Thursday, 16 October 2014

Ironman Langkawi



Thank you all for your kind words of encouragement to get this blog up and running again! Didn’t know there was much response here and have left it in a lingo for a while. My bad!

Lets get started shall we? J_

Langkawi has always been this mystical place to do a ironman to me. For one, it is ranked as the 2nd hardest Ironman race in the world (based on the average finisher timing). Second, I have trained on the soil before and have a understanding of what awaits on the bike course.

Ewin, Alan and myself touchdown on Wednesday. Alan and myself stayed at De Baron Hotel. It is exactly 20m away from the transition area, which will make my pre-race ritual and pilgrimage all so much more convenient.

It is always nice and comforting to be at a race with many fellow friends and familiar faces. It made my lead-up to the race so much more relax and never a day passed with all the friendly banter and joke cracked at every corner of the island. The folks from SeaMonsta and SBR were a great and fun bunch to hang around with!



I my personal ‘soigneur’ took leave during my race week from his busy schedule so that he can ensure that everything for me is well taken care off.  He built up both our bikes within an hour so that we can go out for test ride first thing in the morning!
By the time we were all settled down and was nearing the evening, we went to collect our rented motorbike to do a motor tour of the bike course.
With Alan’s past experience racing bicycles, we marked out areas and segment where there may be potential elements that might be key to my performance on race day. This is critical on a bike leg of a ironman as that will be where you will spending the most hour on and in order to limit that duration spent, everything must be well calculated and anticipated for.  From the gearings to be used, line to pick and power meter readings, these are all important aspect of racing as too much or too little you give could cost you in the final run leg of an ironman.

Race day.

Transition check-in at 0600hrs.
This must have been the fastest I have ever done my bike set-up. 15 mins in total was all it took for me to get everything race ready. I decided to head back to the hotel for another quick 30mins snooze since it was just a short walk away as transition closed at 6.30 and race starts at 7.15.

Swim
This is the first time Ironman is trying out the new format where we no longer start the swim as a mass start. Rather, we start off as a ITT format of 4 per wave into the water and your timing will only start when you pass the timing mat.
Myself along with many fellow female athlete’s think that this is a great idea and shows that the voices of women in the sports I being heard by IM. More often than not in the races I have been to where there is a mass start swim, women are typically the last wave and will need to be fighting and jostling for space with the slower AG men and breast stroke swimmer.
This puts all women on a leveled field and gives one another a better chance of winning the coveted Kona slot allocated to each age group.

The swim all in all, was extremely well organized and was very clearly marked out with ample kayaks. Water was warm and murky but nothing I need to worry about at this point. Race plan was to keep myself within striking distance. Swim time 1.12hrs, position 3rd.

Bike
My favorite leg of the Ironman race.
It was a no brainer for me when the #1 bicycle brand in the world, Specialized decided to offer me a contract to work with them once my contract with my previous bicycle sponsor expires. I laid out my big goals for 2014 and immediately, they came up with the SW Shiv TT to race on the whole year. This was the lightest TT bike and fastest TT bike I have ever came across.


The bike profile was undulating and made up mainly of rollers followed by some pretty short but steep ramp between 6-14 %. With only the exception of one 16% ramp but nothing of the rumored 20% climb I was hearing prior to the race.

In less than 5 km of the bike leg, athletes will all need to tackle a 5km stretch of rollers called Langkawi highway. It has 3 big rollers in it. It starts off with a 800m climb at between 4-8% gradient and a super flowing decent that an take your up to speed beyond 70km/h for me. The 2nd roller is much shorter around 600m and with the speed you manage to gain on the decent prior, you are to coast up to the halfway mark of the ramp until the point where the gradient starts to hover around 10-14%. At this point, I keep checking on my power output to make sure I don’t get overly excited and overcooked myself. The race is still young and I needed a constant reminder to myself to keep it steady.
After going through the first two rollers, the 3rd one felt so much easier and should only be around 6-8% max gradient.

After the stretch on Langkawi Highway, it was a right turn towards a small town where the first drink stop awaits.
From the pre race moto-recce, I’ve have marked out a power station on the left side of the road as a land mark to indicated a steep ramp ahead. The ramp started off as a 4-6% gradient for approximately 300m and shoots straight up to 14-16%. At this point of the race as early as it may seems, many of the Age groupers before me is starting to show signs of fatigue from their efforts they might have expelled on the Langkawi highway. This spurred me on and affirmed that my game plan is starting on a right note. Patience is key on a course like langkawi.
By the 30km mark, I manage to caught up with Cintia, a fellow accomplish age grouper whom herself, have tasted success in Ironman and been to Kona. At the mark, I was still around 3mins behind the leading women in my age group.


