Triathlon has largely been a spectator sport for me, and I have always marvelled at the strength and endurance of athletes who swim, bike and then run in quick succession under often gruelling conditions. Having participated as a relay runner in past duathlons and triathlons, I have always enjoyed being in the thick of the action in a crowd that is driven and extremely passionate about their sport (or, in the words of my triathlete friends, just crazy!), I could not let pass the opportunity of participating in an IRONMAN race.
My group of swimmer/biker/runner/some or all of the above friends, whom I had the privilege to meet during the Malakoff Powerman Duathlon in 2013 and the Port Dickson Triathlon in 2014, hustled into action to form teams as soon as the IRONMAN 70.3 Putrajaya website was up.
Cyclist Fahmi, swimmer Suzanne (who is a triathlete in her own right) and my runner self decided to register for the 70.3* as Team All Ironed Flat. Our swim-bike-run pals, including Foong, Margie, Yue-Jin and Choowie, also formed teams. What an experience it was!
* “70.3” refers to the total distance in miles (113.0 km) covered in the race, consisting of a 1.2-mile (1.9 km) swim, a 56-mile (90 km) bike ride, and a 13.1-mile (21.1 km) run. Each distance of these swim, bike, and run segments is half the distance of that segment in a (full) IRONMAN triathlon.
THE RACE EXPO…
… is an integral part of the fun and the experience of any triathlon, really!
Hordes of vendors put up their wares for sale, usually with some attractive deals available (I bought enough PowerBar bars and gels to get myself a PowerBar bottle – what can I say, I’m a sucker for bottles), and you’re free to gawk at expensive gear and admire products that you probably never considered or have never seen. You also find things you wonder why you never thought of buying before – Suzanne recommended me an inexpensive brand of very lightweight arm sleeves (‘Mega‘, which was primarily a brand of golfing merchandise) that I eventually decided to wear for the next day’s race.
Then, of course, there is the IRONMAN store. Spending money is not compulsory.. though what coffee addict can stop herself from getting an awesome mug with IRONMAN emblazoned across it? My dad, a former runner in his schooldays and an avid fan of endurance sports, would certainly appreciate a mug too.. and oh, hey, cool fridge magnets. Adorable-looking ‘IRONMAN supporter’ tees for kids? Take my money. I wouldn’t be comfortable wearing anything that shouts “IRONMAN” – I am not a triathlete after all – but I found a casual tee with the famous M Dot logo incorporated in a subtle design, and parted with some more money. (It’s clear that IRONMAN makes tons from merchandising.)
We attended the video briefing and Q&A, and more crucially, the Transition Tour which allows participants a walkaround of the transition site and the swim, bike and run start points. We stood around admiring the immaculately set-up transition and surrounding areas, and the well-oiled operations that was running around us – everything from seasoned officials who could rattle of regulations on anything you asked, to the indulgence of having Vaseline and sunblock stations around to meet your dermatological needs.
We headed down to the swimmers’ start area, where Suzanne surveyed her domain. “The buoy marking the turnaround point looks really far away…”
“We’re glad you’re the one doing the swimming, not us!” Fahmi and I retorted, preparing to duck.
It turns out there was no need to duck – Suzanne laughed, “Well, at least I’m doing it before it’s too hot! Ha ha!” The witty repartee proceeded with my two team-mates offering their commiserations to me, the runner, who would be commencing a 21K run at around noon the following day.
We ended by agreeing not only that the three of us were crazy; but that the majority of the field would consist of even crazier people, the men and women who would be doing all three swim, bike and run legs – the water, the mastery of two-wheeled conveyances, the searing sun and bodies pushed to the limit, all put together.
We suddenly felt immensely unworthy of standing there amongst them. However, the events of the weekend have already been set in motion — like it or not, we had put down our names for Team All Ironed Flat, and there was no turning back now.
