Friday, December 12, 2014

2014 Ironman Cozumel

My debut professional race at Ironman Cozumel is in the books. It was a great experience, despite not quite having the swim or run I was planning to have. I finished the day as the 18th professional male and 29th overall, which considering the size of the field is a pretty good result. Here is my race recap…

On race morning I woke up at 3:30am. I had gone to bed early and slept pretty well for the first part of the night, but after 1:30am or so I was tossing and turning. The pre-race nerves were definitely in full force. I got up and had breakfast - a bagel with peanut butter, a banana, and half of a very large blueberry muffin. Then I showered to wake myself up and started to get dressed. I ran into a bit of a problem here. I had taken two options for race kits, not knowing whether I’d want to go with a one piece tri suit or with a top and shorts for easier bathroom access. I decided to go with the one piece suit I had worn all season and committed to just letting the bathroom stuff fly as I raced without stopping. However, when I put the suit on, it was entirely too loose to race in. I came into this race about ten pounds lighter than I raced at the rest of the season, and it was very evident when I got dressed. The sleeves, which are supposed to be skin tight, were loose and flopping around. I had to wear the other suit. Alright, not a big deal. Except that this tri top was also pretty loose in the arms and shoulders. There was nothing that could be done about it now, so I had to just live with it. 

I walked down from our condo to the nearest host hotel to catch a bus to transition. My timing was pretty good and I got there just before a bus was leaving, so there wasn’t much standing around. We got to transition, I got body marked with my race number, and I headed to my bike to pump the tires and prepare my nutrition. It was a fairly smooth morning with no real hiccups. The professional section of the transition area at Cozumel is great. The bikes are located right by the exit and each person gets their own individual rack with their name on it.

Since the swim was a point to point swim, we had to then catch a bus up to the swim start area. I headed to that bus and again was fortunate with my timing, getting on a bus right as it was about to leave. I got to the swim start area just after 6am. I found my family and Becky and talked to them for a bit as I put on my sunscreen and had a little pre-race snack. Then it was time to get lined up with the group and get in the water. They let us into the water only a couple of minutes before the race start, so we didn’t have a chance to warm up at all. I like to get in and swim around for five or ten minutes, but it is what it is and it’s the same for everyone.

A smile to start the day.
We lined up and at 6:40am the horn sounded and off we went. I knew I was going to be at the back end of the swim field, but I went out hard at the beginning to see if I could find some feet to draft off and maybe save myself a little time and a lot of energy. We got spread out pretty quickly, but I found myself with one or two other guys. Eventually with sighting and people taking different lines, we got spread out and I found myself all alone. As I was swimming I was waiting for the inevitable catch from the lead swim females who started only two minutes behind us. I knew it was coming, but it was still a bit demoralizing when it happened. It was a group of three girls who went by so fast I had no chance at all of jumping on their feet. When the second group came by I did manage to jump on the back of that pack for a little while, but ended up getting separate from them as well. Finally I made the one left turn on the swim course and headed to the exit. I got out and saw my watch read one hour exactly. I was disappointed as I had hoped for a better swim, but I tried not focus on it. I just needed to focus on what I could control from that point forward, not what had already happened. I grabbed my stuff, threw on my top, and ran to my bike. It was the only professional male bike still at the rack. That was probably the worst part of the day. “Oh well”, I thought. “Control what you can from this point forward.”

I hopped on my bike and started riding. I looked down at my computer and my power meter was reading around 900 watts. Something was clearly not working. I stopped pedaling and tried recalibrating as I coasted along. The same thing happened. I tried a second time. And then a third time. Now it just stopped reading anything - 0 watts. Well, it looked like I was going to be racing this off of heart rate and perceived exertion. It wasn’t the end of the world, but when you spend hours and hours staring at a power number as you train and have a plan tailored to certain zones and percentages, it kind of sucks when it doesn’t work on race day. Again, there was nothing I could do about it at that point, so I just rode my bike as best I could. It wasn’t long before I picked off a couple of guys on the bike; I’d say within the first ten miles before we made the turn at Punta Sur to head up the east side of the island. I also caught the chase pack of female riders and quickly went by them. It was a bit of a confidence booster to know that I wasn’t at the very back of the male race anymore and I was moving back through the female field. As I headed up the east side of the island the wind was brutal. Typically it is more of a cross wind during that stretch, but it was much more of a head wind during the race.

