Sunday, March 20, 2011

Ironman San Juan 70.3 Race Report and Results

On Wednesday Jen and I caught an early flight from Chicago to San Juan, Puerto Rico. I was worried about flying with my bike not knowing quite what to expect for airline costs to ship the bike. The website was unclear and I was expecting anything from $100.00 to $200.00 just for the bike! It ended up being on the lower end...$100.00. I never thought I would feel good about paying that much to fly my bike to a race but I felt like I dodged a bullet as they never weighed the bike box and if they would have I could have been charged much more. A big thanks goes out to Healthy Habits for getting my bike tuned up and ready for this race as well as for arranging for me to use their bike box. That definitely alleviated some of the stress of traveling to a race. I also have to thank Dr. Kaminski and Laurel Darren for getting my body ready for the race with ART and massage on Tuesday before we left.

The weather in San Juan was awesome. I was able to get a swim in on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday in the ocean we would be swimming in. On Thursday I got my race packet with number 16. There was a big pro field entered for the race with 29 guys on the start list. It turned out that only 24 of them showed up to race. Friday Jen and I attended the pro race meeting where they went over all the rules and the course setup. I was not overly nervous for the race despite it being my first one at the professional level and my first half ironman in a year and a half. I kept thinking about how good my fitness currently is and tried not to think of the world class field that had shown up to race in San Juan. After the pro race meeting I laid out all my GU Energy products I had brought along for the race and picked my favorite ones to stockpile onto my bike. It is always tough figuring out which of the awesome flavors to race with when they have so many great options. I enjoy racing with Roctane gels but add in some of my other favorite flavors so I'm not eating the same flavor throughout the entire race. I got great sleep on Wednesday and Thursday night but Friday was much less. I was so excited for the race I think I only slept about 4 hours before my 3:15 wake up call. Since no one is open for breakfast at that time of the morning I made my own waffles using the iron in our hotel room. I had checked my bike in on Friday night but needed to get to the transition area to get my fluids on the bike and make sure my tires were at the right pressure and my shoes were set out for the run. We made the 15 minute walk from the hotel to transition and I got there at about 5:10. I was able to get everything ready to go and get a good 1.5 mile warm up run in with some speed drills and strides to help loosen up. After this I would get to the ocean for a warm up swim. The temperatures were pretty the mid 70's. It was pretty windy even early in the morning with wind blowing about 15 mph off the ocean from the east.

The water temperature was about 80 degrees which is too warm for a wetsuit. I knew this would be the case. I had my Kiwami Amphibian 008 speedsuit on which is perfect for a non-wetsuit swim. Ironman changed skinsuit rules last September and will no longer allow skinsuits with neoprene or any rubberized material. The rule states that the material must be synthetic woven material. This is one reason I like the Amphibian suit. It weighs less than a pair of underwear and it is very good for swimming in non wetsuit events because it has no pockets to create drag.
SWIM: My plan was to get out really hard to see how long I could stay with the group trying to draft. I realize I'm not a good swimmer and knew I was probably going to give up substantial time in the swim. I had mentally prepared to not let this bother me. I have only done one other non-wetsuit swim in the past and it was the Hy-Vee Olympic distance race 2 summers ago and the swim was a disaster. I was hoping to swim under 31 minutes and keep the gap under 6 minutes to the leaders...more like 4 minutes to the main field. The national anthem played and they announced the pro field as we entered the water. There was some commotion from some of the pro athletes who realized a few of the guys were wearing the illegal skinsuits they had just told us in the meeting on Friday we could not wear. Nothing was done about this since they had already lit the fuse for the cannon to fire and when it fired the swim started at a blazing speed. I felt like I was swimming a 100 yard all out swim and within 100 yards I was already off the back. I stayed relaxed trying not to let it bother me. I know my strength is on the bike and run and I didn't want the swim to psychologically wreck my race. I thought I was in a good rhythm but about 700 yards into the swim just before the first turn I realized things were not good. This realization came from a person in a kayak who hit me with their paddle. I was a little confused why I was being attacked by the volunteer in the kayak and after I got hit the second time I stopped swimming and asked what was wrong. Speaking in Spanish...which I could not understand any of I realized they had hit me because I was swimming for the wrong turn buoy. This was not good. I had to backtrack to the correct buoy and swim around it before continuing on to the next turn buoy. I didn't realize how much time it was costing me at the time but I now hope it was more than a minute based on how slow I swam. At about 1400 meters I was passed by a group of 3 women and I just got out of their way because they were going much faster than I was. I had hoped to get done swimming without being passed by any women since they started 5 minutes behind the guys. Nothing I could do about it now...I just had to stay focused on getting out of the water and to my bike. By the time I got out of the water about 7 of the female pros had passed me. I climbed down the stairs after exiting the water and saw 33 minutes. This was not good. Mentally I tried not to let it affect me as I made my way to the transition area. It was a good haul to transition. We had to run about 600 meters through the city streets without shoes on. I knew the more running the better for me. I passed a couple of the ladies on the run to transition but stepped a rock that I could not get off my foot. It hurt bad to step down on that foot and Jen caught a picture of me grimacing in pain from this damn rock. My foot is sore today and I think it's from running on this rock for a quarter mile.
BIKE: Finally I had made it to the portion of the race I felt was a strength of mine. I was unsure how far up the road the guys were but I knew it would be awhile before I saw any of them. I began passing the women early on in the bike and I was moving well. The course started with a tail wind so my speeds ranged from 27 to 32 mph for the first 10 miles or so. By mile 10 I had passed all the females who had gotten out of the water ahead of me. I was riding harder than I ever had in a 1/2 Ironman thinking I had nothing to lose by going really hard on the bike. It was my only option to get back in the race. At mile 15 I spotted my first male competitor, Tim Snow. He had gotten out of the water about 5 minutes ahead of me which I didn't realize at the time. I went by him and was feeling great. I gave him some encouragement and kept riding hard hoping I was gaining on the field. We traveled to the end of the course where we would ride two loops of about 12 miles each. At the half way point in the first loop Jen was there with some friends of hers who live in Puerto Rico. They told me I was in 21st place. I passed two more guys in the next loop and was still riding very strong through about mile 40. That is when things began to fall apart for me. I was averaging 26.2 mph through mile 40 but then I started to experience some really terrible cramps in my glute muscles (butt muscles for those who don't study biology). It was quickly becoming super uncomfortable to sit on my seat so I was forced to stand up and ride the majority of the last 16 miles. I lost all my power that I had in the saddle and I knew this was not good. I have never experienced cramping in my glutes on a ride before this. I took in more fluids and tried to stretch them while on the bike but this is a tough muscle to stretch while riding. I still passed one more guy to move into 18th place but I knew I was not making up time on any of the main pack and the guys who I had passed were probably gaining time back on me now. Worse yet, by standing to pedal the last 16 miles I was trashing my run muscles in the quads and hamstrings that would be needed when I got off the bike. My average speed was dropping fast. By the time I reached T2 my average speed was down to 24.8 mph and I finished the bike with a time of 2:15:50.

