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 / café 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


Kevin Siah said...

Sounds like an awesome race, Sofian! Yeah game changer indeed and hopefully some of the Ironman races will follow suit, in rewarding the pros. Not at the expense of age groupers, of course!

sofiantriathlete said...

I'm not sure why Ironman did not team up with Bahrain ?
Maybe Challenge was more accommodating