For almost two decades Laguna Phuket in Thailand has been the place for destination triathlons. It is not going to be knocked off it’s perch anytime soon as the race continues to grow each year, but the currentboom of triathlon in South East Asia means a demand for more races in the region, particular long distance events.
This offers up a multitude of holiday destination racing options to triathletes around the world where the holiday of a lifetime can be tacked onto racing in a unique environment.You can escape the winter blues for warm sun, blue skies, sandy white beaches and crystal clear waters.
KohSamui is the second most popular island destination in Thailand after Phuket. Located in the Gulf of Thailand, Samui’s geographical landscape is similar to Phuket’s hilly terrain. The hills make for a formidable bike course, where climbing in the heat (temperatures hover around 35 degrees Celsius with up to 95 percent humidity) presents a challenge unto itself.
Originally scheduled for April 2011, the Samui Triathlon was cancelled last year due to unseasonal rains that resulted in some of the worst flooding the tropical island had ever seen. Rain and winds rendered roads on the popular holiday destination impassable to all vehicles and the race organiser had no choice but to take a rain check.
One year later theSamui Triathlon made its debut in it’s more accustomed sizzling conditions. Supported by the Mayor of Samui and directed by the Frenchman, Gerald Iacono (co-president of Samui Triathlon), the Thai / French partnership was cemented for the future with a twinning of Samui and the city of Embrun (home of the infamous Embrunman race) that Iacono has been directing since it began in 1984.
In Embrunman, athletes brave an icy lake swim, mountain climbs and an altitude run. In stark contrast the inaugural Samui Triathlon introduced a (4km swim / 120km bike / 30km run) in a new destination that has never before hosted a multisport event.
The two-loop,non-wetsuit, ocean swim is exceptionally warm. From the swim athletes leave the transition area of the beautiful host Hansar Hotel at BophutBeach and onto the bike for two 60km loops that follow the one main coastal road around the island. Transitioning at a separate T2 south of the island inNathon, athletes then stay on flat roads for an out and back 30km run under the hot sun.
On race day the mere action of racking bikes and getting transition area ready resulted in athletes looking like they had already started the race. It wasn’t just the age groupers who felt the heat. Seasoned heat professionals were tested to their very limits. Current Ironman world record holder Marino Vannhoenacker (BEL), 2005 Ironman World Champion, Faris Al Sultan (GER) and multiple Ironman Champion, Belinda Granger (AUS) are all former winners of Ironman Malaysia also known during it’s tenure as: “The Hottest Show on Earth.” All three were agreed that Samui had definitely raised the mercury levels to new heights. “It was survival out there,” said Al-Sultan.
With a huge prize purse on offer (over US$400, 000) the race captured the attention of some of the world’s best professionals. Paying 10 deep, it was not restricted to professionals alone, meaning age groupers also had the chance to be in for a payday.
Fresh off her win in the inaugural Ironman Melbourne Asia-Pacific Championship, Caroline Steffen (SUI) took home the title for the ladies. Her partner, and teamTBB teammate David Dellow(AUS),took home the men’s title.
As a destination race Samui is beautiful. Fifteen years ago there was nothing more than a handful of restaurants and hotels to be found in Samui. Today it is bursting with designer chic hotels and world-class resorts that make integrating a race with a holiday a sheer pleasure.
There are areas, however, that require attention for the future. Road quality was a factor. Rather than hold a duathlon option for those who don’t want to hit the water, perhaps a half distance 2/60/15 km can be offered.
If you are thinking about picking the Samui Triathlon as a destination event, be aware that this is a challenging race in a beautiful place. It will test your ability to be patient, fuel correctly and hydrate. Once it’s over, kick back and enjoy the local food and hydrate again, only this time with the local brew – a Singha beer and start your post race recovery.
Samui Triathlon 2013 is scheduled for April 21st. Check the website www.triathlonsamui.com for updates.
How to get there:From SuvarnabhumiAirport in Bangkok Thailand there are several domestic connections to KohSamui with Bangkok Airways.
Emma Bishop is a freelance journalist from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.