Ironman Mar Del Plata
Ironman Mar Del Plata was a fantastic experience, not only because I was able to qualify for Kona, but the race itself is excellent. I think some things can be improved, like with everything, but for the most part, it was well run and organized. One of the most important things to be aware of is that the athlete guide, course description and most of the pre-race briefings are in Spanish and they don’t bother to translate it. Luckily for me, Spanish is my first language so for me it didn’t matter, but I just wanted to make everyone aware in case you are planning on doing that race.
Mar Del Plata is about a 4:30-5-hour drive from EZE, the main international Airport in Buenos Aires. You can choose to take another flight to avoid having to rent a car or deal with public transportation. Another thing to note is that in Argentina you can’t rent big vehicles. We barely fit in the biggest car they had, which was a Chevrolet Spin, if you are flying by yourself or just one other person that of course is not a problem. For us it was a little bit of an issue traveling with 4 people, we barely fit the bike in the car.
Usually when we travel we stay at a Hilton or Marriott property as that is where I have all of my points (from working), so we stayed at the Sheraton Mar Del Plata, which was great, but it was just a little removed from the venue, a good 10-15 minutes depending on traffic. I did try to get a room in the main hotel, NH Gran Hotel Provincial, but it was sold out when I looked. I got a tip from a fellow athlete, and he said that he put a booking.com alert and that two weeks before the race he was able to get a room, and it turned out to be pretty cheap. That’s where I recommend anyone stay as it’s so central and you wouldn’t even need a car if you stayed there.
Days before the Race:
On Friday, we had breakfast at the hotel and after we drove to the Ironman village to register. One thing to note is that you will have to pay US$10 for an Argentinian triathlon 1-day license if you are an AWA (all world athlete) if you are not then it’s $15. Registration was inside the hotel, which was nice as it was a very windy day. Registration took me about 5 minutes, but it took Christelle about 15 minutes to register the girls for the Ironkids run the next day.
I wanted to swim in the ocean, I had not swum open water since 70.3 Worlds in South Africa, so I wanted to get in and see how rough the water was as well as the temperature. When we got to the beach the water looked very rough, so I asked the lifeguard where would be the safest place to swim, he told me where to go, but also warned me not to fight the currents as a Brazilian athlete had died earlier that morning. After he told me that I had a feeling that the swim would be shortened or worse, canceled. I even put it in my Instagram story, I knew Ironman would do something to the swim.
The water temperature was amazing (for a wetsuit swim), the water was indeed rough but nothing so crazy that I couldn’t swim through it.
Right before going into the water I heard a couple speaking English trying to figure out where to swim, I went over to them and told them what the lifeguard had just told me. It turned out to be Ashley Paulson, a professional triathlete from Utah and her husband, I didn’t find out she was a pro until the bike portion of the race (more on that later). We decided to swim together to be safer. Didn’t end up swimming that much as and wanted to stay safe.
After the swim, we decided to go back to the hotel as we were told that riding around the host hotel was very dangerous due to the traffic. The hotel is located “downtown” which means that there is a lot of traffic, especially on a Friday afternoon. In Mar Del Plata, well in Argentina as a whole, you have to be very careful as people do NOT know how to drive, Mar Del Plata was the worst for sure though. First, there are no stop signs. The rules are: whoever is on the right of a 4-way intersection should have the right away. We found out that since there are no stop signs whoever gets to the intersection first has the right of way and in some cases whoever has more guts and goes first is who has the right of way. This of course on a bike becomes a big problem as you will always lose against another motorized vehicle. Second, the lights are never synchronized and are on timers, so on a bike you always get stuck on a red light. Third, the roads are not that great, and the only place that’s somewhat safe is on the bike course but outside of the city. It would be smart to ride in a group, have a chase car or bring your rollers, which is what I should have done.
Going back to the story, we went back to the hotel so I could ride from there, there is less traffic and I wanted to ride the only real hill on the course. I got 3 miles from the hotel, as I started to go up the hill, I heard a snap on my bottom bracket. I thought it was weird but couldn’t stop as it was a little steep. Before I got to the top then the crank felt loose. As soon as I had gotten to the top of the hill, I stopped I could wiggle the whole crank with my hand, something was definitely not OK. It was so bad that I couldn’t pedal anymore, so I had to walk most of the way back to the hotel. Once I got back, I took the crank off and saw that the non-drive side bearing had exploded.
