Thursday, January 27, 2011

Mountains In The Carribean Sea

Lauren and I got to Chicago around 5 and decided to get some food before we headed to the hotel to catch a nap.  We booked a park and fly at a hotel near the airport so we could offset the high cost of parking at O’Hare.  We went to a little Greek restaurant called Squabs.  We got some really good Gyros that hit the spot.  After dinner we checked into the hotel and caught a nap until 11:30 and then headed to the airport.  Our flight out of Chicago was at 2:10.
I was in and out of sleep until we got to San Salvador, El Salvador.  When we arrived there, they had wifi in the airport so I was able to give my mom and Greg an update on our travel.  After a one hour layover, we boarded the plane for Roatan.  Greg had told us that the Roatan airport was one of the most dangerous airports in the world to fly in to.  I did not mention this to my mom before the travel because I did not want her to worry!!  Upon approach and landing I was scoping the area for something that would indicate a dangerous airport.  I did not see anything.  It actually looked like a nice airport for a Caribbean Island.  Once we landed, customs was not very difficult to get through.  All we had to do was present our passports. 
Lauren and I with our waters!
After we got our bikes we got in touch with Leslie, the race director, and sorted out where we were going to be staying.  We were signed up for a home stay so we were excited to see what it entailed.  Once we had that squared away, we found some water!  Leslie’s husband and Jessica, one of Leslie’s helpers, picked us up from the airport and dropped us off at our homestay.  It was in Sandy Bay and had all the amenities of a small cabin in a third world country.  Valerie was a very nice host but very upfront with everything.  She runs a shelter for women and children with AIDS and she has her likes and dislikes of the Roatan/Honduras culture and let us know her thoughts.  She is originally from Canada but has called Roatan home for 9 years.  She plans on staying here when she retires.  She got us a few groceries to start us off and then took us to a grocery store to allow us to buy food we liked.  She also allowed us to use her shower since there was no shower or hot water in our cabin.  It was not what I had in mind leading up to a race, but it got the job done.
The neighbors
Once Lauren and I were settled, Harry, an athlete from Great Britain, arrived at the homestay.  Valerie took us all to the market to get food and then we stopped in to a little Honduran restaurant for some ethnic food.  I enjoyed it, but it was a little on the shady side.  The best restaurants are basically a family’s kitchen that you go into and eat.  There is no menu, only what they have prepared for the day.  After food, we jumped in the car and drove the bike course.  HOLY CRAP!  The “flat” part is not flat at all and “The Wall” made me think twice about the race, and I enjoy climbing!!  I figured while driving the course that it was going to be a tough race so I had to mentally prepare myself for “battle.”   Once back at the cabin we all put our bikes together and headed out for a short spin to loosen our legs from traveling.  Lauren and I rode for about 25 min and then went for a 20 min swim in the ocean.  I am not sure how long Harry rode but he found out firsthand how quickly it gets dark once the sun starts to go down
Lauren and I share a room with bunk beds
After going to bed early the night before we were up and at ‘em early.  I went for a 30 min run while Lauren and Harry went to explore “The Wall.” Lauren was a little nervous about descending so she wanted to check it out.  After my run I did some run drills to help loosen up my legs and then rode with Lauren while she ran for 20 min.  I felt a little weird running solo down these roads so I did not feel right sending Lauren out alone.  Two days before a race Greg and I like to back down my training and let my body fully recover for the race, so my day was full of eating and relaxing.  About midday we went for a swim.  Once again we headed to the ocean out back of our homestay but this time we went a little farther out into the coral reef.  Roatan has the second largest reef in the world.  Second to only the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The water gets very shallow over some spots of the reef so we had to be careful not to touch it, but I did catch my foot on a bit of it.
Jasmine, Nicholas, and I
After the swim, we showered up and went to a little brick oven pizza place.  The food here is surprisingly good, but I think the sausage on the pizza was closer to a hot dog then actual sausage.  For the remainder of the day we chilled outside in the shade since it is cooler outside in the tropical breeze than inside.  We hung out with Valerie’s kids and they kept us quite entertained.  It was fun watching them play sports and just be children.  Valerie made us dinner, which was a delicious mix of chicken, coconut shrimp, rice with black beans, and fried plantains.  I was a bit weary of the fried plantains until Valerie said they were good with ketchup.  I love ketchup so when someone says something is good with ketchup I never miss an opportunity!!  I am starting to get the feeling that green vegetables are not a normal menu item.  After dinner we sat on the deck and chilled until bed time.

