Thursday, April 20, 2017

Oceanman Putrajaya (18 and 19 March 2017). 10km


What is Oceanman?
Oceanman is an international open water swim race franchise from Spain. Its first race was in 2016 and for 2017, seven races have been confirmed starting with Putrajaya and ending with the Oceanman World Championships on 15 October 2017 at the Spanish tourist town of Benidorm on the Mediterranean. Ten other races are also on the way.
Anyone may organize an Oceanman under franchise / licence by contacting Oceanman headquarters.
Thus it is similar to Ironman, PowerMan etc They are not part of the Olympic movement or FINA (which oversees swimming and related events for the Olympic Games).
Oceanman  has its own rules and World Championship just like Ironman. Each Oceanman event will have to maintain a minimum standard. There will always be things like a Race Book (similar to Athlete's Guide), Rule Book, large buoys, medals etc and a very easy chance to qualify for the Oceanman World Championship (Top Ten Male and Female in each ten year age group category for both 5km and 10km).

So Oceanman came to Putrajaya Lake, Malaysia during the weekend of 18 March (1.5km, Kids Race and Relay) and 19 March (5km and 10km). The "real" Oceanman events are the 5km (Half Oceanman) and 10km (Oceanman).

Practice Swim at Putrajaya Lake on 11 March 2017
The race organisers (Swimon), had a practice swim at the Putrajaya Lake on 11 March 2017. Registration for Oceanman could be made until 16 March 2017, thus I used the practice swim as the acid test on whether to register, bearing in mind my angiogram and angioplasty was quite recent on  8 Feb 2017. The cleanliness of the Lake was in doubt and my training (100% with a pull buoy because of arthritis) was not geared towards lake swimming.
The practice swim was actually well organized with monster buoys (the biggest I have seen) marking out the 500m loops and shorter laps for new swimmers. I started to feel good about the Oceanman. The organisers showed me the water test results taken at 3 locations (passed with flying colours actually).
I managed to put in 3.5km (7 laps) over the 1 hour 25 mins available. There was no skin irritation at all from the black lake, so what the heck, lets register for the 1.5km on 18 March and 10km on 19 March, you only live once. 
Saturday, 18 March 2017
There were three events:
  1. "Popular" 1.5km
  2. Kids race
  3. Relay
I started to notice minor hiccups. The 3.30 p.m. briefing for the 5km and 10km events the following day was cancelled, goodie bags were  not ready etc (participants were updated by e-mail). Small things,  the 1.5km event that I was participating in was pulled off successfully though.  It wasn't so easy swimming in the lake without my customary pull buoy, so I knew the 10km the following day was going to be seriously challenging.
I got a cut on my elbow finishing the 1.5km as I didn't see the embankment due to the blackness of the lake. The same medical team that took care of me at P.D., again took care of me and applied some stuff on my scrapped elbow. Small matter, I then went off to the airport to pick up my wife.

127 swimmers completed the 1.5km. No age group categories, just Males and Females. Results here. I didn't do well, 31 mins, never mind.
Sunday, 19 March 2017
This was it, 10 freaking km in a black lake, in the heat. I genuinely wasn't sure whether I could finish. There were not many participants as the very popular 6.5 km Kapas Marang swim was held the same day. But the usual race day adrenalin  was still there for me. Heck its only three months after my heart attack. Am I going to live? Will I finish?
My wife was with me, I knew the race organisers very well (Jose, Amir and Sumai), very good friends Eric Tan (Dad) and Rupert Tan (swimmer) were there, my swim buddies from overseas (Ahmad Fathi Junaidi from Brunei and Khun Priak from Bangkok) were also taking part, many swimmers I've not seen before were there, so I was set.
The Thai Group
45 swimmers started the 10 km at 8.50 a.m. The 10km swimmers do 2 laps of 5km. The 5km swimmers (about ninety of them) started a bit later. At about the 2.5km mark, the 5km swimmers came speeding by. They were very fast and I felt such a lousy swimmer. In spite of my recent heart attack, I was still swimming regularly. The mileage was there but it was all with a pull buoy. I found swimming in the lake very tough. I thought I was sinking all the time and Putrajaya was a very hot swim. By 2.5km, I was already felt in trouble.
It was compulsory for all 5 km and 10 km swimmers to wear a safety buoy. This was a good requirement. So one could either sight against the large buoys or the safety buoy of the swimmer in front.
I did see a boat at about the 2.5km which I presumed was the feed boat. But it wasn't positioned exactly on the race route, even a quick sip of water would take a good few precious minutes, so I skipped it. I didn't see anyone else going for the water at 2.5km, maybe no one knew about it.

Between 3km and 5km, was very tough going for me. I seriously considered to stop at 5km. I will tell everyone I have a heart attack coming, I'm sure they will  understand. But as soon as I arrived at the 5km feed, I received so much support from my wife, Eric Tan and Sumai. I guess I couldn't give my "heart attack" excuse, no one was listening.

5km Feeding
The start pontoon was also the 5km feeding point. This was essentially the only feeding point for the 10km race. No one knew where the 2.5km feeding point was. So we had to get everything in at the 5km point. Eric was recording everything on my GoPro (bless that guy), Tip was giving encouragement, Sumai gave me a banana, the "superfood" for long distance sports. I then gulped down a gel and a full 1.5L bottle of cold Carbo Pro.
Carbo Pro is the best sports aid I have come across in more than 30 years of endurance sports. It doesn't have a taste, doesn't smell and doesn't upset the tummy. Unfortunately I can only find ones that expired in Dec 2016.
Coincidentally, fellow participants Fauzi Othman and Ridzwan were also at the 5km feeding point.

