Gary Mandy and Pedro Ribeiro of team Asia Miles avoided the mines and just missed the typhoon. They dodged old people wandering around villages and battled tides and winds in their kayaks across the Taiwan Strait. They beat 61 other teams in a series of physically and mentally demanding tests yesterday to win the Kinmen Action Asia Challenge in Taiwan.
Team Asia Miles ran, swam, biked, climbed, traversed and scrambled for five hours, 15 minutes and 25 seconds to take first place in the third race this year of the Asia Miles Action Asia Challenge series. The next race is scheduled for December in Hong Kong.
Narrowly losing were local favorites Suen Jyi-shen (孫吉山) and Chen Chung-ren (陳仲仁) of team Taiwan Exustar, who came in nine minutes off the pace with a time of 5:24:05. New Zealanders Kurt Lynn and Matt McLaughlin of team Schmucknuckles came in third at 5:27:02.
Asia Miles' Ribeiro, of Portugal, was a winner in both last month's race in Singapore and June's Macao run (with different partners), so this was no surprise victory.
“For the inexperienced runners I have no doubt this was a difficult race,” Ribeiro said. “We took it relatively easy because there was lots of biking and if the tests were not done properly we could have lost time.”
Mandy, from South Africa, said the Taiwanese team set off fast but lost time in the kayaking section. He said they came back into contention when there was a mixup at the tyrolean section, but lost it again in the tunnels.
Chen, 32, said he had a problem around three hours into the race after he started getting cramps in his thighs. “My strength just wasn't enough.”
Suen, 43, looked in better condition after the race and said it had been a great experience despite the disappointment of losing another close one. He added that he loved the course and would be showing his wife around Kinmen today.
Chen and Suen were the first Asians to win an Action Asia race, last year in Hong Kong. They narrowly lost in this season's first two races because of bike troubles. On one occasion they used a rope for a tow when their bike lost a chain. Thus, it was doubly frustrating for them to lose this time round, particularly since it was on home turf.
The 59.2km course took in scenic spots around the two islands. Kinmen was a battleground for almost 50 years, from 1949, and only opened to the public in 1993. The legacy of war could be seen everywhere, from the unexploded land mines to the tanks and tunnels that dotted the landscape.
Military areas were opened up specially for the race, for the first time, and tunnels never before seen by civilians were part of the course. In addition to the army and police, more than 250 marshals and voluntary helpers were roped in to keep the race going smoothly.
“Don't stray and get blown up,” cautioned Action Asia event director Michael Maddess in the pre-race briefing. In addition to warning racers of unexploded land mines, he added winds and tides could be a problem in the kayaking section, traffic on the roads could be an issue and knocking over old people was possible if competitors weren't careful.
After a drumming performance to count down, the race started in Little Kinmen with a brisk run to Suwei Pier. Many of the competitors hesitated before leaping off the 9m jetty into the sea and swimming across the harbor to a water tunnel.