Saturday, December 11, 2010

IM a Honeymooner!

The last two weeks have been a blast.

The past two months actually.

No, the last two years.

It all started on Nov 16, 2008.

I had just completed the Penang Bridge Marathon. I had traveled with Mac, Adeline and Yit Thing. Yit Thing left shortly after race and I decided to stay back an extra night with Mac and Adeline. It had been a good race. That night, we decided to go to Gurney Plaza to pass the time after a lovely celebration dinner. I clearly remember wanting to buy Ribena to enjoy it as a nightcap. As Adeline and I walked to the supermarket I checked my emails via mobile and there was an email from Arif.

A pretty long one.

A pretty sweet one.

One that made me walk the store in loops for close to 20 minutes just trying to read what it was getting at.

One that ended with four very definitive words: will you marry me?

Four words that made me happy, confused, dizzy, and forgetful of my Ribena. I didn't immediately reply 'yes' as i thought electronic proposals shouldn't count no matter how independent and modern we are. A girl's got to keep her traditions! I didn't get my Ribena either.

I finally said 'yes' in April, 2009 after he tried to rectify the situation a couple more times to a girl's liking and we decided that 10.10.10 would have been a cool date to tie the knot.

Fast forward two months back (woah! fast forward to the past - that's gotta hurt the brain a bit!)

October 2010, we tied the knot as planned.

As many know, we announced that IMWA 2010 would be our honeymoon. How else would us nutters celebrate our union, right?

Well.. that's not exactly how the story went..

In December 2009, I changed jobs. And along with that came a mountain load of work commitments. So much so that there was a chance that I would be missing Langkawi in February the coming year. Fully paid for, going down the drain.

Know how there's that Ironman line that goes "do it once, brag for a lifetime"? well, I kinda disagree with that. To me, Ironman has become a membership that you had to renew every year. And you're always just as good as your last Ironman race (so if you're still talking about your last race, move on! do a better one at your next membership renewal)

So, feeling really bumped about the possibility of missing Langkawi, Arif and I made a pact that if I did indeed lapse my annual membership renewal in Langkawi we will do it elsewhere. And to stay clear of any work commitments, we chose IMWA at the end of the year. And called it our honeymoon.

As luck would have it, i did get to race Langkawi and soon it dawned on me that 2010 was the year of the double Ironman membership renewal.

2010 passed in a blink of an eye.

First we were discussing IMWA, next we were making registrations and reservations, i was tied down with work, then we were (well, i was) panicking for the lack of training, i was working some more, then we were getting hitch, more work, then flight, then overnight at airport, then we saw the "Welcome to Busselton" signboard, then we were waking up at 3am and i was sitting on the edge of the bed eating a Vegemite roll thinking... what the hell happened?!

I had no clue what had happened but i know i was sitting there in the silence, eating my vegemite roll preparing for my second Ironman for the year.

I am under trained, overweight, and freezing.. how can this possibly be summer?

Race morning was crisp.

The cold overnight air had made my bike computer wonky, but arif skillfully fixed it. I spent a good 15 minutes stuffing my over sized butt into my wet suit as the announcer said "the water temperature is 21 degrees, wet suit optional" (optional my ass!). And the whole time i could have sworn that wet suit shrank overnight.

Waddled down to start line like a seal and tried forcefully breathing to keep warm and calm. Heard the air horn and a way we went.. most of them at least.

I am a believer of not trying anything new on raceday. So the day before, arif, dennis and i tried out our wet suit in the cold WA waters. Pretty creepy when the water seeps in through the zipper but other than that, the wet suit's kinda cool.


I experienced what many would know as the "car warranty" syndrome. Your car's warranty lasts for 2 years and the day after that, it starts to break down.

I have swam a total of 200m and a little more in my wet suit since getting it. So as the syndrome goes, come the 200m marker I was in trouble. Wet suit was too tight, I couldn't breath and I could hardly pull off a good stroke.

So, being the smart kampung chick that I am, I figured "let's unzip, we'll definitely breathe better after that"..

Bad move.

Icy waters flushed into the wet suit as soon as I unzipped. And it being a Blue Seventy suit (zip upwards to release), i had a gapping hole and soon a heavy suit. Worse still, my arms now have restricted movement.

Being smarter still, I figured "Let's just remove the sleeves, more flexibility for movement then.."

(does this girl ever learn??!)

So there I was, still at marker 200m, bopping while the rest are gone, struggling to swim with loose sleeves and a wet suit full of water. To the point that I actually panicked, thinking I was going to drown.

Did a quick mental slap and raised my hand. A marshal on surfboard came by.

