Kua Harn Wei is an ultra triathlete who almost drowned while trying out for the Naval Diving Unit. The near death experience – as well as a humiliating lecture for not learning how to swim – spurred him on to learn swimming. By 2003, he had set his personal best of 10hr 49min in an Ironman-distance time trial. Currently an Assistant Professor at NUS, Harn Wei has also completed the Deca Iron World Challenge – a race where he completed 1 Ironman per day for 10 consecutive days.

He shares with Red Sports what he has been doing this past year.

By Kua Harn Wei

This is the most memorable season for me, not only because I am ranked 2nd in the world in ultra triathlon, but that it reminds me why I am still in ultra triathlon after 5 years - the people and their hearts.

Doing it for a cause
5 ultra triathlons in 21 weeks (from 6 July to 30 November), covering a total distance equivalent to 19 Ironman triathlons - that was the goal I set for myself for the 2008 Ultra Triathlon World Cup Series. This was a huge challenge for me as a triathlete and an academic.

The challenge lied not just in the fact that I always planned every season around only one or two ultra triathlons in previous years; competing in such a tightly-packed series implied that I would have very little time to recover completely between consecutive races.

“How fast should I go? How well can I recover? How much effect frequent traveling will have on my performance? Can I adjust my workload successfully to make time for training and racing?” Those were the questions that popped in and out of my mind throughout those 21 weeks.

But one question never popped up at all - “Do I have the motivation to complete all the 5 races?”

Ultra triathlon is never just a sport for me. It is a channel through which I use what I know to serve a cause larger than personal satisfaction, so that the benefits stretch farther than even the finish line in an ultra triathlon.

This world series served as a way to create awareness and raise funds for the NUS Shaw Foundation Alumni House student and alumni program on lifelong learning and enrichment. We hope to use the funds to run courses that can hopefully help those affected by the current economic downturn.

These 5 races were: double Ironman World Championship in Levis, Quebec City, Canada; Triple Ironman World Cup in Lensahn, Germany; Double Ironman World Cup in Bonyhad, Hungary; Double Ironman World Cup in Virginia, USA; and, the Deca Triathlon World Cup in Monterrey, Mexico.

A single Ironman comprises a 3.8-km swim, 180-km cycling and 42.2-km run. In a double Ironman, we cover twice the distances, and so on. This means in a deca, we swim 38km, cycle 1800km and then run 10 marathons back-to-back.

To take on this new challenge, I changed the way I train. I spent 4 months bringing up my weekly mileage in cycling and running to a total weekly duration of 30 hours, before adopting what I called a "V" approach for 4 weeks - in which I alternate a week of low mileage but high intensity (to develop speed) and a week with an opposite focus.

In between races, I would spend 1-2 weeks for ensuring maximum recovery before spending 1-2 weeks doing specialized training for the next race (for the deca, I clocked an average of 90 hours of training over two consecutive weeks).

Finished the unfinished
Every race in the world series is a unique story - a story with a special meaning and history. The first race was the world championship for the double Ironman distance. It was held in a place that forever occupies a very special place in my heart - Levis, Quebec City, Canada.

That was where I started my first ultra triathlon in 2002, only to be hospitalized after only covering 4km on the bike due to a very serious accident that left me with a broken helmet, smashed front wheel, chipped tooth and split lip.

Many people remembered me for that accident and I returned to an sympathetic fraternity who sincerely hoped I could finish this race after 6 years!

This race fostered my connection with the Levis community. I finished the race successfully and came in 12th overall, albeit having some technical problems on the bike, and racing under very wet and cold conditions.

The second race - the Triple Ironman in Lensahn - had a similar history. In 2007, after a strong swim and having covered 500km (out of the 540km) on my bike, I carelessly tore my left hamstring muscle while powering up a slope. I completed the rest of the cycling distance in discomfort, only to find that I could not even straighten my left leg off the bike! I had to stop the race to seek treatment.

This time, I finished the race and even set a new Asian record! This was made possible by a carefully-paced swim and cycle, and running/jogging non-stop for almost 19 hours. With this new record, I moved up to the top spot in the world cup series ranking for the first time in my life.

Watch out for part 2.