I signed up for Challenge Aruba as a “racecation”. A perfect way to end the season. I would start off the trip with a 70.3 race and end it with a relaxing beach vacation in Aruba!
This would be my first time traveling with my bike on an airplane. I wasn’t sure what to expect. It would also be my first time competing out of the United States. Not to mention my first Challenge event.
While I had this race listed as an “A” race, I didn’t particularly prepare for it outside of my scheduled training plan. I realize now that I probably should have spent more time preparing for the extreme conditions of Aruba. I also wish I would have spent more time preparing for the 70.3 distance as well. Not that I was under prepared, but a company trip the weekend before left me slightly undertrained.
One of my biggest concerns leading up to the race was packing my bike for travel. I had purchased a Thule hard case for this trip, but having never packed my bike before I had no idea what was involved. Luckily it was not that bad of a process. It actually was fairly simple to do and once I had it disassembled I knew what tools I needed to bring with me. The stand that cam with the case made the whole process very easy.
The biggest downside of this case is that it is very large and I was barley able to fit it into my car. Then there was the challenge of getting it to and from the airport. However, it all worked out and I was able to manage it.
Do to limited flights we had to leave Denver late on Thursday and would arrive in Aruba via New Jersey on Friday afternoon. With a few hour layover we were able to get breakfast but were pretty tired once we arrived in Aruba. As soon as we got off the plane we could feel the heat.
As soon as we left customs we were greeted by a team from Challenge Aruba to take us to the hotel. There was also one other guy from the team waiting to go with us as well.
We were staying at the Tropicana, which was about a mile and a half from the race site. It was a very affordable place to stay so I didn’t mind the distance. We arrived at the hotel, checked in and then we had to leave for the athlete briefing and check in. We took a taxi to the site and I started to get excited. Check in was in the hotel, but the expo was across the street. It looked like it was going to be a big deal.
I checked in very quickly, but they were out of bags so I would have to come back before I brought the bike over the next day. Shortly after the athlete briefing started. I was so tired I almost feel asleep durning it, but I’m glad I didn’t as there were a few items that I was able to take away from it. The one thing I noticed right off the bat was that the majority of athletes were younger men.
After the briefing Lauren and I walked around a little and then found a seafood restaurant to have dinner at. We got back to the hotel and crashed as we were exhausted from the long day of travel.
The next day I got up refreshed. I had to check in the bike later in the day, but wanted to get a run in that morning. I set out not knowing exactly where I was going to run. I found a nice path along the road next to the beach. Suddenly it started to rain. And it rained a lot! It just came down. The good news was that the storm was short lived and the sun came back out. The bad news was much of the path was flooded.
The rain was a nice relief as soon after I could feel the effects of the heat. I had assumed since I was at sea level I would have an advantage, but I learned that the heat and humidity quickly countered any benefit.
For bike check in I decided to ride my bike down. Lauren had to take a taxi and I knew she would pass me at some point. She did at and intersection and waved out the window as she passed. I got to the bike check in a little early and had to wait for them to open it. When they did they inspected every bike. This was a new experience for me, but a smart one as they made sure the breaks and helmets were functioning perfectly.
The setup for the Challenge races was a little bit different that anything I’ve done in pervious races. We had a bike and run bag that we put into a changing tent. Actually not a bad way to do it, keeping the bike transition area clear. And the bike racks were all numbered, which I like so I know exactly where to put my bike. The racks were a little hight though and my front wheel did not touch the ground. With the wind I was a little worried my bike might not stay up.
After I got all checked in Lauren and I did some exploring and ate lunch in town. That afternoon we relaxed by the beach and had an early dinner.
I woke up early on race morning and got myself prepared. Usually I make myself a nice cup of Bulletproof Coffee, but since I didn’t have any I just drank my UCAN drink which I needed to have pre race anyway.
I had called for a taxi the night before to take me to the race start. When I got downstairs at the hotel, there was a taxi waiting for me. I asked if it was the correct taxi and the driver told me yet. Although it was not the taxi I called. All was good though as they got me to the start.
Since I had gotten everything setup the day before there was not much to do to in transition. I got my bottles set up and checked my transition bags. Other than that it was time to get my swim skin on and head to the swim start.
I walked over along the beach. It was still dark and it didn’t seem like the sun was going to come up before we started racing. There was a group from the team having out so I hung out with them. Chatted a bit and then we made our way to the water as the sun finally came up. A few of us got in and did a little warm up. I would have liked to have more time, but the pro start was about to happen.
The pro field was pretty light, I think 7 men and 2 women. They started and then it was time for the rest of us to line up. There was only one age group start. I was’t sure what to think of this as normally when I race there are age group waves. I positioned myself somewhere in the middle. I knew I wasn’t going to be the fastest swimmer and didn’t want to get swum over the entire race.
And just like that, we were off. We ran down the beach and jumped into the water. It was a big crowded at the beginning of the swim. here were hands all over me and someone hit my ankle and almost knocked off my timing chip. They buoys were a little difficult to see, but the water was crystal clear. There wasn’t much to see, but I did spot a couple starfish.
The water got rough towards the end of the swim. It was a challenge, but the swim went well. I was able to spot okay and got done in a good amount of time. It was different swimming in the salt water. All I could taste was the ocean and salt.
I took my time in transition getting ready for the bike. I sat down to get my socks on and let myself relax a little before rushing out. I wan’t really sure where I was position wise. When I ran to my bike I was surprised to see most of the bikes still there.
