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Chasing Adam: Racing History In A Malaysian Paradise

Columnist Adam Chase goes on a running adventure in Malaysia at the inaugural Chapman's Challenge, a 6.2-kilometer run-swim event.

In 1946, Freddy Spencer Chapman, a British captain and resistance fighter during World War II who had been stationed in Malaysia to fight the Japanese occupation, was caught behind enemy lines for nearly four years after the Allied forces retreated. Chapman lived and survived as a commando in the Straits of Malacca and, eventually, the jungle island Pangkor Laut. He escaped his enemies by swimming out to meet the British submarine, the HMS Statesman, in the island’s western inlet of Emerald Bay.

To commemorate Colonel Chapman’s escape, the Chapman Challenge, a run-swim event, is held on Pangkor Laut, now a 300-acre private resort paradise. The race includes 3.8 kilometers of road, 2.4 kilometers of technical trail that winds through and over a two million-year-old rainforest, and finally ends at Emerald Bay, where competitors then swim 1K and run 30 meters to the finish line at Chapman’s Bar—named after Freddy Chapman, who was decorated as a colonel after the war.

The course starts on a private road that runs past estate compounds that is normally not accessible by the resort’s guests. After about two kilometers there’s a steep climb to the first of two water stations. From there, the route dramatically descends toward the resort center, entering the jungle for the trail portion of the race. The second aid station is located at the top of another long, steep trail ascent, where the course then drops precipitously down to Emerald Bay for the run-swim transition.

The 1K swim is a horseshoe course, all within the protection of Emerald Bay, an inlet that has been awarded well-deserved accolades because of its beauty. After the swim, the finishing leg is just a quick jaunt through the white sandy beach, right at the foot of Chapman’s bar.

Chapman’s Challenge fits in well with the rising popularity of run/swim races like ÖTILLÖ. But it does so with some unique qualities, including a great history, an exotic venue, a combination of road and trail running, and incredible Malaysian hospitality, such as the beach-side foot massages offered to finishers and discounts on restorative Thai/Malay massages at the resort’s “Spa Village.” Plus, the post-race dinner extravaganza features a gourmet barbecue dinner buffet at Emerald Bay, complete with pina coladas served in whole local coconuts.

Another attraction to Pangkor Laut is the island’s incredible natural beauty and the resort’s respect for the sanctity of its surroundings. Only a small fraction of the island is developed and, even then, the structures are built around trees, rocks and other natural landmarks. The fecund ground is the natural habitat for exotic birds, bats, monitor lizards and wild boars. Other activities on the island include stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, sailing and tennis.

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Traveling to Pangkor Laut for Chapman’s Challenge is a rather complete vacation. But if you’re interested in extending your Malaysian vacation, here are two other places to visit: Tanjong Jara on Malaysia’s eastern coast and Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur.

Get a dose of authentic Malay culture in Tanjong Jara. The snorkeling, scuba, white beaches and palm trees blend in well with the small fishing villages of the area. And, as one of the YTL properties, Tanjon Jara provides top-flight spa treatments, including a massage that incorporates flower-power medicinal properties.

In Kuala Lumpur, where you’ll most likely be entering and exiting the country, the Majestic Hotel provides a luxurious and tasteful welcome mat for the most fluid of transitions. You can enjoy the Sliano family’s smooth Malaysian jazz that harkens back to the past, as does the Colonial Café, which embellishes the tunes with its preserved and polished atmosphere. High tea is served in a very inviting Orchid Room, and the buffet offers so many choices you’ll wish you had more than one stomach.

No matter how you plan your Malaysian running adventure, though, the Chapman’s Challenge is unlike any run/swim race destination you’ll ever experience. The second annual Chapman’s Challenge will be held on May 13, 2017.

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