Thursday, May 4, 2017

Busselton Ironman 70.3 - 2017

... Of Tong Geng, of giddy spells, and of Sharks.
~ The story of Busselton Ironman 70.3 [4th - 10th May 2017]

The Busseltonians post-race
Pushing boundaries and breaking limits are characteristics defining human nature. And that explains why a bunch of otherwise perfectly normal (and sane) middle-aged Singaporeans set foot on the shores of Busselton beach to prove to themselves that they are still deserving of the title of a Half-Ironman.
Arriving at Changi Airport for our 7:40am SQ flight to Perth. [Photo: Jemmy]
Like what Ann Kheen says: "You want to call yourself a Half-Ironman, you got to renew that title annually. Otherwise you can only be called an ex-Half-Ironman."
Gerard's new toy- the DJI Gimbal head.
For the first time, the flight to Perth was so empty it was as though we chartered the whole
plane for ourselves.  We could sit wherever we wanted!
Busselton 70.3. The very name itself conjures a magical scene of fine wine, good food, great weather, warm hospitality and most importantly, a smashing race.
"Why do you keep going back to Busselton to do the 70.3?" asked Charles of me. To which my answer was "because of the beautiful weather and fast course, and most of all, the atmosphere of the event - the whole town, old and young, is genuinely out to support the participants. I love the warm, wholesome feel of the race."
The Kia Carnival new model was really smooth and steady.
This was the biggest contingent ever from Team EvoLV to Busselton.  Somehow reality was such - the demands of life meant that not everyone of us had the chance to train as much nor as hard as he would like. A few were fully prepared. Several commenced their training programs just as others started tapering. While for the rest, their training schedules were somehow out of sync with the racing calendar.
"My training program consisted mostly of nutritional training," such wisdom from Darric.  His secrets were Pek Kio mee pok amongst many other secret recipes.
Mabo-ness defined this very moment.
All of us arrived in Perth in varying states of preparedness and varying states of wellness.  Not everyone was 101% fit like Jemmy.  Some were recovering from recent flu, and some were about to catch some bugs, while others were already suffering the dizzying effects of certain viruses.  Somehow on starting the engine of the Kia Carnival, I had a feeling that this was going to be quite an eventful trip, to what extent I simply could not fathom.  But looking back, I was very impressed by how each and everyone dealt with his bodily discomfort and aligned his mind to the monumentous task of finishing the race.

Busselton Guesthouse host Mike was just as welcoming as ever. For the first time our convoy of three cars arrived around 5pm on Thursday, the 4th May 2017.
"It's lovely to see you all again!" the pony-tailed giant welcomed in his deep, booming voice. "You guys booked all the rooms except for one. So you literally have the whole guesthouse to yourselves." Well, that was the idea.
Dinner at Vasse.  Alamak.. Gerard must have gone to order beer lah.
Dinner at Vasse a kilometre away filled our stomachs with the huge portions of steaks and fish. The weather was somewhat milder this year compared to the previous two. The forecast of the temperature for race day was consistent with the warmer trend, to our consolation, though personally I would prefer a couple of degrees colder.
The boys noticed the immediate rejuvenation of Ann Kheen upon laying hands on his beloved bike.  "Hey, how come you
got no more neck pain liao ah?" noticed an observant Gerard very soon after we started assembling our bikes.
Darric's bike assembly was the swiftest.  This good man had his music at full blast.  That must have been his secret.
"Alamak! PL's front wheel inner tube puncture liao! Any one got extra inner tube?" asked Gerard.
I always found it amazing to be among these good people in assembling our bikes because it was always fun and not without troubles. This round with seven bicycles strewn all around the patio at the back, we made quite a racket enjoying ourselves.   I believed Mike foresaw that seven bicycles would really mess up his pool room and thus cleverly assigned the patio at the backyard for the storage of the bike cases and for us to assemble and disassemble the machines.
Jemmy was the most relaxed. "Wow you opened your bike case and just stared at it for a good 15 minutes," said Gerard.
Jemmy staring at his opened bike case for 15 minutes. 

Personally I believed Jemmy was simply quietly calculating the fastest and easiest way to get his cockpit and seat post connected to the bike frame, a troublesome burden that was taken off his mind when the ever-helpful Charles gave a hand.
Charles about to throw down his own bike to go across and make the calculation for Jemmy.
[Photo: Ann Kheen]
Every year there were bound to be some technical difficulties during the bikes assembly and this year was no exception. The special way Jemmy's Specialized rear derailleur mounted gave the group quite a bit of headache.  And PL's F10 front and rear brake levers were clamping the wheels tightly.
"Hey, how come your rear fork the catch faces the back one ah?" we all wondered of Jemmy's bike.
"Ok you guys just have to trust me," said Ann Kheen. "Darric you hold the brake clamps steady while I release the cables."
And his technical shrewdness opened up the unaligned brake pads.
Our bikes all ready to go to sleep while we went to bed.
"Can we really leave the bikes here in the open patio? Really meh?" we asked Mike.
With a wave of his hand, he replied: "Just leave 'em there.  They will be safe."
"Well, I have a lock here.. let me try to lock 3 or 4 bikes together," after living 16 years in Melbourne, Charles definitely knew Australians better than any of us.

The Test ride
7am. Friday, 5th May 2017.

The VIDEO: Click below to watch our test ride!
I woke up and opened the back door of my room to check if the bikes were still there.  They were all still safe and sound.
The boys were up early to prepare for the ride.  Charles was ever so systematic.  Checking the forecast he noted that it may rain soon.
"Let's do the ride quickly before the rain comes," I said.
Gerard was very careful to be wearing an outer jacket to keep himself warm for the test ride.
"These KASK tri helmet can only be used in such weather," said Charles and Ann Kheen.
"It's good to do a test ride," said Gerard. "Because we need to make sure that our bikes work properly after the transport and the assembly."
Darric was really feeling very cold this morning.
"Wah lau eh.. it's so cold," exclaimed Darric. "My fingers are all frozen."
Mine too. The 8 degrees Celsius morning breeze tore through my digits as our bikes followed the actual race course along Marine Terrace, and out along Layman Road towards Ludlow forest. The feeling of shiok-ness came back to me as my body started to warm up, though I could not deny that I was still cold-fingered at the end of the ride.
"Hey, Wee How... your TT position seems to be still very high leh," observed Ann Kheen. [Here a lovely shot
of yours truly by Charles as I cycled behind him.]
At the car park just before the turn. [Photo: Charles]
At the entrance to Ludlow forest at Tuart Drive.
At the bridge over the river, at our U-turn back towards Busselton Jetty at the start of the forest. [Photo: Charles]
We missed our turn along Layman Road and ended up crossing a small bridge to Navigation Drive. 
The two Australian cyclists who cycled across the bridge despite the 'Cyclist must dismount' sign said: "It's just a recommendation!"
What lovely mentality the Australians have!
"Cheong ah!" shouted Ann Kheen as he aero-ed his way past me back on the return leg.
The return leg along Marine Terrace. [Photo: Charles. Taken as Jemmy and Ann Kheen cheonged alongside Charles.]

