Puerto Vallarta is really hot in October. Itâ€™s strange that I was able to go the entire summer without suffering through any hot races, and as soon as Labor Day rolled around every race required a buzz cut and an ice pack in my helmet. I came prepared with my ice vest and frozen drink bottles as well, but no matter how well you prepare for a hot race, it always sucks â€“ for everyone involved (spectators don’t like to stand on hot pavement any more than we like to run on it). That last fact is why hot races may actually suit me. It seems that conditions that require everyone to slow down a bit tend to bring some people back to me. Itâ€™s no question that Iâ€™ve failed to make a breakthrough in my run this season like I did at the end of 2009, but in hot weather my 5:15-5:20 min/mile pace is much closer to the fastest guys on the day. So as much as I hate hot races, there may be good reason not to avoid them.
After my crash in Huatulco I didnâ€™t swim for the six days between races. I knew this was a bad idea, but I was hoping that I could depend entirely on talent to stay with Cameron Dye and Eder Mejia in the front pack. That was overly cocky. I was fine up until the first buoy, but managed to blow up like the Hindenburg on the second straightaway. People were moving past me like I was driftwood in a hydroplane race. There was a separation on the second lap of the swim, which Iâ€™m confident was my fault. As I moved backward, trying desperately to pull myself into someoneâ€™s draft I blocked the men behind me from keeping contact. I felt like a paper bag trying to swim â€“ absolutely no connectivity through my core. (The lesson for next time, keep the abs in shape, even if you canâ€™t get in the water, and eating quesadillas for three meals a day does not help with this). I ended up in the front of a large chase group about 20 seconds down on the top 6 men out of T1.
On the bike my legs were jell-o. The water had been in the upper 80s and the effort had my muscles fried. Conditions like this require top fitness, which I left on a section of blacktop in southern Mexico a week earlier. I hopped on Andrew Russellâ€™s wheel and prayed that he could close the gap. (Iâ€™m certain I would have bridged up in any other race, though I wouldnâ€™t have missed the front pack in any other race either.) I had nothing. I was overheated already and it was only 30 minutes into the race. I cracked my instant-cold ice pack in my helmet, and the rush of cold helped a little, but not enough for me to really help the group I was with. I went to the back of the pack (new territory for me) and tried to stay out of the way so the stronger cyclists could work together. We kept losing time each lap, and our group was one of the least organized Iâ€™ve seen in the menâ€™s field. Guys were surging to the front and immediately pulling off, leaving the second wheel in the wind. Nobody wanted to work and each lap we were 15 seconds farther back than the lap before. The course was pretty sketchy in places (e.g they covered the gnarly cobbles with hard packed dirt that dried up and became loosely packed dirt before the end of the day). There were more 180s than needed, the section near transition was floored with red tiling which boasted a friction coefficient similar to Zippâ€™s ceramic bearings and required two hard right turns, a hard left and a 180 before returning to the blacktop highway where the center of the road had cracks large enough to harbor monsters (Iâ€™m pretty sure I heard something yell, â€œfeed me your tire!â€). Luckily, nobody went down, and I was able to finish my season with a 5/12 ratio of crashes to ITU starts (I just ordered a 2011 Scott CX Team from Momentum Multisport in Honolulu â€“ hopefully a little cyclocross will help me keep the rubber-side down through my aggression (â€œThis aggression will not stand, man.â€)).
Staring the run I was way too hot. On the bike I had seen everyone else glistening with sweat and someone my skin looked dry. Thatâ€™s not a good sign in the heat, but I figured if I was conscious enough to realize that then I probably should be running faster. I will say this for Mexico: they know how to provide water and ice. Unlike USATs terrible display of water support in Tuscaloosa (aide stations at the turnarounds so that you can only hit them once per lap? And they were equipped with warm water? Do they want us to die or was all the ice in Alabama being used for game-day cocktails?), the race directors in Puerto Vallarta had at least 6 times per lap where you could grab an ice cold beverage and a cup of ice. And the volunteers were trained well, they unscrewed the bottles so that a quick squeeze would pop the cap off – only once was the cap on my bottle so tight that I had to unscrew it myself. By the end of the first lap I was finally cool enough for my muscles to fire. I started passing some guys and was told I was in 14th place. I passed a couple more and was running with Mejia on my heals (at one aid station he wasnâ€™t able to get a bottle, so I passed him mine after I took half to pour over my head â€“ the next lap the situation was reversed, but he didnâ€™t pass back. Thatâ€™s bad Karma, dude.). At the end of the second lap I had reeled Sexton and Collington back into my sights and was sure I would catch them. Unfortunately, they must have seen the same thing and their paces increased enough to hold me at a steady distance. Mejia finally blew and I finished in 8th place in front of a group of charging Brazilians. It was a solid finish.
Itâ€™s easy to look at a race like this and think â€œif only A B and C I could haveâ€¦â€ Well, thatâ€™s true, if I had had my normal swim I would have been in a break with Matt Chrabot and Cam Dye and with my normal bike we probably would have put another minute on the chase group and I likely would have been on the podium. But I didnâ€™t and I wasnâ€™t and 8th place is nothing to be ashamed of. I had a solid run â€“ still not even close to what I believe Iâ€™m capable of â€“ and I learned quite a bit about myself. How I respond to a week off at the end of the season is not great. How I swim in hot water after training in a cold indoor pool is not great either. How I prepare for hot races is pretty good, however. For next season I have plenty to work on. For now, however, I still have two races left, the Super Sprint Grand Prix in Oceanside on Halloween, and the Amica 19.7 Sprint in Phoenix on November 7th. Both should be a lot of fun.