Race Report – Meghann Blakeman, Bali International Triathlon

The Biznet Bali International Triathlon.  Only three words to sum it up….’what an adventure!’

Disembarking from the aeroplane into a sweet smelling sticky and humid air has all the makings of a tropical and relaxing island holiday.  That is, until you unpack your bike, pull out your running shoes and attempt to train in preparation for an island triathlon!

After air travel and an extreme change in temperature and humidity, a gradual training strategy was the only way to go.  Training attempt one saw me holding my breath in an attempt to reduce the carbon monoxide intake as I rode past hundreds of motorcycles and squeezed between the four rows of traffic on a two lane road in busy Denpasar.  My second attempt was a run around the picturesque temple like Denpasar Museum surrounded by green tropical growth.  The Balinese locals looked on approvingly as I struggled in the heat and doused myself with bottled water.

From here I moved onto the official course route.  Lucky for me, I had extremely hospitable local friends who chaperoned me on a motorcycle through the 40km hilly bike course protecting me from traffic and unfamiliar villages.   I am convinced there is no other tri-bike course like it; being an open road course requiring one to jump hotel speed bumps, climb Nusa Dua’s hills along sandstone quarries, avoid locals carrying goods and wares on their head in front of you, swerve around pot holes larger than your wheel or requiring you to slow down to a complete stop mid race or to head directly into oncoming traffic to get around trucks in traffic heavier than Punt Road in peak hour!   On the upside, it is uniquely exhilarating as you pass by villages and markets and draw in the beauty and majesty that Bali has to offer.

Swim training was definitely something a little more worthy of envy.   Mum and I would head down to Jimbaran Bay (only 15km from our home in Sanur but a 50min drive in heavy traffic…) to hire some beach lounges from a local store and plant them under a shady umbrella where I swam 300m laps across the beach front.  Locals asked for their photo to be taken with me proclaiming I looked like a swimmer from TV….swim caps and goggles not the usual accessory to the more readily seen polka-dot bikini wearing foreigners!

One painful attempt of the run course was not repeated again until race day.  Running on the road literally, with a toot of a horn from traffic letting me know they were overtaking me, locals calling out whatever English they knew as I panted by (most often being ‘hello how are you’ and my appropriate response in Bahasa Indonesia ‘panas’, meaning ‘hot’; never failing to amuse them) was excruciating, leaving me light headed and slightly heat struck, desperate for shade and water and quite sure it was not possible I complete the run leg of the race after a swim and ride in such hot and humid conditions.

The Bali Triathlon Festival:

Then the festivities began.  Three wonderful days with tri-athletes from around the world, coming together to enjoy their love of triathlons in a magical and beautiful land.   Day one provided a poolside welcome function at the delightful Bali Triathlon Headquarters at the Four Seasons Hotel.  Drinks and hors d’oeuvres with tea lights floating across the pool on a balmy evening was a perfect setting to meet other competitors.  Before the evening was over, I caught up with Austrian’s working in Qatar with a passion for international triathlons, Siberian’s who complete their run training in India seeking out much needed Vitamin D and many Australians from the North and West to whom Bali is almost a stone throw away.

Day two provided a practice ride and swim allowing athletes to learn the course, however having already completed the ride course twice in the past week I chose to save my energy.  The evening offered a delicious carbohydrate packed dinner provided by the Four Seasons Hotel for all athletes.  Dinner on the beach in the delightful Coconut Grove was like a scene from a romantic and elaborate beach wedding.  With tables and chairs covered in white linen and gold bows scattered along the sand, one can only wonder how a single event could offer athletes such an amazing reception.

Race Day Olympic Tri followed by the Sprint Tri and then the 5km run.

SWIM: Standing amongst 160 plus Olympic tri-athletes at the start line on the shores of niche Jimbaran Bay, I wondered how such a well catered event could have arranged for us all to start in the one swim wave.  What happened to the small same category wave starts I was used to in the Gatorade/Active feet and Xosize series?  My thoughts were abruptly ended when a fellow competitor turned to me and said “this sure beats the 800plus wave start we had in Phuket last year!”

