Chris Khoo (bottom row, center) raced the inaugural IRONMAN Virtual Race with a group of friends.

The world of racing has come to a complete halt in this COVID-19 pandemic, rendering every athlete’s training over the last few months useless. Or so we thought.

In celebration of the IRONMAN Virtual Club launch, the IRONMAN brand launched their inaugural virtual race – IRONMAN VR1 to the entire community of athletes for free. IRONMAN VR1 (IMVR1) was held in the spirit of the half IRONMAN distance – 5 km run, 90 km bike and 21 km run from April 5-7th.

The segments can be completed in any order, but each segment must be completed in its entirety during one session. Additionally, in this lockdown situation, most athletes do not have access to a swimming pool, hence the 5km run replaces the 1.9km swim leg.

ToughASIA checked on a few Malaysian triathletes in the community and spoke to IRONMAN finisher Chris Khoo on his virgin IMVR1 experience.

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Riding indoors on his bicycle trainer, Chris completed the required distance on Zwift.

ToughASIA: How did it feel racing virtually compared to the normal race?

Chris Khoo: To be honest, it was my first time racing virtually ever. Started my first trainer rides at the beginning of this Movement Control Order (MCO) due to the COVID-19 pandemic, when I finally invested in a smart trainer just before the lockdown which actually saved my sanity.

On the bike leg, I find trainer rides definitely tougher than real life riding. Safely say at least 30% more effort needed as you are not able to coast like in real life on the flats.

As for running, unfortunately I have been putting off fixing the belt on my treadmill for too long. When the MCO started, I contacted the brand and they said they needed 2-3 months to bring in the replacement belt I had burnt out over the haze period last year.

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Without a treadmil, Chris ran 21km on the spot indoors!

To complete the 5km and 21km runs, I had to get creative by putting on my trainers and put a lot of talcum powder on my floor so that I could run on the spot.

Completing the 5km run- 90km bike – 21km run, was really mentally and physically challenging.

However, it did dawn onto me that it’s much easier to pace yourself. This is because you can control the environment you are racing in (that is, airconditioner and fan at full blast), nutrition constantly by your side, entertainment “onboard” with Spotify or Netflix, and can race on flat courses for the best times plus you can even draft in Zwift!

All of the above is not possible during a real race. So it was surely physically easier, just that I took it upon myself to do a much harder ride called the Uber Pretzel which is a 145km ride with 2400meters of climb that took 5 hours and 30mins to complete. I had promised my friends that I would join the ride and also to challenge myself since there are no cut off times for the IMVR1.

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ToughASIA: What equipment did you use for the race?

Chris Khoo: I had my Polygon Helios TT bike which was mounted on my Onelap Gravat T300 Smart Trainer, a laptop and a monitor to display my Zwift ride. This was paired with my Suunto 9 smartwatch to record my heart rate as I don’t have a chest strap HRM with me.

In terms of running, I only used my running shoes which are my Hoka One One Rincon, my Suunto 9 in treadmill mode and lots of talcum powder to make my floor smooth enough to run on the spot without burning my feet.

ToughASIA: Did you have any problems executing the equipment, software or website for the race?

Yes, I experienced many issues in synchronizing the activities onto the website especially on the first day as no one knew what to expect from this brand new platform. After many emails, they finally sorted out my ride activity just in the nick of time.

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ToughASIA:  Did you compete alone, or with a group of friends online?

Chris Khoo: I competed in the IRONMAN VR with my training mates from RC Coaching.

As soon as I got to know about the race on Thursday, April 2, I immediately shared this to our group of triathletes. Since the chances of us racing this year is close to zero, this was a consolation for us to have a friendly competition.

ToughASIA: If you had to pay for the virtual race, would you participate?

Chris Khoo: It depends on what’s included in the race and what are the prizes or lucky draw. If say it had your regular bells and whistles like event and finisher t-shirt with medals etc, I would probably pay RM150-200 maximum once they iron out all the glitches in the event system.

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ToughASIA: Would you do another virtual duathlon or triathlon?

Chris Khoo: Yes, I did actually enjoyed myself. It was unexpectedly refreshing for me to experience. Interesting too as it posed a different kind of challenge. I would expect once this virtual sport matures, it will be very competitive with really tight margins.

I have also signed up for the next race – IRONMAN VR 2.0 which takes place tomorrow, on Friday. It is supposed to reenact the 5150 Ironman event which a 3km run replaces the 1.5km swim, followed by a 40km bike leg and another 10km run leg to finish.