The triathlon training blog of Phil Barnes

Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico Race Report

Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico was held on Sunday, March 17, 2019.  My official time was 5:20:11. I am very happy with my performance.

Hey, that's me in the right hand side. It looks like the second loop of the run, about 14k in.

2019 IRONMAN® 70.3 Puerto Rico

Phil Barnes
#787 - M45-49
TimeRace TimeDiv. PosDiv. RankDPI
Overall5:20:1119 / 10592.6

Guylaine and I have both had a renewed enthusiasm for winter cycling due mainly to Zwift, and also fat biking. At Christmas, we had discussed the possibility of an early season destination race over the March break. It boiled down to either IM70.3 Puerto Rico or Florida Intimidator Challenge. Puerto Rico would be more expensive, but more exotic... plus there was the bonus of a potential World Championship spot for Guylaine (more on that later). Signing up for the race was the kick in the ass I needed to get myself out of my post-IMMT funk. I recommitted to training averaging about 11 hours a week of quality workouts. I also cleaned up my lifestyle and dropped 15 pounds in the process. Boarding the plane for Puerto Rico, I felt ready to roll. The event posed an exciting challenge: How would we do so early in the year? What would a non-wetsuit swim be like? Would indoor bike training translate to the road? How would we handle the 85°F heat on the run? 

Despite having a condo only 15 minutes away from the race venue, we decided to wake up early to guarantee a parking spot on site. The race started at 6:55, the alarm was set for 4:30, we ended up getting out of bed at 4:20. At 4:45 AM we were driving down the main strip of Puerto Rico, Ashford Avenue. The bars were still open, pumping music, girls in party dresses were staggering home, and there was the unmistakable smell of colitas rising up in the air. We were early enough on site to obsess over our transition setups, pump up the tires, lather up with sunscreen, and defeat any lineups for the porta-potties. Transition closed at 6AM and we started the 20 minute walk to the swim start, munching a Clif bar along the way; and, tactfully locating a pair of shoes at the swim exit for the long haul back to T1. We had time for a relaxing 200 meter warm up swim prior to the start.

The Swim (the strava)
Looking a little skinny at 153 lbs.
The swim was in a protected lagoon adjacent to the ocean. It was salt-water, and warm (78°F). Not wetsuit legal. Many had swim-skins, some had tight tri-suits. I opted for just tri-shorts and topless, which oddly was the minority.  Each age-group had its own wave start. Fortunately (more on this later), I was in the very first wave. After the national anthems, announcements and some celebratory music, we were lined up, treading water at the start buoys. The start area was wide enough, and I opted for the second row. 3-2-1- Horn, and we were off.

The start was fast, but non-violent. I immediately found the feet of a heavy kicker, and enjoyed the (legal) draft. The pace was fast, but sustainable. There were enough buoys to mark the course. My guide was swimming straight as an arrow, and hugged the buoy line perfectly, I didn't have to sight once. There was a little kerfuffle-ing at the turnaround, and I ended up losing my guide, but found another. He wasn't kicking so much, and I felt was a little slow, so I free-styled my way through the pack and found another great draft.

The swim eventually passed under a bridge, and I knew the finish line was near. I was getting anxious for the swim to be over, and at this point, the water felt a little choppier. I feel like I slowed down a bit here, and lost several placings, but eventually the swim-out-ramp was visible. About 5 of us arrived at the same time, and each politely took our turn standing up and getting pulled up and out of the water by the volunteers.

I split my watch at 34:27 for an average pace of 1:48/100m. I had hoped for a 33 minute swim, but I felt like it was still a good swim in terms of effort-to-time ratio.

Damn! This is a long transition. We had previously measured the distance from swim out to the transition as 680m, mostly along asphalt, concrete and paving stones. It was heavily suggested at athlete briefing to leave a pair of shoes at swim out for this part of the course. I was happy that I had. I got to my spot in transition, slipped on my tri-top, helmet and shoes, and was off to start the bike course. I had a relatively easy spot to access in transition, but it was close to the swim in and run out -- the bike out/bike in being located at the opposite end. This meant a long run navigating the racks with the bike. 