"Are you ready to quit?", he says
Senn's brain: YES!
Senn's pride: Nah, just wanna remove my wet suit

The marshal looked like a frowning seagull - blank faced and doubting if he heard me right.

Although my pride kept me in the race, i didn't have much of it left the way I was wriggling on and slipping off the board trying the get the wet suit pass my childbearing hips! Soon, the marshal called for backup - a lifeguard boat.

"Are you ready to quit?", the marshal on boat said
"Nah, just wanting to remove my wet suit"
Another frowning seagull.

Mr seagull fished me out, yanked my wet suit off and threw me back into the sea.

I'm Free! I'm Free! I'm freezing... and I'm last.

The rest of the swim was a struggle with the cold conditions, the unsettling experience and of course, the lack of training. But the marshals kept close eye on me so I felt really safe.

500m to shore, my swim cap pops out of my scalp. Raised my hand again, was asked if I'm quiting again, replied no.. again.. swim cap back on and headed straight for shore.

Finally exited the swim at 1:59 and found my bike with ease!

The rest of the race was pretty usual.. last few, but consistently moving forward. This race was different though.

I have never had to deal with so many "quitting demons" before!

I was lapped by majority of the competitors by 30k on the bike and my last loop only had 8 of us cycling through it. Don't get me wrong, the supporters were great but I somehow kept feeling alone and like I wasn't going to make cut off.

Supporters called me by name. Supporters gave me great words of encouragement. Supporters egged me on. But somehow, I was lonely.

I finally crossed at 16:23, happy.

Some thought it was amazing to the point of it being disgusting that I could finish with the absence of training. Some applauded my mental strength (or as Arif calls it - stubbornness to finish). I think what helped me cross the finish line was a little luck, experience and great memories.

Lucky that I still made it back on the swim on time, lucky that i had no punctures on the bike and lucky that weather was great for the run.

Experienced enough to know that it will hurt. experience enough to know that you just have to keep at it. If you must rest, go slower, don't stop for long periods so at least you are moving forward, at whatever the speed.

Memories are my favourite weapon this time around for crossing the finishing line at IMWA. See, supporters call out my name, but they don't know me. They know my bib and that's where they know my name. They don't know my story. They don't know my journey.

As soon as I realised this, i pulled out a memory each time I felt like quiting. And I had tonnes of them!

Here are my top 10 favourites and my reciprocating thoughts:
1. Bad swim: well, i came out 2 hours at Langkawi earlier this year and still made cut off.. O! and in 2009 I had a hole in my foot! So what's finishing 1:59 in the cold?
2. Strong headwinds: far better than the scorching heat of Langkawi and those steep hills!
3. Slow bike: i think mom and dad would have drove pass me, shoot silly videos with thumbs up and call my name. I also instant replay Arif shouting he loves me from his bike going in the opposite direction.
4. Struggling to make good time buffer on bike for run: at least i can keep time. With a little imagination i can see Bandit around the corner ready to give me his watch!
5. Last few to start the run: i hear my dad egging me.. and me asking him to shut up. this memory was played repeatedly as it happens at ALL races, making it tradition and a sign that I'm gonna give it all I've got to finish.
6. Passed by runner with two loop bands and i haven't gotten my first: i hear Ishsal calculating lap times for me and saying "babe, 45minutes per 5k, you'll make it in good time". I managed a constant 1:30 every 10k throughout with this on constant mental replay.
7. I want to stop: just go a little further - Mac, Shazly and the camera gang will be there.. smile!
8. It's cold and dark and lonely and miserable: Arif going "it's ok baby. It's our honeymoon. Just have fun, finish this and we'll have a ball"
9. Stupid honeymoon: Arif "baby, this is the greatest honeymoon idea!"
10. Last 3 out here in the dark: Stupe and Aileen are walking hand in hand just ahead. keep going.

Arif and I may have traveled far for IMWA but I had my best IM memories close to heart to carry me to the finish line. It was also great to know we weren't forgotten at home.

Stupe had made great effort to record our race status. Mac was watching closely (I'm sure many others were keeping watch too) And my parents had a party for two with live streaming at home.

Dad captured my finish on screen with his iphone and made a mini video of mom doing a victory dance next to the TV. I'll post these on FB once I get a hold of it - very cute!

It was a hard race for me. Had it not been for experience and fond memories I can quite frankly say I would have DNFed IMWA. So when I crossed the finishing line, two things came to mind:
1. Yessss... now the honeymoon starts
2. maybe i should retire for a bit

But after seeing what friends back home were doing and mom's victory dance it's pretty hard to let go.

