Wednesday, September 7, 2016

2016 Port Dickson International Triathlon: Race Report

Don't Take things too Seriously
The Port Dickson International Triathlon is probably one of the oldest in SE Asia, having been around for the past 15 years. So it stands to reason that it's well-attended and popular, though most of the athletes are from Kuala Lumpur or Singapore.

Hopefully this post will give you an idea of what to expect should you want to compete in 2017 or beyond. Therefore, in addition to attempting to give you a fun and entertaining read, I'll be noting practical tips to make your trip and race a bit more pleasant.

In addition, I'll show you how this event taught me not to take all races so seriously.

Sign-up was done at Triathlon Malaysia. Registration and payment were easy enough, and the price was reasonable.

I signed up for the Olympic Distance for myself and the Under-10 Kids' for my son who is 8. My race was on Sunday but the kids would race Saturday at 4pm.

In the days or weeks leading up to the race, I needed to find out more details on the hotel and also the start times of both the Olympic Distance and Kids' triathlons. I kept trying to search for the website, but could never find it. Turns out, they don't have one - they just use Triathlon Malaysia for everything. Another place to check is their Facebook page here.

This is another great event to bring your family to (in addition to the 70.3 in Cebu which I had just done two weeks beforehand). I brought my wife and two kids, ages 6 and 8. We traveled with the extremely fun group Terai Melayu. They organized a bus (two actually) and the hotel arrangements. This simplified logistics for us, and it was all managed very well.

We met at about 6 or 6:30am on Saturday morning at Tanjong Katong carpark, where the two buses were waiting. After carefully packing all bikes into the cavernous holds of the buses, we set off to Malaysia.

The ride was really fun (it always is when you're with such a great crowd) and was pretty stress-free. Normally I'm the driver, so I was really happy to be a passenger and get some rest. But most importantly, I wanted my son to be relaxed and comfortable - and arrive in time - for his race that afternoon.

The Hotel & Race Pack Collection
We reached the hotel at about 1pm, which gave us enough time to check-in and collect our race packs.

The transition area is directly behind where I was standing
We stayed at the official venue, Hotel Avillion, which was pretty good for our needs. We rented a suite (a bigger room with a sink!). It had definitely seen better days, but was totally functional and acceptable considering we were just there for a night.

It's a big hotel, and it took me a long time to find the race pack collection area. I asked at the reception, "Do you know where the race pack collection is?" "It's at BR4." "Where?" I replied, totally clueless as to what code she was using. "Oh, go outside, and down there," she answered.

The rooms were pretty good.
Her directions sounded simple enough, but I would soon learn that it was more than just "outside and down there". I had to go around a pool, up some stairs, be met with a closed gate, go back down the stairs, up some more stairs, be met with a closed restaurant, down the last stairs, around the pool, down even more stairs, through a tunnel thingy next to a big-ass yacht, into a barren lobby, up some more stairs, and lo and behold, I found it. Yeah. BR4.

After picking up the race packs, which included a shirt, tattoos, free dinner vouchers, and the usual flyer spam you throw away, I rushed back to the room and started setting up my son's bike.

Kids' Triathlon
150m swim - 4km bike - 800m run

4pm is about the worst time of day to hold a triathlon in Malaysia, due to the searing/evil afternoon sun. But on the other hand, had it been any earlier, I don't think we would have made it there in time.

At about 2pm, my son (Ezio) and I racked his bike and set up his transition. This being his first triathlon, I showed him how to place his stuff in order to get to it as fast as possible and not forget anything.

Ezio insisted on using a Camelbak as his bike doesn't have a bottle cage, so I brought a small one I had from mountain biking, lined up his shoes, sunglasses, race belt, helmet, and gloves. He says he can't shift gears without his gloves.

The race organizer - Mr. Chan I believe - was standing around, and I needed to find out what the kids' course would be like. "Excuse me, can you tell me where the kids start?" "Yes, at the beach, under the inflatable arch." "Ok, and which buoys will they swim around?" "Oh, we'll set those up later. The tide is moving around now."

Okaaaaay, so now I know this is a pretty relaxed setup. It's not a highly-planned Ironman-like event. More of a, 'we'll-do-whatever-we-want-whenever-we-want-however-we-want-seat-of-our-pants-deal'. Which I like. I really do. In fact, I'm pretty relaxed about most things...except racing. But maybe this was a sign to me to not take things so seriously...

