Campeche is, simply, beautiful. Highly recommend this race.

Ironman 70.3 Campeche

Campeche, MEX ★ 2017.03.19

Technically, this wasn’t my first race of the season. In an effort to avoid a repeat of the past few years where I’ve struggled to both remember how to race and how to be competitive, I decided to shake the rust off at a local sprint race – The Desert Triathlon in La Quinta, CA – a few weeks ago.

In the past, I’ve effectively used some of the classic early season small pro races in this way, but most – if not all – of those races have disappeared. In 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010, I raced the fantastic Desert Classic Duathlon in Tempe, earning a hat-trick of 2nd place (1st loser) finishes. 2nd place paid $450, which was just about enough to cover the cost of a cheap flight, two days of a rental car, and a night in a cheap hotel. In 2009, I raced the Superseal Olympic distance, which paid $600 for the win. Both Superseal and the Desert Classic Duathlon still exist (though Superseal is now owned by WTC along with the Superfrog 70.3), but neither race has a pro field.

This – the disappearance of small pro races – is a larger discussion than I really want to delve into here, but regardless, I realized that I simply needed to race before I could race competitively. In 2016 especially, the shock of racing the “Spring World Championships” (also known as Ironman 70.3 Oceanside) was just too much. The race in La Quinta – a sprint, with a (shorter-than-advertised) 500y swim, 14mi bike, and 3.1mi run – was perfect. There was a young gun college elite who made me work harder than I wanted to, but I was happy to race again after one of the longest breaks of my career (no racing since Kona) and, of course, happy to win.

Having successfully packed for a race, remembered what it’s like to actually make transitions, and completed an actual swim-bike-run in short succession, I was eager to do some real racing. Initially, I had planned to do Oceanside again, but with IMTX on its new date on Apr. 22, some three weeks earlier than in the past, the timing was a challenge. The race in Campeche offered up a flat (well, “flat-ish,” as we discovered on race day) and windy (really windy) bike course as well as hot and humid conditions on the run, perfect preparation for Ironman Texas. It also gave me five more weeks to prepare, rather than the somewhat awkward three weeks between Oceanside and Texas. And, last but not at all least, it gave me a chance to practice mi español for real. I started learning Spanish with Duolingo about seven weeks ago and have been practicing for 15-30min a day since. I actually managed pretty well, relying heavily on, “Yo hablo español pero mal” (I speak Spanish but badly) and “No entiendo” (I do not understand) as liberal conversation filler.

I flew Thursday afternoon from LAX to Mexico City, spent the night in an airport hotel in Mexico City, and then landed in Campeche on Friday morning. Along with a slight reduction in volume on Tuesday and Wednesday, this served as my taper. I’d been doing a lot of biking to get ready for IMTX, and I didn’t expect to feel great but knew that I had reasonable fitness to rely on. Based on past precedence, I really struggle with “in between” tapers. A week seems to leave me flat. Basically, if I can’t taper for 2 weeks (which I do for Ironman), I should taper for only about 2 days.

Were I to do this race again, I think I might try to do the single shot (there’s an early morning flight to Mexico City and afternoon flight to Campeche) on Friday, mostly because I didn’t sleep all that well on Wednesday (packing/flying Thursday) or Thursday (don’t want to miss that connection). And because Campeche is actually a really easy town to navigate. I don’t think this would have made any difference in the outcome, but I might have at least felt a bit better for the first 200m of the swim.

I’ve been swimming well, but my swimming always takes a hit when I first bump of the bike volume due to neural fatigue and the contortions of riding in the aerobars for long stretches. But mostly, when you are tired, it’s simply really hard to be coordinated, and swimming requires a lot of coordination. I know this, and I also know that how you feel in the water doesn’t mean much. Especially in a race, just keep the arms moving and look for feet. The swim ended up being quite rough (due to the wind), but I swam pretty much in line with expectations. The big swells made staying on feet a challenge, but I also led the way for the first 2/3 of the swim, which was a positive considering that I didn’t feel great and the conditions didn’t suit me.

I ended up having a seemingly slow T1 because I made the decision to put my bike shoes on before mounting. The bike started almost immediately with a very short and very steep climb up from the Campeche Country Club, which provided a beautiful swim venue for us. But needing to hit a 10%+ grade right away made me not want to worry about getting into my bike shoes. I figure I took about 10-15s extra in transition, but I also think I gained that back pretty quickly as well based on how the early part of the bike played out. I would approach T1 the same way if I do this race again.

This year, I’ve been preparing for IMTX using the approach that has served me most optimally in the past, which is: 1) run a lot 3-4 months out from the race and then 2) bike a lot 1-2 months out. There is a bit of lag, however, in fitness, where I’m more tired than I am fit on the bike, but I thought with a relatively flat bike course, this might not be so bad. Unfortunately, the wind really exposed my lack of depth of fitness. The need to be able to grind into a headwind, then switch it up and keep the cadence up with the tailwind, and then to repeat that on a second loop is probably one of the hardest ways to have to ride; it’s much easier – even though it’s unpleasant – to go tail/head/tail/head rather than head/tail/head/tail.

