Thursday, October 12, 2017

Clean Half Extreme Marathon Swim Hong Kong (15 km)


The Clean Half Extreme Marathon Swim at Hong Kong is probably the most famous Open Water Swim event in Asia. It is an annual event normally held in October (summer). The race on 7 October 2017 was its eleventh edition.
It is a Charity event organized by a Hong Kong Charity / NGO called Ocean Recovery Alliance that does work on improving the ocean environment. Entry fees are paid directly to the Organiser, Doug Woodring. Doug is the co-founder and Managing Director of ORA.
The event is one of many sporting events held throughout the year by Open Water Asia. Protecting the sea goes hand in hand with open water swimming. Doug is a key person for Open Water Asia. He is a keen open water swimmer and regularly participates in the Clean Half. Doug was even nominated for the 2012 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year award due to his  contributions to the sport and the environment.
Participation and support for the event by the local community is good. Total number of swimmers is probably close to 300. Most are taking part in the many types of team events (5 person team, 2 person Yak team, outrigger canoe which are then sub divided into Men, Women, Mixed, Age Groups etc). I guess team events bring in participants which in turn brings in participation fees.
Support is provided by various recreational water clubs (Eg Victoria Recreation Club) that allows its facilities to be used for the event. Hong Kong has been a leading port for a hundred years maybe and understands the  sea very well. The international  population of Hong Kong supports and loves to participate in  sea sporting events. Live musicians were even playing their instruments right on the swim course. This was very cool and as far as I know, only happens at this event.
First Impression of Hong Kong - Good
It was our first ever trip to Hong Kong and I have a positive first impression of Hong Kong. I would even classify it as a "developed" country. Very good public transport system, PEOPLE QUEUE!, designated places for wheelchairs on trains, taxis that don't cheat, polite and professional usherettes at a nice airport, honest taxi system at the airport etc. I also didn't see the hundreds of junk boats at the harbor that people used to live in.
We could see Deep Water Bay (race finish) from our hotel window
 It is a sporty country. People are jogging everywhere, even single ladies. Land is of course a premium but right next to our Ovolo Hotel was a massive football complex with a number of football pitches. Hong Kong  has a very international community. All these things I am happy to see. 
Land is scarce but Hong Kong still has amazing sport facilities (next to our hotel)
Race categories & fees

Roughly, depends on whether you need a kayak, paddler or boat support. Please check actual site page: 
  1. Solo. HK 2,400 early bird (roughly RM 1,400). Kayak and paddler will be provided. HK 5,300 if support boat needed.
  2. Team. 5 persons. HK 2,500 per team and bring own support boat. HK 6,200 if support boat needed.
  3. Team 6 person outrigger canoe. "Carbon neutral" category.
  4. YAK Team. Two swimmers share a kayak relay style. One paddles and one swims. (HK 2,500 per team kayak provided). This looks quite tough actually. How does a swimmer get into the kayak during the changeover?
Note that entry fees for good long distance swim events are always very high.  A solo swimmer would need a kayak and paddler or a boat with feeder and skipper, for support. Then there's the sweeper boats, medical, lifeguards etc.

Race Day - before the start
The 10 a.m. start time and the close proximity of Stanley Main Beach to our Ovolo Southside Hotel meant that race morning was quite stress free, even though I only arrived the previous day late in the afternoon. 
We had breakfast at 6.45 a.m. and then only I got my race gear ready ha ha. We took a taxi and got to the race start at 8.45 a.m.
First time meeting the Race Organizer - Doug Woodring

Quite a lot of swimmers (mostly relays)
 There are two starting times on Race Day (Saturday, 7 Oct 2017):
  • 10 a.m. for solos and teams that need more time to finish (about half opted for 10 a.m.)
  • 11 a.m. the main starting time
The 11 a.m. fast group. The eventual winner was 16 years old Bill Thorley on the extreme left
Registration was basically to show yourself and sign the indemnity. No race markings, no collection of goody bags (as there was none). Briefing was done by Doug Woodring using a loud hailer. Doug introduced me to my kayaker, Stanley. I liked him right from the very first moment. We agreed that feeding would be every 30 mins and I would follow all his instructions as this was his fourth time versus the first for me. I would swim behind or to the right of him. All my nutrition was placed inside one cooling bag. All items had to be essential as there was limited space on the kayak.
My kayaker, Stanley was dressed for the part complete with gloves and head gear. He looked like he meant business and I just knew that I could trust him explicitly.
We were each given a timing chip that we needed to have with us at the finish. In the meantime it was ok for the kayaker to carry the chip. I opted to wear it around my ankle.
The start beach (Stanley Main Beach) was quite crowded as it was small and used by a number of wind surfers that morning. The wind surfers were surfing right across where we were about to swim  as this was their patch. This delayed the start a little bit.
The slower 10 a.m. swimmers (my group) about to start. Note the team support boats in front. The sea was already choppy

We eventually started at 10.16 a.m. Solos and Teams started at the same time. Very weary after my heart attack experience, I was actually in last position overall at the beginning.
The water was choppy right from the start. The press release by the Organiser explained that "very strong winds and currents due to the full moon made the times 40 minutes slower for the fastest and then some".  How was I to know it was going to be choppy the whole way! ha ha. 

