Monterrey 70.3 Race Report

IMG_20150314_115555116_HDRIt wasn’t the race I wanted. It was the race I got. I can’t possibly be upset with a PR. I can be a little upset that I hit some problems on the run, as per usual. The silver lining is that the problems on the run were new. We’ll get to that.

In my pre-race report, I noted the lack of English speakers with the registration process. On race day morning, I was a bit concerned heading over to the transition area that it would be more of the same. It was a welcome thing to hear Michael Lovato on the PA system repeating things in English. That removed a huge potential area of stress for the morning.

For anyone looking to do this race in the future, I would strongly suggest you stay at a hotel near the transition. The Artemis Cintermex was a fine hotel. Nothing specifically wrong with it. The issue was having the schlep over to the transition area the day before the race, and all the way back. And then again on the morning of the race, and all the way back (for the swim start, which was over by the Cintermex Center). The time on feet in the days/hours ahead of a race are best kept to a minimum.

One of the reasons I love racing is the opportunity to reconnect with old friends, or get to know old acquaintances better. In the transition area, I ran into a fellow VO2MultiSport team mate, as well as a friend from my last job. No matter how much time passes, it’s always nice to slip back into familiar relationships.

The weather reports for the week had been a mixed bag. The sun never really found a way to come through during my stay, and the report for the day was calling for rain during the bike portion of the race. Since this race location doesn’t allow for a pre-ride of the bike course, this was making me a bit nervous. The most worrisome portion of the bike would be the cobbles in and around the transition area. In all, it was about 2 miles per lap of cobbles. Anyone who knows knows that wet cobbles are no fun.

Back over at the swim start (about a 25 minute walk with all of the athletes making the trip from transition) things were a bit crowded. In the pre-race report I already spoke to the size of the swim area, but hadn’t really factored into my mental model what the start area would look like. Lots of people. Athletes. Spectators. Well wishers. Loads and loads of people. Not a lot of space.

Pro tip: for this race, bring toilet paper from your hotel room. There are some public bathrooms, which were quite clean, but the toilet paper situation was dire. I noted this the previous day and thought ahead to bring some.

Due to the max flow rate of the swim area, there were to be lots of wave starts. I’m guessing that the thinking of the organizers was to to put the slowest people at the front to ensure they had the full 1:10 to complete the swim. Unfortunately, that meant traffic. Lots of bodies. My age group (40-44) had 3 waves, and I was in the second one, going off at 7:55A. A full :55 after the pro males.

The queue up process was well organized, and the flip flops they gave us for the walk over worked out nicely. Much appreciated. Unfortunately, like much of the schwag at this race, the race caps were poor. I saw a few people ripping their as they were getting ready to enter the water. I too had this problem. I was fortunate to have seen the table behind the queue up where they had some extras, but an athlete shouldn’t have that kind of stress on race morning. Looking at my cap and comparing it to other caps from other WTC races, it’s hard to see if these are thinner, or cheaper material. They feel like it.

While on the topic of cheaping out, what is going on with the backpacks that WTC is giving out at the races? My first Ironman Canada bag had a zipper come off while I was still in the registration tent. They gave me another one, but within a handful of minutes a zipper came off the new bag as well. The backpacks at the Monterrey race were ridiculous. The straps would not stay in the plastic binders. If you put your arm through, the strap came completely undone. The solve was to tie the nylon in a knot, but why should I have to? For all the money we pay to race at these events, you would think that they wouldn’t cheap out on the schwag. I’d almost rather they not give me a backpack than give me one that demonstrates a level of “f!ck giving” that is sub-standard. This was also the first race where getting a race bike jersey or tri top felt like a losing proposition. The quality of the event gear in the expo was quite poor. Even the water bottles were cheap; never to be used on a bike ride.

Back to the race. My wave made it’s way up the sidewalk area next to the swim start, and eventually we were called into the water. I’m pretty sure that the water temp dropped 5 degrees from the previous day. I did my pre swim without a wet suit. For the race, in my wet suit, I was surprised at the cold. With about 100 competitors in my wave, the feeling of tightness in the starting area was acute, given the width of the “river.” I pushed my way toward the front, assuming that I could get a good start, settle in, and target a decent (though by no means fast) 32 minutes. It was the first race of the season, and I knew there would be tons of bodies, making a fluid swim difficult. Oh how right I was.

