Monday, June 18, 2012

The Joy of Mountain Biking

The smell of the trees, of nature,
The shaded cover of the overhead canopy,
That feel of the first crunch,
As you transition from pavement to dirt

The rush of wind past your ears,
The blur of trees in peripheral vision,
Your mind & body focusing on the narrow singletrack ahead,
Left! Right! Lean back! Your instincts shout as you tackle the terrain,
Your fingers playing with the brakes to keep your speed in check,
That adrenaline rush as you hang time or smoothly tackle a rock garden,
The feel of your suspension compressing & elation soaring,

The pounding in your chest, your ears,
The burning in your lungs, your legs,
As you push through one more pedal stroke on the arduous climb,
Clearing the technical switchbacks while holding the tempo, "Left. Right. Left. Right,"
Leaning down onto your bars to provide more power from your core to your legs,
Or even standing up as you almost lose traction,
That screaming success when you've tackled a climb.

Aqil Zakwan

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Fledgling Triathlete

This past weekend, my little brother & I did our very first triathlon! I would've posted this earlier but I've been so busy... Anyway, here I am. :)  In this post, I will cover the basics of triathlon, as well as my experience as a fledgling triathlete. Who knows, anyone of guys want to pick it up sometime. ;D

I'll start with the basics first.  Tried writing my experience first but they were too many loopholes that I felt an introduction was necessary.

Basically, a triathlon is an athletic event where athletes have to do 3 sports consecutively.  Athletes start out with the swim, then move to bike (cycle, not motorbike), and finally to the run.  Distances vary depending on factors such as age, type of event, level of competition, so on and so forth.  For adults, a 'short' triathlon is known as a sprint triathlon.  On the other extreme, there is the Ironman. Crazy tough event but I digress.

In a triathlon, you swim a fixed distance, then move to the bike, cycle the predetermined distance, come back, then move on to the run.  As such, you will need swimming a trisuit, goggles, a bicyle, and a pair of running shoes.

In the triathlon, there is always a transition zone where you place all your gear, and transition between events -- swim to bike to run.  This means that the start & finish areas for the cycle and run will be the same.  Usually, a simple A-frame rack is set up where you hang your bicycle by the nose (front) of the saddle (seat).  Baskets are also provided nowadays for athletes to place their items.  Elite athletes ride with cycling shoes -- a.k.a. clipless shoes -- that allow them better power transfer during the cycle.  You don't have to use clipless shoes, though.  Many amateurs decide not to in order to save time coming back for the run as you won't have to change shoes.  A trisuit is an importance piece of apparel as it is designed to be worn for all 3 events.  For example, swimming shorts aren't great for cycling because they have no padding.  Cycling shorts aren't great for swimming and running as the padding interferes with the motion of the body during both events.  A trisuit is a great balance.  Of course, they aren't that cheap. :(

Some of the general rules of the triathlon are that

  1. You must wear a swim cap during the swim
  2. Wear a helmet during the cycle
  3. No bare chest during the cycle
  4. No riding in the transition zone

Hmm. I think that summarizes triathlon as a sport pretty well. :) Any questions, just ask away.  So, here's what a triathlon felt like through the eyes of a fellow fledgling triathlete;

I raced in the 16-19 year old category -- which consisted mainly of elite juniors from around the world.  There were triathletes from Macau, Hong Kong, Australia, UK, Singapore, & of course, Malaysia.  Woke up very early so that we would arrive at the Putrajaya Water Sports Complex on time. The body marking -- where your race number is stamped/written on your arms and legs -- started a 0645.  For this event, however, it was only on the arms OR the legs, depending on whether you wore a long-sleeved shirt or not.  After getting numbered, I set up my transition area, and got ready; hung the bike, put my gear in the basket, put away my clothes, etc.  Many of the elites went for warm up runs.  I was too scared I would be tired so I didn't.  Heh heh.  I did move around, though, to keep limber.  0800 came by and my category was called to the pontoon.  Our names were called, and we went into the water to take our positions at the start buoy.

The swim was, for me, the most tiring. Swam 450m in 00:10:43.  One of my best times so that's a plus.  The elites were much faster :(.  I started off with front crawl but couldn't hold it for the entire duration.  I also hadn't eaten as much so started to get stomach cramps.  Doing breast stroke definitely helped me stay in the race.  The water was clean albeit green with algae.  By clean I mean no garbage, no slimy feeling, no suspended sediment, etc.  Coming out of the water, I felt disoriented but just followed the blue carpet.  I knew I was at the tail-end of the swim group so I didn't dare look back, I just kept going forward towards the transition.  My swim-to-bike transition was good.  No hiccups.  Race number, sunglasses, helmet & I was off.  Put the shoes on the bike -- I was using the clipless shoes.

Me at the swim-to-bike transition

Being I strong cyclist, I made up for it in the bike.  Passed several people but couldn't quite catch up with the elites.  I was able to match their pace when the lapped me, so that helped my time.  I did 12km on the bike in 00:25:29.  The bike route was good.  Not too many corners, some slight inclines, plenty of straights where I could lay down some power and make up time.  I ate one of the PowerBar gels I had on me.  For me, the cycling was the easiest but most crucial.  I can do 40km no problem so 12km was well within my comfort zone.  However, I had lost so much time in the swim that I had to make every second count.  Came in to the transition zone a bit fast and the guy in front of me stopped dead center, so I squeezed past and ran to my rack.

At the bike-to-run transition

My bike-to-run transition took a while because my feet were still wet & I was putting on my socks.  Putting on socks when your feet are wet is a nightmare if you're racing.  One guy started to pull away but I was able to catch him about halfway through the first 1.5km leg of the run and pulled away when we turned back towards the finish line.  Finished the run in 00:21:30 for a total official time of 0:57:42.

All in all, a very fun event.  Definitely looking forward to my next event, the Port Dickson International Triathlon.  Need to work harder as the distances are longer.  Whew.

Click here for more pictures of my brother & I in action. :)