Just when you think you're tough enough

Tough Takes Triathlon

Sweltering heat sizzles triathletes at Challenge Iskandar Puteri


Challenge Family hosted their inaugural triathlon here in Malaysia, hence I snapped up the chance to be part of the starting line-up. The triathlon brand name has been hosting races in many unique parts of the world like Iceland, swimming with dolphins in Danish canal and they chose a really nice marina at the Iskandar Puteri Harbour in Johor.

The hop-skip-and-a-jump destination to Singapore, naturally attracted numerous Singaporean triathletes alongside some from Philippines, with professional triathletes and power couple Brad Kahlefeldt and Radka Vodickova gracing our shores again, this was proving to be an exciting race.

Upon arrival at the Puteri Harbour in Johor a day before the race, we jumped right into the Forum where the professionals were sharing their experience and tips on how to get through an expectedly hot and humid race.

Pace and hydrate – were two important words crucial for survival on race day.

Christmas came early with lotsa presents in the goodie bag.
Christmas came early with lotsa presents in the goodie bag.
Bursting with smiles and energy at the starting line of Challenge Iskandar Puteri.
Bursting with smiles and energy at the starting line of Challenge Iskandar Puteri.

Come Race Day morning, I started with my usual breakfast of champions – overnight oats with raisins and one energy bar, three hours before race time and headed to the harbour to rack my bike. The transition area lined up alongside the harbour in a long straight stretch, with the professional triathletes at the far side from transition. The distance would be negated as we would have to go through a u-turn before continuing out of Transition 2 later, into the run.

Strolling down to the start point at the harbour, the usual photo-taking and morning salutations had begun among old and new-found friends. We did not get to warm-up as the pros took off with a plunge in their swim start, while we had to start in the water according to age-groups.

Challenge Iskandar Puteri swim2
Swim start at the marina of Puteri Harbour in Johor.
Long transition area alongside the harbour.
Long transition area alongside the harbour.

Triathlon mode – ON!

It must have been the unique harbour view with the morning sunrise that caught my attention, as I forgot to start my Garmin Forerunner 735XT (FR735XT) watch on Triathlon mode till I got pass the first boat. This would be the first time I’m taking the multi-sports GPS tracking watch during a triathlon which you can switch from swim, to cycle and run throughout the course.

For once we had to negotiate our way around boats during the swim, and find our way to the other platform to exit. Once out of water, there was a long run to the transition area, even more so when my bike was half way down the long line of more than 300 bikes. I remembered to press stop on the FR735XT, and pressed start again after transitioning for it to go into the ‘Cycle’ mode and record the transition time. In transition, I took my time to eat an energy bar, before zooming off onto the cycling route.

Challenge Iskandar Puteri triathlon

Cycling around Legoland, EduCity and Kota Iskandar at the Challenge Iskandar Puteri.
Cycling around Legoland, EduCity and Kota Iskandar at the Challenge Iskandar Puteri.

When it rains, it pours

The morning was still overcast, and I was hoping it would stay that way. In fact, half way round, it threatened to rain and indeed poured down as I was finishing my third loop of the bike leg. The loop took us around Kota Iskandar, dreamland of all children – Legoland, the new EduCity which hosts eight universities before returning to the harbour. On the bike, I was using the FR735XT to monitor my pace and distance in order to achieve my sub-7hour target.

The terrain was pretty much flat in comparison, so it was a matter of pacing yourself while avoiding the rough stones near construction sites where many more skyscrapers were being built. Unfortunately, I couldn’t avoid a large rock in time, and picked up a puncture I was hoping to steer clear of this time round.

Just as I was patting myself on the back for a good time on the bike, my hopes of a sub-7 hour completion was dashed.

A camera-op always brings smiles on the run.
A camera-op always brings smiles on the run.
Challenge Iskandar Puteri triathlon
He ain’t heavy, he’s my buddy.

Oasis spotted on the Sahara

Unfortunately, by the time I was starting my run, the sun had set itself on high and was blazing down on mere mortals like me. This was going to be a test of grit, physical and mental strength out in the open roads of Kota Iskandar. Similarly, in the second transition, I repeated the same action of stopping and restarting the FR735XT for it to record my transition time and start of the run.

The run route had been changed from two loops to a single loop, around the new township which did not have many big trees to provide shade. The sight of the long-awaited, first water station 4km away, was like an oasis in a desert. It was too far for us to reach in sweltering heat and temperatures, and many of us struggled without water till then.

Richard (center) flanked by his racing buddies.
Richard (center) flanked by his racing buddies.

Most triathletes utilised leftover bottles to carry water on the route, fearing that the next water station would be far apart or worse, run out of water. I saw many strong triathletes succumb to walking, but here is when no one will judge you for walking, as long as you keep moving. With drooped heads, one could only avert their gaze from the unforgiving sun as they kept trudging through the distance.

A fellow triathlete, Jeffrey I had just met in the previous triathlon turned out to be my neighbour who has become my running buddy. He waited on me to start the run as I was delayed by the puncture, and was nice to have a buddy as we motivated each other and revived our flagging spirits along the route. Side by side, we ran down the final chute across the finishing line in just under eight hours. It may be far from my estimated finishing time, but that’s what race is all about – sometimes it works your way, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Overall triathlon stats on the Garmin FR735XT for multi-sports with GPS tracking.
Overall triathlon stats on the Garmin FR735XT for multi-sports with GPS tracking.
Viewing triathlon data and stats from the Garmin FR735XT on Garmin Connect's website.
Viewing triathlon data and stats from the Garmin FR735XT on Garmin Connect’s website.

However, being a triathlete, we can handle three sports at one time, with an additional fourth element which is the mental challenge, come what may.

Overall, the inaugural race by Challenge Family went well, and the triathlon fraternity awaits it return or perhaps more races in the Malaysian calendar in the next year. UEM Sunrise was the title sponsor, and supported by the Johor State government and Tourism Johor while other sponsors included Puteri Harbour, Medini, Legoland with Tough Asia as the Online Media and promoted by Carbon Sports.

Race Pros:

1) A good race for triathletes and families with kids, as the family can spend their day at Legoland while the triathletes ‘do their thing’.
2) Low traffic in the vicinity and marshalled by police at critical junctions led to easy-going bike and run legs.
3) Lots of presents in the goodie bag, and an extra cycling jersey for the early bird registrants.

Race Cons:

1) Water stations were too far apart averaging 3-4km in sweltering temperatures making dehydration a real threat.
2) The run loop could have been two or three small loops instead of one big loop, utilising the water stations repeatedly.

Photos were taken using Casio Exilim FR100 and Nikon D7000. Separating the Casio camera and attaching it to a selfie stick, the waterproof camera enabled us to take interesting shots as the triathletes started their swim in the harbour.

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.

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