Championship jet ski racing is one of the most physically demanding sports out there and having won several titles against some of the world’s best, Jordan “JJ” McLean, can testify to that.
But zooming around on a WaveRunner is nowhere near as tough as completing the Generali Mercuryman Half Ironman, which is what McLean had the immense satisfaction of doing last week.
Weekend warriors have plenty of options for the many demanding events that have been created in Cayman in recent years and the Mercuryman is the most arduous of the lot. A 1.2 mile swim, then a 56 mile bike race, topped off with a 13.1 mile half marathon run are what athletes endure.
The third annual one from East End’s Reef Resort was just as gruelling as last year’s one, although conditions were considerably different.
Last year, high winds and relatively low temperatures created problems for the swimmers and cyclists. The run in the relative cool was not too draining.
But this time there was no wind and a blazing sun so the bike ride and the run meant the competitors faced a different battle with Mother Nature, as well as with their own bodies.
There were five female professionals in it and they took the first four places. Emily Cocks won in 4 hours, 31 minutes, 59 seconds. Marius Acker was the fastest local, fifth overall in 4:47:40.
McLean fought his way through to finish in 6:55:36, a commendable 20th of the 26 men who started. Flashy Nation, a group of the young Caymanians who formed a couple of years ago to become triathlon specialists, improved considerably.
DJ Evans (5:31:30) was seventh of the male finishers, Kendall Evans (5:42:30) was eighth, and Samuel Young (6:15:32) 17th.
Prior to Mercuryman, the hardest event McLean had competed in was the Mark Hahn 300 Mile endurance Jet Ski race in Lake Havasu, Arizona six years ago. He battled through 25-plus miles per hour winds and 30 degree Celsius blazing heat to win his first Pro U.S. National title.
“I can’t forget that day, as my father, Mack, said ‘You bite off more than you can swallow,’” McLean said.
“I hadn’t heard him say that again until Mercuryman when I was on the running section of the course in the unforgiving sun in the middle of the day. Based on his comment, it is safe to say it was the hardest event I have ever participated in.”
The toughest part for McLean was the run as he had the most excruciating cramps and muscle spasms in his quads in the first mile, necessitating a stop for five minutes to massage unruly legs.
At this point, he really learned more about myself, he said. “I was in a lot of pain but mentally I was focused on finishing. From this point on, I was thankful for all the positive energy from fellow triathletes as we were all going through our own challenges on a very hot day.”
The volunteers handing out refreshments, ice and cold sponges were much appreciated. McLean prepared for Mercuryman with training partner Samuel Young every week after the Intertrust Marathon in December and also had some input from Pedro Lopez Ramos.
Training was intense – six days a week, sometimes twice a day, with a mixture of swimming, running, cycling and gym work.
Triathlons are new to McLean as he only recently started to compete at these events, thanks to his friendship with Young who coaxed him over the last two years to train with him and push himself. He finally decided to commit after last year’s St. Patrick’s Day 5K.
“I have always been into running due to my father who was an avid runner and running is a part of my training for Jet Ski racing,” McLean said.
“I’m drawn to triathlons because of how challenging it is to conquer and I enjoy challenging myself. It also kept me active last year when I did not compete in that much Jet Ski races.
“In fact, I sacrificed going to the 2014 World Finals Jet Ski race in October to stick with my training program with coach William Balderamos and Flashy Nation.
“All in all, triathlon and running events allow me to keep competitive and have fun competing with myself while figuring out where I need to improve.”
His latest sporting event was Sunday’s Stride Against Cancer as it meant a lot to McLean after losing his aunt to cancer. Now he is aiming to go back to the Mark Hahn 300 mile endurance race at the Crazy Horse Campground on Feb. 28.
“Despite all I’ve been fortunate to accomplish in Jet Ski racing, I don’t think I could outright stop being involved as I’ve been having fun jet-skiing since I was 10 and racing since I was 14,” he said.
There are still three races McLean would like to compete in – Long Beach to Catalina and Back Offshore race, Karujet Offshore World Championship Endurance race in Guadeloupe and a 2,000 mile endurance race that’s still in the planning stages in Alaska.
His biggest win was in taking the Pro Limited World title at the International Jet Sport Boating Association World Finals in Lake Havasu, Arizona in 2011, along with the Pro Limited Canadian and U.S. National titles.
The 25-year-old investment analyst, who works at the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority, said he is grateful to his extremely supportive family and friends for his sporting achievements. “Thanks especially to Sam Young, DJ Evans, Pedro Lopez Ramos, Coach Balderamos and the rest of Flashy Nation as they all played an integral role in getting me involved in triathlons.”
McLean also hailed the Mercuryman organizers and volunteers for “putting on a great event and special thanks to East End Primary School and Darrell Rankine for the extended support during the last half of the half marathon.” All the pain and sacrifice has not put McLean off triathlons.
“It has been a tough rookie season for me but I’m already looking forward to the next local triathlons to see how much I can improve from this base year.”