Mandy and I flew to San Juan early Friday before the race. As excited as I was for this race, I was just as nervous. Mostly because I have never had to take my bike apart, let alone try to put it back together. I can manage to take the wheels off and put them back on. That's about my extent. I was nervous to fly with my bike. When I handed my bike bag to TSA I found myself praying that it would a.) make it to San Juan and b.) make it there in one piece. I have also never raced a 70.3 this early. Training through a terrible winter I knew I didn't get many quality outdoor bike miles. Now, add in the heat of the island, I honestly had no idea how my body would react. I have never raced well in head. So let’s just say that I had a lot going through my mind that travel day.
After we checked into the hotel and were situated, we went to the expo to pick up our race bags. The expo was disappointing! Very small. Limited vendors. We went back to the room and put our bikes together. I surprised myself, I was able to put Trekie back together!
My coach scheduled me to do a 30 minute run that day and I am so glad that he did. By the time I got around to running, it was probably 4pm. It was hot and windy. I was able to scope out the area. Mandy was on her bike showing me around. I ran over to the swim start, ran by the transition area and ran part of the run course. It. was. hot! When I was done, I was drenched in sweat. But like I said, I was glad I had to run, I knew what to anticipate come race day.
Friday night we walked to Old San Juan for dinner. The walk was on the run course. I was able to sneak a peek at the first "dreaded" hill on the course. I remember looking at it and thinking, "oh crap!" I immediately began to picture myself powering up that hill and I no longer gave it one more negative thought.
Saturday seemed to come and go. I did an easy swim in the lagoon to get used to the salt water and took Trekie for a spin to make sure she was tuned up and ready to rock. All was good.
We woke up at 4am and made our way to the Starbuck's at our hotel, took breakfast and coffee back to the room and just relaxed. I loved being this close to the swim start and transition area. I never once felt rushed on race morning.
After breakfast we made our way to transition to set up our areas. I forgot how much I love the pre-race whirl. I really think that was the point where I acknowledged that I was actually racing. I made a mental note of where my bike was on the rack and then started scoping out the other gals in my age group. One girl really stood out. She was short, jacked and was decked out in Brooks gear. She just screamed, "FAST." I knew I would be seeing her out there on the course.
I went over and over my race plan in my head. Stay relaxed. Stay positive. Race your own race. Stick to your hydration/nutrition plan. Most of all, have fun! I was so excited for this swim. For the first time since racing triathlons, I was in the first swim wave. I started ten minutes behind the pros. This meant that I would have ZERO traffic to swim over or around. I couldn't wait. My wave had females 29 and under and also an older female age group, I think 50+. My plan was to line up in the front as I always do, take off fast to get ahead and then settle into a strong, yet comfortable pace. I knew I had a long day ahead of me. I knew I would be dealing with conditions that I wasn't used to. The last thing I wanted to do was to come out of the swim tired.
The countdown began from :30.... :15....:10.... and we were off! I executed my swim plan the way I wanted. There were two or three other girls who took off with me. Once I felt like I was in the front of the pack, I settled into that strong/comfortable pace. I worked on staying long and strong. Sighting wasn't an issue because the water was mostly clear and the buoys were visible. I worked on staying close to the buoys since in the past I have had a tendency to swim off course. I couldn't feel a current pushing me one way or the other. I felt great!
The coolest part about this swim was swimming under a bridge! The bridge was lined with cheering spectators. I knew they were there, however, when I was swimming I can't say I remember seeing or hearing anyone. I was just that focused. Going under the bridge the water was a little choppy but it wasn’t concerning to me. As I passed under, I was sighting quite a bit. It was darker and choppier. I could see a swimmer from my wave just ahead of me. I knew I was somewhere near the front and would be one of the first few to come out. In the past, I would have used up energy trying to catch her, but not this race. I was determined to stick to my plan.
The swim exit was a steep ramp with a rubber mat on it. The ramp was lined with five or more volunteers to help pull the athletes out of the water and up the ramp. The other side of the ramp was wooden steps! My legs were a little loosey goosey so I took my time going down those steps. This was when I glanced at my watch for the first time. Ugh, not a fast swim split and not one that I was expecting. Not as fast as I wanted to go. I quickly evaluated how I felt, knew I wasn't taxed, so I found comfort in knowing that I stuck to my plan. Only option I had was to carry on...
