Thursday, April 17, 2014

San Juan 70.3

When you pick an 'A' race in the beginning of the season, not only are you setting yourself up for some long trainer hours in the winter, but you are also most likely racing in an environment that would seem completely foreign to us Northerners.  That situation, coupled with the winter that we had here in Minnesota, I put in more hours on a trainer and treadmill than I thought was possible for me a few months ago.

Ironman San Juan 70.3 was my first ever Half Ironman a year ago.  Ever since that race, I have been hooked and set myself on this journey to become as good as I possibly can at this sport of triathlon.  I did not know what I was capable of, but I knew that I really enjoyed pushing myself to the limit of my capabilities.  The one thing that I learned about myself is that despite the lack of training, I had a strong ability to push myself far past a point of discomfort and suffer well.

I knew that as soon as this race ended last year that I wanted to do it again.  It is an absolutely beautiful country, I love the support, and I wanted the chance to see exactly how far I had come in a year.  It is hard to compare one race to another, because there are so many factors that come into play: hills, wind, heat, etc.  However, I wanted to prove that all the work that I had done in the past year after taking up this sport had started to pay off.

Last year, I had no expectations.  I had no real strong idea of what I could do.  This year, I had goals.  I had ambitions.  I had a strong idea of what I could do.  Here were the results.

Swim: 46:52
T1: 4:49
Bike: 3:02:31
T2: 2:43
Run: 1:29:16
Overall:                    5:27:17- 27th AG, 276th OA

Swim:     39:10
T1:           4:13
Bike:      2:31:47
T2:           2:27
Run:        1:31:32
Overall:                     4:49:09-  7th AG, 36th OA

Now for the Race Report:

Days Leading up to the Race:

On Friday, my mother, father, Ryan, and I flew into Puerto Rico and got to check in and pick up our bikes.  The plan was to just relax, pick up the packets, and eat.  It was cool to see the expo and get settled in to the hotel.  We did not workout today, but it was nice to stretch the legs out and walk around to see where the race would start and the transition are.  We were able to eat a nice dinner at the bar downstairs and enjoy a few drinks.  Our waitress was fantastic, and I haven't met someone who loved to dance while serving food as much as she did.  By the end of the night, she had even showed us a video of a style of dance for every letter of the alphabet on her phone and replicated some of the moves while it was playing....Awesome.   After that, we went up to the room and got a great night of sleep.

Pre-Race Swim
On Saturday, we woke up early and my buddy Ryan and I, who was doing the race with me, got out at about 7am to go riding around whatever part of San Juan that we could find.  I was very anxious to get outside as I had been on nothing but a trainer for 4 months and was hoping I still knew how to balance.  However, it was hard to find good roads, and we were unable to get any consistent speed.  We even hit one of the cobbled patches and my room key popped out of the middle section of storage where I keep my nutrition.  I should have known then that this was a bit of foreshadowing for the race to come as my bike did not want to hold on to anything this trip, but I will get to that more later.

We did a quick swim and a short run following that.  Afterwards, we went to this awesome breakfast buffet at the hotel where I ate enough omelets, oatmeal, and yogurt to satisfy me for a long time.  The rest of the day was very uneventful other than catching the end of the pro-panel with a few local triathletes, Starky and Ben Collins.  However, the highlight of that was the chance to have a conversation with Helle Fredrickson who actually won the women's race.  She was so nice and really easy on the eyes too!

We grabbed a nice dinner and were able to get to bed at a good time for the race.


I woke up a few minutes before my alarm went off at 5:00am.  I actually felt wide awake shockingly since we had lost an hour.  I ate a Power Bar, grabbed my transition bags, and Ryan and I started out towards the transition area.  

I was able to pump my new ZIPP wheels with no issues(I felt so sorry for those 3 people whose tires popped at about 5:30am in the transition) and get back to finish another Cookie Dough Power Bar and a half sleeve of shot blocks.  We rested a bit and made our way to the swim start to catch the pro's going off.

I was able to get a quick swim warm up.  I drank a bit more water and hoped in the water for our swim wave which started around 7:15am.

