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Thursday, March 21, 2013

San Juan 70.3 race report (roll with the punches!)

              The first race of the season is now over, and what an experience it turned out to be!  When I first saw the pro list for the race, I did a double take-multiple Olympians, Ironman and Ironman 70.3 world champions, and more Ironman and Ironman 70.3 champions than I can count on one hand.  Yikes!  These were the women that I’ve spent the past several years looking up to, cheering for behind my computer screen, and reading about-and now I was going to be lining up next to them, taking my chances?  At QT2 pro camp, we had talked a bit about mental fitness, about me having a bit more of an attitude that I belong out there, especially on the swim.  Well…deep breath.  That time had come.

                As any of my loyal social media friends probably already know, the lead up to the race was anything but smooth.  In fact, it turned into a bit of a triathlon prep freak show.  Dave and I left early Friday morning.  We were able to hop on an earlier connection to Puerto Rico, getting us there four hours earlier-awesome!  Or so I thought.  Because we had flown standby, our luggage was on our original flight.  Ok, no big deal, we’d just have to travel back to the airport to get it (still, no small task on the crazy San Juan roads).  But when we checked with the baggage counter in San Juan, it turned out that there had been a “security issue” with my bike, and it was taking a different route through Atlanta, scheduled to arrive at 5:30.  I figured the “security issue” probably meant that my CO2 cartridge in there had been seized.  So, at 5:30 we headed back to the airport.  On the way there, I expressed my concern to Dave that the CO2 cartridge had been in a sealed Ziploc bag with all of my small bike parts, along with my concern about the fact that TSA is completely incapable of tightening down the straps on the bike box after opening it (come on…if a 120ish lb female can tighten the crap out of those things, I’m sure that the TSA agents could at least pretend to try to tighten them).

                So, of course, as Dave dragged my bike box to the car, my fears were confirmed.  The straps were not tightened AT ALL.  Not even CLOSE.  The top of the bike box was banging around, and an allen wrench previously in the Ziploc bag fell out.  We opened the box right then and there, and sure enough, the Ziploc bag was gaping open, and all of my small parts were missing.  Naturally, I began freaking out.  The bolts, top tube cap, and spacers were not as huge of a concern as the small seat part that holds my seat in place-very specific to the bike, and very unlikely to be found the day before the race.  I have to say, though, what happened next was pretty awesome, and basically a testament to how great the triathlon community truly is.  I called Mary, who sprung into social media action.  Within minutes, I had numerous people messaging me and texting me to offer help.  I was on the phone with Quintana Roo (can’t say enough good stuff about this company!), who was trying to figure out a way to overnight me the part.  Well, as luck would have it, when we got back to the room and opened the box, I made a last ditch effort to rummage through the rest of the stuff in there, and lo and behold, there was the seat clamp, buried inside of a bag of gels.  I melted with relief, knowing that we could then seek out the rest of the parts in a local bike store.

                Fast forward to the next day, and Dave and I were able to take care of the bike parts thanks to the local Koishma multisport store-they were awesome as well!  I still had this premonition, though-bad things come in threes.  So far, my bike had arrived late and missing parts.  I was still one short.  I’d also gotten locked in the changing room at the expo the previous day (skills…), but I felt that didn’t count.  Sure enough, when we headed down to the water to practice swim, my swim skin zipper completely jammed, and then busted.  Apparently, you should rinse those things out a little better after swimming in salt water.  At that point, I just had to laugh.  Guess I’d just blow more money finding a new one in the expo.  Again, or so I thought.  No dice on swim skins in the expo, so I sent Dave on a wild goose chase all over Puerto Rico looking for one while I attended the pro meeting (new goal in life: get on first name basis with pro meeting people.  All of the fast people are). He didn’t have any luck, so I ended up purchasing a one piece tri suit (which both Stephanie and the Snows assured me would be fine).  The thing was tight and felt bathing-suit ish, so at that point, good enough for me!

