It’s a funny thing
about our sport. One day you can’t
get out of your own way, another day you
are on top of your game, having a great
day. Sometimes you go to a race expecting
to do well and suck wind, other times
you go racing not expecting much and wind
up doing great.
It is like we have this
account that we pay into. Your training
and your tough races, the ones that didn’t
go quite the way you planned, are your
dues. You pay into your “race account”
and slowly accumulate a credit balance.
Then one day, sometimes without any indication,
you get a big rebate in the form of a
good performance on an important day.
It’s a rebate.
Today, I got a rebate.
If you are a regular reader
of this column you may recall my story
about the race I did eight weeks ago in
Laguna Phuket, Thailand. I went to Thailand
to see the sights, swim in the water,
ride an elephant, eat some good food and
do an important tune-up race for the upcoming
Ironman New Zealand on March 6th in Taupo,
I probably had the worst race
I’ve had in 21 years that day in Thailand.
I had to get off my bike four times during the
event my back hurt so badly. It was a tough
day and frankly, pretty disappointing. I came
home from Thailand with my tail firmly between
My race account was overdrawn
in Thailand. I didn’t have enough “credits”
paid into it going into that race. My training
was good, but I ignored one important factor
for me: Weight training. Like most 42-year olds
my back gives me a tough time. As long as I
do endless crunches, use the physio-ball and
the Roman chair every day and do some weight
training I am fine. So after Thailand, in addition
to ramping up mileage and time for New Zealand,
I also started using the physio-ball, doing
all the things I needed to do for core strength
and a stronger back. It’s pretty simple,
and it worked. I apparently paid enough credits
into my account. At least for the moment.
I‘m still in Curacao at
Doug Stern’s Triathlon Training Camp.
Almost everyone at Doug’s camp did the
RBTT/Fatum Triathlon Fest of Curacao today.
The race is produced by the Curacao Triathlon
Club and attended by athletes from Aruba, Curacao,
Venezuela, the U.S., Holland, Germany, Belgium
and more. It was a pretty darn good field with
almost 200 individual participants and a ton
of relay teams. The top athletes were just that:
Athletes. Guys who train for a living.
The Curacao Triathlon Club did
a fantastic job hosting this event. The course
was absolute murder, certainly one of the toughest
Olympic distance triathlons in the world. Each
of the events was measured a bit off so all
the legs were a good bit longer than Olympic
distance. The bike was about 26 miles, the swim
about 1650 meters or more, and the run about
The thing that distinguishes this
race from other Olympic distance events is the
conditions. First off, the race starts at 2:30
PM, the hottest part of the day. And it is beastly
hot in Curacao at 2:30 PM. The heat index must
be in the high 90’s, low 100’s.
The wind is ferocious, pulling big flags out
to full attention and bending palm trees at
wild angles. The sea is whipped into a mad frenzy
with big, breaking waves crashing on dangerous
reefs just below the surface. The water is incredibly
rough, so rough I would have never considered
this race without the help of Doug Stern’s
instruction in rough water, open ocean swimming.
Even the best swimmers on the island are minutes
off their normal times.
This race is also replete with
its own unique, continental Dutch Island charms.
The venue is a happening, exclusive party beach
with beautiful canopy beds right on the sand,
a fun bar and restaurant, throbbing reggae and
euro-beat music and a particularly handsome
crowd of spectators. It is a topless beach,
and the race passes right through it. Not by
it or next to it, you leave the water and run
right through the bar, right between the canopy
beds on the beach by cheering throngs of spectators,
including half-clad Dutch sunworshippers of
a most alluring configuration. The passage up
the beach to the transition area is a corridor
of noise and adrenaline charged inspiration.
It is the sport of triathlon at its best. No
wetsuits allowed, rough water, hard, hilly bike
course and a punishing run at the hottest part
of the day. So to say it is a festive celebration
of sun, ocean and sport is a gross understatement.
Curacao is triathlon at its very best.
The RBTT/Fatum Triathlon Fest
is another one of those reasons we do the sport.
It is triathlon heaven. But it is also a bitch.
The same high winds that flogged
us on the bike made the swim an ordeal. I swam
radically off course, at several points having
to swim in the entirely opposite direction as
hard as I could against the waves and current
just to stay on anything even close to the course.
If you went only 30 feet too far left on the
return leg of the three lap swim you ran the
risk of being dashed on the bottom against sharp
coral by breaking waves. I did and I was, taking
a good coral bashing squarely in the chest when
a wave broke on top of me and squished me on
the bottom like a water bug. It was the first
time I ever used profanity underwater. At that
point, the swim had my full attention. I can
swim 1500 meters in under 26 minutes without
a wetsuit right now and this swim took me every
sea-sick moment of 34 minutes and change. It
was like getting in a washing machine lined
The bike course was straightforward
if you like wind, heat and lots of short, very
steep little hills with 32 moderately technical
corners in 26 miles. I had a decent ride, not
great, not bad. Good enough. My new Guru Trilite
performed flawlessly. Oddly, the race was draft
legal, and the Dutch Triathlon Teams were just
that, teams. They worked together quite effectively.
