Ironman 2017. Family Project.

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Since Vitri has completed her 70.3 at Putrajaya and in regular training mode since our son is away, we have been looking for a place to do an Ironman together. We thought about Busselton 2016. In fact, we had booked flight ticket there. However, as the Ironman becoming sportcation now, we would like to explore another place, preferably those we have not visited, to do this project. Lo and behold, the challenge from Busso 2015 with the three super strong, competitive and fun brothers: Azman, Azlan and Shah, still on, and we already spoke about Taupo 2017 back in December 2015. Later on, the IM veteran Doli Nainggolan decided to come out of his semi-retirement and train together with Yonas Suryo for his first Ironman. Here we go, the complete group for Taupo 2017. The Fellowship of the Medal (and towel, certainly not Ring).

We put together the training plan that fits each of our requirement. As usual, we do blocks training as I discussed in the earlier articles. During the training, the group members, with the exception of Azman in Malaysia and Shah in Australia, frequently see each other either at Bintaro Loop or Pondok Indah pool. By now, you may have understood that Ironman journey is more about training than the race itself.

The last day of February, we flew to Auckland via KL. A combination of late departure and very short layover in KL resulted in our bags (mine, Vitri and Doli) did not arrive with us. The handling services offered the bags to be delivered direct to Taupo two days later. But with very limited time we had, registration timing and the lack of trust in cargo handling, we decided to go back and forth Auckland-Taupo (3.5 hours driving each way) to fetch the bikes in person. At the end, we managed to register in time, got the bikes assembled, and ready to go. Not exactly an experience and additional works you need before the long day ahead.

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Delayed bags and bikes. Have bikes, will race.

A day before the race, we managed to do the swim try out and a mandatory wetsuit dipping, to ensure the lake is free from algae carried in the wetsuit. The water was mirror-like calm, no wind nor wave. Water temp was still 18-20 degC but air temp was a nice 20-23 degC. We also checked out the bike route, in particular the looping section that has most of the climbs.

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Left to right: Azlan, Hasbi, Shah, Azman, Doli, Vitri, Yonas. The Neoprene Seven.
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It is always fun to put what in where in this mandatory exercise. This is where race strategy from outfit selection, nutrition, spares and emergency need, to sequence of events are laid out in plain view.

Came race day, I woke up around 3:30 to a howling wind. We arrived and parked our car near the transition tent to find the banners on the street waving proudly and the water hissing loudly. This was Busso 2015 all over again, when the practice day was perfect but race day was 180 deg different. Very strong wind of 40-45 kph from early morning inducing high wave on the lake. While temperature was unchanged, the wave got worse closer and over the start time.

