Thursday, March 3, 2016

2016 Ironman 70.3 Panama

My season opener did not go the way I had hoped or planned. Leading into the race I had a solid block of training and was feeling great. I had been doing big volume in the pool, was putting up great numbers on the bike, despite not riding a ton, and had had some strong runs. I was excited to put the training to the test and see where I landed in a competitive field at the 70.3 Latin America Pro Championship.

The day before the race we were told that there would be a change to the bike course because of some permitting/safety issues. Originally it was intended to be a double loop course, but not it would become a triple loop course. That means all the athletes would be on an 18 mile stretch of road. But really it was even tighter than that, because the road was closed to car traffic, but bike traffic was both ways on parts of it. More on that later...

As always on the trip down, there was some nervousness. Flights were delayed and we barely made connections. I think we were in the Miami airport for less than 18 minutes total. Fortunately we did make all our connections and so did our luggage.

Race morning I woke up early and got ready. Joel and I caught an early shuttle to the race site because I don't like to be rushed and I'm an early riser anyway. It turned out to be a good thing that we did, because when we got there Joel realized he had forgotten his tri top at the hotel (#amateurhour). He ended up having to run back to get it, but made it in plenty of time (especially considering the race started about 45 minutes late).

The race was scheduled for a 6:30am start in the Panama Canal. I was hoping for a strong current. Two years ago, which was the last time this race was held, it was a super fast current and guys were out of the water in 16 minutes. We didn't quite get that strong of a current this year, but there was definitely a bit of a push. As noted earlier, the race was really late to get started. We went out on the pier at about 6:20am, ready for an on time start. And then we waited. And we waited some more. And then we kept waiting. We never really were given a reason why the delay, but there was nothing we could do about it. It wasn't ideal to have to stand around waiting in the heat with no food or liquid, but at least everyone was in the same boat.

Finally we were told we could get in the water. At the prerace meeting the day before there was a big debate about where to keep the buoys and when you could make the turn toward the swim exit. It was finally decided that it would be too difficult to police people, so we were told "A to B". The buoys are there to guide you, but pick any line you want. I don't think I picked a great line. I also had the wrong goggles on. It was slightly overcast and the sun hadn't come up yet when we were supposed to start. After 45 minutes of waiting, however, we were swimming dead into the rising sun. I couldn't see much of anything and wished I had been wearing tinted goggles. I had a decent swim, but still came out of the water about six minutes back. I was hoping to be more in the 3-4 minute range. I still have a long way to go in the water.

Out of the water there was a 300 meter or so run to transition, which I hustled through as I pulled up my race kit and took off my swim skin. I wasn't the last guy out of the water, so I guess there's that... Onto the bike and I felt good. My coach and I had talked numbers and we had targeted 320 as a good goal that should let me run fairly well. The biggest question mark was the heat, but we had done some tricks to try to acclimate back home in Rochester. If I saw my heart rate rising, I would back off on the power. As I rode the first loop I felt great. With the course u-turning so many times it was easy to watch the race unfold and see what the time gaps were and how I was riding compared to everyone else. I was riding very well and was closing the gap to the main groups up front. Through the second lap and I still felt great. My power was slightly above target but my heart rate was low. I was fueling well and I didn't feel like heat was going to cause me to explode. On the second loop the traffic had picked up was there were lots of people on the course now. By the third loop it was extremely busy and even congested at spots. I hit the far turn around of the last loop and started to head back. This section was slightly downhill before going up through a no passing zone. As I passed the final couple of age groupers before heading into the no pass zone a woman, out of the blue and for no apparent reason, swerved hard to the left. I don't know if she was eating/drinking, trying to avoid a bad patch of road, of just was not paying attention, but I had to swerve hard to the left to avoid her. I lost control and the next thing I knew I was on the pavement. My bike was 20-30 meters down the road.

I was in shock for a moment and didn't know what to do. I knew I needed to get out of the way as there were lots of cyclists going in both directions. Some spectators grabbed my bike for me and we got off to the side of the road. I got my bike and looked it over: flat front tire, banged up base bar on the right side, damage to the rear derailleur, and the right pedal was broken with about a third of it missing. I took inventory of my injuries: bloody hand, bloody leg, really bloody shoulder, ripped race kit with road rash on my butt, but nothing felt broken. Someone had called medical and they showed up. Decision time. If medical touches you, your race is over. Could I finish? Should I finish? I decided to fix my flat to give myself some time. In the midst of changing the tube, my spare exploded. I was too hasty and it had been pinched against the rim. I didn't have another spare with a long enough valve. I waited for a bit and saw Joel go by. I waited for him to hit the turn around and on his way back flagged him down to see if he had a spare I could use. He didn't. I kept waiting, hoping eventually tech support would go by. After a long wait, they did and I flagged them down. We had to swap some valve extenders, but eventually we got something just long enough to work with my front wheel. At this point I had decided I was going to finish up. I was sore, but I was functional. I didn't think I would hurt myself any worse by carrying on. I had tried to call my dad and Becky using a spectators phone, but I hadn't been able to get ahold of them. I knew they would be worried because by now I was way behind when I should have arrived. The whole incident took about 40 minutes. I had about 12 miles to go after the crash, but I didn't push hard. I just rode it out nice and easy. My watch time when I finished read 2:03. It had stopped when I crashed, obviously. I had averaged 328 watts up until the crash and was probably going to have the third or fourth fastest split of the day. Sadly, it wasn't to be.

I racked my bike when I made it to transition and walked over to see my dad and Becky. I talked to them about what happened and then looked for a race official. They had told me they heard I had DNFed. I wanted to make sure with an official that that wasn't the case before heading out to run. He did some checking around and eventually told me I hadn't been DQ'ed or DNFed, so I started out on the run course. I wasn't going to run hard, but I felt like I needed to finish. I'm not really sure why I felt that way. I knew I was going to be the last male pro to finish, but it didn't seem to matter to me.

Out on the run course I saw one of the men who had helped me when I crashed. He had ridden his bike over to the run course and found me. He had done all of the interpreting between me and medical and tech support. We talked for a little as I ran. I ended up seeing him a few more times throughout the run. He was an awesome guy and kept cheering me on for finishing up. I also saw Joel as I passed back by transition. He was just coming in off the bike, so I stopped to talk to him for a minute as well. He had an awesome ride, so that was good for him. Considering the circumstances, I still ran a 1:27 in the heat, without really pushing myself, and with some sore and bloody body parts. That's not too bad.

To top off the day, after Joel finished we caught a shuttle back to the hotel. We were 2-3 miles from the hotel and something went wrong with the bus. The engine died. We all had to get off. Joel and I rode our bikes the rest of the way and my dad and Becky caught a cab. I had to work up some courage to get in the shower because I knew how badly the road rash was going to hurt. I took my coach's advice and bit a towel when I got in to get through the initial sting. Then Becky bandaged me up before we grabbed some dinner and packed up to leave the next morning.

Despite not having the race I wanted to have, there were still a few positive take-aways from the day. I had a solid ride leading up to the crash and I felt like I could have had a strong run if things had gone differently. Fortunately, the only training I missed when I returned home was a week of swimming. I managed to get through everything else as my body healed up. I'm feeling well again and am just over two weeks out from 70.3 Puerto Rico on March 20. I love that race and hopefully will be able to go get a little redemption by having a solid day there.

This shower is going to hurt. A lot.