Not what you want to happen right before your race. The rest of the day, I spent looking for a BB30 bottom bracket bearing. I finally found the only good bike shop in town, called BicyShop, and luckily they found one. If you decide to race IM Mar Del Plata and you have an issue with your bike, don’t bother going to the guys at the Village as you will wait hours to get service, just go the that shop and thet’ll take great care of you. When I would ask for a BB30 bearing, everyone would look at me like they had never heard of that before. It was a 7-hour process of me driving around and leaving the bike at the shop, grabbing some food and them coming back. Finally, at about 5 pm, I had my bike again and was fixed.
The next day was the Ironkids Run. It was pretty cold and windy that morning, but Ironman had a clown come and warm up the crowd, it was something different but fun. Sophie went first, as usual. She was able to get in the very front. All the kids were pushing and pushing, and the parents were encouraged to run with the 5 and under group. All the kids and parents were so excited that when the gun went off, a bunch of kids were trampled by the parents, mostly, trying to stay with their kids and Sophie was one of the unlucky ones and fell hard. She got up after a little crying, you can see her still crying on the first picture but then she did finish the 500-meter run with a smile.
Then it was Emma’s turn, she was also in the front, but I told her to be careful about the kids pushing. It wasn’t really an issue as, there were no parents allowed this time around, which was the problem for the little kids and all the kids jumped the gun anyway. They were counting back from 10 and some kids left at 4 or 3. Emma stood at the starting line until the gun really went off. After crossing the finish line, they got not only a medal but also an Alfajor, which I think it’s better than the medal anyway.
After the Ironkids run, we went back to the hotel, I got everything ready and went back to the village to drop off my bike and transition bags. Even though the day before had been one of the most stressful days leading up to an Ironman for me, due to the bike issues, Saturday was so relaxed. As an All World Athlete, I was allowed to drop my bike off at any time between 1-5pm, so I decided to drop it off at around 3 pm and then go back to the hotel. It was so windy that they had me rack my bike from the handlebars instead of the seat and then they also taped it so it wouldn’t bang against the bikes next to mine.
Once we got back to the hotel, I ordered room service, as no restaurant will serve dinner at 5 pm in Argentina. Most restaurants don’t start serving dinner until 8 pm, and by that time I wanted to be getting ready to go to bed. After dinner, I checked my nutrition one more time, put my Tritats on (race numbers) I and was in bed by 8:30 pm.
Woke up at 4:30 am, had my toast, with Argentinian Peanut Butter, which is absolutely not good and banana as per my usual pre-race breakfast. Chris had gone out the night before in search of peanut butter, it took her a while, and it was the most expensive tub of PB we have ever bought, but she did such an excellent job finding it, that it actually tasted OK race morning.
Drove down to the village and got very lucky in finding a parking spot pretty close to transition. As we walked to the transition area I noticed that there was no wind and the ocean was very calm. I was very hopeful that we would have a normal swim. But as I started to get my nutrition ready on my bike, the announcer came on and said that due to the combination of water and outside temperature, the swim was going to be shortened to 1500 meters. My heart dropped, other than the swim being completely canceled this was the worst case scenario for me. I was even more upset when I heard so many people cheering, yes you read right cheering! I mean if you want a short swim or no swim at all, do duathlons, not triathlons. If Ironman shortens swim, then you did NOT complete an Ironman, even if you finish. I felt bad for the all the athletes that wanted to do a full Ironman. I think it’s sad that Ironman has canceled or shortened so many swims this year. I understand they they want to make it safer, especially for the first timers but I think they need to do a better job with people that sign up for races to make sure they are trained to be able to complete an Ironman swim. They should force first timers to at least finish a 70.3 before attempting a 140.6; I don’t think it’s too much to ask and that way they don’t have to be so cautious with the swims.
