Ironman — push your limits and be part of the hall of fame

While each leg has its cut-off time, try doing all the 226km in 17 hours

by RAHIMI YUNUS

HERE is an ultimate physical test. Swim for 3.8km, then cycle for 180km before ending it with a 42.2km run.

While each leg has its cut-off time, try doing all the 226km in 17 hours.

Your muscles would be stressed while your tissues and joints might be inflamed.

Well, none of that can scare any Ironman triathlete off.

That is exactly the whole point of joining the world’s most challenging endurance event: To push yourself to new limits — physically and emotionally.

Passing through several kampungs, athletes get a true taste of the Malaysian countryside with quaint sights of winding terrain, mangrove clusters and the sounds of local communities of the island

Would You Rise to the Challenge?

Do not be so quick to say no, because even physically handicapped people would compete in a triathlon along with able-bodied athletes, although in distinct categories.

From young, avid sportsmen to senior citizens and amputees, Ironman participants sweat it out to conquer the gruelling race.

If the 226km race is too daunting, the Ironman 70.3, or known as the Half Ironman, is an option which sees the distance of each part halved for the “not so adventurous” participants.

A top male Ironman can complete the 226km course in eight hours and 30 minutes, while female counterparts usually take slightly more than nine hours.

Professionals or the elites join several Ironman races around the world.

They vie for a qualifying slot in the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii — the pinnacle of the Ironman series.

Every October, over 1,900 professional and agegroup qualifiers compete in the picturesque island to be crowned the “King and Queen of Kona”.

Months or even years of training are put to the real test in the “Superbowl” of triathlon.

In the Ironman world, however, less than 1% of the triathletes are professionals. The vast majority are ordinary people, perhaps like you, who fix fitness training regime between everyday life and work.

Besides the tan lines, simply reaching the finish line would earn them lifetime bragging rights.

A picture on Instagram with the hashtag #ironmanfinisher will do just that. And if you aim for that C-level position, here is a tip.

Consider completing any Ironman race because that achievement is said to be a plus point, according to headhunters, because the triathlon illustrates the characteristics of discipline, commitment and focus of the candidate at its best.

Perhaps CIMB group CEO Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz and serial entrepreneur Azran Osman-Rani could testify on this as both of them are Ironman triathletes.

Best of all, you do not need to travel far to join the Ironman challenge because we have it here in Langkawi, Kedah.

Ironman operates a global portfolio of events including Ironkids

Ironman Malaysia in Action

In over 40 full-distance Ironman events worldwide, there are only four country hosts in Asia. Apart from the locations in the US, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Oceania, triathletes convene in Gurye, Korea; Penghu, Taiwan; Subic Bay, the Philippines; and Langkawi in Malaysia to join the Ironman.

In Langkawi, athletes will cross a timing mat on the white sand beach of Pantai Kok, near The Danna Langkawi, before entering the water to start the swim.

A rolling start ensures a continuous smooth and safe flow of athletes. On completion of a two-loop triangle of a 3.8km swim leg, a two-loop bike course heads out of Pantai Kok towards the rolling hills of Datai and the fringes of Kuah Town.

Passing through several kampungs, athletes get a true taste of the Malaysian countryside with quaint sights of winding terrain, mangrove clusters and the sounds of local communities of the island.

Athletes will return from the 180km bike ride to a unique indoor air-conditioned transition at the Mahsuri International Exhibition Centre, next to the Langkawi International Airport.

Accompanied by the breeze of the Andaman Sea, athletes complete the race with a two-lap, 42.2km run course along the side of the airport runway towards the finish line at the beachfront of Meritus Pelangi Beach Resort and Spa, near Pantai Cenang.

Steep hills, constant heat and humidity make Langkawi among the toughest Ironman events in the world.

“I would say it is a tropical adventure. The weather, rain and sun. You would not know until race day,” Ironman regional director of Ironman Malaysia CG Lim told The Malaysian Reserve in an interview.

But then again, what is Ironman without challenges?

