Carnage at San Juan Ironman 70.3 | Race Report

I finished. I finished in under 6 hours. I finished in the top half of not just my age group (30th of 87), but overall (435th of 1,409). I am happy; really really sore, but happy. I made mistakes; I recovered; I was warned for drafting; I had to walk up a few hills during the run; but in the end, I persevered. I am an Ironman 70.3. Thank you San Juan, Puerto Rico for all the crowds and all the support. It was much more fun than I expected.

3:15AM: I woke up after a surprisingly relaxed sleep. I didn’t feel my heart thumping with excitement. I showered, shaved and got dressed. I had already packed my gear yesterday (including nutrition). I don’t keep a formal checklist, but go through and visualize each portion of the triathlon (including transitions and nutrition), and felt confident that I had everything.

4:00AM: After consuming half-a-bagel with peanut butter, I walked out of the room towards Sixto Escobar stadium where the transitions would be setup. I had to be body-marked too. As I got there at around 4:10AM, I was told that the gates don’t open until 4:30AM. I walked back to the room.

4:35AM: I walked back to Sixto Escobar stadium and got body-marked. My number was 258. None of the pros had arrived yet; no sign of Leanda Cave, Mirinda Carfrae or Linsey Corbin. I borrowed a pump from a random competitor for my bike before I proceeded to set up transition. I also found out that the swim would not be wet-suit legal. I set down the transition towel, setup the bike and run shoes, inserted the bottles on my bike holders, kept a spare bottle of water next to the towel, laid out my helmet, race belt, headband and sun glasses. I also laid out 5 partially open stinger waffles for nutrition. I planned to eat a stinger at each transition, 2 during the run and had 1 to spare. I made small-talk with a few fellow participants and one of the guys gave me a salt pill (just in case). I put the salt tablet in my running shoe. Little did I know that this would come in handy during T2.

5:15AM: I walked back to the room to return the wet-suit and relax for about 45 minutes. I actually took a cat-nap for about 30 minutes. Yes, I was still relaxed.

6:10AM: I made my way towards the swim start. Upon reaching there, I saw Faris Al Sultan getting ready. Surprisingly, he was not wearing a speedo but had a tri-suit on. As I was standing alone putting on my baby- blue swim cap, Mirinda Carfrae walked by me. I wished her luck, “Good luck out there, Rinny.” We made eye-contact briefly before she said, “Thank you” in an Aussie accent. The gun would go off at 6:50AM with professional men. My wave would go off at 7:04AM.

7:04AM: We were off. The swim goes about 700 meters East, about 100 meters South and then another 1,100 meters West under a bridge to the swim exit. I felt good. My cadence was easy, my stroke felt easy, and my speed seemed adequate. The waters were relatively calm. I was drafting a guy with a slightly rough kick, but any energy saved is good energy. Overall, the swim was quite uneventful. I thought of my siblings (Naman, Sheel and Ami) and some of my old friends/cousins (Mihir, Mana, Monica, Suju, Sujal, Nirmita, Amit, Shivangi) and my swimming days in India. I was a sprinter back then in controlled swimming pools. I thought of Colleen and Kim and Shelly and our swimming sessions over the past few months. I thought of Lifetime Fitness, MMR, Ellisbridge Gymkhana and the Sports Club in Ahmedabad.

The most important thing was that I was relaxed. The last couple of hundred meters have a few waves, but I was breathing away from the waves (which was perfect). I exited the water in 34 minutes and ran the quarter mile to T1 in another 2 minutes.

7:36AM: I entered bike transition feeling good. The sequence of what I needed to do in transition was going through my head. “Put on the heart-rate monitor, put on the race belt, wipe your feet as you wear your headband, sunglasses and helmet, eat a stinger, drink fluid, wear socks, wear shoes, GO!”

As I was going through my routine, I noticed the first miscue. Ants. Since I had partially opened the stinger waffles, there were ants all over the first one I picked up. Ouch. I thought for a moment, “Appropriate name >> stinger << no wonder there are ants on it!” I thought of Binita who had so carefully helped me plan my calories yesterday. Now, I had to improvise. I took out the waffle, shook it off and put it in my mouth. Fortunately, the ants came of easily. I also exposed the one spare waffle and threw it to the grass in hopes that all the ants would be attracted to it and would leave the other waffles alone. I loosely wrapped the others under my towel.