Although each of us had the luxury of focusing on one aspect of the triathlon each, we suddenly started to feel the full weight of our individual roles in the bigger whole – the pressure to deliver each of our segments; if even one of us didn’t make it, we would be letting down the entire team and costing all three of us a place amongst the finishers. It was quite an overwhelming thought. We quickly reminded ourselves (somewhat) that we were in it for the fun and camaraderie, and for the unique experience of an IRONMAN event.
We reconfirmed meet-up times for the next morning, and headed home. I hit the MEX Highway with bakuteh dinner on my mind.
SWIM (by Suzanne)
There is still a part of me that could not believe that I parted good money to put myself under stress both mentally and well, physically, to be part of a half Ironman relay team. But then again, when else in my life would I ever be part of the M Dot experience? I don’t have the physical attributes and mental fortitude to do a half, never mind a full IRONMAN. As it were, because of disc prolapse (or ‘slipped disc’ as is commonly known) I may not be able to take part in a full triathlon again as I cannot run without aggravating it further.
Anyways, so the swim it was. I had nightmares of not making the cut – off time of 1 hour 15 mins for the 2 km swim. Imagine the disappointment and dismay of my team mates who also parted hard earned money if I didn’t make it thereby disqualifying the entire team..
Now if this were done in the sea, I might be more confident, added buoyancy and current tend to turn in a better time. However this was in a lake and what can I say, I had my doubts.
So I enrolled the help of Mas, swim instructor who over the few months leading to the event patiently helped to correct my strokes and to my eternal gratitude got me to relearn breathing through both sides (I was more comfortable with breathing from my right which for shorter distances would be alright but quite a strain for longer distances).
On the event day itself, I was really nervous but anxious to get it over and done with. I was as ready as I can be. My target was to get out of the water within 60 mins of getting in.
The release of athletes into the water was self seeded, meaning to say, you group yourself with the same people who target to finish within a certain time. The professionals start first followed by the age groupers (non – pros, arranged in age groups). The faster swimmers start first followed by the slower ones.
I put myself in the middle.
The swim start is a rolling start, i.e. athletes are released into the water a few at a time. There is this platform for you to dive in and you line up to get onto the platform. Just before you dive in, you will cross the timing strip so that your time is recorded from the moment you step on it.
The pros were really impressive. As I was lining up to get into the water, all of us were craning our necks to see them go and went they did.. They are amazingly fast!
Before long, it was my turn. I join several other athletes on the small platform, trying to calm down, cross the timing strip and jumped to the water.
We quickly strike off the the first buoy about 200 m away before turning left heading towards the part of the lake fronting the Putrajaya Maritime Centre and the Pullman Hotel. It seems a long long way ahead (about 900m I reckon). Nothing to it but to grit one’s teeth and try to strike a steady pace making to the marker bouy for the turn around.
Because it was a rolling start and self seeded, I was spared most of the brutality that sometimes happens during a triathlon swim leg, i.e people swimming over you, being whacked by a flaying hand or kicked in the stomach by a stray leg even though you are swimming along minding your own business. So it was quite pleasant, I just had to make sure I don’t stray off course which would cost me precious minutes and which means sighting every 5th stroke.
Before long, the large marker buoy came into sight. I made the turn and tried to quicken the pace somewhat, aiming to do a negative split for the return leg. I remembered thinking that this is more pleasant than I thought and have time to admire the architecture of the underside of the bridge we swam under (a sight from a vantage point most will not be able to see) and was heartened to see supporters lining up the banks and on the bridge.
Once I past the last rest platform, I swam faster using the last of my reserve to save minutes and before long, the last bouy came to sight and after that the plastic ramp came up and hands reached out to help me out of the water. I looked at my watch and was happy to note 59 minutes, excellent! Within target!
Then it was a mad sprint to the transition area (which seems to be a very long way off) and yelling for Fahmi ‘ s name. Skidded to stop at his bike panting furiously, tore off the timing chip, handed it to Fahmi and I was DONE!