I could already tell that it was going to be a hot day as I was already sweating in a tank top and shorts, but we will get to that more later.


Leading up to this race, I still was not completely comfortable in a race in the open water.  I still had never actually swam an entire race without panic.  I had never swam a race where I swam with my face in the water for a majority.

I took a spot a bit to the outside when the horn sounded.  However, this time I fell into a good rhythm right away.  I still stayed a bit to the outside for the first half which cost me some time.  Eventually, after we made the first turn, I found a group to swim with and hitched a ride for the first time in my triathlon career.  I still swam very much within myself this race, but I am very glad to take what I learned and the comfort I felt into all my future races.  I plan to swim much more aggressively next time.

I was able to pick up some speed and kick out my legs a bit.  I ran up the ramp and looked at my watch.  39:00.  This tells me a few things.  One, I do not need to be afraid of the water anymore.  Two, I need to swim much more aggressively next time.  Three, I still have a ways to go in the water in order to be competitive.  Although I was glad to finally not be taken completely out of the race by the swim.

Swim stats:
Overall place- 472
Age Group place- 30


Ran up the 1/3 mile transition.  Popped on my shoes and hopped on my bike and started to get to work.  This part of the race I knew was going to be interesting.  A year ago, I dreading being on two wheels for 56 miles.  Now, this was the part of the race I was most excited about.  My previous best was somewhere around 2:44.  However, since that race, I had improved my FTP by about 35 watts and thanks to Coach Liz(who everyone needs to hire like yesterday), I had nearly doubled my time in the saddle in the first few months of the year, from this year to last.  I was confident and ready to grind.

Right out of transition, you have to weave out of town on roads that are not ideal for speed or passing.  I took this time to orient myself and get used to being on two wheels again.  I had decided before this race to not ride with my PowerTap Computer. I knew that the temperature was going to be ridiculous compared to my training environment, and wanted to race my race and not stress about the numbers.  I know what hard feels like and felt like through all the hours I had put in, I could gauge how hard to push.

Once we hit the highway, it was time to get to work.  All I could think of was something that one of my biking friends told me a few days before, "Nick, rip their legs off!"

That was my mantra which I repeated for the 56 miles.  This bike ride was incredibly uneventful for the first 17 miles.  The first 17 miles, I got through all of my nutrition exactly as planned, I popped about 8 salt pills, and finished that loop in just under 43 minutes.  The tailwind was nice.  I had planned to grab a bottle of water and Gatorade at the first aid station and work through them in the next hour along with my second sleeve of shot blocks and salt tabs.  All was going exactly to plan, until it wasn't.

I grabbed the water and the Gatorade put them in my back holders and continued on.  About 2 minutes down the road, I hit a bump and heard a splash and realized that the Gatorade had just launched from my cage.  The next aid station was not for another 17 miles.  I knew that I had enough calories in my pack to deal with the lost of the Gatorade, but I was beginning to worry about the loss of hydration.  It was 80 and I was beginning to sweat a lot.  I tried to ration the water as best I could and get down the full sleeve of shot blocks in the next 45 minutes.  

The coolest part of the ride for me came in this portion when the 5th and 6th place pro road past me on their second loop.  I was feeling pretty good and decided to see how far I could follow them at the legal drafting distance.  I was actually able to hold on for about 5 miles to the point where they needed to go straight back into town  and I needed to turn around for my second loop.

I reached the next aid station, tossed the old bottle, and grabbed two more.  Two minutes down the road, bump, splat, another bottle gone.  I knew I was in trouble then.  When you have been training in Minnesota in at worst, 70 degree indoor weather with 32 oz of drink per hour, and now I was in 85 degree weather with only 20 per hour, there is going to be trouble.

I actually still felt really strong on the bike, but for the first time in my life was unable to pee.  For all who know me, if I am unable to pee, it is a BIG problem as I have the smallest bladder in the world.  However, I didn't want to panic and hoped that my running legs would still be there when the time came.  

I rode the last few miles a bit more conservative in hopes that I could get to my water in the transition and still get to work on what is normally my strongest part of the race.  

