||2006 Ironman Baja 70.3
The perfect, flawless inaugural race? No, not really. I doubt such a race has ever existed.
A fun, international event with a challenging course is more like it. In fact, it was the most fun and unique triathlon I have experienced yet! Even before arriving, I knew things would get interesting. The event website left a lot of unanswered questions. The first surprise was the athlete welcome dinner. About two dozen of us took a 40 minute bus ride to the "vinicolas" or vineyards and were met by a man with a microphone standing in front of a winery. Without any explanation, he started to give us a tour of the L.A. Cetto Winery in fairly broken English. All of us were a bit stunned, but polite and went with the flow. We saw where they used to make brandy and the barrel storage room where they bottled the wine. I wasn't sure if we had all taken the wrong bus.
After the 15 minute tour, we walked up a hill to a huge veranda overlooking a sea of vineyards surrounded by mountains. We also passed a small arena with a long stage set up with 10 barrels of grapes on it. I knew we were in for some entertainment. In the middle of wine tasting with Kate Major and a couple other age groupers, the MC called out some names and the grape crushing contest was on. Ten pros and amateurs took off their shoes and rolled up their pants and crushed grapes while the juices ran into a bucket. It was pretty hilarious! After the winner of the first round was announced, they asked for several more volunteers. I wanted the full "race experience" so I jumped in the contest. Let me tell you that nothing makes you feel more like a kid again than smashing grapes with your bare feet. (Unfortunately, this workout made my calves really sore before the race, but it was so worth it!) Dinner included wine, pasta, fish, chicken, dancers, the mayor, wine, a dj, and a great sunset. Did I mention many bottles of wine were finished that night?
The next day, things got a little more serious with the mandatory meeting and bike check-in. The two transition zones made logistics a bit difficult. Bikes were stored at T1 at the host hotel, while all run gear had to be turned 3 miles away in downtown Ensenada. Throw in some language barriers and you've got a near panic attack for some of the athletes. Luckily the race director was very cool about everything and never lost his head. Buses shuttled people and equipment to and from T1 and T2, and it didn't turn out as bad as many had expected. There was plenty of time for us to lounge poolside with a beer, I mean, Gatorade. Yeah, that's it? Gatorade.
The bike course was changed at the last minute from two loops to one, and I personally think it made it slightly easier, although I heard some others say it was more difficult. Either way you look at it, it was a challenging course. The swim started and ended in a protected harbor with a loop around three buoys in open water. Water temp was a balmy 66-68 degrees and very small swells pushing you toward the beach. The run from the harbor to T1 was pretty far but fully-carpeted, unlike Oceanside, plus there were wetsuit strippers!
The bike course offered several good climbs, fun and dangerous descents, rolling hills in between, and a flat TT portion to and from downtown. I had 3,340ft of total ascent on my computer. T2 had bike valet and volunteers took care of all of your gear for you. One of the most interesting parts of the race was the plastic bags that were handed out at the aid stations with water and Coke in them. No goldfish were found and the water was straight from 5 gallon purified jugs. I found it better than cups because you could grab the bags at full speed without spilling the contents. Bite off a corner and you're set.
The two-loop run course started downtown and went 3 miles out to T1 at the host hotel with rolling hills and one short, but steep, incline. Between fighting the wind and warding off leg cramps, I was entertained by the checking system that was used at the different turn-around points on the run. Every time you reached a turn-around point, some one would take a sponge dipped in some color of paint and mark your arm or leg with a blue, orange or yellow streak! Forget the timing mats, the paint made things fun and briefly kept my mind off of the pain. Yes, I am easily amused.
The finish was fast and flat, and the city had a decent turnout of spectators. Ensenada is a good location for Southern Californians, and I was surprised to see athletes from Spain, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, Australia, Brazil, and so on, who had made the trek to Ensenada for this inaugural race. There are a lot of kinks to be worked out, like keeping inflatable advertisements from knocking down power lines, shortening the awards ceremony and roll-down from 5 hours, and, my favorite, having an inflatable Gatorade archway at the finish line deflate creating a moon-bounce finish for several unfortunate athletes.
But overall, it was a good race and has the potential to be a great race next year. The organizers went way out of their way to treat the athletes like royalty. The host hotel was very nice and everyone was friendly whether they spoke English or Spanish. I will definitely return and I hope to convince a few of you to join me and the other dozen or so tri clubbers who made the trip to Ensenada. Besides, where else can you order a dozen fish tacos and some Dos Equis for breakfast?
Congrats to all the finishers! Salud y buena suerte in your training!