Dispatch: The Final Baker’s Dozen From Phuket

  • By Holly Bennett
  • Published Dec 5, 2013
  • Updated Feb 18, 2014 at 12:04 AM UTC
All smiles and sunshine on the Challenge Laguna Phuket bike course. Here I'm about to reach a mandatory dismount for a hike up and over a pedestrian bridge highway overpass, which athletes traverse twice during the race. Photo: Holly Bennett

“Dispatch” is an online column from Triathlete Editor-at-Large Holly Bennett that features pro updates, industry news, happenings afield and otherwise random reports related to multi-sport. Look for “Dispatch” every Thursday on Look back on the other “Baker’s Dozen” entries from Bennett.

Back in January when I concocted a plan of racing once a month, plus one, throughout 2013, I had a wish list of potential races to reach that tally — and Challenge Laguna Phuket figured prominently. I’d raced in Phuket previously, in 2010 when the race was under the Ironman 70.3 banner, and it fast became my favorite half-distance event. Racing in Laguna Phuket is a blend of everything that makes long-course triathlon a legendary life experience — the paradisiacal destination, the people (those sharing the course, on the sidelines and behind the scenes) that are drawn to visit, work and live in such a special location and the merciless course itself, wherein only the most tenacious athletes prevail. I kept my fingers crossed that I’d be invited back, and sure enough, a few months ago the invitation arrived. I had a little fist-bump celebration with myself, knowing it would be the perfect place to wrap up 12 months of racing in sweat-drenched, stalwart style.

While my first few days in Phuket — during the lead up to the Laguna Phuket Triathlon, one week prior to Challenge — were plastered with rain and wind, the week leading into Challenge Laguna Phuket was primarily sunny, with afternoon thunderstorms rolling in for only an hour or so each day. The race day forecast promised to be the hottest yet, and for once the Weather Channel was right; temperatures reached 90, the sun blazed and the humidity was extra high because of all the recent rain. I’d raced in Asia a handful of times previously but always with slightly overcast skies; finally it seemed I was in for a doozy of a sweltering day, and I couldn’t have been more excited about it.

At the warm up for the swim start, Emmy-award-winning television producer Peter Henning turned his camera on me, asking what I was looking forward to the most that day. “Everything!” I gushed, “Because whatever happens, whether there’s rain or heat or whatever awaits out there, this race is guaranteed to be an adventure.” Really, that’s the reason I race, and the reason I’m particularly fond of far-flung venues. No matter how well or how poorly I might perform, the experience element is what makes events like Challenge Laguna Phuket extra special. The adventure can be scary for sure, but embracing that fear and swimming off into the unknown makes me feel more alert than ever to life. It’s downright awesome.

RELATED: September’s Baker’s Dozen: Reason To Smile

Don’t get me wrong, though: I was in it for the experience but I also wanted to race well. In fact, after reaching the podium in the prior weekend’s race and earning one of Laguna Phuket’s iconic elephant trophies, I was privately determined to double my winnings and bring home a pair of mini mastodons. I had learned from the first race that staying strong, steady and slightly in control was the key to a successful race in Asia, where every element of the environmental conditions and the pain and suffering of competition is magnified far more so than in temperate regions. And I knew this would especially hold true in the longer distance I was about to tackle. Keeping my wits about me and making wise decisions on the go would prove critical if I had any hope of earning another podium spot.

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