Event Name: Ironman Puerto Rico 70.3
Date of Race: March 15, 2015
Total Race Time: 7:26:41
Overall Place: 1191/1290
Age Group: Women 35-39
Age Group Place: 58/67
The Journey: Before signing up for my first half Ironman, I never had the intention to race that distance. I raced a few sprints, a couple duathlons and an olympic triathlon, and would always do the bare minimum to train and get through race day. However things started to change last summer as I was in the process of training for my first marathon and was loving that experience. I began to realize the importance of being consistent with training and the power of positive thinking. Both of those concepts would follow me throughout my HIM experience.
Then one day in July 2014, I fell for the old marketing trick of charm pricing. Ironman sent out a Facebook post opening up registration for Puerto Rico 70.3 for the bargain price of $199. If it were $200, it would have been much more expensive in my mind. So I impulsively signed up for the race and talked to Sondra Choung about also making a vacation out of the race - she instantly said yes and offered to be my sherpa.
In September 2014, another pivotal moment happened - I met Adam Heiser. I had never considered getting a coach but our paths crossed at a dinner party and we started talking about how I was training for the Chicago marathon and also was signed up for Puerto Rico (PR). He had raced PR a couple years prior as well as Chicago, and shared his thoughts about both races. I instantly knew upon meeting him that he would be the right coach for me and signed up for coaching shortly thereafter. We then set my training goals around the number zero, as in missing 0 workouts. So over the last few months I focused on doing my training and probably only missed about 1 or 2 sessions max per month leading up to race day. As for race day goals, I set 3 - be positive, have fun and be tough.
Pre-Race: 2 days before the race, Sondra and I flew out on the same flight as Adam Heiser, Krystle Andrews and Sheryl Shectman who also were all racing. Chris Nasser flew down as well for race support. Being that PR is a US territory, it was an easy destination to fly into - no customs and no passport needed (though I always love getting another stamp in my passport). I decided to carry on all of my tri gear including my bike pump and checked a bag with vacation/beach items. While going through security in the ATL airport, I was stopped as apparently a bike pump is considered a dangerous/blunt object. After a very personal pat down with the TSA agent, she let me through and said I should check my pump next time.
Upon landing early afternoon, the room at the Caribe Hilton wasn't quite ready. So I walked directly across the street to race check in. It was nice staying at the race hotel as it was centrally located within walking distance to everything - check in, transition, Tri Bike Transport (TBT), swim start and the finish line. The check in line was long but my mindset for the whole weekend was to enjoy the experience no matter what happened. After going through check in, the expo and picking up a couple CO2 cartridges (you can't fly with them), the next stop was to pick up my bike from TBT. That was worth the money to not have to worry about assembling your bike or messing up your fit. Then I headed back to the hotel, organized all my race gear, went out for an Italian dinner of braised short rib stuffed dumplings (last carb loading meal 2 days before the race). On the way back from dinner, I hit up a grocery store to pick up a few items.
On Saturday, I woke up at 7am and headed to the swim start for a practice swim and to try out my new speed suit. (On a side note, a week before the race I had tested out my tri kit in the pool, realized it was way too big on me and the drag was so severe that I could drastically feel it swimming. So I made the decision to invest in a speed suit as this race wouldn't be wetsuit legal.) This was my first time swimming in open water since last August. I ran into Krystle, Adam and Chris who were also there for a practice swim. I learned that Chris was asked to join a relay team raising money for CF because their biker had to drop out at the last moment. After the swim, Adam, Krystle, Sheryl and I headed out for a short 30 minute ride to make sure our bikes were working properly. Adam led the way and had us ride almost all of the run course, which was a great idea. It was helpful to get a visual of the run course and to see what big hills were in store for us. Afterwards, I officially dropped off my bike at transition which was located in a soccer stadium. Adam suggested to let some air out of the tires so they wouldn't pop overnight due to any drastic temperature changes. I then made tweaks to my Garmin 910 watch as I didn't realize the multi-sport setting had to be set up separately from the regular training settings. Having finished all of my race preparation by early-afternoon, I spent the next few hours on the beach relaxing in the shade and getting mentally prepared. Lastly, an early dinner at 5pm at a Cuban/Puerto Rican restaurant. I enjoyed a light, small meal of grilled chicken, a tiny bit of rice and grilled veggies. I was in tucked bed by 8:15 and fell asleep around 9:30.
