I faced my fears at Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico this year. One year ago I collapsed from dehydration at mile 10 of the run. If you didn’t read that race report, it’s worth looking back to. It highlights some of the more scary things that can happen when you push your body too far and don’t give it the fluids and fuel it needs.
This year I finished. I came in fourth, and yet part of me is still more proud of the epic failure from 2013 than this all-around “okay” but nothing “spectacular” performance this year.
I had a solid swim, but not great – and at over 24 minutes, certainly slower than the standard I’ve set for myself. I came out of the water 3rd, but 45 seconds behind David Kahn (U of Texas Swimmer).
[Jay Gleason, my homestay in St Croix, on the 500m run from swim to transition 1 – why don’t they count that as part of the 13.1 miles of running?]
I took the lead on the bike pretty early, but by 10 miles into the race Andrew Starykowicz came by me and dropped me within a matter of a few miles. By mile 40 I felt like I was blowing up, and a little after 50 miles into the race, after Andi Boecherer and Will Clarke had caught me, I looked down to find my tire was getting soft. A moment later on one of the few turns in the race the sidewall blew out and what air was left hissed out in a matter of seconds. I rode the last 5 miles on the flat tire and lost about 4 minutes to Andi and Will, and started the run almost 10 minutes behind Andrew. Still, even without the flat I was way off the 1:58:12 bike split from a year ago. So while it was a solid effort, again I found myself performing below my own standard.
Onto the run I found myself in position to catch Andi if I had the type of run I had at the Monterrey 70.3 a month ago, but whether it was the heat or my mind fearing a repeat of last year’s failure that held me back, I wasn’t running well at all. I ran a 1:25, which was faster than Andi (1:27), but slower than Andrew (1:22, – he won) and much much slower than Will Clarke (1:17). Overall, the course was much hotter than a year ago, and it showed in the slower times had by all – but my deficit from last year’s splits was more than weather related, and with 3 weeks in the carribean to acclimate, I really have no excuse.
Still, I finished 4th and earned my first paycheck of 2014 (at less than a month’s expenses it’s not much to write home about, but it’s something). The key there is that I finished. That alone required that I run past “the wall” – the part of the course where we run for about 1.5 miles along the water in front of Old San Juan with a giant stone wall on one side and lava rocks and salt and sun on the other sdie – four times. Every time I ran past the wall I had images of myself a year ago, stumbling and crawling over the rocks, so desperate for water and cold that I was determined to swim out into the ocean. Four times during the run I had to remember how I collapsed on the wall in the shrinking shade and begged other competitors to send help, and how I waited for what seemed like a lifetime for a motorcycle cop to show up and help me get off the course.
I faced my fears, and I overcame them, but I don’t feel like I proved what I wanted to. I wanted to show myself that I could ride at world record pace and run like a champion. Instead I proved that I can race with the best, overcome bad luck (the flat) and finish a tough race in the heat. I have some work to do before I’m back to the level of a champion, but I certainly respect what it takes to be there more than I did a year ago.
Triathlon is a sport of fitness, mental fortitude and an abundance of luck – and none of those come easy. I didn’t have enough of any of those this year in San Juan, but the season is long and my will is only getting stronger. it’s back to the chopping block. There’s work to be done, and in three weeks I get to try again at the St Croix 70.3. I’ll be there training until then and I will be ready for the conditions. I can’t perform any miracles in 3 weeks, but I can certainly do my best to make sure that my luck and mental strength is back to where it was a year ago. It’ll be hard to run past where I collapsed on the St Croix course last year without thinking of how terrifying that experience was, but I won’t let it hold me back. I’ve learned a lot about fueling and hydrating my body over the last year, and I will do everything I can to make sure I’m capable of racing at the intensity I want for the duration of the race.