Looking around, I could see Michelle Mitchell; Bali race female record holder, up in front and an Australian Green and Gold Tri-Suit with the name Sullivan standing next to me.  The next thing I heard as I stood uncertainly amongst the first few row of competitors, was “if you are not a fast swimmer you better move to the back”.  What made him think I was a slow swimmer, what should I do, should I move?  Thankfully someone said, “Don’t listen to the boys, they always thinks we should move to the back”.  A shuffle to the side seemed satisfactory to me and then the starting blow went off.   I dashed out into the sea quite surprised I was not smashed and battered by other competitors.

With the first small group of stars heading out of sight within seconds I sat comfortably amongst the first large group of swimmers, repeating the words of my coach Sarah over and over; “Don’t go out too hard Megs, you want to come out of the water feeling good”.  As my arms reached through the water I could hear my coach Ollie saying “lengthen your stroke Meghann, you want to get further in each stroke to save energy”.   Turning at the last boy, I kept what I thought was the swim finish line insight.  This is where my calculations were erroneous.  The local volunteers dressed in florescent green outfits looking like frogs on the shore line, were in fact not at the finish line but to the left of it, adding minutes to my swim time.  Having no idea where I was placed, I made the strenuous 800m beach run along the shore to the International Continental Hotel transition site.

T1: Being my first Olympic triathlon I had too many things waiting in transition; bananas, gels, water, watch, race number belt, glasses…..too many things to get together as I stumbled through into the bike leg.

RIDE: As I passed the mount line and clambered onto my bike, I keep thinking ‘nutrition, stock up on the bike’.  I choked as I struggled to swallow a banana, put my watch on, and take in fluid as my biked jolted over speed bumps and I attempted to follow the directions of police and volunteers on the road.  The course was showered with 240 Balinese police directing traffic and athletes through the highways, roads and villages.  However, such man power was not enough to stop athletes being sent off track or risking injury.  The leading Olympic male was hit by a motorcycle not long into the ride pulling him out of the race and the leading 10 Sprint competitors were sent down the wrong route requiring them to dismount and cross the highway carrying their bikes over the centre road island.

About 10km into the ride and just after climbing one of the hills, I was shocked to see Shaye Hatty, winner of the 35-39 F category last year, pass by me.  Had I beaten her in the swim? Can I beat her in the ride?  From here a friendly competition began.   Every few kms one of us crept up on the other pushing each other along.  Shaye never over took me without a friendly word of encouragement that pushed me on ahead.  With each hill one of us took advantage of the other, however I had one advantage; fearlessness.  As I forged through the traffic hoping that vehicles would stop as I headed straight into oncoming traffic, I managed to get in front of the caterpillar truck that left many cyclists stopped dead in their track.

As we entered the end of the bike leg, we found ourselves stuck behind sprint race riders unwilling to forge ahead of the runners coming towards us sharing the same narrow strip.  My risky attitude proved to be advantageous as I weaved around them, allowing me to come in third of all females on the bike leg.

T2: Still unaware of how I was travelling, I was spurred on by onlookers in transition.  I heard one shout and cheer me along.  “You’re doing really well!  Keep going.  You are doing so well.”  This made me think two things; I was either faring well and she was giving me further encouragement to stay ahead, or I was near the end of the pack and she was encouraging me to keep going.  Either way her encouragement did its job to push me out of transition and into the run.

RUN: Feeling heavy in the legs, I headed into the run onto the open road amazed that I was more than 2/3 through the race.  Within minutes I was feeling good, a feeling which was short lived.  Out of nowhere, 1km into the run I felt a stabbing jab in my heart.  It was an excruciating pain I had never felt before.  I did not know what was happening and the pain would not stop.  I didn’t want to drop out of the race.  As I slowed down with pain three females not far behind took over me.  The first water stop was in front of me.  Holding onto my chest I drank some water and held back the tears.  I kept asking myself why I tried the caffeinated gel on the ride, even if only a little bit.  I never have caffeine.  I could hear the same old message over and over ‘don’t try anything new in a race’.

