Our first race of 2011 turned out to be more than we were expecting. This of course being Nicole's 70.3 World Championship qualification. More about that later. Overall this race experience was fantastic and would highly recommend the race.
Arriving in Puerto Rico is a little overwhelming only because I was expecting it to be a little more Americanized. Not a bad thing, just took some small adjustments. For example, learning a few key words in Spanish so we could make it to our hotel without killing each other. Nicole and I tend to have short fuses when it comes to travel, so being called every name in the book while driving to the hotel was to be expected. After a few wrong turns we finally made it the Caribe Hilton. The open air hotel lobby is fantastic and greets you with an amazing view of the ocean and pool deck. So far so good. Next up, expo and race check in.
Even though I am not a huge fan of race expos, I still like a large presence to set the tone of the race weekend. The race expo was a zero on the race weekend motivational scale. Minimal vendors and not too exciting. The embarrassing moment was when the ironman store sold out of all San Juan 70.3 apparel in the first hour. This over-priced store is always fun to walk through and check out but to our disappointment was completely empty! I take that back, I could have bought a San Juan sticker. This was my 5th Ironman 70.3 race and I have never seen anything like it. Race expo and check in is your first impression... Good thing the rest of the race went well. Rest of day one was relaxing and preparing for pre-race.
Friday- Day before race
Woke up to a nice cool breeze and temp, hoping the race day morning would be similar. By 7:30 we had checked out the swim exit and made our way to the swim start for a short swim. Water temp was 78 so no wet suits. Swim started in the lagoon and ended closer to hotel/transition. We had a great 15 min swim and made our way back to the hotel to hop on our bikes. If you plan a vacation to Puerto Rico, don't worry about bringing your bike or renting one. Biking here is worse than biking in Miami. But we went out anyway just to make sure I didn't forget to tighten a piece or two on our bikes. We rode part of the run course up to an amazing view from the Fort San Felipe Del Morro. It was at this point we got a small taste of how painful the run would be. Up, down, straight up, straight down...!
Made our way back to the hotel, which was also the host hotel, so the place was infested with triathletes. A great scene! Put our Newtons on and went for a short run down the run course. Finished up by 10am and headed to transition to drop the bikes off. Nothing left but to wait for race day!
With transition closing at 6am, it was an early morning. Made our way over, body marked, set up transition, game plan in and out and we were set. No one in our group went off until 7:25, so we headed back to the hotel for a little more relaxation before swim start.
Time to go. It was about a 15 walk to swim start which made for a great warm up. Once there, we just sat down and waited for go time. Swim ended up being a floating start, which I prefer. You don't waste all that energy sprinting into the water.
Nicole is off at 7:25. I wait 30 minutes and then it's time. My age group appeared to be a bit smaller than norm, but ended up at 178. Decent size. Water temp was excellent and we even had a few rain drops touchdown just before the start. This gave me hope that in roughly 3 hours and 20 minutes I would be running in cooler weather. Maybe even rain. It didn't quite turn out that way. Go! Swim started off crowded as any floating start would but quickly created separation. The salt water allowed me to quickly forget about it being non-wetsuit legal. Once I hit the first buoy I was focused and feeling good. Made my way to the swim exit 36 minutes later. Happy with my time. Now it was the long journey back to transition. About a 500 meter jog back to the stadium. Jog back wasn't bad, just made for a 5 min transition. Transition was well organized and spread out. Plenty of room. Quickly switched gear, dodged the fire ants (chewed up some athletes) and I was onto the bike.
The bike was a lollipop course along the coast line. Heading out I quickly admired the tail wind. Made my way through some easy bridges and enjoyed some amazing ocean views. I was a little worried about the roads after our pre-race ride the day before. I remember it feeling like I was on an off-road mountain bike adventure. However, the roads were great. Closing in on the turn around I knew the tail wind would say good bye. I was right. Made the turn and quickly noticed the head and cross wind but manageable. About 30 miles in it started getting hot. Nutrition was a concern considering I knew the run was now going to be a hot one. I hit every aid station up for Gatorade and water. Also took in a GU and 2 salt tabs every 45 minutes. After fighting the minor head wind I hit the second loop turn around. It was time to take advantage of the tail wind again. Enjoyed the ocean views again which gave me a split second to take my mind off of my quads being punished. Hit the final turn and headed back into town for a little run. Heading back in was a little erie. Having been the second to the last swim wave meant lots of athletes were already on the run. This can mentally play games with you. You hear voices, "Its going to be hotter when you are on the course!... Are you riding slower than everyone else?... Should I bike harder right now?... Its getting hot!" I quickly tell myself to stop being a puss and ride. Manage the pain.
I roll into transition with a 2:39 bike. A time I am happy with. I wanted to push the bike and I feel like I did. My first race where I took the time to put socks on. Went smooth, just takes too much time. Grabbed my hat and fuel and took off. Before I made it out of transition I knew the rest of my day was going to be under some nasty heat. Fuck!
