Sat, Jun 12, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Iron men and women rush to the challenge of the triathlon

A running, biking and rafting race in Kaohsiung County tomorrow won't quite be up to the standard of a real Ironman triathlon, but it'll be fun nonetheless

By Max Woodworth  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Lao-Nong River has some challenging rapids that will put Ironman contestants to the test next week.

PHOTO COURTESY OF KAOHSIUNG COUNTY GOVERNMENT

The current narcissistic obsession with firm buttocks, defined abdominal muscles and the various so-called X-treme sports has a lot to do with the rise in the late 1970s of the most wrenching race known to humans: the Ironman.

The handbill for the first Ironman race on Waikiki, Hawaii, in 1978 said it all: "Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life!"

No argument there. Most average people would tolerate someone's incessant bragging if they were, indeed, capable of completing that kind of circuit. And apparently there are people out there who do this type of race for fun, including a nun named Madonna who won the 65 to 69 age division in 1997 by over an hour and who holds two age-division records.

Taiwan isn't exactly suited to a proper Ironman race, though, given its size and congested roads. But since its inception, the race's distance guidelines, set out at the first event in 1978, have been tampered with to suit local race conditions.

This way, Kaohsiung County felt it could tack on the word Ironman to its triathlon race at Lao-Nong set to take place next Saturday. Let's just say it will be an alloyed version of the original Ironman. Contestants will have to bike 20km, run 12.5km and river raft for 12.5km.

not the real thing ...

So it's not quite as grueling as the real Ironman, but pretty tough nonetheless. And the stretch of the Lao-Nong River that the rafters need to pass, according to the organizers, has the wildest rapids in Taiwan, as big as the class-VI rapids on Hsiukulan River in Hualien County. The contestants will certainly be taking it seriously to take home some of the NT$276,000 prize money.

The racers compete as individuals, but will be forced to join up on the rafts in teams of six and share their times on the river stretch. This means that strong racers stuck with a boatload of rafting novices might be held up in their overall time, but organizers seemed to believe this minor idiosyncrasy added to the fun of the event.

The race makes a circuit between the villages of Lao-Nong and Baolai both of which are on the Lao-Nong River and are connected by National Route 27 north of Maolin, the popular tourist area. Access to the river for spectators will be available at several points.

The course is fairly unorthodox for a triathlon, taking contestants first on a run, then the rafting section, then another run, followed by the cycling and ending with more running.

As a corollary to next weekend's event, Kaohsiung County has also organized the first international rafting race on the same stretch of the Lao-Nong River for July 4. One hundred teams have registered for the rafting race and will be duking it out for a slice of the NT$120,000 prize pie.

... but a tough race

The Lao-Nong River is one of the less-known and most challenging rafting courses in Taiwan, which isn't naturally blessed with long rivers nor an abundance of passable rapids. Rivers tend to plunge off the mountains and onto the coastal flats where they are reduced to a trickle on broad flood plains. The Lao-Nong has long stretches of consecutive rapids that in spots can be quite treacherous.

"There are some great class-IV rapids, better than anything you'll find in Hualien," said Chang Chuan-hsiao (張全孝), spokesman for the event at Kaohsiung County Government. "Through this event, we expect to attract a lot of attention to the area and to the sport and gradually internationalize the race.

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