Monday, December 3, 2007

Sawadee



Well, this is it, folks. The very last post of my trip in Thailand. Even though I’ll be here another 8 days still, there is a tsunami warning and they’ve shut down the internet.

Heh, just kidding. About the tsunami.

I mostly just wanted to share the race with you, because it was the highlight of the trip. Alas, blogging is no longer a priority. The next week will be spent lying on the beach in beautiful, secluded Railay Bay, with a couple side trips for rock climbing, cave spelunking, and scuba diving. These activities, along with cigarettes and martinis, are of course high on Jessa’s list of “pregnancy must-haves” and as all my personal training clients and athletes know, an integral part of my daily health routine. ;)



So the triathlon post-race awards ceremony and party (Jessa and I pictured above on our way over), and the “VIP post-party party” were just OK. We were both really tired, and by the time the second party rolled around, we were exhausted. They throw a really great celebration out on the beach with a huge Thai food and dessert buffet, free drinks, DJ and dancing, but we had to be rolling out of bed at 6am to catch a cruiser to the Phi Phi islands, so I took Jessa home drunk in a wheelbarrow by 4am. No actually, I didn’t really drink, and actually felt like I was the only sober person there by the time about 11pm rolled around, so decided I should either call it a night or really join the party. I called it a night.

The trip to Railay Bay this morning involved lounging on the sun deck of a cruiser, lounging on the hot beach during a 3 hour stop in the Phi Phi islands, lounging in another sunny cruiser to Railay bay, and then finally donating $10 to our favorite skin cancer charity. We also snorkeled. Here are some pics we snapped during the trip.

My comfy first class seat on the cruise.



Pregnant women are secluded to the railing because the stomach takes up too much space.



A few shots from the cruiser trip.











We finally arrived in Railay Bay and I remembered immediately that this secluded jungle beachfront is my favorite place in the world! No noisy cars, no obnoxious tourists, and dozens of secluded places to climb, hike, swim, and explore. There are tons of hippies here. I think I commented last time that you could pretty much empty the island by throwing a “free weed” sign 500 meters off the beach.

Here’s a shot of our cute little jungle bungalow in Railay. We live right in between a Thai guerilla army base camp and a pot-smoking rock climbing school. Oh yeah, the other thing I like about Railay Bay – it’s C-H-E-A-P!



And, of course, our first night we had to have the signature meal on the island – barbecued…whatever you want! Prawns, stone crab, red snapper, shark, sea bass, swordfish - always served fresh with corn on the cob and a baked potato. Here’s some shots of us enjoying dinner after a long day of boat travel:





On December 11, we will arrive back in Spokane, provided we survive the last 2 days of our trip, which involve a mad Christmas gift shopping spree in bustling Bangkok. Not my favorite city in the world, but there are some really fantastic markets, and we’re staying in a hotel directly in China town, which should be a unique cultural experience. Plus, by then we should be really waxing nostalgic about Christmas and the fact that there is no frozen roads or mass holiday commercialization here. so we'll really be anxious to get back to the states so we can experience that.

Anyhow, thanks for reading the past few days, thanks for the awesome comments, and as they say in Thailand, “Sawadee!”. That means, "Screw you, I'm outta here."

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Race

Something that the United States need to learn from the race directors over here in Asia is how to throw a proper pre-race party. They really pull out all the stops here, with 5 star cooking, live entertainment, white tablecloth type affair, and fantastic organization. It is such a treat! Of course, the post-race party is purported to be even better, and I'll be telling you about that perhaps tomorrow. I'm not sure how it could be any better - maybe they throw gold coins into the crowd or something.

I had a gentleman snap a photo of Jessa and I on our way over to the pre-race affair:



Here is a shot of the pre-race banquet. Believe it or not, the Thai "karaoke" style group of ladies they had performing on stage actually were doing a decent cover of Nora Jones. Wonders never cease to amaze.



The pro race meeting was uneventful except when Murphy (the race director) informed us that the age groupers were allowed to wear speedsuits, but the pros were not. His reasoning was as follows: because Orca brand speedsuits are quite popular and because all speedsuits are black and kind of wetsuity looking, he was afraid that potential race participants would see his pro lineup looking like a bunch of seals on the beach and think this was a coldwater location. The actual rule was that we were only allowed to wear "1 layer" the whole race. Faris actually planned on wearing his speedsuit only and just rolling the top down once he hit the bike.

Problem was, Belinda Granger didn't have anything to wear for the race except her 2 piece race suit, which she apparently couldn't swim with. So she threw Murphy a curveball and said she simply couldn't race unless she could swim in her speedsuit. Hence, he was obliged to make the speedsuits legal. I anticipate these type of issues becoming quite controversial in the future for triathlons worldwide.

