Project Hero Race Report: Knut’s Time to Shine

After 12 weeks of intense training, it all boils down to this one day. One day and 113.1km. This is what the 12 weeks have been about, this is the defining moment. Read on to see how Knut defined his moment.

Project Hero Week 12/12
The final week arrived and my confidence was ok, but the last attempted brick in week 10 in Putrajaya, on a very hot day had been a failure. So I was very conscious about the major efforts race day would require, and that the risk of not being able to finish was very real. But surprised myself at being less nervous this week than the week before.

Did some very light training on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, then into rest mode.

I had tried to go to bed early and get up early this week, so the change to race day would not be that big. I got back from Manila on Friday night and had already seen other guys post pictures on facebook from the athletes’ check-in so was getting excited. At home we (Harum and I) checked our bikes and looked over our gear then headed to bed. Butterflies in the tummy.

Saturday morning we got on our way to Putrajaya but had rushed a bit and skipped breakfast. I was getting hungry so we decided to stop at one of the R&R places on the way. But then race nerves crept up, and trying to find something to eat was not easy. I definitely did not want anything that could potentially cause any stomach issues, and on the other hand I really wanted to make sure I got reasonable amount of nutrition this last day. After a long deliberation we settled on some kaya pao because at least it should have been properly heated.

At Putrajaya we found parking quickly but neither of us knew where the actual check-in was. Only after some long minutes of googling did we realize we had parked quite a distance from the auditorium. Standing and walking in the hot sun was a stark reminder of what would await us during the race next day. On the way to the auditorium we ran into Ellya who offered some last minute advice and told us we didn’t need to worry with the training we had put in – but I was far from convinced. Last thing he said was to remember to enjoy it, and I thought to myself that I hope I will be able to.

The check-in was nice and professional, Nik was also there checking in and my heart sank when he shared that he would have to withdraw because he still hadn’t properly mastered the swim. Felt so sorry for him and could so well identify with the disappointment considering the efforts we all put into getting ready for this. But the efforts are not wasted bro, your time will come!

After the registration we bought some Ironman memorabilia before drooling over the tri-bikes on display. As we sat down to watch the info video, it started raining heavily outside so we watched the video 3 times until the rain had subsided enough for us to get back to the parking to take our bikes to the transition area. I went to the bike workshop as my gears where not very smooth, they tuned it a bit but it didn’t help much, it would still skip and get stuck a bit shifting down, but it didn’t hinder me much during the race though, just annoying.

Nervous smiles after check-in :)

Nervous smiles after check-in 🙂

It was very impressive and a bit scary to see the size of the transition area and all the bikes! And what type of bikes! In my only previous triathlon there were hardly any tri-bkes, maybe 10-15% were tri-bikes or had aerobars, the rest were normal roadbikes, here it seemed like 99% were tri-bikes. I felt intimidated. See this vid for an impression of what it looked like:

Back home I tried to stay calm although I could feel the excitement build, we packed our bags for the next day, had dinner and headed to bed around 9.30pm, one and half hour later than I had hoped. But it was still hard to fall asleep as my mind was everywhere. I managed to get more than 6 hours of sleep though, which I am quite happy about.

Funny coincidence, our age group letters matched our first name initial :) Awesome to have your flag on the bib too, but I have to complain why the Norwegian flag is smaller than the Malaysian! :)

Funny coincidence, our age group letters matched our first name initial 🙂 Awesome to have your flag on the bib too, but I have to complain why the Norwegian flag is smaller than the Malaysian! 🙂

Race day!
Finally the day was here. We got up, had our smoothie, I was happy to have my standard toilet visit at home, showered and we got on our way. Arrived at 6.30am and the transition area was busy! Said hello to the guys next to me, laid out my stuff and pumped my tires. It went so quick and smoothly I got worried I had forgotten something. But all was ok.

Then met up with my colleague who I had somewhat convinced into joining and we had trained together a few times. He was going to do this on a mountain bike – crazy man, albeit with road tires but still.
Then walked down to the swim start and started the wait. So many people! Waiting, waiting, waiting. Finally the VIP arrived to start us off, who incredibly blamed traffic for his late arrival despite I am sure having police escort and empty roads at 7am in the morning.

Back in January when we started the final 12 weeks of training I answered this when Arif asked me what my goals would be: ” Knuta aims to finish Ironman Putrajaya 70.3 around 15-30 minutes before cutoff. His dream finish would be 7h15m.”

