(ed. note—Nathan Killam is new to the Wattie Ink Pro Squad for 2017. Always a hugely positive athlete, Nathan is also a terror on the bike who has gotten stronger every season. We're proud to have him Rock the W for us this year)
Stepping out of the Puerto Rico airport, a familiar curtain of heat settled over me. I stopped for a second to steady myself, since my last moment outside that day had been hours ago, on the other side of North America, in Vancouver, B.C. When you’re from a fairly cold climate, nothing signals the beginning of race season like a hot sticky mess of humidity. San Juan, too, is a far cry from the gentility of Western Canada. Late as it was, I could still hear the old city partying only a mile or so from the airport. After a few moments of regaining my bearings, my host Raul pulled up to the curb, caring little that it was the middle of the night, and graciously drove me back to his home. Not long after that I was fast asleep despite my excitement for the coming race.
I had some health issues last summer and fall, and came into 2017 with some apprehension. In the weeks prior to Puerto Rico, I’d spent a little time in Tucson to kick the tires and see how the engine ran, and my only hiccup coming into the race was a small cold back in Vancouver. But the few days leading into the race went without any glitches, and come race morning I felt fairly rested. Some races I can’t sleep worth a damn the night before, but this time I was out like a busted lightbulb. I arrived at the start, got in my warmup, and soon it was time to line up at the start.
The start, per normal, was absolute chaos. After a few hundred meters, though, the packs broke up and I found myself swimming at the front of a small group of swimmers, in control of my effort and feeling strong. After the first few turns I recognized fellow Canadian Stephen Kilshaw, and American Matt Russell, so I knew I was going to have some good engines to ride with. Coming into the home stretch of the swim, however, our group couldn’t decide in which direction to swim. All the marker buoys, as is often the case, were bright orange, but this time five or six canoes scattered across the water in front of us, filled with people wearing HUGE BRIGHT ORANGE LIFEJACKETS. After some confusion and course correction, we came out of the water together and ran 700 meters to transition. I decided, for the first time, to try swimming with my speed suit off my shoulders and tucked into my swim skin (because the water was almost 28C, it was a non-wetsuit swim.) Anyone who has tried to put a tight-fitting cycling kit or tri kit on while wet knows that it immediately becomes two sizes too small and feels like you’re trying to get out of a straight jacket. To combat this, I used some wetsuit lube on the inside of the kit (thanks to a suggestion from the people at Wattie Ink.) and it went on like a soft new sock.
Heading out on the bike course, the pace stayed high early, which didn’t surprise me too much, given my company. There were a few lead changes within our group over the course of the ride, but in general we kept things quick the whole leg. We held our gap to the front group of four or five riders, but also weren’t able to put any time into them. The course was mostly flat, with decent wind at points and some rough patches as well. My new Dimond Brilliant helped a ton with the rough sections, as the beam soaked up a lot of the bad vibes. There was some blatant drafting going on in our group, but I tried not to let it mess with my race too much, and after pushing it on the bike, I rolled into T2 in 5th after a 2:04 bike split, my fastest 70.3 bike leg yet.
Heading out on the run that heat that had greeted me at the airport bore down on me with newfound ferocity. The humidity was high, the temperature was high, and there was no hiding from the sun beating down on us. I can’t say my legs felt too fresh as I ran; they just never really seemed to pop after that strong ride, and the run became a bit of a grind. Some pretty steep hills stud the run course, adding to the challenges of heat and wind. One of the huge benefits I discovered in my new Wattie Ink speed suit was the two different types of rear pockets: they were super easy to access for storing my gel flask, and also the perfect size for stuffing bags of ice, which helped me put up a fight against the heat. After losing four positions by the halfway point on the run, I was beginning to struggle. Hitting the final turn, with about 300 meters to go, I heard someone closing fast. This was an “OH CRAP” moment, for sure, and I just started sprinting as hard as I could. I was able to keep it alive, holding off my challenger to claim 9th place. The run was one of my worst in a long time, but I fought through the whole way and stayed positive the entire time. Sometimes things don’t go to plan, but if you let negative energy seep into your throughts you’ll only unravel quicker, and you won’t be having any fun! As much as I had a first-class seat on the Puetro Rican Pain Train, I tried to enjoy the fact that I was racing in a stunning location, surrounded by incredible people who also love this amazing sport.
I would have to say my nutrition was good during the race, although there is a reasonable chance I didn’t take in enough liquid early on, which could have contributed to my poor run. But given this was almost two months sooner than I usually start my race season, and this winter being one of the worst we’ve had in Vancouver (ever), Puerto Rico 70.3 made for a great start to the season. With a little fine tuning of my race strategy, I fully believe I’ll have a solid race at the Texas 70.3 in two weeks’ time. All my gear worked perfectly during the race, which I’m super stoked about. Your first race of the year is always something of a stumble-through, and I’m very happy not to have had any mechanical issues all day. I have some of the coolest sponsors, and they’ve all worked hard to get me where I am so early this year. Thanks to everyone who has been cheering me on and supporting me through all my escapades, especially my wife who has been my biggest supporter, my biggest fan, and lets me chase my dreams around the world! Also, thanks to all you amazing people out there that leave me positive energy with your comments and messages—I read them all and each one gives me a little boost!
Stay safe out there training and racing. I’ll chat with you cool folks in a few weeks after Texas 70.3!