Just when you think you're tough enough

Tough Takes Triathlon

Aquathlon newbie on a budget at Penang Coast Triathlon 2016

Jian Hui Penang Aquathlon-TA
Writer Jian Hui enjoyed the aquathlon swimming in CRC then running along the coast to PSC.

You don’t have to be experienced nor have a high budget to be able to participate in various sporting events. Unexpectedly, I was given the chance to participate in Aquathlon at the Penang Coast Triathlon and I snapped it up, although I’ve only raced in Aquathlon once last year.

The Aquathlon is beginner-friendly race as the 800m swim was conducted in a swimming pool at the Chinese Recreation Club (CRC) in Penang, while the 7km run lead us onto the scenic Gurney Drive and north towards the finish line at the Penang Swimming Club (PSC).

Signing up one month before the race itself, I thought to myself, “I still have time to train for this!” However, fitting in swim and run training into my schedule already filled with work and ballet 5 days a week required some strategic planning.

Kids Aquathlon
Aquathlons are also a good way to introduce kids to multi-sport events.

Wallet-friendly Aquathlons

Lacking in confidence when it comes to cycling, I opted for aquathlon and it adds on to the challenge of purely running. Also, it reduces the stress of maintaining your bike, not to mention the cost that comes with it. Although I have raced for a few years now, I do not own any fancy GPS watches or race apparel.

Aquathlons are wallet-friendly, and all you need are swim attire, goggles and running shoes (maybe socks), and you are good to go.

Besides, Aquathlons are a cheaper way to start venturing into multi-sport races and less time consuming. You need not spend as much time training in the pool as you are on the bike.

Penang Coast Aquathlon


Prepare your race kits/bags before you head to bed. Check that you have all necessary swim gears, shoes, race bib, and nutritions prepared in advance to avoid panic on race morning.

If you are using temporary race number tattoos, make sure you stick it on before sleeping. Hit the sack earlier than usual to calm some anxious nerves.

I wore my swimsuit and tri-pants for both the swim and the run. However, it was very troublesome when taking a pee break. Separate tri-top and tri-pants might be a better idea.

It’s also worth investing in a race belt to hold your race bib in place, instead of using safety pins as they can damage your race apparel.

Jian Hui Penang Aquathlon2-TA

Race day

The Race Director gave a short briefing on rules and conduct before the start. The swim leg was held in CRC’s swimming pool where we were released into the pool 10 seconds apart and swam 16 laps in a snake format.

This snake format had multiple swimmers in one lane, coming in both directions. Unfortunately, you inevitably get kicked, pushed or elbowed by fellow swimmers who fought for space, and time to overtake you. Nonetheless, swimming in a pool is less stressful by epic proportions compared to swimming in the sea.

Swimming in a snake format in the pool
Swimming in a snake format in the pool

Being able to see the bottom of the swimming pool also removes the fear of unknown creatures wrapping its tentacles around you and also you could rest at the pool ends if you’re tired.

My strategy for the day is to go slow and steady. As I swam into the last 300m, I felt a mild cramp creeping into my left calf, as I did not train much before the race. So, I eased into a slower and steadier pace, and finished the swim leg cramp-free.

Swimming in a pool is an easier start than the open sea.
Swimming in a pool is an easier start than the open sea.

Relax and have fun

You know you are probably the most relaxed aquathlete there, if you take a toilet break before heading back to the transition area for the run. I told myself I’m only racing against myself, and I’m going to have fun.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have a proper ‘transition area’ to get ourselves ready for the run. Organizers should consider giving participants small baskets or prepare chairs and tables with a supervising marshall/crew to oversee the safety of participants’ items.

Jian Hui Penang Aquathlon3-TA

On to the Run

Wiping myself dry, I also buttered myself with thick slabs of sunscreen lotion before running. Considering it was a short race, I decided that nutrition was not necessary this time – another way of cutting cost!

Being a small community-based race, they were no road closures for runners. Initially, marshalls helped flag down traffic and directed us in the right direction.

After the scenic run along Gurney Drive, marshalls were a rare sight, while traffic had picked up too. There were no sign boards indicating which direction and I had to pick up speed hoping to spot some runners ahead to ensure I was on the right route.

Scenic coastal run along Penang's Gurney Drive is invigorating in the early morning.
Scenic coastal run along Penang’s Gurney Drive is invigorating in the early morning.

Safety first

As much I as tried to maintain a comfortable and consistant pace, there were many occasions where I had to come to a halt especially at busy intersections. To motivate myself, I kept reminding myself of distance I had covered rather than dreading the balance that I had to cover to reach an iced cold drink.

In any race that you are in, it is very important to stay vigilant and observe your surroundings. Run in a direction opposite traffic flow whenever possible, avoid plugging in your earphones, and run on pavements whenever available.

Sports-specific wristbands that detail your emergency contact and medical information is a valuable investment to wear for trainings and races, for example RoadID and LifelineID.

Aquathlons can be a family bonding session too.
Aquathlons can be a family bonding session too.

Finally, I crossed the finishing line at Penang Swimming Club (PSC) slightly later than expected, but was still extremely pleased with myself. It’s always fun to meet and greet new friends and old after the race. These are reasons for many to keep coming back for races and there is no surprise that the camaraderie can actually be an excellent mood booster and an encouragement to journey further into multi-sports events. 

No matter how small the race is, remember that it is an accomplishment, and that you are one step nearer to your next endeavour. Keep it up, do not be deterred by bumps and along the way, and may you succeed in your journey into multi-sports events!

View more photos in Tough Asia’s Facebook Album here.

Jian Hui Penang Aquathlon2-TA

More about the author

Yeow Jian Hui, Lydia is a performing arts enthusiast and dances ballet before swim-bike-run. She also loves travelling and hitting the trails.

Related articles:

An amateur’s mistake at Penang Coast Triathlon

Triathlon Race Day: What to pack, How to prepare?