New Chapter, baby.

We’re having a baby!

I’m sure by now you’ve seen our little (carefully crafted) “We’re Pregnant!” photo announcement. The concept was my idea, but props to photographer Gary for the amazing photo. Both Gary and I are super excited, kinda nervous, but feeling an immense amount of gratitude to God, to the universe, to Life, for granting us this unimaginably amazing gift.

Yes, we were planning on starting a family soon. I was prepared to put all Ironman racing on hold after the World Champs in South Africa. So I have not signed up for anything major after September, even though our friends have already lined up their 2019 race calendars. Trust me, the FOMO (fear of missing out) is real. I just had to tell myself that I’m going after a different kind of prize, one that’s no less daunting, no less challenging, but, I’m pretty sure, a million times more rewarding.

In the weeks leading up to our great big South African trip, I was feeling the nerves. I got injured, had to stop running for a while, trained hard to get my fitness back on track, only to feel myself caving in to the pressure and stress that I put onto myself in the final couple of weeks. I did not get my period in August, and I was so sure it was stress related, as I was failing to meet my performance targets in swimming, cycling and even running in the last few days before we flew off.

Come 1st September, Race Day, I knew there was nothing else I could do except to put my best foot forward, and race as hard as my heart, lungs and legs would let me. It was a tough race, one that had me in tears, but I finished it with my head held high, and I was more than ready to get on with my vacation, finally!

After Port Elizabeth, we rented a car and drove to Knysna, our first stop. Gary was still training for IM Malaysia this November, so I tried my best to support his training program. He had a 14 km run scheduled, so he dragged my exhausted body out of bed the next morning, and ran around the quaint little town. It was cold, but really beautiful. I was pretty exhausted though, so I wasn’t a very good training partner, but having just completed a 70.3 IM, I think I was doing pretty okay.

Knysna, pronounced “nice-nah” was breathtaking.

The next stop was Botlierskop Private Game Reserve, a luxury one night safari package. If you ever make a trip to South Africa, you HAVE to go to one of these things. It’s not cheap, but it’s out of this world. We saw so many different types of wild animals, free roaming, and pretty up close. We even had the opportunity to sample of these exotic game meats, which I must say, once is enough. I think I’ll stick to ayam percik, thanks.

I think I’ll stick to fish and chicken and pork. Thanks.

Having a cup of red wine at sunset, my last glass of wine.

After that, we drove to Hermanus, a slightly bigger town, close to Cape Town. A destination for whale watching, it was a beautiful town, with the most laid back feel, ever. It didn’t take long for us to notice that it was a place for retirees and their holiday homes. We had 2 nights here. Gary had us signed up for a spin class at a local gym at 6.30 am the next morning, which again, I dragged my sorry, very tired butt to. Happy husband, happy Ironman, happy holiday. Later that day, though, a random crossed my mind…my period never came, and sure it was probably stress related, but that usually just delays it. And I am feeling a little more tired than usual, even though I did just finish a 6 hour race. I usually bounce back quite fast though. Could it be….? I had nothing to lose. So we hopped into a pharmacy and from a very helpful and enthusiastic pharmacist named Yolanda, we purchased a pregnancy test kit.

Two lines means positive. There’s no other way around it.

The next morning, I woke up bright and early, and did the test. I didn’t have any expectations, I wasn’t really feeling anything at all. I just did the test for fun. But then, the lines appeared. And from that moment on, I felt very….different. It was as if I suddenly acquired hypersensitivity to everything that was happening to me, to my body. Like some weird Spidey senses, I paid extra attention to how I felt, what taste was in my mouth, what mood I was in, what tingling feeling was that in my abdomen, in my lower back, in my feet….everything felt weird, I was cautious.

Gary took the news very calmly, like he didn’t quite believe it. We went back to the same pharmacy later that day, and Yolanda was there with the biggest smile on her face. She pulled me close and eagerly asked me “Please please tell me, what was it?” and I laughed and asked her in return “How accurate are these tests?”. “VERY”, she said. To which I nodded with a big smile on my face. And she was so happy for us! She said to Gary, “you’re a very very lucky man, she’s so beautiful! You HAVE to come back to Hermanus with your child next time!”.

So Yolanda was the first person to know about it. The rest of our trip, my enthusiasm slowly dwindled as the sickness and loss of appetite slowly set in. Not to mention, the both of us catching the cold and feeling absolutely lousy on our flight home. No alcohol was a bummer too. But deep down, I was trying to hold my excitement, and could not wait to go for a proper test to confirm these results.

We talked about it at lengths, and we both agreed that we are truly blessed. The timing could not be any better, I was still able to race at World Championships (which meant my baby did too, at 4 weeks old), and we didn’t have to play the waiting game. We know how hard it is for many couples who had to endure month after month of waiting.


Hello, baby!

I’m now 12 weeks along, and the journey has been very good. I had my share of nausea and fatigue and loss of appetite, but I think my baby and the hormones have been kind to me. I have not thrown up, and now I’m almost sickness free. I have been good with my daily exercise to keep myself fit and healthy, but nothing too crazy.I am so overwhelmed by the love and well wishes that everyone has sent our way since our photo went up yesterday. Once again, I feel really blessed and grateful to be able to share this journey with so many family and friends. I have wanted to start blogging about so many different things before, I finally have something worth blogging about. :)

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The Ironman 70.3 World Championship 2018 – Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Racing in the World Championships is a dream come true. I know that I am extremely lucky to be given this opportunity. From the moment we stepped foot into the race village and expo, the atmosphere has been phenomenal – athletes from all over the world, young and old, big and small and all beaming with confidence and strength. And meeting the pros! Gary and I had the chance to meet a handful of pros and it was like meeting super rockstars!