I headed down to the race start at about 5:45AM (7AM race start) Completely forgot to prepare breakfast, so all I had was a bunch of bananas. I must say I prefer sweet potatoes. Not that big of a deal, since this race is not even half Ironman distance (1.8K swim, 55K bike, 13K run).

BIG PROBLEM: On the way over to set-up my bike in transition, I stopped at bike tech to pump my tires. The valve extender on the back tire didn't seem to be taking air. I've had this problem in the past when the valve core simply becomes tightened during the vibration from traveling in the bike box. I checked it with a small allan wrench and it was OK.

So the bike tech guy says "Here let me try". It still didn't take after about 10 minutes of twisting and readjusting the extender and the pump. By now I was starting to get nervous because the swim start isn't even at transition. You have to take a ferry across the lagoon to get there, and it was already 6:15. The bike tech guy removed half my tubular and I guess at some point during our pumping, the tire had ruptured at the valve attachment.

Here's where I was an idiot. I have a pre-glued spare attached to my bike. The bike tech guy says, "No problem, I'll glue another tire and get it on for you right away." I should have just grabbed my spare, but instead let him throw the new tire on. For those of you who don't ride tubulars, this glue is supposed to *set* for at least a day prior to racing. This is a very technical bike course with tons of sharp twists and turns, and now I would have the issue of the tire possibly rolling off the wheel in the turns. When he finally handed me my bike, he says, "Go really slow on corners and ride conservatively. No trying to win this thing."

THANKS DUDE.

Note to self: top goal for next year is to become a better bike tech.

So we finally got the issue settled at 6:40, and I literally had to sprint to transition and set up my set up my stuff in about 60 seconds flat. Technically, they kick everybody out of transition at 6:30, so I was literally the last guy in there and the last guy on the ferry. Talk about a smooth way to start the race.

*Disclaimer*: Bike Botique was the pre-race support and I don't want anybody to read this blog and think that this error was anyone's fault but mine. These guys offered AWESOME pre-race support - I just made some mistakes in my own pre-race preparation.

Anyways, moving on, here are some pictures Jessa snapped of the race start.







So check out the video for the race start. We were supposed to start with an airhorn signal, and as we're all on our toes waiting for the horn to sound, then there is finally this tiny little monkey fart squeak. The pro directly beside me takes off and nobody else moves. He makes it like 3 step forwards, looks back and then the whole field takes off. About 5 seconds later, the actual horn sounded. It was weird. Blogger doesn't seem to want to upload my videos, so I've provided a link to the race start video:

http://www.pacificfit.net/Library%20-%201897.mov

Off we go! (I'm to the right in the white cap).



Here's a shot of me coming out of the sea. Now this is kinda a unique race, because after we come out of the sea, we run across the beach, then go barrelling into a lagoon, where we swim another 600 meters. Because the lagoon is fresh water and stagnant, it is less buoyant and far warmer. It is like hitting pea soup. Your heart rate goes through the roof! This is by far the most difficult part of the swim.



When I glanced down at my watch quickly coming out of the water, I think my swim time may have been 60 seconds faster than last year. I honestly think I swam faster than that, but the consensus among most of the people I talked to after the race was that the swim course (which was altered this year) was a slower course. I felt good on the swim, and was very grateful for that Blue Seventy speedsuit in the lagoon. It really helped!

There aren't really any pictures of the bike split. The technical first 15K of the bike, I was actually 3 minutes slower than last year. Because of the tire issue, I rode the corners very conservatively and came out of the aero bars for almost every turn. Of course, this meant that I had pretty fresh and fast legs for the next 40K. I split Faris coming out the backside of that 15K on an out and back portion and he was 7 minutes up on me. When I split him at the 45K mark, he was about 9 minutes up. So I held time decently.

I was by myself on the bike the WHOLE TIME. Basically at the front of the age groups and the back of the pros. It is a blast time trialing through villages where chickens and dogs scatter out of the street in front of you and all these Thai schoolchildren line the streets and scream like you're Superman. It's a really cool experience. Even with the tire episode, my bike split was a good 3-4 minutes faster than last year, and I was *really* flying once we got out on the 20K highway portion. Chris, my fitter at Wheelsport East in Spokane, really put me in a super aggressive position for this race, and I was tucked very low. It felt awesome, but I wouldn't dare race anything longer than this in that position.

