For years I have heard stories about the epic ironman race in Langkawi, Malaysia. These horror stories of Ironman Malaysia generally include anecdotes about suffering and challenges of a more unique and extreme nature than those of most Hawaii Ironman tales. After hearing enough such accounts, I decided that I needed to experience the sea lice, oppressive heat and humidity, dehydration, blisters, and errant monkeys and mopeds for myself this year.
It was, in fact, everyone’s war stories from this race that made put it on my must-do list…After all, the appeal of our sport lies in its inherently challenging nature, so Malaysia sounded like the ultimate experience: an ironman with bonus challenges. I didn’t bother to explain this concept to the local triathletes who I met at registration; they asked where I was from, and when I told them, one man replied, “On Saturday you will know our weather. You will be like roasted chicken!” “That’s why I’m here, mate,” I thought–but figured that might be a strange concept to explain . . . It’s what I call “getting my money’s worth,” or “getting the full ironman experience.”
Roasted chicken indeed. The heat and humidity during the last few hours of the bike and first half of the run were some of the most extreme I have experienced in a race. We did get some cloud cover for the last half of the run, so to be fair, I think we could have had the opportunity for an even more thorough test. But last Saturday was a sufficiently valuable challenge for me for this year.
The swim was just the way I like it: no wetsuit! What I didn’t like was some bloke sitting on my feet for the entire 3.8 kilometers, whilst tapping them periodically, yet not attempting to go around me. After checking at halfway to see if he was my teammate Luke (who has been known to enjoy a free ride in the past, but was actually a buoy ahead last weekend!), I realized that I didn’t know this guy, and thus that I couldn’t trust him enough to just flip over and make him take the lead. So I just pushed on . . . My ORCA RS1 speed suit served me well, and I emerged from the ocean a few minutes ahead of the other women.
I set out on the bike to heed the advice of veterans of this race, like my best mate and training partner, Belinda Granger. She said this was not a race to be “raced,” and I wasn’t about to assume that I knew better or that I could beat this race. So I rode out of town over the hills conservatively and then through the first of the three loops the same way. It was on this first loop that I became acquainted with some of this bike course’s unique challenges, as I occasionally found water buffaloes and monkeys crossing the road in front of me. But they were the least of my worries: most of the course was open to traffic, which, unlike other courses that might be partially open, means that we essentially had to fend for ourselves amongst cars, mopeds, bicycles, and traveling food stands that may or may not have chosen to travel on their designated lanes of the road. On the second lap, I actually had to stop and unclip, then beg my way through cars in a traffic jam that had taken up all of the lanes of the turnaround intersection; that was definitely a new iron man experience. Now back to the riding…I cruised through lap 1, and then picked it up a bit on lap 2, as I felt surprisingly strong and felt that I could maintain a decent “comfortably uncomfortable” pace.
During the last 60 kilometers of the ride, I gained an understanding of what people mean when they claim not to be able to get their nutrition down. I’d felt pretty sick at various times in the 24 ironmans that preceded this one; but knowing that caloric intake is essential to maintaining strength throughout a race of this duration, I always shoved the calories down, no matter how unappetizing. This time it seemed that every time I took in calories, they immediately returned to my throat, and I felt worse than when they went in. I am not sure if it was the heat affecting my body or making my drink go rotten, but in any case, it was the most sick I have been in one of these races; I backed off the pace, lost time, and did not do a good job for setting myself up for the run, as I took in about half of the total calories I should have on the bike. I finished the ride in third, as Belinda and Yvonne had both come flying past me during the first half of the bike.
Yes, I was becoming acquainted with Langkawi’s weather. My first of the four run laps was a very weak jog marked by vivid fantasies of cold water, which I would get to fulfill all too briefly each time I hit an aid station, had a drink, and grabbed cold sponges. This race provided a fantastic opportunity to practice one of my favorite ironman tactics, which I call “fake it til you make it”: I did my best to smile when I saw someone I knew and encourage my teammates when we crossed paths. Unfortunately, in this race, the only thing I place I was “making it” to was the finish line . . . Actually, I believe this strategy is foolproof, and I did feel progressively stronger as the run went along, but I could not hold off the Japanese girl coming from behind. The roasted chicken herself ended up in fourth place, having found what she came for: lots of “bonus challenges,” resulting in bonus pain and suffering. I would have liked that pain and suffering to have yielded me a podium finish, but instead it earned me a reminder of how much work I have to do before October 11th. That would have to be good enough.
The real highlight of the day was seeing Belinda take a very hard-earned and validating victory. I never cease to be inspired by the sort of dedication and discipline she employs in her daily pursuit to become a better athlete; besides her being my best friend and training partner, Belinda’s example reminds me of the many little things that I could be doing better in my own preparation . . . And we are now back to preparation here in the Philippines. Next up: Ironman Arizona.
I would like to thank my sponsors for their support: SplitsFiftyNine, Team TBB, ORCA wetsuits, Newton Running Company, Cervelo, HED, and Powerbar.