My first half ironman and where to begin?  Heat, schoolboy errors, beautiful scenery, disappointment, a bit of pride, HEAT, couple of new friends and great camaraderie, a lovely medal.

It would take 24 hours travelling to get to PR so I left early Thursday morning.  I’ll skip over the stress that packing the bike into the bike box caused Wednesday evening and the emergency trip to Sunset Cycles… The travel itself was pretty uneventful, but there was a VERY welcome boost with an upgrade to business on the London to New York leg.  The only problem was resisting the champagne that was flowing very freely into the two Russians sat next to me.  My will power prevailed.

After a pretty boring (to say the least) six hour layover in New York, I arrived into PR at midnight, very pleased to see the bike box and my suitcase looking intact.  Eventually got to the hotel just before 1am for the first mini-crisis:  I didn’t plan to unpack but I had to get some stuff out of the case, but the lock wouldn’t open… I was DEFINITELY using the right code but it wouldn’t budge.  After a day of travelling this wasn’t what the doctor ordered. I called reception who said security would send someone.. 15 minutes later someone arrived to help me with my broken safe.  ‘No, my suit case lock’ I said so off he wandered.  Another 15 minutes later he came back with a screwdriver and a pliers.  After another 10 minutes of head scratching he managed to snap the lock and I’d be able to do the race in my actual kit rather than a pair of trousers.  Got to sleep at 1.45, knowing our group was doing swim practice in the lagoon where the race was starting in about 5 hours… Jet lag would ensure I was up and lively though.

Friday and Saturday went smoothly – just about – following Andrew and Kevin’s seemingly well drilled routine, meeting up with a couple of their ironman veteran friends (and doing the highly complex race bets).  Couple of near misses to report – putting the bike back together was a bit stressful, and, as I discovered on the practice ride I hadn’t tightened the handlebars properly so steering was a challenge having to hold the bars at a 45 degree angle to go straight!  And after dropping the bike off at transition on Saturday afternoon I also thought it would be a good idea in rest time to update the bike computer software – losing saved sensors, data screens and all that boring stuff.  I was very pleased though with the swim practices – the water was warm, clear and despite there being manatees in the lagoon (Wikipedia confirmed they don’t eat humans) I was feeling good about that part of the race.

After a boring pasta and chicken dinner Saturday night I was in bed at 9, everything laid out, two checklists prepared for kit and drinks bottles.  I woke up pretty much every 20 minutes from 2am and soon enough it was the 4.15 alarm call.  Wide awake, I was up, having my porridge, half a bagel and a banana and sporting the Cr@p Tri pink.  We met in reception at 5.15 (ouch) and were body marked and in transition by 5.30.  Luckily I managed to reconnect my cadence sensor, laid everything out in good order and headed back to the hotel, which was super close to the swim start and allowed a nice calm sit down whilst our start times approached.  I was going off at 7.24.

Despite a bit of inevitable heart rate increase leading up to the start I was feeling WAY better about this swim than any previous ones (and I’ve got ‘good’ form with triathlon swims) and this was probably the most enjoyable bit of the day.  Started slow, listened to my coach’s advice (for once) and did 44 minutes – under target and a good, if not record breaking, start.  I wanted to do 6 hours total time, and this gave me a bit of breathing room for something going wrong later.  Not quite enough as it happened…

There was a half mile run into transition which was fine – saw Andrew’s wife Brittany coming out of the swim in the front of me (I felt a bit of calf cramp heading up the steep ramp out of the water, which was a sign of things to come…) , and then I was out on the bike, doused in sun screen, pretty stress-free.  But it was warm already.  Apparently Andrew’s bike computer said 90 degrees at 8.30am.

Most of the bike was fine – it felt a bit more hilly than advertised, but the out section had some nice tail winds and I averaged about 33kmph for the first 45km or so – not listening to my instructions but feeling fit.  Probably the first major mistake of the day was trying too hard to stick to my 3 hour bike time target and coming in about 40 seconds under – good pacing, but I probably paid a heavy price for that effort in the heat.  There were some nasty winds on the way back and the last 25 or 30km were pretty tough.  I started to cramp in calves and quads with about 20km to go, and despite trying to stretch out and neck the remaining salt tabs, the few hills towards the end were tough.  ‘Hang on’ I said to myself – ‘I’m not going to be able to run a 5k let alone a half marathon in 2 hours…’  

Back into transition it was REALLY hot and I was REALLY cramped up.  I teetered very slowly to my bike, getting another dousing of sun screen (still nowhere near enough).  I took a minute to stretch at my spot before putting trainers on and stuffing my gels into my top.  Stupidly I’d only packed 2 salt tabs for the run… Probably another disaster.  And in the panic of working out how the hell I was going to walk or run a half marathon I forgot to put my race number on – probably a major crime in triathlon world.  I got a couple of scoldings from the officials but luckily no DQ.

