Sunday, September 7, 2014

Tri-Factor 2014

Tri Factor 2014 - finally understood the meaning of going all out (almost)!

"Dar, I'm worried about the cycling route," said Serene during our recce. "The U-turn right at the end is dangerous, and Edwin said there will be cheongsters and inexperienced riders and crashes and all."
"Yah.  We just have to be careful," I replied.

Another Triathlon?
So it was the day of the Tri Factor 2014.  After their successful Olympic Distance Triathlon in Port Dickson, Darric, Francis and Gerard were most enthusiastic in urging the whole group along.  The other veteran triathletes were Jemmy Ong and Chew Ann Kheen.  And the surprise VIPs were Kc Liew and Steven Cheng.
Unfortunately, my broken-down ankle prevented me from doing any running.  And I was ecstatic to have Ah Chua (swimming) and Wai Kit (running) join me (cycling) for a relay team, Team evoLV relay team.  And equally exciting was the forming of our Team Lady evoLV relay team comprising of Chris (swimming), Serene (cycling) and Debbie (running).

How to cycle in a Triathlon Relay?
That was the question Serene had.
Actually the good thing about doing a three-person relay, was that each of us in our own leg need not conserve.  We could just give it our all out without any worries about doing the next leg.
"Just follow your power meter.  Cycle at just slightly below your FTP.  It is going to be about one hour.  So just give it all," I told Serene.
But of course, it was never so simple.
Because there were other factors involved - the other cyclists hogging the lanes, dangerous cycling, hair-pin U-turns, uneven lanes, slopes and all that...
"Just aim for an average speed of about 32-33km/h," advised Gerard.
I looked at last year's results. Some of the relay teams were really good. One team had its cyclist complete the leg under one hour.  And there was this relay team called the Flying Doctors.. every year they came in top in the relay.. Siao siao ah...
Map of the Event. Click and ZOOM in to enlarge.

So it was decided.  Those of us staying near the event location would cycle from home, while the rest staying far far away would risk the traffic jam and drive and park at the Lagoon Village Hawker Centre car park..

Ah Chua Support. [Photo: Ah Chua]
Ah Chua's BEST support
Ah Chua was one of the first to arrive and to set up shop with all his logistic support.  This Ah Chua was forever the man.  The BEST in support.  No one else can beat him.  Thank you, Ah Chua!
Our good support, Ah Chua.

And they arrived really early, these boys and girls...
6:30am or so it appeared... Chris, KC Liew and Steven were there getting ready. [Photo: Francis Chia on his Leica M9P + 35 FLE]

Steven: "Hey, I am going to crash your waves, those of you who are starting early. "
Talking about Steven and KC Liew, these two most remarkable athletes were sitting on the fences until the 11th hour.. in fact until registration had closed, before they decided to mark this year with this symbolic race, and wrote in to the organiser.  To their surprise, the reply was an 'Aye'.  And through the direct and/or indirect ways, these two good men found themselves in their tri-suits this nice cool morning.

Darric was doing his don't-know-how-many-OD-triathlon already.  This year, we were all very fortunate to have one of the fastest runners around, Debbie, to join our tri relay. 
Darric and wife Debbie, both superb athletes. [Photo: Francis Chia on his Leica M9P + 35 FLE. I love the Leica!]

"Her walk is even faster than my run!"
This was the oft-said but very very true remark from many a male runner in our team.  Her reputation preceded her, this Debbie.

And Chris, recently empowered with the Total Immersion way of 'nua' swimming, and who not too long ago underwent an intensive session with Chief Coach Francis in the Open water at Tanjong Beach, was ready for her swim leg.

