Ironman San Juan 70.3 is now in the books. Before I get into the details, I must tell you that this is a race everyone needs to do at some point. From the perfect water to the 56-mile ride over closed roads to the picturesque and challenging run, this race is sure to become a classic. The people of Puerto Rico and the organizer did a tremendous job, and triathlon in Puerto Rico has reached a new level. It was a priviledge to be there and I am glad I was there as the official coach and as a participant.
The number one objective for any triathlete should be getting to the start line. This is why we train. Training is fun but racing is even better. It’s only by racing that we really get to know what kind of fitness we have. When I decided to blog this journey I couldn’t even run (calf injury) so I had to build my run from zero. A couple of smaller setbacks with my knees along the way slowed down my training. I did manage to avoid the dreaded winter flu and any colds, which was incredible, as most people in my family got sick at some point. Just two weeks to go I got a stomach virus that put me out for three days. I was tapering hard you could say. In the end I managed to arrive at the start line in decent shape—something we should never take for granted. Looking at the people registered in my age group, about 20 percent didn’t make it. It’s not easy to get ready for one of these. If you push too hard, or too long, or too soon you can easily get injured and not make the start line. This is especially true as we age.
When I race I give it all I have and I certainly did in San Juan.
I am going to break this post into parts. First I will detail the last few days of preparation and then each leg of the race. As I tell most of my athletes there are always things that you didn’t prepare for. But this is not my first rodeo as they say. Granted, I haven’t rodeod in five years, but I can still remember how to get out of trouble. Here we go.
The last few days prior to the race were fairly low stress but one tricky part was that I had to work the MarkAllenOnline booth at the expo. Needless to say I wasn’t at the booth all the time in order to get my last preparation workouts. I scouted the bike course and even did the swim course with the help of Crissy Fuentes and her husband who followed us on his small boat. The most stressful part happened the night before the race: I couldn’t find my salt tablets. Without these I would be in huge trouble. My sweat rate is high and if I don’t add salt to my nutrition plan I will surely cramp up. My host eventually found them as I had left them in the kitchen. What a relief!
The night before the race my host made me a pasta meal with a nice simple sauce and some chicken. Good carbohydrates, but not too much. I only slept about four hours the night before the race but I slept a whole eight the day before (the day that counts most for sleep). I woke up about 4 a.m. and had an Ensure liquid nutrition meal and half a Clif bar, and at 5 a.m., some water and a gel. This provided enough glycogen to my stores before the 7:05 start. From then on I just sipped water. Once I got to transition I walked around and got a mental picture of where my bike was relative to where the swim finish was. Then I took a look at the bike finish and run start. It’s important to know exactly were to go. I was ready.
The swim is usually a strong leg for me and in San Juan my wave was composed of all the 50-plus age group men. This was great for me. As we get older we treat each other with a little more respect and there was no real jostling for position or any kind of contact. The gun went off and I just went to the front. I found myself leading the swim quickly. Taking a look back, I noticed there was one guy on my feet. He did touch my feet every once in a while so I knew he was there. I relaxed a little to see if he would pass me, but nope. It wasn’t until about the half way that I noticed another swimmer going wide around. So, I decided to do a little drafting. This new guy pushed the pace and I just tagged along. This push gapped my initial fellow draftee. Now it looked like I was going to be second out of the water. However once we hit the rough part of this swim and a few waves hit us the leader disappeared. Where did he go? I still don’t know what happened, but all of a sudden I was back in front and the exit ramp was about 200 yards away. I just put my head down and stopped checking the competition out. I got out first; not a bad start to the day. This was going to change quickly however.
We all had a lengthy run to T1. As I was running I stumbled, hitting my foot on a protruding rock. I nearly crashed and almost took down one of the guys running with me. As I caught myself I managed to strain my right hamstring. Ouch. I stopped, massaged it a little, and stretched. The hamstring seemed to be OK. What a scare, however. The guy who came out of the water third saw the whole thing and ran past me as I worked on my hamstring. I met him after the race and he shared his story with me. Once on the bike I got up to speed fairly quick. I took some fluids and a salt tablet. My legs felt fine and no hamstring issues. This bike ride for me was a real time trial. My two fellow swimmers were gone since my mishap slowed me down but the rest of the guys were not passing me anytime soon, it seemed. I literally rode 20 miles before seeing anyone else in my category.
The roads were great to ride. There was absolutely nothing to worry about. But the fun was not over. I hit a rough part of the road and my aero bottle had had enough. It came loose and I caught it. I tried to fix it while going 22 mph—not an easy task. I actually had to stop to fix it quickly. But it came loose again on another patch of rough road. I finally gave up and took the whole thing out and tossed it to some spectators as a present. I usually bring fluid concentrate of our MarkAllenOnline fluid energizer and mix it on the aero bottle with water from aid stations. Now I had to drink concentrate and water and mix it in my tummy. Yikes. But it worked alright. The wind picked up as the ride went along but my power and heart rate seemed OK. I rode the whole race in the low 150’s and about 190 to 220 watts. A couple of more guys came along and the three of us rode into T2.
T2 was fast for me. I ran out in front of my two companions and was looking forward to catching people. But as luck will have it, this was not going to last. Your mind can say go, but the body may say no. We hit a bridge and my quads did not like it at all. I was hurting. This is even before the mile one marker. I quickly went on defense. The two guys passed me back and there was nothing I could do. Worse, the hardest hills of this course were still to come. I started hitting my salt tablets, Gatorade, MarkAllenOnline energizer, ice, sponges … you name it I was taking it. Another guy in my age group came by and he was moving fast. I was a little demoralized, but still hopeful that I could come back. It seemed that every time I found a good rhythm, however, some hill will bring me down to reality. It was not until there were three miles to go that I managed a pace that resembled running. A little too late although I did pass one of my T2 companions. In the end I finished seventh in the 50-54 age group. The timing system did not get all my splits, but I had a roughly 29 minute swim, a 2:36 bike, and a 1:57 run. Add some good 8 minutes of transitions and that is around 5:11 for my first 70.3 in five years.
When I race I give it all I have and I certainly did in San Juan. This usually results in tons of soreness for me and this race was no different. I rested and ate some good Puerto Rican food. I visited my mother, who lives in San Juan and later flew back to Boulder. It wasn’t until the Thursday after the race that I resumed any training. It’s Saturday as I write this, one full week after the race, and the big soreness is gone. What hurts now is that right hamstring. I am looking forward to training again, and seeing if I can do much better at the Buffalo Springs 70.3 in Texas. This race is a Hawaii Ironman qualifier as well as a 70.3 Worlds qualifier. It should be a strong field and I need to be a lot more fitter to compete for a podium spot.
To do better I need to bring back my running. If I can stay injury free and my knees hold up then I can train. During the 20 weeks to San Juan there were two knee incidents that prevented me from getting all my run training done and forced me to skip some key speed sessions. Finally, as usual, I need to get lighter. I lost weight during this journey, but no one is going to call me skinny. This is the hardest part for me. But no one says this is going to be easy. I am happy I got to the finish line in Puerto Rico but now I look forward to the rest of the racing season.