BOOM! The air horn sounds and we’re off. Bodies. So many bodies. That moment, when you swim into the back of someone who is standing up. That’s not a great race moment. It happened at least 4 times in the first 300m. Likely closer to 6-7 for the duration of the swim. What a cluster.

During my pre-swim, I swam half the course out, and then back, not wanting to walk the 1.2 miles back. I wish I had swam the whole thing. There were parts of the swim that were so shallow that my fingers were scraping the bottom. That’s not hyperbole. I snapped a photo from the pre-swim. It’s that depth or shallower the whole way.

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I’m fairly certain that no pre-swim would have given the same level of water displacement as the number of bodies in the water ahead of me. It was like swimming in a washing machine. Somewhat challenging to time the breathing, and I swallowed more water than I would have liked.

After about 500m, I settled into a rhythm, and caught the draft from a guy in my group. He was breathing to my side, so we were looking at each other as we went. For about 600-700m we swam together, each of us taking a pull in front, and allowing the other to draft. It was a great working relationship. Then he disappeared. Then I ran into someone. Doht. The number of competitors standing around in the swim was a bit nuts. I eventually snuggled up to the left wall and got comfortable. I hoped that most of the standers would be in the middle. I was mostly right.

My only area of concern from the course walk through was where the channel narrowed to barely 5 feet across, with railings, like a log ride at an amusement park. By this point things had strung out, and I got through without incident. Before I knew what was going on, the swim was done.

Sadly, I swam 35 minutes. That’s slow for me, especially in a wet suit. I take solace in knowing that one of my friends (she qualified for Worlds…go girl!), who is a sub 30 minute swimmer, swam a 32, and she was in a very early wave (so she had little traffic).

Fun fact, I counted 6 different color caps during the swim from people I overtook. 6. Waves were 3 minutes apart. That’s fun.

Coming out of the water, athletes are treated to a long upstairs run (wet stone, for those of you playing at home), followed by “find your bike” in very long rows, with zero margin for error. If you managed to go down the wrong aisle, you have to run all the way to the end and double back. This is unlike just about every other race I have done, where there are breaks in the aisles in case you are in the wrong place. I was glad I ran the route several times the previous day, and looked for land marks to line up with my bike.

Once out on the bike, we hit the first bit of the cobbles. As it was still dry, and we were all just getting our legs under us, it was a largely uneventful mile or so. Before I knew it, we were on the highway. The ride for this race is a mostly unremarkable thing. It’s not picturesque. It’s mostly flat. There was no traffic. Some good. Some bad. The really crummy parts were the botts dots on the road, running the whole width of the highway, and for several hundred meters. Those can be squirrelly if you’re not careful; all the more so if they are wet. Oh, and the potholes. Filled with water. Also fun, and very easy to see, I assure you.

The water send-ups were spaced every 10KM or so on the bike course, which made for an abundance of water. My race plan was pretty simple. Stay below 155 bpm HR. Hydrate well. Kick ass on the run. This year, my coach and I were trying a new nutrition plan. I have been plagued with rot gut in longer races, and we have simplified as much as we can by casting out the Gu gels, and taking on liquid nutrition in the form of CarboPro. My body generates a ton of heat. Lots of lean muscle, I’m told. My mental time checks have me drinking water on the clock at :03 and :07, sometimes at :05, and taking a mouthful of CarboPro bottle on the :10s. 800 cals for this bike leg. I’ve been practicing this way all through the winter from the switch in nutrition. I must have not been paying as close attention to my water intake on this bike. Looking back now, I consumed close to 80ozs of water in my aero bottle, and another 24oz with my CarboPro. In retrospect, that was way, way too much. I wouldn’t find out how badly I was off course until much later.

I hit the first turn around in what seemed like a fast time, and by the time I came off the highway, and headed back in to town, I was pretty confused at what I was seeing. My time seemed too fast for the effort. Then all hell broke loose. The rain had started while I was about :10 out from town. It came down heavy at first, and then tapered off, but was still steady and annoying. Well, annoying is a relative term. It was annoying on the highway. It was fear inducing on the cobbles. Hell is wet cobbles.

At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of it all. The road off the highway back into town was a straight shot. Aside from the crazy shaking of the headset on the bike because of the cobbles, it didn’t seem too bad. The road then goes under the highway for a bit (making the cobbles dry), at which point we came upon a huge crowd yelling something. The guy I was passing said in English “what are they saying?” All I heard was “DESPACIO!!!” I couldn’t figure out why they were yelling “slow.” I wasn’t going that slow. What a bunch of jerks. But they were screaming. And screaming. And then I saw the right hand turn. That went down hill. And then it all made sense (also…not jerks). Oh f!ck.