The Swim
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Nervous faces
 The start was a deepwater start, whereby participants were gathered in the water, floating, and began to swim by the sound of the start canon. Very much the same as that of Kona. Deepwater start was not easy in this 2m wave. Many athletes were struggling keeping afloat or maintained regular breathing while waiting for the start, in cold water. As the canon went off, 1200 athletes were fighting for a band of swimming lane – as expected in every Ironman. Regular beating, kicking, slapping. The swimming was parallel to the shore on the way out and back. Swimming is my weakest discipline, and I was not trained for this situation. I saw Vitri was also very uncomfortable trying to float.
By this time, many were already switched into survival mode, and hanged on to kayaks or stopped for breathing. Wave did not calm down, even until the end of the swim leg. Swimmers, for majority of the distance except for the turn, did not face the wave direct from the front or back, but on left and right sides, with waves from peak-to-trough now was about 3m high. Much worse than that of Busso 2015. Breathing on any side was difficult; I breath on the left, hence on the way out I was struggling with the water rising bodies up and slamming the heads down, and on the way back I was struggling taking the air to breath.  Some swimmers could not handle the undulating waves swallowing lots amount of water, and even puking while swimming as the vertical movement induced headache.
Many times I tried to calm myself down, trying to get into the right rhythm to breath and sight.  Sometimes I had to keep my head deep for longer in the water. I switched my strokes to quick and short ones, while still maintaining full push.  I did very frequent sighting every 5-6 strokes, from normally 10-12. All three Ironman I took part, there were only buoys (25 of them over the course of 3.8km), and no rope to help in navigating. I swam in the inner side, very close to buoy, just simply moving from one buoy to another. It was the closest distance but at the same time vulnerable to swimmers overcrowd, and also not easy to see the buoy in this wave.
Drafting in undulating sides to sides wave was difficult, as swimmers will tend to body-hit each other due to the wave.  I took mental note that I should not delay any longer more bilateral breathing training when I get back. I should have done it preferably two months ago? – as always. I did well on sighting and covering the distance, 1:44 for exactly 3.8km, compared to Boulder of 1:33 for 4.1km.
 On the way out, I saw Vitri already out of the water. She made a good decision, and clearly cleared up my fear and worries that she might have some serious problems. Later on we found out that many could not complete the swim, and Cameron Brown, the eight times defending champion, said this is the hardest swim leg in Taupo in 19 years.
The Bike
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By now I realised that we would not finish this Ironman together, and that this Family Project is over, but the race was still very much on for me. After a long 400+ m run from the lake up to the transition tent, I changed to dry shirt and sleeve warmers, and got ready for the bike.
The first climb was nothing special. In fact, I can say now that the elevation gain of around 1000-1100 m throughout the course was of an easy one for any given Ironman. On the way out to the first 90km loop, I rode the bike as fast as I comfortably can, reaching more than 60kph speed. The road was rough chipseal, hence lots of vibration. Around km 20, my speed rapidly dropped and a cyclist shouted I have a flat front. I never had any flat tyre of my own in my whole triathlon life, and I did not have time to question why it happened then and there in this race. I can only guess that rough handling and a little overpressure burst the front tyre.
I changed the tube in around 10 minutes or so, calmly, and rode back again. This time I slowed down and was very cautious about the road. Prior to turning at 45km point at Reporoa, I could see other cyclists riding back were with much strained face. As I turned, I understand why, and that this is indeed Busso 2015 all over again. Strong direct headwind of 35-37kph was very presence in my face, ears, and definitely my speed. Around km 65, the nightmare happened, another front flat. I guess this might be due to a snakebite (a small gravel got into the inner tube and punctured it). It was very much possible as when I changed the tube I pumped with CO2 cartridge with less pressure than if I do with hand pump. One thing that I did not check was the presence of any tiny stones inside the outer tyre. As I install the new tube and pump it up again with my last CO2 cartridge, I could hear the hissing sound: the new tube was punctured again. Lucky I brought the third tube, and that the outer tyre was ok, but I was running out CO2 cartridge to pump.
That was my  lowest point in this race, realising that it might be over too quick, only in the third hour of the race. I stood there hopeless, watching many cyclists passed me by. After around 15 minutes dealing with the second tubes, I had to wait another 40-45 minutes for evac car to arrive. When they eventually did, Ted, the recovery volunteer, asked me if I need anything, but he will not be able to give me any spares whatsoever. It is against the rules. I told him my problem and he said “I have a pump for you!”. We were back in business. Installed the third tube after careful inspection, and pump it up ready to go. I could not thank him enough. I lost around 1.5 hours, and still 125km to go, but I now see the hope that was almost gone.
Completing the second loop, I took the special need bag that I filled with additional tubes and CO2 cartridge, and continue the same thing again, albeit slower and more careful, which was speeding to the turning point at Reporoa, and being beaten mercilessly by the headwind on the way back. This bike leg was my most difficult Ironman bike, even without the double punctures. I used up all my gears but still down to even sometimes single digit speed  in flat or mild slope. I was physically and mentally tired, and even sleepy too; even the great view of New Zealand could not hold me fully awake. Being at the end of the pack now, I could only overtake those from much older age groups (really admire these folks, they were very strong) or those that from appearance were not training as hard as me. You know what I mean. I completed the bike leg with only around half an hour left in cut off time. Never before that I ride with the COT chasing me.
The Run
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After short T2, I was much more relax that knowing I will finish my third Ironman. I only needed to pace up easy for a 5- hour marathon, or roughly around 7:30 pace, to avoid my Runners knee issue acting up or getting worse. The spectators and the whole Taupo town made it very easy and enjoyable. If in Busso there were only several spots with many folks chearing, and in Boulder more or less the same, Taupo was completely different. The course were lit up end to end by these good people. The view was great along the great Lake Taupo, and the cheering was endless. I took my time to stop at every water station and interacted with volunteers, young and old. No pulled muscles, cramping, or even tired legs at the end. I was still able to do my signature finish jump. Twice.
The Reflection
This is the toughest Ironman race I faced so far. Also, coincidentally the IMNZ 2017 had  such a high DNF rate, 21%, due to rough water and wind. However, these elements are those that make the Ironman journey far from dull, and definitely make you humble. After the second time at Boulder, I did not put too many more hours in training, nor big focus on improving the time – even though I will always try to get the PB, which seemingly actually getting worse from the first to the third race – but I am more settled into the “Ironman” lifestyle, visiting different races, experiencing different, but hopefully, positive vibes. This has become both my routines as well as the escape from the routines. I need to be cautious about the time commitment, training, and obviously the cost to be able to continue doing it.
On the other hand, having done it three times, I hope I have shown that an Ironman triathlon is doable. It is not a far-fetched dream for some, and myth for many others. In fact, now I am more worried about those that become somehow obsessed to get it done here and now, simply by either the need to prove themselves or by group pressure. These folks starting the “mini” triathlon just now with the hope of signing up for full Ironman by year end, or asap, for example. Too many dreams shattered by doing it too quick, too soon, too fast, or just for the shake of crossing the bucket list items. I am concerned that these folks loose the essence of the journey itself, and instead being in the state of overtraining all the time. It is the process, enjoy it!
Aftermath
Our Family Project may be delayed a little, but hopefully we will be back on track soon. As for the rest of our stay, pictures tell thousands words. New Zealand is a great place with too many beautiful sceneries. Even though we have limited days after the IM before going back to the real life, we used it to the max to enjoy the vacation that we need after the “other more tiring” vacation that is Ironman race. Here are some pictures just to make you envy, and hopefully sign up for IMNZ 2018. Regardless the race condition, this oldest Ironman outside of Kona, and the number one voted the most favourite by end of 2016, is the Ironman you have to go to. Quoting one age grouper “You have not done an Ironman until you do Taupo!”, and I concur to that.
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Full crew minus Shah and Gaby.
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Ironman Boulder 2016

