Short or long distance triathlete: which one are you? I question this myself and throw myself an experimental journey with mini, sprint, olympic and long distance triathlon races in 2017 to find the answer. From the shortest to the longest I did: a sprint distance triathlon in Sungailiat Bangka Province Indonesia (900m swim, 27km bike, 5km run) in April, a mini Aquathlon in Saparua Island in May (500m swim + 7.5km run), Olympic Distance in Bengkulu in July (1.5km swim, 40km bike, 10km run), and 70.3 Ironman in Bintan Island in August (1.9km swim, 90km bike, and 21km run).

There are also some B races in September to fill in some gaps in between travelling: a 2.3miles Serpentine swim in London and a 7km La Parisienne run in Paris. This blog reflects most of my triathlon journey in 2017. This little experience I have in triathlon so far defines who am I as a triathlete plus determine where my sport life is moving toward 2018 and beyond. I hope some of the information here is useful and helpful guiding people finding themselves as a triathlete.


Sprint distance in Sungailiat triathlon: togetherness, fun, grounded

This year is my second time joining Sungailiat sprint distance. The temperature can be nasty and I think the shorter distance is much nicer to join. Based on my experience, a sprint distance in Sungailiat can be one of the best holiday/race/reunion events. It is my favourite local race so far where anyone from newbies to pro athletes can be part of and feel as one big triathlon community in Indonesia. There are many communities including triathlon buddies, Canisius Collage Triathlon, Id Selap and many more. Togetherness, fun and grounded is built around the nature of its pre- and post race meals. There are local dishes, local fruits, fresh coconut drinks after race and live music during a pre- and post- race dinner. The festivity of the race last quite long after the finish line with common faces all around. It is almost like an annual triathlon reunion with a hang out swimming pool after the race loaded with snacks and fresh coconut. The best if you can stay in Tanjung Pesona Beach Resort (the most expensive) or Pesona Bay Hotel (best deal, good value for money and distance).

 

     

 

All legs are very much enjoyable but it is definitely difficult to avoid the extreme heat that stings the skin. The swim leg is a one loop triangle and a line between points make the sighting a little bit easier for a newbie. Sometime the ocean can be bumpy and not really friendly but it can be nice too when it has little waves. It is a matter of luck though. A hilly bike leg is what I feel the most interesting. 27km is longer than usually sprint distance bike leg (20km), but it is short enough to experiment our cycling skills. The road is quite sterile and good quality to try our max speed and to try off saddle and do some attacks on some hills – combining triathlon and cycling strength techniques. For me, the run is always the hardest part simply because my bad right knee due to some surgeries. In Sungailiat especially when the pressure on knee combined with extreme heat. Many says the sun in Sungailiat is more than one. But doing a 5km run at 8-9am is still manageable. I cannot imagine for those who are doing a half ironman and running at 11am -2pm here. No thanks. It is a fun race and I win the first place in my age group and the fourth place overall for the sprint distance women category.

 

     

 

A mini Aquathlon in Saparua Island: unpredictable, adventurous, scenic

An adventurous place to be racing this short distance triathlon. We need to travel 3 hours by plane from Jakarta to Ambon and another 45 – 90 minutes by small boat depending on the sea waves. It can be super nasty during rainy season. I was there in Ambon triathlon in 2016 and 2017. I experience the calmness of the sea in 2016 and the anger of the ocean in 2017. Molucas seas can a completely different playground at different times of each year. Choose to come to this place wisely depending on the season if you do not want to have a bumpy boat ride or crazily facing waves during the swim leg.

 

        

 

Heavy rain delayed the start time of the race this year and pushed the organiser to shorten the length of the swim leg from 700m to 500m for the sprint distance. A start for military and non-military folks is altogether so depending on the ambition, I would rather be at the very front or very back. Experiencing being in the middle of swimmers who swim randomly is painful and inefficient. The run leg is the best part. It is flat for almost 7km and it has beautiful pathways in some parts. Importantly there are many strong runners who keep me up with the pace. The course is relatively flat with some moderate hills. I think it is not bad for me to hit 5km below 25 minutes after a nasty swim. I win the first place among a few women participants who joined the race.