This is me running out of bike to run transition. It was very, very similar to Hawaii, where you finish the bike and all you're thinking is: "Now I have to run in this heat? You have got to be kidding me!". It was SO hot. The first 5K I thought that I might fall apart. I came out right alongside Chrissie Wellington, so of course nobody noticed me sneaking out there on the run. You can actually see her there behind me.



There's no finish line shots. Sorry! Basically, I held back the first 6K of the run and went conservatively, just trying not to overheat and blew up, which, by the way, a good number of folks did, because they passed me on the run and I re-passed a bunch of them in the final 2K, dragging their legs in cramps and sucking air.

I did the first 6K, by my reckoning, in about 25 minutes, and the second 6K in about 23 minutes or so. My goal for this race was a 2:45, and my final time (official results not yet posted and I don't know anything except what I'm approximating) was a 2:49. I have absolutely NO IDEA how I fared with the pros/age groupers, but I think I had a decent race.

The run was very hard and I thought I was going to pass out when I turned on the afterburners in that second 6K and started blasting by people. But I survived! Post race party starts in a couple hours, so I'm going back to my hotel room to take a bit of a nap. By the way, the whole registering as a pro thing was really worth it just because the buffet line and massage therapy was like 10 steps above the age grouper treatment I got last year (and even *that* was good). I sat at a table with Faris Al Sultan, Bryan Rhodes, Richie Cunningham, and Peter somebody from Australia. I felt completely outclassed, but had a great time. Looking forward to the party tonight!

Cheers,
Ben

P.S. Jessa's doing great! Whenever I got really tired and hot, I kept thinking about those two little fellas curled up in her tummy. Somehow that kept me going...so guys if you want to race faster, just get your wife pregnant. OK, I'm obviously getting loopy, so over and out!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Fantasea

We took it easy on Friday! Spent the morning lounging poolside, catching some rays, and smoking weed with the locals. Jessa's doctor says "no Mary Jane" so she had to settle for vodka and cigarettes. Haha. No actually, look how healthy she is being:



Jessa getting her exercise. I've installed a special flotation device called "twin babies" in her midsection to help with her buoyancy in the water.



Afternoon foot massages. I saw Faris Al Sultan sail by on his bike during this massage. No helmet, just his signature hankerchief or whatever that is he wears on his head. He was with a couple other guys I didn't recognize.

We had some interesting conversations with our therapists...they about fainted when I told them how much we pay for massage stateside. This one hour massage for the two of us was about $8 apiece. Just so happens that the one on the right is the same that offered me "happy ending" to my traditional Thai massage. Not sure how she keeps getting "assigned" to me.



All done with foot massage. Glad *somebody* was willing to touch my feet for an hour, cracked toenails, mosquite bites, cracked heels and all.

GREAT NEWS! Friday night is the big night that we got to go to what is apparently Phuket's biggest tourist attraction - the grand Fantasea show, only about 30 minutes from our resort...we're so lucky! Or so we thought. They described it as a of a "state-of-the-art" show with a fantastic carnival and the greatest presentation in all of Southeast Asia, complete with dancing elephants, laser light shows, 4D special effects, and tons of fun for the whole fam.



I was like a little child in a candy store. Oh the joy of cheesy Thai tourist traps. What shall I do first? My head is spinning! Life can't get any better! This is at the gold plated gates of the front entrance. It went downhill from here.



They're ALL male. Even the one with 1 D cup and 1 B cup. It's kinda funny - I think the "botched" transgender surgical patients get the job at Fantasea. The pretty ones get to go to Bangkok and Patong beach.



This girl is obviously just super excited about the opportunity to wear pantaloons and a flowing white shirt.



Smile for the camera. Good, now everybody say it together: "G-A-U-D-Y!"



Great name for a kid's "sea-themed" store. Works for James Bond, so it should sell toys, right?



What a brilliant costume! Well worth the price of the ticket - which was almost as much as a Dave Matthews concert, which Jessa later remarked she would have much rather been at.



These random guys were just sitting there taking money for people to be photographed with them.



I didn't find out they actually wanted money until later, when Jessa asked me how much I paid them. Shoot, if only I would have known I probably would have forked over a couple Benjamin's for that rare photo op.



This is Jessa and Eric (a friend from California who happens to be here helping with a tour group for the race). I think they're pretending to be eaten by the giant tiger statue. Incidentally, there were *real* tigers at Fantasea. They were locked in a glass encased room and every single one was fast asleep and twitching strangely on the floor. I don't even want to know what kind of sedatives they feed these animals.

