Midway during her first ever triathlon race, 23-year-old Sara Ng had sworn that it was something she would never do again.
Explained Ng, a Personal Trainer and Practice Legal Trainee, “For the race, I had jumped straight into doing the Standard Distance (1.5km swim, 40km bike and 10km run). I was young, naive and stupid, thinking that it wouldn’t be that hard. I mean, I could complete the required distances of each discipline and so I thought, how hard could it be?”
Underestimated her first triathlon race
“But nothing prepared me for the heavy legs, the screaming lungs and the skyrocketing heart rates. I remember chastising myself for actually underestimating this thing and halfway through the run, I think I vaguely remember swearing never to do this again,” added Ng.
But Ng managed to come away with a win in her first triathlon race, which was the 2010 OSIM Singapore Triathlon. “And winning does strange things to you, like getting you hooked onto something you promised never to do again,” she explained.
Completely addicted to triathlons today
Indeed, Ng is completely addicted to triathlons today and her passion for the sport continues to burn strongly. On why she enjoys doing triathlons so much, Ng explained, “Just being out there and having your body move in the way that it is meant to move is one of the most amazing things in the world. If you truly focus on moving, you experience a heightened sense of awareness in both your mind and body and I think we don’t get enough of that in our modern lives.”
“To me, the human body is a fascinating machine that is made to move. It would be a pity not to challenge such a fine piece of machinery and push it to its limits,” Ng added.
Her interest in triathlons was ignited in 2009
Ng’s interest in triathlons started in 2009, when she was representing her Junior College at cross country running and doing plenty of cross training at the same time, in the form of cycling and swimming. Said Ng, “I enjoyed that a lot as it broke up the monotony of running. So when I found out about the sport of triathlon that would justifiably allow me to do all three activities as specific competitive sports, rather than as cross training, I had to try it.”
However, Ng admits that competing in triathlons are a completely different ball game to participating only in pure running races. “When you are a pure runner, then swimming and cycling are just forms of cross training. But in triathlon, you actually have to put in the time to train for all three disciplines,” she explained.
Ng added too, that doing the triathlon is a lot more technical, because of the transition techniques involved from one sport to another. And picking up open water and bike handling skills added to the difficulty.
Passion for triathlons have brought her plenty of fond experiences
Today though, Ng’s passion for triathlons have definitely brought her plenty of experiences that she remembers fondly. One of these was at the 2013 Ironman 70.3 Cebu, which she describes as one of those “perfect” races where everything went well for her.
But said Ng, “The one thing I remembered, were the vicious headwinds that really posed a huge challenge on the bike. I simply could not stay down and focused on riding as hard as I could. I remembered just pedalling absentmindedly during the bike leg for 10 minutes and trying to clean spilt gel of my top tube because I was so mentally tired of fighting the winds.”
“But after that, it passed, and I then ran one of my best half-marathons and managed to come in second – and qualified for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas that year,” she added.
Has had some pretty challenging races too
To date, Ng has had some pretty tough race experiences – such as when she took part in the Desaru Long Distance Triathlon (2km swim, 90km bike, 21km run), two years ago.
Said Ng, “I remembered doing this race and as usual, I picked up a puncture and that was only 45km into the 90km bike ride. I’ve been quite resigned to puncturing at every one of my half-ironman races. But I could not patch the hole and no one had a spare tube that I could borrow as I was riding a bike with a smaller wheel size.”
“Out of desperation, I borrowed one of my team mates bikes that was probably two sizes too big and continued with the race. I left all my nutrition and water on my own bike and had to deal with the consequences of my own carelessness. Riding a bike that was too big meant that I had very bad lower back cramps, and not having nutrition and hydration added to that and honestly, I retain very little memory of how I made it through the 45km,” added Ng.
Moreover, when she embarked on the 21km run during this race, Ng admitted that her back was still cramping badly because of the uncomfortable bike leg. “So I ran and walked the whole 21km in the infamous Desaru heat without water – as the aid stations ran out of them – and somehow finished the race probably in a state that was close to delirium,” she explained.
Frustrating injuries are a part and parcel of triathlon training
Sustaining injuries are also a part and parcel of Ng’s triathlon career – such as when she dislocated her elbow a few days before she was supposed to leave for Hong Kong for the ASTC U23 Championships last November.
Said Ng, “It was a freak accident and I guess it’s one of those things that life throws at you. I had to forego that race and focused on recovering in four weeks for the Asian Beach Games. The prognosis from the doctor was a recovery in six to eight weeks, so I was pushing it a little. Fortunately I did not have to swim for both races, as I was racing the duathlon in the Asian Beach Games.”
Ng admitted that the training was a challenge though, especially with her arm being in cast and a sling. “But I did a lot of training at Altitude gym, where I work. I walked on the treadmill, trying to hit my target heart rate, and cycling on the spin bikes. Training at 3,500 metres above sea level definitely helps to keep the cardiovascular fitness, but I also did a lot of conditioning to ensure that the muscles in my injured right arm did not atrophy,” she explained.
In the end though, Ng is happy with her performance in both of the races, even coming second in the Singapore Duathlon in November last year. “I did have some trouble during both bike legs but the race adrenaline always helps in shutting out the pain,” she added.
Triathlon has taught her a lot about life
Ng has never regretted her decision to take up triathlon, though. In fact, over the years, she feels that the sport has taught her a lot about life in general. “You get out of it, what you put into it. In the days leading up to a race, or even during the race, anything can go wrong. Or sometimes, no matter how much work you put in, you feel shortchanged. But you experience the peaks and valleys of human emotions if you train and race with your heart,” she explained.
Tips for aspiring triathletes
What tips does Ng have for those who are interested to pick up triathlon?
“I would say just jump straight in! I’m not one who likes to spend too much time pondering over whether I should take up something new. Sometimes, the best way is not to think and just do so. Commit yourself to a race or a specific goal first, and then start thinking about what you need to do, to get there.”
For those who are from a running background, like she was, Ng feels that the swimming leg poses the greatest challenge because of the techniques involved. “Cycling is much easier to pick up though, because most of us have ridden bicycles as kids. At the end of the day though, it’s just about getting out there and practise, practise, practise,” she added.
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