Updated: Jan 21, 2020
Croatia 2019 was nothing short of life changing. Three first time triathletes set a goal, made a commitment to prepare themselves through training, and delivered impressive performances in the face of adverse race-day weather conditions and with a spirit and sense of camaraderie that was inspiring. We are proud to call them fellow adventures, teammates, and triathletes. But make no mistake, our April trip to Croatia wasn’t all sweat and training. We indulged on oysters and delectable seafood at every turn, tasted plenty of indigenous wine, and explored hidden beaches along Korčula island’s vast coast.
Our small group of adventurers each came with a goal. Marianne, a former collegiate swimmer turned successful attorney, had considered competing in a triathlon for some time, but had yet to take the leap. Beth, also an accomplished attorney and very strong high-school swimmer, had focused on her family and career for the last decade, but was now armed with a new energized lifestyle and she yearned for travel and adventure. Earl, a shrewd detective charged with investigating serious crimes, was looking to take on a new challenge and keep up with Beth’s increasingly athletic lifestyle.
They arrived in Croatia and were welcomed by the coastal country’s best seafood at our traditional first-night dinner. The group chatted about the trip agenda and the next day’s activities as they broke the ice and sipped on local Plavac Mali. As they took in the newness of the experience, they already had their minds drifting toward race day. They had each been preparing physically and mentally for this trip for several months and now they got to enjoy a week of tapering in the most hospitable of locations before they’d put their training to the test. After a relaxing meal, the group set off for their cliffside hotel, took in the cool Adriatic breeze, and fell asleep as the waves lapped against the rocks some 40 feet below.
The lapping picked up in speed and intensity over the night and the group awoke for the next morning’s open water swimming workshop with a slight trepidation. What had been a calm harbor was now choppy underneath an overcast sky. Compounding things, this was the first time a few of our adventurers had swam in truly open water. Nevertheless, the crew fearlessly donned their wetsuits, caps, and goggles and hopped into the once-clear sea from the hotel’s deck. While a bit crisp, they put their faces in the water, stretched out their arms, ran through breathing drills, practiced spotting, and earned a few experience points that would prove valuable.
We spent the rest of the day touring Pelješac Peninsula, stopping to visit the famous Ston wall and enjoy a gargantuan portion of Hodilje’s finest oysters, plucked that morning from the cool bay only a few miles away. After a little more sightseeing around Ston, we headed to the end of the peninsula where we were treated to a private tasting at a small family-run winery before hopping on a fairy to our temporary island home, Korčula. All told, it was a full day - the group came together and began to realize one of the unwritten rules of Open World Racing adventures: you earn your meals … and they’re worth it!
Up with the sun the next day, the group was hosted by Nina, likely Korčula’s only yoga instructor, for a personalized session before setting off on a leisurely bicycle powered tour with Damir of Korčula Outdoor. They meandered through the island’s countryside and discovered several beautiful coves, stopping for a wine tasting then a fresh al fresco lunch. There was a brief intermission before a champagne-splashed sunset sail around Korčula Bay, which offered a unique view of the old town’s historic fortress walls and post-card worthy skyline.
The sun lit up the crystal-clear water the next day as the group set out on a kayaking adventure with Damir to visit a couple neighboring islands, one with a historic monastery and a second with a unique archaeological story. Our crew paddled hard and once again earned their lunch, which featured a healthy, or unhealthy, amount of rakija served alongside a traditional sailor’s stew at a tucked-away villa. After an afternoon break, the adventurers reconvened to hike and explore the interior of the island, ending at Eko Śkoj, quaint family-run restaurant meets world-class culinary institute. The fresh pressed olive oil tasting, freshly baked bread, array of delectable rakija, and seafood spread were out of this world. Another full day and another incredible meal kept our hearty crew in amazement.
Pre-race day offered an opportunity to relax owing to the last minute cancellation of the SCUBA-assisted bay cleanup due to choppy seas, but our adventurers opted for a second open water swimming workshop to further refine their skills before racing alongside dozens of other triathletes in Korčula Bay. We headed away from the island’s main population centers and found a secluded beach without a soul in sight, save a worker repairing a rundown beach cabana. On the road descending from the hilly interior, we could see that the pebble stone beach of Pupnatska Luka was protected by its cove shape, which subdued the choppier waters of the open Adriatic, allowing us to practice our strokes and sighting in relative calm. We swam, dove, splashed, and sunbathed the better part of the morning.
After a free afternoon that most used to nap, we visited the old town’s promenade in the evening and ate our fill of seafood pasta before calling it an early night. On the way back to our respective apartments, we strolled by the bay through which we would swim the next day and commented on how calm it was despite the wind that had been blowing all day – blowing so hard that the waves it kicked up had forced the cancellation of the cleanup.
The next morning saw the return of the Jugo winds, stirring up the waves and the concerns of the racers that lined up to enter the transition zone. Much like their friendly competitors, mostly comprised of city based triathlon clubs from the region, Open World Racing’s adventurers put on a brave face. Admittedly, your friendly author and trip guide wasn’t entirely disappointed when the safety crew decided to trim the 1500 meter swim down to 750 out of caution.
Our Croatia crew bravely battled the waves and the better part of the group finished the swim in good form, which had it not been for a goggle malfunction, would have been the whole group. The team pressed hard on the bike along the coastline and at times in the face of a formidable headwind, but nearly always with a breathtaking view. The run would offer some relief for our athletes except for the dreaded Tommy Hill, which luckily only needed to be overcome once.
The last quarter mile of the run wound through the old town’s cobblestone streets, framed by centuries-old stone structures, and finished in the main square, a truly welcome sight for our athletes. As the accomplishment of finishing an unusually challenging race sank in, a sense of pride replaced fatigue. Some of our adventurers had bonded with their once-competitors and began chatting away as they spotted each other post-race. Beth made some friends on the run from Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina and was invited to a sprint triathlon.
Marianne and Beth commented on the unexpected level of difficulty the swim had presented and Earl was seemingly relieved the experience was behind him, but it was clear he was not done with triathlons altogether and would likely face another one again soon. The team achieved what they had set out to do and had chosen Open World Racing to help guide them through the experience – for that we could not be more humbled and thankful. We are immensely proud of our Croatia Crew 2019 and can’t wait to take them on their next adventure. 2020 better be ready, cause it’s gonna be a ride!