What I have learned about triathlon so far...

Even after the Penang triathlon (Olympic Distance) and Putrajaya Half Ironman, I still can’t quite figure out what attracted me to the sport in the first place. Running, I could perhaps grasp the lore of it. But as for swimming and cycling, the idea still has not quite sunk in. I am still pretty clueless about the whole shenanigan. At best, these recent events could only be described as intriguing, but painfully disconcerting.

So, you could perhaps understand if I say that I don’t quite share the same passion about the sport as some of my triathlete friends. Triathlon is very new to me. Likened to a child experiencing his first swim, I am still trying to grapple with the ‘how’, while being thrown into the deep end. This may seem like an exaggeration, but the fear is very tangible when you are out there. And I was told, in fact, even seasoned Ironman have the same angst and struggle every time before a race. So, who am I to argue with that?

Let me tell you my sob story and get that out of the way. It was disheartening. First the Penang Triathlon 2014 in March, where I swam a devastatingly slow 28 minute for a severely under-distanced 1.5km swim. (the actual distance was about 1.1km). Pulling myself together after a disorientating toss in the sea, I struggled to complete a 40km ride with a frustratingly slow 1 hr 30 min. All the bike training did not even make a dent. I might as well be using a tricycle. When it finally came to the run, where I had expected to ‘turn up the heat’, the steam just ran out of me…

Putrajaya Ironman in April was, to be honest, brutal. I thought that swimming in the lake would be alright. No issue of wave or current. No salty water to complicate matters…But the swim turned out worse than I had anticipated. In the pool, I could swim an average of 44 minutes for 2km. Not exactly Phelps’ caliber but passable. But in the Putrajaya lake, somehow, it just did not happen at all. And it didn’t help too when I swam off course in the initial stage. In the end, after an eternity of “will I ever get to the white Buoy??!!#@*”, I finally came up with a time of 58 minutes! I was totally disgusted with myself.

Got over it quickly as I transitioned to my bike leg. Coming to the race, this was the one thing that I was most concerned about. What I mean by ‘lack of mileage’ on the bike, (akin to anorexic level kind of lack), was like going to a marathon without ever having done any LSD. The longest ride that I have ever done was 84km. It was that Once. The rest were 60+ or less. So, imagine trying to squeeze in 90km of ride at this point. So, I expected a poor outcome. And it was. 3 hrs 15 min. Wasn’t too ecstatic about it but honestly, beggars can’t choose. I would take ANYTHING at this stage. But when I finally came to the run, the heat of the day and the fatigue after the swim and 90km bike proved too much for me. The 2:08 run was perhaps my slowest half ever. I just got through it by the skin of my teeth: Sheer stubbornness. It was nothing but stubbornness.   

It is easy to be disheartened by all this. Being an overachiever and perfectionist by nature, it was difficult for me to accept that I actually suck at triathlon. But the most valuable lesson that I have gained from this was a healthier PERSPECTIVE.

First of all, before we get all philosophical about any of this, I would just stress here that the single most important reason I suck at this is simple: My own fault. Period. Because it is so easy to blame others or yourself with endless self-pity and sulking, … “O the water was too murky and unhygienic!” ” “O mummy didn’t buy me a 29K tri bike!” “O the route was not all that well planned out!” “O the heat was too much!” “O they should have more water stations!!” …

No. I have only myself to blame for not training adequately.

I started training at the end of February after SCHKM, so the lack of mileage on the bike was a foregone conclusion. But the training method needs much specificity too. Like running, where this is the emphasis on interval, tempo, hill as well as LSD, the same principle applies to bike as well.

As for the swim, that was an overestimation of my actual ability. I thought I was OK with it. But clearly, when you are weighed, measured and found wanting, you know. Now I see the need to work on my technique. Currently, it feels like I am dragging two boulders for a ride. I have considered taking up some courses on Total Immersion. Let’s hope this helps.

And let’s not forget the brick sessions on top of all that. And as for the third and much neglected leg of the triathlon, the run, with whom much work of reconciliation is required, I am working to regain my speed and stamina after many months of wilful neglect. I am truly sorry for abandoning you. L I will make it up to you. I promise.

It is no rocket science. It’s pure logic. Sometimes, the most obvious thing is getting over yourself. The rest, is just hard work, as long as you are willing to put in the effort, sweat and pain….  

OK, training aside, now comes the reason for doing it.

It is this that requires some thought and insight. If I were doing this for approval or acceptance, then, it would be the wrong reason. If it was an issue of ego or pride, then I have to deal with that pride issue first, before even thinking about going anywhere with this. If this is just another certificate of achievement on the wall, then for me, it is not enough reason to spend so much time dwelling on it. It’s got to be a passion. A lifestyle. And sometimes, this aspect will not be discovered until you have spent enough time and effort to work it out and understand the sport. It is far too easy to give up when you hardly know what triathlon is all about. As I am discovering more and more about the intricacies of swimming and bike, I am intrigued by the science of it. I can only imagine the same effect it would have on me, as when I took a special interest in running in 2009. As I recall, I have not understood much of the science of marathon until I finally took some time and effort to train specifically for it. Then, I discovered my passion for it in a whole new way. Improvement was only a byproduct though a powerful incentive too, I might add. We are all creatures of effort and reward. This is intrinsic in all of us.

I have jumped on the bandwagon before realizing what I am truly in for. But for some things in life, you can’t really appreciate it until you have actually tasted what it is all about. It would be nice to always have that safety net to catch you when you fall. But in this case, you really have to 'suffer' in order to truly grasp the reality of it. And it will not happen with a half committed heart. You have to be immersed in it.

For me, my triathlon experience is a baptism of fire. But I believe it only makes the whole thing more authentic and real to me. If anyone reading this is in the same predicament as me, I urge you to think about your reason. Get down to the specifics and get acquainted with the sport well enough before you decide whether it is for you or not. Get into a group with whom you can train together. I am fortunate to have such a group of friends. Accountability is a powerful tool. You will discover more of yourself through them and be able to see your weaknesses more clearly.

Encouraged by an Ironman friend

Training Buddies

I discover that the one thing that holds true in all this, is the issue of our attitude. It is the attitude to improve and discover new things about oneself. Could I improve more? How can I be more efficient? Are there any updates and new discoveries in the science of the sport that I need to learn?

It’s the attitude of constant learning. And I might add in retrospect, that a good dose of humility is that quintessential ingredient in all this if one ever hopes to progress. Personally, I confess that I have often been tempted to think that I have ‘arrived’ and plateaued in my knowledge of marathon, but the truth remains that I have much to learn and there is definitely room for improvement. I believe the same applies to the appreciation of triathlon too. 

The only difference is that for this, there is definitely more room for improvement. J


  1. It's transforming to a triathlon blog now. That's big world of knowledge in triathlon I feel, but I'm sure in time you'll master it like you conquer marathon. It's still endurance sports, it's in your gene~

    1. Its indeed a steep learning curve, Kent. But at the end of the journey, regardless of whether I could actually 'master' it or not is not really the main thing. The main thing is learning along the way. Can anyone say that they ever arrived?

    2. True... the more we learn the more we feel there's more to know~

  2. I could never do a triathlon simply because of two things. I don't have it in me and I can't swim even if my life depended upon it :D Which is why I'm full of respect for you for diving into this path. Congrats on going through with it and emerging as an Ironman!

    1. Nick, truthfully, my passion is still running. But got to give this one a chance before I consider moving on. As I discover more about the swimming and bike (and how little I actually know about it!) I am more fascinated by it. Who knows...Let's see how the actual Ironman unfolds....


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