Ironman Cozumel – The Details

Up at 4am. The resort opened breakfast early for us so I took advantage. I trained all summer on hard boiled eggs for breakfast, and they had no eggs. I asked the manager and he went back and made me up some asap! What service! Amazingly calm for the morning of a race. Packed up my stuff and grabbed a shuttle to the start. Setting up was mostly uneventful. Pumped the tires, filled the bottles, dropped off my special needs bag, etc. The only hangup was the line to the bathrooms which was pretty long and the stalls were running out of t.p.. I lucked out with one of the few with paper. Lubed up and headed to the pier and the start. I had read that last year there were people still trying to get into the water when the gun went off, so me and my friend Jesse, who’s also a great swimmer, made a point to gets towards the front of the mob waiting to get in. Right after the pros started (and the dolphins did a little show) they began letting people walk down the pier and jumping in the water. I chose the ever difficult ‘canonball’ entry alongside Jesse.

Being one the first people to get into the water I had a few minutes to swim around. nothing fancy, just tried to loosen up best I could. As more people started getting in I swam over to the starting line to get a good position. While we waited I was able to notice the strength of the current. While it moved us backwards while we waited, it was clear that it wasn’t as strong as previous days, and seemed not nearly as strong as last year either. The swim splits eventually proved this. Good news for me!

Being a strong swimmer, I have a pretty simple strategy. I hit the gas for about 50 yards and then settle into a strong pace for another 150, or in his case, the first bouy, then I turn it off and settle in. The inital blast gets me away from any of the fighting and brings the group around me to about a 2 dozen. The next 150 shrinks the group down to a dozen or less. This is the group that I start paying attention to. Now typically this group dwindles considerably too, as some of these folks are swimming way too hard for this distance. Anyway, my first effort after the gun got me clear of the fighting in about 10 strokes. I kept the solid effort to the first buoy and was pleasantly surprised to be the first one there. I backed off a little as this point and started to settle into my pace. at the first turn buoy there was 1 guy on my feet, a small gap, and then a group of swimmers. I make the next turn a few meters later and settled in for the long stretch swimming with the current. about a third the way through this section the guy on my feet went to pass. Happy to take some time drafting, I let him go by. it gave me some time to get the lay of the land. behind us, the pack of swimmers were around 5 meters behind. Good enough for now but I didn’t want them to latch back on, so I kept an eye on them. I pretty much turned the engine off at this point. Sitting on this guy’s feet my effort level was considerably lower than what I normally warm up with in a workout. Drafting is great. After about 400 meters I looked back again an the pack was at the same point, meaning we had slowed down a little. In hindsight this was probably a mistake. I should have maintained my normal pace. So I decided to take over again and swam at a nice comfortable pace. The swim caps they gave us were pretty large and somewhere along this stretch my cap came off. I lead down to the turn buoy at the submarine and then a relatively quick turn again to head for home. On the second turn I looked behind and that group was nowhere to be seen. So now it was just me and him. Now I enjoy winning like the next guy, but I don’t kill myself to get out of the water first just ’cause. The race is way to long for that. As expected the other guy made a move. Not a big problem as it wasn’t a very strong move. The problem though, was that he didn’t see the final turn buoy to the stairs (we kept buoys to our left the whole way until the final right turn to the stairs)and so he begins to cut the course. I kept pace with him quite comfortably, waiting for him to realize his mistake. Sure enough, he did and started swimming back my way, but he saw that he wasn’t going to beat me to the turn and therefore the finish, so he CUT THE COURSE! Are you kidding me! People would throw a hissy fit if I just cut the course on the run, so why aren’t there penalties for this sort of thing?? OK so remember that thing I just said about not working to hard just to win the swim. Nevermind. That pissed me off. problem was I only had about 25 meters or so to get it done. He touched the stairs just a half stroke in front of me and then we ran up to the timing mats, at which time I beat him to the finish. We finished with the same time, but I don’t know why the results gave him the nod for place, as you can see by the photo how this actually turned out. Swim time: 48:59

What would I have done different? Nothing. Well…. maybe used some less than civil behavior in the last 25 meters, but I’m sure officials would have had a problem with that. Cutting the course is just fine though apparently.

