Kangaroos, Giant Bugs and the Indian Ocean—a Pro Triathlete Takes On Ironman Western Australia

Sarah Piampiano shares her travel diary and advice for athletes and travelers headed to Australia

When we first spoke with Sarah Piampiano back in June she was dealing with an injury (a stress fracture in her femur) that derailed her training. After spending months recovering and slowly building her training back up, she is back at it, racing again. At the end of October she raced in the Ironman 70.3 in Miami and just a few days ago she competed in her first international Ironman since injury—the Ironman Western Australia.

She gave us the inside scoop: a section from her travel diary and tips for travelers headed to Western Australia.

The Travel

San Francisco—Dubai—Perth—Busselton (and Back)

Perth, Australia

As soon as I arrived in Perth, I made a beeline to Rob Naish, a Physiotherapist that specializes in sports rehabilitation. Matt Dixon (my coach) and my strength, conditioning and rehab team (Foundry Performance) had encouraged me to see someone immediately after I landed to get my body sorted from the long travel. Rob has a ton of experience working with professional athletes and had been in touch with my team, so he knew exactly what to do and got straight to work. 

While I still had a 3 hour drive to Busselton ahead of me, I opted to lay low in Perth on Monday night to rest a bit, get in some training and rejuvenate. 

On my return leg, I had a bit more time on my hands and was anxious to get a feel for the city. Early Tuesday morning I headed out for bike ride and then walked around Fremantle, which is one of the districts within Perth. My ride was lovely—there are bike paths that run along the river with incredible views of the city skyline. I was impressed with the number of cyclists out at 5:30 a.m., and enjoyed the fact that there was such a strong cycling culture in the city. 

Fremantle, which is located right at the mouth of the Swan River, is considered to be the major port in Perth. The city center/high street is lined with tons of cool coffee shops and local boutiques. When I travel, I like to stay away from the major, name-brand shops and favor small, more local stores and galleries. Some of the galleries in Fremantle had beautiful photography of Western Australia, which made me want to come back and explore so many of the places I didn’t see on this trip. The town in small, but it was full of life.

I don’t feel like I got a great feel for the city or the surrounding neighborhoods.  I have heard from more than a few people that Perth is one of their favorite cities in the world, which makes me think maybe I needed another day or two to explore.  But between Perth and other areas of WA that I saw, it was my least favorite.

Busselton, Australia

I have to say that Busselton and the surrounding areas, like Margaret River and Dunsborough, completely surprised me in a positive way.

Busselton is a mixed bag in terms of the town, but it grew on me quickly. The city is located right along the shores of the Indian Ocean. When you first arrive, the beach simply takes your breath away. The white sand is beautiful and runs for miles, the water is warm, clear and shallow, and there is a pier that extends more than a mile out into the ocean that you can walk along. The sunrise and sunset everyday creates total euphoria. It is breathtaking.

In the height of summer (December-February), Busselton’s population more than doubles in size, and is filled with a mixture of tourist-haven spots, and local haunts. My favorite place was Fig Tree Lane. I nearly missed it, but was drawn in by the smells of King’s Bakery. As I walked into the shop, I realized it was one in a long line of stores fronts—from a super foods café, to a natural health food store, to galleries, book shops and a high-end kitchen-goods store. It was busy, but also quiet and created a relaxed environment. I ended up stopping in at one of the cute cafes and having the most amazing lentil latke and a beetroot, ginger, mint, orange and carrot salad.

The Race

The Ironman itself in Busselton was wonderful. The swim was gorgeous, the bike ride, while flat, is made more challenging by the possibility of strong winds. We rode through country roads lined with tall Karri trees (a type of Eucalyptus, native to Western Australia), and along farms with cows, horses and kangaroos hopping about. A kangaroo hopped out in front me during the race, which was fun, exciting, and scary at the same time. The run is a four loop course that meanders along the ocean and through town enough times that the crowd support never seems to fade.

The day after the race I went down to Margaret River, which is the heart of wine country in Western Australia. The town is a foodie’s heaven, and the wineries are situated along the most amazing country roads. I stopped at Canal Rocks—a must see sight—and had lunch in Dunsborough at another super foods cafe.


The pros:
-          What appeared to me initially as a simple and potentially boring part of Australia was actually riddled with amazing culture and places to visit and see. Caves, bays, surf sites, rivers, wineries, small villages, coffee shops, pastries, hiking, spas and resorts, chocolate factories, cheese factories—there is so much to experience. Despite this, you never feel cramped or overwhelmed. It drew me in and made me want to come back for more.
-          IMWA itself was a race worth doing. While the town of Busselton is nothing luxurious, the region was so enchanting, it was worth the trip. And the race was incredible! I loved everything about the course and felt that the Race Director and the town put on a memorable and very well organized event.
-          Tim Tams. Do I need to say much else? They are pure deliciousness in a package. I love them.

The cons:
-          The Bugs. Honestly the flies were bad; it was almost unbearable at times to be outside. I’ve been told at the beginning of the summer they are the worst, and they come out in hoards. While they don’t bother you when you are on the bike and run, I definitely swallowed more than my fair share of them. I was completely mentally unprepared for that. Be forewarned if you visit there will be bugs. If you come to spectate, buy bug spray and bring a bug net.
-          The Magpies—they kind of freaked me out. While I was not personally attacked, I know of several people that were…and the idea of being dive-bombed by a bird while I am on my bike sounds like a recipe for a crash and that is no bueno.
-          Cost of Food—I live in one of the most expensive cities in the US (San Francisco) and the cost of food doesn’t even compare to how expensive it is in Australia. Prepare yourself to pay a pretty penny to stay fueled.
-          Length of travel—getting to Western Australia is no easy feat. If you do decide to go, take time to explore the region and get the most out of it, you won’t be disappointed.

For more on Sarah Piampiano, check out her website or find her on Twitter.