My past two weeks had been a blast. I went on leave after a year of stress at work, finished my second Ironman for the year, and had a great honeymoon.

So will I continue in 2011?

Not too sure, I have after all, renewed my membership twice this year thanks again to friends and family who continue to believe I can. Maybe I'll consider IMWA as my 2011 membership renewal and take a break.

Then again.. Arif did say the honeymoon never ends, so maybe I'll just do honeymoon IMs from now on.. :)

Monday, March 1, 2010

The year I raced amongst IRONMEN

This blog is one year in the making.

The scene was 1 March 2009. We had just finished the 2009 IM, Langkawi the day before and I had injured my foot. So, complete with crunches, Arif and I met a group of other IM finishers at Sunba in Chenang. As we excitedly exchanged our race adventures, the topic turned to feelings we had at the finishing line. Naturally, the common feeling was exhilarating and totally emotional.

Exempt one comment: “I don’t know why, but I feel nothing special or emotionally overwhelming as I cross the finish line. Sure, I’m happy, but it’s just another finish to me.”

That started my one year of understanding this comment.

Over the year, the comment flashed in my memory, especially the day before and after any race I’ve participated. While I’m sure it was a passing remark and one made by a person well deserving the IM title. It still haunted me. Thoughts ranged from “wow.. that was mechanical” to “am I overreacting?” to “maybe it is overrated after all, and only true IM finishers feel like it’s just another day. Newbies have higher tendencies of being exposed to cheap thrills”.

By mid of 2009, I have concluded that perhaps there is a difference between IM finishers and an Ironman. But I toyed with this concept without much substance for the remaining of the year..

..until last Saturday.

Last Saturday, I started and finished my fourth Ironman Langkawi (3rd if you’re anal about timing). And somewhere between 100k and 110k on the bike, the answer to my concept was revealed. It was later confirmed during the run.

To be an IM finisher you must SWIM 3.8k within 2:20, BIKE 180k within 10:30 hours from start, and RUN 42.2k within the 17 hours cut off. In between, there are intermediate cut off times for the bike and the run. Whether you train like mad or train like me (ZERO!!), you are subjected to these race regulations in order to qualify. Your materialistic rewards are a medal, finisher T, a cert and a towel. Whatever the speed, whatever the time, you just have to cross the finishing line within those time zones.

An Ironman, is a different story altogether.

Now, before I start, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing small about being an IM finisher. It’s a big feat and I admire anyone who’s at the start line regardless of how their race turned out. Like all my other entries, this is just my point of view and sharing of experience.

An Ironman, by my personal definition, is one who understands the spirit of the race.

The spirit of IM that encompasses fear, anxiety, camaraderie, compassion, support and shared glory.. just to name a few.

Because of the race distance, there is only so far your physical body can take you. Once in motion, it becomes automatic and what drives you then, is your determination and mental strength. And while we all have our purchased nutrition to keep our bodies fuelled, we only have one way to truly fuel our determination and mental strength on such distance races.

They are called supporters.

Loved ones, best buddies, strangers. Whoever they may be to you, they are out there because of you. I doubt any of them would choose a hot day of stress, paying to go to race venue just to lose they voice from cheering if they didn’t share the passion… or in this case, understood the spirit of the race.

For example, my bestest friend in the world has never supported me at Langkawi. The closest she came, was 2 hours at Putrajaya Half Ironman last October. Even then, it was only after putting her on a guilt trip for months. She watched me on my bike leg, but didn’t stay till I finished. Do I still love her? SURE! Does she love me? ALWAYS.. but some things, she just doesn’t understand.

So, back to supporters.

I had a relatively hard swim with the strong currents. My minimal training on the bike made the 180k even tougher. This was the year many heroes fell. One by one, news of IM hopefuls calling it a day was communicated to me through supporters doing their rounds. Even more surprising was when I rode one lap with a buddy, only to have him cheer me on during the next lap in a supporter car.

This was also the year of strange requests from me.

After the 100k mark, I checked my timing only to find that my watch had ‘kaput-ed’. Within the next 10k I bumped into Bandit and Arif. Arif had decided to call it a day and good thing he did as the day's temperature checked in at 46 degrees and he could not keep any of his nutrition down. ON TOP OF THAT, water stations have started to run out of water and bottles. One particular station even offered to clean a recycled Gatorade bottle buried in mud and fill it with tap water for me! Horror!

As I approached Bandit, the familiar shouts of “water?! Gatorade?! Food?! What do you need?! What do you need?!” started.

My reply: I need a watch!

Two seconds of silence..

His reply: OK! Take mine.

