Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Triathlon Book List

I've put together a list of books to read for anybody interested in swimming, biking, running, eating, or even thinking better.

This list of books has shaped much of the way I train and think.

Some of them are specific to swim, bike, and run, and others are good to shape mindset and are even entertaining.

Check out the list here:

https://ironmanhacks.com/triathlon-book-reading-list/


Thursday, December 3, 2020

IronmanHacks

 As we all know, 2020 has been pretty much an abysmal year for racing.

So I spent a lot of time building a site, IronmanHacks, with tips and tricks to a faster triathlon.

It features 101 tips, interviews with legends like Dave Scott, Mark Allen, Craig Alexander and more.

It has a pace calculator where you can sum up your swim, bike, and run along with the transitions and get the final time.

There's also a nutrition calculator with more than 200 common endurance fuels in its database. You tell it how long you'll be on the bike or running and how many calories, carbs, and how much sodium you need per hour. Then, you choose from the 200 foods - choose those you have access to or plan on racing with. It will then tell you how many of each to take to hit your hourly nutrient targets.

These calculators are also available in an app, along with a packing checklist.

The idea is that you plan your future races (paces and times of  the swim, bike, run), nutrition, and also what you need to bring to the race (those things go in the packing checklist).

Then, next year you can try to beat those times - the app can store your results from year to year and you'll have those targets handy.

I also set up a YouTube channel documenting some of the tips and other things.

Finally, and most fun of all, is the weekly newsletter I send out which you can subscribe to here.



Tuesday, October 29, 2019

2019 IRONMAN Malaysia Race Report

A sharp, stinging pain coursed through my wrist as it seemed to get tangled in a long hair. As my arm pulled my body through the warm water it swatted what had to be a jellyfish tentacle across the tip of my nose and down my torso. The pain continued on the back of my right leg and ankle.

I was only about 200m out from shore in Langkawi, the day before the full Ironman. The sun had just risen and although the sky was threatening rain, the water was calm and conditions looked good. I was doing a warm-up swim just to check the conditions and prepare myself for the race the next day.

90 minutes later, I felt considerable abdominal pain, but whatever, these thing can come and go. There's no way that could be connected to the stings. They still burned, too, but I knew those would eventually go away. I was on my bike, doing an hour-long ride.

After the ride, I returned to my hotel room and Googled "jellyfish sting treatment" and "jellyfish sting symptoms." I had already poured vinegar on the wounds, but was surprised to see that abdominal pain (along with death) could be attributed to the stings.

Soon after, I was in a van with seven other guys from Singapore, Terai Melayu. We were checking in our run bags and later would be racking our bikes. But by then, the pain had become so bad I let them know I thought I should go to a doctor.

All the clinics were closed from about Noon to 3. One of the guys called one and when told they were closed, he said, "What happens in an emergency?" "Just wait," he was told.

My bones ached and it felt like I had a severe fever and influenza.

So we made our way to the only hospital on the island, and they checked me in at the emergency room. Within 10 minutes a doctor was asking me questions and within no more than 15, I had my pants down with a needle full of Voltaren being injected into my right-rear. 30 minutes later, I felt 50% better and was waiting to pick up my medicine from the pharmacist.

---


My mind was more at ease than usual as I had a thorough packing list and my gear was well-organized. I wouldn't forget a thing. The hilariously-huge hotel room gave me plenty of space to get organized.

I would have run laps in this room, but my training was over.
Most dominating, however, wasn't any pre-race jitters but the incessant shooting pain in my toes especially. It was 4 am and I don't think I had slept for more than 15 minutes straight the entire night. Each pain felt like a fire ant or maybe a quarter-bee-sting. I kept putting hydrocortisone on the jellyfish stings until I realized the pains were coming from within, not from the skin.

"Don't worry," I told my half-sleeping wife. "If it gets too bad I'll just quit. I have nothing to prove. I've done this race before. Let me see how it goes."

Throughout the night I was 50-50 on whether or not I'd even start. But this sport is all about taking tiny steps, one-by-one, and moving forward. Don't ever think too far ahead.

But 100% of the groundwork had been done for me: The training, the logistics, the check-in, everything. It would be insane to throw in the towel now.

The electric environment at the beach had dramatically lifted my spirits. Pete Murray's voice accompanied by Chirs McCormack's worked the crowd into a near frenzy as Javier Gomez, Andy Potts, and other pros started their swims. I was feeling great, and there was no way I was going to back out now, despite those annoying pains in my body. But if I felt the pain worsen or become a danger, I'd have no qualms doing my first DNF.

It was only 38 min and a few seconds before I had finished the first lap of 1.9 km - my goal was 38. So now I only had to do it again. All the swim squad training I had done for the past nine months had really taught me the meaning of speed. I used to think speed would come from a stronger but fewer pulls (lower cadence). Wouldn't this be necessary to save energy over 3.8 km?

Except I knew my coach had been telling me the opposite for years. I just must not have believed it would be the case for an unconditioned beginner like me.


But then my friend Andrew had been telling me the same thing since March. He had just done the Roth swim in 56 min I believe, Norseman in 52, and Kona in 57 - all in the last four months. "Don't make this like some Sunday swim. Put some aggression into it," he kept saying.

In the swim squad many of the sprints we do end up being races. And that's where I figured out that the #1 way to be faster for me was just to crank up the cadence. So I remained mindful about this most of the time, not letting my thoughts wander. Cadence up!

As expected, I came out of the water in 1:18-something, just a few seconds over what I wanted.

"You've done this race before. You know what to expect. Race smart - write it on your arm," Andrew told me.
I was far more comfortable on the bike, and very much more in control. I pretty much knew what to expect, having done this course the year before, despite minor route changes. I was hoping for an Intensity Factor (IF) of 72-73 (% of FTP). I kept it near this figure up to about the 45th km, but then it started slipping.

By the second lap, I noticed my wattage was down to around 64% - very low - yet my average speed was around 31-32 km/h, which was my target. So no point expending unnecessarily energy. I needed to save my legs for the run, and if my IF was to be so low, so be it, if my speed was acceptable.

However, I did get spooked by a Variability Index reading of 1.09. That meant my Normalized Power had a 9% variance over my Average Power - too many spikes, too many matches burned. 1.05 is usually regarded the limit, but with such a hilly course it's understandable that it could exceed this.

I was nicely fueled up, though. My wife had mixed up a veritable gravy of nutrition. 1,452 calories, 308 carbs, and 5,340 mg of sodium (the recommended daily allowance of sodium for adults is 1,500 mg) in a single bottle. The stuff was so thick and rich it burned going down. The consistency of pancake batter.

It's absolutely essential that you chase it with copious amounts of water or else it will dehydrate you quickly by pulling water out of your cells into that solution in your stomach as the tonicity concentrates homogenize. Drinking water makes it isotonic - meaning the same concentration as your cells.

Plus another 8 Hammer gels, or another 720 calories, for good measure.

It had rained a few times a day for the past week or so, and we were all hoping for some afternoon showers to cool us off. It never came. The ride just got hotter and hotter.

It was otherwise rather uneventful. We passed through a small wedding happening on both sides of the road, in front of villages and kampungs with kids running wild asking for water bottles, and across intersections dutifully manned by local police in the scorching sun.

Thanks for the photo, Nik.
I normally am quite social on the bike and the run, but this time chose to focus more on my own race, and keep to myself. I saw Vignesh again, the same guy I met at the same time and same place and same race as last year. A while later I met a fellow-Oregonian, Bryce, too. Funny we were all three on Canyon Speedmaxes.