So in the actual Fantasea show, they wouldn't allow us to bring cameras. Well, it's *gotta* be good if you're not even allowed to photograph it, right? It started out OK. We walked in and were presented with an enormous, grandiose stage where regal music played to a stadium full of anxious tourists waiting to be thrilled. There were probably about 1000 people there.

That was about as impressive as it got. What was supposed to be the Thai equivalent of Cirque de Solei turned out to be a very cheap presentation that used shadow screens, strung together Christmas lights, cheesy dancers, and outdated neon lasers to tell what I think was the story of Ramadan. Not too sure because I fell asleep a couple times.

We didn't arrive back at the resort until midnight, and fell fast asleep, ready to go to race registration this morning. Jessa snapped a picture of me getting my bike ready.



After arriving at registration, i discovered that due to some kind of snafu, I had been placed in the 25-29 age division, and was not registered as a pro. It was my intention to race here as a pro just to see how I do mentally and physically against the big guns. So I approached the registration director and explained the situation. It actually turned out to be a pretty easy switch. They just assigned me a new race number and gave me a different swim cap, and I have to go to some special meeting for the pros tonight.

Then they just wrote my name in pencil on the sheet, and voila, I'm a pro. ;) Kinda funny, because you go to the expo and look at the registration list, and there are 9 or 10 male pros, then about a dozen female pros (including Chrissie Wellington and Mirinda Carfrae), then at the very bottom of the list, scratched in pencil, is my name. I'm sure I'm also the only person on that list with hairy legs. Whatever.

I was the seventh amateur to cross the finish line last year, and beat a handful of the pros, so I know I can hang with a few of the fast guys, but I'm actually a bit apprehensive about toeing the start line with some of the individuals here, like Faris-Al Sultan, Richie Cunningham, and Massimo Cigana. I know that these guys can and will beat me by 10-15 minutes if they throw down 2:30ish times like previous years. I'm going to be happy with a 2:45. Last year, I was a 2:57. We'll see what happens! I need to have a *very* good day to get a time like that. There are 900 people racing, more than the 750 from last year.

You can't really follow this race online, but I'll post a blog on Sunday afternoon sometime with an update, which will be about 10 or 11pm Saturday night Pacific time.

Incidentally, here is one final shot.



Dirt roads, thai maniacs on scooters, beautiful pregnant woman. I like this picture. Over and out from Thailand.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

6 Tasty Dishes

Want to know what we actually learned how to make at our Thai cooking class?

• Clear fish soup with turmeric Pla Tom Ka Min
• Yellow curry with chicken Kaeng Ka Ree Kai
• Stir-Fried asparagus with prawns Pad Nor Mai Farang Kub Goong
• Thai fried noodles with prawns Pad Thai
• Spicy mixed seafood salad Yam Ta Lay
• Steamed banana cake Ka Nom Kuay

And my personal favorite: powdered coffee from a can.

The Mighty Coconut Picker Strikes Again



Thursday we went on a full day safari tour that included elephant trekking, coconut picking, rubber tree tapping, curry making, a baby elephant trick show...and the best part of the day: a sundown cruise on a junk boat in the beautiful Andaman sea off the coast of Phuket town. We had a chance to hang out with some really cool couples from Australia and Singapore, and two very comedic Irish girls. Here are some pictures below with the highlights of the day.:



The most romantic place on earth - the back of a farting elephant. Seriously, this thing sounded like it had a tiger hanging off it's butt. Our elephant "jockey" held a large metal spike that he kept striking the elephant's head with. I'm sure PETA would have flipped.



Tapping a rubber tree. It only takes 8 acres of rubber tree orchards and 400 hours of slave labor to make 1 basketball. Eat you heart out, David Stern.



This monkey had very soft hands, almost like velvet. He was trained to climb up into trees and pick coconuts.



I'd give anything to have one of those little joke "hand-shake" shockers. Poor little monkey wouldn't know what hit him.



Gas mileage, baby. Jessa and I would have made great third world country farmers in another life. As it is, I'm thinking that a water buffalo might make a great pet back in Liberty Lake, and a good companion for our babies to play with.



This is my back-up plan should I have any mechanical bike failures prior to the race Sunday. Notice the highly aerodynamic water buffalo horns.



So the safari tour advertised "Land Rovers" to take us up into the jungle. In America, a Land Rover is a luxury 4wd SUV. In Thailand, a land rover is way old school - essentially a rusted army-style bucket with wheels, squeaky brakes, and very hot vinyl seats. It didn't even have OnStar. Sheesh.



The best part of the day. We watched a beautiful sunset off the bow of a junk boat. You could practically hear the sun sizzle as it settled into the ocean. What a fantastic day!