The Swim
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Harum’s wave was before mine, so gave her a quick kiss and wished her good luck, but I think we were both too overwhelmed to register much. We had both been pretty quiet the whole morning, focused and nervous I think. I was happy to see Harum get off to a good start though, before it was my time to enter the lake.
I can’t float or thread water well, so headed straight for the pontoon I was SO grateful the organizers had provided for us who are “float challenged”, to have something to hold on to until the start horn would go off.

So this was it, 6 months of very dedicated training :
• 164 training session, a total of 1917km covered, 138.34 hours and 74049 calories burned:
o 50 runs, 377km, 43.05 hours
o 54 bike sessions, 1455km, 66 hours
o 54 swims, 85.29km, 29.16 hours

Don’t get me wrong, I have thoroughly enjoyed the training, I am blessed to have a wife I can share this with and I have loved the discipline in working towards this objective. But I also very much wanted to complete the final steps of this journey in style. But when I was holding on to the pontoon none of this was in my head though. Actually I can’t remember thinking of anything. Was just looking at the people around me. The excitement and anxiousness in everybody’s faces. “30 seconds to start” was announced, we all looked at each other and wished everyone good luck, braced ourselves and suddenly there was the horn.
Here a short clip to give you an idea of what it was like.

I had seen a few scary clips from mass starts where it looks like total and utter chaos, I was very happy that we had wave starts and about 90 guys in my wave which made the start quite civilized. None of the MMA stuff I had read about. The most ambitious probably knew how to float and were already in front, and the rest of us had enough space to manoeuvre behind. Remember to sight, remember to sight, remember to sight I kept reminding myself and tried to get into some sort of rhythm but it was difficult. The excitement coupled with the amount of other swimmers made for a quite stressful experience, but it got a bit better as I made the first u-turn and found that there was quite a gap until the next group in front, so could finally settle down on my own pace.

Race5 Shaky legs out of the water

As I got closer to the last u-turn I had caught up with a small group though, and some quick swimmers from later waves were catching up with us, so it got a bit more messy again, but nothing bad. At one point I felt someone put their hand on my head, but luckily they did not push me down so everyone were behaving quite exemplary it seemed. As I was getting close the last buoy I was quite happy, the swim had gone well, no incidents, although I had used more energy than in the pool I still felt fresh and good. Getting my balance on the ramp out of the lake I was surprised to see so many people cheering, had been too busy thinking about myself to consider that there would actually be spectators here. Even had time to spot Arif Sidek and appreciated the cheering.

T1
I knew my T1 would be long, but still did not expect that I would be one of the slowest! Of about 980 finishers, I was 910 in terms of time spent in T1 hahahaha. Oh well. Can only blame myself. I arrived, toweled down so I could put on my fairly tight “skin cool” jersey. I had practiced this at home being wet and knew it was difficult, so had brought backup jerseys for the bike and run in case I would not be able to get this on, but after a couple of minutes I was dry enough and the shirt was on. Then sit down, put on calf compression sleeves which I realized I probably could have swam with, then socks, shoes, sunnies and helmet. Finally I could grab the bike and head out. On the way out I passed Harum’s spot, she had started 15 minutes before me and I was very happy to see that her bike was gone as well. T1: 6 minutes and 58 seconds! 🙂

The Bike
Race22The bike leg started well enough. I had planned to take nutrition early and use my heart rate to make sure I did get too excited and push too hard. My plan was to stay at around 150bpm. After a couple of km I saw my HR was over 160, so tried to breathe well and pedal easy. Was happy to see I settled around 150bpm as before we started on the long climb. Biking is a humbling experience for me because I am one of the slowest, I was passed by young, old, guys, girls, two guys in sneakers, a girl with sneakers. Had to smile to myself. Up the long hill I was also passed by the female pro leader, which was amazing to see. Most of us were going on quite high cadence up the hill, she swooshed past all of us in extremely low cadence. Very impressive.

I tried to take a mouthful of water every 10 minutes, tried to take 2-3 Hammer Perpeteum solids per hour, and 4 endurolytes against cramps and one anti-fatigue per hour. After about 40 minutes I was quite happy, I had set my watch to give me my pace every km, so I could see I was going quite well. With this pace I was not getting exhausted, but I also knew I could not push much harder without potentially risking too much for my run later, so thought of what Ellya had told me about enjoying myself and looked up every now and then to take it in.

The first round of the bike leg continued as it had started, I think I was passed by pretty much every other competitor in the race. It felt like 1 million bikers passed me, while I passed less than 10 myself I think. Anyways, for every meter I went without seeing Harum I was happy. I had already seen a couple of bikers lying on the side of the road, presumably suffering from the heat and I knew it would only get hotter. Only about a km from completing the first of the two rounds I caught up with Harum and I was very happy, I knew that if she could keep this speed she should be making the cut off time for the run. But got concerned when she told me she felt quite tired as I passed her. Tried to give her as much encouragement as I could.

