The race is "similar" to our Miri race. With 50 (more than IM MY) Kona slots up for grab and only 364 participating, it attracts the serious crowd. People who are there strictly for the Kona slots, hardly any families in tow.
The race was a real opportunity for Malaysians to attend a cheap overseas IM race. There are rumours that the budget airline would not fly there anymore. Also rumours that Hainan would no longer host the race. However, still not many turned up.
We arrived very sleepily on Friday. Wow not a ray of sunshine and cool weather the whole day (however by Sunday, the weather had turned on its head). I could spot Belinda Granger running from miles away (the wife was not happy, ha ha). I wouldn't classify Hainan as a top tourist destination. The road to the Hotel was not actually scenic.
It was a good idea to stay at the main official hotel. The staff could speak English and were helpful. The Pros were all there (wow what an opportunity to rub shoulders). As everything was expensive, we took the free hotel shuttle to a modern supermarket. Shopping there was a laugh as we didn't know the language. But no one stared at us and all were very helpful.
It was great to see familiar faces in the TBB bike mechanics (Joe, Azmil and Ali). Registration and the Race Office were very helpful.
Carbo Loading. The extra ticket for Tip cost RMB195. As it was at a swank Hotel, food was quite good (mostly pasta stuff). I followed Simon's lead (ha ha) and took back to the room bananas and oranges. Whit made a few announcements and that was it. It was just dinner, no performances. Very friendly Pro, Jocelyn Wong (10 hr 20 min at IM MY) provided the only "entertainment" by courageously requesting to borrow a wet suit. All the "Malaysians" took one table and we were joined by Brian and John from Canada and Walter from Florida. Since it was expensive, I took my time eating.
I am adverse to practice swims since you just end up spending hours putting the wet suit on the wrong way or getting sea sick from the cold choppy water or getting stung by jelly fish. So we instead spent hours enjoying the expensive breakfast that we had earlier paid for. Lunch was the cheap noodles that we bought from the supermarket.
I did test the bicycle (10 km) on the nearby harrowing roads and ran 15 minutes before the briefing (the briefing was so well done, I have already talked about it). Later, I cycled (8.6 km) to the bike check in whilst Tip took the shuttle bus. Bike check in was fun (see the photos). Even the IM MY bike check in was fun, right. Its when we see everyone, take pictures and have a laugh.
We treated ourselves to the hotel buffet dinner at 6 p.m. It was fun, Miro joined us and we spent our time watching everyone else, savouring the moment. I am not sure how 7 out of 9 female Pros (according to female Pro Miranda) got food poisoning. I learnt from IMWA and avoided all the milky stuff. Food was mostly pasta (the Hotel knew what they were doing). Early to bed as usual.
Hmm, my neighbour's alarm sounds just like mine. Five minutes later, heck that was my alarm. Breakfast was my favourite 3 in 1 coffee from Msia, PowerBar and the Hotel bananas (following Simon's lead).
Shuttle buses were every 15 minutes. We took the 5.30 am one I think. People were smiling on the bus, nice.
Bike preparation went smoothly, ably assisted by TBB. The problem was the portable loos, no light and no water in them. Some lady puked as she went in one.
ABOUT TO START
There was a place to leave your glasses and slippers. The atmosphere was fun. Managed to take photos with all the "Malaysians". I thought of going for a dip but the sensation from the cold river suddenly changed my mind.
I apologise for thinking and telling everyone that the swim route was nothing but trouble. The swim was very well done by World Champion, Ian Adamson. We were released five at a time every ten seconds. The timing chip system meant it didn't matter when you started.
The moment I dived in, I knew I was going to have a good swim. The swim suit I bought from Simon was so buoyant (thank you Simon) and has served me well many times now.
I hardly got whacked. I was lapped and but I also lapped others. It was four laps and we ran a short distance on the beach after each lap. That was nice, saw Tip and Whit each time and water in cups were provided. Each lap took about 18 minutes and you could always see the next buoy during the swim.
I hr 13 mins for the swim. Forgot my glasses and had to double back for them. T1 was OK. We all know the drill.
Goodness, a tear nearly came to my eye at the bike start. "You finish this now", I rallied myself. Don't worry this is not a tear inducing Report. The roads were super smooth. For more than 10 km, it was against the wind. In fact for more than 80% of the course, there was some sort of a frontal or cross wind. We had a huge highway (reminded me of the "Queen K") all to ourselves. Uniformed personnel (Police?) were by the road every two hundred meters or so, the whole way. There was a tape the whole way. Barricades were everywhere. You could actually go to sleep on the bike and not crash into anything.
