The test-event for XTERRA Samui took place last weekend and by all accounts it was an epic adventure and a sensory riot for participants. XTERRA Malaysia race director (and racer himself) David Spence took in the teaser race and brings us this report…
Thailand has the most visited city in the world in Bangkok according to this years’ Mastercard Global Destinations Cities Index. This is the 2nd year running and whilst there are many reasons for this, one major one has to be that it’s the gateway to tropical Island destinations like Koh Samui in the South China Sea.
This is the latest new XTERRA event destination and based on this writer’s experience it is well worth the trip to come and race in such an idyllic island retreat. As well as an exciting and challenging race course that has a little bit of everything for everyone’s racing taste buds the race is put on by AMA Events, an experienced and respected Triathlon & Adventure race organizer in Thailand.
AMA are headed by Serge Henkens, a friendly and warm Belguim, and he and his experienced and enthusiastic local team certainly didn’t hold back or cut any corners in putting this event on.
As well as tourism, Thailand is also known internationally these days for the quality of its medical services. And, as if to reinforce this other attraction that Thailand offers its visitors, Serge and his team showed how seriously they take racer safety as well as racer “fun” with an array of evacuation and medical support services that would be the envy of other event organizers.
The race itself was a “teaser” of what’s to come as there were no slots for Maui, no cash prizes for pros and no Asia Pacific Tour points for the pros or age groupers. That said, it was well attended and in credit to them two of XTERRA’s locally based pros still came along to participate.
David Escolar Ballesteros from Spain took the win in 2:07:11. He was made to work though for this, as Seree Ruangsiri, a local elite mountain biker made him work hard on the bike course and he wasn’t able to pull away until the run for home. David & Seree were joined on the podium by Takahiro Ogasawara, who’d travelled with a few other hardened XTERRA participants, from Japan clearly looking for some race readiness prior to Maui, after XTERRA Japan was cancelled last month due to Typhoon Lionrock.
Racing started on Bophut Beach one of the islands many spectacular beaches. This location was chosen because of the extensive network of challenging and fun trails in the hills behind it. These are sufficient enough to accommodate not just the usual 21km trail but a 31km trail, which I hear was a bit of a “beast.”
As well as this obvious attraction for an XTERRA event, participants are also spoilt for choice in terms of great accommodation options. This includes the Ibis, the events resort partner, and a host of other local resorts and simple but very comfortable hotels like the Smile House where the race briefing and awards dinner took place.
The beach has a great array of sophisticated as well as local bars and restaurants to choose from to relax in before the race and recover in after it. As well as a local market and plenty of good shops and spas to keep the whole family entertained.
Thanks to this inaugural event being squeezed into the 2016 calendar ahead of Maui’s World Championships, it happened to coincide with a full moon and, a particularly hot spell of weather. This resulted in a serious increase in the recent reports of jellyfish incidents, which sadly meant the Organizer’s opted to cancel the swim element of the triathlon.
This was a real shame as the beach lends itself perfectly as an idyllic swim location. As not only are its waters warm and clam with decent visibility, as diving is a big attraction in this area, the Bophut beach has a super drop off to it too meaning that even at low tide you only need to be a few meters from the shore before you can get straight into your swim stroke.
That said, as the inaugural event, it obviously made great sense to err on the side of caution in this regard and, in fairness to Serge and his team, they came up with an interesting and challenging run course to compensate for the loss of the swim.
They chose a 4.3-kilometer course that started at The Wharf, where the races start & finish was located, and sent racers through Fisherman’s Village and down onto the beach where they needed to loop back round to the start area. After looping back past the start/finish area the course went through Fisherman’s Village for a second time and then went right down to the end of Bophut Beach before returning back along the sand to T1 at The Wharf.
This meant that with almost 2 km of beach running to kick the race off you certainly knew that despite a relatively short bike course this was not going to be an easy race. There was the consolation that the run was done on fresh rather than tired legs but with most of the elevation gain on the bike leg coming in the 1st quarter of it’s 25km distance this race did not really have a gentle introduction.
That said, it was huge fun having lots of people cheering you at close quarter on the impromptu run that replaced the swim and after navigating the descents from the 2 significant climbs which were not particularly technical. For those at the head of the field they were rewarded with a fast and furious bike course that they could attack to consolidate or make up positions. For those that needed to recover from the earlier exertions though the bike course certainly gave you opportunity to do so as it wound through coconut plantations, rivers (mostly but not all dry) and local villages.
Like a handful of other XTERRA events T2 was not back at The Wharf making the bike and 2nd run course’s point to point. The concept was a little difficult for some to figure out and in fairness more notice should have been given so athletes could have ensured that they could pack 2 pairs of runners (those that didn’t had to carry theirs with them to T2 due to the swim getting cancelled). However, just as the infamous Muay Thai (Kick Boxing) fighters are renowned for being able to “punch above their weight” so did the 7km run course.
It started relatively sedately and respectfully as most of these local boxing bouts do with a series of twists and turns through the Coconut plantations that really are prolific in this part of the world and perfect for pre race hydration J.
Just as you thought you had found your running legs though the trail kicked sharply upwards and kept on rising bring most including David Escolar Ballesteros up front to a walk rather than a run. Along the ridge at the top, which was a mix of road and trail, you were rewarded with some great views and a cooling breeze. However, unless you were looking out for these things in fairness there might have been other priorities at the forefront of your mind!
As with life with every up in a trail run there is always a down and the benefit of the effort put into climbing this “up” was that the last 2km to the finish line was all downhill to help everyone finish on a high which from the sounds of things, irrespective of whether you were one of the 250+ people taking part in the Duathlon, or the 15km or 31km Trail Run, everybody did.
To make things even easier and convenient to race Serge has a partnership with Optima Bikes that took a lot of the hassle of getting to and racing XTERRA events overseas by supply at very reasonable cost an excellent range of MTB’s for rental.
He also had a super spread of food both at the end of the race and at the awards dinner and after race party which, as you’ll see from the final photo, was perfectly located back on the Bophut Beach where the weekend’s racing started.
This correspondent is certainly looking forward to coming back if he can to race here again and when he does, he’s certain that there will be a lot more people deciding to do the same thing in 2017.
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