The volunteers asked if I was OK.  I described the pain that would not go away.  They wanted to call the medic.  I did not want to stop.  I cried aloud that all I wanted to do was finish my first Olympic distance race.  I moved forward stumbling along.   Another competitor stopped to see if I was OK.  He suggested I walk it out to the next water station, drink lots of water and try and throw up.  As I shuffled along, the pain intensified and then eventually subsided.  However, I was taking no risks and struggled along slowly stopping completely at every water station to drink.  I pushed through running the last few hundred meters along the beach knowing this was my slowest 10km run ever but so happy to be close to the end.  Crossing the line I grabbed for the ice cold water sponges and doused myself for what must have been 10 minutes.  I heard my mum call out, “Meg! Meg! You finished!  You did it” and she gave me a much needed hug.

The Aftermath: As I clambered up the stairs to Coconut Grove where a breakfast of fruit and crosoints awaited me, I bumped into Dave Scopelliti from Townsville.  Dave came 1st in his category and 8th overall in the Sprint Distance.  Together we looked at the Biznet Data Screen to check out my results.  “I think you have come in first in your category Megs”.  I double checked the screen.  That couldn’t be possible.  Maybe I was the only one in my category as the competition only had 32 women in the race.

That’s when I bumped into team mate Bill Kosmopoulos.  Bill competed extremely well in the Sprint distance race coming in 5th place in his category and 18th overall out of 110 competitors in his first ever triathlon.  More importantly, Bill raised almost $20,000 for Dads in Distress.  Bill’s fundraising efforts are worthy, honourable and something to be very proud of.  Bill is not only selfless in his fundraising efforts; his enthusiasm for my result was true of tri-athlete camaraderie.  Bill was so excited to hear I won my category and enthusiastic to get word back to Tri-Alliance.  There is nothing more pleasing at an international event than sharing your achievements with a fellow club member.

The award ceremony was true tropical island style with all place getters being layered in frangipani necklaces and awarded ceramic trophies made in local Jimbaran Bay.  Having come 1st of 12 in my category, 6th overall female and 61st of 163 competitors I was thrilled to be wearing the frangipanis.  Michelle Mitchell from Darwin won overall female competitor for the third year running and best time overall for the day with a swift time of 2:27:03.  Despite this result sounding slower than competitive Olympic Triathlons, it is an impressive time for such a difficult, dangerous and hilly course.  With many of the awards going out to Darwin tri-athletes, it is obvious that year long triathlon competitions and training set in hot and humid conditions is advantageous in preparing athletes for island competitions, much more so than the 2°C swimming pool exits and frosty evening run training I left behind down in Melbourne.

The 5km run was won by my Siberian friend Nick in a time of sub 18 minutes, making his training efforts in Indian worthwhile.  He will head back to Siberia to begin winter training in preparation for his local marathons where he competes in -20°C wearing full body and facial thermal clothing and wipes snow from his eye lashes rather than sweat from his brow.

Such an eventful fun packed weekend leaves one not only tired but in a slight anti-climax  and little unmotivated the following days;  perfect for much needed recovery and a lethargy that truly made the most of the amazing $6AU per hour Balinese massages on offer on every corner.

I said goodbye to my interesting and intriguing new international tri-athlete friends with hopes of meeting each other again one day at the Phuket Triathlon, Bintan Island (off Singapore) Triathlon or possibly training together in our own home towns.  Participating in an international event opens your eyes to a new type of race; one for those seeking to mix their love of triathlon with a love of travel and adventure.

If there is one triathlon out there that is set to mix pleasure, relaxation, beauty and majesty, the Biznet Bali Triathlon is it.  This adventure should be added to your ‘must do at least once’ triathlon wish list.

Meghann Blakeman

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