The Ultimate Destination Race
By Stephen Eid
Posted March 2014
The island of Phuket hosts what is widely regarded as the best year-end triathlon races, The Laguna Phuket Triathlon Series. The late November series involves an Olympic+ distance race (1.8K-55K-12K) followed by a 70.3 distance race the subsequent weekend using the same start, finish and transition area within the Laguna Beach hotel complex.
Putting aside the awesomeness of Thailand, the bonus of a post-Thanksgiving beach vacation and a deep and friendly pro field; the core of what makes Laguna Phuket Triathlon such a great event are the races. The original Laguna Phuket Triathlon has run for over 20 years so the race(s) is very well organized.
Both races use the same transition area within the confines of the Laguna hotel complex so there is no stress getting to and from the start / finish. The races start on the beach near the Outrigger Beach Hotel and involves a 1,200m ocean swim. The water is warm, clear and clean and tends to average about 86F so no need to pack the wetsuit. The racers tend to bunch up on the right side of the course but you are better served shifting to the left by 50 meters to take advantage of the current that goes left to right out in the bay.
The Laguna swims are unique as they involve two bodies of water. After completing the ocean portion of the swim the racers dash across the beach and finish the remaining 600m swim across a lagoon and into T1.
The original Laguna bike course immediately heads north toward the airport and at mile 5 you hit the first of two steep >17% hills. The hills only have about 400’ to 500’ of elevation gain, but that steepness early in the ride will take its toll. It is highly recommended you test-ride the hills before race day. If you are riding a full up-front you will need a 28 in the back (and then on race day you will wish you had one more gear!). If it rains, the roads become slick so if you stand-up on the pedals you will skid out. You have to stay seated and power through the hills. After the two steep hills the rest of the course is rolling terrain along the beach and through papaya and pineapple plantations. Beautiful!
The 70.3 bike course is nearly twice as long as the “original course” and starts by heading east. About 30 min into the ride you have to dismount and run your bike across a pedestrian highway overpass bridge (only in Thailand). The secret to this course is to take it easy rolling through the villages on the way to the bridge. Bring your HR down under 140bpm. Once you cross the bridge, then start putting down the hammer. In the middle of the 70.3 course you hit a series of three hills – no more than 400’ high, but >20% grades. If you have been riding all-out since the start of the race these hills will seriously test you.
If you survive the hills and the amazing views of the lime stone pinnacles in the waters of AoPhang-nga National Park; you head back to the pedestrian bridge and link up with the first half of the Original Laguna course - in reverse. So yes, the 70.3 bike course ends with hitting the two super steep hills that you hit in the beginning of the Original Laguna course. Yes, your legs are toast by the time you roll into T2.
The Original Laguna run course is a two-loop run on one of the Laguna golf courses. This is a scenic run, but the surface is soft and humid. Run sub 1 hour and you had a great run. The 70.3 run stays on paved (closed) roads within the complex so it tends to be faster. The trick is hydration. There is limited shade so if there are no clouds, a hat and sunglasses are a must. A trick for running in full sun – long sleeve, light colored, fitted tech shirt. While on the run, do not forget to wave to the elephants.
Both races host beachfront award parties the night of the race. Seeing the likes of Belinda Granger, Chris Lieto, Melissia Rollinson, Chris McCormick, Matt Reed, Michael Raelert and Natasha Banderman totally let loose is a sight to see. For the Pros their seasons are over so they are in Thailand to hang out with friends and enjoy a great end of season race. The international make-up of the race is a total blast as you can dance the night away with groups of Australians, Brazilians and / or Scandinavians. At the risk of overselling the Award parties – they are worth the trip on their own accord.
Hotel and Logistics
Phuket is served by major flights from Asia and Europe. Flying from the US to compete in both races would involve a two-week round-trip. Fly straight into Phuket on the Wednesday before the race, test-ride the course and get settled into warmer weather. The week between the two races is full of opportunities including riding with the Pros. If you are looking for a break from Triathlon you can sit on the beach, sea kayak, go scuba diving or just eat heaps of awesome Thai food.
Post 70.3 race head to Bangkok for a few days to recover from the awards party. While at the Laguna complex there are more than 8 hotels that cover a wide range of price ranges. If traveling with a group of 6 to 10 look into renting a villa with a chef. The Holiday Club resort is probably the best deal going. They have two bedroom suites with plenty of room for bikes and you do not have to pay the premium for beachfront real estate.
This is the ultimate destination race : Great Races, Awesome Food and an opportunity to party with the Pros.