Isla del Encanto

Back in January, Pete had suggested that maybe I run the World’s Best 10k as my opener for the season. I was all for the idea. It is a world class race in the Caribbean, who was to complain about that? As the race drew nearer I was more excited to get to spend nearly a week out of the temperatures that plagued the east coast. Even Tallahassee had been colder than our previous two years there.

I headed out on Tuesday and my travel to Puerto Rico was smooth, besides the fact that I was booked to stop through Dallas. I arrived late and was set up in my room by the race coordinators.

Wednesday morning I headed out for my workout, but ended up waiting too long and the heat, humidity, and travel combined make me feel terrible. I ended up cutting my workout short so I would not dig myself into a hole five days before my race. Frustrated, I headed to the beach to hangout; since I was here, I might as well take advantage of the amenities. By my own admission, I am not much of a beach person. I tend to be drawn more to the mountains, but it was nice to get in the water after getting so hot from the workout.

The view from my hotel room in the daylight.

The view from my hotel room in the daylight.

By Thursday, the rest of the elite field had arrived, and I began to hangout with them. I spent the day at the hotel, but in the afternoon, Donn Cabral and I rented a car and headed over to Fajardo to a bioluminescent lagoon. I had heard from multiple people that the bioluminescent lagoons are a must see while in Puerto Rico. There is only a handful in the world, and only a couple still survive. To get to the lagoon, you have a 25 minute kayak trip up a channel to get to the lagoon. Even though I am not a big water person, I have always enjoyed boating trips, whether it is rafting, canoeing, or kayaking. My partner and I brought up the rear of our large group. As we got further up the channel, we started seeing our paddles begin to light up in the water! By the time we got to the lagoon, we were seeing all sorts of things light up. What makes the bioluminescence happen are tiny microorganisms that emit a light not unlike a firefly, only they have no control of when they light up, only when they are threatened. Also since there are 800,000 (yes I did not add an extra zero) of these little guys per gallon of water, they could really produce some lumens! After a half hour in the lagoon we made our way back through the channel, and since it was darker, we could see even more. Someone had caught a jellyfish and passed it around and once back in the water, it would disturb the water and light up. Overall it was a fascinating experience, and something that I would not get anywhere else.

The next two days were spent hanging out around the hotel and doing things to prep for the race. There was a press conference, all in Spanish, so I just sat there and looked pretty. Also a meeting informing us of the specifics of the race, which was mostly just, “If you run fast, you make money.”

Eventually Sunday came around, and since it the race was in the afternoon, I had most of the day to kill. I did a normal prerace shakeout in the morning, and spent most of the day in the hotel staying cool. Around 4 we met in the hospitality sweet, but not everyone was there, so we waited around and did not load up the bus for another 30 minutes. After a short ride to the start, I got off of the bus and right into my warm up.

The start of the race was a fanfare. A huge Puerto Rican flag was lifted into the air, and Scott Overall, the lone British guy in the field, commented that he expected fighter jets to fly over. I retorted with, “They can have their big flag, but fighter jets are reserved for Americans.” (Puerto Ricans are very adamant that they are not really Americans, but Puerto Ricans)

Eventually we were herded to the line and the final instructions were in Spanish, so only a few people actually knew when the gun was going to go off. For me, the gun was a surprise, and for others, it seemed to be the same. As frantic as the start was, I found myself in good position among the main pack. The race started on Teodoro Moscoso Bridge, crossed it turned around and headed back. The first 3km was into a nasty headwind (strongest in race history), but was refreshing because of the heat.

After crossing the bridge we turned around and the wind was at our back for the next 5km, but it did not feel that way. All of a sudden it was much hotter and with an interjection of pace, I was beginning to strain. By 5km, I was falling off of the main pack and by 7km I felt like I was fried. Refusing to drop out, I made it to the finish, but was struggling the whole way, running 5:20 pace.

I ended up running just over 31 minutes, and was disappointed in my race. I came in not confident of my training over the last two weeks, even though I had a good stint the month prior. I have been traveling a lot over the last few weeks, which places more stress on the body. Also being sick did not help me recover from a few weeks of hard training. I felt like I was just beginning to get my stride back, only be hit with a setback.

It is always a hard pill to swallow when you have a terrible race, and the only solace that I can take away from it is that it was my first race in nearly 3 months. After such a long period with out a race, I tend to get stale and flat. It often takes a race to shake the rust off my legs. I often have is very sub par openers, and it seems to only take a good workout or two and a few weeks to be ready to run fast.

Even with a poor race, I had such a great time in San Juan. The World’s Best 10k puts on a world class event. They treat us elite athletes like rock stars, and I hope to come back someday. The people of San Juan love the race, as I was constantly asked if I was running. And the people of Puerto Rico are proud of their island, and are willing to share the wonders that are in “La Isla de Encanto.”

IAAF Recap

History Lesson!

Since I was not leaving until Tuesday, I had a whole day to do what I wanted. I tend to not enjoy the beach as others do; I prefer to stay on the dry land of the mountains. So instead of spending a day getting sun burnt on the beach, I chose to head into old San Juan and see the historical sites. Having been raining in the morning I was worried that it may be a wet adventure, but soon the sun broke through the clouds to bring a bright day.

San Cristóbal

Facing the city with a sentry box, what San Cristóbal is known for.

Facing the city with a sentry box, what San Cristóbal is known for.

From the hotel, I hopped on a bus and 40 minutes later I was in Old San Juan! I immediately headed to Castillo San Cristóbal. This fort was on the very western edge of Old San Juan. It was built in late 17thand early 18th centuries, as a response to two successful attacks on the city by the English and Dutch. Until the building of San Cristóbal, the only fort defending the city was Castillo San Felipe del Morro, on the far eastern edge of town. El Morro was an imposing stronghold that could easily fend off attackers from the sea, but could not defend the bustling San Juan from land attacks. San Cristóbal shored up the flank of the city, by using a system of tiers of bastions that an attacker would have to storm before capturing the main fort. Twice the English tested the fort in the 18th century, and twice it repelled the attackers.

After seeing the fortifications, I was in awe that the English had the audacity to attack the fort (see some of the pictures below). The lines that created the tiered system seemed impossible to break. There were hundreds of cannon emplacements, along with fire steps, where thousands of soldiers could rain hell on anyone courageous enough to attack.

While the fort was built for the purposes of war, the soldiers stationed there spent little time actually fighting. There was plenty of drilling, training, maintaining order in the city, and just lounging around. While outside the sun baked down on me, the rooms inside the fort were cool and comfortable. For the horrible conditions that some armies of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries around the world, a posting at San Juan must have seem liked paradise.

El Morro

After exploring San Cristóbal, I walked along the old city walls to Castillo San Felipe del Morro. As I said above, El Morro was built to protect the natural harbor from attacks from the sea. It was El Morro that repelled the attacks by the English and Dutch in the 17th century, but it was on the eastern edge of the ISLAND that San Juan sits. El Morro only once fired its guns in anger, and it was at the Americans during the Spanish-American War in 1898. Built in 1539, it successfully held vigil over the entrance to San Juan harbor for over 400 years. Much like the fortifications at San Cristóbal, El Morro had nearly a hundred of cannon emplacements, but most of which were trained to the sea.

After the Spanish-American War, the United States took over Puerto Rico, including the pair of forts. Both forts remained in service past World War II, but El Morro was transformed into a hospital. Control of Puerto Rico was so important because it was the first habitable island that you would encounter in the Caribbean. Who ever controlled the Island would effectively control all of the Caribbean.