Friday, May 6, 2016

Busselton 70.3 ~ 2016

"No matter how cold or how painful, Busselton 70.3 will forever be a most enjoyable race, to be done again and again." ever said one seasoned Half-Ironman living somewhere in the East of Singapore.
 28 April 2016 - 2 May 2016

Click to enlarge
Wai Meng, Rick, Tom Yang, Kong Wan, Junxiang and yours truly
on race day.



Busselton, again?

Sometimes life is strange.
It plays tricks on you.


When you least expect it, you would just click on the ‘Register’ button and find yourself going for another one of those once-in-a-lifetime events.  Just that the once in a lifetime becomes twice in a lifetime... or perhaps even more.


Such was my experience with the Busselton Ironman 70.3.
As much as I enjoyed my first race there, I never expected to find myself sitting on SQ213 on the 28th April 2016, making my way to this beautiful little town in Western Australia, and somehow managing to convince two of my very good friends Kong Wan and Wai Meng to come along for the race.

Hiding from the sudden downpour at Perth Airport
Taking shelter from the sudden downpour at Perth Airport

We didn’t take up too much time at Perth Airport this round.  With the Optus A$15 SIM card (500Mb a day for 7 days) installed in our handphones, our Kia Carnival collected, and bidding bye bye to
Rick and Junxiang and his family, we sped off from the Airport at about 2:30pm, after being stranded in the car park for a short while to take shelter from a sudden downpour and gusts of cold wind.

https://c2.staticflickr.com/2/1582/26110890364_a70515acf3_k.jpg
Our Kia Carnival for the trip.  And the (almost) sole driver for the whole trip, Wai Meng.

Thanks to Gerard’s suggestion, we took the risk and rented only one Kia Carnival.  Delightfully we were ale to fit in the three bike cases, two large luggage, one small luggage and a few backpacks all into it with plenty of space to spare.  Kong Wan’s confidence in his Google Map also came in so useful because not only was it accurate, it gave us much more information than a normal in-vehicle GPS would.  This was one of the two important navigation secrets I learned from Kong Wan on this trip.  The other one would be underwater navigation which would come later.

Topping up supplies before arriving at Busselton

“Let’s try to arrive before sun down,” I said, remembering our previous trip when we came into town cold, wet and dark.

Serene loved the Australian tomatoes.
Wai Meng was such a good driver.  He single-handedly did the 3 hour drive and brought us right onto the front porch of Busselton Guest House, with a small supermarket stop en-route to top up some milk, bread, Quinoa (something new I learned from Wai Meng) and other staple food.



It wasn’t warm when we arrived at the guest house, measuring about 17 degrees on the thermometer.
And the first Ang Moh who opened the front door was a young, lean be-moustached Australian man Alex Polizzi, who we found out later was a professional triathlete.

Kong Wan very happy to be at the Guesthouse

Mike Jones was exceptionally friendly, and a most chin-chai Ang Moh owner of the residence.  Deep booming voice and silvery long hair belies his passion for taking such good care of participants of the race.  So chin-chai was he that he simply pointed to his billiard room and motioned us to leave our bikes there.
“No one ever steals anything here in Busselton,” he said on one of these days.  And how true it was.

Dumping our bike cases in the billiard room before we headed out for dinner.

Clueless where we should head out for dinner, we were glad Mike directed us to Vasse Bar & Kitchen, which was actually only about 1km away from the guest house.
 “It’s a good place to have good food,” he reassured us. 
How right he was.  Serene and myself found the tender rib so much more delicious than any of the previous restaurants we ate in on our last trip here.

Happy at Vasse Bar & Kitchen

And we found ourselves in a part of Busselton where there was a Woolworth Supermarket, a pharmacy, several cafes, bars and a bookshop (which happened to be run by Mike’s wife).


Serene was pleasantly surprised by the buzz of that area.  Well, for a quiet little town like Busselton, this was about as much buzz as one could stumble upon.  What was important also was, they had as healthy a selection of meals as Wai Meng could find, being a health freak who was totally hot on Superfood, and anything that was cholesterol and fat free.

The Allegory Pinot Noir ordered by the wine connoisseur Wai Meng.

8:45pm.  Back in the guesthouse with red wine swooshing in our stomachs and beef, chicken and fries warmly enjoying the peristaltic movements, we started to assemble our bike.

The main door, which was kept mostly unlocked, typical of a Busseltonian style of life.
“It’s not difficult to assemble the bike one right?”  I remembered Kong Wan asking before we embarked on the trip.
“Nah.  It’s simple.  Very fast one,” I reassured, oblivious of the complications that awaited us that evening.
“OK lah, we had gotten Edwin and Zhong Xuan to packed our bikes already, and we took a video of how to dissemble and assemble the bikes.” Wai Meng was meticulous.
The living room where we socialised.
In the warm lights of the billiard room we set out our machines.  And that was when our first problems started.  Wai Meng’s front wheel kept slicing into his brake pads and his head set kept producing noises when he turned his wheel.  On the other side of the room, Kong Wan was stooped bent-over staring intently at his read derailleur, frantically trying to screw it in.   My bike sorted out, I started to help Kong Wan hold his rear derailleur but we were fruitless in our efforts.  As Wai Meng peered over our shoulders he noticed something.

The eventful night in the Billiard Room.
“Hey, how come there are metal pieces kept being sliced out from the screw thread?” wondered Wai Meng.
“Yah.. I could turn it in.  But then after that it becomes so tight I cannot screw it in further.  I am worried I may be baring the threads out,” Kong Wan had a point.
“Wait wait.  Don’t turn in any more,” warned Wai Meng. “Tomorrow let’s bring it to the local bike shop to have them check it out.”
Struggling with Wai Meng's TtiR.

It was 10pm.  We must have been really noisy as one Ang Moh lady popped her head in the entrance.
  “Hey guys, could you keep it down a little?  My room is next to this and I am trying to sleep.”  She was being as nice as she could.  And we apologised profusely.  And in hushed tones we continued our struggle.