First turning point
The first turning point was quite easy to sight as we used the mountain behind as the target. I stayed calm and just swam slowly to the first turnaround. The good thing about starting with the teams was that, other swimmers and support boats were always nearby.
This is heading for second turning point I think. When you have to do the swimming, that is choppy
The second turning point was also quite easy to sight for we were heading for a corner. But it was open sea and it was getting seriously choppy. My kayaker commented that I was now "in the middle, no longer last". I honestly didn't know if he was telling the truth as I finished last ha ha. But it was a great motivator.
After the corner we swam parallel to the shore. Its a famous part of the course and is known as "the wall". The waves here are seriously high and seemed to be going everywhere. I thought I would be thrown against "the wall".
By the end of "the wall" it was about half way. But I had expended so much energy combating the high waves and strong currents.
The next target was an island which was the five hours cut off point that all swimmers had to pass. Initially the kayaker and myself thought that we would easily make it as it looked so near. But three feeding stops later (1.5 hours), I was still no where near!!!
I was so demoralized. I had exceeded the five hour cut off to reach the island. Are they going to pull me out? I came all this way and couldn't finish? I started thinking of excuses to give everyone. Essentially the negative thoughts came so thick and fast. A million times I thought I wanted to stop. My blessed kayaker just kept on repeating "don't give up", "don't give up".
The course map highlighting where we had to be within 5 hours. I missed it.
Unlike an Ironman, when you are in trouble during an open water swim race, there is "no place to hide". You can't free wheel down hill. You can't go into the medical tent. You can't stop for a short rest. You can't walk. There is no place to hide. Sorry, you just have to keep on going. 
The marshall's boat didn't approach me. I'm sure they were watching me. My kayaker didn't tell me to stop. I could see the water ahead was still very choppy.
However, we have our Iron Grit (thank you Ezer for the phrase). Slowly the negative thoughts turned to positive thoughts. Come on choppy sea!. Is this all you got? I'm going to fight you!!! That got me through one hour.
After maybe 13 - 14 km, we entered Deep Water Bay. This was the only place where the water was flat.  I could roughly see the bloody finish and was of course pumped.
Then the Marshall's sweeper boat arrived and I was told to get in the sweeper boat. The Marshall would drop me near the finish and I could swim the balance !!. The official final cut off (6 hours) has been exceeded. The Marshall was only doing his job.
I pleaded "Please let me swim". "I will protect him" added Stanley, my blessed kayaker. With that we left and the Marshall let us go.
The final twenty minutes was super smooth. My kayaker led and I followed.
I tried to look for the finish banner, tape or even a towel on the beach. There was none. You finish wherever you like on the beach.
Unfortunately at the finish I stepped on some concrete which was painful for my dodgy feet (I have many dodgy body parts). I tried to stand up but the constant bobbing up and down had disoriented me and I collapsed in a heap, totally exhausted. My wonderful kayaker actually caught my full body weight (he was tiny but very strong), then two other bigger sized chaps came to assist me and I was ok. 
The fine gentlemen who helped me to my feet
I thanked everyone and offered HK$ 200 as tip to my kayaker. He refused to accept it. He meant it. Thanks buddy. I gave him a hug and that was it.
My wonderful kayaker Stanley who refused my Tip
There was no loud P.A. system to announce my arrival. But the official time keeper was there and he captured my arrival. It meant everything to me to finish and get my name on the official results list (albeit in last position ha ha).
It was my toughest day in Open Water Swimming
There was DJ music and a simple BBQ at the Victoria Recreation Club, but I just wasn't interested, totally exhausted but happy that I had accomplished something.
There's no souvenir swim cap, T shirt, Finisher's medal, trophy, certificate that is normal for most sporting events, BUT I got my name included in:
  1. The Official results list as the second Malaysian ever to complete the Hong Kong Clean Half in its 11 year history, and my name in
  2. "Open Water Pedia". I have my own page which says Mohammed Sofian Ismail is an Open Water Swimmer. Ha ha fancy that.
This will do for me. Its my toughest swim ever and the longest in terms of time taken. The satisfaction in finishing was priceless.

We went to a nearby Italian Restaurant for dinner and took a taxi back to the hotel. 
Would I recommend this event?
Bear in mind that beggars can't be choosy. There are not many Open Water Swims going around. But swimming in Hong Kong is ok. There is no jelly fish whatsoever and only one or two sea lice. Its not necessary to cover up your upper body, so that's quite a big compliment. The water temperature is warm which is good for me. You can see your arms and hands quite clearly when you swim (clearer than P.D., Labuan, Langkawi etc. Only Perhentian has clearer waters). The air temperature is say two degrees lower than Malaysia, so that's good.
The swim start and finish is very easy to get to, using public transport.
The downsides are the lack of mementoes for swimmers (there's none so you have to win if you want a medal) and the expenses involved.
The Clean Half (takes place around the clean half of Hong Kong) is in October (summer) whilst the Cold Half (exactly the same route, a winter option wearing wet suits) is in February.
Next Swim Events 
  1. Oceanman Langkawi on 25 November 2017
  2. Thailand Swimathon at Pattaya one week later on 2 December 2017.

Please try to support these events if you can.

Have a good day, SMILE and happy swimming. Thank you.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Pulau Perhentian Besar Round Island Swim 16 km (16 Sep 2017)

It was a historical day for Open Water Swimming in Malaysia. The inaugural 16 km round island and 4.5 km swims held at Pulau Perhentian Besar,  on 16 Sep 2017 (Malaysia Day), was a success. By and large, all swimmers were hugely thrilled to take part in this first formal swim race at beautiful Pulau Perhentian Besar  and its only going to get better. Exciting times indeed for Open Water Swimming in Malaysia.

Coach Jose with the Whale Shark that kept us company
I saw Cheah, a young chap from Pulau Penang  laughing his head off with his kayaker (Wong) on the Barat Beach just after his 16km swim, marveling at their achievements ha ha. Also, the 4.5km swimmers were the nosiest during prize giving, they just couldn't believe their accomplishments, some were quite overweight, but they still did it (well done). I was happy for my 16km comrades, the anxiety and waiting was finally over. The 16 km swim was  the longest ever swim for almost everyone apart from probably Signor Alberto Perez, the easy winner. I had already swam the loop last year on 28 Sep 2016 in 7 hours 2 mins. The Organisers looked pleased and relieved at prize giving, everyone was still in one piece even though a large docile Whale Shark was mingling with the swimmers.
By and large the event was a huge success for Open Water Swimming in Malaysia and it is going to be BIG in the world of Open Water Swimming.

