Ironman Cairns 2013 : The Race That Blew Me Away

June 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

The participants from Singapore!

The participants from Singapore!

No. of participants : 1226

No. of participants from Singapore :55

No. of female participants from Singapore  in the 40-44 age group : 1 (me!)

Pre-Race Preparation

My husband, Wung Yew, often rolls his eyes during my pre-race prep antics.  You see, he has impeccable mental focus from his years of being an athlete.  On the contrary, I usually go with the flow and tend to be rather unfocused. He sighed in exasperation and shook his head when I suddenly dashed off to find a toilet during my bike set-up.  Knowing it would take me a while to finish my loo matters, he pumped my tyres and set up my bike meter. :D All done when I got back!  Hooray for hubs!

The Swim

Water temperature : 22 degrees (approx)

The air horn sounded and we were off!  In the melee, I got swum over, kicked, pushed… not pleasant, but it’s all part of the excitement of race.  The first-half of the swim went well.  I found my rythm and was swimming conmfortably, until I got pushed off course by the strong current on the turn around.  A well-meaning life-guard paddled next to me and pointed me back in the right direction and shielded me briefly from the waves.  The second loop was a total disaster.  The group I was swimming with was pummelled incessantly by the swells, and we kept bumping into each other unintentionally.  It took great effort to stay on course.   Swimming against the current and kicking hard, I propelled forward and completed the swim in 1:47. 

A little slow, but I completed it nonetheless.  It was rough out there!  I emerged from the swim with frazzled nerves…

The Bike

The volunteers in the change tent were great!  A nice lady volunteer took out my equipment from my race bag and helped me get dressed.  Her calm demeanour settled my highly-strung state, and I was able to focus on getting ready for the next leg of the race.  My impromptu plan was to spin as quickly as I could towards Port Douglas with the tail wind and to drink as much as I could.  Alas, that speed could not be sustained after the turn around because of the strong headwinds.  I had to stop at the aid stations a couple of times to top up my bottle and to give my thighs some respite from the vibrations caused by the rough roads!  My thighs were numb after 100km and I couldn’t feel them at all!  I worked those gears, spun and completed the bike leg in 7:43.  A little slow, but I was relievedto have completed the bike leg with no technical problems. 

I thoroughly enjoyed swinging round the bends on the downslop at more than 55 kmh, but what I didn’t like was being blown like a kite in the wind while cycling next to the coast.  A few stronger cyclists were very encouraging as I tackled the steeper parts of the slopes.  I also didn’t like the vibrations caused by the rough roads. Wung Yew checked my bike after the race, and discovered that the screws had loosened from the vibrations even though he had tightened them the night before! 

The Run

I was glad to hand the bike over to the bike handler and began my run.  Gobbling a slice of water melon and a piece of banana at the first aid station, I started my run.  I began walking after running about 10 km, and a fellow participant growled behind me, “If you don’t start running, you’re not going to make it!”  That got me into action and I began my slow plod down Captain Cook Highway.  Although it was quite demoralising running in the dark for about 22 km, I reached the Esplanade sooner than expected. My first thought was, “People! Hey!  I caught up with the folks who cycled past me earlier!”   The shouts from spectators waved near the Explanade provided an emotional boost.  Even though the pain in my legs was unbearable, I gradually narrowed the gap with my friends and Wung Yew, completed the marathon in 5:43. Phew.  Made it!

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Post-Race Recollections
On hindsight, I didn’t train very seriously for this race due to heavy work and family commitments.  No long training rides (rode a max of 100km only), no long runs (only circuit runs) and no sea swim sessions. I indulged (experimented?) in minimum training with short intense sessions. In fact, I wore my wetsuit for the first time since I completed Ironman New Zealand in 2011, much to Wung Yew’s amusement.  Yup, didn’t even bother with the practice swim on the day before the race.

