I normally don't do mass race reports, but this one was special because I got to enjoy it with my old man......Enjoy!!!
My dad always wanted to see the Panama Canal, so I decided to do the Panama 70.3 race & make it father & son affair. We ended up on the same flight as DC pro, Margie Shapiro, & chatted while anxiously waiting for our bikes to arrive at baggage claim in Panama. On bike check-in day, Margie spotted my DC tri shirt & invited me out for a spin along sections of the course. We were pedaling comfortably 23-25mph with a strong tailwind; however, those same winds would come bite me on race day. This race had a stacked field of pros & tons of AGs that looked like they could all qualify for the WC in Vegas. Finally, my race plan was to have fun (that’s why I do this) & have enough energy left to enjoy time with my dad.
Race morning--At breakfast, all tables were taken, but Yvone Van Vlerken waved and invited us to join her as she was by herself. I couldn’t refuse such an invite from a pro. I asked her about the bike course, and she said there were hardly any flat sections, some technical areas, & descents with possibility of reaching speeds around 80km (that’s 50mph Yikes!!!). She emphasized that it would be a tough bike course. Off to transition & everyone waited for the arrival of Lance Armstrong. Luckily, my AG was right next to the male pros. I waited until the last minute to exit transition & 5 mins until closing, Lance shows up with his crew. Cameras flashing everywhere, his mechanics have 3 different front wheels, & he’s setting up about 10 feet from where I’m standing. I take video with my iphone, and decided to head out to the swim start, knowing that Lance wouldn’t ask for my pump.
Swim (29:39)--The swim was a point to point along the entrance of the Panama Canal. In typical Latin fashion, they started late, about 20 mins in this case. It was really nice to have the pros go off and see a ship at a distance trying to gain entry to the Canal. Kind of surreal, thinking my dad wanted to see exactly that sight. The organizers said there would be favorable currents, and being the crappy swimmer that I am, I came out “fresh” out of the water in less than 30 mins. I was very surprised as that is normally my time for an olympic distance. My dad yelled at me, you came out in 50 mins. I told him we started late, I said 30, 30. After seeing my swim split, I went from having fun mode to maybe I could PR this race. BTW-that feeling didn’t last for too long.
T1 (4:08); T2 (4:08)--Transition was long, about 500-600 mts in single file from point to point.
Bike (3:05:40) with 3,100ft elevation--If a pro says something is tough, you better believe it. The bike course was completely closed to traffic. The first 10 miles were tough with pitches of 15%, then winds came unexpectedly from the side or head on for the 1st half of course. Going across the Bridge of the Americas was dangerous, as I was getting blown around even while in my horns & had to lean against the wind. I definitely did not want to fall off & become ship cargo. The course was entirely up and down, making it really hard to fall into any rhythm. Add strong winds, steep hills, sun, 88-90 degrees, humidity, & you got a bike course that keeps you honest. I normally ride a 1/2 in the high 2:3ish. When I saw my avg speed halfway thru the course, I knew it would be a hard day. Later, I found out from locals that winds were stronger than usual. Also, many spectators thought their athletes flatted because they were really off on their bike times. Many athletes “complained” that the profile listed in the event page did not provide an accurate picture of the course elevation. I agree, as I was expecting around 800-1,000ft elevation. On another note, it was awesome to see Lance riding 3rd behind Lieto, sweat dripping from his face while hammering up a hill. I was like sweeeeet; I’m not the only one suffering out here.
Run (2:00:29)--I was mentally defeated after the bike sufferfest. The run was flat along the water. The headwind was so strong you could feel it work against you in sections of the run. Wait, I thought the wind is supposed to cool you. That kind of day. I was in survival mode, hoping I drank, ate enough, & wouldn’t cramp up. At the end of 1st loop, I saw the MC for the event, who I know. I yelled, you guys never mentioned anything about 3,100 ft of climbing in the bike. He looked surprised at my comment. 2nd loop, I kept my steady pace, but was mortified to push my limits. I was toying with that grey line & decided to play it safe.
Final Time (5:44:04) a very good time by my standards on a tough course. My dad met me at the finish, & I gave him the hat I got after finishing. He looked happier than my kids when I offer them ice cream. That truly made my entire experience worth it.
Panama is only a 4 hrs direct flight from Dulles & everything is relatively cheap, food is good, people are warm, & it is safe. The event organizers put on a great event, volunteer & crowd support was awesome. I highly recommend this race to anyone willing to put in the hard work during the winter months. The race had the feeling of a huge race, but there were less than 700 participants. Also, touring the Panama Canal & other sites around Panama City was quite worth the experience.
Great race report. Sounds like a tough but fun course.
Thanks for the report. It was a great read. Margie is my on line tri coach - she is awesome! She was on the podium at 3rd! Yippee Margie.