The 16 km route. Anticlockwise

The 4.5 km route. Start point was the same for both distances

  • Everyone loves going to a beautiful tropical island. Add in a swim race in warm clear waters and swimmers will come in droves from all over the world.
  • The water is clear. Whilst swimming, swimmers can see beautiful rock formations, colourful schools of fishes, sun rays piercing the sea and this year there was a huge Whale Shark mingling around. Whale Sharks whilst having a huge mouth (ha ha), are docile creatures, feed only on planktons and do not pose a threat to humans.
  • Competent organisers who can pull it off. The lead organizer is probably En Amirizal Ishak who is a local Terengganu lad. He has the local contacts, contributed to the organization of the very successful SEA Games (Open Water Swimming and Triathlon), Asian Open Water Swimming Championships, Oceanman Putrajaya 2017 etc. He is very hardworking and I actually have not seen him lose his temper ha ha.
  • Amir's partner is Jose Lois Larrosa. From beautiful Spain, Jose has swam all over the world. He thus has the international contacts and knowledge. I have been to his Dad's house in Elche, Spain. He is a wonderful chap.
  • Competent safety partners. Aquaputra Putrajaya are of course the people that pulled me out of the water when I had a heart attack during a swim event on 18 Dec 2016. Please take note there is only a Government Clinic (there is no Hospital) at Pulau Perhentian.
  • Pulau Perhentian is relatively easy to get to, considering its a real tropical island. From KL, its only a one hour flight to Kota Baru, then a one hour taxi ride through nice rural roads to Besut Jetty where there are regular fast boats (45 minutes ride) to Pulau Perhentian. In fact my buddy, Seah Ban Kiat flew in from Qatar (more than 7 hours flight) to KLIA and immediately carried on to Pulau Perhentian. He finished third!!! Obviously he is super human.
  • Nice mementoes for swimmers. This year all 16 km and 4.5 km swimmers had their names printed on a huge banner. Then all swimmers received a T Shirt, Mug, Medal and Certificate. Of course the podium finishers received a trophy too. This is no mean feat. Bali for example, only gives a finisher's towel and swimming cap, nothing else. Clean Half Hong Kong (15 km) gives NOTHING to swimmers. Perhentian also has photos and videos by the official photographer. Next year I understand the mementoes for Perhentian will be of even better quality.
  • Reasonable hotels. First bear in mind that this is a tropical island. There are no roads, centralized electricity or water supply. Hotel rooms are mostly the wooden type. There are luxurious accommodation now at Coral View and Perhentian Island Resort. I took a cheaper room at Barat and it was ok.
  • The official hotel, Coral View has a great location as it straddles Teluk Pauh and Barat Beach. It was a perfect venue for the race briefing and prize giving.
  • Teluk Pauh (the start and finish for 16 km) is a popular snorkeling and sun bathing spot. There is at least one turtle permanently residing in the Bay. The underwater view is  nice. Kids and loved ones can snorkel here the whole day no problem.
  • Many nice restaurants on the Barat Beach. Please don't miss the night time BBQ. For me, it was the best food I have ever tasted.
  • The 16 km will attract very serious swimmers whilst the 4.5km will attract the fun swimmers. Thus something for everyone.

Please take these tips with a pinch of salt as I am no guru.
  • Do your swim training whichever way makes you happy. For example I only swim at one single speed every day, use a pull buoy every time, use the same pool and only swim alone. You need to be happy with what you are doing, otherwise you will soon stop.
  • Learn to swim alone. Motivation should not be coming from someone else. If you are comfortable with swimming alone, you will be able to swim for the rest of your life.
  • Be weary of doing speedwork, swim drills and things you are not used to. Unusual body movements may cause injuries or headaches.
  • Start your races or training slowly, unless you want to get a heart attack like me ha ha.
  • Stretch your shoulders everyday. Don't worry, you don't need surgery or a physio for that shoulder pain. You-tube has numerous examples of stretches and exercises to do. Choose what you like. A simple towel stretch does wonders.
  • Manage your health well. No point being sick. Avoid cold indoor pools, cold showers, cold air cons. Cover up when you sleep.
  • Do whatever kms you can in a week. We all have different constraints. Try to put in as much as you can, but don't get injured or sick.

Nutritional tips for Perhentian;
  • The round island swim can actually be done on just bananas and water. Don't underestimate the simple banana and plain water.
  • If you want to use the gels, sports drinks or any of the numerous things available out there, make sure you have tested them thoroughly in training. Race day is not the place to try out new nutritional stuff or new swimwear.
  • All 16km swimmers will each have a support boat or kayak (like for Mr Cheah). All nutrition will be placed in the boat / kayak. Each boat will have a skipper and a feeder. The feeder will hand over your nutrition to you.
  • Good cooling boxes can be bought from Decathlon. The minimum is to have one bicycle bottle tied to a string. Some swimmers had many water bottles each tied to a string.
  • I'm not sure if anyone used the stick and cup method that is used at the Olympics.
  • Touching the boat is actually not allowed, even during feeding. But I held onto the stationary boat (please don't tell the organisers ha ha ) for my last three feedings. I was so tired by then, that I couldn't tread water.

