Ironman South Africa 2016

Ironman South Africa 2016 Race Report.
Port Elizabeth, South Africa

I still cannot believe that that I did it. The Ironman! A 3.8km swim, 180km bike and 42.2km run all in one day. Who would have thought? I could barely swim a lap in a 25m pool and have never ridden a bicycle of anykind for 20 years when I started triathlon two years ago after getting fed upwith the lack of progress in my running.
It was a long journey. I have progressed from Super Sprint to Ironman distance in those two years. The swimming, cycling and running has quicklybecoming a lifestyle and not just trainings. Be warn that this is a long post.Go get yourself a cup of coffee. 

The training for Ironman is hard but it is not impossible. I almost quit triathlon last year when the stress of long triathlon training taken its toll on me, a father of three children (I now have four, busy I know) with a full time job. All you need is a little bit of creativity on your time management, sacrifice your social calendars and entertainments and moreimportantly the family support. A proper Ironman training took 6 months. Eachweek typically consist of three sessions for each discipline for a total of 10-15 hours/week. If you think about it, the maximum training at your peak is just 15/168 hours per week which is less than 9% of your time.

Pre-race Dramas
Everything turned against me and I almost didn’t make it to South Africa. Firstly, my mother in law was not able to come over to Doha to look after my children because my sister in law was about to deliver her first baby. We just could not afford to travel to South Africa with four little children. We will file for bankruptcy and it will be more tiring than the Ironman itself. Trust me I know. Thankfully we had our dear friends Zaireen and Abe willing tolook after the children at the last minute.

Secondly we were not allowed to check in our flight when we got to Doha Airport. Apparently you need a birth certificate if you bring in children into South Africa. Who would have known that? We called our friend, Lolyta who was still half asleep after just arriving from Paris last night to get the birth certificate from our house and drive as fast as safely possible to the airport. Sadly the check in counter was already closed when she arrived. We missed it by a mere 10 minutes. We had to buy another ticket which will cost me double than the original price. I simply can’t afford it. I did not want to go toSouth Africa alone for my first Ironman either. This race was as much about me as it is about my wife and my family. They have sacrified so much putting up with me and my crazy schedule. I was heartbroken and willing to accept that it was not meant to be. I broke the news to our #Pelaristyloyo (PSY) and FB friends, but they urged me not to give up. My PSY friends even willing to chip in money to share the costs.  Too bad the flight was full when I got back to the ticket counter.

There were no other flights available since all connecting flights to Port Elizabeth were full because of the race. I can’t get to PE in time for race registration and bike check in on Saturday. I kept coming back and forth to the Qatar Airways ticket counter. The nice lady at the counter tried all the possibilities and after all hope was gone she found a solution. I could change my destination to Cape Town and won’t cost me as much. I borrowed some money from our PSY captain, Hisham and bought the tickets. One small challenge though. The distance between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth is about 750km. That is roughly 10-12 hours drive! We will miss one whole day but could still arrive in PE before mid-night on Friday. I broke into tears when she told me this. The tears I fought so hard to contain since morning. I just could not control my emotion. It was really embarrassing. You know the feeling when you saw a glimmer of light after all hope was gone.

We had 15 hours before our flight so we went home and I did all the booking for the car and hotel while my wife was busy studying the route we will be driving. Back at the airport, just before boarding the plane I realized that I lost my mobile phone. I did not want to think too much about it and board the flight. Alhamdullilah there was no dramas during the flight and our baby was just sleeping the whole way. I could not get the paid vouchers for the car without my phone and we were delayed for two hours before we could get our rental car at Cape Town Airport. Luckily my wife could drive and we took turn on the wheel. The journey from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth took 11 hours. It was almost midnight by the time we got to the Hotel. I was exhausted.

Another little challenge. I bought the top of the line Huub Archimedes II wetsuit in December. The wetsuit broke apart just after a month. I requested for a replacement since it was still under warranty. It tookthem three months to send a replacement. I got it just in time a couple of days before my departure. To my horror, I found out that the replacement suit they sent was a wrong size! I was so pissed off, I went to social media. Guess what? I got the attention from the very top person at Huub and they couriered a new suit within hours and I shall get the suit on Friday at my hotel in PE. I never got it! The suit arrived at PE but was not delivered to the hotel. I don’t care anymore. Enough of dramas. Luckily I brought the broken wetsuit along. I patched it with neoprene glue and it was good.  
I only had one day to do route familiarization, bike test, swim practice, registration, bike check in and briefing. The good thing was, Idid not have time to feel anxious. I even got a decent night sleep. That is something new.   

