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).


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Bali Ocean Swim. 10 km. 3 July 2016

Next Race
Confirmed on 2 July 2017, Sunday.
Registration here or pay cash (USD 100 for the 10 km) at the official hotel's reception counter (Bali Garden Beach Hotel) up to Saturday, one day before the event. I think it might even be possible to register early sunday event as its a charity event.
Improvements from last year
I felt it was much better organized in 2016 compared to 2015.
The race start / finish gantry was still standing when I finished in 2016 unlike in 2015 when it had to be removed because it had collapsed. There was also a proper timing chip at the end. The finish was clearly marked for swimmers to run through so as to not miss the timing chip reader. The Port Dickson Swimathon can learn from this rather than rugby tackling finishers to force them to run by the timing chip reader.
Finishers of all distances received a Finish Bali Swim towel. Still no medal but at least there is a finish momento.
The distance swam was more accurate in 2016 (11.2 km on my Garmin 920XT) versus 8.6 km in 2015. 8.6 km is way too short for a 10 km swim.
Other good bits
Charity Event
One will feel good when supporting this event. Race Director Rodney Holt (founder of local Charity, Bali Sports Foundation) is doing all manner of things for local charities. Specifically the entry fee is used to make a donation to the local lifeguards (Kuta Beach Balawista) and to help disabled children and youth to swim.
The race registration is manned by disabled persons in wheelchairs. Some participants are blind whose safety are ensured by the very capable lifeguards. If its safe for the blind, surely its safe for everyone else.
I make a personal donation to the local Lifeguards every year. They are wonderful people.
Convenient Race Location to get to
Bali has a new large International Airport which is only about 2 km from the event location. Many flights of course go to Bali. Its quite possible to get a taxi for IDR 100,000 to go to your Kuta Hotel.
The main official Hotel is the Bali Garden Beach Hotel which is a bit costly. There are many hotels nearby. Its after all Kuta Beach, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Be careful of prices though, it can be quite ridiculously expensive for unknown reasons.

Nice event location
 Swimmers swim parallel to the famous Kuta Beach which is actually quite beautiful. The sky and ocean is blue. The event briefing, registration and prize giving is held at the Boardwalk Restaurant. I think they were even serving free jacket potatoes to attendees.

Technical and safety support is provided by the Balawista Lifeguards. They are everywhere on the course. In 2015, when I finished last, at least one kayak was shadowing me throughout my swim. All kayaks have water and they seem to know how to watch out for you unlike some other swim events.

As 2016 was my second time, I felt very comfortable with the course and knew what to look out for.

The Ocean whilst clean, is murky. You cant see the bottom or any fishes. There are no jelly fish.

Some Tips for the Swim
 Kuta is a surfing beach and the waves very close to the shoreline can seem to be like a vertical wall. I lost my safety float (which got detached from my body due to the force of the waves) during my warm up the previous day. I seemed to somersault in the water many times, luckily there were no rocks.
The trick I think is to GO UNDER the wave when we are swimming out. When swimming back to shore, it doesn't matter.

When turning one's head to breathe during the 10km swim, the ocean does appear daunting. Its just so massive. So the trick is to not look at the waves (the waves will scare everything out of you), don't think about it. Just concentrate on your swimming.

Take water from the Lifeguards often and keep some gels in your swim wear.

Relax, enjoy the occasion and everything will be ok.

Tip accompanies me on all races

Race registration and briefing

Boardwalk Restaurant. Participants relaxing

10 km start. 16 participants
Tackle that huge wave correctly and you will be ok

Finished 3rd last. 11.2 km on my Garmin. 4 hrs 16 min

Finish Line Gantry, still standing this year

Every year I make a personal donation to the Lifeguards

with the wonderful Lifeguards

Rodney Holt. Gentle giant Race Director
I hope to see some of you next year, inshallah. Thank you


