Just when you think you're tough enough

Tough Takes Triathlon

How do you prepare for a Ironman 70.3 race in 3 weeks?

Richard Lee IM703 Finish

Unlike my maiden half Ironman distance (Ironman 70.3) in 2014 where I had at least 5 months to train, this time around I had roughly 20 days for to prepare for the 1.9km swim, 90km cycle and 21km run.

Be careful what you wish for, unexpectedly, I was offered an opportunity to be part of Ironman 70.3 Putrajaya race via Tough Asia so I have to complete it to make my sponsors proud.

Albeit ‘bigger’ by 5kg and 2 years ‘younger’, I relished the challenge of crafting something out of the race. Inadvertently, I also lined up a quick Sprint Triathlon in Penang to kickstart my season and get myself warmed up 7 days before Putrajaya. This would also be the first time I was racing two triathlons in two weeks consecutively.

Richard Lee proudly showing Team Tough Asia's autographed poster by Triathlon Legend, Craig Alexander.
Richard Lee proudly showing Team Tough Asia’s autographed poster by Triathlon Legend, Craig Alexander.

It’s not about the distance

Ironman 70.3 Putrajaya has a reputation for being a hard race. Muddy brown water lake swim and brutal hot, wide-open, shade-less course for the run.

The only consolation would come in the undulating bike course and the perfectly flat run course.

Eventual winner Craig Alexander ‘Crowie’ said the run in Putrajaya was akin to running under a blow torch and that’s from a person who completed the whole race before noon.

How about the mere mortals that continues running from noon to 3pm? It’s a furnace and of course it’s hard, otherwise everyone else would be racing.

Go nuts with all the Triathlon gears and bikes on sale.
Go nuts with all the Triathlon gears and bikes on sale at the Athlete Expo.

One stroke at a time

I consider myself an experienced cyclist, a mediocre runner, and a weak swimmer with terrible technique, especially in open water. Guess I’ll just have to take things, one stroke at a time.

Athlete Check-In and Expo

Half the fun starts before the actual race. At the Athlete Check-In and Expo, I was mindful of leaving my credit card at home, but still spent all my cash on miscellaneous Triathlon gear and items. Unfortunately, my wife had to buy lunch.

A quick look at the Transition Area, and I realised it was fully carpeted. Back in 2014, it was just plain tarmac and I ran on hot stones during the T2 transition, a marked improvement from the organisers.

I also managed to get a quick tour from one of the ever helpful volunteers nearby to identify the usual entry/exit and in/out for the swim, bike and run. It’s important to know the traffic orientation in and out the transition area.

Team Relay Tough Asia
Richard (2nd from left) with Team Tough Asia’s newbie relay team

Race Day

Talk about getting heated up for Race Day, a blackout happened at home just after I had tucked in for the night. Albeit lacking sleep, I still woke up at 4:30am to have my breakfast (3 hours before race) of soak oats/raisins and one energy bar. Packed everything in the car and drove to Putrajaya in the dark with a sleeping loyal domestique aka wife in tow.

Straight to the transition area to set up my bike and pump my tire, I noticed there was sufficient lighting and we had more space in between bikes, more improvements. In 2014 it was really dark that I had to use my phone’s torchlight while setting up my bike.

Swim cap and goggles, checked - All ready for the swim!
Swim cap and goggles, checked – All ready for the swim!

Another amateur’s mistake, almost

I nearly committed another amateur’s mistake as I forgot my water bottles again, just like in Penang Coast Triathlon 7 days ago.

Fortunately, my car was nearby and my loyal domestique retrieved them for me. The morning meet-greet and photo sessions soon began, while waiting wait for my swim start wave as the pros started 10 minutes before us.

Splashed into the lake, the water was very warm and visibility was expectedly poor, and the water had an awful taste like mud and diesel intermittently.

Perhaps they should not have motorised boats too near the swimmers, as it releases carbon monoxide gas and diesel. My swim time was neither good nor very bad as I came up after close to one hour in the water.