I could see all the happy faces around me that they were all pleased with how positively their bodies responded to the cold weather on the ride.
Full rainbow always meant good race.
The full rainbow at the transition area.
The sight of a full rainbow before us as we approached Busselton jetty brought on exclamations. It was a good omen, as full rainbows always were.
"Come take a shot of us with the rainbow behind," requested PL.
The mandatory Busselton Jetty shot.

Banana in Busselton, and yogurt in Bintan - the staple food for the Chews.
Mike's Full Monty breakfast was a welcomed warm meal for the boys and girls after the cold ride.  I love his Ang Moh breakfast of bacon, hash brown, omelette, sausage, tomato and mushrooms.  Add onto that the cereals and orange juice, it's really a wholesome breakfast just right for a race.

The SLIDESHOW: Click on Play below to watch the slideshow!

Created with flickr slideshow.
The ladies were out to have fun.

Wine, cheese and honey

Though not a wine person, I had always enjoyed the tour of the vineyard around the Margaret River region.
"Let's just get ourselves oriented first by visiting the Margaret River Visitor centre, then we will plan from their," suggested Gerard.

And the resourceful Elaine got the vineyards lined up and the restaurants ticked, with two of them at the helm, the group moved swiftly from destination to destination.
The troupe toured Xanadu vineyard. The only notable event at this winery was when Ann Kheen found out that both Jemmy and myself had the quick-release plate on our Forerunner 920XT watches.
"Wah lau, that would be convenient," he lamented. "For me I have to twist my Garmin inward on my wrist whenever I am on the bike."
"Alamak, you never ask us mah," Jemmy never missed any chance to poke fun at him. "Or else I would have told you to buy this."
The Xanadu
Jemmy and his Margaret River-acquired A$100 Crocodile Dundee hat.
The SLIDESHOW: Click on Play below to watch the slideshow!

Created with flickr slideshow.
The famous Australian ice cream at Margaret River Chocolate Co,.

Finding further nothing fantastic at Xanadu after a round of wine-tasting, we continued to enjoy ice creams at The Margaret River Chocolate Company.   The clock ticked 1:30pm by the time we came to Knotting Hill.   Somehow the cosy ambience of this magical little winery loosened everyone more.   Seated at a couple of tables outside, the husbands and wives threw friendly barbs at each other. Jokes flew, and laughter filled the sun-bathed veranda.

Gerard's drone was a conversation piece, navigating at various levels of the stratosphere, eliciting squeals of excitement from the recipients of its attention. Cheese and salami were aplenty and wine flowed glass after glass, increasing heart rates and reddening cheeks.
"Wow, this shot of me is fantastic! I'm going to make it my profile picture!" declared Jemmy when he saw a shot of him on my iPhone 7 Plus. I believe Jemmy must have been under the effects of the reds, rather than from the renown photographic capabilities of this iPhone.

"Wah this scene is nice! I also want... Ann Kheen and me," said Viena, to which my iPhone gladly obliged.
The winter of Western Australia meant that the sun set early. By 3:30pm the sun was so low in the sky that it felt almost like evening.
"Is this lunch or dinner?" someone asked.
"No lah. This is only snack. Lunch will come later," joked Darric. Yes, on a trip like this, meals merged into meals and there was no distinction between breakfast, lunch or dinner.

The gently undulating terrain from vineyard to vineyard almost lulled the passengers of the smooth cars to sleep as the afternoon drew on. We were all impressed by the performance of the Kia Carnivals from Hertz.
Gerard's video of the Xanadu and Knotting Hill...


Our final destination was the Barnyard, a winery that also had Jarrah honey, a naturally bacterio-cidal remedy.
"Darric, must buy the honey this time round lah," Serene and I reminded him.

Dinner of steak, pasta and fish at the Equinox right at the Busselton jetty was another delight as Elaine never failed to impress us with her selection of restaurants and suggestions. It was a pleasant surprise to meet up with my good friend Ian Lee at The Equinox, who was there to race with one of his buddies. This established Ironman was most likely using Busselton as a warm up to his coming race in the USA.

The cold weather must have taken a toll on us tropical-dwellers. Among those of us seated at the dining table, AK was having a progressively worsening hoarse voice, Charles was nursing a post-infectious cough, while Darric and I were starting to feel some throat pain.
"Shit. This inability to talk makes me feel like a baby, want to cry but cannot cry out," complained our Russian-made rifle.
"I better don't share my carbonara with you all, in case I pass my bug to any one of you," Charles was forever the gentlemen.

Tong Geng!

The boys laughed when they found out that I had never played a proper full game of pool in my life. My initiation into the game of pool was made even more bewildering as Darric the hustler and Charles the thinking soldier demonstrated their prowess. Of course Gerard was an old bird in this, and the bankers were there to prove that they both were forces to be reckon with.
"Ka-jee lah!" shouted Darric.
"If like that also cannot pot, better chop into million pieces!" added Gerard.
"Tong geng ah!" chorused the boys.

"Wah lau, Charles you very clever ah, you snooked me ah!" kao-behed Gerard. "This Charles huh, his jump ball very good ah!"
"One cue game liao lah!" said Darric, as the games wore on through the night. "Spider big big ah!"
It was an eye-opener for me. And it really set the tone for the next day.

Athlete Check-in and Funky Trunk 1000m swim
7:30am. Friday. 6th May 2017.

