Asia

I have traveled around Asia both for races and vacations. Here you will find all you need to know about keeping fit in South East Asia.

Swimming in Ha Long Bay

I love open water swimming.

The challenge. Being one with nature. Experiencing marine life (usually). I take it all in. As I have grown more and more accustomed to it I have looked for ways to incorporate swimming into our holidays. Three days after returning from Taiwan my husband and I joined some friends in Vietnam. Our first leg of the trip was a three day cruise on Ha Long Bay. Ha Long Bay translates to “where the dragon descends into the sea”. Looking at the islets you can see why.

photo courtesy of vietnam-travel.com

About the Bay

Ha Long is located in the South China Sea on the northern coast just south of China. This area of coast is considered a UNESCO Heritage site and is a collection of around 2,000 limestone islets in various shapes and sizes.  Around 1,700 people live in the fishing floating villages dispersed throughout the area. On our third day of our cruise we did tour one of the villages to see how they lived. Compared to the lives we have in the United States it was a different world. We used a company called Indochina Junk for our cruise. Our ship was named the Dragon’s Pearl, a real life pirate ship! Our group of 20 people got to know each other well over the three days. I was not the only swimmer but I was the first one to test out the waters.

Starting the Swim  

On the second morning, after breakfast, I decided that I did not really want to kayak again. We were supposed to do another scenic kayak tour through the islets. I asked our captain if I could swim alongside the kayaks. He looked at me as if I’d grown a second head. This poor Vietnamese man could not understand why anyone would want to get in the chilly water and swim. After going back and forth for a few minutes convincing him I really did want to swim. He agreed and assigned a staff member to act as a guardian kayak for me. I had been getting a little crazy from not having worked out in a few days and needed to stretch out. He told me we were going quite far and I assured him that was fine. I often swim “quite far”. So while our friends Heidi and James were kayaking I jumped in the water to swim at their side. Look for the red cap in the photo below to find Where’s Waldo [ or Ryan 🙂 ]

I’m the small red cap next to the kayak on the right!

Famous Last Words

Upon first jump in the water was chilly but not too bad! That should have been my first red flag. In retrospect, the water was probably around 60-65 degrees. Colder than I should have been in without a wetsuit. The water was murky but tasted clean and surprsingly minimal salinity. Most of the kayak pack was a ways ahead of me but my friends stayed near by. I would stop every so often to listen to the guide talk about the different sites a long the way. About an 40 minutes into the swim I started to wonder when we were going to turn around since I knew we’d already covered over a mile. I was starting to feel pretty cold in my fingers and toes. That being said, I felt confident that if I kept moving I could keep warm enough to make it back. It did not seem like we were turning around soon.

When to call it off and get in the boat…

A little after an hour in which for me was around 2 miles I could feel myself slowing down. Getting my arms around was harder. Kicking was harder. My calves were starting to seize up. The kayak pack had made the curve around the bend. This had me hoping we were making a loop and not going to double back at some point. I made it as far as I felt I safely could- my teeth were chattering and it was messing with my ability to breath. Currents had changed and I could tell that I had been swimming into increasingly colder water. Swimming slowly over to my guardian kayak I asked if I could get in. He said yes and hauled me aboard and quickly paddled around the corner. No sooner had we turned the corner than I could see how close we were to the boat. Another 300-400 meters and I would have been at the boat.

Warming Up, Post Swim

While I was slightly disappointed that I quit so close to the boat. I did get in over 2 miles while experiencing the incredible islets of Vietnam. I got out of the water feeling like a popsicle. The kayak group went to check out a big cave before returning to the boat. I warmed up and felt refreshed and accomplished. My husband brought me a cup of tea while we chatted about the swim and admired the sunset.  We swam the next morning around the bay that we were parked in but did not go nearly as far. Another guest came with us in the morning, he too was an Ironman and looking for some time in the water. I knew I would not get any other opportunities to swim this trip so I’m glad I made the most of the bay. Moral is, be brave and just ask if you can swim! All they can say is no. Don’t ask about the ocean life though, it’s better if you don’t know 😉

Ironman 70.3 Taiwan

Race Recap Time!! 

