Thursday, October 2, 2014

Ironman Malaysia: Langkawi Travelogue

It's not every day a girl from Pennsylvania finds herself on the other side of the world in Langkawi, Malaysia so I wanted to do a travel post on the trip unrelated to my race. When I started racing Ironman, I did it for the race experience and accomplishment. Now, after racing 12 Ironmans, for me it is also about the amazing places in the world that Ironman takes me that I likely never would have otherwise visited.

Some of the Langkawi islands (Photo: ironman.com)
When I signed up for Ironman Malaysia, I googled and googled, trying to find anything on racers that had been there before and soaked it all up. Most helpful was pro triathlete Patrick Evoe's blog from 2009, but that made me realize there wasn't a lot more out there on visiting Langkawi for Ironman so I'll add my two cents of "Do-s" and "Don'ts" for traveling to the tropical island of Langkawi, Malaysia. An informed traveler is a happy traveler and Langkawi is an amazing locale for the informed Ironman.
Run turn-around at Eagle Square (photo: ironman.com)

DO bring travel snacks on the plane. 
I traveled a loooong way from Kona, Hawaii (www.lukemckenzie.com) & I are in Kona for his race prep for Ironman Hawaii) to the tropical island of Langkawi, Malaysia. By the 2nd (of 5!) flights I had run out of snacks! I'm usually not suuuuper picky on airplane food and can eat at least half of what's on any tray, but this trip was different. I flew China Airlines from Honolulu to Taipei, Tawain. And from there to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. From KL, I flew Malaysia Airlines (yeah, I know!) to Langkawi. If you think the food is bad on the airlines from the U.S., try China! Wow. The food provided was not edible to me, so I went hungry until I found a Burger King in Kuala Lumpur (yes- really, Burger King! But- stick with what you know and I know they have to comply with company health standards).

DON'T always trust google when picking your hotel
I arrived in Langkawi after over 24 hrs of travel and eagerly took a taxi to my hotel. From google maps comparison to the race transition, I knew I had gotten a killer deal on a cheap (but nice looking!) hotel literally ON transition.....Or so I thought. I got to the hotel and asked another athlete-looking person- "where's transition?"  "Oh.... a few kilometers down the road.." HUH? google maps had lied to me? I pulled out my map and confirmed that google had in fact told me the hotel was located elsewhere. Now I was faced with a run-down neighborhood, taxi rides to everything involving the race (check in, expo, race morning, etc etc) and a need to redo my race plan (I was supposed to pump (i'm breastfeeding) riiiiiight before going down to get in the water. Ahhhh... I rolled with the punches, but then when the hotel's Wifi was basically non-existant (NOT as advertised) I nearly cracked. So, please read travel reviews and hotel reviews. My hotel was fine & cheap (you get what you pay for!), but would have preferred it if I was not traveling alone and had a rented scooter to get around town since nothing was easy walking distance.

If you can swing it, I HIGHLY reccomend the Westin Langkawi. I had friends staying there and enjoyed a couple meals and afternoons (and poached wifi) by the pool and it was UNREAL. Everything you'd hope your tropical Ironman vacation would include (including shuttles to the race expo, transition, etc!) Their breakfast buffet is to die for and I recommend going to load up for race day- they even had a gluten free selection which is unheard of in Malaysia!

The good life at The Westin Langkawi pool. I enjoyed fresh young coconuts & hotel wifi for Skype sessions recovering here in the afternoons

DO find a way to experience the culture and respect the culture. 
I was only in Malaysia for 5 days, but was lucky to participate in a visit with one of the local families along with the Ironman organization. A couple other pros and I were invited to the Malik's home and we were treated to a Malaysian feast. We were able to try probably every local delicacy and dish there is and could have rolled ourselves out of there. Most importantly, we got to meet some wonderful people who call Langkawi home and experience a little bit of their life for a day.

Children from the Malik family...Love watching them take care of each other
Malaysia is a largely Islamic culture and many people on Langkawi seem to be very traditional. Many women wear head coverings (hijab) and flowing veils to cover their limbs. In following with local customs, be sure to remove your shoes when entering a home and also be cognisant of your own dress. In sticky

hot conditions like Malaysia, usually I will run in only a sports bra, but on training runs, I kept my midriff covered.

DO ride or drive the bike course. 
One cool and unusual thing about Ironman Malaysia is that it has had a different course every year it has been held! This means, you may experienced different roads and parts of the island than previous competitors, so please go take yourself on a tour! Remember, drive (& ride!) on the left in Malaysia. Our bike course (2014) was very hilly and went to parts of the island (Datai Mountain) that the course hadn't gone to before. We also had a "monkey zone" where wild monkeys make it inadvisable to eat gels or bars for certain sections of the course.
watch for monkeys!
Another reason to drive or ride the bike course it to experience the island. It. Is. Amazing! Langkawi is a truly tropical island, less than 500 miles from the equator and there is a rich, hilly, jungle to experience around the island and if you are careful, it's great to see from two wheels!

DO some heat training
When I came back to Kona, Hawaii, it felt like the temperature had dropped 20 degrees from Langkawi. Langkawi was hot. Very very hot. And humid.Those athletes that were under-prepared (or raced above their means) dropped like flies, but those that were prepared & raced conservatively trucked on. Langkawi will never (ok maybe not never, but not usually) be a PR race (unless it's your first one!) but that is one of the reasons to do it! It is one of those super tough races that truly defines the word "Ironman" and that's why I loved it. No easy street for this road. Every medal (& daquiri afterwards) is truly earned.

DO save the culinary exploration for post-race
The food in Langkawi can be a bit of an unknown. Most of it looks amazing, but its hard to tell how it will digest if you are not used to it and I encountered several forms of mystery meat. I suggest sticking to your hotel food or known restaurants until the day after the race. Then- explore away!

watermelon & french fries- a "safe" (&delicious!) pre-race lunch

DO take lots of pictures. 
I didn't take enough and I'm regretting it already!

OK- those are my thoughts on traveling to Langkawi for Ironman Malaysia... It is so far out of the comfort zone for many of us from the US, but so well worth it and an incredible experience.
Next up, my race report! Post-baby Ironman #1 in the books!


28 comments:

Michelle Simmons said...

This is super cool and brings back fun memories. I spent 3 weeks on Langkawi by myself when I was 26... I think back to some of the stuff I did and I'm shocked I came out alive but what a great experience! I remember how HOT and humid it was too b/c I tried to run a couple times and thought THIS IS RIDICULOUS no one can run here... Lol. So congrats on your awesome race Mama!

Vijchdoctor said...

Awesome Possum performance on a truly ridiculously tough Course.

So Spot on , "with your analogy on dropping like flies"....

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