                The rest of the night passed without a hitch, amazingly, and I woke up race morning, well, just grateful that I’d be able to race.  The good thing about equipment malfunctions is that they preoccupy your mind away from the normal pre-race nerves, especially in an incredible field, so I hadn’t even had a chance to get nervous.  Even so, I knew my plan, and I was comfortable with it.  Soon enough (after one small snafu-I left my 910 in T1 after setting up, but luckily my ever-tolerant-ha-husband was close enough still to run back and grab it), we were lined up for the swim start.  My plan for the swim was simple-swim my butt off at the start, stay on feet, and WORK.  Thankfully, that was how it went.  I’d done most of my camp swimming with Stephanie, which had worked out really well for me-I’d hit some good swims as a result.  Once the crowd settled, I was able to will myself to stay with her and one other woman.  Eventually, she pulled ahead a bit, and I probably annoyed the other woman, as I kept myself in her draft, which involved  good deal of accidental foot touching (I was annoyed at me.  I need to get better at the whole “drafting without being freaking irritating” thing.  The water was kind of cloudy, though, and I didn’t want to lose contact.  Now that I’ve discovered the wonders of the swim draft, I don’t want to go back).  About halfway through, I began to feel stronger, and I moved ahead.  I caught up to Steph (I think…can’t always tell in the water) and hung out on her feet for another few hundred meters until I made the decision to move ahead again. 

               I had no idea how I was fast I was going, but I knew that I was actually ahead of people.  This isn’t always the case, so when it actually happens, I feel pretty good about myself.  The last part of the swim went under a bridge and into a more exposed area with some currents.  I felt like I was swimming in place a couple of times, but luckily the section was only a couple of hundred meters, so it went by quickly enough.  I do have to say that one area where all of my stroke work this winter really paid off was in evening me out –I actually swam straight and stayed on course the entire swim, which I have NEVER done.  Hopefully the trend continues!  As I emerged from the water, I was expecting the usual, which is feeling like I swam well, yet seeing 33:xx on the clock.  To my delight, the clock read 36:xx-the male pros had started five minutes before us, meaning that I had swum 31:xx.  My Garmin confirmed 31:40, as well as (unlike in the Poconos) the distance-good for a 1.5 min PR on a non-wetsuit swim-finally!!  I made the long run to T1 with a giant, stupid smile plastered on my face (another benefit of swimming a lot-the swim takes much, much less out of you), and marveled at the fact that there were still multiple bikes on the rack.  Anyways, it was time to stop delighting in the fact that my swim had been upgraded from “awful” to “mediocre-awful”, and move on!
Stop the Garmin!  Quick!  I have to be honest, my inner vain chick likes the fact that I appear to have arm muscle definition in this picture.