Early in the morning, our Russian rifle came in moodily to breakfast.
"Why you so glum?" I asked.
"I feel worse. My sore throat is so bad that I cannot talk." he replied.
"Of course lah. It's only fair mah. Somehow Upstairs must even the playing field for the rest of us mah. If you are not sick, you will Tong Geng all the way on race day liao mah." I explained, and all the boys exploded.
And the whole breakfast Jemmy gleefully fired away, with AK unable to rebut, while we all laughed ourselves crazy.
It was another cold morning with the mercury standing at 10 degrees.
The four wives were ushered off by a tour guide on a vineyard, cheese and food tour of Margaret River, scheduled for almost the whole day from 9:10am till 5pm.

The SLIDESHOW: Click on Play below to watch the slideshow!

The wives touring Margaret River... Created with flickr slideshow.

The athletes check in was really efficient, and the Expo sales were abundant this time round. I found myself happily grabbing the nice running T-shirts for the children, and also a 2XU Tri suit at a huge discount (Jemmy also got the exact one from the same stall) plus a luminescent lime full-fingered cycling glove (following in Darric and Jemmy's advice) to counter the cold ride. I was also happy to find two compression wraps that could be frozen in the freezer before application.
Photo: taken with the help of an Ang Moh female official
In the registration tent.

Families and children ran round the signature Busselton tall triple white tents. The uniquely cheerful Australian greetings permeated the crispy air, and it felt like... Busselton all over again.
The abundant sunshine belied the cold. The sun was beating on our skin but the wind was still slightly biting.  Back in tbe guesthouse we were all getting ourselves ready for the 12pm Funky Trunk swim.

The VIDEO: Click on Play below to watch the video!
"Oh so this Funky Trunk swim is actually a race, an event in itself!" Jemmy just realised. "Oh I thought it was really only a test swim. Ok lah. Also good lah. I have never used my wet suit before."
"Huh? You never test out your wet suit back home in the swimming pool?" I was quietly surprised. Actually theses few chaps are fantastic competitive swimmers. And swimming is really their thing. In all our events together they had always emerge from the water way ahead of the field. That's really a great advantage.
The Busselton Expo had always excited me

12pm.  We made it just in time for the Funky Trunk swim.

Immersed waist-deep in the cold sea water, reality finally set in.  And cold was not exactly that much of a worry.
"It's not that cold leh," remarked Darric. I agreed. The water wasn't that cold on this day.

The rest of the boys and girl were looking mighty fine. This was going to be a good swim, I was sure.
"Wah the wet suits really kept our bodies warm," said Ann Kheen and Jemmy unanimously. Indeed. I need not pee into my wet suit on this day. It was cold, but in a comfortable way.
"POOOOOOOORRRRR!" Went the horn. And we were off.
The swim was great. Memories came flooding back to me and Kit Chan's song started. The buoyancy was really remarkable. And the Australian men and women disappeared ahead of me before I even reached the first buoy.
I had only one goggle in good condition this race and it was my tinted Aquasphere Kayenne. I was tempted to get a clear one (my clear transition Zogg Predator was already in too used a condition although I did bring it along), but I decided that I should just make do. If the Ang Mohs can use tinted goggles then I can too.
There was quite a bit of current 500m out into the sea. As always I had mighty trouble trying to sight the buoys. I tried following a swimmer but she (yes she!) was too fast for me. Resorting to sighting once every 6 strokes and employing three breast strokes when I really needed to sight accurately, as taught to me by Ann Kheen, I managed to not deviate too much.
It was a good swim. I didn't feel kan cheong. The feeling was generally good. I wasn't fast, but just comfortable. Emerging from the water, I see Ann Kheen and Jemmy both standing chit chatting at the beach.
"Hey guys!" I called out to them.
The official came to me asking for my tag number. I took a look at him and suddenly I just lost my balance and crumbled into a heap at his feet. "Wooah wooah.. steady. I got you," laughed the official, for this was a common phenomenon amongst swimmers from hotter climates who weren't used to the sea and the cold.
This is a vaso-vagal syncope kind of reaction, as Charles explained later, due to a sudden drop in blood pressure due to pooling of blood in the lower limbs and also partly due to the cold water causing probable imbalance in the ear organs.
"Wah lau, I couldn't breathe in the water just now!" cried Jemmy as I stumbled towards them. "Just now I almost wanted to raise my hand and say I give up. The wet suit was so tight! I am really humbled by this swim. Man, this is really going to be a triathlon finally, instead of the usual duathlon."

I turned and looked at Ann Kheen.
"Shit, man... I couldn't take full breaths at all with the wet suit constricting my chest," complained Ann Kheen. "I could only take two-thirds of a breath. And it felt like I was hyperventilating."

Charles emerged right behind me. "Wah.. I veered so much off course. I had difficulty sighting. And when I came out of the water I felt giddy!" I could only smile at these three good men for I shared their sentiments.
We all looked back and saw GT and PL coming out of the water.  Suddenly the big man seh-ed to one side and had to be held.  Although it felt funny at that time, but this giddiness happening to so many of us not used to the water conditions in this part of the planet really was frightening.

The VIDEO of the Test Swim & Bike Check-in: Click on Play below to watch the video!

Gloomily the boys and girl walked back after the test swim. It was both funny and scary to see ourselves in this state. Funny because it was really quite a scene seeing ourselves in a state of disbelief. And scary because if even our strongest of swimmers suffered a temporary loss of confidence then what about those of us who were much weaker?
Back at the guesthouse many of us took a nap. I remember PL asking Mike our host what was the chance of a shark attack at Busselton?
"Well, it's really really very low," replied our host, echoing the same reply from a race official the day before when posed with the same question by PL "Your chances of having a shark attack here in the waters of Busselton is lower than your chances of being run over by a car when you cross the road!"was what the official told PL.
These replies were absolutely reassuring... at least to me.  Shark attack was the last thing I needed to worry about.
Lunch of Burger at Vasse.

