The Malakoff Powerman Asian Championships at Putrajaya in the last weekend of October was a terrific, and humbling, experience. I participated in the Team Relay duathlon (11K run – 64K bike – 11K run) as the first runner in my team, and it was my first outing at a multi-sport endurance event. The competitive atmosphere at the race site brought home the significance of the event to seasoned duathletes – this event was, after all, in its 12th edition, and was the Asian qualifier event to the 2014 Zolfingen ITU Powerman Long Distance Duathlon World Championships in Switzerland, as far as the Individual Long Distance participants (individual 11/64/11) were concerned. Despite the air of driven solemnity, there was an extraordinary camaraderie amongst participants, regardless of race category, so much so that the newbie would not feel lost or unwelcome racing amongst the experienced.
In the team, The Triversified Triumvirate (eventually abbreviated to ‘TTT’ because nobody had the time to say the whole thing, ha ha – this is what you get when you leave race registration to a lawyer), there was fellow MBA alumnus pal Shoon Hooi a.k.a. The Ninja who would be the second runner, and cyclist, Teng Hock. Teng Hock valiantly substituted officially for initially-registered cyclist Fahmi, who would spend the weekend on paternity leave from cycling (congrats on the new arrival, Fahmi!)
I arrived at Precinct 2 with Wendy, coordinator extraordinaire of several teams of friends participating that morning. Wendy was armed with a list of all the teams’ bib numbers and was promptly on the phone making sure everyone was at transition, or at least within walking distance. The chilly morning was already bustling with activity, with people unloading and checking their bikes at the carparks, taking their bikes out on a spin, and wheeling their bikes into transition. It was a very long walk down about four-fifths of the transition area (300 metres or more?) past bikes, gear, throngs of participants and supporters, and more bikes, to where we finally found TTT’s allotted bike bay. Team-mates arrived and we sorted ourselves out. The various teams decided on a post-race meeting point, and split up to prep at their respective bays.
While warming up, I spent some time taking in the atmosphere and observing the buzz, and a feeling of being immensely insignificant swept over me – I was surrounded by true multi-sport athletes who have been training long and hard. I was only there to run an 11K, and to add to that it didn’t feel like it would be one of my best outings, having done only a leisurely 10K the previous weekend and very infrequent short-distance weekend runs prior to that.
I decided to start the long walk towards the start line. For all my usually decent map-reading skills / spatial awareness / sense of direction, Putrajaya has always stumped me as far as initial orientations went, despite the fact that I have run there numerous times. I gradually got my bearings of which way the runners would be coming in, and which way the cyclists would exit, as I made my way to the starting line after the Individual Long Distance participants were flagged off. I familiarized myself with the markings in area that would be the entry into transition two laps later on, to make sure I knew what to expect.
At the starting line, I noted how small the crowd was for the Team Relay runners. No pressure, ha ha! As I waited for the countdown, I started having visions of ending up last in the pack. As I shook off the image, and realized that there actually wasn’t much time to reflect. The Team Relay first runners shot off at 7.05am (after some minutes of what was IMHO the most awesome start-line power-up background music there was, by the way).
There was no doubt that the pack was competitive. The focus and resolve could almost be felt cutting through the still-cool air of the morning. After a while you realise that the next wave – the Individual Sprint category(5.5/32/5.5) – has been flagged off, as a wall of even more competitive-looking runners, many with last names and institutional affiliations etched on their jerseys, dash past the 11K-ers.
Not surprisingly, I had gone out faster than I felt I should, but surprisingly, I managed to sustain relatively even splits of slightly over 7km/min on average till the end, largely thanks (I think) to half a banana at the 5.5km feed station before the start of my second 5.5K lap.
Yes, just half, because after the first bite and many strides later, I attempted to chomp down a second bite only to discover, to my horror, that a large portion of the very ripe fruit had detached from its skin during the forward momentum, and was probably lying in the middle of the asphalt a couple of hundred metres behind me – hopefully not tripping up any of the Sprint Duathlon participants dashing back into transition.
Was it the carb and potassium intake that worked some magic, or was it a mental expectation manifesting itself in a positive outcome? I wouldn’t know (though it might be worth a few empirical tests in future runs, if I can stuff a banana into my running belt!). After a 5K of 37+ minutes (possibly my first sub-40 5K yet post-maternity*), I expected a severe positive split for the second loop. Gone out too hard, yes. I have not yet fully conditioned myself to speedier 10K’s post-maternity, nope. I had told our team cyclist to expect me back at the bike bay at about 1:20, and I started wondering whether I should have added a buffer to that. However, instead of losing stamina, I gradually picked up steam from KM #6 to #7, and by KM #8, it almost felt as if there was the slightest tailwind nudging my legs along.