2nd 5km lap
Having adequately refueled, the second lap went much better for me. I overtook a number of participants during the second lap. Again I skipped the 7.5km feeding boat. For the second lap I was swimming alone for such long stretches. I could see the huge buoys so I didn't think I was lost. Just lonely.

The Finish
Because it was such a  tough swim for me and I had a heart attack not that long ago, I felt immense satisfaction approaching the Finish Line. The two gentlemen helped me out the lake, I was very disoriented, my wife and a swimmer friend from Thailand (Khun Piak) held the finish banner, OP Advance Tan (the MC) announced my finish. So all in all it was a wonderful finish line moment.

So how did I do?
4 hours 24 mins versus 2 hours 12 min by Malaysia's No.1 Kevin Yeap and 2 hours 31 min by Rupert Tan. So I am really really slow compared to the best swimmers. The performance was also my worst ever 10km time.
20% (9) of swimmers that started dnf. This is  very high dnf rate because of the heat I suppose.
The full 10km results.

Lets look on the bright side though, I didn't get a heart attack, I came in second in the 50 - 59 age group and I have qualified for the Ocean World Championships at Benidorm Spain on 15 Oct 2017.

Oceanman World Championships.
As ten males and females per group qualifies, all 45 finishers for the 10km have qualified except for one person in the 40 - 49 age group. He was eleventh ha ha. The results by category.

Will I go?
To be frank, at this moment I am still undecided as I might go to another event held on the same day, 14 Oct 2017. We'll see.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

2km P.D. Open Water Swim Race (18 December 2016). The day I got a Heart Attack

It was supposed to be a short simple race, just 2km long and only 1.5 hours drive from home. The previous two weekends I had raced 10km and 6km at Pattaya and Langkawi respectively, combating jelly fishes and huge waves at Langkawi. So how difficult could this short 2km race, organized by my good friends, at nearby Port Dickson, be? Well I got a real Heart Attack mid way through the race and I'm lucky to be still here.
 I couldn't breathe
Many Heart Attack victims don't even make it to the hospital and some don't get out of hospital alive. Heart related issues (Coronary Heart Disease) is the biggest killer of men and women in Malaysia, more than cancer, more than anything else. It is a very real issue.
My thoughts are:
  • How did it happen?
  • What caused it?
  • How come I'm still alive?
  • What can we do to reduce the likelihood of a heart attack happening?
  • What can race organisers do?
  • What can we do to survive a heart attack?
  • What can we do to aid our recovery?
Well it would be nice if I could answer these thoughts accurately for all to benefit, but I'm only a dumb person. 
Very good professional information on heart attacks (Myocardial Infarction) is available from The American Heart Association, WebMDMedicineNet,   British NHS, amongst many other sources.
For the Malaysian context, we have:

Western articles tend to say that smoking is a big culprit. I think for Malaysia the main culprit is the oily food and if you add no exercise, smoking, drinking and being overweight, then you've got no chance baby.
Well I woke up a bit late, which created unnecessary anxiety (which causes Blood Pressure to rise). There was a minor accident on the highway, the car had no petrol, the race parking lot was  full, not a good start at all. Then for the first time my wife was not with me. So my mind set was not its usual self. My wife evens puts on my swim compression top for me.  I'm quite useless at doing things by myself. Then I drank a full can of red bull, which was a change from my normal morning routine.

The race registration seemed to take ages. The queue didn't seem to move. Then before we knew it, it was the Race Briefing and the Safety Briefing. The Safety Briefing seemed to be more serious, taking longer than the Race Briefing.

I didn't do any warm up (which was the actual cause of the Heart Attack I think) and took my starting spot away from everyone, beside the deeper start buoy. This was a straighter line to the red turnaround buoy and I meant business that morning. I haven't been doing any warm ups for my training or races because all my workouts are long and at a constant pace, lasting for more than two hours. I just go slow for the first thirty minutes and then pick up the ante. But that tactic didn't work for a sprint race and I paid for my oversight.

I sprinted right from the off because it was clear water in front of me. I knew very well from my Triathlon days that it was of paramount importance to get clear water in front of you. So I took my opportunity and went off helter skelter. My heart was pumping but who cares, this was a sprint race.

I reached the first buoy quite ok in front of my normal rivals. Then at about 1.2km I realized that I was slowing down for no apparent reason. People were passing me by and I couldn't seem to respond. Maybe I should slow down to catch my breath? Tried that for a while but the heart beat was still soaring. I needed to stop outright I thought to catch my breath. So I held on to my swim safety buoy, completely stopping. But I wasn't catching my breath back. I couldn't breathe. My chest felt tight. I was in trouble. Swimmers passing me by were concerned for me. I looked at the safety boat nearby and they were intently looking at me, already sensing something was amiss. So I bit the bullet and held up my hand to be rescued.

Cherish Chin and Amat quickly arrived in the rescue boat. But I was semi conscious and they initially couldn't pull me head first into the boat. My chest was rubbing hard against the side of the boat and I had to tell the rescuers to stop. They advised me to hook my feet over the boat whilst Amat wrapped the safety tube around my body. This worked, in no time my whole body was in the boat. The rescuers communicated with the shore using a walkie talkie they had. Race Number 184, I was able to blurt out.
Being brought ashore

Placed on the stretcher
Once on the beach they placed me on the ambulance's stretcher. They took off my compression top as I complained it affected my breathing. I could sense the utmost urgency by the rescuers and the ambulance personnel (EMS Medic). They are all good people, at full concentration trying to save the life of this stranger. The four medical personnel were very competent. The dedicated medical personnel placed a pill under my tongue. They tried to make me breathe in oxygen but nothing was going in. "To the hospital" someone shouted and off I went sirens blazing.
Total professionalism by everyone (thank you)

The ambulance reached the P.D. Hospital only 4km away in seconds. I was on the emergency bed and masses of medical people surrounded me. The sense of urgency was very high and everyone was working as one to save this stranger. I am very impressed and grateful.

