Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Road to Kona 2018 began in Mar del Plata, Argentina 🇦🇷

About 10 miles into IRONMAN Hawaii 2017, I threw myself a pity party, broke into a walk and swore off Iron distance racing while trying to convince my husband (aka Blanco) that he should let me quit the race. Of course, he wouldn't let me pull off my chip and urged me to keep moving forward. Minutes later I came across Jan Frodeno who was having an equally tough day and I snapped out of my momentary misery... since even if I was an unhappy *hot mess*, I knew that eventually "it too shall pass" and the finish line would be upon me soon enough.

Even before toeing the line in Kona, I'd been considering a trip down to Argentina for the new IRONMAN race in Mar del Plata, either to tag along with Sarah Piampiano or to race myself. If I wanted to qualify for Kona in 2018, it was pretty much my best option given work and other commitments... IM Florida has never appealed, Los Cabos and Arizona were non-starters due to my role with the Island House Triathlon and 2018 was already getting booked up with a role at the Purple Patch Kona Camp in April curtailing my ability to race IM Texas or Santa Rosa and my plan to race Challenge Roth in July ruling out most other IRONMAN qualifiers.

Despite the crappy race in Kona, I decided I wanted to try to qualify to race there again and registered for Mar del Plata and booked my flights to Buenos Aires. The race was set to take place seven weeks after Kona so I couldn't just wing the training and depend entirely on my Kona fitness.

Week 1 - The immediate focus was to recover from Kona. I remained on vacation in Hawaii the week after the race and I swam every day and even did a couple of short rides when the wind was not howling a gale... which it was most of the time!

Week 2 - Back in San Francisco and I returned to my regular routine but played things cautiously. Looking back I trained 16 hours that week but nothing was particularly challenging and I wasn't mentally ready to push yet... particularly on the bike.

Week 3 - I was starting to feel better and ramped the training a little more to 18 hours including a 4hr ride (75 miles), a 90 minute run (11 miles) and 20,000 yards of swimming. The ride and run would be my longest bike/runs between the two races.

Week 4 - Another week of consistent training, peaking at 18 hours but nothing super long... I even cut a few rides and runs short as I was beginning to feel a little fatigued.

Week 5 - Hello Bahamas! I left San Francisco for 10 days in the Bahamas as part of my role with the Island House Triathlon. Training was the last thing on my mind for most of the trip as the race typically requires long days, standing around on my feet followed by afternoons/evenings focused on media work. I did less than 6 hours of training and I drank a TON of wine!
#paininparadise with Gwen Jorgensen, Beth McKenzie & Tammy Barker
post-race drinks with Beth McKenzie & Michelle Dillon

#paradise with Blanco
Week 6 - The first three days were still in the Bahamas, vacationing at The Island House Hotel, before returning home. With the Island House race in the rearview mirror, I was able to swim and run quite a bit in the Bahamas, before switching my attention to the bike once back in California. After 10 days off the bike, I decided I wanted to ride 112 miles to prove to myself I still could 😂🙄 but at least I did it over three days. Training totaled 16 hours that week and I was feeling pretty good from a physical perspective despite the Bahamas libations.

Week 7 - Race week! Sarah and I flew to Argentina on Tuesday afternoon, arriving in Mar del Plata on Wednesday evening... SFO to Houston to Buenos Aires followed by a 6 hour car ride to Mar del Plata! It's a LOT of travel...

At this point, it would be remiss for me to not point out how I was feeling. I did not feel prepared to race an Ironman... particularly from a mental perspective. While being in the Bahamas with an array of fast triathletes might usually have inspired me, it had been a long season. I started training in January for IRONMAN South Africa and I was beginning to feel a little fried and ready to tune out triathlon for a few weeks. Even upon arrival in Mar del Plata, I was struggling to wrap my head around the fact that I would be racing an Ironman. The weather was unseasonably cold and windy and the surf was up, big time. In fact, I was convinced the swim would be cancelled having being pummeled by the surf in the days leading into the race. There was also talk of a day of mourning being announced in Argentina (out of respect for the missing 44 from the submarine crew) that could prompt the race organizers to cancel or shorten the race.
Pre-riding the course with Sarah
Sharing my newly found course knowledge with Jen
Scenes from the bike course... check out those waves!
Steak (of course!) dinner with Sarah, Jen & James
Lining up for bike check-in... racing was beginning to feel real.
Race day dawned and it was pouring with rain... so once again, I got it into my head that the race would be changed in some way and I wouldn't have to do an entire Ironman. 🤦‍♀️😂 Thankfully the wind and the surf had calmed down a little bit from prior days but the gray, choppy waters still seemed pretty daunting. Just as I did with Ironman South Africa, I seeded myself in the sub-60 minute swim corral and dragged my friends Jen and Maria-Luz with me. Yes, I know I don't swim sub-60 mins but I'm a lot closer to 60 mins than 90 mins so the "60-90 min" swim group is just too broad.