7:39AM: I was off on the bike. The bike course goes 12 miles out of town followed by 2 loops of 16 miles each before returning back 12 miles for a total of 56 miles. Other than a few bridges going out of town, it is a relatively flat course. In spite of the minor “ants” mishap, I felt good. Little did I know that the second mishap was about to happen.

7:55AM: My bike was running smoothly but there was a small rattling noise coming from somewhere in the rear wheel (or so I thought). At around the 5-mile mark, I heard something fall off my bike. I looked back and my water bottle along with the cage had fallen off. “Ouch! There goes 250 of the 750 calories I planned to consume on the bike. And there goes half of my sodium intake. I now needed a plan to replenish these calories and sodium. Okay, don’t panic,” I told myself, “a solution will present itself. Let me just work on consuming my first 250 calories and half the sodium that I still have on my bike. I also have that extra salt pill in my running shoes.” I thought of Binita again who had helped me fill out the bottles. I felt a pang of guilt for not making sure that the screws were tight on my bottle cage. How stupid!

8:20AM: I had done about 12 miles and had entered the first of two loops. I saw the first of the two Gatorade stations. They were passing out performance Gatorades. Somehow, I knew that each one had 140 calories (I had just had one yesterday). My plan was now clear. I would consume 2 to 3 bottles during my ride. This would make a total of between 600 and 800 calories. Perfect!

8:45AM: I reached the top of the first loop without incident. I saw a host of pro men and women and a few age-groupers zipping by me. I barely passed anyone during the first loop. I simply concentrated on my cadence and my heart-rate. I knew that I had done 19MPH in my first hour. This was almost 1.5 miles faster than anticipated.

9:20AM: Here comes the rain. During the second loop, it started to rain. It started with a slow drizzle and soon turned into a torrential downpour. I haven’t biked much in the rain, but it actually felt good. This is the Ironman. Bring it on! I smiled. I thought of Chrissie and smiled some more.

My thoughts drifted to my biking buddies now. Kristi, Brett, Erika, Mike, Kristen, and even some of the newbies. You guys were with me! The heavy rain lasted about 3 miles. There were puddles everywhere. Each time a biker passed me, the back tires threw water on my sunglasses and my body. I didn’t mind. It was part of being an Ironman. Now it was a matter of up and back, and the 12 miles into town.

10:00AM: There were 15 miles to go now on the bike. The rain had stopped. The sky was clearing. The wind had picked up. In a few miles, it was dead against me howling at 16MPH. I now tried to find every little drafting advantage. Each time a bike passed me, I would draft it for about 20 seconds before falling back. It probably added a mile or two of speed.

10:30AM: A motorcycle pulled up beside me and the passenger said something to me in Spanish. Uh oh. I thought I was being penalized for drafting. I asked her in English if she was penalizing me. She did not understand a lick of English. Great! I asked her to show me a penalty card. She rode off. I asked a fellow biker what that was all about and he told me that she was merely trying to help me and warning me not to draft. She was not a referee, she was part of the security. Whew!

10:50AM: I was back about to enter T2. For about half the bike course, I had kept up with number 1250. She had spoken a few words in Spanish. I had no idea what she was saying, but I had nodded my head in agreement. In the last few miles, she had picked up the pace and was ahead of me. As I unclipped my shoes to enter T2, I saw her sprawled out on the ground. She had crashed while unclipping and was yelling out in agony. I hoped she hadn’t hurt herself. I thought of Shelly and Kim who had taken falls while biking with me in a group. I thought of me when I had taken a couple of falls. Most bike crashes are minor knee scrapes, but sometimes you do break bones and sprain ankles! I would find out later that number 1250 was fine and did finish the race. Her run was slow, but then, so was everyone’s!

As I entered transition, I thought of the steps in T2. “Remove helmet, remove bike shoes, put on running shoes, place 2 waffles in my back pockets, eat a waffle (after removing ants), drink some fluids, GO!” Fortunately, there were no ants on the waffles under my towel. I took a sip of the water and spit it out. It was HOT water!

