HOW WAS I T FOR YOU?

With an An­daman Sea swim and pas­sion­ate sup­port, Iron­man Malaysia has been draw­ing ath­letes to Langkawi since 2000. But should it be on your sched­ule in 2019?

220 Triathlon Magazine - - CONTENTS - WORDS AN­DREW PAT­TER­SON

Irun through the surf. My first strokes are a blur. Who­ever I was talk­ing to is to­tally gone and left mid-sen­tence on the beach, now in an­other place, time and di­men­sion. All I can see is the murky sea, bub­bles and heels in front of me. I’m rac­ing Iron­man Malaysia be­fore I know it. It’s now just me, my thoughts and a gi­ant body of wa­ter that’s in­fin­itely stronger than me.

I think of Ernest Hem­ing­way’s The Old Man and the Sea and how the tit­u­lar Old Man, though an ex­pe­ri­enced fish­er­man, was pulled around for days by a fish that was stronger than he was. And when he fi­nally pulled it aboard, sharks ate it, mak­ing his trip a fail­ure. I won­der if, like the Old Man, I’ll be at the mercy of the sea or if my train­ing will pre­vail. Or will luck con­quer all? “Luck is a thing that comes in many forms and who can recog­nise her?” writes Hem­ing­way. To me, luck would be hit­ting a swim time of 1:20.

THE IRON­MAN & THE SEA

Af­ter rac­ing my first Iron­man in Bus­sel­ton, Aus­tralia, in 2017 (where the swim was can­celled due to a shark sight­ing), I wanted to race a few ca­sual 70.3s this sea­son. But so be­gan a slip­pery slope of train­ing, un­in­ten­tion­ally lead­ing up to Iron­man Malaysia on Langkawi is­land. This year marks the 19th edi­tion of the race and it’s long been known as one of the hottest and hard­est Iron­mans on the cir­cuit. But, for UK ath­letes want­ing an end-of-sea­son Iron­man, there’s plenty of ap­peal, in­clud­ing a cheap des­ti­na­tion and 50 Kona qual­i­fy­ing slots ready for the tak­ing (and times tend to be slower in SE Asia).

The 3.8km swim cir­cum­nav­i­gates a large tri­an­gle twice. It’s in a calm har­bour, but over­head the tem­pes­tu­ous sky is ex­plod­ing in flashes of light­ning. The first 1km is civilised. No kicks, punches or wrestling. But near that sec­ond cor­ner I re­ceive kicks and claws and un­in­ten­tion­ally ad­min­is­ter a few my­self. The last 800m of the first lap go re­ally fast and I’m sight­ing for­ward, keep­ing one eye on the red roofs of the Danna Ho­tel.

Soon enough the beach ap­proaches. I keep on stroking un­til my fingers dig into the sand, pulling me for­ward faster than I could walk, and my face is al­most eat­ing beach. Then I can wade through pud­dle-deep waves onto the beach. A quick glance at my watch re­veals a beau­ti­ful sight: 38:20 for 1.9km. I could be in for a 1:17 swim time. My face con­torts into an in­vol­un­tary smile. Time for an­other lap.

Again, the first 400m is pretty easy. But half­way into the sec­ond stretch, my stroke be­comes sloppy. I feel my heart rac­ing as my tech­nique de­grades. A few deep breaths later and I’m back on, eye­ing the sec­ond buoy. The field has thinned and I men­tally pre­pare for the bike leg. I re­mem­ber I haven’t turned my Scoche heart rate mon­i­tor on. And I’d bet­ter re­mem­ber to take my swim­skin off as I’ve al­ready made that painful mis­take in a 70.3. Also, the Vel­cro of the tim­ing chip’s strap is dig­ging into my an­kle, and a bit of Vase­line would cure that. Fi­nally, I need to get my Garmin bike com­puter run­ning early to grab a sig­nal be­fore I start. So I came up with a chant, ‘Scoche, suit, Vase­line, Garmin’. And Re­peat.

