Two Time Olympian and ITU star Courtney Atkinson to race Metaman Bintan Iron Distance Triathlon

As the final countdown for the MetaMan begins, the quality of the field chasing the US$40,000 first prize at Southeast Asia's only iron-distance triathlon has grown further with the entry of ITU star and two-time Olympian Courtney Atkinson. The Australian Atkinson, a winner of many Olympic-dis

Two Time Olympian and ITU star Courtney Atkinson to race Metaman Bintan Iron Distance Triathlon

As the final countdown for the MetaMan begins, the quality of the field chasing the US$40,000 first prize at Southeast Asia’s only iron-distance triathlon has grown further with the entry of ITU star and two-time Olympian Courtney Atkinson.

The Australian Atkinson, a winner of many Olympic-distance races throughout his career, including the Bintan Triathlon in 2006 and 2007, returns to the Indonesian island on August 31 to make his iron-distance debut. He’ll join 25 other professionals on the start line when the MetaMan splashes off for its second edition at the Nirwana Gardens resort in Bintan.

While the MetaMan might be Atkinson’s first attempt at the full distance, don’t rule out him as a serious contender as he comes to beautiful Bintan with form, having won both the Cairns Ironman 70.3 and the Koh Samui International Triathlon already this year, the latter over a 4km/120km/30km course.

We caught up with Courtney yesterday as he was getting ready to board a plane in Sydney on the way home to the Gold Coast. He had been at a Red Bull conference where many of the sponsored athletes had gathered. Among some of the activities was a a trip to the State of Origin and a surprise skydive. Everyone attending didn’t have a chance to think about it and all jumped. (Wouldn’t happen on our watch)

During the chat Courtney kept making sure we understood his motivation for doing events. This media release covers some of this but we got a real sense of why Metaman was the perfect race for his iron distance debut. “To be honest racing a long race on bitumen roads and paths, on my own or with one or two people around does nothing for me. I want experiences. I love adventure and am attracted to races that offer something different. The multi lap run at Metaman is appealing as each time we come around there will be more and more age groupers coming on to the course so it will seem like a really busy race which I love. I also race well in hot conditions.”

Atkinson had his first major long course hit out at Koh Samui. He did this race with no power or heart rate monitor. He wanted to just race by feel. It seemed to work well with a win on the day and something half way between a half and full distance triathlon gave him the confidence that he has an iron distance in his legs.

Amazing race experiences are what Atkinson is chasing. He would love to do Kona. Not because it is an ironman but because it is a challenging and epic race. New Zealand’s famous Coast to Coast is also on his radar. “I love the hot island racing and unique challenges. That is the appeal if Kona. The Coast to Coast is just an epic race that I want to do.”

With the move from ITU racing and the fast, tight competition is provided Atkinson he is having to find his way forward to replicate those experiences.   “I don’t want to be racing on my own and I don’t want to be doing repetitive events that do not provide me with a challenge. Whilst the Cairns 70.3 experience was exciting at the same time the race wasn’t actually a fast and furious competition. The one thing I was enjoying with 70.3 was that the training was less intense and there was less volume. In ITU you had to train to swim the first 200m in 2:05. With the long distance racing that is not needed. Also the top end speed work on the run is not as intense. So in reality even though I am racing longer I was not having to train to the same level.”

This year is about having new experiences for Atkinson and MetaMan Bintan is certainly another new experience.

However, the fact that Atkinson is competing at MetaMan is a surprise to some, including himself, as he admits he often said throughout his career that he’d never do an ironman.

“But then I would always add ‘never say never to anything’,” Atkinson says. “But if you asked me at the start of the year would I race an Ironman in 2013 I would still have said no. But one thing led to another and I tried racing over six hours in the heat in Samui and found it suited me. That planted the seed of maybe exploring an Ironman distance.”

Atkinson admits the big purse, which allocates US$40,000 for the winner in both the men’s and women’s events, down to US$1,000 for sixth place for a total purse of US$154,000, played a part in his picking MetaMan to test the iron-distance waters, but that wasn’t the only factor.

“MetaMan ticked so many boxes about what I like about racing,” he says. “I can train at home and travel easy to the event. I’ve always liked competing in Asia and normally handle the heat well, and if Ironman becomes the thing for me, my goal would be Hawaii in 2014, so I think a hot, hard, no wetsuit swim race is a great test to gather information for next year.”

Aktinson also added that MetaMan’s unique run course, which sees the athletes run six loops of 7km on different terrains, including an out-and-back section of hard-packed jungle trail, was also an attraction.

“For a first time running a marathon I like the idea that the run has softer surface for portions and that it is looped so I can see friends and family throughout race.”

While Atkinson will face some tough competition, including fellow Aussie David Dellow (1st, Ironman Cairns 2012), Cam Brown (10 times Ironman NZ champ), Dan Helksworth (1st, Ironman UK 2012) and defending MetaMan champ Brett Carter, he doesn’t rule out making a winning debut.

“I believe I can win, although I do not for one moment underestimate the challenge of this distance. I know I am very strong across all my disciplines so it is a matter of pacing right to get myself to the finish line still strong,” Atkinson says.

While the race takes part in Bintan, the island is just a short 55-minute ferry ride from Singapore and there’s only a three-hour time difference from Atkinson’s base in Queensland’s Gold Coast, so jet lag isn’t a big factor for him or the big contingent of Australians competing at MetaMan.

For some of the 500 pro and age-group athletes who have already registered for MetaMan or MetaMan half (a 100 percent increase from the inaugural race last year), jet lag might just come into play, though, as the race has attracted entries from all over the world for an event which earned rave reviews from the pros on its debut last year.

Among the accolades was one from 14-time iron-distance champ Belinda Granger, who’ll be back this year trying to better her runner-up performance to Candice Hammond in 2012.

“It was everything I hoped it would be: tough, honest, challenging and loads of fun,” Granger said.

It no surprise that the first MetaMan was such a hit when you consider that race organisers MetaSport have been at the forefront of the Southeast Asian multisport scene for the past nine years, staging events such as the Bintan Triathlon, the hugely successful MetaSprint Series in Singapore and the Tour de Bintan cycling stage race, as well as triathlons in Malaysia and Vietnam.

There’s no denying that racing an iron-distance or even a half-iron distance triathlon just north of the equator will present a challenge for the athletes, but people entering these races already know that they aren’t exactly supposed to be easy.

However, if the thought of a 3.8km swim, 180km bike and 42.2km run (or half that) seems a bit too much, MetaSport have added a shorter-distance race to the program this year, the MetaMan Blitz. Featuring a bespoke distance of 1.2km swim/55km bike/7km run, the Blitz promises to provide some fast and furious performances in contrast to the steadier efforts required for the longer distances. It also makes the event more accessible to family members and friends accompanying the iron athletes who’d like to add a bit of competition to their holiday agenda while on tropical Bintan.

As it turns out Atkinson’s brother Rick, who only took up triathlon after recently moving to Singapore, will be taking part in the half-distance race. Having already performed well in shorter events, including winning the Bintan Triathlon Sprint race in May, is it totally outrageous to expect a family double, especially as Rick has just received a new bike from big brother?