Debbie & Chris. [Photo: Francis Chia, again on his Leica M9P + 35 FLE. The unmistakable characteristics of a Leica.]
Well-rested after giving the Army Half Marathon a miss due to an unforseen injury, our Mr Yellow Jersey Gerard was looking forward to this event, his first local Olympic Distance Triathlon.
Mr Yellow Jersey. Photo: Francis Chia on his (again, unmistakable) Leica M9P + 35 FLE.
 And we had a surprise visitor, Kae Ng!  Really a pleasant surprise. Thank you Kae for the support!
Kae, the surprise supporter! Photo: Ah Chua.
Of course, how could we miss mentioning our Official Photographer, Francis Chia.  A well-established triathlete himself, but this time round, threw in his towel and decided to carry his 300mm lens on his Nikon and his Leica M9P instead of his racing bike and his trusty Blue-Seventy tri-bag, so that the whole event could be recorded for posterity.  Thanks, Francis!
Francis Chia, our good triathlete cum professional chef cum professional photographer. [Photo: Ah Chua]

Serene and I were training right on track a couple of months back for this event... until moving house derailed our schedules.  Sadly, we were not in the right form for the race.  But hey, it was supposed to be a carnival event, right?  So we told ourselves, even if it meant that we had to cheong until we peng, we had to just close one eye and give it our best shot.
Arriving at 7am.. looking for the guys...
Click and Zoom in to enlarge
"Hey, Dar.. it's 7am now.  Some of the guys are going to start their waves soon.  Let's go do our body marking first before we look for them."
Click and Zoom in to Enlarge
After racking up our bikes, we went looking for the boys and girls.  I was a little kan-cheong, because it was 7:15am, and I knew the first few waves were ready to go.  This time round, arriving about on time, made things a little rushed for us.

Finally found them.  And Wai Kit was there too.  Yupe.  We were all complete now.  Wai Kit was another crazily on fellow.  He apparently cycled from home and did a kind-of-an Eastern loopy thing before arriving at the event location.  
"I haven't been running for a long time," Wai Kit trying to give himself an excuse. "Been travelling too much recently."
Before the wave, Wai Kit, me, Serene, Debbie and Kae. [Photo: Ah Chua]

But knowing him, this man is a helluva tough fellow.  I've seen him cycle, I've seen him run, I've seen him climb mountains.  And he is a competitor to be reckoned with.  I have full confidence, with him and Ah Chua in our men's team relay.  And having Chris and Debbie in the lady's team, gave Serene her much-needed confidence too.
The Team evoLV Lady Relay Team - Chris, Debbie and Serene. [Photo: Francis Chia]
How do we transit for relay members?
We were all honestly pretty confused about how to handle the transition area in a relay race, because this was the first time we were doing it.  How I wish it had been written clearer in the Pre-Race Handbook, the exact manner to transit for relay teams.  Fortunately as we were preparing ourselves in the T-zone, the organiser managed to brief us - so there was a rectangular area delineated by orange cones, in which the athlete from each leg was suppose to pass the timing chip to his/her next team member.
"Wow, like that I have to wait two hours before the timing chip reaches me," calculated Wai Kit. "I think I'd better go and eat some pao in the hawker centre down the road now first. I'm hungry and I only managed to sleep 4 hours the night before."
This Wai Kit, really poor thing.  So we walked down to the starting area to cheer our other members.

"Hey Bro!"
 Suddenly I heard someone calling out.  It was Jemmy Ong and Chew Ann Kheen, both the veteran triathletes!  They have just arrived.
Ann Kheen, Serene, Jemmy and me. [Photo: Francis Chia on his ahem (again!) Leica M9P and 35 FLE]
"Hey, the guys are going to start their wave liao," I said. "Don't you both wanna join their waves?"
"Nah.. it's ok lah," replied Jemmy in his true-blue veteran fashion. "I wanna just be relax lah."
Such wise words.  And indeed, both him and Ann Kheen, in their relaxed, unassuming fashion, netted them each a sub-three result.  Really good.