Meanwhile near the entrance, Wai Meng’s bike sat moodily, with the headset noisily clanking.  The brake pad issue was cleverly sorted out when Wai Meng discovered that it was knocked slanted during transportation.
See beh jiaklat.  The race hadn’t even started and our bikes were already giving us problems.
“OK let me send a text message to the Elite boys and send a few pictures and a video over to see if they can help.” I suggested.

Luck was on our side.  Every single problem we encountered, Zhong Xuan knew exactly what it was.  Step by step he guided us remotely until Kong Wan’s rear derailleur finally sat securely in its place, and Wai Meng’s left brake worked perfectly after we turned the noodle on the cable.  Expletives sprouting from our lips betrayed our huge relieves as we finally got the machines ready for our test ride tomorrow.

“OK, tomorrow morning we will set off at 7am for our short test ride.  We will try out a small part of the race route.”
“What time is sunrise tomorrow?” asked Kong Wan.
“It’s at 7am.”
“I only worry that it will be very cold.”
“Yah lah.  Bo bian mah, right?  We still need to test our bikes and make sure everything is ok.  Let us see how lah.”

I wasn’t sure if Wai Meng and Kong Wan slept well that night.  But Serene and I did, despite the 14 degrees cold.




DAY 2 ~ A cold day of Cold acclimatisation... and a day of wine and dine.




7am was really cold the next morning.  13-14 degrees was what the weather App indicated.  I laughed when I saw how Kong Wan and Wai Meng trembled in the cold air.  I knew I was frightened of the cold.  But here were two superbly athletic guys who hated the cold more than I. 

Wai Meng and Kong Wan in the cold.
Along Adelaide road we cycled, towards the direction of the Transition area.  The cold wind froze my fingers and ripped through my thin cycling jersey as I pedalled.  There was a clunking as the shifting kept jumping on the smallest gear in the rear cassette.  Heck.  I would live with it.  Anyway I would never use the smallest gear on the race.  As long as I could work the bike for the race, it would be good enough.  Similarly, Kong Wan’s bike had some shifting issues, but it would do for the race.

Busselton Jetty in the early morning. [Photo: Kong Wan]

“Wah lau.. I thought if I cycled faster it would be warmer, but the faster I cycled the colder I got.” complained Wai Meng afterwards.
“The headwind was strong,” I concurred.  Indeed the headwind was.
At the entrance of the jetty.  [Photo: Kong Wan]

We were doing a gentle speed of about 25-26km/h, and we made the right turn on Carey Road towards Marine Terrace Road.  The sky was cloudy this morning.  I led the boys towards Busselton Jetty.

The Full Rainbow's welcome at Busselton Jetty. [Photo: Kong Wan]

“Hey look at the rainbow!  It’s so nice!” A magnificent full rainbow welcomed us as we stood at the jetty for a shot. It was a good omen.  It must have meant something good for us for the race.  I spied frowns on Kong Wan and Wai Meng’s brows.


“Look at the waves!” they exclaimed. “The waves are choppy!”
“Was last year like that?” asked Wai Meng.
“Yeah.. it was the same mah.  It was like that ah,” I tried to recall.
“Wah lau.  This is choppy.  See the way the wind blows!” Kong Wan lamented.
“Jiaklat!”
I could see the worries in their faces.  These boys hated cold.  And they hated cold sea with waves.  We were, nevertheless, tropical boys.

Mike’s delicious breakfast of what he called ‘Full Monty’ warmed our bodies and our hearts from the disturbing ride and the awful sight of the sea.  We were happy to meet a couple of Australian ladies, Jo and Cressida, who were experienced triathletes, during breakfast.  In their lovely Australian twangs they reassured us that it would be ok.




The small town of Margaret River and the vineyards

Wai Meng the driver on this day again.

10am.  And Wai Meng solidly volunteered to be the driver for the day as we made our way down south on a 1 hour journey to Margaret River.  Margaret River town was a serene and pleasant little town with plenty of surf shops, beach wear shops and cafes and supermarkets.


“Busselton area has no shopping one lah,” I told Serene earlier on.  And now I was proven wrong. 

Serene was so delighted to find shops after shops of clothing and stuffs.  She flit in and out and the three boys we just walked and basked in the cool weather, clothed in our jackets.  The morning was punctuated by short showers.



Wai Meng recalled two famous vineyard that he visited years back - Leeuwin Estate and Voyager Vineyard.

At Voyager Vineyard. [Photo: Kong Wan] Click to enlarge.

Voyager  Vineyard was so beautiful.  Its front garden was almost regal.  And their white-washed low walls and well-trimmed bushes led right into the hallway, where several professional staffs were already serving a healthy group of customers.

Don't know why so happy. [Photo: Kong Wan] Click to enlarge

Wai Meng was very good in wines and before long he had in his hands two bottles of exclusive red and white.  This guy really knows how to enjoy wine.

Kong Wan, Wai Meng and the exclusive wine at Voyager Vineyard. Click to enlarge.

As we stepped into Leeuwin Estate for lunch, the sky opened up into a heavy and extended rain that lasted us our whole lunch time in this classy winery.

The serene drive into Voyager Vineyard and Leeuwin Estate. [Photo: Kong Wan]

The beautiful Leeuwin Estate - beautiful vineyard, beautiful wine and food. [Photo: Kong Wan]

At Leeuwin Estate before the rain came. Click to see another view.

We had an 800 gram of steak which we shared among ourselves, Kong Wan, Serene and myself being beef lovers.  And Wai Meng had his fish.  Who did we meet here in Leeuwin but Lee Yuexian, her husband and her baby.


“Wow! How small a chance can this be?” said Serene. “To come such a long way and to meet them so far out here in this small town of Western Australia at the same time!”  Truly.
Lunch at Leeuwin Estate. Click to enlarge.