After making sure I had all my nutrition on my bike as well as in both transition bags, I went to drop off both bike and run special needs. When I first started doing Ironmans, I used to use the bike special needs all the time as I couldn’t get all my nutrition on my bike. But since I started using Gatorade Endurance for my nutrition, I haven’t had to worry about it. Unfortunately, GE was not the on-course nutrition, it was Powerade, so I was forced to use the bike special needs. When I started to put my wetsuit on when I realized that I had forgotten to put some nutrition in my run special need bag. I still had about 5 minutes before the professional men started, so I decided to walk back to where the bag was and add the three flasks I had forgotten. I heard the gun go off as I was walking/jogging back to the bags. As I came back, I heard the gun for the professional women go off as well. Finished putting my wetsuit on, quickly said bye to the girls and went to try to get towards the front of the first swim wave, which was the less than 1-hour group.
I think because they announced the shorted swim, that first wave was so packed, with a lot more people than if they would have had the regular swim. For the first time since my first Ironman, I wasn’t in the front. I was about 150 people deep, and I couldn’t make it closer to the front, people were squeezed in so tight, I gave up and just waited. They were letting five people start at one time every 10 seconds. I had to wait about 3 minutes after the first wave left to finally get in the water.
As the gun went off in my wave, I sprinted to the water. Before I even got to the water I caught the wave in front of me and two people from 2 waves ahead — very different experience from 70.3 worlds, where I had to sprint to even stay with my wave. Once I got to the water, I started to jump over the first couple of waves until I knew it was deep enough to dive in. As I came out after the first wave, I saw some people struggling to swim through them. I wished I could tell them, go underneath, not through the wave. Once I swam past the waves, I saw the first turn buoy. I was swimming a little outside as I didn’t want to get stuck behind people and I was passing so many other athletes. Luckily I was far out enough that nobody was getting in the way, which was good. The water felt great, not cold at all, but just crisp. Since it was a short swim I decided to push a little and swam harder than I would have a 70.3, I was hoping that I could catch up to the lead group and then hang on to them, but I was only passing people, and nobody was hanging on to my feet. I kept counting the buoys and passing people. As I made it to the last turn and started to head back, I couldn’t see the last buoy. I was following the path that the other swimmers were leaving in front of me. Finally, I was able to make out the red tall buoy, so I started swimming towards it, for a second I thought I had passed every single amateur as I didn’t have anyone around me. That was impossible though; there was no possible way that there were no decent swimmers at this Ironman. As soon as I thought that and took my head out to sight, I had a paddle board in my face and a guy yelling and pointing to my left. With the waves, I had not seen the last buoy but the first one so I had been swimming in the wrong direction for a while, maybe a couple of hundred meters. Both first and last buoys looked the same, and I had sighted the wrong one, and because of the waves I couldn’t see them all the time, but only if I sighted at the correct time. I stopped for a second, looked around and immediately saw the correct buoy, so I started swimming towards it and saw all the other swimmers.
I wanted to catch a wave as I came in, but it didn’t happen, I always seemed to be in between waves. As I came out of the water, I ran to transition. I didn’t look at my watch, and I just pressed the lap button. I ended up swimming 20:50 which is a 1:09/100 yard pace. I also ended up swimming about 1660 meters, so I swam a little longer than I should have, but I was still the seventh fastest swimmer, including pros and second amateur overall. The only guy that swam faster than me that wasn’t a pro beat me by 2 seconds. Now I wonder if I had caught that wave if it would have made a difference, I guess we’ll never know.
As I came into T1, I tried to dry off my feet as much as I could. I wore the Aero Castelli socks, and with wet feet, it would have been almost impossible to put them on. Volunteers were helpful as I came through, it was a nice touch for sure. One thing that I have to improve is my transition time it took me 4 minutes to go through it, should have been less, I saw a couple of guys pass me. As I got on the bike, I saw and heard the girls; I was excited as I figured I was towards the front as they kept saying I was doing great. Another reason I though I was up front was that most bikes around mine were still there.
The road is in pretty good condition, but there are some parts that are sketchy. About a mile into the bike I hit a bump and my nutrition (Gatorade Endurance bottle) came out of my rear cage. I didn’t hesitate to stop and turn around. That was a sixth of my nutrition, and I knew I wouldn’t make it through the bike without it especially since I knew that Powerade was on course, which contains fewer calories and electrolytes.