We exchanged watches, gave Arif my love and went on my way.

I made it back to transition with good time to spare and started on my run, which was of course, more of a walk.

As the evening turned to night, I was getting lonely and still on my second loop. 3 hours had passed and I haven’t completed 16k yet. I was in big trouble of missing cutoff. Even the cheers I got from the side walk wasn’t motivating me enough to move faster.

Crestfallen, tired and feeling defeated I heard a familiar voice.

He said: Did you think I would let you do this alone? I will not leave you now!

I looked to my right and my knight in shining amour beamed. I had met Ishsal on top of Bkt Hantu during my last loop on the bike and was surprised he called it a day and chose to instead hand out a variety of drinks: water, cincau, ice lemon tea. I did not expect him to find me on the run, but was very glad he did.

And so our mission to make me finish the race within cutoff begins. Ishsal provided time calculations while I provided the strength to just plough through and holding back on tears of defeated so it doesn’t stress the situation any further.

As we walked, he motivated and congratulated me on small feats like making the turnaround faster than the estimated time (even when it was only 3 minutes faster!). We passed Arif and his boys at the end of each loop towards SeaView hotel. And although they were sweet to hang around and cheer, I could only muster a wave. Pity I was too slow as his elder decided to call it a night rather than watch the finish line.

Somewhere during the 3rd loop, Ishsal asked if there was anything else I needed.

I replied: A cheeseburger would be nice.

Another familiar two seconds of silence..

His reply: OK! Can!

He made his call to his sayang Zee, and it was all arranged. In less than 30minutes, I had a cheeseburger – hand delivered to me. I have NEVER EVER been treated so royally in any race! Imagine that.. wearing Bandit’s watch and now Zee goes through the challenge of closed roads to get me a cheeseburger!

I slowly ate the cheeseburger in parts and it lasted for the last 20k odd.

As cutoff closed in on us, my mind started playing tricks on me. I asked nonsensical questions like “can I cover 3k in 45 mins?” and “Do you think there’s still people waiting for me at the finishing line?” (this at 200m left and there’s clearly music pumping and crowd cheering.)

Ishsal knew I had lost it but kept his calm. Words like “do it for dad”, “imagine the glory” even “just 4 more milestones – may yi restaurant, the bridge, seaview, finish line”. I repeated after him like a mantra. He kept his comments coming to keep me in focus. Anything and everything just to keep me going.. including pouring bottles of cold water every few minutes in the dead on night!

Zee was no less a great support as she kept Kam company and pulled him through to finish ahead of me. And also accompanying Stupe who was behind me.

This year was the first time I’ve ever walked to the finish line. Stupe had made great time by jogging and caught up with me. In his gentleman way, he gave me a small nudge to let me finish first. However, given the situation and wobbly legs, the nudge almost toppled me!

Crossing the finish line was indeed everything that I had told myself. The proud smile on dad’s face and warm embrace from mom.

As the organizer gave me my materialistic rewards for finishing within cutoff, I only felt one thing: gratitude.

I am grateful that I have friends who share my passion and understand the spirit of the race more than I do, even though they did not race. Friends who go through endless last minute planning and coordination to make sure not only me, but all under their watch on raceday experience the best race they possibly can. And more gallantly, actually make it their personal mission to drag us pass the finish line within cutoff as if there is a silent code of “whatever it takes and no one gets left behind”.

Every year, every race is a new lesson. My lesson this year is there IS a difference between an IM finisher and an Ironman.

An Ironman is a belief, a passion. Whether you finished as an Ironman is irrelevant as long as your heart understood what it takes to be one when the flare went off. Whether you RACED or SUPPORTED is irrelevant as well. Because on either side of the spectrum, you understand the passion and you drive a common goal.

My lesson this year is I am an IM Finisher but I am an IRONMAN because of my IRONMAN SUPPORTERS.
Special Thank yous:
Arif – For bringing the boys out to cheer for me, and doing what you’ve never done before: leaving them unattended in the hotel room to see me after I finish.
Bandit – For your fussing and watch. You are by far my favourite IRONMAN SUPPORTER
Edwin – For sharing your water on the bike
Ishsal – For making sure I finish within cutoff
Mac – For all that you do and so much more. Everything is a plan and you’re the best guy for the job
Shazly – for bringing me Gatorade
Zee – For the cheeseburger! It was a make or break time for me and you made it better!

Abang, Adik, Alisa, AJ, Julie, Nik, Omar, Shiraz, Adeline, Ai leen, Azura, Khun Tip, Abu, Patrick and many more – Thanks for the endless cheer and encouragement, would not have done it without you. :)