The sun was out. It was hot and humid. I had hardly felt it on the bike, but as soon as I stopped and started the run, I could feel the heat.

11:00AM: The run course is a 2-loop out and back from T2 to Fort San Cristobal. It is a hilly course. I was ahead of schedule. If I did the run portion in 2 hours, I would break the 6-hour goal by about 10 minutes. Normally, I can do a half marathon in 2 hours with my eyes closed, but this was different. My body was tired. It was hot. It was humid. It was hilly. I set out at a brisk pace for the first couple of miles. I was keeping my heart-rate at Level 3. Perfect! Soon, I would encounter the first of 4 steep hills on the run course. By this time, everyone was walking up this hill. EVERYONE. As I was about to ascend, I saw a bicycle coming the opposite direction. It said “Pro Women 5th Place” and right behind the bicycle was Leanda Cave. It was not to be her day.

I took high-cadence baby-steps to scamper up the hill. My heartrate had drifted into Level 4. I had to slow down once I got on top. I did. I still had more than 10 miles to go.

11:30AM: The course meanders outside the Fort and then descends into the Fort gates for about a mile-long flat but hot and sun-exposed loop with no water stations. Going into the Fort is easy because it is downhill, but coming back up is the hardest part of the course. During my first loop, I saw a pro woman struggling with her run. She was walking. When she would run, she would pass me, but soon run out of steam and start walking. It was the same story with countless athletes. It was carnage everywhere. Heat, humidity and hills make a deadly combination. I walked up the Fort hill too before breaking out into a gingerly jog.

11:58AM: As I made the turn for the second loop, I had an hour left with a ten minute buffer to break the 6-hour mark. I had already consumed my first stinger waffle. I knew I could do the last mile on adrenaline and will power. This left 5 miles and 2 hills for which I had to dig deep. “Keep the cadence going. Go from water station to water station. Stop and pour water over your head. Drop ice cubes on your back. Drink water. Drink Gatorade. Just keep going.”

The carnage was exploding. Hardly anyone was running now. I passed hundreds of athletes with my slow but purposeful jog. My speed was nearing 10 minutes per mile. This is an easy slow jog for me, and I kept at it.

12:30PM: After walking up the 3rd of the 4 hills, I jogged into the Fort. Up and back and I had the last 5k to go. My coach (Bill) had told me to pick up the pace in the last 5k. I smiled at that thought in dismay. That’s crazy. I can barely run. The thought of picking up the pace is out of question!

I thought of my father. He passed away more than 10 years ago. He would be proud. He always pushed me and encouraged me. He was proud of my achievements, no matter how trivial. I am still searching for spirituality, but I felt his presence. In this time of digging deep within, I felt good to have him with me. It was special.

12:52PM: I had it. I was now only a quarter of a mile out from the finish line. The Puerto Rican crowds are some of the most encouraging crowds I have ever seen. I don’t understand a lick of Spanish, but can feel their positive energy and I can draw from it. With a smile on my face, I was able to actually accelerate my pace.

Seconds before the finish at San Juan Ironman 70.3 2013

12:54PM: I finished officially in 5:50:35. This is almost 10 minutes faster than my expected fastest pace. Am I happy with my time or am I happy with my time? I thought of my wife, my mother, my siblings, my dogs, my friends and all my loved ones. I raised my arms in triumph. I looked up to the heavens for a split second although I am not sure why. I was exhausted but in good spirits. My knees buckled slightly as the volunteers escorted me to the Gatorade tent. I knew I was just a bit dehydrated and immediately downed a Gatorade and ate some pizza and a banana. Cookies and oranges didn’t sound appealing. I put my legs in the ice bath (which was not quite icy any more), and went off to pick up my bike and gear. I had done it. I am now a (1/2) Ironman. Onwards to the full Ironman in November.

Binita was at the finish line to greet me. She has supported me through my Ironman 70.3 pursuit and I can’t thank her enough. She has spent many-an-evening alone while I am out swimming, biking or running.

After a few days of R&R in Vieques Island, the pursuit for a full-distance Ironman continues. For now, I will enjoy this one!

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