It was a last minute decision to race the Panama 70.3 half Ironman, and as many people have said of twitter, “I saved the face of Triathlon!”
Although it was a last minute decision to race Panama, I had planned to race a half early in the season, as part of my build up for the Olympics. I knew I would be doing a fair amount of base training, and after months of that things became quite repetitive, and Panama just timed well enough to change things up a bit.
It wasn't until 3 days before the event that I knew the great Lance Armstrong was going to be racing, which just added to the stigma of the event.
Now I'm not a half Ironman virgin. I had in‐fact raced a half 12 years ago in Gerardmer, France, where I took the lead with 100m to take the win. A lot has obviously happened in that time, so I was really unsure of how to pace myself, or even approach the event. Another added element was the heat and humidity in Panama. The winter in Santa Cruz had been quite good, but nothing compared to here. It was going to be a war of attrition as well.
Race morning was a cruel introduction to the sport with a 3:45am wake up and 6:45am start time! I big contrast to what I'm used to with ITU start times @ 2pm!
One great thing about this distance is that I'm considered a good swimmer, and the swim was quite “clean” compared to the carnage of World Cup races. So I was able to settle into a rhythm quite quickly ‐ sit in 3rd position and enjoy the swim. The swim itself was in the entrance to the Panama Canal and was one way tidal assisted. So we were able to knock out the 2km swim in @ 18 minutes. The unfortunate part of that is it advantages the weaker swimmers more, and I wasn't able to capitalize on one of my strengths.
Onto the bike, and into the unknown for me, as a 90km TT is something new. Fortunately the course was considered quite hilly, something I like. So for the first 25km, I was able to sit with the “group” and felt very comfortable. I, along with most of the others, were quite surprised that Lance wasn't demolishing us on the bike, although I suspect he was in the same boat as me, uncertain how to pace himself. At around the 35km mark we entered a “flat” motorway, and that's when things got messy. Chris Leito, one of the strongest cyclists in the sport, went to the front and started to hammer. Now I can hold my own with anyone on a hilly course, but these skinny little legs of mine weren't made for driving on the flat. All I could do was watch Chris, Lance and 2 others slowly pull away. However, this was expected and certainly in this sport it isn't over until you cross that finish line. I just tried to stay focused, and with the help of Richie Cunningham, we tried to minimize the damage. By the end of the ride we had a deficit of @ 3:30! This was certainly no easy task, but very do‐able.
Out on the run, and once again, it was a mystery as to what pace I was doing. To me it felt like I was going slower than any of my training runs I do! I'm used to World Cup races of going out as hard as you can and holding on for dear life! However, by this stage, it was getting pretty hot, and that seemed to be the limiting factor for me. The 21km run course was a two lap out and back and to my surprise/shock, Lance was pushing the lead and looking pretty strong. Crap, this was not going to be easy! From what I was learning pretty quickly, this sport is just as demanding mentally as it is physically! I found myself constantly having to refocus as you start to get tired and drift off. By the end of the first lap I had moved into 2nd position, but was still over 2mins behind Lance. Now was time to start digging deep. There's a reason why this guy won the Tour de France 7 times. He's simply a talented athlete with probably one of the biggest “engines” out there and a mental capacity just as big! By this stage of the race, the crowd could see there was an epic race unfolding before them, and thankfully, I seemed to be getting a great amount of support from the locals. With about 4km to go, I finally had Lance in my radar. I'm not too sure if it was this or all the coke I was drinking, but I got a 2nd wind, lifted my speed and finally caught Lance with 2.5km to go. Fortunately, there was no resistance on his part, and I was able to enjoy the last few km's home.
I'm fortunate enough to have many highlights in my career and this is certainly one of them. Maybe not up there with the Olympics, but to have an athlete like Lance in our sport, is great for triathlon, and gives us as athletes a little more credibility.
This was my first and only half for the year. I want to maintain my unbeaten track record for as long as possible. I'm definitely heading off to long course in 2013, as 2012 is all about the Olympics. Time now to start implementing a little more speed into the program and hopefully this old body is still competitive in World Cup racing…
Thanks for all the support out there. It's never possible without you guys.