But I largely kept to myself, trying to focus. "Race smart," my arm read.

At about 173 km there was a poorly-marked right turn which I almost didn't see. I looked forward and noticed two course attendants suddenly jump up when they saw me and the guy in front of me arrive. They quickly indicated the direction they wanted us to go.

The cyclist in front swerved hard at speed, causing him to flip and face-plant. The road was especially rough at that point. This would have been disastrous for him, but I didn't stop as there were guys there with radios and a vehicle. Anything can happen.

I was happy to get off the bike. The new Hoka Bondi 6 shoes I was wearing were a true luxury. It felt like I was walking on pillows. As usual, the first few kilometers were easy. 3 1/2 loops from the exhibition centre to the Meritus is all we had to do.

At about my third or fourth kilometer I saw Javier Gomez running the other way. He must have had about 12-14 more to go. I had wished him 'buena suerte' at T1 before the swim, and he was friendly enough. I thought I'd keep my mouth shut this time and let him do his job, even though second place was so far back it was at least five minutes before I saw him.

The road we were on which followed the airport runway was so similar and boring that it really got old fast. No variety. Total monotony. But in a way that also made it seem shorter, because we saw fewer things.

My first dozen km were okay, to plan. Then things started falling apart. The usual boost of seeing my family helped a bit, but on the second loop I actually stopped to hug them. I was slowing down.

We'd pass by the finisher chute two times before entering it (so a total of three). My first time, I faked like I was about to finish, which would have placed my among the pros. People laughed as I pretended to head in, but took a sudden left turn down the 'next lap' route. If only.

The blue wristband shows I was on my second lap.

My training runs were solid. I was able to do 20 km bricks in 1:45 after 150 km rides. I nailed some good long 30 and 32 km runs. But just like last year, I wasn't able to hold it together at the race.

Well why not? I didn't overdo the bike. I had a new nutrition plan, and felt satiated and hydrated. I had tons of sodium. I was drinking about 200 ml of water at every aid station. I wasn't cramping. My mind was clear.

I could feel the run slipping away, and wanted to quit. Kilometers 19 to 37 were a real horrorshow. But then I had had enough. I was mad at myself. Why did I let this happen? What happened to "race smart"? I looked down at my arm to see that the permanent marker had worn off.

"Just run, that's what you do," I convinced myself, and I resolved not to finish until it was over. And so I did.

The best feeling, as usual, was my wife and kids' cheer at the finish line. That was tempered by my realization that the time I had 'achieved' was worse than last year's, despite my superior training and planning. But still, I had done it.

Jellyfish woes long behind me, I had other aches and pains that would be easily solved by a nice cheeseburger and a long night's sleep.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

2019 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship Race Report - Nice, France

My legs were burning and my neck was starting to hurt. Being aero while cycling uphill for an extended period isn’t great for the spine. I was thirsty and my water was getting low.

“Look at this guy,” I joked, loud enough so that ‘this guy’ could clearly hear me talking behind his back.

“He’s just taking this mountain like it’s a normal Sunday ride!”

“Yeah, mate,” my new Aussie friend replied, with a simultaneous chuckle. “How do they do it?”

“I live at 1,500m in the Andes,” the guy said, voice dwindling off in the distance. He was on a road bike steadily pulling ahead and he made it look effortless.

Near the top of Col de Vence

We were about 2km from the summit of Col de Vence which comprised the bulk of the 2019 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship bike segment. Anybody that was passing us was in our age group because our age group was the last into the water.

It was the same as the world champs last year in South Africa: M45-49 always seemed to start last, and it’s kind of demoralizing.

But by the same token, each guy you pass means you move up one placing. But not a lot of that was going to be happening for me in the World Championship. Especially not on Col de Vence.

When you hear that Col de Vence is only 962 meters in elevation it doesn’t really sound high. But when you realize that’s 962 meters of climbing that you have to do with pretty much no rest you realize it’s going to be tough.

After all, coming from Singapore, our biggest cycling hill is just a tenth of that. I’m talking about Mt. Faber, and it’s a whopping 94m. ๐Ÿ˜

Two days prior, I drove Col de Vence with my wife, kids, parents, and fellow COS Coaching disciple Andy. We were pretty intimidated by the relentlessness of the slope, hardly ever easing into flats.

Going down, I was always wondering what was around each corner

And going down wasn’t much better. It wound back and forth, making the descent tricky and scary. It would be easy to underestimate a corner and come around one too fast, or to not slow down in time for any of the many villages. It was raining. And if it rained on race day, the descent would be downright dangerous.

To be honest I was worried.

But I felt great at 4:30am on Sunday morning, race day for the men. I woke up with no alarm. 15 minutes later I was lugging my only-worn-once wetsuit over the cobbled streets of Nice toward T1.

Reminder on the door from my wife to not forget my nutrition. It's happened before!
I also had my single bottle of nutrition: 4 scoops of Hammer Perpetuem and 4 sachets of Precision Hydration 1500. I had grown to like the intense, rich, almost burning taste of this calorie-laden sodium cocktail, and this exact formula had proven to prevent cramps and stave off hunger in many 70.3s in the past. For me, at least. Do what works for you, right?

The city was dark but the thumping of loud music and an announcer’s voice could be heard from the door of our apartment. I was wearing my trisuit and was holding the big street gear bag full of my stuff when I saw a large bearded man, probably in his late 30s, stumble almost right into me.
He was obviously totally inebriated and looked homeless. He was filthy.

There were about 3-4 other triathletes who looked a lot like me marching in the same direction. Basically, lots of skinny guys in tight-fitting suits; a strange sight for a lone drunkard in the dark.

He mumbled something, to himself, and the only thing I could understand was a slurred, << Qu'est-ce que c'est…?>> or “What is this…?”

I jumped out of his way, realizing it was quite a privilege to be here at this event, or even doing this sport at all.
 
The front door of our apartment. Looks like I left the lights on (top right unit)!
I entered T1 and found my bike. Andrew Messick, the CEO of IRONMAN was walking by. I was going to introduce myself and say hi, but what for? We both had more important things to do.

So I did the usual: Put my nutrition bottle in the cage, topped up the water in the front hydration, locked my ELEMNT into the mount, and borrowed a pump from a guy and inflated my tires.

“The swim will be a no-wetsuit swim,” a voice blared over the speakers. Turned out the water had warmed up since the women raced the day before and wetsuits were therefore not allowed.

Look how inviting that water is. Notice the yellow buoys out in the distance.
On one hand, I was disappointed, as I need all the help I can get in the water, and a wetsuit-swim would have meant I’d easily go sub-2 minutes per 100m. On the other hand, I was happy, as I hated fiddling with that giant neoprene mess, and wasn’t used to wearing it at all.

Down on the rocky beach, the pros were already lined up to swim. I walked over there and watched them set off, realizing that I was in for a long wait. My swim didn’t start until 9:01. No sense hanging around here now that my bike was ready. Plus, I was freezing.

I walked back to the apartment and my wife and my mom were awake. My wife gave me a second breakfast, which was great, and I nervously ate it before walking back over to the swim start with my mom.

Nothing like a second breakfast
She was probably just as excited as I was to take in the atmosphere – the feeling was electric. I showed her where my bike was in T1, in case she wanted to watch the first transition, before we made our way to the swim start. After some nervous talk and waiting, I handed her my shoes and proceeded into the pen, barefoot.

I started the swim close to the very back. I didn’t want to get in the way of the faster swimmers and despite my nice recent swimming improvements, was under no illusions of my ability. Especially against the the best amateurs in the world.