This whole trip to Taiwan was such an unforgettable experience. There is so much to share that made it unique but in this post i’m going to focus on race day itself. Ironman 70.3 Taiwan was my second 70.3 after my first in 2016.  It was a whole different experience this go around. The night before, my friends Jayme, Ben, and I searched for a restaurant we could get some pasta at to safely fuel up. One of the big challenges in destination racing is finding places that will keep your gastric biome happy while being unable to read the menus! When you’re not sure what is exactly in the dish or even what type of meat you are getting picking food can definitely be intimidating.

 

We chose a place called Nu Pasta that seemed safe. Clearly, we were not the only ones with that idea and we had to wait a bit for a table. Our menu options were limited and we all decided to go the safe route with the bolognese on the cover. The food was decent but definitely nothing to write home about. Also not what we were expecting for a bolognese sauce. We wanted safe, and we got safe.

After dinner we walked back to the Sheraton.  We went our separate ways to do final preparations and turn in early.

 

 

Race Morning: 3am

My wake up call came early but I was ready. I’ve never gone into any race with confidence so this feeling was definitely new to me. The lack of butterflies was an interesting change for sure. I went down to breakfast at 3:30 am even though I had brought my own breakfast that I knew worked for me. Kinda Blueberry Granola, usually with almond milk, but this morning I ate it dry. A hard boiled egg for protein and a couple cappuccinos rounded out my meal. I always deal with pretty challenging cramping in my calves towards the end of my swims and I have found that my custom made Infinit does a good job preventing this.  As soon as I was up I started sipping on some trying to get as hydrated as possible.

Course nutrition was posted ahead of time to let us know what would be on course. Naturally we didn’t recognize a single item. I couldn’t experiment ahead of time so I brought all of my supplements from home. Everything was portioned out in zip lock bags. A couple baggies of Infinit, a bag of blue Gatorade, and a bag of Vega Sport’s Recovery Accelerator for post race. I had all of the zip locks, along with my solid nutrition, in a plastic bag and packed it inside of my bike bag.

Since we’d check our bikes into transition the day before I only had to pack a transition bag. This included my wetsuit, helmet, shoes (bike & run), Honey Stinger waffles for the bike, my race belt and some other small items. Pro Tip: I’d been hoarding the complimentary bottled water in the room for the few days before and used those to fill up my bike bottles. Versus trusting the tap in the hotel or near the race course. Better safe than sorry.

Transition Shuttle: 4 am

At 4 am we all headed down to the shuttles over to transition. Sure enough, transition was bustling with people, music, and fluorescent lights. Another little pro tip for the ladies racing in Asia – try to use the bathroom in your hotel room at all costs. The Port-a-pottys in Asia lack an actual toilet seat so they are effectively a porcelin hole in the ground. Not ideal for pre race nerves. There were expensive bikes everywhere here, apparently they are much more afforadable here. That or everyone is super rich and can afford 5 & 6 figure bikes. Cervelo, Felt, Specialized, Giant, and of course Ceepo could be seen all over the course. My wise friend coined the mantra ” Mo Money, Less Fast” to help us not be intimidated.

 

After setting up all of my gear, mixing my various bottles of drink, and squeezing into my wetsuit I headed down to the water to warm up.  The Finish side of the swim course was open for us to warm up at. To get acclimated and loosen up the wetsuits Ben and I swam a quick down and back. Transition typically closes 10-20 minutes before the race starts, meaning everyone has to be out of there. We went straight from our warmup to get queued up at the start.

Swim Start : 6:00 am .. ish

The swim at Flowing Lake was a mass rolling start. After the pros went (around 6:00 am) the rest of us shuffled down the stairs towards the water. The process was slow however it meant the water wasn’t too crowded when we finally got in. It took me 30 minutes to get through the line into the water! The swim course was an easy to follow rectangle. It is as if the lake was built for 70.3s! I felt great during the whole swim – like a shark swimming over my competition.