Within min­utes I’m ap­proach­ing the beach again. I know my sec­ond lap is slower. I hit stop be­fore look­ing at the time. 1:22. Still awe­some! Up onto the beach. High­fives from peo­ple I don’t know and from some I do. To­tal ela­tion. ‘Scoche, suit, Vase­line, Garmin’. I grab bag 918 off the hanger and rush into the tent. Hit the Scoche but­ton. Unzip the swim­skin. Slather Vase­line over places that chafe. Spread sun­screen across my Saxon-Teu­tonic nose and prance over to my bike. I start the Garmin and pop three salt tabs. I look up. Dark clouds and no sun. And then drip, drop. Big, fat rain­drops start fall­ing. This is good news for me be­cause it means a cooler ride.

NOTH­ING ELSE MAT­TERS

Onto the bike and my fo­cus is to hold 190-195 watts the en­tire ride. On a hilly course such as this there’ll be huge fluc­tu­a­tions, but this doesn’t bode well for the run af­ter­wards. I’ll only be able to

af­ford to do a few huge power spikes be­fore I burn all my matches and will be guar­an­teed a death-march of a run. Iron­man isn’t a time trial or a sin­gle-sport event, but a tac­ti­cally-com­plex se­ries of races; the per­for­mance of each con­tin­gent on the per­for­mance of the prior.

Within the first 5-10km, the course goes up a se­ries of steep hills to­wards Datai. Be­fore the first lung­bust­ing hill, there are two shirt­less Ja­pa­nese guys cheer­ing madly by the road. They’re jump­ing up and down like teenage girls at a con­cert. I re­turn some cheers and they run along­side me. They’re liv­ing in the mo­ment and so am I. Noth­ing else mat­ters. Not the hills ahead for me – the walk home for them.

But then the hill comes. I have to shift down to the granny ring to make it up with­out spik­ing my power. Once crested, the rain feels like thou­sands of nee­dles hit­ting my face on the de­scent. There are loads of ac­ci­dents. Half a dozen guys look like they’ve had fights with belt sanders, and lost.

The road me­an­ders up and down, through a rock tun­nel, past kam­pungs and small towns, along well-paved but not pris­tine ru­ral roads. Onto the big­gest climb on the course. A cheer­ing group of Sin­ga­pore­ans line the right side of the road, a cheer­ing group of Ja­pa­nese the left. It’s so steep I only make it 30m be­fore my speed pre­cip­i­tously de­creases, front derailleur mo­tors strain­ing to align with the sel­dom-used cog-line. Shift too late and I’ll fall over. I look at an ath­lete walk­ing up the hill in his socks, shoes still clipped into the ped­als, feet slosh­ing in the wet. He’s way smarter than me.

981, LEVERS, SODIUM...

And yet it’s been pretty com­fort­able so far. All those long train­ing rides, all those cu­mu­la­tive miles, all that time in the sad­dle have added up. But onto lap two and my power num­bers start slip­ping. 186. Too low. I want closer to 190. But it’s too late to do any­thing about it. From now on, the ride is a blur. Some 40km of vil­lage roads, past a ce­ment fac­tory, the same loyal vol­un­teers and po­lice at the cor­ners. A 10-yearold BMW bro­ken down in some­body’s yard, al­gae grow­ing on the in­side of the wind­shield, wheels miss­ing. Chil­dren walk­ing un­su­per­vised on busy streets. Some in groups, oth­ers alone. Many no older than five. The road opens up to wide rice pad­dies with moun­tains in the back­ground.

