Date: March 12, 2017
Gun Time: 1:40:02
Chip Time: 1:39:48
Placing Overall: 29th out of 760
Placing in Age Group: 4th out of 80 (M40-44)
Theme Song: “San Juan“, Daniel Lanois
Note to self: don’t schedule a half marathon at the end of a vacation again.
If you’ve never been to Puerto Rico, get on a damn plane and go there now. I’ve been there four times, and the place never disappoints. It’s got everything: stunning beaches, verdant rain forests, winding mountain roads, great food, friendly people. Old San Juan is one of the most atmospheric locations in the Americas, and of course the temperatures in the 80s in early March are most welcome when the frigid north is being lashed by snowstorms.
Half marathon? What half marathon?
Now, the problem with all this for me was trying to exercise some restraint in the days leading up to the race, which was, well, basically impossible given the many, many available enticements. Instead of juicing and eating light protein laden meals, I was guzzling rum and Medalla Light and chowing down on spit-roasted pig. I ate mountains of tostones and mofongo and justified it by telling myself I was carbo-loading. And, I decided to take a few days off running because I had a shin that was a little tweaked, but probably took more time than was necessary, to the point that I was feeling pretty sluggish.
Ah, mofongo. My delicious, delicious nemesis.
When I did run, most of my outings were in a place called Betances where we had a house rented. On the one hand, it was great, because there was little traffic and east of town the scene became decidedly rural and beautiful, my route crossing rivers and meandering under 30 foot coconut palms. On the other, Betances, like a lot of places in Puerto Rico, has a rather large contingent of stray dogs. On the first day, they eyed the strangely pasty interloper in their midst suspiciously, but didn’t do much else. On my second run, though, there was a lot more growling, and I noted one bitch, some kind of hound with droopy nipples and weird grey eyes, was paying me close attention, following me for a few minutes. On my final run there, I met this same dog on my return from running a few blocks away from the house. Bemused, I watched it sprint away from me in the direction I was going, barking like mad, and then all of a sudden four other dogs appeared out of nowhere and the motherfuckers chased me for a block and a half, only stopping when I stooped to pick up a large rock and hurled it at one of them, my heart jackhammering in my chest. Later, as we left town, I saw a guy out running who was carrying a rather large stick with him. Lesson learned.
We traveled with another family, friends of ours, on this trip, and unfortunately a rather nasty cold was making the rounds among them, so I spent most of the second week of the trip bathing in Purell. Somehow I managed to avoid getting sick, and was up at 4:30 in the morning to make the drive from the Punta Las Marias area where we were staying to the Caribe Hilton and Sixto Escobar Park, which were ground zero for the race. I had not been able to catch the race expo, since we were not able to make it back to San Juan in time, so I had to spring for VIP packet pick-up on race day, which was quickly and easily handled at the front desk of the Hilton. I blundered around for a bit in the dark trying to figure out where to go, eventually locating the starting chute off the street, behind Sixto Escobar Stadium. The runners were starting to gather there, and I checked my morning bag and started to do a bit of dynamic stretching. This race has featured a marathon and half every year until this iteration, which dropped the marathon for some reason and added a 10K instead. About 1200 runners were gathered to do the two races, with the half set to start at 6AM just as first light was starting to reach across the sky and a bright moon hung in front of us like a fat, round lantern. In true island fashion, the gun was delayed about 10 minutes while the policia ensured that the course was clear. Here’s a pretty good video of the start taken by another runner with a Go-Pro (not sure how you’d run with one, but I guess people run with pacer signs too).
This was beyond any doubt the most beautiful race I have ever run. We looped up past the 15th-century Spanish forts San Juan is so famous for, Castillo de San Cristobal and El Morro, and around the outside of the old town’s walls, past prime examples of colonial architecture and over cobblestoned streets. The sun was rising over the towers lining Condado as we crossed the bridge over the laguna and headed into the convention center area. People were out in the streets even at this early hour to cheer us on, and I tried to maintain a steady pace as we headed south along Calle Marginal beside Highway 1.
I still look pretty fresh here, but not for long.
A couple of things were becoming fairly evident by this time. One, there was no place on the course where the time was being displayed, so I had no idea how fast I was going. I felt like it was a pretty good clip, but I couldn’t be sure. Two, it was really, really freaking sticky and uncomfortable. The heat and humidity were way beyond what I trained in whilst in Cuba, so I adopted a strategy of taking two cups at each aid station, one of water and one of Gatorade. The Gatorade, I drank. The water, I dumped on my head. For the first 7 or 8 miles, this sufficed.
I took comfort in the fact that as I went through miles 7-10 I was actually passing people on the course. It seemed that some of the other runners were struggling even more than I was. As we bent west and headed through Condado on Avenida Ashford some old guy jogging ended up on the course and a bunch of us had to go around him. There didn’t seem to be a course marshal around to tell him to get out of the way, and I’m really not sure what he thought he was doing, as there was lots of space on the sidewalk (there was no indication that he was in the race at all).
Things started to get tough as I hit the Dos Hermanos Bridge at the end of Ashford and headed back toward Old San Juan. A crosswind was making life a little miserable and the sodden, heavy air was starting to take its toll. Also, the sun was high enough that it was really starting to get hot. I was grunting with exertion, trying to hold some kind of pace. We were starting to hit the last of the 10K stragglers now, and the route followed a bike path past the Capitol building and then bent right up a pretty steep hill to rejoin Calle Luis Munoz Rivera back to Escobar Park and the finish. I dealt with the hill all right, but all the juice seemed to go out of my legs shortly after. I had about a mile and a half to go, and I was completely spent. I slowed to a walk for a few seconds just to steady myself, and then gave it one last push. I always get energized to see the finishing gate at any race, and this was no exception, and I actually managed to work up a sprint and pass three more people in the finishing chute. Initially, I couldn’t even see where they had the finishing line clock; I turned around and noted it was just above 1:40. Damn.
Little slower than I wanted, but I got there.
Collecting my medal, and a whole bunch of food (protein pack, various bars, the usual banana, no mofongo though) I sat in the park for a few minutes, exhausted, slowly dumping a bottle of Aquafina on my head. It was actually possible to go over to Escambron Beach and jump right in the water, but I was too damned tired to do it.
So, no PR in PR. (See what I did there? Heh.) In the end, I probably could have done better in this one, and indeed missed an age group award by a mere 32 seconds, but I’m going to treat it as motivation for next time. I really did enjoy this race, and with a little better preparation would definitely do it again. It was generally pretty well run and a lot of fun too. Puerto Rico, te amo.