Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Coda for a half-ironman

Right after crossing the finishing line, I went looking for a post-race massage tent but could not found any. I finally found a tent full of iced coke, bananas and freshly-cut oranges on ice. Never has food tasted so delicious! It reminded me of a joke that the best tasting food are found in those restaurants that made you wait and wait... Minutes later, I found myself wandering to a giant tub of water -it was actually filled with ice-cool water for post-race recovery. Looking like a huge portable pool, the round tub looked inviting. Shoes off, I climbed up the short ladder and plunged myself into the cold water. What a great relief for the aching leg muscles! And boy, did those blisters really hurt! Soon the tub became more crowded as more and more runners found this oasis of relief and started to pack it in. Exiting the pool, I paid another visit to the food tent to devour some more bananas and drinks.

The day was still drizzling as I finally collected my bags(left at T1 and T2) and my bike. Finally a quick pose in the rain for some photographs with Norman before I headed off to the showers for a quick change. Heading toward my office, I walked the bike in the rain. I passed by some runners who had just arrived to run the final stretch. There were faithful supporters who clapped and cheered them on in the downpour. These runners must have taken about close to 8 hours for the entire race. Nevertheless, I didn't see any of them walking-their determined faces were reflective of their aim to finish the race well. Arriving at the office, I dismantled the front wheel and swiftly kept the bike frame & the front wheel in two separate places (I'm not telling you where - just in case my boss read this). I seemed to be quite adept at finding strange places to hide my bike now-thanks to my numerous hide-and-brick sessions at the stadium.

I ended the day at the movies with my family and friends. The Coke, popcorn and overpriced hotdog sure tasted better after a 45min swim, 3 hour bike ride and a 2 hour run. The show was good and its message was similar to the half ironman race's- It's about overcoming limitations and chasing one's dream. For me this was an apt ending to the race. My half ironman dream started with an 'impossible' thought to do a half-ironman race. It soon became a daring muse and then 6 months later, the “impossible” dream became Reality.

Crossing the Finishing Line

At last as I made the turn into the Esplanade and into Elizabeth walk for the final stretch, a welcomed drizzle of rain greeted us.

The final run-down to the tape was actually not very exciting. There were not many runners around as I trotted onto the floating platform (supposedly the biggest in the world) down to the finishing line. There were some supporters on the side, with water sprays creating a sort of mist. More drizzle from the weather. Some techno-pop music was blaring. Puccini's Nessun Dorma would be a better choice with the Esplande house just 'round the corner. Opera-haters will no doubt get an extra jolt of adrenalin as they flee the music to cross the tape. I let a runner in front take the tape for a great photo finish; and I followed close behind. Hands raised, I crossed the finishing line and completed my first half ironman in less than 6 hours. Not bad I suppose, factoring my less-than-auspicious start at T1 and a toilet break. Guess I can't be too demanding for a meager average training investment of 4 hours per week.

Next blog entry –the end (I promise).

Blisters & Bidons

The second leg of the 21km run was admittedly more difficult-although I tried to run faster than the first 10km, I suspect in reality that I was really going about the same speed or even slowing down a little. That's what perceived exertion does. After swimming, cycling and running for over 4 hours, the body got into protest mode and really, it's a mind-over-matter thing from here. Physically, I knew that I was dehydrated (the earlier toilet stop already confirmed that), the blisters in my feet were beginning to bite hard (serve me right for not wearing socks!) and the noon-day sun was of no help at all.

What was happening around me only reminded me that this is really the last part of the race. All round me, runners were slowing down and I could see some were already wilting in the heat; their strides were morphing into slow-motion cartoon running. At the water points at Kallang, I filled up with my race bottles again with water, and the last one, with electrolyte. I may have lost a bit of time but I was wagering that these liquids are probably worth their weight in gold (in the appetite sense for a thirsty half ironman) further down the 21km route. The next water stations were running low on sponges and electrolyte. I managed to find one last cold sponge in the ice box and put in quickly over my head, letting the water to drip and cool off the little inferno I had in my head. Turning at the U-turn (at last!) near the National Stadium, I began my final run back toward the Esplanade. Looking at my watch, I estimate that I might just make it for a sub-6 hour finish. Provided that my legs don't cramp. Provided the stitches don't come. Provided my mind can override the tiny protests of my blistered feet. This won't be easy.

So far I was feeling good. I could speed up a little along Nicoll Highway. There, a runner in front of me had slowed down, and was rummaging through a pile of strewn bidons (race bottles) by the road side. Lifting a bidon, he shook it for water; then picked up another before throwing it back in disappointment. As I was about to overtake him, I offered him a drink. 'Electrolyte', I said as I took out the bottle from my belt and offered him my nugget of 'gold'. Grateful with thanks, he returned the bottle after taking a sip. Here I must confess that this is a technical breach of race rules. No outside assistance is allowed & this even includes helping fellow participants.

I sure hope none of the race officials are reading this blog...

On my Last Legs

Further along the Marina path, we passed below the Nicoll highway into the Kallang area. Feeling a bit uncomfortable, I decided to pay a visit to the little boys' room. I was dehydrated all right from the colour of my urine. As I continued my run, I drank more regularly from the small bottles of Pocari in my race belt. I plan to replenish the bottles as soon as they are finished -however, I was also careful not to gulp down too much liquids in case I develop side cramps; which are much harder to work off and they last much longer. The turnaround point ended just before the National Stadium; as if for us to pay homage to the 'Grand Old Lady' of Kallang which would become dust and rubble very soon.