In an­tic­i­pa­tion of the run, my mind starts play­ing a pre-recorded track. ‘981, levers, sodium.’ 981 is my race num­ber and I have to find that red bag in T2. Levers is to re­mind me to dump the tyre levers in my tri-suit pock­ets. Sodium is

“Vil­lage roads. Past a ce­ment fac­tory and a bro­ken down BMW in some­body’s yard, al­gae grow­ing on the wind­shield, wheels miss­ing”

to re­mind me to take three salt tablets. I scan the aisles to find 981. A sea of red. I find mine and jump on a chair. Off with the shoes. Put the levers away. Slip the run­ning shoes on. Oh, that feels nice. I pop three sodium pills out of the blis­ter pack and de­vour them at once, sans wa­ter. The air con in­side the ex­hi­bi­tion cen­tre is won­der­ful.

PIROU­ETTE OF TRI­UMPH

Ex­it­ing T2, I feel like a mil­lion bucks. Caper­ing about along the red car­pet in the cool air con, elated to have fin­ished the bike. On the other side of the steel di­viders yelling spec­ta­tors line the way. The en­ergy has me mov­ing too fast, too hyped. I see the shirt­less Ja­pa­nese. “I love you guys,” I scream. I’m now more their fan than they are mine. “Go, go, go,” they yell, run­ning along­side me, grab­bing my hand and rais­ing it sky­wards. Again, liv­ing like noth­ing else mat­ters.

Leav­ing the build­ing, the sun is glar­ing. Where is the storm? This is real heat. Un­apolo­getic. Re­lent­less. 35°C. My watch vi­brates. 4:59 for the first km. Too fast. The first few aid sta­tions have bot­tles of wa­ter. I grab two and keep mov­ing. The 42.2km run is three loops from the ex­hi­bi­tion cen­tre into town and through the Mer­i­tus Ho­tel by the beach. My pace drops to 5:30min/km, close to where I should be. I do the maths in my head. Swim of 1:22 plus 5:40 for the ride is 7hrs. Then an­other 4hrs for the run? Eleven hours? Is it pos­si­ble? I can’t let the pace slip.

I ap­proach the fin­ish­ing chute, wish­ing I could veer right and be­come an Iron­man. Get my medal. Towel. Pasta. Beer? Nope, take a left. Then si­lence. I’m be­hind the fin­ish­ing tent, alone. Sch­lep­ping along at 6min pace. I walk most aid sta­tions. It be­comes a rit­ual. ‘Sponge, wa­ter, gel, sodium’. I douse my­self with a gi­ant plas­tic la­dle full of cold wa­ter.

I en­ter the air con refuge, this time with less en­thu­si­asm. I take it easy. If I’m go­ing to go slow it’ll be in the AC, not the sun. The run goes on, blur­ring from aid sta­tion to sta­tion. My time is slip­ping away. It’s go­ing to be 4:15. Then 4:20. Maybe 4:30? It’s now dark. Nor­mally I’ll push through the pain, but I’m con­tent to have made it this far. Then I hear the clam­our of cow­bells, and see my wife Eda and our kids, Ezio and Elka, cheer­ing on the cor­ner. I stretch out my hand and smack who­ever’s is there. This gives me a real boost. My watch reads 39.8km. I pick up the pace. Eda and the kids will be at the fin­ish chute by now. And I’ll be there soon.

The blare of the mu­sic and the un­mis­tak­able voice of com­pere Pete Mur­ray dom­i­nates. Near­ing the chute I slow down. Once the guy in front is clear, I en­ter, smil­ing, red car­pet at my feet, painted with danc­ing lights of all colours. I’ve tun­nel vi­sion as I make my way to the line and cross it af­ter 11:49:06 of rac­ing. I spin around in cel­e­bra­tion, a clumsy pirou­ette of tri­umph. Some­where in there, Pete has ut­tered those words, “An­drew Pat­ter­son, you are an Iron­man!” but I don’t hear them. But it’s okay. I know I’m now an Iron­man….

IM­AGES DELLY CARR/IRON­MAN/FINISHERPIX

An­drew Pat­ter­son braves the re­lent­less heat of the Iron­man Malaysia run

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