Batam triathlon was a late addition into the race calendar. It was intended to be a warm up towards Ironman 70.3 Putrajaya 2 weeks later. Since the last Cold Storage Singapore Triathlon in September last year, I hadn’t took part in any triathlon and I thought it was a good idea to refresh myself with all the three disciplines plus transition, before going all-in at the 70.3. It turned out to be a very challenging race. The toughest olympic distance, said another triathlete from Singapore who ran alongside with me to the finish line. My first solo race outside Singapore was one filled with lessons, duly noted and etched in my head, to be put in practice in future races.
The day started with an uneventful ferry ride from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal to Batam Nongsapura and shuttle to the hotel, Batam View Beach Resort. The hotel was chosen mainly based on the following factors: price and location. It was the cheapest hotel (SGD130/night) within riding distance of the race venue (about 3 km on Google maps). This was the first error I made. Unlike Singapore, Jakarta or any other major cities, Google most likely has not sent one of its Google Street View cars to prowl the streets of Batam and location data were largely unverified. The hotel turns out to be about 5 km away from the race venue, according to the bike computer. 2 km would not be that much further, it would seem. I rode past a number of athletes who were on the bike leg of their sprint race. I couldn’t help but to notice weary expressions on their faces, which I thought was unusual for sprint races. Little did I know the torment I was getting into.
Arriving at the race venue, I was caught by surprise at the small transition area. There were only 3 rows of 4 bike racks. Later I would learn that there were only 65 participants in the olympic distance, including 3 females. Of course, all three of them would be podium finishers. Upon registration, the official informed me that there would be no more briefing and handed me a stack of photocopied race information guide. Thankfully, it contained all the necessary information such as routes, number of loops, aid station locations. The race pack had a nice little surprise, a silicone Speedo swim cap. For a race of such tiny scale, it was a very pleasant surprise. However that was all that was good in the pack. The paper based helmet and bike stickers were difficult to peel off after the race and paper based bib crumpled easily. It was time to chill for about 2 hours at the resort lobby waiting for transition to open.
At noon, transition opened, bike was quickly checked in, transition set up and bag deposited. I had the first glimpse of the other 64 participants. Since the race was held as part of a naval exercise, there were many participants from various Navies including Indonesia, China, Vietnam and Russia. A handful others were from Singapore. The rest were from Indonesia, Philippines and various other countries. Looking at the participants, I reckoned these were experienced triathletes and not rookies usually seen in sprint or olympic distance races.
The sun continued to shine and the temperature hit 36 degrees when we finally started the swim. The swim was held in a marina, sheltered from the open sea. Hence there was very little current and it was quite easy to swim straight. I sighted every 10 strokes or so and still managed to keep my direction quite effortlessly. It was almost as if I was swimming in a pool. The 1.5 km swim distance was broken into 2 loops of 750 m out and back. The most memorable part of the swim was perhaps swimming right next to the expensive yachts berthed at the marina. It was quite overwhelming to turn my face to breathe and see a massive yacht not more than 10 m away from me. I quickly realised it could be quite dangerous to be too close to the boats and made sure I kept a safe distance during the second loop. For the first time in a race, I completed the 1.5 km in freestyle which took me 43 mins.
Coming out of transition, I was faced with the first real challenge of the day. A long steep slope of at least 15% gradient looms immediately out of transition, going all the way to the entrance of the resort which was about 500 m away. I had my bike ready on small gear and zig zagged my way up, passing a few others who had started pushing their bikes. Thinking that the climb was over, I took my first gel and before I could finish the gel, another climb comes into view, even steeper than before. I mustered all strength and tried to ride my way up, but lactic quickly took over my legs and I decided I needed to conserve energy as it was still very early in the race. I got off the bike and pushed the bike to the top. The participants were giving words of encouragement to each other while struggling to push the bikes up. Upon reaching the top of the climb, I continued to ride, making sure I consumed enough fluid and nutrition to replenish the sweat lost in the scorching hot weather. The bike leg proved to be very challenging, with non-stop undulating hills along the 20km loop. I resigned to the idea that I would not be achieving a PB in this race, and it would be a long day ahead. I just had to make sure that I climbed steadily without over exerting myself and I took advantage of every downhill to gain momentum for the next long uphill ride. After a seemingly unending ride, I finished the bike leg in 1hr 34 mins, a satisfactory timing given the hellish condition.
The run started easy along the coastline of the beach, where it turned suddenly into a steep flight of stairs going up the hills of the resort. It reminded me of the old grand stand training at CJC. This was the start of the next round of tests this difficult race had in the menu. After the walk up the stairs, the run course went through the villas of the resort for a few hundred metres before entering the golf course where the rest of the run was held. The golf course proved to be another mental challenge where the undulating hills continued, except this time without any shelter from the hot sun and without wind to cool the body. It was a slow run/walk at average 9 mins/hr (really slow), finding opportunity to run every time the path flattens for a few tens of metres. I was expecting a cramp during the run, given the taxing bike ride earlier. Fortunately it didn’t happen, probably thanks to the 2 salt tablets I had. Coming out of the golf course in the second loop, another triathlete from Singapore came up to me and ran alongside me for the final few hundred metres to the finish. As he claimed this was the toughest race he had been to, I was glad I wasn’t the only one suffering. We reached the finish and the clock showed 3 hrs 53 mins. I turned to him, we gave each other a quick congratulatory hand shake and proceeded to collect our medals, and most importantly, water and sports drink.
It was a tough race indeed, but the day hasn’t ended for me. After a short rest to stretch and refresh myself, I packed my gears and got ready for a ride back to the hotel. It was nearing sunset and I didn’t want to be caught in the dark along the deserted roads. Adrenaline set in again and I started the slow ride back to the hotel, making friendly chats with a couple of navy soldiers along the way. I’d be sure to carry out more research on hotels for my future overseas races in an unfamiliar location.