Well, the FIRST ever Samoa Half Iron Distance is now done and dusted, and by all accounts including feedback from many athletes – it was a well-organised event and successful debut.

From the time I landed at the airport on a warm Tuesday night, there was a huge billboard to welcome people at the entrance as well as rolling ads on the screens as you go through Customs. Seti Afoa (race director/organiser and coach to all the locals as well as an all round great man) achieved amazing results regarding advertising and promotion of the race across the country.

Wednesday was a very relaxing day spent checking into our hotel with Ewen Larsen who was doing a team yet to be confirmed.

Around 3pm was the start of the 5km Ocean Swim around the Apia Harbour. Conditions were great and with a small group of pure swimmers taking on the challenge as well as a few doing the Half IM using it as a bit of a training session to get the arms rolling over.

Vailima Beer with Poke (fresh raw tuna soaked in chilli sauce and slices of coconut)

Vailima Beer with Poke (fresh raw tuna soaked in chilli sauce and slices of coconut)

As the sun set over the ocean, our feast of mouth-watering traditional food was washed down with a good share of local brew. If you want value for money, you can’t go past Amanaki Hotel http://www.amanakihotel.com where the service is just amazing.

Thursday morning dawned and it was time for a pre-race ride on the bike course with many of the participants preparing to compete on Saturday. Very few events in Australia, or the world for that matter, offer a pre-race ride with full police escort and the opportunity to cycle next to the elites of our sport. As you’d expect, the experience was a pace above normal (at least for the non-Elites) but we were spoiled by breathtaking views with temperatures sitting in the high twenties. A number of the group decided to call it a day at the 30km mark whilst others followed the Elites on a 4km climb to the turnaround. Riding back into town was somewhat easier thanks to smaller numbers and a handy tailwind.


With Ewen Larsen, Sarah Crowley and Gina Crawford after testing out the Bike Course.

With Ewen Larsen, Sarah Crowley and Gina Crawford after testing out the Bike Course.

That afternoon, registration opened and the race briefing was held at Hotel Tanoa Tusitala www.tanoahotels.com/tanoa-tusitala-samoa which also served as head quarters for the Samoa Half Iron race. Race registration was where Ewen, who was competing in the cycle leg, met his team swimmer Christina from New Zealand. We were told one of the locals was to be their team runner and we would meet him in due course.

Race Director Seti Afoa opened the briefing with a surprising confession:
“I have never done a triathlon before nor have I ever been to a triathlon event but hopefully by Saturday afternoon, I can say that I have organised and run one successfully,” Afoa said.

I wasn’t quite sure if the silence to follow was that of shock and disbelief, or awe and admiration for a man whose passion for triathlon has led him to introduce the sport into a country where rugby is religion. President of ITU Oceania Terry Sheldrake, quickly stepped in to talk participants through the course and race rules.

I also found myself being a driver to all the athletes from their hotels to one of the restaurants where dinner was held. On my last trip to pick up Seti, he told me to stop by TV1 (local TV station) and within 10mins, we were both mic’d up and ready to go on air live to the whole country. I was sitting on the chair in-front of these cameras and lights smiling and wondering how the hell I got myself into this situation. Unlike Channel 7, 9 and 10, there were no make up artists to be seen around this TV station, luckily I am naturally a good looking bloke lol who doesn’t need make up. As we were waiting for the interviewer, I kept asking Seti what I was doing there with him and he kept saying that I was the there as the “Overseas Coordinator/Promoter”. Sounded like a flash enough title so I just rolled with it.

After about 15-20min of talking about the sport of triathlon on national TV, I was back to my role as driver for the athletes. This time it was dropping them back to their respective hotels from the dinner venue. One of the trips was with both Sam Warriner and Gina Crawford casually talking about their Friday morning training and how hard they should be going etc… sounded a lot similar to how Tim Franklin and Callan Lloyd talk about their long rides.

Samoa Police Band leading the Opening Parade

Samoa Police Band leading the Opening Parade

Friday morning was the opening parade from Race HQ to the center on town (about 20min walk). Had all the athletes separated into their country of origin and was great to see athletes from Poland, US of A, Tonga and even a couple from Japan as well as those from New Zealand and Australia making the trip over for the inaugural Samoa Half. The march was led out by the Samoa Police Band.


photo 4Just behind the Police band were the locals who have been training under Seti’s guidance to take on the Samoa Half Iron Distance walking proudly with their bikes and Triathlon kit kindly donated by Tri Alliance Qld and Victoria combined. http://qld.tri-alliance.com.au


It was quite an experience to be walking along the center of town with people taking the time to wave and show their support instead of doing some work lol.

At the official opening by the Prime Minister, he didn’t muck around by acknowledging that he had no idea what he was about to declare open. He was more used to getting invited to open full events but this was the first time he had been invited to open a HALF event. He even wondered where the other HALF of the event was which got the crowd laughing.