It was great to finally get off those painful rocks and into that inviting water. The temperature was really comfortable – very close to what I was used to in my pool back home in Singapore. Almost immediately I saw some fish. The clarity was incredible.

I settled into a rhythm and was feeling good. At the halfway mark I glanced down at my watch – mid-stroke, underwater – and it read 19 minutes. This was about on target for my 38-min goal, wet suit or not.

I latched onto a shirtless guy whose pace seemed a bit faster than mine. I was careful not to touch his feet or let him know I was there lest he drop me. He was a good help, and he dragged me probably a good 500m before I lost him.

“Merci, merci!” I shouted as two volunteers, standing on the steep pebble slope extended their hands and pulled me out. The thin carpet offered only a little bit of relief from the stony ground. About 10 seconds later, I was in T1.

Those rocks hurt
As much as I like to complain about being in the last wave, it does have its advantages. When the other 3,000 athletes are already on their bikes it’s not that hard to find yours – especially when you’re at the back of your pack.

But it’s not that reassuring when you’re just mounting your bike and you see runners already out there pounding pavement. To think that they’ve already finished the swim and the bike!

It kind of blew my mind. The thought of the impending mountain ascent loomed large.

The beginning of the bike and run course, looking away from T1.
“Go Javier!” I yelled, encouraging Gomez on, as he chased down other pros I didn’t recognize. I looked for Brownlee but didn’t see him. But I did see a steady stream of other cyclists coming my way, 89.8 km through the ride. These must have been the top age-groupers, hot on the heels of the pros.

These must be the guys that win first in their local 70.3s and don’t go pro.

I was pretty much riding solo for the first 5-7 km out to the airport. The course exited the main road and into a light industrial area.

“I thought this was supposed to be hilly,” I said to a random guy next to me, on a green bike.

“You’ll get them soon,” he answered, seriously, as if I didn’t know the joke was on me. He didn’t really get that I knew my statement was so hubristic. I laughed to myself, half at my own lame, self-deprecating joke and half at his seriousness.

A second later I had a flashback to riding the course on my trainer at home using the Wahoo Climb, when it elevated the front of my frame to a brutal 19%, nearly pinning me to my ceiling. Lucky I didn’t have a ceiling fan.

Crrrunnchhh. He and I both dropped all our gears and started mashing up the precipitous slope. From studying the course, I knew this one was the steepest but also the one of the shortest.

Soon, it eased off and we were leaving the outskirts of Nice. From time to time we could see picturesque villages and towns dotting the hills in front of us.

And then there was this cliff.

"We have to go above that."

“See that thing?” I gestured with my chin towards the sheer rock face. I was talking to a super friendly guy from Sydney. We were about 20km into the bike.

“Don’t tell me we have to go up that,” the Aussie objected.

We were talking about Baou de Saint-Jeannet, a giant rock butte that appears to top Col de Vance.
“Worse. We have to go above that,” I replied.

It was true. The hill proceeded behind this massive cliff, so much so that you could actually look down on the top of it, from behind. That’s about where that Peruvian guy sped past us.

But it wasn’t really that bad. Sure, it was steep, but it was totally doable. Before I knew it, I was at the summit, at an even 45km into the ride. It was all downhill from there.

There was a French guy next to me, also on a Canyon Speedmax, who lived in Thailand. I figured I’d try to beat him on the downhill. I’m pretty comfortable descending. It's more fun than it is scary. Anyway, who doesn’t like free speed in a race?

But corner after corner this guy kept pulling away from me. On the straights I’d catch him, but I simply had to brake at each corner. What’s behind each corner? A speed bump? A village? A pot hole? There was no way of knowing. And I wasn’t just going to blindly descend.

It seemed like others would though. Around a near-90-degree corner protected by a stone wall there were a few cars parked and a few cyclists stopped. Something must have happened.

I rounded the corner and then the following hairpin turn, quickly losing elevation. I had to be 8-10 storeys lower than that wall when I looped back under it and looked up. There was a huge v-shaped scree-covered cliff below that wall. A neon figure slowly descended the broken rock fragments towards a white bike dozens of meters below him.

“At least he’s alive and moving,” I thought to myself. At that point I decided to let the fast guy on the Speedmax go. Not long after, I saw a helicopter. I was hoping it was to rescue the guy who went over the wall.

You know that feeling you get at the end of a really fun roller coaster or carnival ride? The ending of exhilaration? You wish the ride wasn’t over, but you are still left with a residual bit of euphoria? That’s exactly how I felt after all the descents, struck with the realization that easy street was over.

But also aware that the hard part was over, too: The climb.

The long descent let my legs recover, and I was eager to do the run. I love the run. It’s where I’m most comfortable, most in control, and most able to push my body.

My mom said she’d be waiting just outside the T2 area, which meant that I’d see her and the rest of my family at about km 89 or so. I rolled through, past all the runners, but didn’t spot them.

Into T2. Red line. Dismount. Jog with the bike towards the rack. Unbuckle helmet. When suddenly…

“Penalty!” a race official shouted, aggressively and to my face. He raised his right hand with a yellow card.

“For what? I’m over the line!” I objected.

“You can’t unbuckle your helmet until your bike is racked,” he explained, in perfect English, but with a French accent. “What’s your number?”

I was mad so I didn’t answer. I felt that this was a bit overbearing: Giving out penalties to the bottom-half of the last age-groupers to come in to T2. At the time I thought he was just standing there, trying to catch people like a bored state cop. But now I don’t believe that would have been the case.

I let him see my number on my arm and heard him repeat it. I moved on without another word, and racked my bike.

Was I supposed to sit in the penalty tent? Or would they just add the time to my official result? I had no idea.

T2
So out of T2 I went, and just forgot it ever happened. 30 seconds later I saw my parents, wife, and kids screaming for me. Can you believe these guys were on both sides of the chute so I had to zig-zag from left to right just to high-five them all? ๐Ÿ˜Š

The run was a simple out-and-back, twice, about 5km each way. The first aid station came quickly.

I was running next to a tall Italian guy who had an over-eager pacer (which incidentally, is worth a red card if I'm not wrong), running just outside the fence. He was cheering him on with such enthusiasm it looked like they thought this guy was about to win first place.

I grabbed the first cup of water the volunteers thrust at me and threw it back like it was cheap college beer.

<<Cavoli! Fa schifo!>> I uttered in Italian, expressing my disdain for the warm, mildly-effervescent saline-solution-tasting ‘water.’

The focused Italian guy next to me ignored me.

Just then, it occurred to me that this had to be the official drink, Saint Yorre, which supposedly has 1,708mg of sodium per liter. That’s a lot of sodium and it’s something I lose a lot of, so it was a welcome drink, despite its unusual taste.

Part of the run course included a tunnel to Monaco
But my stomach started turning. That was the one and only triathlon superpower that I thought I had: A steel stomach. I had never had GI issues in my life, no matter what I ate or drank. I had eaten greasy pizza on the indoor trainer and never felt anything.

A quarter in, and I was happy to be passing quite a lot of guys. At the U-turn, a local volunteer gave me a strong high-five and yelled, “You’re the best!” thick French accent and all. Right after that there was a homeless guy pushing a huge shopping cart full of dirty plastic bags.

Again, I felt lucky. And a bit ashamed, too. What the costs of all our gear and travel could do for this guy…

The din of the finish line cheers and announcer’s voice increased as the first half of the run neared. Another round of high-fives to my wife, kids, and parents, ensued, and my stomach hurt even more.