On our way back, we passed by Yahaya Coffee and grabbed several bottle of Ice Koffee elixir.  Kong Wan and Wai Meng were both coffee lovers and they knew their coffees.  Wai Meng decided on the Triple T brew and Kong Wan ordered his long white and Wai Meng his Cafe Latte Skinny.  And Serene had her Cappuccino while I enjoyed a really nice cup of Machiatto.  I was feeling drowsy but immediately after the coffee my brain woke up.  These must have been really potent stuff these good people brewed here.

At Yahava Coffee. [Photo: Kong Wan]

We tried looking for a honey farm.  But sadly they didn’t have any.  Apparently we needed to go about 60km a detour to find a honey shop.

Yahava Coffee. [Photo: Kong Wan]

Despite the cold and depressing thoughts that permeated our consciousness that morning, the day ended well, with another identical set of dinner at Vasse Bar & Kitchen.

“Ok, let’s plan for tomorrow.  I suggest we wake up a little later and have breakfast and then we walk over to the registration tent just before 11am, register for the race and for the Funky Trunk 1km swim, and then stay there for the swim at 11:45am.  After the swim we can come back to paste the stickers on our bikes and then walk over to rack them up in the afternoon.”
“Can.  We might as well go earlier.  We can start walking over after breakfast lah”
“Yeah. Good idea.”



DAY 3 ~ A day of trial swim & Athlete Check-in.

Taking a nice slow walk from Guesthouse to Registration tent. Click to enlarge.

Serene and I wised up this morning.  And we ordered our Full Monty completed with bacon, sausages, eggs, hash browns, baked beans, tomatoes and mushrooms.  I didn’t realised how much I enjoyed Mike’s breakfast.  It was also on this morning when we met Mr Au and Amanda, who were Malaysian-turned-Singapore-PR-turned-Australian-Citizens who were experienced Ironman and full of advice for us.  Our breakfast was filled with this lovely couple giving three of us tips after tips after tips.  Powerful swimmers they were, not to mention cyclists and runners.  And they were definitely determined people.  It further strengthened my conviction that Australia is a country of Ironmen and Ironwomen.

We walked to the registration tent.

Wang Junxiang met us at the Registration tent.  It was great meeting him, his wife Lishan and their babies here in Australia. It was never easy bringing along little babies for a race like this.  That was why this couple had my full admiration.

"There is the tent!" Click to enlarge.

The Busselton Expo was always full of good deals.  I already had in mind what I was going to buy before I came.  On this day, the various stall holders managed to convince me to part with my money for a couple of pairs of CompressSports calf sleeves, sweater and T-shirts.

The obligatory 'tent' shot. Click to enlarge.

“Wow, these compression calf sleeves are really good.  I am going to test them out during the trial swim later on!” said Kong Wan.
“Yah.  And they are at a discounted price of A$50.  What more, I was thinking hard how am I going to pull up my calf compression sleeves after the swim with my legs all wet.  This one can be worn on the swim.  That solves my problem!” I was so happy.
“I think what is most important for me is to have the compression sleeves to keep my legs warm during the swim,” said a very concerned Wai Meng.
We were 50 minutes early for the registration.  Click to enlarge.

The Funky Trunk registration counter was just next to the Race registration counter.  We grabbed both sets of swim caps and racing time chips for the ankles, and started pulling on our wetsuits outside the tents.  It was quite a funny sight, a group of Singaporeans pulling really hard on their wetsuits and arching their backs to zip them up.  The weather was nice and warm as the sun came out in the late morning.  Smiles crossed Kong Wan and Wai Meng’s faces.

Serene outside the tent.

“Weather is good!”
“Yah, it’s not so cold once the sun comes out.”
The tent, yet again. Click to enlarge.






Funky Trunk 1km swim.



“Hey this swim is actually a race one leh!” said Kong Wan.
“Yah it is.  But to me, it’s more important for us to get used to the cold water.”


We met another Singaporean, Ng Kang Min at the starting point of the Funky Trunk.  This was his first race.  After speaking with him, I realised that here was another tropical-dweller like ourselves who had little love for the cold sea.


“I will be doing breast stroke for the swim,” said Kang Min.
“That’s good.  Breast stroke is just as good. Steady but no less fast,” I replied. “Come, join us,” I invited him and his wife Nelly over.
Ng Kang Min happy to be in his thermal cap.

11:45am said the watch.
“Come let’s go!” I said. “Just soak your ankles in the warm water, then let in water into your wetsuit and let your body warm it up.”

All slim slim except me. Click to enlarge.

“WAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!” Shouted Kong Wan and Wai Meng as they put their faces into the cold water and started shivering.
I turned and looked at both of them with a big smile, not having heard them ever shouting so loud before.
“Wah, it’s COLD!!!!”
These two poor boys were really suffering from the shock of the cold.  Yes, the Australian ladies were correct.  For us, it would really be shocking.
“Ok ok quick quick let water into your wetsuits through the neck!”
We all did and grit our teeth and toughed it out while our bodies slowly warmed up the water.  The only person who didn’t dare to let in water was Wai Meng.  And boy, did he suffer.
“OK steady lah. Don’t worry. Just slowly rotate and swim.”
Ourselves and Indonesian participant Henry.

The horn went and of we started.  It was as cold as I remembered.  There was some women and men who were wearing nothing but swimming trunks and swimming costumes.  There were really true-blue local bred who loved the freezing temperature.  Memories came flooding back as I slowly rotated left and right, trying to warm my body further and get into a rhythm.  The buoys on this swim were small and it was really hard to sight.

Kang Min off to a running start.

