A triathlon bicycle can cost upwards of RM20,000.
Spectators anxiously looking out for their loved ones.
Early morning rush to get the bikes ready before athletes get into the water.
Frenchman Romain Guillaume was first to finish at 8:32. Photo by Ironman Malaysia.
Ahmad Fadzil coming out of the water after a 3.8km swim. Photo by Ironman Malaysia.
Volunteers offering drinks to athletes at a refuelling station.

As always, Ironman 2017 was a race in endurance, spirit and internal strength, writes Aznim Ruhana Md Yusup.

THE day started early on Nov 11 on Langkawi Island. By 6am, thousands had gathered by the shores of Pantai Kok near The Danna hotel, all restless for the proceedings to begin in an hour’s time. None more so than the athletes for Ironman and Ironman 70.3, who numbered close to 2,000 in this year’s edition.

This record number of competitors from 63 countries came after several months of uncertainty.

The 2016 race was the last in a three-year contract between organiser Ironman Asia and the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, with Ironman 2017 only confirmed in March. There’s still no long-term agreement, so it remains to be seen if there will be one next year.

Meanwhile, one of the eager athletes that morning was 65-year-old retiree Ahmad Fadzil Samsudin. It was his first Ironman, after a decade away from triathlon events.

“In my student days at the Royal Military College, I was active but I didn’t excel in sports. In fact, most of the time I made drinks for those who were playing. But I love cycling and I’ve been running for a long time. Swimming is fun, although for Ironman you have to swim 3.8km so there’s nothing funny about it!

“The person who started it all was my best friend from school, Mohd Zubir Zainal Abidin. We had planned to join Ironman Langkawi in 2009 and we trained seriously for it. We started entering triathlons, but he drowned at an event in Port Dickson in 2007. I was in the water too and I didn’t see him.”

The swimming distance is 3.8km for Ironman athletes and 1.9km for Ironman 70.3.

It was a difficult time for Ahmad Fadzil, and noting the concerns of both his and his late friend’s families, he stayed away from triathlons in the following years. But he picked it up quietly in Oct 2016 with an event in Melaka. But as he was training, he received a call from his concerned daughter, who found out about it from Facebook.

“Because of what had happened, during the swimming stage in Melaka I had three friends accompany me. I had to pose for pictures after coming out of the water so we could send the photos to everyone to let them know I was okay.”

With his children placated, there was no turning back. He and his training buddies are in a Whatsapp group called “Makan Kambing”, which tells you a little bit about his priority and sense of humour. That said, competing in an Ironman requires serious preparation. Ahmad Fadzil cycled 140km, ran 20km and swam twice a week to prepare.

The biggest challenge, however, is psychological. “I’m 65-years-old,” he says. “People laugh when I say I’m doing Ironman. They ask, ‘are you sure about this?’ To be honest, I’m not too sure myself but I’m doing it anyway! It is not to prove anything. I do it for the fun and the camaraderie.”

On the day of competition, Ahmad Fadzil cleared the swimming portion with no problems. He cycled the full 180km route, and ran 18km into the 42.2km course.

“Because of technical reasons, I got a DNF (Did Not Finish) at the cycling stage because I exceeded the allowed cycling time by one minute and 18 seconds. (The cut-off time is 10 hours and 30 minutes from the start time.) But I’m happy that I competed for 14 hours in Ironman. No matter what, we have to respect the rules of the game.”

He adds: “I enjoyed the experience, maybe too much and perhaps that was why I missed the cut-off time. The cycling part looks easy but you’ve got to plan your water and fruit intake along the way. I stopped at almost all the refuelling stations and even spent time chatting with the volunteers.”

He’s keen to join Ironman again and hopes there will be another one next year.

His advice for Ironman newbies is to have a detailed plan of the whole event, including the transition time when competitors switch from swimming to cycling, and from cycling to running. He took about eight minutes per transition, and it affected his overall timing.

“My only regret is that I was unable to prove that you can survive the full race without using energy gels. I’m not a fan of them, and I only use natural supplements like dates, raisins and bananas. That said, I wish I could have had nasi lemak and hot chicken soup during the cycling stage!”