Thanks for the video, Charlene!
Not because of them, no, I know that’s how it sounds, but because…something had to give. Could I tough it out to the end? Only 10.5k more to go. That’s not so long.

But it just hurt so much, it was slowing me down. I won’t get too graphic here about what I felt and what emergency action I could take (something about the bushes). It even crossed my mind that if I happened to have an accident I would still finish, right?

Down the chute, seconds from finishing.
But right then a lone port-a-potty appeared, and I promptly made full use of it. That took me 90 precious seconds, which resulted in me missing my run goal of sub-1:40. But I felt so much better, especially knowing I wasn’t going to make a mess of the massage table later. ๐Ÿ˜†

Obligatory medal pic
I certainly didn’t put in a personal best – nobody did with those hills – in fact it was one of my slowest races ever, but the beauty of the sea, mountains, and city more than made up for it.

How every race should end.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

2018 IRONMAN Malaysia Race Report


Here goes another race report. This is for IRONMAN Malaysia, held on 17 November, 2018 in Langkawi, Malaysia. This race report is almost as long as the race, so you've been warned!


Why I raced Langkawi
Last year, 2017, was a great year of racing for me, and it all culminated in a full IRONMAN at Busselton, Australia, in December. However, the swim ended up being canceled, so I couldn't really claim to be a full-fledged IRONMAN (despite receiving a medal and finisher shirt - however they never proclaimed those few words, "Andrew Patterson - You are an IRONMAN!" - because I wasn't).

Read that race report here.

And then when 2018 started, I wanted to take a rest and maybe race a few 70.3s casually. And so began my slippery slope of training, unintentionally leading up to Langkawi.

In May, I competed in Danang, and did OK, though didn't put much effort into training, but as luck would have it, at rolldown, I managed to grab a spot to the World Championship in South Africa. Cool. All that meant was I'd call up my coach Colin again, and get onto his plan until September. Simple.

Checking the kids in for IRONKIDS in Langkawi

But along the way, I did Bintan, just because it's nearby and an easy one logistically, and I was already trained up. And what do you know? I inadvertently qualified again, but this time for Nice, in 2019.

And two weeks after that, I went to South Africa for the 2018 World Championship. But by then it was mid-September, so why not do Langkawi in November? There's a half and a full at Langkawi.

Might as well redeem myself with a full IRONMAN, and just go off the good fitness I had been building all year, right?

So this is how doing one little half in May snowballed into a full in November. And I still have to build to Nice in September 2019. And who knows what further race peregrinations will come up before then?

The Swim
If you know me, you know my swim is my weakest segment. I've always been a strong and confident swimmer, but never a fast one. I'm very content in the open water (thanks to my parents - note: make kids snorkel early) and with the knowledge that many others are not so comfortable - hence a tiny relative advantage to me. But I was still slow.

And then my coach Colin gave me a 1:20 goal for this race. 1:20? That really seemed too fast. It was based on the training I had been doing and what he thought I was capable of. Yet based on those same figures, I forecast a 1:40 for myself. Back of the pack.

Just chomping at the bit. Photo: IRONMAN Malaysia

Like every race, I was in the water and racing before I knew it. It's like the moment the official lets you in, your run down through the surf, and your first strokes are a blur. And whoever you were talking to - whoever you left mid-sentence on the beach - is totally gone, in another place, time and dimension, and all you can see is the murky sea, bubbles, and a whole lot of heels in front of you.

It's just you, your thoughts, and a giant body of water that's infinitely stronger than you.

I thought of The Old Man and the Sea and how the Old Man, though an experienced fisherman, was pulled around for days by a fish that was stronger than he was. And when he finally pulled it aboard, sharks ate it, making his trip a failure. I wondered, if, like the Old Man, I'd be at the mercy of the sea or if my training would prevail. Or, if somehow, luck would conquer all.
“Luck is a thing that comes in many forms and who can recognize her?”
Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea 
To me, luck, would be hitting 1:20 or better.

It was more civilized than it looks here. Photo: IRONMAN Malaysia

"Is my Garmin on?" I asked myself. I pulled it close to my eyes, peering though the turbid water, sacrificing a left-arm stroke, to see that it read 1 min 40 seconds. It was indeed on. Yet I didn't remember pushing "START."

Second guessing myself, I looked again. Did I misread it? I better check again. 1 min 44 seconds. "OK, it's on. Now focus," I thought.

The swim buoys in this race were connected by a rope littered with smaller buoys that each had red flags on them. They had a white thing in the middle. They looked like Swiss flags.

These little red buoys were spaced a few metres apart, making sighting exceptionally easy. And since this was a counter-clockwise course, it was perfect for people like me who prefer to breathe on the right.

In other courses, the buoys may be huge (3-4 metres tall and 2-3 metres wide) but when they're far away you can't see them as your eyes are at water level. Even the smallest wave blocks you. And despite our waters being super calm, those corner buoys were invisible here, too.

Exceptionally well-marked, and only two corners made this a great course.

The route had us circumnavigate a large triangle, twice: Out 400m, a right for 700m, then a sharp right to the last straight of 800m. It is in a calm harbor, protected by two small islands. But overhead, the sky was exploding in flashes of lightning. However, they seemed to be far away, and there was no wind or rain (yet). Despite the tempestuous sky, the conditions were very nice.

Except the water was not clear at all. Worse than Bintan but not as bad as the East Coast in Singapore (which isn't saying much). So don't expect Cebu clarity, but don't expect Cebu currents, either. There was little to no current in Langkawi.

From the start through the first 400m and almost to the end of the 700m stretch it was all very civilized. No kicks, no punches, no wrestling. And I felt smooth and fast as I was passing people most of the way and really focused on my stroke and my sighting. And still wondering why they used Swiss flags as markers...

But somewhere near that second corner I received a few kicks and claws and administered a few myself, too. All unintentional. Never get mad if you get a foot to the face, or if somebody keeps tapping on your toes. It's unavoidable, and should not be taken personally.

Until one guy actually grabbed my shoulder and pushed down. This made me mad because it was deliberate and malicious, not part of the stroke. So I did the same to him, as I was not going to put up with such aggression. Turns out, a few guys were clumped together near the outside of a very acute angle and some must have panicked. I got out of there as fast as possible, kicking vigorously, and all calm was restored. For me, at least.

That last 800m of the first lap seemed to go really fast. All the while I was sighting forward, keeping a bead on the red roofs of The Danna. Finally, a tiny wisp of wind must have passed around one of those Swiss flags, just when I was looking to the right, to reveal the m-dot logo in the middle. Of course, IRONMAN logos, not Helvetican flags.

Swiss flags! HA! Photo: IRONMAN Malaysia

But I needed forward landmarks to assess how much farther I had to go. Even the massive red IRONMAN arch on the beach was not a reliable landmark, being so far away, just a blip on the bobbing horizon. Until it was. Which meant I was near the beach.

I could see guys standing up prematurely and running out of the surf but I kept on stroking until my fingers could dig into the sand, pulling me forward faster than I could probably walk, and my face was almost eating beach. Then I could wade through only puddle-deep waves onto the beach.

Swim out, run in.

A quick glance down at the watch revealed a beautiful sight: 38:20. And I only had a second to adjust my goggles and go in for another lap before I could really appreciate that 1.9 km split.

"38 times two is 76; 76 minus 60 is 17. What, I could be on pace for a 1:17?"

My face contorted into an involuntary smile, the same as the one I cracked in the beginning of the Putrajaya 70.3 three-and-a-half years ago, content with the premise that I was about to do - and finish - a half IRONMAN. Except then I had zero goals or targets.

