Weekend warriors are once more gathering for Taiwan's second Action Asia Challenge.
The outdoor adventure race organized by Action Asia magazine and for the last two years actively supported by National Geographic Channel (NGC), will be on starter's orders April 6.
It will take place at scenic Sun Moon Lake in Nantou County during the first weekend of April and attract 67 teams from around Asia.
Almost 200 competitors will run, swim, climb, kayak and cycle over a course which is being kept a closely-guarded secret by event organizers.
Even though the race has been running for just five years, it has taken off in a big way.
Organizers first brought in NGC in 2000 and this year the event has gained more logistical support with the addition of International Management Group (IMG), the world's biggest sports management company.
"This is taking the event to a new level," said Michael Maddess, director of Action Asia Challenge, who is currently in Taiwan fine-tuning the course.
IMG organized the Mild Seven Outdoor Quest, one of the world's richest adventure races and also has the support of Trans World International, a sports media group, which Maddess said would raise the profile of Action Asia Challenge immeasurably.
Unlike such events as Eco-Challenge and Mild Seven Outdoor Quest, Action Asia Challenge has always targeted what are described by race organizers as "weekend warriors," people with an enthusiasm for outdoor sports but who are not full time athletes.
The race, which began in 1998 in Hong Kong, was held for the first time in Taiwan last year and generated considerable enthusiasm in local athletic and trekking groups.
Last year's race, held in the mountains of Fuhsing in Taipei County, drew many local teams, but lack of experience militated against locals, who proved especially weak in the kayaking leg.
Hong Kong teams took the first four places.
This year, local teams are expected to perform much better now that they have a better idea what to expect.
Despite a series of missteps and an inability to handle the kayaks effectively, Taiwan's Team Kuangyang took fifth plalce last year, showing great endurance and good spirit throughout.
This year, Kuangyang will be representing the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, who will thereby be strengthening official support for the event.
Many of the foreign teams that took part last year will be back and according to Maddess, foreign interest in the Taiwan competition was piqued by the NGC and Action Asia coverage of the event last year.
"Many people had no idea how beautiful Taiwan was and what a great place it was for this kind of competition," he said.
Asia Non-Stop, Air Macau (this year competing as Team Forward No Boundaries), the first- and second-place teams from last year, will be back again and are favored to win the race.
"I anticipate the most competitive race in the series [in Taiwan]," said Maddess. "The competition between the top five [from last year], along with one or two more local teams, is likely to be intense."
He said that it would be the kayaking leg "that will make or break" a team's challenge.
Last years, many local teams vowed to improve their skills in the water, so the foreign contingent is likely to come under more pressure this year as local teams go into the race better prepared.
The Action Asia Challenge has always been about more than sport, and the social functions that the Action Asia Foundation and NGC wish to promote are apparent from a number of other aspects of the competition.