The bike course is three loops, very flat, there is only a couple of hills towards the end of each loop, which are very welcome as it feels great to be able to get out of the saddle for that. My nutrition plan was to use my own nutrition for the first lap; then I would grab Powerade for the second lap and then use special needs for my last lap. As we were heading out, I was as tucked in as I could, I was averaging between 23-29mph. There wasn’t much wind yet and I knew that as the pros looked like they were still flying coming back. As I turned around that average speed went down to 20-23mph, which I was pleased with, I was hoping that the wind would stay that way. What I was not happy about was that on the way back with the headwind, I started noticing that some groups were passing me. I say, groups because they were blatantly drafting. Once we would turn into the tailwind, the group would dissolve.
All I kept thinking was to stay in control and to let those groups go, I just wanted to keep my wattage in the range I had discussed with my coach.
For the second lap the wind had picked up, and I was averaging between 27-32mph with the tailwind, I knew that it would be tough coming back. I also had to start using Powerade, which was absolutely horrible. Below you can see a picture of the nutrition facts, this information was almost impossible to get online and also you have no idea which flavor you’ll get, so training with the same stuff you’ll get on course is not really an option, unless you use all flavors, I guess. They don’t give you the regular bottles, they use reusable plastic water bottles and don’t fill them up all the way. I have no idea how much liquid was in them as it was not consistent. Also, the bottles never closed well, so every time I tried to either squirt it into my aero bottle or drink some of it, half of the liquid would spill out from the sides. I was so sticky after grabbing the first bottle that I had to make an effort to spray myself with water. I didn’t know how much I was really taking in, but I just hopped my math was OK, and I would take in enough to make it to the 3rd lap to grab my nutrition.
Coming back into the wind, my average went to 16-19mph. Fewer people passed me this time around, and one guy was so blatantly drafting that I got really mad. The worst part was that they were not going that much faster than me, so I kept them in my sights for about 10 miles. The guy kept looking back every 30 seconds. At first, I thought he was looking back to make sure I wasn’t drafting him, but then I realized he was checking for the referees. I figured it out as one time after he looked back he dropped like 4 meters immediately, sure enough, 30 seconds later I heard the motorbike fly by me, as soon as the bike drove off, he was right on the other guy’s wheel again.
After an aid station, he got dropped, and I started catching up to him, he looked like he was either in my AG or the one just below. As I caught him and passed him, I yelled at him; I said: “You are an F…ing cheater” I was so mad. He didn’t say anything back; he just looked at me with a dumbfounded look and dropped back, didn’t try to hang on to my wheel. I must have seemed so mad that I probably scared him, I did also push a little harder as soon as I passed him to try to discourage him from hanging on to me. At awards I saw that he got a Kona spot, I was and am so sad that there are so many athletes will do anything to get a spot, even cheat so blatantly just to say they made it to Kona. They certainly don’t deserve it, especially that guy.
What’s very nice about an out and back course is that you can see how far other athletes are. I knew I was in the top ten as I started the last lap. However, I had to stop to get my nutrition, and luckily the cheater didn’t catch me even after losing about one minute there, mostly because they couldn’t find my bag. The last lap was my fastest going out; my average was in the low 30mph. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I should have because I kept thinking that the return would be harder, and it sure was. I averaged 15-18mph, I remember just tucking in as much as I could, but the wind was relentless. I kept looking at my Garmin to make sure that my power was under control, which I was able to manage but at the cost of just coming back much slower. As I got closer to the city, we could start to see the pros on the run; I envied them as I couldn’t wait to get off the bike. The headwind is tough, more so mentally, I think. I had started to catch up to other athletes that were still in their second lap. With about 10 miles to go I caught Ashley, I immediately recognized her as she pretty much wears pink all over, even her hair if pink, pretty hard to miss on course. As I took the last turnaround to make it back to transition it felt so relieved, no more fighting the wind, I thought. I needed to pee though, but for some reason, I was unable to on the last mile, the last stretch was where all the spectators were, so it just made it impossible. As I came into transition, I remember just handing off the bike and feeling a sense of relief. I quickly grabbed my run bag, went to the chairs, got help from the volunteers, changed socks and had to take a little detour for the bathroom. It felt like I was there forever, it felt like I was there for minutes, but in the end I came out but happy, I had been holding it for too long. My official bike time was 4:58 and I came off the bike still in second place in my age group, which I didn’t know at the time.