 

Olympic Distance Triathlon in Bengkulu: bold, fierceful, and intense

This navy organised event is a far-fetch and challenging one. Definitely a must try. It is the only race where I started swimming from a warship (KRI Banda Aceh). Navy and military folks dominated the scene but we can still enjoy the local hospitality although it is less centralised and organised than Sungailiat triathlon. As the first timer, Bengkulu has done a good job. Easy in and out of the city by an airplane, but not easy to get around the venue, race pack collection and the swim start. We need to join a group to hire a car or to be more tactical when booking accommodation.

 

          

 

Swim leg is not so bumpy but sighting is key. 1.5km from the beach is quite a distance where things at the beach look so tiny; never sure that there is a difference between one building to the next. Hard to see where we should end up at. I do not have a good pair of eyes and somehow foggy googles make my sighting worse. Learning swimming straight or drafting is advisable before this race. The cycling is a two loop course with technical challenge with so many round about and unseen turns. Some parts of the road are uneven and slippery because of some coarse. I also feel unsecured when I hit the town. Many motorbikes and cars do not follow the police and marshall instructions. So I slow down many times. The run is a big one loop long straight course with one flyover. It is quite hard to maintain the motivation since you will end up seeing few people running with you. I feel all alone. I also start feeling a pinch on my knee at 4km. Not a good sign but I keep going and finally I finish. Luckily the organiser is generous to give me some award for winning the fourth place for women olympic distance category.

 

 

Ironman 70.3 Bintan: painful, rewarding, inspiring

This is so far the farthest and the most challenging race I enter and finish. Chaidir Akbar encouraged me to join this race in 2016 when we met for a big bowl of noodle after a training. I definitely spent so much time to prepare but then it was taken over by work commitment. A flu and cough three weeks before the race kill all the stamina and endurance I  built for many months; the biggest enemy indeed. I am grateful; to fight for this longest distance triathlon I have been so far, Compressport gives a timely support. All their kits especially the full length tights give a necessary support and extra comfort for my knees and my whole legs during the biking and running courses. The full tights hold my knees securely. Their compression calf sleeve also eases my muscles pain after the race. The race euphoria in 70.3 Bintan is definitely five stars and super well organised. World Class. However finding small daily life things like fruits and medicine can be hard. I suggest to bring your own supply from where you come from.

 

     

 

The swim leg is very calm and peaceful. This is the only triathlon race where I can really enjoy swimming plus applying my drafting simply because so many participants. The participants are polite enough I think to not punching/kicking each other. The transition is secured but no basket and toilet. Humm… I think they should give us a basket. The bike leg feels like no ending with a one big loop with many hills in between ranging from 2-9% grade. Not too sterile in the town. Three water stations along the course give you ironman bottles and many kids ask for bottles. Quite annoying actually, but nothing you can do. The biggest hill is welcoming 7-10km before the end of the course. Tadaaa!!! And the running leg is just a painful 2 loops of 10.5km. Super hot although no sun during that day and it is very tempting to put ice water all over. This feels nice but then wet shoes create blisters. A mental game is on to finish the course. It is a seriously painful if not enough time dedicated to train for this length of races. To enjoy any race preparation is key no matter what.

 

     

For me, being competitive in short and olympic distance races gives more joy and reward considering I have only a limited time for training as a full time researcher and consultant. I guess this applies for many people. I would encourage people to try different length of races, analyse the results and the level of satisfaction and then decide for themselves which ones should be in their A and B race plan. Stretch before and after any races, do sports massage to release lactate, conditioning and strengthen muscles (ITB and glutes) are necessary to avoid injuries that can be super expensive. Having insurance is helpful. Reviewing some other people experience can be a starting point. Small research about weather season and time of the year plus logistical arrangement support, e.g. with what group we can be part of, can make our journey much more enjoyable and more economical. Good luck in your journey to find yourselves of who you are as a triathlete and do share your experiences.