Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Second half of my trip to Panama...A photo is worth a thousand words!

When you make the world a better place for others, you have the good fortune of living in that world too. Give of yourself, for it is the most sincere, meaningful and valuable gift you can give.

-- Ralph Marston
"More than Sports" Homes of Hope Panama
...and the light shone down on this house we were building...

Thank goodness for the second half of my trip because it really gave me no choice but to put into perspective my mishaps of the racing the day before. I would be participating in Chris Lieto's "More than Sports" Project who had joined up with Homes of Hope. The plan would be to head into the Darien Gap into a seldom visited Indian village to help build a home for a family in need.

So a group of 30 or so athletes collected in the lobby in preparation for a long bus trip. Nothing lets you see more of a country than a road trip. We piled into a very old bus( that had no shocks) and headed on a long road towards Columbia.The check points every hour were a constant reminder that we were getting further and further away from home. But with many army guards around us carrying large weapons I felt safe at all times.

We arrived at a small field where a helicopter would fly in and take us on the final journey to the village where we would be spending the night.

Arriving in the village via helicopter was amazing...You really got a birds eye view of the miles and miles of untouched land. A highlight was being greeted by the little Indian kids. They had great big smiles on their face and I even got about ten marriage proposals.. It was all worth it right there!

The little children touched my heart and I wished I could have spoken more Spanish so I could have really communicated with them. It's amazing how the little 8/9 year old girls carry around these 2/3/4 month year old babies on their hips all day. The babies seeming quite content! The babies were my best part of the trip!!! Beautiful little angels.

After a quick delicious lunch we got straight to work. We would be building one house for a family of 9 kids.
The homes of the Darien Gap had been flooded in 2010 when it rained for months and the river rose. The Embera Indians have made make shift homes spread out amoung the hills on higher ground but the houses are in very poor condition and I was so happy to be a part of improving one families life.

We would also be showing the Indian men how easily they too could rebuild or improve their homes and hopefully with some of the funds raised they will beable to build a few more.

We started right away carrying lumber to the site...then concrete blocks, corregated iron pieces for the roof and finally big bags and buckets of sand and rocks from the river. This was heavy manual labour and all who had raced the day before were definitely feeling the heat and toll of the race. But we all worked hard together and it felt great!

As the sunset we were all exhausted...an amazing dinner had been cooked for us and we ate like kings, chatted and probably all hit our tents by 9pm...EXHAUSTED!
The night spent camping in the jungle was not restful for me, although the stars were beyond amazing.... As the night got quiet all sorts of animal calls were heard which was both fascinating and exhausting after a few nights of no sleep. But the army guards were close so I felt safe and rested my eyes until the sun rose the next morning! Three of us girls were happily squeezed into a tent and I am not sure if anyone got much sleep but the next morning we were all up and ready to go!

By the second day the house started taking shape and I was sad that by 12pm we had to head out as we were getting picked up by the helicopter again to be taken to a plane to head back to the city for an early flight out the next morning. I would have loved to see the finished house but will hopefully see pictures soon.

So a group of us headed out and waved goodbye to our little friends we had made.

I love athletes..The group was pretty awesome and it was fun getting to know everyone.

All in all it was an amazing experience and I was super glad I made the decision to be a part of it!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Latin American Pro 70.3 Championships...and so the season starts!

I am on my way back from an amazing trip to Panama filled with excitement and disappointment, new experiences and so much to share.

I feel very fortunate to have been involved in participating in this inaugural race in Panama City. The Panamanian's were warm welcoming people who were so thrilled to have us there racing their event.

The few days leading up to the race were hectic at times as we were based in the city and the race would be staged about 20-45 minutes outside of Panama depending on traffic.

Ready to go!

Race morning was stunning! The perfect day! Just wish I could say that about the rest of my day!

The morning of the race however was a breeze. We were shuttled down at 4.15 am to transition. It was an interesting race set up. For the pro field our bikes would be racked 1 mile away from the swim start. With our run shoes on the opposite end of transition that stretched almost half a mile long. So the morning involved a bike set up…and then a 500 meter walk to where our run gear would be placed. Then another 800m walk to the swim start.

Waiting for the swim start I was really relaxed and it reflects in all the photos taken of me...I was all smiles!

