This is my first post, I hope you enjoy it, feel free to leave comments also. Before I went to Panama I was most scared of the heat, I kept checking the weather, even twice daily, thinking that maybe it would go down, but even 10 days out it showed 94 degrees every day. Finally I gave up and have to face the fact that it was going to be hot. Once we arrived in Panama I instantly felt the heat. I knew I was going to have to stay on top of my hydration more than ever. Especially since I had been training in negative degree weather (Fahrenheit). Training while in Panama: So there isn’t really a good place to go out and ride without a bunch of cars or people around, so I waited until almost sunset and went to the Causeway (where the run for the triathlon took place). Luckily I had a Panamanian friend who showed me around. Driving around Panama is not an easy feat, it is actually worse than driving in Guatemala and that is saying a lot. On Friday morning I woke up at 5am to get used to waking up early and rode for about 1 hour. I also did a quick brick run. After my hour+ session I was completely soaked as if I had just jumped into a pool, the humidity really got to me that day.
We decided to go on Friday because we heard that Saturday had been a nightmare the previous year, when we got there, I saw more people than I had expected. It took us about 30 minutes to get the number and bag. We hadn’t planned on it, but as we came out of the line, everyone was sitting down for the race briefing. It was kinda neat that they did it in both Spanish and English. We didn’t stay long to check out the vendors, as we had the two girls and after 30 minutes of just sitting there they had gotten restless.
It was interesting to see that early in the morning some people were still checking in their bikes, I don’t think that would fly in the US, but in Panama it was OK, this was a mandatory Saturday bike check-in race. That morning it was also announced that the water was at 76 degrees, which meant it was a wetsuit legal race, sadly for me I left my wetsuit in the US. Never expected the water to not be hot, good learning experience, always bring the wetsuit! Unless it is clearly stated that they will not allow them. After everyone cheered, we started getting ready. From T1 to the start of the race it was about 1 mile, so Chris, the girls and I started walking. It didn't seem like anyone was in a hurry so we took it easy and took some pictures along the way. We waited and waited, the pros were supposed to start at 6:30am, which meant that my age group was supposed to start at 7:02am. At 7:10am the pros had not left yet in typical Latin American fashion. At that point I knew that the run was going to be hotter than I had expected. Right before the pros left they lined up all 10 groups on the dock and then we waited some more.
Finally the gun went off and the race started. Each group, 1 through 10 got in the water as we did we drifted into 3 big poles and tried to hold on to something as the current was very strong, hence the super fast swim times. I never really felt nervous and once I was in the water I just wanted to start swimming, the gun went off and mayhem happened around me, there were so many people swimming next, in front and over me for about 10 seconds. I kicked a little and then was able to get out of the pack. For the first 200 meters I saw several people starting to drift. 3 guys in blue caps (my color) were a little in front of me, I didn’t want to be around them, they seemed to be hitting each other. So I kept my distance and concentrated on swimming as straight as possible next to the buoys. Once we passed the 3rd buoy I started seeing white swim caps, which meant that I had caught up to the 35-39 age group. At this point I completely lost the other blue caps. I swam around a lot of people thinking that I was swimming alone, but 25 meters before the steps to get out of the water, the 3 blue caps appeared right in front of me, we came out of the water basically at the same time. T1 was long, we had to run .4 miles to get to our bikes, the nice thing is that there were tons of people cheering, mostly for all the Panameneans but it still felt good. For the first time in a triathlon I came out of the water feeling very fresh, heart rate under control. I still took it easy running to my bike, there was a little voice in my head that said: “You can’t win in transition, but you can certainly lose it”. Got to my bike I was the first one from my rack to get there. Put my socks, sunglasses helmet on and grabbed my bike and started running, this time about .2 miles to get to the mounting area. My shoes were already clipped on the bike, so getting on the bike was a snap; I passed 5-6 people that were trying to get on theirs.
