Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What's Next?

During my schooling years, I had no worries in life except to do well in school, to please my parents (well…it was to avoid from being beaten up for bad grades actually), to fight for the scarce scholarship and to obtain a university placement abroad because coming from a middle income family, that was the only way I could travel overseas!

In my 20s, my only responsibility was to my employer, so, I worked hard, moved from one position to another to gain as much experience as possible with the hope that one day soon I would be at the top of the corporate ladder.  

And then I got married and had my daughter, Tasha. I was in my early 30s and the minute she came out wailing, all my other priorities seemed miniscule. But commitments had been made, so, I juggled between my family, my studies for a Masters degree and work. It was the most stressful period of my life but one that I would not trade for any others. 

It was a joy to see Tasha grow, I received my Masters degree eventually after 7 years of burning midnight oil and my career boomed.  Having been brought up to always have a goal in life, the question I asked myself then was “WHAT’S NEXT?”

The answer came without me having to look hard for it. I was 40 years young then but my bodily functions started to slow down! So, I started running because people were saying that it was the best way to burn fat but the competitive side of me took over and before I knew it, I signed up for my first race of 7.8km in Putrajaya. There was no turning back after that. I couldn’t get enough of running. They called it the Runner’s High. I was so consumed by it and started to increase my mileage progressively to 10km, 15km, 21km and 30km. Through it all, I always had my husband to accompany me on the runs and Tasha was always there as my number one support crew – she would rocktape my old joints to prevent any kind of injuries, prepared cold shower, massage and nutrition after the race, took photographs as a reminder of the suffering I went through during the race! But that was not enough to stop me. The year I turned 42, I decided to celebrate it by running a full marathon, to commemorate a km for every year I have lived. I experienced such sense of accomplishment like never before when I crossed the finishing line that it kept me running a dozen more full marathons around the world before I asked that same question again, “WHAT’S NEXT?”

The natural progression would have been ultra running of 100km and more but I felt that I needed to do something different than just running. And that was how I stumbled into triathlon. My biggest challenge was swimming because I never knew how to swim freestyle. So I took lessons and when Tasha was home on weekends, she would videotape my strokes and when asked for comments, she didn’t spare me any details. Such tough love! Just like running, I approached the sport progressively. I did a few Olympic distance races in Port Dickson, Singapore and Miri, then 70.3 (half Iron Man distance) races in Taiwan, Bintan, Phuket and Putrajaya before I decided to step up and take the ultimate challenge!

Iron Man is the ultimate distance for triathlon as is the full marathon for running. It comprises 3.8km swim, 180km bike and 42km run. It is a race of a different breed because it requires discipline in every aspect of your life – from nutrition to sleeping hours. For six months I breathe, eat and sleep triathlon. I swam 192km, ran 1301km and bike 7129km before the BIG day arrived. Tasha did her usual support crew duty the night before the race, Franco drove me to the race and stuck around until I was able to calm my nerve and went into the swim start. Everything went as planned from the swim to the bike to the run. 14 hours and 25 minutes later, I was on the red carpet heading to the finishing line. I saw Franco with tears welling in his eyes and heard Tasha shouting “I am so proud of you, mom!’ I was beaming with joy and as I stepped on the finishing line, the much-awaited announcement echoed in the air…

LINI KAZIM, you are an Iron Man.

That was just over a week ago, and now as I am writing this summary of my life, I shall let you guess what is the most frequently asked question that’s playing in my head?

You are an Iron Man

In early 2012, my timing for the full marathon races started to hit a plateau and I took that as a cue for me to do something different. Ultra or trail running was the obvious progression but I couldn’t stand the dirt and the mud that come with the sport. At the same time my husband found out that two of our neighbours, Carmen and Sam were multiple Iron Man finishers and urged me to talk to them. I didn’t because at that time, a sport that requires me to swim did not really tick my interest. Weeks went by and then one fine day, by chance, I stumbled upon them by the pool. They were swimming freestyle endlessly and I was just amazed at their fitness level as I could not even muster a lap of freestyle despite being a marathoner. So, I sat by the poolside watching them in wonderment while waiting for them to finish. We had a chat and that was how triathlon was introduced into my life.