The trudge up the tiled incline at the back of the Ministry of Finance building felt like a cruel trick at the 10th kilometre, just as the sun was coming out.
I turned the corner at the end of the Ministry of Finance building, and checked my watch at the 10K mark – the time was in the vicinity of 1:13, which was a post-maternity personal best. I would get in within my stated time after all. I ran past my team members perching on the other side of the rails of the transition pen – I would have to run all way down the entire transition and U-turn to get back to them – and made for the straight of the last kilometre. Nearly there.
At the entry into transition (I noticed that signages that weren’t there earlier had been put up to direct runners going into transition vs. runners doing the second loop – there must have been some confusion!), the emcees, who were providing a running commentary, suddenly blurted out over the microphones “Hey! where are you going? You’re to go into transition! Ha ha! Not there!” Despite being pretty sure where I was headed, I hesitated a few seconds while eyeing the marshals and pointing towards the lane I was headed to, my eyebrows signaling “Here, right?”. I realized to some relief that the ‘lost sheep’ was not me because I couldn’t get the eye contact of any of the marshals – they were busy guiding someone behind me, who, I would imagine, was probably quite flustered and embarrassed by then. I felt slightly annoyed, with my first thoughts being that the emcees should have left the marshalling to the marshals.
I expected to encounter someone who would take stock of the long-distance runners’ yellow and red ribbons (yellow collected during the first 5.5K lap, and red during the second lap) at the entrance to the transition area, to ensure that two laps of the circuit were completed, but there were no checks taking place that I could observe (I do not know if it was a visual check, but as mentioned above, the marshals certainly weren’t really concentrating in my direction at the time I was running in!)
I finally arrived at our bike lot, unfastened the bib, passed it on to our cyclist, and off he went. As I got my water and (second) banana, I watched the action around me and marvelled at the majority of participants who would proceed from running to firing up different muscle actions to cycle, and later hop off after tens of kilometres to get back to running.
I must mention a somewhat bizarre sideshow, unrelated to the duathlon, that happened while I was with the team at transition after our cyclist had gone out. Police outriders appeared with sirens blaring, followed by a black car with darkened windows a’la VVIP. Right after we remarked about how ridiculous that was (outriders on a Sunday morning in empty Putrajaya? Seriously?), the black car was immediately followed by a very long motorcade of big bikes (yes, motorcycles). The crowd that was festively cheering on runners became subdued, and watched in disbelief and confusion as runners continued coming in side-by-side with machines that were rapidly filling the air with exhaust fumes and noise. Gradually, the cheering resumed for the unfazed runners who came down the straight after the 10K-mark corner, showing, if anything, that nothing would sway athletes from their goal. Am still curious as to what the outriders and motorcade were about, though.
I stayed on at the course until close to 11am, and managed to catch more friends coming in. Mark whizzed in from his ride, and stikes up a conversation on cycling tips and tricks with us non-cycling runners. Ben and Foong return from their Individual Sprint outings, with tales of cramps and ankles gone iffy, but otherwise looking suitably triumphant. Margie, who was on her way to finishing the last run leg of her Individual Long-Distance event, walked past us during her second transition with a look of steely, don’t-mess-with-me determination.
The exposed Putrajaya course was bound to deliver scorching heat from about 9am onwards, and the projected heat for the last run leg was evidently on everyone’s minds as the Team Relay second runners prepped themselves for their turn. TTT’s second runner, Shoon Hooi, returned in just over an hour – the usually sub-60 “Ninja” delivering the best he could in the searing late-morning heat.
Team TTT finished in 5:04:37 (based on preliminary results at time of writing), in 27th placing out of 40 mixed relay teams, and we all returned with the requisite interesting tan-lines (and finishers’ medals).
As far as timings went, I completed my 11K in 1:17:58, decent by my current progress and which would have been within the top 30% in gender/age-group categories of running races, but easily closer to just the average, or even below, based on a rough comparison with the relay runners in this field racing in similar conditions (i.e. 1st runners racing before the sun came down in full force).
News on the ground seemed to be that this may well be the last Powerman (or at least Malakoff Powerman) with the speculation that the title sponsor may no longer be involved after the present edition. I’m sure many hope that the series will continue… and if it does, I’m certain the sun-soaked runners will beg for an earlier start! While I will probably never be involved in a duathlon as an individual participant (go on, have a laugh at my cycling story), being involved in multi-sport events even just as a runner, I feel, makes for a memorable outings.
Bring on the relays, I say!
*Since baby came along, all my times started to be benchmarked with reference to the period of physiological change that changed my life both physically and mentally. Recovery of core strength and stamina (and weight loss, ha ha) take time (yes, I hear all the experienced moms going “Oh yeah, tell me about it!”), though I have a feeling that pregnancy and childbirth actually strengthens mental resolve and resilience capacity. That’s something to remind myself of every time the going gets tough!