It was at this moment that both of my tires let go on the pavement, and I started a two wheel slide toward the outside of the curve. I’ve been in this position before. I used to race motorcycles, have spent plenty of time on mountain bikes, and am pretty comfortable when wheels slide. Except not this time. My only thought was “this is going to make an awesome picture, or it’s really going to hurt.” As luck would have it, my muscle memory kicked in, and I didn’t do the one thing that would have caused dramas – grab the brakes. I put more power to the crank, figuring that at some point my rear wheel would hit a cobble seam, and hopefully I could use it as a berm. I was right; the bike snapped to and I almost got tossed out of the seat. The relief was short lived, however, as we were now going downhill, on wet cobbles, under an overpass, and the road then went to the left, into a blind corner. What treats awaited us on the other side?

Bodies. Lots of bodies. Walkers. Layers. Kneelers. The funny thing about wet cobbles is that they tend to be slick, and lack traction. A point well made by all of the cyclists who came through the terrifying right-hander to the downhill, and decided that it was time to grab the brakes. What they then found was that going up this short, steep hill, was next to impossible. So they were bailing. Or crashing. Or stopping outright. While I felt bad for them, my primary concern was in not being one of them. Unfortunately, while race direction had roused the crowd several hundred feet back to yell at us to slow down, there was no one directing the unfortunates to the right side of the road, and out of the way.

Once I cleared that mess, I was pretty shaken. The cobbles were still there, and I wasn’t clear on when they would be done, having not had a chance to pre-ride the course. Luckily, it was only about another quarter to half mile until the lap was done. When I hit my lap timer, I looked at a 1:17. That was a surprisingly fast lap, and I knew I should pull it back to save my legs for the run. So that’s what I did.

Remember that whole section above about drinking a lot of water? That came home to roost on lap two. I have only once had to pee during a bike leg on a 70.3. Once in 8 previous tries. On this ride, I had to let go twice. So. Much. Liquid. At this point of the race, I hadn’t computed that I was creating, and exacerbating, this problem. I just kept drinking on the clock. This problem would get worse.

I definitely pulled it back on the second lap, giving back 6 minutes and finishing in 2:40. Not a PR bike ride, but it was my target time, so I was happy. I figured I was right on schedule for a PR and a great execution.

In retrospect, my HR was too high. Having had a chance to look at the bike data, it’s clear I was too high on the HR according to the plan from my coach. Side note: pro tip – zero your Power Meter when you travel from a very cold and dry climate to a warmer and much more humid climate. There’s no way you do a 1:16:54 at 177W and weighing 160lbs. Good thing power wasn’t the governor of my performance; I was strictly racing on HR numbers.

With the second lap done, I was ready to rock and roll on the run. In just about every previous triathlon race over Olympic distance, I have suffered on the run with gastro issues. My plan for the run was to spend the first two miles getting settled (average 8:30-9:00 pace) and then pick up the pace, with a HR target of 160. I should have known I was in trouble straight away, and Strava helps make that point.

I spent the first two miles looking at pace, and feeling really good. In fact, I felt so good that I was surprised at how I felt. This was the first 70.3 where I was running through the field. It felt great. For all of about 4 miles. Then the pain started. My first thought was that I was having the gastro issues. Did I need salt? More water? Was I out of calories? My brain was working crazy overtime trying to figure out what was going on.

Then, as if nothing was wrong, at mile 6, I could run again. Rejoice! Or rather, “rejoice?” Sadly, not. The pain just got worse, and my performance fell like a stone. I stuck to my plan, and kept drinking a little water at every aid station (approximately every 1KM – kudos to the race direction). Unable to diagnose what my specific issue was, I was into the mental pain cave of “just finish strong.” And so it went for the next four miles. I was able to run for about 200-300m and then the pain was just too intense. Then it hit me. Bladder pain. Not stomach pain. Not intestinal pain. Bladder pain.

When doing these longer races, I tend to get numb in weird places, and lose my ability to tell what’s really hurting. Maybe my brain is what goes numb. I don’t know. All I know is that once I said the word “bladder” in my brain, I targeted the next porta-potty, which I found at mile 11. And then I just stood there and forced everything out. All of it. Then, I just toddled off hoping for the best.