Time for another lap. With a goal.

Again, that first 400 was pretty easy. But about halfway into the second stretch, I caught myself getting lazy. My stroke was becoming sloppy. Then I could feel my heart start racing. I don't know why, but I think I psyched myself out. Once I realized my technique was degrading I think I got scared that I'd stuff it all up.

But a few deep breaths and focused pulls and I was back on, eyeing the second buoy. I was a bit too far to the left of the rope line, and was going to have to turn hard to make the corner. I wasn't about to go wide and do extra distance. So I took a risk and cut the corner, potentially t-boning anybody behind me, and I swam right under the bulge of the buoy, my right arm brushing its taut rope underwater. Luckily nobody was in my way.

Was this an IRONMAN or a water park? Photo: IRONMAN Malaysia

Because by this time, the field had thinned considerably. Most of the 70.3-ers were out of the water, the fastest swimmers were well ahead of me, and most of the breast strokers and slower guys were far behind me. It was nice to not be crowded.

But then a glance to my left revealed the telltale sign of another Terai Melayu athlete: The distinctive purple and blue Purpose suit. It was Masri! We swam together in Bintan in 2017, too, pretty much the entire 1.9km. A feeble underwater wave on my part was my only attempt at greeting him. You would have had to look hard to notice it was a wave and not just a clumsy fumble mid-stroke, but hey, I can't just ignore the guy.

Then I suddenly remembered I hadn't turned my heart rate monitor on. I use a Scoche, which requires you to hit a button, but it will record swimming heart rate. And then it also occurred to me that I had better remember to take my swim skin off. I wasn't about to cycle 180 km in that thing.

I had already made that mistake once (in Cebu, but it was only a half). Also, I could feel the abrasive Velcro of the race chip strap digging into my left ankle, and a bit of Vaseline would cure that. Finally, I knew I needed to get my bike Garmin running early so it could grab a signal before I started.


So I came up with a chant, "Scoche, suit, Vaseline, Garmin."

"Scoche, suit, Vaseline, Garmin."

"Scoche, suit, Vaseline, Garmin."

"Scoche, suit, Vaseline, Garmin."

I repeated it in my head dozens of times.

Within minutes I was approaching the beach again. I knew my second lap had been quite a bit slower, and was going to be over the moon with a 1:20 time. I hit STOP before looking at the time. What did it read? 1:22. Still awesome!

One of the many highs you feel in a tri is exiting the swim. Photo: IRONMAN Malaysia

Up the beach. High-fives from people I didn't know and from people I did know. Cheers all around. Total elation.

"Scoche, suit, Vaseline, Garmin."

I grabbed bag 918 off the hanger where we had racked them the day before and rushed into the tent. Hit the button on the Scoche. Realized I had already unzipped the suit, but then pulled it off. Scooped up about 10 kilos of Vaseline and slathered it all over places that typically chafe. Spread a ton of sunscreen across my Saxon-Teutonic nose, and pranced over to my bike.

"Scoche, suit, Vaseline, Garmin."

Started the bike Garmin and popped three salt tablets, (750 mg of sodium, enough to last me a paltry 30 min). Looked around. Most of the bikes were gone considering all the 70.3 guys were out of here, and many of the full racers, too. Looked up. Dark clouds, and no sun to be seen anywhere.

T1, the day before, when skies were clear.

And then drip. Drop. Big, fat raindrops started falling. The kind that tell you that you're about to get totally soaked in about 10 seconds.

Before I could even get out of T1 a torrent of rain was pouring down, soaking fans that lined the bike-out exit of T1. This was good news for me because it would mean a cooler ride. And unlike others, I don't dislike the rain while I ride. I am not uncomfortable in wet conditions and I believe I have a comparative advantage as I don't really tend to slow down so much on wet downhills as many others.

I was 56th, in my division, putting me in the 40th percentile.



The Bike
I hit start on my Garmin the moment I stepped over the "Mount here" line coming out of T1. My focus at this time was to hold around 190-195 watts the entire ride. On a hilly course such as this, there will be huge fluctuations. 400 watts up hills and zero watts down wouldn't be unusual, but this doesn't bode well for the run afterwards.

Thanks to whoever took this picture of me coming out of T1. Updated: Credit goes to Mariah Ali!

You'll only be able to afford to do a few such huge power spikes before you burn all your "matches." Once all those matches are gone, you have nothing left, and are pretty much guaranteed a deathmarch of a run (walk). This isn't a time trial or a one-sport race where you are expected to exhaust all your energy in that single event; rather a tactically-complex series of races, the performance of each contingent on the performance of the prior.

Within the first 5-10k, the course pulled us up a series of fairly steep hills towards Datai - a road notorious for its lung-busting hills. Before the first big hill, there were two guys on the side of the road, cheering madly. Neither had shirts on, and one was wearing a trail running vest with water bottles in it. He had a beard and looked Japanese to me. They were jumping up and down like teenage girls at a concert.

I returned their cheering with exaggerated, over-enthusiastic (but genuine) cheers back to them. The one with the beard accelerated his hopping and ran alongside me for a few seconds, compatriot in tow. He was living in the moment and so was I. Nothing else mattered. Not the hills ahead for me, the walk home for him, or what he'd do next. It's these feelings of pure, raw, undiluted human joy that we live for.

And if I could replicate them, not thinking about the irrelevant past or the largely-uncontrollable future, I could command my own destiny in this race and live to enjoy it, and perform to my full potential. A sort of existential purity.

But then the hill came. I had to shift down to granny to make it up without spiking my power too high. Coming down the other side of this and the others, I'd keep the power up unless I went much over 45 or 50 km/h.

But in the heavy rain the downhills were a bit more of a challenge. Not because the roads were slippery or because our brakes didn't work as well but because so many people went so slowly that it was scary to pass them. I always imagined them veering out into my line as I passed, causing an accident. On one particularly fast downhill, the rain felt like thousands of needles hitting my face all at once, and that made it harder to see. Tricky conditions for high-speed downhill passing.

Speaking of accidents, there were many. Later on I would see bloodied gauze on the ground. And at least half a dozen guys who looked like they had gotten in fights with belt sanders, and lost.

The road meandered up and down, through a rock tunnel, and u-turned, looping back. Returning, I noticed a tow truck stopped in the middle of the road with an athlete in front of her bike lunging at the tow truck driver. Screaming, she grabbed his shirt by the collar and appeared to be getting violent.

"Did you see that?" I asked a guy who happened to be next to me.

"Whatever." He shrugged his shoulders and looked away. I was a bit disturbed to see an athlete fighting but he didn't seem to care.

The road flattened out and took us through kampungs and small towns. It meandered along rural roads, mostly well-paved but not pristine. The bike route reminded me quite a bit of Bintan in terms of road quality, hills, and the bucolic scenery.

Just out of Datai, I began drinking my bottle which consisted of:
  • 6 Precision Hydration 1500s
  • 6 scoops of Hammer Perpetuem, strawberry flavor
  • Water
On top of that I had six Hammer gels and six Precision Hydration SweatSalt Electrolyte tablets, three of which I had already taken.

In total, I was carrying:
  • 1,716 calories
  • 6,780 mg of sodium
  • 387 g of carbohydrate
  • 2.4 litres of water

This would be enough nutrition to last me on the bike. All I'd have to do is top-up water at aid stations, but I wouldn't need to take any food or isotonic drinks.

