Just when you think you're tough enough

Tough Takes Triathlon

Lightning strikes twice at 113 Desaru Triathlon

Richard Lee 113 Desaru Triathlon
A hard-earned race for writer Richard Lee after bad luck on the bike and a sweltering hot run.

Many people warned me about the turbulent, ‘washing machine’ current off the east coast at the 113 Desaru Triathlon, and I also knew about the unforgiving rolling hills that surrounds the idyllic resort town of Desaru in Johor.

And yet, I was looking forward to the challenge in spite of the trepidation. That is what maketh a triathlete, one who does not stop at doing one sport, but embraces three at the same time. Triple the trouble, some might say, but it’s triple challenge for me.

Desaru 113 Triathlon brings great men and women hailing themselves as triathletes through 113km – 2km of swimming, 90km of cycling, ending with 21km of running along the southern east coast of Malaysia. This would be my first race at Desaru, but my second time racing this distance in a space of two months. This would be a test race for me to gauge myself, as to whether am I ready for the full Ironman distance.

All geared up for the race!

For the first time in my experience, the transition area is fully roofed with concrete flooring and carpeting. Two huge gates marked the entry from the beach and the exit point towards the bike course. The run in from the swim was pretty cool too, perfectly carpeted with natural golf greens and a cleansing shower before the transition entry.

However, I was disappointed with the goodie bag as there was nothing from the sponsors except for a Power Bar. Well, we are here for the race aren’t we? Race briefing noted that there’s only two water stations out in open on the 21km run (10.5km loop) and fortunately Triathlon Coach, Steve Lumley pointed that out and requested that another water station be added.

Get your Race Face on!

I began my morning with my usual routine of breakfast – homemade soak oats/raisins and one energy bar, packed everything in my transition bag and cycled to the transition area. For nutrition, I packed two energy bars (one at T1 after swim and one at KM40 bike) and six energy gels (one at KM80 bike, one at second transition – T2, and four on the run).


The sun rose to a beautiful morning with calm seas, and I found the water cool and visibility was so good that I could see the bottom of the seabed.

Incidentally, it’s my first time doing a triathlon on the east coast of Malaysia, and it was off to a good start. Swimming slowly and alternating between freestyle and breaststroke, I managed to place myself well in the middle of the pack with not much of a hitting and shoving like at the recent Penang triathlon.

Completed my first lap of the swim and did jogged quickly before entering the water again for the second loop. I picked my pace when I saw someone overtook me as this someone was special; he is ‘special’ as he swims with only one arm while the other dangles.

Another reason I loved triathlon is that you always meet amazing people, with the ‘never give up’ attitude, no matter what life throws at them.

The South China Sea was calm and kind for the swim at 113 Desaru Triathlon.

Soon enough, I completed my 2km swim in about 49 minutes, a marked improvement from my previous round at Putrajaya, perhaps a PB (Personal Best) this time?

Right into the transition area, I popped 2 salt sticks and grabbed a bar to munch on while getting ready for my 90km ride. I’ve cycled at Desaru before with PCC (Pedalholics Cycling Club) a few years back, and I know the roads can be in very rough conditions and to expect some rolling hills as well.

The weather gods were kind and we still had an overcast and cooling day coupled with some intermittent drizzle and at this rate, I was gunning to complete the bike course in 3 hours.

Disaster strikes

However, disaster struck right after the first U-turn at around KM30, when my rear tyre punctured.

I quickly changed my tube, and wasted two Co2 cartridges and 10 minutes in the process. When I spotted my wife taking photos along the route, I waved her down to take another spare tube and a hand-pump from the car, before continuing on my ride. By this time, a lot of riders have already overtaken me and my hopes of PB were dashed too.


Lightning strikes twice in the same place

The rolling hills of Desaru were not done with me yet, akin to a dragon teasing its prey, when it decided to chew me up and spat a second puncture at the same rear tyre.

Tough luck, but fortunately I had another tube with me. Using only a hand pump, I was tired and could not muster enough energy to pump the tyre fully, and only squeezed in adequate air to continue my ride slowly at KM75.

Sputtering slowly, I imagined at a pace fit with a basket and a baguette, I fancied myself as a knight in distress who was rescued by the damsel instead. My wife came to my rescue with a foot pump and I managed to inflate my rear tyre fully, before continuing the last stretch of my ride. Ultimately, by now I would be among the last few remaining cyclists to enter into transition, after 3 hours and 32 minutes.