At around 3pm the inking opened up. I'm not sure why they do number inking for kids but have tattoos for adults. Either way, we got his arms inked up, but it wouldn't stick well due to our liberal application of sunscreen. Whatever, it's better to not get burned. Trust me, I know.

From there, we started walking to the beach. At that point, we started seeing our Terai Melayu comrades, and boy were they supportive! "Come on Ezio!" "You ready Ezio?!" "Let's go man!" These were the types of things he heard. He acted cool but he loved it.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the giant inflatable arch being moved down the beach. It was low tide, and the organizers were bringing it closer to the water. It was still higher up the shore from the sprint race they had early Saturday morning.

Out on the water, boats were moving white buoys around, and it was now clear that the swim would be around those. Meanwhile, the kids lined up under the arch, and the organizers started briefing the kids on the rules.

After a tense 5 minutes of standing there, the air horn sounded, and the kids were off. In fact, most of them started running even before the thing sounded. See for yourself in the video below.

The kids in the front really ran for the water fast, while those in back couldn't. Ezio had said beforehand he'd be in the back, as it was his first race. I told him he would have a better advantage by starting in front, but he replied, "Papa, I don't care if I'm first or last. It doesn't matter."

Most of us say this, but deep down inside we really want to finish well. But he genuinely didn't care. At all. But still I persisted, giving him tips and advice on how to be faster, even making him practice his transition the night before at home.

He obliged, and didn't complain, but maybe was doing it just to make me happy. He didn't care about his time. The fact that he was wearing a Garmin said otherwise, but again, I put that on him.

All the while, I thought I was teaching him, but in retrospect I realize I was learning from him more than he was learning from me: Don't take things so seriously!

He's a great swimmer, and has been taking weekly lessons since he was 5, so had no problems in the sea. But with the splashing and commotion I couldn't tell where he was or how he was doing until the kids started running out. He was towards the end. Turns out, later, he told me he had walked most of it! He said there was another kid that he made friends with and the water was so shallow they just strolled along!

As you would have seen from the video, his pace up the beach was pretty relaxed, and so was his transition. The bike took quite a while too. Later he revealed to me that another kid couldn't ride because his front wheel was pointing almost backward and he couldn't pull the handlebar around. So Ezio stopped to help him. This was nice to hear.

His T2 was pretty fast, and soon he went out to the 800m run (walk if you don't care about your time). By this time quite a few kids had already finished the race, but that was ok.

A few minutes later, I saw him walking down the red carpet towards the finish, and that's where we hyped it up. I cheered, and so did my wife and the people around us, and he burst into a sudden sprint, passing a few other kids, and charging over the finish line. It may not have been fast, but that's not what he was going for, and I was proud.

Individual sports, like triathlon, expose you for what you are. There's no team to hide behind, no other successes to take credit for, no excuses; just you and your own results. They keep you honest.

At the same time, had Ezio been on a team that didn't do so well, he (or I) could have attributed (blamed) the poor result on the team, when really the individual didn't care.

In such a case, we'd be fooling ourselves, saying, "He's actually fast, but the team brought him down." In reality, it was all him. And that's ok. I'm happy to have this clarity.

After the race, a large group of Terai Melayu went out to get some satay kajang (deer satay). We walked about 1km out to a bus stop on the main road, and waited for the bus. It had seemed that the sun's temperature had somehow been turned up. It was totally unbearable unless we stood in shade.

We waited. And waited. And waited. Some of us got so thirsty, we ran to an nearby 7-Eleven to grab some drinks. Then, we waited. And after that, we waited. Somebody threw his shoes into the middle of the road. I have no idea why, probably frustration, before waiting some more.

Must have been half an hour before we realized this may have been a bus stop...but busses may have not even been running that day!

So many walked to a nearby restaurant, where I heard they waited again just as long. But the three of us headed back to the hotel where we could eat the free dinner that was waiting for us.

The food would have been ok, but it was all cold. I ate salad, spaghetti, really good fish in tomato sauce, and some potato wedges. A good carbo dinner for the night before.

