I probably should start by answering the obvious question: Why am I going all the way to Ironman Panama to race when there are plenty of options in the US??? Well, due to some family plans, I was unable to race at my usual favorites (e.g., Oceanside 70.3, Boise 70.3, etc.) and the other options that worked logistically (e.g., Racine 70.3, Raleigh 70.3, etc.) were pretty unappealing to me. No offense to those races and towns, but I didn’t have much interest in those events. Panama, given the timing and relative ease to reach as far as international events go, became the best option. So, with that, my 2014 year would start with probably the most important event of the entire year, on foreign soil, and at a place I’d never been seen. Yikes.
In an effort to keep this as short as possible, I am only going to focus on race-related things. Discussing my time in Panama and the trip in general would turn this into a treatise of epic proportions. So, with that, onto the report!
Ironman Panama – My Objectives
I can’t deny, while I preach having goals that are largely, if not entirely, under your control, my biggest goal was qualifying for the Half-Ironman World Championship in Mont Tremblant. Yes, I wanted to do my best and all that stuff. But, deep down, in my mind I was going to Panama in pursuit of one goal: getting a WC slot.
There were a few factors that I felt gave me a decent chance. One, the course seemed to favor my skills (super fast swim, relatively hilly bike, and a dead-flat run). (Of course, a month or so before the race, the bike course was changed from the single loop, hilly route to a four-loop, basically flat route through town. Just my luck…) Two, the fact that the World Championship would be held in Canada for the first time while this race was in Central America I hoped meant a greater chance of a “roll-down” at slot allocation. And, three, most North American triathletes would not be able to train as easily as I could during the winter to peak for this event.
Ironman Panama – Pre-Race
In the days leading up to the race, I wanted to minimize the chances of something going wrong. Whether an upset tummy, dehydration, tired legs, etc., I didn’t want to jeopardize my race. Thus, I lived very, very boringly. I ate oatmeal for breakfast. I ate PB&J sandwiches every lunch. I ate pasta with chicken every night. It was lame but I felt necessary. I did none of the fun things tourists would typically do.
Ironman Panama - Raceday
Thankfully, race day arrived and I could stop thinking and start doing! I awoke early, ate a small breakfast, and grabbed a taxi to transition. Given that I’ve been racing for over five years, I feel very comfortable with my routine the morning before a race. I literally think I took more time debating between tinted or clear goggles than doing everything else! Soon enough, my bike was ready and I headed to the swim start.
Ironman Panama – Swim
Unlike most courses, which have the swim start and finish very close to each other, the Panama 70.3 is a point to point swim (i.e., the start is 1.2 miles away from the finish). In addition to that, there was a very strong current. The interesting thing, though, is that the further from shore, the stronger the current. So, there was a balance between being too close (and thus slower) or too far (and thus adding excess distance). Having reviewed prior finishing times, I knew that meant the swim would likely be fast.
Looking over the course that morning, I decided my plan would be simply to swim buoy to buoy until I could see the swim exit, at which point, I would start heading towards shore. I figured that would give me the best chance of taking advantage of the current, but add as little extra distance as necessary. My goal for the swim was simply to swim comfortably and calmly. I know that any “pushing” or “trying more” in the water results in little to no time gains. I wanted to exit the water feeling as if I hadn’t even started racing.
Jumping off the dock and entering the water, I could immediately feel the current. Thankfully, the time between wave starts was very small due to a late start and within seconds, my wave was off. I knew immediately that opting for clear goggles was the right move. Visibility, both above and below the surface, was excellent so I spent the early part of the swim just focusing on technique and being smooth. I also decided to wear my sleeveless Blue Seventy Reaction and knew immediately I’d made the right choice. The water was very pleasant and cool. Plus, I love having my arms free.
Rather quickly, I passed the first few buoys. I had little trouble sighting the next buoy, but I also had few sightings of other athletes. A few times, I lifted my head more than normal to try and look around but never saw the typical white-wash of humanity. I found this very odd and slightly unnerving, but since I was swimming along the buoy line, I stopped thinking about it.
Far sooner than normal, I could begin to see the carpeted stairs that were the swim exit. I actually began swimming for a spot on shore before the stairs knowing the current would push me (hopefully) right to them. Soon enough, I reached the stairs and was done with the easiest 1.2 swim of my life. My final time was a 21:05 (a personal record by over eight minutes), which was good enough for 8th in my age group (out of 117).
I am extremely happy with my swim and wouldn’t change much. If I ever do Panama 70.3 again though, I will dole out more effort in the water. I probably swam too easily and would have been fine to push the pace a little more than I was. Beyond that, I feel I executed the swim about as well as I could.
