A Race-cation Guide to the Ironman 70.3 Desaru Coast
After twice being postponed by the pandemic, the Desaru Coast Multisport Festival was finally held last July 22 to 24, 2022 with Ironman 70.3 Desaru Coast being the main event of the weekend. Ironkids was held on Friday afternoon, with the Desaro Coast Sprint and 5150 held simultaneously at Saturday morning.
Ironman has gradually rolled out its events in Asia and Middle East, starting with Ironman 70.3 Oman (February 25), Ironman 70.3 Dubai (March 5), Ironman 70.3 Taitung, Ironman Philippines and Ironman 70.3 Subic Bay (March 6), Ironman Taiwan (April 10), and the last one before Desaru Coast, 5150 Bohol (July 10). But it has been more than two years since triathletes from Malaysia and Singapore has raced an Ironman brand event within the vicinity, and the multisport weekend in Desaru Coast definitely made the wait worth it.
True enough, Malaysians and Singaporeans were top 2 delegations in the nearly 1500 triathletes that lined up for the 70.3 distance. More than 450 athletes also joined the 5150 and sprint distance on the Saturday race. Fifty countries were represented for the event.
Desaru Coast is a coastal resort area in Southeastern Johor, Peninsular Malaysia. The small town of Bandar Penawar serves as the area’s transport hub.
If your local airport has a direct flight to Senai International airport, this is the fastest way to travel. Senai is only an hour drive from Desaru Coast. But flights are limited to cities like Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh, and Jakarta. For everybody else, there’s option 2.
Most Singaporean triathletes would drive to Desaru Coast and it is a good two to two and half hours to reach Desaru Coast, and it will largely depend on the immigration line at the SG-Malysia border.
For foreign triathletes wanting to race Desaru Coast, the most convenient is through Singapore via Changi airport and make a land trip to Desaru. This is by far the most convenient way to travel and reach the race venue, and depending on your budget, you may take the bus from SG, or via taxi or private car.
Your booked hotel in Desaru Coast may help you hire local Malaysian private transport contractors who can pick you up to Desaru and also drive you back to SG. This was how I travelled and based on feedback is the most convenient if you are flying overseas.
Here is a good detailed article on how to travel from Singapore to Desaru Coast.
The 90 minute ferry trip did not have good feedback from the athletes. Aside from being cost-prohibitive, after arriving via ferry, there still left a 30 minute drive to the venue.
Desaru Coast is around 390kms away from Kuala Lumpur so its a good 4-5 hours drive via the expressway or a 45 minute flight to Senai. Singapore’s Changi Airport is the most viable alternative if you can’t find a direct flight to Senai Airport.
WHERE TO STAY
Of course if you want it the most convenient, you stay at the race hotel. The Westin Desaru Coast Resort is the host venue partner, it is where the swim start, finish and transition areas are located. The nearby Hard Rock Hotel is also nearby. These are luxurious options but if you are on a budget, you could take a look at Lotus, Tunamaya and Tiara for cheaper options.
Desaru Coast is more than 20 kilometers stretch of pristine and beautiful coastline facing South China Sea. Despite the initial perception that it would be too touristy, the area is still relatively low key and is perfect if you want to get the most of your race-cation.
THINGS TO DO
Whether you are traveling alone, with your friends or family, there are more than enough activities to keep your stay fun and awesome and alternatively, if you want to keep it low-key and relaxed, the place can still give you the quiet and peace as it is still laid-back and not too crowded.
For those bringing their kids in tow, there’s the Desaru Coast Adventure Water Park and the Ostrich Farms. If you love nature activities, a trip to the fishing villages in Tanjung Balau and the Desaru Fruit Farm are top options.
And then there’s the food. At 40-50 RM or around 10 USD, you can already feast on affordable seafood as the town is coastal in nature. Keep it local and definitely there will be plenty of affordable but decent food options.
Race Course Review
We will review the main event of the multiport weekend and that is Ironman 70.3 Desaru Coast race.
Swim Course-1.9km (1 lap)
The race started with a rolling start process in front of The Westin Desaru Coast Resort beachfront. The course is an inverted triangle swim, and in a clockwise direction. The swim was relatively smooth except for some little waves near the shore. Feedback from finishers were the presence of tiny shrimp-like creatures, or planktons. That’s open water swim for you and you will get through that.
The last 700m swim back was a hurdle for some, as they were fighting to keep it rightmost on waves that were coming from right to left. From the swim out is a good 200-300 meter jog to the transition area.
Bike Course- 90kms (2 laps)
Another 200m jog from the transition area greets the athletes from where the bike mount area is. The long transition is worth it as this is one of the best bike courses in the triathlon racing circuit in Asia.
What made the bike course pop out in this review is two things: First, the roads are silky smooth (as Zohan would say it), almost perfect and immaculate road conditions. Second, the canopy of trees and vegetation is a welcome sight, especially in the Jalan Ladang Siang section. With the sun barely out, the canopy provided shade to the athletes. It is truly a refreshing view.
Despite the terrain being rolling and undulating, there is nothing too hard for most trained triathletes, except for a few steep sections. A cassette with 27 or 30 at the back is more than enough. Despite that, the course is not technical and plenty of straight sections can give triathletes time to keep their head down and steady. I thought the course would feature some coastal views, but the roadside view of plants, trees and vegetation does not disappoint.
Course was well marked and plenty of marshals and police/security on hand to control the minimal traffic on the course. On my coverage, there was very minimal vehicle-cyclist interaction, and could say that the bike course was almost exclusive to the participants.
Run Course-21kms (3 laps)
Another long jog to the transition area greets the triathletes after the dismount area. As with any Siutheast Asian race, it should be hot on the run course already, but on this weekend, the triathlon gods were in a good mood as overcast conditions and light rain showers were experienced on the bike and run course.
The course circled around the perimeter of The Els Club Desaru Coast – Ocean Course and the first kilometer greeted the triathletes with a refreshing welcome shade from the canopy of trees. Despite the scenic view, this is the challenging part of the race as it was hilly. One triathlete recorded a 500m total elevation on the run, based on 3 hills. The 3 loop run though made it more spectator friendly, with the athletes getting a boost with supporters nearby whenever they start a lap.
Despite the difficulty on the run, there were plenty of aid stations, food and everything the athlete needs, including ice and vaseline.
The Ironman Asia Group headed by Regional Director (or defacto Race Director) CG Lim did a great fine job putting up this inaugural race on this beautiful resort venue in Desaru Coast. Organizing one event in a weekend is a big task but running all four (Ironkids, 5150, Sprint and 70.3) and coming out well and organized is a huge accomplishment for CG and his team.
Expect more triathletes come to race the Desaru Coast multisport weekend in 2023. The race course is top notch and the vibe the resort area radiates is a trait any triathlete who loves race-cations would truly appreciate.
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