            I started the bike with my HR and wattage targets in the forefront of my mind.  I was secretly hoping that they’d add up to a bike split PR for me, as the San Juan course is flat and non-technical, something I didn’t see a whole lot of last year.  Within the first ten miles, I was a good 15-20 watts above the upper end of my target.  But, my heart rate was right on track, and I’d actually had a ride last weekend that suggested I might be able to handle it, so…roll with the punches a little more, I suppose.  Plus, I was somewhat enjoying the ride-I rarely get a chance to appreciate scenery while racing, but I couldn’t help but take notice of some of the awesome ocean views we rode past.  I did manage to lose a bottle immediately after putting it into my cage, and thus went a bit without fluids, but, as per my theme for the rest of the weekend, I didn’t bother to worry too much about it.  If that was the worst thing to go wrong on the day, I was doing pretty well.  The course was some combination of an out and back and a loop course-we went out about 20 miles, made a u-turn, went back about 8 miles, u-turned and did that lap again, and then headed about 12 more miles to the finish.  The u-turns allowed me to see that I was in a decent position, which kept me going.  On the second lap, we were merging with the age groupers, which made the road somewhat crowded.  This certainly wasn’t my favorite scenario, but for the most part, it went smoothly-minus when I almost caused a massive pile-up by trying to move left to pass as the end of a group was passing me (moron moment-sorry!).  To their credit, officials were everywhere, keeping the ride fairly clean.  On another note, my u-turn and bottle handoff skills remain entirely horrific.  I really should make an attempt to not come to a near stop at bottle handoffs.  Dave also passed me somewhere in the mess-with his swim skin still half on.  Apparently he had forgotten to take it off in T1.  However, this gave me the opportunity to call him a moron mid-race, which is something I’ll always take advantage of, like any good wife.
I love how matching everything is on my bike.
            Anyways, as the ride progressed, my power numbers were staying up, although I could definitely feel the fatigue and burn in my quads.  After a certain point, though, I felt confident enough that I could handle the effort until the end of the bike and, well, I’d see what happened on the run.  I was sort of in a “nothing to lose” situation, where I came into the race with zero expectations other than my own placed on me, so why not go for it on the bike?  If I blew up on the run, then I’d know I overcooked the bike.  If I didn’t, then I’d probably end up having one of my best all-around races yet.  Plus, it was flat-out hot and humid, and the run course was hilly, so I figured many others would struggle as well.  I’ve always known that I could run; I wanted to prove to myself that I’m becoming something of a legitimate triathlete, which would involve actually getting to T2 in a position where that run would actually make a difference.  Once I got past mile 30 or so, I began to realize I had a shot a breaking the 2:30 barrier, something I’d never done in a 70.3 before (although I’d done it twice consecutively in Florida…details, details).  So, the rest of the bike turned into game on.  I focused on keeping the power up, hitting my nutrition (minus the bottle snafu), and keeping my speed up best I could (I think there might have been a headwind towards the end, although, again, I’m fairly oblivious to my environment while racing).  I managed to pick off another couple of women in the waning miles, and rolled into T2 with 2:27 on the Garmin-yay!  First race on the new QR CDO.1, and she treated me very, very well.  Still, one of the tougher runs on the 70.3 circuit awaited me, so now the pressure was on-if I could keep it together well enough, I’d been looking at a very solid day, so keep calm and carry on it was.

            After almost tripping over an iguana on the run out (which made both the volunteers and I laugh-never had that one happen before), I was off.  Immediately, I began to notice the heat, especially in the dark one piece suit I was wearing.  Jesse had told me to dump water over myself at the last bike aide station, but it had been too crowded for me to safely make two handoffs, and it also was a good 15 miles from the end of the bike, so I’d missed my chance there.  Luckily, the first run aide station was within half a mile, so I took it very slowly in order to get liquid both into and onto me.  I made the decision to take it out a bit more easily than normal, as I could tell that the heat stress could easily build.  I summoned memories of my recent trainer rides wearing layers upon layers and dripping sweat, and tried to convince myself that I was prepared.  I felt like I was nearly walking the first mile, but still hit it in 6:40-faster than what it felt like, and not bad, considering.  I knew that sub-1:30 was pretty tough on the course, and didn’t worry too much about the splits.  I concentrated on feel, heart rate, and just, well, competing. 
Early on...not sure why the claw hand is out yet.  Or why it looks like my cheeks are full, hamster-style.

Along the wall, I'm assuming first lap still, based upon how non-disgusting I still appear.

Proof that I do in fact like running enough to occasionally smile while doing it.
              As the first lap progressed, I began to perk up substantially.  While difficult, the run course in San Juan is just awesome.  Support throughout, cobblestones, awesome old buildings, a trip along an 1500’s fort wall next to the ocean with some amazing views, and some fun twisty-turny stuff through Old San Juan was more than enough to keep me engaged.  The ups were rewarded with downs, the building heat was relieved with ice and water at every aide station and periodic spray hoses, the cheering crowds spurred me on.  I remembered hearing somewhere ice in the hands helped cool the body, so I spent as much of the run as possible dumping ice into my sports bra and pulling cubes out to carry when needed (staying classy by reaching in my bra, as always).  By the end of the first lap, I had moved up a couple of places was actually feeling pretty decent-the heat and hills meant that I was running more slowly than normal, but I didn’t feel any worse than in many of my previous 70.3s.  My fellow QT2 pro women teammates (and other northerners…and their husbands) offered me encouragement at each turnaround, and the second lap began.  By that point, the course had become more crowded and aide stations became a bit trickier, but the volunteers were working their butts off to get us what we needed.  I began to really feel it around mile 9, but knew that I had enough in me to hold it together up and down through the last few miles.  I passed Dave back; he told me I looked good.  I managed to move up a couple more places in the final few miles, but I was beyond being concerned with place at that point-I just wanted to get myself to that line as quickly as possible.  I did somehow manage to pick it up a bit towards the end.  Finally, I made the turn towards the finish (and had to go up and over one final bridge-how had I forgotten I’d come over that at the start?  One more hill!), and poured it on home, all while trying to compute what place “nueve!” was (all I could remember in my final haze was “less than 10”.  I realized 9 as soon as I finished).  The clock read 4:36:xx as I ran under it-meaning I’d gone 4:31:xx, good enough for a new overall pr (and, honestly, a bit more legit than the old one, as the swim course in the Poconos had been a few minutes short).
There we go.  This is more fitting of my normal race face.

