This year I celebrated the new year in Chile (yes, a return trip after over 2 years). It was a great start to the year. This trip had nothing to do with new years really but had a far more important reason, triathlon! My first half distance Ironman triathlon was going to be in Chile.
My love for Pucón started 2 years ago and I´d promised to return (although in winter) while at the same time I had stumbled upon a race that I´d promised myself I´d do if I ever decided to take the leap. This race is a half Ironman, it includes running, but also biking and swimming (the part I´m most scared of…), also known as a triathlon. So not only was swimming a long distance involved (1.2 miles or 1,900 meters) it included many people all at once. Just knowing that, I was quite scared to sign up, but for some reason or another I decided now was time to sign up…maybe because I find complete enjoyment is challenges (of all forms) or I was just curious. In addition to the swim, which is the first part (I had to really work on that fear because if I couldn´t get though this part I was screwed!), you need to bike some 90km or 56 miles and then run 13.1 miles or 21km for a total of 70 .3 miles or 113km, also known as Ironman 70.3 or half Ironman.
Obviously, with this promise to return; promise to do the 70.3 distance in Pucón if I ever got to that point, it was natural that I would sign up on the first day you could some 7 months ago. It is not a cheap race so you better hope you make it to compete….which for me was in itself a challenge because after registering I began to have pain in my hip which turned out to be nothing great but is something manageable and at the time required no exercise for about 2 months while I worked out the kinks.
For those who have heard of it I have a femoral impingement (pinzamiento femoral) aka femor (big leg bone) rubbing on my hip and destroying the hip bone…something you should have at 60 or later which unfortunately I get to have wicked earlier. It is common in athletes and especially those who have hip problems in their family…like mine (something we learned as this injury presented itself)…WEE
Anyway besides this bad news, doctors cleared me to exercise finally in September just as I moved to Bogotá. Obviously, cautiously, with strength training, and avoiding many movements. The reality being….I had to start from 0 all over again….not fun and even less fun when you go from 0 to 8660 feet (2640m) elevation and have to learn how to breath again too. It took a good 2 months or more to adjust and finally when I was more adjusted I joined a triathlon team to prepare me for 2 more months, aka my last 2 months of training involved lots of suffering, new experiences and really pushing my limits but hey they got me there!
I landed in Chile the 31st of December adding one more country this year 😀 ha ha! The plan was to celebrate new years in the city I was told held best new years in S. America and then head south to train and relax before the big day which was 10 January 2016.
The place to be for new years was Valparaiso (Valpo) and yes it lived up to its name. It was a difficult journey to get there upon arriving to Santiago but with luck I made it happen, I enjoyed and I would so celebrate new years there again and again (story below on that journey itself). With that quick stop in Valpo I headed south New Years Day to Puerto Varas (farther south even then Pucón), another city I had visited but didn´t realize it until later because it looked so different in the summer than my rainly soaked visit years ago in the fall. This time it welcomed me with an amazing sunrise, views of Volcanos, warm weather, clear skies, people on the waterfront (lake), extended hours of daylight (until 10:30 pm) and some berries. I stayed 4 whole days, I explored a bit around the lake either relaxing or swimming, biking or running. Excited to bike in the area, upon arrival I quickly encountered a problem with my bike…I was missing a screw for the seat post…bummer because it took 2 whole days to get the part with many things still closed 😦 and/or I was relaxing too much.
By my 3rd day in Pto Varas I was ready to roll and did my last long bike ride followed by a run. Both were excellent. I did 115 km on bike around the lake to a town called Las Cascadas and then ran 5km on the waterfront upon my return. This was all great and dandy until the following day when my 6 hours in the sun converted itself into a fever and then some vomiting. I spent the whole last day sleeping/resting, I couldn´t eat, I barely drank, finally I threw up and then got on a bus to Pucón, threw up again and slept until I arrived…total waste of a day, learned my lesson, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate and be thankful it was Tuesday. This took about 2 more days to recover completely bringing me to Thursday, competition was Sunday, so luckily enough time to relax, explore very little, train, relax and be ready.
