Just when you think you're tough enough

Tough Takes Triathlon

Newbie triathlete conquers Open Water fear at Xterra Malaysia

Teng Han Nyan conquered his fear of Open Water and completed his first ever off-road triathlon at Xterra Malaysia in Langkawi island, Kedah.

Enjoying swimming, mountain biking and trail running individually, I never would have imagined that I’d do them concurrently, what more at an international off-road triathlon race – Xterra Malaysia.

An opportunity arose two months prior to the Xterra Malaysia: Asia Pacific Championship, on Langkawi island in Kedah and it was too good to pass up, even though I had never swam in open water before. Neither am I a good swimmer, but after deliberating, I decided it was time to embrace the challenge.

I signed up for my first triathlon, on off-road terrain AND I signed up for Championship Triathlon which covers 1.5km swim, 30km bike and 10km run. I hoped I had made the right decision.

Gearing up for the Xterra Malaysia off-road triathlon.

Since I go mountain biking weekly and trail running occasionally, the trick would be to improve my swim. Due to my tight work schedule, I couldn’t sign up for swim classes, so I did some reading, referred to videos on YouTube and asked friends on how to sight, improve my strokes and kick.

Come race day, I was a bunch of nerves, but kept reminding myself that I had to do this or go home regretting that I DNS (did not start). On to the start line, no turning back now. At the blow horn, I joined the rest of the triathletes and jumped into the waters of Pantai Kok for the swim start. The water was calm, easy to sight and swim.

I felt so happy and relieved after surviving the 1.5km swim (2 laps) in 31 minutes. From that point onwards, I switched my focus to finishing the bike and run course

Awaiting the swim start on Pantai Kok, Langkawi.

Into the bike transition, I geared up and pushed my bike out to start cycling. Most of the bike course were at least 80% off-road and 80% single track. At least I was back in familiar territory.

The trail was rideable until KM21 (out of 30) where I had to push my bike up hill for about 2km taking 40minutes and the same distance during downhill in 30minutes.

Unexpectedly, it took me 3 hours to get back to the transition area, that was quite insane! Switched to running shoes from cycling cleats, and I couldn’t wait to get back into the trails for the run.

Swapping cycling cleats for trail running shoes.

The first 2.5km of trail running was easy, until the infamous climb up to Telaga Tujuh (The Seven Falls). It was a steep 1km climb, before going downhill for another 1km.

The water station was a welcomed oasis and rest point, before continuing onto another 800m up and 1.2km down the hill. At the main road, the volunteer mentioned that there’s no more hills, much to my relief.

Crossing the finishing line on the beach after 5 hours 20 minutes, I took my time to soak in the celebrations and glanced at the finisher medal around my neck.

I smiled to myself and realised – I’m now a Triathlete, an off-road Triathlete.

“I smiled to myself and realised – I’m now a Triathlete, an off-road Triathlete.”


This was not just a race, but a life-enhancing experience through meeting and learning from new friends, overcoming my fear of open water swimming and challenging myself to greater heights. Even in the professional’s race, there was an unusual display of solidarity, as four of them crossed the finish line in shared first place, the first ever in Xterra Malaysia. Apparently, they had gotten lost on the cycling route, negating each other’s strengths out, and decided to finish the trail run together.

Last but not least, I dedicate this accomplishment to my late brother Han Min, who will always be remembered as person who loved the great outdoors and was always inspiring me in this race.

Photos were taken by Khai for ToughAsia unless stated otherwise.

More about the triathlete

Teng Han Nyan aims for a healthier lifestyle by doing sports with good food habits. He loves trail running and mountain biking, and hopes to compete and complete in Ultra Trail Marathon in the future.