Watson paves way for 'new' kind of adventure in Wan Tsai

Melanie Ho

Later this afternoon, Mike Watson will begin taping. He'll bend down and carve out the exact route for tomorrow morning's off-road triathlon, outlining the 5km mountain-bike loop and then the 5.5km trail run. And then, around dusk when he's finished, Watson will set up camp and spend the night in Sai Kung Country Park, along with some of the 30 or so marshals who have volunteered to help out with the race.

Watson designed the course for the INATT (It's Not About the T-shirt) Off-Road Triathlon. He has participated in road triathlons since 1988 and in off-road triathlons for the past six years. He's qualified for the world championships for the past three years and now, in trying to make the best use of Hong Kong's scenery, he is bringing this type of race to the SAR.

The competitors will start out with two loops of a 375 metre sea swim, followed by a 15km mountain bike challenge, and finishing with a 5.5km run. Each component is half the distance of a regular XTERRA race (a licensed brand of off-road triathlons of which Watson has been a participant).

'At this time of year in Hong Kong, it's the right distance,' said Keith Noyes, whose Seyon Asia Limited has organised the event. 'In January, you could probably do the whole distance but it has hit 31 degrees Celsius - it's going to be enough.'

The race is being used to judge interest in these types of events. There are XTERRA races in Saipan and Japan, but nothing in the region, according to the organisers,

'I think Hong Kong people are looking for new things and this is something new,' Noyes said. 'I think it appeals to both the traditional triathletes and the adventure racers.'

To set the route, Watson visited this part of the Wan Tsai peninsula and found a mountain bike trail where, at times, it is easy to lose traction. When he ran the trail with a friend, Watson discovered rolling hills, bamboo and a view over the swim course. There was a terracotta path, some boulders to manoeuvre around and, near the end of the loop, some beach running.

'For the trail running, the main thing is the fatigue and being aware not to trip on anything and fall,' Watson said. 'But towards the end, as you come back around, you see the sea on your right and it will lift everyone mentally. It's always good to finish on a high and if you can see the finish line that can spur you on.'

These mental tricks are part of the triathlon's appeal. The race is supposed to bring the athletes at one with nature, as they run through trees, as opposed to just pounding the asphalt.