Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Gettin' Schooled by the Sea at Laguna Lang Co Triathlon in Vietnam

Yeah, I ate an octopus the day before the race. For courage, of course.
I gotta admit - it seems like it's been awhile since I've raced.

As a matter of fact, the last time I did a triathlon was in Thailand last December, and since then it's been a lot of tennis, snowboarding and pumping iron.

But I’ve always said that if I were forced to choose one triathlon on the face of the planet to be on my race “bucket list”, I’d go with the December Laguna Phuket triathlon in Thailand, a race well-known for it’s friendly cultural setting, mouth-watering cuisine, scenic and challenging courses, and legendary post-race parties.

So when I heard about Laguna Phuket’s new sister event, the April 14 Laguna Lang Co Triathlon in Vietnam, I registered, got my Vietnam visa (easy to do online) for 7 days in Vietnam, and hopped on a plane to Da Nang International Airport for a 1.8k Swim, 62k Bike and 12k Run.

The actual race takes place at Laguna Lang Co,  a new holiday destination resort built on Lang Co Bay in Central Vietnam. The resort is slated for a bunch of extra development, but right now includes the Banyan Tree and Angsana hotels and spas, multiple on-site restaurants, a fully stocked gym, an 18-hole championship golf course, an enormous lap swimming pool that nearly circles the entire resort, and recreational activities like ATV rides and bungee trampolining.

Man, I hate triathlon travel. Such a drag. ;)
So you're kinda spoiled.

The events were awesome (as I've come to expect from the Laguna group), with a police-guided motorcycle bike tour of the course, good-sized pre-race buffet party full of Vietnamese foods like meat curries, fresh rolls with peanut sauce, seafood soups and an colorful variety of dragonfruit, mangoes, guava, pears and melons. 

And lots and lots of spa time (photos below).

Police guided tour of bike course
Gotta love Dragonfruit...

Alright, alright - so I know you're getting the idea that I pretty much stuffed my face, got massages, and lounged by the pool the whole time, but I did actually race, so let's get down to the nitty-gritty details.



Breakfast: 2 packets UCAN Superstarch
Nutrition 45 minutes before swim start: 10 MAP, 1 packet TianChi, 1 shot "X2Performance" (a new blend I'm trialing).
Gear: BlueSeventy PZ3+ Skinsuit over ChampSys Team Timex one piece race suit, BlueSeventy Element Goggles

(Especially for long trips, I also travel with some general health supplements like Mt. Capra colostrum, Mt. Capra probiotics, Lifeshotz antioxidants, etc. and I'll do a post soon about that, or you can watch this video).

The swim is a fairly straightforward point to point course, heading straight out to the sea from a running beach start in front of the Banyan Tree, then turning right to swim parallel to and exit the water at the Angsana beach. 

The seas were really swelling this year - so much so in fact that up until the race start they said there was about at 10% chance that we would actually have a swim at all. I ventured out into the rough waters the day before and got tossed around a bit - I must admit more than any other race venue I've been to in years of racing. Even though I'm a relatively decent swimmer, I suspected the swim would give anybody even mildly uncomfortable about open water swimming a real scare, so I was curious to see if they'd even have a swim. 

As it turned out, on race morning they actually shortened the swim to 1.2K, and gave any participants an option to complete the duathlon if they wished to opt out of the swim.

Pacing doesn't really matter for a 1.2K swim. You just go hard the whole time, and the first 200m or so is the most important to establish good positioning in the water. 

Knowing Ironman world champion Chris McCormack was a talented surf rescue swimmer, I lined up behind him at the running beach swim start and planned to head in the general direction he did (with the caveat being that I knew he'd leave me far behind his wake within a matter of minutes). So even though I had the pleasure of watching him disappear fast ahead, my attempt to shadow him at least left me with a tough, but relatively well-navigated path through the swells.

Me in red cap, far left, behind Macca.
Once I made it past the big breakers, my swim felt fast and good, which I was happy with as it was my first chance to trial my "minimalist triathlon training" protocol - and I hadn't swam any "intervals" of anything more than 200 meters up to this point in the season. 

Perhaps I got a bit too confident though, because as I was mere seconds from finishing the swim, and literally body surfing into the beach on a giant swell, I lost control and was body-slammed hard into the ocean floor. I somersaulted, stood up, gasped for breath, got hit by another wave and tossed nearly 10 feet. I felt my knee and low back twinge as I slammed into the ocean floor again, but was more embarrassed than injured, as this all happened as a crowd of onlookers at the swim exit watched. 

Do despite getting schooled by the surf at the swim finish, I came out of the water in 8th place, at just over 18 minutes. 



Nutrition: 2 packets UCAN Superstarch with 2 shots X2Performance (mixed in downtube water bottle) and 10 MAP (in ziplock bag in jersey)
Gear: QR Illicito with Shimano DI2, Shimano CR-50 wheels, Challenge "Triathlon" tires, Louis Garneau cycling shoes, Gray Aerodome helmet

The bike was a scenic, flat and fast time trial course that weaved through open roads alongside rice fields and small villages. Within 5K out of Laguna Lang Co is one of only three relatively short climbs on the entire course, with a second climb 15K in, and a final climb back into the resort area near the finish. The climbs are all short, with the longest one being that one in the middle, at maybe a 1/2 mile. The course is primarily a large loop consisting of well-marked, paved country roads, a short section on the national highway connecting Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and a circumference around a lake (Lap An Lagoon). 