As Lance Armstrong was racing there was ALOT of international press around. The Panamanian spectators were also very excited to be involved and the morning included many photos while I was waiting for the gates to the swim start to be opened. We lined up on the dock where we all anxiously awaited the start. As I took my 15 minute prior to race caffeinated gel we were told that the race would not start for at least another 30 minutes....but I shook it off and just rolled with it. The energy was good and I took a few minutes to really appreciate where we were. The biggest cargo ship was passing by and in the back ground a the Bridge of America's was being shut down for us...not an easy task I am sure!

Checking out the mens start! I am number 51...the one with a smile!

The swim start was an in the water start with a nice current. It was fast and with 25 plus pro involved it had it's fair share of being chaotic. I got hit over the head and my goggles were knocked off to the side. It always amazes me how with all the open water we still all end up swimming on top of each other. With a quick correction of my goggles I already had lost the feet in front of me. This would end up being the first group consisting of Dede,Bree Wee,Leanda and about 6 others. I settled in and eventually pulled the second group of myself Natasha, Angela Naeth, Yvonne Van Klerken and a few others to shore. I felt really strong on the swim and could see I was making up time in the end to the girls that had fallen off the front pack. I was REALLY happy to see a 22 min swim as I exited the water. My fastest 70.3 swim for sure and only 2 minutes down on the lead pack of women. I think its a much more fair race when the men and women get to start seperately.

Natasha on my heels!

Once on land we had what felt like a hundred steep steps to run up and then a 400m sprint to T1. We were allowed to mount our bikes and ride through transition . I was very thankful about that as it would have been at least another 500 m of running with your bike! Once on the bike I knew I wanted to try stay with some of the girls that had come through transition with me except all of them were uber bikers. Natasha, Angela and Yvonne all awesome! I stayed with them through the first 5 miles and was pleasantly surprised that my watts were not too much over where I needed to be. But Angela and Natasha once in the hilly section started really pushing and pulling away. I stayed back closer to Yvonne. My legs felt very good and I was right on target to where Coach Jesse from Qt2 Systems wanted me to be. On the out and back loop which is a 7 mile section I could see that all the other girls were very close ahead and I was in 12th place but making ground.

Still happy to be racing..again smiling and relaxed over the bridge!

All of a sudden I heard a huge release of air from my front tire. I could not believe it …I have only ever had one flat racing in 12 years. There was a lot of glass and other debris on the course.
I rode for a bit on a deflating tire as I guess I could not believe that I had got a flat. Within a minute my tire was completely flat. So I went about changing it.
My Co2 did not entering correctly and I was not happy with the air I had in my tire.

So many athletes had passed me and I actually had a few friends that told me after that they biked the whole out and back loop (about 7 miles) while I was changing my tire. So I figured a good 15 minute loss of time…I will know better when I download my data.

Another one of the pro's Tenillle Hoogland had also got a flat and I asked her if she was going to continue or ride back. She said she was going to finish the bike but was having some gear problems too and ended up having to DNF. I continued on, very disappointed as it is so hard when you are so excited to race and see how fit you are and then it does not go as planned. About 5 miles up the road I had to stop again at an aid station to try find a pump.

Once back on the road again...some of the age group women had passed so I pushed quickly to catch up to them. Next thing a bee flew into my race suit and stung me a few times....as if i wasn't having a tough enough time! I had to catch it and pull it out...by this point I had lost my smile!

I really wanted to see the whole course so I pushed on wavering between race pace efforts and sitting up out of my bars as the other pros rode by me. Ken Glah from Endurance Travel had passed me and encouraged me to make it a solid training day and finish it up and try get a few points. The bike course was a lot more challenging than I expected. It was hot, hilly, windy and humid. With a disc cover on the back and an 808 wheel on the front I was blowing all over the place and had to ride several of the fast descents out of my aero bars for fear of being blown over by the gusty cross wind.
The last 5 miles was a nice out and back highway section towards the city and I was very surprised that I had gained time on some of the pro girls and I wasn't too far back. I had actually passed one or two in the closing miles.

Heading into transition.

Well before I knew it I was riding into transition and headed out onto the run. I was all smiles as I just felt happy to be out there doing what i love!. The crowd was cheering loudly and once on the run course I decided to try push the run as I was feeling good and I knew coach Jesse would want to see how fast I could go. My legs felt great and the first miles we had a nice tailwind that was pushing me. I was seeing some fast splits and was pleasantly surprised. We would be running two 3 mile out and back loops along the Armador Causeway which is a narrow 2 lane road that stretches out into the Pacific Ocean and the wind blows like crazy there. It was very hot but the heat felt good. The volunteers were amazing and the crowd support lined most of the run. The first loop went very quickly. Once again I could see that there were a few girls that were ahead of me who seemed to be battling in the heat and although I was running strong I would never be able to catch any of them. So I just enjoyed the race atmosphere and seeing the friends I had made out there and I cheered the other girls on. I know that if I was in the race I could have run faster but I was happy to see my 1.26 PR run split after the race.

