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Specialized Duathlon ’15 Kota Kinabalu

Posted on March 21 2015

Last year it was Chamonix, this year it is Kona.

Like 2014, 2015 started with a duathlon. Although this time, I was on a proper road bike.

I was on a Full-Marathon programme so I did not really prepare myself for this race. I had a couple sessions of useless miles on the bike and that was about it. Two weeks prior to the race, I was forced to take a complete break from running and cycling due to shin splints and wobbly knee.

Despite the setbacks, I was pretty stoked about this race. It was a 4km run, followed by 40km on bike, and finished with 8km run. I had a goal in mind. My goal was to finish the race within 2 hours and 30 minutes. 20 minutes for the first 4km on foot, 80 minutes on bike, 40 minutes for the final 8km, and 10 minutes for the two transitions and whatnots. That was the gameplan.

The race was scheduled to start at 6:30am, but I arrived about an hour before the start time. I made sure I arrived early so that I had ample time to assemble my bike and arrange necessary gears and nutrition during transitions.

6:30 am. The start of the race. There was a mix up where at first they announced they would flag off the relay competitors first, only to change the decision to flag off individual competitors at the same time, at the very last minute.

Cannondale CAAD10. Fierce, and ready.
Cannondale CAAD10. Fierce, and ready.
Labuan peeps before the race.
Labuan peeps before the race.
Starting line.
Starting line.

1st Running Leg – 4km

The 1st leg of the run was set at a breakneck pace. I already allocated 20 minutes for the 1st leg of 4km run, but I was immediately consumed by the blistering start. Runners were required to place their bibs at the front and this made it difficult for me to identify whether those who ran as fast as they could were individual or relay’s competitors. I found myself constantly looking at my watch and my pace was sub-4min/km which was not sustainable. After 500m, I eased off and tried to run my race, instead of others. First kilometre in and I could see the front runners were already about 200m ahead. This was insane!

A midget among the giants.
A midget among the giants. (Photo by Kiat)

2 kilometres in, I started to slow down. From low 4min/km to mid 4min/km for the remaining distance of the 1st running leg. My Suunto Ambit2 recorded 4.18km for the 1st leg, slightly over than the published 4km. I started to worry as I just gave everything I had in the tank in the 1st running leg and I still had 40km bike ride and 8km run to go. I had run 2 minutes faster than I initially planned. My maximum heart rate was 196! My heart was beating at maximum capacity. As far as I could remember my previous maximum heart rate ever recorded was only 193. According to a simple heart rate calculation, my heart rate was supposed to top at 188 only. I had clearly overdone myself early in the race.

1st Running Leg (4km): 0:17’56.5.

As soon as I crossed the line for the first transition, I just walked trying to regroup. I walked to my bike and I noticed that the bike next to me had already gone. That bike belonged to a lean guy whose bibs had ‘Malaysia’ on it, alongside his name. He was a real deal. He eventually came in second. I consumed the first pack of PowerGel and drank whatever remaining in the RedBull can, which I did not finish before the race. Despite spending a very long time at the transition before the start of the race, I realized that my cycling shoes were still in the shoe bag in the duffel bag. That showed how inexperience I was.

1st Transition: 0:02’18.9.

Cycling Leg – 40km

Cycling was my weakest discipline. I had taken up cycling for about 4 months and I was still not good at it. I always wondered whether I would ever be good. I would definitely be better off if I concentrated solely on running, instead of dreaming of doing triathlon. But cycling was so much more fun, and I had to justify the purchase of this bike.

I knew I would struggle and I was prepared to get passed by many during the cycling leg. First real test was a steep climb that came right after the first transition. This was not good. I was still recouping. A mountain bike passed me during the climb and it hurt my confidence. I blamed my friend’s mountain bike during last year’s Labuan Duathlon, and now it seemed that it did not matter whether I was on a mountain bike, a folding bicycle, a road bike, a tri bike, or a unicycle, I still suck at cycling.

