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Tinian Turquoise Blue Triathlon – Race Report

Tinian Turquoise Blue Triathlon

The Tinian Turquoise Blue Triathlon is a beautiful destination race that coincides with the local Pika (hot pepper) Festival. For those who don’t know, Tinian is one of the little islands that makes up the Northern Mariana Islands. Tinian has a population of approximately 4,000 friendly people. The locals are Chamorro and Carolinian, though many Filipinos have also made Tinian their home. The tourists are mostly Japanese, Chinese, and Korean, though there are a few other adventurers in the mix.

Tinian Turquoise Blue TriathlonThere are two ways to get to Tinian from the larger island of Saipan: by plane or by ferry. The flight takes about 15 minutes on a 6-seater Piper airplane chartered by Star Marianas. They’ve only had a few fatal crashes in the last few years, so you’ll probably get there safely. On the other hand, the ferry is a 3-hour oceanic “experience,” including dolphin sightings and sea-sickness. When traveling with a bicycle, the $35 round-trip by ferry is a no-brainer. Anyhow, I can’t stand the little Piper airplanes so I took the ferry.

This year, the ferry arrived rather late (around 9pm), but the race organizer, Onishi-San, was kind enough to accommodate our late arrival kept the registration area open until we arrived. Actually, the race is predominantly promoted to Japanese tourists, though its somewhat-lengthy history has attracted a few loyalists from other places as well. The only real hotel on Tinian is The Dynasty Hotel and Casino, though there are a few other accommodations if the Dynasty is booked, which only happens a few times a year – like during the Pika Festival!

Tinian Turquoise Blue TriathlonRace day was sunny and beautiful. There was a 20 mph wind from the North, but most of the race was sheltered from it. The race started at Kammer Beach and the water was smooth with a little current, though nothing too extraordinary. As its a slightly informal race with no real “rules” I decided to bring along a wetsuit even though the water temperature is in the 70s or 80s. Sure enough, on race morning, the Japanese were mostly donning wetsuits, so I was glad I had the same advantage. Overall, there were about 60 participants at the start.

The swim was an easy 1.5 k in calm waters. Plenty of people said they saw turtles during the race, though I didn’t get to see one. I got out of the water in third place. Ahead of me was Hideya Miyazuka, the famous Japanese pro who has won the Tagaman Triathlon more than anyone, and a some American lawyer who had been living in Japan.

Tinian TriathlonOnce on the bike, I passed the American lawyer right on the first hill. He was an extremely fast swimmer, but I guess not much of a hill-climber. The bike course was two loops around Suicide Cliff to the south and the old airport to the north. I really like looping courses because you can see who is ahead and behind you at each turnaround. Miyazuka was about a minute and a half ahead of me at the first turnaround, and I had a chaser about the same distance behind me. Miyazuka increased his lead on the bike, however, and I couldn’t reel him in. It was the first time I had raced on my P3 and it felt like riding a javelin compared to my road bike, especially on the flats. I was also glad I didn’t bring my aero race wheels because I got blasted by the 20+ mph sidewinds in some of the more exposed downhills. I maintained 2nd place throughout the bike course. Nap Dizon, Saipan’s fastest road-biker, was able to make up a lot of time after the swim and climbed into fourth place going into T2.

Tinian Turquoise Blue TriathlonThe run course basically followed the bike course south towards Suicide Cliff, although there was more time to appreciate the spectacular ocean views when running. I couldn’t catch Miyazuka, but I did fend off the guy behind me and was able to finish the race in second place. For the women, my friends from Saipan made the top three with Kimiko McKagan winning first place, followed by Katie Mattos in second, and Lorie Hutchinson in third!

The awards ceremony was over-the-top as it took place during the height of the Pika Festival, and our prizes were handed to us by the Mayor and various Senators of Tinian. For prizes, there weren’t any medals, but we all got locally made coconut necklaces, tec-shirts, Saipan-da (look it up) back-packs, and a few other race odds and ends. If your looking for beautiful, fun, off-the-beaten-path race with a festival atmosphere, definitely check out Tinian!

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Peter Prestley is an attorney living in the Northern Mariana Islands. In his spare time, he kitesurfs and competes in triathlons throughout the Pacific region, including the CNMI, Guam, Hawaii, and the Philippines. You can read his blog at TheTriGuy.com
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