Asia boasts more and more multi-sport events each year, mainly due to its warm tropical climate, perfect for year round racing. Many of the events and venues are considered holiday destinations or ‘race-cations’, perfect for taking the family and a great post-race vacation.

However, with the good, comes some obstacles. Asia contains more than half the world’s population, a wide range in social classes, and very diverse cultures, many of which can be very foreign to Westerner’s. While some do have negative experiences, there are many who love to make the long-haul trip once or twice a year to enjoy unique and festive events!

Below are some of my top 10 do’s and don’ts for racing in Asia.

Top 10 DO tips:

  • Do join events that have been run for a few years and have good reviews.
  • Do make sure the logistics are simple and clear. Navigating and stringing voyages together in Asia can be difficult.
  • Do check the weather for you specific race, and see if you are willing to race in heavy humidity and heat, or risk racing in a tropical storm.
  • Do travel in a group to share the experience, feel safer and have more fun.
  • Do be cautious while riding or running out on the roads and with any object of value.
  • Do expect to see some unusual and interesting things before, during and after event.
  • Do be ready for a non-wetsuit swim and to know the whole course well.
  • Do explore the area after the race.
  • Do bring your own personal nutrition that you would use before and during the race. It may not be available locally.
  • Do have greater hygiene than usual. Wash your hands regularly and only drink bottled water. Avoid ice in your drinks.

Beautiful race starts in Asia

Top 10 DON’T tips:

  • Don’t arrive too early before the event, training can be treacherous and difficult. Particularly with the heat and often roads are too busy to train on.
  • Don’t organise too much in advance, just the basics. Locals have this “go with the flow” attitude and over organising might slow you down or set unrealistic expectations.
  • Don’t join first year events, there is ALWAYS problems.
  • Don’t look at last year’s results and think it was a “weak race” because of slow times, the races and weather are hard. Not many PR’s are set in Asian races.
  • Don’t expect the course to be safe and straight forward. This is part of the fun of racing in Asia!
  • Don’t rely too much on local volunteers and lower your expectations for the aid stations. Ensure you are self-reliant as much as possible during the race.
  • Don’t expect everything to start on time.
  • Don’t expect to find a Western meal easily or for cheap.
  • Don’t eat local food until AFTER the race.
  • Don’t expect the culture to adjust to your every personal needs or beliefs because you have money.

With that said above, typically in Asia you have 3 types of races. Below is some information about them, and their pros and cons:

The Island Race
Usually these are the best race venues, they have the nicest resorts, with the top beaches. The courses are usually loops and maybe hilly, as there are quite a few volcanoes in Asia.
One downside is that the travel can be lengthy and once on the island, prices can be expensive and/or options limited. Trying to rent a vehicle on the island is the surest way to get the most out of your trip, as well to get ready for the race. It will limit walking around, allow you to see more of the course, and also explore the Island post-race. Often these events are primarily attended by those who have travelled from abroad, local expats or wealthier locals. Like most islands, it’s generally more laid-back compared to the mainland.

The Race Near a Big City
These are usually are the most problem prone. Often the bike course can be complicated, narrow and technical due to road restrictions, or have very rough surfaces due to heavy vehicle traffic. The swim can be a bit dirty, or the run goes through some busy areas (Often with people still partying from the Saturday night!). They are typically very convenient to access for those travelling from overseas, are the most well attended and popular events. Usually they have plenty of low priced accommodation, no shortage of entertainment and great local food. This is where you will meet most of the local triathletes in the region and possible enjoy the most colourful after party, ever!

The Race in the Boondocks
These are usually the most memorable experiences, where you will get a true local and authentic atmosphere. Away from the crowds and tacky tourist areas, you will have the chance to see the real side of the particular country. While these might be a bit difficult to access, the prices for accommodation and food are usually low. Be ready to have lots of eyes on you, even be asked for a picture. The infrastructure might be a bit old and undeveloped, but it will have a relaxed vibe, and a possible area for retirement. The courses are often on the main roads, pretty simple and straight forward. Usually the local governments are heavily involved in these events.

Racing in Asia is becoming more and more popular, as new unique and well run races keep popping up. Although locally athlete talent is still developing, there are usually some locals that possess serious natural ability and have a home race advantage. Always remember that racing successfully in Asia requires the ability to adjust to unforeseen circumstances and make the most of the present situation. Asia might be some of the most difficult races in the world, where many amateur athletes have snagged an odd Kona slot or an unusual age-group win. But these races tend to suite the “steady Eddy” athlete, who don’t slow down under pressure and just keeps on trucking.

Mat O’Halloran is a coach based in Asia.
Join Mat in Iskandar Puteri (Nusajaya), Malaysia in April for his Triathlon Camps online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.


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