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
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
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
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
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.