The alarm sounded at 4am, and I was up! After stumbling around for a bit I hung onto reality and hopped into the shower. My tri suit was laid out from the night before, and I slipped it on before downing my third and final Ensure. It was chocolate again so not nearly as bad as the strawberry flavor, but still nothing that I’d do for fun. I put all of my Perpetuem-loaded water bottles into my race morning bag and double-checked that I had everything for the race. XterraLINK speed suit…check! Goggles and Ironman Cozumel swim cap…check! I was ready to rock! I brushed my teeth, slipped on my flip flops, pulled a t-shirt over my tri top, and headed to meet the gang at the hotel lobby.
Out front of the hotel there were buses waiting to shuttle the race participants, families, and friends to the race start at Chankanaab. Having the bus was very efficient, and it dropped us off right in front of where we checked our bikes in the day before.
The first task of the day was to get the pressure in my bike tires up to 120 PSI. The race staff did a great job of helping out with this; I was able to grab my bike from the rack and walk it over to an air station, where a volunteer loaded my tires with air. That was easy! My next task was to get my race numbers re-marked because shaving my legs completely removed the numbers. The line for remarking was long, but I was early enough that there was no hurry.
After getting my numbers remarked, it was waiting time. I wanted to go to the bathroom, but the word was that they had run out of TP at all of the port-o-potties. I thought that I’d be OK…only time would tell. After walking around for about 30 minutes, we made our way to the swim start where people were starting to line up. From there we could hear the announcer wailing over the loudspeaker. The swim start seemed much less intense than at my Ironman Canada race a few months earlier. Maybe it was just me, or it could have been that fewer spectators were able to cram into the area where the swim start was held. There was still about 30 minutes before the race start, and the pro’s were making their way onto the dock and into the water. For this race start we actually started completely in the water (see picture below). As we watched the pro’s get ready for their start, I pulled on my Xterra Velocity-M Speedsuit. It was very tight, but I felt ready to go.
The gun sounded for the start of the pro’s race, and the age groupers were instructed to start making their way onto the dock and into the water. As I walked, I strapped on my goggles, and pulled my swim cap over my hair. I could see people up ahead jumping into the water and getting warmed up. I was about the middle of the pack and it took me a few minutes to get into the water. With my goggles over my eyes I jumped into the warm ocean water. One of my biggest concerns for the swim was actually overheating. This water was toasty! I took a few warm up strokes and my body and speed suit felt great! I was ready!
I swam about 50 yards to the starting line of the swim and floated for a few minutes. I could hear the announcer say, “Four minutes to the start,” and I swear that only about a minute passed before the gun sounded and we were off! My second Ironman had begun! What would I learn about myself this time around?…
As we took off through the water I was surprised how clean I was able to swim. This continued until I reached the first buoy, where it felt like every swimmer in the race converged and was trying to swim over me! I quickly learned that popping my head up was the wrong thing to do because people would just try to crawl over me, so I kept my head down and swam hard toward the next buoy. At every buoy for the first half of the swim I had the same experience, and it was even worse at the corners. Because of this, I started taking a wider route around the buoys. I think this ended up being faster. When I’m in the water I feel like I have no idea of time, and the swim just keeps going and going. I really didn’t find a rhythm for the first 3/4 of the swim so I figured I was probably swimming slower than my last race. It was also very warm in the water, and I could feel my body overheating. As I got to the last turn to head back toward dock, I hit a cold patch of water. This felt amazing and my body immediately cooled down. I found my rhythm. It also felt like there was a current pushing me toward the swim finish. The glide of every stroke felt like it was taking me about 10 yards! Feeling great, I turned up the intensity and pushed it through the last few hundred yards. The dock came into view, and I pushed even harder! I couldn’t believe that the swim was coming to an end already! I felt great! I ran up the stairs onto the dock, and headed for the transition area. Unfortunately, I forgot to look at the time clock as I left the water so I asked a fellow competitor how long we’d been going; he said 1:24! I was over 10 minutes faster than my last race! Things were starting off great!
Running into the transition area, the first thing you see is this huge cage that has tons spigots spraying down onto the swimmers to wash off the salt water. I spent a little extra time here to make sure that I got all the salt off to avoid chaffing. Next was the rack of transition bags. I grabbed my bike bag and ran into the changing tent. There was a chair in the first row that I immediately plopped down into, ripped off my Xterra Speedsuit, pulled on my socks, bike shoes, helmet, sun glasses, and race bib. I then walked up to the sunscreen table and was covered in sunscreen by a race volunteer. I transferred the excess sunscreen from my arms to my legs and neck, grabbed a bag (yes a bag) of water, and ran to my bike. Time for a spin!