I got lucky getting to Pucón, the bus terminal JAC was right next to the hostel so I didn´t have to drag the bike far at all :D. I stayed a full week at the Woelhberg hostel in a private room, secure, with kitchen and a terrace with a view of Volcan Villarica. I arrived, finally felt ok to eat and went to bed. The next day, still not 100% I swam and ran then wandered the town and stayed home. At night a friend from Panamá whom I´d convinced to sign up for the race showed up and said hello, Carlos. My second day I swam then went to Villarica the next town over because I had never been, its bigger, nice waterfront, some desserts looked good. I read, ate and returned still not 100%. Third day I was finally feeling better I biked a bit to make sure we were good to go since Saturday (the following day) I would have to turn the bike in for race day and also swam once more. In the evening I was put in contact with a friends coworker who was in town, in charge of timing for the race, so I met with him, Alvaro. After I went home and found that one other athlete had arrived and he too would do his 1st Ironman 70.3 too. Saturday was rest day, I dropped off my bike in the transition zone (since it was hot I let air out of the tires . something I learned there) and covered it with a bag for protection and security I assume. Fact: Calculating that there were 1300 athletes plus elite the value of the transition area alone was probably about 10 million dollars in bikes to be left overnight…**** that is a lot of $! From the bike drop off I read for a bit then headed to the chat about rules and what not….almost all in my group of 800 were males and about half were newbies like me to 70.3. At the presentation the Dr. started off in a rather harsh way…basically saying we might die but they would be prepared for that, oh and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! The whole room left scared and hydrating. Shortly after I ran into another athlete in a store nearby and he was drinking and buying water, I was like yep, hydrate…we laughed and continued to drink..ja ja
At 5:30 a.m. the following day, race day, 10 January, we were let into the transition area to set up. My friend Carlos found me and we headed together to the beach, I was already fully in my wetsuit but I had to go to the bathroom, excellent idea except its not easy to get out of a dry wetsuit jaja…Lesson #1 don´t put your suit completely on until you use the toilet.
SWIM (1900 meter)
For the swim I had gotten myself to a point of relaxation knowing that we would enter by swim time and not by age and I felt even better when I saw that my swim group had fewer people. It also helped that before I left Bogotá I swam the distance 2x without stopping so I knew I could do it and that I was around 50 minutes. While in Chile I swam in the lakes plenty, in Pto Varas it was cold but in Pucón it was much warmer enough that when I trained there, I actually swam with just my swimsuit and I was fine. I really like swimming in lakes since that is where I first trained 6 years ago for my first triathlon (a sprint) so this also helped me feel comfortable and at home in the water (aka relaxed and happy). By the way the view from out on the lake was amazing (no fotos, I just swam).
As we headed to the beach, now a bit late, we jumped in the water to warm up a bit for the swim but the elites were off and we had to exit…. My goal was to swim in under 50 minutes. I am by no means a fast swimmer, most it seemed swam around 30-40 minutes or less but I didn´t care. For me just by getting out the swim portion I was a winner..ja ja. I swam without a watch so I later found out that I did meet my goal!!! 😀 A nice 48 minutes which would have been way less if I had not gotten so lost. Lesson #2 Go to the bouy (I did go around them well and without stopping – I was proud). The swim was in the form of an M in the water, we actually had to exit and run on the beach and get in again. When I exited as usual a bit disoriented and dizzy, this time I managed to feel ok much quicker (they say you get dizzy because your not hydrated enough) and gave myself an internal hooray when I crossed the timer aka done and onto tierra firme. Proceeding to transition 1, about 150m away where some strippers (silly, they are volunteers who help take off the wetsuit) he he helped me and then I ran another 200m to my bike. Although organized with my stuff for the bike, by being a newbie I felt kind of lost as to what to do. I got the helmet on then kind of chilled a bit. Lesson #3 Get your stuff and leave now, don´t drink water, apply sunscreen or touch your running stuff and hey maybe put your bike shoes on the bike next time (practice it before the race)!!
BIKE (90 kilometers)
I had not left the shoes on the bike so I carried them but before crossing the timer I had to put them on, not a quick task and then I had to leave the exit before mounting the bike so I lost plenty of time in transition 1. On the bike I was passing lots of riders but I was taking it easy like coach said, ¨save your legs for the run¨ but I wasn´t even going my normal speed so I started moving after the 10km mark…this whole time there was a rattling from my bike and it was noisy, it had been there before but i never looked into it, I just hoped whatever it was wouldn´t stop me from getting back to transition 2. The day was cloudy, it was still very early but still. Pucón is know as the most beautiful race in the world but this day we didn´t see the volcano at all…big bummer but hey the climate was excellent for a race. 😀 I was never hot even when the sun eventually did come out…thinking back I´m not sure why I thought sunscreen was so important in the transition..ja ja Also I thought I would be cold biking in a wet trisuit on the bike but I was good.