Sausage Pizza
Lauren, Harry and I woke up around 6:15 and were riding by 7.  The roads were a bit more crowded than we were expecting for a Saturday morning, but the ride went well.  I did some openers to get the body ready to race including riding up “The Wall.”  The mood after the ride was pretty much what I was expecting after driving it.  I was thinking this race will not be about who is the fastest or best triathlete, it will come down to who is the best cyclist in the mountains.  After the ride we checked our bikes in with Leslie and she locked them in a closet so we could get them on race morning.  When we arrived at the water the ocean was angry!  The description on the website stated very little waves and minimal current.  On Thursday that was true, but not on this particular day.  There were some decent swells and the current would push you if you let it.  We swan for about 30 min total in which I inserted some openers and worked on water entrances and exits.  My body was doing whatever I told it, so I was hoping the same thing would occur on race day!   We taxied back to the homestay and had some lunch.
After lunch we relaxed and napped before our run.  Valerie took us to the race site to go for a run and attend the prerace briefing.  We decided to run one lap of the course, since it is a 2 lap race.  WOW!  The run course does not lack hills, or hill in this case, one bit!  It is an out and back 2 laps and in the middle is a giant hill that you have to run up and down going each way.  Just when I thought I had this race figured out, another mountain is thrown into the mix.  I started thinking that this race really was going to be more about survival than racing.  The only way I could think of to describe this race as I prepared myself the night before would be a heavy weight boxing match.  I knew I was going to have to take some heavy blows and I was going to have to hit hard when I needed to in order to conquer this!  It sounds crazy but it is what I train/live for!!
Valerie’s daughter, Jane, made us pizza as a prerace meal!  It was amazing!  The host family had friends over and it turned into a real pizza party.  I got carbo loaded and had a good mix of protein, so I knew I would be ready to go the next day.  As we were getting ready for bed, music was blaring and we learned it was an all night party!!  Not what I was looking forward to on the night before the race, but oh well, stuff happens and you have to deal with it.  It was like a dorm party next door the night before a race in college. 
Prerace – I woke up 3 hours before the race start to eat as I normally do.  I did not sleep well due to the party but I hardly ever sleep well the night before a race.  Valerie dropped us off at the race site and then drove back home to watch, since her house was on the bike course.  Transition opened at 6 and we got there before it opened but no one said anything to us as we started to get our bikes around.  I wanted to check the air in the tires and get the chain lubed up.  The numbers for our racks were put up around 6:15 so we set up our transitions after that.  I went for a short jog at 6:45 and got ready for a swim warm-up around 7:05.  Introductions were supposed to be done at 7:15, but they did not have the buoys in the water at 7:20.  The race was delayed!  I am not sure what time we ended up starting, but it seemed like we were stuck on the beach forever.  The swim was supposed to be one lap, but problems arose and they decided to make it two laps as the buoys were being put out.  They had a debate on how the swim would work, but finally settled on two straight laps, no beach run in the middle.  They also decided to make it a water start so the guys that got to pick first chose to stand in waist deep water, while the guys at the end, I included, had to tread water for about 3 min before we could start.  Oh well, I was ready to race so let’s just get this thing going!!
Lauren's Bike with Rudy Helmet and Hammer Gel
Swim – The horn sounded and we were off!  I got out well, but for some reason I always find myself on the outside next to someone who also wants to be outside.  The water is cleaner outside so for a strong swimmer, that is where they like to be.  But I am not a strong swimmer yet, so I like to be inside on some feet so I can get pulled along.  So I was stuck outside this guy while we repeatedly smashed our arms together.  Finally it calmed down, and I was able get on feet!  We were all strung out in a line for the first lap.  The ocean was calm, but it still had a lot more waves and current then I am used swimming in.  As we rounded the buoy for the second lap, someone got spit out of the pack.  As he was coming back through the pack to me, I lost contact with the feet ahead of me and was not able to close the gap.  So there I was, pulling myself through the ocean.  I kept trying to go faster to close the gap, but they just slowly pulled away from me.  This was not what I was looking for in the race, but my swim has gotten faster so I just stayed positive and swam hard for the last 750m.
