I faced my fears at Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico this year. One year ago I collapsed from dehydration at mile 10 of the run. If you didnâ€™t read that race report, itâ€™s worth looking back to. It highlights some of the more scary things that can happen when you push your body too far and donâ€™t give it the fluids and fuel it needs.
This year I finished. I came in fourth, and yet part of me is still more proud of the epic failure from 2013 than this all-around â€œokayâ€ but nothing â€œspectacularâ€ performance this year.
I had a solid swim, but not great â€“ and at over 24 minutes, certainly slower than the standard Iâ€™ve set for myself. I came out of the water 3rd, but 45 seconds behind David Kahn (U of Texas Swimmer).
[Jay Gleason, my homestay in St Croix, on the 500m run from swim to transition 1 â€“ why donâ€™t they count that as part of the 13.1 miles of running?]
I took the lead on the bike pretty early, but by 10 miles into the race Andrew Starykowicz came by me and dropped me within a matter of a few miles. By mile 40 I felt like I was blowing up, and a little after 50 miles into the race, after Andi Boecherer and Will Clarke had caught me, I looked down to find my tire was getting soft. A moment later on one of the few turns in the race the sidewall blew out and what air was left hissed out in a matter of seconds. I rode the last 5 miles on the flat tire and lost about 4 minutes to Andi and Will, and started the run almost 10 minutes behind Andrew. Still, even without the flat I was way off the 1:58:12 bike split from a year ago. So while it was a solid effort, again I found myself performing below my own standard.
Onto the run I found myself in position to catch Andi if I had the type of run I had at the Monterrey 70.3 a month ago, but whether it was the heat or my mind fearing a repeat of last yearâ€™s failure that held me back, I wasnâ€™t running well at all. I ran a 1:25, which was faster than Andi (1:27), but slower than Andrew (1:22, – he won) and much much slower than Will Clarke (1:17). Overall, the course was much hotter than a year ago, and it showed in the slower times had by all â€“ but my deficit from last yearâ€™s splits was more than weather related, and with 3 weeks in the carribean to acclimate, I really have no excuse.
Still, I finished 4th and earned my first paycheck of 2014 (at less than a monthâ€™s expenses itâ€™s not much to write home about, but itâ€™s something). The key there is that I finished. That alone required that I run past â€œthe wallâ€ â€“ the part of the course where we run for about 1.5 miles along the water in front of Old San Juan with a giant stone wall on one side and lava rocks and salt and sun on the other sdie â€“ four times. Every time I ran past the wall I had images of myself a year ago, stumbling and crawling over the rocks, so desperate for water and cold that I was determined to swim out into the ocean. Four times during the run I had to remember how I collapsed on the wall in the shrinking shade and begged other competitors to send help, and how I waited for what seemed like a lifetime for a motorcycle cop to show up and help me get off the course.
I faced my fears, and I overcame them, but I donâ€™t feel like I proved what I wanted to. I wanted to show myself that I could ride at world record pace and run like a champion. Instead I proved that I can race with the best, overcome bad luck (the flat) and finish a tough race in the heat. I have some work to do before Iâ€™m back to the level of a champion, but I certainly respect what it takes to be there more than I did a year ago.
Triathlon is a sport of fitness, mental fortitude and an abundance of luck â€“ and none of those come easy. I didnâ€™t have enough of any of those this year in San Juan, but the season is long and my will is only getting stronger. itâ€™s back to the chopping block. Thereâ€™s work to be done, and in three weeks I get to try again at the St Croix 70.3. Iâ€™ll be there training until then and I will be ready for the conditions. I canâ€™t perform any miracles in 3 weeks, but I can certainly do my best to make sure that my luck and mental strength is back to where it was a year ago. Itâ€™ll be hard to run past where I collapsed on the St Croix course last year without thinking of how terrifying that experience was, but I wonâ€™t let it hold me back. Iâ€™ve learned a lot about fueling and hydrating my body over the last year, and I will do everything I can to make sure Iâ€™m capable of racing at the intensity I want for the duration of the race.