*** many thanks to Paul Stevens for this race report ***

8 months ago I took part in my first IM 70.3 in Wiesbaden finishing in 6:18 on a very tough course having, in my mind, failed to prepare properly.  Ever since that day there has been a burning question in my mind, could I have done better?’ In this my second IM 70.3 my aim was to banish these thoughts and obviously improve my time.

So Puerto Rico…. Why the Puerto Rico IM70.3? Well for a start it doesn’t have the hills that Wiesbaden had (at least on the bike anyway)! Secondly its climate is almost identical to that of Dubai at this time of year, warm and windy. Thirdly, and most importantly, Puerto Rico is only a 45 minute flight away from the Dominican Republic where rather luckily I had to spend a week on business travel in 2014 and was able to schedule my visit suitably to reduce my travel costs.

My arrival was, as I have alluded to, preceded by what turned out to be 2 weeks of work travel instead of just 1 after I had to include a visit to Vancouver as well prior to the Dominican Republic. This was not ideal but for the cost savings I was sure a prolonged taper was achievable without too much effect on performance.  Arriving late on the Friday night, after a full day’s work, I had just 34 hrs before race start. I wasn’t too worried though because I was fully adjusted to the time zone and had been purposely getting up early for the previous 5 days so as to fully adjust my body clock to race time. After checking in I collected my bike, having shipped it from Vancouver 10 days before, grabbed a whole wheat pasta dinner and went to bed.  In the morning I woke up early to keep body clock in shape, put the bike together and took it for a 2km test. After that I registered, hit the race brief, racked the bike (all the time eating of course) and was on my bed feet up by 3pm.  I had really learnt my lesson from Wiesbaden where I had foolishly chosen not to stay in the race hotel, this time I didn’t make the same mistake again and it paid off massively be so close to everything.

Race Day:

I woke up 3.5 hrs before start time to get my breakfast down before the golden 3hr cut off, and then set about throwing some clothes on to get into T1 to set up the bike. Unlike Wiesbaden there were no red/blue run/bike bags here instead it was old-school towel and trainers on the ground. The rumour floating around the participants was that this was a direct result of the Boston Marathon bombings, but no one really knew if that was true. Anyway having set my bike up, and being in the last wave, I had time to head back to my room to lie down for a few minutes, take a shower and play some tunes (another bonus of using the race hotel). I headed from my room with an hour to go popping a couple of caffeine pills as I went to wake me up and get me going (I don’t drink coffee so this is a key part of my race prep). Down at the start the ipod kept me chilled, I popped to toilets with the essential BRING YOUR OWN TOILET ROLL and pulled on my shiny new swim skin before ditching the green morning clothes bag (no worries about Boston bombings for this bag obviously!?) and heading to the holding point.

SWIM

(Non-Wetsuit, salt water lagoon):

The swim start line was small so quite compressed but I got in the water early and picked a nice central position. The 5 second count down was in Spanish which didn’t help but on 1 I started swimming and managed to get a good uninhibited start.  Within 50m I dropped into my rhythm and was well set up directly between the 2 groups vying for the lead, I waited another 20m and took my best guess on who was going to be quickest. At that point I cut across a guy trying to draft the leader of my chosen group and stole the prime position behind him (there are no friends when it comes to swim drafting). Within 300m it was clear our group was quickest and by the first turn at 700m the 2 of us were clear of the rest (if I hadn’t cut the guy off I could have been dropped by now). At this point I had a decision to make as we were now starting to hit a lot of traffic (back markers from previous waves), my guy was taking a wide line and obviously adding distance to the swim so, I could stay with him and swim further, but easier, or I could go it alone and swim more direct but exert myself more. I chose to race clever and stuck with my guy. For the next 800m I tucked behind my guy and literally started planning what I would drink post race… would it be a beer or a mojito or should I just have both? With my mind in the bar I was rudely awoken with 400m to go by increasing chop and a head on current created by the exposed entrance to the lagoon we were swimming in.

Swim Exit; tight and steep, pushing in front here saved valuable seconds

I re-focused, made sure I was really tight on my guy, and started spotting the exit. I could see it was going to be very busy and I wanted a clean exit so with 25m to go I came out from behind my guy pushed passed him and stood up directly in front of him to claim a clear spot up the exit ramp (thanks for the draft now get out of my way!). Swim time 28:50, distance 2.07km, first in wave and most importantly fresh, BANG ON TARGET.

T1:

(Long 800m)

T1 was a good 500+m from the water exit and situated in a small stadium, I push hard in my transitions and having rested in the swim didn’t hang around. Without having to deal with a bike transition bag all I needed to do at the bike was ditch the swim skin, slap on the helmet and jam nutrition in my trisuit pockets before heading out with the bike. Swim to Bike 3:59, still leading AG, feeling pumped.