Friday, July 01, 2016

Labuan Cross Channel Swimming Challenge (5.4 km). 30 April 2016

Its quite weird that this high prize money swimming race is not that well participated. One doesn't get clear information on the event until about one or two weeks before the actual weekend on the Perbadanan Labuan / Labuan Corporation web-site. Regulars know about the Race though, because it is always held around the last weekend of April.
The Labuan Swim Challenge is held as part of the annual Labuan Sea Challenge. The Sea Challenge comprises Round Island Kayak Challenge, Deep Sea Fishing, photography contest etc all held at the Labuan International Sports Compleks. If you are good, you can win the swim and the photography contest (like Jose from Spain) or swim and Kayak the following day (like Mr Yoshi). The Round the Island Kayak would take the solo winner almost six hours, so Mr Yoshi is a really very fit person to finish second.
There are eight categories and six of the categories gives a top prize of RM 2,500. Prize money goes ten deep for the men, boys, women and girls and five deep for the veterans and juniors. Thus as far as I know (which is not a lot), this is the richest swimming event around. Add the nice island location of Labuan, there's real potential for many more participants, but we won't tell anyone now, will we?
I have a soft spot for the island of Labuan because my family used to go there during the school holidays in the early seventies (that's more than forty years ago and I haven't returned since).
We would stay at the rest house right by the beach. I can still hear the waves lapping against the beach just before dozing off at night. During the day, we would go by boat to the island of Papan (the swim turnaround) for a game of rounders and lunch. Really wonderful times. Military wise, Labuan is a very important strategic location.
Labuan of course has changed a lot since then. Its an off shore international Financial Centre, an important oil and gas port, and so on. The island seems very small, one can tour the whole island in a couple of hours.
I think the most important tourist attraction is the beautifully maintained War Memorial for the Commonwealth Forces that perished on the island of Borneo during World War II. Another beautiful location is the precise spot (Surrender Point) where the Japanese surrendered. The Japanese have built a Peace Memorial there and together with the pristine beach and pine trees, this makes a most beautiful spot.
Maybe the best bit about Labuan is that it is a Duty Free location, which means chocolates and liquor are just a fraction of the price in KL.
Getting around
Labuan Airport is only about 10 minutes from the race location and good hotels. Almost brand new cars could be rented for only RM100 per day at the airport. I was very happy with that. The race location and Billion Waterfront Hotel, where we stayed were very close together but with my dodgy hip, I used the car for even short distances.
I made a mistake of booking the Hotel myself online. Whilst checking in, I saw a notice which said that it was the official hotel and participants had very good discounted rates. Oh well, next year inshallah , I will give the Hotel a call first.
They seemed to like live music at this Hotel and I had to change rooms to a quieter block.
Race Organisation
I guess one has to bear in mind that this race is not an "Ironman" or "Challenge" Event with professional race organisers but a tourism event organized by gentle government servants. They did fine though. If you call Perbadanan Labuan, they are all aware of the event and will direct you to the right person. Registration can be done the day before and probably on the morning itself of the race. One  Malay lady holding a file was always smiling and accepting registration even two days before the event at the swim location.
Jose and I did two warm up swims at the event location which is always a good thing to do. Using a bright float device is also a good thing during the warm ups as the swim location is very close to the port.

Race Day
The gentle race organisers were sort of slowish but things did eventually get moving. As usual we met long lost friends and everyone on the beach were excited waiting for the race to start.
Not as chaotic like an Ironman start and very soon we were on our own. One quickly realizes that conditions were nothing like the swimming pool.

Important decisions had to be quickly made:
To draft or swim alone?
How often to "sight"?
The waves and current seemed to be throwing me everywhere, so what should I do?
Whatever one decides, settle quickly into a smooth rhythm rather than the stop and start which is energy consuming.

Then at some point in the race, negativity starts to creep in. 
"I'm not moving forward"
"What am I doing here?'''. Ha ha
So quickly snap out of it with positive thoughts and you will feel fine again.

After the turnaround I found the goggles had gone very misty. Taking a risk, I washed it with sea water and amazingly the goggles turned crystal clear.
Simon Cross told me he always uses a new pair of goggles for a race, now that is a very clever thing to do (thank you Simon).

I finished in 1 hour 51 mins, out of the prize money. No worries, I will definitely return as often as possible in future, inshallah.

Looking Forward
We made an outstanding new friend in Jose Lois Larossa from Spain. He has participated in many long distance swims around the world and even organizes a few races himself at his native Alicante in Spain. So I will be getting advice from my new best friend often on which swims to do.

I now have a new left ceramic hip implanted and the right hip also looks a bit dodgy, so running would not be a clever thing to do. But swimming seems to be ok for someone with dodgy body parts.