Race day

SWIM: The water was reported to be 15°C and my heart sank. I managed to get my breathing sorted the day before but I don’t know if I can do it again. Anyhow, when it was my time, I ran in and shut my eyes and tried to dive into the oncoming 🌊. But as soon as the cold water hit my face I felt the same chest tightening sensation again. Everyone around me disappeared and the wave after me have started making their way past me. Breathe, breathe, I kept telling myself, trying to force my head into the water but I couldn’t. I choked and spluttered about and in short, I had to stop and hang on to 3 different kayaks in the first 800m of the swim. But I owe it to these lifeguards on kayaks, they were very encouraging and one guy made me promise him that I will not give up and give my absolute best. I owe it to him. I told myself, if Harum Delima can swim 3.8km, I surely can do 1.9km. Further out, the water became warmer and I finally managed to control my breathing, and after I made my first turn (800m) I managed to keep swimming all the way. I stuck to breaststroke because I lost all sense of water confidence. I made my way onto the beach and I wasn’t even sure if I made the cut-off (1 hour). Thankfully it was 55 minutes, and I can still race! There were wetsuit strippers and it felt a little weird but whatever, gotta keep racing!

BIKE: As I guessed, my bike was sitting there alone. But it’s okay. It’s my race against my own time. I tried to transition quickly. And as I exited, I saw Gary 😄. I tried to ride strongly out, but the moment we got onto the coastal way, the wind came from everywhere! My nose was running like a tap and the rough road surface was extremely uncomfortable, it was difficult to really push because so much energy gets sapped away through the vibration. My fellow competitors were zooming by but I felt strong enough to to keep up with some of them. At about 33km in, I noticed my BTA bottle had lost the top piece (which locks it in place) and it was shaking loosely. From experience, this bottle will not be able to stay without the lock, and I didn’t want to risk it flying away and endangering somebody else, so I stopped by the side of the road, put the bottle by the side and bid goodbye :(. Onwards and forewards, I fought the wind and rough surface to the best of my strength, and then came the hills. Wind + rough road + hills = very very exhausting. I noticed it also slowed down many other cyclists, so I am not that bad after all, heh. Just told myself to keep my head in the game, watch my power, and keep my legs moving. Soon, it was on the way back to T2, and the wind direction slowly changed from head, to cross, and finally in the last 15km stretch we had a bit of tailwind to give me that last boost all the way home. Sub 3 hours was impossible to achieve, so I had a target of 3:15, and thankfully I managed 3:12:50 so yay, me! As always, I was ecstatic to be off the saddle, and looking forward to hit the pavement in my New Balance race shoes now!

RUN: My legs were pretty pumped from the tough bike course, but the weather was a wonderful 20 deg C and the sun was shining, so I was determined to run like I stole Lucy Charles’ bike! One huge difference racing in the world champs compared to any other event, EVERYONE hits the ground running! Not a soul stopped to walk. And EVERYONE was running at a 4:45-5:15 pace. I guess I was used to drawing inspiration from overtaking people, but this time around I drew motivation from keeping up with some very strong women! It didn’t take me long to observe that I was running alongside women with grey hair and wrinkled skin but were holding up very strongly! I kept my pace up, and after the first loop, I tried to push a little bit more and finally I made my turn into the finishing chute. I reached into my back pocket, pulled out my Malaysian flag, raised it above my head and sprinted to the finish! Run time was 1:49:45.

Total time: 6:06:45. It’s far from my best, but it was a world of experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I’m so glad I pushed through the cold water, I powered though the bike, and smashed it on the run. I’m so glad that I did not give up nor did I give in. Because this big ass finisher medal is worth something money cannot buy.

Huge shout out to Gary Fong, my husband, my manager, my chauffeur, my number one fan, and my reason to finish. My family in home and in Brisbane, my friends back in KL, and in some other parts of the world, thank you for tracking me and sending me all the good vibes! Thanks to my product sponsors Lifeline-ID, New Balance Malaysia, Garmin Malaysia, Aftershokz Malaysia and Giant Bicycles Malaysia for your undying support. 

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32.

So I’ve finally lived a full 32 years and am going onto my 33rd. How do I feel? Let’s start with my birthday itself. People have been asking me what I want for my birthday. To be very honest, I cant think of anything! Honestly, I really do have everything I need in my life and I am truly grateful for what my life has brought me. I have a loving husband, with arms always ready for me to fall into whenever I was doubting myself, my life, life in general. I have the best friends a girl could ask for. I have an amazing family, my mom and dad, they still treat me like I’m their little girl, never once did they make me feel like I had to grow up and be an adult. They never falter whenever I ask anything of them, and they never will. My brothers, both the big one in Aussie, and the small one at home, always got my back, no matter what.

I don’t need anything. I have everything I would ever need and my life is perfect. But what do I want? Well, believe it or not, today being Mother’s Day, I want to celebrate Mother’s Day. I have so many friends of mine who are mothers, who are going to be mothers soon, and I envy them.

Reading about what their kids do for them, reading about what their husbands say about them, these are the true Wonder Women of the world. Every mother I have ever met and known, have such strength, grace and love for their children, it’s insane. Their passion never fading, their grace never wilting, and their love never ending. I can’t imagine what it must feel like, to have this impossible amount of love for another life you’ve only just met.

I want to feel that.

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Training for a Marathon

Now that the biggest running event of the nation has settled down, I figured I’d do a post race analysis for you fitness geeks out there.

The marathon was a little test to see how much better a runner I can be, if I worked hard at it, and focused on improving my strongest element. For those of you know don’t know me well, I am a triathlete, but I am a pretty lousy swimmer, I am a mediocre cyclist, but when I hit the road on my two legs, I feel at home. Running has always been and still is my very first love.