Race day I woke up with eager anticipation at 4:15am before the alarm. I immediately ate breakfast - bagel with peanut butter and an apple. I was out the door by 5:10 to head to transition. After setting up my gear, I stopped back at the hotel room to use the bathroom and was at the swim start by 6:15am. The air temp was 72, sunny, no wind and the water temp was between 78-80.
Warm-Up: I had wanted to warm up but didn't take the opportunity. The grassy area at swim start was full of spectators and racers, which didn't leave much room to find an entry into the water for a warm up. I took a Honey Stinger gel about 20 minutes in advance. My swim wave 5 started at 7:08am, shortly after the pros started at 6:50am.
Swim: The swim was held in a salt-water protected lagoon with ok visibility where you could easily see your body in the water. The swim start was in mid-water, so you had a 4 minute period to tread water before the wave started. My goal during the swim was to stay calm. I swam free style the entire time and only stopped for a couple short moments to readjust my goggles. I noticed 2 later waves pass me but I didn't mind and would try to follow their bubbles and draft when I had the brief chance. About half way though the swim, the yellow cones along the course changed to orange, which also matched the orange shirts of volunteers on SUP. I had to be careful sighting at times because I would see an orange cone in the distance that was actually a volunteer. The water was very calm until I got to the bridge. I felt small waves toss me around a bit but it didn't phase me. After passing under the bridge, I could see the exit in the distance and finished. I enjoyed the buoyancy from the salt water and was incredibly glad for the speed suit - no drag at all.
Swim Time: 49:36
T1: Volunteers were at the swim exit to help you walk up the steep ramp/stairs and I grabbed every hand that was extended. The run from swim exit to transition was longer than normal, over a 1/3 of a mile. It was suggested to me to stash an old pair of tennis shoes (not flip flops - your feet will be too slippery) at swim exit and throw them on for the run to T1. Many other racers did the same thing because there was a long line of shoes. I was happy I did that because I easily trotted the distance on a paved road over to transition. I took my time in T1 to dry off and treat my feet with powder to help reduce the possibility of any blisters.
T1 Time: 10:12
Bike: My race goal of "have fun" was well experienced during the bike. The ride started in San Juan and winded up and down a few hills (on/off ramps in town) to eventually go along the flat coast and to the Dorado area. I was very impressed with the smooth paved roads and only encountered a couple short, bumpy sections.
During the ride, I drank 3 bottles of water with Nuun and had 3 cool mint chocolate Clif bars - I felt like I was eating Girl Scout thin mint cookies. During my winter training, it was hard to practice my nutrition since I never was thirsty or hungry during those rides, so I was glad my nutrition worked out on race day.
I saw wipe outs twice, one happened about 10 feet in front of me and I had just enough time to veer around him. He skidded along the ground for several feet and it sounded quite painful. The other crash was at a water station, so I always would ride to the far edge to avoid the chaos of dropped water bottles from other riders and the mass of volunteers.
The whole 56 mile ride I had Chris Nasser's voice in my head. During the long weekend training rides, he would always tell me "head down" because I have the tendency to keep it up when in aero. So during the race, each time I noticed I popped my head up, I would hear his voice saying "head down, head down." Though it was hard to do because of the gorgeous course - much of it along the ocean and seeing beautiful hills from afar. I also saw a few iguana road kill and a pasture of cows.
I knew going into the bike portion of the race that wind would be a major factor, given the ride is along the island's flat coast. Going out, a slight tailwind was in my favor and I averaged over 19mph for the first hour. I looked down at my watch in complete disbelief and it got me more excited to keep up the pace. My body and muscles felt incredibly loose after riding all winter. While I got passed a bit, I also did my fair share of passing quite a few cyclists. Going back into town, the headwinds kicked up and slowed me down a little to reach an overall average of 17.7mph for the whole ride. When I got back to transition, I was absolutely shocked and thrilled with my bike time.
Bike Time: 3:08:56
T2: My goal here was to prevent blisters on my feet during the run. I put both Skin Glide cream and Skin Strong powder on my feet, and then tried to wrap athletic tape on some of my toes that are prone to blister on long runs. However the tape didn't stick at all and I realized I mixed up my steps and should have wrapped first before applying the cream and powder. I put on my shoes, grabbed 4 Honey Stinger fruit punch gels and salt tabs, stopped at the bathroom as I didn't go at all during the bike or swim, and was off on the run.