We had to run with our bikes past the timing mat before we were allowed to mount. Once across, I hopped on and started peddling away down the road. Damn, I felt great! I looked at my watch; I was averaging 20.9 mph for the first few miles. My goal was to average above 20 mph. The bike course was comprised of three loops around the island of Cozumel, and I was just getting started on my first loop. There was a little bit of a head wind as I rode toward the coast, but it wasn’t slowing me down enough to worry me. That all changed drastically when I hit the coast! The coastal road on Cozumel is absolutely breathtaking, but the freaking wind is vicious! When I hit the wind, my speed immediately slowed to around 14-15 mph. I tried to get into a very low and aggressive aero position, which helped slightly, but caused my neck to become painfully sore. The ride along the coast was extremely slow at 10 or 15 mph, but once the course cut back toward the middle of the island, I was able to crank like crazy. After cutting back across the middle of the island there were many more people out on the sides of the road cheering. After a few miles I reached the downtown area of Cozumel where the energy was crazy! There were thousands of people cheering for every rider who rolled past. Just that element gave me at least an extra mile per hour through that stretch!
Once I left the downtown area it was only a short distance back to the bike start and the beginning of my second loop around the island. This is where all the fun started, and by “fun” I mean ‘not fun’. For some strange reason I was finding that my stomach didn’t want anymore nutrition and (this is the weird part) my eye’s were getter really heavy. I couldn’t believe this…my legs were cranking like crazy, my heart rate was around 135-138 beats per minute, and I was finding myself closing my eyes for 2-3 seconds at a time; on a bike traveling at 20 mph this is not a good thing! I actually considered pulling over to take a quick nap in the brush on the side of the road. You know when you’re so tired that just about any place you can lie down looks comfortable? That’s what I was going through! The nasty jungle brush on the side of the road looked like the most comfortable thing I could imagine. The only thing that kept me from stopping and napping was my desire to get a better time than my Ironman Canada performance. So, my solution to my body wanting to post up for a nap in the Cozumel jungle was to continuously switch my riding position–from in the aero bars, to up and out of the saddle. I did this continuously for the WHOLE second loop and even stopped at the second aid station along the coastal road to see if I could grab some food or something to snap me out of the incredible funk I was in. Throughout my entire ride, I was drinking 300 calories of Hammer Perpetuem per hour, which has caffeine, so my drowsiness didn’t make any sense. At the aid stop, I ate a banana, dumped two bottles of ice cold water over my head, and took a piss (I immediately had to go once I got off the bike). I started feeling a little better, so I got back on my bike and kept moving forward.
The drowsiness continued even after I cut back toward downtown and my speed picked back up. Somehow, some way, the cheering crowd got me amped up again, and my need to sleep on the side of the road finally disappeared! About this time the clouds started to roll in and block the sun. I didn’t think that the sun was much of an issue, because it was only between 75-80 degrees, but the shade sure felt good.
On the third loop I felt better. It was an amazing contrast from the second loop. I did find that I was able to move the fastest by holding myself the aero position until my neck couldn’t take it anymore. Then I would immediately go into an out of the saddle climbing position (even though there were no hills on this course). This tactic seemed to work pretty well, and I consistently passed other riders on the third loop.
Once I made my final turn toward the downtown area and the end of the bike leg, things started to get interesting. At first it was only a few rain drops… then a few more… and then the sky let loose. The rain came crashing down in furious waves! I could tell by the look on most of the riders faces that they weren’t really loving this. Having had several rainy training rides back home in Seattle, this was not much of a problem for me (Hooray for Seattle’s rain!)…and it was warm rain! Training for this race in Seattle, the rain was freezing my butt off, so I was actually enjoying this change of pace. I could feel my body getting energized and I was speeding up! I was loving it and crushing this last portion of the bike leg. People were cheering from the roadside establishments where they hid from the downpour. There were now some puddles on the course that were so deep that my feet hit the water on the bottom of my pedal stroke, but I loved the adventure of it, and kept cranking away!
When you get to the end of the bike leg on an Ironman distance race you can’t believe that it’s finally over. I was on that damn bike for over 6 hours! My neck hurt, my back hurt, my butt hurt, and I still had to run a marathon! The bike to run transition area was in the middle of downtown, which was a little strange because the transition areas are usually all at the same place. It didn’t seem to matter and the race staff did a great job with our bags. I plopped in to a chair in the transition area and didn’t know if I was going to be able to get back up. My legs were kind of shot from riding so much out of the saddle. I changed my shoes and socks, took off my helmet, grabbed a banana, and walked out of the transition tent.