I rode into transition.  Bike racked.  Shoes and socks on.  Drank water.  Ate more Shot Blocks.  Put on a hat(this turned out to be a life saver). Ran out of transition.

Bike stats:
Overall place- 60
Age Group place- 5


Five steps into the run I knew that this was going to be a battle.  I started off and immediately saw my mom.  I yelled at her, "I have two side stitches and they hurt!!!"  I swallowed a salt tab, somehow without water, and they started to go away.  I still was able to keep my goal pace of around 6:35 for the first mile and actually hit a tail wind at the end which helped me to get through the first mile comfortably at 6:23.

Right after that, I started to realize how hot it was, but I really wasn't sweating much anymore.  There was salt all down the legs of my tri-shorts.  I hit the first aid station and started gulping water, Gatorade, and put ice in my hat.  

I repeated this pretty much every aid station for the remainder of the race.

Despite the absurd inclines and heat, I was actually feeling pretty decent through the first 6 miles repeating this routine, and the times reflected that.

Mile 1- 6:23 
Mile 2- 6:33
Mile 3- 6:29
Mile 4- 6:22
Mile 5- 6:51
Mile 6- 6:28

It was at this point where things started to go downhill.  My lack of hydration caught up to me.  I started cramping and went to reach for a salt tab.  I realized I had none left, and all that remained was some salt that stuck to my fingers as I pulled out.  I did the only thing that made sense and tried to lick all of it off of my fingers.  This honestly helped a little but not much.  I still was able to salvage a decent pace which was still far below what I was hoping to sustain for the race.  However, I still had not been passed by anyone, so I had some semblance of confidence.  I continued to trudge along.

Mile 7- 6:51
Mile 8- 6:46
Mile 9- 7:06
Mile 10- 7:05

This is where things started to suck.  I was overheated, under-hydrated despite my attempts to salvage what had happened on the bike, and I started to doubt.  Until this point of the race, I had never walked any part of any race, ever.  I tried to hold out for as long as I could, but going up the incline out of the reservation, I walked.  Anyone who has ever walked in a race knows that once you start walking, it is soooooo easy to want to keep walking.  I decided that I would give myself 15 seconds and go again.  I started up again and made a mental note that from this point forward that I would only walk in aid stations no matter how slow my run got.  I think this ultimately helped me to keep an okay pace until the end.

I got the rest of the way through the hills and could not wait for the end.  I saw my buddy Ryan about a mile away from the finish.  I knew at that point that I needed to make sure I was running to the finish.  I knew everyone was having a tough day, but didn't want him to see me struggling in hopes that it could give him some confidence to push hard to the end.  We exchanged some quick words and I made my way through the last turn to the finish.  
Even after thousands of games,
These two still come to watch
every time!
Mile 11- 8:25
Mile 12- 7:48
Mile 13- 7:48

I finally ran through the shoot and immediately saw my parents.  I went over to them and laid down for what felt like an hour.  They were soooo awesome and we walked over to the tent where I grabbed a recovery drink and a beer.  

Run stats:
Overall place- 19
Age Group place- 2(Although the one in front of me was DQed)

Post Race:

I found out soon after that I had finished 7th in my AG and was 28th overall.  I 
knew that the overall place would probably drop as the 30-34 and 35-39 AG's 
were after us, but I was so happy to see the improvement.  

After hanging around a bit, we went back to the hotel, showered quick and 
immediately went to go get some fruity drinks with umbrellas.  We sat by the 
beach the rest of the day and truly took everything in.  It was fun to reflect on
the race and how brutal it was to come from Minnesota and run in this weather.

Overall, reflecting on this race, I am pretty happy with how everything went.  The race was not flawless and I still have so much to learn and do, but being able to improve over 38 minutes from last year was awesome to see.  My swim is still an area in which I need major help.  My cycling can only keep improving.  And I vow to make sure that next race, my run is my best part again.

Thanks to everyone for the support and encouragement.  I am ready to take a bit of rest this week and start up again soon!

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