Sunday, June 10, 2012

Honu Race Report Part V: Dirtbag vs The Olympian

Greg Bennett into T1
 (*Note: This is the fifth and final Part of my Honu Race Report. Parts of this might come off as interviewy, but it was never an interview, just informal hanging out. I take full credit for misquotes or mistakes. And, because by now you should know how I write, there is some going on and on and on about certain things. There may also be fawning and name-dropping. You would too.*)

Let's say, as a for instance, that on Saturday you woke up at 3:30am and by that afternoon you had completed your first Half Ironman. What would you want to do the next day? Sleep in, right? Me too. Except a few nights before the race I got an email from Ironman Honu which read:

Swim and Breakfast with Olympic Triathlete Greg Bennett, June 3rd 7:30 a.m. Post Race recovery swim in Pauoa Bay fronting The Fairmont Orchid, Hawai`i Resort. Meet at the Beach Shack at 7:15 a.m. Swim is followed by an athlete-only buffet breakfast at the Orchid Court Restaurant for a discounted, all-inclusive price of $25 per person. Space is limited to the first 30 participants. Please see the sign-up sheet at Ironman 70.3 Hawai`i Registration.

Hmmm, I thought. That sounds neat. But that is going to fill up quick. I bet by the time we get there the 30 spaces will be gone.  And then I put it in the back of my mind and got back to packing and repacking and then unpacking to be sure everything I'd packed was still in my bag.
When we got to registration Thursday there was a big sign:
Again, I was sure it would already be full. How could it not be? A chance to meet and Olympian? Swim with him? Pick his brain over eggs and bacon?  Everyone will want in! Wouldn't you? But a Dirtbag tries to never pass up an opportunity so I wandered over to check-in and checked out the sign-up. Only 16 people on the list so far! Dirtbag scores! I quickly wrote my name down before 14 people realized what they were missing and knocked me out of the way.
Which brings us to Sunday morning, bright and early. I stand in a surprisingly small group of only a half dozen men sharing stories from yesterday's adventure. The main topic of conversation? "So, how about that wind, huh?" The second topic? "Did you see Lance ride? Holy crap." I know who were there for someone else, but the Lance Effect is huge and cannot be denied. I did joke to someone next to me, "Hey, Greg came in second yesterday. Don't say the L-word."
Triathlon is a small sport, and most people don't really know who the Big Names are, except for That Guy everyone knows from his adventures in France. Greg Bennett is a pretty big name in the triathlon world. Not Iron-distance, this was only his third half, but from the shorter international distances. He and his wife, Laura, are "two of the most talented and successful short-course triathletes in history, with 30 World Cup podiums between them." That quote is linked to and comes directly from the Inside Triathlon article which introduced me to the Bennetts, Being Bennett.
At just about 7:30 Mr. Bennett walked over to our group. No fanfare, no camera crew, no PR people, just a guy. The guy who took second place 24 hours ago. Triathlon is so cool. Imagine going to a football game and Tom Brady walking up to you and starting a conversation about how your game went yesterday. You can't, right? Another reason triathlon is better than football.
And what was the first direct question someone asked Greg? "So, what do you think about Lance?"
Dude! Dude! Dude. No. Not cool. Why would you do that? We can get to Lance, but do you think the guy really wants to stand here and talk to us about the guy who beat him yesterday?
Turns out, he didn't mind. In fact, Bennett (I'm going to go back and forth between calling him Greg and Bennett. We did eat breakfast together, but I'm not so sure we're on a first name basis. I have tweeted him though. God, I can't believe I just said "tweeted"...) was more than happy to talk quite a bit about Lance and the Lance Effect. He had nothing but good things to say. He mentioned how hard it would be for him to concentrate with camera crews following him around like they do Lance, and seemed happy about the attention Lance is bringing to the sport. For example, NBC is talking about showing the Kona Ironman World Championship live this year. That would be huge. It normally gets a taped two-hour showing in December, two months after the race has been run. Lance Effect! The closest he came to saying anything negative was sharing a conversation he'd had race morning with Chris Lieto, a fellow pro. "It's great that Lance is here," I paraphrase, "but he doesn't need the prize money if he wins. We do!"
After chatting on the beach for a few minutes Greg suggested we get in the water to swim. "So, do you fellas want to just do a short swim, do you want me to make up some kind of work out?" Bennett, by the way, is Australian, so please imagine all quotes in a fantastic Aussie accent.
"Just swim." It was fast and unanimous.
We swam for only maybe fifteen minutes, and I will admit to spying on Bennett's stroke, trying to steal anything I could. Not long after we started the wind kicked up, the water got a little choppy, and Greg decided it was time for all of us to head in. One or two guys had swum a little ways away from the group. "I'll get them," he said. And poof, gone. I love it when fast people suddenly drop into a gear I don't have. It is so neat to watch. I swam over a turtle on the way back. Open water swimming, people. And, because I'm not at all competitive against people who don't know that we are racing, lengthened my stroke. To stretch, you see, not to be sure I was ahead of most everyone. Though I did beat Greg back to the beach. I'm not claiming I finished a swim ahead of an Olympian, because we totally weren't racing as far as he knew, I'm only stating that I reached the beach before him. That's all.
Before we went to eat most of us changed out of our swim trunks. I deck changed, as you do if you grew up a swimmer. Wrap a towel around your waist, strip, pull on shorts. Easy. To my surprise, Bennett did it too, with seven guys standing around him asking questions. Because that's what you do when swimming is part of your job. You're comfortable like that. I can check watching an Olympian get dressed off my To Do list (was hoping for Amanda Beard).
Breakfast was the Fairmont Orchid buffet, though the hotel had set us up in a special side room. Seating for 30. Only, like I said, half a dozen of us. So we pushed to tables together. By the way, I'm not saying there were only six of us as a commentary on Greg Bennett. I keep saying it because I seriously cannot believe more people didn't sign up. You are an amateur athlete being given the chance to speak to and hang out with and swim with a highly decorated pro and you are going to pass it up? Why would you do that? He was the nicest guy in the world. Answered every single question, and asked great ones in return. 
I was very excited because I have a question I would ask every single pro triathlete if I could, and I finally got the chance to ask one! "What," I asked, "would be your perfect race? If you could create the Bennett Invitational and you could pick any distances and course topography, what would it be?" His answer was pure short-course expert. "1-2k swim, 30k hilly bike, and an 8k run." I want to be the first to register for that race.
I was in the middle of Chrissie Wellington's autobiography, A Life Without Limits, and recently finished Chris "Macca" McCormack's I'm Here To Win, (Macca's is better) so I also half-jokingly asked when we were going to get The Greg Bennett Story. He said he wasn't sure he would write a book about himself, but he might be interested in writing a nutrition book with his wife for athletes. I'd read that too. He said he liked reading books about an athlete struggling before making it to the top and one of the athletes who could write a great book like that would be Craig "Crowie" Alexander, five-time world champion. So Crowie, get on it.
We asked about training stuff too. He would know, right? Compression works, and he prefers it to ice baths, but you've gotta have the good stuff. A lot of compression gear is really "only tighter rugby socks" so it doesn't do much good. And yes, I sqee-ed on the inside to hear the Aussie mention rugby. Ice baths are ok but he doesn't like them too much because of how they make his joints feel. He also loves riding on a trainer. The controlled environment, putting together a good two or three hour interval workout, helps him get stronger. That will help me get on the trainer more readily next time, with better plans.
It was a kick to hear him tell stories about other pros, people I'd only read about or seen in magazines. Stuff like, "I love Macca, but some of the stuff he says some times, I mean come on, man." That's hilarious, especially if you've ever heard Macca talk about himself. And if you've heard Macca talk, you've heard him talk about himself. This sounds bad, but I'm a big fan of his. Bigger fan of Greg Bennett now though. Macca, I'm sure, is crushed.
What was really cool, though, was when he asked us about our races. Everyone around the table shared how they did, with the rest of us chiming in and making jokes. It was more like a bull session with friends than a collection of people who had never met before. Triathlon family. Bennett said he liked doing things like this because triathlon is such a small world on the outside, but feels so big on the inside. And with pros racing alongside age groupers like us, it means we can all share the same war stories. I can't tell you how nice it was to hear him say he was scared by the wind coming down Hawi too. If the pro was clutching his aerobars and hoping not to crash, that means we really are together in this. Tom Brady will never say to you, "Musta been tough, sitting in the stands cheering the whole game while it was snowing. I'm impressed you made it to the end." When our pro says, "It was a really hard day out there and I'm impressed all of you made it through the bike without crashing," that means something.
Greg Bennett was as nice as anyone could have asked and more. He asked us to go around the table and talk about our future race plans and when I told him about Super Awesome Wife being pregnant and how that might impact us as a family and my training he wished me luck. Three times, and on Twitter. Dude was actually paying attention, not just nodding and smiling through some boring meet-and-greet. He said the swim and breakfast was his idea and I believe him. Here's his tweet from that morning.
Recovery swim and breakfast at the . I'm looking forward to hearing all the war stories from yesterday.