I lost sight of Kong Wan, Wai Meng, and Junxiang soon after the start.  I was slowly beginning to enjoy myself again, humming Serene’s favourite song in my head, precisely like what I did last year.  With the prior experience, it really took a lot of anxiety off me this second round.  I trained much lesser, and I knew my fitness level was certainly a few notches below last year, but my confidence level was significantly higher.  Interesting how experience helped in everything we did.  I swam a much less zig-zagged route this round.  However I still was breathless when I finally emerged from the water, running out across the timing carpet.  Junxiang naturally was much faster and he had already finished way ahead.

Kong Wan had quite an adventure exploring the cold water.


From the corner of my eyes, I saw Serene, Nelly and Kang Min robed in a towel.  Great job! He finished his swim.
“It was a tough swim, I found that the cold made it hard for me to breathe,” he was really humble.
“No no.. don’t you worry. First time will always be like this.  Trust me.  Tomorrow’s race you will be better.”

Wai Meng looking real muscular in his wetsuit.

Very soon, Wai Meng and Kong Wan came out.
As we stood knee deep in the water, both of us were hit by a sudden onset of vertiginous giddiness, as our vesicular systems fought to settle the imbalance brought on by the sea water.  We both stumbled out of the water.

“Wah lau eh! I cannot even sight properly at all.  Can’t see the buoys!’ kao-beh-ed Kong Wan.  “And then I don’t know why suddenly on the return leg, I just suddenly veered to the right until the kayak came to my side and guided me.  When I finally headed towards the right direction, then the kayak marshall said yes.”

Kang Min, yours truly, Kong Wan, Wai Meng, Junxiang. Amanda and Bernard.

“I was so happy when I suddenly saw Kong Wan in the water,” remarked Wai Meng, visibly relieved to have finished the 1km swim but not exactly comforted by it.  “I got cramp in the water just now.”  And he proceeded to suffer another calf cramp as the wetsuit came off.  Funny how our unaccustomed body develop cramps all over the places.
Me happy just to be out of the water. I was shagged... and was a little giddy.

Hungry, tired, cold and somewhat moodied, we slowly walked back to our guesthouse.
We had missed lunch, and we were all suffering from the drain in energy.  A quick stick of the stickers and a short walk to the transition area to rack the bikes.

We from Beds by the Bay pushing our bikes to the racks.

I was most happy to meet Tom Yang, Mike Tan, Eddie, Rick, Neil, Kenn Poon, Choo Chye and the gang staying in Aqua at the transition area.

Happy to meet up with Tom Yang.

Kong Wan and Wai Meng having their brakes checked by the officials at the racks.

“I saw Almeric just now leh,” said Serene.  But I couldn’t find him.

The Champion, Almeric.

Junxiang racking his bike before driving back to his hotel to rest for the night.

Dragging our tired bodies back, we were soon off for a late lunch-cum-early-dinner.  Where? Where else. Vasse Bar & Kitchen lor.

The pro Alexander Polizzi and us.  Click to enlarge.

Back at Busselton Guesthouse, we had a good time in the dining room chit-chatting with Alex Polizzi who shared with us his stories and his plans for the coming races.  He had a bad tyre puncture in the recent Putrajaya Race and he had to DNF.
“It’s ok.  It’s all part of racing,” said this steady 27 year old professional of Italian descent. “I enjoyed Putrajaya a lot.”
“But it’s so hot!”
“It’s ok.  I trained for it by turning on the heater while I cycled on the wind trainer in the shower,” such a remarkable athlete.
“Tomorrow, please kick Craig Alexander’s backside, OK!” I joked.  And he smiled.  A humble guy he was.
“Anyway the weather forecast says that tomorrow is going to be a good day with very little wind.  So that is why I am going for a higher profile front wheel,” added the professional.

An early night sleep awaited us.  We all gathered in Room 6 and went through the sequences of our transitions and bounced some last minute reminders off each other.  I planned to sleep at 8:30pm.  But by the time I really slept, it was already 10pm.






DAY 4 ~ RACE DAY!!!



The official Sunsmart Busselton Video showing plenty of footage of the participants from Singapore!


4:15am



My handphone alarm went off.  And I sheepishly dragged myself up.
Mike was forever the perfect host, himself waking up at the same time and had prepared cereals, coffee, wheat bix, bananas and fruits for us.
Alex and Mr Au were already seated having breakfast.

“Wow you three are going over to the transition so early?” they were surprised.
“Yeah lah.  Our wave is at 7:57am.  So we will hit the transition area to prepare the stuff at 5am then we come back and have some more food and to use the toilets.”
“These guys are nervous!” smiled Alex.  I could not help but agree.  But it was ok.  We were relative newbies mah.
We were one of the first few to arrive at the transition area to prepare.

It was a cold 10 degrees morning.  And there was not a single movement in the trees.  It was a windless morning.  And that was great news.  In the dark we gloomily arranged our Transition areas and checked to make sure our tyres were in good shape.

Both glad to have prepared the transition area nice and early.  Click to enlarge.

Wai Meng was reassured by the thought of the water temperature being no less than 18 degrees despite the cold air.  And Kong Wan was reminding ourselves “Be patient.  Just one buoy by one buoy”.  That was a comforting thought.  And reassuring strategy.


The great thing about staying near the race area was the convenience.  And being able to walk to and fro with relative ease helped.  This round I practised hopping onto the bike with my cycling shoes already cleated onto the pedals, in the hope of cutting a few minutes off my T1.  And I was going sock-less for the ride and the run.  The advice from Foo Chek Siang before the race to stand on the left shoe with the ipsilateral foot was a life-saver because it literally solved all my difficulties.  A quick breakfast of rolled oats and wheat bix and coffee settled our stomachs.  I even had a chance to grab a shut-eye for about 40 minutes.  This was really one real relaxed race.