Once I heard the cheering crowd I leaned forward and started my run… The first thing that I noticed was that my Achilles tendons weren’t happy. In an effort to preserve them for the full 26.2 miles I changed my stride a bit by landing very flat-footed rather than slightly on my toes. Doing this forced me to reduce my forward lean and use more muscular power to propel myself forward. I knew that I had the muscular strength to make this happen, but it was going to slow me down.
The run was comprised of three 8.7 mile out and backs. I knew that this out and back BS was going to suck, but all I could do was hope that I’d have a fast run!
Up to this point I haven’t talked too much about my stomach. Well… it hadn’t really been feeling great since about an hour into the bike ride. It wasn’t anything terrible, but it made it pretty hard to continue consuming the amount of calories that I needed without discomfort. As I hit the run I was planning out what I was going to consume. My initial plan was a gel flask of Hammer Gel, but after forcing down a few squirts I knew that this wasn’t going to work. My friend, and pro Ironman Greg Close of www.TriBy3.com, told me that at his last race (Kona) he only took in water and Coke for the whole run and it worked great. The Coke is actually supposed to help settle your stomach. So that was my new revised plan!
At the first aid station I grabbed a sack of water and drank about half of it down. These sacks of water were pretty interesting… they held about 12 ounces, and to drink from them you rip them open and suck out the water. The aid stations seemed to be about 1-1.5 miles apart. When I reached the second one it was time for the Coke, and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. At first my stomach talked back a bit, but then it settled down, and I was good to go!
For the first few miles it was still raining pretty hard, but with the exception of having wet socks and shoes, it felt pretty good. After I’d consumed a few Cokes I could feel the sugar and caffeine moving things along inside my stomach; I knew I needed a port-o-potty soon! Remembering that there was no toilet paper for the start of the race, I was worried that they under supplied the toilet paper on the run course as well. I started looking at the sides of the road to see if there were any good leaves that could fill in for the toilet paper. I saw a couple of possible candidates, but as I was approaching the next aid station and port-o-potty I saw an extra roll of TP sitting on one of the aid tables. I grabbed it, just in case, but when I peeked into the port-o-potty, I found a full roll! Problem solved! (If you read about my last ultra marathon at Bear Mountain NY, then you know that I’ve had some pretty funny stories about having to find toilet paper. It’s always an adventure!)
Now that I’d cleared that major hurdle, all I had to do was run another 22 miles or so… Like the bike course, the run course was very flat. Flat is fast, but it also forces the same muscles to work in the same way, over and over and over. I went into this race being excited for the flat course, but soon was longing for hills.
As I ran toward the first turn around point the rain had let up a bit, but there were HUGE puddles (some over ankle deep) to run through. Even if you had a change of shoes and socks in your special needs bag, there was no staying dry at this race. When I finally got to the turn around point I almost couldn’t believe that I had to do this three more times! I crossed the timing mat and ran back down the way that I had come, toward the middle of town and the end of the first lap.
Out near the turn around point there weren’t many fans, and when there were some, it was usually only about 10 or 20 people with loud music cheering us on. It definitely helped, but I spent most of my time focusing on my breathing and meditating as I ran along.
I tried to keep up a good pace, but my legs wouldn’t carry me as fast as I wanted to go and I watched my pace, that started around a 9-minute mile, slowly moving towards a 10-minute mile. There were a few miles that I’d speed up to an 8-minute mile, but would feel my Achilles tightening up, so I backed off to make sure that I was able to run the whole race.
As I ran back into the center of town my energy picked up drastically! There were hundreds of people cheering on the sides of the road! There was even one place where there were about 5 people banging on drums and girls dancing to the drum music. The cheering and music just got louder and louder as I approached the finish line/turn around point. It was awesome, except that I had to turn around and do two more laps…
The crowd continued to cheer as I ran back out for my second lap. For some reason when there’s three laps or rounds total, the second is always the worst! This is even true in CrossFit workouts. For anyone that’s ever done the CrossFit workout called “Fran,” you know what I mean! This was like doing “Fran,” but for 4+ hours rather than 4+ minutes.
For the second lap I continued to do the water and Coke shuffle at the aid stations,and other than my legs dying because of the change of running form, my tight Achilles, and the on and off stomach pains, I was feeling pretty great! I trudged through the second lap without anything really interesting happening. I had gone into this race shooting for the 12 hour mark, which I knew was going to be tough after my slow bike, but I was still happy to be on pace to beat my Ironman Canada time. When I got to the turn around point of the second lap I was temporary excited to know that I was over half way done with the marathon. All I had left was the hardest part!
