"Wow, you are in the Red Zone" exclaimed 15 year-old Puerto Rican Carolina as she was marking 70 on my left calf at the start of the 6th Annual IM 70.3 on this Island Paradise.
We started the 1.2 mile swim course in Condado Lagoon, the same natural harbor discovered by Christopher Columbus on his second crossing in 1493. He declared it for Spain as the Gateway for the America's Riches. He was quoted (roughly translated) to his men, "Go forth and harvest the abundant food and fresh water while constructing a perfect 56 mile bike course!"
And so it went, we finished the 80 degree calm water swim course along side some curious but friendly local manatees. Entering transition at Sixto Escobar Stadium with easy and perfectly aligned bike access as volunteers helped you with clothing, equipment and a layer of sunscreen.
Chris' bike course was a spectacularly beautiful flat two-loop ride along side the turquoise Caribbean. About the time I was closing in on T2, USA Tim O'Donnell opened his 2016 season with his second win in San Juan by a 3:30 margin with a time of 3:50:51. Belgium Tine Decker won the Women's Pro Division with a time of 4:20:22.
The rest of us were on the oldest run course on American soil. Old San Juan Bautista has many ancient brick-stone narrow steep roads lined with 15th century buildings and friendly welcoming people. They're a mixture of indigenous, Spanish, African and Creole marinated into strikingly attractive features. They love their island nation and you can see the joy in their glistening eyes.
All roads, including the run course, leads to the 14th Century Fort of El Morro. You run two 2-mile loops between the 500 year old 60 foot walls and the narrow path bordered by massive boulders holding back the sea. This historic spot on the run is affectionately called the "microwave". The heat soaked black walls radiate back out to the path and cooks fair-skinned visitors.
I heard winner Tim O'Donnell say it was the hardest run of his 70.3 races. However, the locals were out in force with sprinklers while cheering you on. The best cooling device for me was called "huevos con hielo." "Just stick it down your kit shorts for quick relief!"
I crossed the finish line with a smile and a slot for World's next September in Mooloolaba, Australia. I was undecided about going until I was reminded of the "red zone" and the limited opportunities remaining.
Would I recommend this venue because of its beauty, amazing people, the beaches (Flamenco Beach rated among the top best-beaches in the world), easy access (no passport needed, US dollars, cell phone works), and the spectator friendly course? Yes, however what also stands out is the food.
Gaucho Coach and Puerto Ricano Mateo Mecur said to include salt on the run and use it on the Mofongo, their most popular dish. The authentic Cuban influenced cuisine was always flavorful. Fresh seafood served with garlic spiced plantains finished with Mateo's world's best coffee was our pre-race carbo load.
Also a shout to "Killer Kyle V," for his tip to pee at least once an hour. Thanks to Coach Swan for his invaluable advice to stay within my prescribe, "numbers don't lie" heart rate zones.
Thanks to spouse and cheerleader, Helen, with her ironclad grounds for divorce, has kept me going in this game of life. She was there when I emerged out of the swim asking who is ahead? She answered sweetly, "everyone, so slow down!" She was there when I had a flat on the bike and said, "get it out of your head!"
Our glass-half-full nephew said I was in the "Bonus Years." Bonus indeed, sharing and adding experienced to our 40 year marriage. "La zona roja es mi corazon."