UWC Triathlon a.k.a. my surreal Bahamian weekend

20131103_102150A few times in Triathlon I’ve been invited on trips that seemed too good to be true. Like in 2007 when I received an email from a former Olympian, Victor Plata, asking if I’d like to go an an all expenses paid trip to Brazil in order to race on live Brazilian television and in front of 40,000 onsite spectators. That time I didn’t believe it was real until the start of the race.

20131103_114434This time the invitation downplayed the experience that was being offered: a spectacular weekend in the Bahamas with a select group of professional athletes and a chance to spend quality time with people who care a great deal about the sport. (and an Olympic distance triathlon in paradise). The UWC Triathlon is the result of a tremendous amount of effort put forth by Barbara Ann Bernard, who directs and plans the race in an effort to raise money for scholarships to UWC, an international college preparatory program that helps students gain exposure to a global community of scholars.

Barbara Ann invited me to come to the race in 2012, but when Hurricane Sandy postponed the date of the race I was forced to cancel my trip. This year I was thrilled to be invited again and after hearing stories from last year’s race there is no way Abby and I were going to miss  it.

Friday Abby and I were greeted in Nassau by a perfect sunny day, a meal prepared by Scratch Lab’s Biju Thomas, and a homestay overlooking the Lyford Cay (pronounced KEE) golf course. Before Biju’s dinner we were invited to a wine tasting at Mahogany House, a nearby upscale  restaurant, but after a long travel day we opted to put our feet up by the pool and relax while we waited for the rest of the athletes to arrive.

That night’s dinner was a relative feast, but it was only a glimpse of what we could expect for the remainder of the weekend. I saw Rich Hincapie helping cook and found out that he and his brother, George, would be doing their first triathlon with us on Sunday. The other news of the week was Jarrod Shoemaker’s “win” of the open water race held that morning. I put “win” in quotes because both Sarah McClarty and Lauren Brandon beat him in the race – a fact that I would taunt Jarrod about if I hadn’t been out-split by Sarah in the swim at several races this year.

Saturday was more of a normal pre-race day. I rode with Tim Don and James Hadley (who were staying at the same home as Abby and me) over to the race site. We swam and rode the course together. My favorite part of spending the day with those guys was listening to their British banter back and forth. The two of them would keep a running commentary of everything we saw, but with the addition of the accent and dry British sarcasm. I wish I’d had a camera on my bike, I’d give you a highlight reel (presented by the Garmin Virb, obviously).

That night were were presented with another meal masterminded by Biju – Indian food. Now, typically Indian is not what I would seek out the night before a race. While it is my favorite cuisine, in my mind it fosters images of burning belly or race morning “issues”. It was not the case. Biju insisted that the spice (which was very mild) would help us get to sleep, and the mix of rice and lentils was a tried and true combination with the BMC cycling team. And he was right. I felt great the next morning and slept like a baby.

Sunday we raced (Yes! This really is a race report, I just wanted to give you an idea of the tone of the weekend. We were treated like professionals and given the chance to interact with a really special group of people supporting the triathlon.) Because the race is kept to a small number of participants it feels like a local race. There’s very little stress getting set up in transition and there’s plenty of space to warm up in the water.

20131103_102032I finished my warmup as a band started to play the Bahamian national anthem, after which I lined up with the other professional men and women, plus George Hincapie and the rest of the amateur triathlete field. It was really cool to be able to start the race with the amateurs division. While George never caught me on the bike, I knew he was back there and my only advantage was what I was able to gain in the swim.

After the two lap swim I darted through transition and took the lead of the race right away. After last week’s Miami 70.3 I didn’t have a whole lot of “umph” in my legs, but I was able to drop everyone except Tim Don, who stayed right behind me for the entire 4 lap ride.

The run was on a trail and I knew it would have to be special day to hang with a former ITU World Champ and one of the best runners in the sport. I did for about a kilometer, but the heat of the day and the fatigue of Miami formed the reality that it would not be that special day. Jarrod ran up from the second pack and passed me at the first turnaround of the two-lap run. Behind him were a bunch of athletes and I was sure they would be following Jarrod past me soon. I toughed through the next mile and  half and by the midpoint of the run it was Leon Griffin alone behind me. I could tell the heat and Miami fatigue (he was 4th in Miami last week) were affecting him as much as me and I put my head down to see if I could keep holding him off.

I held on that second lap and finished third. Jarrod ran up to Tim and won in a sprint finish on the beach. Leon faded and finished in fourth. Alicia Kay won the women’s race, making her and Jarrod the most successful couple of the day.

At the finish the pro field looked wiped from the heat. Chris Foster and I floated in the ocean for a few minutes then grabbed a quick massage and food before the start of the kids race. This was another really magical experience. Every professional triathlete there, 20 men and women in total, came out to help with the kids triathlon. We did a quick Q&A on the beach then cheered the kids on through a 100m swim, 5k bike and 1k run. During the swim I stood near the finish guiding and cheering in the group of kids, then headed to transition to encourage them onto the run. At the finish I handed out medals and high fived all the smiling kids as they ran through. I really wish I’d been part of an experience like that when I was a kid.

The rest of the weekend was equally memorable, but I’ll try to sum it up for my readers. The pro field was invited by one of the participants to do a dolphin experience at Atlantis ( a massive resort on the island), we had more incredible food and celebrated the end of a long season with some of my favorite people in the sport of triathlon. I’m so appreciative of Barbara Ann for putting on this race, and I really hope that I helped to raise the profile of the race and attract further donation to the UWC program. I can’t wait to come back next season.

Oh yeah, and while he didn’t catch me, George Hincapie rode about 2 minutes faster than me, splitting 50 minutes. I want a rematch!

Published by Ben

Ben Collins Professional Triathlete

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