So pretty.  Just so pretty.

            After finishing, it began to set in a bit.  I congratulated my teammates and other competitors, and immediately began texting race details to Mary as I waited for Dave to finish (poor Dave.  It was freaking HOT by that point).  I did manage to regain my spousal supremacy for now, although Dave still ended up placing well in his new big boy age group (30-34), despite a rough run (heat isn’t the best for him).  Afterwards, we had a full day and a half to enjoy a sort of mini-vacation, relaxing by the water, sampling some native cuisine (unfortunately, the amazing mangoes we bought got seized at the airport…sad face…), and the next day, hiking around El Yunque rainforest on blistered, raw feet (which was quite fun, although we were disappointed in the total lack of wildlife out there.  Darn tree frogs were making all kinds of noise, but wouldn’t show themselves.  At least I’d seen some iguanas and a manatee in my time there).  Altogether, we just had a nice post-race experience.
Dave coming into the finish.  You know what has to suck?  When your wave starts so late that your wife has time to finish, get her morning clothes bag, hang out for a bit and text a lot, and then stand in the sun hoping you'll hurry up so she can get this picture before you finish.

Visit El Yunque!

La Mina falls

Rainforest view.  There are frogs in here.  They just wouldn't show themselves.  Jerks. Co-qui yourselves.

Behind our hotel, where I actually wrote most of this report

View while enjoying a giant burrito Sunday night.  Mmm.  Burrito.
             So what comes out of all that?  Well, my recent drop in hours at work had been a bit of a leap of faith for me-in the back of my mind, I was more than a little worried that I was making a mistake, that I just flat out wasn’t good enough to be thinking I had enough of a future in this sport to only work part-time.  Jesse had crunched some numbers at camp and made some predictions for me, big predictions that he seemed almost casual in making, while I tried to hide the fact that I was inwardly doing a double take.  I had my concerns that even if I hit everything perfectly in San Juan, I would still get eaten alive by the field (and let’s face it, the leaders still were 20min ahead of me).  In the end, though, it wasn’t even about who I’d beaten (in my opinion, to watch multiple Ironman champions finish the race strong while encouraging others despite various crashes and bike mechanicals was more worthy of respect than anything I did out there), or who beat me or by how much.  It was more about the fact that I came out with a little bit more faith that I might just belong out there, and that I do have it in me to be able to mix it up at some point.  Maybe not next week, maybe not next month, maybe not even next year-but if I can stick to the plan, I think I might just have it in me to become somewhat more legit.  In the meantime, we agreed that the hours spent not working can be partially now spent on the bike, doing some more intense, different workouts.  I could see what a difference doing that for 10 days of camp had made in San Juan, so although I know it’s going to be tough, I’m quite excited to see where it might take me.  I’ve got a couple of weeks of good, solid work on tap, followed by the Galveston 70.3 on April 7 (Dave’s 30th birthday!).  I’m looking forward to heading back to the location where I was a wide-eyed, nervous, skittish first-year pro last year a bit more seasoned and a bit more (hopefully) fit.  Until then, huge thanks again to QT2 for guiding me, Quintana Roo for the awesome ride and amazing support in times of crisis (haha), and of course to all of my family, friends, teammates, fellow competitors and triathlon community members, and all other supporters, who continue to make this journey entirely worth every second!  San Juan, you are certainly a race to remember!