Friday, December 23, 2016

Post IM 70.3 Cartagena blues.... err Report

Last year, after we finished IM Cozumel while we were exploring the streets of Mexico City an announcement came up on Facebook that Ironman was coming to Colombia. It was a 70.3 distance and was going to be held in the beautiful city of Cartagena. Without much hesitation we called my brother and sister and they were already making plans.
We came back from vacation and by then Brian, whom we were traveling in Mexico with, had already convinced his wife to let him do it and to plan a vacation. So the planning started on our end. My family came to visit us over Xmas so we were able to get some details in person. My sister had a friend who owned a couple of condos in the City so that was the main thing. Getting that squared away since it is the most expensive of all. The next thing we had to worry about was getting there. For us was relatively easy. JetBlue flies direct to Cartagena from JFK at a reasonable price without too many additional charges. The bikes are also one of the cheapest of any carrier, however due to the military status they were free for us. Thank you Uncle Sam.

Our vacation started to take shape when my sister moved to Medellin, JetBlue flies to Medellin as well though FLL and since Adriana had never been there and I was there about 20+ years ago we then planned to go there first and head to Cartagena with her and my parents since they were going to meet us in Medellin to spend a little longer with us.
Medellin will be probably another blog entry on either one of our blogs but I’ll try to focus on the race for this one.  

Getting to Cartagena:
Since we were flying from Medellin, we took a domestic Avianca flight to Cartagena. One way was about $100 each and Avianca being the official airline of the race was taking our bikes for free. Little parenthesis here, TriBike transport announced in October they were taking bikes, but since it was so late for it they couldn’t get the 50 min bikes needed to transport them. It all worked out, but definitely something that the race needs to work on. There were enough groups from the USA that would’ve benefited from the service and for most that were traveling on extended vacations having one less headache would’ve been ideal.  

Once in Cartagena bikes and all, arrived decided to get a big van service. It charged us about US $17 to take 6 of us and 3 bikes. If we would’ve split into UberBlacks might have been about $20 each and needed 2, and forget about taxis, that would’ve been probably $30. So it all worked out at the end. In terms of logistics I think we were pretty lucky. We flew to Cartagena on Thursday 12/1 in an attempt to get acclimated to the weather. Not sure if it worked or not, I might need more time for that after a few fall/winter weeks at home.  

The Expo Shenanigans:

The expo opened up on Friday at 10 am. Guess what... everyone had the same idea, get
the expo out of the way as soon as possible. We stood in line unnecessarily for about 2 hours, luckily it was inside the Convention Center but still we were standing. People that arrived much later were done a lot faster. Only downfall was that the race shirts for women were gone and also the race bag color were limited by then. No biggie, we did some shopping at the IM store since we learned our lesson that most of international races don’t make it out to the regular IM store website, so rather get it or forever hold your peace.  Only time we buy finishers gear before the race and ignore the superstition.

We had done a short out and back ride earlier that morning on the route since our condo was on the route, we did about 18 miles out and back. You go through a toll booth on race day so we just returned right before the toll booth. It was HOTTTT and we got a feel for what it was going to be on race day. Some folks that had done the route said that after the toll booth there were some false flats and the 2 climbs of the route (more on that later).  

We did a little ocean swim again to get a feel for the water, we knew it was going to be different since the swim happens at a bay next to the convention center, so the water is a lot calmer than just open ocean.  Then we went to get the bikes to transition and dinner with the family. Luckily we had 4 of us plus Maria Claudia and Maribel going to transition together and they had a cab that was behind us protecting us because riding on the roads can be a bit scary sometimes. 