Ironman Panama – Transition 1
Given the point to point nature of the swim, the run from the swim exit to the transition area was probably close to a half-mile. While running, I peeled my wetsuit down to my hips and then settled into an aggressive running pace under the circumstances. I knew that few of my fellow age-group athletes beat me out of the water, and those that did, certainly didn’t beat me by a wide margin. I figured with a snappy T1, I would reclaim big chunks of that time. My T1 was 3:51, one of the fastest I saw out all the age-group results. (The winning pro went 2:31.) There’s nothing I would change about T1.
Ironman Panama – Bike
I am not going to lie, the bike made me nervous. Rather than the hilly, rolling country course I thought I would get, I now had to face a four-loop, city street course. I knew once everyone was out of T1, the course would get crowded. Given the conditions (think pot-holed roads, corrugated concrete, and rough highways), that meant too many people in too small of a space, or, danger.
My goal for the bike was to control my temperature. The forecast for the day was a low in the mid-70s with a high in the mid to high-90s. Oh, and 100% humidity. The forecast caused me some nervousness leading up to race day as I’d only brought one helmet with me: my minimally-vented, aero Rudy Project Wingspan. Thankfully, it was great, never caused any issues, and felt cool, comfy, and fast. For me, this meant I must get through the bike with as little core temperate increase as possible. To achieve my goal on this day, I had to have a great run and that meant having a smart bike.
The first loop passed almost like it didn’t happen. I suspect because the sun was hiding behind the last bit of clouds we all would have that day. The difference between that little cloud cover to no cover at all was stunning. One felt oppressive and brutal while the other made the air almost seem cool and pleasant. Regardless, before I knew it, I was headed back to the transition area and finishing loop 1.
Loops 2 and 3 were unremarkable. I wasn’t pushing the tempo, but I was hauling ass. The winds were very consistent so I knew when I’d have a headwind and when I’d have a tail wind. When possible and permissible, I took advantage of other athletes but made certain I did nothing to earn a penalty. I also took extra fluid at the single aid station. I’d grab one water bottle for my bike frame and two bottles to ditch: a bottle of Powerade to guzzle, and a bottle of water to dump all over myself while in the aid station. Again, everything to keep the core as cool as possible was key. Beyond the liquid, I ate three PowerBar PowerGel Packs and 12 Salt Stick tablets.
At the start of Loop 4, I began to hear a buzzing sound and realized my repair bag was dangling and rubbing against my back tire. I tried to reattach it while riding but did not succeed. So, I made the judgment to stop quickly and attach it properly. While I don’t think this made any difference in my overall placement, it was definitely annoying and did cost me a small amount of time.
Other than that, the entire bike was pretty uneventful for me. My ISM Adamo was just like it should be: keeping me happy in a very sensitive area. For others, however, it was a different story. I alone witnessed four crashes that I suspect were caused to some extent by the bad road conditions. While it was not a particularly challenging course, even a small lapse in attention could result in catastrophic consequences. I can’t blame the event organizers or race directors as I heard that construction on the main bridge out of town that’s normal on the bike course prevented us from using it. Given the layout of the city and the location of the race area, I doubt there could have been a much better route. Still though, it wasn’t overly safe or comfortable and, for those that did crash, it was terrible.
Reaching T2, I didn’t know my exact bike time but I knew it had been pretty decent. My final time ended up being 2:38:28, good enough for 26th in my age group and putting me in 17th place in my age group entering T2.
Given all that, the only change I would make is getting a new repair bag before the trip. I feel my effort level, hydration, and nutrition were great and set the stage for me to have a good run.
Ironman Panama – Transition 2
My goal in T2 was the same as T1: haul ass and steal some time. With a 1:57 I definitely did that. My time was 3rd in my age-group (one of three under two minutes with almost all being 2:30 or slower and similar to the majority of the professionals). Mission accomplished!
Ironman Panama – Run
Here’s where the rubber meets the road. By the time I was done with loop 1 of the bike, the sun was out and had nearly two hours to warm the city. Unsurprisingly, I was well aware of this as soon as I started running. My goal for the run was nothing slower than a 7:30. On a normal day, this should be a very doable pace for me. But, on this day, with the heat and humidity, it was a big, big goal.
The run was a two-loop course mostly along a causeway between the mainland and three small islands just off the coast. It was also completely exposed with only a tiny section of shade. To say that heat management would be important doesn’t even begin to capture what it was like. Having lived in Arizona for most of my life, I am pretty accustomed to dealing with heat but not heat plus that kind of humidity. I knew I faced a tough challenge.