Luckily I got past most of them early on and
dropped them. I never did manage to find any
kind of wheel worth following but did draft
off the lead motorcycle for a few minutes. But
on this terrain drafting was of little consequence.
The run was a bit of a slog since
it was starting to feel pretty darn hot. Your
feet seemed reluctant to leave the pavement.
Aid stations were very “euro” and
distributed the little sealed bags of water
common at continental races. You bit the bag
open and suck the cold water out. The little
bags were heavenly relief in that broiling sun
on black asphalt. The run was on the same loop
as the bike course. We did four laps on the
bike, one on the run. Each time through the
start/finish venue we passed in front of a purpose-built
grandstand filled with spectators cheering us
on. Curacao is a country mad for sports, and
any sport involving cycling and the ocean is
a natural for this Dutch Caribbean paradise.
More spectators and a raucous steel drum band
provided welcome festivities out on the hills
of the sun-fried course.
Going into the race I had no idea
what to expect. We knew our American contingent
would do well, especially in the women’s
race. The men’s race was a bit of a question
mark as the powerful Dutch triathletes were
an unknown quantity to us. As it turned out,
they were a formidable group. The favorites
from our camp were certainly Anthony, the buff
fitness instructor, sub 10-hour Ironman and
one of those guys who trains all day long, every
day for a living. Boris was our other trump
card. A former member of the Russian National
Swim Team he also showed he could run and bike
throughout the week. We tipped either Anthony
or Boris for the win. These guys are super fast.
Amy, Janine and Samantha were all exceptionally
strong throughout the week so we felt the winner
would come from that trio.
I had no idea how I would do.
I rode 60 hot miles the day before and had a
pretty full week with well over 250 miles of
riding, at least 2 miles of swimming per day
and between 7-10 miles of running most days
except for two. I was tired. But I could feel
myself becoming more fit. After my very disappointing
race in Thailand it would be nice to put together
a good race, but I had no idea what I had in
Most of us have had races where
we thought we should just drop out. It is too
hard or too hot or we are too slow. For some
reason you hang in there, I guess because that
is what we do, and we never give up.
I really felt like quitting during
that swim. It was so damned rough it almost
became a joke. Sighting was nearly impossible
unless you were right on top of a wave. Breathing
was tricky too since half the time when you
turned to breathe you just got a face full of
water. Trying to maintain your stroke, even
after a week of hardcore technique training,
is pretty tough when a wave is causing your
feet to overtake your head in the water. But
there is some novelty in that. People on the
island said it was the roughest they had ever
seen it for the race, far worse than usual.
The enormous crowd of spectators, almost a kilometer
wide and three or four deep along the beach,
said it was a spectacular sight seeing us battle
the heavy surf. I hung in there and took my
licks. I could tell my swimming was improving
and that felt good. Besides, if I actually got
through this thing it would be quite an experience.
And after all the work Doug and Boris put into
me this week I owed it to them to give it the
Ultimately I wound up 10th overall
and 3rd in the 40-49 age category. Our camp
had stand-out performances from everyone. Our
relay teams kicked butt. We had at least five
age category wins and Anthony was 3rd overall
in addition to winning the 40-49 age category.
Boris flatted and threw up a couple times during
the race and still wound up 5th. Andrew Kennedy
was quick with a wheel for Boris but race officials
required Boris change it himself. Janine had
the stand-out performance of the day. She was
winning the women’s race with a spectacular
swim, an utterly masterful ride in brutal conditions
and then a solid run. Ultimately the heat got
the better of her in the final mile and she
wound up semi-conscious in the medical tent,
her win stolen in the final mile by the searing
heat on the angry, black asphalt run course
when she passed out into the arms of a spectator.
The rest of the women were right there to bring
the race home for the U.S. Amy Stoddart was
2nd overall and Samantha Schreiber was 3rd overall
and also won her age category.
The awards were a wonderfully
fun, elaborate production with a Tour de France
style podium and even a smokin’ hot podium
girl giving us kisses on the cheek when our
trophies were presented up on the stage in front
of the crowd. Media crowded the front of the
podium for each age category’s presentation.
Cameramen jockeyed for the best shot in front
of the podium. As the race director said during
the awards presentation, “On Curacao,
this is a major event.” In 21 years of
doing triathlons I’ve never been to an
award ceremony like this. And I’ve never
had a kiss from a podium girl up on the big
stage until today.
Generally I don’t keep trophies
from races. They wind up in a corner in my basement.
It has been a long time since I brought one
home to add to the pile though, so this one
I am keeping. Engraved on the marble base of
the trophy cup it says, “3e prijs Heren
40 t/m 49 jaar” which is Dutch for “3rd
place, Gentlemen 40-49 years.” This is
the sixth age category I’ve competed in
while doing triathlons.
Curacao is a good place to get
a rebate. I needed this: A decent performance
going into a big season with a tough race five
weeks away. This is a good way to start things
off. Thailand wasn’t.
Apparently my race account had
been brought up to current with all the training
miles I logged. The moment I get back on the
ground in Detroit I need to make to start depositing
back into the account. On March 6th, in Taupo,
New Zealand I will be making a sizeable withdrawal
from my account, and I want my balance current.
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