The Main Event
As usual, I went to sleep as early as possible - maybe around 10pm. As usual, I woke up as early as possible, with no alarm. From there, it was over to the breakfast, where I consumed just enough fuel to keep me from getting hungry later - nothing too filling. Never eat things you're not used to eating before a training ride.

The fact the transition area is basically at the entrance of the hotel meant that nobody racked their bikes the night before. So this was super convenient. I rolled down with my bike and my stuff and started setting up.

I did my routine racking, checking, double-checking, and feeling usually-nervous. Then I thought of Ezio. He was cool the whole time - why shouldn't I be? This isn't an IRONMAN.

About then I saw Idham and Chris, both from Terai Melayu, and we talked a bit, further relaxing the mood. Soon, we were out of the transition area, mingling with more and more Terai Melayu-ers and posing for photos.

All hyped up for the race
It was cool to see bomba (fireman) boats with divers on them out around the buoys, in addition to guys on paddle boards and even a camo-blue navy or police boat.

But the water was fairly calm and easy, unlike the day before, which Idham said was choppy and rough (he did the Sprint). This made the swim all the more pleasant - welcome conditions.

Let's do this
My age group set off second, so we had prey to chase and a clear route to follow. I hadn't studied the course, but how hard could it be? From the beach, it was clear that it went out a few hundred metres, took a 90-degree corner to the left (parallel to the shore), went into the marina with the big-ass yacht, and then came back out again.

But once I made it into the marina area, all I could see on the horizon was a mess of red or orange buoys with other orange safety floats bouncing all over. See, some swimmers chose to tow those inflatable floats along. And they really got in the way as each sighting glance is maybe only a half-second (you need to breathe, too).

Within a minute or two, I was next to a red buoy, and about half the swimmers were turning there. There were guys in a boat nearby and they weren't stopping them. Maybe this was the way to go!?!

I paused, my head bobbing up with a confused look on my goggled-mug, and one of the boat-boys gestured to me to keep going, and not U-turn. Yet he wasn't making any effort to stop the short-cutters AKA cheaters.

It's ok, they can cheat. It's their loss, and they'll have to live with the knowledge they cheated. Go ahead.

I'm a slow swimmer but it was at this point I started catching up to the even-slower swimmers, as identified by their swim caps. I passed a few, and kept cruising. It was nice that in this marina there were pretty much no waves.

Soon I was out, running up the hard, wet sand of the beach, and towards T1. A nice touch were 6 showers set up between the beach and T1 to wash the sand and salt off. But they were so crowded, I cut around them and entered transition. Run in.

Notice how the swim enters the calm waters of the marina
Swim: 35:06

See my swim on Strava here.

I love this part. Garmin stop, goggles and cap off, socks and shoes on (sand included), belt clipped, helmet and glasses on, chug water, grasp bike, run out, ride.

It always takes me a few minutes to get into a groove, and this ride out was no different. Involuntarily I let out a little chuckle as we passed the bus stop (with no busses), thankful that episode was over.

The bike, being the longest segment, is where I tend to recover the most lost spots (lost to faster swimmers). So I counted how many guys I passed and how many passed me, to get an approximation my progress. If more passed me that I passed, that meant I was lagging behind.

I'm not the fastest cyclist, but after about 25, I lost count. It was right there where a guy on a black and neon orange tri bike with a full rear disc just totally surged past me. He was doing 40+, and if I'm not mistaken, it said "Volt" on his bike. Was this an e-bike?

We were on an out-and-back, 20km each way, and the roads were [supposed] to be closed off once we hit the main stretch, outside the town. There were police at most junctions stopping cross-traffic and guiding us the right way. Volunteers with flags helped, too, as did signs with arrows indicating any upcoming corners. Overall, I think the course was well-marked and well-managed.

About 12 or 13 km into the ride I think, I started noticing the leaders on their way back. That meant they were about 15 km ahead of me - quite a huge lead. Nevertheless, I kept my head down and before I knew it was at the 20km turnaround.

Right after the U-turn was a water stop. However, they didn't have any more cups filled up, so they handed me an entire 1.5L bottle of water, with the cap removed. Which was cool by me.

