Other than two jellyfish stings, the swim was long, uneventful and went according to plan. It is a beautifully marked course, which made it quite easy not to get lost. No hassles in T1. I got onto the bike ready to go chase my Kona slot.
The only benefit of being a weak swimmer is that you are always passing people on the bike, a huge mental benefit. That quickly turned into a draft fest though. At some stage I counted 14 people that passed me peloton style, every one of them an idiot that I passed earlier . It was also the first time I ever saw age groupers get carded for drafting. That made me feel much better about my individual effort. But I was stuck with this group, yo-yoing between leading the pack and falling back to avoid a penalty. At around 70km I took the decision to stop at an aid station and do a proper hydration refill, putting some distance between us. As it turned out I caught up with them at 100km. Fortunately the 2nd lap’s climbing was about to start. Relative to the field I am a strong climber, so I passed the group and managed to drop them in the 10km Redbull-Zone leading to the golf-course, without much additional power output. I saw Coach on this stretch (although she was heading back out again), realized that I was catching her , and I must admit that I was looking forward to finally passing her on the bike in a race. But oh what a cruel sport this is.
Climbing a hill towards the last aid station in the Red Bull zone, around 110km, my left leg cramped. Houston we have a problem. I knew then that the moon was no longer the mission. Getting home in one piece now became the focus. The rest of the bike was tough. The cramping became more frequent and more intense. I had to get off my bike a few times on the hills to stretch, and every time I was surrounded by local kids cheering me on. I almost cycled over a live snake… probably the Devil coming to collect his dues I thought. One comforting thought was that the muscles that were cramping were probably not going to affect me too much on the run. I limped back to an air conditioned T2 looking forward to tackle the run, my favourite discipline.
The first 300m or so of the run is inside the Convention Centre. Here you also pass the first aid station. It is only once you exit the building that Langkawi’s humidity unleashes all its fury. It’s like moving from a fridge to steam room. They kindly placed an ice bath with sponges just outside the building. I grabbed as many as I could, shoved them down my tri-suit and dug in for the marathon. My legs normally take about 3km to transition from the bike, and this race was no exception. The cramps seemed to be a thing of the past. But there was another problem… my kidneys started hurting, or at least what I thought were my kidneys. Each stride felt like a knife in my back. It’s a vicious cycle… you stop running to recover, but then you really feel the heat. You take in some fluids to cool down, but you are already so full of fluids that you start feeling nauseous. So you run to cool down a bit (I know that sounds weird), but then the kidneys act up. After a while the stop-start takes its toll on the muscles and you start cramping all over. Cramps, kidneys, headaches, over-hydration, unbearable heat, soaking shoes… so much fun. Through all of this quitting was never an option, and it never should be. I had enough time to finish the race, so suck it up and keep on going.
I ended up with a time of 12:59, a far cry from the 10h15 I was planning, and with a glowstick for the first time which I’ll be hanging right next to my other medals. I’m obviously disappointed with how things turned out, but definitely not upset. Qualifying for Kona is not supposed to be easy.