 Swimwear tips for Perhentian;
  • The published Perhentian Swim Rules follows FINA's Rules.  FINA oversees pool swimming and Open Water Swims for the Olympics.
  • Your swimwear at Perhentian should have a FINA sticker. Of course the Perhentian organisers can modify its rules as its not part of the Olympics. For example, if you want to swim the English Channel, there are very specific rules for that. Triathlon has the ITU rules for the Olympics, Ironman has its own rules, Challenge Family has its own rules.
  • Certain types of swimwear that is allowed for Triathlons eg wetsuits, neoprene material, ROKA, ORCA are all not allowed for Open Water Swims. Organisers may give exemptions of course, eg wetsuits is permissible if water temperature is below 23 degrees.
  • I think only one or two participants at Perhentian had FINA approved swimwear, which I think can only be bought online.
  • We see Open Water Swimmers at the Olympics and SEA Games wearing the one piece bare shouldered competition swim suits. This is allowed for Perhentian  but its impossible to get the correct size on your first attempt. They can be bought online for about RM 1,500 and can reach your home after only 3 working days. After some trial and errors, I  finally found that ARENA Size 32 is perfect for me. Wearing that took about 30 minutes. I used the JAKED Brand (both are Italian made) for Perhentian and got bad chaffing around the neck as it wasn't tight enough. So the suit has to be very very tight and I think ARENA is better than JAKED.
  • Monsieur Serge (2nd Overall) wears lycra type long sleeves and long leggings for all his tropical swim events. This provides protection from the sun and any jelly fish. The lycra suit has to be quite new and not loose fitting. If its old and loose, it will clog up with water and hinder your swim rather than help it.
  • Most swimmers were bare chested for Perhentian and this is ok as there were no jelly fish of note at this year's event. Mr Seah Ban Kiat (third overall) only wore  basic swimming trunks. Most wore tight swim shorts. Don't forget to apply generous sun tan on your shoulders, back, arms, ears, everywhere actually and lots of Vaseline around the arm pits and neck. The Vaseline on your palm / fingers will affect your "catch". So wipe off the Vaseline before the swim start.
  • So basic swimming trunks or tight swim shorts is enough for Perhentian with or without the FINA logo ha ha.

Swimming Goggle tips for Perhentian
  • The brand and model of the googles you wear for the event will also be the same one that you train in. Your preferred brand and model needs to have been thoroughly tested that it will not leak or fog even after several hours of swimming. I use the Optical View Brand from Japan which can be bought for about RM 90 at the Kampong Pandan Swimming Pool.
  • Buy a new one to use only for races. Test it properly once or twice with anti fog and store it away until race day. Old pairs of goggles can snap anytime so its not advisable to use an old pair on race day.
  • 16 km Finisher, Cheah from Penang swears that spit is the best anti fog ha ha. I think any of the commercial anti-fogs are ok.
  • Rinse your goggles after each swim. Dry it completely using a clean towel. Apply anti fog  before your next swim practice but rinse it  before wearing. This way I found my VIEW Goggles has lasted with perfect vision after more than a year of daily use.

What happens during the 16 km swim?
  • The swim starts at the Teluk Pauh Jetty and finishes nearby after one revolution of the island at the same beach. Our respective boats were waiting around the corner near the Barat Jetty. Depending on personal preferences, swimmers will swim to the left or right of their respective boats. Its most important to stay clear of the boat's propellers. At the start there were a lot of swimmers, boats and fumes close together. This was quite fun.
  • The 4.5km swimmers started 15 minutes after us.
  • Slowly but surely swimmers started to stagger out.
  • For about 3.5km the sea was quite flat. Then around  the corner, close to the 4.5km finish, it became seriously choppy. Thus I think the 4.5 km swimmers got their money's worth too.
  • The sea conditions continued this way the rest of the way, mostly flat but choppy at places. No where near as choppy as last year but I wasn't feeling good this year. I was a little bit sick at the start and felt dizzy whenever the water was choppy. But as usual we keep on going.
  • I couldn't see the first four swimmers. They were way out in front, out of sight and out of mind.
  • But I could see Wong in the kayak accompanying his swimmer, Cheah.
  • I was happy to get around the last big corner and saw the huge mosque on Perhentian Kecil. But the water was quite choppy here and progress seemed to take forever. Still another hour of swimming even though you could see the finish was nearby.
  • I caught up with Cheah and his kayak. Cheah was stopping many times, so I went by him as fast as I could ha ha, knowing that trophies only went five deep for Men.
  • I was happy to finish. It was a struggle as I still had some sickness.
  • I could feel my dodgy heart was pumping away right until prize giving in the evening ha ha.
  • But the brilliant BBQ at Barat cured everything.

ROLL OF HONOUR - Perhentian 16km
The clear winner was Signor Alberto Perez Diaz from Espana in 4 hours 13 min
Alberto was very fast because he followed the Whale Shark, who knew a short cut.
No its not Bruce Lee. 2nd was Monsieur Serge Domenichini from KL in 4 hours 57 mins. Serge is the funniest person in our WhatsApp group. I wonder when will he grow up.

3rd was Seah Ban Kiat in 5 hours  11 min. This cute guy came all the way from Qatar and would have done even better with another day's rest.