One of my biggest fears about the bike course was the wind. While it was constant it was lighter than it had been. As I started the course I was feeling good. The course started on an area that I was familiar with which was nice. It headed out and went right in front of the Tropicana where we were staying. After that the course was all new to me. I have to say that Challenge did a great job with the course.
The second half of the course we headed towards the lighthouse on the tip of the island. It was fun as it was a part of the island that I had not seen. Before we got that far though we had to ride though a neighborhood which was a little different. On the way out to the lighthouse the road got a little rough and the winds were stronger. There was a steep climb up to the lighthouse, but it was very short.
In the neighborhood I saw another member of my team ahead of me, I passed him shortly after the lighthouse. But I had another leap frog incident with one more racer. He would pass me and then I would pass him. Finally after the first loop by the lighthouse he passed me. He was the only person on the bike to pass me that day.
After the lighthouse we headed back towards Palm Beach for the second loop. The road when by the ocean where you could see a ship wreck. What a cool backdrop for a race. There was a turn where you headed down the main strip where the finish line was and all the resorts. It was a perfect stretch, there was a crowd cheering you on and a nice tail wind. Each lap I flew down passing everyone in sight. I felt like such a pro at this section.
I wasn’t looking forward to the the three laps we had to make, but it was nice to have an idea of what to expect since I hadn’t had the opportunity to ride the course before. The winds did seem to pick up as the day went on. On the last loop I started seeing runners on the course. I didn’t know where I was position wise, but I knew there were a lot of people behind me.
On the last loop as I passed by the hotel, I saw Lauren staying by the beach waiting for me to go by. That was some great motivation.
I rode into transition and got ready for the run. I was feeling good and ready to go. As soon as I started running the heat and humidity hit me! It was like a brick wall. I pushed though. The aid stations were stocked with cold water and wet sponges, which was the best thing ever!
I was able to keep a good pace for about two miles then I felt myself slowing down. I just couldn’t go faster.
The run course headed out along the main strip and then along the beach on the backside. Just like the bike it was three loops.
Running along the beach was fun, it was open to the public so there were a lot of volunteers directing people which was great. Sometime people still got in the way, but most people would realize what was going on and cheer us on.
About halfway though the first lap I felt that I had to pee bad. I had never stopped an peed in a half before. Finally when I hit a restroom I stopped. I didn’t want to give-up the couple of minutes, but it was relief.
It was getting hot, I was soaking wet from sweat and form the sponges and I still had a long ways to go. I started looking forward to each aid station so I could walk, drink and cool down.
At this point I had a few people running about the same pace as me. There was one guy, who I’ll refer to as the sponge thief. He would run faster then me, but then stop at the aid station to take four to six sponges. I was annoying because by the time I got there the volunteer was helping him and I couldn’t get any. Then I would be ahead until he padded me just before the next aid station. Finally at one of the last aid stations a nice volunteer ran up next to me with sponges so I could get some.
Towards the end of the second loop, just past the last aid station, a man yelled out go for it pass him!!! You’re almost done! I don’t think he realized I still had another lap to go. It was cool though because right as I was passing the finish line the first pro finished setting the new course record.
The last loop was painful. There was a section of the run that was in the sand. I let myself walk through that section to get a little rest. As I made my way back towards thew main strip and the finish I was getting more and more excited. My pace increased to an all out spring as I entered the finish chute. The time read 5:22 I wanted to get there before the clock changed.
I head them call out my name and talk about sprinting though. I was done! I got my medal and they took my timing chip, then I was ducked into an ice bath. Where they proceeded to poor cold water over my back. It was a bit of a shock to the system but much needed. In fact I had forgot to stop my watch till I was in the bath. I got out and went to find Lauren.
We stat on the grass for a while. I was tired and hot. I was feeling good about my time so we went to go look for results. We walked over to the expo and there were a bunch of not racing people from my team drinking. Ben offered to by me a beer and I took him up on that. They told me that I was the first from the team to finish. Was super excited to hear that. We decided to go try to find the results, but there wan’t anything.
Lauren and I walked around a little stopped at Starbucks and then grabbed lunch on a pier over the water. It was a great spot. I was finally able to check my results, and I was 16th over all, but 8th in my age group. Kind of crazy there was so much competition in my age group. So no podium for me, but a great race overall.
Walking back to pick up my bike we ran across more people from the team drinking on the beach. We chatted for a while, they said I was team champion and I said I would take it.
Lauren and I weren’t sure the best way to get my bike back to the hotel. I could ride it, but then Lauren would have to take a taxi alone. We asked at the Hotel next to transition if there was a taxi that could take a bike. They didn’t have one, but had the hotel suburban and they drove us for free back. How nice of them.
Lauren and I relaxed by the pool for a little while, until we had to go back for the award ceremony. I didn’t win anything, but the team got two awards. Most points and most members! So that was quite cool. After Lauren and i had a great dinner and the real vacation started.
The next night the team had an after party. I started kind of late, so Lauren and I didn’t stay long. It was great to be there with my love and a great group of people. One of the best races of the year for sure. Not an easy one, not my best performance, but memorable as hell. And what an amazingly beautiful backdrop to race in.
The top six finished in each age group for Challenge Aruba qualified for the Challenge Championship in Slovakia. It would roll down to 12th place. I really wanted to qualify and I got notice that I did! As much as I would love to accept the position and race in Europe it’s too expensive for next year. I hope I will have the opportunity again sometime.