Dispatch: The Final Baker’s Dozen From Phuket

  • By Holly Bennett
  • Published Dec 5, 2013
  • Updated Feb 18, 2014 at 12:04 AM UTC
The iconic elephant trophies from Laguna Phuket are certainly worth the effort. Photo: Holly Bennett

The Run

Before I hit T2 I prepped my plan for the half marathon: It’s going to hurt. You won’t feel fast. You’ll probably want to stop. Be prepared and don’t let the dark moments derail you. Step back from them and stay in control. The lows will happen — just keep moving forward as best you can. The highs will happen — make the most of every minute you feel good. And no matter what, don’t look at your watch. Pace is irrelevant at this point. Just try to run faster than everyone else.

It’s hard to describe how the heat and humidity of Asia hits you on the run. The air was thick, soupy and saturated with moisture, and the sun continued to cook along the mostly exposed course. I normally have some pep in my stride post-bike, as running is easily my best discipline, but the run in Phuket is more about survival than anything resembling speed. The low moments were there without doubt, but while I slowed in those spots I didn’t let my lagging pace upset me. I simply kept myself going with self-talk: Don’t go there. You’ll come around. This is your final race of the season (and your favorite), so enjoy it and make it count!

I thought a lot about my triathlete friends who had raced particularly inspiring performances over the past year, and drew on their toughness of character during the roughest patches. I thought about Hillary Biscay, who at that very moment was partway through the three-day challenge of racing (and ultimately winning) the Ultraman World Championship, and I sucked up whatever little pains I was suffering. I doused myself with sponges at every aid station, and I drank more than I ever imagined I could stomach on the go. I swallowed water, sports drink, Coke, Sprite and some sort of neon green fizzy stuff that I didn’t recognize (or like). I took twice as many salt tablets as I’ve ever tried before, and I forced down my GU even though hunger was the furthest thing from my mind. I felt hydrated and fueled — and fat! I thought about an interview I did with a pro prior to Kona, asking about body consciousness, where she talked about making the mistake of trying to hold her race-bloated belly in tight for the camera. My belly felt embarrassingly big, but I didn’t care. I knew that loading up on liquids and electrolytes was my lifeline to the finish and I downed every drop I possibly could. Bottoms up, babe!

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Fortunately for me, the final few miles were a fairly steady high on my running roller coaster. I was able to pick up my pace considerably, surely propelled by the enormous amount of caffeine I’d consumed. I did make a slight backtrack at the 18km mark to give my Rudy Project sunglasses to one of the sweet local boys helping at an aid station, a tradition I started the last time I raced in Phuket. It was simply one small way of saying thanks for welcoming us athletes so warmly to the island.

When I crossed the line and finally saw the clock, I figured I’d surely missed a podium spot; my time was one of the slowest I’ve ever seen over the half distance. I wasn’t about to let myself feel frustrated, though. I’d raced one of my smartest races ever, learning lessons on the fly and keeping my head focused the whole way, so I was absolutely pleased and proud. But as stories swirled around me of other athletes’ slow times, I started to wonder. When the results were posted I couldn’t squash a tiny scream. I’d have to make room in my suitcase for another elephant — I’d finished second!

That’s a wrap on my 2013 Baker’s Dozen project — 13 races ranging from a four-mile run to the full-distance Challenge Penticton, some right down the road at home and others in venues as exotic and exciting as Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, Costa Rica, Canada and Germany. Thinking back, it’s been an unbelievable year. Looking forward, I’m excited for what comes next. I’m not yet sure what I’ll tackle in 2014 but whatever I do, adventure will surely play a part.

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