Bike – I came out of the water with Chris Foster.  He was the guy that got spit out of the pack and took me with him and he swam on my feet for the second lap.  I had talked to Greg before the race and that is where I wanted to be.  I knew he was a very strong biker so if I could grab his wheel I would have a shot at getting in a solid bike pack.  I beat him out of T1 and was ready to move with him up the hill.  Then I found out how strong of a biker he really is!  Going up “The Wall” he rode away from me and could do nothing to stay on his wheel.  I was trying to close the gap down but I did not have the legs for it.  I was riding solo!  Not a good place to be in a draft legal race!!  After about 8-10km I caught Lukas Siska.  He is coached by Barb Lindquist, head of the Collegiate Recruitment Program, so I knew his name but had never met him before.  We were going to get to know each other well on for the next 50 min.  I was still trying to ride hard, but I don’t think we were gaining any ground.  The ride was an out and back 2 loop course so I got to see how far down we were three times.  It was great to see Valerie and her kids out on the road while biking.  It is easier to go fast when someone is cheering.  The course was taking its toll on my legs and I was having trouble riding a solid tempo while breaking the wind, and we still had to get up the back side of “The Wall!!” The last time I could see the only large pack on the road riding away from Lukas and I, Chris had bridged the gap to the front pack.  Chacon and Fleischmann had broken away, but Chris had made it into a great position.  If only I could have held his wheel!!  Oh well, it gives me something to work on for next time!  This is a learning experience and sometimes the hard lessons are the best!  At the bottom of the back side of “The Wall” Lukas starting riding hard and put some time into me.  My legs did not have the pop so I rode a steady tempo and made it up as quickly as I could.  I ended up getting into T2 ahead of Lukas and took off running as he was getting in.
Run – I headed out of T2 and wanted to run hard to finish off the day, but it did not feel like my legs wanted to cooperate.  I stayed calm and just tried to keep moving forward.  I could not see anyone ahead of me, so it was all up to me to set a respectable pace.  The first time up the hill on the run it was hard but I did not think about it too much.  Coming down I did not want to get too far ahead of myself and fall because the hill was somewhat steep when running fast.  I finally got a look at someone while they were going back and I was still heading to the turn around.  I had a large gap to make up, but I kept going.  It was hard to stay focused running solo so far behind, but I did not want to give up in this race.  The second time up the hill hurt a lot!!  And going down my legs started going a little too fast and I thought I was going to bite it!  Finally the hills were over and I gave it one last push to the finish.  I could finally see people as I ran down the beach to the finish line but they were too far ahead for me to catch.  I finally hit the finish line and the pain was over!!  At least until the next day when I could hardly walk!
Post race we went to an American restaurant down the road and had burgers and beverages.  I thought it was a good burger!  Then we went back to the homestay and hung out with the family for the rest of the night.
We slept in after a late night and made our way to the airport to drop off Harry.  Jane took us and we had to run some errands along the way.  We stopped by a little café in West Bay that had great sandwiches and a nice little market.  We took a little took long and we had to rush Harry to the airport.  Harry thought his flight was at 11:40 but when we got there we found out his flight was at 11:20.  He was lucky to get his bike on the plane, but he did make his flight.  It was a good thing it was a little island airport that only had 2 gates.
After we dropped off Harry we went to the mall!  It was the only mall in Roatan, and it was nice, but it was more like a strip mall in America.  There was a Honduran department store, a store called Malibu which offered American clothing such as Abercrombie and American Eagle and a lot of cell phone stores.  They had an Apple Bees and a Wendy’s, and we went to a Super Jugos, a little smoothie bar.  I went with strawberries and banana in a milk base.  It was delicious!!
Once we got back to the house it was time for Lauren and I to enjoy our one day of vacation.  We suited up, by that I mean put on as little as possible, and went to the beach!  In Honduras they have sand flies so we did not want to lie in the sand.  No one is allowed to own a dock in Honduras, so we just found a dock on the beach to lie out on.  We relaxed on the dock for about 2 hours and we both took a little nap.  It felt great to lay out in the sun and just be warm after coming from a South Bend winter.  After that we did a little recovery swim in the ocean and headed back to the house.  We had dinner and packed and got ready to leave the next day.
We woke up early due to the roosters and dogs in the area and packed the car to head to the airport.  On our way to the airport we stopped for baleadas, they are a local dish that is commonly eaten in the morning.  It is smashed beans on a handmade flour tortilla.  Chicken or pork can be added to it and island cheese adds great flavor as well.  Once we were finished with breakfast it was off to the airport. 
Roatan as we were flying away
We had no problems getting through security and we made out flight with plenty of time.  Our flight was a little late but we did not mind sitting in the airport waiting to leave.  Once we arrived in San Salvador we found out our flight to Chicago was delayed.  We were going to have to spend 5 hours in the airport!  It was a long time to spend in the airport but they had free wifi and we had a few movies to watch so it was bearable.  We passed the time and had an interesting adventure at Subway before we boarded the plane. When we got to Chicago we had little trouble getting through customs at 11:30 pm.  Once through customs I called the hotel to get a shuttle to my car.  It was a frustrating situation that took a little over an hour but it finally showed up and we made our way home.  We finally got home at 3:30 am and fell into bed exhausted.  It was a great trip and I am very happy I attempted the race.  I am excited for future races and ready to get back to a normal training schedule.
 “Take calculated risks.  That is quite different from being rash.” ~George S. Patton

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