So no more triathlons or running but swimming is the way forward for me.
Thank You
This picture of me finishing taken by Jose won first prize in the photography contest

Another finish photo taken by Jose and his GoPro Hero 3
When I grow up, I wish to have a body like Jose's ha ha
With probably Brunei's greatest ever endurance athlete Ahmad Fathi Junaidi
At The War Memorial Labuan. Surrender Point is another place not to be missed

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Bali 10 km Ocean Swim (5 July 2015)

If you are thinking of dabbling in Ocean swimming, then this race might be for you.
The biggest concern with Ocean swimming is safety as you are going to be all alone in the sea and anything can happen. The famous 19.7 km Rottnest Channel swim (at Perth, Australia) for example, requires all solo swimmers be accompanied by a proper boat and skipper. I was quoted AUD 4,000 just for the boat and skipper, and that has immediately put me off doing that swim.
The Bali Ocean Swim on the other hand is organised by the Bali Lifeguards and believe me, the Lifeguards are everywhere on the swim course. Its even safe for the blind participants that did the shorter 1.2km event. I was last in the 10km event and at least one kayak was shadowing me the whole way. Sometimes there would be an additional kayak and even a boat shadowing me. I was so grateful for this that I donated half a million rupiah after the event to the Lifeguards' association.
The Bali Ocean Swim is a Charity Event. The entry fee and donations all go to charity. When you do the reporting on race morning, all the staff behind the registration table were in wheelchairs. After the race, so many charities were honoured. One gets a very good feeling doing this event.
The entry fee is only USD 100. This is really nothing compared to the cost of hiring a boat that is required for some races. Registration can be done at the lobby counter of the race hotel (Bali Garden Beach Resort) the evening before the event. I think one could even register on race morning itself.
The race is held at the Bali Garden Beach Resort which is the official hotel. Its located essentially at the heart of Kuta which is the most happening place in Bali. Other Hotels, places to eat and stroll around, abound. Don't worry, you won't be bored.
If you have been to Kuta or anywhere else in Bali, I'm sure you would have noticed that the Bali Ocean appears so inviting. It is indeed a lovely ocean to swim in.
We stayed at the Kuta Station Hotel which is just across the narrow road (Jl. Kartika) and has a 40m pool. There are many other hotels, of course. With the internet, you can take your time choosing the hotel and flights that suits your budget. I found that MAS was actually much cheaper than the budget airline.
Bali has a very nice new airport now and Kuta is only a short taxi ride away, so its very convenient.
The 10km event is the first to start at 9 a.m. Its already quite hot and you do have to keep on taking water from the kayaks. Your personal nutrition can be placed on the last turnaround traditional boat but I carried my gels in my swim wear.
Its four laps of about 2.5km per lap. The ocean was pretty flat for my first 3 laps but it was bouncing on my last lap (probably because I was too slow).
I estimated a four hour swim and started slowly. I was in last placing right from the gun. I didn't do my sighting properly initially and went slightly off. It was only after two laps I realised that the buoys were actually in a perfectly straight line.
I finished the swim in 3.5 hours because the swim was only 8.6km according to my new Garmin 920XT.
The winner was a woman in about 1 hour 50 mins which is faster than the FINA World Championships winning time at Kazan. So the swim is definitely short.
THE FINISH (the only downside)
Until now I have no idea where the actual finish line was. The swim start gantry was no longer on the beach when I finished. I remember seeing someone on the beach but I kept on running to the registration tables. They were already giving away the prizes, The Race Announcer / Director did acknowledge me,  the last person was finishing, everyone looked and clapped a bit, but that was it.
In Triathlons, the finish line is the happiest moment of your life. But there wasn't even a Finisher's medal this time.
But overall I was very very happy with the event and was more than happy to give a small donation to the Lifeguards who made sure I wasn't alone at the back of the race.
The next race is on 3 July 2016.
Buoys and traditional boats used to mark the swim course

Tip and Me

The 10km start. Maybe 20 participants finished

Well this was my best placing. 2nd Last at the start

The shorter races had more participants

I suppose this was the finish line!!

The wonderful lifeguards

Saturday, March 14, 2015

ITU World Triathlon Series. Abu Dhabi 7 March 2015.

