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I don't look all that bad heading out on my run, but mediocrity would rule my day and I would settle for simply finishing - 5/2/2009
Christopher Giordanelli
Simpsonville Weather Forecast, SC (29680)

San Juan 70.3 Race Report

by G-Man 6. April 2011 06:07

Location: San Juan, PR
Date: March 19, 2011
Placing: 24th Amateur, 2nd Master, 2nd 45-49
Format: Half Ironman
Race Photos: My Race Photos
Results: Click Here

Puerto Rico. It's like a whole other country. Or is it? Yeah, I'm pretty good at geography...but not so good at history or politics. Which is to say that I know WHERE Puerto Rico is but I don't know WHAT Puerto Rico is. It's like a yogurt flavor at Baskin Robbins - is it ice cream or not? Does it belong with the other ice creams? Yes and no. And so it is with Puerto Rico. Part America; part not-America. I don't blame them for their dual identity. I mean if someone said to me "Be a part of the US and pay taxes", I'd say no thank you. But "Be part of the US and we'll help you pay for things"...well, you get the idea. So as it stands, Puerto Rico is a US Territory. I just know it's a place to go do an Ironman event. Oh yeah, and they also have a different word for everything...except "ironman". I'm not sure what the word for pain is, but it makes no difference because the facial experession is the same in any language.

Not sure what the translation is for the word pain, but if you show someone this picture they will know what you mean no matter what language they speak.

You may already know that I am not a huge fan of Ironman but they are what I like to call a 'necessary evil' in the world of triathlon but I am trying to help change that by doing 3 Rev3 half-iron races in 2011. M-Dot (Ironman Corp) slipped yet another notch this year by changing something so sacred that it is almost unforgiveable. Don't they realize that even though we are a competitive lot that it actually IS all fun and games? So what is this travesty? OK, I'll tell you but don't blame me if you don't want to sign up for anymore Ironman events.

All of a sudden, you no longer have an open textbox to list your occupation/profession when registering for a race - now it's a dropdpown selection. Can you believe it!?? No more "Shrimpin' Boat Captains" or "Double Agents" or "Gigilos". They robbed me of my chance to be a "Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition Sand Remover". No. From now on I'd be racing against "Salesmen" and "Managers". For the love of God, is it really THAT important that you know exactly what I do for a living that you have to try and take away ALL our fun?! I gave it my best shot; if you look me up in the results you'll see that my profession is "Culinary Arts" which is not far from the truth since I play with my food. While we are on the subject, I really love it when races ask for a "List of Accomplishments". Problem is that they have yet to read what I've written. I don't know; I guess they are expecting me to put down races and times that I've done and not that I was school table tennis champion - or the fastest 10-key touch cashier in San Antonio (you might not remember this but cashiers used to have to actually punch in the prices of items. That was 'round about the time they invented the wheel)...or other 'real' accomplishments. I went to accept an award once and after reading the list of accomplishments of the 2 people that finished ahead of me, they got to my name and were dead silent. Guess which race is NOT on my list of accomplishments. Na-na-na-na-na-naa

The view from Eric's parent's house was like something out of Jurassic Park.

I could write a big book about our trip to Puerto Rico but this is about racing so I'll stick to writing this small book instead. I'll just throw out some observations. A lot of what we ate either fell off a tree in someone's backyard or was raised around the corner. It doesn't get fresher than that. I raced Puerto Rico partially because my good friends Eric and Jackie Lafontaine invited me. Eric grew up on the island and we stayed a few days with his parents in his childhood home deep, deep, deep in the center of the island. Eric's parents were gracious hosts and his mother cooked some amazing meals for us. The staple there is plantains. They are like giant bananas but they treat them like potatoes- they fry them, mash them, put them in stews, and sell Mr. Plantain Head (I made that last one up). You name it. I'm pretty sure McGyver could have escaped from any situation with just his wits and a plantain. San Juan looked like just about any other beach town but away from the beach, it was like buildings had just sprung up in the middle of a jungle. Very cool. Beautifully lush and some interesting rock formations. It was really wierd in that one instant you felt like you were in a foriegn country and the next instant you felt like you were in the US. When we were driving...that was one of the parts that felt like a foriegn country; a foreign country where there are no rules. I loved being able to pull over to a fruit stand and look at all the fresh fruit sitting there and creating my own smoothie on the fly.."...and throw a mango in there, too...". DE-LISH! Of course, I'm not sure how wielding an 18" machette in public would go over in the states...

Is that a machette in your pocket or are you just...slicing up coconuts.