The Young Indian Doctor
The person calling the shots was a very young Indian Doctor. He was barking out instructions "monitor his pulse", "monitor his BP", "give him morphine", "give him more morphine". Everyone followed his instructions, I was very impressed.
 I basically couldn't breath. The oxygen wasn't going in and  I felt very uncomfortable.  I thought I was going to go (die) anytime. The young Indian Doctor was staring intently into my face for tell tale signs. "You are having a heart attack" the young Doctor said. A heart specialist did an ultrasound of my heart. "Very bad", he whispered to the young Doctor. Oh blimey, I can't be going now. Don't sleep, don't go unconscious I told myself. "We are giving you something which has a risk ok", the young Doctor said.
I understand the Hospital gave me a blood thinner to clear the clot / blockage at a heart artery. This is called thrombolysis. It is imperative that the heart attack victim is brought to a Hospital with Emergency Cardiac Care immediately to improve chances of recovery.

Then miraculously after about one hour, I felt the blockage clear and I was able breathe deeply. I knew then that I was going to make it. The young Indian Doctor and the Government Hospital saved me. I thanked him "for saving my life" and he said he was just doing his job.
High Dependency Ward
My first night was in the HDW. Here we are monitored continuously 24/7 by various medical equipment and dedicated nurses. The nurses are sweet and pleasant. I was enjoying my  stay at the Government Hospital.
Third Class Ward
After the first night, I was transferred to a normal ward for three nights. I shared the room with seven other patients. To be frank, we were all normal poor patients. One was a drug addict, many had no jobs. I have never stayed in  a Government Hospital but this was probably my most enjoyable time in a hospital.
The room was a hive of activity with a constant stream of visitors, student nurses regularly doing their rounds checking patients' key indicators, regular nurses doing higher level stuff, cleaners, student Doctors, junior Doctors, the Specialist (Dr Siti, whom I feel is the most impressive Doctor I've seen). Its an incredible training ground for Doctors. They have to think on their feet and assess many patients at the same. The Doctors at private hospitals by comparison only say "how are you" and clear their throat.
Dr Siti advised me to stay the full five days at the Hospital and complete my medication. Well I'm not arguing with the Hospital that saved my life.
The total bill came to RM 183. My perception of Government Hospitals has done a complete turnaround.

My all time favorite Hospital. Port Dickson General Hospital. They saved my life. THANK YOU
Eric Tan is the dad of champion 16 year old swimmer Rupert Tan. The swimming community is very small and we see each other all the time either at the Kampong Pandan swimming pool or at races. We have become very good friends.
Eric was helping with distributing finishers' medals when he heard a swimmer (me) had been rescued from the sea. So Eric dropped everything and gathered all my things and followed the ambulance to the Hospital.
He was intently observing me at the Hospital as he had to update my wife. Ha ha Thank you for everything Eric.

My good friends (Amir - Race Director, Rupert Tan and his Dad, Eric Tan). Thank you everyone
I off course was very impressed by my experience with the Port Dickson Hospital, third class and all. I accepted their referral to the National Heart Institute even though the first meeting with the Consultant was only on 24 Jan 2017. That was just the consultation, the Angiogram was only carried out on 8 Feb 2017. Quite a huge gap in between.
Prescribed medication
The medicine prescribed I took religiously:
  1. Something for gastric to be taken on an empty stomach (Omeprazole)
  2. A blood thinner after breakfast (Plavix)
  3. Aspirin, also a blood thinner after lunch (Glyprin)
  4. A statin for cholesterol taken after dinner at night (Lipitor. RM 5 a pill, ouch).
At the time of the heart attack I had stopped taking all medicine. The statins, even fish oil. It might have been a mistake.
Resumption of swimming
I received a lot of advice through social media to take things very easy, after all, I just had a heart attack.
I resumed swimming on 25 Dec one week after the heart attack with a 3 km swim. Initially there were many dizzy spells and the heart felt stressed. But the body adapted and swimming soon felt easier than walking.
I swim right outside my apartment window, the pool is shallow, I take all my medicines and I  don't go fast.
My standard swim is a straight 7.5km swim using a pull buoy completed in 2.5 hours. So I do about 40 km to more than 50km per week unless I'm sick. I guess I am addicted to exercise.

I'd thought the medicines might have cleared my blockage but the angiogram revealed I had a key artery that was 99% blocked.

IJN - 24 JAN 2017:
24 Jan 2017 was the earliest date available to see the Cardiologist. This appointment was made by P.D. Hospital and IJN. IJN is very popular, its not easy to get an early date. If something happens to the patient before the appointment, you have to go to their Emergency.

7 Government Hospitals can do heart surgeries for minimal charges but there would be a long queue. But IJN comes very highly recommended, so I opted to use IJN. No regrets, it is a top place.

IJN sees itself as a Private Hospital but its free for Government Servants, their dependents and Government Pensioners. The public can appeal at their Unit Taksiran and I think if you are really poor, financial assistance will be given by the Government. I didn't receive any.

