Just when you think you're tough enough


Exclusive: Lim Ee-Van on Completing All 34 IRONMAN VRs, Tristupe and Racing Triathlons

Lim Ee-Van is no stranger to the triathlon community in Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur born and bred, Ee Van leads an environmental risk management team in Middle East and Asia, but really, many know him from

This 44-year old with a VO2 Max age of 18 was interviewed by ToughASIA recently.

How, when and why did you get involved in triathlon?

My history on triathlon is fairly recent and it started back in 2005. My first “multisport” was the AXN Urban challenge back in 2004 where it required a combination of mountain biking, trail running, river boarding, and even technical rope skills.

I recalled in one of the races with my teammates, one of us mentioned about doing something “without mud and dirt” as we were too tired to be washing bikes and gears after a race.

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Then came the Malakoff Malaysia Duathlon Series (MMDS), which later became Malaysia University Duathlon Series (MUDS). This was followed by the natural progression of going into triathlon, as another one of us mentioned about feeling “a bit silly to be running twice, so why not swim”.

All these happened within a year of the AXN race and I found myself at the starting line of Port Dickson International Triathlon in July 2005. I never looked back since.

Having pursued triathlon over the years, how do you compare yourself as a triathlete now to when you first started?

I have been reflecting on this in 2020 on just how far I have come since 2004 starting off with duathlon, and progressing to triathlon in 2005.

Short answer is that I felt “accomplished” as I have never “Did Not Finish” any of the races I had signed up to date. The fundamentals of not giving up no matter what stays until today.

Now in 2020, I continue to feel grateful for the great health as this has allowed me to train almost everyday; starting out as a weekend warrior, I can now truly say this triathlon is a lifestyle for me now.

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At AXN2004 with Doc Hisyam and Azly Anwar

Can you tell us about your progression as a triathlete?

After my first duathlon race in 2004, I had to pick up a lot of courage to do my first Olympic distance triathlon at Port Dickson in 2005. I am not a good swimmer, and the fear of swimming in the sea was scary. I put in a lot of time to prepare for it by swimming almost daily and told myself that the first mission was to complete the 1.5km swim. Therefore, I was elated when I exited the sea that day.

Then, I found out about the Desaru Long Distance Triathlon happening three months later which was similar to the distance of a IRONMAN 70.3 event.

Fast forward to 2008, when I attempted my first IRONMAN distance race in Langkawi. In between 2004 duathlon, 2005 first triathlon, to the first full IRONMAN in 2008, I had completed no less than 30 races. It took that many races for me to finally pick up the courage to attempt the IRONMAN distance triathlon. Furthermore, it was the most expensive race I had ever signed up at RM500 for a local participant. It was a huge commitment. As for ultra triathlon, crazy or what?

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When did you start your triathlon blog and what inspired you to start it? What is the inspiration behind the name “tristupe”?

On May 21, 2004 I started off with Incoherent Ramblings at Back then, blogging was the equivalent of having a social media account. The intent was initially to express myself and improve my English writing skills.

It turned into a race report blog with the AXN 2004 race being the first of many. I came to realise early that I had no reference point, and if I were to document everything, it could be used for myself and others in their multisport journey too.

Subsequently in 2013, I rebranded the blog to become;” tri” as in triathlon, and “stupe” as in Stupendous Man – the alter ego of the comic Calvin & Hobbes.

I love the comic strip since I was in school as I found relevance of the things Calvin goes through growing up, even up till today. In another word, Tristupe is the alter ego of Stupendous Man that does triathlon.

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At IRONMAN Malaysia 2008 with youngest finisher in Malaysia’s history – Chan Jun Shen (left).

From your experience, what are the differences in triathlon events that you took part in when you first started compared to now?

So much has changed since I first started racing. Gears and technology has taken over the simple sport of swim, bike and run. What used to be a stopwatch is now a gadget equipped with at least 3-point GPS system.

Cycling computer has gone high tech to read power output with compatible pedals or crank arms. Even swimming has gone beyond trunks and cycling shorts with many wearing faster trisuits or with swim-specific suits to help them go faster. Gone are the cotton racing bibs printed using silk-screen process, as now they are laser printed on more lasting materials with integrated timing chips.

From L-R: Team 2ndSkin 2013 represented by Lim Ee-Van, Chan Jun Shen, National Athlete Irene Chong, and Roy.

Registration has also changed significantly where it was manually filling up the form and submitting them with cash payment at physical office, to being able to do everything online.

Not to mention the cost of entry fee for a basic duathlon and triathlon with goodies (cotton event and cotton finisher t-shirt) that rarely exceeded RM50, is now at the minimum of a few hundred ringgit with better quality sweat wicking materials suitable for all activities.

With increased entrance fee, the quality of the event has significantly improved as the organisers are able to provide better water and fuelling stations, safety support, and overall participant experience. But, this is of course limited to a handful of trusted organisers and the triathletes are learned enough to avoid any organisers with less than desired records.

Can you comment on how triathlon has changed technically – the way people train, data related to sports, equipment used?

I am a data whore. I love my data even when I was using a simple cyclo computer and a stopwatch. I have always trained with heart rate zones using the most primitive method of placing the finger on pulse point and count how many beats per 10 seconds, and multiplied it by 6 (for a minute reading).

I even used thread to mark my route, so I know what distance I could be cycling or running – because unless you are running on a 400m track, there is no way to know unless you take the effort to drive and mark the mileage down before your run.

Much of these have changed with technology. People are more aware and better informed. Data is no longer limited to heart rates as budding triathletes are even counting their strokes per 50m distance as they swim for efficiency. Power data is used to determine the quality of workout, and heart rate data is able to predict your lactate threshold.

