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

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Dubai International Triathlon (Half Ironman) 7 Nov 2014

A Bit of Background

The DIT is the first Half Ironman distance race in the Gulf Region (Saudi, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, UAE, Kuwait). Its not an official "Ironman / Challenge" event, so I guess that's why its called the Dubai International Triathlon. Its not a grand event like the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon, in fact I think there was only one female Pro participant and a few male Pros.

Nevertheless the race location (Dubai, Atlantis Resort, The Palm Jumeirah etc) perked my interest and I decided to make the short trip from Doha, Qatar.

Through the convenience of the internet, we managed to obtain accommodation at the huge Hotel Marina Apartment which was located at the Dubai Marina Walk, one of the most beautiful city spots I have ever been to. 
Dubai Marina Walk
 I suppose its amazing how Dubai has become one of the top cities in the world. On the drive from the airport I could see buildings with the logos CNN, Microsoft, Google. Wipro, Oracle, so on. They have done well.

Bike Check In Day

Bike check in, EXPO (just a small one), registration, race briefing etc. was on Thursday. Not very grand, but OK. "WOLFI's" provided free bicycle services, which was very useful to iron out issues with our bicycles. The EXPO wasn't the large one I was hoping for, but never mind.

I intentionally missed the race briefing as nowadays, just normal standing around is problematic with my Osteo Arthritis.
Tip was able to spot double Ironman World Champion, Chris McCormack standing right beside me at the EXPO. Its the second time I have raced with Macca (the first time being Ironman China), both times I beat him as he DNF.
The friendly WOLFI bike mechanic

Part of the Doha Tri Team

Chris McCormack. Ironman World Champ 2007 & 2010. Wonderful chap. Thank You Macca


I arrived at about 6 a.m. to hear the transition lady scream "everybody out in 2 mins, I mean it". Phew, don't mess around with transition ladies, including our lovely and very competent Emily Kelly in Doha. A few participants were not allowed in and had to place their things near the swim exit.

The swim start was quite beautiful. The sun was rising and we could see the city sky scrappers. It was a wave start swim (6.30 a.m., 6.40 a.m., 6.50 a.m. and 7 a.m.), so no bashing each other. I was in the last wave, oops now everyone is going to see me right at the back.
There was a lot of sharp stones on the beach. But otherwise the swim was well laid out. We could actually see each marker buoy as we swam, so no complaints.
I took my time on the swim as it was going to be a long day. Panic hit me the moment I stood up at the end of the swim. My hip bone was making all kind of noises. My problematic bones did not like the hip position required for the swim.
I didn't even smile at my wife. I was worried whether I should carry on.
Swim warm up section

swim finish, already in pain


The bike route was probably the easiest 90 km I have raced. The roads were super smooth, only flyovers to climb, not that windy and not that hot. Someone good could do a quick time on this route. Only 3 hours 20 mins for me. I enjoyed it though, I didn't feel any pain on the bike.


The run was a different matter though. It had got very hot and I thought the aid stations were too far apart for me.

Osteo arthritis meant my joints were painful, bending down was difficult, each step was slow etc.

The first two km went well though. Our buddy Rupert Nell came to support on his bicycle. After a few km I started to get into trouble. I realised "I couldn't run anymore", I have to stop running totally after this. My body was only ok with cycling.

Anyway I plodded along. I'm used to suffering during the many slow Ironmans I have done. I checked my watch to make sure I was going to make the cut off. It was HOT and each step was painful. I suddenly got cramps in my thighs and hung to the beach wall. A little girl gave me a bottle of water, "keep it", she said. That probably saved me, I swallowed the three salt pills I was carrying.

The last km after the turnaround was sweet. I felt a second wind, the other participants were caught in the jam going home. Some were cheering me as there was hardly anyone behind me.

I finished in 7 hour 49 mins, almost in last placing. The 21km took me a whopping 3 hours 43 mins, I have problems there.
Thai style

I couldn't have done it without her


I received the most "likes" ever on Facebook for that effort. Thank you my Facebook friends for your love.



