I selected this Ironman 70.3 race in Monterrey, MX because it was early in the season, the course is relatively tame, and I felt like an international race in a non-English speaking country would afford a sense of adventure. The result so far? Ah jeez…
Let’s start with the arrival in Monterrey. As an American, if you have traveled to a popular destination in Mexico like Cancun, Cozumel, or even Puerto Vallarta, you would be forgiven for thinking that you would be fine in Monterrey. Not the case. While I have had the good fortune to find small (and I stress, small) pockets of English speaking folks, by and large, this is an English free zone.
At the airport, it wasn’t clear how to get a cab. There was a machine on a wall that had the word “taxi” in the language on the sign. The sign had no translation. It was at this moment that I was incredibly thankful that, over the course of the last few months, I had invested the time and energy in rehashing my high school Spanish with Pimsleur lessons from Audible . I don’t think I knew this much Spanish in high school. The Pimsleur lessons have really helped get me to a place where I felt at least semi competent to get around with basic necessities. The taxi sign was the first test. I passed. Not only did I get a van versus a car, I was able to help two pro triathletes with a ride. This is what really makes triathlon unique and amazing; that we age groupers get to line up in the same race on the same course as the pros. So very cool.
What really drove home how helpless things could have felt was when we were waiting out front of the airport for the cab to arrive. Context is an incredibly powerful tool. In my mind, I had just used a computer to pay for a ride with a company that would send a car. My context, being a tech-savvy American, was Uber. Given the actions I took, I assumed that a car should have arrived. There was nothing on the ticket or on the machine to give me any reason to think otherwise. Of course, there was nothing on the ticket that indicated a taxi would magically appear either. After about 10 minutes of standing around, I asked an airport worker about it (of course, in Spanish), and he said we had to wander down a ways to the little hut. Problem solved. More semi-passable Spanish with the guy there, and we were in our van, with a negotiated second stop for a small extra fee. Awesome sauce.
Further driving home the point that things could have quickly gotten out of hand was the cab driver driving for what felt like too long after dropping off the other two passengers. A quick conversation revealed we were going to the wrong hotel. Same brand. Wrong location. Again, all in Spanish. So, so, so thankful for Pimsleur.
Hotel front desk? No English. People in the restaurant next door? No English? Sensing a theme? Adventure time had begun.
One of the unique features of this race is a point to point swim in a man made channel/river (but really, let’s just call it a big pool). The river cuts a meandering path through the Fundidora Park, with loads of pathways, knolls, and play spaces. Pretty cool place. The river appears to be about 4 or 5 feet deep, and about 20 feet wide, except for certain parts where it widens up. With 300+ men in my age group, there are 3 separate waves to accommodate us. The starting gun should be interesting. I get a crack at swimming in it on Saturday morning.
I also took my bike out for a shakedown ride of about one hour, and then a short 2.5 mile run. The area around the hotel (Artemis Cintermex) is full of streets which I would charitably call bike hostile, and certainly no place you would want to take a carbon tri bike. No way. Fortunately the Fundidora Park has a road that winds through it, though the rain and standing water made for some interesting riding. Caution was the word of the morning.
After the bike ride, I went for a quick transition run. Once again, my inner fan boy eeked in delight as I passed former World Champion Faris Al-Sultan, who was our running the other direction with a couple of other folks. I even got a “what’s up” head nod. I’m such a fan boy…
Registration further added to the sense of adventure, though when dealing with race registration, adventure isn’t quite the word you want to use. English was not to be found. The volunteers, while nice and cheery, were incapable of answering questions in English. A few people heard me speaking in Spanish and then saying something in English (talking to myself, trying to find the right words or simplified concept), and asked if I would translate for them. It seems that there was quite a bit of confusion going around, and I was happy to lend a hand, albeit a very broken Spanish hand.
I don’t know if this is emblematic of other international WTC races or not, but I was really surprised at the lack of English from the signage, event crew, etc. Even something as simple as getting my race packet required navigating an issue where the volunteers wouldn’t let me proceed unless I paid 150 pesos for a one day Mexican Triathlon license. Knowing that I had prepaid this as part of my registration, I kept trying to inform them of this. It was no use. Round and round we went. I walked away intent on finding at least one person who could bridge my vocabulary gap. I was fortunate enough to find a nice lady in a MDot shirt who spoke better English than I spoke Spanish. We finally figured out that the reg packets indicated who needed to pay. The problem with the way registration was set up was that you had to pay to get your registration packet. I wonder how many people paid when they didn’t have to. Oh well.
Before coming down here, I was told that the local Mexican triathlon scene was one replete with expensive tri bikes. That was not an overstatement. Below is a shot of what passes for the trash. 🙂 One local saw my bike, and made a comment in Spanish. I had to explain to him that I didn’t understand what sounded like a colloquialism (side note: I sound so much smarter in English. What I said in Spanish translated to I don’t understand your words.” Colloquialism…sheesh). He simplified the words for me, and I took the meaning to be “nice bike…you will ride to the sky.” I think that was a compliment/nice remark about the bike being really awesome. Or maybe I just didn’t understand it correctly. I like the notion of riding to the sky, though, so I’m going with that.
Race day is Sunday. I feel good. Really good actually. I have my race plan. The only thing left to do is the one thing I seemingly do so very rarely. Race the plan. I have one job on Sunday. Just one job. Race. The. Plan. One job!
I may never get on the podium, but at least I got to stand to near it. My goal for Sunday? Race the plan, and achieve that of which I know I am capable. In keeping with my developing Spanish skills, I will leave you with this: Ponga la rueda en la calle, y corre como el infierno. (translation)