4th was Prof Ghazali Musa in 5 hours 14 min.
5th was me in 5 hours 40 min. On my left is Safety Leader, Cherish Chin, who pulled me out of the P.D. Sea on 18 Dec. Thank you again.
6th was Cheah Chong Yung from USM, Penang in 5 hours 46 mins. When I grow up, I want to have a body like that ha ha
7th Overall, Female Champion and the only female finisher was Claire Parsons from Spore in 5 hours 57 mins.
8th Overall was Doctor Muhammad Fauzi Othman in 6 hours 26 mins.
Fauzi's next adventure is the Langkawi Ironman on 11 Nov 2017. All the best Doctor.
9th Overall in 6 hours 44 min was Andreas Hvass (Scandy Andy). No that's not the Indian flag but Sweden's.
Andy is well known for his contributions to Open Water Swimming in Koh Samui.
10th Overall is Philip Tan in 7 hours 1 min. Isn't it great when the family is around? Well done Philip
11th Overall was Ridzwan A. Rahim in 7 hours 3 mins. Well done buddy.
15 swimmers started the 16km. Unfortunately 4 did not complete the swim.
Lets not forget the 4.5km swimmers. They were the happiest swimmers I have ever seen.
  Sources of Information on events, online shops etc
  • FINA approved Open Water Swimwear can be purchased from Proswimwear, UK. Takes only about 3 working days for delivery (but its difficult to determine your correct size for the Open Water Competition Swim Suit at the first attempt).
  • From SWIMINN too.
  • ROKA. Popular with Triathletes but not FINA approved.
  • Swimon Malaysia is my favourite Open Water page. They have a good Calendar of Events.
  • On "Facebook", try searching for Larrosaows, Swimon, English Channel, Swim smooth, Triathlon Malaysia, Penang Open Water, Rottnest, Swimbot, Swim Junkie, Thailand Swimathon etc and you will get many wonderful pages on Open Water Swimming.

Next year's Perhentian swim will be on 6 October 2018. "Like" Swimon's Facebook page to keep abreast. Don't miss the event and good luck.  
    With the very competent Organisers. Come everyone, lets make next year's event a World Class Open Water Event that Malaysia will be proud of. Thank you.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Bali Charity Ocean Swim 10 km (2 July 2017)

This is our third consecutive year doing the Bali 10 km Ocean Swim. Our previous years were 2016 and 2015.

Bali is an expensive place !!
Its not good to gripe, but  watch your expenses when you go to Bali. Some things seem to be really expensive,  more expensive than Spain.
I tell myself every year to be careful when I go to Bali, but I still get caught paying astronomical amounts for nothing.
The official airport taxi fare to our Kuta hotel, was IDR 175,000 (RM 56 / USD 13), for only 3 km !!! I stupidly agreed because there were signs to only use the official airport taxis. No real receipt issued, it was just a piece of nothing paper!!! This is the official airport taxis "taking you for a ride" and they have no meters!

Next time : I will use a "pirate" taxi from the airport or arrange in advance for the hotel to do it for free.
It was the same when going back to the airport using the Hotel's taxi (IDR 150,000).
Next time : Create a UBER account. A good friend of ours was only charged IDR 9,000 (RM 3) for a UBER motor bike. The UBER rates for cars are very cheap too.
This was a killer as hotels don't  have cooking facilities. 21% local tax is levied on all restaurant bills. Be prepared to pay RM 60 per person for each meal. The food bills were mind blowing and if you want your tipple too, oh oh.

Next time : I will get in and out of Bali as fast as I can.
The event's Entry Fee was high at USD 100 for the normal rate and USD 120 on race day, but this is for Charity (Bali Sports Foundation). The BSF carries out sports programs for the handicapped. The Race Director (Rodney Holt) is even coming to Malaysia for the Para SEA Games (coach for "Boccia"). So the high entry fee I feel is ok, I even top it up every year with  personal donations to the BSF and Lifeguards.
Air-fare is also quite high, comparable with going to Perth I think.

We have been to Bali many times now and every time I end up in a daze wondering how  I finished so much money (eg 3 days expenses at Bali was the same as for 7 days in Spain).
So be weary, if you are planning to do the Bali Ocean Swim.
The actual swim is of course very good. I like it a lot.
Central and Beautiful Location
The event location (Bali Garden Beach Resort) is on Kuta Beach which is very close to the Airport (Denpasar) and many other hotels, thus the event location is very easy to get to.

Its very important that your Hotel is very close to the race start as you need to clear your tummy on race morning, go back for a shower, that its convenient for your loved ones etc. Our Hotel (Kuta Station and Spa) was just across the road. Having your Hotel nearby is key to having a good or bad race.
Kuta Beach is also beautiful and popular for surfing. The beach is long and clear. There are no rocks, so its very safe. In the evenings, lots of people throng the beach to admire the sunset. The Kuta ocean is also quite a beautiful blue. This year (2017), the conditions were very good for a fast swim.
Race distances and categories
There's 1.2 km, 5 km and 10 km.
For the 1.2 km and 5 km races, the Male and Female categories were broken down into Juniors, Adults, Masters and Veterans (above 50 years).
Whilst for 10 km, there's only Open Male and Open Female (nothing else).
I saw nice wood carving trophies on offer for Veteran Males (my category) for the 5 km. But similar to the Labuan race,  I opted for the longer distance "Open" category where I have no chance of getting a prize.
(We will only write about the 10 km race on this page).

As in previous years, the 10 km race started at 9 a.m. sharp.
Its roughly four laps of 2.5 km each, swimming parallel to the shore.
The course is set out by the Kuta Beach Lifeguards (Baliwista) and they are everywhere during the event. There was hardly any waves this year, thus it is a safe event.
Mineral water is available at the turnarounds and with the roving kayaks. Put some gels in your swim wear and you will be fine.
The trick is to always watch the buoy in front of you and try to keep a straight a line as possible. Then you will be fine.
There were less than 20 participants for the 10 km.  5 Malaysians participated but none got on the podium as the 10 km event attracts very good swimmers.

