Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Crash course dummies Part 1

A hitchhiker's guide for tri newbies.

it's been a week and a half now since the passing of our dear friend and i've been having mental blocks on how to write my next entry.


because i have unanswered questions which i haven't a clue how to address in order to fully move on.
because it was inconceivable how careless a race organiser can be, when it comes to safety control.
because he was a dear friend and it's hard to accept that he had died in vain if nothing was learnt from his passing.
because i still mourn.

i've been gathering my thoughts, and finding ways how to keep the fond memories and move on. how to address those nagging questions (how could nobody see he was in trouble? how could he be in trouble in the first place? why the hell did he pick such a big race as his first ever?) and how i can share with other newbies or seasoned racers so that his passing was not in vain.

my entry today and for the next 2 or 3 after this, will be in loving memory of him.

Crash course dummies - Part 1: How to pick a race
i notice there are two mindsets of people when they first pick up triathlons: those in it for the fun, and those in it for the bragging rights.

neither has gotten the concept wrong and both have the right to feel the way they do.

whether you're in it for fun or bragging rights, if this is your first time, my sincere advice to you is be humble about where you start.


because it doesn't matter what your physical fitness base is. it's also irrelevant how strong a swimmer, biker or runner you are. your first race will only spell one thing:


what people take for granted most is raceday conditions and this is only natural because we train in a friendly environment either with a group of friends or solo. i'm not sure how far the 'friendly environment' part is true to you but in my past year of training, i have not heard or said "golly, did you see the way arif punched me while we were swimming laps?" or "that was a good ride, if only bernard wouldn't suck my tail all the way only to drop my in the last few kms"

so, first thing to remember:
training (swimming laps, sunday bike rides, weekend long runs) gives you zero indication of what raceday conditions are like. no matter how big your group is.

none of us would like to admit that our egos are bigger than we think. and while some of us are blessed with a caring other half that reminds us to be humble and not be so cocky, most of us are left to be victims of our own unadmitted egos.

let me be the first: i am egoistic.

my ego, while some may think is nonexistent, is there and it's huge. why else would my motto for tris be "just do it, or die trying"? when i'm struggling uphill at 3km/h, doing my circus act (read: balancing the bike), why else would i say "i rather fall off this bike because i can't balance on it anymore than to get off and push". why else would i still feel regret for my desaru race last year when i decided to pull out because my bike chained broke 15k from transition? thoughts of "senn, you should have just pushed the bike back and did the run. you could have done it. push up hill, straddle down hill. in total in would have just been a 36k run." well, had i mastered marshal arts then, i would have fought off the marshal that told me i could not continue with my bike's condition.


you may argue that because you know me, i'm just extremely determined and admirable (bless your soul for being blind because you are fond of me :D). but i'm telling you, my determination stems from ego. this may be a little deep, but the fact that i'm admitting to an ego larger than i can carry off, is already an egoistic act on my part.

my entry today is not about condemning those with egos. that would be outright silly. egos are good. egos make us push ourselves to achieve what seems beyond our reach. egos, when managed correctly makes us confident and to a certain extend make us popular in our group.

that's right... 'managed correctly'.

egos are like those things in life that can potentially be dangerous if not managed or handled properly. knives, for example, are very much like our egos. if handled correctly, it's a very useful and probably the most needed kitchen utensil, but disrespect it and it will make you bleed. petrol is another. without petrol, the only people who will make it to meetings on time in this modern world would be the gazelles in love. can you imagine being late for a meeting and saying "sorry boss, the 40k to office had to be at recover speed because of that outstation meeting yesterday"? we use petrol with great ease and take for granted that what we potentially have in our vehicles, is highly combustible liquid.

so, how is this relevant to choosing your first race?

simple: by being honest to yourself and assessing your true ego size, you can then decide whether the unpredictable race conditions may be too overwhelming for you. you do not need to share it with anyone if you're uncomfortable, but you must assess yourself.

your first tri will be like no other races that you've been in before. you're a champion cyclists and always top 10 in cyfora races, you're a national state swimmer 3 years in a row, you're a duathalon champ in your circle of friends, you're a top track runner and an excellent marathon racer or you've only started cycling 6 months ago, you plan to swim kampung style because someone said start at the back and just waddle your way through, running is not in your vocab: none of this will matter because it will not determine the raceday conditions of your first tri.

training and physical ability is half of the body conditioning for raceday. and to me, it's the smaller half. the bigger half is mental strength.

sounds dodgy, but hear me out.

training is important. train hard and your body is conditioned (read: tortured) enough to get use to strenuous exertion on raceday. but training does not condition your body to one thing on raceday: exhiliration.

