Monday, March 21, 2016

Puerto Rico 70.3

Three things are necessary for survival: clothing, shelter and food. Five days before leaving for Puerto Rico for my first triathlon of 2016, my probability for survival was 33%. And that was based on my willingness to live off of Clif Bars. 

I did my best to not panic. I finished off a draft for a research paper and continued to train…somehow everything was pieced together and I was off to Puerto Rico for my first race as a “pro”.
Bike packing
The main goal of the race was to gain experience and to feel as if I belonged in the “pro” field. I chose Puerto Rico because I had the urge to relearn Spanish after 8 years. Everyone always says to follow your dreams…

After a long day of travel, I finished assembling my bike by 12:30 am Puerto Rico time. Another athlete of Mace’s (Javier), local to San Juan, had found me a place to stay and helped me get around for the weekend.

Good messages in the apartment
Run path in Puerto Rico
The bike course was scattered with dead iguanas. Tons of them. They enjoy soaking up the sun on a high-traffic road… I only saw part of the run course, but understood the main point. It would be hot and hilly. Before the race, I spent a lot of time reading. The apartment didn’t have internet which I, actually, enjoyed. When I needed to get my social media fix, I simply walked across the street to the Ritz to use their free internet :) At the pro meeting, there were some serious triathlon celebrities. Athletes I’ve been following for a long time and will always look up to.

Beach views 
Race Day
I had an early wake up to make a shake for breakfast. I’d found an older “silver bullet” blender that, despite emitting a smell when turned on, seemed to work. So with a vanilla Ensure and some frozen banana, I made breakfast to the smell of burned rubber.

After telling the taxi driver “Ironman” and “triathlon” a few times I conveyed that I wanted to go to the race venue. While setting up my life’s belongings, I noticed a referee using a smartphone app to run over our bikes checking for motors! After a short run, I grabbed my Roka swim skin and headed to the start, applying sunscreen as I walked.

Having experienced neck chafing from my swimskin before, TO let me borrow some Vaseline. No. Big. Deal. He even said “No worries”. Then I headed into the water to warm up and conceal peeing myself.

I did my swim warm up and felt good to go. The national anthem was played and we were lined up in the water. A drone flew overhead. Age groupers and their families had their phones out, pushed up against barricades to take pictures. Someone with a microphone said a phrase in Spanish with “profesionales” in it and the crowd went nuts. 

Lining up, I chose a spot behind Cam Dye and other fast swimmers. My graceful stroke needs its space! The cannon boomed and we were off. I put my head down and took a few hard strokes. I was a little scared the other pros might have coordinated some kind of “initiation” where I’d get smacked a few times but there was only contact for the first 45 seconds or so. Fairly quickly, everyone’s place was sorted out. 

Swim Venue
Eventually I was towards the back of a big group and recognized Thomas Gerlach swimming next to me. Things were strung out and after the first turn (700-800 meters) three of us got spit out the back. I couldn’t tell who was leading, but I was still with Gerlach. A few times I checked our pace by popping out but always moved back to draft. Eventually we crossed under a bridge and hit the stairs to the swim exit. 

Going up the stairs, I noticed the first guy in our 3-man group was Chris Leiferman. Chris and I first met on the triathlon team at CSU. He was (and is) an incredible athlete. Seeing Chris just ahead of me after the swim was awesome. 

Collegiate nationals 2013
Chris wasted no time and took off on the long run to transition. I got to my bike, stripped off my swim gear,  and threw on the “bat helmet” before grabbing my bike and running to the mount line. 

Bat helmet

Chris and Gerlach were on a mission. Starting out, I felt that I could have put the pedal to the medal for 5-10 minutes and caught up to Chris and Gerlach…then try to work with them to catch the front group. Knowing how tough the Puerto Rico run course would be, Mace and I decided to be more conservative. I also saw my heart rate was at 175. I decided to stick to our power zone and ride strong on my own, hoping people would come back to me.

Bike route! (file)
The first half hour, I focused on a higher cadence. Shifting from swim mentality to bike mentality. The first section of the course was on a highway with overpasses as the biggest inclines. On long stretches I could still see Gerlach, but I stuck with my plan. I hydrated and took in some shot bloks with BASE salt on them. My power was good and felt comfortable. 

Eventually, I got to the section of the course along the coast for the 2 loop out-and-back. Other than looking out for iguanas, I put my head down and transitioned into a lower cadence. Patrick Evoe came by me and after a while, I realized we were more or less riding the same speed. I gave him a 50 ft gap and then paced with him. It was great to have someone to ride with. We picked off another guy who tried to stay with Pat for a while…but too many watts.

Heading up to the first turn around, I expected to see Andrew Starykowicz with a huge gap, however, we got closer to the turn around, and I still hadn’t seen the lead moto. This made me happy and I realized we must be biking somewhat fast. Eventually the leaders came the other way. It looked like we were riding just outside the top 10, about 3-4 minutes behind. Heading back, there was a bit of a head/cross wind. As I came around Pat to take my turn, I wasn’t really sure what the etiquette was for teaming up in a race. I went with saying “I’ll work with you”. No swearing was returned, so I took that as a good sign. 