A wise cyclist once said, “A bad day on the bike, will beat a good day in the office anytime”. And I truly believe this.

Conquering the last of the dragon-back hills of Desaru.
Conquering the last of the dragon-back hills of Desaru.

Rushing through transition fast and furiously to make up for lost time, I made my first left turn into the 21km run and saw that Team Bandung from Singapore had set up their own water station and was handing out drinks. Team Bandung’s de-facto Big Sister, Katherine handed me an orange juice which lifted my spirits.

Can you handle the heat?

At high noon, the sun began to show its might and scorched all the minions beneath in no time. I was barely 2km into my run, when most runners were already into their second loop, but I was not going to feel intimated and keep my own pace, one step at a time.

Reaching the first water station itself was an accomplishment, running under a perpetual blow torch. Every slope seemed like a hill, every hair band marker was hard-earned. My spirits sank when I saw we had to go up a slope and what more, I would have to repeat it in the second loop. I drank some water, and took some ice to cool myself down.


Step by step

I succumbed to walking, and even then, no one out here is going to judge you. Every triathlete do what they must to complete the distance.

If I thought our luck was bad, the volunteers at the hastily added water station were standing hours on end in the blazing sun without neither a canopy nor umbrella for them. Such a thankless job, I made sure I thanked them before continuing on.

As I was starting my second loop, many runners completing their run kept giving us the heads up that all water stations were already out of water and ice. I quickly took a large bottle from the resort’s U-turn point and continued with my run. True to the warnings, the first water station was already out of water.

Can you handle the heat?

Mayday, mayday – We’re out of water

However, halfway through perhaps the organizers sent cars to replenish them and also handed out water to the runners. I spotted some other support cars coming in to hand water and 100 Plus to their friends and family still in the race. Now, I began to appreciate the the water melons and ice cold water in previous races.

To be fair, the volunteers at the water stations were really helpful in providing the necessary help to everyone.

I find it disgusting that the participants were blaming the volunteers who are just school kids when the water and ice ran out. Why sign up for a half iron distance when you can’t handle the heat?

Richard Lee 113 Desaru Triathlon

Step by step, I completed the half marathon run in 3 hrs 20 minutes and arrived at the finish line as the prize giving ceremony was wrapping up. The ice bath provided by the organizers was a good place to cool down and stretch, while chatting about the race with friends and headed back to have my post-race food in my hotel room.

In total, I completed the 113km in 7hrs 48 minutes, including two punctures. Feeling ecstatic, and full of accomplishment, I can’t wait for my next triathlon already.

Subsequently, am I ready for the full Ironman distance? I think I’ll never be ready but I believe I can prepare as much as possible but the perfect time will never arrive. Therefore, I’ve made a decision, don’t wait, take the plunge and start today as there will never be a perfect day like TODAY! Oops, did I just pledge for the full Ironman distance to the whole world?

Take up the challenge at the next 113 Desaru Triathlon, it’ll be one of the hottest race weekend you’ll ever experience in more ways than one.

Richard Lee 113 Desaru Triathlon

Race Pros:

1) First time at the Desaru triathlon, and I would say the route for the bike and run was really good with low traffic.

2) Literally, it’s a race from the doorsteps of my hotel room. Suitable for a family race vacation where the kids can play while we, triathletes have some ‘fun’.

Race Cons:

1) Location of the first water station at the first U-Turn of the bike leg was placed at a downhill section and cyclists found it hard stop or grab the drinks.

2) Obviously not enough water stations in the run leg, organisers were not quick enough to replenish the water and ice. Yet there was ample supply leftover at the finish line which was not distributed.

Photos were taken using Casio Exilim FR100 and Nikon D7000. Separating the Casio camera and attaching it to the car’s side mirror came in handy during the rain, as the waterproof camera enabled us to take interesting shots, when triggered remotely from inside the car.

To view more photos, view Tough Asia’s Facebook album here. Album 1 | Album 2 | Album 3

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:

Richard Lee hails Warrior Spirit to complete Xterra Malaysia’s 21km Trail Run

Sibling rivalry fuels Lee brothers showdown at Penang International Triathlon

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

An amateur’s mistake at Penang Coast Triathlon

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


  1. Good read and fair assessment of the race. Tough day out there.
    Well done to you for completing it in tough conditions and circumstances! Truly an ironman in the making.
    Good luck for upcoming races and your Ironman race whichever it may be.

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