imagine, this is your first tri, you've trainned all you can. you made sure your transition area is perfect, you've heard of great tri stories, you've even picked out a race bunny. but you suddenly feel nervous. butterflies in your stomach. "will i cramp in the swim? what if i forget my gels for the bike? shit! where are my gels?? ok-ok... i've placed them right. spare tube in saddle bag, CO2... hmmm... don't think of flats!"

your mind is full of anxiety, your heart is beating in your ears and the race hasn't even started. bad news.

the guy next to you and a hundred others are feeling just like you... double bad news.

exhilaration and anxiety injects adrenaline into your veins. you're on a natural high making you brave and gungho, which equals pumped up egos. everybody there is going to do their best and with pumped spirits, they will be racing quite aggressively. and in such a condition, your mental strength to remain calm and focus on completing the race without taking unnecessary risks is vital.

so, second thing to remember:
acknowledge your ego and embrace whatever size it is so you can mange it better.

when you decide to do a race, make it part of your sanity check to ask yourself "am i comfortable with the distance, or am i just signing up because my ego says i can heck it?"

Talk to those who have done the particular race and ask them how it went. admire their hero stories but make sure you find out what was difficult about it. like, was the water choppy? how did that impact them? what was it like to ride 30km/h in the rain? were they scared? what did they do to calm themselves? how would they have raced differently? think of all the negatives and learn from them.

if you have doubts after hearing all this, try a shorter version of race. if you think you can heck it, don't stop yourself. but at least now you won't be so shocked about raceday aggression.

if you're a seasoned triathlete, do your part in ensuring your newbie friends are well aware of what they are getting themselves into. gloat about your victories but pull them aside and tell them what darkness lurk on raceday. what shit to expect and how to overcome it. if you sense that your friend may be taking a risk advice them on a 'test' race (sprint distance) instead. egg them on only if you are very sure that they will have a safe race.

they will never know how raceday conditions will be like for their first tri if you do not share your experience with them. it is irrelavant how many bike races they have succeeded in, how many channels they have swam or how many marathons they have participated. triathlons, duathlons, single sports are all animals in their own right.

my cycling guru richard, actually prohibited me from joining cyfora last year because he said i lacked the experience of handling my bike and would panic because i'll be biking a mere inch away from the next guy in a heated pelaton. and he said something really sweet: "senn, don't race because it is madness, i won't be able to take care of you when i am racing and it would worry me that you're out there being bullied"

be honest with your friends and tell them what they should think about. ultimately, the decision is theirs. but at least you have done your part as a caring friend to equip them with what to expect.

you may actually be saving a life.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Desaru International tri 2007 - a tribute to Zubir

We are very proud of Zubir for starting his first triathlon race yesterday. It is unfortunate that we were unable to celebrate his first finish with him.
A small group of us would like to make our next triathlon (Desaru) a tribute to Zubir. We are proposing a minute silence AFTER flag-off in his memory.
Tribute mechanics:
1. gather at the back of swimmers at race start
2. when the gun goes off remain on shore in a minute silence while others start the race
3. we start our race in tribute to Zubir after 1 min
4. (optional) when we cross the line we can say in our hearts/own way.. "this one's for you Zubir"
Please join us/spread the word to all that you think would be interested to join our tribute. You are most welcome to copy and paste this entry on your personal blogs to help widen coverage.
We are also open to other ideas of how to pay tribute to him during desaru

Sunday, July 22, 2007

"..see you on the bike"

We lost a dear friend at the pd international triathlon 2007, yesterday.

it was to be his first triathlon race and i shared an animated conversation with him at the starting line. as the events unfold yesterday, the surreal feeling has left me in a total blur state. while i'm beginning to doubt the reality of that conversation, my memory keeps taking me back to that scene, just minutes before his age category was flagged off.

(i apologise in advance if my captions below is an ignorant way of addressing a muslim friend that has passed on.)

senn: you ready?
Allahyarham zubir: you're going to swim faster than me!
senn: no la... you're being flagged off 5 minutes earlier!
Allahyarham zubir: makes it worst! haiyo pressure... try not to swim so fast, i'll be embarassed!
senn: but you'll get me on the bike. so, see you on the bike
Allahyarham zubir: yes! see you on the bike!

- in loving memory of zubir

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

"My bike's ok"...