T2 Time: 10:13
Run: Instantly upon starting the run, I could tell my race goals of "be tough & be positive" would be applicable. I was told going into the run that it would be a very hard run because of the heat/hills and that you can't expect to run anywhere close to your normal half marathon time. So I made the decision in advance to walk up the big hills as to not drain my energy on them. Wow, the sun was bright and intense - no clouds in the sky. The temp was around 83 and there was no shade along the course. The run was 2 loops which gave me several opportunities to see Adam, Krystle and Sheryl on the course, along with friends spectating. What a breathtaking run - on one side was a gorgeous view of the ocean and the other side was of Old San Juan and brightly colored Spanish architecture.
The first mile felt amazing. However, I started to feel slight chills and noticed goose bumps on my arms. I made a point to drink plenty of water at each water stop which helped the chills go away - I would drink 1 cup of water and mix 2 cups of water and Gatorade together. Every 40 minutes I took a gel and a salt tab. One of the turnaround points was at a 16th century fort called El Morro. The path we ran around the fort was nicknamed "the microwave" because the ocean water reflected up on the fort wall and caused even stronger heat and no air movement. Around that section of the course were also cobblestone streets. At mile 8, I felt all the liquid in my belly and stopped at the port-a-potty but my body still wanted to hold on to the liquid. A second stop at mile 10 was more successful. One tip I would suggest is to carry an individually wrapped wet wipe in your tri top pocket just in case there is no toilet paper.
Along the run, another racer had mentioned to me about an incident during the bike course where there was gunfire from a passing car - a bullet struck one racer and shrapnel struck a 2nd which had happened only about 8 minutes prior to me passing the area on the bike. Later I found out the incident had nothing to do with the race but it still was very unfortunate to occur. Thankfully both racers will be ok. ATC got a special shout out from another racer who said she had participated in Challenge Roth in 2014 along with ATC. A former ATC member who lives in Florida also said hi, but I didn't catch her name.
With 1/4 of the run left, I saw Chris out supporting along the course and he ran the remainder of the final loop with me. At 1.5 miles to go, I passed a tent with loud spectators partying and a DJ, and had an unexpected ice cold bottle of water dumped on my head. While it felt really good, I had made a point to avoid all of the water sprinklers along the course as to not get my shoes drenched. Oh well, I was close enough to the finish line that I didn't mind. Right before the finisher shoot was one last hill (a pedestrian bridge) which I walked up, then ran down and ran through the finish shoot.
Run Time: 3:07:44
Post Race: After crossing the finish line, I received a medal and finisher hat. Next, lots and lots of hugs from my friends. I wasn't interested in eating and only drank about 8oz. of Gatorade. I passed by all of the tents and went back to the hotel to shower. Sondra had dropped my bike off with TBT earlier in the afternoon and picked up my transition bag, which was lovely to not have to do after the race. The rest of the afternoon was spent chilling by the beach in the shade with beer. It was about 5 hours before I had any sort of an appetite for real food. The next day my body felt normal except for pain in my quads, which was a good reminder to focus more on foam rolling and stretching going forward.
Overall Experience with this Race: 5 out of 5 - I thoroughly enjoyed this race. The international flair was fun - so many countries were represented, especially from Central and South America. Lots of cool kits and very expensive bikes. It was neat to hear people cheer for you in both English and Spanish. One thing to note is the concept of "island time." It's best to go with the flow because there were very minor things that I noticed, like only half of the swim buoys were set up the night before the race. The race was very well organized and had many volunteers - all local kids. The course overall was absolutely breathtaking.
I loved that there were challenging parts both in the preparation for and during the race. It was tough training during winter where many folks were enjoying their off season. There were weekly 5am wake-up calls to run at the track in the dark, weekend long bike rides in 40 degrees and long runs with temps as low as 12 degrees. There was no opportunity to practice an open water swim...no acclimation from the cold winter to warm racing temperatures. I was thrilled to pick a race that had challenging aspects to it - the run course was tough, no denying that, but it was also completely beautiful to bike and run along the oceanside. The IM PR race motto is "Race in Paradise" and both the race and my training journey reflected that.