I've become increasingly confident in my swim ability in the last two years so even though the rough water made me nervous, I figured my swim fitness (swimming ~18-20k/week) would help me in the choppy water. Mar del Plata was the roughest swim conditions that I've ever raced in so I was excited to see that I completed the first loop in 32 minutes since it was an intense swim. I was half-hoping they would direct me to transition, telling me that they had shortened the swim to one loop... but no, I was sent back into the water which was getting choppier as the wind picked up. The second loop was slower since it included the "Australian exit run", navigating around more swimmers and rougher waters.
Exiting after lap 1 of the swim
I was fairly pleased to see my overall swim time was 1:07 which was good enough for 6th overall female amateur on the day. After a disastrous T1, which included grabbing the wrong bag and two trips to the bathroom (TMI), I was on my way with the news from James (Jen's beau) that I was about 5 minutes off the lead... of course, at the time I had no idea if that was overall amateur leader in my AG.
Thank goodness I'm out of that water!
It was raining lightly but thankfully not too cold. I started to warm up quickly as I hit the bike course, with the sole focus of riding my bike well, maintaining a good aero position and holding my target watts of 170. I noted that I was mostly passing men, which wasn't surprising given just 10% of the field was women. Having earned the fastest bike split in my AG at almost every race this year (Ironman Hawaii was the exception with the second fastest bike split!), I was confident that I would be able to put serious time into the competitors in my AG... not that I really knew who my competition was! 😂 With three turnarounds on each of the two 56 mile bike laps, my only yardstick for performance, beyond watts, was taking time splits to Jen who is more than handy on a bike. We're not in the same AG but we've raced 70.3s together and we always note how similar our swim and bike times are. While I had escaped the Atlantic Ocean ahead of Jen, I could see that I was maintaining a gap of ~4 minutes over her at each time check, and even stretching my lead a little bit.

Gritting my teeth in the rainy conditions
A quick glance at the profile of the Mar del Plata bike course will have most people believing that it's a piece of cake... completely flat and with very few turns. Before arriving in town, I had dreams of getting close to a 5hr bike split but once on location quickly realized  that the winds blowing off the South Atlantic Ocean would be the key determinant of bike times. Race day was windy and the second loop brought many to tears as the final 20km of the bike was straight into a stiff headwind. With speeds dwindling to 15-16mph, I just focused on keeping the watts up and staying aero... as much as possible since my back was starting to tighten a little.

Focused heading out for loop 2
Off the bike in 5:21, I received huge cheers in T2, as spectators were yelling "Mujer!" It made me think that I might be the leading amateur race but I really didn't know since I had seen plenty of women ahead of me, and I didn't know whether they were pro or amateur. It turns out that I was second amateur off the bike.

The start of the run felt GREAT. I saw that I was sub-8 pace in the first half mile and forced myself to slow and focus on 8:15-30 pace out to the first turnaround at 5km. That's when I realized why sub-8s had felt so easy... we had a screaming tailwind!
Smiling... so must have been lap 1!
The headwind back into town was strong... stronger than running to Fort Point on a summer's afternoon in San Francisco. Bay Area locals know what I'm talking about! When I reached town towards the end of the first lap (of three), I heard James yell out that I was in the lead by at least 30 minutes. That was awesome to hear. By the time I passed him again a couple of miles later and heading out on lap two, he confirmed that I was 35+ minutes ahead. My stomach had been playing up so I didn't rest on my laurels, reminding myself to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

When I returned for lap two, James updated me that the lead was down to 23 minutes. That started to make me nervous as I knew the split was *old news* as it had been three miles since I had last crossed a timing mat around the 16 mile marker. I told myself that I likely had a 15 minute lead with a lap to go so had to keep pushing.

Things are getting tougher...
As I headed back around on the third lap, I tried to scan the few women I could see on the course to figure out who was running me down. I hadn't thought to ask James for a name! My hips were starting to ache but in contrast to Kona less than two months earlier, my mind remained positive, especially having seen and heard that Sarah had taken the overall win for the women.

 Sarah Piampiano IRONMAN Mar del Plata Champion
I was ecstatic when it was finally my turn to head up the ramp towards the finish line, rather than do another lap. Even though I had not quite executed the run that I hoped, I was fairly confident that I had won my AG. I bumped into Maggie Rusch as I entered the post-race area and she was able to confirm my position.
Heck yeah... the finish line in sight!
Post-race sweaty selfie 🙌
The AG win earned me the opportunity to return to IRONMAN Hawaii in 2018... it will be my 7th visit to the Big Island for the race... and surprisingly for me, it will mark three consecutive years of racing there. My view has always been that you need to be fired up to want to race in Kona so I'll only go if my motivation is high... and for the time being it remains fairly strong with a desire to unlock my heat management and run potential.

There's plenty more I could write about the Mar del Plata race as a first year event, the town of Mar del Plata and the post-race libations and sight-seeing in Buenos Aires with Sarah... but I need to save those details for another post.

Awards with Maria-Luz
Trophy count with Pro Champions Sarah and Matt Chrabot
This is what happens when you race 3 IRONMANs in a season 🤦‍♀️😂


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