Triathlon, I suppose is in a "complicated" relationship. There's the ITU (world governing body), Ironman WTC (which started before ITU was established in 1989), the Challenge Family and so on. My perception was that ITU concentrated on the Olympics and groomed national athletes for it.
The only ITU World Championship I took part in (Perth 2009), I had to go through Malaysia's governing body. My personal race reports here.
Then the only one time in my life I was a real national athlete (Triathlon's Asian Championships in Japan, 1992), participation was through the Ministry of Sports (the trip was very kindly paid for by the Sabah Tourism Promotion Corporation, so Datuk Irene and Datuk Balwant I am forever grateful to you two). So my perception was that ITU didn't really cater for mass participation. But that is changing actually, ITU started doing some mass participation races (especially the Olympic distance) in the run up to the London Olympics 2012 and now for Rio 2016.
WTS - Abu Dhabi
The ITU takes the World Triathlon Series very seriously. At stake is their reputation, Olympic qualifying places, sponsorship responsibilities, livelihood of professional triathletes, live TV and so on. They do a proper  job and we the mass participant, benefit.
Abu Dhabi is the first WTS race for 2015. Three distances are available for the age groupers (Sprint / Olympic / Maxi) plus there's the Aquathlon and Kids Races too. The Elites do the Sprint Distance later in the day and proper Grandstands, T.V. etc is provided for spectators. Commentary is provided throughout the day by one of my favourite persons in Triathlon ever, Greg Welch (World Ironman Champion in 1994 and ITU World Short Course Champion). Coupled with the perfect weather and beautiful location, it was actually a lovely day for us. I understand ITU's contract with Abu Dhabi is for 5 years, so Gulf triathletes really have something good to look forward to.
I have loved doing Triathlons since Day One in 1989. The races have such a buzz feeling. Abu Dhabi  with its Sprint and Maxi distances, caters for everyone. With 2,500 participants, there was such an international crowd. I had no idea what languages people were speaking in, wonderful.
I am grateful that I purchased from Edwin Ng an ITU compliant race suit. People were curious to know what "MAS" stood for and of course spectators and fellow participants were always calling out my name "Sofian". So thank you Edwin Ng.
To finish your day, you could watch the Elites race and show you how its done.
That's it, that's the end of my Race Report. I recommend the race.
Gwen Jorgensen. Very strong favourite for Rio 2016

Emma Moffat. ITU World Champion in 2009 and 2010

Go sightseeing. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

The slowest cyclist from Doha. Ha ha

I couldn't have done it without my wife

Relax after your race and watch the Elites

Friday, December 12, 2014

Challenge Bahrain (6 Dec 2014)

All races are special and I have been doing Triathlons for 25 years, but in terms of what the Organiser has done for its participants, Challenge Bahrain is the best Triathlon I have had the pleasure of doing, ever.

