Just when you think you're tough enough

Tough Takes Triathlon

Brutal heat grills Triathlete at 113 Desaru 2019

My last 113 Desaru Triathlon at Desaru in Johor, three years ago still rang clearly in my mind. The hot weather, the rolling hills of the bike route, yet I find myself returning for yet another edition in 2019.

Race morning approached with the usual routine, as  I checked into the Transition area and lay my gears before me. Timing chip on leg, race number on arm, water bottle filled and checked my nutrition gels for bike and run leg.

I noticed that the tide was really low in the morning, so we had to run approximately 200m on the beach from the starting point, and wade for around 50m before starting to swim.

The race was delayed a little due to a missing buoy. The 2km swim was done in two loops with a short beach run in between.

The sea was slightly choppy, the chaos of the participants, and the left side of my goggles kept leaking were making my swim difficult, my kryptonite in this multi-sport race.

Soon, I completed the 2km swim and was relieved to see most of the bicycles were still in the Transition Area, which means I was not too slow. Proceeded to the next leg, 90km on the bike course in two loops of 45km, with some rolling hills.

This bike route used to be my playground, thus I knew it well. Initially, my legs were still fresh, so the first loop was a pleasant ride for me. Followed my nutrition plan, I drank water every 15 minutes and consumed an energy gel every 30 minutes.

After the second loop u-turn at 70km, I started to hit the wall. Not sure if it was due to the hot weather, or the strong headwind, somehow I felt my legs were really tired.

My legs were even asking me to stop pedalling on the flat road and they suddenly  cramped up. I knew, this was not my day today, so I had to slow down. Fortunately, I still managed to complete the bike course and reach T2 safely.

In T2 transition, the last 21km run beckoned with some rolling hills. I felt my legs were very heavy. With every step under the brutal scorching sun, my legs were starting to cramp up again, so I could only jog.

I felt like I was getting a heat stroke, I felt dizzy, and I could not eat anything as I felt like vomitting. I kept drinking at every water station to prevent dehydration.

As I poured water on my head to cool my whole body, I felt as though I was nearly half cooked on a barbecue spit. There were around 5 water stations along the run, and fortunately, there was water to drink almost every 1 km.

However I was bit disappointed when I reached the first few water stations on the first loop, yet there weren’t any ice cubes in the tank. Furthermore, this year there weren’t any banana or gels at the water station.

At 8km, my legs cramped again, and I was really exhausted that I could not jog anymore, my mind has finally crumbled.

At that moment, I thought I was going to faint and bonk. I stopped for a moment, then tried to walk slowly to release the pain of my legs. Every step was a struggle, and every nerve of my muscle was warning me to give up.

“You can keep going and your legs might hurt for a week, or you can quit and your mind will hurt for a lifetime” – Mark Allen

Disappointingly, I walked for the rest of the distance and I felt so bad for myself. I could not blame the brutal weather, I could only blame myself for not training enough.

I recalled the very first time I joined 113 Desaru triathlon in 2014, the heat and the same situation on the run leg, I was walking like a zombie as well. I might have fallen, but I did not give up on Triathlon. After two years in 2016, I finally achieved my ultimate dream to completed the IRONMAN Malaysia in Langkawi.

Life is like a Triathlon, we swim and fight with other competitors in the sea; we ride alone, encounter a lot of circumstances like the rolling hills and the head wind; we run, no matter it is under the scorching sun or the pouring rain. We cramp, we struggle, we crumble but we never, ever give it up.

Finally, I completed the race, in one piece. I was grateful, it was not about the timing, but the one in myself who chose not to DNF. I know the spirit of triathlon in my mind has not died, it just hurt badly, and need some time to recover. And I know one day, I will be stronger and stand in front of the starting point of Desaru 113 triathlon again.

Photos provided by Benjamin Chew.


More about the author

Benjamin Chew earned the nickname ‘IronBen’ when he started running in 2012, completed a marathon in 2013, completed Kapas Marang 6.5km Swimathon, the Desaru 113 Triathlon in 2014, and IRONMAN Malaysia in 2016. After a hiatus, he’s back to pursue the Triathlon dream and take it to a greater level.