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Team 2ndSkin organised running clinics for 4 years from 2013 to 2017 with Garmin Malaysia.

Devices nowadays can even measure your VO2 Max. All these were reserved for the elites only 10 to 15 years ago. Now, it is available for everyone.

With this highly accessibility of technology, it then brings a different challenge where some are more focused to obtain the newest technology including faster shoes, more aerodynamic and lighter bikes, and more advanced tracking devices. Some manipulate their data to stay ahead of the pack on Strava or other apps, not on their own merit and achievements.

Many forget the fundamentals of the sport which is that none of these equipment and technology will make you go faster if you do not put in the effort to train and commit to the sport. Utilise them fully and wisely, and work hard to achieve what you set your mind to. That experience will be priceless. There are no short cuts.

What is your involvement with any companies like running or triathlon brands and products over the years?

I have had the privilege to work with many brands over the years and it provided great opportunity for me as a growing age-group triathlete. In 2012, 2ndSkin – a local sports apparel – formed a team known as Team 2ndSkin with an in-house Athlete Program. Since then, I have also had the privilege to be collaborating with brands such as Garmin, Hammer Nutrition, Lifeline-ID, Kraftfit Compression, Skechers running shoes, Bodytech KL for running analysis and Spyder Philippines for eyewear. Personally, I have also received help from Hee Hong Cycle for Boardman bike purchase, Bike Elementz for parts, JVC earphones, and a few other overseas brands that saw the opportunity to allow real user tests and review their products.

To date, I remain an ambassador with Garmin Malaysia since 2012. I do not know if I will remain to be one in 2021 as the Key Performance Index (KPI) to continue to be one is tough and often benchmarked. I continue to be privileged for discount purchases from Hammer Nutrition Malaysia, they are truly the best fuels for me for long demanding training and race distance. I have been buying my own running shoes and cycling gears since 2015.

The sponsorship or brand ambassador opportunities nowadays are very competitive, and I am very pleased to see stronger, better athletes being recognised for their achievements. As much as I possibly could, I try to link these athletes to the brands I have worked before. It is the right thing to do.

Family Chinese New Year 2020. The last celebration before Covid19 changed the world

What is your proudest achievement in triathlon?

The feeling of completing my first ever triathlon race at Port Dickson in 2005 was my defining moment in triathlon. It was not the distance of the race but it was the people I have known since then; they are like an extended family.

Those who have been around since the era I started would know how that would feel – meeting up again with friends at races, and we would almost always know whose bicycle will be next to ours. It is the community, and I am proud to be in this extended family.

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Ee-Van training for Indoor Super Sprint Challenge 16 April 2020

We saw that you completed the IRONMAN VR series. Congratulations on that achievement! What inspired you to participate in the series and keep racing in it?

2020 was supposed to be the year I would have finally been able to manage my busy time and travel a fair bit in my line of work. I had not been able to race between 2015 and 2019. I had given up registering for races, as I could not start due to my work.

Then COVID-19 happened and our country went on a lockdown. Swim, bike, run has been cancelled in a big way. Here I am, fresh back from my last travel, clocking in my personal best 21km a week before lock down thinking if that was it.

Hunkered down at home, I decided to restart on the bike trainer, clocking in hours between calls while working from home. I started to be brave and silly, and run around the house, then progressed to running around my car. My dogs were not impressed seeing me invade their space and covering it with sweat as I go round and round the car.

Then IRONMAN started the IRONMAN Virtual Club (IMVC) and introduced the IRONMAN Virtual Racing (IMVR) races starting 3 April 2020, two weeks after the country went into lockdown and the world started to close their borders.

I signed up for it in a heartbeat, knowing very well the only way to clock the first race distance of 5km run, 90km bike and 21km run was indoors.

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I still could not believe I completed that distance within my house compound, around the car. I felt silly, but at the same time, accomplished. That was when I know it is possible to do it if we set our mind on it.

The IMVR became my weekend activity, apart from completing the weekday challenges that IMVC set up. I have not missed any of the IMVR races (34 of them!), and I have completed almost all the weekly and daily challenges, some of them more than twice.

So when IMVC announced that I am in their Hall of Fame for completing all the 34 VRs, I was very pleased with the recognition. I know of at least another 2 Malaysians who have completed all VRs as well, and to date, we are among the 122 people worldwide that have accomplished that. Very proud!

What are your thoughts on virtual triathlons?

It takes 30 days to change a habit, and 90 days to make it a lifestyle. With the current situation, I do not see any reason that virtual races cannot be the new norm. What is important is that the participant need to be honest in their virtual endeavour.

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Lim Ee-Van with Yusran Yusoff (left)

What keeps you going into 2021 and beyond as a triathlete?

Instead of what keeps me going into 2021, I would actually share with you what has kept me going since my first triathlon.

The wisdom of Yusran Yusoff saw that I was having a lot of doubts in my first IRONMAN distance triathlon as he noticed I was training so hard, he asked me if I intend to be a “one hit wonder” or do I envision to do this for as long as I can. The answer, my friend, 12 years later remains the same – I want to do this for as long as I can.

And, it may start getting easier to qualify for World Championship at Kona as if I can still race past 70 years old (which by the way, at the rates the peers in my age group are going, I may still not stand a chance).

What races are you looking forward to in the next 12 months?

I would say if I get the lottery ticket from IRONMAN Virtual Club by completing the 21 Days Challenge, it would be that race, and likely it will be IRONMAN Langkawi.

Would you like to share any other perspective regarding your journey as a triathlete?

Make this a lifestyle. Incorporate your training into your life – and just remember, nothing is more important that family, that takes the top spot. Family should not be sacrificed for you to obtain success in your triathlon journey. Along the way, remember to have fun and keep moving forward!

Photos provided by Lim Ee-Van.