Triathlon Travel Special
Looking for a racing paradise? Race hard and play hard in some of the sport’s most breathtaking venues. Plan your key events around some post-race downtime. Kevin Mackinnon guides you through the best ones and warns you of potential pitfalls.
ThreeIronman aficionados sit down and start to argue over the world’s most spectacular Ironman destination.
“A look down from the top of Mirador del Rio at the northern tip of Lanzarote, Spain – that’s all you need to do to know that it doesn’t get better than Lanzarote,” says one. “You look down from there and see the tiny island of La Graciosa and the coral blue water between. Even though you’re at the top of a mountain you want to dive in.”
“You’re sure you didn’t?” says another, who balances an Ironman addiction with a busy business career. “Lanzarote’s amazing, but it’s nothing like hiking up to the top of Angel’s Landing the day after you’ve raced at Ironman 70.3 St. George, Utah, – that’s the ultimate. The climb is brutal on the quads, but once you get to the top and have to scale along the last half mile, it’s truly breathtaking. You literally have to hang on to chains they’ve attached to the rock face to avoid falling to your death.”
“You guys have to get over your climbing deal,” interjects the third. “What about a relaxing swim in Kona, taking in all the colourful fish and the coral next to the pier? Or a safari after finishing Ironman South Africa – say, to Addo Elephant Park? Or taking in a trip to the Amazon Rain Forest after competing at Ironman Brazil? Or spending a relaxing couple of days in Maria Worth on the Worthersee after racing in Austria? I can think of 30 more interesting things than climbing along chains on top of a mountain in f lipin’ Utah.”
IWith the huge variety of racing available these days, it’s not hard to find an event that will get you to one of your dream destinations. Planning, though, is key. Ironman races fill up within minutes and, if you’re after a national team spot to compete at the ITU worlds, you’ll need to find a qualifying race, which often means you’re planning at least two trips.
can totally envision that conversation taking place between myself, Luis Alvarez and John Wragg, although Wragg would be much more understated in his comments. Wragg has, over the last quarter- century, amassed an incredible record of Ironman finishes – 160 and counting last time I checked. Wragg can routinely be seen at Ironman events around the world these days with his wife Elizabeth Model. The two met in the food tent after finishing Ironman Arizona and she has quickly become another Ironman travelling fiend. In 2013 the couple have travelled across the world from Los Cabos, Mexico, to Lanzarote, to Frankfurt, Germany, to Kona. Model has completed 50 Ironman races and only needs to finish Japan next year to have competed in every Ironman race in the world.
Alvarez completed his 100th Ironman in Kona this year and has been recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records because he’s competed in every Ironman in the world. Alvarez has added another challenge to his triathlon ventures – over the last few years he’s been scaling the world’s highest peaks. On his way to Ironman South Africa a few years ago he scaled Kilimanjaro. He made it up Russia’s Mount Elbrus the same week he finished Ironman U. K. While in Australia he added Kosciuszko, and Argentina’s Mount Aconcagua was an easy jaunt from his home in Mexico City. Ever seen the commercial about the “world’s most interesting man?” It’s been completely miscast – Alvarez wins that title hands down. He wakes up early every morning for a few hours of training, jumps on his motorcycle at exactly 7:30, begins his commute to work while on the phone with his assistant to run through emails and other business, heads off for a another short workout at lunch, and then finishes the day at work before heading off to some sort of business function. To meet his quest of 100 Ironman races, he’s been known to f ly from Mexico City to Australia – for a weekend – so that he doesn’t have to use any more than his 30- day holiday allotment as he travels the world from race to race. So determined is Alvarez that he tried to figure out how he could charter a jet to get from Sweden to Mont-Tremblant, Que. last year so he could get both events done on the same day. ( Even Alvarez couldn’t make that work.) This year he raced Ironman Sweden and Ironman Copenhagen, Denmark on the same weekend in order to continue his Ironman string.
Both Alvarez and Wragg have done a much better job of taking in the world during their travels than I. A few years ago my family staged a mini-intervention during a Sunday night dinner.
“You go to all these amazing places and just work the entire time,” they said. “You need to promise that on each trip from now on you’ll check out at least one local site.” While I haven’t completely kept that promise, I have tried to be a bit better. ( Just don’t tell the folks at Ironman, though.)
It’s“The nature of the sport virtually demands that triathlon events are held in beautiful places worth checking out.”
not just the world of Ironman that offers the opportunity to travel the world, though. With the recent announcement of Challenge Atlantic City, N. J., the Challenge series of races now includes 22 events around the world, including, among others, the stunning course in Challenge Wanaka on New Zealand’s South Island, the epic Challenge Roth, Germany, that features the sport’s largest endurance race field and hundreds of thousands of fans and Challenge Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands.
The International Triathlon Union ( itu) has managed to put the World Championship in more than a few prime tourist destinations over the years, too. While Canadians might not have been as excited with the location in Muskoka, Ont. 21 years after the fact I still meet athletes who fondly remember the site of the first World Championship held in Canada and many more who look forward to racing in Edmonton next year as a chance to take in some Canadian sites. This year’s Champ-ionship took place in London along the 2012 Olympic course. Other spectacular tourist venues have included Honolulu; Cancun, Mexico; Aukland and South Island, New Zealand; Sydney, Australia and Mallorca, Spain.