This year, blood, sweat and tears await at the Ironman Malaysia 2019 on Oct 26

The story dates back more than 40 years ago in 1977, on a sunny Hawaiian day, when a former US Navy Commander John Collins argued with his friends on who were the better athletes — swimmers or runners.

The idea was to combine all events into one ultimate race to settle the debate.

The first-ever Ironman race took place in 1978 with 12 finishers out of 15 participants. And the rest is history.

Nowadays, Lim said, Ironman has become more achievable, thanks to the unlimited information available about triathlon, including pointers shared by groups or participants.

He said the evolution of sports gear and equipment help make the multisports competition easier and faster, compared to decades ago.

“Compared to the earlier days when I raced, I did not have a training group and peers to talk to. No one taught me how to swim better or cycle faster.

“Plus, I did not have the gear that they all have now. For instance, bicycles now have electronic shifter. Everything has evolved so fast,” he said.

Training clinics and plans for first-timers are available, on top of tips and personal experiences shared in blogs and other online portals.

Hence, more Malaysians now are into the multisports game including the Ironman.

Ironman debuted in Langkawi in 2000, and ran for a decade. After a short break, the Jewel of Kedah made a comeback in the Ironman arena in 2014 and the number of entries has grown by leaps and bounds since.

With an entry fee of between US$550 (RM2,300) and US$600, enrolments rose from 1,400 in 2014.

Of the total, 16% were local participants.

Last year, the number increased to 2,430 with Malaysians accounting for 29% of the total participants.

Of that, less than 1% or about 35 athletes were the elites, while 99% were age groupers.

Men still dominate Ironman Malaysia in terms of number, at between 85% and 88% of the total number of contestants, while the remaining are women.

Lim said one of the key targets for Ironman Malaysia is to increase the participation of women.

In comparison, Ironman Cairns in Australia has been attracting about 49% women participation.

Since 2014, 100% of our volunteers from the start to finish line, transitions and at the Ironman Expo have been the Langkawi people

Ironman Economic Spillover in Langkawi

Ironman is more than just a one-day sporting event.

The popular triathlon series promotes sports tourism where the triathletes, families and spectators gather in one place to watch the race and, of course, spend money.

Ironman operates a global portfolio of events which include the Ironman Triathlon Series, the Ironman 70.3 Triathlon Series, Ironkids, 5150 Triathlon Series and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series.

The Ironman Series is the largest participation sports platform in the world.

The franchise is owned by Nasdaq-listed Wanda Sports Group Co Ltd. Headquartered in Beijing, China, Wanda Sports has more than 60 offices and 1,600 employees around the world.

As for the Langkawi chapter, Lim said the organisation estimated about RM36 million of economic benefits received by Langkawi from last year’s edition in one week.

Hotels like The Danna and Meritus Pelangi Beach, both operated by Tradewinds Corp Bhd, were fully booked while car and bike rentals surged. Revenue on food and beverages also rose during the period.

Ironman Malaysia in Langkawi is a global sporting event as much as it is a local event for the villagers.

Ironman has this ethos called Ohana, a Hawaiian word that holds the concept of extended family, which includes family, friends and community.

“Since 2014, 100% of our volunteers from the start to finish line, transitions and at the Ironman Expo have been the Langkawi people.

“For instance, at every aid station in the cycle leg, volunteers from the villages are engaged to give support,” Lim said.

In Langkawi, athletes will cross a timing mat on the white sand beach of Pantai Kok, near The Danna Langkawi, before entering the water to start the swim

On a bigger scale, Ironman has also developed a multisports culture in Malaysia which, in turn, boosts the revenue for sports retailer including bike and swimming speciality stores.

While corporate sponsorship is hard to come by these days, Lim said government support such as grants would assist the sustenance of the triathlon event.

This year, blood, sweat and tears await at the Ironman Malaysia 2019 on Oct 26.

Become an Ironman, people say. Be the master of your limit and put Ironman on your bucket list.

What is holding you back?