Bike check-in at 4pm

The latest time for bike check-in was 5pm.  At about 4pm, soon after lunch we cycled to the transition to rack our bikes.  The point of discussion among the boys and girl was if we should release some air from the tyres after we racked the bikes.  Some felt that the cold would pose little risk, but others thought it may be more prudent.
The other point that I learned was, for Di2 bikes, it would be important to use a bike cover to cover at least the seat post and rear derailleur part as the dew or rain may cause circuitary issues the next morning.

Dinner and an early night sleep

The ladies were marvellous. Wendy, Elaine, Viena and Serene organised dinner, da-bao-ing pasta and Chinese dinner and wine (of course those of us racing hardly touched them) and at 6pm we all sat around the dining table slowly enjoying our last carbo-load before the race.
I was so grateful for this dinner for it saved us the trouble of having to drive out for a meal. Instead we were able to settle down and focus on the next day.
"Man, I am humbled." Jemmy kept repeating even during dinner.
"Hmmm... maybe we should kick stronger as we approach the end of the swim," suggested Charles. "To increase the blood flow to our head."
"Why don't you try wearing the calf compression under the wetsuit?" I suggested. "Last Year during the race I did that I didn't remember feeling giddy leh."
"My arms are aching," Darric complained.  Quietly I admitted to Darric that mine were too.
Hahaha.. it really was quite a gloomy night as we got ready to sleep. I was sure the guys would find their swim much better the next day, because the test swim would invariably bring to the surface our weaknesses.
"I am going to sleep at 8pm," I was serious about sleeping early.
I found from previous races that an 8pm sleep the night before, a relatively heavy lunch but a generally lighter dinner, would put me in a better state for the event.  I had also learned that on race day, having a light breakfast of complex carbohydrates and some coffee about two hours prior to the flag off would make it easier for my stomach at the start of the race.

On this night, my mind kept drifting back to what I read recently, about the power of visualisation. About visualising myself swimming strongly on the swim, coming out of the water and slipping into T1 without feeling breathless; seeing myself pedaling smoothly on the bike, fully focussing on my form and powerfully visualising myself running strongly off the bike and in a consistent cadence, keeping myself 'in the zone' as what Jemmy said a night before, all these while with Kit Chan's song in my mind.
It was a lot of self-psycho-ing: "Difficult? Yes. Impossible? No!"
Slowly I drifted off into sleep...

Race Day

4am. Sunday.  7th May 2017.

I awoken to my alarm, and was astonished by how fresh I felt. Charles was already up since 2:30am, and Darric came into the dining room soon after us.
Our simple breakfast of cereals, toast, milk and orange juices with coffee was ready. And Mike helpfully promised us our egg to be served at 5:30am after we returned from preparing our transition. Viena woke up at the same time to make sure we were all ok.
Ann Kheen ate in hush voice.
Special order of omelette.  Kindly obliged by Mike.
The mercury stood at 11 degrees Celsius, with a forecasted wind speed of 15km/h.
The transition area opened at 5am, the exact hour when we started walking quietly from our Guesthouse with our barang-barangs. Everyone was deep in his/her own thoughts, as was so common before a race, each with his/her own set of objective and own set of worries.
"Eh eh take a shot of them walking," urged PL.  I lifted up my iphone 7 Plus. 
It did the job, though the shot was noisy.
For me, I just hoped that I wouldn't get a puncture and I wouldn't bonk on my run. My plan was very simple - I would give myself one packet of Clif Blok gel before and after the swim, gulp down half a bottle of Elo water in T1, and let myself have 2 packets of Clif Blok gels every hour on the bike (400 Cal an hour), hydrating myself with 2.7 litres of Elo water and whatever additional Endura isotonic I could lay my hands on for the three hours odd cycle route. For the run, I had prepared a 600ml bottle of Elo water and 6 packets of Clif gel for the whole three hour estimated run duration. So that was settled.
Early early morning weather cold cold, but heng ah.. my bike was still dry.
This was my third time doing Busselton's 70.3.  Understandably it would come with a certain level of expectation of my own self.  Last year I was sorely disappointed with my finishing time and my severe lack of conditioning.  Quietly I was hoping this round would see me suffer lesser.  Gerard and Darric had previous experiences in Busselton and this was mostly a renewal of their 'membership'.  What was most exciting was for the new comers - PL, Charles, Ann Kheen and Jemmy.  The new course and environmental conditions were a brand new challenge.  They were some of the best racers among our team, and they were here to break their own Personal Bests.
Mine and Darric's flag off was at 7:19am, the light blue cap wave. And the rest of the boys were in the silver cap wave, and girl in the yellow cap wave, both which were scheduled for flag off at 7:45am.
And Wendy so generously volunteered to drive us all the way to Georgette Road in our respective waves, saving us the trouble of wearing slippers and the outer wear! That was really a great idea. I felt so grateful to Wendy and our loyal supporters.

THE SWIM LEG- Flag off!

"Darric let's remember to pee in our wetsuit," I said, as we warmed up at the beach just next to the jetty at 6:55am.
It was indeed a warmer morning compared to both my previous races, but I didn't want to be complacent. The elements and the uncertainty of the sea were against us. I looked around and was surprised to find lesser Asian faces this year. The Ang Mohs were ever so relaxed, joking and smiling and doing their warm ups.
How did I feel on this morning? I felt ok. A little nervous, but this time round I believe I was less jittery, and I could smile and joke like the Ang Mohs... finally.  Looking afar, we were able to see the buoys clearly in the low light of early morning - white, white, yellow, yellow and yellow; and then a right turn and once more straight back towards the shore- a clockwise swim route that was great for a right sided breather like me.  But where were the ropes holding the buoys together?  There were no ropes to be seen.
It was after the race that Gerard said: "Alamak, now I remember! There are no ropes on the swim course! Only buoys! Aiyah.. so cannot swim along the ropes!"
"Wee How you go in front leh," said Darric.
"No lah... siao ah! I am going to stay right at the back with you. These swimmers are very strong."
"One more minute to flag off!" announced the official.
"POOOOOORRRR!" finally the horn sounded.

The VIDEO: Click on Play below to watch the video!