The results of the Malaysians were:
  1. Seah Ban Kiat       2 hours 47 min
  2. Prof Dr Ghazali     3 hours 0 min
  3. Jessie                     3 hours 0 min
  4. Sofian                    3 hours 5 min
  5. Thong                    4 hours 15 min
The five Malaysian 10 km finishers
In previous years the 10 km was dominated by two powerful female swimmers from Australia, they would even beat the men. They didn't participate this year and the event was dominated by 16 year olds. In swimming its quite common for teenagers to dominate.
10 km Results
I was almost last, as usual

 Seah Ban Kiat is my long time sports buddy now working in Qatar (where I was until recently). He was on holiday in Malaysia and a casual question, "where is the swimming pool?" became, man lets go to Bali this weekend.
I told him everything I knew about the Bali swim and he ended up being the first Malaysian in 2:47, I was so surprised. Well done buddy.
Prof Dr Ghazali I know from swimming at the University Malaya pool 25 years ago. I used to admire his very smooth butterfly and freestyle strokes. He still has the smooth strokes and is going places in the swimming world.
Jessie is from Kuching, Sarawak and was an accomplished swimmer in her earlier days. I first saw her at the Pattaya 10km in Dec 2016 where she did very well. Her swim mileage for Bali was very low on Doctor's advice but she could still pull off a 3 hour flat for 10 km, no mean feat that.
I used to always swim with Thong Kok Leong in the same lane at the Kampong Pandan Para Excellence Centre. Whilst his stroke was dodgy, indicating he was new to swimming, he had the best mental tenacity of all swimmers. He did his required number of laps everyday and wasn't distracted by anything. Thus he has now completed three 10 km or longer swims.
Thong was the last 10 km swimmer to finish at Bali. We love him and all waited for him on the beach. Well done Thong.
I guess the 10 km swimming community is very small. We all know each other quite well. 

My past 3 years performance:
2015    3 hours 34 min     8.6 km       2:29 / 100 m    
2016    4 hours 17 min    11.2 km      2:17 / 100 m
2017    3 hours 5 min        9.7 km      1:54 / 100 m

2 July 2017
Maybe we are improving, sea was extra calm this year.

Event is good, it is for Charity, its located near the airport (thus easy to get to), many hotels nearby, quite a beautiful location, organized by the Bali Lifeguards (thus it is safe) but Bali is way too expensive.

We always love the last finisher, Thong Kok Leong

Goofing around at the Podium

Briefing by Chief Lifeguard amidst the nice setting of the Bali Garden Beach Resort

10 km about to start. As usual less than 20 participants

Giving a little something to the Lifeguard,
which we do every year

Giving a little something to the Bali Sports Foundation through
Rodney Holt, the Race Director

Finishing the 10 km.
Very safe, two kayaks were shadowing me for the last lap


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

DNF : Tabarca Marathon Swim 21km

A Spanish International Marathon swimmer came to our Malaysian shores a bit more than a year ago  and my life has not been the same, in a good way. We both swam around Pulau Perhentian Besar on 28 September 2016, me going anti clockwise  accompanied by a taxi boat whilst he went clockwise with another international swimmer. I was of course much slower taking 7 hours 2 minutes for the 15.4 km (as per my Garmin). We think we were the first to swim around the island.
So I am always on the look out for long distance swim events. The heart attack that I had at Port Dickson on 18 December 2016, meant that arrangements that had already been made for the Rottnest Channel Swim on 25 Feb 2017, had to be rescinded. The Rottnest Channel swim involves about 3,000 little boats. All participants are as a minimum required to have a dedicated boat shadowing them and many solo swimmers (about 200 swimmers will do the 19.7 km channel swim, solo) will also have a kayak shadowing them. Being from overseas, I found it almost impossible to confirm a boat and kayak for Rottnest.  Thus both participants and organisers need to put in a lot of effort for a long distance swim event, resulting in there being very few of them around the world.
Apart from Rottnest, another event I had my eye on was the Tabarca - Alicante Swim 21km which had been going on successfully for many years, but Spain seemed so far away, or so I thought.

"Sofian, you can stay at my house"
Then one day, the event organizer told me, "Sofian, you can stay at my house, I will be your guide". That was it, the magic words. Its not that we are desperate for free accommodation, but Spain is a long way away and we have never been there. Travelers want a local to be there for them, just in case.
I knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit Spain and participate in a dream swim event.
With the internet and Jose's guidance, we got the ball rolling very quickly. Using  Skyscanner, we found the cheapest flight (KLM). Then using, we found a wonderful apartment very centrally located. I was very pleasantly surprised with KLM. It is the best economy airline  I have ever used. The air stewards were all very pleasant, helpful and spoke good English (I immediately liked Holland). The modern economy seats were the most spacious I have been on and they have many recent movies. On the way back, there was a seven hour transit at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. The Airport has good free wifi, everyone speaks English and is only 15 minutes by train to Amsterdam Central. When you go to Europe, Immigration only checks you once, at the point you enter Europe. Then you are pretty much free to go anywhere. So on the flight back, we went to Amsterdam City and did a Canal Tour, whoopee, how nice.

Not bad for a cheap flight. We managed to see Amsterdam on the way back

Canal tour at Amsterdam
The only snag before the trip, was that we needed a Schengen visa for my Thai wife. No problems with my Malaysian Passport though, it really is one of the best Passports on the planet. However the Spanish Embassy in KL was very helpful and my wife's visa was sorted out in time for the trip.

The Days Leading to the Event
The event was on 10 June 2017, Saturday. We arrived on Monday night, 5th June  at 9 p.m. (the sun was still shining). The Event Director and another Committee Member picked us up from Alicante Airport. How's that for VIP treatment from the Event Organisers!! (if they organized another event, would I go? Of course I will).

The Accommodation
Our accommodation was called Tomate Room  and they were in touch with us, even before the trip started. This recently opened apartment style hotel is owned by three brothers. They really are very nice people and explained in detail anything we wanted to know.  It seemed like they knew exactly what travelers wanted. So we hit the jackpot as far as accommodation was concerned.
Our unassuming Apartment. Centrally located but quiet.

