| 06:31 hr.s
Local, Outside Willemsted, Curacao, Dutch Antilles,
I'm wearing another man's bathing
suit and another man's goggles. I'm swimming
in another country's pool. My stuff is lost.
I have some of my hardware- bike and computer,
roughly 80 pounds of gear, but I have no clothing.
My clothes are on the same impromptu
tour of the Caribbean I was doing yesterday.
Miami, San Juan, Puerto Rico, then Curacao.
I've done this random tour before a few years
ago, once landing in Port au Prince, Haiti-
famous for zombification and civil unrest. Not
famous for triathlon training. U.S. Marines
guarded me in the "Transient Passenger
Lounge" that was decorated with sandbags.
Right now I'm hoping this trip goes better than
In scrounged bathing garb I do
a good swim workout. Doug Stern, our swim coach,
gives me a shopping list of things I need to
do to "fix" my stroke: "Open
your hips at the right time, bring your hand
in so you can see it, switch to a six beat kick.
Start your stroke at your feet, don't finish
your stroke, don't cross-over (have I already
done that wearing another man's Speedo?). A
tall Russian coach resplendid in his Ironman
Brazil shirt and black KGB sunglasses, named
Boris of course, and a fast talking, mega-buff,
enthusiastic New Yorker bark commands at me.
Doug, the New Yorker, Tells me the one thing
I want to hear: "You will be twice as fast
when you leave here next week."
That is why I'm here. To get faster.
It is crunch time. My first big race of the
year, Ironman New Zealand, is six weeks away.
It is time to get faster.
I'm beginning my season at Doug
Stern's Triathlon Training Camp on the Island
of Curacao. Curacao is in the Dutch Antilles
just north of Venezuela in the southernmost
Caribbean. Swimming is a national pass time
I'm eight weeks out of a disasterous
race in Thailand and I've come here to fix what
Flying out of Detroit I meet Walt
Pheeney and his wife traveling with Andrew and
Irene Kennedy, all friends of mine and customers.
It is five degrees below zero in Detroit, and
it seems the toilets on our airplane are frozen
solid. We learn that airplanes are not allowed
to take off with frozen toilets, so we are removed
from our aircraft while they turn up the heat
to thaw them out. It works, but we miss our
connection to Curacao through Miami and are
placed on a maze of connecting flights throughout
the Caribbean. Our route is circuitous, and
our luggage does not follow. So I am swimming
in borrowed gear.
I don't care though. This camp
is worth the bother. Doug Stern provides an
experience on Curacao so enjoyable and eclectic
I would circle the globe to attend his camp.
This is my fourth year in Curacao, and a number
of our customers have joined me here. It gets
better every year.
Many things go into making Doug's
camp a success. Certainly Doug is the main ingredient.
His enthusiasm and spirit are infectious. At
sixty he has the exuberance of a 15 year old
and the build of a 20 year old. Doug practices
what he preaches, and what he preaches is swimming
and his own New York city brand of life philosophy:
Relax, have fun, work hard, enjoy the people
around you and never miss a chance for a laugh
or a good workout.
Another ingredient to the appeal
of Doug's camp is the people themselves. Quartered
at the Lion's Dive hotel, a quaint and nicely
maintained SCUBA diver's hotel with a beautiful
beach, fine restaurant and even great live music,
a mix of forty amazing characters subject themselves
to Doug's regimen of comedy, exercise and partying.
The campers include bankers, financiers, executives,
attorneys, doctors of every variety, famous
authors, people who manage billions of dollars.
Along with them is me, a guy who works in a
The conversation at dinner is
incredible. A woman tells me managing a state's
$3 billion pension fund was "fun".
A man reads from his latest book for us, providing
colorful insight into his amazing life as a
famous scientist and neurologist. Another man
shows a video of his expedition to Antarctica.
There are no boring people on this trip. It
seems everyone has something interesting to
say, an amazing experience to share. There are
so many stories and experiences at Doug's Triathlon
Training Camp it makes reality TV look like
as lame as Ozzy and Harriet.
Most days start with sunrise coffee
overlooking the ocean and a 3.5 mile run to
the 50 meter pool we train in; also overlooking
the ocean, of course. Doug does his best to
sharpen our stroke there. His assistant coach,
Boris Talon, is an elite amateur swimmer from
Russia. His dashing Slavic good looks and Russian
accent make him an imposing figure, but he is
a clown at heart. The two dash and dart from
lane to lane, video taping us and pantomiming
stroke corrections to us during our workout.
We do thousands of meters of drills, kicking,
more drills and intervals. Then there is another
3.5 mile run back to the Lon's dive for breakfast-
you guessed it- overlooking the ocean.
All of the workouts are optional
and campers pick from the full daily workout
menu "ala Carte", you do what you
want and rest when you want. But this is crunch
time for me so I not missing many workouts here.
I've done so much kicking in the pool my fins
have worn the skin off my toes.
Following breakfast Doug's bike
coaches take over and administer the first of
two daily rides. Coaches J.P. and Chad buzz
up and down our ragged pacelines like busy queen
bees on the hive. They are the dry land equivalent
of swim coaches Doug and Boris. J.P. is a fine
cyclist and a bit of an intellectual also. He
is a frequent writer on the topic of cycling,
contributing editor to the coffee table glossy
Asphalt magazine and won a bicycle race here
on the island last year. Chad is the manager
of a major U.S. professional cycling team. Chad's
girlfriend Emily, a movie-star beauty, former
gymnast and oncology nurse in New York City
is along as well. She is, of course, a triathlete.
Chad and Emily are one of several "Ironcouples"
at the camp.
Our rides span the island from
east to west, including a semi-epic through
heat and hills to the west end of the island
and a marvelous barbecue at Knip Beach. The
return trip is into the wind and most people
climb on the support bus but a few of us soldier
on into the Dutch Caribbean headwind.
Arriving back in the capitol town
of Willemsted we find the odd floating drawbridge
is retracted and for shipping traffic and wait
for it to swing back into position. Then it
is a very fast 3.5 miles through town back to
the Lion's Dive Hotel.
Dinner at Doug Stern's Triathlon
Training Camp is always a social affair and
the conversations are the main course. Also
on the menu is the excellent local seafood.
All the restaurants we visited are at least
very good, although the island level of service
can tend toward the leisurely.
Morning's come early for the run
to the pool so evenings are generally early
also at Doug's camp. A new feature during the
last couple years has the been RBTT/Fatum Triathlon
Fest Olympic Distance Triathlon. This is the
biggest race in the southern Caribbean and a
major event for athletes in northern South America,
the Dutch Antilles and European athletes in
the area. Competition is stiff and the field
is strong. Conditions in the race are brutally
difficult, making the RBTT one of the toughest
Olympic distance races in the world.
When I left Detroit the weather
was so cold it froze the plumping in our airliner.
Training in those conditions is misery. Training
in the sun and sea of Curacao is utter indulgence,
the best our sport has to offer. Combine ideal
training conditions with 39 other like-minded,
interesting multisport athletes of all ability
levels and you have a recipe for success, and
a great way to get ready for the upcoming season.