Starting out, I actually felt great. While it was very, very hot and in spite of the 1.2 mile swim and 56 mile bike, I felt very fresh. I knew this boded well.
The first few miles passed uneventfully. I doused myself with water at every aid station and just held a very steady 7:15-7:30 pace, which actually felt very comfortable. The controller from my hotel, Aquiles, who had been awesome at being a friend and quasi-tour guide during my stay, actually biked around and repeatedly cheered me on. I love those little moments in races where something unexpected gives you a bit of support and energy.
Can you guess which is the 1st loop and which is the 2nd???
The first sign of difficultly came around Mile 5. At most long-course events, there’s never more than a one-mile gap between aid stations on the run. At Panama though, there were two aid stations separated by about 2ish miles. On a cool, overcast day, that would be totally fine. Our run, to the contrary, felt like it was being held on the surface of the sun during a rainstorm. Of fire, not water. Having to cover two miles without water, ice, or anything cool was not good. I could feel myself beginning to warm and knew that meant trouble. Regardless, I just focused on getting to the end of the first loop. I knew if I could get there still running strong, I could start playing mind games and focusing on the finish line.
As the miles ticked by, my level of discomfort kept increasing. The heat was getting worse and worse to the point that I began running with a liter bottle of water so I could frequently douse my skin with it. Those few seconds of coolness felt incredible. I grabbed multiple cups of ice at every aid stations. Some went in my hat. Some went in my mouth. Some even went down my shorts. Nothing like having ice on some very tender areas to try and stay cool!
In spite of the rising heat, I knew I was running well. No one was passing me and I was consistently passing guy after guy. For the majority of the second half, I just set my sights on the next male and bored a hole in his back until I passed him. Then, I would repeat that with the next guy. The few times I saw packs of dudes, I picked up the pace to leave them with no thought of running with me.
As well as this tactic was working though, it was also taking a toll on me. I was finding it harder and harder to keep running. I wasn’t out of energy, it was just unbelievably hot. I knew the last few miles were going to be torture but I also knew I had put myself in position to have a great day and I was going to give it my all.
Reaching Mile 10, I prepared myself for the last stretch. At this point, I knew every guy I passed dramatically increased my chances of getting that Half-Ironman World Championship slot so I focused on that and tried to ignore the mounting discomfort. Around this time, my hands began to tingle. No clue why, but I assumed it probably wasn’t a good sign as I’d never previously experienced anything like that.
Between Mile 11 and 12, during a long, straight stretch, I realized I could only see one more guy. There weren’t any other males close to enough for me to pass other than him and he was a good quarter-to-half mile up the road with little distance remaining. But, I knew I had to try. Forcing my body to run faster was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Every fiber of my being wanted to walk (or even better, stop entirely) but, instead, I was asking it to go faster. Quelling the burgeoning rebellion, it complied and away we went.
Reaching this dude, I realized two things: (1) he was in my age group, judging by the very smeared “40” on his calf and (2) he was wearing a team kit. And, not just any team kit, but a team comprised of pretty talented athletes. The ones I knew were all frequent Kona and Half-Ironman World Championship qualifiers. In my mind, I felt that if I could beat him, I must be having a great day. Whether that was true or not, it became my sole focus… I just HAD to beat this guy.
As I approached, I prepared for a 30-second burst of total anaerobic effort. I wanted to leave zero thought in his mind that he could repass me. I can’t even begin to describe how painful that pass was. I did everything I could to try and appear externally calm and cool even though my soul was crying. Passing him just after Mile 12 meant I had to keep peeking over my shoulder to see if he was making a move.
Mercifully, I finally reached the last turn that had a sign reading “Finish —->”. As wonderful as that word was, I knew I still had a good half-mile of running. I did everything I could to go faster, just in case he was trying to gain. Every so often, I’d peek back and thankfully he never got any closer.
Reaching the finishing chute, I gave it one last burst, crossed the finish line, and completely collapsed into the arms of two wonderful and steady volunteers. Without them, I would have crumbled to the ground. The clock at the finish line read 5:08, which made me pretty happy under the circumstances. On a day that hot, humid, and miserable, I still managed just slightly over five hours. Not great, but not too shabby either!
My run was 1:43, which on its face doesn’t seem that impressive but it was the 9th fastest in my age group and, given the day, I don’t think I could have gone faster.
Ironman Panama – Post-Race
Those two angelic volunteers literally carried my carcass to medical, who immediately wanted to give me an IV. I rejected that offer and instead requested “mi shombrer y camish por fevr…” (translated from poor, exhausted Spanish, that’s “my hat and shirt please). They kindly obliged and I wistfully sat in the shade and drank some of the most wonderfully cool water I’ve ever had.