Checking in with my body, I felt like I could be riding harder but decided to be patient. I picked up a few extra water bottles, finally getting my handoff and trash can three-pointer skills back. Side note: they should give us small time bonuses if we drain a shot while moving 25+ mph. 

Draining a 3

Heading back out for the second loop, Pat and I swapped positions. As he went by he said “we can catch that front group!” I was working with Patrick Evoe! Positions hadn’t changed much with the other pros as we flew back towards the far turnaround. Starky was doing his thing and the group right in front of us hadn’t gained much! Heading back to town for the last time, I came by Pat. The headwind split Pat and I up a bit. Coming off the bike, I was looking forward to the run. My legs still had some power in them at the end of the bike. I had hydrated, taken in some calories and my stomach felt good. 

In transition I felt like I had to pee, but for some reason didn’t want to get it over with in transition. I couldn’t find the small pockets on my top or shorts, so I ended up stuffing my BASE salt vials down my shorts while I sorted out my race belt, watch and Stryd device. 

The goal for the run was to not have the first 2 miles be the fastest 2 miles. I focused on my form and transitioning from biking to running the first couple miles. Nobody was in sight. Up the first steep hill towards old San Juan, I took it slow and my legs felt good. I lengthened my stride a bit and headed out towards the wall. At each aid station, the volunteers were going crazy cheering us on. I grabbed lots of ice and water. I still had to pee pretty badly, but first wanted to figure out where I stood in terms of placement. I knew I could suffer for a while. 

Eventually we saw TO was heading back. After him, everyone was spread out. Someone told me I was in 11th. In my head, I made it a goal to try and get into the top 10. I felt good and it was hard to hold back from trying to make up time right away. With such a tough run, I knew the second loop would be hard when the heat and hills would catch up to us. At the turn around, Gerlach was in front of me by less than a minute. I thought I was slowly making up ground. Everything still felt pretty good heading back up a hill to the start. The views of the ocean were spectacular and there was a section of the road with cobbles. Unofficial aid stations were set up, offering cheering instead of water. The path to the turnaround was lined with people to send us on our second loop. 

I hadn’t taken in much nutrition that first loop. My stomach felt good but I really had to pee now. Still, I knew I would never let myself live with my decision to stop and pee if I fell just a bit short of catching one more person. I worked my way up to Gerlach. Heading up a hill I got a bit of a gap on him. Still, I wouldn’t let myself pee because I wasn’t sure how far back he was. I was starting to hurt. Suddenly, two more people came into sight just as I was heading back down into the park. Eventually, I went by both of them. One was Frederik van Lierde. In my head, I was screaming “dude, you just passed Frederik van f*&$ing Lierde!”. Half a mile from the turn around, I saw the familiar running form of Andrew Starkyowitz. A couple minutes later, he started walking and I went by him. 

Soon after, Gerlach put in a big effort and worked his way back up to me. It was disheartening. I was fading and didn’t have energy to fight with a big hill and 3 miles still to go. He got a gap on me going up the hill while I granny-jogged, refusing to walk or look behind to see if anyone else was coming. Finally, at the top of the hill, I glanced back and didn’t see anyone and I really had to pee. I ducked into a porta potty just to get the flow started.

I forced myself to lengthen my stride and run as hard as I could on the flats and downhills. I tried to take in some fluids and ice to cool down, but I still started getting chills. I kept telling myself only two miles left, you can suffer. I could hear the crowd. Then I could see them. At a turn with a half-mile left, I glanced back and didn’t see anyone. Relieved, I focused on pushing hard to the finish, for pride. Just before the finish, I saw Javier heading out to start the run. I had enough whereabouts to yell and high five him. I tried to muster a smile as I crossed the finish. 

Immediately I felt dizzy and had to hold onto a few volunteers for support. I knew I would be fine, I just needed shade and water. After a quick massage, I zombie walked around to pick up my morning clothes bag. 
No post-race ice bath. Volunteer let Sam hold the ice bag for a bit instead...
Picture with TO, Javier and friends!
The rest of the day, I hung out with Javier and his parents and ate some solid food. Eventually, I went back to the Ritz to steal more internet and write a few postcards. 

This trip would not have been possible without several people. Javier was incredibly accommodating; finding me a place to crash, driving me to and from the venue and previewing the bike course with me. Patrick Ray worked some wonders on my bike to get it ready in two days while Chris Howard at Sport About saved the day by putting some logos on my tri top. Massive thank you to Coach Mace for the training plan and guidance throughout this spring. It’s been challenging fitting things in with school, but I’m happy with the consistency and progression we’ve had the past few months. Thank you to my family and close friends for the encouragement and support, I appreciate all of you. 

Congrats to my brother on his awesome race at Havasu this weekend. It’s scary how fast he’s gotten in just over a year. 

Up next for me is 70.3 California (Oceanside) in about two weeks. The start list is ridiculous.

I’m looking forward to a not-so-flat bike course. 

Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any questions about this race or if you want to learn more about my (lack of) Spanish speaking skills. Strava, FB, snapchat: stevemantell37, twitter: @steve_mantell

Thanks for reading and have a great day! 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Steve, I enjoyed this write up, very spontaneous strong guy. I would love to pick your brain for training and mental tips. If you ever do 70.3 in Ecuador let me know (I grew up there and have family that can help a truly spontaneous guy ) keep up the super work man!