Out of UMS compound, the route towards Karambunai was a rolling route, with few easy gradual climbs. The wind was a bit friendly. It was not as harsh as the wind in Labuan. Very minimal crosswind and headwind, and no tailwind either. As expected, I got passed by many cyclists here. Whenever other cyclists passed me, I would try to keep up behind their wheels and draft. But often, I was too slow to keep up. I always found myself isolated at times, but I was not bored. I was having a good time on the bike despite getting passed by a lot of cyclists. I enjoyed the sound my wheels made rolling against the tarmac. It sounded sticky. Despite the fact I was cruising slowly, I felt connected to my bike. I appreciated every mechanical movement of my bike. I was slow, but it felt like I pushed the bike to its capacity.

Before the race, I put a lot of time to shave weight off my bike, and to make it as aero as possible. I contemplated whether to bring hand pump or not, to remove one water bottle cage or not. All in the name of lightweight and aero. But midway through, looking down at rear derailleur, I spotted an unsightly black object attached to the rear derailleur. I freaking forgot to take one little tiny black piece of plastic, called rear derailleur protector off. Luckily (I hope), nobody saw it. Otherwise I would have been a laughing stock.  I laughed at my stupidity though.

The annoying rear derailleur protector.
The annoying rear derailleur protector.

Although it was a rolling route without any steep climb, I found myself shifting gears quite often due to my weakening legs. This included shifting from big chain ring to small chain ring, and vice versa. My bike was equipped with the lowest group set from Shimano, Shimano 105, and generally I thought it worked admirably well. I had never been on any other bike, so I could not tell. But while shifting from big to small chain ring was flawless, shifting from small to big chain ring was another story. Too many misses when I tried to shift from small to big chain ring. When it did not engage the big chain ring, I always had to down shift to small chain ring (even though I was still at small chain ring), and up shift to big chain ring again. I was not sure whether this was because my gears were not indexed properly, or because of my own noobness. I did not fault the bike, I faulted myself.

Apart from the shifting fiasco, I pulled both of my thighs just before the turning point (midpoint) of the cycling leg. I was already cruising slowly, and I was forced to cruise even slower. There were about 20km more to cycle and another 8km to run. The cramps had to go away. I cursed myself for not bringing my salt tabs with me. I stocked some, but I forgot to bring them to Kota Kinabalu. This was 2014 Hasuu Tasu all over again. A lesson learnt, but forgotten. A checklist was due.

At the roundabout which was the turning point of the route, I looked back and I could not see any cyclists nearby. I did not see any at the front either. I was alone, but the wind (lack of) was kind. I might have been at the very back I guessed. But suddenly, a big peloton just swooped pass me. They were moving fast. My cramped legs hindered me from even trying to catch up. An opportunity to joyride was lost.

My legs were recovering and I found a sudden surge of energy in my legs. I started to cycle at a decent pace but I still could not see the big peloton. The transition was near.

There were two main gripes regarding the race organization. One was the starting time which caused confusions among the individual competitors. Second was the traffic control. We were cycling along the main road and although the organizer stationed marshals at various points, they overlooked some big junctions and intersections, and worst, at the traffic light before turning back into UMS. Vehicles were moving so fast and it was extremely dangerous to turn to the right back into UMS. I had to cruise slowly while looking back at the traffic before crossing. I remembered I had to let a fast-moving bas kilang passed before I could cross the road and turn into UMS. There were marshals at the traffic light, but they should have stationed some more before the traffic light to better control the traffic.

One final steep climb in UMS before reaching the second transition. My watch clocked the cycling leg at 41.07km.

Cycling Leg (40km): 1:23’53.8.

I was knackered. I needed some time to recuperate at the transition. I wanted this to be over quickly. I hung my bike and consumed another pack of PowerGel, and downed it with some water. This was when things turned from bad to worse. I overate, and was overhydrated. I left the transition area with an upset and bloated stomach.

2nd Transition: 0:02’08.7

2nd Running Leg – 8km (2 loops of 4km)

My one-pack belly bounced with every stride I took. I started to regret my judgement on the eve of the race. After having a splendid plate of Aglio Olio for dinner, I was tempted by Baskin Robbins’ chocolate ice cream. I walked back and forth, while the inner jedi master (light side) and sith lord (dark side) of me having a go at each other. The fight was futile. I always knew the dark side would win. Dark side always wins. Like Anakin, I succumbed to the dark side. I had a ginormous calorie-laden scoop of divine chocolate ice cream. And now, I could feel every bit of it dancing in my belly.