5 minutes and 45 seconds later, I had made a successful transition from swim to bike and covered the 980 meters to the mount line.

The Bike (the strava)
My preferred position, but conditions
would not allow this too often. Had to
keep my head up to navigate pot-holes
and rough roads.
I was feeling very confident about this part of the course. I knew my bike fitness going in was very good. Two, 40K training rides outdoors the days prior to the race had shown me that I was capable of holding an aero position for at least an hour (on Zero aero-conditioning since August of last year). I knew the run would be the most difficult part of this event, so more than ever I was determined to stick to my power plan. Hold an normalized power of 75% of FTP for the entire ride. That translated into 180 W (approx 2.5 W/kg). To facilitate this, I had my screen set up with 3 data fields. 10second Avg Power, Total Ride Normal Power, Lap Normal Power; my auto-lap was set to 5km. The route was a double out-and-back with a 17K lead-in/lead-out, We had no reconnaissance of the route ahead of time, we were told it was mostly flat, with new asphalt. Well...

The lead in, was up and down a series of overpasses, nothing extreme, but enough pitch to bring the watts up pretty easily. There were signs of new asphalt, but they were mostly patches that were not flush to the road surface, so best avoided. Along with various potholes and ruts. It wasn't a terrible road, but you had to stay alert to ride a safe line. It was not conducive of an aggressive aero position. The double out-and-back portion was mostly flat, and slightly better road conditions, but again, you had to pay attention to ride a safe line to avoid ruts, patches and the occasional squashed iguana.  

Once on the double-out-and back, I was feeling settled in, and my watts were bang-on. Each 5K lap showed me I was around 180 to 185 watts normal power. I was feeling particularly proud of myself. I was comfortable in my position, and feeling confident that I could hold the effort for the entire 90k.

Being in the first swim wave, and being 14th out of the water meant I was at the front-end of the bike course for most of the way. I was passed three or four times and passed two or three people over the meat of the course. The road was wide-open for the first loop, but by the second loop, it was starting to get a little busy - and dicey. In particular, the aid stations, oh the carnage. I saw two people go down hard - either due to the dozens of loose bottles all over the road, or simply the congestion. One station in particular looked really bad and I decided to bypass it completely. (Happy I had brought an extra bottle of Gatorade in my back bottle cage.)

Despite the congestion on the second loop, I was moving quickly around people and still had a pleasant unobstructed ride; it was still a relief when I finished the loop, and was back alone on the 17K ride back towards transition.

I have developed a bad habit of under-fueling and under-hydrating in training rides. I was determined not to bonk or get dehydrated. I constantly sipped gatorade, going through 5 bottles for the ride, and finishing a sleeve of cliff-blocks and 2 gels. I was reassured later that I was not dehydrated (as I had to relieve myself twice during the run).

The last part of the bike ride saw a few overpasses, and then, back into town, we were treated to a slight downhill back towards transition. Crowd support was amazing along the last kilometer of the ride.

After a successful barefoot dismount, I was jogging back to transition.  Bike time: 2:37:55, 34.1 kph, 80 rpm average, 174 W average power, 181 W normal power (2.5 W/kg), 75% IF. The bike was bang on plan.

T2 was considerably shorter than T1, but I had a poor rack spot, right near the end. Being in the first wave, there were not many bikes hanging, and fortunately hardly anyone in transition to bump into. It felt like I was moving slow as I shed the helmet, and donned my socks, shoes, race-belt, hat and sunglasses; but, my final time was 1:59:14, so that seems pretty no-nonsense considering the 270 meters of distance traveled.

The Run (the strava)
Finishing loop 1. Feeling pretty good.
I worked to rebuild my running form this year. I have transitioned from 160 steps per minute to 180; through a more minimalist shoe and metronome training. I've tried hard to commit to long runs, since the new year, outdoors, despite poor weather. I've included some warm-up and cool-downs in my runs and a little bit of stretching. I have not had any cramping this year (unlike last year), and my plantar fasciitis has pretty much vanished. I had a great "Frozen Sole", 8K run one month prior to the race, and a really good 18km run, two weeks prior. I managed to convince myself that in the heat and with the hills, I could run a 1:50 half-marathon off the bike. 5:13/km pace. 