So as the seconds ticked by,  the guys and girl gotten their caps readied, their Garmin Fenixes primed and satellite signals captured and locked-on.
Steven, Chris, Debbie, Gerard, Serene, Darric.. [Photo: Francis Chia]

And the customary soak-in-the-water shot before the race.
Chris, Gerard, Darric, Steven, KC Liew.  [Photo: Francis Chia]

Went the horn, and the boys were off in their waves.
Gerard, KC Liew, Steven went off.
Darric was waved off in the 7:53am wave.
And Ann Kheen and Jemmy dived into the open sea in a slightly later wave.
8:15am drew near, and the Standard Relay wave was getting ready.
Chris and Ah Chua getting ready.. [Photo: taken by me with Serene's iPhone]
PPPOOOORRRRRR!!! And off they went!
The moment the floor mat captured the start time on their timing chips...
The Open Sea at East Coast

Jemmy the fish. Photo: Francis.
Seasoned triathletes would tell you, the sea water at Changi and at East Coast was always choppy, compared with the Tanjong Beach at Sentosa and some other seas overseas.  On this day, the condition was no exception.   Jemmy's swim time was a whopping 35 minutes for that 1.5km stretch of sea.  This Jemmy had always been at home in the waters.  He and Ann Kheen had always been playing catching whenever these two good friends go Triathlon-ing.

Steven delighted with his swim time. Photo: Francis.

"Wah lau eh! I forgot to turn on my Fenix!" exclaimed Steven Cheng. "Only half way through then I started it but instead of pressing start, I pressed Lap!"
Steven was really funny.
I stood at the beach front and looked at the splash of blue caps... It was a dejavu feeling all over again.  These boys and girls were trashing themselves out there, vying for a good spot not to be kicked too badly, or pulled too strongly by some accidental grab of some hands.  Looking at the map, the swimming leg took off headed straight out to sea, and rounded a left turn eastward. This leg parallel to the beach was where many swimmers experienced head-on current in the choppy sea.  It was a tough swim. 

Ah Chua satisfied. Photo: Francis.
Finally on this day,  Ah Chua gave his all.  All his lessons with Alex had paid off, and he turned up a beautiful timing, giving those of us in the relay team a great start.  

Darric was a real power horse.  Despite towering over every body and carrying on himself straps and straps of muscles, he was never slow.  An avid dragon boater, a trekker, a climber, a runner, swimmer and cyclist, Darric showed everyone the way to the real spirit of multi-sports.
Gerard found the east-bound stretch hard, although the new strokes really made it  more relaxing swim, and he kao-beh-ed when we waved to him in the Transition area that his 'swim was slow'.  Steven remarked afterwards that although in the water he couldn't feel the current, but he noticed he had slowed down when he turned.  

The President. Photo: Francis.

The Never-Say-Die attitude of our Commando-trained Doctor-turned-President was the focal point of the whole event. A man of few words. His recent remarks of utmost wisdom was uttered at Tanah Merah Country club:

"My six-packs are starting to come out."

A determined Chris. Photo: Francis.
The swim was gruelling, to say the least.  And our respect went to Chris, who despite her being new in the open sea game, sportingly took on the challenge.
"Wah.. it's tough," she would later comment. "Swimming in the sea right at the back.  It's demoralising."
Yes, it was.  I knew how it felt because I was right at the back during the Aquathlon.  But she did it with such gusto, one just had to take one's hat off to this determined lady.

As Chris came running back to the Transition area, Serene was there waiting for her.
And quickly, the swimmer passed the ankle timing chip to the cyclist.
 The transition from Chris to Serene. Photo: Ah Chua


Here was the Strava recording of my bike leg.  Click on the picture for the link to the Strava page.

It was with plenty of trepidation that I waited for Ah Chua to come back to the transition area.  Debbie, Wai Kit, Serene and myself were all there in the rectangular box.  I was so nervous that I had to go take a pee.  But the toilets were a little further away.. I asked one of the officials and he gestured to the trees outside the boundary, towards which I gladly ran.

"Ah Chua is here, Ah Chua is here!!" cried Debbie.
Sure enough, that handsome man was running towards me.  I grabbed his ankle, whipped off the dripping-wet timing chip, strapped it on my ankle and happily ran off to my bike rack.  Man, I was so going to do my best for the team.  The run out with the bike brought me to the service road.  The marshalls were already there pointing to the yellow line beyond which I would be allowed to mount my bike.
Straight away I shot off pumping away.  I was still fresh and full of energy.  And I overtook plenty of cyclists.  There were a couple of Ang Moh cyclists, slightly older than myself, with non-cleat pedals, who were doing very good speed about 34-35km/h.