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 3.43.03 PM.pngpacing = no bueno

I ended up with an hour of good riding, 100 minutes (including that first 60) of fair riding, and then 35min of pretty terrible riding. You can see my explosion for yourself here on Strava. The bike course ended up being much more challenging that it initially appeared. This is a good solid bike course given what seems to be typical wind in Campeche. And they shut down one whole side of a very well maintained highway for you to use. The volunteers were also extremely capable – I took two bottles without issue, especially impressive considering this is a first year race.

In spite of exploding on the bike, I knew I had good run fitness, and that I’d catch a second wind at some point, because that’s the typical MO of an Ironman specialist. I just hoped it didn’t arrive after I crossed the finish. T2 ended up being a bit of a flub. I was on my way out when I realized that I didn’t have my watch. I was close to my bike, so I just ran back to grab it. Unfortunately, with race brain, I ran back to Trevor Wurtele’s bike (which looks nothing like mine except that they are both black) and starting throwing his stuff everywhere (I did put it back in his basket) looking for my watch until a helpful volunteer pointed out that I was at the wrong bike. With watch in hand, I then set out on the run, still in 5th place, but closer to 6th than I was before I lost my faculties. Just in case you were wondering what I was doing for all that extra time in T2…

The weather forecast pre-race had called for extremely hot (97F) conditions under a cloudless sky. Campeche is also relatively far east in Mexico, all of which is on Central time. So the sun was high overhead and strong from the get-go. I had planned, expecting those conditions, to run somewhere about 1:19. But the heat never really materialized in quite the way it was predicted. I felt pretty good on the outbound leg of the two-loop out-and-back run course, but making the turn, I realized that the wind which had punished us in the swim and bike wasn’t done with us just yet.

The middle 6mi of the half-marathon were a grind. I still hadn’t caught my second wind, and sixth and seventh (the first place to not get paid) and even eighth were catching me. Sixth place caught me about 1km from the final turnaround, but he just sat on my shoulder. This was a tough course, andI figured he had worked pretty hard to close to the gap. I obeyed the Paulo-Sousa-never-look-back rule and just kept running. Making the final turn, there was only 5km to go. I knew I had good run fitness. I’d logged well over 500mi of running already in 2017. And the return trip was into the headwind. So I thought if I could get sixth place off of my shoulder and into the wind, I had a good chance of having on to a top-5 finish and beating my “seed” (bib no. 6). Besides, top-5 is just a lot better than sixth…

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 3.43.43 PM.pngpacing = bueno

As I upped the pace, my second wind arrived on cue, and I ended up with a pretty strong negative split that carried me across the line pretty clearly in fifth, and with a performance that gives me a lot of confidence for IMTX, since depth of fitness on the run is pretty much what determines Ironman outcomes. You can see my anti-explosion (that would seem to be an implosion, except that implosion and explosion mean the same thing athletically) on Strava.

Support on course was fantastic. I have also decided that, “¡Venga!” is unquestionably the best cheer ever. There were loads of spectators all cheering and shouting. Also, every race in the entire world should have bags of water on the run; bags of water (probably about 8floz) just work. For drinking, for cooling, for racing… I do realize that they are probably environmentally catastrophic, so maybe it’s good that we don’t use them more often. But on race day, they were very welcome.

Also thank you to the wonderful women at ¡Ay!¡Jaliscos!, the little corner cafe where I ate lunch and dinner on both Friday and Saturday (“mas arroz, por favor…“) for providing delicious, cheap, and “safe” food.

I’ve done two races now on my Diamondback Serios, and I continue to be impressed. It’s a simple, highly functional design that just works. It’s a fast frame. I may be on an Andean for IMTX, but I may not be. I’m certainly more than happy to continue to race the Serios for as much of this season as ends up happening.

I also raced in the MET Drone Widebody helmet. It’s an extremely comfortable helmet. I have some reservations about it on courses where you need to look up a lot or where you aren’t in aero all the time, but for flat and fast courses, it’s very nice. I am not sure if it’s faster (aerodynamically) than the POC Cerebel I’ve been using, so I’m still undecided there. Other than that, nothing new on the equipment side of things.

For this race, my gearing was 54-11/28. I was glad to have the 28 on some of the shorter climbs, but for most of the rest of it, I probably never needed more than 54-19. 1X is still the best thing ever…

I didn’t race in a sleeved suit because of the no-wetsuit swim, and I think – at least for half-Ironman – I like the simplicity. I don’t like swimming with sleeves, and pulling them on is a bit of a hassle. Don’t be surprised if you see me back in a “regular” tri-suit more often.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a “so I swam, bike, and ran” race report. But as I’m finding in other areas of my training and racing, sometimes just doing the basics right is what’s most important…

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