Pre-Flight (Always check flight status)
Ironman 70.3 Florida was full of surprises, some good and some bad but it was a very interesting trip nonetheless. This trip was the first one, that Christelle (my wife) and I took without the girls (Emma and Sophie). My parents were nice enough to fly to Colorado and stay with them. Our flight left early Friday morning, I always try to check in as close as possible to 24 hours prior to departure, which I did. However at around 7pm I decided to check on the status of the flight. Delta had not only cancelled the flight but had put us on completely different flights arriving very late Friday night. I immediately called Delta but even though I am a Diamond member (highest status for Delta) the wait time was over 2 hours. It took me several attempts to even get through to the machine. There had been so many issues in Atlanta, due to the storm that I didn’t think we would make it to Tampa even if we got re-routed. I cancelled the outbound flight with Delta and purchased direct flights on United (luckily the redemption miles was still low).
Ruster Sports Armored Hen House Bike Bag Experience (United Airlines at DEN)
When we arrived at the airport, I went to the United 1K counter as usual. I packed my bike in the Armored Hen House from Ruster Sports. Before I could get to the computer to check the bags, the agent said that she was going to charge me for the “oversized” bag. The only reason I purchased this bag is so I didn’t have to pay the “oversize” bag fee. As a 1K member you get 3 bags of up to 70lbs for free. The bike bag didn’t weigh more than 28-29lbs but they kept saying that the size was over the 62 linear inches.
I went to the Ruster Sports website and basically one of the first lines on there, says that the bag measures less than the 62 linear inches. I showed the agent and feeling confident I said: “Go ahead and measure it”. To my surprise she pulled out a measuring tape, came over to the other side of the counter and started to measure it. I trusted the website and had no doubt that it was going to measure less. She started to measure the length and it was already around 50 inches, I quickly did the math in my head and thought: “Crap, there is no way this will be less”. Then she measured the width and she called out loud 55 inches. Finally she measured the height and sure enough it was in the mid 70s. She turned to me with a smug look and said: “How would you like to pay for the $150?” And added “I even gave you some extra inches as I didn’t go all the way to the end”.
I was so mad, this had never happened to me. I’ve flown with this bag since 70.3 World Championships in Canada, so I’ve “gotten away” without paying for at least 10 flights. The best part is that she didn’t even ask if it was a bike, she knew. She didn’t ask what was inside, she didn’t care, all she knew is that the bag was bigger than the allowed linear length. I was still on my phone frantically trying to find the way that Ruster Sports measures the bag to maybe try to show her, but before I could find any information she said: “We even charge Global Services with this bag”.
For those of you that don’t know what “Global Services” is, it is an invitation only tier of frequent fliers. The big 3 (Delta, American and United) have this exclusive invitation only tier. United has 4 frequent flier tears, that you can qualify for with miles: Silver, Gold, Platinum and 1K. There is however a higher status that is reserved for CEOs of companies that have contracts with United, or people that spend over $50K (I’ve heard, nobody knows what the actual amount is) per year in flights. It doesn’t sound that much, but it actually is, the dollar amount that count towards this status doesn’t include taxes. For example: when you buy a plane ticket, let’s say you pay $350, at least $50 is just on taxes, which means that the people that reach that level are probably only buying first class seats and flying to Asia or Europe at least once a month or so. Global Services get the best treatment with United, period. If they get charged, then there was absolutely no point in me even trying to argue. I was pretty upset as they ran my credit card, Christelle had to remind me that it was OK, there was nothing I could do at that point.
I spoke to a friend of mine, who lives in San Francisco. He is also a 1K and he gets charged all the time. So what’s the moral of the story? If you have an agent at a hub airport you most likely will get charged. Flying Delta out of Denver is not bad as it’s not a hub and they never charged me. They have asked me what was inside the bag, but have never given me grief about the 62 linear inches of the bag. I think that at hub locations the agents have been briefed and they might even get a kick back for the amount of oversize luggage they “catch”, it is the only explanation I can think of.
