We woke to the sound of heavy rain, hammering down onto the metal roof outside our room. Powerful, fat drops pounding down like a waterfall from on high. It was 6:00am. We looked at each other... what should we do?
It was the morning of the NanjingMan had gone without a hitch but this was date number two, the real test. Were we in it for the long haul, or would it be nothing but a fair weather affair? With competitors due to convene at 9:00am at Prodigy Outdoor Center and it was crunch time... could a 1.4 km (0.86 mi) swim, 44 km (27.34 mi) bike and 8 km (4.97 mi) run really be that much fun in torrential rain? Would it be cancelled? Should we just climb back under the covers and forget about it?
Whichever way it went, it looked like we were in for a very wet day.
A text message just minutes later decided things. "One word," it read: "Aquathon!" It seemed that organizer Tori was still keen to go ahead and in that case, so were we.
I say "we" as, despite not competing myself, I held the key role of Chief Cheering Officer (CCO), providing solidarity in spirit, if not in physical action. With that, we were out of bed and gearing up, ready to set off on the 40-minute drive around the mountain.
Hidden away from view behind a screen of trees at the top of a steep and narrow path climbing between whitewashed houses was Prodigy Outdoor Center. Once we'd finally tracked it down, we were greeted with a lively scene as people milled about the interior and took shelter from the rain around the edge of the cobbled courtyard. A sense of semi-organized chaos ensued for the next half hour as teams re-shuffled, re-registered or retreated — such wet weather meant slippery roads for slick road bike tires and there were a few who preferred not to take the risk, but as a triathlon newcomer, Flo was still riding his chunky-tired mountain bike and not to be perturbed.
Back in the hire car the two of us struck out to find the start line and transition area — a rickety set of tents on a by now very muddy dirt track — and come 11:00am, it was race time!
There's something a little surreal about standing in a field in the middle of rural Zhejiang with 40 or so chaps (and one girl) dressed in Speedos and sporting bright yellow swimming caps. A number had also donned cagools or vests leaving their legs to fend for themselves.
After a short but slippery walk through the bamboo, all superfluous attire was tossed aside as competitors picked their way down to the reservoir, leaving behind empty shoes that quickly filled with water. Up on the embankment, myself and my fellow CCOs held our umbrellas tight, pulled ponchos close and yelled enthusiastically into the rain as the teams launched themselves into their first lap, the course marked out by three inflatable crocodiles and one whale that kept trying to escape.
Five laps later and it was off to the bikes. Fortunately, Tori had the presence of mind not to include the time taken between leaving the water and getting on two wheels which meant there was not such a mad rush to get back to the transition area. Treading gingerly in my flip-flops, mud splashing up my legs with every step, it took me a good ten minutes to make my own way — thank goodness no-one was timing me. A handful of racers flew by and with Flo already well ahead I made peace with myself for missing the beginning of his ride and went off to explore a deserted, dilapidated building I'd spotted nearby, as much for its ramshackle charm as its potential for a relatively dry pee break.
On closer inspection the roof to the overgrown entrance-way had completely collapsed and inside, the single room was lined with white-painted shelves and the floor with dusty, dead leaves. On the shelves stood a handful of ornate boxes and seeing the ID cards leant against them, I realized that they must be ashes. Not the most appropriate spot for a make-shift toilet, I snapped a few pics in the gloomy light and went on my way.
[callout title=About Mogan Shan]An "unofficial" race, the Mogan Shan Triathlon is organized by Mogan Shan-Anji region where a blanket of bamboo covers the hillside and villages, farms, reservoirs and tea fields line the valley.
Mogan Shan has been a popular getaway from Shanghai since the early nineteenth century elite would head out there to escape the searing city summers, and they left behind them a scattering of concession-era houses and villas which form part of the area's unique charm.
If you're looking for a bit of rural China just three hours from Shanghai (and even less from Hangzhou), there are plenty of reasonably priced hotels in Deqing and Anji with local guesthouses and restaurants scattered throughout. Other options lie within the scenic area of Mogan Shan itself (ticket entry price RMB 80) where we recommend checking out The Lodge which offers good western food and a few renovated villas — a perfect place for a group stay.
If it's adventure you seek then join with other like-minded individuals at Prodigy Outdoor Center for biking, rock climbing, hiking and all kinds of other fun stuff and for those who prefer their countryside retreat with a little more comfort and a little less action, check out Naked Retreats.[/callout]Back at the transition area, all the bikes were gone and a handful of other bedraggled supporters took shelter where they could; the tents kept the rain from above but could do little about the three inches that now covered the waterlogged ground. Despite the weather, everyone remained upbeat and in good humor, the event van occasionally dispatched to ferry folk back to Prodigy to warm up or track down a wayward cyclist with a burst tire. An hour or so later and the riders began to trickle back in with stories of rain that beat down like bullets and fog so thick you could barely see, interspersed with moments of breaking through into the light. One poor guy had lost his significant lead by going in the wrong direction for 20-minutes as directions were missed or obscured by the weather.
Some of the competitors who'd opted for an additional run to replace the bike milled around, unsure of where to head and when it came to the final run, despite the careful marking of the track, confusion led to some stopping after just half of the figure of eight course. Fielding a small barrage of phone calls from runners who'd made a wrong turn and were "by a lake and some rice fields...where should we go?" Organizer Tori managed to stay in high spirits, her hard work and careful planning thrown into disarray by rain that just kept coming.
Though there were a few breaks or at least moments when it dropped to mere drizzle, no-one escaped the mud and the wet, not least my own triathlete who came in soaked to the bone but beaming from ear-to-ear from his dirt-spattered face.
After rinsing off with overflow rainwater that spouted out from a pipe in the fields, we squelched our way back to the car, much to the amusement of the locals who'd been watching the happenings from afar.
The day ended with a post event barbecue at a nearby restaurant, where we exchanged tales of racing escapades over grilled chicken and cold beers. Awards were handed out and everybody cheered, congratulating one another and making plans for more outward bound adventures. As the skies lifted to show the mountain tops, previously hidden in a cloud of fog, the sun even tried gallantly to shine and we had our answer: Can a 1.4 km (0.86 mi) swim, 44 km (27.34 mi) bike and 8 km (4.97 mi) run really be that much fun in torrential rain? The answer was yes, absolutely it can.
A tale of two triathlons Part 1: Discovering Nanjingman