So finally getting around writing my race report for our last adventure in Cartagena, Colombia. Two years ago while walking the streets of Mexico City we heard that Ironman had opened up a race in Colombia. What was even better was that it was in Cartagena, which is one of the most beautiful cities of Colombia. It didn’t take long after the announcement came out for Felipe’s brother and sister to start texting us and asking us to do it with them. Before we knew it, we were committed to it and we were anxiously waiting for registration to open. Surprisingly it didn’t sell out on the day it opened, but regardless we all signed up on that day. We didn’t want to risk it. The rest of this report is about our trip planning and what went down once we got there. Hope this is helpful for you if you are considering to jump on this wagon this year.
When we started looking at our plans for the trip, we soon realized that JetBlue flies direct to Cartagena from JFK. This was a pretty good option, since JetBlue is one of the airlines that have the best prices when it comes to flying with bikes, and even better, they honor Active Duty Military when it comes to baggage fees no questions asked (other airlines tend to give us a hard time since USPHS isn’t usually considered a military branch which it is). Earlier in the year my sister in law had moved to Medellin and had told us to start our trip there. JetBlue also goes to Medellin after a short stop in Fort Lauderdale. We then planned our tri
p starting in Medellin. It was pretty nice to be in another city which I had never been and Felipe’s last trip there was more than 20 years ago when he was a kid. Felipe’s parents actually met us in Medellin so we were able to spend more time with them since they usually only get us for a short time on our trips. It was an added bonus to them.
After a week in Medellin we then all took the same flight to Cartagena. This time we flew Avianca which is one of the local airlines. It was only about $100 per person (one way) so it wasn’t too bad and it is a short 45 minute flight from Medellin to Cartagena and the bikes were flying for free since it was the official airline. Once we all got to Cartagena since we were meeting 2 other friends (one of them doing the race) we had gotten a bigger van to take us to the condo. It was about $20 for that trip. We did the math later and having 4 bikes would’ve made us have 4 Ubers which was probably $40 for the whole thing. That worked out great. We had decided to get a condo instead of a hotel since originally it was going to be just our family. Our friends, Margo, Shayla and Brian with his wife were going to rent another one. At the end, due to shuffling of trips and last minute cancellations we all ended up in a bigger condo where the 9 of us fit just ok. The condo for all of us for the 6 days was about $1000.
Race mode…. Friday
We all got up and since we (Felipe and his brother) just had put together all 4 bikes we wanted to go and ride them a little as well as check out a little bit of the route. The condo actually had the route going in front of us so it was just simply get on the road and we were on it. Leaving the condo was a little sketchy because it is only an undivided 2 lane road but a couple of miles north it converts to a 6 lane divided. The first few miles had me super nervous, trucks, motorcycles, cars, you name it passing us. We had a car as an escort but still some people don’t respect. Once we got to the divided road, it was a lot better. We were able to get aero, try the gears a bit more and about 9 miles up the road we made the return. I felt great, the heat for sure was hitting hard. We left at around 10 am so figured that’s how it was going to be on race day… only one word HOT!!!!. We made it back to the condo and made some minor adjustments to the bikes.
Packet pick up was on Friday too, so we got ready after the ride and wanted to get the packet pick up stuff out of the way as soon as possible but it seems like everyone else had the same idea. The convention center was packed and we stood in line for about 2 hours going through the checkin. Then we did the store stuff and bought our race gear. International races usually don’t make it to the online Ironman store so that’s why we bought it all there. Didn’t want to risk our chances of not getting anything. After about 3 hours of being in lines we went to get some food and then back to the Condo.
Saturday… pre-race day
We tried to go for a short swim in the ocean, we knew the swim was in a bay but wanted to get a swim in. We swam for about 10-15 mins before a little storm passed by and we got out. After that, we got ready to go get the bikes to transition. We were able to get a bigger group with Angela, Margo, Maria Claudia, Maribel and the two of us to go. Maribel’s hubby followed us so we had some protection going towards the convention center to drop them off. Still it was scary at times because of the same trucks, buses, motorcycles, and everyone just trying to “share” the road. Bikes were dropped off and then we met up the rest of the family to do dinner. After that, it was just time to put the legs up and go back to the condo to set up for the next day.
