I wish I had better news than a DNF (Did Not Finish) from my race in Panama. My goal for this race, when I signed up for it a few months ago, was to finish in the top 8. Then I started training. And then winter took hold. And then my training wasn't progressing as quickly as I planned. I knew I asn't ready to race in a hot half ironman. I knew that any coach would say no effing way are you going to race right now. But I went and did the race anyway!
Why?? Because I had already made my travel plans and it desperately needed an escape from frozen NY and my mom, dad, Laurel and Sarah already had their trips planned. So I changed my original outlook for this race to: go down there, do the race as a workout and for race experience and if things go well, maybe come home with a top 8 or 10.
What I didn't factor into this plan was the heat. It's been my personal experience that I'm ok in the heat when I'm in really good shape, but struggle with it when I'm not. As it turned out, as much as I willed the heat away, this held true again.
*2nd out of the water*
Every year there's been a delay in the start of this race. The swim is at the mouth of the Panama Canal, with huge boats full of shipping containers routinely passing. Getting an "all-clear" from the waterways seems to be difficult. So, we all sat around in our wetsuits for about 30 min waiting for the ok to jump in.
When we finally got the go ahead, I was surprised that the water didn't feel cold - apparently it was 71. In most races I've done 68 is the wetsuit cut off. Also, there was a strong current on our favor, not quite Hudson River level, but strong enough that our 2k swim took only 17 minutes.
I felt great in the swim, casually following the feet of Mary Beth and Laurel. Usually I can't stand wearing a wetsuit, but the Roka suit feels like a second skin. I came out of the water just behind Mary Beth and Laurel, with a good lead over the rest of the race, but less of a lead than we'd typically have at this race distance, due to the current.
*Finished bike in 10th*
Possibly the most disappointing part of this race was the bike course. When I signed up for this race, I was lured in because of the hard, hilly bike course. Unfortunately, the course changed in the week or two leading up to the race to a FOUR lap (or)deal, with four 180 degrees each lap. There was no indication of this change on the race website until a week or so out from the race. We were informed the course change was due to a recent election. Under the circumstances, the race organizers did what they could, but the course we anything but scenic and definitely not the safest way to race. Lap courses are ok if it's just pros in the race or if everyone starts at the same time, but things get sketchy when muiltiple heats of racers or varying speeds enter the race course. We had one clear lap, but starting the second lap we had to dodge other race participants right and left (literally, although you are only supposed to pass on the left). I don't know how many times I yelled "left" in both English and Spanish. I don't want to sound ungrateful or like a complainer, but I'd be lying if I said this didn't throw me off a little. I've just never been that cyclist that whizzes by people barking "on your left." Having to tell at people for 2 hours to move over to clear the way for me is just not my style. It's also hard to stay focused on racing hard (for me at least). I felt like I was taking away from all these other people's races who had no idea there was a professional race happening at the same time. For all the age groupers who were in this situation on Sunday or who have been in a simliar situation in other races - does this bother you? Do you mind? Does it distract from your race too? If so, I hope race directors take this into consideration for planning future courses.
The course aside, I started the ride ok and with each 180 I started feeling worse and worse. As dehydration started to kick in, I lost focus on the race. I couldn't get in a groove. I tried to keep my watts high, but the more I pushed, the more they plummeted. In order to make the most of the experience, I concentrated on executing my nutrition plan. Due to the course confusion and congestions, the aid stations were an s*show and swerving around other riders to grab a bottle wasn't easy. Also, two of the three bottles I grabbed were not open. Is that normal? Imagine being completely parched, reaching for a bottle of cold water, squeezing it into your mouth only to have nothing come out. Sorry if that sounds woe is me, but remember it was over 90 degrees and I was struggling. With one of the bottles, I was able to bite the plastic top so much that a piece of it broke off and water started dribbling out. The others I had to toss.
I got off the bike totally drained and took my time in transition trying to regroup. I expected to be able to get a cold drink at the start of the run, but kept running and running until the first aid station 1.25 miles into the race. I grabbed everything I could get my hands on and tried to cool down with ice. Nothing seemed to work, I kept jogging a few more miles and then had to call it quits before things got worse. And that was the end of my day.
Meanwhile, the rest of the competitors were battling it out with each other and with the heat. Many didn't finish, but congratulations to all who did triumph over the 95 degree heat.
For more about what unfolded at the front of the race, read Sarah's race recap on Triathlete.com
Despite not finishing race, I'm glad I decided to make the trip. We had some great quality family time and all enjoyed exploring a part of the world we'd heard so much about. Next I'll be taking a day or so to recover and then will be right back to training for the next race. I'm not sure exactly where or when that will be, but I am sure that I'll be more race ready to race!
PS: The #spookytrigirl (check this hashtag on instagram for more) was right at home in the Canal Zone area of Panama City, with all the abandoned buildings and ruins leftover from the American military days.