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Rebate
Editorial by Tom Demerly.

Tom in transition area.

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, New Zealand.

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 legs.

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 6.5 miles.

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 with sandpaper.

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 me.

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 college try.

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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