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Racing With Alligators in Indonesia

14 October 2009 by Peter Holmes
Racing With Alligators in Indonesia

USA elite athlete Barrett Brandon reports from his experiences at last weekend’s Palembang ITU Asian Cup in Indonesia as he looks to establish himself and gain valuable ranking points looking forward to the 2010 season.

Traveling to and racing an ITU Asian Cup is often as much about the experience of the race as it is the race itself.  It seems no matter how crazy the travel, unique the venue, or how spectacular the karaoke-singing race organizer is, there always seems to be several similar themes that these races share: an enthusiastic local organizing committee, huge community involvement, and wonderful athlete support. Last weekend’s 2009 Palembang ITU Asian Cup in Palembang, Indonesia was no different.

After a difficult first half of the season I found some good form heading into September and went looking to find some races. As the North American ITU racing scene had died down, the only choice was to head to Asia. I have raced here often and enjoy the different cultures and unique racing opportunities that are presented.

I arrived in Palembang after a nightmare five flights and 45 hours of travel.  It may have been a nightmare, but it was a planned nightmare, as this was the quickest route from the US.  I arrived tired, but excited about the prospect of racing.  First up on Saturday was the Asian Aquathlon Championships.  This event was the day before the triathlon, and consisted of a 1000m swim and a 2.5k run.  It was a good way to ‘open up the system’ after all the travel.  It was also good fun and I ended up second place behind Dmitry Polyansky from Russia, and felt good heading into Sunday’s triathlon.

Race day arrived, and I was ready to go.  The swim was in a spring-fed lake named Lake Opi.  It was very clean, but presented a few shocks to the system.  Because Palembang, along with all of Indonesia sit in a very seismic region (Palembang is located on Sumatra and 500km away from the recent earthquake in Padang), this spring-fed lake had quite a bit more sulphur than usual.  It was quite interesting climbing out of the water and feeling like your teeth were furry!  In addition to this, there were also alligators! It was quite scary at first, but these ones were actually very small (about the length of your arm).  I didn’t want to ask what happens to small alligators when they grow up.  Big alligators!?  Maybe that was some of the unique local cuisine we were sampling…

With a 6:30am start, the horn went off before you knew it, and we were off.  I swam well, and exited the water very comfortably in the lead pack.  Onto the bike a lead pack of five formed that included the Polyansky brothers, Dmitry and Igor.  The bike was route consisted of simple out and backs, and our group was able to work well together and build on our advantage.  As we rode the sun continued to heat up the road, and I knew it would be a hot one on the run.

I had a good transition and took off for a super-hot 10k in the sun.  I like the heat, and felt really good so I pushed the pace right out of transition.  Dmitry Polyansky was the only one to respond, and we ran stride for stride for the rest of the 10k.  At 6k and 8k into the run Polyansky put two really strong surges in, but I was feeling great and was able to respond.  I decided to wait to make my move until the finish.  With 200m to go, I gave it all I had and was able to pull away and take the win!  I had a few spare seconds to celebrate and really relished the moment.  This was my first ITU victory, and I couldn’t have been happier.  It was a great race for me, and really good confirmation of my recent training and form.

Afterwards we were treated like celebrities by the locals: there were hundreds of local children who clamored for our autographs, the governor of Sumatra hosted the awards dinner and reception for us, and the media seemed awestruck that people from Russia, Canada, USA, and all over the world would come to tiny Palembang to race a triathlon.  Mark Sungkar, president of Indonesian Triathlon Federation and race organizer (and as evidenced at the awards party….karaoke super star!) put this event together to help boost local interest in the sport and to grow triathlon within Indonesia.  Mark has a passion for triathlon, and it is evident in his determination to grow the sport in his corner of the world.  Now I am off to Hong Kong to race next weekend, where I am sure another great race and adventure awaits!

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