Our Apartment. Tomate Room
The apartment's location was exceptional, so close to everything. Even the Marina, where we had to catch the boat at 5am for the race start, was nearby. A swimmer was quite distraught that morning as he had forgotten his swim wear. No problem, we walked back to our apartment and obtained the official swimwear for him to wear. He was very grateful.
Our Apartment's central location meant we didn't need to rent a car. We also figured out how to use the city and suburban buses to visit a nearby city called Elche. No mean feat that, because in Alicante all signs are in Spanish or Valencian and English is not generally spoken.

We have a very positive impression of  Spanish People
The Hotel Reception explained to us that Spanish people are family oriented and children must always live close to their parents. Thus "the Spanish would rather stay in Spain, with nothing,  than live overseas with everything". The Spanish are less international in outlook compared to other Europeans. There are no signs in English and even the person manning the Information counter at the Town Hall couldn't speak English.
They greet each other by saying "Hola" (the "H" is silent by the way), which is short and simple, I like it.
The elderly are everywhere in Alicante, with their walking sticks or wheelchairs, some are dancing to the music. They look very happy, its nice to see. Young girls are skipping along and singing. These scenes can only happen if it is a safe city and society is kind.
The Spanish also know how to have good clean fun. On Saturday night there was a parade / festival right by our Hotel window. It was fun to see toddlers half asleep with the elderly in fancy dress take part in the procession and dancing to the beat.
And of course it was a Spanish person that invited us over. Even his Dad invited us to his home. So we have a very positive impression of Spanish people. Its great at this late stage of our lives, to meet a new culture and be amazed by them.
Viva Espana!

Wednesday - Visit to Tabarca Island
The race starts on Tabarca Island, so we decided to make a boat trip there on Wednesday. The large tourist boat took about an hour to reach the island and the sea was very choppy that day.
Its an interesting island. Half of it is vegetation whilst the other half is the village. The island has a permanent population of about 50 inhabitants. Its history goes back a few hundred years. It has been a pirate's bay, garrison, prison, fishing village, marine reserve, lighthouse etc. Now it is mostly a tourism spot and marine reserve.
I didn't try to swim. Many school children were playing games in the sea and I wrongly assumed the water temperature would be ok for me.
A Fort in the olden days

Main shopping street

One edge of the island

Houses in a straight line

The main beach

The island's harbor. Race started here

Thursday - Bus trip to Elche, visited Jose's Dad,  did some pool swimming
Part of the joy of travelling is to visit friends and see things as it is. Jose actually lives and work in the nearby city of Elche. We took on the adventure of getting to Elche without taking a taxi. Well, we used "Google Maps" and that made things too easy. By entering your start and ending points, it will tell you very precisely how to get to your destination. Which parts you need to walk, how long that would take, which buses to take and their departure times, the route etc. So that was a cinch.
Jose, Jose's Dad, David (the shorter person, has 35 bone fractures but has completed the 21km swim many times.
Yes you can!!

Managed to do a swim at Elche University


Happy we figured out how to use the bus
 I half expected Spain and its public transport to be in some disarray since we read that it was in serious economic trouble. But it wasn't like that. Spain was just like any other European country, clean and orderly. Its buses (more like a coach), were punctual, clean and very comfortable.
Jose's Dad, Uncle and Jose himself were very hospitable to us. They were as good as any of the very best people we have come across. Viva Espana ha ha.

We also went swimming at Elche University. I finally managed to put in a swim. There were many better swimmers in the pool. Swimming is big in Spain.

Friday - short practice dip, sightseeing and Race Briefing
First thing in the morning I went for my first dip in the Mediterranean at the Event's finish beach (Postiguet Beach). Many people were jogging but definitely no one was swimming. It took me a while before I was brave enough to fully submerge by body. I must have swam 10 minutes, that will do.

We visited the most famous landmark in Alicante, the Santa Barbara Castle. Its huge and has been fought over for more than a thousand years. So exciting to be surrounded by history.
Down there is Postiguet Beach, the Finish line for the swim

Santa Barbara Castle. The Kayakers would target this hill

View from Santa Barbara. San Juan

View of the Marina from Santa Barbara

View of Melia Alicante

Race briefing was at 5 p.m. at maybe the best Hotel in Alicante, The Melia Alicante. All these places were close to our accommodation. I noticed that Jose did all the briefing, first in Spanish then in English. He was the one who knew everything. He is somebody in Spain, but he still is so nice to us, Thank you. We collected our goodie bag.

Swimmers and kayakers were required to be at the Marina at 5 a.m. One swimmer from Poland was quite distraught as he had forgotten his swimwear. No problem, Tip walked back to our nearby accommodation and got him the official swimwear. Well at least we did one good deed that day. Tip then went back to our Hotel to rest and wait for the finish.
I met my volunteer kayaker, Alex for the first time. Friendly chap, it amazes me how people are willing to kayak for free for a day.

Waited bare chested for 2 hours
At about 6.45 am we were all ready for the official swim start at 7 a.m. I was in my FINA approved leg tights and that was it. My upper body was bare. It was cold (below 20 C), feet was bare, beach was rocky and bird poo everywhere. It was an awful morning.
We waited around feeling cold and were told the start was delayed as one of the three marker boats did not have the required license  (our clothes and stuff had already gone back to the mainland). It was difficult to keep warm whilst waiting and the sun wasn't shining. I think the others (all Europeans) were largely ok. A few  were standing in the cold water without a care in the world.
But it was a different matter for me from the equator. ALL my swimming was done in an open air pool at home in the tropics (30 C). I have stopped going to the colder indoor pools and taking cold showers there as I  got  sick many times. Not the correct preparation, now I know.
With my buddy from Poland. He gave me some tips for cold water swimming
Too Late ha ha

Just before the start with Race Director Jose

Race start - 7.40 a.m.
The siren went off, I gingerly walked into the water. Gosh it was cold. Everyone else swam off into the sunrise. It really was very cold. I very slowly walked deeper into the sea and eventually fully submerged myself. #### IT WAS FREEZING!!!.
I started swimming and assumed that I would feel better after a few minutes, which I did for a while.

