I had the thrill of joining a super strong Brazilian field including local favorites and race winners Igor Amorelli and Pamella Oliveira, in the inaugural Ironman Florianopolis 70.3 race held in the south of Brazil this past weekend.
It was a little like getting pushed out of an airplane when you are clinging desperately onto the side, your stomach is turning, and you are not quite ready to jump. It was the first race of the season for me and I was not quite ready physically or mentally. But I knew I needed to dive in and get back into race mode.
An ill-handled off season including a lot of travel and an injury led to a slow start this year. It has been a painful battle to get back into shape. One where I felt like I was digging myself into the ground and seeing little progress. That’s how it tends to go. You put in the work, day after day, and often see zero returns or feel like you are going backwards. And then all of the sudden, things begin to click. I was banking on being ready for the race. In the end, I wasn’t quite. However it was an incredible experience to race in Brazil and to participate in this inaugural race.
This was my second time racing in Brazil and I knew I would face fierce competition. The country which boasts a love of sports also clearly hosts a large number of top notch athletes. Coming off their summer of training and racing, the field would be in peak shape. I was taking the plunge for sure by heading to Brazil to face off with the local favorites on their home turf. And traveling to Brazil is tough. It took me over twenty hours of travel each way, including three flights to get from Denver to Florianopolis. (See my article on race travel tips to help the body handle the stress of race travel).
I was lucky to have a host family for my stay and they were absolutely incredible! I couldn’t have been greeted by warmer hosts and loved the week of immersion into the Brazilian lifestyle and culture while I stayed with them preparing for, and then recovering from the race. The coffee and cuisine were superb – I enjoyed my favorite – Mandioca (friend Yuca), rice, beans, and lots of fresh fruit (guava, papaya, white pineapple, mango, bananas) and vegetables, and coconut water.
The race was extremely well organized and top notch – run by Carlos Galvão, Race Director and head of Unlimited Sports, who runs Ironman Florianopolis, the South American Championship race held in a nearby location every May (see my recap of the Ironman race experience here). In fact, the 70.3 race followed more of an Ironman format with the transitions – we had a changing tent run by volunteers and bags for our bike and run equipment as opposed to placing everything next to the bike in the transition area.
The ocean was unbelievably choppy on race day and made for a very exciting swim start. It was shallow for several meters with strong waves and heavy break, and made for a challenging and highly technical swim start to get out through the waves to where it was deep enough to start swimming – Check out the Race Recap Video.
This was one of the harder swims I’ve done – both with the technical difficulty of getting in and out of the water through the waves, as well as the rough ocean water. It was not a wetsuit swim for the pros as the water was quite warm. We had huge swells the entire swim where I often lost sight of the buoys as well as the other women around me. I thrashed through the waves with the women’s pro start and got in beside two other women. However on the way out I lost them among the huge swells and ended up doing most of the swim trailing them. It was a huge effort to get out of the water and back on shore with the waves crashing over and hauling you back. Race favorite, Brazilian ex-Olympian Pamella Oliveira had a very strong swim and established her lead which she would manage to maintain the rest of the day on the bike and run.
The transition from the beach through T1 was fairly long as transitions go, my Garmin watch marked over a third a mile running from the beach, up to the changing tent, and then through the transition area to the start of the bike course.
The bike course was along the main highway where one lane had been shut down for the race. Onramps, overpasses, a tunnel, and several U-turns made for an exhilarating and fast course. I took the first U-turn a bit too fast and nearly slid into the camera crew as they stopped their motorcycle just ahead of me. In the end, I did the bike leg on my own – an individual time trial effort with the occasional accompaniment of motorcycles passing – I could see the other pro females strung out, not far ahead of me on the few out and backs on the course and managed to pass one on the way out. Oliveira held off the others trailing not far behind her with a third fastest bike split. Local favorite Igor Amorelli established his lead in the men’s field with a race-best bike split of 2:03:04.
It was a hot and humid day of over 80 degrees as can be expected in Brazil, which made for a challenging run. The run course was lined in typical Brazilian fashion, with rowdy spectators chanting and yelling – it was a treat to be racing in Brazil.
The run course consisted of three loops and lots of spectator support in town.
Amorelli finished the race in 3:46:47, with a 3:36 margin of victory over American Tim O’Donnell, 5:03 on 3rd-place Juri Vinuto, and 6:12 on 4th-place Santiago Ascenco who had the race-best 1:11:27 run split (both of Brazil).
Oliviera managed to narrowly hold off fellow Brazilians Beatriz Neres and Bruna Mahn, finishing in 4:23:04, with an 11 second victory over Mahn and 1:56 over Neres. For my part, I managed a solid, but not spectacular run of 1:28:55, to finish in fifth place, over 9 minutes down from Oliviera.
All-in-all it was an absolutely thrilling experience and a great challenge to go and race in Brazil. I put in a good solid effort and it was a great early season assessment of my current fitness level and preparation. I am fired up to work hard to prepare for the next race and hopefully continue to see a lot of improvement. I am so incredibly thankful for the support of friends, family, teammates, coach, and sponsors, including Smashfest Queen, ROKA, Healthy Skoop, First Endurance, and Fixt Movement, that helped me to prepare for this event. Thank you!
Thinking about a destination race? Read Should you make your next race a destination race vacation?
Photo credit: Mundotri.com.br – Rafael Dalalana, Move On Digital – Eduardo Moreira