Photo: IRONMAN Malaysia

This artisinal nutrition sludge was hand crafted by the one-and-only Eda Patterson in our hotel room the night before, using hot water, a plastic Berjaya coffee stirrer, and a lot of patience. To cram all that powder into one bottle and still make it liquid takes a certain type of culinary panache, one that I certainly don't possess. How it did not have the viscosity of drying cement is beyond me.

A small sip or two per 15-20 minutes would be all I needed to replenish my sodium, caloric, and carb needs. It's critical that you drink water immediately afterwards as this solution is very hypertonic, or much thicker or concentrated than human blood. Drinking that water should bring the tonicity or concentration down to a level closer to your blood, making it isotonic.

The guys over at Precision Hydration explain why hypertonic drinks can cause issues:
When a hypertonic drink lands in your gut from your stomach, the concentration of fluid in your intestine itself tends to becomes hypertonic. Your body then has to first move water out of the bloodstream back into the intestine to dilute the solutes in there down to a level that allows absorption of nutrients and fluids back across the gut wall into your body.

This net movement of water from the blood into the intestine is therefore technically ‘dehydrating’ you. It's moving water out of the blood into the gut when what you actually want to do is increase your blood fluid levels. Reference

So all I had to do was keep my front water tank full by picking up bottles at most aid stations. I had one extra bottle behind the saddle which I could use to refill the bottle between the bars, but never really needed it. In future races, I won't even carry that.

As long as I was halfway done with my sludge and gels at 90km I'd be good. Nutrition on the run is another game, but if you don't get it right on the bike first, run nutrition is moot.

On the beach, my friend Clarke (who guided me through my first 70.3, Putrajaya, in 2015) told me that after the highway there would be a fast downhill, and that I should not brake at all. Well, I had a feeling that was coming up, because I had just completed a highway-like stretch and was approaching a steep uphill. This was around 50-55 km in.

Surprisingly, there were still a number of 70.3 athletes out on the course. They started earlier than we did, so they were ahead of us, but even up to this point we were still seeing them. Most were very slow, and looked to be in a fair bit of pain.

I saw at least two or three, that with just a tiny bit of guidance could be doing a lot better. Their saddles were slammed and they had their knees up around their ears, spinning in granny gear on the flat, wearing running shoes. With just a few tiny adjustments they could be going like 50% faster, instantly.

Bovine scenery. Photo: IRONMAN Malaysia

Oh well, on I went, by this time averaging 187 watts and about 31-32 km/h. Problem was, my Garmin Edge 520, that had served me so faithfully for the past three years, decided to randomly pause every 30 seconds. Start, pause, start, pause.

My distance and speed figures were way off, and probably power figures too. I considered switching over to my watch but didn't want to drain the battery before the run and didn't want the hassle. Plus, the data wouldn't be complete if I were to start it now, anyway.

"The downhill Clarke was talking about must be after this climb," I thought to myself.

"Salamat pagi!" I yelled at a group of kids sitting in the grass watching us, wishing them a good morning. They giggled.

The slog up was slow. I shifted down to granny again. A cheering group of Singaporeans lined the right side of the road. A cheering group of Japanese lined the left. The hill was short, and I crested it alongside 4-5 other guys.

"OK, Clarke," I thought, "Here we go."

Out of granny. In to the fast gear in the back. Jump on the power for a few seconds to get some speed up. Tuck. Aero. Fly down.

At the bottom of the hill was a sweeping left and as I followed the straightest line from top to bottom I crossed the middle of this one-way, two-lane road. Immediately in my path was one of those raised metal reflectors. I leaned left, just missing it by inches.

Seeing the locals come out is always a highlight for me. Photo: IRONMAN Malaysia

Then, came the uphill. It was so steep, we only made it 20-30 metres before we were all in granny again mashing up.

"What a rip off!" a guy next to me yelled in a Filipino accent, laughing.

"Yeah, what the hell? I want my downhill back!" I replied.

"Do you think we can get a discount from the organizers because of that?" he joked.

"I think we paid extra for it," I answered. "Look at this guy," I gestured to a corpulent athlete walking up the hill in his socks, shoes still clipped in to the pedals, socks sloshing in the wet. "He's way smarter than we are!"

Another short downhill came but it was nowhere near as fast or as fun as the last. But the next uphill was way worse than the last two. The only thing we had going for us was that it was overcast and the ground was not scorching after the rain.

I can't say I dislike hill climbs. I'm skinny enough that I'm no worse than anybody else. And Colin had me do a bit of Mt Faber hill training. I liked the variety these hills gave us. Sure, flat is theoretically easier (Busselton?) but also harder in that you have to hold one single steady power 100% of the time. No coasting, no mashing, no rest, no speed, no fun.

This time, I was mashing with a Japanese guy on a new Cervelo P5x.

"Nice bike," I said cheerfully. "Yours too," he responded graciously, fully knowing that his was far nicer (and twice the price).

"How do you say, 'This is damn steep' in Japanese?"

"Do you know that guy?" I chin-pointed to a guy in front of us with a jersey that said "Fujimori" if I remember correctly.

Wasn't he the disgraced president of Peru? Or maybe this athlete's name was "Morifuji."

"No, too many Japanese here," he answered.

"How do you say, 'This is damn steep' in Japanese?" I asked. I glanced down at my Garmin only to see a reading of 424 watts. Not really good. Matches.

He told me, and I said it. "Hard to say," I responded.

"No, not hard to say. Try again. It's '[Japanese phrase].'"

This time I heard it differently, and tried again.

"Good," he encouraged. "Where are you from?"

"US. Oregon." He nodded with approval. "Have you been there?"

"Yes, I went to Portland for a year! Very nice!" he affirmed, in an animated voice. "Very nice to talk with you."

By then, that monster hill was almost over, and we were approaching its apogee. We got our minds off the pain of the climb and he knew this was likely where we'd part.

Through more kampungs, around roundabouts where I thanked the police and volunteers, through aid stations where I picked up water and chucked the empty bottles to kids, and on to a sign that read:

๐Ÿกจ BIKE FINISH
๐Ÿกฉ SECOND LAP

OK, great, we're around halfway. My Garmin wasn't reliable and only read 79 km. I continued straight.

The one guy I never talked to. Photo credit: Jack Ah Beh.
 
The course turned into a bigger road which I suddenly recognized. This was the way out of Datai. On our right were other cyclists, ahead of us, going the other direction. I estimated they were 120km into their rides. They all looked pretty elite, all aero on nice bikes, all young. Maybe some pros or some of the faster age-groupers.

Then ahead, I heard a series of loud chants, and looked up only to find the two shirtless Japanese guys. I returned the noise, to much excitement on their part. They were a good 10km from where I last saw them. They looked very fit and were jogging. They had been out there for at least three hours now. I wondered why they weren't racing. Maybe they were supposed to but couldn't for some reason? Maybe they were supporting friends?

There was a U-turn before the Datai climb again and and aid station had been set up. I crossed the timing line - 100k it had to have been - and wondered if the second lap would be as easy as the first.

"Your first lap should feel easy," Colin had told me. Those words echoed in my head. 

It had been pretty easy - definitely easier than a year ago when I raced Busselton. The sheer amount of training I had put in since then must have helped, despite Busso being flat, and this being hilly. All those long rides, all those cumulative miles, all that time in the saddle. It all added up.

But my power number was slipping. 186. Too low. I wanted closer to 190. But it was too late to do anything about it by now. And I couldn't tell if that was a problem or not as I couldn't accurately predict my average speed.


Had average speed been 33 I would have been OK, but my Garmin showed me a paltry 31. Should I believe it or not? Or just go by feel? That's not like me. I like my data.