We definitely picked the right race in at least one respect. At the end of 2010, Ironman held an inaugural event in Miami and it was a catastrophe. So much so that they handed out free races to the participants. Well, Puerto Rico is about 100 miles from Miami and you can bet that Ironman was going to make sure that this race over-delivered. And for the most part, it did. Plenty of volunteers and supplies, and a safe course.

One last thing before I get on to the race; the expo. I rarely ever visit the expo at a race because I know that the time in the expo is not as good as time I could be spending doing something else with Janis. Besides, after years of racing, to me they are just one giant store filled with things I can buy around the corner at home. However, they have some redeeming value in that you can find out about upcoming events, grab some free samples of things, or get an item you may have forgotten to bring. But the best reason to visit the expo is entertainment value. I would apologize in advance at the risk that I might offend someone but you know me better than that by now. There is nothing more entertaining than to watch a company convince people that their product will make them faster. They will use every marketing tactic possible...except of course for real research. And triathletes are the worst at buying into it. I had a chance to run through this expo and was hoping to grab a glimpse at what people would be wearing/using in the upcoming season. What would it be? Compression neck braces that increase the flow to the brain so that you believe you can go faster? Maybe special hand paddles that you wear while running so that your hand 'slices' through the air and makes you more aerodynamic. (P.S. I call dibs on that idea).

= Roger, Tri-ship 1...you are cleared for your jump to hyperspace. Prepare your crew by engaging your blue-leg, blowup thingies...=

Here's a bit of an insider tip. Just because a pro uses it or says it is faster, that doesn't make it so. Those people need to make a living you know. I was almost through the expo - distraught that I had come up dry - and then I saw it. Fors real. It can only be explained with a photo (above). I may buy stock in this company because apparently a now-defunct independant labaoratory showed that their product increased blood flow to the legs by 50% in laboratory rats (when compared to the alternate method of slicing your aorta open). And more blood flow = more oxygen. And more oxygen = better looking skin. And better looking skin = better sense of self. And everyone knows better sense of self = faster! I am so gonna get me some!

An awesome early morning shot from the bridge over the lagoon facing the ocean. The majority of the swim occured on the other side of the bridge.

The swim was one of the best venues I've ever been in. It was a lagoon that was actually an inlet right off the ocean. Picture the lagoon from Gilligan's Island...and then think of the opposite. Large rocks at the mouth of the inlet broke the incoming waves and the chop was minimal - only a bit rough the final 100 meters or so during the race. For a good portion of the swim you could see the sandy, seaweed-speckled bottom as close as 8 feet down through the crystal clear water. It was a point-to-point swim but just made a giant rectangle that started on one side of the lagoon and finished a couple hundred yards away on the other side. Spectators watched from the bridge that we swam under. I'm not sure who decided what the temperature limit was for legal wetsuit use but undoubtedly they had 'thicker skin' and a higher heartrate than this ex-Texas boy who was transplanted to the frigid North of South Carolina. I was shivering almost uncontrollably when I got in and I think they announced the water temp at 150-degrees. That's usually the temperature I use for an ice bath.

The camera may or may not add 10 pounds...but the lack of a wetsuit definitely adds about 4 minutes so I had given Janis a pre-race estimate of 40:00. The gun sounded and I took off at a steady rate; always remembering how I used to take off way too fast and end up hyper-ventilating. It seemed like any other swim - with the same scenery stroke after stroke. With the half-iron races using a wave start, it is soooo much better with respect to getting banged around. I only had a couple of times where I had to 'deal' with people who were doing their best to help me out by swimming in circles. About 2/3 of the way through my swim, the 'pink caps' caught me and I swear the first one by me had an outboard motor. Seriously. She was swimming above the water and creating a 1-foot high wake in her...well, wake. I made a mental note to do the same to her on the bike; whoever she was.

The final hundred meters to the 'swim out ramp' were a bit choppy but manageable. Swimming under the bridge (which was pretty low to the water) was actually cool.

I exited the water onto the ramp and after the volunteers helped me down the steps I glanced at my watch to see 40:05. Officially, it was 39:54 out of the water. How's that for predicting your time? But it gets better later. I began the run to the first transition by first passing the shoe monument. This is where hundreds of pairs of shoes were left by athletes so they wouldn't have to run to Miami barefoot. Oh yes, it was almost to Miami. It's a toss up between this race and the Mountaineer Half Iron event as to which one had the longer run to T1. I believe this one was worse because it was on roads and not sidewalk. So no, I didn't stop for lunch during my 4:09 first transition. My feet handled it without problem and as a matter of fact, for the first time I can remember I felt no diziness at all coming out of the swim. Could it be that all this time it was my wetsuit depriving me of oxygen because it's so tight? Does it really matter; because I'm still gonna wear it every chance I get...

"I'm done taking my bath, mom...can I go ride my bike now?"

