PART BEAR. PART MAN. ALL AMERICAN
Location: San Juan, Puerto Rico
I really thought I’d have plenty of time on my hands to write this race report; and I truly thought I’d have written it three days ago. But what I did not factor in, when considering the considerable couch time I’d be having, was the sheer exhaustion that would overtake my every move. Whenever I had a few thoughts to scribble down in the report, I ended up taking a long nap instead. Whenever I thought I’d compile a few photos and make a few observations, I was too damn tired and pathetic to do pick up my computer. And why was I so beat up? Well, that is mostly because I made the decision to race a competitive early-season, hot, humid 70.3 while sick. And now I’m paying for that decision.
Early race week I felt a sore throat setting in. Later that week, I lost the sore throat, but congestion and coughing took over. By the time I was packing for my flight on Wednesday, I was feeling pretty rough, but I was hopeful I’d turn the corner in time to put out a good effort on race day. I gambled, and went ahead and traveled to San Juan. The first two days/ nights in Puerto Rico went by pretty quickly: I slept 13 hours one night, 11 the next; and I did very little exercise: only about 30min of each sport on Friday; even less on Saturday. I did everything I could do to turn the corner, and to toe the line of a race I love (and to which I had committed back in December).
By Saturday evening, I knew I had gotten my body back to 90-something percent. I was getting there, but I was not there yet. I told myself I’d wake up Sunday morning, take my first hit of coffee, and determine if I had the goods to race. Deep down I knew that I’d not be backing out, but I also knew that I was most likely in for a shocker. I had never raced sick before, and I had always told anyone who’d listen (many athletes I coach) to never start a race at less than 100%. What is the point? I rationalized that I could still represent my sponsors, and if I did not have a competitive game to play, at least I’d get a nice training effect out of the whole transaction.
Race morning came and I felt OK. I have to admit that the caffeine did not quite have the desired effect, but it did tweak my spirits upward a bit. I packed up the goods, including 6 PreRace capsules to get me going, and I headed down to Transition.
Cutting right to the chase – and skipping over much of my traditionally detail-oriented descriptions – I’ll dive right into the diving right into (the water).
From the moment the gun went off, I knew I was in trouble. My body was screaming at me from 15 meters, and by 100 meters in, I thought very seriously about dropping out. I did not want to be the guy clutching the paddle board, so I tried to keep it moving. I was feeling absolutely terrible, and the heart rate felt completely out of control. My arms were burning, my chest was tight, and my lungs felt worthless. I hoped I’d settle in, but I also knew that there would be no good way to exit the swim at this point – it was all about damage control. It did not help that this particular swim went out extremely fast, due to the high caliber of swim talent in the field. I needed every bit of my mojo to make a front back, and I was just out of lung power.
Transition 1 is about 400 meters long. And I could not get my breath under control until as I waddled my way through it. I did not expect this part to be easy, but I kept hoping I’d “shake out” the bad feelings.
Jumping on the bike offered a bit of relief, but I knew I should not be looking for relief in a race. I should be looking for power! And I kept trying and trying to find some steam. By 6 minutes into the ride, I thought, again, about dropping out. I have never dropped out of a race, and the thought of starting that process kept me going down the road. After all, I still had all 6 PreRace pills waiting for me – they could provide a miracle!
By about 10minutes in (it actually seemed like an hour), Pat Evoe rode by me and encouraged me to go with him. I chuckled at the idea, but quickly decided to latch on to him for the mental boost. Where the mind goes, the body follows. And where Pat went, I followed. Somehow I dangled about 20 meters off his back wheel for a spell, then finally conjured up the strength and courage to ride by him to take my turn at the front. A combination of PreRace and adrenaline allowed me to take a turn at the front. And so began a solid block of riding, buoyed by the camaraderie of riding with my friend from Austin. And so we proceeded to work our way through the bulk of the men’s field (minus the very fast dozen or so athletes who were way too far out of reach up the road). We did our best to work well together, as well as two athletes can work together in a non-drafting bike race. And somehow, my legs started to perform well. The only question became: at what expense?!
Entering T2 at the front of a long line of men (and behind a long line who had already begun running), I knew I had my work cut out for me. In a normal situation, my confidence rings high, as I love a good battle on foot, especially over such a hot and challenging run course as San Juan. However, I was starting to really worry about how much was left in my tank, after mustering a high output on the bike.
I started a bit out of breath, but I hoped I could ease my way into a fast pace. It was hard on me when I thought back to how well I had run this course last year, and I knew I did so with a fairly aggressive opening mile or two. That type of effort was not in the cards this time around, and I chose to bide my time to see if the lungs came around. The legs were not too terrible at the outset, but I just did not have my normal ease of power.
Within the first 5k, it became evident that I may be stuck in the position I was in. Pat had come around me at around that point, and the others just seemed so far ahead. There were still many folks behind, so the incentive was high to keep the gas on the best I could. And so that’s what I did. I tended to my fueling and hydration plan – something that becomes absolutely KEY in a hot and humid race like this. A few folks were already showing the effects of racing too haphazardly in these conditions, so I kept plugging and kept hoping for my pace to kick in.
By the time I got into the middle portion of the run, I started to feel really drained. My energy levels were not equating to my output, and I began to run as conservatively as I could. I began to only think about getting to the finish line. I made my way in and out of town, and took note of all the guys around me – in front and behind. It really was an impressive field, and it was impressive to see how close everyone really was in the race.
By the time I rounded the final turn, with 5k or so to run, I knew I could put a little more pep back into the step. My fear of losing all steam had been quelled, so I went ahead and ran harder for that final stretch. I was able to bring one or two guys back, and hold off a few late charges, but the main accomplishment was being able to finish on a high note.
In the end, I felt absolutely worked over, and the nasal, congested sound I had been toting around all week was back in full effect. Chatting to my peers, I found myself laughing at how ridiculous my decision was to start the race. I have always said that the race itself and the level of competition deserve full respect; and to race at less than one’s best is not wise. However, when it came right down to it, I did not feel good backing out of my commitments to Arturo and Alejandro (race directors), as well as to my incredible sponsors. I am glad I gave it a shot, and I am proud of the effort I put out on the day.
There were plenty of positives on the day, especially after speaking with the race directors and some of my sponsors. The general theme was that they all appreciated my willingness to fulfill the commitments and represent the best I could. Additionally, I got to visit an absolutely spectacular place, visit with some great friends, and eat some delicious Puerto Rican food. And I know that I’ll eventually find that training effect from racing a 70.3; I just have to wait out this wicked backlash that seems to have me stranded on the couch. But at least I can now type!