RUN: Right when I got off the bike I knew my body was in a world of hurt. My muscles were screaming in pain at me. I knew this was not going to be the 1 hr. 17 minute run I had thought I had in me. My body was not cooperating at all. I began the run at a normal mileage run pace...just a little under 7:00/mile. I was hoping that the cramping would disappear and I could settle into a normal race pace. Things only got worse. My breathing began to cause great pain to my abdomen and I realized I was also suffering from some GI (gastrointestinal) distress. I had this for a couple miles in my last 1/2 Ironman in Texas. I don't know why it happens but it is something I need to have not happen in the future. It is very painful to take deep breaths of air and when you can't breath normally it makes for a tough run. The course also didn't help things as it was very hilly on the run and the sun was now beating down making it feel very warm. I was plain suffering. I was passed early in the run by 3 of the guys I had passed on the bike. I made my mind up early that I was not going to quit. 4 guys who started the race dropped out and I knew I was not going to be another one. I had worked too hard for this has taken me so long to get here. There was no way I was going to stop regardless of how bad I was racing or how much it hurt. I learned over the past year through injury first, and through my brother's terrible car accident this fall that you never no when something you love will be taken away from you. For all I know this could be the last race I ever compete in and I was not going to let it end with a DNF. I would suffer my way through this one way or another. When I saw Jen at the turnaround 1/2 way into the run she asked me if I was okay. At this point things were beginning to get better. The biggest thing that had calmed was the GI distress. My breathing had returned to normalcy and that made a huge difference. I told her things were getting better and I began running about 6:15 pace for the 2nd half of the run. My average pace at the turnaround was 6:45 and by the time the race finished I had gotten the average pace down into the 6:20's. I managed to pass one of the guys who had passed me on the first lap and I tried to keep pushing as much as my body would allow me to. I finished in a time of 4:17:25. My run time was 1:24:13...about 7 minutes slower than the previous two 1/2 Ironman runs I've had. I finished 19th overall. I was the 18th pro to finish but unfortunately for me I got beat by the top female. Complete results with split times can be found by clicking HERE.
I was pretty disappointed in how the race went for myself. My swim was bike started well but the cramping caused it to be much slower than I anticipated, and the run was pretty much the same pace I go on my Sunday long runs. I was over 10 minutes off the time I was hoping for. Within about 30 minutes however my feelings of the race began to change. It would have been easy to stop after the swim when I was down by so much. It would have been an easy excuse to stop when I was having cramping problems on the bike. By the run I was out of the picture and I could have stopped then as well. I wouldn't have been the only one to stop. I was proud that I hung in there and battled to the finish line. I was proud that I showed up to the race without being afraid of the guys I was lining up next to. I also believe that I will race better at Ironman St. George on May 7 because of this experience. I learned some valuable things. I will have to pace myself better on the bike at St. George so I can still have a strong run. I will have to swim better and I know I'll be in the Xterra Vendetta wetsuit in St. George and I've always had a much smaller gap to the leaders in wetsuit swims. I also found when I packed my bike up after the race that my seat height was 1.5" lower than where I normally ride. This was my biggest mistake of the trip. When I put my seat on the bike after arriving I didn't tighten it enough and every time I hit a bump it probably went down a little bit. By moving 1.5" through the course of the race I was way out of my normal position and that could have been a big contributor to the glute problems which ultimately caused a bad run. I still think that is probably a minor contribution compared to the effort I was putting in on the bike. I had only ridden outside 6 times this year before the race. I plan to put a great deal of emphasis on the bike between now and May 7th. I will be stronger on the bike and I won't