"I must conserve my energy.. at least for the first 3 laps."
I reminded myself.  And did the unthinkable, and the illegal - drafted behind them, although a little bit of distance from my usual drafting gap.

Darric speeding away on his Willier. He was kao-beh-kao-bu-ing that the route was not good, because just as he was settling down to coast at a high speed,
he had to make the U-turns to embark on the other leg of the loop. Photo: Francis.
I was very very mindful of cyclists who were seemingly unsteady on their bikes to my left and in front of me, and was constantly on the look-out for rapidly approaching bikes on my right. My worries were unfounded as many seasoned triathletes would shout out a warning before approaching our right.

The road took a left and quickly a right curve as we navigated that part with the slip road out to the ECP.  Moving forward from there, the straight road took a slight gradient up, not too bad a slope, but enough to give our lungs quite a bit of panting.  Following that, the straight and flat stretch all the way to the National Sailing club was a good run for over-taking.  My speed for the first part was a happy 34-35km/h.  I would have loved to bring that to a higher level, but a sense of potential danger prevented that, in additional to a constant reminder to conserve.
Jemmy was simply blazing. He complained later: "That Ann Kheen ah.. wah lau, once he was on the aero position on his Tri Bike, he never got up throughout
the whole ride... All the way down.. and he was speeding all the way.  I couldn't catch up with him."
...  I could imagine how fast these two boys were speeding.
Photo: Francis Chia.
And here was a shot by The Running Shot - of Ann Kheen in his favourite position non-stop, all the way...

Photo: The Running Shots

Of Danger points and headwinds...

The U-turn right at the end of the loop was quite a hair-pin one, some more over a hump, just right outside the National Sailing Club, precisely where the map led me to during my recce the day before.  To me, this was a highly dangerous spot.  And I believed a spot where crashes could easily have occurred in a moment of distraction.  The bike route was not as crowded as I expected, though there was always cyclists on the slower left side of the road, and much faster cyclists over-taking on our right.
Taking the left turn to the inner loop right after Car park G took us to the coastal stretch.  And here, I finally felt it - the headwind.  Haven't had headwind for a while.  But today's headwind was quite something.  Being on my high profile wheel didn't help much.  I just had to quickly get out of this stretch and get back on the inner PCN route.
KC Liew didn't look to happy. Must have been something heavy weighing down on his mind. Photo: Francis.

There was one cyclist on a tri-bike who I was following closely on the first two laps.  We were about to approach the up-slope on the return leg of the loop, when an Ang Moh triathlete shouted 'Bike right!' as he approached us.  Instinctively I called out 'Bike Right' too to warn him.  But this tri-bike cyclist suddenly swerved unsteadily and went up the curb on the left.  He must have been frightened by the so many sudden 'Bike right's.  I sped past him, and heard no noise of crashing behind me, meaning that he must have stopped in time.  That was the only incident closest to an accident I came across.  Throughout my whole ride, everything was smooth and I witnessed no crashes.

My laps...

I remembered Serene's words:
"The first lap I won't cycle too fast.  I will watch and observe how the route is and how the condition is."
And that was exactly what I did.  My first lap was done drafting behind other riders and enjoying the ride.  Understandably, my fastest two laps were the second and the third laps.  Upon starting the forth lap, I could feel my energy starting to wane, and my heart rate rising.  Four gels taken at strategic intervals (before start, 3rd lap, 5th lap and 6th lap) and regular sucking of water on the move kept me from bonking.
Earlier on, Gerard was saying:
"Keep your lap time to about 12-13 minutes per lap.  That will be a safe speed."

Gerard doing fantastic speed on his Parlee ESX Road bike. Photo: Francis.
So I was really glad to see, each time I approach a lap point, my timings to be hovering at about 11 minutes. 

