Just when you think you're tough enough

Tough Takes Triathlon

Tropical storm and heat pushes limits at Challenge Iskandar Puteri triathlon

Every great journey starts with a small step. Good weather greeted us on the morning of the Challenge Iskandar Puteri triathlon in Johor recently, but I would be lying if I say I wasn’t nervous that morning.

The last triathlon event I raced was the Penang Triathlon, more than a year ago at half the distance of today’s 1.9km swim, 90km cycle and a 21km run which is half of the full IRONMAN distance. This would be the “yardstick” for the IRONMAN Langkawi which I’m racing come November.

Nerves overwhelmed me and I could only down a simple breakfast of bread and coconut water. The swim start today would be different too, and the triathletes would be taking off from a platform on the marina into the open water. The swimming route was relatively straight forward with big orange buoy as indication for turning.

As permitted by the organiser, some participants tied a small orange buoy to themselves, thus sighting was made difficult. It was very distracting and confusing to see so many orange buoys in front of me, while swimming in the open sea.

At the start of the swim, I paced myself slowly for the first 300 meters, treating it as warm-up, and gradually increased my speed to a steady pace till the end of the swim. No major incidents happened aside from being kicked by a breast-stroker.

Once out from the water, I ran to the transition area to greet my 3 year-old Polygon A5 aluminium bike, patiently waiting her 90km ride. Two salt tablets, cycling jersey, helmet and clip shoes, and I was ready to take on the 3 loops of each 30 kilometers.

Towards the end of my first loop, the sky turned dark and it started to rain. A few participants crashed, skidded and punctured along the route, but I prevented any untoward issues by slowing down at corners especially.

Back into transition, I changed out of my cycling jersey which was wet not due to my sweat but from the rainfall and into my running tee. Changed my socks too and slipped into my Kalenji model Kiprun SD shoe which I bought from Decathlon less than 2 months.

Into the start of the 21km run, I started to feel exhaustion creeping into my body. The running route was 2 loops of 10.5km in distance.

As running is my strong base before I took up swimming and cycling, I thought I would not have any issues completing this discipline in good time. However, I was so wrong.

In recent months, I had neglected my runs to focus more on cycling and swimming. I greatly acknowledged this mistake into the second loop of the run. Despite the exhaustion, I was able to hold on, averaging 6:30 minutes per km for the first loop.

However, upon entering the second loop my legs started to cramp and I was forced to switch between walking and jogging for the rest of the distance. Ah, I’d succumbed to the ‘Triathlon shuffle’.

The water stations were running out of water during the second loop which did not help, and the last 5-7 kilometers seemed unending. I was running on with thirst and dehydrated legs, not exactly favourable conditions.

But I kept pressing on, moving one foot in front of the other, ignoring the pain in my legs and throughout my body. Alas, the finishing arch was soon in sight.

Jubilantly, I crossed the finish line although I didn’t manage to achieve my targeted finishing time of sub-6 hours. Lesson learnt, no matter which discipline you think you are strong at, you still need to put effort and time to into it. My official finishing time – total : 6hrs 15mins 57secs. Swim 48:26, Bike 2:55:11, Run 2:32:19.