fade at the end of that race. I've never had a race where I fell apart on the bike. I normally get stronger near the end of the bike course. I have always negative split the bike course and I think I will in St. George as well. This race was a great learning experience for me. It was my first 1/2 Ironman in a year and a half and I needed to get the rust off. All the training in the world cannot simulate the race experience and I found that to be the truth on Saturday. I know I have lots more work to do. At the top of my birthday wish list is a swim coach who can help me with my technique. I don't see myself ever being out of the water with the main pack but I do believe I'm strong enough on the bike and run to work my way up to a top 8 finish at a race like this. The other confidence booster I got when I saw the results was that I beat all 1,500 amateur athletes despite suffering through the greater part of the race. It tells me I belong in the pro field. I still don't think I have proven that however and that will be my goal on May 7th...I can't wait. As for now I'll need to get recovered and get my butt out on the roads putting in big bike mileage.
Congratulations to American Tim O'Donnell for winning the race against such a tough field in Puerto Rico. He was kind enough to take a picture with me after the race. Also, congratulations to all the finishers in this race. The run course was challenging and the heat made it a big accomplishment for all who participated. The event was extremely well organized! I had a great time in Puerto Rico with Jen. We enjoyed the experience despite the race not being what I had hoped for. The local support for the race was absolutely tremendous!! There were more volunteers than racers I believe and they were awesome at every corner and every aid station...even if I couldn't understand a word of what they were saying...I could sense their enthusiasm. I guess I could understand when they cheered me by name (written on my jersey) and when they said, "Go USA" as I biked and ran by. I was overwhelmed by all the texts, phone calls, e-mails, and facebook posts from friends and family wishing me luck in San Juan. I think back to the quote on my workout book...the fun is the journey of getting in great shape...and I'm in the best of my life. I'm looking to redefine that by May 7th. Thanks to all the help I get from sponsors. Healthy Habits had the bike ready to roll. The Zipp wheels were awesome in the winds. I loved my jersey from Kiwami. I'm thankful that I had GU Energy to fuel me through this tough event. Those guys have been tremendous in their support for my training and racing. Laurel Darren and Bob Kaminski have worked so hard to take care of getting my body ready to compete. I can't thank all of them enough for helping get me to the starting line in this joureny. More than anything I have to thank my wife Jen for making this an awesome experience. Without a doubt in my mind if I didn't have an awesome wife to share this journey with it would not be happening. None of this would be possible without her enduring support through all the good moments and bad. Thanks for reading!! DREAM BIG!!


Anonymous said...

Great job at the race finishing through some of those problems is more difficult than any training or workout. Next time youre out there just do what you know how to do, race hard. Have faith in your training, and have faith in your competitive nature and you will definitely be in the top 8.


Tony White said...

Not sure how many calories you took in on the bike, but you might cut it back a little and take more electrolytes through something like "Gatorlytes," "Salt Stick," or "Nuun."

I took in almost 2500 - 3000mg of sodium on the bike while only taking in about 300ish calories.

Keep up the hard work man, it was nice to meet you too.

JV said...

Way to stick it out- I raced P Rico to from Chicago too! I admire the pros who stay the course. I too had a rough day -see my RR- we learn and will rock it out next race!!

Shane said...

Good job, Jeff! You are the hardest working guy out there. Like you said, you learned things that will help you at the next race.

Adam Beston said...

Racing in SG this weekend and it is gonna hit 79 degrees just so you are aware. Nice work at the race. The open water will come with time and the thawing of the midwest lakes. I used to play sighting drills all the time in them. Glad to see you get the jitters out before IMSG. You will be in a better position for that race esp if you are ready to run at T2.