Today was a rough day in a sort of awesome way. I swam well enough, exiting the water in 5th. Then I took the lead and dropped a 1:58:06 56mile bike split on my Cervelo P5 – which I am still having trouble believing. Two things contributed to the bike course being faster than previous years: 1) an abundance of new blacktop on the course, and 2) rain. That second one seems counterintuitive, but a damp road actually has lower rolling resistance than a dry road, and rain will keep athletes cooler – both contributing to faster bike splits all around. Still, 1:58:06 is faster than I thought, and I can only thank Coach Doane for helping me come up with a training plan that works with school and Cervelo for making the fastest bike ever produced.
So I came off the bike with a substantial lead but had been out of water since the last aid station a full 20km from the finish. In that time the sun came out in force and pulled all that moisture off the road and into the air. It was hot! To make matters worse, I was only able to get one tiny dixie cup of water from the first two aid stations and it wasn’t until mile 3 that I finally had a chance to hydrate. At the time I thought, “this could really come back to bite me at the end of this run.” But usually I just tell the logical side of my brain to shove it when it starts in with all that negativity.
I continued to lead the race and I even extended my lead over the first half of the 13.1 mile run. I felt like I was fading a bit starting the second lap, but I saw how much time I had over the field and figured it was my race to lose. The first indication that I might do just that was when one of the elite women passed me on an uphill as if I was standing still. I took a look at my Garmin and saw that I had slowed to a 7 minute mile from the 6 flats I had been holding for the first 7 miles. Still, the guys behind me looked like they were hurting too and I figured I would be fine. Fast forward two more miles.
Coming up on mile 10, I’ve reached the final turn around, I’m now 5km from the finish, but my vision is tunneling. I start walking, but I can’t hold a straight line. My legs start to buckle. To my left is thee wall of Old San Juan, built as a fort, there’s no way out but to keep going. But suddenly I just can’t.
Here’s the part where things get weird.
To my right is the ocean, separated from the path by about 15 meters of large black rocks. The ocean looks so appealing to me that I decide that maybe I should just hop in and cool off for a minute. I start crawling across the rocks, legs wobbling, arms barely able to grip the rocks. About half way that logic part of my brain pipes in, “Ben, this is really stupid, even if you get in, how are you going to get out? Nobody is here to help you.” This time I listen. I turn and crawl back. I walk to the wall and try to squeeze into the inches of shade left, but as the sun gets higher I can see the shadows disappearing. By now I’m no longer leading the race. I start telling people to send help, and about five minutes later a policeman comes down the path to find me half conscious, back against the wall, hyperventilating.
5km to the finish, but I was gone. The sun and I had a battle today, and the sun won.
Congrats to Starykowicz, Billard and O’Donnell for their podium spots. Great racing guys!
For a complete race recap, check out the Slowtwitch article. They do a better job than I would.