The trip to Pucon is LONG. You have to be pretty motivated to get to a race like this, especially in January. My trip went like this: - Fly from Orlando to Houston, 4 hour layover in Houston. Fly from Houston to Santiago. Wait 90min in passport control line, pick up bags, wait in agricultural check line, check into a local airline and barely make flight. Fly from Santiago to Temuco. Arrive in Temuco and drive 2 hours to Pucon. The second I stepped out of my shuttle I couldn’t believe the view; the volcano is absolutely breathtaking. I was so grateful to have finally arrived.
Francesca, one of the many members of the unbelievably friendly and welcoming race staff, immediately greeted me. I checked into my room, got food and found Lisa for a relaxing shake out water run. Over the next three days leading into the race I participated in a lot of activities with the other pros to help promote the race in the community. Lisa has won Pucon six times and she was back to race but she was also showing me around the course every day. It was so fun to hang out and get to see the course through her eyes, especially as someone who was so dominate on this course. It was incredible to see what an absolute celebrity Barbara Riveros is in Chile. She couldn’t walk a step without someone walking up to her to ask for an interview, or a photo. I felt for her at times, but she handled all of it with grace and professionalism. I imagine there was a lot of pressure on her leading into the race as the two time defending champ and a local hero. The turnout at the press conference and the fact that the race was aired live on TV showed what a big deal it was to have Barbara back and raicng in Pucon. It was also absolutely fantastic to meet Mark Allen. To be honest, I didn’t know a lot about Mark’s legacy in the sport. I knew he’d won Hawaii a bunch of times, but didn’t know the details. I didn’t even start following Iron-distance racing until the last few years so I’m still learning a lot about it’s history. Mark was so much fun to hang out with, and I really enjoyed speaking to him about the sport and his experience in Hawaii. ** Super awesome volcano photo complements of Mark Allen**
Race day was absolutely beautiful. It has been a little chilly leading into race day but it was warm and calm for race morning. My #1 goal for this race was to simply enjoy it and really take in all of the beauty around me. I don't know if the photos do the race venue justice, it is probably one of the most beautiful races I've ever done; I would say it's a tie between Zell Am See and Pucon. The swim venue was stunning; the water was clean and clear. We lined up on the start the race and I had the luxury having the start gun right next to me, so I got off the line really fast. I had clean water immediately and just missed Hayley Chura’s feet, but I also I wasn’t losing time. I made one final push to close the gap and I just couldn’t quite get it done. Barbara and another Chilean were on my feet and I let them go hoping they could bridge the last bit. As we approached the run out we were very close to Hayley. We closed the gap on the run out and then a couple seconds opened up and we started the second lap. The second lap was uneventful and we exited the water 10-15 seconds behind Hayley.
As I expected Barbara flew through T1, and I trailed behind by about 15 seconds as we mounted the bikes. The run from swim exit to the bike mount was about 1k due to the tremendous participation in the event. Within 5k I moved into the lead on the bike. The first half of the bike gently climbs all the way to the turn around. What makes this bike course so challenging is the road surface; it’s chip seal and very slow. At half way I saw 1:20! That’s the slowest 45k in a race I’ve ever done! The way back to town was much faster. With about 10k to go I made a big push as I knew this was when my long course experience may give me an advantage. The final 3k of the bike was very exciting. I had the cameras with me (the race was being aired live on TV!) and I could barely see the road in front of me as the crowd was so thick. It was such a huge adrenaline rush. I dismounted my bike unsure of exactly what my lead was.
The run course is 3 laps of 4k on the peninsula which is VERY hilly, then 3k flat in town. The crowd support was amazing, I could hear everyones watches beep as I ran by, knowing they would be giving Barbara splits. While lots of people were cheering for me, I never heard a split to Barbara. I would make landmark goals for each loop but Barbara kept surpassing them. I could feel she was closing fast but I believed I would have enough. The 3rd lap was agony, the course was so packed with age group athletes that I missed where Barbara was. I knew this was it, the final 5k I had to give it everything I had. There were unique challenges on that last lap that I have never faced before in a race, when age group male athletes saw the cameras some began running my pace for periods of time to say hi to the camera. The motorbike with the camera had a tough time navigating all the age group athletes on the final lap, particularly as we came trough town. It was definitely congested and loud but I kept my focus doing everything I could to get to finish line as quick as possible. At the final turn around with just over 1k to go I could see Barbara finally, I finally heard a split: 22 seconds. I was giving it everything I had, but I could hear a wall of noise getting closer to me; this noise was the roar of the crowd cheering Barbara on. With about 800m to go Barbara took the lead, we exchanged words of encouragement. While I would have loved to have won the race, I couldn't have possibly gone any harder. I could barely stand at the finish line- nor could Barbara, which made me feel a little better;) I don't think we could have given the crowd a more exciting race!
This is what racing is all about: completely pushing your limits. One of my favorite quotes is from Bruce Jenner: "I love my competitor because he brings the best out of me". Barbara and I brought the best out of each other that day, and though I fell short of my outcome goal of winning I was so proud of the effort. I had an exceptional experience in Pucon; I completely fell in love with the area and I will do everything I can to come back next year and try to place one spot better;)
My next race is San Juan 70.3 in just a few weeks. Until then thanks for reading!!
*** Bike and run shots are property of Wagner Araujo***