Iâ€™ve been racing pretty well so far this spring, so I decided to throw my name into a few ITU Pan-American Cup races in June. My world ranking in the ITU has plummeted this year, due mainly to a lack of ITU racing on my part, from 60 to 110. It turns out you canâ€™t hold a ranking if you donâ€™t race, and without a high enough ranking you canâ€™t get into big races, no matter how many people think you should be there. So I flew south to Colombia (when itâ€™s spelled with two â€˜Oâ€™s it refers to the country, rather than the school, town, or production studio) for back-to-back Pan-American Cup races. Looking at the start lists for these races is quite a bit less intimidating than a race like Saint Anthonyâ€™s or a World Cup, but there are enough people in the ranking battle that neither race is without some solid talent.
The first race was in Cartagena, a coastal port city with a wall around the inner city. The bike course went around and through a fort and through a section of the city that looked very similar to the French Quarter of New Orleans. It was a cool course and previewing it the day before the race I was really excited for a bike course that offered more than an out and back on crummy roads. The only daunting problem was the heat. I havenâ€™t done any real specific heat training this year. I had decided at the beginning of the year to avoid races with extreme heat and focus on courses that suit me well. It wasnâ€™t until the day before the race that I realized this would be one of the hottest races Iâ€™ve ever taken part in. The temperature was around 90 degrees, but the humidity of 70% raised the heat index to 112. Coming from 10% humidity in Colorado, my body was in shock. The water temperature didnâ€™t help either. On Saturday I ran 3km to the race from my hotel so I could preview the swim course. By the time I got there I was drenched in sweat and downing every water source in sight. The ocean, to my surprise, was so warm that I could barely manage a 20-minute loosen-up, and I needed a few bags of water before I was ready to jog home. Still, I figured that with good fitness I would be able to manage the heat just as well as anyone else when it came to the race.
Race day was even hotter. When I stepped out of my air-conditioned hotel room it was like walking into an oven. I brought an extra bottle of ice water to drizzle over my head while I set up for the race. Before the start another athlete came to me and said, â€œgood luck, but I donâ€™t know that we can call this a race. Itâ€™s going to be survival.â€ The swim was so warm that I was content to sit in the pack and follow feet. When I started the bike I was already so hot that I skipped pulls in an attempt to regain composure. By the time the bike was half way over I had goose bumps on my legs. I had planned to attack with another athlete, but each lap we found each other and said, â€œMaybe next lapâ€. The pack rode just fast enough that nobody wanted to go it alone, but so slow that nobody was really â€œpullingâ€. With a half lap to go I finally decided to go for it. I got 25 seconds into T2, but 1km into the run I was gassed. My HR was at max, my pace was slowing rapidly, and I could barely breath the thick air. I turned my thoughts to the next aide station and focused on staying cool, too stubborn to walk, let alone drop out. I ran the slowest 10km run of my career in 39 minutes, and then collapsed into the care of two Colombian nurses who poured ice water over me and kept a constant supply of cold fluids coming my way. I was 10th. Iâ€™m not real happy with the finish, but itâ€™s hard to blame fitness. If I had planned this race further in advance I would have been running in sweats in the middle of the day, but I had no idea that I would be faced with that kind of heat. Even my sunscreen couldnâ€™t hold up to the weather. My back is blistered with sharp red lines around the edges of my race suit. In short, Cartagena was a bad choice for me.
Other than the race, I thought Cartagena was a cool city. The old town is a place I could have wondered through for a day, if I had the chance. Where I was staying was a younger, more beach oriented area. It was littered with expensive fast food and not many healthy restaurant options, so if I ever go back I know to stay in the older part of the city. I will say the race was well organized and they were prepared with plenty of water stations on the run (in 10km there were 20 chances to get water). I only wish there were protocol for extra water on the bike, or at least a course with some shade. An 11:45am start in weather like that is not safe for anyone.
Next up is another Colombian race, but Iâ€™m heading up into the mountains near Medellin. The town is called Guatape, and itâ€™s nothing like Cartagena.