Let me just get this out. This was the hardest 70.3 run (any half marathon for crying out loud) I have ever done. Timberman? Yep. Seattle half-marathon? Yep. Hey, I know what will be fun, let's have the athletes run over a bridge right out of transition. That'll be a real fucking hoot! Wrong! So, I make my way over the bridge and make the turn towards old San Juan. Let's climb. My legs want to move faster. I trained them to move faster, but they did not obey me. First aid station, water. Quickly realized I need to stop at every aid station and down two cups. There is only 4 ounces per cup and I am probably losing at least a half pound of water every mile. As if the bridge out of transition wasn't enough to set the tone, I make it to "the big climb #1.” I turn onto this street and look up and I just see people walking. One long line of walkers. Shit. I told myself I wasn't going to walk. So I shorten my stride, get a forward lean going and head on up. Make it to the top and discover Fort San Cristobal. A victory view well worth the climb. No problem. My heart is about to pound through my chest but it appears I have a short flat to catch my breath. I said short. Running along side the ocean view was spectacular, but whom ever can thoroughly enjoy it can kiss my ass! At this point I know what I'm in for. I make it to the access road of Fort San Felipe Del Morro. An amazing green lawn with the fort in the distance. I make a turn downhill into the distance. I am moving downhill very quickly and I realize I have to make my way back up. Fuck. Make a right and continue down a steep cobble stone road. I tell myself, “Careful, don't break your ankles,”... “Quads please keep breaking.” Finally I make it to the gate that leads to the path around Fort San Felipe. It's an out and back. Beautiful. It’s along the water with yet again amazing views but the only thing that comes to mind is how sweltering it is along the path and how there is no damn breeze! Very curvy along this path. Every corner I make I see another one up ahead. Up and down around a corner and I still see runners off in the distance. Where is the damn turn around!? Finally, I make it to the turn around. Suck it up, because there is no water until I make it back up to the green lawn. This is where my pace and run decline. I make my way back to the gate opening. Climb up the cobble stone and back to the top of the hill, "the big climb #2". Aid station thank god! Time to head back. Ocean view, yeah nice, straight down hill, turn left, up, down, up, down and I am headed to the turn around. This is that point that is mentally tough. Passing by all of the spectators cheering, I can hear the announcer congratulating athletes as they finish and I see the "2nd loop" cone. Turn and go. By now I am still moving okay. The legs are working just not as fast as I'd like them to. But it's okay, I am running. After I make the turn I know what I am in for. A brutally hot and challenging 6 1/2 miles. I smile and head out.
At this point the aid stations have ran out of sponges. Cold sponges were a life saver earlier in the race and pouring warm water over me just didn't cut it. After climbing and making it to the green lawn, I had about 3 1/2 miles to go. I passed the final aid station before heading out on the water around the fort. This meant no water for two miles. I want to be done. I make it back to the final big climb and know I need to get to the water stop. I look up and see everyone walking and know it's going to be painful. I start walking. Big Mistake. I tell myself only 60 seconds. 60 seconds quickly passes. I'll start running at that garbage can. It passes by. I'll walk to the aid station. 7 minutes later l make it to the aid station. Get my final fuel and know I am too close to not push it. I settle in and head for home. Mile 12. Go. I pick up my pace. What felt like picking up the pace anyway. I see the home stretch and rows of people where I previously turned around. Looking at my watch I know I need to push it to finish under 5:30. My legs are feeling good and ready for a finish burst. I hear the finish but can't see it. Then my spirits are deflated when I notice I must run back up the same bridge I ran up coming out of transition. Son of a bitch! My mind quickly said screw it and I could feel my pace slow. I make it to the beginning of the bridge. I was not going to let myself finish weak. I charged up the hill looking everywhere for the finish line. Descending I see the finish line and pick up the pace.... Wondering where this energy was 15 minutes ago. Finally I hear, "From University Park, FL, Nick Clark!" Done.
Quickly several volunteers surround me, as they did for everyone. Great support. I head to the ice bath... nice touch! I find Nicole and our friends and we immediately start to dissect the course. I also find out how awesome Nicole did and it wasn’t until unofficial results were posted that she found out she had placed 6th in her age group. At that point we knew we had to go to roll down and hope a few of her competitors didn’t show up to take a qualifying spot. When we arrived at roll down there was one spot remaining in her group. Not looking good but still hope. They call the age group above her and one spot is not taken. So, we find out that spot rolls down to the largest age group. Still a chance. Next up, Nicole’s age group. One spot remains and the announcer calls the 3rd place finisher... no answer. Going once, going twice... next up the 4th place finisher. Same response. No answer. Holy shit! Lets just hope that the 5th place finisher is still in the shower or ice bath. Of course by this time we have come up with every ounce of detail as to how Nicole could have made up 2 minutes. Transition could have been faster. You could have swam faster. Why did you stop at that aid station? Non of it means anything now. The announcer calls the 5th place finisher, and we hear a loud scream. She’s in the room. With spirits deflated, we still are very proud and enjoyed the experience. But wait, we forgot the one spot that was unclaimed by the previous age group. The only question was, which age group is the largest? The announcers are shuffling papers, taking their sweet-ass time. We are all yelling 30-34! 30-34! And finally, they say, “30-34... and does Nicole Clark want to go to Vegas!!?” Holy shit what a climactic moment! Our group jumps up and yells and screams! The race could not have finished more intense or exciting! Vegas baby! Super proud of Nicole and how far she has come it such a short period of time. She will be a threat in her age-group for many years to come.
Overall, an outstanding experience in San Juan. The race was well supported and organized. I think I speak for everyone in my group who raced when I say I would highly recommend Ironman 70.3 San Juan.
Next up... Ironman Louisville!