What hasn’t Jeff Lau done before?
When a full marathon does not interest him anymore, he runs the Marathon des Sables, running over 250km across the Sahara Desert.
When the toughest foot race on earth does not intrigue him anymore, he braces himself for the coldest, toughest, and windiest ultra foot race on earth – smashing 560km at the most extreme 6633 Arctic Ultra Marathon.
To most, an ultra marathon is a pinnacle of physical and mental resilience. To Jeff, it is not even close to tough enough. The ultra marathon runner, made history as the first Malaysian to successfully complete the Swiss Ultra Deca Triathlon.
Jeff Lau made history by attempting to join an elite band of just 80 finishers around the world who have completed the ultimate endurance challenge of 10 Ironman triathlons in 10 days.
The 29-year-old was one of 10 participants attempting the Deca Triathlon, in which the participants completed the length of 10 back-to-back Ironman triathlons, every day from 22 to 31 August 2019 in Buchs, Switzerland, hosted by the Swiss Ultratriathlon Association.
Appointed by the Malaysian Ministry of Health, the Red Ribbon Youth icon also raced for the Malaysian AIDS Foundation, with the aim of raising awareness and promoting safer sex among the youth.
The race went beyond what he expected.
The race takes weeks. As you can imagine, it is a brutal test of endurance and willpower. Each leg is 10 times longer than a standard Ironman, with 38km of swimming, 1800km of biking, and 422km of running.
“Imagine, I had to begin racing at 7.00am every day and had merely 3 to 4 hours of sleep every night, before repeating the same routine again,” said Jeff. The severity of the fatigue is indescribable. It is more of a mental challenge.
Throughout the race, he battled full-body exhaustion, sleep deprivation, depression, and the seemingly impossible.
Swimming is his weakest discipline.
The first leg in the Deca Triathlon is swimming. Participants are given 25 hours to swim 780 laps in a 50-meter pool in 10 days.
Jeff spent briefly 4 hours sleeping daily until it was time to start the first leg of the day. Swimming was the most challenging to him due to the frosty weather at 10 Degree Celsius in the morning. Although he was wearing a wet suit, his whole body and face felt icy cold when he hit the water.
“I struggled to finish the 3.8km swim for 76 laps within the cut off time of 2 hours every day. The stronger swimmers took only an hour to finish, but I had to spend almost 2 hours to finish,” said Jeff.
He was riding like a snake.
Then came the cycling leg, which consisted of 200 out-and-back loops of a 9km course in 10 days. The bike course went through a nature reserve, and the weather turned windy and blusterous all the time.
Jeff rode on his own bicycle on the first day, until an experienced participant stopped him on the second day, and offered him a spare bicycle. “He is from Hungary and has done more than 70 Ironman races. The bicycle that was offered to me had aero bars and was made of carbon. He said my own bicycle is not qualified for the race,”
Lucky Jeff had his bike fit and continued to race on the following days. Amusingly, the novice cyclist had encountered some difficult time balancing and controlling, while riding on an aerodynamic bicycle. Although the aero bars helped him to cut through the wind better, he was cycling like a snake.
Fortunately, Jeff performed better on the fourth day. When he finally obtained his halfway mark on the fifth day, he secretly thought of giving up the race. But the determined ultra marathon runner decided to carry on.
“Just the thought of swimming in the freezing cold water every morning struck me. But I was there to race for the charity, I knew I had to complete it,” said Jeff.
Running 1.25km loop repeatedly for 422km, that’s more than 330 laps in 10 days.
The running course covered 80% tarmac road and 20% sandy road. Participants had to finish a 1.25km running course for 35 loops every day. Running has always been Jeff’s strength, therefore it was not too challenging except for his sleep deprivation.
Eventually, everything went smoother than expected until the ninth day. “I had muscle cramps when running. Also, I lost my appetite and I nearly could not finish the race within the cut off time,” recalled Jeff.
On the tenth day, the tenacious runner was not going to let himself back down from the challenge. “Whatever is difficult, I have to get through,” said the youngest participant in Deca Triathlon.
He does not look like an athlete among the rest of the participants.
Most participants at the event have done numerous Ironman races and completed the Deca Triathlon before. It was like an annual event to them. However, to Jeff, he raced for a charitable purpose.
“The other participants were shocked and surprised to see my tired face every day I showed up by the pool. They were worried about my physical condition. Also to them, I looked more like a support crew,” said the laughing Jeff.
While the other participants spent only 10 to 12 hours to finish the race every day, Jeff spent close to 15 to 16 hours.
“With the amount of Hammer Nutrition I consumed, they thought my diet was unusual,” added Jeff.
The first Malaysian to complete the Swiss Ultra Deca Triathlon.
Jeff Lau, being the only Asian, proudly accomplished the 10-day daunting race alongside the other veterans from Italy, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, and other countries.
He has done it.
After all the months of training, determination, hard work, stress, and effort all come together, it was that one precious moment of the sense of achievement and satisfaction that will forever imprint on his memory.
What’s next for the ultra marathon runner?
“I am still in disbelief. The surreal feeling of completing the Swiss Ultra Deca Triathlon hasn’t gone away. You will see me taking care of my farm, harvesting vegetables, until the next major race,” Jeff jokingly concluded his sentence.