After a few minutes of recovery, I spot the guy I held off. I slowly stood and wandered over, telling him how difficult it was to catch him and how I had to give it everything I had to prevent him from passing me. He laughed and asked why I did that. I began to explain that I had this goal, that I was trying to pass all the males I could see, and… then he interrupted me and pointed out that the number on him calf was, in fact, NOT a 40 but rather a 48.
I stood dumfounded.
I could have sworn I saw a 40. Obviously, I was mistaken. I felt like a complete moron. So much effort and pain for literally no reason whatsoever. Sigh…
Ironman Panama – Healing Time
Finishing our conversation, he asked if I wanted to go get in the pool. I thought that was the craziest question, since there were no pools. Until he pointed them out to me.
Next to the finishing chute were four ice pools! I love my wife and kids but at that moment, I think I loved that vision just as much. We both hobbled over and gingerly helped each other into that blissful fountain of youth. I looked for a Spanish explorer but only saw a bunch of Latin American dudes instead. Those pools should be legally mandated to be at the finish of every race or at least the races I do!
Leaving the pool and wandering slowly over to the food, things began to get interesting. After grabbing some pizza and water, I happened to sit down next to a couple looking at results on their phones. Waiting for a break in their conversation, I inquired whether I could look up mine, they said yes, and gave me a phone. Pulling up my age group, I saw my name in 10th place! Yes! That would certainly get me close to a World Championship slot. But wait…
It also said 4:48 next to my name! As in “finishing time”. The race clock at the finish started with the first wave and I realized I started way after that! HOLY S***. Not only was that a new PR, but a PR on a much more difficult course and day. W. O. W. My day was just getting better.
Gathering my stuff, I left the transition area to get clean, get some food, and head to awards/slot allocation. I had created a spreadsheet to estimate the number of slots in my age group and was pretty sure it was going to be five, with a tiny chance at six.
I arrived at awards with about thirty minutes before slot allocation would close and inquired about my age group. Four slots. My heart just sank. Four, tiny, puny, insufficient-to-reach-a-desperately-craving-athlete-waiting-at-tenth slots. But, a small glimmer of hope was that only one had been claimed and the second place finisher had declined his. So, the chances were small, but they were still there.
I did not relish waiting through awards as I knew that time would pass like a massive kidney stone: slowly and painfully. Thankfully, I chatted with some friends (the awesome Wattie Ink athlete Heather Jackson and the equally awesome Heather and Trevor Wurtele) and, insufferably, roll-down finally arrived.
I sat there with both hands open, knowing I had finished in 10th place. Wonderfully, the first announcement was that no more slots were claimed during allocation (YES!), that meant there were three slots rolling down. I just needed three more dudes to pass and I would be going back to the Half-Ironman World Championship!
The PA dude calls the 5th place finisher and he takes a slot. S***. He calls the 6th guy, nothing (YES!), the 7th guy and he takes it. (And, now I contemplate crying. In front of my friends. Ok, not really, I will just cry inside.) He calls the 8th guy, nothing, the 9th guy, nothing… and then pauses. Uhhhhhhh, please FOR THE LOVE OF GOD READ THE NEXT NAME (as I am pretty sure it is mine)… Finally, “Redfield Baum”! Best two words I heard all day!!!
The day will now be etched forever in my head as one of the best racing days I’ve ever had. I ran to the stage, grabbed the paper for my slot, and happily paid $400 Canadian (wait, it was how much!!?!?) I am not nearly a good enough writer to capture how excited and happy I was. The best thing I can say is that, even after racing that morning under those conditions, I was so excited to share the news that I actually ran the mile-and-a-half back to my hotel room. Not walked. Not jogged. But ran, even up the hills. I was overflowing with energy and wanted to share it!
So, yeah, I really enjoyed Panama and, even with the minor issues, would highly recommend it. I want to thank a few people: First, my Coaches, Bill and Anne Wilson from Camelback Coaching. They have helped me go from a non-runner and non-cyclist to achieve something that seemed more dream than reality. Second, my team, Wattie Ink. Without Wattie’s support and help, doing races like these would never be as enjoyable. I get to wear not only the coolest kit ever created, but that kit brings “Go Wattie” comments every where I go. Lastly, the people from Destination Kona. The sheer volume of gear, clothes, etc. needed to compete in any endurance sport is ridiculous. Destination Kona is the best triathlon store one can find and I am fortunate to be able to partner with them.
Thanks for reading the longest race report in history and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed the race!
2014 Ironman Panama 70.3 – SUCCESS!!!