I finished the race and did not wait long before I headed out to finish my day with a 35 minute easy run.

I enjoyed going out a second time as I got to cheer for others as they raced.

So I strongly believe I could have had a very strong race in Panama given my current fitness and the way my body felt. But I will just have to wait for my next race to see how I do.

A big thanks goes out to Guy at Tri Store Panama and to all his guys. Also to the Panama Triathlon Federation that went out of their way to take good care of the pro athletes. And as always to my sponsors Rev 3, QT2 Systems, Kestrel Bikes, Recovery Pump and to my new sponsors for 2012 Louis Garneau,Torhans, Powerbar, Pearl Izumi, and and Blue Seventy!

My next blog will be about the second half of my trip to Panama which involved a trip to the Rainforests with More than Sport and Homes of Hope to build a house for the Embera Indians.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Thoughts on my upcoming first race of the season!!

Happy to leave this...

and this...

...to head to this..

I have been in Panama for 2 days and I am really looking forward to racing soon! It's time to see my progress in training since Phuket and to see what I need to work on in the next 8 weeks for Ironman South Africa! Yes! I will be returning to one of my favorite races and my other home in April. But I will save that for another blog.

I want to share a bit about my experience in Panama so far.

After many days spent riding in freezing temps or doing hot rides on the trainer to get used to the heat here, I finally arrived to the 100% humidity 95 degree hazy South American ,not good for my hair, tropical weather....and its been nothing but an adventure!!!
The first thing I want to say, is that the people I have met down here have been amazing...

Panama is a city that seems to be developing at a speed it can't keep up with...which is both great and trying for anyone driving a car. New high rises are sprouting up everywhere that over look the Pacific ocean and the entrance to one of the Modern Wonders of the World...the Panama Canal.
My first experience Wednesday morning was heading out on my bike for a quick ride up to the bike shop...a mere 20 blocks away....Now how bad could it be? It was the longest 20 blocks of my life!!! Add to the fact that I had no brakes...not good!
I may have prayed a few times but I made it there and thankfully met the nicest group of guys and girls at Tri Store Panama.

When I told owner Gaetano that I intended on biking the course the following day he immediatly stepped in to offer to bike with me and bring a sag car. After making sure my bike was in perfect shape I left on another frightfully scary ride back to the hotel. Note to anyone coming to do this race...Don't ride your bike in the city!!! Way to dangerous!

All smiles on my Kestrel!

Once back at the hotel I was thrilled as friend Dede had called to say she was at my hotel. As we were negotiating a yellow cab to the pool we met a very nice group of athletes who offered to take us to the 50 m pool about 20 minutes out of town. It felt so good to swim outdoors that not even the kids hanging on the lane line or randomly sprinting next to me in my lane bothered me.

My run post swim was just another adventure! Nothing like a wrong turn at dusk to get your adrenaline going. I made a turn to soon landing up on a dark road then having a brief panic attack as I thought I might be lost in the middle of Panama. My run turned to track pace speed until I got back safely!

Today was a 5.30am wake up call. We were picked up by the guys from Tri Store Panama and taken to the Amador Causeway for
our bike. Dede and I were welcomed by a small group and rode the run course out and back loop with the group before heading onto the very busy Bridge of Americas. A long climg that takes you over to a hillier out and back loop.

Thankfully although hard these hills had nothing on Phuket's 22% grade hills. The roads were hairy at times with trucks and buses of people anxious to get to work.
I was thankful not to understand Spanish as we got a few angry yells, a few little honks which was just annoyance at us for blocking the road....a few Hola's and whistles from those who obviously don't see two blondes riding bikes everyday....but generally I was amazed that people were pretty tolerant of us!~ By the end of the ride I was quite used to weaving in and out of traffic and snapped a few pics of the journey... I was happy to get back to the car safely and headed out for a quick transition run.

Bike tech/Traffic controller/photographer and overall good guy!

The run course is on the Amador Causeway. Located at the southern entrance of the Panama Canal and stretching nearly three kilometers into the Pacific Ocean, it is flat with a beautiful view of Panama city ocean and the wind really blows there. It will be hot run race day, fast one way and very windy and slower,the other way but thankfully cooler!

I can't wait to race this course. But for now we will see what adventure tomorrow brings!