Goodness.  Here we went, yet again.  I forgot how much I disliked the feeling of my heart in my throat right at the beginning of a tough course.
Reminding myself to slow down my stroke rate and not overrun myself right at the start, I kept singing my song. I looked around to see if I could spot any of the fish I saw last time. Somehow the water appeared a tad more murky. The seabed wasn't clearly seen. What a disappointment it was to me.   I was looking forward to a crystal clear sea, like I remembered it the first time I was here two years ago. Our wave was mainly male participants with very few females.  Very quickly I was dropped far behind the wave and swimming almost on my own.
Buoy by buoy I sighted.  My difficulty, as I discovered, was that upon reaching one buoy, I had to reign myself in and avoid blindly surging forward before I successfully sight the next buoy.  The other issue I found was, due to the current, many times as I looked up and sighted, I only saw the crest of a wave and nothing else.  Stopping and going into breast stroke really did help at times like these.
Ann Kheen surging out of the water. [Photo: Viena]

For swims like these I preferred not to chup my timing en route but to just make it to the end. And made it to the end I did, smiling happily as my hand touched the seabed and I ran out.
"Dar, well done, Dar!" shouted Serene on my left on the run up the sand.
And the next moment I was sprawled all fours on the sand. This time round it wasn't because of the giddiness but because it was a gentle sandy up-slope I was running against.  Haiyah... there went my hope for a stylish swim out.

The silver and yellow cap wave boys and girl did well.  Jemmy came up with a screamingly fast swim time with little of the pre-race jitters the day before, followed very closely by Ann Kheen, slowed down merely because he experimented with doing back strokes to see if that would ease breathing.
Charles follows closely.  And Darric made a respectable swim time with all his focus on nutritional training.
"I followed your advice and used some breast strokes to sight several times," said Charles later to me. "And that really helped me keep my course."
[Photo: Elaine]
Charles after a much more successful swim this time round. [Photo: Viena]
The buoyancy that pleased so many of us put Ann Kheen off, in contrary.  The extra buoyancy brought his legs up above the surface of the water, even when he swam breast stroke and he found it most inefficient.  Quire remarkable was his swimming prowess.  While AK was focussing on getting his legs to sink more, I was focussing on relaxing my arms during the recovery phase to conserve energy.

"Somewhere after the start of the swim, I tried to turn around to do back stroke, so that I could relieve the tightness on my chest caused by the wetsuit.  But that rapid turn made me feel giddy, so I quickly turned back to front crawl," bemoaned AK.  That might have cost him a couple of minutes.  I was impressed how easily an experienced swimmer like AK could employ various strokes to their advantage. 
"I was so glad to have the neoprene head warmer," PL was delighted. "It kept my ears warm and it really made my swim so much more comfortable."

With each stroke I tried to extend my reach further out front.  Constantly I tried to focus on keeping my legs as streamline as I could muster.  It was not incorrect to say that I was here for a revenge on my own swim time.   Still, the Ang Mohs surged ahead, disappearing from my sight into the half murky waters.  I could only swim among some of the slower stragglers.  Apparently not Jemmy as this fast swimmer announced after the race:
"I was actually swimming among the Ang Mohs, and today's race felt so much better!"
Darric was really good - swam at a steady pace and emerged full of petrol. [Photo: Elaine]
PL was having a good swim slightly ahead of GT, when he suddenly experiencing some weird vestibular sensation that required stablising by grabbing onto a buoy, a sensation that was almost as if he had a premonition that something sinister was going to happen.  This brave man continued buoy to buoy despite the vertiginous symptoms and at a distance of merely two buoys from the end of the swim, suddenly a loudspeaker announcement rang out on the beach:

"Shark sighting halts swim leg of Busselton 70.3 Ironman" ~ Mandurah Mail.  [Click to read more]

And everything became a blur of action. The wives on the shore were desperately looking for the swimmers.
"Wee How, Darric, Jemmy, Ann Kheen and Charles are out already. Where are PL and GT?" they texted each other frantically on whatsapp.
The safety helicopter descended almost to the water level and all the kayaks were in. In an instant, a few tens of jet skis sped out towards sea, surrounding the swimmers. Unknown to our supporters, PL had just left the water.
"I turned around on my back to rest but immediately the whole world just started spinning," recounted GT of his harrowing experience. "I had to hold onto the buoy. One swimmer swam by and asked me if I was ok.  Then suddenly the jet ski came. 'Get up NOW!', the official shouted.  I started to question but another participant told us it's 'not up to us to question the officials. So just get up!'.  And as we held onto the rope the jet ski sped back.  It was so fun I really enjoyed it and I had to smile all the way.  I really thought I was disqualified already.  But still I continued to cycle and run. And I didn't even know there was a shark sighting until the end of the race."
"You didn't tell the life guard to do it 'again! Again! Again!' ah?" joked Ann Kheen at the end of the race.
So it was official.   PL's prediction of the possibility of a shark sighting during the race really came true. And it was the first time in 300 races here in Busselton that a shark sighting took place during an event. 
While most of us were either swimming with the Ang Mohs way in front, or playing in the water with the shark at the back, Darric was leisurely gliding through the water.  He recalled being quite comfortable even after the swim. He cleverly conserved his energy all through the swim.  Charles who wore his calf compression underneath his wetsuit really experienced no post-swim giddiness.
Gerard swaying gingerly out of the water after the shark saga... In the background was a whole navy of
jet-skis, speed boats... all safety procedures were carried out to to dot.
[Photo: Official Finisherpix]

So what happened to Gerard when the swim was truncated and he was jet-skied back to shore?  Our experienced triathlete laid on the ground for a long while in Transition 1, as he bravely fought off the vertigo, after which he got up to continue the race.  An admirable spirit he had.  I don't think I would be as strong-willed as he had I been in his position.
Gerard on the bike out after bravely fighting off his vertigo in T1.