When racing in Asia expect the swim to be more chaotic than you’re used to. Yes, it is possible! Most competitors here are not strong swimmers and not used to swimming freestyle. Seeing 75% of people swimming breast stroke blew me away. Aside from being irritating it was actually quite dangerous. To have that many unconfident breaststrokers all over the field made the swim challenging. Essentially I swam from pocket to pocket. Trying to avoid the walls of people kicking out all over the place. I finished my swim in 37:13 shaving 8 minutes off my previous time.

T1 : 7:05 am

Transition 1… oh transition 1…

I can’t express how much a long transition run irks me. Luckily, sand was not involved. A long transition run is just what we got in Taitung. You exited the water and then ran almost a half mile in your wetsuit back along the lake. As you can see below you ran down the full length of transition and then all the way back! Personally, not my favorite set up. It took me 7 minutes in T1 to remove my wetsuit and pick up my bike. It pains me.

Bike Course: 7:12 am

The bike was distractingly scenic. The ride was mostly flat and fast. The couple climbs that were on the course were nothing compared to what we train on Guam. On one side you had the beautiful Philippine Sea and on the other you had stunning mountains. Each town we passed through had amazing local fans cheering us in Mandarin. For 56 miles we got to sightsee the southeastern coast of Taiwan and the small farming towns along the way. People tending to their rice paddies and caring for their chickens lined the course.

Our aide station volunteers were very green. Not only did none of them speak English but for many this was their first time working an aide station. The race brief cautioned us to please go slow and be careful at the aide stations. The whole ride I felt like I was comfortably uncomfortable. I was pushing myself and working hard to maintain my 20mph pace. Crossing into T2 with a 2:55 bike was right on target. Essentially the same bike time I had 2 years ago, so I definitely feel there is some room for improvement there.

T2: 10:07 am

T2 was a breeze, a long breeze but still a breeze. I switched to some lock laces for this race and boy did that speed things up! That said, I still had to run the full length of transition to the run-out. In and out of T2 in 4:32 with just one leg to go! Worried I had burnt my legs too much on the bike and wouldn’t be able to have a strong run I knew I’d have to push through the first couple miles.

Run Course: 10:11 am

The run course started around the lake in a big loop and then continued into Taitung Forest Park. While not very shady I did not feel like the course was hot. Warm yes but training on Guam has really upped what my body can handle in terms of internal temperature. The first 5k were a little faster than  my goal pace which felt great. The following 10k was perfectly on pace but my feet and knees were starting to ache. This course was a three loop course and you picked up a little rubber wrist band as you completed a lap.

My mantra for the run was “Stay in Your Lane”. Meaning keep your blinders on – don’t look at what age group others are in, don’t look at what lap they’re on, don’t worry about their race worry about yours. I tried to keep my own personal goals in my mind. The run course was so interesting and enjoyable it was easy to do.

I had a few bad miles that were much slower than I wanted and I felt disappointed. However the last three miles I was able to dig deep and really pull my pace back up to where I was aiming for (9/min miles). To be honest, the red bull station really motivated me! I was running faster just so I could get my fix again!

Overall this run felt great. Anyone who was at Steelhead can attest to how bloody and blistered my feet were, and how bad the cramping was. The lack of those two things alone made the run so much more fun.The last 1.5 miles I fell in step with a man from Hong Kong. We said nothing but we kept shoulder to shoulder at a very uncomfortable pace. Both of us just powering along, pushing each other, making sure we both finished strong. I finished the run in 1:56:15. Unfortunatly, I don’t have a good finishers photo because they lady in front of me ran with a Canadian flag that blocked everyone behind her.

PR Finish: 5th Place AG

While my hope is that as I continue to race overseas, and as this blog grows, more friends and family will go with me to these race-cations. For Taiwan however I flew solo.  I was overcome with love when I picked my phone back up and saw all the texts from people back stateside. Family, friends, and previous teammates from all over the world were tracking me on the Ironman app. It meant the world to me. Finishing 5th in my AG at an Ironman branded event was so exciting. It definitely made me extra excited for the rest of the races this year. The men at the Jeju 70.3 tent already have me thinking about Korea in 2019!!