Cheerfully racing on the roads of Langkawi. A blue tag indicates an Ironman 70.3 competitor while a white tag marks a full Ironman competitor.

Meanwhile, IT professional Jeffrey Lim is competing in his second Ironman Langkawi after his first in 2016, which he finished in 16 hours and 36 minutes. The 45-year-old ran marathons previously but ventured into Ironman because he wanted to do something more challenging.

This also came after his bout with nose cancer in 2004. “I was a bodybuilder, and I did that for 10 years before my diagnosis,” he says.

“But I gave it up and took up endurance sports. This is a more complete fitness activity, and the best thing is you get to do all three activities; swimming, cycling and running. I also think that surviving cancer gave me a lot of strength to take part in these sorts of activities.”

Before coming to Langkawi, Lim committed to a 16-week training programme. He spent 10 to 12 hours a week doing all three disciplines.

Closer to the event his training time increased to 15 hours, then 17.5 hours. He also took time off from work to focus on training, and considers himself fortunate to have a supportive boss.

For an amateur competitor, there are other things to consider as well. Ironman is an expensive pursuit. The standard entry fee in Langkawi is US$600 (RM2,497) and US$280 for Ironman 70.3, where athletes race half the distance of the full Ironman.

A good triathlon bicycle can cost RM20,000 or more, depending on the material and accessories. Then there are running shoes, swimming gear, nutrition plans, massages, travelling costs and various other factors.

A refuelling station along the bicycle route.

Lim completed his Ironman in 16 hours and 10 minutes. It was an improvement of 26 minutes, mainly through the bike stage. He’d been hoping to shave his time by at least an hour, but adds, “What is more important is crossing the finish line and earning the Ironman title again. There’s always the next race to improve my results and get a new personal best.”

His performance was helped by his familiarity with the course. Weather played an important part as well. The sea was calm, and it was mainly cloudy when Lim was cycling.

“I understand there was some downpour in Kuah town but I was not affected by the rain. It had stopped by the time I reached there, so the road was wet and cooling. I was also conservative on my bike course, hence my leg was somewhat fresh for the run, at least for the first 21km. Overall it was a good race for me.”

He believes that with the right training and preparation, anyone can become an Ironman, regardless of age.

His advice for those aiming to compete in Ironman Langkawi in 2018 — if there is one — is to take part in as many triathlons as possible, including finishing several half-Ironman distances before the actual race itself.

“Have a proper programme in place and you need to train for at least 16 weeks leading to the race. Always train in groups, with friends who have the same interest or those that have done Ironman races. For cycling, consider doing the Broga Loop between Selangor and Negeri Sembilan as the tough hills in Lenggeng, Jeram Toi and Genting Peras will prepare you for Langkawi.

“If you have not done any marathons, century rides (cycling events with distances of 100 miles or 160km) and triathlons, give yourself two to three years before attempting any Ironman race. There is no shortcut and never rush into doing Ironman. Learn to appreciate the three disciplines and you will enjoy the race even more.”

Lim at the finishing line after a gruelling 16hour race. Photo by Ironman Malaysia.

FOR many amateur Ironman athletes, there’s indescribable satisfaction in simply completing the race.

As I stood near the finish line at Meritus Pelangi Beach Resort & Spa Langkawi, I overheard one finisher with a Sarawak flag quietly saying to himself, “Finally.”

While it is an achievement to finish before the 17-hour cut off time — or 1am the following Sunday — the professionals do it in half the time.

The first to the finish line was Frenchman Romain Guillaume, whose time was 8 hours and 32 minutes. The fastest female was four-time winner Diana Riesler from Germany at a record-setting run of 9:19.

It was remarkable seeing them at the finish line at midnight, handing out medals to those who’d just completed their race.

Meanwhile, the fastest Malaysian male was Shahrom Abdullah at 10:19, and Mei See Chin was best Malaysian female for the third year running with a time of 11:34.

Langkawi native Lim Chee Yong finished at 11 hours and 45 minutes to earn a spot at the Ironman World Championship. The 20-year-old is the first Langkawi local to qualify for the prestigious event in Kona, Hawaii

Fastest female athlete Diana Riesler on her way to a record-setting 9:19. Photo by Ironman Malaysia.


507 reads

Related Articles

Most Read Stories by