The Echo Tunnel. Photo courtesy of IRONMAN Malaysia

"Echo!! Yeah!!" I screamed at the top of my lungs as I entered a small tunnel on top of Datai. Immediately behind me I heard another guy yell, too.

"Might as well have fun while we're out here," he said.

This was Jon, a Singaporean. On the way down Datai, I told him about the woman who was about to punch the tow truck driver. He said he heard that the tow truck crashed her, totally his fault, and that must have been why she was so mad.

We passed each other a good 5-6 times along the uphills and downhills of Datai.


From then on, the ride is kind of a blur to me. 30-40 more kilometers of village roads, past a cement factory, a stinky incinerator, the same loyal volunteers and police at the corners. A 10-year-old BMW, totally broken down in somebody's yard, algae growing on the inside of the windshield, wheels missing. A rotting dump truck permanently stuck in the dump position on the side of the road.

Lots of kids walking unsupervised on the busy streets. Some in groups, others alone. Many no older than five or six.

Photo: IRONMAN Malaysia

Selamat pagis, apa khabars, and terima kasihs all around.

But then, oh no. That horrible climb again. The kids in the grass were gone. The Singaporeans had packed up and left. But the Japanese were still there, this time blasting loud music. I gave them a thumbs-up in appreciation.

"Hey awesome bike," I announced to the guy on a Canyon Speedmax next to me. That seemed like the easiest ice-breaking line.

"Ha, you too," he responded, subtly acknowledging that we both had the same bike.


"Where you from," I inquired.

"KL." His name was Vig. Short for Vignesh, I guess. He told me how he sold IT systems for the medical industry and his company had an office in Texas.

Then, changing the subject, he said, "This climb is a bitch but watch how I bomb the downhill."

He pedaled hard and I followed suit. Careful not to draft him, I stayed on the right, minimizing the angle I'd have to take at the apex of the corner at the bottom. My eyes suddenly locked on the same reflector I almost nailed last time. I took a similar line, just missing it again. I wondered how many people hit it, and if anyone crashed. We were doing close to 70 km/h.

Again, we felt cheated as our speeds precipitously decreased to granny-velocities, front derailleur motors straining to align with the seldom-used cog-line. Shift too late and you'll fall over.

"Move over," I heard a perturbed Australian woman order, presumably to Vig and I. We were not hogging the road, but were in the middle. She could have made it by, or at least could have been a bit more polite.

"Why, are we too slow for you?" Vig challenged, in an ambiguous tone that could be interpreted as being either sincere or sarcastic.

"No, just make room for others to pass," she reasoned. She was right, but was also rude.

At that moment Vig and I must have had the same thought: Move over but don't let her catch us. So we both moved to the left, but then laid the watts down as we approached the next descent. 20-30 seconds later I looked back and she was nowhere to be found. In fact, I never once saw her, only heard her.

The ego of a male triathlete...

The road opened up to wide rice paddies with picturesque mountains in the background. It was flat and fast. A guy in front of me was wearing the race bib, which actually was not needed during the ride, only the run. His flag revealed he was Irish and the name read "Paul."


This Cervelo is a lot nicer than the one I saw you riding last weekend.

"Paul Walshe?" I asked. I had met him the weekend before on a ride in Singapore. He was on an old Cervelo then, splattered in mud, totally worn-out, but now he was on a brand new top-of-the-line P5x like the Japanese guy earlier.

"Yeah, Andrew! How are you?"

"Great," I answered. "Looking forward to the run!"

We only spoke for a few brief seconds. Vig and I kept going at our pace, continuing together, talking about everything. It reminded me of the rides I had done over the past 6-7 weekends with Jamie Meldrum, who also trains under Colin. I kept telling myself, "This is just another ride with Jamie."

Our rides had been so routine, they were not a big deal. There were mostly all 180 km (some shorter, some longer) and had a run afterwards. It was good to normalize this distance.

Unlike when I was at the end of the bike in my first two 70.3s, happy to have completed 90 km, I thought to myself both times, "I'll never be able to do a full! Even 90 kilometers is nearly impossible for me!" Ha.

Photo: IRONMAN Malaysia

Vig was still there.

"I stopped back there and ate some roti canai and had a kopi o kosong. Can you believe it was only 4 ringgit?" I joked.

"Really?"

"Not really but I would like to." Suddenly my joke didn't feel as funny as I thought it would. But any conversation was good conversation in times like these.

Vig would surge ahead, leaving me 50-100 metres behind before I'd catch him and do the same. We were in our own rhythms and soon we were just getting tired of talking and were both content to ride side-by-side without saying a thing. He was definitely a strong cyclist and I was expecting him to drop me, but somehow I hung on.

I knew we were close. We rounded a hairpin corner before filtering onto a bridge I had driven numerous times to get to my hotel. We were probably 1 km from T2.

My mind started playing what felt like a pre-recorded track:

"981, levers, sodium. 981, levers, sodium. 981, levers, sodium."
  • '981' was my race number, and I had to find that red bag in the rack.
  • 'Levers' was to remind me to dump my tire levers which I had in my jersey pocket, which thankfully I didn't need to use.
  • 'Sodium' was to remind me to take three PH SweatSalt tablets before running.
Into T1, a volunteer bike catcher grabbed my ride.

"Masuk kan belakan. Tak boleh depan!" I instructed. I told her she had to rack my bike from the rear, not the front, as the front hydration system was in the way. It could be done but it might break it.

Bewildered, she nodded, but clearly had no clue what I was saying. I don't blame her, I blame my broken Malay. Oh well, I tried.

981 is not so hard to find when it's the only bag there. I was the first to drop my bag in T2 the day before.

I scanned the aisles to figure out where 981 was. A sea of red. Bags upon bags upon bags. I quickly found mine and jumped to a chair inside the men's side.

 "981, levers, sodium."

"Levers, sodium."

Off with the shoes. Put the levers in a shoe.

"Sodium."

Slid the running shoes on. Oh, that felt nice. Locked my race belt around my waist.

"Sodium."

Popped three sodium pills out of the blister pack and devoured them at once, sans water. Cut my lip on the sharp blister pack. Didn't care.

Threw my bag in a pile where a volunteer collected them.

We were inside the exhibition center and the air con was wonderful.

I finished 15th in my division on the bike, putting me in the in the 9th percentile.



The Run
I felt like a million bucks. Capering about along the red carpet in the cool aircon with nice comfortable cushy Hoka One Ones, elated to have finished the bike in a decent time. On the other side of the steel dividers spectators lined the way, cheering, yelling, high-fiveing. I heard my name at least three times, but couldn't always tell where or who it came from.

The energy had me moving a bit too hot. Too fast. Too hyped. 

High-5 to whoever took this one of me.

Then, I saw the two shirtless Japanese guys. "I love you guys," I screamed. By now, I was more their fan than they were mine.

"Go, go, go," they yelled, running alongside me, grabbing my hand and raising it above our heads. We were laughing and smiling. Again, living like nothing else mattered. Enjoying the experience to the max.

I've done so many bricks that I don't really get that jelly-leg feeling anymore. Besides the finish, this part of a race is my favorite. The novelty of something new. The thought that the ride is done and dusted. All those insane 180-km training rides you did? They're all old news, now. Not relevant anymore. Distant memories.

Leaving the building, the crowds died down. The sun was glaring. No more clouds. Where was our storm now? This was real Malaysian heat. Unapologetic. Intense. Relentless.