The visit on 24 Jan 2017 was a nightmare. Was there from 8 a.m. until 3.30 p.m. just to see the Cardiologist and get some medicine. Awful experience.

Checking in on 7 Feb 2017 was much more smoother than my previous experience on 24 Jan. I accepted a six bedded room (Third Class) at RM 50 per night. Nothing wrong, the room was new and huge. Many empty beds. Started fasting from 9 p.m.

8 Feb 2017
The problem was that the timing of the Angiogram was anytime on 8 Feb 2017. I was finally called at 4 p.m. and had been fasting since 9 p.m. the previous night with only a Milo at around noon.
More waiting at the Angiogram room. The room, equipment and everything looked so modern and new. I knew I had come to the right place.
The whole Procedure lasts more than an hour. I hated it, I was hungry, dizzy, couldn't breathe, painful, very painful at times. I hated it.
The technology behind an angiogram is truly amazing. That they only need to make a small incision near your wrist at a vein or artery and then insert a tube, dye, camera device and wire to find the blockage near your heart or examine whether it is diseased is just amazing.
The angiogram is the "gold standard"  test to determine if you have coronary heart disease.

Top - my diseased heart (15% - 20%). Not treated
Middle and Bottom - on the left is my 99% blocked artery. Right - with stent
The angioplasty was done at the same time, as the 99% blockage in  a key artery was detected. In  angioplasty, a ballooning device which has a stent (fixed tube) is placed through the blocked artery. The balloon is inflated opening the artery, then deflated and removed. The stent remains, permanently opening the artery.
The only problem was that I didn't enjoy the angiogram and angioplasty it at all.
The name of my official Doctor was Consultant Cardiologist Dr Surinder Kaur, but I never met her. The name of my actual Doctor was Doctor Navin. A young chap, he is a Fellow Cardiologist (under training I think).
My bill (for two nights and one stent insertion) came to RM13,486. I should think this is cheaper than a real Private Hospital.
Recovery from an angioplasty has to be done slowly. Dizzy spells and chest pains are common. It takes several weeks, be patient. Full recovery will come, as Dr Navin told me.
So for fun, lets try to answer my initial thoughts.
In the year 2016, Port Dickson  had two deaths at its races, as far as I know.
  1. Port Dickson International Triathlon. Sprint Event. Yes only a Sprint Event. One person died. No one died at the long distance P.D. Swimathon (5km) which had many beginners. The PDIT at the P.D. Marina was only half a km from the P.D. Hospital. I don't know what happened.
  2. 3.5 km Island to Island swim held at Bagan Pinang (same location as the 2km race that I am now writing about). One person died.

So Race Organisers could:
  • Couple up with very competent Lifeguards.  Aquaputra Putrajaya are very professional.
  • Have Lifeguards on a powered boat or jet ski with a rescue tube, walkie talkie for quick communication with the ambulance crew.
  • Require swimmers to use the open water safety swim buoy as swimmers could hang on to it even when semi-conscious.
  • Engage EMS Medic or a Government ambulance on standby.
The above were all done. That's why I survived the heart attack. Well done Swimon, Aquaputra Putrajaya.

The very competent Aquaputra guys (thank you)
The underlying cause I think, was my high cholesterol,  "high borderline" since I first did tests more than 20 years ago.
Most heart attacks are caused by coronary heart disease due to heavy plaque formation narrowing the arteries. The plaque breaks, a clot forms to stop the bleeding. The clot also stops blood flow to the heart. Wham Heart Attack. 
The specific cause that morning was not warming up. This was the actual trigger.
The symptoms I had at the time of rescue were:
  • Sudden loss in stamina for no reason.
  • Cold sweat.
  • Unable to breathe / chest pains.
All sportspeople must be very weary of these classic symptoms ok.

I was able to resume training one week after my heart attack, even though we later found one artery was 99% blocked. I think I got away with it because I was religiously taking my blood thinners and statins. Plus my workouts were all at a slow constant pace. 
General risk factors are smoking, sedentary lifestyle, over weight, high blood pressure, family history, diabetes etc.
It is considered easier to prevent than to cure a heart attack.
In general there's only four things to do:
  1. Don't smoke
  2. Healthy diet, fruits and vegetables
  3. Exercise
  4. Reduce Body Mass Index
Anyway, Dr Navin was perplexed as to why I got a heart attack.
  1. Get them to Hospital with emergency cardiac care immediately.  I vouch for our Government Hospitals. Any delay can permanently damage the heart, delay recovery or worse, the victim goes to heaven.
  2. Place an aspirin under the tongue. An aspirin (only 50 cents each) is a blood thinner which means it prevents blood clots from forming.
  3. If the victim is unconscious, perform CPR.

It might be bad luck to talk about this as now the chances of another heart attack for me will always be there.
The critical period is the first 24 hours, then one week, then one month. Well, I'm still here.
Whilst swimming may have been my downfall, its also the road to recovery. I started swimming about one month after my total hip replacement in May 2016. Two months after the surgery I completed the Bali 10km Ocean Swim. Then swam Pulau Perhentian Besar solo (16km) in Sept 2016, Pattaya 10km on 4 Dec 2016, Langkawi 6km on 10 Dec 2016 before that fateful day on 18 Dec 2016.
One week after the heart attack I started swimming 3km (one hour). I even had a 10km swim day on 7 Jan 2017, but my standard workout was 7.5km over 2.5 hours (baring sickness) right until the day before my angiogram / angioplasty on 8 Feb 2017.
So whilst swimming may have caused my heart attack, it was very critical for my fast recovery from the Total Hip Replacement surgery and Heart Attack.
Swimming is the way to go for me now. Its soothing and relaxes the body and mind. I like to hear the sound of water cascading outside my window, I like its clear blue appearance, its heavenly ha ha.
Have a nice day.