It was a welcome relief to turn west and head back across the island, getting a break from the headwind for a while. I rolled into town, where the support from locals and spectators was great. Two more loops and I’d be done. The second and third loops were pretty uneventful. I continued riding at a steady pace. Just after passing Chankanaab Park I passed the lead group of women. One of them, I figured out later it was Michelle Vesterby, went with me as I rode by. She was now leading the women’s race and was pacing behind me. It took me a while to figure this out and I wondered why I was being accompanied so closely by a race official for basically the entire second loop. He was making sure she kept the legal distance and not drafting. I lost Michelle on the third and final loop on the windy stretch from Punta Sur to Mexcalito’s Restaurant, which is the left hand turn back across the island. It was nice to know I wouldn’t have to ride into that headwind anymore. I took in my final nutrition on the bike during this last ten mile stretch and started to think about the run. 

I rolled into T2 and was happy to be off my bike. My time was quite a bit slower than I anticipated it being, but the conditions were certainly not ideal for a fast bike split. Even with my slower bike time I had the 17th fastest bike split out of all competitors and had moved myself back into the race a bit from my horrific swim. 

In T2 I put on socks and my running shoes while some volunteers loaded me up with sunscreen. I grabbed a little bit of nutrition to carry with me to help keep me going headed out to the run course. Just over 26 miles to go for the day.

The goal of the first loop was to try to get into a rhythm and not overdo it. I went through my first mile a little quick, but then I settled in to a consistent pace for the remainder of the loop, which was 14.1km (or 8.7 miles). My first loop took about 1 hour and 3 minutes, which was right about where I wanted to be. Unfortunately the wheels kind of came off on the second loop. My pace going out was fine. Michelle Vesterby caught back up to me here so I ran with her to have someone to pace myself off and it was less lonely than running entirely alone like I did on the first loop. After the turn around things got ugly. ****GRAPHIC DEPICTION AHEAD. If you want to skip the details continue on to the next paragraph. If you want to know what can actually happen to your body during Ironman racing, go ahead and proceed.**** I hadn’t gone to the bathroom all day, and I was at a point where I really felt like I needed to. I stopped at an aid station about halfway back on the second loop to quickly go into the porta potty. I urinated what felt like glass shards and it was pink, clearly containing blood. It was agony. I stood there in severe pain for several minutes, contemplating what I should do. The pain slowly subsided, so I decided the only thing to do was to keep running. I only had 9-10 miles left at this point. Hopefully I wouldn’t have to go to the bathroom again for the rest of the race. (I have since determined that I probably had mineral calcification buildup from all the salt and electrolyte loading I did in the days leading to the race. My body and kidneys were likely not accustomed to processing all of that, so it lead to some issues.)

My third loop went somewhat better than the second. I didn’t have to relieve myself anymore, so I avoided going through that pain again. My pace picked up a little bit, and I caught a couple guys who had blown up on the run. I took in Coke and water at almost every aid station and kept dumping ice down my shirt and shorts to keep cool. I PR’ed the run, but I still was about 15 minutes slower than I think I am capable of running. I feel like I need to revamp my nutrition strategy for Ironman racing because I’m not reaching my running potential. That will be a primary focus next year.

The last few steps of a hard day's work.
I ended up crossing the line in 9:34:13. It wasn’t a PR, but it was a decent race through some adverse conditions. I never let any of the bad stuff get me down too much and mentally felt like I handled those situations well. I was the 18th professional male and 29th overall finisher, which is by far the highest I have ever placed in an Ironman.

After the race I threw up quite a bit, so I headed to the medical tent and got an IV. I took a liter of fluid and felt like a champ afterwards. I met up with my family and Becky and we headed back to the condo so I could clean up. Having the condo so close to the finish area was awesome and made getting around so easy. After showering and cleaning up we headed back down to the finish line and I was able to see Dave, Joel and Steve all come across the line, which was awesome. Congrats to all of them on making it through such a tough day, especially Dave who had done Ironman Arizona two weeks earlier. Crazy!!

I had one thing left planned for the day, and I felt like the time was right for that. Cozumel in 2011 was the first trip Becky and I took together after we started dating. That was my first Ironman, and she came along to support me for that. I don’t think she had even met my mother before that trip. Since then she has supported me through all this triathlon craziness, traveling all over the country and putting up with my being gone to train for countless hours. I know that I couldn’t do all of this without her help and support, and over the past three years I’ve realized how lucky I really am. We went for a walk down by the ocean and, after a little discussion and telling her how important she is to my life, I proposed. I even got down on one knee! And managed to stand back up on my own. Cozumel has always been a special place to me since my first race there in 2011. Now it is also the place of my first race as a professional. But most importantly it is the place where I asked Becky to spend her life with me and she said yes. What a great little island...