Alan being my race day support crew was present at the 45km mark to relay splits to me and that I was making up time on the leading girl before heading into the stretch in Datai. I know that was good news as I especially like a rolling terrain on the bike course.
Datai is a notorious stretch where its undulation can spike as high as 10% across the 10km course of it. As I have trained on these roads prior, I started to gain time on my sole remaining competitor, approaching each ramps with more effort knowing that a nice smooth descend awaits after every single climb.
Once out of Datai, the remaining stretch of road back to the 90km u-turn point had nothing eventful besides gauging my efforts in the cross wind while riding pass some short stretch of rice fields.

Come the 110km mark, I suddenly found the leading girl stopped at the side of the road with her helmets off. Alan relayed back to me that she seems like she was unable to cope with the humidity and heat on the course and had to stopped. By the 130km mark, I had a 4mins lead on the 2nd girl and decided to keep a strong and steady pace and take lesser risk for the remaining of the ride. Alan relayed at one of the strategic point he stationed himself and on the course telling me that the leading girl has resumed the race in 2nd position and has gained 30-35sec on me within the 10km stretch in Datai. No doubt I didn’t push hard along Datai, I was pretty sure I was not riding at a pace to have 30 secs gained on.  I decided to go off in the 150km mark to start stretching my lead again and see where my legs will take me on the run. I had to seize whatever opportunity I had now that I am in the lead.

Coming off the bike leg in 5hrs 45mins, 1st position in my age group.

Run
The run course was pan flat with no elevation beyond 8m. Sounds easy right?
What the organizers failed to mentioned was how open and barren the canopy was going to be. And the temperatures were soaring’s around 40 deg Celsius.

I know I could not just sit up and wait for a sprint in a race. I HAD to gain time on everybody in my age group.
Keeping the pace around 5.15/km on my first two lap was relatively manageable at that point with my mind fixed on not getting caught.
When I started my 3rd lap was when Alan relayed to me I had a lead of over 25mins at that point.
I told myself I needed to stay focus. The race is not over until you crossed the line. The was almost nothing more left in the tank for me at that point but my hunger for that coveted Kona slot kept playing in my mind. The children of Smile Asia that left such a deep impression in my on my mission trip to Yangon in May. My sponsors that had believed in my ability to represent them well. The friends and family who are ever so supportive in me when I decided to not have a mainstream day job and focus on being the first full time Female Ironman Athlete in Singapore.
I needed to press on. I cant stop my competitors to try and gain time on me at that point of the race, what I can do is not to do anything stupid on the run course to jeopardize my lead in the race. This is all very new territory for me being in a lead of an ironman race for so long.



By the start of my 4th lap, I had a lead of 30mins and I know I had sealed the deal.
I pick my run lines smoothly and not have any awkward movement that may offset a cramp. Timing my nutrition properly so that I do not run out of mojo on my last lap. I was really struggling at this point and at some point felt my femur starting to haunt me.
At this point I saw Ewin on the opposite side of the run course who was struggling with his back, still not throwing in the towel and calling it a day and continued pressing on in the run. Having trained with him on a weekly basis and I know he was not having the best of days, he still respected the race and push on. That really strike a cord in me during that race that nobody should ever make me quite or stop, unless I allow it to.

A good friend of mine Lappo, shouted on the run course words of encouragements and it spurred me on to keep digging deep even when I had resulted in a my ever so familiar, limp-a-jog.

I crossed the line eventually in 11 hrs 18mins. Same as my personal best, but certainly on a much more demanding course.


I was overwhelmed with emotions as It was always something i wanted to achieve since the start of the year and I was so glad all the sacrifices and efforts was not in vain.

I finally won my age group in 2014 and secured a Kona slot in 2015, making me the 1st local girl from Singapore to ever qualify twice.

 Thank you to everybody cheering me during the race may it be on the island, Singapore or all over the world.
Thank you to my beloved Sponsors: Smile Asia, Key Power, Specialized Bicycle, RockTape, LifeCycles.
Without all your support and beliefs in me, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve and believe what I am today. Last but not least, Thank you Alan. :)

Ling

Photo Credits to SBR and Joyce Chang

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