Thursday, March 24, 2011

San Juan 70.3

San Juan, Puerto Rico. The first race of the season. I had this race on my plan since I froze at Oceanside last year and then, after my friend Blanca's wedding in June, it was no longer tentative. Blanca was my housemate in college and was Puerto Rican. Her family used to come visit us in Ann Arbor and the highlight of the visit was a huge Puerto Rican feast prepared by her father Carlos. I swear everyone on campus knew when Carlos was in town. He used to have to cook for 50-60 hungry college athletes. After dinner on these special Saturday nights we would relax and go to bed early...(okay, not really)

Anyway, at Blanca's wedding her sister Martha and her wife Christine told me of their plan to do their first half ironman in San Juan. After experiencing how warm and welcoming Blanca's family was during their visits to Ann Arbor and then at the wedding I knew I wanted to race in Puerto Rico. Plus, it was a tropical environment. One negative---the long travel day to get there. Living in California and having to fly all the way across the US and then beyond Florida reminds you how large this country is. I arrived wiped out on Tuesday evening but woke up to sunshine and the ocean. I felt better instantly.

The only problem once I arrived was that San Juan is a large city. This means no cycling anywhere close to the hotel. I know that people did it, but I was not comfortable at all with cycling with the traffic. Plus, every local triathlete I talked to said over and over "do not ride around here." On Wednesday I did an easy run, swam in the lagoon where the swim would take place and then tried to figure out how to get a ride done. Ultimately, I knew that if a ride did not happen on Wednesday afternoon I could do one Thursday but I really wanted to get on my bike Wednesday since it was scheduled on my plan. After a slight freak out on how to get this done I sucked it up and came up with a plan. Since there were no rental cars available I paid a cab driver to take me out to the part of the bike course with little traffic and wait for me at a gas station while I rode for 60 minutes. On the drive out of town I got a tour of the entire bike course. It was going to take us on expressways and then out along the coast. Except for a few overpasses the course was flat. The amazing part was that entire expressways were going to be closed for the race. The entire city was extremely welcoming and excited to have the Ironman in town. At the pre-race meeting the race director greeted every single one of us with a handshake and thanked us for coming. It was really the little things that made us all feel welcome and it was exciting to see the entire city come together and be thrilled to have us racing on their island.
A picture of the swim course taken from my balcony at the hotel. We would swim in the lagoon beyond the bridge, swim under the bridge and then exit the water and run 457 yards to transition. They told us the exact yardage for the run to transition at the pre-race meeting. Attention to details, I like that.

Everything went smoothly leading up to the race. I went for short easy ride very early in the morning on Friday (before traffic) and of course got a shard of glass in my new tire. I removed it was tweezers and all was good. Of course, I obsessed about it for a couple hours but then I figured if I got that little nick in my tire on a 30 minute ride before the race I could get the same thing during the race so why worry?

Race morning was easy. Wake up, eat, walk less than 5 minutes over to transition to set up, easy jog, head back to room for last bathroom pit stop and then walk 5 minutes to the swim start. So simple! And, I did not have to use a port-a-potty all day. I love that! I got to the swim start, warmed up and lined up for our 6:55 am start. The water was warm and the day started a bit overcast. I had a good start and was up near the front for the first 400 meters and then I could not hang on the leaders feet anymore. I saw them slip away from me and I was gobbled up by the second group. At this point I was a bit frustrated. The middle part of the swim for me was not good. However, I began to feel better and I noticed the group I was with was beginning to swim way left and not stick to the buoy line. I knew the buoys were going to bend right before heading underneath the bridge so I did not follow the group. This definitely saved me some time and I made up some ground going underneath the bridge. This is when we hit a massive current for the last few hundred meters. I actually felt like I swam better in the chop. I finished the swim well and came out of the water determined to have a good run to transition. I have had trouble in the past getting out of the water and running well but I was determined to do better. Luckily, I had Cait Snow to chase so I tried to stay as close as possible. It definitely hurt but I did it. I got to my bike, threw on sunglasses, helmet and race belt and was off. I actually beat some people out of transition! One reason for this because I swam sans speedsuit. I just wore a swimsuit on the swim. I have no wetsuit sponsor so I decided to go old school and just wear a "speedo." I jumped on my bike and got ready to bike hard and see what kind of improvements I had made after my bike focus over the winter training months. The flat course did not really play to my strengths---I like hills now---but I knew I was stronger than I have been in the past.

