I landed in Puerto Rico on March 15, four days before the race. When I can I like to arrive to races early so that I can get settled and see as much of the course as possible. I was very fortunate to have my old Triathlon Squad training partner Manny Huerta living only fifteen minutes from the race site. Manny and I spent a lot of time training together in 2016 when he was preparing for the Olympics. It was also really interesting to see how the media treated him. He is an athletic icon in Puerto Rico with his image in the National paper every time he raced.
Manny, his wife and Oreo were very kind and housed me for the race. It really was a huge advantage because Manny was able to give me all the local tips about the race. We road most of the bike and ran the entire run course, I new exactly what I was getting into. He kept it very relaxed, which I have found is very important to me going into a race. I like to be focused on the task with as few distractions as possible but I cannot allow the race to overwhelm me. So I like to keep it light, with some joking around.
The morning of the race I was extremely calm. Probably the calmest I have been going into a race. I felt like this is what I am meant to do and I would not want to be doing anything else. What ever happens today I am in it 100%. I put on my pre race music and it was game time.
In transition I went through my setup and did my 20min run. The run is just to pass the time and make sure I am awake before I go over to the swim start. As I left to walk over to the start I ran into Nathan Killam. We have become good friends over the last few years of racing. It was really nice to joke around with him as we made our way to the start line. But once I started my swim warm up it was time to get serious. I have a lot of very good friends in triathlon but from the time the gun goes to the time I cross the finish line I am alone out there and there are no ‘friends’. I think that a lot of the athletes feel the same way. I am always respectful of all my competition. But sometimes emotion overwhelms me and I just have to cheer or give a high five to my friends, that I am racing with. You can only be serious for so long ;)
The swim was non-wetsuit and a rectangle shape. I chose to line up on the right hand side since I breathe to my right a little bit more. I have been working on breathing on both sides a lot this year but I still preferred my right side. As the sun cracked the horizon we got the count down to the start. 3..2..1 and the horn blast! The race was on I got my arms turning over quickly and launched forward. I was starting to get pinched out by the guys on either side of me. It reminded me of the ITU swims. I held my position and eventually the swim strung out, into single file. There were some very strong swimmers in the field, which consisted of multiple Olympians. I found the chase group of about 4 people and settled in. The water was very calm for most of the swim. I tried going to the front of the group a couple of times but it just was not worth the extra energy so I settled on being the third person in the pack. We swam under a bridge and as we came to the other side the swell started to pick up. I moved up beside the person I was following to get a little cover from the waves. As I exited the water Manny told me I was about 90 second down from the lead group of five. I had some work to do.
The run up to transition was fairly long and I was able to move up in my group. I got onto the bike and just settled into my own pace. I did not worry about what was going on behind me. All that matted at that time was riding my own power. I was extra careful on the bike to make sure I avoided all the pot wholes and bumps. The bike course was two loops, flat and fast. At the first turn around I was only 45 seconds down from the leaders. I was a little shocked, but I new I had to take my time to make it to the leaders. I had to stick to my plan and not get to excited. I wanted to catch them but without taking too much out of my run legs. At 25miles I had caught the leaders. I now had to make a decision, do I sit behind the group I just caught or go to the front and keep riding my own pace. I saw that the group had grown to seven people and the pace was slowing. Every one was getting ready for the run. The pure runners were starting licking their chops. I made the decision to go to the front and just ride my own power. It was a hard call but I did not want to have a running race with seven guys. This also allowed me to control the race, I was not going to put the hammer down, just ride the highest wattage that I still could run well off of. I made sure I road within myself since the race was still going to come down to the run. The group had dropped down to four by the end of the bike. As we came into transition the ground was covered in standing water. It must have rained just before we got there. This meant I had to be extra careful on the dismount with some slick parts of the road. Andy Potts surged past me in the last 100m but it cost him. He crashed as he dismounted. Luckily I was able to avoid him and get off my bike unharmed.
After a very smooth transition I was still in the lead. For the first 3miles Ben Kanute and I had a battle. We each were both pushing the pace and only getting a stride advantage over each other. I new I had to stay relaxed and just keep bringing up the pace a little bit at a time. Ben made a move on one of the large hills that I was able to cover. This was going to be a waiting game just slowly grinding down your opponent. I made a surge at 2miles as we went down the hill but Kanute responded. As the course flattened I cranked up the pace to 3:20km and slowly I open up a small gap. By the first turn around the gap was only 10 seconds. I had to stay very focused and cool as I tried to extend my lead. Manny was out there giving me info and telling me to stay cool. “You got to COOL DOWN Taylor!” was Manny’s key advice. It was so true with 28c and 80% humidity, staying cool equaled a fast race. I kept telling myself it was only 20c out there, perfect temp for running fast. The one word in Spanish I made sure I learned before the race was ice… hielo. At the half way mark I had extended my lead to 23 seconds. I tried not to think about anything but the moment, just run fast and efficiently, because 23 seconds is not a lot. I stayed relaxed on the second half and was able to open up the gap to about 90 seconds by the end of the race.
I was overwhelmed with joy as I crossed the finish line in first. It was the second fastest time I have ever done in a 70.3 race. I found out later that I had gone the second fastest on that course missing the record by just 20 seconds. It also was the fastest bike split I have had thus far. It was very hard mentally and physically to the point where I threw up three times after I crossed the finish line. That was the first time I have ever puked after a race and it just goes to show how hard it was to win this race. All of the guys and gals that raced out there are tough as nails and I have so much respect for them all.
Thank you to everyone who followed along. I will be racing Oceanside 70.3 on April 1 next so stay tooned.