So after dabbling in long distance triathlons for the past couple of years, I realised my running performance has been erratic. I sometimes do pretty well, and would think “Hey, cycling really improves my run!”. Then, sometimes, because Tri training takes so much out of me, my runs tend to suffer. Although, in the Triathlon world, I do alright, and all my triathlon races are saved by my run.

This year, after having missed out on running full marathons for 2 years, I decided to go back into it. My personal best time is 03:55:17 in Auckland, New Zealand, 2010. Ever since then, I have attempted numerous time to break it back on Malaysian soil, but even a sub 4 hour timing seem unattainable. I managed a 3:59 once, but I borrowed a friend’s bib, and did not run through the finish line. I managed a 3:55 a couple of times, both of which were under distanced. It was frustrating.

This year I wanted to do it properly. I got myself a 14 week Running Plan, which started on 1st January, and would end nicely on 8th April, which was Standard Chartered KL Marathon. My target? I boldly set at 3 hours 45 minutes. I was pretty gung-ho about it, and took the first couple of weeks very seriously. As the weeks went by, I struggled a little to cope, because on top of the 4 day running program, I squeezed in 1 swim session, 1 bike trainer session and 1 long bike ride into my week. That is the barest minimum of Tri training, and I did that because I had an Ironman 70.3 coming up in March. But I tried as best as I could to do 80% of my runs.

Then, the races started to come. The first one was Malaysia Women Marathon on March 4th. This was to be my B race, and also a trial test to my run fitness. I targeted a humble sub 4 hours, and I had expected it to be a relatively easy pace to keep. Truthfully, I didn’t take it as seriously, as I didn’t taper much, and had even gone for a 48km bike ride the day before. On race day, when we hit the 3rd loop, with all those hills in Shah Alam, my legs were screaming. My pace was the pace that I had set out to do, but in no way was it an easy pace. I struggled to keep up with Yim, the 4:00 hour pacer. I managed to finish the marathon in 3:55, but the distance was only 41.8 km. And I was so exhausted from that run, it wasn’t funny. I was disappointed, and started to doubt if I could meet my goal in a month’s time.

Still upset about my run, I stopped following the plan for a while, and concentrated on a crash course of swim and bike, in time for the next race – Ironman 70.3 Taiwan, on the 18th of March. In this event, my swim was horrible, but my bike wasn’t as bad as I had expected. My run was, surprisingly, a lot better than my previous tri! This gave me renewed faith in me and I started to believe in myself again.

One week after Taiwan, I went for a 21km Rawang Bypass Challenge on 25th March. Another crazy set of hills, and although it was short by more than 1 km, I couldn’t be any happier. I struggled to maintain my pace, my legs felt like a ton of bricks and I didn’t feel very good at all. I was not happy. My body was feeling extremely tired after that and it took my mood down with it.

At this time, I had 2 more weeks to go to SC KL Marathon, and I started to tell everyone (more to protect my own feelings) that I don’t think I am going to meet my target. I would be happy with anything under 4 hours. I fell into a rut, so I gave up training for a few days, and just allowed myself to recover. I went running on Wednesday, 3 days after Rawang, and managed a painful 5 km. I went running on Thursday, and again, a painful 6 km. On Friday I pushed myself to get 10 km in, and felt slightly better this time.

The next week, race week, I made sure I rested. I did a couple of strength training sessions on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday was my crazy day, so no workouts there. Ran 7 km on Thursday and that was it! No workouts on Friday and Saturday.

On April 8th, Sunday, I was nervous. I prayed that I wouldn’t meet anybody I knew, because I was afraid that I would get distracted by them, and try to start out too fast and burn out miserably half way into the race. At the start line, Gary kissed me good luck, and told me to just run naturally, run for myself, and enjoy the run. I nodded, but the nerves were anything but natural. I was fidgety.

Gun goes bang, and I started off at a casual 5:45 pace. Fell into a good rhythm and started to focus on my breathing. I tuned in to the music in my ears from my Aftershokz, and just tried to be calm. “Come on, Karen, running is in your blood. Just run!” I pep talked myself over and over. I knew the GPS on my Garmin would start off a little wacky, as it always does during KL Marathon. Something about the tens of thousands of GPS signals bouncing off tall skyscrapers. So I ignored my watch, and decided to run on feel and instinct.

I reached the 10 km mark and had a glance at my watch, and felt quite happy that it was only 51 minutes, and I was doing alright. I maintained my pace, passed by a few friends and kept going steadily. When I came to the 21km mark, the time was 1 hour 51 minutes, so my pace has probably gone a bit faster in the last 10 km. Its okay, don’t speed up just yet, I told myself. That’s where I met Allison, an incredibly strong and talented young athlete. She looked like she wasn’t having too good a day, so I decided to pace her for a bit. It was also good for me to keep my own pace in check, no increase in speed, and conserve my energy for the impending hills that would come by from KM32 onwards.

At KM31, Allison told me to go ahead, and I gave her one last pat on the back, and wished her good luck as I went on my way. At this time, the pace had slowed down a bit, and it was 2 hours 50 minutes in. If i wanted to make 3:45, I had to run the next 11 km in 55 minutes, and there were hills coming my way. I had better push harder.

I stepped up my pace, and went for it. Whenever I hit the hills, I cannot thank my bike training enough. And thankfully, I’ve had quite a few hilly runs this year to beef up my running legs! On I went, averaging 5:00 pace, dipping below 4:55 on several occasions too. I dug deep, and made sure I did not slow down.

5 km to go, and I had less than 30 minutes to spare. Come on, Karen, one last push and you can retire from marathon running! So I ran. Strong. Hard. Confident.

And then I saw it. The Finish Line. The big yellow Seiko clock ticking away at 3:44:40. It must’ve been about 100m away, and I made a dash for it. I saw the seconds ticking, 50…51…52…53….I must’ve been sprinting but I felt like everything was happening in slow-mo. 57…58…And I’m there! 3:44:59!

Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor
The infamous Finish Line photo…for all the wrong reasons, hahaha!

Of course, this meant my chip time is at least 30 seconds under that! Was I happy? Hell yeah! I was ecstatic! I made it! I wanted to jump!….but my legs wouldn’t let me. Hahaha…

Anyway, that was how I met my 3:45 target. It’s not a very fast time. But to me, it took hard work and dedication. Hence the reason I decided to share this with everyone. It is not easy and there are no shortcuts. If you want to get something, you have to work for it.

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2017, over and out.

It’s less than a week to Christmas, and before the festivities and *ahem* debauchery begins…(and by debauchery, you know I really mean, I’ll wake up at 8 am instead of 6, eat pasta on non race days, drink 1 maybe 2 glasses of wine, go to bed at past midnight, run ONLY twice a week, and go crazy on cake)…I thought I’d pen down some reflections from this year, and some wishful thoughts for next year.

This year was the year we truly became an Ironman couple! I know that for many of you, this might sound absurd that I take this so seriously that I count this as a significant milestone, but if you walked (or actually, swam, biked and ran) a week in my shoes, you’ll see how much of our world actually revolves around this admittedly crazy hobby. But it is kinda our thing so when Gary crossed the line at Gurye, Korea, and was pronounced an Ironman, I was extremely happy about that! Of course, I also managed to break many of my own personal records, which I am obviously stoked about too.

Aside from celebrating our first wedding anniversary, we had also made some other pretty significant married-couple-esque decisions like installing new cabinets and upgrading lights, pillows, and bed linens in our home. I had also worked a little harder on expanding my cheffing skills, and was quite pleased to be able to churn out some pretty mean home cooked dinners on a more regular basis. So, as a newly wedded wife, I would say I unlocked plenty of achievements!

On my career front, I think I could’ve worked a little harder to secure more deals, because I think I was pretty stagnant. But I guess I was just a little weak mentally, and chose, instead, to spend all my energy on my training. This is not good, and I think 2018 can be a lot better career-wise. Next year, I intend to beef up my resume a bit more, and plan my time better, so that I can fit everything in, work, play, and life.

On a personal level, 2017 wasn’t exactly a bed of roses. As expected, when training for the Ironman got too tough, and I lose sight of the other more important things in my life, I crumbled a couple of times in despair. I fought with Gary over the silliest things, and many times I wondered why I continued to pursue this. I still wonder! hahaha…but I know that deep down, I actually do enjoy this, as sadistic as it may seem. Because the moment the opportunity to race again arises, I’m all over it again.

As a woman, I sometimes feel like I judge myself too harshly. I feel like I have to meet expectations of so many others. To myself and the athletic community, I expect to be the best damn athlete I can be, pushing my limits every day, and achieving success after success. To family, I expect myself to be a good wife, a good daughter and God knows how much I really want to be a good mother as well. I fawn over pictures of my nephew and my friends’ children, gushing over their cute little videos. There were moments when I start to get on my bike for a hard training session, I feel a sense of emptiness. There were times I am sitting at home, and loneliness will slowly take over, and I would yearn to have a little bub of my own.

It was a pretty tough pill to swallow, when I made the decision to postpone my “retirement” from racing again. But the decision to hold off starting a family was something I made together with Gary, and I know that it is just another year. Plus, there is so much to be excited about next year, South Africa being one of them. And I am looking forward to it!

So, thank you 2017, for shaping our lives into something so amazing. I had a great year.

2018, I am taking you by the bull-horns and making sure you’ll be far greater than I can even imagine, and hopefully by end of September, I can finally move on to the next phase of my life. That’s a promise I am making to myself.

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On money. and life.

Today has to be the gloomiest day of November.

On top of the non-stop pitter-patter of rain outside my balcony, I come across not one, not two but three pieces of really sad, depressing news. It’s no wonder people stop reading the news, and start focusing on pictures of food instead. Because the real world is really not pretty at all.

I feel sad. Sad, that I am but the tiniest speck on this planet, worrying about where to stay in South Africa next year, when I come across news on student trafficking, the expose by R.Age. The deplorable living conditions were just heartbreaking to say the least. I felt a raw sense of anger and guilt to be a Malaysian, the very nation that conned these innocent students and robbed them of their life savings by promising them education in my home country. Education! The very word itself is supposed to hold a shiny, glowing promise of a better life, now tainted with bitter taste of deceit.

And then there was the news about the couple in Singapore, who took an intellectually challenged friend in, only to abuse her, psychologically and physically for 8 months till the day she died. That is wrong on so many levels. I really don’t know if there really is grace in this world.

And finally, a bit of news about an old friend, suffering from a medical condition for most of her life. She battles tumour after tumour, and writes books and speaks at events to raise money to fund her surgeries in the states. She’s a fighter, and I don’t know why it took me so so so long to make a contribution. That made me feel guilty too. Sad and guilty, that I can only donate so much, because my human instinct is to save money for myself, for my hobbies, my interests, my life. It’s the basic instinct of survival, but so so so selfish on so many levels too.

I feel sad. That I can only offer so little, almost pointless in the grand scheme of things.

Today’s a sad day. :(

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#RoadtoGurye

When I crossed the line in Langkawi in 2015, I swore that was the last one.

Then, we got married on the 10th of September 2016 and celebrated with all our family and friends. I barely touched my bike that year, and only ran in the wee hours of the morning or in the gym, so that I could undo all that sunburn that IMMY2015 caused, and be that glowing blushing bride 😄. My fitness level dropped to a brand new low, but at least I was gorgeous on my big day…hahaha!