The course is an out and back so 45km towards Argentina and back (prior years it was a loop). All was going well until about km 43 when my front brakes popped off. Yes popped!! I was like well I guess that means I should stop….Of course I forgot my tools and was on the side of the road thinking, what am I gonna do…when a spectator came over and asked if all was ok…I said ¨well my brakes came off¨, he was like ¨you don´t need them, go, go¨ as he pushed them to the side and into my cables. I was pretty unsure about continuing until I realized he´s right I still had the back brakes and I´d hardly used my brakes up until now, so I grabbed my parts and off I went. My coach calls him my angel because really when you´re in the middle of a race and something like this happens, although not serious, your mind loses motivation, if not for him I could have been there all day, instead I wasted 10 minutes or so. I then proceeded cautiously for a few km as the turn around was downhill a bit and I was still unsure using just back brakes but once I felt comfy off I went like a speed demon! I passed many people but on the other side I saw the last rider pass and was like that´s all no más, I´m late. The rest of the route I played tag with one rider (trying not to draft him of course…aka be too close using him to block the wind) until the last part when I assume the wind got the best of him. Lesson #4 Bring your tools always, it´s just like any other time you ride and maybe get a check-up on the bike…just maybe. The brake problem came lose from putting the bike together and taking it apart many times (just in Chile I did it 4 times before the race). Due to this problem I did not make the time I wanted but I am still happy about this portion and learning from the experience.
RUN (21 kilometers)
At this transition I was much quicker and for the first time took off the bike shoes before I even got to the timer (proud, new technique). I ran 350 meters to my spot, (the transition area was loonng) grabbed my shoes and I was off. The route was 3 loops in town and on the Peninsula. We started with the Peninsula, my first time up there since its a private community and they wouldn´t let us up before the race for this same reason. Turns out its about 4km of up and down hills /about half the total distance we ran). Arriving kind of late, there were a ton of people running already and I saw lots walking the hills, lots with cramped legs, etc so I went kind of cautiously the first lap checking it out. On the second lap I felt fine and had a good pace so I decided to give it my all for the last lap. I felt great, fast, and happy; I enjoyed the loops lined with people cheering everywhere, knowing the route, and what to expect; having enough water, Gatorade, Pepsi (yes Pepsi, only Chile…ja ja it is for sugar but I had gels, for me that´s plenty) and sponges if needed. For me it went quick and I finished fast, that last few km I was flying or at least that´s how I felt. I finished in 5:50:39…under 6 hours which for me was perfectly fine. On the other hand my friend Carlos and the guy at the hostel had a rough time and finished closer to 8 hours (the cut off) and said the run killed them and the bike was hard (they must not have trained enough! I´ll just be thankful to my coach in this case.)
I originally wanted to finish my first 70.3 in 5 hours but with only 3 months of training really and on a tough course (from what I heard) plus I saw the times from previous years and knew under 6 was excellent in Pucón. I know I can do it much faster and now that I know how it is I´m not as scared. In the end I felt it was almost too easy. I finished and my legs were fine (a hem after a massage). It was better than finishing a marathon for sure. I had stiff hamstrings after but the massage relieved that and all was good. In fact the next day I climbed the Volcan Villarrica, something I had wanted to do last time but the trip got cancelled due to wind, so I was super happy I could do it this trip. I think all Ironman racers from Pucón should finish at the top of the volcano the next day. Then it would start with a swim in Lake Villarrica and finish climbing on Volcan Villarrica, sounds good no? ha ha says the loca 😛 I will say after the race I was pretty tired but I still stayed up pretty late and chilled on the beach with my medal, a beer, and a piece of cake in the evening. 😀
Lucky to have Alvaro at the finish, I got some great post race fotos with my medal. Funny on the last leg of the run, the last 50m I booked it past a girl, she didn´t like that, so she passed me but stopped before the finish, so I gunned it and beat her, was there need? No. Did it help my photos? No. Did she learn something? Yes, the race isn´t over until you cross the finish line. Do I care? No, she probably finished before me time wise anyway. HA HA
I must mention that before the race (even in training) I had some crazy thoughts that were going on in my head. I mean I was pretty scared of the race, I thought the volcano might erupt (it did in march 2015), I even thought I might die, get hit on the swim, not finish on time, etc but in the end it´s just a race like others, it´s not horrible but its much easier if you train for it especially had it been a hot day…that might have changed the whole story for many people.
Obviously these thoughts came from not knowing how it would be, training with a coach for the first time (I was not in charge of my training nor my own confidence), I worried about the swim lots and felt I wasn´t running enough so with many doubts I kind of hid my new challenge not wanting anyone to know about it until I finished (odd for me but hey I was really worried even though all others around me had confidence in me I certainly did not this time) Therefore, it was truly a challenging accomplishment for me and I am a very proud finisher!!