At this point the rain had pretty much stopped, but there were still huge puddles that we all had to wade through from time to time. When I finally made it back into the downtown area with the cheering fans, I knew I was going to make it. But when I could see the finish line and had to turn around for another loop, I was a little pissed that I wasn’t the one finishing. It was at that point that I decided if I was going to do another Ironman, I was going to actually train to be fast, and get the damn thing done in closer to 10 hours than this long 12+ hour day.
Going back out for the third lap, my legs were feeling pain, but the good thing was that all of the pain was coming from my muscles. My Achilles tendons were not happy, but they were not getting any worse, and all of my other joints felt ‘money’. At this point it was completely dark out, but still warm. Because I knew that I was getting closer to being finished I was only taking Coke at the aid stations when it sounded good, rather than forcing it down. I thought that I was in the clear and just had to easily run out the next 8-9 miles. I then started feeling this rubbing sensation on the 4th toe of my left foot. At first I just ignored it and relaxed my toes so the rubbing wasn’t too bad, but it got worse and worse. In past races I haven’t had any problems with my toes, but this felt like it could be the time that I might finally have some issues. I figured that I was almost done with my Ironman so I didn’t really worry much until the rubbing turned into a little pain. This was non-muscular pain that I didn’t need, so I stopped, sat in the grass on the side of the road, and pulled off my shoe. What I found was that the thin shoe insert was bunched into the toe box of the shoe not giving my toes any wiggle room. I straightened the insert back out and everything felt fine, so I hopped up (very slowly) and started running again.
Everything was cool for the next 2-3 miles, until that damn insert bunched back up and was rubbing on my toe again. I found another grassy area, sat down, pulled my shoe off, removed the insert, and tossed it into the garbage. I figured that at this point it couldn’t be that important; I was right. Removing that insert completely solved my toe issue and everything was back to normal. Now all I had to do was finish the race! 🙂
After sloshing through a few more puddles I made it to the turn around for the last time (at least in 2011) and headed back toward downtown Cozumel. It was a great feeling knowing that I was so close to finishing, and with the exception of not being able to run fast, I felt pretty good. Unfortunately a lot of the groups of people that had been out on the course cheering had either headed in for the night or walked back into the downtown area, so it was a little bit quite on the run back into town. One foot in front of the other over and over for what felt like forever and I could finally see the lights of downtown and hear the music playing in the distance. It had been a long day and it felt great to know that I was almost done. At this point I knew that I wasn’t going to hit the 12 hour mark that I had shot for, but I would still be well under my Ironman Canada time. The music and cheering got louder and louder as I ran into the downtown area of Cozumel. From about 200 yards out, the streets were packed with people yelling and reaching out for hi-fives as I ran past. I probably gave about 10 or 15 hi-fives as I made my way toward the turn around point. This time I got to run past the turn around point about 20 feet and take a 90 degree left turn toward the finish line! What I saw was amazing! Bleachers full of screaming fans and music blasting! About 50 yards away from the finish line, I could feel all of my pain disappear as I was energized by the screaming crowd! I ran across the line at 13 hours and 3 minutes and felt a wave of gratitude and respect overcome me. Gratitude for being able to do amazing things like the Ironman that will hopefully inspire people to get out and exercise themselves, and respect for the difficulty of the event and the other competitors who put themselves through the Ironman and the training.
A few steps after crossing the finish line I was greeted with a finisher medal and a finisher necklace from the people of Cozumel. The necklace was a great gift that I’ve been wearing everyday since the event. The next task was to get my finisher’s picture, which meant that I had to wait in a 15 minute line. This would have been fine except that I felt like I had a migraine headache in each of my legs. Even though this was a longer race, the leg pain was much less than after my first marathon (NYC Marathon), so I couldn’t bee too upset. I waited it out and got my finisher’s picture. From there the only thing that I had to accomplish was getting a piece of pizza in my belly. I grabbed a piece of pizza and sat down, finally able to let my body rest. What a day!
This feeling of accomplishment is truly magical and I encourage EVERYONE to push their limits and improve themselves as often as possible, even if what that means is going out for a walk. Soon a walk turns into a run, and a run turns into a 5k, and a 5k turns into a marathon, and a marathon turns into an Ironman!
Thank you for reading about my experience! Now get outside and have fun by working hard! And if you need any motivation drop me a line, I’ve got plenty for all of us! 🙂 Please LIKE and share!