There was no proper tapering either.  In fact, my activities came to a complete halt two weeks prior to the race.  The only thing I did well in the lead up to the race was to stuff myself silly with baked potatoes, potato wedges, bread, pasta, steaks, ribs, chicken, ice cream in Cairns.  I think the sudden food intake and extra sleep helped because for once, I didn’t feel hungry or tired and stressed by work deadlines. :D 

Bottom line is – I went against the flow and didn’t follow the training advice given by the pros, the training plans and websites.  I trained within whatever time I could spare.  However, I spent most evenings at the gym working on strength and conditioning and tried to build muscle endurance.

I was also delighted to *finally* have good weather conditions for an Ironman after experiencing weather extremes for Ironman Western Australia and Ironman New Zealand, which made those races very tough.   I enjoyed IM Carins thoroughly.  The water temperature was just perfect, the bike course was nice (sans rough roads).  Although it rained during the run leg, it was a comfortable run.  I may not have achieved a personal best time, but I had a blast at the race!  I completed the race in 15hr 24 min. :)

This year, I’ve completed two endurance races in 6 months (Vibram® Hong Kong 100 Ultra Trail Race & IMCairns).  I think it’s time for a well-deserved break.  Adios, until the next race…

The Vibram® Hong Kong 100 (19-20 Jan 2013) (2)

March 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

The Vibram Hong Kong 100 was a race I’d never forget. 

Working towards Race Day was tough.  My weekends were filled with back-to-back long runs.  I also conditioned myself by lifting weights at the gym and consciously adjusted my training to avoid sustaining running-related injuries.

This is my first attempt at an ultra-distance trail race.  My aim was to finish the race.

I wore a running t-shirt under a base layer and CWX compression tights.  The race started at 8am and the temperature was surprisingly warmer than I thought it would be.  I packed some food, a warm running jacket and shell pants which I would pick up at 50km.

I realised I had no problems going up the slopes and steps, but was perhaps overly cautious descending the slopes.  While I overtook many on the upslope and flat sections, many thundered past me down the slopes. 

Wung Yew amiably ran with me during the race, and kept a good pace for the first 50km.  We reached CP5 in 9:54:57.  We had a quick meal, put on our jackets and headlamp and off we went. 
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Alber and PS had warned us that the distance between CP5 – 6  was the longest stretch and to be mentally prepared for it be a mentally daunting portion.  Somehow we cleared that stretch, but between CP6-8, I kept dozing off while walking and even had to take short naps along the way.  I figured that it would be better to waste a little time resting, than to push on and fall down!  Wung Yew also needed to rest because his knees were starting to hurt.    

Looking up at Needle Hill at CP8 in the dark is quite an experience.  All we saw was the  silhoutte of a hill and a steady stream of headlamps lining the trail, bobbing and moving upwards.  We hunkered down, whipped out our sticks and started climbing.  Surprisingly, the climb was not too bad.  But I think Wung Yew felt the pain in his knees acutely during the steep descent because he was limping badly.   After that, it was a steep descent to CP9.

We took a short rest at CP9, before making our way to conquer the last portion of the race.   It was uphill all the way, very cold and windy.  By then, Wung Yew had stopped running and could only walk briskly because the pain in his knees was very bad.

While jogging down the last portion of the race, I saw Winnie and KC running towards me!  I thought I was hallucinating, but I was very happy to see them on the last stretch!  Winnie ran the last 400metres with me and I sprinted to the end.

I completed the race in 25hr 21min while Wung Yew took 25hr 25min.  Although we  didn’t get a trophy for coming in under 24 hours, but its the memory of a race that we completed together which makes it meaningful.

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Ultra Trail Race (1) Sold out! – The Vibram® Hong Kong 100 Ultra Trail Race

September 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

The race slots for the Vibram® Hong Kong 100 Ultra Trail Race sold out in a matter of days! 