I had  a good kayaker (Alex) and every 25 minutes he would give me my nutrition as we agreed. The bananas I was scoffing wasn't sitting well in my tummy (in fact with the different diet in Spain, my tummy wasn't ok all week). I drank CarboPro as I think its a really good product. My pace was quite slow. Bless my kayaker though, he was positive throughout.

Safety aspect very well done
The Organisers are very experienced and the safety side was very well covered. Each swimmer had a kayak escort. 3 large ships with medical teams were placed every 5km. Kayakers are required to report to these ships. Jet Skis were doing their rounds. Two powerful boats were also doing their rounds. I saw them many times. Roving ambulances were on standby at the shore. Actually Spanish society understand the sea and the risks involved very well.

In trouble!
My nose became completely blocked which had never happened before. I had some hot tea and that helped a bit. But I wasn't feeling good. There's no place to hide when you are swimming. The cold water engulfs your body completely. There isn't a tree to sit under, hanging onto the kayak for respite is technically not allowed, slowing down is not a good idea, stopping to rest is not possible in the sea. My bare upper body felt very cold and at 8.4km, I told my kayaker I was going to stop at 10km. He alerted the safety boats and they all started shadowing me.
 I only lasted until 8.8km . It was just too cold for me and with my dodgy heart, I GAVE UP. The disappointment was intense as I went into the rescue boat. My kayaker still gave me encouragement and paddled off.
To come all the way and not even make the half way point was a huge disappointment. Its also the first time I gave up during a swim event.
I felt better once on the boat though, out of the cold water and into the sunshine.
All the rescue personnel were nice to me. The rescue boat sent me to a lovely  beach near Santa Pola and I admired how they politely reminded little children "Chica" to only play in the safe zone. A Lifeguard was waiting and after a few minutes he drove me to Postiguet Beach, the finish line. All very professional. 

At the Finish Line
The first swimmers still hadn't finish. There were many event officials around and they recognized me. They were all nice to me. Tip came and but I wasn't in the mood for hanging around and went back to the Hotel.

The prize giving was again at the nice Melia Hotel. Jose was doing the briefing in Spanish and everyone was civil and polite. I didn't notice there was a lot of unhappiness. The top prizes were given out. Jose, the defending Champion and course record holder  came in third. I didn't understand why only one woman received a trophy, when I saw quite a few female participants at the start.
Then Jose started giving out the finish certs and little trophies. It was all in Spanish so I was day dreaming. Jose repeatedly called my name. Oh well, they are giving me the finish cert and trophy too. A bit embarrassing as I didn't finish. I still didn't know that more than half were not allowed to finish the swim.
We had the pleasure of meeting Lorena Peral who won the Penang Cross Channel swim in 2016.

Something has happened, I tried to slowly put the pieces together.

There is a cut-off of 7.5 hours (2.30 p.m.) to reach the Port Area (roughly 19km). It was explained as long as a swimmer made that cut-off, the swimmer will be allowed to finish. It is an "amateur event" and the Organisers wants everyone to finish and generally everyone does finish.

However, the start was delayed by 1 hour 40 mins, and that cut off at the Port became 5 hours 45 mins (still 2.30 p.m.) and the Port Authorities strictly implemented the cut off.

It was a very significant reduction in the time allowed and only 21 swimmers out of the 50 that started made the cut-off. The Port Authorities actually picked up more than half the participants  just 1 or 2 km from the finish line.

Swimmers were livid and I suppose not very tactful with their displeasure.

So the Organiser (who is the nicest person on the planet) announced on the event official page that they have decided to stop organizing the event after many years of doing so.

Bear in mind there are very few events like this in the world. It requires really special skills and a lot of effort. Organisers are doing this from their hearts, for the satisfaction of seeing swimmers finish.

For example, the support team on race day was humongous. 50 kayaks and paddlers, 3 ships along the route with their crew and medics, many jet skis and powered boats with crew (going up and down the 21km course), ambulance also going up and down the shore, standby lifeguard at Santa Pola (who helped me and drove me to Postiguet Beach), large number of finish line officials, timers, food spread at finish, all participants (even useless ones like me) getting a goodie bag, official swim wear and cap, finish certificate with name printed, small trophy, briefing and prize presentation at the best Hotel in town.

Its not a fly by night job. There was easily more than 100 highly skilled individuals on duty on race day. Its obvious the Organisers have put in their heart and soul into this event.

But now its all over.

It was our longest ever holiday, our longest trip for a sporting event and my wife said this was her best trip yet. Ha ha we all know the wife is always correct.

The Spanish people are amongst the very best people we have met. They welcomed us at the airport, invited us to their homes, gave us very special treatment to two nobodies from the east.

All ages know how to have good clean fun, whether at the many beaches, a street parade, whatever.

They have amazing beaches, so many of them. The people at the beaches are happy. Its perfectly normal to be happy.

Street cafes are everywhere, all along the Esplanade.

History is everywhere. They were a world super power at one time. Many countries in the world speak Spanish. The architecture is beautiful. Buildings are in perfectly straight lines.

Streets are clean and orderly. Pedestrians stop at traffic lights. Public transport is excellent.

The City is safe. The elderly are everywhere.

Prices are very reasonable for Europe.

So we were very happy with the trip. If Jose invites us again, we will go ha ha

Next event:  Bali 10km Charity Ocean Swim on 2 July 2017