So lucky to get a shot of both Harum and me together! "I am tired", she had just yelled but she finished strong!

So lucky to get a shot of both Harum and me together! “I am tired”, she had just yelled but she finished strong!

Starting on the second round I checked my average speed so far and got shocked, during my training the fastest I had gone was about 26km/h, and that was for one round only. Now I knew there would be two rounds and my speed around the first was 27.4km/h! I was both excited and worried. Happy it gone this fast at what felt like reasonable effort, but worried I had pushed too hard in the excitement after all. Time would tell.

My colleague Mikko on his mountain bike and my shoulders and back starting to ache for real.

Race9 My colleague Mikko on his mountain bike and my shoulders and back starting to ache for real.

The second round continued in same fashion, remarkably there were still a whole lot of bikers that had not passed me yet but they sure came now. My legs felt good though, and that was the most important of course. Race your own race. Enjoy it.

From my training I knew that my shoulders would start hurting around 3 hours, so I had tried to relax and bend my arms more during this race. But while my shoulders did not ache as much as they used to, my lower back was starting to ache instead. At roughly 75km I also felt a small tug in my left calf. Wtf was that! Was it a cramp? I wasn’t sure, but was spooked. Didn’t feel more of it as I was getting close to the transition, but my shoulders and back was starting to ache a lot. Was so envious of all those with aerobars, in my mind an aerobar equalled a lounge chair for my arms. A cradle that could relieve me from all pain and aches. Why hadn’t I gotten one in the weeks before the race, I had thought about it plenty of times. But no, I had told myself, save money, and you need time to train with it and get used to it. Oh well, what to do, and I thought about my colleague Mikko on his mountain bike and hoped he was going strong as well.

T2
As I reached T2, I was delighted to finally get off the bike and rest my arms and back. Felt really happy as I jogged with my bike into the transition area and was out in 2 minutes and 36 seconds, the 251 fastest. Hah, redemption from my slow T1 🙂
In T2 I noticed how hot it actually was though. On the bike I did not feel it much as you get cooled by the air when you move so fast, but as I touched the tarmac it felt like you could fry an egg on it. So I grabbed a cup of cold water and poured over me on the way out.

 
 
 

The Run
Race10The first km went fast, way too fast, although I could feel the previous hours in my legs, they still felt quite ok. But 6 minutes on the first km was at least a minute too fast for what I thought I could realistically sustain. So I forced myself to slow down a bit. The first aid station came quickly and I looked for ice or sponges but could not find any, so took some water and poured a cup over my head as well. But I could already feel the cramp in my left calf and on my left shin, it was not deep but it tugged every time I made step, so I focused on relaxing my foot as much as possible for each stride I made.

I had bought a “coolskin” helmet beanie as well, and hoped it would help cool me down a bit. I have tried running with a cap before and with bare head, but my thick hair seems to always make my head boil. And I sweat quite a lot so I constantly have to wipe my eyes and face. In training the beanie prevented sweat from running from my head which is quite a relief for me, but I was not sure if it had any cooling effects.

As the run progressed I could surely feel the heat, as I am sure could everyone else out in Putrajaya that day. It was hotter than hot. I passed guys who were walking in the wrong direction, back to the start who had clearly decided to quit. Some were receiving treatment on the side of the track. I had planned to run at a very moderate pace in the beginning, and in case I had anything left I would rather increase the tempo the last 5km. But in this heat I had to abandon even the idea of running the whole way. Already after the first 2km I had to walk a bit, and soon I found myself walking up any incline and at any shaded area more than a couple of meters. I touched my beanie and it was completely dry and warm. I would douse myself with water at every aid station, but the effect didn’t seem to last more than a minute a most, and I still could not see any ice or sponges.

My plan was also to take perpeteum solids on the run, and had a couple of gels as backup. I took the first solid and realized that eating this with high pulse and short breath was very different from having one during training. I struggled to breathe and chew at the same time and it took at least half an hour to get it all down. Wonder how the pro’s do this. So I abandoned my “solids” plan and took a gel instead. With the heat and cramps I also took 5-6 endurolytes every hour.

In my new beanie, feeling that my brain was getting cooked!!

In my new beanie, feeling that my brain was getting cooked!!