Before I completed and published my first post “Triathlon Project 2015”, I already set my eyes on my would be the second Ironman race. The choice was easy, as by then my son was pretty much set his mind on studying at Colorado School of Mines. Hence, the Ironman Boulder is the one to go, a little over a week before he starts his uni.

This event is not the toughest, of course, but still a hard one, considering the altitude of 1660m + above sea level, fresh water swim, hilly bike route, and undulating run course. The training starts by second week of March to allow for 16-17 weeks of meaningful preparation with 11-16 hours per week training for swim, bike, run, and strength/flexibility. Very similar backbone to that for Busselton but with more focus on improving the swim for a possible non-wetsuit ruling, fresh water, windy swim, and definitely for that challenging bike route.

 

The Altitude thing

As expected, many suggested me to train on the higher ground in Indonesia, such as Bandung, Pengalengan, etc. As usual, I trust my own research. Here are some of the findings. Bear with me as this part may be the longest of this posting.

– Accute mountain/altitude sickness may kick in for folks from sea level going to 2000m and above. However, altitude as high as 1000m may have introduced difficulties in breathing already. Sea level oxygen is arround 21% of the air we breathe, while Boulder has around 16-17%; it is not dangerously low, but more than enough to cause problems from heavy breathing, elevated heart rate, etc, to blood thickening.

– The other issue is air pressure, that is combined with lower oxygen level will push for the need of frequent and deeper breathing, that in return will elevate heart rate and cause dehydration. Keeping the body hydrated is then the main key, and can easily be overlooked even in the mountain summer heat of 39-42 degC as sweat is evaporating very quickly as if you are not sweating at all, giving the false impression that you are well hydrated.

– The principle of “Live High Train Low” that adopted by many pro triathletes living in Boulder as their basecamp. Basically, the underlying theory is that by having less oxygen in air, the body will slowly adapt to the hypoxic situation by instructing kidneys to produce more Erithropoietin (EPO) during sleep to carry more red blood cells. EPO, as external substance, is illegal, and dangerous, but if produced by body naturally, it is quite a potent drug that will remain in effect days or to couple of weeks even after leaving high altitude to sea level. Therefore, these athletes normally live in higher altitude to get more EPO naturally during their sleep, and train at lower altitude, and straight to races all over the world to get the maximum benefits.

– By the last point, there is no reason for me to train in Pengalengan, for example, other than just experiencing heavy breathing and sub-optimum intensity. I have to live in Pengalengan and fly direct to Boulder for the race, to make it useful. I cannot afford that due to work and family commitment, of course. So, just train in Bintaro, forget about higher places, go to Boulder 7-10 days before the race, take it easy and sleep well, and let the body handles the EPO production. It works.

The Training

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For the training, I combine the upper body approach by Akbar Nasution and the lower body and kicking strength basic of Sonny Kaunang. Swimming is still my weakest link, hence I need the expertise of these two gentlemen. For cycling, I still rely on my “dumb trainer” (as opposed to now more available smart interactive ones), with more sessions of uphill interval and uphill tempo indoor. I do not think that cycling to other places than Bintaro is safe enough. Even in Bintaro I grow more worried riding outside. On technical side, I would benefit more from having power meter for my training, but I decided not to invest in this yet, due to cost-benefit assessment in the middle of the training. However, for those can afford power meters, I would highly recommend to utilize it fully.

Running is a little bit problematic, as early in the training period I would have to run in London Marathon, in April. Normally, that early stage would not see high mileage necessary for a marathon piled up yet, and it was not. At the end, I still run London Marathon reasonably ok.

Nutrition during training is also unchanged, with focus on clean and healthy diet, and usual supplements such as omega-3 and fish oil, healthy fat from almond milk and almond, anti-oxidants from fruits such as beetroot, etc. My training still predominantly done under fasted state with the exceptions of longer bricks, where I simulate intakes for the race.

