As athletes limber up for next month’s inaugural Challenge Vietnam triathlon in Nha Trang, Jon Aspin profiles three expat competitors, and asks the question, how do I become a triathlete? Photos by Vinh Dao.

When it comes to your relationship status as a triathlete, you’re either ‘single’, ‘taken’ or ‘in-training’.

That’s the assessment of Francis Diano, an honorary doctorate of physical therapy, orthopedic specialist and one of the head coaches for the Challenge Vietnam triathlon happening in Nha Trang on September 11.

It’s testament to how consuming the sport can be, he says, and a reflection of how much people are prepared to invest.

The Lifestyle
“When you choose to get into triathlon,” he says from his base in Manila, “it’s as much about the race you look forward to, as it is about the lifestyle change you start making.”

With an estimated 350 athletes anticipated to make the start line next month, that’s a fair few lives being changed for the better.

Having told way too many people that I’d be one of them, I asked Diano about my plan to turn up underprepared and ‘grind it out’.

“It’s not something I recommend,” he said, “but it depends on your relationship with pain.

“The value of training is not just about finishing the race, it’s about training your body to bounce back. But if you’re doing a bucket list type of thing and are happy to go through the pain after, you can do that too.”

As a bare minimum for beginners, Diano recommends at least eight hours per week of training across all three disciplines. It steps up to 20 hours for those considering themselves ‘Elite’, and in the rarified air of ‘Pro’, Diano see’s athletes committing 40 hours per week to prepare for the full-distance Ironman.

In his opinion, having trained elite athletes all over the world, as well as been a marathoner and triathlete himself, eight hours per week is enough to create a physiological change in the body, and help prevent injuries down the line. “It’s all about forming a new habit,” he tells me. But what if my habit is to wake up at 6am, good intentions at the ready, then hit the snooze button until I have to go to work at 8? I ask him. “Well then you’re setting yourself up to fail,” he replies. It’s all about your objectives, clearly. Either way, he says, despite its individualism, you won’t find a more supportive community than triathlon to help you.

The Location
The event in Nha Trang is what’s known as a ‘half’ distance or 70.3, and because it’s the first time the Challenge Family are putting on an event in Vietnam, the whole course is very much about breaking down the intimidation factor, and offering a beginner-friendly introduction to the sport.

Featuring a two-loop swim course, what Diano describes as one of the “most beautiful bike courses out there” including some challenging hills, the race will finish with a mostly flat run that will take place in the full heat of the day.

For this, the elite level coach recommends a wet bandana, and to take advantage of every hydration stop. All in all though, Diano gives it a 6.5 out of 10 difficulty rating. I think I’m going to give it more.

The Future
In terms of the sport in Vietnam, Diano predicts a boom over the next three years. Not only are there multiple locations like Nha Trang that are perfectly built for events, he says, but in terms of attracting athletes to visit Vietnam, the cost factor is a big one. You don’t even want to know the price of a hotel room in Cebu in the Philippines for example, where the Asia Pacific Championships are being held this month.

“Vietnam is such a gorgeous place to have races. So I think given the support Challenge has been getting from the government for this one, and from Pulse Active, who are the best events company around, these guys will open up the sport to a lot more people. It’s an exciting time to be getting into triathlon, especially if you live in Vietnam.”

The Athletes

Name: Kent ‘The Ultra Runner’ Luu
Nationality: US
Age: 32
Triathlons Completed: none. I’m competing in the run leg of a relay team
Training per week: 80-130km but it depends on which phase of training I’m in. Base-building, speed work, strength run, tempo runs. I build up each area slowly, giving my body ample time to recover.
Favorite Discipline: Running!
Why Triathlon?
This is my first Triathlon relay, so just looking to have some fun. There is however, always a competitive edge within me, so any spot on the podium is always a good thing. My next event is a 100k “Magnificent Merapoh Trail” in Malaysia. The first 8 hours will be pitch black running with headlights through the Malaysian jungle.

Name: Sophie ‘The Masochist’ Clarke
Nationality: UK
Age: 24
Triathlons Completed: 1
Training per week: 6-8 hours cycling, 3-5 hours running, 1-3 hours swimming
Favorite Discipline: I’m unnaturally in love with cycling. I treat my bike like my husband!
Why Triathlon?
Triathlon became attractive to me because IRONMAN Vietnam was what seemed to be the only major race event in Vietnam which involved cycling. It’s kind of masochistic, but I love how hard it is, how disciplined you have to be, and how much energy it requires. It’s exhausting – but that’s what I love about it.

Name: Nick ‘The Caveman’ Jonsson
Nationality: Swedish
Age: 41
Triathlons Completed: 15. My first Ironman race was the most special by far, it was in my home town of Kalmar in Sweden in 2014
Training per week: 30km run, 5km swim, cycling a few times per month
Favorite Discipline: I’m pretty even across all three
Why Triathlon?
I don’t take it as seriously now but it’s the combination of the three disciplines. It’s great for fitness and also for discipline. I also like it because you meet great people and you get to travel to exciting locations all over the world.

The Facts

Where? Nha Trang City, Khanh Hoa Province
When? September 11. 2016
How Long? 1.9km Swim, 90km Bike, 21km Run
Who? The Challenge Family have now put on 44 triathlons in 21 countries since 2002 and is the fastest growing global long distance triathlon series in the world.
Registration: – open til August 7

For more information about Challenge Vietnam go to