Race Report: 2015 Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico – Erich Knaak

Well, that was hard…

I got to bed later than I would have liked. I went out to a pre-race sushi dinner with the Sound Training and Racing crew and was in bed around 10:00 instead of the planned 8:00. My usual dinner before a race is pizza but sushi is good for you and has never bothered me so, what the heck. Maybe not a good idea to change things up but it worked and now I have a new alternative. I set my alarm for 4:15 AM and settled in for a restless night of tossing and turning. I got up twice to use the bathroom and was fairly uncomfortable in the tropical heat but unwilling to use the air conditioner. Eventually, I slept a bit and woke up a few minutes before the alarm. I ate my usual race day breakfast of whole wheat English muffins with almond butter plus some grapes. I listened to the tunes I play before a race and filled my water bottles.

Our ride to the stadium arrived at 5:15 and Karen and I left the condo. After picking up Matthieu at his hotel and arriving at the stadium I realized that I had left my speed suit hanging in the shower after yesterday’s swim and I forgot to tape the blister on my toe. I’ll end up surviving these things, worrying about them will not help.

At the stadium, I set up my transition area. Jennifer got a few pictures of me with my bike, and we talked with other athletes. I took a few practice jogs into transition to remember where my bike was and how I would approach it and depart for the bike-out. I took a bottle of water to sip as we walked the 1/2 mile or so to the swim start. We placed our shoes at the swim exit for the 1/4 mile run to transition and crossed the bridge to the start. I got into the water and swam a couple hundred yards giving myself a pep talk as I swam. The swim, along with watching the waves crash over the rocks while the sun came up calmed my nerves; I was ready to get going.

I got out of the water at the ‘practice beach’ and we headed to the start. I hugged everyone and got into the corral with my age group. On a scale of 1-10 I was at about a 3 as far as nervousness. I was the first of our little Seattle crew to start. I waded out and lined up towards the right side of the group as the swim was a clockwise loop and I wanted to be on the inside. I’m not a very aggressive swimmer, let others waste that energy fighting for position that will matter little as the race progresses.

When the horn went off, I started my watch and dove in. As planned, I started off slow and steady, building speed as I went. The bumping and shoving wasn’t too bad, about average. The first turn kept getting closer and I was looking forward to not having to sight directly into the rising sun. I was able to draft for a few hundred yards but it wasn’t long before I was being passed by different colored caps. Just before the bridge, the head-on current appeared, it was like swimming on a treadmill. I expected this having swam this key portion of the course the day before. The rest of the swim would be against a quartering current from about two o’clock. By now I was getting tired of the taste of sea water. I made it across the treadmill and was helped up the ramp out of the water.

With the swim done, I quickly located my shoes, ran about 100 yards with them, put them on and headed to transition. I was feeling pretty good but my swim time was slower than expected, the slowest of my 70.3 swim legs — likely due to the lack of a wetsuit or even speed suit. I was pretty winded on the short run to transition having just come out of the water. At my bike I took the time to put on calf compression and sun sleeves. This was a good decision. I rinsed my face and mouth of salt water and applied sunscreen. Took a gel and some more water. At the bike out I let the volunteers spray me down with more sunscreen, mounted the bike fine and took off. I got my front tire stuck briefly in a groove in the pavement within the first 200 yards but didn’t go down. The same thing happened to two of the other 3 in our group, no crashes.

For the first 10 miles the wind was calm and the temperature was relatively mild but warm, the clouds that had kept the venue a bit cooler the previous two days were absent today. I could tell it was going to be hot. On the way out to the first turn-around there was a slight tail wind and I was cruising. I kept my heart rate where I wanted and, as advised, kept sipping water constantly. At 15 minute intervals I would take a gulp of Perpetium and chase it with water. The Perpetium was not agreeing with me so after determining that I had enough gels, I tossed that bottle in favor of carrying more water. At the first water station I refilled the torpedo and grabbed another water bottle and dumped it over me. By the first turn around at about mile 18 I could tell I was chaffing pretty bad and was having a difficult time getting comfortable in the saddle. This was going to be a long ride. At the first turn-around I took an electrolyte capsule and put the container in my jersey pocket. Later on it would fall out. At the second water station I grabbed two more bottles, refilled and cooled off. It was getting hot and I was now fighting a head wind. At the second turn-around I was looking forward to the tailwind. Since I had lost my electrolytes, I grabbed a water and a Gatorade (red) at the 3rd water station. I also figured I’d get a bit of energy from the HFCS. The whole ride I kept sipping water or electrolyte drink every 3 minutes or so. I was noticing the salt building up on my kit and knew I was loosing lots of water and electrolytes. On the second trip out the tailwind was awesome and I took advantage, sitting up to catch more wind, knowing that I would be fighting it pretty soon. The course was beautiful and I made sure to look around and appreciate the views. Cows were watching the race from the side of the road. Two of them, who were clearly in love, were so excited by the race that they decided to make some baby cows. I hope they name one after me. On the way back in the winds were awful. I grabbed two more water bottles and another Gatorade at the last station. The last leg was hard with the wind and the only hills (overpasses) on the way back into town. My crotch was stinging pretty bad and I was very uncomfortable on the bike. I passed the scene of the shooting earlier in the day where the cops were processing the scene. At the time, I didn’t know what had happened, that two competitors were hit by stray bullets from a gun fight. I wouldn’t learn of this until after the race. My thoughts are with these athletes. I consumed three gels and over 8 bottles of water and Gatorade on the ride and about three scoops worth of Perpetium, no bullets.

