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.
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.
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! 💗
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!
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 😅)
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
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.
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.