And THEN Ironman announced a new full IM race in Gurye, Korea on the 10th September 2017, and there were these awesome early bird promos, and maybe I was still semi drunk and high of wedded bliss, but something in me practically yelled at me to Do It!! (and to convince my now husband to “fit in to the family” and become an Ironman 😂)

Clearly, I had not thought it through when I signed up. Cold water, wetsuit swim, 2nd time expectations, foreign country, traveling with a now race participant (which means no support crew), not to mention how we would both be training really hard at different time schedules (not the best way to spend your first year of marriage, I think)….whoa. OK. Too late now. Just gotta do it. 15 hour training weeks and all.

Race weekend.

For the past 8 months or so, my biggest concern had been the swim. I had worked hard (enough) on getting my freestyle mojo going. Swimming breaststroke in a wetsuit was akin to walking with flippers on the sand so I had better learn to front crawl or else I’d be that funny looking buoy bobbing awkwardly in the Jirisan Lake making forward progress at 3:00/100 m.

On T-1, we all went for a swim test. It wasn’t too cold, about 19C, but the fog made it look like a scene out of Dark Waters. I took one jump into the water and everything, and I mean EVERYTHING I ever learned went out the window. Including the part about breathing. I went blank! I tried to breathe with my head under water, I spluttered awkwardly when I lifted my head, my heart starting beating at zone 5, and I just wanted to go up on land. But Gary was nearby, and he calmed me down, and I continued to manage my breaths and gradually dip my head underwater. I learned to breathe again. But I did not dare attempt front crawling. This was gonna be a loooooong swim.
SWIM TEST DAY!

Race day.

SWIM

Foggy, again, I could feel my pulse rising. The game plan to attempt front crawl in my swim was rapidly dissolving. It’s okay. I can deal with a few minutes slower, even if it was 10 minutes. Just finish the 3.8km swim and you’ll be on your way. Okay.

Go! I jumped in and automatically started pulling my front crawl strokes (it’s a reflex to get away from the crowd and not kick anybody in the gut this early in the race). But as soon as I found a clearing, I switched back to breaststroke. I knew I’d be a lot slower like this, because the time I had to train my swim for the past 8 months had been focused on freestyle swimming. But I wasn’t going to let that bother me. I just wanted to get this over with. Just keep swimming.

The water temperature was really nice actually! I don’t have much experience but my guess would be that it was about 22C. I found that I was really enjoying the water! I did try a couple of front crawl strokes here and there, but I swam about 80% of the swim in breaststroke. Apart from some pretty rough swimmers who gave me a few jabs and a big punch to my face, I had a good swim, and when I exited the water, I was happy to see 1:33 hours on my watch! Not too shabby, only 2 minutes slower than last IM! 💗

T1

I don’t like the wetsuit. Nuff said. It took me 12 minutes in total because I struggled to remove the wetsuit, then I struggled to wear my one piece trisuit, then I struggled to remove the trisuit to go to the washroom, then I struggled again to wear the trisuit. Haha…I know, it’s a little bit inconvenient to wear a one piece suit, but I love love love my trisuit!

BIKE

I followed Gary on his rides a lot, which meant that I was following Rupert’s ride program. (Shout out to Rupert Chen, really good tri coach!) At the time, I really dreaded the long rides, because I was slow as hell following the boys, and I hated being the last one trailing behind. Every weekend was a stressful endeavour but I admit that it has built me up to be a much stronger rider now! I coupled that with twice a week of indoor training mainly focusing on heavy gears and building power, and voila, I was pushing much higher speeds than I ever did before and it felt great!

So the 180km bike ride in Gurye was good. It wasn’t a breeze, but I think I handled the inclines well. I wondered how far ahead was Gary, but it wasn’t long before I saw him coming from the opposite direction! My rough calculation was that he was 10km ahead. I smiled, for every step of this journey to this very day has been with him. It was almost surreal, that we were finally racing Ironman Gurye!

I rode powerfully, all the way till about 110km into the race, right after I stopped for a special needs break at 90km and had a “bak kwa” sandwich. I was on my 3rd round of the 3-loop course, my energy levels were fast depleting and right before going up the steepest hill one last time, I stopped and got off the saddle for a breather. I was feeling tired, and my legs were pretty pumped. I pulled out a small pack of potato chips which I stashed in my bra (yes not much of a rack but I stuffed it there!) and began savouring it, taking in the salty goodness. I must’ve stopped for about 3-4 minutes, but that was all I needed to get back in the game and power my way up that hill.

Then it was the last 20 km on the highway to T2. Headwinds were really strong and on the highway was a slow, long incline again. But I ducked down on aero, sucked my tummy in, and gave it one last strong push all the way to the finish, reaching T2 in….6:19 hours!! That’s amazing!! I couldn’t have wished for a better time! (I did 7:14 hours in Langkawi 😅)
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T2

Once again I needed to pee, so I docked my bike, ran into the changing tent, swapped my shoes and helmet, and then this time, unzipped my suit as I made a beeline to the portaloo (like a pro😎). Still, 8 minutes in transition is not good. Haha

RUN

In every triathlon race, this is where my game really starts. And this time, more than ever, I felt ready to rock the road. I had a game plan, start slow, work towards a negative split. I was feeling super good, and the prospects of finishing at about dinner time sounded really awesome too. I started at a 5:50-6:00 pace thinking that maybe after 5km I can bring it down to a 5:35-5:45 pace. Sounds doable yah? I trotted along happily, and kept my eyes peeled for the rest of the team. Rupert was almost bouncing like Tigger when I crossed him on the opposite direction, while Fendy and Yiheng looked pretty serious. Then I saw Gary and I felt a billion times better! We exchanged a kiss which I think made me run at 5:25 for a while Lol. The rest of the run was good, except the increasing pain in both my knees (kinda guessed this would set in, finally giving in to the knee injuries). Thankfully they had these analgesic sprays so I kept the sprays coming on both on my knees throughout the way.