I swigged a huge gulp of it, and poured the rest through my helmet. My helmet is a Lazer aero helmet so there are no holes. But it has a little hatch on top just so you can pour water in it. Little channels from there drain the water around your head. Cool feature.

The last 20km was fun. A big group of guys on pretty high-end tri bikes caught me and passed me on the flats. They were the first to pass me; about 5-6 of them. But then on the hills I caught all of them, and kept my lead until the flats. This cycle repeated about half a dozen times.

I'm not used to drafting in triathlons, so instead of hanging in the group I surged ahead as many times as possible. It was a race and I don't quite have the relaxed attitude (or ego maybe) of my son. I wasn't going to let them pass.

But each time, they tagged on to my tail, sucking my wheel like this was a Sunday group ride. I didn't mind though. They were pushing me, encouraging me, challenging me, and I was up to it.

After a while, we came up behind another guy who was down in an aero position. I was going to pass him on the right. This was tricky because the other cyclists behind us were coming the opposite direction, in the other lane. And the occasional car would get into the mix, so we had to be careful. Not to mention those hemispherical glass reflector thingies on the dashed lines.

Sure enough, a car was coming at us. It was a silver Perodua Myvi, and it was trying to pass the cyclists in front of it. His right wheels were over the dashed line, creeping into our lane. I made a violent gesture with my arm, ordering him back into his lane, or distance closing quickly.

We were flying at 40+ on a downhill, and the guy in front of me, aero and narrow, suddenly noticed the offending vehicle. His reflexive instincts kicked in, and he flinched to the left, away from the car. This caused his front wheel to turn 90-degrees, subsequently catapulting him over the bar, rear wheel launching into the sky in front of my face.

"Oh shit this is going to hurt. A lot. I'll mess up my bike, too, but it'll be salvageable," I thought to myself.

In slow motion, he hit the ground, right shoulder first. His head hit the side (not front, thankfully) of the car. A pump went flying to the left at twice the speed of his bike.

I had a sudden, deep sense of pity for him. He's in extreme pain. The race is over for him. His possessions are scattered across the road.


A loud, hollow thud was produced by his helmet striking the door of the car.

A quick look over my shoulder, and I saw the stupid car slam on his breaks. A cyclist going the opposite direction smashed into the back of the car. Mayhem had officially ensued.

I did nothing other than stopped pedalling. Somehow, I cruised on a razor thin line between him and his bike, unscathed. As did the group behind me. I had a sudden pang of guilt for not stopping.

My son had stopped in a race for someone who wasn't even hurt. Shouldn't I do the same? Then I realized had I stopped, I would have caused even more blockage.

"What a CHEEBYE!" I screamed. "He's moving!" one of the guys replied. "OK, so he's alive?" I asked. Seriously, we thought he could have been killed.

I told the others to please report what they had seen to the organizers or the police so as to ensure that they knew it was the driver who was at fault, not the rider. At this point, we had all slowed down to about 20. We were all fairly shaken up.

Miraculously, only about a minute later, an ambulance was on its way, lights flashing. Good.

Again, how seriously could I take this race after seeing that? How important is your race time when you're in the hospital? I'm worried about my time while someone else is worried about his life? It doesn't add up.

Back to the grind. Hammering it up hills, down hills, and along straights with a few guys glued to my wheel. The group thinned and it was just me and one guy on a Cervelo P5, I believe. At about KM 38 he passed me, and said, "Thanks for the draft, man!" or something to that effect. He was bib 4222.

I gave him a thumbs up, and then a torrential rain began. Chasing him, we made our way back to T2.

Perfect timing for the rain.

A nice out-and-back with small hills
Bike: 1:10:18

See my ride on Strava here.

The first thing I noticed when I racked by bike in T2 was the puddles in my running shoes. The rain was that heavy. Helmet off, visor on, tip the water out the shoes, slip them on, spin the race belt around, and dash for 'Run Out'. Glasses? I'll keep them, it might heat up.

This is the part where your legs feel like bricks, especially if you haven't done any brick training in a year, but this is also the part where you realize you're at the beginning of the end. The end of an awesome race that you've completed thus far with no issues. No crashes, flats, or mechanical failures. Unlike some others.

