Pre race Challenge Laguna Phuket

Glamorous Laguna Phuket has been a destination race since its inception as a middle distance event 21 years ago. Last year, the Challenge Family took over the reins of a half Ironman distance version of the Laguna Phuket magic that draws a small but select field of pros including Melissa Hauschildt, Radka Vodickova, Luke McKenzie, Luke Bell and Rasmus Petraeus.

Come Sunday, the field will attack a swim that includes 1400 meters in the Andaman Sea and 500 meters at a protected Laguna, then accept the challenge of a bike course that features many short, sharp hills as it passes through tropical forests. Once the runners finish the half Ironman in the usual tropical heat and humidity, everyone looks forward to perhaps the best post-race party in the sport.

All photographs © Timothy Carlson

Thursday afternoon preview swim in the Andaman Sea portion of the course began with a mass beach start with Luke McKenzie and Rasmus Petraeus leading the charge.

Young woman plays traditional Thai music with a khim in the lobby of the nearby Dusit Thani Resort Hotel.

The sun splashed beach on the Andaman Sea.

Last week's co-winner Alberto Casadei of Italy poses with a friend before the Thursday swim start.

Stretching before the swim start.

Luke McKenzie and Beth Gerdes with their newborn Wynne McKenzie.

Age groupers get a line on the swim buoys.

Announcer Whit Raymond introduces the Thursday swim field.

Katja Rabe of Germany finished 3rd last weekend at the 21st Laguna Phuket Triathlon.

Jürgen Zäck, the first German triathlon überbiker and a multiple Ironman winner, now lives nearby and coaches the Thanyapura Sports and Leisure Club triathletes.

Age grouper charges out of the surf towards the swim finish line.

Jürgen Zäck congratulates Thursday swim winner Rasmus Petraeus of Denmark, the defending champion at Challenge Laguna Phuket.

Alberto Casadei of Italy finished second behind Rasmus Petraeus,

Age group and pro winners of the Thursday swim gather for a cheer at the finish.

Radka Vodickova, who finished second to Melissa Hauschildt at the first Challenge Laguna Phuket last year, enjoys her luxurious villa at the Banyan Tree Resort.

Vodickova loves the hot tub at her Banyan Tree Resort villa.

A Thai memorial near the race site.

Casey Munro (right), who finished 4th last weekend at the Laguna Phuket Triathlon, with a friend at the Meet The Pros gathering.

The Two Lukes - mustachioed McKenzie on the left, beer in hand Bell on the right - enjoyed cold beverages at the festivities.

Race organizer offers a tribute to Belinda Granger at what may (or may not) be her last professional appearance at Laguna Phuket.