My brand new luminescent lime green gloves were difficult to pull on.  And I spent some time putting them on. Everything else was slow and steady.   I was among the earlier waves and that most likely explained why there were still quite a number of bikes racked.
Adjusting my shoes' velcro strap after slipping into them, right out of the transition. [Photo: Serene]
Being on a Tri bike made some differences to my bike leg.  I don't believe I am any better a cyclist this round.  If anything I should be worse off as a result of a severe lack of long rides.  The Tri bike definitely made it easier. The momentum carried me forward.
Gerard going strong post-shark, post-vertigo... sans ankle chip. [Photo: Official Finisherpix]

Loaded with 2.7kg of Elo water and heavily laden with 8 strips of gels most likely did little to slow me down on such a flat course.  The headwind on the way out was heavy.   But the tail wind on the return leg gave wings to the bike. I don't think I had ever had a better cycling experience than this.  The Elo water kept my heart rates really low, averaging about 130 only.  I had to constantly remind myself not to push it too hard for fear of flooding my thighs.
The lowest aero position in the whole group.  None other than Ann Kheen. [Photo: Official Finisherpix]

"The ride leg was so nice!" another unanimous exclamation from Charles, Ann Kheen and Jemmy at the end of the race. "The weather was so beautiful."
Charles on his Cervelo S5. [Photo: Official Finisherpix]

"I didn't even need to stop at any of the water stations on the cycling leg," recalled Jemmy.
"I just cycled a very steady pace and I was surprised that at the end of the ride I was not tired," said Darric later.
Even rounding a turn, Ann Kheen refused to look up beyond the 3 m in front of him, to shave off a few seconds.
[Photo: Official Finisherpix]

"I was all the way in the aero position except for that very few times when I was making turns," said Ann Kheen. "This new Tri bike's CG is so low it is easier to ride.  And the disc brakes means that I can brake much later just before making a turn and thus waste less time."
"Luckily after a while in T1 my giddiness went off, and I was able to continue cycling," a very relieved Gerard continued.
[Photo: Official Finisherpix]

For me the eye-catching gloves made it difficult for me to hold on to my gels and somewhere at the 40km mark, I fumbled and dropped one in the process of trying to open it. "Damn it!" I quietly thought.  "Never use anything new and untested on race day."

The gloves were not without their admirers.
"Nice gloves!" shouted the volunteers along the side, and I just gave them my lime green thumbs up.   Even Serene mentioned that having the lime green gloves made it easy for her to spot me on the bike route.

I kept to my regime of one 200Cal Clif Blok gel every half an hour, coupled with small sips of Elo water.  Admittedly still, I suffered a twinge of cramp on my left calf about 70km into the ride, which I preferred to think it was due to my lack of conditioning.
Many of the usual lean and muscular Ang Moh men AND women overtook me on their disc-wheels... 'shwoom-shwoom'-ing as they passed.  On the bike leg, I saw Gerard once cycling in the opposite direction, and once I spotted Jemmy.  But I didn't see Charles, PL, Darric nor Ann Kheen.  Perhaps I was too much 'in the zone'.
"Hey you can be in the zone when you run, the most you bang someone in front. But on the bike leg you cannot be in the zone one leh.. cos otherwise you cannot focus on the surrounding and it could be dangerous," reasoned Jemmy afterwards, elaborating on his 'in the zone' theory.
Gerard cleverly tweaked his set up into an Enve 3.9 wheel set.  [Photo: Official Fhinisherpix]
Ann Kheen added some time later: "When I am in my aero-position, I don't look too far.  Only about 3m in front of the bike.  But I do occasional sightings."  when I complained that it was difficult for me to raise my head high to see further ahead.

"Ann Kheen and Charles are always very focussed when they are cycling and running one, and by the time they spotted us supporters they would have zoomed past us already," laughed Viena, explaining why it was hard to find Ann Kheen and Charles.
Charles catching up on the bike leg. [Photo: Official Finisherpix]

The difference between the cycling leg this year compared with the last, was that despite a higher average power output, I was suffering lesser.  The short but sub-threshold sessions on my trainer might have given me some extra mitochondria in the thigh cells.  I willed myself to ease off on the gear and just spin and spin.  "Don't fight the wind!" the self-thought kept me from the reflex push against the headwind on the out leg towards Ludlow forest. "Go easy.  Conserve the thighs to cheong when the tail wind comes out the leg back towards the town."

Somehow it worked this time round.  On the tail wind part, my bike managed to fly at 35km/h.  Monitoring my average speed closely, I was happy that it maintained around 29-30km/h.  It may not be a great deal, but it was my best average speed ever on a race.
I couldn't help but again ponder the analogy between real life and racing.  It was really all about conserving.  Every bit of life was like a coin deposited into the bank of life.  We could choose to splurge on our savings, or use it wisely bit by bit, and making it last.  Some are luckier, because they have more savings than others, and can afford to cheong a littler harder at certain time.  But for most people, a steady expenditure of one coin by one coin was the more prudent way of living.
By some stroke of luck I was able to finally establish an average speed of close to 30km/h for my ride. I was secretly pleased with myself for that.  But in retrospect I now know it came at a price. At the dismount line my thighs were so wobbly I just fell with the bike because I couldn't run off properly.  Fortunately I sustained nothing more than a bruised ego.   Imagine- I fell on the swim in, and I fell on the bike in.  Serene would be complaining I was clumsy again.


Transition 2 turned out faster than transition 1 for me, understandably because it's simpler.
I was soooo happy to see the wives as I began to run out. [Photo: Serene]
"Wee How!" called out our loyal supporters on the Run-out on my right as I passed the timer belt - Elaine, Wendy, Viena and Serene were all there cheering me on.
Ann Kheen right on my heels out of T2, busily chewing on his banana.
[Photo: Serene]

I felt good. The thighs held. My ankles felt no pain (yet) and my knee was fine (still). I knew I had to bo chap my pace. I needed to simply complete and I could ill-afford to flood my thighs with lactate like I did the year before. So off I jogged at a mid-8 minutes pace, with a bottle of Elo in my hand.
Very soon after making the first U-turn at the 3.5km mark, Charles suddenly overtook me.
Charles came out of T2 very quickly. [Photo: Serene]
"Wee How, hey come... let's go!" Charles called out as he passed me.
"Wah lau Charles," I was lost for words. All my 26 minutes of head start was reduced to nought as Charles overtook me on the run. "Charles you go ahead. I gotta run my own pace!" I was truly impressed with this very humble man. He trained hard but smart despite knee issues, and he really showed how good he could be.
Jemmy sashay-ing out of T2. [Photo: Serene]

Not long after that Jemmy called out to me from the opposite direction. Wah lau... my heart sank. I was trying my best to keep running away ahead of these guys, but these good men finally still managed to catch up with me, despite their significantly later start. I tried consoling myself: "I am not racing against anybody else but really against myself. It's a race to see how much I can beat my own previous timing."
That made it feel slightly better.
Darric steady poom-pee-pee. [Photo: Serene]