I found myself alongside a guy wearing a Tritons kit, from Hong Kong. We had briefly chatted on the bike, and I said hi again, here. But this time he gave me the cold shoulder, totally ignoring me.

This steely response immediately told me he wanted to beat me, and created a bit of competitive tension. A red "M" on his right calf revealed he was in the same category I was. Clearly, he had seen my "M" and was all business.

My watch vibrated, and I looked down: 4:59 for this first kilometer. A bit too fast.

I let him go in front of me. It's always better to be the guy in back, unless you like someone breathing down your neck.

I was breathing down his neck. Each footstep a slight menace. The rhythmic crumpling of my bib synced with my cadence, yet another annoyance.

I remembered in the book The Lore of Running where Noakes describes how runners can easily experience a degradation of performance when their central governors (part of your brain that restricts your muscles from working when it thinks they're tired) become intimidated.

They can give up prematurely and progressively reduce the amount of muscle that can be recruited regardless of physical ability. This is how many races have been won and lost.


I wanted to make friends, but if he wasn't even willing to return my salutation, I'd mess with him a little bit.

Better take two bottles of water. Photo credit: Jack Ah Beh

Then I saw Mitch Vanhille, another athlete that trains under Colin. He was coming the other way, his gait more like an ice skater, sliding and gliding, elegantly and effortlessly. He did something like a 9:20 in Kona a month prior. He was in great shape and was certainly going to qualify again this year, here, today. We said hi and he was on his way.

The first few aid stations had bottles of water. Not just cups. This was great. I grabbed two bottles and kept moving.

I had a dozen PH SweatSalts I had to get down over the next 40 km or so. I was going to take about two every six kilometers, so I'd be done by about km 36...plus the three km I had already run equals 39. Perfect.

I was planning on taking 12 gels, and had already calculated the calories, carbs, and sodium the High-5 gels have, which is what was served on this course. I guess they chose High-5 because they're halal (except for the banana flavor). I like them because they're very liquidy and easy to get down. They basically taste like a shot of apple juice.

The run was three loops from the exhibition center, along the runway, into town, and through the Meritus hotel, by the beach.

For the first 5k, my pace had dropped down to about 5:30, close to where I should have been. But again, I knew I had gone out way too hot and was not happy with that rookie mistake.




Again, I did the math in my head:
1:22...
Plus about 5:40 or so for the ride is...
7...
Then another 4 hours for the run? 11 hours? Is it possible?

That was my goal all along. But that meant I couldn't let the pace slip any more.

I rounded the U-turn in town, past where we had eaten lunch the day before. Apparently, the addition of the town to the route was new. Then, into the resort, towards the finish chute.

"Andrew!" I heard, and looked to my right. It was my Italan-Swiss friend Enrico, lounging on a beach chair watching the race go by. We had met earlier in the year in Da Nang. He had just completed the half today, and was shirtless, drinking a beer I think. That was a nice boost. I waved back.

Then I heard another Italian yell my name. Matteo, a fellow COS disciple. He was racing in the half, too, but was now a spectator. Next, I saw Colin. We high-fived and I squeezed his hand above our heads and shook it in impending-victory and gratitude.

Continuing, I approached the chute, wishing I could veer right and become an IRONMAN. Get my medal. Towel. Pasta. Ice cream? Beer?

Nope, take a left.


Then silence. I was behind the finishing tent, alone. Schlepping along. Nervous but energized. My paces were now hovering around 6. Not good.

This airport road never seemed to end. Photo: IRONMAN Malaysia

Then I saw a guy walking near the course with a bloody left side. Shoulder, arm, hip, leg.

"You OK, man?" I sympathized. No answer. I don't blame him. A stupid question from an athlete who couldn't do anything for him. For all I know, he didn't finish.

 I walked most aid stations. It became a ritual. Sponge, water, gel, sodium.

"Ada asam pedas di sini?" I asked if they had a certain type of Malay food. Something my mother in law cooks, which I had just discovered I loved.

Shy laughs ensued. I doused myself with a giant plastic ladle full of cold water.

Split open a gel and sucked it.

Approaching the convention center, we ran along a few hundred metres of road shared with the cyclists, when suddenly I heard, "Andrew! I'm coming in!" It was roasting hot. 35 degrees.

Masri was just about to hit T1.

I entered the air con refuge, this time with slightly less enthusiasm than before. The crowds had thinned out and the cheering had died down a bit. I took it easy so as to try to cool off a bit. If I'm ever going to go slow it'll be in the AC, not the sun.

Leaving the building, I saw Mitch getting water at the first aid station. He must have been on his last lap. I caught him for a second but once he was back into the run he was out of there. He ran a 3:08 marathon in Port Elizabeth earlier this year. I wasn't about to try to chase him.

That's the road we ran, right along that chain link fence. The swim started at the base of that mountain in the distance.

But I did see the Triton guy again. He was doing a similar pace to me. The run went on, blurring from aid station to aid station. I heard a "Hey Andrew" from friend Andrew Schleis, going the other way. Turned out he did a remarkable 55 minutes in the swim. Assuming we had the same bike split (which we did, more or less) that put him a full half-hour ahead of me. And he got a Kona slot!

There's not a lot to say about the next few laps. I was getting tired. I was walking more. I could see my time slipping away. I wasn't going to do close to 4 hours. It was going to be close to 4:15. Then, 4:20. Who knows, maybe 4:30? Not cool.


It was dark by now. I was not in that much of a world of hurt as I have been in most other races. I kind of gave up. I kind of just settled that I'd do a 4:30 and walked, ran, walked, ran.

Normally I'll push through the pain. Make it hurt. Ignore the physical feedback telling me to stop. But this time, I was content to have made it this far. Not very ambitious, is it? To be honest, I lost some of my drive. I'm not proud of that.

At close to km 38 or so an ANZA guy came blasting past me. Wearing the new blue ANZA kit.

"You're flying!" I yelled. He gave me a thumbs up.

Coming home.
 
Then I heard the clamor of cowbells, and saw Eda, Ezio, and Elka on the corner cheering for me. I stretched out my hand and smacked whoever's was there. That gave me a real boost. My watch read 39.8 km.

Right after that I saw the ANZA guy again, this time, walking.

"Let's go, we're almost home!" I patted him on the back. Then I really picked up the pace. No more walking, no more BS. It didn't really hurt that much. I still had some legs. I had been through worse before, much, much worse.

Eda and the kids would be in the finish chute by now. And I'd be there soon, too. I rounded the corner into the Meritus, onto the sandy path. The blare of the music and the unmistakable voice of Pete Murray dominated.
 
I had no choice but to go! Photo credit: Colin O'Shea


Then I saw the kids and Eda, holding a big sign that said "Go, Papa, Go!" with a picture of me on the bike at the World Championships in South Africa. High-fives all around.


Just seconds away from finishing!

Nearing the chute, I slowed down, so as not to crowd the guy in front of me. Once he was clear, I entered, smiling, red carpet at my feet, painted with dancing lights of all colors. I slapped the closest outstretched hand, a smiling woman's, and jogged through, slowly. I suddenly felt the urge to spin around in celebration. A clumsy pirouette of triumph.

Then I heard, "Andrew Patterson, from the United States, coming in in style!"

The finish scene. Photo: IRONMAN Malaysia

I crossed the finish line and was given my medal. Somewhere in there, Pete must have uttered those words, "Andrew Patterson, you are an IRONMAN!" but to be honest, I didn't hear them.

But it's OK. I knew I was an IRONMAN, whether he said it or not.

I finished 14th in the run for my division, putting me in the 8th percentile.