Race Day

Race day started with everyone doing their morning rituals for breakfast and all that good stuff. The house was still kinda quiet. No one really talked to each other, everyone was concentrated on their own stuff and things were just moving along. Getting our number tats on and packing up the nutrition. We were so concentrated that we forgot about our sherpas' nutrition and hydration for them. Note to self, always remember their needs too.
We scheduled 2 vans to take the 9 of us to the race start at 4:30 am, so by 4:30 am we were leaving the building. By 4:50 we were in transition. We then set it all up, we had frozen all our bottles since we knew by the time we got to the start everything would've been melted and wouldn't been hot as hell. Nothing worse than warm Infinit. Pumped air on all 4 bikes, set up transition and got everything set. Then it was the waiting game.

The swim:
Race was technically supposed to start by sunrise. However it got delayed. We didn't hear why it got delayed, all we thought was every minute it is delayed now it is more heat and more sun that we will get. By then our Sherpas had taken their positions and we were by the convention center area where everyone was gathering. Our early hydration was done, and the heat was starting to climb. The wait seemed like forever. I came to find out when we were leaving at the airport from another athlete  that the wait was because the buoys that were moving.

 Anyways the canon for the pro's went off and then our waves started to move. My sister, Adriana and Margo were within the first 10 waves, I was 17 out of 20. I wasn't worried about the cutoffs, I was just worried about the heat. Finally my brother and I got in the water. He was swimming with a friend that had OWS fear, so since he wasn't doing the bike then he helped him through the swim. Once our horn went off I waited about 10-15 seconds and started my swim. We were swimming east first so we had the sun in front of us. Our ROKAS performed great but still once the sun is in front of you it just gets annoying. I followed the buoys on the way out to the turn. Once at the turn I knew I was in better shape. The sun was then on our left and by the second turn it was going to be on our backs. I reached the second turn and I went a little wide which cost me swimming maybe 200 yds extra and of course cost me the PR on my swim. My swim split was 40:40 (146 out of 320, finally towards the front of the middle  :), with an avg of 1:47 /100 yds. A little slower than I expected it, I wanted to go sub 40 but I didn't pay attention to it. Got out of the water, the volunteers did great pulling us out of the water, my zipper on my speedsuit got stuck so I couldn't unzip myself. I went to one of the girls and asked her to help me, then I saw my dad and threw the goggles and cap to him. The run to T1 was about 250 meters. Luckily for me I was right at the entrance of transition and since my brother didn't have his bike and was next to me I had some room. I was surprised that most of the bikes on my rack were still there, my T1 was pretty simple, put on the race jersey, helmet, glasses and nutrition. Shoes were on the bike since I knew I had to run out a bit so I didn't want to run on the shoes. T1: 3:41.

The Bike: 

By the time I started the bike it was hot. I had a Gatorade while I ran out of T1 and got on my way. Leaving the city the road isn't great but isn't too bad either, my plan was to settle myself in a rhythm by the time we got out of the busy area which was past our condo. So I was 7 miles just focusing on staying on the bike, road and others around me. Once I got to the divided highway I started the nutrition. The heat was hitting hard, so it made taking in nutrition hard. I kept looking for the girls to see if I saw them going down but I didn't. I saw Claudia, then finally I saw my sister near the turn around. I did the math and she was maybe 5 miles up the road. The bike course is not a flat course. It has a few rollers and then towards mile 25 it has 2 climbs, when I got to the first one I dropped my  chain mid climb, got off the bike and fixed it quickly, so didn't waste too much time. Then got to the second climb and at the top was the turn around. I kept my power where I needed it, 75-80% so I knew I was in good
shape. I actually tried to dial it down a bit since I knew the heat was going to take a  toll on me and there was no way I could keep up. As soon as I turned around I saw Margo, she was doing well, then down the road my sister, chatted with her a bit and 2 bikes down I caught up Adriana. The 3 girls were trucking along. I had about 7 miles and bike traffic got congested. Couldn't pass and it just seemed like it was taking forever to go through those 7 miles. we had a short rain shower earlier that cooled us off a bit but it just increased the humidity. I saw a friend of my brother and we tagged along (keeping a distance) or a bit, but it was too congested so I just stayed back, didn't want to get carded or anything. Officials were all over, they had a ton of motorcycles on the course with officials, I didn't want to get penalties or anything. No drafting means no drafting. My bike was a PR bike by a few seconds, with a 2:48:57 and avg of 19.975 mph I was pretty happy with it. Riding with power and sticking to it really has helped because I got off the bike and had legs which in the past that has never been the case. I usually hammer the bike and start the run with dead legs. I came back to transition put my socks on, got my hat and shoes on and off I went. T2 was faster than T1 with a 2:54 time. 

