Warming up in the pre-dawn dark, already drenched in sweat from the high humidity, I knew it was going to be a hot day in Malaysia.
The start area and 500m-long transition was crowded with people jogging and stretching and even a few doing what looked like step aerobics - adding to the confusion and nerves. Adrenaline is a natural response from the body to being on the start line, but as it was the first mass-start race for me since October, the feeling was a bit strange and unfamiliar. We elites were interviewed for the crowds (spectators as well as participants – very dedicated to come down so early in the morning!) and lined up just in front of the massed ranks of 2000+ age-group athletes. You really don’t want to trip up where there are that many people running behind you!
The stillness of the start line as the countdown began, then at 7:05 the gun went and everything was a blur of movement as our huge stampede of people sprinted down the 3-lane boulevard in front of the Malaysian Palace of Justice.
Dawn began to light the sky as we covered the first lap. And as the field spread out, I could hear birdsong and the raucous noise of parrots over my own breathing. I settled into a comfortable rhythm and overtook a few guys who had started out too quickly. And I began to notice and enjoy the scenery – the back portion of the 5km run lap was on undulating suburban tree-lined streets, beautiful, especially in the early low light. Despite the early start it felt hot and by the second lap, I was already taking a few sips of water at the feed stations. I came into the end of the second lap alone, enjoying a view down the wide Persiaran Perdana Avenue flanked by imposing buildings. Putrajaya is the Malaysian government’s administrative centre and it seems to be largely made up of architectural exhibition pieces, quite stunning when you take the time to look up.
T1 was smooth but unhurried – I have a tendency to forget crucial pieces of equipment if I rush! And it was worth the time to wipe off some sweat before putting on my helmet, just to try to save my eyes from stinging and getting blurry vision.
Then I was off and enjoying the slight cooling effect of the breeze from moving faster. The bike lap was largely on motorway, where one lane was coned off for the race, but despite this it somehow wasn’t boring. We covered two laps of 29km, and the motorway was undulating, surrounded by countryside, and not dead-straight. Coming back into Putrajaya we crossed the spectacular Persiaran Perdana bridge. I was on a road bike because I simply hadn’t had my TT race bike with me in Australia to take to Malaysia: not ideal on that fast, flat course, but I’ve got used to riding low on the drops (thanks to windy Perth!). The first lap was almost entirely solitary, but by the second lap there were a lot of other riders on the road – participants in the short course race, who’d started after us, and even other riders on the long course who were a lap behind me. It was sometimes a little frustrating trying to weave in and out of the crowds, but in some ways it added interest and it was certainly nice to see so many people out taking part. An impressive job by the organisers to get 2,654 people out racing: a huge and good-natured crowd of quite mixed ability.
2km from T2 I thought I had a puncture when my front wheel started hissing alarmingly – but it was a discarded gel wrapper (not mine!) caught between wheel and fork. In T2 again I didn’t break any records, but I didn’t forget anything either. I had no idea of gap behind me, although I knew I was in the lead thanks to the lead motorbike on the ride and the cyclist with me on the run.
The second run was a lot hotter than the first, the sun glaring down by then with full heat, and my legs feeling sore already from the first run. Self-pity doesn’t get you very far in a race though, and to be honest the relief at having to run only 10km off the bike (compared to the 42km of a long-distance triathlon) was enough to cheer me up rapidly. I also managed to overtake a few more of the elite men, which is always encouraging! The slight uphills felt easier than the downhills, and I tried to concentrate on running smoothly and maintaining good technique. I was beginning to feel pretty good about my pace towards the end of the first lap when, lo and behold, someone ran past me! It was the leading male, Thomas Bruins, which was somewhat humbling. I’m glad to say he was the only one! There were lots of cheery short course athletes offering support as I ran past, and by the second lap there were many long-course runners too.
I witnessed some tired painful shuffling from those whose legs were giving them grief – a feeling I know all too well. It was a huge relief to realise a few km from the finish that my stomach was going to behave itself (for once) all race. But with no idea of how big my lead was, I wasn’t sure if a rival was rapidly catching me. So I tried to keep a steady high pace and squeeze the best out of myself, whilst saving 5% for a sprint finish, should it be needed. In the end it wasn’t – my lead was about 16 minutes. But better safe than sorry! And it was a pretty awesome finish down that wide road, with the crowds cheering on. First stop a large bottle of water!
All in all it was great to have a successful start to the 2016 race season, especially at a friendly and well-attended race. Duathlon seems to be hugely popular in Asia and the national sports TV coverage was extensive. Malaysia: I’ll be back! My thanks to Tempo Sport – bikespeed.ch and NGI for their support towards getting me to both the start and finish lines of my first race of 2016.