Looking at the data now, it’s as if a light switch flipped on at mile 11.5. I wasn’t tearing up the course by any stretch of the imagination, but I was running, fairly consistently, and without pain. I have loads of new data about my liquid nutrition plan, and hopefully won’t make that mistake again.

As I approached the finisher shoot, I saw my friend from Seattle, and thought “how did I run him down?” Turns out he was in a bad bad way. He crashed on the cobbles about 200 feet from the finish. He was struggling to make forward motion. Knowing that a PR was probably off the table for me, I chose to stop and cheer him on. I tried to cajole him to a run. I was jogging backward, yelling at him to pick it up. The crowd got into it. He kept rejecting my pleas. Then he pulled down his shorts (in front of the rather large crowd I might add) and showed me that he had somehow taken half a tennis ball and slipped it under his skin right on top of his hip bone. I have no idea how he made it to mile 13. I told him I would finish, but would wait for him in the finish area. He finally made it across the finish line, and I carried him to the medical tent. We then had a fun time trying to speak with the medical crew (in my broken Spanish; there was far less English here) trying to figure out what to do.

I can only image the fear he was feeling as there are now all these people around you, while you are laying on a table in excruciating pain, and they are talking in quick clips while poking you. He had no idea what was going on. He had no idea how badly he was hurt. The finish line endorphins were gone. Fear settled over the tent. It was chilling to experience.

I did my best to keep him calm. At one point his friend/hotel roommate showed up. After a lot of back and forth, we guessed that he had a broken rib and a displaced hip. The doctors thought a possible fractured leg. We were partially right. He got a ride to the hospital in an ambulance. Apparently the hospital experience is a slow one in Mexico. He ended up staying overnight. He later texted me to let me know that he had a concussed kidney (when did that become possible/a thing), a bruised liver, two pelvic fractures, and a broken rib. Tough way to end the day, though all the more amazing that he finished in 5:56, and was a 1:37 through 17.2K. The final 3.9K? 56 minutes. That’s one seriously tough and determined dude.

I once got hurt racing motorcycles. My best friend drove from Seattle to Portland to get all of my equipment back to Seattle while I was in the Portland hospital getting surgery for a broken arm. I was able to pay it forward with my friend and his buddy. It was quite a bit of negotiating to sort out the “how” part of it, but their bikes, wetsuits, etc all eventually made it back to their hotel. I didn’t actually get out of the transition area until :30 after they had officially closed it. The race official lady who was patient with my Spanish was nice enough to stay long enough for me to make the two trips to their hotel.

My overall time was a 5:36. It was a PR, by 8 minutes, but nowhere near of what I am capable. I still haven’t figured out how to run off the bike. One day I will crack that nut, but the directive with this year was to race often so that I could get the usual “this is your one shot this year” nervousness out of the way. I learned a ton on this race. It was good to see that I can put in a decent bike, even in adverse conditions (cobbles can really slow you down; I don’t know how those pros in Europe do it). I have areas on my race execution which continue to need refinement and attention to execution.

Huge thank you to my wife and family for the support, all my friends back in Seattle from Team VO2MultiSport, and Project 529, and Coach Ben, for his continued insistence that I am better than my results, not giving up on me, and getting a 40 year old man into the best shape of his life and having a ton of fun racing.

Would I do this race again? No. Would I recommend it? No. I didn’t go with the family, and am not sure they would have had a great time. This is not a destination resort town in Mexico. Basic necessities were complicated. Things like getting money changed. Couldn’t do it at my hotel. I needed, apparently, to go somewhere 15 minutes away by car. Some of the ATMs couldn’t talk to my bank, making getting pesos difficult. The lack of English would have made the trip incredibly frustrating for my wife, as she doesn’t speak Spanish. The bike was completely forgettable, and the run was slippery with the wet pavement on the river walk sections (roughly 3 miles of each of the 2 loops), and the swim was a comedy. The kind where only one Shakespearean actor has a knife. The on-course organization was very good. Plenty of water, nutrition, etc. The course was well marked. There was quite a sizable crowd in the Marco Plaza area. Those are all good things, but not enough to bring me back. That plus the possibility of wet cobbles in the future…no way. Wet cobblestones = hell. And the finisher t-shirt was unremarkable, though the medal was a nice blend of national colors and an interesting design.IMG_20150315_164409973_HDRThere was one cool post race item. If you ask this specific pro for a photo at the airport, not only will he say yes, he will talk to you for 20 minutes. Faris Al-Sultan was a class act. I should probably figure out how to smile before taking a selfie. Doht!

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