Panama 70.3 race report

From the start of this trip, there has been a common theme – “overcoming adversity.”  I won’t go into all the details of the events (they are blogged about in previous posts since January 23rd), but I’ll give you a bullet list:

  • Being rerouted on my original flight schedule to Tucson
  • Dropped off a the wrong place by the taxi that was about ¾ mile from where we needed be
  • Headset missing from bike when it arrived in Tucson
  • Wheels/tires not glued
  • Valve extenders not working – unable to inflate tires à bought new valve extenders which weren’t compatible with my tires à ripped off tires and bought the correct valve extenders and more glue for my tubular tires
  • My friend Larry broke his clavicle just as we started our bike ride up to Mt. Lemmon
  • Not able to find hostel the night I arrived in Panama
  • Crazy drivers (so far no accidents or even a scratch on the car!)
  • GPS not working at all – navigating downtown Panama by guessing is always fun
  • Foreign country with very little Spanish speaking ability – although it has gotten better since being here!

My… what an eventful last 10 days it has been!  The race was no different.  Just as I did through all the previous obstacles and frustration from this trip, I learned things about myself and how to take some punches along the way.

Race Prep – patience is a virtue

I parked in about the same place I did the day before and walked the rest of the way to Trump Hotel to avoid paying for parking slightly closer.  As with most athletes and spectators, I hopped on a bus to get to start of the race.  I got there with plenty of time to get myself all set up in transition and walk the 1.2 miles to the swim start.  I jumped in off a dock into the water expecting to plummet into nice warm water.  Unfortunately, it was anything but warm.  The water temperature dropped significantly from the days before.  No official temperature was taken, but I’m guessing it was in the upper 60’s to low 70’s.  I think the line for wetsuits for pros in swims less than 3000 meters is about 68 degrees, so it was borderline wetsuit legal.  But, none of packed our wetsuits, so we all were in the same boat.

The men’s wave was supposed to start at 6:50.  It didn’t start until about 7:40 due to difficulties getting the bike course clear and having enough volunteers at the aid stations.  So after we waited around for 50 minutes trying to stay warm, we finally got back in the water to start the race.

Swim – 1.2 miles

The swim was at the mouth of the panama canal… and the sun was right in our face to start the swim.  My goal was to stay right next to the buoys the entire time since I knew the current would be stronger the closer to the center of the canal we were.  With the sun in my face and waves from boats, I found myself much closer to shore than I intended, which ended up making me much slower than planned.

Bike – 56 miles

For anyone that has done Kona before, you know to respect the heat and the wind.  It’s no different in Panama.  The pavement in Panama may not go through lava fields, but the wind seems to hit from the front and the side the entire time.  I would almost go as far to say that if Hawai’i ever sinks or blows up, they should consider moving it to Panama.

Below is an elevation profile of the bike course:

The bike course in Panama not only has wind and heat, but a total of just over 1900 feet in climbing.  As a reference, IM Louisville has 2000 feet of climbing… but it’s spaced out over 112 miles instead of 56 miles.  My goal was to be between 300 and 305 average watts for the 56-mile ride.  I hit the turn around point, about 50 kilometers and averaged about 310 watts for the first 1:07.  (This is a huge improvement from last year when I would average 300 watts for the 40K of an Olympic distance race and average between 25-26 mph).  The way out we had a head wind and cross wind, and for some strange reason, we also had one on the way back in to town.  Just before getting to the turn around, I noticed the top 6 or so guys riding in a pack.  By my judgment, all of them should have received a drafting penalty.  They were clearly closer than 10 meters off the back wheel of the person in front of them.  Not saying I would have caught them, since they are better athletes than me, but it does bother me that drafting still occurs without penalty in the professional rankings.

With the wind and heat,  I quickly became dehydrated and was unable to replenish the lost fluids.  During the 56-mile ride, I went through about 3.5 bottles of fluid.  I probably should have done closer to 5 bottles (about 125 ounces instead of 90 ounces).  I knew I was in trouble when I got off the bike to start the run and didn’t even feel the need to pee yet.

Run – 13.1 miles

Just before getting off the bike I toyed with the idea of chalking up the race.  I reminded myself of how I was dedicating this race to my grandpa that passed away about 10 days ago.  I knew he was watching and would be disappointed if I didn’t complete the task set before me, as he always did.  My grandpa was a hard worker, my dad is a hard worker, and I don’t want to be the one to break that trend.  I passed Manuel Huerta just before getting off the bike and could tell that was going to DNF.  (About 25% of the male field DNF’d this race.)  I struggled finding my running legs.  It wasn’t a lack of calories (I consumed about 1100 calories on the bike ride), it was a fluid volume problem.  I grabbed every glass of water I could, popped salt tabs, stuck ice in my uniform, and took sips of NAPALM.  I could feel my body starting to function better, but with as dehydrated as I was, there was no way my muscles were going to behave the way I wanted.  I passed a few people getting loaded up on stretchers into ambulances that appeared to suffer from dehydration or heat exhaustion.  The run became about finishing in one piece.  I picked off a few more people, which some of them eventually DNF’d as well and crossed the finish line pointing to the sky thanking God for overcoming another obstacle in the trip and to my grandpa who I’m sure if running/flying faster than I was today!

As with all the other obstacles in this trip before race day, I learned a few things.

  1. Don’t sign up for big races hoping to walk away with money.  The reason why times are slow on these courses is because the course is extremely difficult (only one person broke 4 hours today).
  2. Pick races with less prize money and KPR (Kona Points Ranking)
  3. Change training to accommodate for where I was lacking
  4. Always drink more than you think you need
  5. Keep on improving by focusing on my weak areas (mainly the biking portion)
  6. Treat every quality training session with the tenacity of race day


All that being said, where’s the beach, the surf board and the snorkeling gear… it’s time to (keep) playing!