It’s hardly surprising since the participants would comprise mostly experienced runners are back attempt the race again to better their previous performance, or first-timers (like me) who would like to experience an ultra trail race with cut-off times. 

Took a huge risk. I booked a flight home immediately after the race.  This means I’d need to complete the race in good time (and sans injury) in order to not miss my flight! 

Am I apprehensive about the race? You bet. 

What am I apprehensive about?  Well, here are a few things for starters:

  1. Running in the cold and in the dark with no sleep -> a first for me (I’m not army trained!)
  2. Eating while exhausted – if you’ve seen my previous Ironman posts, eating is a huge problem for me.
  3. Reaching the next check point after the cut-off time.

But yeah, I’ll do my best. :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back In Action!

July 20, 2012 § 1 Comment

I’m back after taking a 1.5 year long hiatus from endurance races. 

Signing up for two ultra marathons was the easy part -  The North Face 100 covering 50km (13 October 2012)) and the  Vibram@Hong Kong 100 Trail Race (19-20 January 2013).   Training for it is another story.

I’ve never done an ultramarathon before, and certainly completing an ultramarathon on trail poses even more of a challenge for me.

Training has commenced and it hasn’t been easy.  Most weekends consist of long distance trail runs spanning distances from 20km to above 30 km because the intention is to get used to running with fatigued legs, spending time on sore feet and trying to get used to the punishing heat and humidity in Singapore.  The heat can really sap you of your energy and motivation, and will power is all I have to keep me going on the trail (other than the fact that I’m in the middle of nowhere).

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Pain knows no bounds (read = foolhardy) and I signed up for for Ironman Cairns 2013 (9 June 2013).  I really am pushing my limits here – to complete two ultradistance events 5 months apart, something which I’ve never done before.  (For the uninitiated, an ultradistance event takes a toll and the body needs time to repair the damage and abuse that it’s been through). 

You see, I’m not a naturally strong athlete like many others out there – I’m just a little person with big dreams.  (I am literally quite little, standing at 4’11).

I’ve never done so much at one go and having to juggle more responsibilities at work with a new appointment leaves me wondering if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.

Nevertheless, training has begun and the aches and pains are definitely there.  I’m alive and I like it!

The North Face 100 – Trail Running Challenge

October 17, 2011 § 2 Comments

Deciding to whip myself back into shape because I’ve toned down on my training since IMNZ, I decided to participate in the  The Northface 100  (Oct 15 2011) with a close friend.  Together, we signed up for the 50km Duo, where participants in a team runs 25km each).

Wung Yew teamed up with his colleague to form Team CMI (Cannot Make It), while my team mate and I decided to call ourselves Team Deep Fried Pork Knuckles (which sounds nicer than the originally intended Team Thunder Thighs :D ).

Putting the competition aside, I made a deliberate decision to document the race (my excuse for not putting in enough training!) because the trails were not easily accessible to non-runners.  While darting around the trails to find a good angle for my photos,  I witnessed how fellow participants, who started out as strangers, forged friendships in the trail as they lent a helping hand to those who had difficulty climbing steep slopes and crossing big ditches.   At one point, a lady put her hands on my butt to push me up a slope and yelled encouragingly, “You go up! You go up!”  It was hilarious and we broke out in peals of laughter!  It was worth the effort!

On the downside – the second water station ran out of water – but at least they were giving out Milo and bananas. Thankfully I still had iced-water in my water bag.  After grabbing a few cups of Milo and a banana, I squatted under the shade of a tree and ate.  Nice.

Realising only much later that I must have taken too much time snapping pictures, I made a mad dash over the last 5km to make it back before the cut-off time.  Boy was I glad to see Wung Yew and my team mate who had finished earlier, yelling at me not to stop!  :D 

Then are will be readers who are curious as to what my nutrition was during the race .  So for the diehards, here it is  – 1.5l of water, half a Powerbar, one banana, 6 cups of Milo, 1/2 bottle of 100+, and many loud burps. 