At around 6km my vision started blurring, turning “black” so started to walk until my vision was ok again before I would continue running. This repeated itself a couple of times until I also lost my hearing on my left ear. I didn’t feel half bad but realized this could not be good. So walked again. Was now getting a bit worried I might faint, which would of course mean the end of the race. Was also wondering what the worst case scenario was, I mean, could this potentially be fatal? I decided that this most likely would not be fatal, but my walks would get longer. Every time my vision got back to normal I ran a bit until my vision got black again, then I walked until it cleared. My ear stayed deaf though. Felt really bad.
I think I was more affected by this than I thought, as my memory from these kilometres are a bit blur. But I do remember that the cold water at the aid stations felt like heaven. And I took my last gel. And as I got closer to completing the first round I had accepted that I would have to walk a bit, but figured that even if I would walk the whole next round I should still be able to make it to the cut off time, although I was not quite sure what my total time was. And I was convinced this was the hottest day in Putrajaya history 🙂

I also decided to abandon my cautious nutrition plan of sticking to water only and the solids/gels I had brought. With the risk of fainting looming over me I figured I had nothing to lose by taking in both the isotonic and coke and hope that the sugar and whatever nutrients would help me.

As I was passing the finish area and headed out on my last lap I was looking nervously for Harum. I knew she usually suffered in the heat, and I was so worried she might have had to quit. But I did not see her and I also felt I was getting a little bit better from the heat, so I managed to get into a little run again and pass the crowd in style. I also caught a glimpse of the finish time, it showed 6:22 something. With the pace I was keeping I knew I would struggle to finish by 7:30 then, and as I expected to walk more I might even get close to 8 hours. Oh well…not as I had hoped, but nothing to do about that, just have to finish the best you can.

At the next aid station I got shocked, they had run out of water. How could they?! Well no point in wasting energy on that, instead I grabbed the isotonic and gulped down a couple of mouthfuls. Remarkably as the second round continued I started feeling a bit better, not sure if it was the sodas I was drinking, the gels starting to work or the thin layer of cloud that blocked a bit of the heat from the sun. But my black visions disappeared and I even started hearing normal on my left ear.

Then after about 13-14km something clicked in my head. The time I had seen at the finish line was not my time, it was the time since the pro’s started. I pressed eagerly on my watch and found my total time, I still had more than an hour to go to make it by 7 hours! This got me very excited and this became my goal as I now started feeling cramps also in my right calf.

At 15km my left leg felt like someone was rolling a ball up and down my calf and shin, a ball of cramps. It was rolling up and down for each step, and every now and then it would clutch in deep and I would veer of the track to the nearest tree or pole and stretch my calf for a few seconds. Then back on the track and repeat after a few hundred meters. Must have looked funny for any onlookers – I thought I looked like something out of a Monty Python skit 🙂

Onto the last 500m of the run, feeling confident, and with a grimace that is supposed to be a smile and ice in on my back!! :)

Onto the last 500m of the run, feeling confident, and with a grimace that is supposed to be a smile and ice in on my back!! 🙂

The run was far from enjoyable, but quitting was never in my mind. My biggest worry had been to faint and be denied finishing. Now I didn’t feel that fainting was that big a risk anymore and pushed on the best I could. With 5km to go I started passing other participants. So many had been reduced to walking. It surprised me as I had been passed the whole time during the bike and run, and now remarkably I would pass some although my run was not much more than a fast walk. But I was running, remarkably my legs felt quite ok if you disregard the cramps. I was feeling exhausted but the legs moved. If I just told myself to let my legs run, they did, and I didn’t even need to take breaks to walk apart from the occasional stop to stretch out a cramp. It was like a second wind, albeit not a very strong wind.

Beanie cap in hand, sprinting for the finish :) (ice cubes on back already melted)

Beanie cap in hand, sprinting for the finish 🙂 (ice cubes on back already melted)

On the second last aid station I even finally found ICE!! My shirt was purpose built with two pockets on my back for ice, so I got help from one of the great volunteers to fill them up. Oh man that felt great. Cold ice on my back, running down my spine, my but actually got really cold. As I ran I could hear the “clonk clonk” sound of the ice cubes shaking on my back, wonder what the other runners thought when I passed 🙂

The last 4km was of my fastest of the whole run and with 2km to go I checked my watch again, according to my estimates I had about 15-16 minutes left to the 7 hour mark. This could be doable if I just could keep a steady pace and I felt great. My legs moved, I even had energy to put up some stupid poses for the photographers and to think about what I would do for my finish shot. So took off my beanie – oh yeah, not too tired to be vain – and had my best part of the run on the last km. Could even switch gears and had something that I hoped resembled a little sprint as I reached the Ironman carpet.

What a feeling!!!

What a feeling!!!

Passing the finish line was amazing. “Knut from Norway ” I heard as I stretched both arms in the air and then pretty much buckled over, had to grab my knees to catch my breath and someone put the medal around my head and put an Ironman towel around my shoulders.