And I was literally by  myself the entire time on the bike. At one point, a marshall rode past me on a motorcycle, a couple times a TV film crew came by for some footage, and that was it. I've had this happen before - being in "no man's land" sandwiched between the pros and the rest of the age groupers, and when it happens, the toughest part is simply to not lose focus, as there's not a whole lot to think about out there. In my case, I'd blow up trying to close a 3 minute gap on the pros, and I'd lose too much time spinning it out and waiting for some age groupers to work with. So it was just a solo time trial 

I tend to "mash" on these long, flat courses, and rode at a cadence of about 60-70rpm nearly the entire time, finishing the 62K at about 1:40 and getting into T2 right where I began, still in 8th place.

Even though it was flat and fast, this was honestly a tough bike ride for me - not just mentally, but also physically. Since this was the first race of the season, I haven't ridden longer than about 20 minutes in awhile, and I should probably get 2 or 3 good, focused 60-90 minute long intervals rides before Wildflower Long Distance triathlon in May (my first "A race" of the season). 



Nutrition: One more shot of X2Performance halfway through.

The run at Laguna Lang Co triathlon is a two lap course that weaves on slightly undulating paths along a golf course and ducks in and out of the resort area, primarily on grass and golf cart paths, with a few short gravel track sections. 

Although the early swim start of 6:30am ensures the majority of the race is not excessively warm, I arrived expecting tropical climate heat by the time I was out on the run. But this year’s race was unseasonably cool and overcast, with occasional bursts of rain - so it never really got too warm - good news for my Washington white skin and extreme lack of heat acclimation. 

I'm not sure if it was the cooler conditions, all the off-season tennis and snowboarding, the Hurricane treadmill workouts or the Litvinov sprints, but I ran like a bat out of hell and felt great the whole time, finishing the 12K in 47 minutes, passing two athletes (and learnng later that another dropped out), and arriving at the finish line as: 

5th overall and 1st place amateur.



It was certainly a pleasant arrival at the finish line, which was stocked with fresh Vietnamese foods, dozens of massage therapists, and plush seats and tents for post-race lounging. So I did a bit of stretching, got a massage, pushed my bike literally fifty feet into my hotel room and by 10:30am was sitting at the Angsana hotel's breakfast buffet.

Of course, as expected, the post-race parties began soon after the race, with a lively beachside and rooftop cocktail pool party just hours after the race finish, followed by another huge buffet at the post-race awards ceremony, and finally a DJ and dancing party that stretched into the wee hours of the night.  So basically, if you do this race, come prepared for your day to just be beginning when you cross the finish line. favorite - spring rolls...
 After sleeping in the morning after the race, I took a complementary 90 minute shuttle trip to the nearby city of Hoi An to take in the local culture and Vietnamese architecture, temples and houses, as well as get in some shopping, spas and a variety of authentic Vietnamese street food like fresh seafood in rice paper, beef and shrimp skewers, and tasty Pho noodle broth.

The last couple days I was there after the race, the sun came out, it got hot, and I had a chance to do a little training in what I'm told is the more typical weather this time of year, and it definitely did get warm - so come prepared for that if you plan on showing up next year!



I could totally see Vietnam turning into a triathlon training and racing hotspot. 

If you dig Asian travel, I'd check this race out - and for me, it was a nice way to get a bit of a tune-up in and kick of the race season with a solid effort. I love to help folks out with triathlon advice, so leave your questions, comments and feedback about nutrition, training, pacing, the race, or anything else below.

By the way, leave your comments below or email me: if you're interested in doing the "sister" race in Thailand this December - - I'm considering putting together a 2 week trip to that race for anyone interested...first come, first serve - max would be 12 people.


scott ormond said...

Thanks for the recap Ben. How did Maca end up? Looking forward to soaking in your advice this summer and applying it to my training and running events. I appreciate it very much. See you in the inner circle. scottyO-Aspen

Viktorija said...

Great race report. I enjoyed every little bit of it! I found you on the internet only today and after going around a bit on your website I got "seduced". It is fantastic what you're doing. I am just a starting bike racer, but without a lot of effort so far I did very well in races. I have never trained, and started cycling just few months ago, therefore it is just a starting line for my training planning and my understanding about fitness which I actually wanna build based on the advices found on your web page. Thank you!

eric said...

Thanks for the write up. Sounds like the Vietnamese spoil the racers. Reading what you said about the higher caliber racers is probably how would feel racing against you. Everyone has to start somewhere.

I couldn't imagine being "schooled" by the ocean. Overall, sounds like you had a great time and your time was great! Great job on the minimalist training!

Ben Greenfield said...

Scott, full race results, including Macca at: