Challenge San Gil Race Recap: Banking Heartbeats at 6500ft

Altitude.

High in the sky. Far above my normal. You’re my mistress. People don’t see you, but I know you’re there. Every time I think about you, my heart beats a little faster. Even when I don’t, my subconscious knows, and up my heart rate climbs. When I push a little too hard, my breathe, you take it away. Away from me. You keep it for yourself. You’re a selfish mistress. You have no emotions. You take all my heart beats away without a second thought. No thoughts. Just the constant quiet reminder of your existence. No one around me realizes you’re there. Sneaking through my day, you dodge all your familiar faces, and come after mine.

Is it because we’ve never met before?

Am I a new, freshly moustached face, that you can slowly squeeze, taking my breathe away at every opportunity?

You are a bad mistress. Not the kind of bad I like. The kind without consideration. Without respect shown to you, smack me down to the bottom step you will. Right to me knees, evil and unkind mistress. But I came prepared for your silent mistreatment.

I have people. People who know you, who’ve met you, who’ve had to deal with the side affects of your ways, and who came out the other end. They’ve tested you, they’ve researched you. To them, you are not an enigma. They prepared me.

Altitude.

Doing a pre-race interview with the local newspaper.

My first foray into altitude of any real amount was Challenge San Gil, and it was certainly a learning experience. To say I came blind would be a lie; I have been researching and questioning those who know about altitude, and racing at it, for months, and coming from sea level, I gave myself the best chance I could, with the timeframe I had. I headed down to Queretaro, Mexico the sunday before the race (the following sunday was the race,) to acclimate as best I could, on the advice of my damn-fine Sports Physician. I had the advice from other professionals, one of the most important to me being “make sure you are banking heartbeats; you can’t afford to burn too many matches at altitude, so save every heartbeat you can.” This became my mantra during the race:

“Bank heartbeats”

“Bank heartbeats”

“Bank Heartbeats”

Thanks Jesse V, you helped a lot with that one.

Altitude is so foreign to me, I went into the race with a specific and clear heart rate goal, that I was not going to sway. My resting heart rate was 30+ beats higher than at sea level, I’m sure my blood pressure was somewhere in the pre-jammer range, and when I exercised very hard, I lost my breathe much quicker than usual. Much, much, much quicker. Where I could run a 4km TT close to 2:50/km at home, I was struggling to hold 3:20/km for longer than 2 mins without suffocating.

But, thankfully, half ironman isn’t so much about racing at your VO2Max, and more about concerted, sustained efforts.

Pre-Race Press Conference

The incredible race director Mario put me up with the local Mayor (not really the mayor, but I called him that,) Javier, and his wife Teddy. They were absolutely top-notch; it’s hard to say which home stay was the best ever, but Javier and Teddy are definitely in the top 2. We stayed on the run course in San Gil Golf Club, a fantastic, closed community of 4000 people, the setting for the swim and run. Stunning, although I am sad I never had the chance to play a round on their course (I’m absolutely terrible at golf anyhow.)

Previewing the bike course, with my home stay Javier driving sag.

Race week came and went quickly, and sunday morning came without any issues or incidence. Here’s my version of the events on sunday, June 21st:

Lined up, ready to go. The Mexican athletes were the first to the line, so I stood second row. Into the water we go. Counting down, oh crap, my Spanish is terrible, what number are we on now?

The horn goes.

The gun goes off.

Swim, swim hard, forget heartbeats, spend them all now! No wetsuits, dammit, but my Nineteen Speed Suit works for me. The packs split wide, stay left, stay left, keep breathing. Holy shit, you’re still in the front pack. Hurry hard, hurry hard. Too much curling. Back to triathlon. The pack that went wide, here they come. They’re coming right at me. Impending impact!

Chaos.

I fight for my spot. I fight for the feet. I fight for air. So little oxygen. Fighting for survival. I resist basic instincts. They tell me to slow down, slow down so I may BREATHE. Dear God, please don’t let water splash in my mouth, surely I will die. Suffocating, going so hard, so much energy and caffeine coursing through my body.

Crack. The metaphorical sound as I fall off the front pack. 400m’s with them, not bad. Almost ¼ of the way. Then I realize, Metzler and Baucco coming up past me. Stay with them. Go. You must not lose them. I go with them, stay on their feet. Metzler is tall, lots of draft. Stay with him.

Oh shit, that’s Baucco. Wasn’t he super sick last night? Oh god. Oh God Oh God OH GOD. Please, please don’t shit yourself AJ. Please please please don’t crap when I’m behind you. I surely wouldn’t enjoy pink-eye.

I fall off shortly before the end. But now we hit the 400m+ transition run. My specialty. Run hard, run fast, this is your chance. Bring them back. Watch them get closer. Into the transition zone, I’ve caught them. My quick rip through, and I sprint out the other side. I studied the transition, I know there are missing bikes where I can cut the tangent. I pass them all.

People, please study your transition. It can make a huge difference when mere seconds count.

Onto the bike ahead of them I go. Heart rate, please go down. You’re much too high. Steady. Steady Eddy. Some pass, then fall off. A young buck comes by. Standing.