That is why I am so upset that so many people DNF. Everything was laid out on a plate for us. Whats a little sun and wind. Malaysia is much hotter (we realised this the moment we landed at LCCT). It also wasn't the "mumuku" winds coming off Mauna Loa. But I knew people were going to DNF like skittles (gosh am I cocky?). Simon's wise words "stay in aero, its the best thing to do when its windy". How right he is.
The bike turnaround (45 km) goes through a very lovely old village. Now I know what Emma and Jocelyn were on about. "The contrast of Haikou's new, wide open highways to the old world villages makes this an especially unique venue" says the Race Program. Everyone was right, we could look right into their village homes. As usual the Police marshaled the local population very well.
Heart wrenching moment: At 55 km I saw Pro Jocelyn Wong slumped over her handle bars. "Whats wrong Jocelyn", "I'm throwing up, don't give up" she said. I can't see a damsel in distress.
After 90 km we came back to the start. The last 10 km was with the wind behind, at least we ended the loop in style.
Carmen overtook me after 20 km. She was her usual powerful self (so I thought). Miro came along much later than usual. But he was cycling along very well. Simon I saw was way ahead on the other side. I saw him a few times. He was very much in the mix at the end of the bike. Luke McKenzie (I recognise his cycling style - knees close together) was way ahead alone. Macca (drafting a bit) was in third. Ong was behind. Hoo (who was later to beat both Ong and me) was getting further and further behind, hardly anyone behind him.
The start of the second loop I immediately got into trouble. I was lucky to cross 20 km/hr against the wind. My left big toe (of all things) was so freaking painful (it was only 90km). It was difficult to go aero. I knew the mental game had begun. Everyone will feel the same, stay calm, stay relaxed, lock up the pain. All these self talk worked. Of course I was slower, but at least I was moving reasonably. Hitting the village again was difficult. Even the villagers had disappeared due to the heat. The hills there gave me cramps. The big toe started to get very painful again. But we made it back. There were still cyclists way way behind.
I stopped at most of the aid stations. The volunteers were very fast.
T2 went by as normal. I saw Macca and Lothar Leder. I thought I was so useless, that they had finished everything. I didn't know they had DNF.
I felt comfortable at the start (unlike IM MY). The first 9.6 km loop I went well. Happy to see anyone. It was the first time in my life I saw Carmen in distress. She said her tummy was not right. We parted. I saw Tip at the end of the first 9.6 km loop. I'll finish at 10 p.m. I confidently told her.
As soon as I said that, I went to pieces. The run seemed so far to go, I felt tired from IM MY (I thought), I felt heavy, I wasn't even plodding right. I started to see it all slipping away.
IM Patrice (from Bangkok) saw me in distress and gave me all his pills. "Take this now, take this one hour later. Don't try it if you have never taken it, don't walk, you won't make it". I swallowed everything and pumped my arms for all I was worth. I am grateful to IM Patrice (10 hrs 39 mins), whom I only meet at races.
It was a long long lonely road. I am an old hand at catching the cut off. I religiously monitored the time. I missed Adeline Lim, my IM MY run buddy. The volunteers were wonderful. Bursting into song when they saw me from far away. We the slow participants encouraged each other. At the run Special Needs, I put on my Busso sweater. The Aussie girls especially like to see a guy putting in an honest effort. This I know well from Busso. Sorry for worrying everyone that was "tracking" me (Emma, Mac, Ivie, Randy Tan, Robyn Stanley, P M Tey & Paul Lee).
The last two km was through the busy town. They gave the whole road to us participants. Just before the finish, there were no street lights. A cyclist with lights showed the way. "The sound of victory just ahead", he said. The sweetest words I have ever heard, it seemed at that moment.
"You wife is waiting", someone said. Apparently all the blokes and Police were chatting her up. At least she had company. Whit was doing his stuff (he still doesn't know I am Sofian, don't matter). Hoo and Ong were waiting. No Emma this time, hee hee.
I was incoherent or just plain lazy to think. The officials of course were nice to us (they put me in a wheel chair). It was a nice to see Ong, Hoo and my wife. Savoured the moment, took a few photos at the finish arch and slowly made our way to the Hotel coach.
16 hours 26 minutes (two minutes slower than IM MY). Overall 5th last. I wasn't even last in my age group. What a shame.
257th overall out of 262 finishers. The final start list had 364 names. So 102 DNF (28% - the highest I know off, even more than last year).
OK the next IM is .......... just kidding. Now its my turn to sulk for two weeks.