BIKE:

(250m elevation, paved but potholed roads)

The bike had been the big area of work for me over the last 6months so I got on the bike knowing exactly what was needed and feeling very mentally strong. I hadn’t had time to drive the course but I wasn’t worried; being the last wave I had plenty of people to follow and the route was flat and non-technical.  I got moving and into my rhythm very quickly, my target was a flat 240W output which should bring me home in around 2:35. As soon as I was settled I hit my first gel and started on the fluids just 5 mins in. The first 10km had a few small inclines so I wasn’t surprised to be up at 250W after 20mins but knew I needed to be careful so set about bringing it down to plan. It was at this moment I hit a pothole, unsighted by shadow, and out of nowhere my rear water bottles ejected along with my full puncture repair pack. I had a mini panic but immediately rejected the idea of turning around because the first water station was only 5km away… if I got a puncture I’d just have to figure it out.

I wish I had had time to take in the views whilst on the bike… Paradise

I should mention here that ironically the fluids I had consumed to this point had all been from my front mounted bottle so I really was going to be reliant on the aid stations as I was down to 200ml of water max. With that in mind I ensured to slow right down at the first and safely took on 2 bottles of water. Having cleared the station I immediately hit the first bottle, it was already 27 degrees and 70% humidity by this stage, which is when the water issue got worse. IM Puerto Rico had opted to use Aquafina off the shelf water bottles with ‘sports tops’ instead of actual bike bottles for the race, no doubt some sponsorship deal.   This hadn’t seemed an issue until the point that I tried to drink from the bottle and literally wore 90% of it and only managed to get 10% of it in my mouth. Trying to figure it out/get the lid off I unsurprisingly managed to drop that water bottle! Being more careful with bottle number 2 I tried again but was defeated by the useless bottle top again. I was now worried about my zero fluid situation but it was time to calm down, focus on the road, and get to aid station 2.

I set about concentrating on my ride and happily pushed on with my power number keeping me honest whilst navigating through countless back markers. Oh how situations change, just 8 months ago I was being passed by everyman and his dog whilst I toiled with giving up in Wiesbaden and now I was overtaking a rider every 10-15 seconds! The overtaking of other riders quickly became an art form; obviously drafting is illegal but with 20 seconds allowed for passing inside the 7m zone I made sure that I took advantage of slipping behind the faster riders until the last possible moment, whilst giving the slower riders a wider berth. Sometimes riders would speed up to try and stop me overtaking, this by the letter of the law isn’t allowed but you can’t rely on officials to see that so I had to be careful not to get caught out. As a result I probably had to overexert myself at least 30-40 times on the bike in order not to get caught out by idiots who didn’t like be overtaken (would I pay for this later?).

Maximising ‘legal’ drafting whilst overtaking

Back to the water situation I tried another 2 water bottles at aid station 2, and unfortunately experienced exactly the same problem! I was really starting to get worried, it was hot and I knew I wasn’t hydrating enough. No time to stop and worry though I pushed on and at aid station 3 went for Gatorade instead of water and praise be to the god of hydration these bottle tops worked! Guzzle guzzle guzzle!

The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful apart from the head wind building on the way in, so keeping focused on my power I tried to manage my effort and forget the speed. It was now I started to notice mini cramps setting in in the last 10 km. I decided to back off slightly and emptied as much of the fluids I had into me hoping it was a sodium/hyrdation issue. Bike time 2:33:55, normalised power 241W, speed 35.8kph, BANG ON TARGET.

T2:

Coming into T2 was a slow 500m tight road section so I got out of my shoes early conscious of potential cramp and instead of repeating my crash in ADIT literally stopped on the line and hopped off the bike. As I ran in to transition I knew I was in trouble, I could feel both quads tightening and my left hamstring also getting in on the party. I racked the bike and opted to sit down and pull on my shoes before giving myself and slap and getting moving. Bike to Run 2:32, not too shabby considering.

RUN:

(400m elevation, 28degrees 70% humidity, beaming sun)

The run quickly descended into a massive reality check/survival mission, I didn’t even make the 500m to the first aid station before pulling up with cramp to stretch. My planned 4:30 pace was immediately out of the window, aid stations were now definite walks, and the numerous hills also quite possibly walks. Still I pushed on and despite very restricted movement felt energy high and mentally strong if not physically. I should say here that it is the run course that stands this race apart, it really is impressively scenic but unfortunately that comes with a heavy hill price tag….

The hills on course were much steeper than the organisers had let on in pre-race material and of course the heat was intense.  The local support however was amazing, a real party atmosphere, and I could clearly see I wasn’t the only one in pain.  I ran as long as I could and would then have to walk for 2 minutes at a time to rest my now very tight and cramped muscles. The hills being very sharp had to be walked and I could now see what had been a very realistic sub 5 hour finish slipping away. Still I had lots of company on my walking stints and when I could run amazingly I was still able to shuffle at 5min/km pace or below.  As the run passed by I never thought about quitting, I just adapted as best I could and managed my cramping legs closer and closer to the line. Despite a written off run I made it to the finish and quite amazingly still over a full hour ahead of my Wiesbaden PB. Run time 2:03, not as planned but I had made it!

TOTAL TIME: 5 hrs 12 mins, a PB by 1 hr 6 mins :) ….Job done! Admittedly not quite as fast as I wanted/could have gone but still very happy. Puerto is a race I would recommend to anybody, great location, amazing run support, just watch out for the Sun and the Hills on the run!