The pre-race

Ironman Boulder race director, Dave “DC” Christen, has been a superb guy. He and
team issued in total of six 13-15 minutes videos covering the race guide in detail, from pre-arrival, registration and check-in, swim, bike, run, and spectators guide way in advance, and answers many questions from participants. This is the example of directing an event properly. Everything went smooth with helps of over 2,500 volunteers. Great efforts from everybody. Registration, run gear check-in, bike check-in, all went well.

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I arrived in Boulder around eight days before the event. I was also very lucky to be introduced to Nita Permatasari, an Indonesian lady living in Boulder, a cycling enthusiast, and a mountain goat in this sense. She showed me the key challenges in bike route, and practically she was an excellent ground support including dropping me off to Boulder Reservoir at 3 in the morning and picking me up late evening.

I took the adaptation days very easy with short jogging sessions. I tried out swimming in Boulder Reservoir four days before the event. It was summer but water temperature was still below 76 degF (24 degC), below wetsuit legal cutoff. The race committee kept measuring the temperature and will decide on the race day whether it is wetsuit or non-wetsuit event.

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The race day

The swim

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A warm summer morning, but cold reservoir. Water temp was at 72degF (22degC), so wetsuit was up. It was a rolling wave start, as oppose to mass start in Busselton. I self-seeded myself to 1:30-1:45 swimmers. After the national anthem of Star Spangled Banner, off we went. Boulder Reservoir was fresh water – wetsuit buoyancy hence helped – but murky with almost zero meter visibility. Self seeding worked well here, unlike in Asia where slower swimmers tended to start in faster corral, giving troubles to other participants later in the middle of the course. Wetsuit did give me advantage, but what was better in Boulder compared to Busselton (also wetsuit event, salt water for added buoyancy) is the absence of choppy water. Nevertheless, the challenge was the navigation, as now the big Busselton jetty that was always on my left hand side was absent in Boulder. More frequent sightings did introduce frequent ministops in my freestyle. Other than that, no issue. My more stable strokes, fuller and more relaxed pulls, and stronger two-flutter kicks resulted in 1:33 time for 4.1km swim, compared to 1:52 for 3.9km swim in Busselton. I have Akbar Nasution and Sonny Kaunang to thanks for this improvement. For coach Sonny: I started giving up swimming in January – you know the rest of the story.

Nutrition on the swim: light breakfast of bread and bars around 2-2.5 hours before swim, and half a bar (around 50-75 kcal) after. I estimated my calori requirement of around 200-250 kcal for this swim.

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The bike

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After a long walk from swim finish to changing chute and to the bike rack, the interesting bike leg was started. The first small loop was supposed to be the hardest with long climb at the Lookout road, and facing the “Three bitches” ie three climbs in succession with no rolling. Afterward, we proceeded to the first two bigger loops, with variation of long climb and fast decents, with its infamous and deceitful Nelson road uphills. I do not like climbing, but I like rolling hills. Taking it easy on climbs – down to 10kph ride and less –  and giving it out on the downs; it was a good ride, with temperature creeping up, very dry, but not too hot for a tropic folks like me. Total elevation gain of 1.25km. I completed the bike leg in 6:15, three minutes faster than Busselton bike leg (a flat fast course with drizzles and quite a strong headwind). It was not easier, but I think I get stronger.

Sad news during the bike leg. A 34 year-old triathlete from Nebraska was involved in fatal accident with a car quite early in the race. The road was not blocked for this event, as in the previous two years, but with marked and coned lines. I passed her already lying on the asphalt, but now could not exactly remember her position or any other info that may help police investigation of the accident. Look it up on the web from more updates.

Nutrition on the bike: alternating gels and bars (ea around 130-140 kcal) per hour, and additional 60-100 kcal from electrolytes drink taken very frequently, at thirst. My estimates calory requirement for  6-7 hours cycling under this duress is around 1400-1600 kcal, with additional calories required to combat fatigue from climbs, and lots of liquid to tackle more than usual dehydration. I tried to limit calories intake of maximum around 250-300 kcal per hour, my estimate of the amound my body can digest and absorb without leaving too much sugar upsetting my stomach. I also refrained from using intakes with caffeine as it may elevate my heart rate that would already be high due to altitude and dryness.

The run

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I felt very fresh and well off the bike. I started running easy with moderately faster pace (for me) at around 5:30-6:30 min/km. Faster swim leg and faster bike leg than previous Ironman, and the seemingly working nutritional intake with no signs of legs cramping kept my spirit high for the run. It did not last long, though. At around km 5, I felt sharp pain at the outer side of my back, left and right. It was painful to breathe deep. I then walked and slow jog until km 28, and completely power-walk from then on, and short run again closer to finish line.