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IMNZ : The Race – Chilled To The Bone

March 21, 2011 § 1 Comment

Lake Taupo is a place of extremes when it comes to weather.  It rained heavily throughout the race.  Not just an itsy-bitsy drizzle, but torrential,wish-you-stayed-indoors-nice-and-warm type of rain.  Howling winds.

For over 1300 competitors who stood at the Start, the wet and windy elements were obviously not the conditions they were hoping for.   1249 brave souls bit the bullet, for an incredible 96.7% finish rate!

According to Mike Riley (The Voice of IM, and IMNZ was his 100th IM race), IMNZ was one of the three toughest days he had encountered (the other two were Wisconsin and Lake Placid).

And to quote Cameron Brown (winner of IMNZ), “the swim was the warmest part of the race…”

Let me recount the day’s events…

Pre-race

It started drizzling the night before the race.  Although we knew from the weather forecast that it would rain on race day, we were still hopeful that the rain would stop.  Alas, it was not to be.  It poured the entire duration of the race, and we were wet from the very moment we set off for the race site.

Wung Yew & I got up at 4am to eat and get ready.  It was windy, wet and cold, and  I certainly didn’t look forward to stepping out of my dry, warm and cosy room.  Reluctantly, we geared up, put on our rain jackets, met up with the rest and walked to the race site.  WY growled, “The elements are already there.  You know it, so deal with it.”

There was a hive of activity at the race site by the time we arrived.  We got body marked, set up the nutrition on our bikes, pumped our tyres, found a spot in front of a heater in the tent and put on our wetsuits.  I had packed a bottle of hot Milo to drink before the race. and sipping the warm beverage somewhat calmed my nerves.

The Swim

It was time to head towards the swim start.   It was quite a long walk with many bottlenecks.  As soon as we arrived, I got into the water (about 16 degrees), and before I could figure out what was happening in the melee, “BOOM!” the cannon went off!  Everybody surged forward and so did I!  I couldn’t see any of the buoys in the dark, and the pouring rain didn’t help visibility one bit. All I could do was follow the bubbles in front. Panicking slightly, I swam slightly off course (must have followed the wrong person).  Stopping to calm my nerves, I swam back towards the buoys.  By the time I reached the next buoy, it was buoy number 5.  I must have swum past buoys 1-4 in the dark.  (The buoys have numbers written on them, but the numbers don’t indicate the distance).  To ensure that I didn’t swim off-course again, I deliberately swam close to the buoys and took note of each number.   I was glad to see the big light yellow Bonita buoys in the dark at the u-turn point (we had to content with small orange  buoys).  Spotted and waved to the cheery diver in the water, to ensure that we don’t swim beyond the u-turn.  He was quite noticeable because he had green and blue fins on!

On the way back, I tried to swim in a straight line, but a lady in front of me kept veering left and right like a woman gone berserk in the  frigid water, and it irritated me because I didn’t want to waste energy surging to overtake her.    Somehow I managed to squeeze past her and dropped her without getting hit.  It got brighter towards the end of the swim so sighting the buoys became easier.  I got out of the water at 1:22hr.  My swim was slightly slower than I wanted, but given the conditions, I think I didn’t do too badly. :)

Winnie & I got out of the water at the same time and we ran towards T1 together, holding hands and muttering words of encouragement to each other. It’s almost a 500m uphill run towards the changing tents.  By the time I arrived at the tent, my calves were burning from the run upslope!

A nice lady volunteer ripped off my wetsuit.  I took some time to wear my arm warmers, compression top, cycling jersey, cycling tights, head buff and rain jacket.  I wanted to be warm enough for the bike ride and the cold weather.  Off I went!