Thanks to those for following, cheering and being excited with me for this new journey I embarked on to start my 2016 :D! Sorry to many of you who did not know about it and normally follow and support me on these pursuits, now you know and next time i´ll be more open to sharing it with everyone ;).
ARRIVAL AND ADVENTURE ALL IN 1 DAY – HAPPY NEW YEAR 2016!
With my bike and all I landed in Santiago en route to Valparaiso for the new years celebration. Upon landing I had to store my bike because I would take a flight out on the 1st at night…perfect since the airport has a storage area, HA except…being new years day the next day just about everything in Chile is closed including this important storage area in the airport…EXCELLENT…so I tried the hotel ¨not a guest, sorry.¨ then I thought why not send it by mail…after a long time with the lady at CorreosChile I couldn´t convince myself to trust the important equipment with the mail service but did end up making friends with her who in the end called someone in charge (a friend) at the airport and he somehow agreed to store it until the next day. I was in luck! It just took 1.5 hours to resolve this issue and be on my way. I took TurBus to the city (the best and cheapest option). Upon arrival to the bus station of course it was extremely busy and all buses were sold out! OF COURSE…so I had to figure out the next now bigger issue of how to get to my expensive hostel for new years eve….again lucky, staff at a bus company gave me a tip on how I could get there. He told me go to San Borja Terminal…just a few blocks down the street (luckily I had used that terminal before and kind of remembered the way) and take a bus to Casablanca and then transfer from there to Valpo. With all this logistics happening I was so really happy and lucky I did not have the bike, it would have been hell as the streets were full of people and vendors and holes and trash and I´d had to walk more than expected and not had space to store the bike on the smaller buses. At San Borja I caught a bus to Casablanca…no clue where I was going but knew toward my destination. Turns out Casablanca is the last town before arriving into Valparaiso and is know for its wine…good to know..for next time. From Casablanca, like the guy said, I took another bus to Valparaiso! So if you ever need to get to the coast on a sold out day here is the secret and your solution!! 😀
Success!!! Kind of…I still had to get to the hostel on new years eve…which turns out few (very few) taxis work this day and I would end up walked over a mile in the summer sun with my other bags to my hostel (again another reason the bike would have been hell to have with me) which I had no clue of its exact location and with a slowly dying phone (it was good enough though to lead me there). I did make it but it turns out I´d forgot Chile uses a different outlet and I had left the adapter at home, yet another problem (sad because I actually had it in my hand literally right before I left Bogotá..anyway 2 days later I bought my 3rd adapter for Chile. HA HA OOPS).
FINALLY at the hostel!! I rested, borrowed an adapter mientras, then eventually went out to eat (not an easy task after 3 pm since all restaurants have a new years eve dinner menu and obviously at this hour are preparing it…booo). I wander the streets for a good spot for firework viewing and eventually I ended up eating like 4 empanadas (2 then I returned for 2 more). I also went on a mini spontaneous shopping spree…buying some new earrings and a shall to keep me warm and look good for new years? Everything works out in the end, es cierto! In the process I mentioned in one store that I was alone and somehow was promptly invited to join her and her friends to celebrate. Perfect…now I was with plans and ready for 2016!
Everyone brought some food and at 9:00 p.m. we all meet up, ate and headed out to find a viewing spot now that people had already picked viewing spots hours before. With our spot, we waited sitting on the floor, conversing and eating (and they drank) until 1 hour before midnight when everything was unbearably crowded and we began to stand. At midnight all hugged, popped confetti, sprayed foam, sprayed champagne, drank, cheered and danced. Then 5 minutes after all the celebration started the fireworks started. A whole 30 minutes of fireworks right in front of us and all in unison all around the whole coast line…it was an incredible sight to see (except no wind eventually meant clouds of smoke. For example for the grand finale I only saw 3 fireworks during those booming 3 minutes with many fireworks). After we returned to her store, ate a bit and made our way back to the same spot to dance until our hearts desired. It was an amazing experience to see so many people in the streets, happy, dancing, singing, celebrating…anywhere there was music people stopped and danced, just enjoying the amazing atmosphere that night. This continued until the morning, even at 10 am when I finished my run there were still groups on the street drinking or returning home finally…I stayed out until 2 am as I got tired and bored from not moving from one same spot.
P.S. Valparaiso lived up to its name as the best new years celebration in S. America, I would so go again and again. If you can´t make it for new years it is still a highly recommended visit as I love Valpo and you will too, trust me!