TRIATHLON IS BOOMING in Asia these days. Ironman has dramatically expanded its footprint in the region in recent years (in part because it is owned by a Chinese company), as has the Challenge Family. This is great news for Canadian triathletes who might be looking for a good excuse to combine a race with a bucket-list trip. So many triathletes I speak with are hesitant about racing in Asia, though. While I can understand the concerns, with a bit of planning, you really can enjoy an amazing race experience by taking the plunge and getting yourself on a plane overseas. Here are a few insights on traveling to the region that will help you plan your next race-cation in the region.
There are some truly spectacular race venues to choose from in Asia. I haven’t been to all the races over there, but can unabashedly recommend the events I have attended in Malaysia, Thailand and Sri Lanka. Athletes have long raved about the 70.3 race in the Philippines, as they do about so many of the events in the region. You’ll find Ironman events in China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea and Indonesia, too. You shouldn’t just look at Ironman races, though. Challenge offers some excellent venues in the region, too, including Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong and Vietnam. There’s also independent races such as the Laguna Phuket Triathlon, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year and is among the best triathlon races I’ve ever been to.
There is one downside to making this trip: it’s a long haul. I’ve found the most efficient way to get to many of the events is starting with a flight to Hong Kong. There’s a 14-hour direct flight from Toronto to Hong Kong and, once you’re there, an abundance of cheap flights to pretty much anywhere in Asia. After more than 15 years of traveling through Hong Kong, last year I finally took the plunge and overnighted there on my way back, giving myself a chance to check out the spectacular city for a day. I highly recommend that as part of your travel.
Do some research, too, when it comes to accommodations and food for your trip. While some resorts feature North American-type pricing, it’s not hard to find some very reasonable prices quite close to the race venues. Do the same for food, too – a fabulous lunch spot was just a short walk from my hotel in Malaysia. When I expensed the lunch, the receipt got flagged by the accounting department because they struggled to see how four people could have eaten for less than $10.
Since you’re embarking on such a long journey, it’s totally worth trying to take some extra time either before or after the race to do some sightseeing. Build in some time for some rest and relaxation – there are more than a few outstanding beaches to enjoy in this region. Last year, I took an extra day in Laguna Phuket to explore the beach where the race takes place – the 10-kilometre hike along the spectacular beach was the highlight of the trip.
The sport might be growing rapidly in Asia, but the competition isn’t nearly as deep as it would be at events here in North America. There’s a reason many North Americans were getting themselves on planes to compete at the Chinese races that offered Kona slots last year – there simply was no comparison to the level of competition you’d face at one of those events to a race in North America or Europe.
Heat and humidity
While the competition might not be as fierce at various races, the conditions you’ll face at an Asian event can be a challenge, especially if the race takes place during the Canadian winter months. Most races in Asia are hot, and you can find yourself moving that definition from “hot” to “extremely hot” in no time. Ironman Malaysia has long been considered the hottest race on the Ironman circuit (temperatures reached 44 C one year). While most events won’t get that warm, you can expect temperatures into the 30s and high humidity at most Asian events.
If possible, getting to the race site early can be a huge help. If you can, try to arrive a week out to give yourself some time to acclimatize. For events that take place in major centres, look at heading to a spot that is more training-friendly for a few days or a week ahead of time. A resort, like Thanyapura in Thailand, is training heaven thanks to its outstanding facilities and excellent cycling in the area. If you were racing in China, for example, it might be worth spending a five days to a week at Thanyapura before you head to the race for the last few days.
A year ago, I wrote an editorial about my newfound resolution to enjoy the destinations my job gets me to every year. You’ll get so much more out of your trip to a race in Asia by exploring. There are lots of resources online and through the various event organizers that will help you find some fun adventures wherever you might be. I found out about the spectacular sunrise you can see over Hong Kong from Victoria Peak online.
Just riding around the island of Langkawi, where Ironman Malaysia takes place, will offer you a once-in-a-lifetime look at Malaysia’s spectacular scenery. A walk on virtually any of the beaches in Asia will have you thinking you’ve just stepped into a scene from a James Bond movie. Don’t skip out on those opportunities – there is no time like the present to embark on the race-cation of your dreams.
OPPOSITE Anna Everhardt at the Laguna Phuket Triathion in Thailand RIGHT Victoria Peak, Hong Kong