Polar vortex, global weirding, groundhog's revenge -- whatever you call it, it has not been fun. Aside from commuting, I've done nearly all my riding on an indoor trainer, and most runs on the treadmill to boot. The result: pasty skin, a habit of using my aero bars primarily for balancing an iPad, and a well honed ability to tune out and keep going. Note that last bit, as it will be important later on.
The day after #Snowchi dropped a foot and closed the airports, Elliott and I hopped on a (surprisingly punctual) flight to Panama City. As in, Panama, the Central American country. Hello, humidity! It was around 90 degrees and I started sweating through my compression tights and cycling jacked almost immediately. Awesome.
I'll do a separate post on travel logistics for this race, in case anyone is interested in making the trek next year. But in the meantime, I'll cut straight to the
About a week before the race, the athlete guide was released. These things are usually pretty straight forward -- schedule of packet pickup, standard drafting rules, pro prize purse, blah blah, oh HELLO BRAND NEW BIKE COURSE! Rather than an out and back along the Panamerican Highway with 2000 feet of climbing, it would now be a four loop, multi-turn, highly technical course through the city with only 200 feet of climbing. Hmmm. Oh, and one aid station. Awesome. Surprisingly, this didn't come up during the athlete briefing, so I asked one of the organizers. "Honestly, if we tried to explain the bike course, it would make people's heads explode. Don't look at the map too hard. It will be signposted. Just go with it." This will be fun.
Normally, I like to spend much of the day before a race scoping out the course. What's the swim like? What does the swim exit look like from the water? How does my transition spot look when I am coming in from the swim? What does it look like when I'm returning from the bike? How far away from the finish will I actually see the chute? I then bike the run course and drive the bike course, noting patches of rough road, sharp turns, hills, approximate locations of aid stations, etc. This time, however, not so much. We didn't have a car and much of the bike course involved going backward against normal traffic flow (on closed roads) so even taking a cab wouldn't help. And after hearing some horror stories about biking around the city from some Canadians at check-in, I decided to play it safe and turn "bike the run course" into "bike the parking lot area near transition, make sure my bike doesn't fall apart, rack it in transition, and then drape myself over an a/c unit the rest of the day."
Outswimming the Fishies
Ah, race morning. One of the few times it seems totally normal--and actually exciting!--to wake up at 3 AM and start eating bagels. Today was no exception. (Yes, Panama has bagels! Check the freezer section.) It was really fun to chat with the international crowd in transition. Most athletes were from Latin America or Canada, with a few Europeans or Yankees sprinkled in the mix. I borrowed a bike pump from an Edmontonian and speculated with an Ecuadorian about what was splashing around in the water below us. (A Colombian helpfully suggested they were stingrays. Gracias, dude.) The swim was a point to point 1.2 miles down the Panama Canal, wetsuit and current assisted. Wheeeeee! We had to hang on to the dock to avoid getting swept beyond the start line before the gun went off. I had a great time with the swim, watching the buoys and following some fast feet. (Pro tip: if someone wears Swedish style goggles, they are probably a good swimmer so follow them!) However, my lack of doing a practice swim came back to haunt me, as I dutifully followed the buoys...past the swim exit! I saw it as I swam past it, then had to make a hard left and fight the current to get to the stairs. Ugh. Then again, had I known what great inferno awaited me, maybe I would have lingered in the water a bit longer.
Go Go Speed Racer!
As I mentioned, the bike course was challenging. I spent the first loop figuring out where I was going, navigating how quickly I could do the 180 turns without falling (answer: unclip but don't put a foot down), and spotting the rough patches of road. I was able to ride more confidently the next three loops, chasing down some women who had passed me earlier, and watching my watts. By the end, I was having a pretty fun time whizzing down the freeway off-ramps. Others, not so much; there were quite a few bike accidents, collisions, people losing water bottles (hence the accidents), drafting penalties, etc. Considering the number of people on a 14 mile loop, 75% macho male participant rate, "a la izquierda" is much harder to say than "passing left" and aid station water bottles too small for our bottle cages, it's not surprising it was so messy. PS, the 200 feet of promised elevation gain was actually 1750. Even if they meant 200 meters, that's not the same thing.