The Run:
Oh the run. I came back from the bike and while I was feeling pretty good, I wanted to get into a conformable pace. By comfortable I didn’t want to push sub 10:00/miles right off the gates. I wanted to take some hydration, cool my body off a little and see what damage I could do on the run. The first kilometer right off transition is outside the wall and you enter into the walled city right after the first aid station. While running that part, I saw Angela (my sister) and Adriana come in, I knew they were safe and sound back home. I hadn’t seen Margo but I knew she was probably another 30-40 minutes behind them according to my math. I managed to get some Base Salts in me and water on me. The sun was hitting hard on us, and by the time we entered the city no wind, just sun, heat, humidity, and more heat. 

The streets were packed with tourists, cheering crowds, DJs at the aid stations cheering us, it was pretty fun to run through the city. Finally I saw my mom standing and Claudia, Shayla and my dad in the back, I have my mom the biggest sweaty wet hug I have ever given her when I saw her. She then sent me off, saw them back on the return and asked for my sister and brother. I knew my brother was jumping again into the race to run with my sister to take her from the bike to the finish line but I hadn’t seen them. My dad said they were already together. I then saw  Adriana, she was going out on her first loop and I was coming back. She had lost her Base Salt vial, I gave her mine, I knew I could just finish it without it. She looked strong but was missing the salts. I saw my brother and sister and they were shuffling away, lastly I saw Margo, she looked pretty good, but I knew the bike had taken a toll on her,
however once on the run I knew she will get it done. As you are returning on your loop they take you on the wall for about 1 kilometer, at the top of it they give you sponges, however it is probably the hottest part of the race. Imagine a 500 year wall made out of limestone at noon. That thing is HOT!!!!. The first time I went through it fine. I got my sponges and got out as quick as I could. Then I went to finish my first loop and get back into the second loop. I started talking to a few guys and we kept motivating each other, but the heat was just taking casualties. I got back to my parents and I wanted to look strong, so I was attempting to run those stretches, the walking was a lot more on that second loop. Once I got through the second part of the wall I looked at my watch and I just went for it, I was 2 kilometers out so I was just committed to run to the last aid station and then from there get a sprint to the end. 

The finish was packed, they take you under the clock tower and there is where the food and medical tents are. I finally found a place to sit next to a pool full of cold gatorades and ice. I just dumped the towels they gave me in that and cooled my self down. Saw Maria Claudia and Diego (buddies from Texas) then Adriana came so we just stayed there to rest a little. Then my sister came up with my brother, took a picture but she could hardly stand up, she was really struggling with the heat so we went to cool her off immediately and lastly Margo showed up. 

We all finished what we had started. A race that we prepared for all year, a season well planned, no injuries, great shape, strong in all 3 disciplines. We knew it was going to be hot, just wasn’t expecting it that hot. Was it a PR? No it wasn’t, I still got my PR at Atlantic City, did I want a PR? Yes I did. Did it matter? No. To me what mattered the most was being able to spend 2 weeks with my family, race with Adriana, my brother, sister as a family and of course our plus 1… Margo who became part of the family on this trip.

In general, for those looking to do Cartagena, I highly encourage you to do it. I really hope that Ironman continues it. Cartagena is a city that if you plan your trip well it caters to the tourist and to the families. Does the organization need to tweak things, of course they do. It is the first time an event of this size comes to the city or even the country. The pros had a fiasco with their running routes…