Thursday, March 31, 2011

Adventures of a Blonde in Chile Part 1

My journey to Chile began on March 17th and couldn’t have started out on a more sour note. When checking in for my flight at the Tallahassee airport with all my luggage from a month away from home in Colorado in tow, the Delta agent informed me that my bike box was oversize, overweight, and since I had my wheels as a 3rd bag that would bring my grand total to $550! “WHAT?!” I exclaimed. It would’ve almost been cheaper to buy my bike a seat next to me so then at least I could’ve make sure my baby stayed safe while we traveled. Anyways, I digress… on top of the bike fee, my flight out of the Tallahassee airport was delayed by almost 2 hours because of a mechanical problem, meaning that my flight would be arriving in Atlanta at the same exact time that I was supposed to be boarding my other flight to Santiago. Once my flight did arrive in Atlanta, you better believe I set the world record for fastest mile with carryon backpacks inside an airport and made it from one end of the Atlanta airport to the other just as my zone 4 was boarding. At this point, I was pretty much a nervous wreck. I was convinced that after I’d paid an arm and leg, there was no way my bags would make it on the flight but figured I’d reconnect with them somehow.

To my surprise, when I arrived in Chile, my bags were there, bike and all…I was shocked! After paying the $140 fee Americans are charged to get into the country and hiring a taxi to my hotel, I started to get settled in and explore my surroundings in Santiago. I was pretty tired, but forced myself to go for a quick jog to shake out the travel and wake up my body. I had to call it a night pretty early because I knew I’d have to wake up early the next morning. Where the athletes stayed was about an hour from the race site of Piedra Roja, a park used mostly for boating. Therefore, a charter bus met the athletes at 7am (read 8am on Hispanic time) to drive us out to the site the day before the race so that we could preview the course and get in our pre-race workouts. After returning to the hotel, the rest of the day was spent checking in and attending the pre-race briefing and pasta party. Pasta parties in Central and South America are always my favorite because there is always some kind of cheap entertainment and this pasta party was no different. The main event at this pasta party was the abs contest to see who had the best 6-pack abs, winner decided by the audience. I know you all will be disappointed to learn that I did not participate in this contest. Haha.

When I arrived back at the hotel, I was in for a surprise… the maid had bought myself and the other triathletes staying there a good luck king size chocolate bar, thoughtfully wrapped and tied in a bow. I was floored – never has a maid or anyone at a hotel I’ve stayed at for races actually cared about my race…so cool! This was just the beginning of the Chilean hospitality I would experience throughout the trip.

So, let’s sidetrack and talk about the actual reason I was down there – to race. Race morning the elite women were scheduled to go off at 9:45, meaning we’d need to catch an early bus again to make sure we were there in time to warmup for the start. However, the bus we were supposed to take never showed and almost an hour later, someone was able to convince the random bus parked outside the host hotel to take us down to the race site. Since there was no undercarriage space on this bus, we were forced to share a seat with our bikes (pretty hilarious in retrospect). When we arrived to the race site a little past 9, we were all in a panic, not knowing if we’d still be starting at our scheduled 9:45 or would be given any extra time to warmup. After we checked in and had pictures of our uniforms taken, we found out that the race would be pushed back til 10, giving us 20 or so minutes to put our equipment in transition and get down to the swim to warmup. Yikes! This actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it gave me little time to be nervous or over-think the race.

The race started right at 10am as the elite women dove off the pontoon and into the water for a 2 lap, barely non-wetsuit swim. The pace started out fast and furious with lots of clawing and elbowing going on. About 200 meters in, I’d had enough of getting clawed and moved a little to the left of the pack to get out of the madness and have some clear water to swim in. After moving past a couple of the girls, I settled back into the pack and hung on for dear life as we seemed to pick up the pace as the end of the first lap approached and we prepared to make the turn to head out for the second lap. We eventually settled into a manageable pace, and then for some reason slowed down a bunch the last 300 meters of the swim, allowing most of the women to link back onto the group. We came out of the water as basically one large group minus a few.

This meant that there’d be one large pack unless there was a breakaway. The first couple of laps I was wary that there might be a breakaway and kept on my guard, ready to jump and go with whomever just in case. However, by the middle of the race it became clear that nobody really wanted to do the work and that everyone was going to wait for the run to decide the race. This was by far the most leisurely bike leg I’ve ever had in a race and the only time I’ve ever been able to drink both of my full waterbottles and stretch out my calves and back while still spinning in the pack. It turns out I may have been a little bit too lazy.

As I hopped off the bike and headed out to the run, my legs felt cold as if I’d just hopped out of my bed and was starting my warmup run…not good! At this point, I was just hoping to build into the 10k run and have my legs wake up along the way. I neared the end of the first lap feeling better than when I’d started but was very upset to run past the whiteboard with the numbers of athletes who’d received penalties during the swim and bike portions of the race and see my number on there. I had no idea what I’d done but knew I had 3 more laps on the run to choose when I would stop in the penalty box and serve my penalty. I decided that since my legs were continuing to feel better as the run went on, I’d wait it out as long as I could. I was able to pass 5 more girls in the next couple of laps and finally served my time penalty at the end of the 3rd lap, taking a water and Gatorade with me so I could hydrate during my little break. After serving my penalty I sprinted off, trying to make up the time I had lost while standing in the penalty box. I was able to put a time dent into some of the runners ahead of me but my effort ended up not being enough to catch them. I ended the race in 8th place, just 7 seconds behind 7th.

Besides my costly penalty, I was very pleased with a top 10 finish for my first olympic distance race of the year. After the bus ride back to my hotel and some post-race sushi with friends, I packed up and headed to bed pretty early, eagerly anticipating the next leg of my Chilean journey: Valparaiso.

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