Sit down please sir. You know not what you’re doing. You’re doing it all wrong. We must have a chat after this is all over.

Away I go. Steady. Conservative. Keep those heart beats in the vault. Save them. They may come in handy later. Upward we climb.

7000ft.

7500ft.

8000ft.

8500ft.

Now I feel it. But they do too. They may be from high up, but I bring some extra grit with me. Stay steady. No spikes. Aero. Always.

They fall away behind. One athlete tries to draft me. With message of self-fornication, he is insistent. Good-bye, cheater. See you later. I roll away. Now we turn. Time to descend. These headwinds will finally be over. Halfway home, they shift. I am not bothered by this. But then I get bothered. Quite bothered. The kind of bothered you feel when approaching a herd of cattle on the road at 60km/hr. Damn you beef. I will eat your kin soon for this display of negligence. I approach cautiously. They stare at me with disregard. Care not, they do. I had almost closed to the next group when they cut me off. Cut me off from my goals. I weave through. They stare. Then I lock eyes with the bull.

Dear God, please allow me to survive this encounter. The bull gives me some serious stink-eye, but unmoving. I’m through. I wind up my legs like Hades has opened up behind me. Aero. Push push push. Now I pass more. I pass most of the race. Thank you Easton wheels and Quintana Roo PRsix, you fared well today. Aero.

Aero. Always.

Into transition. Fast. Speedy. I pass one more. 3rd place onto the run course. I go out easy. What will happen, how many beats do I have left? I am unsure. I sip my flask with PowerGels. Keep the gels going in. Water. Run. Keep going. I know Mauricio is coming. He runs fast. He is from up high. He is used to this. The catch, at 3.5km. He comes by fast. I pick it up. I want to go with him, but I am into the unknown. I am in an area that is new. How many beats do I spend? I refuse to go with him. But I keep him in sight. Then I see the next guy. He is slowing. 7km is the catch. In third. This pace is comfortable, but how far outside my comfort zone do I go? Rudy, he is first. So far. He needs to crumple if we are to catch him.

I continue. One lap down. 1.5 laps. They are so far behind. Over 5 minutes to 4th place. But I don’t have this yet. It’s never concrete until you cross.

Oh Jesus, I have to race an Ironman in 5 weeks.

Keep those thoughts away. Just remain steady. Steady she goes. 2km left. I let off the gas slightly. People cheer. I don’t get excited yet. I see the finish. Hard to not get excited. I don’t sprint. I go easy. I will not catch Mauricio. I will not be caught. I turn the corners of the chute.

The line. There it is. Up like a pedestal in the sky. The tape, no longer a virgin, comes to my finger tips for my turn. Elation. Cheering. I do my best Jeff Symonds finish impression, but I fear the altitude doesn’t give me the vertical game I once had. Whatever. I jump around like a kid on Christmas morning, I feel like a rock star. So many cameras, will someone lend me a picture of this moment?

None yet. But I will continue my hunt.

Post race, after my massage. The cooling pools were tops.

I would say this is one of my most conservative races I’ve had; the bike effort was closer to an Ironman effort than a half, and the run was right in the middle. But, I had no idea of what to expect. Altitude affects everyone differently, but I think I left an impression. Even though I wasn’t acclimated, I still put together a very smart race, with a result I am proud of. Could I have gone with Mauricio when he passed? Probably. Would I have exploded? Who knows. But I know I DID come 3rd, and that’s what matters. I was elated to make my first international pro podium, and I was so impressed with the race. Well organized, well executed, and the venue was world-class. I highly recommend Challenge San Gil to anyone who wants a race-cation destination!

Learning how to shower the Champagne!!

The days after consisted of quesadillas, beer, learning about fine Tequila and how to drink Mezcal (it’s a stiff brew,) as well as exploring Queretaro. It is an incredibly safe destination, rich in history hundreds of years old. So much to see, so much to learn.

Sampling the local fare, including Ant Eggs, Grasshoppers, and Mezcal.

Challenge San Gil was a huge learning experience for me, mostly about how my body reacts to altitude and weather. It was an exciting experience, and I plan to go back and race again next year. Thank you SOOOOO much to all my awesome support team! Jenn (now my fiancée,) my family, Coach Björn, Dr Mike, my teammates, the organizers and my home stay from Mexico (including our ‘dad’ while in town, Guillermo,) Quintana Roo for my grossly-fast rig, Easton Cycling for my wind-cheating wheels, Rotor Cranks for giving me accurate power numbers, Champion System for making me look SHARP, Powerbar for keeping my nutrition plan alive, Compressport for helping my recovery and race-day performance, ECOS for keeping me hydrated, Usana for keeping me healthy, Nineteen wetsuits for giving me the fastest swim kit a guy could ask for, and Distance Runwear for the shoes that make me fly!

Recovery is complete, next up is Ironman Canada, where I’ll be taking on a world class field in my own backyard. Thanks for tuning in, until next time, stay safe, and happy training!

Nathan Killam

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