Thursday, January 12, 2017

Langkawi Swim Fest (6km). 10 Dec 2016

I am in two minds about this event.
There's not that many swim events around, so as a participant I am grateful that a reasonably good one was provided at the stunning location of Tanjung Rhu. The location really was stunning. Standing on the beach of Tanjung Rhu and looking out to the island that we had to swim around, it took my breath away. Wow, what a view.

Red flags 50 meters apart had already been laid out to mark the course. What amazed me was that the flags were in a perfectly straight line, irrespective of what the currents did. The flags were not tied to each other or tied to the ground but it had a self adjusting weight mechanism which meant that it always stayed at its intended spot. I have not seen such straight swim course markers before.
But, what really annoyed me about this race was the lack of prompt responses from the Organiser on their Event Page to our requests for information. They were super quiet. It smelt like a scam, a bogus web-site  to collect entry fees, I sincerely thought. Thus I couldn't recommend to friends, what was actually a good event.
The Swim Fest could have been very well attended. Stunning location, good prize money (RM1,500 to the winner of each category), variety of distances (2km, 4km or 6km), below and above 40 years for the 6km, strongly supported and funded by the local authority (LADA) as part of the multi-event Pesta Langkawi. The Swim Fest could have been something great. The swimming internet world should have been abuzz with this event, had the Organiser  created the initial inertia on the internet. Once the Swim Fest was confirmed legit, swimmers would very  quickly pass the word around.

In the end, 44 male and female swimmers finished the 6km swim (2 DNF), 7 male and female swimmers finished the 4km swim (1 DNF) and 20 finished the 2km (3 DNF).
i.e. only 77 swimmers started in total. Pattaya a week earlier had 180 swimmers and there was no prize money.
The International Category (6km) just didn't look right. There were only five International participants. Prize money was given to all five participants (being the Top Five).  The top five were:
  1. Serge Dominichi (our good friend from France living in KL, who only found out about this event the previous day.   1 hour 58 min, a good time).
  2. Amir from Singapore. 3 hours 23 min
  3. Mohamad from Spore. 3 hours 38 min
  4. Mohd from Spore . 3 hours 40 min
  5. Azmil from Spore. 3 hours 54 min.
Whilst the winner's time (Serge) was a good winning time, what about the other international participants?. The person who came in second was a huge 1 hour 25 minutes behind the winner. Are International swimmers really this bad?

The Organiser (Iskandar Sharil) is a Singaporean Malay. All the International participants apart from the winner are Singaporean Malays. One of them is a Facebook friend of the Singaporean Organiser (Iskandar Shahril) and thanked him profusely in a Facebook post that he could win a prize.

Singapore is the best swimming nation in Asean. One of them actually beat Michael Phelps at the recent Rio Olympics. Why only four very slow swimmers who seemed to know the Organiser came?
The Organiser (Iskandar Shahril) told me they only had 5 weeks to do everything and admitted there were shortcomings.
There were other shortcomings too:
  1. Winners were given wrong trophies and placards to hold during prize giving on stage. This is so annoying when we have to hold the wrong  prizes on stage.
  2. I still have not received my trophy more than a month after the event, even though Iskandar told me he would sort it out.
Anyway lets go into the actual event.
The course is stunning, no doubt about that and  very well marked with flags 50m apart in a perfectly straight line. The most beautiful setting for a swim race I have participated in. With only 44 participants doing the 6km, swimmers were largely swimming on their own.

6km swimmers had to do a complete circle of the island twice. The waves behind the island were the biggest I have seen. Its not for beginners. Lifeboats  courtesy of the Navy were available but only at the main marker buoys. Special pontoons with drinks were also available. Friends told me that the strong currents have taken a few lives around Tanjung Rhu. Luckily no untoward incident happened. Some participants were just  "beginners" but they managed to finish and collapsed in a heap almost 4.5 hours after the start.

Many swimmers sighted jelly fish. I saw a huge white jelly fish which just missed me. But as I was about to start the second loop of the island (at around 3km), I felt the long tentacles of a jelly fish wrapped around both my ankles. It was a sharp piercing pain. I kept on swimming not losing my momentum. Its difficult to tell how a jelly fish sting would affect different individuals. It can be fatal (eg the box jelly fish at Pantai Cenang) or the sting could even go away after a few minutes. Well this time the sting didn't go away, but I was able to finish. I believe the swimmer just behind me also got stung. The organisers had vinegar at the finish which helped a little bit.

The trick to counter jelly fish is to cover your body with lycra completely. So I wore the Skins Long Sleeve Compression for my top. This type of clothing is not allowed for FINA sanctioned races and serious open water swims like the English Channel, Rottnest Channel etc. The idea being swim wear has to be simple as in the old days. Unfortunately I only had tri shorts for my bottom. My calves and ankles were completely exposed and I got stung.

The Sunscreen that claims to offer protection from jelly fish also didn't help.

The race did offer good prize money for each category. RM 1,500 for first placing but only RM 50 for 4th and 5th Placings. RM 50 is probably too low for a prize.
All the male International participants received prize money. There were no female international participants.
Only two females finished the 6km and 4km swims even though prize money went five deep.


Nice glass plaques were given to the top five finishers for each category. But I still have not got my trophy more than one month after the event. Where is it Iskandar Shahril?

Full results here.

