PART BEAR. PART MAN. ALL AMERICAN
Location: Pucón, Chile
This was my second time racing the 70.3 down in Pucón, and it’s safe to say that with only two trips to this Chilean resort town, it’s one of my all-time favorite events. Often race become favorites because of a good result; but other times, races leave impressions for both on-course and off-course highlights. This is certainly the case with Pucón.
With a short but effective rest period after IM Cozumel, I decided to make myself active, with the goal of showing up in Chile in a bit better shape than I was in 2010. That year I had a bit of extra winter blubber, and getting through the half ironman left a serious mark – mostly on my ego! This time around, I knew I did not want to be “race fit”, but being a bit more capable of pushing myself was the ultimate goal. I am happy to say that my couple weeks of consistent preparation paid off: I pushed myself to a podium finish, behind two stud Brazilians.
This year’s travel to Pucón was significantly more difficult than last time’s transit. We had long layovers, missed flights, and serious idle time en route. We arrived on Wednesday afternoon in a complete jet lag funk, with little clue as to which direction was up. Due to circumstances, we took two full days off training, and that was on top of one very light day pre-travel. The point being that we should have felt rested, but, quite the contrary was true: we were smoked!
We indulged in some nice siesta time, and I did my best to belly up to the buffet (qué rico!), in order to right the ship from our travels. But this time around, rather than spend every waking (and sleeping) moment in the hotel, we ventured out to the town of Pucón, thus enjoying the Latin lifestyle of late-night pastries and café.
Over the next two days, we navigated a bit of pre-race training (some with Big Ben Hoffman), sifted through a multi-lingual press conference (quién va a ganar?), and readied our equipment for race day (debut of Brooks Pure Connect!). The weather was really nice, with temperatures reaching the low 90′s, combined with unrelenting and beautiful sunshine. We soaked in as much of the pre-race experience as we could: swimming in crystal clear Lake Villarica, lounging on the lawn, jogging with the local perros, and sneaking peaks of the picture-perfect volcano outside of town. It was, in every sense, a perfect race build-up.
Another absolute highlight of the Pucón experience is the interaction with such an amazing and friendly group of people. Chileans are open and warm, and we had the great fortune of spending our meals and pastimes with Guillermo and his lovely girlfriend María Jose, as well as with her sister, pro Valentina. On top of that we got to catch up with triathlon legend and Chilean hero, Cristian Bustos. The whole vibe and the welcoming atmosphere of this event truly enriched our experience.
Cycling forward to the race itself…
Race day came rather quickly, as Amanda and I couldn’t resist staying up late one more time – sipping on decaf coffee and sampling cookies and treats.
Staying at el Gran Hotel Pucón is comfortable and convenient. Somehow I slept through the bumping sounds of the disco tech and karaoke, while Amanda tossed sleeplessly about. I awoke fairly fresh and ready to sip down some power brew, i.e., Starbucks Via – instant coffee with a kick! My pre-race breakie went down smooth and easy, and before I knew it, we had to head downstairs to set up Transition.
This race was to be my first one wearing the new TYR Freak of Nature, and I was very anxious to see how the top-level wetsuit performed. My swim training had been consistent, and I did notch a solid New Year’s Eve 10K session, but overall my confidence was not at peak level. However, I set out to swim with the leaders, and in particular, Daniel Fontana. Early on in the swim, I knew that wetsuit was special. I got tangled up in the lane rope – I think a few of us did – and after detangling myself, I was able to swim back up to Fontana’s feet, and even pass him when he got notched up in the rope. Just as I was considering the prospect of having my first occurrence of being “first out”, we exited the water for loop two. I was in second position, and I felt great.
Diving back into the water, I gave up a spot and was then in third. Our threesome had pulled away, so I was pleased with my spot. However, it quickly became evident that my reentry dive had somehow caused me to pop open my wetsuit velcro. Rather than forge ahead with too much drag, I quickly paused to reattach. I lost feet, and proceeded to drag myself through the water solito. With a few hundred meters to go, I felt a tap-tap on my toes, and I gave pause to let my newly found companion pull through. Starting out, I was on the right foot: strong swim!
Leaving the loooong T1, I maintained fourth place, and started the ride aggressively. I hoped to catch the leaders, so their presence would motivate me to push myself. No such luck. The leading trio stayed away and even put a touch of time into me by the end of the ride. However, midway through lap 2, I noticed last year’s winner – and a clear favorite – Fontana on the side of the road with a puncture. My instinct was to toss him my Pitstop, and before I knew it, I had done just that. I spent the next several miles hoping I did not flat, and that Fontana did not catch me!
I felt stronger than I had anticipated, but since I was “racing blind” with no power meter, no speedometer, nothing, I really did not know specifically how strong I was. Going old school like that was great – I tried to catch those in front of me; I tried to drop those behind me: simple.
By the end of the ride I was in third, with the hope I could run strong over the hilly half marathon course.
Cruelly, within 25 meters of exiting T2, we runners were faced with the dreaded Peninsula: an out-and-back torture fest of ups and downs. The game plan at that point was to run strong but conservatively. It was humid and I figured dehydration would temper everyone’s speed on the day. A strong run would win the prize, so being strong was my goal. I kept a patient tempo for lap one, and began to apply a touch of pressure when I realized I was catching second place – the Argentine, Cocha.
Going up the hills starting lap two, I passed him, and did what I could to break him mentally. He hung gamely on for a bit, but I pressed forward, chasing the Brazilian leader. He did not seem to be losing any time to me whatsoever, in fact, he may have been increasing his lead at points. Meanwhile, behind me was another fleet-footed Brazilian in the form of Santiago Ascenço. He was closing on me ever so slightly.
I safely maintained my position for all of lap two, and climbed the outbound hills of loop three still in second place. Up and up and up on the return trip, I started to sense the predator behind me. I knew he’d get a nice boost if he rolled up on my shoulder, so I dug in and pushed myself down the hills. With half a hill or so to go, Santiago found and passed me. I responded, hoping his pace was a bluff. 400-500 meters later, I still had contact with him. I figured I could hang onto his energy for just long enough to weather the surge. But I figured wrong.
Santiago dropped me and gradually put 30-45 seconds on me. I had cracked, and my race legs were no longer there to play. I was then running on survival pegs. This is not to say I felt bad, only that the mental side of my race game was waning. It became very evident at that moment that it was January!
I finished strong, with the clear plan of soaking up as much South American Spectator Love as I could. Those crowds do not disappoint. Never knowing just how the body will respond to an early race like this, I had not placed firm goals in front of myself. However, I did hope to land up on the podium, which is exactly what I did. Knowing that the season has begun with a third place finish gives me a nice push. It’s funny how a bit of success gives you a nice kick in the butt to get back on with the hard training. Too bad I’m still exhausted from the travel home, and my body won’t let me train yet!