Hello from South America – it was another exciting day at the office – maybe a bit too exciting for January and the first race of the season!!!! I won my 6th consecutive Pucon Half Ironman title by 11 seconds.
Last year, after finishing 3rd in Kona and 2nd in the 70.3 World Championships three weeks later, I took a proper off-season. I did really easy swims, bikes and runs to keep the blood flowing, but I worked very hard on healing up a few injuries that I had been racing through since last August. Basically, my off-season involved some sort of physiotherapy with Steve Hill, ART and acupuncture with Mark Scapaticci and sport doctor visits with Dr. Galea every single day! The good news is that when I raced Pucon this year, I was pain-free but probably not as race ready as in my previous years. The goal is to be healthy and race ready in October, but that said I still really wanted to win Pucon!! What I lacked in race sharp fitness, I would make up for in heart and experience – or at least that was the plan.
The great thing about the Pucon Half Ironman is that most of the athletes stay together in the same hotel. Mealtimes turn into social hours and previous racing relationships turn into friendships! I realized last night at the post race party, that my competitors – Heather Gollnick, Desiree Ficker and Kim Loeffler – would be 3 women who I would likely have been friends with in the first place if we all lived in the same community. We have a pretty neat sport when you can be battling on the race course and playing a game of pool in the same day!
The race organization was world class as usual – the course was perfectly laid out, the aid stations were well stocked with expert volunteers, the roads were safe and completely closed to traffic and the Chilean people were lining the streets cheering all day. It truly is one of the best races in the world. I can say that after racing here 6 times!
We got off onto the 2-lap swim in Lake Villarica. I was hoping for a fast swim since I had been swimming regularly for the past month with the Dorado Swim Stars – my local swim team. I felt great in the water but exited about 1:30 behind Heather Gollnick, yet 1:00 – 1:30 up on Desiree and Kim. So my swim was decent, but Heather was flying. Out onto the bike, I was working as hard as I could, but I lost more time to Heather and I was passed by Kim Loeffler as well. I continued to push hard and rode knowing that I was riding well and strong, but that Heather and Kim were having amazing days. Both are keying on Ironman New Zealand in early March and so their training is a little further along than mine was.
Off onto the run, I was 3:10 behind Heather, 1 minute down on Kim and still ahead of Desiree. I love this run course, but ironically I was unsure of how my run would go since that was the one sport that I have really been resting up on. My longest run leading into Pucon was 90 minutes and there had been no speed work. I had done 10 minutes at 4 min/km on the Tuesday before the race and I thought I was going to die (meanwhile, before IM Hawaii, I ran for 2 hours at 4 min/km – what a difference a few months can make). But Pucon is a strength run with 3 loops of 4 km very hilly followed by 3 km flat. I was hoping my strength from all of my ‘get-healthy’ physio exercises were going to pay off!!! I basically ran as hard as I could for 21 km. I filled my head with as many positive thoughts as I possibly could. I started to gain on Kim Loeffler and I caught her at about 10 km and then she sat on me and passed me back. I was thinking to myself that it was far too stressful in January to be running neck in neck with another athlete for the next 11 km!! I dropped back and she gained about a meter on me and then I saw that she was taking a salt pill and would need water at the next aid station. As she slowed for water, I picked up the pace through the aid station and gapped her. I tried so hard not to waste energy thinking about her running me down again and I focused on catching Heather who still had about 1:45 on me.
Over the next 3 km, I took another 50 seconds out of Heather and my gap to Kim was growing. Entering the hilly 4 km loop for the last time, I was 52 seconds behind Heather. I knew that the hills were the best place to gain time back. I ran as hard as I could up and down every hill. On the last hill, with about 3.5 km to go, I caught Heather. But she hung with me. I just wanted to yell out, ‘why is everyone being so darn gritty today – just let me go – it is only January – I don’t want to work this hard mentally and physically just yet!’ Oh well, it is not in my nature to give in – I finish what I start – and so I just dug in and ran hard. It was only 3 km to go – like that 10 minute blast I did last Tuesday at 4 min/km – except this would have to be faster. I fed myself every possible positive one-liner that I could and I used every ounce of heart, spirit and drive that I had. I crossed the line in my best time ever here in Pucon and I won by 11 seconds over Heather Gollnick and 52 seconds over Kim Loeffler. It was one heck of a race. Honestly, I don’t think I worked that hard at the 70.3 World Championships!!! It is interesting – you either work very hard in training and then the race comes a bit easier or you work a bit less in training and hammer it hard in the race. Regardless, winning races takes hard work – mentally and physically – and maybe a little bit of luck. A huge congrats to my competitors – Heather and Kim were amazing and Desiree rounded out the top four – obviously, she was a good girl and took a proper off season and was using this race as an early season training boost.
As always, thank you for your support. Hopefully, I will have some photos soon. Take care,