3.5km by 3.5km, I rounded the U-turns to look for the bottle of Elo water I left under the garbage bin at the first water station. Whether real or otherwise, having that bottle of Elo at the start of every loop on the run gave me that psychological reassurance, in addition to the real physical oxygenation. But my lack of training caught up with me. Bilateral quadriceps cramp started eating into me and I begun to fear that they might just seize up half way through. I grit my teeth and kept going.
Gerard and PL eating the Australian wind. [Photo: Serene]

The weather was definitely warmer than the last two years.  The air was cool but the sun was scorching, beating on our skin.  Without a doubt the Ang Mohs were suffering once the sun hit them, although the pace with which most were running at belied that.  It never failed to amaze me how fast these young and not-so-young Ang Mohs ran, panting big breaths as they passed me, opening up their legs in their fast canters. They were certainly going at it at a level not lower than threshold, if not already anaerobic.  Impressive was their tolerance to the certain high level of lactic acidosis and their ability to keep going despite being flooded.  It must be 'the zone' that Jemmy was expounding the night before.
Almost finishing liao. [Photo: Serene]

I attempted to will myself into 'the zone' like a respectable triathlete should, and tried pushing every distraction out of my visual field.  The state of being 'in the zone' meant that our minds were numb of the pain, and merely depended on the neuromuscular reflexes that generated the cadence of running.  I really did try, but the loud pounding of the drum beat from the red and green gorillas at the side refused to allow me to drift into the meditative state totally.  At the periphery of my consciousness I was still aware of the rhythmic percussion from the music in the background.
Also almost finishing liao. [Photo: Serene]

I would be telling a lie if I said I felt no progressive pain in my thighs.  I did.  The electrolytes in the Clif Blok gels and the isotonic Endura along the way must have prevented a complete paralysis of the muscle fibres.  I searched my heart and I was convinced that the agony was no less than the year before.  I knew that my workouts on the running pavements back home were anything but sufficient. Miraculously I ran all the way with no walking, except for the obligatory stops at each water station.  I could feel my skin being chao-dared by the sun.  The evening before, Jemmy was fretting about driving out at the last minute to buy some sunblock.  But was reassured after he found out that there were sunblock stations at the transition and at the aid stations.  The Australians were anal about sun-protection.  And Sunsmart Busselton 70.3 wasn't named thus for no reasons.
This one DEFINITELY finishing liao. [Photo: Serene]

Charles was really guai, as he would apply one layer of sunblock underneath his wetsuit and let what left of it after the swim do its job.  Jemmy was shocked to hear that I usually do not apply sunblocks on the race.  But the ultimate answer came from Gerard when he reassured that as Asians our rate of skin cancer was much lesser, to which I added that our highly-pigmented skin protected us naturally.  But at this minute as I was suffering on the run, this issue was the furthest thing from my mind.  I just wanted to complete the run.
Wah lau.. this one still suffering trying to complete the second 7km lap. [Photo: Serene]
At around the 11km mark I heard a shout from my right a young lady calling out to me: "Come on! Dig deep, dig deep!"
Oh what a resonance this cheer had on me.  That was precisely the thought in my mind at that moment- times like these I just had to dig really deep from inside my whole being.  It was like running the race of our life journeys.  Time and time again, in our lives, we would encounter painful experiences, and we had to resort to introspection to find the courage and the stamina from within ourselves just so to take the next step forward; to steady our nerves and to continue to climb the stairs, despite having the whole world crumbling upon us.  So that our families and our children might continue to have rice on the tables.  Perhaps that could explain why the older athletes were successful in completing gruelling endurance events like these.  A close examination of the Australian participants running around me lent weight to this theory.  Like previous years, many overweight and older men and women demonstrated how stoic they were, pounding the pavements on the edge of the Indian Ocean, with less than perfect running forms coupled with (I strongly believed) excruciating pain in their limbs and lungs, but they still had the magnanimity to shout out an encouragement or two to equally suffering others sharing the pavements with them.  It never failed to amaze me how strong these Australian middle-aged people were.  Maybe that was the most encouraging part of Busselton 70.3.  At least to me it was.
Ann Kheen bursting through the finishing line.
[Photo: Serene]

I spotted Ian Lee speeding in the opposite direction on the run.  This Ian was really something.  Too bad he had to answer the call of nature half way through.  Otherwise he would definitely have achieve a sub-5 hours.
Charles high-fiving the supporters on the last 100m run into the finishing line. [Photo: Official Finisherpix]

By the time I made the final U-turn at the 17.5km mark, I was really digging deep into myself.  I knew by that time Ann Kheen, Jemmy and Charles would have crossed the finishing line and shaking their legs.  For me, I was going to test my endurance to see if I had any remaining petrol in me to speed up on this last leg.  I didn't.  So I accepted that and just shuffled along.


"Come on Wee How! You are almost there!" shouted the Ang Mohs.
Celebrating my own struggle to the end point were the very generous Australian supporters. [Photo: Official Finisherpix]
I made the left turn into the carpeted lane.  Smiling Australian men, women and children lined both sides of the runway.  I high-fived the rows of supporters on the last 100m.  And I was elated.  My legs could only carry me at a slower pace by this time, not any faster.  But I was contented.  I managed to shave some time off my previous two Busselton races.  That, was enough for the day.
Our shark warriors crossing the finishing line.
Ann Kheen came in so fast, his eyes still could open big!
Ann Kheen, Jemmy and Charles, together with Viena, Wendy and Elaine, were there at the finishing point to cheer me on and congratulate me.
"Wee How, go take a photo of yourself with the Finishing Towel," urged Elaine and Charles.  And Elaine took such a lovely shot of me with all my euphoria.

The VIDEO for the Finishing!: Click on Play below to watch the video!

The wives were really marvellous.  They tracked every single one of us on the website and made sure everyone cleared every timer mat and they estimated accurately when each would come in.  And their photos of us were lovely.  Sincerely our supporting wives all deserve as big a round of applause as the participants ourselves.

Celebration Dinner at Amelia Park Lodge

The SLIDESHOW: Click on Play below to watch the slideshow!