Before the horn... Click to enlarge.
"Ok man, this is it."
"Steady ok."
"Man-man-lai. Be patient. One buoy at a time."
"Yah lor.. The most DNF lor."
"I'm going to try to stop and breast stroke and sight, and then continue front crawl," said Wai Meng. "This way I won't drift off too much and have to spend more effort trying to get back."
"Don't forget to let in water into your wetsuit, Ah Meng." I reminded him.
"And pee in your wetsuit," said Kong Wan.
"Huh? Pee in the wetsuit?" I asked. "Yeeeee... How can?"
"You try it. It's very good. The urine warms you up," pointed out Kong Wan.
I followed his advice and felt an instantaneous warmth surging through my frozen body.
In fact Wai Meng was so pleased by his own urine that he urinated twice.
For once I finally understood the secret and the reason behind why all the Ang Mohs were standing motionless knee deep in the sea water early in the morning before the race.  Someone should have told us earlier.  At least saved us the agony of the cold.

Rick, Eddie, Mike, Neil and Tom at the start.  Click to enlarge.


We were pretty lucky this time round.  The media presenter actually sought us out to interview three of us on the day of athlete check in.  Stewart was the name of the presenter.  And on this morning he came and got his videographer to take a video of all of us Singaporeans.  He even reminded us to smile and call out to him and his guys whenever we cycled past or ran past them.  Thus for the very first time, we had quite good coverage of ourselves in the Official Sunsmart Busselton Ironman 70.3 video.

So, on with the race. 7:57am, Silver cap wave… the second last wave to start.  It was much brighter by then.  But the air was still crisp and cold.  Mike Tan was pointing out to me the sequence of the buoy - white-yellow-yellow-red then turn right…  Thankfully I had him to give me a final run down of the buoys.
The horn suddenly went off…. POOOOOOOOOOORRRRRRR!
I was caught off guard.  My watch was not readied.  Shucks.. I ran straight into the water, lifting my knees as high as they could go while frantically trying to go into Triathlon mode and to press the Start button.  Kong Wan and Wai Meng was somewhere to my right.  Tom Yang and Neil were on my left but they were nowhere to be seen.  I hate running with high knees into the water because it was never easy.  I’d much rather start swimming earlier, while the fellows in front of me and beside me were still running in the water.  I didn’t care.  It was less tiring swimming.
By that time, the cold was no longer a bother.

Rick very quick out of the water.
As always the Ang Mohs were super fast, surging past me like fishes.  I really didn’t know how they did it.  I focussed on my rhythm and breathing and just rotated and rotated.  The water was really calm.  And I felt little breathlessness.  All was going smoothly.  My main aim was to conserve and conserve for the swim.  Months of upper body weights training had certainly helped as I could feel my arms being stronger this round.

Mike was a very experienced triathlete and Ironman.

The buoys were not difficult to aim for.  And the yellow buoys came one after another with little veering.  As I approached the red buoy where we turned right, I was caught up by the wave after us - the pink cap wave.  These fellows were fast.  But it was an advantage to have them catch up because suddenly I had swimmers on either side of me I could follow, saving me plenty of sighting.  I just had to trust that they were swimming in the right direction.  My body had warmed up.  And I was stroking with better consistency and power.  And I could even feel myself going faster, keeping pace with a couple of the pink caps.   In my mind, Serene’s favourite song kept going round and round, soothing and lifting.

Eddie did very well with a good effort in the swim.

Another right turn and I was heading back on the return leg already, happy knowing that the swim was ending soon, and even happier because somehow I felt that I had swum better this time round.
The water was nice and clear as we swam out from the shore.  And it was later that I learned from Kong Wan that I could actually estimate my direction by navigating according to the ripples on the sea bed.  It was such an enlightenment. I was determined to try out Kong Wan's method of navigation come next race in Bintan.

Kong Wan's swim was so much better on the actual race day compared with the Funky Trunk swim.
“I’m sure the Ang Moh swimmers knew about swimming according to the direction of the ripples on the sea bed one,” said Kong Wan, who was an experienced diver.
Wai Meng was so glad to be out of the water.  Now time for him to cheong already.


The sea bed came closer and closer towards my face as the water became shallower.  I just simply focussed on sighting towards the tall, white tents on land.  That was an important sighting landmark.  And it brought me right to the Swim Exit.
I stood up, and started running.  A quick glance on my watch said 45 minutes.
“Wow! That’s GOOD!” I was really happy.  This was better than my previous swim.


I was smiling as I ran out.  Hmmmm… not bad. Not breathless.  And could still smile.  Serene was on my left shouting out to me.  I gave her two thumbs up and a megawatt smile as I ran over the timing carpet and into the shower.  This time round I stayed in the shower a tad longer just to have the sea water washed clean from my mouth and my body.  And then started to rip the wetsuit from my arms and shoulders.
The transition area had so few bikes left still racked.  Many of the triathletes must have sped off on their bikes already.
In the distance I could hear the announcer said: “We still have about 20 swimmers in the water and we are waiting to get them outta the water.  These are the last few swimmers.”
Shucks.. Only 20 plus swimmers in the water.  I could imagine how slow my 45-46 minutes of swim must be.  Never mind, focus. Just focus on the T1. Sat down, pulled out the whole wetsuit.  Grabbed my helmet and put it on first.  Then the sunglasses, followed by the cycling gloves.  Reached down for a gel, finished it, Gulped down one third a bottle of plain water.  And off I ran, bare-foot, towards the Bike Exit, silently glad that my bike rack was not that far from the Bike Exit.

Wai Meng taking off on his TTiR.

It was nice and cold.
Lovely weather.  The sun was totally covered by a mass of dense clouds that gathered up in the sky.  It was not too bad.  Absolutely like what I remembered it to be.  The cold wind slipped in between my helmet vents and cooled my wet tri suit.  I was glad I didn't shiver in the wind.  My body must have been warmed up by the swim.

Almeric pumping it up full speed.

The first half of the ride saw lesser headwind than the second half.  By the time I reached 45km and heading back towards the forest, the headwind was in both directions.  Confusingly we found headwind both going in and coming out of the forest.  This was somewhat different from what I experienced the last time. The fast riders like Tom Yang and Alex Polizzi of course had no issues because by the time they finished their bike legs, the wind hadn't really started to be strong yet.