It could very well be that my back was too tense during the bike leg (bike fitting issue? after all this time?), weak back core, sudden jerking movement during the early running, or gas trapped in digesting system. I am still yet to see the answer to it. From 4:29 in Busselton to 6:05 in Boulder, it was a bit of a blow to my confidence. However, I managed to finish the race without any other problem. Mike Reilly, the voice of Ironman (he has been welcoming more than 200,000 Ironman finishers with the famous “You Are an Ironman” since 1989), greeted me at the finish line. What a big honour, even though he mistakenly mentioned that I am from India, twice. I guess IND, IDN, INA, and all these non-standard country abbreviation mixes things up.

Nutrition on the run: water, electrolytes, degassed cola, fruits, and chips as source of sodium. I rely on the quality of the intake during the bike leg to keep the running easy, and then maintain it to avoid bonking. Estimated total calories requirement of 1400-1700 kcal.

 

Closing the Report

Yes, it is not as emotional as my first Ironman race (and report). The message remains the same: Discipline and commitment, value of family and friendships, and Anything is Possible. In swim and bike legs, it did not get easier, but I got smarter. Also, there is always one or two thing that you can work out for the future, keeping you humble.

Afterward, I enjoyed the time in Colorado, recovering the body and mind. Anyone want to guess what I have in mind for my next long distance triathlon?

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In addition to those already mentioned, I am thanking all individuals and groups, in particular Bintaro Trojan Runners family, that making this possible, and definitely my wife and son to still allow me to pursue this Ironman lifestyle.

Triathlon Project 2015

 

 

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The owner of Bed and Breakfast we stayed at in Busselton suggested me to write something about my journey to this triathlon project, in as much detail as I can, for my recollection in later days, or as reading material for our future kindergarten grandkids, hopefully inspiring them to do positive things they like.

The big question: why?

Azman Abdul-Rahman, brother of Azlan, fellow triathlete, actually captures a similar childhood experience in his Ironman story. Like him, I remember once watching the triathlon on TV decades ago, and thinking how cool the participants were, strong and skillfull. They must be super humans. However, that was the end of that thought, as I could not even swim. I was thinking that several things are out of my reach; life is with a limit.

I started running, for health and fitness reason, quite late in the game. From 2008 to 2011, I was confined to 3km treadmill runs indoor, before hitting the pavement and doing my first 5k run race in 2012. In the same year, I tried out open water diving and swimming. Bear in mind, I was a complete non-swimmer, then. All with encouragement from Vitri, who is the more adventurous of us two, suddenly, one by one the barriers crumbled and the limits pushed outward. Around the same time, colleagues from my previous office, reminded me of that TV coverage years back, by asking me joining them in a multisport event. I turned down that invitation, but gained a new objectives in life: triathlon. Pursuing the once impossible.

In January 2014, I purchased my first road bike, and took part in a Sprint Distance triathlon in March 2014. By end of 2014, I have set sight on a full Ironman or 140.6 event for end of 2015, put one half Ironman or 70.3 in between, and later decided to add another 70.3 just by an impulsed drive. This makes up Triathlon Project 2015, with a little more than a year of preparation.

Why Ironman?

I once openly said that there is no point in doing long distance triathlon. It becomes a pissing contest of who can do it longer and farther, and brag about it. However, as time goes by, I stand corrected. Yes, there is a bragging right, but not after one has successfully pushed the limit and found what lies beyond. It is more than just a 70.3 or the first time 140.6, but how, with discipline and patience, one reaches a life goal. Having said that, I am not immune to self-glorifying and box-ticking attitude, and the fact that I am doing the once I thought only super humans do, as I watched on TV decades ago. The Ironman franchise seems to be the only one authority in this field so far.

Life balance. Is there a such thing?

More than 80% of the medium and long distance triathlon events actually take place – and time, money, and everything that goes with it –  in between the registration click and the horn of the swimming start. The last 20% is the celebration of the job well done. As a common corporate slave, not a business owner, I am restricted by the working hours and duties to fit in the necessary training. There are at least three things I need to juggle: family, work, and life mission (be it hobby, religious activites, etc). I have a son that is in final year of high school, that already occupies the slot at the top of the list. As the long distance tri now being the life mission, I have to work smarter around the clock.

There are lots of sacrifices in my preparation for Triathlon Project 2015. However, it is not mine that counts, but those of people who love me most: my wife and son. They have to endure with my training plan, swinging mood, lack of family weekends, and many more. I, forever, am indebted to the unbroken patience and understanding of the two.

The rest of my writing below may be more technical, but the above is the most important pre-requisite of an Ironman journey, without which you do not need to continue training.

The training building blocks.

Disclaimer: I am a newbie in 70.3 and 140.6, not a coach, nor a regular, let alone a pro. My training methods are my interpretation from many reading literatures and practices.