Friday, August 22, 2014

Port Dickson International Triathlon 2014 (25 years of doing Triathlons for me)

Port Dickson had its first Triathlon in 1989. That was the first Triathlon for me and many other Malaysians. I was immediately hooked.
The 1989 event was held at the P.D. Yacht Club not that far from the current location (P.D. Admiral Marina). The organisers were a loose bunch of wonderful P.D. residents that called themselves "Team Mermaid". They had CEOs, taxi drivers all sorts of people helping out. The two most active were Foo Kia Peng (Race Director) and Lee Chee Wee Hoe. Their thinking was, they wanted two P.D. residents (Lee Chee Wee Hoe and Perumal) to be Malaysia's first Hawaii Ironman participants.
So Team Mermaid approached the Pacesetters (the most popular running club in K.L.) and suggested that Triathlons could be something interesting for runners to try out. We went to the Yacht Club to see what it was all about. The pleasant beach setting and delicious Cantonese Kuay Teow got us all hooked. Most of us got our bicycles from Datuk Ng Joo Ngan (I still buy my bicycles from him) and we were ready to roll.
Many Pacesetters took part and did quite well. We had never had so much fun. Ooi Eam Giap was last out of the water but overtook more than a hundred Triathletes on the run (he was a sub-3 Marathon runner). Everyone was so happy exchanging silly stories after the race.
First to finish was a Spore expat (2hrs 11min), second was Razani (2hrs 13min with a 36min 10km run split). I was 10th overall actually (2 hrs 33 mins, getting my first ever tiny pewter trophy) as I knew how to swim unlike the other Pacesetters.
After five years of being a runner, I decided to switch to Triathlons and 25 years later (2014), I am still a Triathlete.
10 August 2014
2014 was the 25th consecutive year that P.D. has had a Triathlon. More than 2,000 participants took part (a record number). The race organiser had changed to the very able Mr Chan Chee Seng and his family. Ironman Chan Chee Seng has done a splendid job in making Triathlons available to the masses.
Factors that contributed to P.D.'s longevity included:
  1. A competent and hilarious organiser (CCS)
  2. Strong support of the State Government, Police, Medics and all Government agencies.
  3. Just 1.5 hours from the capital, Kuala Lumpur and not that far from S'pore
  4. The Avillon Hotel group providing free sumptuous buffet dinner etc.
  5. P.D. being quite a nice sea side holiday town.
All this meant, the entry fee was quite minimal and there was even prize money for the top few.
I'd thought the route for the 2014 event was the best yet. The swim went into the Marina. The bike combined smooth highways and undulating country roads. The run was something special, split into two parts. The first part was a 1.5 km run immediately after the swim along the beach (this was to break up the pack of swimmers). The remaining 8.5 km was after the bike, mostly along the beach or sandy surfaces. It included a small portion on beach rocks and a take your breath away run under mangrove roots, wow.
The first Triathlon in Malaysia was not the P.D. 1989 but in Penang in 1988. We in K.L. didn't really know what Triathlon was then and only Datuk Ng and CSS went (they were sponsored by Sports Toto). Razani was probably the first Malaysian finisher.
Penang then had Triathlons in 1989, 1990 and it ended in 1991. Either the 1989 or 1990 one became a Duathlon due to the choppy sea.
In 1991, disaster struck. There were hundreds, really hundreds of stingy jelly fish. The Park Royal Hotel grounds (Batu Ferringhi) was like a war zone with everyone moaning and in pain. More than half the participants dnf. Paul Shearer was hospitalised as he came out the swim with a jelly fish wrapped around his torso. Razani and my buddy Chew Cheng Liang all dnf. So with everyone not finishing I finished 2nd Malaysian (first was Wong Yew Kin) and 6th overall, my best ever performance hee hee. 14 years old Martin Hagger won. He was leading the swim and I could hear him scream as he was the first to encounter the jelly fish.
So Penang stopped having Triathlons for a long, long time.
Present in 1989 and again 25 years later in 2014:
With god's grace, the P.D. Tri coincided with my Eid vacation. Now suffering from Osteo Arthritis, I still wasn't sure of taking part until my surgeon informed me that he would give me an injection just after the event. So why not take the risk? Having my name on my Tri suit was also a god send as it meant my old friends were able to recognise me, I have probably doubled my weight since 1989 ha ha.
Ernest Balasingam
He is the original Malaysian triathlon legend, winning Duathlons, coming out in the press, before P.D. 1989. He was one of the main organiser for Penang 1991, took the trouble to form a proper Triathlon Association for Perak. Heck the National Association had to get his blessings as he was the first to form a bona fide Triathlon Association.
Dr Tan Tah Ming (on the left)
 From P.D., he has done, you name it, he has done it. Marathon Des Sables, gruelling desert runs in Chile, Mongolia, Hawaii Ironman, Langkawi Ironman. My training buddy on numerous long rides.