 He wasn't selling anything and barely mentioned his sponsors, though I'd probably drop some money on a Bennett Endurance jersey. It really did feel like hearing war stories and hanging out was his only goal.
Meeting fans pre-race (from finisherpix) I'll take a jersey, please
I'm officially a fanboy now, and I'll be cheering for Greg at Kona this year, and his wife Laura at the London Games. He's got a Grand Plan to convince Lance, Crowie, Macca, Chris Lieto, and any of the other big names he can to do the 5150 (Ironman Olympic Distance Championship), Las Vegas (Ironman 70.3 Championship), and Kona (Ironman 140.6 World Championship) this year so they can really see who the best triathlete is. His money would be on Crowie, he said. How cool would that be, for all of the best to race all the distances together?
I can't thank Greg and the Fairmont Orchid enough for letting us do this. It was a pleasure and a privilege to meet him. A more amazingly nice, polite, humble professional athlete in any sport you'll be hard-pressed to find. And, if you're looking, you can find him @GregBennett1 on twitter. All the luck with your season, Greg. Go get 'em.
The group, Greg is in the shades

Dirtbag and the Olympian


  1. Now I feel like I really missed a fun breakfast. But spending time with Hiromi WITHOUT Grouchy Teenage Daughter was another opportunity I couldn't miss! But if he does it again next year, I'm there dude!

  2. Wow, that is very cool! Sounds like he is a real down to earth kinda guy.

  3. That is awesome Doug, sounds like a perfect end to a great weekend. Thanks for sharing your experience with us!