The Bike

There was a slight slope downhill out of T1.  However, after turning into Napier Road, I was greeted with the first slope.   The ride along Broadlands Road towards Reporoa was slightly uphill and against the wind.  There were a few steep slopes to climb on the way to Reporoa too.  All in all, there were 10km worth of climbs.   Looking at the slanted raindrops blowing in my direction, I realised I was cycling against the wind.  No wonder…  The tail wind pushing me back towards Taupo was certainly welcome.   The roads were very rough and my bike vibrated violently.

To my horror and dismay, my speedometer stopped working at the 80km mark, despite the fresh batteries I inserted the night before.  I stopped to try to fix it in the pouring rain, but to no avail.  I decided to ride on without it.  (Strangely, after I dried the speedometer in my room, it sprang back to life again!  So I think either the rain or the rattling on the rough roads must have dislodged something.)

Feeling tired on the second loop of the bike, I must have slowed down quite a bit because people started to overtake me.  My fatigued legs felt the burn on the second round as I tackled the hills.  Collected my first arm band at the top of Napier Road.  Glad and relieved!

Race participants also had to cycle into a private road, which was only open on race day, to make up the distance.   A long winding but scenic route, it took participants past a horse racing track, before joining the main route to Reporoa again.

The wind and rain picked up on my second loop and I was slower this time round.  It came pelting down and completely drenched me. My face, fingers and feet were numb from the cold.  Collected my second arm band after the Reporoa u-turn.  Happniess!

At this point, I had no idea how fast/slow I was riding – so all I had was my watch to tell the time, and I had make it back before 5.20pm!

Finding it tough fighting the strong winds on the second leg, I reached the transition area at 5.10pm.  The cut-off was at 5.20pm.  Glad to hand my bike over to the bike catcher, I dashed towards the changing tent, put on my running shoes and took off!   There was no point changing into dry socks because my feet would get wet anyway!  True enough, I stepped on a mud puddle outside the changing tent. :(

The Run

Glad to be on my feet, I started my run.  Collected my first arm band (white) on the way out, I high-fived friends along the way.   Looked out for Wung Yew and high-fived Andy, because I knew they were concerned about me completing the bike leg.

The run terrain was undulating and there were a few steep slopes which I decided walk up instead, because my ankles and knees were hurting badly.  Helping myself to pretzels, chips, chocolate, water and Horleys at the nutrition tables, I steeled myself to continue eating and drinking in order to stay warm.  Feeling dizzy from the cold, I staggered at a few support stations.

When I met Wung Yew again, he shouted that he didn’t see Andy after the first loop.  True enough, I didn’t spot Andy on my return.  Sadly, I learnt that Andy had collpased at the 15km mark due to hypothermia and was sent to the hospital.

In fact, on my way back at around the 28km mark, the aid stations were handing out plastic ponchos for all participants.  The temperatures had dipped so low that people were becoming hypothermic.  The race Medical Director had instructed that it was compulsory for all participants left on the race course to wear plastic ponchos.  They would not let participants continue with the race if they refuse to wear the ponchos. I gladly took one because I was starting to feel cold and dizzy in my wet clothes (even though I had three layers on).

Extremely glad to receive shouts of encouragement from Kam Meng, Kah Han, Winnie, Soon and Ben, I continued to walk and run in the dark, with my glow stick and honks of encouragement from passing cars from company.  I made it a point to thank the volunteers for staying out in the rain at all the aid stations on my way back to Taupo after the u-turn.

At the 30km mark, two guys (Sam & Luke) spotted me running the dark.   Standing in the rain, they were cheering for the participants who ran past them.  I must have looked pale, because when they ran with me in the rain for a short distance.   Then they ran back to get their car, drove past me shouting, “Come on Lynn! YAHOOO! YOOO!”.  I’d see them 3 km later, hear them calling out to me in the dark, run with me for a short distance, run back to get their car, drive past me shouting, “Come on Lynn!” … and this cycle went on till I was 2 km away from the finish line.  I was very touched by their gesture and they saw me through to the end of the race.  Because they stood in the rain for me, I made the effort to jog/run to the end, even though the pain in my ankles were really bad.  Apparently, they had driven 4 hours from Wellington to support their friends doing the Ironman.  Their friends had completed the race and they decided to continue supporting those left on the run course.