SEA Games Gold Medalist and almost a Rio participant, Kevin Yeap finished 1st Overall in 1 hour 21 min.
I only finished in 2 hours 11 Mins (2nd Male Veteran, RM 800).

Nice T shirt and Medal. Tip took the Prize Money

Its possible to get to Langkawi from KLIA, KLIA2 and even Subang Airport. Many options.

There's actually many options at or near to Tanjung Rhu. There's The Four Seasons and many simple but ok hotels very close to the race start.
A number of participants actually camped on the race beach.
We rented a car (less than RM 100 per day) at the Airport and stayed at Tanjung Puteri Motel about 5km from the race start.
Actual million dollar view from our cheap motel balcony (Tanjung Puteri Motel)
At our Motel. We swam around the island at my left shoulder
The Good Points:
  1. Beautiful location. The best scenery.
  2. Perfectly straight course markers.
  3. High waves for serious ocean swimmers.
  4. Prize Money.
  5. Many categories and distances.
  6. Nice T shirt and Medal
  7. Grand prize giving ceremony.

The Bad Points:
  1. Organiser not generating interest before the event and responding late or not at all to some of my queries.
  2. Only five international participants and four of them seems to be friends of the Organiser. Come on Iskandar, what happened to other participants from  Singapore?
  3. I still have not got my second place trophy more than a month after the event.
  4. Poor quality swim cap. I threw mine away.
  5. Very high waves around the island. Not recommended for even average swimmers. People have died here, I am told.
  6. Jelly fish. Langkawi has the Box jelly fish which is fatal (eg. at Pantai Cenang).
  7. Wrong trophies and mock cheques during prize giving.
  8. Only RM50 prize money for fourth and fifth placings (the entry fee was RM 100).
Only for competent ocean swimmers and those looking for adventure and beauty.



Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Pattaya (Thailand) Swimathon (10km on 4 Dec 2016)

Quite simply, the best swim event I have participated in. The Thais, specifically the  Sport Buddy Open Water Swimming, are very adept at organising a "happening"  sporting event.
It was a first time effort by them and with their broken English web-site, we were not quite sure what to expect. But we were all very pleasantly surprised with the outcome.
Some of the amazing points were:
  1. Being very welcoming and smiling at all participants. Thailand is not the most visited country in the world for  nothing. It was only Thai and Malaysian participants this time around, the rest of the world had not caught on.
  2. A Race Expo over the weekend (3rd and 4th Dec). A small Expo, but it was an Expo no less where swimmers were able to purchase swimming stuff.
  3. All announcements over the mike in Thai and English throughout the weekend.
  4. A well organized practice swim on the Saturday, and this was just the practice swim. So we were all very excited for the real day.
  5. 1 km per lap course. 500m out and 500m back in a straight line. This is a very exciting format as it meant there were always other swimmers around. I drafted a very polite Thai swimmer for the first nine km.
  6. A very well marked and safe course, it was just not possible to deviate. The line and safety buoys went the whole length of the course and could be used for  resting purposes.
  7. Sheltered waters. This wasn't the real ocean. So it meant a very safe and fast course. I did a huge 10km  Personal Best for the 10.8 km (the actual distance on my Garmin 920XT) course.
  8. Accurate timing system. Full accurate results and splits were available on the internet within hours.
  9. Back on the beach after each km. Participants had to do a lap count at the end of each lap. Abundant fruits and drinks were available on the beach. Loud music blaring away. Phew adrenalin was pumping every time we got back on the beach. The beach was also feet friendly, no rocks, dead corals etc.
  10. Quality silicon swim caps with the distances printed for all participants. Something to cherish.
  11. A specially printed hooded Sweat Top for all 10km Finishers. The words "10km Finisher" clearly visible. Definitely something to cherish with pride.
  12. Medals for all Finishers.
  13. Hotels (we recommend 407 Long Beach and Nantra Hotels) and food places, a park, toilets, extra shower facilities within walking distance. The Hotel owner even sent one participant to the airport FOC, amazing.
  14. My personal favourite plus point for the event was the absolute quality photos FREE on the organiser's Facebook page. There must have been about 30 photos of me, and I was a nobody. The Champ, Rupert Tan must have had more than a hundred photos, with the family, underwater shots etc. Definitely a happy holiday for his family. These photos are not just mere photos of you scrambling on the beach, but real swim photos whilst in the ocean. I wonder just how they managed to get these shots, well the Photographer has a huge monkey lens on his camera.
  15. The Thai Navy provided safety kayaks, jet skis on the short course. Very safe.
Getting There
Air Asia flies directly there most days (not everyday). A few Malaysians flew to Bangkok and then went by land to Pattaya. That was a mistake.
The race is held at a popular local beach (Ban Amphur Beach, not the main Pattaya Beach). So there are amenities, hotels, parking, restaurants nearby.
407 Long Beach Hotel is walking distance to race site.
Nantra Hotel is walkable for fit swimmers but not if you have loved ones in tow. There's a brilliant restaurant (Preecha) right beside Nantra.
We actually stayed at De Amber Condo at Bang Seray Beach after the owner (Alex Tel No. 098 4748037) offered us a brand new condo with top notch fittings at a very low price. You need a car for De Amber though. Long Beach has many 10 out of 10 ratings on Alex is a most wonderful English chap. He sent a participant to the  Pattaya Airport for free.
Attractions at Pattaya
Well there are many many nicer beaches in Thailand and the sea is murky.
But its still great for a short holiday. We all went to the Floating Market.
Thailand as usual has great food everywhere and its always nice to holiday in Thailand.
There's only Avis at the Airport costing about RM160 per day. A bit costly but we took it.
Sport Buddy Face Book Page
Go to the Sport Buddy Facebook page for hundreds of quality photos, drone video of the event, race results, so on. Its really worth your while getting to know about them.
Events by Sport Buddy in 2017
Apart from a repeat of the Swimathon on 3 Dec 2017 (it will be 1.25 km per lap in 2017), there's the 12km Koh Samui Channel Crossing in May 2017, jeng, jeng jeng.