Me suffering and blowing hard. [Photo: FinisherPix]

Busselton's cycle leg had always been famous for being as flat as a pancake.  And one can literally fly on this route for a PB.  As usual I watched my heart rate and my power readings, and with a faster swim time this round, and having halved my T1 timing this round, I was really bursting with joy because I found myself in a better state on the bike.  I was careful not to burn my thighs, just chugging along far behind the Ang Moh riders.

Cycling and Smiling... the most optimistic combination. [Photo: FinisherPix]
 
As usual, many of the heavier riders on lok-kok bikes simply just overtake me with their hands on the hoods (not even in an aero position).  I took my hat off to these seasoned swimmer/riders.  The Ang Moh musculature must be really something.  Genetically they are built for outdoor sports, I personally believed, unlike farmers like myself.
I made it a point to look left and right and to enjoy the scenery this time, instead of just blindly staring right ahead.  I was thinking to myself even before the race what a shame it would be to miss out on the lovely views along the Ludlow Tuart forest.

25km into the ride, after I made U-turn at the first leg, I caught sight of Wai Meng in the pink cycling jersey and the classic shiny blue cycling shoes, cycling in the opposite direction.
"Wah lau eh! Siao kia! He is FAST!" I thought to myself.
Wai Meng in the pink jersey and blue shoes was easy to spot.

I knew no matter how fast I swim, Kong Wan and Wai Meng are definitely going to catch up with me somewhere sometime along the whole race.  I was half expecting to see them along the cycling leg.  But I must have missed out Kong Wan and the rest of the Singapore boys cos everyone looked so similar in their suits.
The leg out of the forest had the wind pushing me from behind and I felt so much lighter and my average speed lifted.  But on the second lap heading back into the forest my speed dropped tremendously as the headwind started to bare down on me again.
"Shucks.. Ok ok.. Don't fight the wind.  Just spin and ride it out," I kept reminding myself.

As a slow rider and a slow runner, I had to be particularly careful with my nutrition, because I expected myself to be out there for a significantly longer period of time than most of the participants.  From experience I found that I couldn't stomach solid food as I would develop nausea.  The only thing I could tolerate was gel.  I was aiming to replace 300Cal an hour on the bike leg and 200Cal an hour on the run leg. So I literally guai guai took a gel every 20 minutes on the bike, and a salt capsule on the top of the hour (Thanks to Wai Meng who bought the salt capsule the day before).

Smiling also, was Kong Wan.


Kong Wan was worried that he would go hungry on the race, so he was prepared with bars and all.  It was interesting how each and every individual differed in the way he fuelled himself.  The professional triathlete Alex said the day before:
"Don't bang on your hydration as a form of energy, despite the fluid having some calories.  You should keep them separate.  Calculate your energy replenishment from food. Food is food.  Hydration is hydration."
Thinking back, what he said was quite true.
Going out to the forest again, I was on the aerobars, and my mind wandered off. When I glanced up, my front wheel mounted a huge black piece of something with a loud crack.  (I found out later that this was a carbon rear saddle water bottle cage that dropped off some bike. )  My bike swerved a little but somehow I managed to hold it.  An Ang Moh guys on a tri bike over took me a few seconds later and shouted over:
"Buddy, I thought you were going to crash!"
Wow.. I was lucky to have been in one piece still, because according to Wai Meng, he saw three cyclists crashed somewhere along the cycling route, explaining for the two ambulance on siren that raced towards the crash site.
At the 70km mark, I saw Wai Meng again going in the opposite direction on his leg out to the forest and gave him a thumbs up.  Man, this Wai Meng was really taking his own sweet time.  I really half expected him to have caught up with me by this time.  I didn't manage to identify anyone else on the ride sadly, despite looking out for Kong Wan and the rest of the Singapore boys. On this final back leg, I started to fatigue.  I could feel myself getting tired.  And my average speed slowed, no thanks to the ever-changing headwind.  Wai Meng later admitted that he was conserving himself for the run leg, and he was only looking at his average speed and not even having his heart rate monitor nor power meter on him.  Kong Wan too was conserving, rightly so, as he would have saved his legs for the run.  Both Kong Wan and Wai Meng are runners.  And I'd learned from all my races that runners will ALWAYS complete the race in good timing.

Along Layman Road I spinned, and back into town.  The odometer ticked closer towards 90km.  I stole a glance at my average speed.  OK lah.  Not too bad lah.  Could have been better but I could not complain.  The recent change of my bike geometry one week ago, raising the seat by 1cm and bringing it forward may have taken a little bit of toll.  But I would get used to the new position soon.  The crowd was lovely, clapping and shouting out as I approached.  Even the officials in the Penalty Tent clapped and urged me on.  Unbelievable.

A left turn and the Dismount line was just there.




The second most suffering Run Leg ever (for me...)

No matter how painful the run is - still gotta smile. [Photo: FinisherPix]


So on this fateful day, my T2 timing was a satisfactory 3 minutes plus.  My breath was still steady, and I felt really good going into the Run Out.  I literally smiled as I slowly ran out through the timing mat.
"Man, this is it! Good timing.  I am going to do my best," I quietly told myself.
Kenn Poon, a real seasoned Ironman, going at it on the Run Leg.
The sun was still very much hidden.  If anything, it was even more covered by the dark clouds, and the temperature was still cold.  I remembered last year this time it was warm and sunny by the time we started the run.  But this year the weather was on our side, and not long after I started the run, it started drizzling.  Lovely weather indeed!

Neil completing his race!