As I approached the finish line,  I remembered to take off my plastic poncho and visor.  (Gotta look good when I cross THAT line!)  People were cheering and I saw Wung Yew at the Finish.  He caught me, put a medal around my neck and ushered me into the Finisher’s tent, where I changed out of my wet clothes and had a cup of warm tomato soup. I finished in 16:17hr.  I may have been slow… but I did it!

Reflections

By far, this IM race was tougher than IMWA.  It was made tougher by the cold, wet and windy conditions.  As luck would have it, there had been no rain in Taupo for two months, but it poured on race day.

The support?  Wonderful! The volunteers at all aid stations were encouraging and it was comforting to know that they would stay out for the last participant.  Supporters stayed out in the rain to encourage participants, and cars honked in encouragement of your efforts.

It certainly wasn’t pleasant going through the race in wet clothes, totally drenched.  I later learned that the water temperature in the lake was 16 degrees, and the rain coupled with wind chill factor, was lower than that.

I felt Andy’s pain as he collapsed from hypothermia at the 15km mark during the marathon.  SL was shivering at the 150km mark during the cycling leg.  Concerned for her well-being, the marshals pulled her out of the race because her body temperature was too low. I salute both of my friends who didn’t give up in the face of adversity.  I’m sure they would have carried on to complete the race, given the opportunity.  The pros were feeling hypothermic too, with frozen fingers and all.  Kudos to all, who did their best under tough conditions.

The staff in my faculty were very generous  and joined me in my the effort I put in to raise funds.   Together, they donated $1921 in support of the needy students in my school.  It’s encouraging to know that people have a heart, and I’ve been able to put my skills to good use.

I’ve learnt that no matter how tough the circumstances are, it is our attitude and mental strength that will see us through in tough conditions.   Integrity and the ability to resist temptation not draft on the cycling leg, or break any race rules for that matter, during the race is important too.  Kudos to all who had the courage to stand at the start line at IMNZ!

Before I end, I’d like to quote the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

Indeed, anything can happen in an Ironman!

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IMNZ: Practice Swims & Checking out the Bike Route

March 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Swim

The weather was fine in Lake Taupo.  To prepare for the race, we made two practice swims at 7am in the morning over two days.  The ambient temperature hovered around 12 degrees in the morning, and ironically, the water felt warmer than the ambient air temperature.

Like my first Ironman in IMWA, I experienced dizziness during my first swim.  Not used to the cold temperature, I was breathless and had difficulty finding a good rhythm. When the cold water went into my ear, it stung and hurt my head.  Remembering what I went through at IMWA, I calmed down, treaded water and swum one practice loop slowly.  I felt better during the second practice swim the next day and was fine on the day of the race.

I loved the fact that Bonita (race sponsor for bananas) had a banana stand at the practice swim site.  Volunteers with big smiles handed out free bananas to all swimmers, and it was a welcome snack after a cold swim.  Horleys (the sponsored isotonic drink) also had a stand next to Bonita.  Swimmers congregated around these stands.  Words of encouragement and warm hugs from the Kiwis made participants feel welcome.   If only the local races in Singapore had such great support from the sponsors too (Singaporeans would know what I’m referring to here.)

The Bike

We changed into our riding gear after the swim.  We were blessed with sunny weather on our check out ride.  In fact, it was the only day where we saw the sun.  The skies were blue and we were met with endless roads and rolling hills.  I enjoyed the ride thoroughly.  The skies became cloudy over the subsequent days, and there was intermittent drizzle.  In fact, the weather report was that it would rain heavily on race day.  :(

Regrettably, the beautiful weather didn’t last and it poured on race day, and we had to brave the elements.  Isn’t that what an Ironman is all about?

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