By Michael Lovato
ISSUE #25, Winter 2004/2005 – Normally November is a time for rest. Normally I look forward to November being a month where I exercise if the mood strikes me; if it does not, I sit flat on my butt and relax. Normally the only race I do is one to see who gets to the couch first. This November I took a break from my normal protocol, and I signed myself up for a race. The race: Half Ironman Mexico in the Bays of Huatulco.
What drove me to take exception to my rule was a less-than-satisfying result in this year’s Hawaii Ironman. Having prepared better than ever, and finding far better fitness this fall, my expectations were very high heading into October. Falling short of my projected goal in Kona, and seeing my Xterra consolation prize fall by the wayside, by means of a flat tire, I looked for another race with which to conclude my season.
Having raced in Huatulco in its inaugural race back in 2000 (my debut pro race), I knew that not only would I be subjecting myself to a challenging race course, but also to some tough weather conditions. Combine these with formidable competition from the likes of Chris Legh, Bryan Rhodes, and Kerry Classen; and I knew that I’d have my work cut out for me.
After one or two missed flights, a forgotten passport, and an overnight stay, I finally arrived in Huatulco. I eagerly awaited the arrival of my bags inside the palapa-topped terminal building. Immediately inside the open-air room, I found my soon-to-be roommate, Bryan Rhodes. After collecting our baggage, we found the shuttle to our weekend’s accommodations: the Gala Resort, an all-inclusive beachside hotel. Content with our new digs, we decided to check out the all-inclusive part of our stay: the buffet. Our greatest challenge turned out to be showing a little restraint with respect to the multiple choices for food and drink. No need to gain five pounds in the two days prior to the race!
Bright and early race morning, Bryan, Kerry and I made our way over to transition together–up and over one of the many challenging hills on the bike course. Arriving at our bike rack, it seemed that Chris already had a leg up on his competition: not only was all of his gear set up, but he was nowhere to be seen. Impressive. Soon enough Mr. Legh appeared, and the rest of us found ourselves likewise prepared. We then moseyed over to the beach.
Soon after the running start had the pro men’s and women’s fields plunging from the beach to the chilly seawater, I had my first encounter with a jellyfish. Now I’m not one to be easily spooked by marine life, but this was not a good sign. Moments later I found myself immersed in a school of pesky, stinging jellies! This was definitely not a good sign. Was I the only one being stung? Surely not, I reasoned, as I pressed on. Realizing that the swim is supposed to be the easy part of a triathlon, I must admit that this was the most uncomfortable, even painful part of my whole day. Ouch. I have never suffered so many stings in so short a span of time. I was very relieved to exit the ocean.
Arriving at my bike, I was pleased to see I would be starting the ride in front of Chris, yet I wondered how much time I had lost to the faster swimmers. I soon had the answer to that question, as I received a split of just over two minutes. Not long into the three-loop bike course, it became evident that the choice to ride my QR Tiphoon road bike (equipped with drops and STI) was a good one: the terrain changed from one minute to the next.
Unsure of my fitness I rode more conservatively for the first lap, not wanting to blow up later in the game. The strategy seemed to pay off, as I found the leaders coming back to me as I progressed to lap two. Nearing the mid-way point of the ride, I found myself in the lead. Realizing that I seemed to be gaining steam, I was encouraged heading into my strongest of the three disciplines… or was it?
After the first out-and-back of the half marathon, I noticed that my lead over second place, Chris Legh, was approximately ninety seconds. Confident that I could maintain such an advantage, I pushed forward. However, in spite of my better efforts, I found myself slowing at the base of a challenging climb known as The Oven, near kilometer six. Being nowhere near the finish, I began to question my fitness. By the second turnaround at kilometer ten, Chris had already closed the gap between us. As he drew alongside, I briefly matched his pace: always game for a head-to-head run battle. However, in a few short strides, it became clear that I was no match for him on the day: my legs had exploded! After seeing him pull away rather quickly, I focused my efforts on maintaining second place.
Moving up one spot from his finish in 2003, Chris Legh became the fourth man to win the four-time event. I rolled in second, with Bryan Rhodes of New Zealand securing the final podium spot. Each of us content to get through such a challenging event, we all marveled at how much harder racing is when you are not in peak form. Adding to our late-season fitness dip, an additional challenge was enduring the 115-degree heat (registered in the sun, six inches off the pavement!).
We then set to the task of cheering our female counterparts across the line. Competing in her first Half Ironman, Jessi Stensland notched a seventeen-minute victory ahead of first-year pro, Kimberly Hager; Circe Saucedo of Mexico; and the Queen of Huatulco, Wendy Ingraham.
With Phase I of our trip completed (the race itself), it was then time to focus on Phase II: the after party! Often the icing on the cake, a good after party has the potential to take a good race experience and make it great; an average occurrence and make it exceptional. By means of several buckets of Corona, numerous shots of tequila, a vodka drink or two, a rowdy dance club, and even a dip in a human-sized aquarium behind the bar, our group of merry revelers succeeded in capping off a fun season in style. I believe we each determined that regardless of our season’s successes or disappointments; in spite of our fitness or lack thereof; and regardless of the demanding travel involved in our arrival, we would each be back next year to enjoy the challenge, beauty, serenity, and excitement of las Bahías de Huatulco!