Drone view of the very safe course

Fruits and drinks for participants every one km

Quality swim photo (me)

Rupert Tan, the Champion

Race Director overseeing things

Medals for everyone

Another quality pic

The Race Director with the Woman Champion who also finished 2nd Overall, holding the quality Sweat Shirt given to all 10km Finishers

Clearly marked course

Water and Sports Drink on the beach after every one km

Another quality pic

Part of the EXPO
 I 100% recommend this Race .

Thank You

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Swim around Pulau Perhentian Besar (15.4 km) on 28 Sep 2016.

I had a Total Hip Replacement Surgery in May 2016 and had done a lot of swimming for rehabilitation (no running or cycling though). I was just itching to do long swims. Swim mileage exceeded 50km per week for eight straight weeks coming into the Perhentian swim on 28 Sept 2016.
Coach Amir of Swimon was organizing an Open Water Swim Camp at Pulau Perhentian from 29 Sep to 2 Oct with international long distance swimmer Jose Lois Larossa as the Lead Coach. I enquired with Amir whether it was possible for me to try a round the island swim and he said that it was possible as Jose was planning to do the same with a friend from Argentina on 28 Sep. Amir thought I would attempt just a partial swim as I was no international marathon swimmer. I mean, I was 3rd Last at the Bali 10km swim in July 2016. Amir is a competent Open Water Swimming organizer / Certified Coach and originates from Bachok, near Perhentian and has very good local knowledge and contacts (the Open Water Swimming Camp he organized was a resounding success).
Pulau Perhentian also hosts the very popular Annual Perhentian Challenge where Teams of four people would relay kayak and swim around the whole island. I enquired with recent Challenge participants Faizol Ramli and Nik Raiha the sea conditions. Their feedback was most valuable, I am most grateful for your feedback guys. Start early, they said and swim anti clockwise because they encountered very strong currents on the eastern side. Five hours to swim just 3km for them. Not actually encouraging information.
The Day Before, Tuesday, 27 Sep 2016 
The international swimmers, myself, Amir and our entourage arrived at Perhentian on 27th Sep. (Tuesday). That night we discussed our strategy for the swim, Amir's face went pale when I impressed upon him my intention to complete the island swim. I mean, who was Sofian? Jose, had just won an 81km  River Swim in India only a few days earlier. Jose could definitely do the swim, but who is Sofian?
To make matters worse, Jose decided to swim clockwise because of the wind conditions. Jose surely knows what he is doing I thought. But people that I trust (Faizol Ramli and Nik Raiha) had advised me to swim anti clockwise. Now, I am a self taught swimmer and I can only breathe on my left when I swim and I thought looking inwards at the shore would be the way to go, rather than looking out into the sea.  Looking at the rough South China Sea the whole way would surely be very demoralizing. So I decided to swim anti clockwise.
Our entourage also included Janez Maroevic, six times Croatia Marathon National Champion, but more importantly, twenty four (24) times Race Director of the Faros Maraton, one of the most prestigious ocean swims in Europe for elite swimmers (16 km). I had already viewed the Faros Maraton swim on you tube many times and was very surprised to actually meet the Race Director face to face in Malaysia.
Jose would swim with Argentinian, Fernando clockwise. Fernando is an International FINA Grand Prix swimmer who came with his family. Fernando was jet lagged from 50 hours of flying. Both Amir and Janez would follow Jose and Fernando in a boat, after all they were the real swimmers. I only had two local boat boys (Pian and Piee) to watch out for me. Its a serious matter ocean swimming, especially with the horror stories I heard of the South China Sea (strong currents and waves, monster jelly fish, speeding boats and even sharks). I had no chance.
I decided to double (RM 500) the agreed rate (RM 250) for the boat hire, After all, my life was in their hands. None of us (either swimmer or boat crew) had done a round the island swim. I wanted the two boat boys to be fully attentive towards my safety, thus I paid them double what they wanted.