So if you are thinking about buying an Armored Hen House, be aware that it’s not a guarantee that you can get away without paying for the bag, try to avoid United agents at hub airports, maybe with the bag handlers you’ll have a better chance and lastly Good Luck!
We were supposed to fly into Tampa, but since we had to change the flights, we ended up flying to Orlando instead. It was still OK. Haines City (where the race takes place) is in between Tampa and Orlando. I wanted to pickup the packet on Friday anyway, that way I didn’t have to worry about it on Saturday. After picking up the car we drove to Haines City, to the Ironman Village. The packet pickup was very quick, we checked out the swim course and a little of the run course and decided to leave.
One of my favorite things about this race is that “bike drop off” on Saturday is optional. We relaxed on Saturday and instead of worrying about driving to Haines City at some point in the afternoon, we took a dolphin tour instead. In the afternoon we drove to the outskirts of Orlando (where we were staying), got everything ready for the race and tried to go to bed early.
Usually it’s easy for me to sleep the night before a race. I didn’t get a good night sleep though, the walls at the hotel were very thin and there was a lot of noise. I remember going to the bathroom one last time around midnight.
The alarm went off at 3:50am. I put the bike in the car, warmed up the oatmeal and headed to Haines City. We left the hotel around 4:30am and got to Haines City around 5am. Parking there is very easy, well at least it was for us and it was pretty close to the village. Since I already had my numbers on (Tritats), I skipped the marking line and got everything ready in my transition area. As I was about to leave I noticed there was a lot of water around my front wheel. It was coming from my aero hydration system. It was very dark, so it was difficult to figure out where the water was coming from. After 30 minutes trying to see where it was leaking from, I finally found a little area where I thought it was coming from. I ended up wrapping the hydration system in electrical tape, hoping I wasn’t going to lose too much water before I got to the bike. Wrapping the water bottle in tape didn’t fix the problem but at least less water was coming out.
I left transition at 5:45am. My wave, which was the second to last, left at 7:55am which meant I had 2 hours to kill. Christelle and I went back to the car and I got in my Normatec boots for 30 minutes, listened to music and just hung out while the first waves had started. It was also pretty chilly in the morning so being in the car kept us warm. We made it back to the swim start by 7:10am and we waited.
People watching is the best, we saw the first people come out of the water and noticed that there was a hole at the very end of the swim. People were standing up, just to sink 5 feet later in the hole. That was good for me to see as I would swim all the way to the end. We also saw a guy with his wetsuit on and on top he had a trash bag and his feet were also wrapped in plastic bags. I felt bad for all the people not used to the cold.
Florida had been colder than usual for that time of year, which made for Ironman 70.3 Florida, to be a wetsuit swim. The water was 73.5 degrees when the measured it in the morning. At 7:45am I finally went to line up with my wave. My age group had two waves, of course I was in the second, because of my last time. As soon as the first 35-39 age group was sent of, we got in the water. The water was pretty warm, I swam to the starting buoys and waited. The 3-4 minutes prior to the start of a race always last forever, for me. The announcer finally said: “30 seconds” and the next thing I heard was the horn.
One of my goals for this swim was to take it easy, so unlike all my other races I didn’t sprint for the first 50 meters. Although I didn’t sprint I only saw 2 guys around me. I decided to get on one of the guys feet, the one that was kicking less. The other guy looked like he was sprinting and I lost him after 2oo meters, he was swimming so fast. Christelle told me that he was the first one in my wave to get out of the water and he was still kicking like it was a sprint. Good for him, if I do that I would cramp after 100 meters! I settled behind the other guy. After the second buoy (200 meters) we started passing guys from the previous wave, who had left 5 minutes prior to us. It was a little surprising, but they were still very spread out so we passed them without any issues. Before the first turn we started passing the next color caps, which had left 10 minutes before us. At this point it was harder to pass people, at the turn the guy I was drafting off of went wide, I decided to swim as close to the buoy and I lost him. Before getting to the next turn I saw him about 10 meters behind me, so I figured he either got tired or ran into a lot of traffic. After I made the last turn to head the swim exit, there were so many people bunched up that I had to slow down and as soon as I saw a little opening I went for it. Right after passing them it was pretty clear. I counted 4 different color of caps that I passed. Towards the end I remember the hole and I swam until I knew I had passed it. I saw many people walking and falling in again. For the first time as I stood up there were so many people walking up the ramp, I was the only one running out. Once I went around them starting running to the transition area. Looked at my watch and saw 27 minutes something, “slowest swim ever” I thought, but I also thought “I did go a lot easier than usual”.