Created with flickr slideshow.

As it turned out, Gerard only heard about the shark sighting when massage physiotherapist told him about it at the end of the race.  
The post-race euphoria numbed the pain.  I had much earlier on, already begun aching all over in my thighs and arms.
"Wah.. that A something something tablet I think is wearing off already. Now I am feeling the pain in my arms and legs," noted Darric.
"I am also feeling the aches too," Charles said during dinner, to my surprise.
"Hey.. you all painful? I am painful all over liao lor," complained Jemmy. "But it's ok, I can still call myself an Ironman until 12 midnight tonight!" to all our laughter.

Elaine gotten her credit card concierge to find out a good restaurant for this celebratory dinner.  And this Amelia Lodge cane highly recommended.  It had lovely foot and lamb shank and a special lamb dish, together with his famous oysters.  Courtesy of Charles, we had lovely Reserve Shiraz to go with our dinner.  As the evening wore on, we all got progressively more rowdy, most probably a combination of effects of the wine and the fine food, and importantly from the sudden surge in endorphins from the exertion.  Of course not forgetting that the company was fabulous.  We literally cornered the little dining room at one far end of the restaurant. Far enough for some of our ordered oysters not to reach their intended consumers.  

It had been a long day.  But the boys still had energy for several more games of Tong Geng before everyone fell asleep.

FREMANTLE - A Post Event Holiday

Click on PLAY on the VIDEO:
Video by Gerard on his DJI-Gimbal-head iPhone.

It may seemed like an anti-climax but the post-race holiday was actually quite some highlights.  A short drive up north for an overnight stay in the sleepy quiet town of Fremantle, for a chance to dine in Cicarello, the famous seafood restaurant among the cacophony of noisy seagulls.

The VIDEO: Click below to watch- Busselton to Fremantle!

A failed attempt to search for any other interesting destinations in Fremantle meant we ended up having a wonderful supper of cheese, venison sausages, pate, and bottles after bottles of red wine in Room 31 at Be.Fremantle.  Again and again, this bunch of fellows never failed to impress me with all the hunour that spout from their lips and their notion of breast strokes and flying drones.  As everyone became a little more relaxed after the infusion of the reds, the wives started showing their true colours, shooting arrows at their husbands and everyone else.  

Click on PLAY on the VIDEO:
Video by Gerard on his DJI-Gimbal-head iPhone.

"Eh better close the balcony sliding door," joked Jemmy, as he gingerly closed the ajar glass panels, in case out loud banter disturbed the peace of those in slumber in the berthed yachts.
We had a great time this evening, simply chilling in this marina of yachts.

I had always loved to stand by the open sea side of the breakwater and see how choppy the Indian Ocean was.  The next morning as we were ready to leave, we took the chance to once again enjoy that scene.  I tried visualising myself swimming in a turbulent sea like this.  Frightening though it was, I believe it would be a really good learning experience.

Ann Kheen recommended Richard's, a cosy little breakfast cafe a kilometre away in the centre of Fremantle.  We were so delighted, seated alfresco, the cool air caressing, and having a coffee and a sandwich.  What a leisurely breakfast, ala Fremantle!

Perth, here we come again

A short 45 minutes drive to Perth took us right to Hay Street mall, a street away from Murray Street, in our search for the Oakley shop.  Sadly it might have zhap-lup-ed already.  And we eventually ended up in a nice little Japanese restaurant called Zen Saki to indulge in Ramen.  

The VIDEO: Click below to watch our Perth gai-gai!

"Wah this Volcano Ramen is really spicy," said Darric. "But it's really nice!"
After the obligatory roam of the Factory outlet at Wellington street across the dingy City Stay apartment, we got ourselves ready for a night out at Petition, for a degustation dinner.

The night out did us good.  Good food was always good for recovery, as well as great company and stimulating conversations.


So was Busselton a good race?  I am very sure all will agree with me on my take of this unique event.
"This race was a blast!" our colourful Jemmy can't hold back his expression. "See you again next year," he added.

I learned that Murphy's law applies even in the cold waters of Western Australia, especially when it comes to finned-mammals of the Selachimorpha order.  And PL's insight and her amazing persistence in pursuing the locals on this very matter really proved to them that even almost zero chance is not exactly null.  I admire her stoicalness.  She doesn't complain much, and she literally glides into the whole event with finesse, not letting anything much bother her.

I have had the chance to witness the tenacity in the way Gerard, determined to complete the race, did so despite the shark, the vertigo, despite forgetting to put on his ankle time chit at T1, and not having his Garmin watch restarted after the shark saga.  This man is as deep as the Indian Ocean itself.

I had the fortune of witnessing the physically- talented Charles overcome his injuries and ascend the throne of the fastest cycling time by training intensively with the best every Wednesday night.  In addition, his systematic running training proves that by doing regular short distances, he can run as quick a pace as the best bankers around.  Through all these accomplishments, no less marvellous as he was suffering from a cough, this amazing man still remains as humble as a true gentleman.

The fact that consistent and dedicated training pays off handsomely in the form of Ann Kheen's sub-6 performance with the fastest running time among the group.  A level of athletic achievement that many can only dream of.  Even more enlightening was Ann Kheen's quest for perfection in the way he tweaks his bicycle, the way he ponders his swim style.  A severe laryngitis that weakened his body did not weaken his will,  and he has shown to the world that a sick Ann Kheen is just as fast.

Importantly I have learned from Darric that one of the keys of a successful completion is nutrition.  Not any nutrition but the nutrition of the utmost indulgence.  And as Darric demonstrated in his campaign, the will power to push oneself all the way to the end, must be one of the ingredients.  Otherwise even the fastest of ironmen will still fall short of the finishing line.

A philosophy that is similarly shared and expounded by Jemmy. A strong advocate of being in the almost meditative 'zone' that characterises a state void of physical pain. He defies conventional practice in reversing his tapering order: taper first and then ramp up the intensity in the three weeks before the race, and emerges triumphant in gliding through the waters in the fastest time.

This was really a marvellous race.  In the end I realised that it wasn't a race against any of my good friends, but against the unknown and against myself.  A race that I will never forget.

Till the next race, somewhere else on earth!