My trip started off with a full travel day, where I went from Tucson, Arizona by way of (Toyota) Tacoma, Philadelphia, Atlanta…San Juan, Puerto Rico. Actually, I went through Washington DC, where I met up with my good friend and neighbor Barry Siff (of Team Timex fame), who'd previously offered me a bed in his hotel room when we reach San Juan. (Separate beds, Jodee!) I can't thank him enough for this. After the long day of travel, I'm certain my race would have been ruined before it ever started, had I not had this stopover. Thank you, Barry! I had originally planned on "sleeping" in the airport!
The next morning, after a large continental breakfast (who knew that Puerto Rico was its own continent?!), we met up with other triathletes at the airport and made the quick 20-minute jaunt to St. Croix.
Upon landing, I could tell right away life on the island was going to be a treat. I felt the humidity instantly and it reminded me of being in Hawaii. I love Hawaii!
At the airport I met up with my homestay, Andrew and Andrea Rowley. I have to say right now that at Andrew's and Andrea's (aka the rowdy Rowley's) there is never a dull moment. We had some wonderful dinners and hung out almost entirely in their kitchen (or I did, anyway!). I was taken care of like a member of the family, despite depleting their fridge. They've hosted many pros over past years, so they were well versed at hosting such lifeforms!
Later that day, an athlete I coach, Marisela, flew in to stay with us as well. It was going to be a great weekend!
The three days leading up to the race included checking out the course by car and just going through the motions in the water, on foot, and, in the case of the bike, on butt. Barry showed me around and helped me get acquainted with the beach! We had our priorities!
When on the bike, I had to constantly remind myself to stay on the left-hand side of the road, as they do things strangely down there! :) This continually messed with my head! Worse yet, I was literally shocked with the road conditions. They were even worse than Tucson’s, and that's saying something! I thought to myself, "there is no way that someone could race on these roads!"
Apparently, St. Croix had had some significant rainstorms back in October, which literally took out many of the roads. I was amazed to find the entire public works department working vigorously Friday and Saturday. The race is obviously a big part of bringing in tourists and so the roads needed repair! By race morning, most of the roads were completely rideable. I was especially grateful for this because I'd heard how technical the course was, even without such crappy conditions. They looked fine, however, from a car!
On race morning, I felt pretty good, certainly better than I had in my last few races. Maybe all that sunbathing beforehand helped! The race started out in absolute chaos, even with the relatively small field. We literally fought for position. Elbows and cupped hands (fists?) flew in all directions! Like a boxer, I found myself caught in the ropes! I was pulled under a few times and panic set in. Soon after, I lost the lead pack, but managed to stay on a slower someone's feet. Her slow was even slower than my race-pace effort, but the sea was very rough and sighting/navigation was minimal at best. I stayed on the unknown pair of feet all the way to land. It was a new experience for me, as I'm almost always alone when in water (shower, bathtub, triathlon swims, etc!). It would end up as one of the easier swims I've ever had in a race, but I was caught in a sort of catch-22. I was too slow to stay with the girls ahead, but didn't want to pull the group I was with.
I'd made it safely into T1 where I was eager to soon be in my element: atop a bike! Knowing the course from our pre-course-drive, I kept the first twenty miles up to The Beast pretty mellow; I was under strict orders from my coach to do this, as we've time and again witnessed a trend of starting too hard and then dying a slow death. But it was frustrating! A few girls sat almost directly on my wheel because of the easier clip. "What's behind you doesn’t matter," I could hear coach telling me from home, "so long as you're doing what's best for you in the end." It was best for me to get rid of the wheelsuckers!
I ended up punching it fifteen miles in, to free myself of the worry! Unfortunately, when coming through town, my nutrition bottle launched when I hit a deep pothole and I now had another worry. I knew this would hurt me in the end, as I like having what I need with me at all times, but the race-course calories worked fine. We train a lot of different foods and drinks that I might not normally tolerate or like, in the event something like this occurs. I was glad we had.
It was an epic day with heat, humidity, hills and headwinds. Luckily, no rain fell while we were on the bike, though that would usually help me more than the others. Most girls are pussycats on the bike!
Before long I passed the fair-playing sportswoman Rinny (Mirinda Carfrae) and Amy Marsh, who played a little less fairly, taking her time in letting my rear wheel out of her sights. While she focused on that, I focused on keeping a high power output, to keep both her and Rinny out of sight. I knew I needed a enormous time gap between myself and Rinny, as she can (and typically does) erase huge deficits when running. I didn't know how far up Cat (Morrison) was, but I knew I was now the one being hunted once I passed Rinny. It's not a pleasant situation to be in, but a bit better than starting the run behind her I suppose!
As I arrived into T2, I saw Cat bounding up the road. As expected, she looked strong. I knew almost immediately my goal was to secure 2nd. I'm not a self-defeatist like that, but Cat has pretty much proven herself as one of the top runners in our sport. When she's healthy, she's almost unbeatable. And because I had the top runner in our sport chasing me, I worked to hold her at bay. It was really only a matter of time (and distance) before Rinny would come blowing by! And I tried to make sure it was at least going to take her a while. Two minutes back, to her bouncy legs, is nothing!
The run course was a two-lap ordeal almost entirely on paved roads, but there was a two-mile gravel/grassy loop around the golf course at the Buccanneer Hotel. I didn't know how close Rinny was to catching me, but at the turnaround I saw her. She was just 1:15 back! The course, however, was for the quad-dominant, and I started feeling better and better. I kept telling myself, "I belong, I can do this."
I dug deep and managed to hold her off to the line, again finishing second place to Cat, as I had in Lonestar 70.3 a few weeks back. I didn't realize I'd actually made up time on Rinny that second lap, or else I wouldn't have run so hard in the finish straight. The pictures are, by far, the worst I have ever seen of myself finishing a race! The pain on my face is plenty evident in the one above, I'm sure.
St. Croix is definitely a race I'd like to return to. However, for a race as established as it is, there are a few things that the Ironman folks could certainly "iron"-out (i.e., more timing mats, more marshals for the bike course, more buoys in the swim, and a prize purse breakdown as it's advertised…more about this if the issue goes unresolved; I'm banding with the other top finishers on this one). But nothing beats visiting the Caribbean for a race! I mean really, not a minute goes by when I don't think to myself: how lucky am I?
As always, a big thanks goes out to my sponsors. Thank you Barry for all the help and hospitality. Thanks also to the Rowleys and to Ramon for your help; I'm grateful for all the support. Marisela: you put the icing on the cake this weekend! I'm glad we finally met face to face! Finally, thanks to all the islanders who helped put this race on and made it one of my life's most memorable experiences!
Oh, I just have to mention a little something about the day after the race, when Andrea set me up with Ms. Phoenix to get my hair braided into long, thin braids! I've wanted to have this done for years, and finally decided it was time! (I've actually wanted dreadlocks, but the permanency---and lack of sanitation---has always scared me!) Now I look like an islander!
Next stop: The Leadman250, in Las Vegas. A 5-kilometer swim (yikes!), a 223-kilometer bike ride (yikes!), and a 22K run (yikes!). It's in eleven short days (yikes!) and I look forward to it, I think. Coach has warned me he has some big days planned between now and then, including one, in his words, comprising of "numerous" trips up Mount Lemmon.