The 2018 race season is officially underway and IRONMAN 70.3 Puerto Rico did not disappoint! Although hurricane Maria has left a lasting mark on Puerto Rico, I am so glad I did not let that deter me from getting this race marked on my calendar. My brother and his girlfriend ended up making the trip with me and we made a memorable vacation out of the trip, spending six days in Old San Juan. The architecture and history of Old San Juan was unbelievable and hard to describe in words. Pretty much every other door in this small town led into a restaurant, café, or bar. You definitely do not want to have to worry about your race weight when visiting Old San Juan, I’ll leave that for races later this year! Needless to say, it was all play no business for the majority of this six day trip!
My 2017 race season sure was a roller coaster of a year. I rolled into the New Year motivated and hungry to build off the momentum of a late season win at IRONMAN Louisville. I was feeling strong, fit, and motivated to have some real breakout performances in my more important late season races. Things turned sour pretty quickly as I suffered my first significant injury of my short triathlon career. Many, many trips to doctors, chiropractors, PT, acupuncture, MRIs and a bike crash at Kona had me feeling pretty burnt out in October. After Kona, I put my foot in a walking boot for a month to try and let my injury heal and took another two months off of any form of exercise. Mentally, my head just wasn’t in the game…
As I rolled into 2018, I slowly started training again. It is quite unbelievable how much performance you can lose in just a few months. But, knowing where my fitness was just a few months ago, I didn’t let the low performance numbers deter me. Trust the process! The two months leading up to PR had me starting to feel like my old self again. The performance numbers have been slowly coming back, but most importantly I was motivated, hungry, and healthy. Game on!
I am a person of routine and just like any other 70.3, I woke up three hours before the race started and downed my 900 calorie smoothie (Almond milk, peanut butter, banana, flax seed, and instant coffee). One word of advice if you ever visit Old San Juan is do not use a rental car, parking is a nightmare and there are strict rules about where visitors can park. Luckily, I got this advice right before making the trip and was able to cancel my reservation and relied on Uber for transportation. Definitely a smart move!
After a short Uber drive to the transition area, I set my bike up to race, then made the half mile voyage to the swim start. I was able to get in about a 600 yard warm-up swim in, put down a Huma Chia gel, and hung out with my cheer squad before they started corralling us in the first wave (M30-34).
Every IRONMAN branded race has a little bit different strategy to how they start their races. Originally, all races were mass starts where everyone started at once. As the popularity of the sport and the number of entrants grew, mass starts have slowly dwindled due to safety concerns. This has led to races typically switching to Age Group wave or self-seeded time trial starts. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with self-seeded time trial starts, IMO. You put the fastest people up front to truly “race” against others for Age Group and Overall results. This usually results in the fastest person of the day being the first one across the finish line… This race was an Age Group wave start where they broke up a few of the most competitive male age groups and put them in the beginning and at the end of the wave assignments. I’m not sure what the logic of the wave assignment order was. I would have no clue about where the other top Age Group athletes were at and would experience a totally different “race” throughout the day. This is certainly my only major gripe about how this race was organized. Otherwise, I was overall extremely impressed with the rest of the race “experience”.
Anyways, back to racing! My wave had a smaller field of about 50 people. We all got into the water a few minutes before the gun went off and got into our positions. My strategy was to line myself up front in the middle and try to hang on to the fastest guy next to me in the hopes of catching a good draft around the whole swim course. My plan lasted for a total of about 15 seconds or so as the guy next to me shot out like a rocket and I had ZERO chance hanging on. Damn swimmers!
After those first 10 yards, it was pretty much a solo day for me the rest of the race… I just pushed what I felt like was a moderate pace, trying to stay efficient as possible and focused on my breathing. With about a half mile to go, I could not see anyone in front of me. Either I was somehow out front or a few people put in a sizeable gap on me. The latter of the two was true…
I came out of the water in fourth overall, with the leader over 5 minutes in front of me… I would have some work to do!
Results: 0:32:44 (OA – 36/679, M30-34 – 4/48)
I quickly pulled down my sleeved Zone 3 swim skin and began my 1/3rd mile run back to the transition area. I passed one guy when running through transition and at that point thought I was in 2nd overall, not realizing the first place guy was already 2 miles into his bike ride!
I did a flying mount onto my Quintana Roo PRsix and was on my way. This bike course was pretty much pancake flat except for a few on and off ramps that you get on. The roads were also pretty clean which meant I could put my head down and HAMMER!
