it would be hard. Risk of injury would be high.

I like the solitude of running alone, but in races, I love talking to people. A guy appeared next to me, "How you feeling?" I asked. "OK but I need to keep my heart rate down," he replied. "Yep, I'm pacing myself too - I'll probably be walking soon." As we settled into a similar pace, still getting used to this odd sensation on our feet, we talked more. Turns out he was from Singapore too. Soon, he slowed down to walk, and I kept going.

I just ran. There was no pain, so I didn't slow down.

The crowds here were just as thick as on the ride, but since we were going slower and on just a two-lane road, it was easier to give/get high-5s and talk to the locals. Soon I heard some wild screaming and a loud bell ringing - it was my wife and two kids! I ran across the road to give them all high-5s and was on my way.

It was an odd course - not out and back like the ride, but out a bit and then two loops before coming back. So soon I saw the pros coming in, close to 4 hours after the race had started.

One of the pros, close to the end
Water stops were set up just about every kilometer I'd say. Most had water, Cobra, Coke, gels, and sponges in ice. I'd usually drink some water and Cobra, then put a frozen sponge down my suit and ask for them to pour water over my head.

Much of the run is shade (not all!) so it wasn't nearly as hot as Putrajaya or Bintan, which was nice. But even if it had been sunny, the support and encouragement of the crowd might have made up for it. Some teenage girls were chanting like cheerleaders, while some were helping give out water, even though they were not official volunteers.

Others were dancing to loud music, including one older lady-boy in a mini-skirt. It was at this point where I met my friend Paul Tan. To give him some encouragement, I pointed at the dancer, and at that moment he picked up the pace. (Read his race report here).

I gave lots of kids 5s. There was one, with no shirt on, who had to be no older than four. He gave me 5, and I yelled, "Yeah!" and then when I gave him 5 he responded with an appropriate and perfectly-timed, "FU*K YEAH!"

Others told me I was their idol. I thought I misheard them, or that maybe they were calling me something in the local language (Cebuano), but after checking with a few Filipino friends, I learned it was correct. Apparently, that's a common expression in the Philippines.

Feeling good!
Halfway through the run, I felt great. Things were going fine: none of the telltale pain I was used to in the sole of my foot, a reasonably low heart rate, and decent splits. Screw it, it was time to increase the pace and bring it home.

I progressively sped up, and from km 11 to km 17 kept it at 6:35. Nothing like what I should have been doing had I trained, but a pace I was happy with. But it was getting hotter. And I was getting more anxious - anxious just to get it done, with no injury. The clock was ticking.

At times, I told myself it was ok to walk, and initially I did. But then at about km 15, in what's called, "The Microwave" due to its heat and lack of shade, I told myself walking would only slow me down. Now, indeed, it was a race against the clock. Could I finish the race in under 6 hours?

After the microwave, I picked up the pace. Only 4 km left? Might as well hammer it. This is where the real pain came. And I loved it. Defying the urge to walk, proving that my mind controls my body. My heart, lungs, legs are slaves to me. Slaves to what I decide I'm going to do. And I decided I was going to drop my times to below 6 min/km and hammer it home.

Forget high-5-ing kids. Forget water stops. Forget the sponges. Forget anything that didn't speed me up. At this point, even the slightest hill felt like a mountain. But I didn't care: This is what I had signed up for!

Then, suddenly, I heard the distinct Ironman cowbell ringing that I knew my kids had. I looked over and heard, "Papa! Papa! Go!" and without even a glance at them I focused on finishing hard.

How many people can I sprint past before the finish line?
I unleashed all the energy I had, and sprinted the last few hundred metres. I try this at every race, and it's a good measure of your fitness and fatigue. Sometimes, there's no energy left, and other times I have what feels like a large reservoir of power. Somehow, this time, I had that power, and accomplished a 5:18 pace for the last 800m.

At this point, I knew I'd be back next year, for a sub-6 finish.
See my run on Strava here.

The Finish
They gave me my medal, took my race chip off my leg, and I some how drifted with the crowd to where I was happy to see ice baths. They were more like freezing water baths, but were pretty much 0-degrees.
A 6:11 would have to do...
I sat down in the freezing tub, and soon enough the Singaporean I had run with in the beginning arrived. We talked about the race and just enjoyed a few minutes of relaxation. It felt great to lower my body temperature and just rest. Suddenly, somebody brought free beer - that was just perfect.

Not my fastest 70.3, but not my slowest

The support and services at the finish were awesome: Massages, beer, ice cream, Cobra, and more. I wanted to spend all day there but my family was waiting.

The medal is unlike any other I have ever seen. The finisher shirt is pretty wild, too!
One of the coolest things was the medals. These are really unique, designed be renowned Cebuano artist Kenneth Cobonpue.

Race Analysis

From this breakdown, you can see how slow my swim was, relative to the competition (#195 in my division). I jumped forward 105 places in the bike, then another 18 in the run. I fully expected my run to be my worst, but somehow it was kind of ok. This put my at a #72 division ranking.

But what really went wrong was my transitions. Both were far of what I'm used to, especially T1. However, a lot of others dealt with the same crowds, so I'm not the only one. I suppose it worsened over time, and only the fastest swimmers had no T1 bottlenecks.

After the race, we headed to the Movenpick restaurant where they had a really good buffet. It was pretty much empty because included in the event was a pretty nice lunch. But I skipped it because it was for athletes only, and my family was waiting.

Tri-themed buffet at the Movenpick - untouched
A few days later, we took an island-hopping boat out to some nearby islands where we snorkelled and they cooked an awesome seafood lunch for us.
We had the boat all to ourselves
Our boat crew cooked this on the island for us
We booked it through the hotel. It wasn't really cheap, but by booking it through the hotel, we knew we'd be safe and we could trust them.

  1. As with any such big event, don't arrive the day before - make it at least two days before.
  2. Movenpick is awesome, but the Shangri-La is better.
  3. Bring your family, if you have one. It's a great vacation, with plenty of other activities to do. We took a boat to some small islands and went snorkelling.
  4. Study the route well in advance as both the bike and the runs can be confusing.
  5. This year the sea was a bit choppy - last year (2015) it was much worse. Train in the sea as much as you can (the stormier the better) and try to learn to sight and fight through the waves.