Running on a bloated stomach was difficult. It felt like dragging a heavy potato sack, and the scorching heat did not help. I was thirsty but I knew I could not take more fluid at the water stations. My belly would burst. Worse, I was still having cramps on my thighs which already crept on to my calves as well. Bloated stomach, muscle spasms on both of my thighs and valves. What a combination.

The start of 2nd running leg. I was struggling.
The start of the 2nd running leg. I was clearly struggling. (Photo by Glen & Natasha)

I ran a little bit, then stopped, walked, and repeat. I was crawling at almost 7:00min/km, way slower than my usual pace. I knew I had to dig deep to find a good rhythm and the spasms would be lesser. But I did not dig deep enough. Every time I stopped and walked, the spasms became worse. My legs were stiff as hell.

I lost focus and motivation. I just wanted the race to finish. When I lost focus, I started to think about nonsense things. Losing focus was always a disaster. Anything could go wrong. Next thing I knew, I had spasm on my left shoulder. I just needed a reason to stop. A reason to give up and just walk till the finish line, and my left shoulder voluntarily became the reason. A scapegoat.

But all was not lost. About 3km in, there was a water station, which later I learnt that was not set up by the organizer. It was set up by few volunteers who were passionate about sport. They had watermelons, salt water, and deep heat spray. They were heaven-sent. The salt water and spray helped me a lot. I asked them to spray both of my calves and thighs, and to their bemusement, my left shoulder.

“You are not afraid that your shoulder will feel burning?”

I did not know whether it would help or not, but I needed it. Thanks guys for volunteering. You were my saviour.

At the heaven-sent water station.
At the heaven-sent water station. (Photo by Kiat)

I made a new friend after leaving the awesome station. I ran into Sher. She ran passed me and I asked her whether she was on her first or second loop. She was on her first. I ran alongside her, then I lost her. Later during the second loop, she passed me again while I was walking. She asked me to run alongside her and offered to be my pacer. I tagged along for few hundred metre, before telling her to go ahead. She was finishing strong and I could not sustain her pace.

Few hundred metre before the finish line, I pushed myself and finished few seconds behind Sher. I finished the race in official time of 2:43’19.0 in 43rd place. Way slower than my target of 2:30’00.0. I was disappointed, but at the same time, satisfied. I had fun.

2nd Running Leg (8km): 0:59’09.8.

Official Time: 2:43’19.0.

I was thinking of participating in Putrajaya Duathlon on 5th April mainly because it is organized by the same people who organize Putrajaya Ironman70.3. But given my performance during this race, I will have to give it a pass.

Labuan people at the finish.
Labuan people at the finish.
The aftermath.
The aftermath.

What I Learnt?

  1. Nutrition. Nutrition. I struggled during Hasuu Tasu 2014, and I struggled again during this race due to nutrition. I need to find the right food, the right amount, the right balance, and the right time to consume before, during and after a race. The method to achieve this is through trial and error during training.
  2. Despite the fact I run a lot, I do not run high mileage at one time during training. So I do not know my body threshold. An advice from an expert, take salt before you start cramping. Once you are cramping, salt won’t be much help. Always, always bring salt together for a long race.
  3. Running and cycling engage different group of muscles. I am not used to run and cycle at the same time and I paid the price. More cross-training is required.
  4. Like the title of then famous, now infamous Lance Armstrong’s autobiography, ‘It’s Not About the Bike’, it really is not about the bike. Since I take up cycling, I have been obsessed with bikes and its components. There is a concept among the cyclists called N+1 bikes, and I am constantly obsessing about this. There were competitors who were on bikes which cost up to 10% deposit of a decent apartment in Kuala Lumpur, or probably more. Those bikes were surely fast and nice to ride. But at the end of the day, #legpower is what really matters. The runner up of Men’s Open was not on a proper TT/triathlon bike and only on a pair of aluminum wheelsets instead of a pair of exorbitant carbon wheelsets. The winner of Women’s Open rode a ‘comfort’ bike. Those bikes are still much more expensive than mine though.
  5. The art of drafting. I managed to stay behind others’ wheels a couple of times. Though, only for a short while. Because once I was drafting, I kept pedaling at the same effort as if I was not. So in the end, I passed them and did not really take advantage of drafting.
Let's go home.
Let’s go home.

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