I looked up and wasn’t sure what to do, my whole body felt like it been in a tumble dryer for the last hours. “Showers over there” someone said and pointed, and I knew exactly what I would do the next minutes. An open shower with chairs and cool water is exactly what was needed. I found a chair and felt the blood get back to my brain. I was tired but the water really helped, and getting the core temperature down seemed to be of great help. Wow that was tough, I thought, never again! Then I had to put my sunnies back on because I felt I was tearing up. Wtf, I thought, get a grip! Luckily I was in the shower so noone noticed hahaha.

A combination of the fatigue and joy overcame me for a couple of minutes. I thought back at how impossible this had seemed when we started our training last year. How impossible triathlon had seemed my whole life since I was such a lousy swimmer. And now I had done it! And under 7 hours I realized, as I checked my watch!! I was so happy! I had not only met my dream finish of 7:15h but was well under it! My eyes still watery – from the shower obviously – I pulled myself together and thought about Harum. How could she be doing? I was happy I had finished around 7, because knowing the relative difference between us I thought that meant she would also be within the 8-8.30 range. As long as she was still going, I really hoped she had not quit. I was very happy she had not greeted me at the finish line, and assumed that meant she was still out there in the heat pushing.

As I exited the finish area I ran into some of our friends who had come to see us, what a nice surprise. Thanks Aziz, Dino, Quek and Vivian!! That was so awesome. And they could tell me according to the live tracker Harum had already finished her first lap. I was so happy!

Happy, happy, happy half Ironcouple! :)

Happy, happy, happy half Ironcouple! 🙂

Not long after she came around the bend, faster than I have ever seen her run! I was so proud and ecstatic that she had endured the heat and overcome her fatigue, and what a finish!!! I already have her to thank for getting us into this, she is the one that insisted we should take up triathlon when I was more than hesitant. And now she impressed me more than ever! I was so proud and overjoyed for her, she was definitely my hero of the day!

Nothing could have made that day any better – well apart from a bit more clouds maybe 🙂
But it was only the next day the enormity of it started to sink in. Both the physical and mental efforts it took to complete it, and that we had been part of a world class event, with participants from 66 different countries. About 1250 starters and about 980 finishers, and we were two of those. But right after the finish, and in the car home, we both agreed – never again!!

Race16

Aftermath
Only one day after the race our minds had changed and we are absolutely certain we will do another 70.3, and with some more training, and an aerobar(!) I might even try for a 140.6! 🙂

But before anything else I would like to thank Arif Sidek who invited us to be part of Project Heroes at Lycraheroes. Thanks for the training plan, thanks for the encouragements and thanks for posting our reports! It was almost a bit scary when I noticed there were a steady stream of readers of the updates, and it certainly provided extra motivation and positive pressure during the training.
Thanks to TriStupe who became our online consultant and answered so many of our questions about nutrition and training.

And finally thanks to the great triathlon environment in KL, especially the Tadonamo group who welcomed us and allowed us to learn from the experience of the many veterans in the community, and arranged swim clinics in the lake to prepare us.

To recap, we had not planned for such a long distance triathlon so soon, our aim had been to do olympic- and sprint distances when we started our training in September. And I quite frankly I didn’t think I would do any of it since I could barely swim 70 meters. But remarkably after 41 years of not being able to learn to swim, I finally managed it off some youtube videos and when they announced the Ironman 70.3 in October we bought bikes and were quick to register. I came off a half marathon in the end of September 2013, which I finished in 2h 23mins, and that was my max pace! I was disappointed I had let my endurance get so poor and was never sure a half Ironman finish would be achievable in 6 months. But it was and if I can do it, so can you too (unless you are already doing it)!

In October I also started tracking my weight, fat percentage etc, and apparently triathlon training makes you younger! What more motivation would anyone need? 🙂

Race17
Race18Race19Race20

No flexing, pre- and post Ironman 70.3 training - 6 months difference :)

No flexing, pre- and post Ironman 70.3 training – 6 months difference 🙂


We have already started the training again and I am happy to notice that both of us are very motivated to continue. Since I started from scratch my main concern leading up to the race was to get enough volume and distance training. Pace would be secondary, main objective was to make sure I had enough foundation to be able to complete the race. I hope work on my speed a bit now, especially on the bike and I would love to do a swimathon and a full marathon at some point.

That’s it folks! Thanks for reading, thanks for taking part in my journey and thanks for all the support and encouragements!

Until next time, all the best!
– Knut –

Congratulations Knut, and we thank you for being a big, big part of Project Hero. We look forward to hearing more of your journey. A 140.6 perhaps??? All the best.

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