Ironman San Juan 70.3 is now history but it wasn’t without its ups and downs. Fortunately for me the ups far outweighed the downs. I went into Ironman San Juan with no goal time expectations and just looking to execute the race plan that Maria, John and I set out for myself. The goals were heart rate driven and whatever time I crossed the finish line would be my time and I was going to be happy about it.
If you read the Ironman San Juan 70.3 race strategy you will note that the goals were:
- Swim: Moderate Hard to Hard for first 200-300 meters and then settling into a steady state from there on out for the remainder of the swim.
- Bike: 148-150 bpm with my heart rate not to exceed 155 bpm even going up the climbs.
- Run: Lap 1 was to be 150 bpm or less, Laps 2 and 3 with a HR of 150-160 bpm and Lap 4 no higher than 170 bpm.
When I reflect back on this race I can say with pure confidence that I hit the race strategy out of the park. I never fixated on my time other than when I got out of the water and that is because I have been swimming a ton in preparation for Ironman Texas. The swim at Ironman San Juan was going to be a gauge for how much I have improved in the water, or at least I thought.
Ironman San Juan 70.3 Race Report
The strategy, as I mentioned above, was to start out moderate hard to hard for 200 – 300 meters and then settle into a smooth and steady swim. Maria mentioned in our Google+ Hangout that the goal was 35 minutes. This seemed feasible but I did not let the time get into my head as I know I am capable of swimming a 35 minute 1.2 mile Half-Ironman swim.
As I entered into the line the butterflies finally hit and I was ready to go while having pre-game nerves at the same time. I was not nervous about finishing, but more about making my coach’s proud of what I accomplished. This was a recurring theme throughout the race and one that inspired and motivated me to keep going with a relentless forward motion.
I stood on the beach until there was 1 minute to go and then entered the water and lined up to the far left and at the very front. The goal was to swim out and start to lean toward the buoys as the swim went along. Since this Ironman San Juan 70.3 is a clockwise swim this would play well since I tend to bleed out right when I swim. As soon as the gun went off I started swimming at a moderate hard pace and it felt great. I was not kicked once nor was I slapped on the back. I felt great and saw the second buoy and it was really close to me. What had just happened was my first thought and then it became swim steady.
As I was swimming I was seeing the buoys but it didn’t register for me that I was so far to the inside that I was swimming inside the buoys now. The chop of the water was tough to sight through and I had made such a hard right turn during the first 300 meters that I went from the far left to the far right. My goal now was to fight to get back on the swim course. I started swimming back left and could not get there during the next 200 meters but I was fighting and just wasting energy. As the red turn buoy was in sight I had no choice but to really swim left and fight the chop and the other swimmers. As you can imagine I had made a complete Z in the first portion of this swim and was very frustrated by the lack of direction. Swimming hard for 200-300 meters to start is great but if you are not sighting properly you are wasting energy as you end up all over the course.
I rounded the first and second turn buoys and was being passed by people from the previous wave but thought I was having a good swim. The swim never felt longer than it did last year but I could really feel the chop and that was much different. I began swimming harder in the back half and never felt tired but it was a struggle because of the current and chop of the water. When I was about 200 meters from the bridge I started getting tossed around. There were quite a few other swimmers there and it became a bumper car swim. Hitting people and getting hit because the chop was so tough.
Once through the bridge the chop really gets going. It was much worse than last year and I did all I could to get to the finish and get out of the water. I was swallowing salt water left and right and it burned my throat while now making me cough even harder. The cough is a lingering effect of the flu from just the week prior. Once I hit the swim exit I looked at my watch and saw 45 minutes. This is 4 minutes slower than Ironman San Juan 2012 but I know that I swam the way the plan was laid out.
The run from the swim exit to the transition is 400 meters and it is one of the hardest ways to get your heart rate down and ready for the bike but I controlled myself on the run and did not get too far ahead of myself. I got into the stadium and tossed on all my gear and out of transition fairly quickly.
Once you exit transition you go up a steep driveway and then travel through a part of San Juan before you head out on the highway. One of the great parts of Ironman San Juan is that they close down the highway for the race. This makes it a great bike course for all abilities. I knew my race strategy and was going to be executed no matter the speed or time. I broke the bike down into sections which would help me get through the 56 miles while not focusing on speed:
- Section 1: Start to merge with Lap 2 (10 miles)
- Section 2: Merge to turnaround (9 miles)
- Section 3: Turnaround to start of Lap 2 (9 miles)
- Section 4: Lap 2 start to turnaround (9 miles)
- Section 5: Turnaround to lap split-off (9 miles)
- Section 6: Lap split-off to finish (10 miles)
Each time I looked down at my bike computer I was at 145 bpm and up to 150 bpm when the head wind would hit us, which came on the way back into town twice. The only other times when my heart rate got elevated was at the on and off ramps of the highway and the two times you ascend a bridge.