The the world basically ended.  There was a hill up over a bridge to start the run, so I figured I’d walk that and start running on the downhill.  Wasn’t to be.  I walked the first 3km and then managed to jog for a few minutes, then walk 10 minutes, jog a bit etc etc.  Andrew came flying past looking good and another new friend caught me and passed me.  I don’t know what was worse – seeing the 2 miles gone sign or the 10 mile marker for those on their second lap.  I was seriously thinking I wasn’t going to finish.  Every step hurt like hell – I felt similarly in the London marathon in 2002.  I somehow got around the first of the 2 loops and after another scolding from the referee for no number, headed out for the last 6 miles of the day.  I’d done some maths and worked out that I wouldn’t miss the cut off if I carried on walking so I set off.. Saw Andrew again who was saying something about putting one foot in front of the other… He stuffed a load of ice down my back which was welcome.  Brittany offered me her last salt tab but I didn’t want to risk her needing it later.  

The temperature was probably 90 in the shade (there wasn’t much shade) and my training in Cardiff over the winter probably hadn’t fully prepared me to say the least.  With about 7km to go my legs stopped working and I lay in the street shouting ARGGHHHHH, with both legs cramped in calves and quads again. A couple of runners stopped to help and I got some salt tabs into me.  Eventually after a 2 minute sit in the shade I got myself up and just about carried on.  I also did the first of many throw-ups too.  That was the low point when DNF was a real likelihood.

I saw Kevin shortly after who shouted that I should just get it done… He agreed the temperature was better suited to sun loungers and cold beer and I walked on.  The last 5 or 6km were awful – I knew it was madness but I was thinking of just sitting there and waiting for the ambulance to pick me up on the way in.  It was some consolation that there was a LOT of walking going on – it looked like a lot of people were having a tough day.  More puking (I hate the sight of Gatorade now). I’d taken 4 gels on the run but only managed one… They were really warm and I knew I’d throw it straight back up if I tried to take any more.

With a couple of hundred metres to go I saw Andrew with his camera – he’d been back to hotel, changed and probably had time for a swim and a meal, but was shouting for me to jog the last bit and smile… There was no way!  I walked over the line in a pretty miserable 7.5 hours – WAY over my target time and only an hour under the cut off, and I’d taken pretty much my marathon time to pathetically walk around a half marathon course. I lay in the shade, didn’t like that bit of shade so found some better shade, had a massage and felt like shit.  The rest of the group was there and I’m really grateful for the company.  Then I threw up again and felt a bit weird and one of the medical guys took me into the medical tent.  It was like a freezer in there and I shivered like crazy.. Combination of rapid temperature change and heat stroke probably.  I had some lovely chicken broth, they took my stats and said I was good to go.  Thanks to Kim and Barrie for hanging around looking after me.  ‘Novice’ they must have thought…

Luckily the hotel was close by otherwise I’d have no idea how I’d have got everything to the room… With help, managed to get back to the room, had a shower, lay down and woke up about 90 minutes later feeling like crap.  Threw up again and had another shower.  I was determined to go and have dinner which was at 7.30 in a nice steak place.  I hobbled over, and we shared stories about the race.  That part was really fun… The camaraderie is brilliant, and I guess even more so when it’s been a tough day.  Amazingly, I failed to eat even a 6oz steak (definitely the first time that’s happened) but I did manage 2 coronas, which were both VERY beautiful.  I predicted my bike time almost to the second in the bets (no consolation), then it was bed by 9, fast asleep by 9.30.  

I’m writing this half way through my travel home.  I feel a mix of extreme disappointment and some pride that I managed to finish in the conditions which were new to me (and lots of pain in my legs still, but that’s getting better).  I feel 100% better than 24 hours ago, but I’ve learned some tough lessons – I’m not as fit (anywhere near) as I thought I was, and I need to listen to my coach’s advice much more, and you can never have enough sun screen (big ouch).  Also learned that Puerto Rico is a very pretty, interesting place which would be better enjoyed with Karen and some quality sun lounging and relaxing rather than doing a stupid triathlon.

I have a half marathon in 5 days which is going to be a major struggle, and I have NO IDEA if I’ll be able to do the full Ironman I have scheduled in 6 months.  Based on this weekend’s performance, I doubt it.  But I’m pretty sure I’ll be giving it a go.

PS – arriving back in Heathrow the airline had kindly left my bike in Puerto Rico – they probably figured I wouldn’t want to see it any time soon and were probably not far wrong!

PPS – the Cardiff world championship half marathon was TOUGH – terrible conditions ( biblical rain and wind ) but i forced out a PB – 1h 32 ish which I was extremely pleased with and gave me a nice confidence boost… Well needed after the above.

Next event … 100 mile bike ride to Tenby from Cardiff – should be fun!

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