Running across the Nicoll highway was more bearable as the sea brought in a light breeze from the south. As I ran across the Nicoll highway, I could see below me, one of the PC (physically challenged) athlete straining with gloved hands to propel himself where his feet could not. Recognizing him, I wanted to cheer him on but he quickly sped off out of sight. An amazing individual who completed marathons across many continents; through harsh and inhospitable lands for noble causes.

Nicoll highway was hot compared to the shady vistas of the marina path. Water points were great relief for a quick sip and dousing the body with cool sponges. At this juncture I could see some runners stopping to walk or just standing to stretch their cramped legs. The heat has taken its toll on some. Pressing on, I tried to maintain my cadence as I run briskly run the highway. Soon I find myself approaching the Champs area again. Another round to complete the half-marathon run.

I was not sure if I could make it for my (now revised target) time of a sub-6 hour finish.

Running to stand still (21km to go)

We Run. From the Belly of the Stadium. From the Spiked Dome of the Esplanade--We Run.

For Honor's sake. For Glory's sake. For attaining the 70.3 For getting a Wife. Well, this is Singapore….our low hatch rates call for desperate (and creative) rituals- it drove one competitor to propose at the finishing line.

The first ten minutes of my 21km run can be described as between a shuffle and a constipated duck wiggle. The cramps of on my upper thighs, getting off after a 2 hr 50 min bike ride, were almost unbearable. I practised my Bricks training at least once a week but I guess the intensity of the actual race was far greater the trainings'. "Breathe deeply and exhale out with your stomach", I told myself, as I shuffle around the Elizabeth walk and into the marina course. If I keep up at this, I would probably finish the race in 3 hours and on all fours at the finishing line. Fortunately, this embarrassing scenario receded along with the cramps in my legs by the time I ran well into the shady marina route. I could see a lot of other runners having much difficulty like myself from the look of their faces.

I set my tempo timer at a beat of 90 strokes per minutes-that is, I was to take 90 strides (one foot strike=1 stride) per minute in order to keep an efficient running cadence. This concentration on my cadence also took my mind off from being distracted from any discomfort I was feeling; either from the heat or in the body.

It was about 11:30am or close to noon by the time the heat could not be ignored. The first water point beneath the Benjamin Sheares bridge was a welcomed sight. While some runners stop to drink, I took a cup of water, continued running, and pour the icy liquid down on my head. I also took the cold-soaked sponge and let it sit with the water trickling down on my head. What a great relief! Some runners could not bear to part with the refreshing sponges and instead slipped them to sit on their shoulders, like bra straps on their tri suits-I'm not sure it helped them but it did make my run more amusing.

Dentures not included

Toward my last loop, as expected, my water supplies ran out and I had to rely on the drink stations to top-up my liquids. They handed us bidons (small bottles with nozzles) as we slowed down and reach out with our hands. Can be quite dangerous if not done with care. The bidons proved to be a challenge as the nozzle was rigid and I had to manually unscrew the lid for a drink. The second bidon was more receptive to my teeth and I manage to drink from the nozzle-after a really, really hard yank with my teeth. (The race pack should have included some dentures).

You may think how I keep track of the number of bike loops. In an endurance event like 70.3 half ironman, it's heart-breaking to hear of people who under-bike by one loop (more common) or overshoot by a loop(still painful) and get all their timings messed up. For me, I rely on the state-of-the-art technology counter meter available to me. It's called (Drum-roll please) .... a masking tape. Yes, for four loops of the bike route, just cut four pieces of masking tape (mine is white in color) and paste them on the front handle of the bike where you can see them easily. Peel off each piece as you complete a loop. Great stuff, isn't it?

As I approach the Champs stadium( same place where we held our 2007 National Day festivities), I dismounted and gave my bike to a volunteer. This time my transition was a bit better - I took off my bike shoes and put some plasters on my feet (I opted to run sock-less in my really old pair of Asics Tigers Paws, they really should be replaced as they are at least 3 years old). Next, I loop my drink belt around my waist and put on the shades and the visor.

Off I go then, to the last part (often the hardest) of the race!Unfortunately, both of my upper thighs had cramps...I just got to run them off and hope for the best.

The Bicycle Race

The bike worked fine! And I sped toward the city via the East Coast highway.

Traffic was slightly crowded with riders so an increase in speed was not really appropriate yet. We went up the Benjamin Sheares bridge, down a a sharp fast turn into the city area and pass by the Esplanade and headed into Shenton Way. There I could speed up a little bit. We then headed left towards Marina South. There the route was technical (lots of bends, need some care) and we headed back to the city via Rochor road before turning into Nicoll Highway. This was the better part, straight and fairly easier to go faster. The turnaround point was near Mountbatten road and we went back again to the Esplanade route, via Nicoll Highway again. We had to ride the entire main route 4 times, clocking up a total bike leg of 90km.

During the second loop of the bike leg, I managed to ride alongside (for a short while) with my good friend on the Benjamin Sheares bridge. We chatted a while -I told him to treat this race like a training session with dozens of people (as he did not train much on the bike, having got it only 3 weeks prior to the race). My diet plan went according to schedule on the bike, one energy gel (about 100-120 joules) per half hour. I try to drink every 10-15 minutes or so, the weather was excellent. Hot and dry-it was good biking weather. Unfortunately due to road debris on some parts (especially the highways), I saw a couple of cyclist suffered flats and had to change new tubes. Incidentally, the favorite to win the elite race also got a puncture about mid-way through the bike leg. He decided to withdraw.

As for me, I prayed earnestly that I don't get a puncture (which I didn't !) because it would probably cost me 10 minutes or so. The incident at the bike start already cost me about 5-6 minutes (the bike mechanic said the tube did blow again during my swim-so that makes it two blow-outs even before I stepped on the bike!)