PART BEAR. PART MAN. ALL AMERICAN
Location: San Juan, Puerto Rico
While I have traveled through San Juan multiple times on my way to St. Croix, this was my first proper visit to the island of Puerto Rico. And I loved (nearly) every minute of my time there!
Amanda and I traveled down to San Juan last Thursday, and our very first taste of Puerto Rican culture was an important fueling stop at her favorite restaurant – the Inca Chicken. We had great laughs and great food with a handful of our Puerto Rican friends, as well as some new acquaintances. Our welcoming to the Island was perfect – we feasted on whole roasted chickens, tostones, yuca, mofongo, and everything else we could get our hands on. Topping off after the long day of travel was a perfect way to settle into our time in San Juan.
The next day Amanda took me around the run course – like a proud tour guide, she gave me the ins and outs of the very challenging half marathon. Based on the tricky route, I knew the insider info she gave me would pay dividends come race day. We did our best to acclimate to the vastly different weather conditions. Even with our “mild” winter here in Boulder, jumping right into heat and humidity was quite the shocker to our bodies. As much as I love racing in the heat, there was no way of predicting how my body would function come Sunday.
During our swim that day, we tested out our brand new Garmin 910XT devices – very fun purchase! And we reveled in how much we love tropical races – warm water, warm air, beautiful and crystal clear swimming. Later that day we positioned ourselves in front of our Latin fans for a poster signing at the expo – we love the way the Puerto Ricans embrace this sport and its professional athletes – gracias!
We finished out the day riding our CycleOps trainer on the balcony of our hotel. Amanda learned last year that the road conditions of San Juan are not exactly conducive to a productive pre-race workout. We hoped that the time on the balcony would only aid in loosening up the body and further acclimating it to the toasty conditions.
Before we knew it, race day arrived and we were shuffling down to the swim start. No matter how many races I’ve done, I still get those nerves on race morning as though it’s my first go ’round. I believe I was well fueled and properly hydrated for the race, and I did my best to stick to my standard First Endurance fueling plan.
I have to admit that I was really looking forward to uncorking a doozie of a swim down in Puerto Rico. I had put in some good pool time this winter, and my fitness seems to have reached an all-time high. I had more confidence in my chances than I can remember – and I was channelling my positive swim experience from Pucón, to make sure I did my thing. However, at the very outset of the race, my body felt as though it was plowing through a very thick and viscous body of water. I could not respond to any breaks, moves or sprints – typically something I have very little trouble doing. I felt sluggish and heavy – perhaps a bit flat. I did my best to put it out of my head, and focus on minimizing my losses to the leaders. I exited the water just ahead of Leon Griffen and Maxim Kriat – after doing nearly the entire swim solo.
We made the LONG run to T1 together, but I admit that I showed some rusty moves once we arrived, and I lost contact with them immediately. Starting the bike, I got a 2-min split to the front of the race. I chose then not to chase frantically to close the gap – my goal became to negative split the ride. I was grateful to have built up my Kestrel 4000 with a smart Zipp Sub9, equipped with a PowerTap. There is really no better way to gauge that early output than by using a power meter. After dispatching an early companion (inside of ten miles), I rode the bulk of the 56 miles alone. I could see tha TO, Axel and Griffen were absolutely drilling the bike. My only hope was to outsmart them and hope to save more energy for the pending run.
By mile 50, I realized I was rolling up on the chase pack of five, which included last year’s 2nd place finisher, Paul Amey – a noteworthy runner. I blasted past, throwing out any wattage ceilings or caps – if this group was going to jump on my train, they were going to have to up the ante to do so. Looking at my evenly split power file (301/ 303 watts for 28.5/ 27.5 miles), I see more than a few 400+ spikes in that closing 6 miles. None of my efforts were successful in dropping the group; in fact, another lone rider – Oscar Galindez – rode through at mile 55 to show the chasers that we veterans were not afraid to lay it down. Dále, OG!
Entering T2 with a 5-min deficit to TO, I had plenty of motivation to chase. I wanted to really run the legs off my competitors, and my confidence was high in my ability to do so. Six of us left together, and I immediately went behind Kriat, Amey and another athlete. Fortunately my sock-less transition to the Brooks Pure Connect enabled me to drop the hard charging Galindez – for a while!
Immediately my legs came around and I felt ready to do some work. The gamble at that moment was to play a conservative hand and run with the fellows, or to forge ahead and see who had the ganas to go with me. I knew the gamble was a big one, as the heat has a funny way of punishing an early charge, especially in an early season outing. I am not sure I even made the conscious choice, but rather, I went with the flow.
Before I knew it, Amey had dropped off; Kriat came back to me – and later dropped off; and the third fellow was clearly slowing already. I made a hard charge, chugged as many water cups as I could and plunged down the huge hills into el Moro – the National Park that characterizes Puerto Rico, and the 70.3 run course. It happens to be the longest stretch in the race to cover without aid (over a mile and a half), and it’s a tricky little section to maneuver. I went for broke and did my best to close the gap to Axel, Leon and Tim.
Passing through La Puerta (the entrance into Old San Juan’s walled city, where Spanish royalty entered over 500 years ago), I felt some serious cramping taking over. Perhaps I went too aggressively down that last cobblestoned hill! I stretched, regrouped, and mounted the charge again. What a great run course!
By the time I closed out loop 1, I knew someone would really have to falter for me to reach the podium. I kept the faith, and resolved to leave it all on the course. Noting that Kriat and Amey were still fighting kept me motivated; but noting that OG Galindez was then in fifth chasing me down kept me focused. Run, corre, run, corre.
I fought well over the closing 5k, and managed to open up the gap on Oscar; however, my real estate ran out, and the boys ahead all kept a great pace – TO and Leon put another minute on me, and Axel’s lead did not shrink enough for me to overtake him. I finished 4th, happy to say that my effort was stronger with each passing step. Although I did not have the swim I wanted, and although my solo bike effort did not deliver enough oomph to reach the leaders, I closed out the day with a strong half marathon.
With the two-loop course (bike and run), I had been able to keep tabs on Amanda’s progress throughout the day. I knew she had started the run in good position to pounce on a top 4 or 5. However, the last time I saw her, she was showing some serious dehydration wear and tear. As soon as I finished (and danced my obligatory jig at the finish line), I turned to eagerly wait her arrival. I have seen Amanda suffer through some amazingly bad races, as well as some incredibly great performances. I share her loss as much as I share her success, so to see her running quite well around the finishing section in San Juan meant a lot to me. I knew that she had given away a lot of time – and therefore, goals – with the middle portion of her run. Seeing her problem solve her way out of trouble, and finish on a high note was very, very satisfying.
And it meant we were both ready to enjoy some refreshing post-race mojitos.
As always, a huge gracias goes out to my faithful sponsors. I am fortunate enough to have the very best support out there, and I thank you – the very best products on the market: First Endurance, Kestrel, TYR, Zipp, Brooks, Jack & Adam’s, Boulder Running Co, Oakley, ISM, Louis Garneau, and Recovery Pump. Also, to have the great support of race series like Rev3 is invaluable – and to have their belief in our ability to support their events, no matter that we are not always present to enjoy their top-quality races is priceless. Thanks!