I follow the basic building blocks provided by Ironman.com, which is a minimum of four months preparation that consists of: Endurance building, Intensity training, and Peaking training, spread out evenly to the time I had. My first preparation is for Putrajaya 70.3 in April 2015, followed with Cebu 70.3 in August 2015. These two events are good lead up to the 140.6 in December 2015.

The first building block, Endurance building, is very similar to that of marathon training, in the sense that I pile up mileage in all three disciplines. Cummulative hours of my 70.3 preparation is about 7-9 hours per week, with 40% on bike, 40% on run, and 20% on swim (endurance and technique). There is no specific speed or tempo target during this period, but I mostly do all the training in fasted stage (empty stomach, or a banana and a slice of bread max).

The intensity and peaking stages are also not different to that of marathon training. Interval training once a week for each discipline, and more tempo training in the last one-third of the preparation. Inserting easy week within several hard weeks also important to avoid early burned out, and allow me to reconnect to other things in life as well.  I have been very cautious also to avoid any injury, no matter small, as a down time will cost a lot to pick up again.  Tuning in to signals from every single muscle is, therefore, a routine, without getting to be too paranoid. The other important element is rest, as an equal part of the triangle with exercise, and nutrition.

I have sufficient time to train for both 70.3s, and ample time for 140.6. I consult with various sources, mostly triathlon magazines, and construct a training plan that suit my time and skill level. Below is the breakdown of the 17 weeks running up to the Busselton IM with a total of 219.5 hours actual training: 42 hours swim, 98.5 hours bike, 68 hours run, and 11 hours of weight and NTC (Nike Training Club exercises app).

140.6 Training Log

Nutrition. 

The rough calculation of my 70.3 calorie requirement is about 2000-3000 kcal, and 140.6 around 5000-7000 kcal. For an average person, muscles can store up to 1500 kcal glycogen up to a day before an event, and the remaining will come from other sources during the race, either from body fat burning or intake such as gels, bars, fruits, etc. As mentioned before, most of my training sessions were done at fasted stage, including the Saturday 90-120km bike ride was only fueled with light breakfast and plenty of electrolytes drinks, for example. The objective of the endurance building in fasted stage is to recycle the glycogen tank and increase the body storage by having more but leaner muscle. The caveat is to feel and know when the tank is about to empty, and avoid the body going into catabolic mode ie. body eats up muscle tissues to get the energy. For the race, as an illustration, a 140.6 event of 5000-7000 kcal with an improved glycogen tank storage of now 3000 kcal will need additional 2000-4000 kcal intake during the race, which I may not get from body fat as by the race time I may not have plenty more other than to keep my corebody temperature stable. Assuming one gel or bar or dry fruits has about 300-400 kcal carbo (plus protein and electrolytes), I will need to consume 8-10 gels or bars or fruit packs during the 14-17 hours of the event.

Normal body can only process and absorb about 200 kcal per hour (let’s skip a more complex calculation based on body weight, air temperature, perspiration rate etc), hence as a rule of thumb, I need to consume one gel or bar every hour, and let it be converted into ready energy in 1.5 – 2 hours. Making it simple, keep hydrating, balancing the electrolytes, and eating one bar for every hour of the race.

I also try the best I can to eat clean and healthy, not only for a specific event, but as a life habit. We are blessed that options for healthy eating are abundant in Jakarta, without having to calculate in detail the nutrition contents of the meals we take. Most of the readily available food, or food materials, are already labelled, and those which are not are easy to estimate. My only issue is that I am lactose intolerant, therefore I need to substitute the protein source, including to great extent the protein shake, with non-dairy based material, such as almond nuts and almond milk. There, where the training cost may be on the higher side.

The Races

Obviously, I was very exicted to do my first 70.3, without a prior olympic distance experience. It does not really matter, actually. Many did full Ironman distance as their first triathlon. The Indonesian participants were also of mixed experience, but mostly quite supportive to newbie like me.

The swim start was a newly introduced rolling start based on the estimated swimming time of participants, to allow faster swimmers going unobstructed by the slower ones. In reality, many slower swimmers started in faster groups and blocked many fast ones anyway. It did not matter that much to me, a slow swimmer that started last. Putrajaya swim was in the flat water lake, rather oblique, navigation was not too hard, but 1.9km was long, nevertheless. Going out of water, I was very happy as if the race was over. The bike leg was the best part of Putrajaya: undulating or rolling on a clear highway; easy on the way up and fast on the way down – repeat. The run leg started close to midday, when the temperature cranked up blended with high humidity. I may have burned the candle on both ends during the bike, as the quads giving some jolts when I started to run. Rookie mistake. My first of three triathlon in 2015: total 6:22 with 0:50 in swim, 2:59 in bike, and 2:24 in run.

The finisher towel was the highlight of the race. Pic with Chaidir “Idironman” Akbar.