BIKE (by Fahmi)
All in all, I had a great outing at IM70.3! The event was, as expected, well set-up and organized, with international standards adopted in respect of road signages, traffic control, event layout, security, itinerary, skilled crews and standby mechanics to do minor fixes for bikes (tyres, brakes and adjustment of gears). The Transition area was well-marked, with overhead signages and names indicated at the bike racks. The well-oiled IRONMAN machine was clearly manifested in all the various procedures and measures, including the mandatory bike check (tyres, brakes and bike gears) upon checking-in at the transition area.
I trained for the Bike segment of the IM70.3 during the month before the race, focusing on stamina and building up a constant cadence of 70-90rpm. I’ve always felt that it’s really important to eat well in the days before the race and to rest well the night before. My kit for raceday had the following – a nutrition pack: chocolate bars, bananas and energy gels, and a puncture repair kit – tube, pump and tools. I also like to pack little salt packets from McDonald’s (no, that’s not where I did my carbo-loading, LOL!) which I would add into my water bottles as a counter-measure against leg cramps.
The bike route was on the main highways around Putrajaya; there was plenty of space and the road surface was good. There were rolling hills and false flats, though no major climbs or steep hills. The weather was, well, hot :), with clear skies with a temperature of 35-39 degrees. There were some slightly strong winds on the open roads.
During the first of the two laps of the 90km bike route, I managed to maintain my normal pace of 30km/h to 40km/h. One had to bear in mind that drafting was not allowed, though left overtaking was; and that IM race crew on motorcycles are constantly on the lookout for violations. I had to put in some effort to cycle hard at the highway to catch up with Margie and Yue-Jin from the other teams, but otherwise, all was going well.
I was really thankful for the ample water stations and generous supply of cold water bottles, isotonic drinks and energy gels. There was however a slight issue with riders throwing away their used water bottles on the road after the water stations; I nearly skidded at one point!
The second lap was a little harder on me. My right leg cramped immediately after the U-turn towards Lap 2, and my average speed started to drop below 30km/h.
It didn’t help that, by then, the sun was really burning down on us and I had to stay focused enough to keep myself hydrated, wetting myself with water to stay cool and keep my core temperature down. I tried my best to pace myself against the rider in front of me to maintain my speed. I overtook Margie at km78 and managed to reduce my time gap with Yue-Jin to a time difference of 1 minute. All I was thinking at the time was that I hoped my team wouldn’t be disappointed with my routine!
RUN (by Wen Li)
Fahmi wheeled his bike in around noon, looking quite relieved to have finally come in after his 90km. Suzanne and I whooped and cheered – Team All Ironed Flat was finally on its way to the last leg of the race – my Run segment.
I had been waiting with the other relay runners, including Foong, under the shade of a tent, watching the sun move higher and higher into the cloudless sky while sipping coconut water (courtesy of Suzanne). Now, standing in out the open by our team’s bike rack, I could feel the sun’s relentless rays even through my arm sleeves. There was not much time to think about the heat anymore; Fahmi handed me the timing device and I strapped it on to my ankle.
Off I went, down the plush lined surface out of transition onto the paved lakeside path. I realised the heat didn’t feel as bad when one gets moving. The initial path out of the Anjung Floria area near transition was lined with trees, but the scenery soon became one of stark concrete as we headed towards the Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin Mosque. The course outlined the perimeter of what is the core island in Putrajaya, which has a central boulevard connecting various Ministry offices. I was thankful for a generous breeze blowing in from the lake.
That was when the full force of the noon-day sun started to hit me. I took stock of the hydration advice given to me by triathlete and runner friends prior to the day (this turned out to be the greatest takeaway from the IM70.3 run, which helped tremendously in my preparation for my maiden Full Marathon a month later):
SOME HYDRATION ADVICE FOR THE RUN LEG:
- As the entire Half Marathon distance would be run in the mid-day sun, the main risks of the day’s 21K were dehydration and heatstroke, which can quickly become life-threatening conditions if left untreated.
- Staying adequately hydrated may also spare you from suffering cramps during your run.
- Start hydrating the day before, and continue on raceday until you start.