Hotel Review: Sheraton Taitung

On this trip since I was unfamiliar with the area and didn’t speak the language I opted to stay at the official race hotel: the Sheraton Taitung. Definitely on the pricier side of race travel it was well worth the money for this athlete. The added novelty of being around so many other athletes from other countries was pretty cool as well. Hong Kong, China, Japan, Singapore, and Australia were all represented well.

Location

The Sheraton, previously named the Queena Plaza Hotel, was located less than a mile away from the race site in Taitung Forest Park. Located only a 15 minute drive from the Taitung Airport it was very easy to get a cab over from the airport. Less easy was fitting three bikes, five people and luggage into two cabs. English was spoken minimally at the airport.  However, we were able to pull up Apple Maps which showed the hotel in its Chinese characters. The hotel normally offers free pick up and drop off but with the volume it was unavailable this trip. A novel feature of this location was the Taitung Night Market was located on the street in front of the hotel. A great place to try out some Taiwanese street meats, but maybe not the night before race morning!

The Staff

               

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The staff was fantastic – they were everything a 5 star hotel should be. They removed the bike bags quickly from the cabs and whisked them up the stairs into the lobby. Then added them to the 20 other bikes waiting while their owners got checked in. The lobby is a beautiful open atrium style with gorgeous bookshelves across from the front desk. Check in was incredibly easy and the staff were efficient even with the language barrier. They even accommodated my request to have a bucket of ice sent to my room every evening to help me keep inflammation down.

The Room

My king bed room far exceeded expectations. It was very open with a large flat screen TV (that I never turned on) and an open plan bathroom. The bed was enormous and much bigger than a king. It was very comfortable with really plush pillows and the comforter was the perfect weight. The in room amenities included two free bottles of water a day (important for athlete’s traveling South East Asia) as well as the usual toothbrush, razor, loofah, and robe. I really enjoyed that the room was quiet and you could not hear your neighbors or people in the hallway at all.

Hotel Amenities

This hotel had everything an athlete could hope for both for training and recovery. Since I was staying for a race I tried to do my workouts on the course. However, if your travel buddy wanted to check out the gym they had a great little open fitness center. Just past that was the sauna(s) / spa. The mini spa, no treatments were offered, was set up as a traditional onsen. Onsen being the Japans word for hot tub. Normally an onsen is a hot spring but this was just a very, very, hot tub sitting at around 100 F.

The custom is to take off all of your clothes and then take a mini shower to prep. You will see mini cubicles to your left where you rinse. There is no body modesty in Asia and you will like see two women just chatting and showering next to each other. While you could wear your bathing suit to the baths you will be the exception not the rule. This soak felt great on my legs the day before the race. I also used the dry sauna each night because I LOVE sitting in the sauna. It has so many health benefits from sweating out toxins, to increasing circulation and improving cardiac health.

There is also a nice outdoor pool that could be seen from the check in desk. About 5ft deep and around 25 meters long. Definitely not full lap pool material but it could do in a pinch. I checked it out as soon as I checked in and you could already see athletes doing lengths loosening up. The pool was clean and warm with a covering that kept direct sunlight off of swimmers. Other useful amenities include a laundry service, helpful for traveling athletes, a business center and theater space for meetings (where our race brief was held).

Restaurants

I tried to eat outside of the hotel to save money, those places will be covered in another post, but if you did not want to leave there are a few options within the Sheraton. HoYea is a Chinese restautant open for dinner from 5:30 to 9:00 pm.  ALiHi is located on the ground floor behind the elevators and is the main restaurant open for all day dining. We enjoyed the breakfast buffet here each morning as it was included with our rooms.

Asian breakfast tends towards bowls of noodles, fish, kimchee and rice. Foods often associated with asian lunches and dinners! Luckily, there was some yogurt, breakfast breads, and hardboiled eggs for me to throw together. While not my perfect breakfast at some point calories are calories! There was also a fantastic coffee station which always had a long queue infant of it so most people would get two cups at a time.

General Hotel Information

Price point: $$$

Check In: 3:00 pm (However they were very understanding for the athletes)

Check Out: 12:00 pm

Free wifi in room, lobby and common areas

Business center and ATM in lobby