I got on my bike and very close after I got on it I heard my name and someone say: “Vamos, Conrad” and “Vamos Cerote!” after that I knew that it was Elise and her bother Christoffer Portugal, two amazing Peruvian triathletes who I met through Instagram and we’ve become friends through our world of triathlon and our Latin American backgrounds. Hearing them put a big smile on my face, I waved and got in aero as soon as I could. The weather was perfect, the sun was still coming out, which made for such a beautiful scenery. I continued passing a lot of people, yelling: “On your left” a lot. My legs felt great, my heart rate was very high according to my computer but I wasn’t going harder than planned, based on my power. I did get a little worried as something similar had happened at Boulder Ironman and if you’ve read my report for that race it didn’t end up well. I knew I had gone easier on the swim, so maybe the heart rate monitor wasn’t reading correctly. Tried to not think about it and continued focused on outputting the same wattage.
At mile 15 I got passed by the first guy in my age group, he was flying. He passed me while I was going around 27 miles/hour, which surprised and I didn’t even try to stay with him as he was going so much faster than me. The first half of the course was very fast, it seemed a little downhill and the pavement was in great condition. Sometimes calling out: “On your left” didn’t work so I had to pass some people that were passing other, trying my hardest not to cross the middle line. I was still feeling pretty good by the time that I reached the halfway point, but right after mile 28, I started feeling something like twitching on both my quads. I started taking BASE salt and after about 5 minutes it felt better, but during those 5 minutes I had to drop my wattage to make sure that I wouldn’t cramp. Between mile 30-40 I wasn’t feeling good at all, my power had dropped significantly, I felt tired and starting feeling uncomfortable in the aero position. I continued taking salt and basically finished my nutrition trying to feel better. During this time I got passed by 2 other guys in my age group. All of a sudden I started to feel better again and I was able to go back to the planned power. This high didn’t last long though, the second half of the bike is pretty hilly, so before getting to mile 50 I started to feel bad again, the pavements goes from brand new black top to a very crappy pavement. All I wanted to do was get off the bike, I even thought: “Why do I do this again? This sucks!” Then I thought if the girls and Christelle and what they would think if I stopped, that thought is what got me to T2. Getting of the bike felt incredible and my legs felt pretty good considering that they had continued to complain in my quads, but they never cramped.
My legs were not feeling great after getting off the bike. So I took my time in T2, made sure that I didn’t scratch my helmet and that the other bikes around mine would not bump it when they came back. Grabbed my nutrition, visor, sunglasses and headed out. The first part of the run is without a doubt the best, there were so many people there cheering, it was amazing. I was hesitant to go fast as I was afraid of cramping so I was just trying to stay under control, but with all those people cheering is hard. This is a 3 loop course, so I knew I would come back and get another boost for the remaining laps. In the first mile I saw Elise, Christoffer and Tim again, this time I saw them first and just reach my hand out. It was great to see someone I knew. Before the end of the first mile the first climb starts, I was still feeling OK so I shortened up my stride and leaned forward a little but as soon as I turned I started feeling the pulls in my quads, I immediately took a shot of my nutrition (1/3 of it), which I didn’t expect but I figured that if I needed more nutrition where would be enough on course. I also took 3-4 fingers of BASE salt. As soon as I was done taking the salt, both my quads went into a full cramp. Usually I would grab my foot and stretch them out but as soon as I lifted my foot, my hamstring quickly let me know that if I did that, it would cramp also, so I stopped. I came to a complete stop, without being able to stretch I just stood there and hobbled a little until the pain subsided enough for me to start shuffling again. The bad news was that that was just the beginning of the hill, a longer and steeper hill was just ahead. I sucked it up with both quads still cramped and started to shuffle until the pain was bearable enough for me to run. Both my quads were cramped until I got to the top of the hill and finally I was able to start running. By this point I was almost at mile 2, the next 2 miles I felt amazing and were my fastest miles averaging between 6:30 and 6:45 per mile which had been my plan all along. I guess the salt and nutrition had finally started to work.