At the final right turn, I could see the end and was just happy the 1.9km swim was coming to an end.

Swim in the Putrajaya lake is quite an experience to behold.
Swim in the Putrajaya lake is quite an experience to behold.

Lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place.. right?

Upon the swim out, I lightly jogged to the transition area and popped in salt sticks and munched a bar while getting ready for the bike leg.

The 90km ride consists of two loops of 45km along the fantastic, wide roads of Putrajaya which are closed off from vehicles and most importantly free from potholes.

Having said that, I kept praying for a safe and incident-free ride because back in 2014, I punctured twice (once near Cyberview lodge and another near the roundabout U-turn).

Transitioning from swim to bike
Transitioning from swim to bike

Grab, drink and throw

Keeping to my plan, I took a sip of electrolytes from my bottle every 15 minutes and ate two energy bars at 45 minute intervals.

Temperatures were rising, and by KM75 I had to fill both my bottles at the water stop which was really well set up, with plenty of volunteers and medics to care for the athletes, and cleaners to pick up the empty bottles.

Completed my bike leg within 3 hours 30 mins in Putrajaya’s concrete jungle, a poor timing for a self-proclaimed experienced cyclist.

Richard Lee IM703 Bike

Richard Lee IM703 Putrajaya Bike
All’s well with a puncture-free ride in Putrajaya’s concrete jungle

Out of the frying pan and into the fire

Running has been my weakest discipline, in fact I do not like running at all especially in the searing heat. Call me masochistic, here I am, back for my second dose of Putrajaya’s unforgiving sweltering temperatures.

Usually if you see someone running at 12 noon, he’s either being chased or running away from something. Only a sucker for triathlons would run voluntarily at mid day.

The run sounds like an easy two loops around an enclosed island of Putrajaya. Flat as a pancake, passing under lots of bridges but sadly, almost no spectators were present on the whole running leg except near the start/finish line.

The 'loyal domestique' gets a celebratory peck on the cheek.
The ‘loyal domestique’ gets a celebratory peck on the cheek.

Beat the Heat

Trying to keep to my strategy of beating the heat, I doused myself with ice water at every water station to keep cool and ate two pieces of watermelon. The key is not to drink more water, but to keep the core body temperature cool as the temperatures sore close to 40 degrees Celsius.

By KM8, I began to develop a blister on my right sole, probably from the water which got in my socks no matter how careful I was in avoiding it. Perhaps I’d need to consider a dri-fit socks next time?

No words could describe the sheer relief when I saw the gleaming timer at the finishing line. When the commenter called out my name and finishing time, together with the cheering crowd, I summoned all my remaining energy for a final sprint to the finish.

IM703 Putrajaya Finish
Everyone who crosses this finish line is a winner in their own right.


Post Race

Learning from previous experience, I really made sure I cooled down and stretched in the ice water bath tub provided by the organizers.

Twenty minutes in the ice water bath was gold before taking in recovery protein drink and fresh coconut water from my secret stash.

Out of tri-suit and into comfortable street wear coupled with calf compression sleeves, which seems to be the trending post-race fashion. Talk about proper recovery this time.

As I was on my way out and thanking the volunteers, one of them said, “Jumpa di Langkawi!” (See you in Ironman Malaysia at Langkawi). I wasn’t sure how to reply but I blurted out, “Ya, jumpa di Langkawi” although I haven’t registered.

Will I embrace the full Ironman distance?

For more photos, view Tough Asia’s Facebook album here.

More about the author

Richard Lee is on his life-changing journey from XXL to M. First dabbling into cycling, trail running and now triathlon, Richard sets out to inspire and improve himself and others along the way.

Related articles:

An amateur’s mistake at Penang Coast Triathlon

Triathlon Race Day: What to pack, How to prepare?

Sibling rivalry fuels Lee brothers showdown at Penang International Triathlon