Swim 1.8km, ride 180km then run 42.2km, sounds like a grueling day, if you’re going to put yourself through that kind of punishment why not do it in paradise… Famous. Last. Words.
I don’t know what gave me the idea that Ironman Malaysia was a good idea, or going to be racing in paradise? Maybe it was the stunning views, cute monkeys or promise of cocktails by the pool afterwards? In the weeks and months post Ironman Cairns I wasn’t really sure what was next. I knew I wanted to have another go at an Ironman after racing Cairns with a broken elbow… I really wanted to see what I could do without injury but was struggling to pick a race.
I threw around the idea of Malaysia with my coach and squad members, but was quickly talked out of it due to jellyfish and oppressing heat and humidity. Sometime around August I mentioned to Jess (my coach) to please remove it from the ‘upcoming race’ section of my program as I had dismissed the idea and was in search of another race… She replied saying that she was actually contemplating doing it… Well this led to that and we ended up deciding to travel and race together. Fast forward three months and the coach and I were bound for Langkawi, Malaysia. We arrived in Malaysia a couple of days before the race and the drama unfolded immediately, I seem to be a magnet to drama…
We were patiently waiting in line at Customs and I had the sudden realisation that I had forgotten the top screw/cap to my bike. I unscrewed it to remove the handle bars, remember thinking I should pack it somewhere safe, but distinctly recall not packing it. FREAK. OUT. TIME. The next couple of hours were a blur, hotel check in and making a bee line to the Ironman bike mechanic, as there was not one bike shop on the island of Langkawi. Crisis was quickly averted, $10 later a replacement screw and cap was found and we were checked in to the race ahead of schedule. This was also our first encounter with transition 2… A huge air conditioned convention centre, which we would later come to love/hate on race day.
The next few days were up and down. I have lived in Darwin so have experienced heat and humidity before, but knowing we were going to have to race in it was daunting. If sitting in a cafe, eating lunch with sweat trickling down your back was hard, how was racing going to feel? Two days before the race we went for a half hour run, I tried to turn around about 10 minutes into it, but the boss, oh I mean coach wouldn’t let me. At that point I was doubting my ability to complete the impending Ironman. It was 6pm at night and so ridiculously hot and humid I struggled to run 6km… How was I planning to run 42km, after swimming and riding all day?
This is meant to be a race report, four paragraphs later and I am only just getting to the race… I do apologise! I wont bore you with the days in between but they were fun filled, coffee filled and funny, if I can give one piece of advice it is- don’t plan to have cold fried rice for breakfast on race day. You wont enjoy it.
So the race… If you are contemplating racing Ironman Malaysia the one thing I will warn you is that the logistics of it are quite difficult. Transition 1, transition 2 and the finish line are in 3 different places. Therefore you will have to make a choice where you stay. My advice would be to stay near the finish line, and don’t trust google maps when making this choice. We stayed somewhere ‘400m’ from the host hotel, maybe as the crow flies it was 400m, but by car or foot it was much further. The start line is quite a distance from the finish line, and transition 2 is somewhat in between the two. Do your research, but anywhere is going to involve some travel to register, drop off gear bags and bikes etc.
So the race… We pre-booked a taxi and arrived at the race nice and early. The sun didn’t rise until around the time of the race start, so we filled our hydration and did last minute adjustments in the dark. We found some fellow Aussies and friends Tom, Karina and Sarah and tried to stay calm as we watched the sun rise. The warm up swim was positively awful, with thick ankle-deep mud greeting us on the entry and exit, luckily the race start area wasn’t so bad. I lost everyone in the last 15 minutes before the race so had to handle the nerves alone, but found Jess for a quick good luck and hug before the pro’s set off.
I really wanted to watch the pro women start, but in doing so ruled myself out of a good position for my rolling start. The course was two laps of a triangle shaped swim course, so I lined up where I could (at the back of the pack) in the first group and did my best to make up time. The swim was like nothing you would have ever experienced, literally warm, dark water, guided by so many buoys it was almost like a pool except salty. Traditionally I swim a lot faster in the pool than I do in open water, race so I tried to keep this in mind and push hard the whole way. About halfway through the second lap I was questioning my sanity and vowed never to do another Ironman… 3.8km is way too far to swim.
Somehow I made it through and with a non-eventful transition I was on my bike, I noticed that most of the bikes in my age group were still there, but as we had a rolling start this wasn’t too reflective of anything so didn’t give it another thought. I pedalled, sipped on nutrition and smiled as I realised this was it, I was out of the water and onto the bike. I was in another country and ready to take on the world. The first few kilometres hurt more than expected, but think it was just my swim legs getting used to being on the bike. We had ridden this part of the course and covered it on the pro course bus tour (a perk of travelling with the coach) so I knew what to expect and was ready for the hills. What I wasn’t really ready for was the heat, I knew it was going to be hot on the run, but thought the bike would be fine. My head felt so hot I thought I may boil to death, I was taking 2 bottles at aid stations, one to drink, the other to pour on my body and squeeze into my helmet holes!
