I added Buenos Aires to my race schedule at the last minute. It fit into the “Ben Collins Race Criteria (v2016)” . The criteria are simple. This year I’m only doing races in places I want to travel to, and that sound like fun to me. I’m also putting a high weight on races I have never done before. So far that’s taken me to Chile, Israel and now Argentina.
I was third after a really exciting and close race with Sam Appleton and Ben Hoffman, but before I get into the details – since this is a new race – I want to write a little more than a straight forward race report. Hopefully it will help anyone else thinking of doing the race next year.
This is the first year for this race. Ironman is trying to create more races in South America, where there is a huge demand for triathlon and not too many marquis events. There will soon be a second 70.3 in Chile, and – if all goes well in the planning – one in Paraguay as well. Normally in a race’s first year I have low expectations, but Ironman (World Triathlon Corp.) is really good at producing high quality races, so it was no surprise that the race went smoothly overall.
From a pros perspective, despite some logistical quirkiness, like a late-night interview in dance club without transportation provided, the race organizers really did well. They picked us up from the airport –a HUGE plus when traveling in South America – and they brought in ESPN to broadcast the race, which is excellent for publicity and given exposure to our brand. This was all done pretty well.
When I arrived, I was disappointed to find that the race was held in a posh suburb, Tigre, pretty far from the heart of Buenos Aires, and too far to reasonably stay in the city. In hindsight, it was great. The roads were less crowded, it was easy to train leading into the race, and the stray dogs chasing you on the bike (there are always stray dogs chasing you on the bike in South America) are vaccinated and well trained.
After the race I stayed for two extra days in the center of Buenos Aires, and I believe that was the right way to plan the trip. I was able to really enjoy Buenos Aires, and I didn’t have any big-city stress prior to race day.
The course was very straight forward. Set in a private suburban development, the swim took place in a small protected lake. The water seemed clean, but the shallow still water varied in temperature dramatically with the weather. When we arrived a few days before the race an official on site told us the water was 29 degrees (about 83 farenheit), yet race morning, after a cold night, the officials made the call for a wetsuit swim for pros (the cutoff is around 22 degrees, depending on the air/water combination of temperatures) due to borderline water temps and cold morning air temperatures.
The bike course itself was flat with great pavement and potential to be very fast. What got in the way of riding any faster was an abundance of roundabouts (forty over ninety kilometers), and a two lap course that posed some technical challenges. It wasn’t really a “technical course”, meaning there were no points in the race where being better at handling a bike was a significant advantage (except perhaps when the motorcycle carrying an ESPN cameraman nearly took me out in a roundabout if I hadn’t reacted well. Like the ESPN incident, most of my problems with the bike course were a product of my being in the lead of the race, and really weren’t issues for the majority of competitors. Still, for me the bike leg of the race was really stressful, navigating a two lap course meant passing lots of competitors in a single narrow lane, and the course was one that required constant attention that meant putting my head down was never an option.
The run was a relief. Thanks to the cool weather on the day I didn’t mind the lack of shade. It was a flat run course with closed roads and plenty of support. There were people cheering throughout the two lap course (it was estimated that there were 15,000 on-site spectators). It was two-laps out-and-back through the same private neighborhood. It wasn’t an exciting place to run, but it was a pleasant run.
The men’s pro field was far more competitive than I would have expected, given the relatively small prize purse and long travel distance from the US (or should I say Boulder, since that’s where most of the pros live). The big names of the 25 pro men included Oscar Galindez, Ben Hoffman, Sam Appleton, Daniel Fontana, Fabio Carvalho, Mario De Eilas and myself. We were all staying at the Jeep Park Hotel, three to a room, so we got to know each other a bit before the race. I can’t say I loved the idea of this, but I was in a room with Ben Hoffman and it turns out he’s a good guy.
In the swim I settled into second position behind Sam Appleton. The water was, in my opinion, far too warm for wetsuits. By the end of the swim I was suffering from the heat more than the effort. I exited the water behind Sam and several guys came past me on the ramp and I ripped open my wetsuit as fast as I could to let the cool air in. I was slow through transition, taking a lesson from Zell am See last year, where I overheated on the swim and never did recover.
Onto the bike course I took some time to get my feet in the shoes and slow down my heart rate. It didn’t take long for the cool air to take its effect and for my body to relax. I strapped myself in and bolted to the front of the race, where I stayed for pretty much the remainder of the bike.
As I mentioned in the course rundown, it was stressful riding. Every roundabout seemed to accordion the lead pack together. It was clear I wouldn’t be able to break away on my own, as I had hoped, but staying in the lead also seemed to be the easiest position for staying out of trouble.
I felt great riding, but I was really happy to get out onto the run course. Ben Hoffman came by me in transition and started the run just ahead of me. Sam came by right at the timing mat and ran straight up to Ben, while I took a moment to get my rhythm. It was then I realized we had dropped everyone else that had been riding with us.
I decided at tat moment that I would do everything possible to run with those guys. I figured if I could hang on for 5 kilometers I would feel good about my run. I caught them at the 1k mark, and stayed there until almost 3k. But once I was with them the pace felt slow. I took the lead and pushed it a bit, but – of course – they stayed right on my shoulder. Ben Hoffman took the lead again, then me, then him. Starting the second lap the pace had slowed and I was feeling pretty good. I took the lead and pushed hard all the way to the final turnaround at 15km into the run. Sam and Ben were still right on my heels and I thought for sure I could push a little harder. I kept pushing, but with two miles to go, as my legs began to weaken.
I had known that eventually Ben or Sam would make their move, and I was in unknown territory. I’ve never run with these guys. I’ve never really run with anyone, outside of maybe in ITU race. I knew I shouldn’t be running in the front any longer, but I was afraid what might happen if I slowed down.
And then then I found out. Ben came around with Sam on his feet and I couldn’t hold the pace any longer. I had done too much work. I had raced with excitement instead of brains. The moment a gap opened my legs turned to Jell-O and my pace fell off even more. There was nobody behind me, so I cruised in for third place, feeling both exhausted and exhilarated.
I had actually run with two of the best runners in the sport. Last summer when I raced Sam at Vineman he ran in a different league from me. He had broken away on the bike and still managed to outrun Tim O’Donnell and Craig Alexander. Ben Hoffman was 2nd in Kona two years ago and has run past me in every long course encounter we’ve had. I was certainly hoping for the win, but to run with these guys for 18 kilometers is a breakthrough in my career. I can’t wait to race again.