By the time my second race came in Cebu, I was far more relax, despite the training going through the fasting month. Vitri, and many friends also took part in their first 70.3 attempt. This was the family vacation in the full triathlon sense, where everybody, including kids, had something to enjoy. During the pre-race days, Cebu also revealed itself as the place with the best Bimbimbap.

On the race day, the committee’s weather forecast report was completely wrong. The sea swell in the middle of the age-groupers swim leg should have been predicted, and the swim start could be set to start earlier. The result was a swim chaos for those started late due to rolling start. Swimmers pooled in the middle of the route, many confused as to why they were not moving at all, still many struggled to latch on to lanyard, kicking and punching many in the process. Around 120 swimmers failed to reach the shore in the allotted time of 1:20, including Vitri and Imelda. For more detail on this event, please see What Happened in Cebu Ironman 70.3 Swim.

The bike route was quite flat, with only a bridge to pass, twice. The challenge was the head wind on the way out, which, to be quite fair, was compensated on the way back. The run route was actually nice, going through Cebu small village to the new development area, where heat and humidity punished us well and again.  It was a disappointing race for Vitri, and many more, but there are plenty of races coming ahead. My second of three triathlon in 2015: total 6:44, 1:12 in swim, 3:01 in bike, and 2:21 in run.

Cebu 70.3, with first timers Atmasunu, Imelda, Savitri, and Fajar.

 

Here comes the third of the three, the ultimate one. Bear with the long reading.

The hardest part, again, is the training and the life balance. Early hours, late evenings, and weekends were already full  with scheduled exercises. I am self-coached – or rather by magazines to be exact – and quite flexible in the focus of each exercise session. For reference, please see the Training Log if you desire to see how my days were filled. In the run up to Busselton, Claudio, my son, was finalising his preparation and university applications, that needed my advices and directions. At the end of November, the process was completed and he started to receive positive responses. That side of life was taken care of.

We arrived three days before the event, in a cold Australian summer where day temperature was around 20-24 degC and sea temperature around 16-18 degC. The obvious thing I note, apart from the infamous flies of Busselton, was the heavy wind. This, I muttered, will not be fun. I had two chances to try out the wetsuit and the sea, with the three Malaysian brothers with different sport background who decided to up their sibling rivalry ante by competing in their first Ironman. The sea was calm, infusing a much needed soothing to my nerves.

Trying out the sea with Abdul-Rahman brothers: Azman, Azlan, and Shah. Getting ready with Steven Samudra and Hartanto Ng.

We roamed the expo with much awe to the humbleness of the Ironmen and Ironladies. They did look like seasoned athletes, but with much down to earth appearance. A bit different to the two 70.3 events earlier where the folks intimidatingly dressed to nine. When we entered Australia, I decided not to bring bars or gels, afraid of potential fines at the very strict Australian Custom line, hence needed to look around and test various bars at the expo. I was still in carbo and electrolyte loading stage with much reduced workouts during the tapering off days, but the nutrition strategy had very much been formulated:

Pre-race:

  • Pasta for D-1 lunch. No more fruits or fibres. No caffeine.
  • Peanut butter bar for breakfast.
  • Water and electrolytes before swim.

Swim: well….sea water, anybody?

T1: Half small box of coffee, for caffeine boost, and one energy bar.

Bike:

  • Electrolytes drinks.  Estimated 200ml every hour, enough for cool weather. No salt sticks.
  • One energy bar, completed in one go, for every hour of riding. In total about 6 bars consumed.
  • One gel. Never like the gel, so I ditched them for the bars.

T2: Small box of coconut water, and one energy bar.

Run: Electrolytes, cola and water, and watermelon provided at water stations. No salt sticks, gels and bars.

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Race preparation

During the D-1 transition tour, the committee highlighted the most likely weather condition for the race day: sea with 2-3m swells, drizzles, wind of 40-50kph, and sun later on the day. The forecast turned out to be quite accurate. Cold and drizzly morning, with sea not as calm as in the last two days. As the pros started earlier at 5:15, there I was, standing on the cold sand, then went to cold water, thinking that there was no turning back. This is it. The announcer kept mentioning the remaining time to the mass start of around 1200-ish participants, and there was perhaps one of the longest 30 seconds in my life before the loud horn.

Right before the horn, I looked back and realized I stood quite at the front. I felt the impact in the first few hundreds meters of swim, as many stronger swimmers passed over me the hard way, and one knocked out my goggles. No problem. I retreated back and found my place to continue. Going to 400m, the 1-2m swell started to take tolls. Some swimmers already pulled out of water. Total of 60 swimmers did not finish the swim and out of the event. The swell may not be a rough one for seasoned swimmers, but definitely tough for me, hitting sides and top of my head rhythmically. I just swam as consistent and as calm as I could, checked time every now and then, and enjoyed the solitude of this long 3.8-3.9km swim to the end of the 1.8km iconic Busselton jetty and back to shore. I had enough time in the world to have conversation with myself: “After all these months, I will not falter. I will finish this swim well. I will be an Ironman. Here. Now“. Again, as my feet touched the ground, still within the swim cut off time, all I could ever remember doing was smiling wide. The hardest part was done.

