A big part of what I enjoy about my sport career is the experiences I gather while traveling to the many corners of the world. Yesterday I got the opportunity to race in beautiful Panama City. Naturally the swim took place in the Panama Canal, where it flows into the Pacific Ocean. The spectacular Bridge of the Americas served as the backdrop to this picturesque swim while the flow of massive cargo boats was steady and also served as a reminder of how important this body of water is to world commerce. After we cruised through the swim, an equally spectacular bike course brought us along the impressive 2km long causeway elevated above the ocean, skirting the old city and sending us along the waterfront of downtown. A brief segment rolled athletes up an elevated highway that went briefly into the heart of the 1,5 million-population city before returning to the waterfront.
The run course was also well set up but to be honest, I was so well cooked in the heat and sun on the run; I don’t have too many positive memories… or really any memories! Maybe its better to forget that section.
Anyways, truly an impressive course!
Blow by blow of the race
Coming into this event I had only been riding the trainer and running treadmill for most of the last three months, so to say my fitness was a question mark is a bit of an understatement. While there are a couple positive aspects of doing so much indoor training, such as the heat factor and the ability to carefully control workouts, lets be honest, its not easy to be really ready to race with only indoor training. But I kept a positive mindset going into the race that everybody was starting their seasons also and I had just as much a chance as anyone else.
Race morning was dark up until a few minutes before the scheduled start time. Due to the location of Panama very near to the equator, the sun rose at an incredibly fast rate, almost like someone turning on a light switch. In typical Latin American fashion, the scheduled start time kept getting delayed and delayed until 45 minutes later we finally entered the water. The current did some work to speed up times but surprisingly little compared to previous years where times were 5-7 minutes faster.
I spun my arms around for the first 500m but didn’t get very far; a consequence of that being my first time in open water in 5 months. However, after 500m I found a well-balanced stroke and seemed to swim pretty well for the remainder. Not too bad for being a non-wetsuit swim.
Once out onto the bike course I set about trying to use my cycling abilities to pull back the rather large group of athletes who had gapped me on the swim. To be honest, it hurt more in the first half than the second as my body adjusted to the shock of riding outside again. But it went surprisingly well overall on the bike and I managed a very respectable 2:01 split on the fast course.
Onto the run I knew I had one enemy: 36c heat and blistering sun. This was quickly a race against those two elements rather than the competitors. I did what ever I could to mitigate the heat and sun with ice stuffed down my suit every 2km and water over my head as much as possible. When the wind shifted to tailwind, it really hit me and the heat started to pull me apart one painful step at a time. Half way through the run I was in ‘survival mode’ but apparently I was not the only one as I continued to pass other strugglers. By the end, I felt like I won the competition for best survivor but in reality I think everyone out there was feeling the scorch of the sun to similar levels.
My post-race reaction was initially just happy I survived without ending up in the medical tent with an IV in my arm. After a couple hours I got to talk with my coach and check the actual results and realized the overall conclusion from my race was pretty positive. I improved my swim a bit from last year, which has always been my Achilles heal. My bike was a big surprise how well I was able to push this early in the year. And my run was… well… hot. Run time was quite poor but for sure in a few weeks I can easily turn that around with my upcoming training camp in Florida. Looking toward the big picture goal of a top result in Ironman South Africa, my race in Panama shows I am on track and moving a very good direction. Onward and upward!