Don Khor Ngee Leong
I actually beat him by a little bit in 1989, so he gave up Triathlons for a long time. In 2014, he beat me by almost a full hour. He came to my simple 50th birthday bash at my flat, we have been buddies a long time.
Muhamad Razani Husain (just behind Ahmadul Tahir, another legend from Sabah)
Razani was Malaysia's best for such a long time. Winning the prestigious Singapore's ABC Stout once, fourth at the Asian Championships in Sabah, still Malaysia's fastest Ironman, still one of the best in the country. He is the only person I know who has been racing consistently without any serious injuries since 1989. We had very high hopes then, but in Malaysia, its difficult to give sports a real go.
Yee Sze Mun
77 years old and still effing away (too late to change I guess). 15 times official Ironman Finisher including three at Hawaii. He plans to take part in Ironman Langkawi in Sept 2014. All the best Yee, we all love you.
The P.D. Tri web-site is here


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Doha Diamond League (10 May 2013)

The Samsung Diamond League is top level Athletics especially designed for world wide television. Unlike say the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games, where the Athletics program can stretch for more than one week, in the Diamond League, about a dozen Finals are held and completed within about three hours.
There are no heats, medal presentations, lengthy introductions etc. Everything moves with clockwork precision for live world wide TV viewing. Only top athletes take part, many are reigning Olympic Champions, World Champions, World Record holders etc.  
In the big events, it would be impossible for the fans to get close to the athletes. But in Doha, there is a way. You could pat every single athlete if you wished.
The trick is to get "Finish Line" tickets and not the more expensive VIP tickets. Once an event finishes, all athletes have to pass a narrow passage way right in front of the Finish Line seats. All the children and adult fans waited by the passage way. The "Security" people don't obstruct you because Doha in general has no crime. The Athletes were also very happy to give their race numbers, sign autographs, take pictures even chat with children at length.
So if you were an Athletics' Groupie, this was paradise. You could take their pictures up close, pose with them, maybe have a short chat. I wanted to see Allyson Felix again like last year ha ha.
Unfortunately, for the first time in about ten visits, Ms Felix only came second and she didn't pose for pictures with the fans, unlike last year.
But this year was even better than last year, I got pictures with Lord Sebastion Coe, Sergey Bubka, Nesta Carter, Michael Tinsley and took pictures of numerous World Record holders, Olympic Champions, European Champion etc This was it....
Lord Sebastion Coe
Sergey Bubka - broke the World Pole Vault record 35 times

Michael Tinsley - Silver 400m Hurdles London Olympics

Sandra Perkovic - Discuss Champion

Jackson USA. 2nd 400m Hurdles

David Rudisha about to start 800m

Well, David Rudisha won

200m won by Shelly Ann Fraser

My favourite Myriam Samoure, 3rd 200m

Shelly Ann Fraser

Kiprop, 1500m champion

100m hurdles

Lolo Jones

Veronica Borsi, Italy

Justin Gatlin won the 100m

Nesta Carter, third. 9.99 secs

Kim Collins - Fourth

Michael Rodgers 2nd 100m

Allyson Felix 2nd 400m

Javelin (3rd)  ANDREAS from Norway