It never gets old telling people how far back I was after the swim. It's like guys saying 'pull my finger'. Although some day I would prefer the joke be "I was first out of the water". I was 53rd in my age group after the swim - 14 minutes behind the 45+ leader. As I finally mounted my steed, I wondered if hopping on a bike would ever feel strange to me. It's as natural as walking, eating ice cream, or over-using punctuation!!!?? Today I felt especially spry as I jetted away and yet found it easy to throttle my effort to keep the heartrate where I was supposed to. I had told Janis that I was looking for a 2:15 bike. Adding in 5 minutes for the transitions would mean that I would be running by 3 hours and should break my ever-present, self-imposed 4:30 standard for the day. The course started out pretty hilly; mainly due to highway overpasses. As it flattened out and we headed along next to the coastline I could feel that I was flying even though the wind was whipping around me. I got to thinking that I must have the tailwind right now and hoped that the headwind would not be too torturous. For about the millionth time, I wondered why people were not smart enough to take advantage of things like taking the shortest line around a curve or riding really close to retianing walls that helped to block the wind. Or finding the lowest part of the road to also help reduce wind drag. The only reason I even think of these things is because I see other people NOT doing them. It was obvious after a few miles that part of the organizer's attempt to make this a stellar race was to clean the roads impecably - shoulders and all. My kitchen floor wasn't that clean. Wait; scratch that. Janis will probably be reading this (but it was that clean). That was awesome! It allowed me to take advantage of all the things I mentioned above. In addition, I felt comfortable stopping to pick up half-eaten Powerbars that people dropped and finishing them off. No. Not really. They were mostly blueberry-flavored.


Two things to note here..1) What the view from a tropical island looks like and 2) What 26mph on a bike looks like (Photo: FinisherPix)

I passed my friend Jackie (who started in an earlier wave) somewhere around the 25 mile mark. I wanted to slap her on the butt as I passed but then the headline went through my head..."athletes crash during display of sexual harrassment", so I used my better judgement and simply gave her some words of encouragement. I continued on passing people as they were spread pretty evenly out on the course. And then I noticed it. About 2/3 of the way through the bike, my heartrate was dropping - I'd say it's unusual in an event this long but it's actually unusual for the heartrate to be going in that direction at all. In the final 15 or so miles, my speed decreased partially due to the wind but equally due to the fact that I kept finding myself having to forcably pick up my pace (and therefore my heartrate). The bike course doubled back on itself in the middle part but the last 10-12 miles you passed the 'finishers, go right' sign and when I did, I was suddenly alone and only saw 4 or 5 other competitors the rest of the way in. I knew I lost some time the final miles but I was still moving well. I pulled my feet out of my shoes on the final downhill and then braved the final 100 meters which were on a sidewalk with lots of cracks for your wheel to fall into (Janis saw a nasty crash here). I ran into transition and there on the rack for my age group was one lone bike. At this moment, I knew I was in second and I thought confidently to myself that whoever it was would not run faster than me. Later I would find out that my bike split was 2:15:21. Again - how's that for predicting?

Crap! 21 seconds slower than my predicted time. I'll have to remember not to ride with one hand off my handlebars next time...

I slammed my Ensure and ran. As I passed out of the stadium I looked down to see that I was so close to my schedule it was funny: 3:00:30. The run course was as difficult - and awesome - as any course I've ever done. The uphills were ridiculous. Two nasty hills every 3-mile section as we went back and forth through the town of Old San Juan. Ocean vistas, cobbled streets, old spanish fort, it was such a cool run that I wish I had been on a training run instead of a death march. As soon as I started, I felt low on energy but my first mile was uphill and I turned a 7:00 mile...and I didn't really hurt, my body simply felt laxidasical. During the first few miles, the course was nearly empty except for the pros and it was impressive to see the speed that some of them were running - and the grimmaces on some of their faces.

I got to start in a pretty early wave so by the time I got to the run, the first lap was pretty deserted except for the pros. (BTW, heel-striker? Yeah, I think so)

About 2.5 miles in, we ran down, down, down to the water level and ran through the 8-foot wide tunnel in the wall that surrounds Old San Juan. I was directed onto the path they built that followed the jagged edge of the island in the shadow of the fort. The water was lapping up against the rocks just a few feet away. A minute later, I realized that I had not seen a soul since I went through the 'gate'. I got nervous that I was sent the wrong way but kept going. At mile 3 I was still at a 7:00 pace even though I couldn't push very hard. I was good with that. But unfortunately, the miles just got slower from there on out. Shortly after passing mile 3, someone finally came running towards me and he was wearing a number close to mine. Aha! First place in my age group. It was only a few seconds later when I hit the turnaround that I realized he was less than a minute ahead...and I could do nothing about it. I quit looking at my Garmin as both my times and heartrate went up. Amazingly, I ran the following paces for each of the last 3 quarters of the run: 7:32, 7:34, and 7:31. Which goes to show that what was going on with me wasn't normal fatigue. In addition, I never walked once - even up the incredibly steep climb in town (the wheelchair athlete had to go backwards up this climb - an unbeleievable sight). I just had no 'overdrive' today.