As I started the run, I felt amazing, so much so that when I saw Christelle, she yelled, “you are OK, slow down!”. I must have been sprinting out of T2, I looked down at my watch, and it said 6:15, “Oh boy!” I thought and slowed down to the planned 7:30 min/mile. The first couple of miles felt very easy, and I was averaging a little under the 7:30 mark, but I also remembered that I had a significant tailwind, so I told myself that it was OK, as I was probably going to average a little over that on the way back. It’s amazing how empty the course feels when you are towards the front of the race. Everyone is still looking for their friends and family members on the bike course, so you almost feel like it’s a training run, until you get to an aid station and then you see all of the volunteers cheering and handing you nutrition.
As I turned around into the headwind, my perceived effort went from a medium to high, instantly. It felt so much harder and had immediate flashbacks to the bike; I tried to focus on my form and pace, making sure that it didn’t drop too much. After about 1 mile, I had been able to control it, was back on my planned pace, and my HR was under control also. The run was pretty uneventful, except that I got to run with Matt Chrabot for most of my second lap out of the 3. It was so nice talking to someone during the run, and it made the second lap go by pretty quickly. Christelle did catch me talking to him, and she yelled that I should go harder and to stop talking. I was still on my planned pace though, so I stayed with him for most of the second lap. He, of course, finished one lap ahead of me.
Once I started my third lap and was running by myself again, I went into a dark place. I guess I had never experienced that in the run, as I’m usually just trying to fight my cramps. I felt out of energy, like moving my legs forward was the hardest thing, ever. My HR was still in the range, but my pace had started to drop, I needed a pick-me-up. I had trained with Coke during my long runs, so I grabbed Coke at the next aid station I saw, and the change was almost immediate, I felt alive again. I couldn’t believe it, what a little caffeine and sugar can do to your body. The bad news is that the effect didn’t last long and my legs felt heavy after a while again. As I turned into the wind one last time, I was mentally and physically depleted.
My pace went from a consistent 7:30 min/mile to a little over 8 min/mile. As I slowed down my HR also started to drop, but there wasn’t much I could do, my body just didn’t want to go anymore. I would grab water and Coke at each aid station, and it would help for a little, but it kept fading also. I was OK with that; I had no idea in what position I was as there were now so many people on the run course that it was impossible to keep track. On the third lap I got passed by Ashley again, she was flying, I couldn’t believe how fast she was going, but it gave me a little boost. As I went past the transition area one last time Chris told me to go harder, I was going as hard as I could, I had not walked at all, and had only about two miles left. As I approached the last turn around, which was a little uphill, my hamstring said: “No more” and it went into a full on cramp. So much so, that I couldn’t even walk it off, I had to stop and try to stretch it out, I was so close but yet, so far if this was going to continue. I waited about 30 seconds for the pain to go down and started running again. As I was going through the last aid station, I slowed down, grabbed water, Powerade, Coke, everything I could. It was the only segment of the marathon, where I walked. I kept running as best as I could, but with the cramp, I was more hobbling than walking. The last mile felt like 5 miles, but then finally I could see the turn to the finish line, as I approached it I saw that they had a big ramp going up the stairs. In my head, I was sprinting trying to run as fast as I could, but in reality, I probably looked like I was jogging. Started to run up the ramp and with about 5 meters to go, both my hamstrings said “NO MORE!”.