In nearly every race up to this point, I can usually get up to my race wattage without much problem. For this race, my legs felt pretty heavy and it took quite a bit more effort to get my power up to race wattage of around 260w for the day. After a good 10 miles, my legs starting finally loosening up and I started to get into a rhythm. The next 30 miles was extremely un-eventful as I was all alone on some pretty flat and straight roads. I just kept focusing on getting my nutrition (Huma Plus gel every 30 mins) and really loading up on hydration. I knew I could NOT go into the run without a full tank as that would spell disaster on this course…
At each turnaround around I could tell I was gaining momentum on the second place guy (although I thought he was first…) and it would be a matter of time before I made the pass. With about 10 miles to go on the bike I added a pretty good push and made the pass, now being escorted by a motorcycle on my way back into town. With about 5 miles to go, the motorcycle escort missed an on-ramp I was supposed to take, the first of three times I was taken down the wrong direction…
Results: 2:18:26 (OA – 5/679, M30-34 – 2/48)
I rolled into transition feeling pretty good and braced myself for a brutally tough half marathon. I quickly threw a cooling towel I had frozen the night before around my neck (clutch move), grabbed my hand held water bottle, and made my way out of transition.
This race course is all about the run. If you want to be an age group contender, you really have to execute well on this run course as small mistakes can lead to BIG problems… The course is very hilly, including two out and back loops. There really isn’t a single flat part of pavement on the whole course and also included some stretches of 10% grade. With correct pacing (and power walking up the 10% grade portions!), you can certainly deal with the elevation climb. But what makes you have to really respect this course is the conditions for the day. With temps hitting close to 90 degrees this year, a course with absolutely zero shade, and a sky without a single cloud in sight would cripple most on race day.
To be honest, coming into this race I was extremely nervous about how this run would go. Heat impacts everyone a little differently and, unfortunately, it is one of my biggest weaknesses. But I really wanted to use this race as a good learning experience to figure out how I can race effectively in the heat and build off of this for the late season races. My goal was to play it pretty conservative, running almost completely on perceived effort, and keeping my heart rate below 170. At every single aid station, about every mile, I would stop and fill my water bottle up and fill the front of my race suit with ice. Dehydration was NOT going to be a problem for me!
At the first turn around, I estimated I was less than two minutes back from the first place guy. Keeping consistent and steady, I was able to make the pass and take the lead just before the half way point in the race. Through this point, I really worked the aid stations hard trying my best to cool my body as I know how quickly things can turn… With about six miles to go, I could tell my core temp was rising and my forearms started to burn as they had direct exposure to the sun. The next few miles ticked by, just trying to stay focused.
Just as I had feared, with about three miles to go, I started overheating. Big time. I stopped sweating and my forearms felt like they were on fire! All I could think about is taking it one minute at a time. Man, time sure goes by slow once you get in this kind of discomfort. The clock slowly ticked 15 min left, 14, 13. The last mile really, really sucked… But, just like I’ve done before when I get in this amount of discomfort, I got through it.
Results: 01:31:50 (OA – 5/679, M25-29 – 1/48)
That was by far the worst I have felt after crossing the finish line. I was absolutely fried. I was immediately sent of to the medical tent, making this my second visit… They immediately starting covering parts of my body with bags of ice. Parts not covered had this sensation of being on fire, not a pleasant sensation. After covering me with more and more ice packs, they eventually just completely covered me in ice. It took a good 15 mins for my body to start producing sweat and another half hour for my body to produce chills. I was so afraid I was doing permanent damage to myself and had a lot of bad thoughts about why exactly I put myself through this amount of discomfort. Fortunately, the medical staff was absolutely amazing and were able to lift my spirits up.
After an enjoyable hour in the medical tent, I found out I had won my age group but was beaten by two other guys who had started later in the day. Congrats to Nicholas Marcantonio for getting the Overall win and torching this run course, despite the tough conditions!
Overall Results: OA – 3rd out of 679, AG – 1st out of 48, 4:27:52
Overall, I raced fairly close to my potential given my current fitness level and course conditions. I used this race to get myself motivated and back to racing healthy again. Mission accomplished! Definitely excited to keep building my fitness back up and continuing to build off of this performance for my more important late season races. Big shout out once again to my brother, Bobby, and his girlfriend, Shiann, for making the trip with me. Definitely was a memorable trip and I can’t wait to visit Puerto Rico again sometime in the near future!
I have an amazing support team that has helped me race at my potential. Thanks to my triathlon coach, Blake Becker and the rest of Team BBMC, who got me from a couch potato to race shape in two months. Thanks to my swim coach, Laura Becherer, who tirelessly works to make me become a swimmer! Thanks to my awesome group of sponsors: Quintana Roo, Zone 3 USA, Epix Gear, Huma Chia Energy Gels, Attitude Sports, Creekside Chiropractic, and SportsCore. Lastly, thanks to all of my family and friends who support and believe in me. You guys rock!