The swim was hard. I was way off my target. With 1:20 target, I positioned myself in the 1:00-1:30hrs wave. I was hoping to latch on some faster feet to draft on but it was too difficult as I was constantly fighting with the waves and the currents of the Indian Ocean. The swim condition was so different than what I've used to in Doha. It was impossible to sight the sighting buoys over the waves as big as Qatar’s sand dunes (a little exaggeration but you know what I mean). I swallowed plenty of sea water too.The swim from Hobie Beach to Kings Beach felt like an eternity. I was tired by the time I reached the turn. I saw my pace consistently dropping from 1:55 to 2:15/100m. Now comes the tricky part as we heading back to Hobie Beach as we swam closer to the shore where the waves break. I tried to swim harder but the strong swell and under current pushed me off course towards Humewood Beach. I only realized this when a marshal on kayak told me that I went a wrong way. I tried to stay positive knowing that it will be a long day. I finally stood upon Hobie Beach and hit the lap button on my watch at 1:39:56 on the clock after swimming 4271m, 471m longer than I needed to. Still happy though, one down two to go.

Was so glad the swim was over

The bike course runs parallel to the coast in a 45 km outand back route. We had tail wind on the way out, but it did not helped much as we had many inclines including the two monstrous climbs (to Qatar’s standard at least). It was harder on the way back into town when we had to fight the headwind. The bike course was so exposed to the elements being close to the coast with just shrubs on the sides but the view was breathtaking. We had to do the loop twice. I messed up with my nutrition plan and got really tired by 120km in my second lap. I was contemplating on stopping and rest for few minutes to refuel while enjoying the view. But I did not. I kept going. My average speed went from 30s to 10s km/hr on the climbs. I could run with the bike faster than riding it at one point, so I thought. It was now impossible to complete thebike below 7 hours. Never mind, I will be happy just to finish it. I finally made it to T2 in 7:20:57. OK now I only have a marathon to run. As a marathon runner, I could not wait to jump off the bike and start running.

The spectacular view on the bike course provides nice distractions 

It was a 4 x 10.5 km laps course along Marine Drive. I don’tparticularly like running laps in a marathon, but surprisingly that was not thecase in IM marathon. I could break the run into 4 parts and focus on each lapat a time. Seeing my wife and baby girl at every lap was a great incentive and pull factor too. I ran really well on the first two laps with average pace around 6:00 min/km. I was surprised on how fresh I felt after 9 hours of swim and bike. It may not be sub 13 hours like I hope but if I can maintain the pace, I could still finish the race sub 14 hours. That hope was short lived. My wheels collapse at the start of the third lap. I could not take any more gels and nutrition and started to feel really sick. I felt bloated and nausea. I had nothing left in the tank. I exhausted all my glycogen storage. The next 21km was a pure torture of run, walk, drink, vomit repeat. The support along Marine Drive was fantastic. The whole town came down to cheer. I felt almost embarrass to walk but the suffering continued. It was not until I turned into the finishing chute that I was able to run again. I felt alive and strong running on the red carpet with the Malaysian flag in my hands. I finished the marathon in 5:07:36 and the total time of 14:22:58. I was relieved that it was over. What happened after that was blurry, but I did remember the announcer said “Now let’s welcome Mohd Syafei Bin Ahmad from Bahrain (what the??????) surely the long day is over the medal is yours, what an amazing journey your’re now an Ironman”
That feeling when you run on the red carpet at an IM race


I could not eat anything after the race and spent a long time in the hotel toilet vomiting. I woke up feeling hungry but surprisingly I had no muscle pain or soreness what so ever. I spent the next day in Port Elizabeth with a little bit of sightseeing with my family.
I drove 750km down N2 Highway to Cape Town the following day enjoying the spectacular sights along the Garden Route. We got the chance to see a little bit more of South Africa. The missing flight was a blessing in disguise after all. We stop at Tsitsikamma National Parks, Platenberg Bay and Knysna. It was so beautiful that my wife and me vowed to come back. My wife was even inspired to do her first Ironman in South Africa to celebrate her 40 years old birthday in 7 years. 

I have so many people to thank for. My family, my employer ORYXGTL, my very supportive friends, coaches especially Coach Bernard and my training buddies. Without them this would be impossible. The trainings and your perseverance could only take you to the start line. It was the support and love from the people around you that will carry you over the finish line. Thank you thank you thank you.
Will I be doing another Ironman race? My answer depend on when you ask:

During the race: Hell NO!!
The day after: Maybe but not in a foreseeable future
Three days after: No need to ask, I was already looking at the list of upcoming races 
A week after: I am already started training again.
I hope I made Malaysia proud..... walaupun

Maybe I will be back 


nazif.nikwan said…
Proud of you bro!
Thank you Nik. Eh jom gi keter
bee said…
Very proud of u! Takleh imagine cane muntah then lari blk??? Demmm...
aizal_ibrahim said…
idolaaa... 1 day i want to be ironMan like u too

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