Time to do it, Wednesday, 28 Sep 2016
 Jose had estimated 3.5 hours for him to complete the swim, so I told my boat skipper (Pian), that it would take me about 7 hours. He didn't baulk but rushed off to get more petrol. Unfortunately for Piee (the crew guy), he didn't bring any water and a few hours into the swim, I could see him in very bad condition and he had to be eventually rescued by another boat.
I started at 7.17 a.m. from the Barat Jetty going anti clockwise, just before Jose's team.
Boat traffic was still sparse that early in the morning and I could see a stationary fishing boat near a jetty that I used as a target. I agreed with the boat skipper (Pian) that he would stay on my left as much as possible. To his credit, he stuck to it throughout. I advised him that the boat's propellers must always be at a safe distance from me as this is the most dangerous thing in sea swimming with a boat. The propellers were unfortunately always close to me but I guess the skipper was fully alert and knew what he was doing.
For the first couple of hours I went slow, very cautious  and did my own sighting. It took me a good two hours to reach that fishing boat which didn't seem very far away initially. Its demoralizing to use something on the horizon as a target as you never seem to get any closer. Anyway, I reached and passed that silly fishing boat.
I only met Jose's entourage after 2 hours and 55 minutes of swimming. So its true then, the eastern side of the island had very strong currents / waves. Amir and Janez were cheering me like crazy. That was nice. But I was shocked to see Fernando IN THE BOAT! Oh Oh, I have no chance now. Jose and me high fived and Jose told me what I already knew, its very strong currents ahead.
At three hours, Tip and Hett (Jose's girlfriend) came in another boat to see how I was,  as we agreed. Then Tip's Boat Skipper saw the waves ahead and he did a blooming U TURN! Oh Oh, all these demoralizing things were happening. I increased my nutrition intake (my wife's oatmeal cookies) and focused more on my swimming technique. The boat skipper and crew started to look more alert. They both put on their life jackets.  They were doing fine for me up to then, so I now trusted them explicitly. The skipper is able to see ahead much more clearly than a swimmer. This is also  his island. He comes here everyday. he knows where the waves are.  So I decided to only focus my sighting on the side of the boat, to put my life in the hands of two young village men. Whichever direction the boat took, I would swim right beside it. I only took a quick look at side of the boat and then looked straight down into the beautiful clear blue sea. This strategy seemed to work. I wasn't swallowing any sea water and didn't feel sea sick no matter how much the sea was tossing me about.
Strange, I could see the lips and face of the boat's crew man turning white. Both of them looked very uncomfortable as the day got hotter, but I was almost having a ball in the water, I felt fine. Come on wave, is this all you got.....
I never once asked the crew "Are we there yet?". My Garmin was on "miles" instead of "km" which I didn't realise, and I wrongly thought I was going very very slow, thinking that it would take me much more than seven hours.
Amir came beside me for the second time, so Jose must have finished I thought, but then Amir went off again. Never mind, I have managed four or five hours on my own. A rescue boat came to pick up the sea sicked crew man (how come a fisherman could get sea sick? I don't get it). The Boat Skipper (Pian) told his crew man (Piee) that the finish was actually in sight. I looked up and could see a structure (a large mosque) on the horizon. Blimey the end is in sight, albeit on the horizon yonder.
This part of the swim was the most beautiful. The area near Turtle Beach and in front of the swank Perhentian Island Resort, its just the colourful sea bottom and fishes. The sea was clear blue the whole way. Most of the time I could only see a deep blue deepness broken by the sun's rays. Certain places I could see the bottom or large rocks. This gave me comfort as it meant I was actually moving along, albeit slowly.  No matter how rough the waves were, I was still moving ahead according to the boulders below as I left them behind. As Nik Raiha correctly put it, you are "swimming in an aquarium". Yeah man, she is so correct. Again, don't look at the horizon, instead look down or at the nearby shore. It will give you comfort that you are moving along, bit by bit.
The sea was so clear that I could see the humongous jelly fish that had just grazed me. It was just floating there nonchalantly. But it grazed me and I could feel the sharp itch on my hands (my arms and shoulders were safe though being completely covered with the Skins I was wearing). The itch went away after a few minutes, great.
Then Amir came for the third time and Tip was with him too. They stayed with me a few minutes and I could see the end coming. Amir jumped into the sea and swam with me the last few hundred meters. Its done man. I've actually done it. Just the sharp, pesky, dead corals to avoid at the shallow Barat Jetty (my start point). Tip threw me my slippers and Amir helped me the last few steps over the sharp dead corals.
7 hours 2 minutes and 15.4km on  my Garmin. I felt off balance / a bit groggy but I was largely OK.
Tip went off to finish her lunch whilst I did some photo shots with Amir and my boat skipper.

Its History Man  

To our knowledge, I am the first Malaysian to swim around Pulau Perhentian Besar. The boat boys were in awe that an "Uncle" just swam the whole island in seven hours.
Jose is the first person ever to swim around the island. He is a class swimmer and took only 4 hours 17 minutes. I'm the local idiot taking seven hours and two minutes.
Its an "Unofficial" Swim 

I probably didn't meet all the criteria for it to be an official swim. I had no recognised Observer, wore Skins over my shoulders and arms (this is not allowed for open water swimming at the highest level) and I held onto the side of the stationary boat for most of the feedings. When the sea is flying all over the place, I needed to hold onto the boat to have my favourite oatmeal cookies.

Open Water Swimming is fraught with danger. You are exposed to mother nature and all its elements. There's the weather, strong currents, high waves, sharks, jelly fish. These things are very real. Thus it is a Team event, you need many people to help you otherwise it can't be done.

I sincerely acknowledge the assistance of the following:

1. My wife Tip, who follows me for all my events. She sorts out my nutrition needs (cool bag, rope, drinking bottle, ice, homemade oatmeal cookies etc) and acts like a Coach, double checking everything.

2. Amir, Swimon. He is the chief organizer. Being from the area, has very good contacts. As a Certified Open Water Swim Coach, he understands the risks involved.

3. Spanish International Swimmer, Jose Lois Larossa who has inspired us Malaysians that open water swimming is a valid hobby / sport of its own. That there is life after the Ironman.

4. Pian (Boat Skipper) and Piee (Crew Man), who took care of my safety very very well and for the many pictures and videos.

5. Janez, Fernando and Hett. It was great to see you all out there that day.

6. Faizol Ramli and Nik Raiha for their feedback on the sea conditions.

The Evidence

At the start (Amir, Fernando, Me and Jose)

Pian, my Boat Skipper wears his life jacket on his head

Feeding, pic taken by Tip

Hett cheering Jose and Fernando

This is open water swimming (pic taken by Skipper)

Done. Amir escorted me

We did it guys (Me, Skipper and Amir).