Remember the girl who I said looked fast in transition? She blew by me running into T1. She came out of the water right behind me, but that didn't matter, the chick could run. I could feel myself getting anxious and almost trying to match her steps. I knew I didn’t want to plow through the transition run so I talked myself out of it and just kept moving. The transition run was longer than I would have liked but before I knew it I was in front of Trekie.
One thing I didn't prepare myself for was the fact that I would be alone on the bike course for awhile since I was one of the first few out of the water. I was a bit nervous when I realized I had to actually follow the arrows on the road instead of other racers. Lucky for me, I wasn't solo for long as a 50 year old male blew by me about two miles into the bike. I was definitely feeling good. The course was flat but the roads were rough. There was a bit of a tailwind, so I was cruising along with little effort.
Then at about 6 miles I was passed by a girl in my age group. She stood out to me because she was decked out in everything USA. From now on, I will refer to her as such, "USA.” As she passed me I thought, "here we go, here comes the cyclists in my age group." But just as soon as I thought that, USA slowed up in front of me and I was gaining on her. As with my swim plan, my bike plan was the same. I didn't want to waste valuable energy trying to catch up to someone who just passed me. However, catching up to her required little effort and because of the drafting rules, I had to pass her. This became the theme of the bike leg. USA passed me then slowed, I passed USA. USA found more energy and passed again. I swear we went back and forth more than 6 times.
As I said earlier, the bike course was flat. I worked on staying strong yet relaxed. I stuck to my hydration and nutrition plan as I have practiced time and time again. I was paying close attention to how my body felt. Surprisingly, I didn't feel overheated but knew that I was sweating a great deal. I had salt tabs with me, even thoughI have never experimented with them. I figured just in case something went drastically wrong I would have them. The course had two aid stations that you rode through twice. I grabbed a bottle of water each time. I dumped a little water on me, drank a little, dumped some more, etc.
At the first turn around on the first loop I realized I would have a not so nice headwind on the way back. I'm not sure if I was trying to push harder or what, but shortly after going into the wind I started to get pain in my hips. I have never had this pain before. Was I cramping? I didn't think so. Was something out of whack on my bike? Didn't feel like it. Yet every time I was in aero the pain came right back. The only way I could ease the pain was to sit up, move around a bit in the saddle and then go back to aero. Sometimes I found myself sitting up longer than other times. I'm know this cost me a considerable amount of time but I had to do what I could to ease the discomfort. I was too afraid to push harder not knowing what I was dealing with. My goal quickly became to survive those last remaining miles of the bike, try to recover my legs the best I could and set myself up for a good run. I remember thinking that I may not be able to even run once I got off the bike. It hurt that bad.
During this hip pain battle, Mandy came up behind me and tapped my butt. I found such comfort knowing that she was out there with me. I really look up to her. She rode by my side for a few seconds and asked why I was sitting up. I tried to explain the issue to her. However, she had a race on her hands and was cranking that bike out! She yelled back to me to drink, I tried to yell back to her that I was. I realized I couldn't dwell on the discomfort anymore, I had to keep on keeping on. So I started to think about something else, something positive. So where were those fast biker chicks in my age group? I realized that besides USA, I had yet to be passed by anyone in my age group.
As I approached mile 50, USA finally made her move and passed me for the last time. She took off and I never saw her again. At this mile my hips were still screaming, but I told myself to just spin myself home, keep the legs loose, I wasn't breaking any records today.
Little did I know, I was sitting in 3rd coming into T2. At the start of the bike I was 4th. Somehow, in my pain cave, I managed to pass someone and hold off the rest of those girls in my age group.
My dismount was a little shaky. I got off my bike and thought, "wow my legs don't feel great. My hips feel tight." I proceeded through T2 as I normally would and started to feel excited to take on a run course known for its brutality. Bring it on. Let the game begin!
The run course starts with an incline. I was actually thankful for this because I think it helped me to get my running legs in check. I also realized that I no longer had any hip pain. Jackpot! As I crested the 2nd little incline within the first mile, someone on the course yelled to me, " 3rd place female." I thought," was he yelling at me? No way." Whether he was yelling to me or not, at that point it became all business. I was on the hunt and I refused to be the hunted.