The run. Or, "things that make you go UGH"
If you've done a triathlon, you know that the first mile or so of the run feels like poo. Your legs are wobbly, you're ready to be done, and yet the finish line is oh so far away. Now picture that feeling for 13.1 miles. Backing up a moment to the swim: as was the case last year, the swim start was delayed about 45 minutes because cars were still parked on the bike course. This means--you guessed it--the sun was high in the sky by the time we hit the run course. And what a run course! We ran along a narrow causeway connecting Panama City to some islands that used to be pirate hangouts. So perhaps it was appropriate that it felt like I was running on wooden peglegs. Water stations were few, the wind was strong, and my body constantly reminded me that I'm not from around these parts. Even though I had planned to run the whole thing, I started taking quick walk breaks at the aid stations, or if my heart rate went into zone 5. After around mile 6, however, I managed to figure out a good system: get ice, stuff down bra (sorry, dudes, ladies only!), grab a cube for each hand, hold ice until it melts, recommence fishing around my personal ice chest for more, etc. I haven't seen the race photos yet, but I probably look pretty well endowed. (Maybe that's how all the Venezuelan beauty queens do it?) And still, the run would not end. I pulled out all the mental games -- "Keep running to the next aid station," "Catch that dude up there," "Tomorrow you'll look back on this and know you could have run the whole thing," "Remember that time on the treadmill where you didn't stop?" etc. Then I hit mile 12. This was great, except I couldn't for the life of me remember hitting mile 11. Oh boy. Focus, Katie, focus. The fastest way to cool down is to get to the finish line. They have cold things there. So I kept running. I turned the final corner into the finish chute, saw the balloons, and sprinted. But that wasn't the finish line. Nor was the next set of balloons. Not funny, Panama, not funny. Eventually, I reached the finish line. I think.
The next hour or so was a bit of a blur. There were volunteers at the finish line assigned to "catch" each athlete and ask them some questions to see if they needed medical attention. In Spanish. Having gone to high school in California, I actually do speak Spanish, but there's reading a newspaper/"Sí, me gustaría una cerveza, por favor" Spanish and post-race, thoroughly dehydrated, rapid-fire medical question Spanish. I was not up for número dos, so off to the med tent for me. They set me down on a cot, covered me with ice bags, and handed me a Coke. I asked, in Spanish, if it had real sugar or high fructose corn syrup. I got a blank look. ¡TOMALO! ("Drink it!") So I did. And promptly vomited. (Guess sugar vs. HCFS didn't matter after all.) Out came the IV drip with a saline solution. I first made sure my GPS watch was turned off while I had two hands free (priorities!), and that I was indeed wearing a finisher's medal. Oh good, I can relax now. I slept for a bit, then woke up enough to ask about my finish time and try to convince a bystander to try to track down Elliott. ("He doesn't have a cell phone or speak Spanish but he's blond, wearing a blue shirt and should be by the finish line or transition." Shockingly no luck there.) Hats off to the med tent volunteers, because I was probably a handful. Also, a huge GRACIAS to my high school Spanish teacher, since without language skills, this whole experience would have been a big mess. (As it turns out, English skills are not required for medical staff at international races, so come prepared. Or just don't wind up in the med tent. Whatever's easier.)
Eventually, Elliott found me, rescued my gear from transition (turns out my back wheel was flat, whoopsie), and I worked my way through the saline bag so they cut me loose. I tracked down a finisher shirt and hat (normally I don't care but felt I really earned them this time), ate some pizza, and took the bus back to town. According to the preliminary results, I got 3rd place in my age group (yay!!) but there were only two spots for 70.3 worlds (boo!!), though if one of the spots went unclaimed, it was mine, all mine. I showered, napped, donned my patriotic Smashfest tank, and returned to the convention center for the award ceremony and rolldown. As I had feared, both worlds spots were claimed by the two winners. Oh well, considering they got 2nd and 5th overall respectively (I was 18th), I'm sure they'll kick ass at Mont Tremblant. As for me, I have another shot at 70.3 New Orleans in April, with Leadman 125 in Bend as an awesome Plan B. But first, Smashfest Camp in Tucson at the end of this month!!
At the risk of making this race report even longer, I will add a quick PS. Did you know that Panama has stuff other than a half Ironman? Since our flight to DC wasn't until the evening, we rented a car and spent most of the day in Soberanía National Park, hanging out with howler monkeys, cherubic capuchins, noisy birds, and some tapir-like creature that made us wish we'd bought a wildlife guide. Next time...