Race, Relax and Retreat at Chapman’s Challenge
Having been through a deluge of triathlon events recently, the idea of a race-vacation beckoned especially when you get to relax and rejuvenate on the private island of Pangkor Laut, hosted by YTL Hotels.
Throwing in a little challenge to your holiday is certainly more interesting than having your holiday built around your races in the usual manner.
The Chapman’s Challenge comprises a 3.8km road run around the Pangkor Laut resort followed by a 2.4km trail run, ending with a 1km swim around the picturesque Emerald Bay before concluding at the Chapman’s Bar located on the beach. Now, who is this Chapman chap, you might ask?
To be exact, Colonel Spencer Chapman who spent 3 and a half years in Malaysia during World War 2 was hiding from the invading Japanese forces.
Escape from Pangkor Laut
When the Japanese imperial army had launched a massive manhunt for his head, Colonel Chapman made a daring escape on 13th May 1945 by trekking the island of Pangkor Laut until he found Emerald Bay and swam 45m out to the sea in the dark to be picked up by the Royal Navy submarice HMS Statesman.
Fast forward 71 years now, a group of people gathered at Pangkor Laut Resort on the 14th May to commemorate Colonel Chapman, to relive his inspiration and powered on by his determination. The Colonel’s family were also invited as Guest of Honour, with his grandchildren Steven and Hazel representing the Chapman’s in the company of parents Chris and Sue.
As invited guests by YTL Resorts and Hotels, we spent a luxurious 3 days and 2 nights at the immaculate Pangkor Laut Resort, inclusive of all meals, chauffeur from KL and private boat transfers.
Well, the only catch is that I have to compete and complete the race. With National Malaysian Triathletes Riki Shinozuka and Irene Chong competing as well, finishing on the podium this time is definitely out of the picture.
Personalised welcome and Race Kit
Race kit collection was a little different this time. YTL Hotels personalised and delivered our race kit and goodie bags to our Sea Villa room. Ipanema flipflops, Reebok bags and vouchers flooded our goodie bags, together with handmade chocolates and a personalised hand-written message from Resort Manager, Ross Sanders.
We had the opportunity to preview the 2.4km jungle trail the day before, with Naturalist guide, ‘AhPek’ who showed us the terrain, the look out points and gave us tips on how to tackle the short but intense trail.
Most important tip – conserve your energy at KM1.6 for the almost vertical climb up to the peak. From there onwards, it’s downhill all the way to Emerald Bay.
I also swam a little just to get my body warmed up. Thoughtfully, the resort had put up a net to prevent jelly fishes from invading the waters.
Race Day morning started with a beautiful sunrise as we had a light breakfast at the resort’s Feast Village before heading to the jetty for the flagged off. Spirits were running high, and everyone was enthusiastically looking forward to the ‘morning walk and swim’ on their vacation. Most participants came from KL and Penang, while others were returning guests of the resort.
Off to a sprinting start
As the sun rose, Chris Chapman gave a rousing speech before flagging us off at 7.30am sharp.
Straight off the jetty, it was a sprinting match between the triathletes in Ross Sanders, Riki Shinozuka, and Vice President Luke Hurford. I tried to follow them in pursuit, but they were quite fast and I lost them soon enough.
Challenging ‘Morning Walk’
Although the run is only 3.5km long, the terrain makes for a challenging ‘morning walk’. Couple of others caught up with me and we paced together until we hit a really steep tarmac right after the U-turn at Emerald Bay.
I could only walk up the road before hitting the peak for the first water station, and what a relief, it was downhill all the way before entering the trails after the Spa Village.
The nature trail was actually very easy in the first 1.6km before reaching the climb.
Our guide named the climb in the trail, ‘Batu Caves stairs’ for a reason. And it was indeed very steep, more like near vertical stairs to me.
Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur houses an Indian temple in a cave with 272 steps leading up to it.
‘What’s up, Doc?’
Once I reached the top, I was surprised the first person I met was a Doctor asking me about my condition. Apparently, the organisers placed a Doctor on top of the hill in case there are any emergencies after the long climb up. Then, it was downhill all the way till Emerald Bay.
Every Chapman challenger would be welcomed by the beautiful sight of the famed emerald waters at the aptly named, Emerald Bay.
However, a daunting task lies ahead in reenacting the escape of Colonel Spencer Chapman. Swimming 1km is no easy feat, what more in the open sea, granted that we were in a private bay.
Opportunity presented itself, and I overtook 2 more strong runners on the beach as they were hesitating to enter the beach for the final 1km swim.
For me, I took to it like fish in the water, albeit a slower fish. I really need to work on my open water swimming technique if I want to improve on my swim.
One swim stroke at a time
The red buoy on the horizon seems far away but I chipped at the distance one swim stroke at a time. I then proceeded to another buoy horizontally across, before heading back to the Chapman’s bar on the beach. More quickly than I expected, I completed the 1km swim in around 20 minutes, based on my watch and the race about 1 hour and 20 minutes in total.
Chapman’s inspiration had powered many who were not confident of swimming in open water, to attempt the swim.
Back on the beach, the jubilant challengers were pleased with themselves as the calm emerald waters on the private bay and did not seem as intimidating as they had thought.
This must be the shortest race ever I’ve ever competed, therefore there’s actually more time to rest and enjoy the facilities the resort has to offer. Usually, after a race, I do not pay any attention to the medal, but the one I received at the Chapman’s Challenge is one to treasure.
The medal we each received had our names engraved on it. Talk about personalisation, it’s the small details that counts.
And to top it off, we were treated to a lavish Barbeque dinner on the beach starting with cocktails in coconuts at the Chapman Bar. It was the most marvellous beach dinner I’ve ever had in good company and the food was amazing.
A prize presentation ceremony was also held to give away the podium prizes of the inaugural Chapman’s Challenge. Malaysian National Triathletes topped the honours’ list with SEA Games Silver Medallist Riki Shinozuka winning the top prize and Irene Chong in second place. YTL Hotels’s Senior Vice President Luke Hurford completed the podium.
The Chapman family representatives just missed out on the podium placing, but grandson Steven finished a proud fourth with his sister Hazel right behind in fifth place.
Relax and Retreat
I couldn’t wait to get back into my Sea Villa room after the race for some rest and relaxation. Everything in the room was huge and massive and it comes with an outdoor balcony with comfy deck chairs.
The bathroom was large as my bedroom and the bathtub as huge as my wet kitchen. You might think I’m exaggerating a bit, but I’m surprised I didn’t drown in the bath tub when I was sipping my wine overlooking the sea through the window.
The wooden Sea Villas built on stilts over the sea, is located within the Spa Village which is at the far end of the island where I appreciate the tranquillity. The resort itself was an amazing scene straight out of a postcard.
Every path and pool from the jetty to the secluded area of Spa Villa provides a picturesque Instagram-worthy scene.
As for the award winning Spa treatments, I was told it was the best that luxury has to offer and worth every penny paid. My wife truly enjoyed the 3-hour long spa pampering session which left her feeling refreshed and relaxed. We are already looking forward to returning next year.
• A race-cation in a private luxury island resort, I literally begged the organizers to take my money and signed me up for the 2017 Chapman’s Challenge race. Enough said.
• Danger of not wanting to leave the island.
• Negative symptoms might include the ability not able to drive a car properly or work normally after leaving the island.
• In fact, I think my race report is actually a vacation report in disguise.
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This article was first published on ToughAsia.com.
More about the author
Richard Lee is on his life-changing journey from XXL to M. First dabbling into cycling, trail running and now triathlon, Richard sets out to inspire and improve himself and others along the way.