Getting to Taiwan is pretty straight forward. I have flown there twice now with Cathay Pacific and both times have been incredibly impressed by their service. Bikes are included as part of your luggage allowance, simply message them before you travel to let them know you will be bringing a bike and away you go. It is about a 14 hour journey from London Gatwick to Kaohsiung with a changeover in Hong Kong.
The race is held in Kenting National Park at the Southern Tip of Taiwan. The event expo, race briefings, transition one area and the finish line are all located at the Kenting Youth Activity Centre.
Kenting is about a 2 hour drive from Kaohsiung. I have been fortunate both times that the race organizer has arranged an airport transfer for me. I am sure they will be willing to help if you contact them, or if you are wanting to do some sightseeing pre or post race you can hire a car. The driving standards are very much what you would expect so it would probably be best to take out all of the insurance that you can if hiring a car.
There are plenty of options for accommodation in Kenting all at very reasonable prices. Rooms are available at the Youth Centre, although these are likely to fill up quickly. Both times I have been I have stayed at the Howard Beach resort just across the road from Little Bay where the swim start is. A double room for 2 people with breakfast is just under £50 per night and includes the use of an outdoor 50m swimming pool with views of the sea!
As you would expect the food is very different to what we are used to in the UK. Take a stroll through the night market and you will see a whole host of foods that are perhaps best sampled after the race. Although you will find a couple of trucks with pizza ovens in the back and I can confirm that at around £4 each, the pizza is excellent (Especially after you have been travelling for 24 hours!). There are a couple of more western style restaurants in town and I would definitely recommend a visit to Smokey Joe’s. One final tip, if you are a fussy eater make sure you take a box of cereal in your bike bag or you will find yourself with a bowl of unidentified meat soup and broccoli for breakfast!
The first thing of note is that there is a split transition. Transition one is located at the Youth Centre and Transition two is up in the hills south east of Hengchun. The second is the weather; come prepared for a hot race! Although not as humid in March as it is later on in the year, temperatures can still reach up to 30 degrees so ensure you plan your race nutrition and hydration accordingly.
The swim takes place in Little Bay Beach. There is a beach start before completing 2 laps of 750m loop with a short beach run in between. The sea is fairly sheltered in this area but it can get choppy as you swim out to the far turnaround buoy. The water is warm so you can be 99% certain of a non wetsuit swim. Once out of the water you have a long run of about 800m to get back to transition at the Youth Centre.
The bike course is tough. You might think that at 25km it will be easy, but with a positive elevation gain with plenty of steep climbing not only is this race physically challenging but it is also one of the more technical courses on the Xterra circuit. I would describe this course as a bit like riding through a jungle. Natural trails that then open out into large expanses of hilly grassy fields. You begin with a short section along a small road before turning off into a river bed where you begin gradually climbing along the rocky track. You then reach the first and possibly most difficult climb on the course. It may be quicker to get off and run on race day as lots of traffic over the course makes this climb very dusty and slippery. You then climb some more before reaching the first decent, fairly steep with a loose surface in places but also a lot of fun. You then ride along another rocky river bed before beginning some tough climbing through grassy fields. Bring plenty of gears to this race, you will be thankful of them. This bike course really is beautiful with amazing views over the Kenting National Park, but there is no getting away from it being hard. Try to appreciate the location when you practice the course because you will almost certainly be breathing too hard to fully appreciate it on race day!
Once you reach transition 2 you have an 11km run back down to the finish. Again, do not be fooled into thinking a downhill run will be easy. There are plenty of technical, steep and twisty descents through the trees to make your legs burn before reaching the road about 3km out from the finish. It is then very flat and fast before picking up the coastal trail around the Youth Centre to bring you to the finish.
Aside from the race, what do you get? At around £180 it is one of the more pricier events so is it worth it? Well if you are not already sold on the adventure of the race here is what else you get….
So there it is, Xterra Taiwan. And if the Triathlon isn’t enough of an adventure for you, you can always take part in a 5/10/26 km trail run the following day!