Location: San Juan, Puerto Rico
Weather: 80 Degrees and Sunny
Distance: Half Ironman (1.2 Mile Swim, 56 Mile Bike, 13.1 Run)
Finish Time: 5 Hours 13 minutes 9 seconds
Overall: 124 out of 965
Division: 29 out of 124
Swim: 523rd Bike: 164th Run: 124th
First race of 2019 is in the books and it was beautiful! It was really nice to escape the cold, dark winter in NYC and travel south to the island of Puerto Rico.
Last year I used a bike transportation company to ship my bike to Chattanooga, Tennessee for the 70.3 Ironman. This year I decided to buy a bike bag instead of using that service because I planned on doing a lot of destination races in 2019. In addition to this race, I plan on doing triathlons in Canada, Portugal and Mexico.
In the weeks leading up to the race, I was nervous about being able to pack my bike into the bike bag and checking it in at the airport. Fortunately, everything went incredibly smooth. I flew on Jet Blue and the process was quick and easy – just like checking in a regular piece of luggage. The only drawback is that most airlines charge $100-$200 (each way) for transporting a bike bag because it’s considered oversize luggage. My flight was at 7:30 am and I arrived in San Juan at noon. I was worried about finding a taxi large enough to fit my bike bag once in San Juan, but luckily there were plenty of vans and SUVs that could accommodate it. There were a lot of other athletes at the airport with large bike bags. It was fun to see and it made me feel proud to be a part of something so big.
I stayed at an Airbnb in Old San Juan. The location was perfect for travel and sightseeing, but a little out of the way for the race because the Athlete Village was approximately 1.8 miles away, so it was a long walk. After settling in, I did some sightseeing on my way to the Athlete Village and checked in to the race. I also bought a few CO2 canisters to inflate my tires. Later that night, I did some more walking around Old San Juan. I really enjoyed the city and would definitely come back on vacation when I have more time.
Believe it or not, I didn’t eat a single meal at a restaurant on the entire trip. I had a kitchen in my Airbnb so I did all of my own cooking with groceries purchased at the supermarket. I wasn’t going to take any chances of getting sick before the race. I also used bottled water for everything from drinking to brushing my teeth and bathing (jk! Haha)
The other minor setback was that I forgot to pack my muscle roller. This is a tool that helps loosen tension and warm-up the muscles. It’s a tradition that I do that the night before and morning of every race. I solved this problem by spotting a broom stick for sale at the local supermarket when I was buying groceries.
Heading into the race, my performance expectations were not very high. Due to the cold winter and other time commitments, I only had a chance to ride my bike outside two times before the race. Almost all of my training was done indoors on the bike trainer. Also, I did not do a lot of long rides (2+ hours), which is vital for half ironman training. The other factor was the heat and humidity, which I knew would have a very large negative impact because my body was not acclimatized for those weather conditions. Nevertheless, I was going to have fun and give it my best shot.
I couldn’t sleep the night before the race like usual and this time it was amplified because the power went out and I lost AC for quite some time. Before long it was 3 am and I was up eating breakfast. I left an hour later and made the long walk to the Athlete Village. As the city slept, the race transition area was buzzing with music and activity. This is one of my favorite parts of every race – you can feel the excitement and energy, mixed with anticipation, anxiety and nerves.
The swim start was 900 meters away from the Athlete Village and we witnessed a beautiful sunrise as we were walking over to the lagoon. Once there, I was surprised to see all of the entertainment and amenities provided. There was Gatorade, water, plenty of bathrooms and even a stage with musicians.
I wore a swim skin, which is not a wetsuit, so it doesn’t help with cold or buoyancy, but it helps compress and streamline the body. The swim start for this race was different than what I am accustomed to. Instead of a rolling start, it was a group start where each wave group entered the water and had to doggy paddle until the gun went off. After the initial chaos, the swim was quite pleasant, as the water was warm and clear. Plus, I did not get kicked or pulled unlike other races. It was a long run to the transition area after exiting the swim. I followed the advice of some people I met the day before who recommended stashing a pair of shoes to make the run less painful.
The bike leg was incredibly beautiful. Once we made it to the outskirts of San Juan, we were treated to miles and miles of beautiful coastline with crashing waves, palm trees and sounds of tropical birds. The only drawback was that the wind picked up towards the northern portion of the island. On a personal note, I realized pretty quickly that I need to add another bottle cage to my bike because I kept running out of water. Another problem that occurred is that my left aerobar was not tight enough and it kept dropping with the weight of my forearms, so I had to constantly adjust it while riding. I felt pretty good for most of the bike ride, but towards the end I felt the heat getting more intense, along with my arms and shoulders beginning to burn even though I put on plenty of sunblock before the race.
The moment I jumped off my bike at the transition from bike to run I knew that I was in trouble. First, my calves felt very tight and began cramping. Second, the heat was intolerable. During the swim you have water and on the bike you have wind, but on the run you have nothing to keep you cool.
In the transition area a bunch of friendly volunteers asked if I wanted sunscreen. I said yes and stopped what I was doing to go over to them, but they said, “no no no, we’ll come to you - keep changing into your run gear.” I was overcome with gratitude, smiled and thanked them repeatedly. It was just another example of volunteers going above and beyond at these events. I wish I had time to personally thank each of them.
The first three miles of the run weren’t too bad, but my pace quickly deteriorated. It went from 7:30/mile to 8:00/mile to 8:30/mile. The heat and humidity were ruthless. To make matters worse, there weren’t nearly enough aid stations. It was also hard for the volunteers to keep up with pouring enough drinks. As I was running I happened to meet another athlete and it turned out that he was from New Jersey! The most beautiful part of the run course was also the most difficult because we had to climb several hills before entering, “the microwave,” as the race director put it – a two mile section with no aid station, completely surrounded by concrete and ocean. Towards the latter part of the run I knew that I was severely dehydrated because I was no longer sweating.
Finally, after a little more than 5 hours of swimming, biking and running, I made it across the finish line. Seconds later, I hobbled into the shaded tent area and collapsed onto the ground like many of my fellow competitors. After a few minutes I was able to roll over and I met an older gentleman, who was lying next to me. We started chatting with what little energy we had left. He was in his late 60’s and from an island near Saint Martin. He told me that he didn’t start doing triathlons until he was 50 years old! It’s truly never too late to start anything in life.
Ironman is a very generous and charitable organization, which makes me proud to participate in their events. A lot of the proceeds from this race will go to rebuilding efforts due to the devastating hurricane that hit Puerto Rico a few years ago.
Next race is the Paris Marathon on April 13th! I am feeling underprepared for that race, too. It’s very early in the year so it’s difficult to be in top form, but I will have fun and give it my best as always.