My ankles were holding well, despite all the alcohol, red and white, the past few days.  The crowds were their usual rousting selves.  Later after the race, Kong Wan would praise the crowd again and again, the way they encouraged us on.  I looked at my watch, just slightly over 4 hours.  Good job.  Let's go.
1km into the run, just as I passed the first water station, I felt a twinge of pull on my right quadriceps, followed quickly by a similar pull on the left quadriceps.  Within a couple of minutes, the cramps escalated.  I knew I was not as hard working in terms of training as I was the previous year.  But I did run.  And I did consume my salt capsules on the bike leg.  Hence my puzzled mind scrambled to come to whatever self-explanatory conclusions it could derive as the muscle fibres continued to contract.  Around my waist sat my belt of 6 gels, waiting to be consumed periodically.

Mike in his full glory.
 
Big size ladies and men were passing me from all sides while I shuffled along.  The 3.5km out lap was painfully slow.  I knew I had to run slow, but I was literally crawling.  The cramps remained unabated and my worries was if this would mean a DNF.

"Brother, I am behind you!" called out Wai Meng as he flew passed me just before the U-turn at the water station.
"Well done, Ah Meng!" I said. "Keep going keep going!"
Choo Chye shaking off his vertigo and finishing strongly.

 And he went for a pee, while I had to clear my bowels at the station.  No choice.  It would be sheer suffering if I didn't.
So the km went by painfully one by one.   I wasn't able to pay much attention to the bands playing at the side, nor the cheering crowds, but drew my focus back into a state of almost-introspection.  Our Singaporean boys passed me in the opposite directions and we called out to each other - Kang Min, Mike Tan and Rick.

Rick showing that even a first timer 70.3 racer is not to be trifled with with his powerful finish.


"Ok ok.. I will take it 7km by 7 km," I consoled myself.  The thigh pain was excruciating as I ran back towards the end of the first lap.  As I rounded the U-turn I heard the announcer calling out Almeric Ong's name and several other names, announcing excitedly and repeatedly 'From Singapore... from Singapore.... and also from Singapore!"

In my heart I was so happy for the guys because for several of them, this was their first 70.3 and they smashed it in spectacular timing.  But for me, my journey was just still at the beginning.
"How many more laps to go?" asked a middle-aged Ang Moh lady running past me.
"Erm... I've done only one lap."
"This is my second.  Don't worry, we'll get there," said this cheerfyl lady.
Another Ang Moh man, older and plumper than me on my left passed me: "Just one foot ahead of the other, one at a time," reassuringly he said.
The green and pink gorillas were dancing on the other side of the pavement.  But I just couldn't bring myself to enjoy their music this time round.  A young lady in light blue t-shirt caught my attention though, because she was really dancing very well in the middle of the divider.

It was a great sight to behold, Kong Wan running with me!

"Wee How!" called out Kong Wan as he came in the opposite direction after I rounded the U-turn on the second lap. 
Man, this Kong Wan really is something.  I didn't see him at all throughout the course and here he was, and running and smiling away.  The run seemed so easy for him.  These guys were in their elements on the run.  I was feeling really discouraged at this point in time.  11km into the run and I just had to grit my teeth and continued running.  I wasn't going to give up and DNF.  I remembered my words to Gerard last year: "I didn't come so far to DNF.".  But the thighs really threatened.  I dared not walk, for fear of having the quadriceps seize up and stop working completely, like what happened to some athletes who pushed themselves too hard.
I dared not even look at my pace on the watch.  I just wanted to complete the second lap and go into the third.  Wai Meng passed me a second time.  This fellow was flying to the finishing line already.  I could only shout out to him 'All the way!', and he disappeared from my sight.



I must have missed Serene and the TV presenter Stewart because I was just staring on the ground 5m ahead of me.  And the white building came up, and the tents appeared and then finally the U-turn.  14km.  Good job.  Last lap.  Keep going!
"Keep going, Wee! Good job, Wee!" shouted the crowd on both sides of me.  If they had known I'd only done two laps they would be laughing their backsides off.
By then, the cramps seemed to have faded off a little, perhaps going into a state of self-induced numbness.  I lost count of the water stations and almost forgotten to take my gels.  Almost.  That was dangerous.  Because in a state of fatigue, confusion could take over and one tended to stop drinking and eating and slipped into an energy-drained state.  Something in me brought my hands into the belt and started feeding myself.  The gels must have kept me going.
By the third lap, most of the runners in red tags were old old men and old old women and over-sized individuals who were walking.  I was the only idiot who was still running, slowly.  And no matter how I ran, I was just running besides the walkers, never faster.  Demoralising to say the least.
Breezing past me were the Team Runners in green tags.  These must be of the last wave.  By this time, most of the Red Tags would have completed.  I simply just aimed for the mid-point of this third lap.  From afar I could vaguely make out the house where the turn was, but it remained elusive for the longest time.  The wordings on the floor were one of the sources of inspiration: "You are getting this one!" said one. "You didn't train enough!" said another one. "You're looking good in GREEN!" shouted one, although I wasn't really in green.
When would one ever have pretty young Ang Moh ladies and girls handing out cups of Endura and water to you with a megawatt smile? Almost never, right? I'd better don't disappoint these lovely Western Australians.
The U turn came! And I sheepishly looked at the three officials standing there with their arms across their chest, as though they were ready to pull me off the race for being too slow. "Last lap?" one asked. "Yeah.." I panted. "Ok, keep it going, mate! You're doing great!" Heng ah! I wasn't going to be pulled out.  Right after the turn, Kong Wan called out to me from the opposite direction. "Wee How!" Wow.. Man, Kong Wan was still with me.  My tears almost dropped.
A surge of relief.  I still had Kong Wan with me.  But not unexpectedly, he caught up with me after the turn.
"Hey let's go! I run with you," Kong Wan shouted.
"No no no no.. you go you go, Kong Wan! I'll catch up!"
"We need to quicken up," he said after looking at his watch.  It was almost 7 hours 30 minutes, the cut off time already. "I'll wait for you at the next water station."
"Ok Ok.. You go you go!" breathlessly I called back.