... the true indication that the cyclist is ok after a big fall.

every cyclist falls. it's just a matter of whether it's a small (read: embarrassing) clipless fall or a high speed crash into the ditch.

i myself have had my fair share of falls. i fell so many times during my first month of cycling that mom stopped asking how my ride was and started asking "where did you leave your skin samples this time?"

for the record: my skin samples can be found at damansara heights, hartamas, sg long, tmn megah in front of boon foo's, en route batu arang, fraser's hill, putrajaya, cyberjaya and most recently pd.

save for damansara heights, cyberjaya and pd, the above were at fairly low or no speed clipless falls. most embarrassing of the lot would have been boon foo's and en route batu arang.

two falls in one day.

very possible if it's your first day using clipless and you did not heed your friend's advice to do clip-in/out exercises against a wall before trying them out on a ride.

i had bought it two days before, within my second month in riding, and decided to try them out at the next ride: boon foo's bikepro sunday ride, tmn megah-bt arang with mentor richard.

big mistake.

there i was, amongst giants. feeling humbled i decided to be at the back of the pack. richard asked if i knew how to use clipless.

"ok, first you clip in your right"


"then when we push off, you clip in your left"

i only heard, "clip in your left"

for some unknown reason, law of physics escaped my mine. i confidently lifted my left foot and before i realised how dumb i was to have both legs off the ground without momentum, i fell inches from the filthy drain, in front of boon foo's.

8 bikepro riders had clear view of me as they turned to hear what the crash was... 5 ahead tried but didn't really bother.

i was quite glad that we eventually lost the pack after some hard riding trying to hold on to them (ok, i'll be honest, we lost them before reaching the underpass tunnel heading to 1-Utama from boon foo's)

since richard didn't know the way too well using the excuse that his view was normally the back of someone's wheel all the way so he never noticed landmarks (show off...), we tried our best to reach bt arang.

we met another rider on the way and he decided to join us. en route to bt arang, he had a flat. richard way in front and i approached him while he was busy replacing his tube.

"need help?" i asked (what was i thinking! i didn't even know how to change a tube!)

as i stopped, my early lessons of left & right escaped me. i unclipped my right foot but have always had the tendency to stop with my left.

so, braked lightly, right foot unclipped, left foot still clipped, lean left to dismount as bike slowed down.

another big mistake....

i fell the moment i leaned left before my bike could come to a complete stop. i somehow ended up face in gravel, bike on top of me.

"need help?" he asked.. (what a strange conversation i thought...)

over time, i graduated to 'higher' speed crashes. the most scary one being cyberjaya one rainy sunday morning.

i have no recollection of what really happened because i passed out upon impact. all i remember is, wet road, turn left, darkness, open eyes, saw people around me and i'm flat on my back.

this is what arif remembered: wet road, turn left, push ahead, heard crash behind, thought "hope that's not senn", turned around, "senn!"

as arif and others fussed around me, picked me up and sat me on the side curve, bernard came up and said "don't worry, you're bike is ok.. how are you?"

i never fully understood what he meant then. and everybody thought it was funny how he was the only one that went straight for my bike when others went to see how i was doing.

i was only 3 -4 months old in the cycling group and thought "why would i care about my bike in a crash?" and "my bike?? my helmet's cracked in four places at the back, which could have been my coconut and he worries about my bike?? bike nazi..."

Some weeks later, arif had a high speed crash on the way back from genting peres. he got thrown from his bike, head first into the concrete drainage and broke his carbon bars in the process.

he had drafted too near the guy in front. his front clipped the rider's back and he went falling across the street towards the ditch. apart from a swelled groin, and a small cut just below his eye, he was ok. while waiting for support he told me what went through his mind:
"shit, i touched the wheel"
"shit, this is going to hurt"
"shit, is my bike going to be ok?"
"shit, if my bike is damaged, how much is it going to cost?"
"shit, if i get damaged how long am i going to be out of action?"

funny how one can think of so many things when everything is over within seconds. and again, at that time i didn't fully understand his need to think about his bike.

over the next few months coming towards this year, nothing too exciting happened and i eventually graduated from my faithful cow to the diva . by now, i have grown to love my cycling, my cow, and my new diva. i believed they spoke to me and while it sounds a bit psycho, i have hugged my frames occasionally as they hung from the bike rack at home. and it saddens me to see the cow looking like a carcass without wheels, groupset, or handlebars.

something changed in me over this year and i think i'm beginning to understand the natural instinct of placing your bike's well being before your own. your bike is so much an extension of yourself that to a certain extend, it feels like your baby. own flesh and blood to care for and protect.

although i try to separate my feelings and say "yes, i love my bike, i would be miserable without it, but my safety is more important", i think i have sub-consciously become a bike nazi like bernard.

i have no idea when or where it started creeping into my head and heart. i didn't even know how strong a hold it had on me until my crash at pd over the weekend.