I saw that Gary was slowing down and his face was pain stricken. As I gained on him, and in the end caught up with him, I tried to think of something motivational, something strong to say to him, but all I could muster was “You got this, babe, just keep going!”. I said a little prayer to give him strength and for him to finish the race as soon as possible.

Funny thing though, I couldn’t find the Special Needs counter! When I ran on my first loop, I thought maybe I have really been delusional. Second loop, and I still couldn’t find it! Third and final loop, I asked a staff and she muttered something in Korean and then said “I’m sorry”. Heh. I asked another staff, he too looked perplexed at my question. A little bit annoyed, because I wanted to grab my Malaysian flag from my bag and run through the finish, I began to focus on finishing my last lap. I was struggling a little by this time. I felt like I was giving a 5:30 effort, but the pace on my watch showed 6:45! Lol. 6 more km, and 3:45 into the marathon. Looks like sub 4 hours was not possible. Let’s try for 4:15.
asiatri.com

So I ran. To the best of my ability, my strength, and my perseverance, I ran that last 6 km to the finish line with all my might, and crossed that Finish line in a marathon time of 4:14 hour. My total time? 12 hours 28 minutes 55 seconds. I was ecstatic. A 1 hour 17 minute shaved off the last one!

There are a billion people to thank for this. The first and closest person to my journey is Gary, who went through it all by my side, and took all my ups and downs in without losing faith in me. Then, it’s Rupert, whose guidance helped me gain a momentous leap in my performance. Big thanks also to my brother, Kevin, who listened and talked me through the hardest of training days, be it with the program or with my spouse! Thank you to my family and friends who lent their support throughout the way, right up till race day. A big shout out to those of you who I trained and traveled with! You guys made all the difference!

Thank you to all my sponsors too, LittleRock Bike Fit Studio, Lifeline ID, Zamst, New Balance, Aftershokz, N8 Sports Nutrition, and lululemon for your continuous support throughout this endeavor. It definitely would not have been possible without you all.

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Behind the #RoadToGurye scene

This is a diary entry.

A raw, naked, honest article of my current state of emotions, 37 days to Ironman Gurye, Korea 2017.

Before I begin, let me reintroduce myself to you. I’m a hard-headed Taurus born girl with the Chinese zodiac of a Tiger. I am 31 years old. I am a passionate person, with grit and perseverance to complete things that I set out to do. But I have also always done it with as much of a smile as I can muster. I am a Sanguine. An optimist, an idealist, and a lover of sunshine and good laughs. I don’t like disappointing the people I love.

When I set out to become an Ironman in 2015, my biggest challenge was sticking to a training regime. I’m a free spirit, I don’t even like having the same type of food 2 days in a row, let alone stick to a training routine for months on end. If you have read my book, you would know that the biggest torment of the Ironman journey for me was simply the training. But I did it. Not without obstacles and challenges, but I did stick to it in the best way possible, and I did become an Ironman.

Fast forward to now, 2017. Last weekend, I followed Gary and the team on a 200 km ride – something I never thought I’d do, or even want to do, ever. When we were about to reach our car, the mileage was only 194km, so Gary asked if I wanted to make it 200. As much pain and fatigue I was in, I agreed, because, hey, 200km would look pretty damn good on my Strava now, wouldn’t it? So we went a little further ahead, but Gary kept going even though my watch had showed 198km by then and I couldn’t understand why. To add on to that, Gary swerved in and out of traffic light junctions and at one point, I thought I saw him almost get hit by a car. I started fuming. And when we finally got back to the car, I was in full blown rage. I started tossing things out of the car, I started yelling at Gary and I started to cry. I don’t even know what I was angry about, except that I was so so so so tired. And in pain.

Today, Gary breaks the news to me that this weekend, they were targeting a 210 km ride. I stopped in my tracks. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. That’s insane! I can’t do it. I won’t do it! No! My face felt flushed, and tears started welling up in my eyes. FEAR. That’s what I felt. I never thought I’d feel this AFRAID to train. As if I was given the death penalty.

Come to think of it, this past couple of weeks, I have been having quite a bit of these emotional outbursts. I am moody, and snappy, and my dear husband receives the worst of it all. I snap back at the smallest things, I cry when I can’t achieve the speed or pace I want to achieve, (heck, I even cried when my foot hurt during the PJ Half Marathon) and I go to bed feeling miserable at night, instead of feeling proud of the workouts I have done. I wake up in the morning, dreading the day’s workout.

And I know what this sounds like. I’m burnt out, over-trained. I am in the midst of a mental breakdown. Maybe? But compared to Gary, I don’t think I do even 75% of what he does. He does so much more, when I do a 35 minute run, he does a 60. When I do a 60 minute bike trainer, he does an hour and 20 minutes. How can I be over-training and he is still surviving this? I feel weak. I feel defeated. This is not what I am used to feeling. I AM an Ironman. I made it. Why do I feel like I am back at square one?

The truth is, I may not be up to par with Gary’s training hours, but I am way over the top with my own personal records. This is by far the most training I have ever done and I need to tell myself that IT IS OKAY to feel tired. As hard as it is to accept that I am not as strong as the guys I ride with, I have to. I am not a strong as my husband, I have to accept that too. A quick chat with my brother, the Ironman, made me realise that I need to see what’s right for me.

I guess, the reason I want to write this out is, I wanted to share how I am feeling. Keeping it in, and pretending that I am tough enough to ride through this journey is bumming me out, so here it is. I am struggling to cope, and that’s OKAY. Everyone is tired. We’re at the peak of our training volume, and it’s only a couple more weeks to taper down, so if you’re feeling just as tired as I am, it’s OKAY. I need to just take it in my stride and just hang on for a couple more weeks. I’m going to be an Ironman again and I’m confident of it.