And so it went ... for 12 k .... but, then heat and hills finally got to me. I honestly felt really, really good for that first 12k. 

The route was a double out-and-back, into old San Juan, and around the fort. The total course had 200 meters of elevation. Each lap included a very steep hill (10% grade), a couple of gradual hills, and another steep up-and-down on a rough cobble-stoned surface. Each loop also included 2 kilometers of "The Microwave": a section of the course alongside a massive stone wall that absorbs and reflects heat. 

Being in the first wave, I was lucky enough that the microwave wasn't so hot the first time through. It was much warmer an hour later the second time through though. And it was this point in the race, after sucking back a Roctane, that I started to get the shivers. My body felt like it was going into shutdown/survival mode, but I was determined not to give up. I was much slower, and losing big chunks of time every kilometer, but I felt like I didn't give up, and honestly gave it 110% effort. My splits look, "Classic Phil", with a big fade, but it didn't feel that way during the run, and I don't think I would have run much faster had I started out slower.

Running back into town, the cheering grew louder, and Laura was there again on the side (she had previously cheered me in on the bike, and on the turn-around for loop 1 of the run). The final stretch to the finish line was unclear to me, but we had to cross a pedestrian overpass, which I thought was particularly cruel, and then run around and up a grass hill. The finish line was only visible for the last 100 meters, but you could hear it before then. I got passed in the last 30 seconds by a guy in my age group, I had no intention of sprinting, I didn't care, I could see the clock roll over to 5:20:00 and although going sub-5:20 would have been a real treat, I was very happy with my final time of 5:20:11.

Final run time: 1:59:13, 5:41/km pace. Big second-half fade, but considering heat and hills, not bad.

Awards and Roll Down

Words will never be able to do justice to the experience and elation of Roll Down. This race had 40 spots for World Championship Qualifiction, and an additional 25 spots allocated for women only, through a special initiative called Women for Tri. I had previously figured (based on the published start list) there would be 2 spots for Guylaine's category from the 40 regular spots and 3 spots under the extra Women for Tri slots. I had it in my head, that if she finished 5th, she would be in.... she ended up finishing 6th (an amazing effort and a fantastic race, but we'd have to hope for a roll-down).

Imagine, now, to my horror, when going through the 40 regular spots, they noted that one would go to her category (not the two, I had banked on). And, of course, the winner took the spot. One spot rolled from another women's category but it was allocated to a different category than Guylaine's, boo.

So now, they are handing out the extra 25 slots. And they get to Guylaine's category, and they note there will be 3 spots given out. (oh, the tension). I can't be sure, but I think number 2 took their spot, number 3 passed, and then number 4 and number 5 took their spot. That's that then. Guylaine looked at me dejected. I was furiously doing math on my fingers... "hang on, I said, I think one's going to roll...". Sure enough, there was only one competitor in the F18-24 category, and she already had her slot from the regular qualification process. They announced it was going to be allocated to F50-54. This was the VERY LAST SPOT that was going to be handed out......

... My mind went blank, I couldn't remember if Guylaine was next in line or not....

.... the announcer looked like he was a little puzzled, while he was looking at his list, he was buying time... my heart began to race, "he's trying to figure out how to pronounce the name"... and then sure enough:


The three of us jumped up and screamed, Guylaine burst into tears, it was freaking awesome.
Ironman's motto is "Anything is Possible".
People who have been say, "Always go to Roll Down".
Either of these would be fitting captions.
The trip to Puerto Rico was very nice. I was surprised at my own ignorance: it's far from third-world; San Juan is a bustling modern town not unlike any other big city in Canada or the US. The people are welcoming and friendly. The devastation from Hurricane Maria was not obvious to me in San Juan or the neighbouring areas we visited. The race production seemed very much locally-owned. We honestly felt like valued customers and welcomed guests of the race director, the crew, the volunteers and the community. Guylaine and I had very satisfying races. This was a very memorable and amazing experience.