Check out that view for about a mile of the run each lap. Well, the bad news is that in about a mile from this point, I will be at a spot about 3 times the height of that wall in the distance (Photo: FinisherPix)

The aid stations were phenomenal. Well stocked with both liquids and sponges and let me tell you folks - they were nice and cold. Nothing tastes better than cold. I had all but given up hope of catching first place and was getting concerned about being caught by third! When I hit the far turnaround again - this time at around mile 10 - I was actually a few seconds closer to him. But still, I had no more power to give. As we went up the long, slow grade in the last mile, I could see him up in the distance. I ran to the turnaround point near the stadium knowing that this time I wouldn't be turning around. I was completely devoid of any energy and in some cruel twist of sadism, the volunteer yelled "last lap, turn left to the finish". I turned left and was greeted by a man-made walking bridge that went about 60 feet up. I could not believe it. I shuffled up it; all the while looking backwards to make sure that nobody was coming behind me and that I didn't have to move any faster than I was already moving. I ran down the other side and the final hundred yards to the finish. My age group winner had finished only 18 seconds ahead of me. 18 seconds. That was the Coke I forgot to drink in the final 3 miles. Ugghhh! It really didn't matter to me because the bigger disappointment was performing well below my capabilities. In over a dozen half-irons, that run was the slowest by 6 minutes - and I've done hotter, hillier courses than that (before anyone goes and starts making excuses on my behalf). It is humbling and hard to be gracious when the guy that just beat you turns and says "you had a good run" when all you want to do is tell him how bad a run you really had. But that is racing and today - he was the better man. You don't win races on what you did yesterday. At the end of the day, it was a 1:37:06 run and a total time of 4:38:04. Not what I planned or had hoped for. Oddly enough, I was correct back in T2; the winner actually did NOT run faster than me...but I was making the conjecture that it would be minutes that seperated us - not seconds.

Not sure I've ever been so glad to see the finish banner..."Yes!". "What? Turn Left? And go over that mountain of a footbridge?! Are you friggin' CRAZY??!!" I guess they got the last laugh because I was crazy enough to do it.

When all was said and done, I reminded myself that I actually do this because I still enjoy it - even if it hurts every once in a while. The trip was fantastic and Janis and I had fun taking another Segway tour (we are already planning one for Boston while we are there for the marathon). And Eric and Jackie are great people to hang out with...especially becuase Eric makes me look so laid back compared to him ;-) It's a good thing we get along because the Giordanelli's and the Lafontaines are headed to Boston together. Should be another great adventure. Oh yeah and I said I do this because I enjoy it but just for the record, I enjoy it more when I win...

Riding off into the sunset...except we're on Segways instead of horses...and it's teh middle of the day instead of sunset; but the idea is the same.

Race Notes:
* As we left the venue after the race and walked back over the lagoon, we saw a huge manatee hanging out where we swam 5 hours earlier. Although I know they are slow-moving, docile creatures I still think it would have scared the crap out of me if I had seen him during the swim.
* I was 24th overall amateur. This race was capped at 1500 entrants as opposed to 2000 or 2500 like most 70.3 events.
* By the numbers:
last year I won my age group in all 4 half-iron events; today I was 2nd.
last year I was in the top 2 amateur bike splits in all 4 half-iron events; today I was 5th. (the worst amateur bike placing in 5 years of tris).
fastest half-iron run? Rock n' Roll Man 2007 - 1:24:04. slowest half-iron run before today? TryCharleston 2010 - 1:32:12. today? 1:37:06.
* Although I didn't see any groups drafting while I was on the course, I did hear a couple of people complaining about it (one was a pro).
* Eric and Jackie both had great races with a 20th and 8th place respectively in their age groups.
* Still managed to qualify for 70.3 Worlds...although not planning to attend at this time.
* Just realized as I was looking up the results that nobody in the 40-44 age group finished ahead of me...making me the 2nd Master.

Next Up: Cooper River Bridge Run and the Boston Marathon

The only person in the world who completely 'gets me'. I'm not saying she has me figured out but she at least knows what to expect ;-)

A huge manatee (are there any other kind?) hanging out in the laggon we swam in a few hours earlier.


Race Report


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