On the morning of our wedding, Woo and I participated in the Lobsterman Triathlon. Before the race it was announced that as part of the race the organizers were giving away a trip to Aruba to compete in the Challenge Aruba half-iron distance race.
I briefly even heard this as the race was beginning announcements before the first (WEDDING) wave of the race for our group. We did the race and went on about our day and wedding. Several hours later the president of our tri team Zoom Multisport, Lisa came up to me at our wedding reception and said "hey Greg...have you talked to Michael" (O'Neil, the RD for Lobsterman)? I said no, not since the race.
She said "K won." I very confusedly looked her like huh?? She said that K (Woo's sister) had won the trip to Aruba!! We quickly hatched a plan to have our DJ make the announcement during speeches and introductions for the wedding party, shown here:
This is about as excited as I've ever seen Kate in the last 4 years. Woo and I were super excited for K and T to get to take a much needed vacation. The problem though, was that neither of them are triathletes and the race was in 3 weeks. Furthermore their school/work scheduled did not allow them to take 5 days off work with little notice for the trip. They tried to work out the details, but were ultimately not able to do so.
I guess another couple's loss is our gain? They were able to transfer the trip to Woo and I for a little mini-moon, which we gladly accepted. Thanks guys!!
So, once we finally got the details organized with the Challenge-Aruba race director and the Aruba Tourism for our trip we realized that WE WERE ACTUALLY GOING TO ARUBA! We would be staying at the Hyatt Regency which was the race hotel where the event would begin and finish at. For most races we like to stay close, but have never stayed in the "race hotel" generally due to cost, so this was an awesome change and the hotel was fantastic!
It took a little back and forth but the race team and Aruba Tourism department were fantastic and helped us to get everything in line for the trip. Neither of us had really ever considered going to Aruba before, but we are so glad we ended up there! The island was beautiful and the people were kind and helpful all around the island from the cab driver from the airport to the tour director we met in one of the national parks.
Okay, back to the race. So Woo was planning to do the half distance and I was going to do the sprint, basically because I had not swam or biked all summer and am only focusing on running now. BUT, sadly Woo slipped on the stairs one morning a few days before we were supposed to leave on her way to an early morning master's swim practice and hurt her back pretty bad. As such she wasn't able to race. (honestly if I was doing a 70.3 in 95*F heat, I would have been miserable, glad that wasn't going to be me...).
So, I was aiming for the sprint and hopefully a podium spot, because, why not? It was a short race with a .75km swim, 30km bike, then 7km run (750m/18.6mile/4.3mile). OH, also, I didn't have a bike because we only won the trip a couple of weeks before the race so both rental shops were sold out...so there's that. I wasn't even going to be able to race, until Mario, one of the race officials offered me his Scott road bike (and I haven't ridden a road bike in about 6 years) for the race! The only problem was that I had Shimano clips on my bike shoes and he had Look pedals...so I had to "rent" (i.e. I bought them and they then returned them after the race for 75% cost-ish) a pair of look clips for the race from Tri-Bike Aruba, the bike shop for the race. They were super helpful, organized, and extremely friendly throughout the 17 times I stopped by their tent.
Once I got the bike issues situated I rolled over on Saturday to rack my bike in transition. It was at this point, I realized the race was smaller than I anticipated with only about 350 total participants between the half and the sprint. I racked up the bike then went back to the hotel where Woo was laying on the beach chilling.
Race morning came and we went down to transition and got the rest of my items situated. This race was more like an IM branded race with transition, even for the sprint. There were bike and run bags that had to be in transition before the race began in each area and nothing was allowed to be at the bike. As the swam began I realized that there were maybe only 100 (max?) people for the sprint as we ran into the water. Being that I have not swam since IM 70.3 Mont Tremblant back in June. That's alright, I thought, it's only 750m I can fake my way through that. As I was swimming I quickly noticed my watch meters increasing and the turn buoy not really getting any closer. My 400m beep vibrated and I looked up to sight and could NOT EVEN SEE THE TURN BUOY yet! WTF. I was so mad, but had no choice but to "just keep swimming" as they say. I finally made my way to the turn buoy with leaky and extremely fogged up goggles. From there I eventually made my back to the beach with over 1200m of swimming done. Ugh.
At least I was on the bike, which I had at least done 2 or 3 times since June. I didn't really want to adjust the height or settings on the borrowed bike so I left it alone, but I soon regretted that decision after the first (of several) times I whacked the crap out of my knee on the crossbar. The course was a bit windy, but mostly calm. There were some rough sections of road near the resort area, but overall it wasn't too bad and was easy to manage. I must say though, it was pretty fun on the road bike. I was cruising past the guys on the tri-bikes on the few minor hills on the course.
Off to the run, I was trying to balance saving a little juice while having a decent bike split. Also, it was 95*F out, so that wasn't awesome. Luckily I only had to run a quick 4 miles and I was done. I knew there couldn't be too many people ahead of me, but I didn't know how many. I asked a couple of volunteers on the run course, but nobody knew. The course was about 50% snaking sidewalk path behind the beachfront resorts that then looped back around to the street and down in front of the hotels. (see Strava) As I first came out of transition there were several people standing in the middle of the path/course that I had to shout at along the way because the volunteers weren't keeping them off the course. I don't think they realized they were in the middle of the course. Though, once more athletes got to the run course, it looked like that got better. Once I hit the first turn around I came back up the beach and saw Woo ringing the cowbell on the side of the path. It was good to see her because I missed her on the bike.
I passed a few guys on the run and made my way from 2nd into 1st in my AG and cruised up to 8th place overall in the race. My run split felt pretty slow for me and it was hot and I knew I had more in the tank, but the heat just got to me. For the 4.34 run I averaged about 6:07 per mile, but it felt much slower. Once I crossed the finish line I was crazy overheated and exhausted until I caught my breath for a few minutes. After that I was good to go and ready to enjoy the rest of the day.
Overall, for a destination race, this was a beautiful area, great course support, and the race crew was top notch! I would definitely recommend this race and the area for travel. Everyone from the local community I spoke to was really happy with the race as well (aside from a couple of minor traffic issues that weren't very well communicated to others I heard).
After the race Woo and I still managed to enjoy the island for another couple of days before heading back. We got to make our way out to the Natural Pool, we saw the (collapsed) natural land bridge, explored the beaches, got some good food, saw the light house, and had some fresh coconut. My favorite! It was really a great trip to a place we would not likely ever have experienced.