They recommended to me Coach Steve Lumley, who earned his first Ironman title in 1991 and has been a coach since 1994. With such experience under his belt, I was comforted that all effort would eventually pay off, so I persevered through the drills and the bilateral breathing exercise that I so loathe then but now found that it was the best thing that I had done for swimming!

I did a few Olympic distance races in that same year in Port Dickson, Singapore and Miri. With every race, my confidence in the water and on the saddle grew and by the end of 2012, without a doubt, I knew that triathlon would be a sport that I would continue to pursue, so I started paying a bit more attention to my training as I now have to juggle three sports seriously instead of one. Being a novice, I decided to get Steve to prepare my training program to ensure that I have sufficient training for the 70.3 races which I signed up for in Taiwan, Bintan and Phuket.

The benefits of the training program spilled over onto the shorter distances where I managed to finish strong in all the local Olympic distance and duathlon races. It also helped me achieve my personal time of 1:54 for half marathon and 4:09 for full marathon in that year. It was definitely a year full of achievements that I never dreamt of. 

Whilst 2012 was all about swimming, in 2013, I started to focus on my cycling and hooked up with Bukit Jelutong Cycling Club (BJCC) boys who are notorious for being fast and furious. They are always pushing me beyond my limits, have little time for my whining and have no mercy for my sad stories. I knew with them I was in good hands as far as cycling was concerned, and just like I persevered through my swimming training, I decided to put up a tough fight for each and every ride.

The fruit of labour was reaped in 2014 when I came in first at Shah Alam Enduride and third at Kuantan Century Ride races in Women Open Category. That gave me the much-needed confidence to sign up for the Iron Man race in Langkawi. 

By then the triathletes in Malaysia were already in a training frenzy and therefore made it easy for me to find a training companion in Rupert Chen who had been pivotal in my early days of cycling. He started a triathlon group and between this group and BJCC, we traversed the roads to Fraser’s, Malacca and Port Dickson to name a few.

As the training increased in length and intensity, I came to a realization that the battle for the Iron Man title is probably not in the race itself but in completing the training program in its entirety. It took a lot of commitment, effort and understanding from my family members and friends. Somehow, even with support all around there were still days that I just turned off the alarm when it rang and woke up hours later consumed with guilt for sleeping in and not working my plan. 

Time flew by, mileage clocked and my body was in a constant fatigue state that REST was the only four-letter word that I looked for in my training program. Mentally I felt defeated as I continuously looked for excuses to back out from the race. It would be too hot, the cycling route is deadly, I would die of boredom on the running route and the list went on. Despite the play of emotions, I still continued to pedal, run and do my swim sets diligently.

A week before the race, Steve prepped me up with all the information that could only come from someone who had done the race dozens of time, and with that I packed my gear and set to fly to Langkawi.

Although I was quite confident that I was ready for the biggest race of my life, I still prayed hard that my race would be free from the unexpected as what had happened to me early in the year, at the 70.3 race in Putrajaya. The event was full of drama, from me losing my handphone during the bike check-in to getting two punctures during the race.

My prayer was answered on the race day. Despite the baby jellyfish bites that sent me jolting during the swim, I managed to compose myself soon after and completed the course in 1:33. I went through the transition for a complete change of attire as advised by my coach to ensure comfort on the saddle. 8 power gels, 8 bananas and 6 hours and 39 minutes later, I got off my bike and again went into the transition area to change attire.  Running was supposed to be my forte but after 180km of hard cycling up and down the treacherous hills of Langkawi Highway and rolling Datai, I was depleted of energy, so, I trod along the 10km running loop thankful for the supporters that lined up the street and the words of encouragement from fellow participants. Those were the forces that made me continue to run and finish it in 5:54.

By the time I reached Dataran Lang for the final lap, my Garmin showed an elapsed time of 14:25. I ran on the red carpet, gave high fives to those along the railing and blew a kiss to the loves of my life who had been with me through thick and thin. Soon after that I crossed the finishing line and the much-awaited announcement echoed in the air.

Lini Kazim…you are an Iron Man!