Once on the bike, I tried to keep calm as there were several people that passed me like they were sprinting at the end of a race. The bike course was very flat, which made it fast; the problem was that we had 4 loops, which meant that 900+ people were on the 16 mile loop at the same time. I had been a little concerned about drafting and how dangerous it was going to be with people, but I had no idea how bad it was going to get. I saw 3 people that had crashed and heard about a couple more. One of them didn’t want to move from the course which made it very difficult for everyone to go around him. Once I was on the loop I started getting passed by the pros, I only counted 6-7 but they seemed to be flying.
The drafting…I couldn’t believe that the penalty box was empty every time I passed it, I saw so many people drafting it wasn’t even funny anymore. A group of 4 passed me during the second loop, they were in a tight draft, two of them were in my age group, so that made me a little upset, but stayed controlled. I could see them in front of me for a while and even though the 3 guys behind were taking advantage of the pull, they never passed the leader to help him out, I don't even know if he knew he was pulling 3 people. Once we started the 4th loop I caught up to one of the guys, he was alone and had been dropped. I knew that as soon as I passed him he was going to get on my wheel. See the picture below, this was caught on camera and he is not even 1 bike length behind.
After 2-3 miles of him drafting, I tried to signal to push back but he didn’t, so I yelled in Spanish to back the F*** up but the guy in my age group didn’t seem to understand. I found out later that he was Brazilian, so I guess that’s why he didn’t do anything. With about 2 miles left he got off the saddle and sprinted, passed me and kept going really fast. I thought I had lost him for good this time. I arrived at T2 feeling great, for the first time I hadn’t felt any pulls on my calves or legs at all, I still felt fresh. Left my bike, changed shoes, put on my number and a water bottle and ran out. I had to slow myself down as my watch said I was going a 7” miles, which was too fast. During the first of two loops I felt really good and at every aid station I would pour water and ice everywhere to try to stay cool. On the way back I started to notice a little bit of a head wind but it wasn’t bad, I did notice that I was running about 15 seconds per mile slower than before with the same amount of effort. During the run I saw all of the pros on their second loop and wished I could be in the second loop as it felt that it was getting hotter and windier. At the halfway point, there was a turn around, this was the first time that I saw the Brazilian that had been cheating on the bike, I calculated I was about 1 minute behind him, that encouraged me, I knew that I was going to see him one more time at the last turn. When turned around, it seemed that he was only about 30 seconds in front, so I decided to pick up the pace, after 1 mile at the faster pace, for the first time I felt a little twitch in my legs, I decided to back down a little as I still had 3 miles left into the wind. The next mile was my slowest and hardest, once I got to mile marker 12, I could see him in the distance. As I went through the last aid station I grabbed a cup of ice and poured it into my top, at that point it was noon so it was very hot. Trying to cool myself down I grabbed one ice cube and held it in each of my hands, that seemed to have cooled me down a little.
I finally passed him with .5 miles left but he stuck to me. At the end I was going a little ahead of him but I could hear him right behind me, he passed me with about 100 meters left. I don’t know where I got the energy from, but I sprinted again and I beat him by almost nothing. I knew I had finished before, but it wasn’t until the results were posted that I saw that we had the exact time and it was just tens of a second that I had beat him by. It felt so good just because I had seen him draft so much. See the pictures below, you can see exactly how the race unfolded.
I was very excited obviously but I have no idea how HUGE this was going to be. During the roll down I grabbed the last spot for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Mont Tremblant, Canada and a little drama unfolded. He came running to the podium after my name had been called, to complain and say that we had crossed the finish line at the same time, but the race director told him that I had beaten him by tens of a second and that the last spot was mine. I am very happy with my result and would like to thank my wife for being so supportive and doing her own Ironman with Emma and Sophie by waiting, cheering and taking pictures and videos. My coach of course, Eric Kenney, he has made me a much better athlete and all of the people that I have been training with recently, especially Kenny Withrow for braving the cold with me on our 3+ hour rides in the winter, knowing that I don't like the trainer so he bundles up and rides with me. Until next time! For full results visit: Ironman Panama 70.3 Results