(Photo Courtesy of Ramon Serrano)

The bike course consisted of riding out 12 miles, doing two loops and then riding back into town. We enjoyed a slight tailwind on the way out of town and then battled a headwind/crosswind when we turned around. There were definitely times when I had to "lean" into the wind. As I approached the first turnaround at 20 miles I started to see the pro women ahead of me coming back on the other side of the road. I had been passed by a few girls but they had not disappeared into the distance very quickly so I knew I was riding better than in past races. When I saw women who had already made the turnaround I figured I probably had a few more miles to go. Then, less than a 2 minutes later I saw a bunch of cones in the road, etc. I assumed this was for cars or something and the turnaround was still further down the road. However, as I approached there was a big sign that had the u-turn arrow and a timing mat. I actually said out loud "no way, really?!?!" I could not believe I was already turning around. This gave me some confidence. I was riding better. I kept the pressure on the pedals and got ready to battle the wind before starting my second loop. Because this course was so flat you were in aero the entire time. There is no really change in your cadence. I do not find this to be easy at all. When you see a flat course you might think it would be easier but I like the hills and the changes to your position and muscles used during the bike. I actually thought during this race that doing IM Florida would be really tough. You are in aero for 112 miles. No real change at all. Luckily, I have my ISM saddle so I was comfortable throughout but there is definitely a fatigue in the legs that comes from sustained pedaling at the same rate for 56 miles.

Anyway, I continued on during the bike making sure to drink and stay fueled. It was definitely hot and humid out there and I knew I was losing a lot of electrolytes through sweating so I made sure to try and replace what was lost with my nutrition. As I approached the end of the bike the clouds had cleared and the sun had come out. I knew the run was going to be hot and extremely hilly. I had hoped this would play to my strength of running in the heat and on hills since my runs in Napa are hilly unless I run on the treadmill.

Here I am approaching transition. You will notice there are other bikers in the frame. This is a change for me. These people usually would have caught a passed me many miles ago but I am a better biker now! And, I am not done improving...

I had a good transition and started the run with 3 other woman. I tried to keep up but my legs felt flat. We ran up over a pedestrian bridge and I kept up on the climb but I did not feel that strong. I ran hard but also knew that I had to save some energy for the second loop. I hoped I would find a rhythm after the few couple of kilometers but it just continued to be difficult. I was frustrated and there were lots of hills...

(Photo Courtesy of Ramon Serrano)

Views on the run course. Something to focus on other than the pain.

One of the many hills. It was a 2 loop course. Tough!

The run developed into damage control. My mantra became "find something." I kept telling myself that. Find something inside you to get this done. Find any ounce of energy. Find any inspiration to keep going. I kept plugging away. The hills were tough. The good thing about the hills was they broke up the course. Get up this hill, go down the next one, around the corner, along the fortress wall, onto the cobblestones, up another hill, etc. There were little goals along the way. Before I knew it was I was at mile 10. 3 miles to go and I can get this done. Looking at the mile splits I was fastest for the first 3 miles and then settled into a pace that I maintained throughout the remainder of the run. While it was a pace that was slower than I hoped at least I did not keep getting slower. I stayed strong even during the second loop on the hills. I powered up them as much as I could. I felt "stronger" than I used to be. The strength work helped me maintain my pace. I finished the race in 11th. I was depleted. Maybe I needed more salt. Maybe I biked too hard. Maybe it was just the first race of the season after 16 weeks of major bike focus. My swim and run intensity along with volume just started increasing 6-8 weeks ago. I know that I cannot be in my best race fitness 10 months out of the year. Progress is being made and it is nice to know that hard work on the bike is paying dividends. More hard work will keep me improving.

I always have high hopes before the first race of the season. I think part of it is just excitement to race again after a long time off. I find I am somewhat disappointed after the first race of the season most years. However, upon reflection, I can definitely find things I am happy about. Plus, if it all went perfectly on Saturday I would not have clues about what I need to work on for the next race of the season.

I had breakfast with Martha, Christine, Marta (Martha's mother) and her aunt on Sunday morning. La Bombonera has been around for over 100 years.

They serve these---Mallorcas. A pastry with butter and powdered sugar. Yummy!

Martha finished her first half on Saturday. I was so excited for her. Christine was unable to compete due to emergency surgery in January but both Martha and Christine are planning the rest of their seasons and are thinking about doing their first Ironman next year. We discussed possible options for that. It was wonderful to visit with them and they gave me a tour of Old San Juan and filled me in on the history.

I flew out on Monday and was excited to get home to Andy and the kitties. The travel day was long and was made even tougher by the fact that I became ill on the flight from Miami to San Francisco. A 6 hour flight. My worst nightmare. Then I had to drive home from San Francisco airport. I toughed it out and got home. Then I went 48 hours without real food. Maybe a piece of toast and a couple of bites of plain noodles but that was it. Yuck! I am on the mend now and even had breakfast this morning! Easy training and then we will focus on the next race--Wildflower. I hear there are hills there on the bike and run. The terrain will be a lot like what I train on everyday here in Napa. Plus, I definitely got some practice on hilly runs this past weekend. I am excited for what is to come in 2011! See you at the races!

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