I was about 150 meters from the finish line, and I couldn’t move. It was so frustrating, everyone was cheering, and I was trying to bend over to stretch my hamstrings, but the cramps were so intense that I couldn’t bend over. It felt like minutes went by, I didn’t get rid of the cramp, I just said, screw it and started running, as I started moving again, the adrenaline kicked in, and the pain subsided. I was able to semi-run the last 100 meters, and as I crossed the finish line, I was so happy and mad at the same time. Happy that I had run 95% percent of the marathon, for the very first time in an Ironman and that I knew I had given everything I had, but mad that I had cramped at the very end. I had no idea how I had finished; I just knew that I had run a 3:22 marathon, which meant that my total race time (short swim) was 8:49. If you add 30 minutes for a 51-minute swim, which is what I usually swim at Ironmans, that would put me around 9:20, which is in the sub 9:30-hour Ironman, which I was very pleased with, that’s over a 15 minute PR for me.
I stayed clueless about in which position I had finished until I ran into a friend, Talbot, in the recovery area and we checked online. I finished 7th in my age group, as I looked up to the first place finisher, he beat me by less than 6 minutes. I had been so close; the worst part is that I missed the podium by 1 minute and 33 seconds, what? That’s nothing! What was most frustrating is that I beat everyone out of the swim by at least 2 minutes. A full swim would have been a completely different ballgame. Regardless of all that, I knew I had a Kona spot, and I was so happy about that. That had been the goal, podium or first place finish, would have been just the cherry on top and it wasn’t meant to be. Of course, until they announce the official slot allocation, you are not 100% sure if you’ll have a Kona spot, but at every other Championship race, my age group had always received a minimum of 8 spots.
If I consider my finish time around 9:20, that would mean that I had a 15 minute PR, which is huge. I thought I had a pretty good race in Louisville a little over one year before. But I didn’t realize how much of a better athlete I had become until after we went back to the hotel and I wanted to go out and have a steak dinner. I NEVER make it to dinner; I usually pass out without eating. This time though, I felt great. I stayed up until 9 or 10 pm and I woke up a little sore from the cramps but was walking normally.
The Next Morning
After waking up and grabbing a big breakfast, Emma and Sophie took a surfing lesson; it was fun to see them enjoy the water so much, even if it was cold. Then we went to the slot allocation and immediately went to the IM table and asked about the slots, they gave me a paper with all the slot allocated to each group, I quickly scrolled down to my age group, and it said 12. The feeling was indescribable, even though I kind of knew, it was just a relief to see the number confirming the automatic qualification. Getting your name called out to come to get your spot is so emotional, as I heard: “Conrad Rodas from Guatemala” I immediately raised my hand and yelled: “Yes!” What you get is the Hawaiian necklace and a piece of paper that tells you that you have to immediately pay. It was a great experience, something similar to getting a 70.3 Worlds spot but so much bigger.
The Burton Riglet Board
I am so happy to have this chip off my shoulder, but most importantly I am happy that I have become a different athlete, someone that has a plan for all three sports but more importantly for the run. Before I would get off the bike and I would just hope that I wouldn’t cramp, I had somewhat of a plan but didn’t know if I could hold the desired pace, in fact, I never did. I have learned so much about myself since starting working with my coach Tim Rea. Every session has a purpose. Before I felt like I was just training and getting in volume, which is what you “have to do in order to be an Ironman athlete”, NOT really. I did 2, yes two rides over 100 miles all year, the rest were shorter sessions but very focused. 2018 was by far the year I learned the most about myself as an athlete. After crashing and breaking my clavicle, I trained and recovered, but with a little bit more of bad luck I got a stomach bug before Boulder 70.3 and got my first DNF due to dehydration. I never thought I would be able to come back and have a great race at Worlds 70.3 in South Africa, running the fastest half marathon of my life, then 2 months later having an amazing Ironman and getting my Kona slot.
I needed a lot of help to accomplish all of this, especially mentally. My wife was a big help in convincing me that I could come back, as well as Tim. There was a point after I had crashed a second time a couple of weeks after my surgery that I almost gave up completely, but Tim and Christelle really helped me through those tough times. I am very grateful that I have amazing partners also. Roka Sports, Castelli Triathlon, Newton Running, Rudy Project, Gatorade Endurance, Garmin Fitness, and Tritats. Without their help and support, this journey probably wouldn’t have had the same result. Thank you to these great companies and thank you to everyone that has supported me throughout this journey. All the messages and comments make a huge difference and it’s a great motivator. Thank you for reading, until next time.