- Before: Drop one or two effervescent hydration tablets (depending on the composition and instructions) into a sports bottle and have them with you.
- During the run: If you wish, electrolyte tablets (brands include Saltstick, Hammer Endurolytes, Nuun) are available – these are pills to be taken whole in the recommended dosage, rather than effervescent tablets to be mixed with water. Here’s a Runner’s World review of some electrolyte tablet brands.
- Drink stations. Take advantage of all the drink stations. Drink, drink, refill, drink!
- Shower stations. Keep your body surface cool. There are shower stations between the drink/food stations, make use of them. You’ll be soaked (prepare for foot blisters as your shoes would be, too) but trust me, in the heat that’s better than keeping dry! In any event, in Putrajaya, I didn’t stay soaked for long – the heat was crazy enough to pretty much dry one up before the next shower station came along.
- Sponge stations. There are also ice-cold soaked sponges being given out; make use of them. I took two each time they were offered, I would stuff one on the back of my running vest to keep my back cool, and hold the other in my hand to periodically squeeze water onto my head or through the ventilation panels of my cap. (Remember to discard your sponges responsibly – littering outside designated areas, at least in IM 70.3, can get you penalised!)
- Nutrition. Bring your usual gels and other tried-and-tested* refueling foods along. (I like Cloud 9 mini chocolates!) The aid stations may offer little cups of jellybeans. Take it! Take it!
- Cap and sunglasses. You’ll thank them for keeping the sun and heat out.
- Sunblock. Needs no further explanation 🙂
- Vaseline/anti-chafe. If you’re gonna be all soaked, you’ll risk chafing. Slap it on generously.
- *On raceday, and certainly during the run, do not drink or eat anything you haven’t tried before during your training.
- A final note: The organisation at IM 70.3 is the gold standard of races; not all races/triathlons will be able to offer drink, shower, sponge and nutrition stations with abundant stocks and at regular intervals. It’s important to find out beforehand what support you can expect in a particular race.
The route, I must say, was breathtaking. I never knew of the existence of such scenic parks and gardens in this part of Putrajaya (in particular, the ‘Taman Wawasan’ park at the north of the island) until I ran the IM70.3 route. As the route weaved around houses in the suburbs, some residents even set up their own DIY ‘support stations’ for us runners, complete with a festive arrangement of small Malaysian flags, a boom box playing 80s music and a generous spray of water from a hose that was rerouted from their garden. How awesome is that?
And because I’d like to record the route for future runs in Putrajaya (and you should do it too!), I’ve included the route map here on the right.
Each loop was 10+K, and we were to do two loops to make up the Half Marathon distance. By the second loop, the heat was starting to be really exhausting, and I was happy to be able to finally be able to head towards the carpet-lined finish chute. I caught sight of Yue-Jin at the corner of my eye, and I was promptly joined by Suzanne and Fahmi, with Fahmi holding up his smartphone on video mode, recording our expressions. To my horror, he stopped all us a few metres from the finish line to attempt a selfie (well, wefie), much to the amusement of the emcee. (We discovered later that the selfie failed because Fahmi’s phone was still on video mode! :D)
We rushed towards the finish line. I was still flabbergasted that we actually attempted a selfie on the Half IRONMAN finish chute. At the finish line, Fahmi leapt in the air. I was only too happy to receive my finisher’s medal and ice-cold soaked IRONMAN towel.
We lingered at the finishers’ area to watch the spectacle a bit more. There were plenty of seating areas, a common shower area, as well as common baths. I felt like jumping into a bath, but the thought of having to peel my shoes and socks off my soaked, possibly blistered feet and having no other footwear to get back into later, meant that there was only one option — coffee.
And I found it at the food trucks just outside transition. Glorious, hot, coffee, in the company of my amazing team-mates, huddling under super-sized soaked IRONMAN towels and grinning in the midts of a post-race high, with the IM70.3 medal we each had around our necks.
It was a crazy way to spend a Sunday, and the next day we would be turning up at our offices looking incredibly sunburnt, but it was all worth it.
WE DID IT!