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Ironman Vietnam 70.3 Danang

I’d be lying if I said I was calm as a clam for this race. I had started Ironman training from about February, and I’m happy to say it has been going well. Thus far, every event I’ve taken part in has proven that my training is paying off, and I am quite pleased about it. For a training-averse person like me, these race results speak volume and will motivate me to keep it going till September.

So when the time came to race in Danang, I was struggling a little to hold the butterflies down. There is, in my opinion, a fine line between being very confident about a race and feeling the pressure of that confidence, knowing full well that one small mistake, and your hopes might come crashing down on you faster than you can imagine. So, breathe in, breathe out, was my mantra on Sunday morning.

Swim. Target: Anything under 50 mins. To freestyle or not to freestyle? Let’s see. The sea was calm-ish. A quick dip in the water before race start confirmed that no sea lice or jelly fish was present this morning, which I think was extremely lucky of us. The temperature was perfectly cool, and I was feeling strong. To freestyle it is! I started with the 35-40 minute group, but I knew I was definitely a 45-50 minute gal. It’s okay, I couldn’t wait that long. :) I ran in Baywatch style until the water got to about upper thigh level, then dolphin-dove right in. Pull pull kick kick, everything was going good. It was a little tough as the current from all the other swimmers made it slightly choppy, but still manageable. Then in about 5 minutes a big slap came out of no where. Next, a kick to my ribs. I lost my rhythm, drank a gulp of sea water, struggled to breathe, and so, it was screw this, breaststroke it is yet again. Ahhhh, comfort. This is so bad, I keep going to my comfort zone :(. No matter, it was my turn to start kicking into the ribs and faces of others. I swam strongly and with purpose. I was gaining good distance, and was feeling great! Swim swim swim, turn turn and finish! Checked my Garmin and hello, 45 minutes!! 5 minutes PB for my 1.9km swim, off to a good start!

Bike. Target: A low 3 hours, stay as close as possible to 30 kph. There’s been a whole lot of talk about Danang being a very fast flat course. So with these expectations in mind, I may have set a slightly more challenging target for myself. I also had my new Superteam carbon wheels, and CEMA ceramic bottom bracket and RD pulley installed, which I was pretty excited to ride on! But I have never been able to hold anything more than a 27 kph average in all my rides, so I don’t know if I am setting myself up for disappointment or not. Anyway, stuffed some gels and chews into my pocket, and off I go, voom voom!! I was loving my ride! The ease of pedalling, the sound my wheels make, the wind blowing in my face, heaven! A swig of N8 Endurance and I was determined to meet my target. I was doing good time, averaging about 33-34 kph in the first 10 km! I started to wonder if I could maybe expect a 3 hour finish? Don’t think so much, just keep pedalling. I held on to the lower handles of Queen B, and immediately felt the advantage in aerodynamics. I was pushing upwards of 35 kph and I wanted to laugh with joy! The first water station was a little upsetting because I couldn’t seem to grab any bottles from the volunteers, I think I knocked 3 bottles off their hands and I felt so bad that I eventually gave up and decided to go without re-fueling. I’ll get the next one. I was happily enjoying this new speed of riding and ain’t nothing gonna hold me down! Made it to the subsequent water station and this time my bottle picking skills was better. I managed to swig some water, doused myself with some of it, all without getting off my bike. Perfect. My back was starting to feel a little sore, but I am a master of withstanding pain, and decided to power through. Coming towards the second U-turn, and noticing that I was starting to lose a little bit of speed, I decided to stop and refuel my bottles. I slowed down, and tried to unclip my pedals and couldn’t! Now this all happened in lightning speed, but I lost control of my bike right in front of the water station, with my left foot still attached to the pedal, I skidded over to the opposite of the bike loop and narrowly escaped an in coming cyclist! Thankfully, I released my foot at the very last second and managed to jump away scratch free. I grabbed my bike and ran back over to the water station, my heart pounding. Then I checked my shoes, and noticed a gummy candy stuck to the bottom of my cleats, and was melted all over it. I must have picked that up while running out of the changing tent to my bike at T1! Bryan came right up behind and asked if I was okay. I assured him I was fine and urged him to go on. I proceeded to dig out every sticky bit of the gummy as I possibly could with my fingers. Lost probably about 5-10 minutes, I’m not sure, but thankfully, me and Queen B were unharmed! Refilled my bottle, and went on my way, staggering a little as the chain ring had been forced out of the big crank halfway and took a while to get back to position. But it’s okay! On with the race! The rest of it was quite drama-less, thankfully! I spotted Gary on the other side, and smiled to myself knowing he was having a good race too! Things went on smoothly as I build my speed back up to 30-32 kph, all up until the final 12 km of the bike loop. The headwinds and cross winds were crazy strong, and my carbon wheels, as much as I loved them, were quivering! I powered through as hard as I could, and but noticed that my speed had dropped to about 28-29 kph. One final U-turn and it was the last 5 km back to finish! Headwinds have now become tailwinds and I was back up to north of 30 kph and finally closed in at….2:57!! Sub 3 hours baby!! Okay okay, want to dance, but must run first! It’s showtime, Karen Siah!