My watch said 18km.  Three more to go.  I knew I could complete. I didn't really cared about making the cut-off time any more.  I just needed to finish this race, if I could still call it a race.  I kept my smile going, in the hope that smiling will make it less painful.  Probably didn't work, but still it was placebo.

Wai Meng also champion!


At this stage, it was down to 100m by 100m.  I really kicked myself in the backside, for being unconditioned on the bike, for being complacent when it came to run training, and for being silly in not consuming more salt tablets regularly.  People would usually do better race after race.  But I was moving backwards.  The crowd remained just as great, cheering and clapping as if I was the champion going for his PB on this race.

Applauding the crowd. [Photo: FinisherPix]

As ashamed as I was on my timing, they didn't seem to care a single bit.  All they cared about was for 'Wee' to cross the finishing line in flying colours.  Kong Wan had his glory way ahead of me already.  Now was my turn.  This round I was determined to high-five as many people as I possibly could, and I applauded the crowd as they cheered me on.

Hi-five-ing as many people as I could towards the finishing line. [Photo: FinisherPix]


Wai Meng was already warmly clothed in his jacket, smiling and waiting for me.  The TV Media interviewer found us three and did a last interview with us.  Serene was waiting at the tablet outside the tent.
"I cannot find you both," she cried, referring to me and Kong Wan. "I was so worried that you all might have crashed or some accidents might have happened."
"No lah, don't worry.  You saw Wai Meng right?  He would have told you that we have started the run. And once we started the run, we will all be safe."

Ok lah. At least completed it. [Photo: FinisherPix]


The rest of the Singapore boys had come in in good timing.  Tom Yang had a bruised toe which might have slowed him down a split minute for his overall timing.  While Kang Min did well on his first 70.3, having willed himself into a slower and steadier swim, but blazed on the cycling and running legs.  Almeric was the first to come in, which was not-unexpected of him.  Choo Chye pretty enjoyed the water of the Indian ocean, though it kinda made him, and a few of us, a little disoriented.  Eddie and Tom were both happy to have done their swim legs well, and both were all praises for Ah Chua for his advice.  Mike was very cute, apparently the cold freezing water gave him some brain-freeze.  To me, personally, the most improved one was Wai Meng, because he was so worried about his swim that he adopted my motto '... so what? The most DNF lor..' even up till that very morning before the swim.  But once he completed his swim, he really flew on the bike, and he literally took off on the run leg.   So impressive were the other boys of his run leg that they kept talking about the way Wai Meng ran.
"Yah.." quietly admitted Wai Meng later on to us. "I just saw all the Ang Moh and I was so happy to over take them on the run."

The thought of being able to walk slowly back to our Guesthouse, albeit with an anthalgic gait, was a comforting one.  Wai Meng and Kong Wan were all smiles.  And we all had a wonderful dinner in Vasse Bar & Kitchen, courtesy of Wai Meng.  And of course, the boys and girls staying in Aqua also turned up at Vasse for their celebration dinner.

At Vasse Bar & Kitchen with Tom Yang. [Photo: Tom Yang].
"Tomorrow half of the guys will go Margaret river to buy wine, and then tomorrow night we are all going to have a huge barbecue in Aqua," happily announced Tom Yang.  These guys really knew how to enjoy themselves after a race.
For Kong Wan, Wai Meng, Serene and I, we would leave for Perth right after breakfast tomorrow morning.



Bye bye Busselton.  Hello, Perth.

With Mike Jones and Miaoli.  Click to enlarge.


The next day, the only person who still had a good pair of legs to drive was none other than Wai Meng.  And he undertook that duty again for the whole trip back to Perth.
Mike was the ever gracious host, preparing a nice breakfast and congratulating us.
"You guys coming back next year?" he asked jokingly. "Better book the rooms now."
I wasn't sure about Kong Wan and Wai Meng.  But I enjoyed the company and the place so much that despite the pain on the run, I had almost half a mind to repeat the whole process.  Hopefully one day our children will be able to participate in the same race as ourselves.




 City Stay Apartment, Perth.



For A$185 a night for an apartment with two rooms, this serviced apartment was located directly opposite the Factory Outlet in Perth.  Within a short walking distance to the financial district and restaurants and eateries, we were able to do our shopping at the Factory outlet, and enjoyed a couple of nice meals - Gordon St. Garage (along Gordon Street) for the local fares, and a Japanese Restaurant, Matsuri, along St Georges Terrace a 10-minutes walk away.

Just simply crossing the road to the Factory Outlet.

The Japanese dinner was most delicious, courtesy of Kong Wan, and what was most unforgettable was we had a good time in Matsuri, chit-chatting and sharing our life stories, basking in the atmosphere with real Japanese waiters and waitresses serving us, and having a cold sake with golden leaves floating inside.  That was really a wonderful experience.

Gold-leaf cold sake at Matsuri, St George's Terrace.

That night before we left Perth for home, Kong Wan, Wai Meng and I continued our discussion at the dining table.  And both of them shared with me their experiences in training, swimming and running.  It was most apt after a tough race, to have good friends like these two guys point out my mistakes and how I could improve on them. And these good fellows did more.. by introducing me to the show Ninja Warrior and a China show on match-making which happened to be showing on TV.  There were so much more depth in them than met the eyes, and I was so impressed.

Serene and mine favourite shop at the Factory outlet, Perth.


Would we do Busselton 70.3 again?

Kong Wan preferred to go different places each time.  Wai Meng's eyes held a hint of eagerness to better his own feat.  For me, it was really the company, the beautiful weather and race course, plus the best crowd, that were the pull-factors.  If the various components of the equation fall into the right places the next year, I just might see myself pounding the running track besides the Indian Ocean once again.  Hopefully the next time we will have the company of more of our good friends along for the race.

But the next time, I would really be very very careful to make sure that each bike case won't exceed 32kg.  Because the Australian Airline counter staff are the most ngiao ones I had ever ever met.

Till the next race!