P.S. I've had a few people ask if I'm actually doing any *training* while I'm here. As a matter of fact, I am! The body is feeling pretty good, and I had a chance to ride the 55K bike course yesterday with a large group of other cyclists, including the 70.3 World Champion Mirinda Carrfrae, who is a really cool gal. I'm interested in how this race actually shakes out for me. There are 800 participants, and in both the practice bike and practice run I was way out in front of nearly everyone. I haven't seen any of the male pros, so they're either laying low or just haven't arrived yet. My legs feel good. I think I may have torqued my shoulder a bit on a practice swim in the ocean, but it shouldn't be a big deal. So that's the triathlon update, for those of you who are concerned that all I'm doing is drinking Singha, eating Pad Thai, and smelling elephant ass.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I Made an Onion Flower.



Jessa and I set out first thing in the morning to weave through crazy Phuket traffic for nearly two hours towards a remote side of the island where there is a famous Thai cooking school. We enrolled, and for the entire morning and afternoon, learned the art of Thai cooking. I even made a butterfly out of a raw carrot. This an important survival skill I'm certain I'll use someday.

Here are pictures with the highlights:







We fought traffic all the way home, watching our lives flash before our eyes as we dodged garbage trucks, semi trucks, and entire scooter gangs through busy Phuket rush hour traffic, while Jessa tried to simultaneously clutch my back and hold a crumpled map in my face. We arrived home stinky, sweaty, and full of creative Thai recipes that we look forward to preparing for our friends back in the States.

Sawadee! (goodbye in Thai).

Ben

P.S. It is very hot and humid here. This makes Kona, Hawaii seem like a winter wonderland. This will make for very difficult race conditions on Sunday...

Dinner and massage with a happy ending.

Tuesday: I spent the better part of my morning negotiating the price of a scooter down to just $8 a day. It's the little things in life that count, like saving a few bucks on an outdated piece of dangerous machinery. Jessa and I are now like Lloyd and Harry from Dumb and Dumber, except Harry is pregnant and Lloyd is attempting to speak Thai to the natives.

Tuesday evening, we went out for Thai dinner and massage. Our Thai restaurant served fabulous cuisine, but we happened to be the *only* people in the restaurant, so we goofed the entire time. I'm sure our friendly waitstaff was convinced we were drunk Americans that had just polished off a few cases of Singha. Here are a couple of our food critique videos:

video

The massage experience was interesting to say the least. Since Jessa is pregnant, she opted for a foot massage and I went for the traditional Thai massage. I just don't see how they can spend an hour on your feet only. Hell, if I'm going to have a 1 hour foot massage, they better power-wash, hair-pluck, nail-paint and heel-shine for me to get my money's worth.

So anyways, my personal massage therapist got about halfway up my hamstrings, then leaned over and asked me if I wanted a "happy ending". I'm pretty sure by happy ending that she didn't mean a lollipop or free sticker, like my happy ending at the dentist. I think she was surprised when I said no, because I don't think they get that response much. She actually left the room, then came back to finish the last half of the massage. Maybe she had to ask permission to do a normal, clean, healthy routine. In the end, they actually gave me a 15% discount. That's all the happy ending I need.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Smile for the camera



Not that you don't *want* to hear about every subtle nuance of our 17 hour flight to Phuket, Thailand, but I'm jet-lagged, sleepy, and have a million very important things I want to do (meaning I'm going to go find some good shrimp pad thai as soon as I finish this post, then go sit on the beach and read a book).

So I'm going to write this blog in "pictures" with captions underneath. For those of you who have ADD, like pop-up books, are dyslexic, have bad eyesight, or just don't like to read, what a goldmine this blog posting will be. For the rest of you, TOUGH LUCK because I'm not going to type any more than I have to today. ;)

video

My lovely wife. News flash: if you haven't heard, there's two lovely little twin boys inside!



I know it's sideways. Cock your head. That's me eating an unidentified meaty object at the Seoul, Korea airport.



Breakfast, at our resort in Phuket. Getting the feeling that I eat alot when I'm on vacation? Highlight of this breakfast was the painfully spicy fish sauce I put on my chinese chicken porridge. Please pass the mouthwash.



Looking out over the lagoon from our resort.



Feeding YumYum, the baby elephant hanging out in the hotel lobby.



My hot pregnant wife, gettin' jiggy wit a frog.



Lounging in the resort lobby.

Cheers, I promise I'll say more words next time...we're off to Phuket town tomorrow for a Thai cooking class! I'm going to make my speciality, the Oops I Cut My Finger Pad Thai.