Living in the Gulf region, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that Challenge Bahrain was going to be special. In this part of the world, royalty actually rules the country. With their total backing,  wealth and emphasis on being hospitable to visiting guests, we knew the event was going to be something special. Actually it exceeded my expectations.
  • No visa fee at the airport. I can't imagine a normal country waiving this, but Bahrain could do it, for the whole entourage.
  • Free transport to the hotel. I missed this though, but I had the pleasure of meeting a wonderful taxi driver, I immediately liked Bahrain.
  • Liberal Bahrain. I won't give the details.
  • Official Hotels. Apart from the special rates, its always nice when the Hotel is full of other participants. I liked our Hotel very much, cosy room, comfy bed, brilliant buffet breakfast (which included a "pork" table), super fast free internet, restaurants, pub.
  • Free coach (every two hours) between T 1 (Manama / City Centre) and T 2 (Bahrain International F1 Circuit / EXPO, Registration, Pasta Party, Awards Party). The travelling, waiting for the coach to leave was a drag though. We took the readily available taxis many times and paid a bomb, oh well.
  • A reasonably sized EXPO. food / cafĂ© abundantly available.
  • The BIGGEST GOODIE BAG ever. I got a bad back lugging it around. Makes me want to go trekking in Nepal with that bag.
  • A good comfortable pasta party. Fit for a prince.
  • Numerous photo opportunities with Professional Triathletes.
  • Quite possibly the best professional triathletes ever assembled (excluding Kona).
  • Espresso on the pontoon by Four Seasons Hotel during the practice swim.
  • Whit Raymond announcing. To me Whit is the best Triathlon race announcer on the planet.
  • Very well done T 1 and T 2. Fully carpeted, spacious, man they have the money.
  • Beautiful Manama Bay, Bahrain International Circuit and a wildlife park for the run.
  • Safe swim.
  • Massive Highways totally closed for the bike. I mean totally closed, other vehicles were not allowed at all. We felt SAFE on the bike. We felt guilty seeing Pilots and passengers getting out their taxis and pulling their luggage near the airport, hee hee.
  • No drafting at all by the Pros and Age Groupers (20 m rule for the Pros)
  • The swim, bike and run was well marked. Not possible to go off course.
  • Incredible volunteers at all aid stations.
  • Luxurious awards dinner.
  • Fireworks
  • Live and clear streaming of the race, the whole day. This was available on You-Tube (9.5 hours long) the very next day I think. We could all see ourselves. I don't think this has been done before.
  • The biggest finisher's medal ever.
  • Finisher's jacket (my wife took it)
  • And probably the thing that beats everything, Four time Grammy winner Dire Straits performing after the awards dinner.
Obviously they have a huge budget and they promised it will get even better next year.
Professionals race for money. USD 500,000 was on offer this time. Kona has USD650,000 but the 70.3 Worlds only had USD 250,000. Some of the Pros said that this was the best field ever assembled for a Half IM.
Traditionally the season ends with Kona and then maybe Phuket. For most, December is rest time. Professionals cannot peak every weekend. Only those who have rested, will win the top races. They have to choose a few races they really want to win and they are picking Bahrain in December.
The Triple Crown
His Highness has announced the Triple Crown Races (Challenge Dubai, Mountainous Oman and finishing with Bahrain). I think he said, the person winning all three races will get USD 1 million.
Kona of course won't be forgotten by the Pros, but what's going to happen to the 70.3 Worlds?
Now the boring bit, my race ha ha.
The Swim
34 minutes with the wet suit vs about 38 minutes at Dubai about one month prior to Bahrain. At the first turnaround buoy, I made the decision to draft the person beside me no matter what. So I didn't seem to use any energy for most of the swim. There's still a long way to go. I finished the swim feeling dizzy, that happened because of the wet suit effect I think.
I was surprised to see our Club Chairman (Nickel Nijman) taking pictures, rather than taking part.
The Bike
The highway was massive, flat, smooth and empty. For the first time, I didn't see anyone drafting. I thought it was windy but somehow my bike split was 3 : 13 vs 3 : 20 in Dubai.
I didn't overtake anyone at all, such is the lack of my cycling powers now.
The weather was just right, between 25 to 29 maybe. So this was a huge difference to one month ago in Dubai.
The run
Again I was hardly moving with my Osteo Arthritis. I felt the run at Dubai was so damaging to my bones, that I totally stopped running after Dubai. So no running whatsoever for me until race day. But it wasn't quite as painful as Dubai for me. This time I popped pain killers, salt tablets and used thick socks.
The run was through a wild life park, how cool. Most of the road was smooth, but some bits were pebbly and I suffered a bit.
The volunteers at the 14 km aid station saw my honest effort at trying to run, they gave me a standing ovation, I almost cried there and then but avoided eye contact with them ha ha.
Completed the run (without walking apart from at the aid stations) in 3 hours 24 min. I know its very slow, no way I can do an Ironman now and make the cut off.
Total time was 7hrs 22 mins vs 7 hrs 49 mins in hot Dubai, one month previously.
I acknowledge this wonderful club, its tireless committee and fellow triathletes. The Club organises training sessions almost everyday in the hands of competent coaches. Its all free, even social functions they organise are free.
They gave us a free T Shirt to wear in Bahrain. I think we were the most visible group in Bahrain. I finished last from the Club.
Take a bow the Committee members please.
FIT-Q Group
I acknowledge these wonderful Filipino Group. A number actually did not go to Bahrain for religious reasons which we all respect.
His Highness is one of the King's sons. Basically all this happened because of him. The Kingdom of Bahrain has made Triathlon a priority for the nation's development. Triathlons encourages a healthy lifestyle and unity of the people.
His Highness completed the race in 4 hours 21 mins. The first Malaysian finisher at Putrajaya 70.3 took 4 hours 46 mins. Of course the race conditions are different, but H.H. is definitely no slouch.
The biggest goodie bag ever for me
With Tim Berkel IMWA Champion in 2008

the wonderful setting of the BIC

Pasta Party

The favourites being introduced. Only Rachel Joyce made the podium

finishing the bike

H.H. finishing the run

Done. Malaysia Boleh

The Male Champion. Michael Raelert

The female champion Helle Frederiksen

Fireworks party

Dire Straits

FIT-Q Triathletes from Doha / Philippines