At T2 I got my running shoes and socks on, my bib, hat and sunglasses. Without the apparent wind of the bike it became clear how hot and humid it really was. Before leaving transition I applied a little more sunscreen, took a gel, then tried to exit the bike-in. Doh! I got sprayed down with more sunscreen on the way out of transition and started the longest,hottest 1/2 marathon ever. I saw Jennifer at about 1/4 mile and she handed me a bottle of ice cold water and a ziplock bag of ice. I love Jennifer! The ice went straight down the front of my shorts, I drank 1/2 of the water and dumped the rest over me. At about 3/4 mile I saw Jenifer’s mom, Michelle, and our friend Edbal who handed me another bottle of water and bag of ice. I love Edbal! After about 1.25 miles my lower back started cramping up. I stopped and stretched probably a dozen times on the course, I started walking every incline and jogging the flats. It was hot and I was melting almost as fast as the ice in my shorts. I handed one of my bags of ice to a guy who looked worse off than me (sorry dude, it may have been the bag that was adjacent to my, um, bag). At each water station I took water, Gatorade and, if they had them, orange slices. There were 3 people on the course with hoses spraying down athletes, I always took advantage. The run along the water was nice and flat but the sun was on my left, there was a wall to the right which, along with the pavement below, did a fantastic job of reflecting the heat. It felt like a convection oven. There is no water on this section of the course, likely to keep the trash out of the breakwater, but at the turn around there was a guy with a hose. I love him too. This is an out-and-back, out-and-back course. At about mile 4 I ran with a Spanish speaking woman until the start of the second loop. I don’t remember our conversation and to be honest, didn’t understand most of it at the time. At about mile 8 I met a woman from Houston and we jog-walked the rest of the course. Honestly, I wasn’t flirting. Much. I consumed 3 gels, countless orange slices and half-cups of Gatorade and water on the run.

Coming over the last hill (finally!) I could hear Karen yelling my name and I saw Peter as I entered the chute. I’ve never been so happy to cross a finish line. This was one hot, windy, tough race. I was hoping to finish in 6:30-6:45 but it was pretty clear by the time I got off the bike that that would not happen. I’m slightly disappointed but glad to have finished and learned some lessons along the way.

This is a beautiful course and I highly recommend it. Be ready for the heat and the wind. If there weren’t so many other 70.3 courses out there, I’d probably be booking my travel arrangements to return next year.

So, what did I learn at this race?

  • Tape a checklist next to the door for last minute items
  • Take a few extra gels and a variety of nutrition options (something solid on the ride)
  • Divide electrolytes into post-swim, bike and run servings (don’t put all your eggs in one basket)
  • Use chamois cream and body glide (for 70.3 and greater), your junk will thank you
  • Get spray on sunscreen SPF 50+, apply frequently, don’t forget the back of your hands
  • Nutrition options in bike and run special needs bags (140.6)
  • Tape any blisters before the race, have tape available in transition
  • Run with a water bottle when it’s hot
  • Always wear socks when previewing the run course, I started this race with a rather impressive blister
  • Wear some tri club or Ironman gear to check in, it makes for better photos
  • Triathlons are better with friends
  • Triathlons make cows horny
  • Acquaintances will become great friends at destination events. Or you’re doing it wrong!

Some Stats

  • Water temp: 78 degrees (not wetsuit-legal)
  • Average temp during the bike leg: 81 degrees
  • Average temp during the run: 84 degrees
  • Wind speed: 8-28 MPH