Home of the Xterra World Championship, Maui is an exotic spot for a race, making it yet another destination event worth striving for.
Theaverage Ironman athlete spends 18 to 30 hours training each week. An Olympic- distance worldchampionship competitor probably amasses between 12 and 20 hours of training a week. You probably spend more time thinking about races than vacations. Triathletes are, typically, competitive and driven athletes determined to test themselves and their limits. That said, once finished the race, there’s lots of opportunity to take in some of the local sites and f lavour. The nature of the sport practically demands that triathlon events are held in beautiful places worth checking out.
So how do you make all that work? Realistically, unless your name is Luis Alvarez, you’re not going to climb one of the world’s highest mountains a couple of days before your race. (Alvarez scaled Kilimanjaro on the Wednesday before Ironman South Africa in 2010. He was in such a hurry to get to the top and back down that he actually dropped his two guides along the way.) You’re probably not going to be doing a lot of climbing after an Ironman, either, but there are lots of other activities you can take in post-race. One of my favourite trips was to Ironman South Africa. The day after the race I took a bus tour to Addo Elephant Park and, well, saw a bunch of elephants close up. My co-workers are now officially sick of what has become a bi-annual trip to the observatory on the top of Mauna Kea two days after the Ironman World Championship in Kona. ( I don’t understand why they don’t share my enthusiasm for trying to run at just under 4,600 m.)
After almost a decade of racing amongst the sport’s elite, Australia’s Luke Bell has taken the post-race exploration to heart. After winning Ironman Mont-Tremblant last August, Bell spent an entire week exploring the area and the quaint resort along with his family, who had travelled from Australia to watch his race and take in some Canadian sites and culture.
With the huge variety of racing available these days, it’s not hard to find an event that will get you to one of your dream destinations. Planning, though, is key. Ironman races fill up within minutes and, if you’re after a national team spot to compete at the itu worlds, you’ll need to find a qualifying race, which often means you’re planning at least two trips.
TheThe triathlete in the family isn’t the only one making sacrifices. Pick a destination race that can serve as a great trip for everyone.
triathlete in the family isn’t the only one making sacrifices. All those long training days when you’re not around, the times you’re too tired to mow the lawn after a six-hour brick and the early morning alarm that manages to wake the entire household (even though you’re the only one heading to the masters swim), can wear down even the most supportive families. Which is why picking a destination race that can serve as a great trip for everyone can be a great way to make it all worthwhile. Here are a few suggestions of races that might fit the bill on that front:
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
We reported on the race in our July issue, but a triathlon travel story just wouldn’t be complete without a reference to the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon, which offers athletes the ultimate excuse to travel to this part of the world. Just taking in the race will give you a chance to check out both the impressive city and the world-renowned race track, but other trips that should be on your agenda include the various markets and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
Set in the spectacular Canary Islands, Lanzarote is a popular training spot for European triathletes during the winter. Active families will love spending time at Club La Santa, the title sponsor of the Ironman event, which offers over 40 different sports and activities. Pre- and post-race activities include visits to the beach or a trip to the Timanfaya National Park, where you can enjoy a meal cooked by the heat of the active volcano.
A tourist destination offering some of the world’s most spectacular beaches ( 42 of them, actually, but who’s counting), Florianopolis offers lots of opportunities to enjoy the unique Brazilian culture – the New York Times once dubbed it the “party destination of the year.” You can make this an even more unforgettable experience by adding on a trip to the Amazon on the way home.
The uwc Bahamas is a relatively new race set in Nassau has become a pro favourite because of the local hospitality and the chance to just kick back and relax in one of the world’s most famous and popular Caribbean destinations. Events include a kids race along with sprint and Olympic distance races, which means there’s something for everyone in this early-November event.
What more needs to be said? One of the world’s most famous destinations offers beach time overlooking the beautiful blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea and hundreds of outdoor restaurant options that makes every evening a culinary adventure. A trip down the road to Monaco is an easy drive or train-ride away, offering a glimpse of the other-worldly life of some of the world’s wealthiest people. Cycling fanatics will want to take in some of the epic climbs in the area.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Now entering it’s third year, Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico is quickly becoming a family favourite. Beach and sun time aren’t the only attractions – kids and parents alike will be enthralled by the history that lives on in the oldest city to f ly the United States f lag. A trip to the castle at El Morro is a must, as is dinner in the old city to take in the incredible atmosphere.
St. George, Utah
Just a couple of hours from Las Vegas, St. George might be renowned as the site of the world’s toughest 70.3 race, but it also offers some of the most incredible scenery you’ll ever see. A hiking trip to Zion National Park will be remembered for a lifetime. If you can time your trip right, take in a concert at the Tuacahn Amphitheater, set in the stunning red cliff walls of Snow Canyon.
While Ironman New Zealand celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, it’s just one of the many events that can serve as an excellent excuse to take in the beautiful country. In January Auckland hosts the AsiaPacific Ironman 70.3 Championship, while Challenge Wanaka offers a half- and full- distance race on the South Island and is considered one of the most spectacular race courses in the sport.