Of "I Love You"s...
I remembered very well, on the return leg of my third lap, as I turned left into the coastal loop, I spotted Serene in her orange evoLV jersey.  I called out to her "I Love You, Dar!" and gestured to her to follow and draft tightly behind me.
She called back to me: "I just started!"  and I nodded my head.
But I must have been a little too fast, for I lost her soon after that.
Serene said to me later: "I wasn't very chuan on the bike. I tried to draft as much as I can." Photo: Francis.

And another time, at the start of my forth lap, I saw a familiar figure in black on my left riding a beautiful Pinarello.  It was Steven.  I called out the customary "I Love You, Steven!" to which he returned the love in greetings.  And we parted ways.
Photo: The Running Shots

I found it quite fun, doing loops like this, constantly on the look out for not only dangers, but also for one's friends and fellow athletes.

Of High Heart Rates and Cramps...
Photo: The Running Shots

I observed my heart rate climbing steadily as the laps progressed.   More likely due to fatigue rather than an overdose of gels.  But one thing for sure, a ride of such intensity with my average heart rate being in the mid-170's meant that I was pushing hard.  Which was good.  Until I came to the start of the fifth lap, and my calves started to fire up warning cramps.  By the time I started the final lap, I was consciously trying to hold off the cramps.  Plenty of water on the move was employed.  And plenty of hydration and Crampfix the day before the race and that morning before the ride were taken diligently.  But my cramps still occurred.  I could only explain them as a result of being unconditioned.
ME, panting like my father, on the end of the fifth laps just before I took the U turn at the Extreme Sports Centre to start the
sixth and the final lap.   I distinctly remembered I was shagged like crazy the moment Francis called out to me and
took a shot.
Photo: Francis Chia.

The last lap was one during which I forced myself to push all out, but found little reserve.  Instead, I was partially glad when my forward route was blocked by slower cyclists on that last run, so that I may take a breather! What a joke!


I came into the transition area, totally breathless and panting my lungs out.
"Quick quick quick! Go put your bike on the rack and come back to pass Wai Kit the timing chip."
That was all I could hear, and I did just that, and breathlessly handed over my ankle strap to Wai Kit who took off like a rocket, leaving me slumped against the railings of the barrier on the side of the transition rectangle.
"Wah.. could really tell that you were very chuan.." remarked Chris later, after I told her that I was so breathless I couldn't talk when I returned. "You must have really cheonged all out."
Yes, quite true, Chris.  I looked back and analysed my Strava data and I agreed that I must have pushed myself hard.  Could I have pushed harder? Perhaps I could.  But at that moment, that was my max.
Now we only had Serene left.  Debbie, I and Chris were waiting kan-cheong-ly for her.
"How come so long she hasn't come back?" asked Debbie.
I did a mental calculation.  Serene should be coming back in 15 minutes' time, knowing her speed.  We waited.  And just about that right time, she appeared at the bike in.
"There there.. push your bike to the rack there!"
Photo: my (sigh!) handphone.
"Serene lai liao, Serene lai liao!" shouted Debbie excitedly.
Serene was trying her best to run in with her bike.  And we hurried to her, help her grab her stuff.. half helped her to rack up her bike, while she passed the chip to Debbie for the last leg of the race.
"My legs are like jelly! I tried to run but they cannot run!" exclaimed this young lady.
Well, not surprising.  That was why a multi-sport event like this required so much brick training just to get the bodies used to a transition.  But still, it was exciting, now that we were down to the last relay member, namely Wai Kit and Debbie, both of whom I was sure would run their hearts out.
Earlier on, I was asking Debbie what her strategies were for doing a run, and she replied:
"Every time I would aim to do say, 850m for every 5 mins, and I will try my best to keep to that our exceed that."
A very good strategy.  Different runners would have different mental pacing.  Steven would be doing 2.5km by 2.5km at a time, whilst a runner like Debbie would work on her pace.

"Eh eh eh eh eh eh eh eh eh.. wah you are very very good ah!" Chris was heaping praises onto Serene.