Swimmers ran to the transition chute, grabbed the transition bag, and did the all necessary. Many volunteers, youngs and pensioners, helped taking off the wetsuits and putting them back to the bags. Off to bike. Crossing the bike mount line, I heard the girl said “careful of kangaroos”. Her tone was flat, and her face was damn serious. Ok, noted!

As usual, I started nice and easy on the bike with increasingly faster gears. The first 10km was quick and speedy, but as I made the U-turn, the heavy wind banged loud on the ears and knocked the speed down. Few moments after that, it started to rain, and the temperature was at 19 degC with wind cooling. It should be nice, except that I wore the sleeveless trisuit, expecting sun, instead of a more covered one like many of other cyclists used. No problem, I just needed to eat more as I would burn more calories to keep me warm. The bike route was quite enjoyable: very flat, sterile from traffics, farms and bushes on the sides, with people cheering up. Several times I passed this crazy couple cheering cyclists only in bikinis and undies.

Ending the first loop of 90km, my average speed was around 29kph. Reminded on the Putrajaya bike rookie mistake, I took the mental note not to push harder to my target of 30kph average for the bike ride. In this strong wind, I would blow off my run if I push hard in the bike. The second loop was more or less the same, with the same nutrition intake routine, rain and wind, and constant prays for no mechanical failures nor punctures. Alhamdulilah, the bike leg ended well.

A quick change in transition chute, I put on my yellow Bintaro Trojan Runners shirt, and never been so eager before to run a full 42.2km marathon; In particular after 3.8km swim and 180km bike. After Bali Marathon in August 2014, I never run that long, until there and then in Busselton.

From many literatures, I read that long distance tri should be done in Zone 3 heart rate, including the run, to put less strain to the cardiovascular system, keep the body in the most efficient metabolism rate, and avoid too fast lactate acid accummulation. This is a now famous mantra that some brand apparels even put it as part of their names eg. Zone3, Z3R0D, etc. My previous training then was to put my run into this zone, through max zone 4 intervals (limit to 90% max heart rate) and zone 3 tempos (limit to 80% max heart rate). I never push my body beyond that. Never touch zone 5. I never plan to be a sprinter anyway.

In this Ironman marathon, it was not about how slow, fast – or faster – I could be, but more on abiding to the Zone 3 philosophy. Average heart rate was in the low Zone 3 (133), and the max was just touching a point slightly across Zone 4 (146) for few seconds. Finish strong. According to Suunto, I only burned about 1,650 kcal for that 42.2km run.

Heart rate during the Bussuelton Ironman marathon leg

The run route was also flat, along the shore, with people cheering up the runners in the good 30% of the pass, and we made four passes of 10km+ each. It was a nice run, with no cramps, no pulled muscles, no blisters, no bonking, etc. It was also nicer to hear spectators calling out our names, with no chance to correct their mispronunciation, though. Only in the last 10km I had the chance to calculate my time so far. I did not record it continuously in my Suunto. To my surprise, I may finish well within 13 hours if I keep going the pace I was currently running. Better than my earlier prediction of 15.5-16 hours. That thought, and the recalculation of times, kept the running more interesting. After I got my last lap wrist band marker, I was ready to end this project. Vitri took a very nice picture of my running on the M-dot carpet, about to cross the finish line. Moments later, the announcer yell out that long-awaited phrase “Hasbi Lubis, You Are an Ironman”. I replied to him and he said “Yes, you are, mate!”

In retrospect, “I am an Ironman” is far from accurate to describe the journey. It is more to “We are the Ironmen”. Triathlon is an individual event, achieved with collaborative efforts. I would have never done and completed one, or any, without the support of Vitri and Claudio, and the help from friends and family in more than one ways they could have ever imagined. Bintaro Trojan Runners – that yellow shirt crossing the finish line is the testament of your values to me. Triathlon Buddies – for the events and friendships in and out of the races. Equipment wise, I owe it to Boardman road bike (yes, not a tri or TT bike for all three Ironman events) for being so simple yet dependable.

The Triathlon Project 2015 is completed. It proves many things, mostly the life learning points:

  • Discipline and commitment will transform the weak into the better. Patience and steadfastness will keep us in the way.
  • Value of family and friendships.
  • Buy experience, not stuffs. Experience last longer and does not depreciate in value.
  • The world is not without the limit, but make it harder for the limit to show up.
  • Anything is possible.

Many more triathlons to go.

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