EX­OTIC RACE-CATIONS

Triathlon Magazine Canada - - WARM-UP TRI TIP - BY LOREEN PINDERA

THE PRO­MO­TIONAL MA­TE­RIAL for the in­au­gu­ral Iron­man 70.3 race in Costa Rica is en­tic­ing: “The 90-km, two-loop bike course will take ath­letes through the re­gion’s lush veg­e­ta­tion, with views of mon­keys and igua­nas.”

I pic­ture white-headed ca­puchins swing­ing down from a vine and perch­ing on my aer­o­bars. As for igua­nas, just how big is an iguana? Are they like tur­tles – do they warm them­selves on the asphalt in the hot sun and, if so, how fast do they move out of your way? And how smooth is the pave­ment on that jun­gle ride out of Playa del Coco any­way?

The June 18 race be­ing a first-time event, there is a sorry lack of chat­ter on so­cial me­dia about the road con­di­tions. There are plenty of tips, how­ever, about the best restau­rants close to the palm-lined beach in what used to be a sim­ple fish­ing vil­lage and what kind of sharks lurk be­low the sur­face of the blue-grey wa­ter. OK, I’m just freak­ing my­self out now: this race will be only my sec­ond ocean swim in 15 years of triathlon rac­ing. I’m un­nerved and ex­cited at the same time.

My very first sprint triathlon, in 2002, was a pool swim at the Ver­dun Nata­to­rium, a few sub­way stops and a short hike from my home in Mon­treal.

Who knew, then, that get­ting hooked on this sport would take me from Pen­tic­ton, B.C. to Pescara, Italy, run­ning through orange groves in Florida and bik­ing past Buck­ing­ham Palace on the ex­act same route the Brown­lee broth­ers and Javier Gómez cy­cled in that epic con­test in the 2012 Lon­don Olympics.

I never in­tended to find my­self plan­ning nearly ev­ery va­ca­tion around triathlon train­ing and com­pe­ti­tion. But, when I tally up where I’ve gone and what I’ve done on my hol­i­days ever since investing in the time-trial bike and the wet­suit and ev­ery other care­fully bud­geted-for piece of gear, I get it when my more laid-back of­fice col­leagues sug­gest I just go lie on a beach, for once.

I love read­ing a trashy novel in the hot sun as much as any­one else. Just not for days on end. And there is some­thing golden about a sin­gle beach day when it comes the day af­ter a long swim and a 90-kilo­me­tre bike ride and a half-marathon. Those hours of he­do­nism feel well-de­served.

As de­served, and as de­lec­ta­ble, as the hearty Mon­tepul­ciano wine my sweet­heart and I savoured the day af­ter Iron­man 70.3 Pescara in 2014. Nei­ther of us had ever been to Italy be­fore, but we’d heard the bik­ing was great. Be­cause the race was in June, we beat the high-sea­son prices and the hottest weather.

Let’s not talk about the three-me­tre-high waves that forced the race or­ga­niz­ers to cut the swim course in half. The sky was grey and clouds hung low, but bik­ing up into the foothills of the Abruzzo moun­tains past vine­yards and olive groves was still spec­tac­u­lar. And, Ital­ians be­ing cy­cling crazy, crowds of vil­lagers came off their stoops in the rain to cheer ev­ery­one on, even those of us at the back of the pack.

What you find out when you ven­ture some­where new is that no triathlon is a cookie-cut­ter event, even if it’s a branded com­pe­ti­tion like Iron­man.

In Pescara, the race didn’t start un­til early af­ter­noon – un­heard of, in North Amer­ica. “Of course,” Ital­ian triath­letes told me, “no one in Italy would be there for a 6 a.m. start.”

There were also scarcely any women com­peti­tors, and fewer still from Italy. I found my­self in an age group of four – two of us Cana­dian. The only Ital­ian, her bike racked right next to mine, was a lawyer from the re­gion do­ing her very first long-dis­tance triathlon. So news­wor­thy was it that a 57-year-old woman would sub­ject her­self to such tor­ture that a lo­cal tele­vi­sion crew was on hand to pro­file her.

It won’t sur­prise you that the pre-race spaghetti was as delizioso as any­thing you could or­der in the best restau­rant in Mon­treal’s Lit­tle Italy. Nor that my prize for win­ning my age group was a beau­ti­ful box con­tain­ing 20 dif­fer­ent kinds of pasta that weighed more than my bike.

How could it not be a mem­o­rable trip when I was still try­ing out recipes for new pasta shapes – bu­ca­tini all’am­a­tri­ciana, any­one? – six months af­ter I got home.

Sure, fly­ing to far-off des­ti­na­tions for a triathlon is a test of one’s or­ga­ni­za­tional skills and me­chan­i­cal abil­i­ties. It’s one thing to fill a plas­tic bin with all your gear and throw it in the trunk next to your bike; it’s some­thing else en­tirely to dis­as­sem­ble the bike, pack it for the plane (pay­ing spe­cial at­ten­tion to the de­railleur hanger) and then rebuild it 5,000 km away. (Hint: say “Yes” when your adult son of­fers to buy you a good pedal wrench for Christ­mas. And never, ever for­get a spare de­railleur hanger, just in case a bag­gage han­dler drops your bike case too ex­u­ber­antly.)

But there are al­ways bike me­chan­ics at the triathlon to dou­ble-check your work. And new peo­ple to meet, other ad­ven­tures to plan.

Now about those igua­nas: did you know that a spiny-tailed male will forgo food for six months to win over the love of his life?

Mon­treal’s Loreen Pindera is an ed­i­tor with CBC News and an avid triath­lete.

Ul­trarun­ner Amanda Mcin­tosh run­ning at the beach in Punta Leona, Costa Rica

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