we were approaching a junction in a group at the pd triathlon dry-run when fellow triathlete randy fell because of slippery tarmac. he got up and shouted "oil! oil!". we became cautious and turned left. as we turned, the rider in front of me skidded and fell. wanting to avoid him, i turned my wheel slightly but the tarmac was so slippery i skidded too.

as i fell, i somehow unclipped both legs and saw my bike slidding about two meters in front of me. this was what was going through my head:
"shit, guy slipped"
"shit, roads slippery"
"NOOOOOOOoooooOOOOOOOoooooo! diva's sliding on the road!"
"no-no-no... the paint....the frame... noooooooo....."

my heart cringed at the sight of the diva sliding... it felt endless and painful. i got up, picked the diva up and checked her on both sides.

at this point i still had the mantra "love your bike, love yourself more" and i had absolutely no idea how much of a bike nazi i've become until this conversation with arif as he rushed beside me:
"are you ok"
"ok... bike's ok"
"are you ok?
"my bike's ok"
"forget the bike! i don't care about the bike! are you ok?"
"o... errr, yea... am ok...."


Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Race Bunnies

Race bunnies: the ultimate race motivators

how many of us can honestly say that we've never had this thought in our minds when we first scan our competitors on race morning?:

"ah! if he can do it, i'm sure i can"

or more brutally,
"i think i'll finish before he does"

it's really demeaning/condescending to hear our thoughts out loud but none of us really had malicious intentions when we had these thoughts. besides, if there's one thing i learnt during races is that looks can really be deceiving.

so, even though it's a 50-50 chance that our thoughts may be wrong, we still do it on race morning.

why do you think that is?

some say: healthy competition
others say: checking out your competitors build your expectations for the race
i say: picking a race bunny is one of the funnest things to do race morning

my first race bunny, and for most races that she participated after that, is karen sia.

sweet, 21 year-old and an absolute gazelle in love (read post on best athlete if you're lost about the gazelle)

i first spotted karen at the a'famosa sprint last year. being a newbie, i was scanning the scene and feeling really inadequate because everybody looked very intimidating. then i saw irregular swim strokes in the midst of people warming up in the lake.

"a-ha! a struggling swimmer!"

* i must apologise before i continue (especially to karen if she finds her way to my blog). the thought had no ill intent and being a swimmer skewed TRYathlete, a weaker swimmer is a 'joy' (read: comforting) to spot on race morning of your very first tri every.

i looked at arif and smiled: "i just found me a race bunny"

and what a motivator she was! kept tell myself "keep close to the race bunny, finishing before she does is a bonus"

i finished slightly ahead of karen that day and it was a true bonus.
(but! i must say, she has improved tremendously over the year. combine that with her natural running talent, she has kicked my ass at races countless times. you go girl!)

If you haven't officially picked a race bunny before and would like to give it a go, this is how you can start:
1. separate the fluffies from the furies
There is a difference between race bunnies and head on competitors. choosing a race bunny is like choosing your single focus goal during races, it is meant to motivate and elevate personal glory if you cross the line before they do. they are not meant to add stress to your race, that's the job of the head on competitor.

the head on competitor is usually someone on par or stronger. he's someone you will constantly have in mind during training and you find yourself checking their recorded timings to see how much more you will need to train to beat them in races.

in a nutshell:
head on competitor: you know their performance level and where you stand with them. to improve, you train hard to either match or exceed their performance.
race bunny: someone whose performance you're not sure of. on first impression, they look weaker or on par. normally somebody you have not met, so beating or losing to them at races would be an unexpected outcome.

2. save it for raceday
you should only pick a race bunny on race morning itself. having somebody in mind during training doesn't count as a race bunny. it has to be on raceday because you'll sometimes see new faces that you'll like to pick and/or sometimes realise that you're not ready to take on your predetermined race bunny and would like to switch to a less intimidating bunny.

3. be personal about your bunny
the great part about race bunnies is they often do not realise you're trying to beat them. so, they are in absolute ease with you throughout the race. choose a bunny that matches your condition on raceday. if you're feeling pumped, choose a challenging one. if you feel like crap, choose a meeker bunny.

4. death by bunny
i can't emphasise enough that a race bunny is there to motivate you, not stress you during races. as such, don't kill yourself trying to keep up or beat your bunny.

it's a good day, push hard to beat your bunny.
it's a bad day, you decide that it's a matter of surviving the race more than anything else and your bunny's just pulling away from you, relax and choose another bunny that is still on course

i've switched race bunnies regularly over the past year, sometimes i even have two or three rotative ones during the entire race course. it's strange though, as much as i have switched bunnies, it's always a thrill to see karen at races.

kinda like, you'll never forget your first race bunny thingy.