A DNF is always hard to swallow. Especially when it's your A-race, the one you've been gearing up for all year long. Making that decision to quit, to DNF, to retire wasn't an easy one. What made the decision tougher was the fact that for the first time, my parents and my boys were in Langkawi to watch me race. I didn't want to disappoint them, having dragged them all the way here just to watch me fail.
But looking back, I suppose quitting and having them disappointed was a better alternative than having them worry about me while I lay in hospital had I chose to go on. Yes, it may sound dramatic, but it certainly looked like it was heading that way.
Here's the story:
The swim was a killer. Even before the swim, I was feeling a little gassy in the tummy. I put it down to nerves, but little did I know how much of a big part this little problem would play later on in the race.
At the gun, I was swimming briskly. There were swimmers all around me and after the first 50 metres or so, I got into a rhythm. I felt my strokes were long and smooth, and I was gliding well. Being surrounded by other swimmers gave me this false sense of confidence, that my pace was good.
At the 1600m mark, I looked at my watch. 1h04m! WTF! I usually hit the turnaround at 50-55 minutes. Now I'm at 1h04m and I still have 300m to go. Not good.
Hit the turnaround at 1h10m and started wondering if I was going to make cutoff. It looked marginal. My strokes were now shorter but the push was stronger. Breathing was getting laboured. Short and abrupt inhaling and exhaling. Currents kept pushing me away from the bouys, so it was a bit of a struggle just to get back on track. While I felt I was swimming in a straight line, the currents were actually making us swim at a 45 degree angle away from the swim lane.
Finally made it back in 2h01m. The last time I swam this badly was my first IM, back when I didn't know how to swim. I was completely winded by the time I got out that I was barely able to walk to the change tent.
By now I was feeling bloated. But because of the seawater taste in my mouth, I just downed any liquid I could find. Water, Gatorade and even Coke became victims of my thirst. That would prove fatal later on.
Spent more than 10 minutes in the change tent. Most of it trying to get my arm coolers on. Grabbed my bike and saw my dad, yelling words of encouragement. But I couldn't really hear what he was saying, my mind was just a blur. Mounted the bike and went about 100m before I saw my boys. Stopped to get a hug and kiss from them and moved on, being very careful not to push too hard.
Started on my nutrition plan. Took a bite out of my EFS bar and then it happened. All the liquids I ingested in the change tent was starting to rise. AS I chewed on my bar, trying to swallow it, the liquids started coming out the other way. Puke number one, while I still had the bar in my mouth!
I later lost count how many times I threw up but it's safe to say I decorated the road to the Padang Lalang roundabout with my sick. At 20k I decided to stop a while and just get rid of it all. Spent 20 minutes puking my guts out till I was sure there were no more liquids in my tummy. This worked last year when I had the same problem and I was able to continue after that.
This time, however, it wasn't to be. Any time i took a sip from my bottles, whether i twas Gatorade or water, it all just came out again. By now a couple of other problems were starting to creep in: I started getting chills and every time I stopped pedaling, I started to fall asleep. Not good.
I decided to stop at the 40k aid station to shower so I can get the sleepiness out. Another 20 minutes spent. But then the chills kept getting worse. Continued towards Bukit Malut, shivering and sleepy. A nice ice cold Coke would probably help wake me up and get rid of the gassy feeling.
Saw Bandit as I apporached Malut and asked him to buy me a bottle of Coke. Shortly after, saw Mac taking pictures of riders going up the hill and stopped. I needed to take a nap!
I laid down and took a nap while waiting for Bandit to return with the Coke. Right there on the grass in the hot sun! The Coke came and I downed it. I felt the burp coming and I let it out. Unfortunately, it came out with all the Coke too. All over my white tri top.
It was at this point I contemplated a DNF. I had heard over the SMS grapevine that Ishsal had called it quits and that there was no more water on the bike course. Do I really want to continue? The foremost thought in my head was that I didn't want to let my parents and boys down. They came all the way to watch me finish. I wanted them to be proud of me. I couldn't possibly let them down with a DNF.
Bandit suggested I take an easy spin through Malut towards Kuah and see how. I took off my arm coolers (which were giving me the chills) and changed my aero helmet for a normal ventilated one (thanks Mac, for lugging my spare helmet around and switching the helmet stickers) and continued. I felt better slightly and was able to hold a good pace. Started passing some riders (probably unlapping myself). But the puking continued.
Then I reached the dreaded Bukit Hantu. I started climbing it but midway, I felt a big one coming. Stopped and let it out. Continued riding up the hill, but was now feeling quite woozy. I think dehydration and lack of nutrition was setting in. I was wobbly at the top, so I decided to ride on to the next aid station and try to eat. I was scheduled for a bar anyway.
I got to the next station and tried to get off the bike. But cramps started to set in. Bandit was there and passed me some water and ice, made me sit down by the side of the road and gave my leg a massage. I tried to drink the water but I coudn't even swallow, I was dribbling like an idiot. I looked at the time and decided I wasn't going to make the intermediate cutoff and it would have been foolish to try. I told Bandit to call Mac to pick me up. I had no choice but to let my parents and kids down.
I passed out while waiting for Mac to arrive. Apparently, the temperature had hit 46 degrees at that point! Senn came by after I woke up, needing a new watch, hers had run out of batteries. Bandit passed her his and she passed a message through him that she loved me. That was comforting.
Mac arrived shortly after and I got my phone out and called my Dad. With tears in my eyes, I had to tell him I couldn't go on and that I was sorry I dragged them all the way to Langkawi just to let them down. My dad comforted me and told me it was ok. Shafeeq, my eldest, called me soon after to find out what happened. He said he wasn't disappointed and that made me feel better.
Surprisingly, I wasn't too disappointed with this DNF as I was with my first. I guess already having two finishes under my belt meant that I could let this one go. I knew that if I couldn't keep anything down, I was going to end up with a massive bonk and severely dehydrated. It was a risk not worth taking. Better to call it quits and live to fight another day. I think my parents were glad I pulled out. Only Shaqeel was a bit disappointed. I thin he really wanted to cross that line with me. And really, that was the only thing that made me sad: not being able to run across the line with my boys.
I did some research the next day and it turns out that I swallowed too much air during the swim. If you don't exhale completely before inhaling, the excess air that you take goes to your stomach, causing bloatedness and subsequently vomiting. The tough swim made things worse. I have to learn to breathe properly before tackling my next Ironman.
Speaking of which, I don't have to wait a whole year till the next one. I've signed up and paid for Ironman Western Australia in December. I'll be looking to redeem myself then. Hopefully I can coax my parents and kids into going for that one so they can finally see me finish.
As for Langkawi, I'll be back next year. But as a supporter. This was a decision I made even before the start of this year's race so this DNF had nothing to do with it.
Langkawi this year was truly a race of attrition. Of the 538 registered, a whopping 116 did not finish. Nine of those didn't even make the start! It really was a tough day out there. Congratulations to the 422 finishers, especially the first timers. You survived on a day many did not.
Special shout out to Senn who finally had an incident-free race and Emma for finally getting her Kona slot. And a big big thank you to Bandit and Aileen for fussing over me like I was a prissy little princess and to Mac for taking care of me pre and post race. You guys rock!