Then there were the kids… They were lining the streets asking for our empty bottles. It was cute at first, but when you’re suffering from heat and exhaustion I just wanted to scream at them “I need all the bottles I have!” At the same time you have to think of just how lucky we are. These kids want empty water bottles… Things we disregard every day. Anyway the monkeys were just as desperate for the bottles, and there were reported sightings of energy-gel eating monkeys as well as ones hugging water bottles. The things you see on an Ironman course…
The whole bike course I was calculating average speed, average pace, total time, projected time, you name it I was calculating it. I managed to finish the 180km ride 30 minutes faster than my Ironman Cairns time so was pretty stoked. My elation was short lived once I entered transitioned, then had to exit the beautiful air-conditioned comfot, for the hot and humid run. I know its easy to say or read hot and humid, but this was seriously the most oppressive thing I had ever experienced. My projected run pace was definitely not happening and I was starting to freak out. Just 5km in and I was running, but it didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere. Then I saw Jess coming the other way, its taken me a while to write this so I can’t exactly remember what she said but basically it was that everyone was going slow and just keep running and walk through the aid stations.
Not long after I saw Jess I saw Karina, my friend who wasn’t racing but supporting her boyfriend Tom. She rode alongside me chatting for a while, kindly taking a photo and updating Mum back at home on my progress. At this point she commented how comfortable I looked, and I was warning her to keep an eye out over my shoulder, because if Jess saw me chatting she wouldn’t be impressed I wasn’t trying hard enough… Probably not the kind of chat you would expect in an Ironman but at this point it was early stages I was actually feeling ok.
“Fancy seeing you here” not long after leaving Karina I again heard Jess approaching and it probably couldn’t have come at a better time. By now I realised my average pace was around 6 min/km, I wanted it to be about 5:45! But it was hot, she said to keep going with the plan, run what I could and walk through the aid stations, so I did so and bid her good luck and she glided past me. Not long after that I heard a screaming voice from behind ‘YOU’RE COMING THIRD” who could it be but Karina. She had checked the live tracker and I was somehow coming third in my age group. She didn’t know the pace of the girl coming fourth but said if I didn’t stop running for the rest of the race (30km to go) I would have a podium finish… Easier said than done.
I can honestly say that was one of the most unbelievable and exciting moments of my life. Me. Third. No way Jose. I had joked with my friend before the race that if I came top 5 I was going to quit my day job and take up triathlon for a living… Clearly my expectations were not that high. And just for the record I am not quitting my job anytime soon.
For the next 30km I can honestly say I did my very very best. I would love to say I did not stop running but that was actually impossible. Every aid station I walked, filled myself with nutrition, doused myself in cold water and kept on running. The last 5km I wanted to run as fast as possible, but I was so exhausted it just wasn’t feasible. I ran 1km, walked 30 steps then repeated. Somehow I finally crossed the finish line in 12 hours and 9 minutes, a 30 minute improvement on Ironman Cairns, when everyone said ‘You can’t get a PB at Malaysia”
Crossing that finish line I was probably the proudest of myself I have ever been. Karina was there and we hugged and screamed and cried, I did it, I had come third. I quickly found Jess and the next half an hour was spent recapping the race. I don’t usually swear but so many expletives were used in re-hashing the race. I had some ice-cream as recovery food then we went back to the hotel, the number of people who had been tracking me and congratulating me was astounding. The feeling of pride whilst being humbled by the feedback is like nothing you can imagine, but the feeling of knowing just how hard it was out there and getting it done is indescribable.
We were both wide awake at 3am the next morning, snacking on muesli bars, bananas and whatever else we could get our hands on in the hotel. Needless to say breakfast, lunch and dinner the next day were all without limits… If there’s one more thing I can recommend it’s to be prepared. Have recovery food waiting in the hotel room. Icecream, beer and pringles aren’t exactly ideal when you have swum, ridden and ran for 12+ hours straight…
Well that’s my wrap for Ironman Malaysia, I left it a fair while before writing a race report so all the minor details have been promptly erased from my mind. But if 2015 was anything to go by, if you’re an Aussie racing you’ll be fine, the support on course was second to none. People I didn’t even know were cheering me, it was a case of “One for all, and all for one.” The Aussies also cleaned up at the awards night… Just saying.
As hard, hot and humid as Ironman Malaysia was, would I do the race again? Never say never.