What is the recipe for the best triathlon event on the planet?
Take a tropical island – stocked with friendly locals, amazing food, perfect weather and a few 5 star resorts, add in a unique swim course, a challenging bike leg with stunning views and the occasional meeting with wildlife, mix in a refreshing tropical storm before the opportunity to cross the finish line hand in trunk with an elephant.
The new Challenge half Laguna Phuket (formally Ironman 70.3 Asia Pacific) is one of those races that however you describe it, won’t do the event justice. It’s one of those places that you need to experience and once you do you will want come back to year after year.
I’ve been lucky to do the race twice. I now live in the UK so I won’t make it this year (2013), much to my family’s disappointment. That’s the special thing about this race, the location and the general vibe of the week engulfs the whole family. For the athlete the challenge is remaining in race mode while your supporters are in full on holiday mode. Need more convincing – the after party is legendary.
For those in holiday mode, skip down the page to the fun stuff – for the others, let’s break down the race course.
The event is centered within the unique resort complex of Laguna Phuket, made up of seven 5 star hotels. The swim course comprises an out and back ocean swim, a dune run and a final section within a lagoon. The race start begins shortly after the usual stunning sunrise. For an athlete, sighting can be a challenge on the out leg due to the rising sun but the ocean swell is usually light. Once back on the beach there is a short run over the dunes before diving into the resort lake for a straight line of about 600 meters to transition. After the ocean swim, you will notice the cooler water temperature and lack of buoyancy. Oh and try not to swallow any of the lakes water.
Once out of transition, the heat of the day will begin to be noticeable as you wind your way out of town. Vehicle traffic is controlled – Thai style – meaning expect the unexpected, this is the theme of race week and in my experience what makes this country a special place to spend time in.
The bike leg travels west to east, through local villages and untouched rain forest. One minute you are winding your way along a street lined with houses, the local school kids in uniform cheering and waving signs before the terrain changes and you are riding along a cliff face looking out at breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.
I remember finding myself alone on a section of the bike course; the only sounds were the noise of the bike chain and the cracking of the electricity wires overhead.
Oh and watch out for the occasional snake and frequent roving dog.
The bike route is a challenge but it’s a rewarding course, from the sense of achievement you get from conquering the steep hills but also from the experiences you will have along the way. The roads change from potholed single lane tracks to newly laid highways and in keeping with the races uniqueness, this is the only bike course in the world that has a highway overpass included. Athletes must dismount and traverse over the pedestrian bridge in single file before remounting on the other side. You do this on the way out and on the way back.
You will encounter a couple of climbs, these are short but sharp and they will hurt. The last climb at 86km has a grade of 9%, thanks for that.
At some stage during the day there will be a tropical storm, the heavens will open up and make you think of Noah and his Arc, if not, the humidity and heat will have praying to the weather gods by the time you get onto the run course.
This is where there is time to pick up, the course is fairly flat and loops twice through a resort golf course and back into the expo. If you have your hydration right on the day, life is good, if not…
For the lucky top Professional finishers, an elephant escort waits in the finishing shoot, for the rest of the field there are plenty of excited supporters to cheer you home and welcome you to that holiday mode.
Take your pick of accommodation. The Laguna Phuket complex caters to all budgets or you can rent a house outside the resorts.
We have stayed at Angsana Laguna Phuket and Moevenpick. Angsana is a large resort with a huge pool that meanders around the hotel. This is a good option for families. For something a little more special, try one of Movenpicks suits with indoor pool and kitchen facilities.
My favourite – Lotus restaurant, it’s right on the beach, in front of the Movenpick resort. Here you will get the full range of quality Thai food. Lotus is great for a long lunch or arrive early to catch the last rays of sunset before enjoying a candlelit dinner. Lotus can get really busy so book early.
The Siam Supper club has fabulous food for the whole family. Western, eastern and pretty good pizza. The place has a great vibe to match the movie styled interior. There is a mix of locals and tourists and they can organise a car to pick you up from Laguna Phuket.
Bann Rim Pa sits high above Patong, in a restored house with sweeping views of the coastline. An award winning restaurant and worth the drive post race.
Take some time to explore the rest of the island. The hotels can arrange a driver for the day at a reasonable price. Patong can be brash and in your face, changing as most cities do between day and night and you can’t go to Phuket and not go out on one of the boat tours of the surrounding islands.
Graham Ross is a part time Ironman, full time adventurer and business owner. An Aussie currently based in London, he has lived and raced in Asia and Europe, combining his passions for travel and an endurance lifestyle. Follow his journeys at Triathlon Sherpa | @triathlonsherpa |