It's you against the world
Here's where you challenge yourself in the most primal possible way. It's you against the world. Running from a predator, prey, being chased to the death. Got a cramp? Too bad, nobody cares. Don't like the rain? Too bad. That's your problem. Wet shoes give you blisters? Enjoy them.

The trees don't care how tired you are. They will exist and stand strong, looking down on you, no matter what. You envy them and their resilience, but the feeling is only one-way.

Whether you succeed or fail is up to you. You can't blame anybody else. But you can revel in the strength of your self-sufficiency, independence, and individuality. You can run with dignity, no matter the pace, under your own ambulation, locomotion, bipedal propulsion. Even if you're last. But nobody's going to stop you. Rain or shine.

It's all you, for better or for worse. Run.

It's all you.
Again, I was playing the how-many-places-can-I-jump-forward game by counting whoever I passed. One, two, three, four, three, two, three, four. Not quite as clean as the bike. I was getting passed a fair amount.

Some super skinny guys with no shirts were flying the other way on this out-and-back course. Yep, they were on their last kilometer, about ready to take the podium. It was 9:45am.

The rain was still heavy, but not apocalyptic-torrential like 20 minutes beforehand. Still, there were massive puddles on the road, and mini sandbars snaking out from the side of the road from the flowing water. Most people avoided the puddles, but last time I checked, the shortest distance between two places is a straight line, so I b-lined right through them, splashing everyone in a 1-m radius.

My pace was okay, around 5:30 per km, which wasn't quite where I'd normally want to be in an OD, but not too bad considering my only training in the past 3 months was the Cebu 70.3 two weekends before. I was still gaining more places than I was losing, so I was in high spirits.

"How you feeling?" I asked to the guy next to me. "OK, how are you?" he replied. "Fine, but I thought it was swim-bike-run, not swim-bike-swim," I joked, as we splashed through an ankle-deep mud puddle. He chuckled at my un-funny joke, trying to be polite.

At about KM 4 I spotted Chris from Terai Melayu running the other way, on his way back. He had quite a lead and was looking at a good finish, it appeared.

The run alternated from the shoulder of the road to dirt mud paths, to both paved and unpaved trails through a beachside park, and eventually out to the highlight - a boardwalk raised above the sea. It appeared to be high tide, and the water was a really nice aqua green. It was actually clear enough to see the bottom which was a change from the murkiness when we swam.

I tired to keep the pace at around 5:30, which with my poor endurance at the time, became increasingly more difficult. But that's the fun - that's what I'm here for - to find and respect my limitations, and face them head-on. All with the distinct possibility of failure, injury, or defeat.

Bringing it home
It wasn't long before I found myself rounding the corner to the road leading down to the hotel, where I picked up the pace, close to 5:00. The cheering as I entered the finish chute was awesome, one guy even shaking his water bottle at me like it was Champagne, and I was hyped. I heard the cowbells ring, reminding me my wife and two kids were there, further raising my spirits.

Chris finished second in his age group!

After catching my breath, I headed over to the ambulance to find out if they knew anything about the guy that wrecked on his bike. Turns out he only had a dislocated shoulder (and the obvious road rash). The worst part? His bike disappeared. When they picked him up in the ambulance, they left his bike, and somebody took it. The medic then asked me if I knew where it was!

From there, I proceeded over to the police van and reported what I had witnessed to the cops. I wanted them to know the vehicle was at fault, and hopefully charge him with something. I gave them my name and number but never heard anything.

Notice where the run goes out onto boardwalk on the water
Run: 52:56

See my run on Strava here.


The Port Dickson International Triathlon is definitely one I'd return to - especially with the Terai Melayu group. It's one I'll treat as a fun, training event - one to relax in and not take to seriously. There's plenty of other time for that, but not here.

#29 in my category

  1. Study and understand the swim course. If it's like I experienced, it's a bit confusing, and you may take a wrong turn or even be accused of cheating.
  2. Beware of traffic. Even if you think the roads are closed, some rogue vehicles may find their way into the course.
  3. The way it's organized and set up is pretty casual, so don't take things too seriously.
  4. The kids' event was superb, so if you have children consider it.
  5. Eat in the hotel. Don't even try going out.


Anonymous said...

Awesome race Andrew. Glad you enjoyed yourself. Looking foward to our next races/trainings and rides together - Idham

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