But I took a look at her.. She was tam-po bo-ho-sei liao, this Serene.
"I think I am going to syncope liao..." said Serene.
Photo: my handphone lor.

And a few more minutes later, the blood drained from her face.
Serene was about to faint already...

"I am REALLY going to syncope liao!" declared Serene.
I knew her too well.  When she pushed herself too hard, she would develop syncopal attacks, which were essentially fainting spells.  Her cardiovascular system was still not that up to par.  Although her performance on the bike on this day surpassed all that I expected of her.
And I quickly lay her down on the floor and raised her legs.  She must have passed out for a short while here when I took her photo.  Perhaps a split second, but not too long.
Poor thing, this Serene... fainting spell wor..
 And when she came to, she was suffering again, though this time of a different issue - cramps.
"Wah.. my legs cramp ah!"
Leg cramp... poor thing.
Here was Serene's Strava record of her ride. Also quite a Sufferfest ride.


And so, it had come to this ~ the final leg.  Every single one was out there doing the last 10km run.  After Serene sort of recovered, Chris, I and her walked slowly to the finishing line to wait for the guys.  Francis was there with his tua-leng-kong lens waiting patiently for the boys and girl to appear.  And he captured all the beautiful shots.
One by one, the boys came in.

Ann Kheen flowing in like water in a river...
Photo: Francis Chia.

Darric blazing in at high speed...
Photo: Francis Chia.
As usual, Jemmy cruising in like a walk in the park...
Photo: Francis Chia.
Gerard keeping his ankle in good order as he skippity-skipped in...
Photo: Francis Chia.
Steven came in.. a visible expression of relief at finally seeing the end point...
This time round he never shout out "Take a nice picture of me and my Tri suit!"
Photo: Francis Chia.
We missed Wai Kit as he sped through the last stretch.. By the time Francis shouted out "That's Wai Kit!" he was past us.. This man was really champion. 
"I had to go pee half way through." said Wai Kit.
But still, despite that, he returned a very good timing for his 10km run.
The Monster.
Photo: Francis Chia.

And the President came hoppity-hopping... forever so oo-sei, even as he was soaked in sweat and water...
Photo: Francis Chia.
And FINALLY running through in spectacular fashion and amazing timing, was our good Debbie Ng!  She was really a sight to behold.  A petite lady, with the speed of men many times bigger size than her...
Photo: Francis Chia.
Certainly we all were.  Each in our own way.
"That was my fastest swim ever." said Ah Chua.
"And that was my fastest run," declared Wai Kit.
In my heart, I knew that was one of my fastest ride for this distance.
And I was dead sure it was for Serene too.

I caught sight of Steven walking up to KC Liew.  And that moment their hands locked in a firm hold, I snapped with my (sigh.. not so good) handphone... these firm handshakes of brotherhood affirmed a promise to each other to embark on a journey to another race of a similar nature, differing only in venue, and usually on a higher level of difficulty.
"Well done, buddy!" said Steven. "Let's do it again!"(or something to that effect.)
Giving the promise.
Wai Kit, Ann Kheen, Jemmy and Gerard.
The guys relay team...
Me, Wai Kit and Ah Chua.

The girls relay team.
Chris, Debbie and Serene.

And every one!
Photo: Francis Chia.

It was always fun to be taking part in an event, especially one in which one's friends were all actively and enthusiastically participating in.  Looking back, one would always lament that he/she could have trained harder.  But hey, that was exactly why the competitions were held annually, so that if one wasn't satisfied, he/she could go back and give the PB an attempt again.
For Serene and myself, we knew we have done our very best under those circumstances.
For me, I would have loved to do a full OD tri.. But that would have to wait, while old injuries took time to mend.  Meanwhile, Tour de Bintan beckoned.  And that, would be our next target.  Till then.

Photo: Steven Cheng on my handphone.

And the official results of our triathlon.. Here it was. Click on the link below...
Official Result for the Tri-Factor 2014 triathlon