While on section 3 the skies opened up and the rains came down. It felt great at first but then it got harder and harder and started to worry me that the next 1.5 hours was going to be in a downpour. After about 5-10 minutes it cleared up but then you could really feel the heat and humidity radiating off the ground.
While sticking to the heart rate goal I also focused on getting liquids into my system. I had two water bottles with approximately 850 calories of Herbalife24 Prolong and Prepare plus another 200 calories of EFS Liquid Shot. I only carried two water bottles which meant that I had to take water off the course. On the first pass I dropped the bottle and did so again on the third pass but on passes 2 and 4 I got the bottle and drank. I managed 4 bottles of liquids in the time I was on the bike and peed once while riding.
Section 5 brought with it a very difficult head-wind and lead into section 6 which was where all the climbing on the bike is. The last 20 miles was tough but I managed to stay focused on my heart rate and not get disappointed with the overall time on the bike.
Maria and I broke down the run into 4 laps since it is a double out and back. The strategy was to start out slow and pick up the pace throughout the run. I have never executed a half-ironman run in this way. Typically I try to slow down but fly out of transition and then blow up on the second half. This time I was determined not to allow that to happen.
When I started running my legs felt like they just rode 56 miles quite hard and that forced me to slow the pace. This run is also very challenging in that it has more elevation gain than the bike. With these two components involved I had nothing left to do but to run with my heart rate in mind.
I reached the first mile quickly and then the first of the steep hills came and it was tough but manageable. I was fueled by the athletes walking and I was not going to let this hill beat me. Heading toward El Morro I started to gain my running legs and just in time to head into the fort. The fort is very hot as there is a 30 or 40 foot wall that doesn’t allow the breeze to come into play and radiates heat back onto you.
I ran into and out of the fort and on the way out I came up on a wheel chair athlete that had to fight his way up the steep cobblestone. The crowd went bananas cheering for him and it was great to see and hear.
During Laps 2 and 3 I picked up my pace, per the race strategy, and was feeling great. I began passing other athletes by the bunches and knew that I was going to finish strong. The paces were consistent and my body felt great. I fought through the hills and the fort again and was staying focused. Leaving the fort I knew I only had a couple of miles to go and I kept passing other athletes who were either walking or being disabled by the heat and humidity of the day.
As I got to the 12 mile marker my gut began to cry out in pain. I knew I only had 1.1 miles to go and I had to fight through it. Every step was making the cramping worse. I descended into the final half-mile and I could tell my pace was slowing. Each land of the right foot caused a jarring effect into my gut that made me wince in pain. It got so bad that I stopped for the first time in a race and tried to pull my ribs out. I walked 10-15 steps and then started running but the pain was got worse. I walked again and when an athlete with 41 on his calf passed me I put the feelings in my pocket and fought the pain the rest of the run.
I had one last climb up and over a bridge and that is when I saw Karen. It was such a great sight as she was cheering loudly and going crazy. I managed to forget about the cramping for the final few hundred meters and when I crossed the finish line I finally looked at my watch and saw 5:41 and could not have been prouder of my effort.
Ironman San Juan 70.3 Event:
Ironman San Juan 70.3 lived up to its billing and memories for me. This is the second year of racing on the island and it was more fun the second time as it was the first. I finished 12 minutes slower this year but had a better race.
The swim was more challenging with the high winds that caused more chop this year than last. The bike was just as I remembered it with the elevation gains being at the beginning and end when you are getting on and off the highway. The roads are horrible in places but perfect in others. The winds will take a toll on you in one direction or the other but the views are breath-taking and the majority of the ride is flat and fast.
The hardest portion of Ironman San Juan is the run. As mentioned, there is more elevation gain on the run than on the bike but if you break it down for yourself into manageable parts you can get through it unscathed.
The pros turned out in full force for this year’s race and I had the pleasure of meeting Leanda Cave at the airport and Kelli Williamson at the hotel after the race. Linsey Corbin and Faris Al-Sultan were pleasant at the pro briefing. Linsey was also very nice when we met her after the race at the hotel.
This race is a must do for the event alone but being able to spend time on a Caribbean island eating local food and soaking up the sun is the icing on the cake. If you choose to race this event next year be sure to contact me so I can give you a de-briefing of the places to visit and eat because that is as much a part of the experience as the race itself.
Ironman San Juan – Thank You!