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Today
Editorial by Tom Demerly.

Tom Demerly near lifeboat.

Today I’m racing.

I’m still in Curacao and there is a big international distance triathlon here on the island, The RBTT Bank/Fatum Triathlon Fest. Everyone from Doug Stern’s Triathlon Training Camp is either doing the race or supporting those of us who are. All week long there has been much anticipation about the course, the conditions, who will do well in what sections of the race. This is a big race in the southern Caribbean and South America. Athletes from many of the outer islands, Aruba, Bonaire, Venezuela, Holland, Germany, Belgium and other triathlon mad countries will be racing here.

Boris Talon, our dashing Russian swim coach, is certainly our pick for first out of the water. Boris was a member of the Russian National Swim Team and he swims like the dolphins we were swimming with yesterday. Because Boris is a fine cyclist and fast runner he is also a favorite for the overall at RBTT Tri-fest.

Anthony is another favorite. He was on the cover of the January issue of Men’s Health magazine and teaches his own brand of “Iron Yoga” at prestigious health clubs around New York City. Both Boris and Anthony train for a living so they are the hands on favorites for today’s race. Anthony is a good swimmer, very good cyclist and even better runner. He has done every Ironman Lake Placid and Hawaii as well as a ton of other races. He owns a sub-ten hour Ironman. This guy is fast.

There is a lot on the line for me here today, even though this is not a huge race with 2000 competitors. We are told there are about 200 people competing in the individual and quite a number of relay teams.

I am fresh off an awful race in Thailand and not long from an important race in New Zealand. So here, at this small race on this little island in the southern Caribbean, I definitely have something to prove. And I have to prove it to the most important critic of my racing: Me.

I’m not sure how you are before a race but I definitely have a regimented, controlled routine that I go through that seems to even me out and give me at least an illusion of control over the day. Ultimately, I will have the race I will have, but I think controlling the anxiety and butterflies before an important race goes a long way to making the experience easier. Once the gun goes off I’m fine. It’s these annoying final hours before the event that are tough to get through. Right now I am fairly well trained to swim, bike and run and I have done all of these things many, many times over the past twenty-four weeks. But I have only jittered my way through the pre-race ritual once in the last year, and the result of that wasn’t great. To make matters worse this unusual race starts at 2:30 PM instead of 8:00 AM as most U.S. races do. An afternoon start is nice since we can have a leisurely breakfast and take our time preparing, but it is also bad since we have more time to think about the race. It is pretty easy to overthink these things.

This is a different race than Thailand though, shorter and with support from all my friends here in Curacao and another eight weeks of training under my belt. In Thailand I may have been well trained but I was terribly alone in a very foreign land. That’s tough sometimes. Here in Curacao, in addition to my buddies from Doug’s camp I even have a new bike that fits me perfectly- a bright Caribbean blue Guru Trilite.

So my routine begins when I wake up. I am staring at the ceiling in a dark room with the sun creeping around the curtains. I tell myself how many times I’ve done this before. How many hundreds of races, all over the world, that I’ve done. I recall the most difficult races I’ve done, and that no matter how tough they were I still did OK. And this actually does begin to work. I begin to feel competent, strong. I’ve been there, done that. I start to feel like I can do this and maybe actually do it halfway decent. This is what I do.

Lying in bed I visualize exactly how I imagine the race will unfold. Visualization is the short cut to making something reality and it is a good way to exert control of being nervous before a race. It gives you something constructive to do and it directs your energy toward a positive outcome. After only a few minutes of visualization you begin to see clearly how you will have a good race.

I visualize my transitions, the exact choreography of them, where my equipment will be, how I will put it on and take it off during the race and even how I will operate my stopwatch and where I will take my splits. I know what I will eat and drink and when. I think it all through in a kind of condensed, fast motion video playing in my head. These mental images seem to chase all the butterflies away.

Then I tell myself the one thing that always works the best: “Just do what you do.” I’ve been doing triathlons now over 20 years. I pretty much live, eat and breathe the sport. Hours of every day are spent in some activity preparing for them, supporting people who are doing them, writing about them, taking photos of subjects surrounding them or building, selling and fitting bikes for them. This is what I do. It is my job. And I am still a little bit nervous today. Maybe it is because this is an international race in another country. Maybe because I know I am competing against some very talented, very well trained full-time athletes. Maybe because it has been quite a while since I have done this seriously with any regularity, years in fact. Maybe it is just because this race is important to me, more important than just where I place or how fast I go. Maybe I realize that today I have something to prove.

I can clearly remember a time when I did not get nervous before the start of a race. I was racing 24 times a year then. Racing was routine. But I haven’t done that in quite a while. So now I am a bit of a “seasoned beginner” again. With that come the attendant butterflies. But my routine calms me down. I pack my gear, go over the checklist in my head of things I will need: Wetsuit, bike shoes, running shoes, body glide, race clothing, sunglasses, helmet, etc, etc. In a minute I am headed over the SCUBA shop to wash my bike. I probably shouldn’t even be writing this now but I tell myself it helps with the butterflies. I had breakfast this morning with Jane and Nicole and they both seemed cool as cucumbers before the race. I suppose I faked my way through it too. They probably thought I was not nervous. I am, at least a little. They did not seem the least bit nervous.

The hours before a race are quiet ones. At the transition area I will pantomime my transition moves again. Helmet goes here, glasses go there- reach for my shoes this way and un-rack my bike that way. I double check that my new bike is in the right gear to leave the transition area and that the straps on my bike shoes are wide open, already clipped into my pedals. I zero my cyclo-computer and go to the beach to warm up on the swim course.

This will be a big day and I notice everyone is a little quieter today. The breakfast tables on the big pool terrace overlooking the lagoon and the ocean emptied quickly this morning. Usually people linger over breakfast. Colorful birds sing and little cats chase lizards on the beach between sailboats. Boris, usually playful and loud, is quiet and serious this morning. Anthony is no where to be found. He is probably doing something similar to what I am doing right now.

In a while I will load my race bag onto the bus and then ride the eight miles to the race course. It is the same ritual here as it is at every triathlon: they number your body, you pick up three race numbers, you get your T-shirt and goodies and go to your assigned spot in the transition area.

It’s been a while since I’ve been back into this so I’m not quite sure how it will go. Thailand was humbling. I got my ass kicked. I’m looking for better today.

 

 
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