With Ma’ilata Leao and Mati Sapolu

With Ma’ilata Leao and Mati Sapolu

Part of the opening ceremony was a surprise “honouring” of Samoans who have completed a Full Ironman distance race. Was a privilege to be standing next to 2 of Samoa’s finest in endurance racing. Ma’ilata Iosia Leau was the first ever Samoan to race in Kona 1989 and Mati Sapolu who has 8 Ironman finishers to her name.


On Saturday morning, I was at transition around 5am, with no sleep at all from not only getting part of the course ready but also hanging out with locals (at bars and pubs) trying to do some last minute promotion of the race.

Athletes started to roll up one by one, some two by two. The elites looked rather relaxed while others not so much. I hung around the transition area mainly helping out the local athletes with their bikes, fluids and providing them a few tips on what to expect etc. It was also here that Ewen and Christina finally met the guy who was going to be running for their team. Talk about relaxed.

I managed to keep my role around transition as the guy that shouts at all the athletes including the pros about the MOUNTLINE as they headed out of transition onto the 90km bike ride. As the sun was coming up, I was starting to feel the effects of the all nighter I had from the night before but managed to see off all athletes onto the bike course then it was off to find a place for breakfast.

The run was a 4 lap course in the heart of Apia, Samoa’s capital. It was hot and humid as one would expect when you choose to race on a tropical island but all the athletes pushed through and finished with a smile on their face especially when the recovery tent had fresh cold coconuts to kick start the recovery/hydration process.

Team Ray without Ray did awesome. Christina swam well, Ewen rode solid and our local runner finished it off with a blistering 1.29min for his 21km run and came first in the Teams category.

Holly Ranson and Tim Berkel sharing a laugh and coconuts at Recovery Tent

Holly Ranson and Tim Berkel sharing a laugh and coconuts at Recovery Tent

Prize giving on the night was just an amazing show of the Samoan culture before the winners were announced. As we walked through the entry, we were greeted by the warm smiles of the locals handing out happy coconuts (Malibu pineapple in coconuts) to everyone to get the party started.

The night’ entertainment was provided by the Samoa Tourism Cultural Group and included the traditional fire dancers.

photo 7All in all, I was so glad to be part of hopefully the beginning of a great annual race for Samoa and hopefully we can continue to build it to be one of the “must do” events in any triathlete’s racing calendar.

Samoa Half Iron is unique in its own special way. Villages are allocated countries to support and they go all out to be Aussies or Kiwis or whatever country they are told to be on race day. Our Thursday ride was the discovery of new calls in group rides – “dogs back” (dog chasing cyclist) and “pigs up” (pigs crossing the road) were my 2 favourites.

Villages kids supporting Aussie triathletes

Villages kids supporting Aussie triathletes

So if you want a race with a bit of different experience then lock in the Samoa Half Iron for 2014. http://www.samoahalfironman.com

But don’t just take my word for it, check out what all the pro triathletes had to say about their experience:



Graham O’Grady – http://grahamogrady.blogspot.com.au/2013/08/talofa-from-inaugural-samoa-half-iron.html

Sam Warriner – http://www.sportzhub.com/news/double-victory-samoa-half-ironman

Gina Crawford – http://ginacrawford.blogspot.com.au/2013/08/half-ironman-samoa.html?spref=fb

Sarah Crowley – http://sarah-crowley.blogspot.com.au/2013/08/samoa-half-iron.html

Holly Ranson – http://trihardholly.blogspot.com.au/2013/08/samoa-half-iron.html?spref=fb

I would like to thank a few people who have helped and contributed to developing triathlon in back in my island country.

To everyone at Tri-Alliance Qld and Tri Alliance Victoria who have donated goggles, swim caps, running singlets, running shoes, tri shoes, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

To Calum Lazenby and Phillippa Smith for the brand new cycling kits, tri suits, helmets and tri bars, can’t thank you guys enough.

To Claire Schneider’s dad for donating his road bike – hope you get better soon.

To Brad Kinnane from Melbourne, your donation of 5 road bikes and shoes and all other cycling bits and pieces is greatly appreciated.

To Peter and the staff at Shoes Feet Gear, thank you so much for all the 2XU kits you guys have donated.

Shane Nunn from Mizuno, cheers for the Mizuno t-shirts.

And to anyone and everyone I may have forgotten, thank you all so very much for your generousity and kindness.

Lastly, I want to thank Seti Afoa for making it all happen and successfully organizing and hosting a great first up Half Iron Distance in our beautiful country. And to everyone that helped out before during and after the event, Emily Cox, Casey Afoa for all the admin work and the local boys who set up the course, raced and then packed up the course. I am sure it is the first of many more exciting races to come.

photo 9

With Gina Crawford and Cameron Brown at the Prize Giving

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