Run. Target: Breaking 2. Ha! I know, half the distance. But to be honest, I don’t even know if this was possible. I had sprained my knee (minor one) last week, and so I don’t know how far I can push it. I have not done much brick training either, and my legs were feeling pretty pumped from the fast ride! It’s ok, don’t think, just run. It took me pretty fast to find my running rhythm. I smiled, because this is when my race actually starts. I have always loved the run leg, and I know that I can catch up with quite a few people on this leg. So far, pain free. I checked my Garmin and steadily I was doing a 5:30 pace. I tried to bring it up to a 5:20 pace, and managed to stay there for a while. My breath was steady, and though it was hot, the sea breeze was inviting. I caught up with some friends, and wished them good luck. About 6-7 km in, I realised I needed to pee and had been for some time. So I ran across the road, braving the impossible Vietnamese traffic, to a seafood restaurant to use the toilet. After that, I was feeling tonnes better, and happily ran at a 5:10-5:15 for a while. I saw Gary on the opposite side, and figured he was about 3 km in front of me. A bit impossible to catch up, but I was happy to see that he was going strong! I used that positive energy to stay on course and keep pace. U-turn, and I saw that the time was just about 1 hour. Breaking 2 possible? Negative split on a half Ironman course? Almost laughable but let’s try! I wanted to up my pace, but noticed that while I had invested more energy, my speed was dropping. I was doing a 5:30 pace again. So, I ate a gel, and loaded up on some energy drinks. The water stations and their crews were amazing! I threw some water over my head to stay cool, and continued to push harder. Then I could see the finishing! Let’s bring this home! I ran as hard as I could through the finishing chute (which was on a rickety man-made ramp downhill onto the beach). I crossed the finish line with a jump! I jammed my finger on my Garmin and to my elation, I saw the first digit 5! I did it! At 5 hours 58 minutes and 34 seconds, I had finally managed to do a sub 6 half Ironman! YAAYYY! I ran through the stats on my watch, and saw that my run was 2:0050. So Eliud Kipchoge, I feel you bro, but it’s okay! It’s still an impressive time nonetheless!

Shout out to some of my sponsors, N8 Sports Nutrition, Lifeline-ID, Zamst compression wear from Japan, Aftershokz bluetooth bone conducting headphones, TBFS bike shop for the CEMA ceramic bearings, LittleRock Bike Fit for fitting me on my bike.

Shout out to the wonderful Underdog Team for letting us tag along on the bike recce and sight seeing on the first and second day. And for being familiar faces along the race course (because there were so many of you!).

Shout out to Abang Fendy and Yaoshan and everyone else for the lovely photos!!Shout out to my best friend, my training mate, my soulmate, my partner for life, Gary Fong, for just being you! Congrats on smashing your PB too! So proud of you! xoxo

Categories: Burn burn burn!, Ironman, Muscles | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Fit Your Bike to You

So I’ve always told people that I am not a very good cyclist. I struggle on most of the uphills, the dragon backs, the Bukit Hantus, the Brogas female or male, and when it comes to the flats, I can’t quite bring my speed to keep up with most of my friends. For one thing, I admit I don’t put in quite enough mileage in cycling, but for another, I suffer from lower back pain during every single ride. I’ve visited physiotherapists and chiropractors, and I’ve concluded, based on my own findings, that my back pain is due to a shorter psoas (and probably one or two other muscles), on one side, as well as a hyper-extended and slightly shorter right leg. So it’s never going away, but it can be managed.

The first step to back pain management is to do plenty of stretching, pre-ride, post-ride and basically whenever possible. This helps to delay the time the pain starts to set in.

The second step is to get a proper bike fit. I had the privilege to meet Chuah, of Little Rock Bikefit. He was referred to me through a friend and so I went to his quaint home-studio in OUG to get a bike fit. I’ve had a bike fit done before, in 2015 when I was gearing up for Ironman Langkawi 2015. But since then, I have laid off the saddle quite a bit and because of that, getting back on the saddle was tough! This bike fit couldn’t have come at a better time!

The first thing Chuah did was to analyse my situation, where I told him about my back pain. He then proceeded to run some tests on me, by asking me to lie flat down on the floor, then he asked me to perform a sit up, and from there he could tell that I do, indeed, have a shorter right leg, about 0.6 cm shorter.CIMG1415Next he measured the degree of my foot tilt. The foot tilt is how your foot normally rests, in a slightly supinated or under-pronated position. He did this by asking me to kneel on a bench, with my feet relaxed. He had a tool which he used to measure tilt and he found that my feet had a slight tilt of about 8°. This, he says, could cause an air gap in my pedalling, and so he placed some stack chips underneath my cleats to counter this gap.

The feet needed to be relaxed, in its natural position

The feet needed to be relaxed, in its natural position

Measuring the foot tilt

Measuring the foot tilt

He placed these stack chips underneath my cleats to fill in the gap

He placed these stack chips underneath my cleats to fill in the gap

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Just 2 stacks for me please!

After this, I’m up on my bike on a trainer. He has a webcam on the side plane, and a TV screen which allows me to see how my posture is. I was asked to cycle a bit, and he would give me some tips for better cycling. He noticed that I needed to push my saddle forward a little bit, and that my handlebar may be a bit too narrow for me. He had a test set for me to try on, and he commented on my posture after that.

New handlebar width. My shoulders were too wide for my old one.

New handlebar width. My shoulders were too wide for my old one.

Watching my posture on the screen

Watching my posture on the screen

He also measured my knee rotation ie whether or not my knee was aligned with my big toe when I pedal. This, I knew was an issue, especially with my right leg being bow-legged and hyper extended. But with the chip stacks he placed in my cleats, I think it helped realigned my knee slightly.CIMG1438CIMG1437

All in all, I believe Chuah did a very comprehensive job with the bike fit. It took about 3 hours in total, and I learned a lot from him about myself, my bike and cycling!

I’ve since gone back to cycling, and although the pain still sets in after an hour or two, I do feel more comfortable with my saddle. I also seem to clock slightly faster speed averages. Coincidence? I don’t think so :) I’m looking to purchase a wider handlebar, hopefully to improve my performance in this year’s upcoming races.

Chuah is very knowledgeable and can be contacted via his Facebook page here: Little Rock Bikefit Studio.

Thanks Chuah!CIMG1442

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