I would glance at my watch from time to time but I was not a slave to it. I knew I was running a great pace, and was running at a pace I knew I could maintain. As I went through the aid stations I made sure to slow enough to go right down the line of volunteers. I grabbed everything. Fluids, fluids and more fluids! I also grabbed orange slices which came in handy as I ran the hills. I held that orange slice as if my life depended on it. As I made the turn for the first hill (it seriously looked like it went straight up, no joke) I buried my head and refused to look for the top. I took a nibble of the orange slice. Yum, did that orange juice taste great! It took my mind off of the incline and I swear it helped me grind my gears to the top. This became the order of events for the run leg. Aid station: grab EVERYTHING. Big hill: eat, head down, grind! Recover legs at the top. Let legs go for the downhill. Repeat 4 times.
The course takes runners out and back along a path that on one side is surrounded by ocean and the other side by a fort wall. My coach warned me about this part of the course. He told me that this portion of the course would be hot and to make sure I had some fluids with me to keep me cool. I grabbed 3 bags of ice at the last aid station before the wall. I put one bag in my tri top and one in my tri shorts. The 3rd one I held in my hand. It's amazing how great the ice made me feel. I trucked on.
As I turned around on the path, I couldn't help but stare down all the runners coming at me from the opposite direction. So many people looked like they were suffering. I heard grunts and moans, heavy breathing, saw a lot of walking and even some tears. It was complete chaos. Carnage. Yet, I was holding strong. I kept repeating a part of a poem in my head over and over whenever I saw someone suffering. I knew I couldn’t let myself get caught up in someone else’s suffer-fest. "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs..."
As my first lap was coming to an end, I was looking for girls who looked like they were in my age group, girls who could possibly sneak up on my tail. I didn't see any, but kept running as if that phantom age grouper was on my heels. From time to time I found myself smiling and acknowledging that I was doing what I set out to do. I only had one more loop to run. I only had to run those dreaded hills one more time!!
At mile 10 and couldn't believe I already had 10 miles under my belt or that I only had a 5k left. Still no one was coming in the other direction that looked like they were in my age group. I knew I only had one more hill to climb and it was practically downhill and flat to the finish. I refused to let up and kept chugging along. Anyone who has raced triathlons knows the anticipation of the "phantom runner." And believe me, I still had that anticipation. Whether I was truly sitting in 3rd place or not, I made sure that I ran like I was.
As I made the final short climb for the last time, I could see the finish line. I made the turn for home and could see the overall time on the clock. 5:43. Ok subtract 10 minutes for my starting wave. I mustered whatever energy I could to try to sprint across the line. 5:33! A new PR!
|2014 San Juan 70.3|
After finding Mandy at the finish, we used whatever energy we had left to get our phones to check our results. Neither one of us truly knew how our races played out. We both tried to bring up the results on our phones and go figure the site wouldn't load. UGH! The anticipation was killing us. I checked some of my facebook notifications and text messages but none of them gave me my finishing results. So, Mandy called her husband. Her husband confirmed that I indeed finished 3rd! A podium finish! I cried instantly. Mandy also finished 3rd in her's as well!!!! We both were in tears. What a sense of accomplishment for us both.
I can’t thank Mandy enough for asking me to race in Puerto Rico with her. We had the perfect weekend. She is someone that I truly admire and I learn so much from her. Thank you!!
I chose this race because I felt it gave me a good opportunity to seal a spot for Ironman 70.3 World Championships. I knew going into this race that I would have to finish as high as I could within my age group to give me that opportunity. I knew that my 3rd place finish would give me a chance. However, at the finish we found out that my age group had one spot. I could only hope that the 1st and 2nd place girls either had a spot or didn’t want that spot. The anticipation was killing me.
Before the awards ceremony I found out that the first place girl (who was the fastie I saw in transition, the one who sprinted through T1, the one who I never saw again after that, was from France, went under 5 hours on this course) claimed the spot. UGH! I was jealous.
Not getting a spot stung certainly stung and at the awards ceremony, I wasn't even excited to make the podium. I was just so caught up in not getting a spot. I based my entire performance around the fact that I didn't get one.
I won't lie it has stung for a while. Nearly two weeks after the fact it still stings. But as I sit here and I write this I can say that I have finally come to terms with it. There was absolutely nothing more that I could have done to give myself anymore of an opportunity to seal a spot. I executed my race strategy 100% and placed in the top 3. Sealing a spot simply became a matter of luck and my performance was not and cannot be based around luck. I have worked hard every day for that 3rd place finish.
In a way I am thankful for that sting of not sealing a spot. For that sting has sparked my fire and I've got work to do..
Til next time...