Sunday…. race day
Sunday came pretty quick, by 3:30 am our alarms started to go off. We all got up and got ready for the day ahead. We had set up 2 vans to take us from the condo to the start. That trip was about $15 for each van which we pre-negotiated the night before. We got to transition and the setup started. Felipe and I went first to my bike to set up my transition. Felipe’s brother went to help their sister to set up hers since he wasn’t setting up transition. Margo set hers while I did mine and lastly Felipe set his. Then we were all ready to get going. Only problem is that we ended up waiting for about 2 hours or more to start. Some of the buoys had moved so the organizers had to re-set the swim course before the gun went off. The heat was really starting to climb while we waited. We were all getting worried because we had no water and the race people weren’t giving us any updates. Once they started things got moving pretty quick.
The swim went pretty uneventful, I felt strong however the swim is into the sun at first from the start to the first turn. I tried to sight as good as I could but it was hard. The Rokas did a great job but still the sun was in our eyes. I ended up swimming a little longer than I expected. My garmin called for a 2300 yd swim and not the 2100 yd. My time was 47:36 which was a bit longer than I expected. Considering that I swam 200 yds extra I think that was about 4-5 min extra that I ended up swimming. That is closer to the 40:00 I wanted to get for my swim so I consider it a success.
Once I got out of the water I felt the heat, I got into transition and tried to get all my stuff quickly and get on the bike. The first part of the bike was getting out of the city, the road has a little cheapaseal and then about 5 miles out there was a little rough because there was some construction which was cleaned up for that day but the roads weren’t in the greatest conditions. After that rough patch, it was a lot better, so for about 21 miles we were able to cruise. There wasn’t any major wind, just heat. Then the two short climbs came up towards the end. I’m not a big fun of any of those but got my way up those. The turn around came and those same climbs became downhills, that was fun getting a little push going back to transition. At about mile 40 or so, Felipe came up and the right after him Angela came by. I managed to finish my bike in 3:27, I compare this bike course with Atlantic City 70.3. It has about the same elevation gain. One thing that is true is that I was able to control my power and stay in the zone that Coach Mike and Felipe had told me to stay in. I’m hoping to understand the whole power training a little better but the result of keeping the numbers where I was told made me manage my legs and have some left for the run.
Once I got back to transition the heat was already up there. There was a short shower while we were on the bike so that brought our temps down on the bike. When we were on the run, it just made the walled city a cooking pot. We had no wind, sun was beating down and the humidity was high too. Luckily for us, the beauty of having an aid station every kilometer meant that instead of the usual 13 stations we had 20 instead. All I did on those was pour water on my and drink a little. I had lost my Base Salts vial in transition but was able to get Felipe’s when he was on his way back. Running in the walled city was surreal. The energy of the people from the volunteers, cheering squads (including ours) and the tourists walking the streets. The heat was pretty brutal and at one point it was matter of surviving and not doing anymore damage but needless to say I enjoyed every minute of it. At the end, the run ended with a 2:25, not as fast as others, but considering the heat I take it as a win. At the end, I finished with my usual big smile. Felipe had finished ahead of me and he was already waiting for me at the finish.
As a whole, I am glad we did this inaugural race. The whole experience of racing in Colombia with your family cheering is simply amazing. Cartagena is such a magical city that you have to visit once if not many more times in your life. This was my second time in the city and under two totally different conditions. The city caters to the tourists and if you are smart while traveling you get to see and do a lot in the city. We are glad we rented the condo, we got to spend time with Felipe’s family and also didn’t have any pressures of being with all the tourists either. It was pretty fun to do it that way. We got to enjoy a lot of the gastronomic awesomeness of Cartagena. Got to eat at so many places we’ve been wanting to go for years and honestly it wasn’t that expensive once you did the exchange to dollars. I definitely recommend this race to put on your list of 70.3s to do. Registrations are actually open now for 2017 so go on and sign up. It’s a great way to end a long season with a vacation.