Once I went by T2 for the second time I had started to feel the cramps coming back so I would slow down, down some salt and wait until my legs would stop screaming at me and continue. I was never able to run fast again, as soon as I would try my legs would try to cramp. I ran out of salt at mile 7. That’s around the time I saw my wife for the second time on the run, I let her know that I was not doing great and in typical Christelle fashion, she told me to suck it up! So I did. I started taking Gatorade, gels and even Redbull just to get my cramping down. Right before running by T2 for the last time, I saw this guys running pretty well, he passed me and I immediately smelled something bad, I looked around and noticed that his white kit was all green/brown from his butt down. He had shit himself, but being that it was his last run he was running fast. I slowed down a little as I would not be able to pass him and I couldn’t take the smell. He was so pumped though, he was pumping his fists and kinda hoping until he turned to the finishing chute. “Good for him” I thought, It was a little entertaining and for that half mile at least my legs weren’t complaining as I had given them a break.
By mile 9 I had passed 1-2 guys in my age group, probably from the wave that left 5 minutes ahead, since I hadn’t seen them pass me on the bike. Then with 2 miles to go, one guy from my age group caught up to me, passed me right before an aid station, I passed him back and we got chatting a little. He asked which lap I was on, I said the last one, he replied: “Me too!” with a smile. Then he asked, which wave, the first or second one? I said second, his smile went away and said: “Me too” again. I was running OK at that point, probably 7:10s as it was the fastest that my legs would let me. He picked up the pace and it was so frustrating no to be able to chase him, as soon as I tried my hamstring cramped. Again, I had to completely stop, this time it was easier to get rid of the pain as I don’t have to move any body parts to stretch it out, I just had to bend over. Then I started running again, knowing that I wouldn’t see him again, unless he also cramped. I had seen so few guys from my age group, I knew I wasn’t doing great but I imagined 6th or 7th as I had counted only 4 guys pass me. I finally came to the last aid station usually I always skip it and just try to finish strong, I was cramping so much by that time that I grabbed water and Gatorade. Cursed myself out for being such a wimp and headed to the finish line. As soon as I made the turn, I could see the clock, it said 12:23. I thought for a second and my first thought was: “That’s a slow Ironman time for you”, immediately I was able to put 2 and 2 together and they were showing the time of day, not the time of the race. Smiled, crossed the finish line without cramping and just felt so relieved I had finished. It is the first 70.3 in a long time that felt like an Ironman, maybe Puerto Rico was the last time I felt this poorly. Final half marathon time was 1:34 and my official time was 4:30. Which I’m not too disappointed with, being that it was the first race of the year for me and I had been able to bike and run through cramps.
Thoughts on the course
Ironman 70.3 Florida is a great race. The swim is very different, the course is in a shape of an M, which makes it interesting. Usually it’s a non-wetsuit swim, this year though the temperature was 75.2 degrees when they measured it in the morning. I feel that I could have maybe swam a little faster, he we not been the last wave. The bike is fast, especially the first half. The second half it is a pretty hilly but very pretty, you go through a ton or Orange orchards. Just make sure you save your legs for the second half, we also were unlucky as we had some headwind. The run is great, not very shaded but well supported and there are a lot of spectators everywhere. It is also hillier than you would think, but toward the second part of each loop it gradually goes down, so it feels great, if you are not cramping like me.