I ran down the long pier while taking the torque off to the bags and off to the tent. Threw on my stuff and jogged out to the bike. Transition time: 2:37

I hopped on the bike and immediately started taking tabs on the heart rate. (This is where RPE is completely useless) All the fun and excitement of cheers, transition and starting the ride bring the heart rate up, so I wanted to get it down as quick as I could. The bike is very flat and the wind doesn’t kick up until the east side of the island so I had some time to do some easy pedaling. As things got into check I started to settle into my pace. My main goal was to get off the bike. Yes, I know. Not very ambitious, but I didn’t have a great deal of time to ride leading up to this race, so I knew I wasn’t going to set the world on fire. I planned on a nice steady pace and would be satisfied if I came in around 5:20 or so.Nothing to set the world of fire, but fast enough to set up the run. I got to the coast and the wind was mild relative to the nightmares I had about this section. I still got tossed around a bit but I was expecting Kona type wind and that just wasn’t the case. I focused on my hydration and salt stick schedule. I’ve learned with heat that I just don’t eat as much, so kept a looser schedule for the food. As we approached the turn away from the coast, the crosswind turns to a nice tailwind. It was about this point that I started feeling some cramping. the pain started where the hamstring connects around the buttbones, and slowly radiated out. The hips slowly started to cramp as did the gluteus muscles. At first I just thought that if I stood on pedals for a few seconds the problem would disappear. But it didn’t. So while we had the tailwind I sat up and soft pedaled, trying various things to get the cramping to stop. Nothing I did helped and it got excruciatingly painful. I could barely sit ont he seat. What the hell? I’ve never had this problem in training. I always tell people that when you do an Ironman you will plan for A, B, and C. Then D will happen. I guess this was my unplanned problem. I was running out of ideas though. After about an hour of this, I decided that maybe getting off the bike altogether might help. If I take a moment to really stretch, maybe I can fix this. So a little ways into lap 2 I pulled over and just got off. Again I tried everything and nothing worked. I climbed back on the bike and rolled on. I had no more ideas. All I could do was pedal and try and find the least painful way to do so. Slowly the pain reduced from almost unbearable to a duller, more tolerable pain. I also kept trying to think of what would cause it. It wasn’t until much later in the ride that I noticed my stem looked different (stem is covered with a gel flask by the way, so it’s kinda hidden). I couldn’t remember right off hand but it looked like, based on the number of spacers, that my stem was lower. I had the mechanic at the resort help me put the bike together since he had the space and the tools, but I don’t take the stem off in transit, so why would he have moved it? And would it make enough difference to cause this kind of cramping? Apparently so as this is the only thing I could find. Anyway, I kept rolling along, and kept up the gatorade intake with perpetuem for calories. I also had 2 flasks of gel but ended up not using either. The stomach was full enough. The final loop felt the best of the 3 but I was ready to get the heck off the bike and get on with the run. Other than gatorade, perpetuem, and stalt stick, I had a half a powerbar for the entire ride. Meager in comparison to what I had on paper for nutrition, but my energy levels were high so I wasn’t worried. Bike Time: 5:34.58

First steps off the bike were very painful. Did a bit of a shuffle to try and get the hips to loosen up. Got into the changing tent and couldn’t sit down at first as the hips/butt/hamstrings hurt so bad. Eased into the chair and got to work. While I did that a volunteer put sunblock all over me. Slowly stood up and headed out. Transition Time: 2:11

As I started running the pain from my hips started to diminish. I kept a close eye on my heart rate as I wanted to start the marathon conservative. I changed my stride some as well to compensate for the hips. Ran through the first mile in 7:11. Heart rate was right on, RPE was fine, but I still felt this was a tad hot considering the conditions. It was freakin hot. So I eased off a bit. Next few miles were in the 7:30’s and more in line with where I thought they should be. As a side note: One of the pro men passed me in the first loop, and as he got  ahead by about 60 yards, he ran off the road to a grassy spot next to the sidewalk, dropped his drawers and took a monster dump right there for the world to watch. pulled up his shorts and took off. all in the span of about 5 seconds! haha!). On my way back I noticed a couple of things. 1st: keeping cool was going to be a major challenge as it was 94 degrees now, and 2nd: my legs were falling apart quicker than they should be thanks to the bike problems. I also noticed a sunburn setting in. So every aid station I dumped ice and water all over myself. My stomach was not cooperating as I could feel it was full of fluid, so I skipped drinking for a few aid stations (they had them every kilometer afterall). coming through town, which was great as the crowds were large and loud!, and onto lap 2 I started feeling better and could feel my stomach issues disappear for the time being. Didn’t think I was ready for gatorade and solid food wasn’t going to happen, so I opted for Coke. Glorious Coke. Quite possibly the greatest invention for Ironman racing ever. This became my method for the rest of the run. water on body, ice in the clothes, a little coke and drink some water (along with a salt tab at every turnaround) No gels for the entire race. So for those keeping track I had no gels for an entire Ironman, and only Coke for a the marathon. Go figure. My pace had slowed a bit as I hit the halfway point at 1:44. I knew I was going to miss any goal times for the run, but I was still content with what I was doing considering the circumstances. I went through the highs and lows with both my legs and my stomach like everyone and needed to walk through a few of the later aid stations to keep it together. The last 4 miles the legs were really not cooperating anymore and it took more and more effort to keep a steady stride. I was pretty adamit though that I didn’t want a glow stick (aka night finish) and knew the sunset was at 5:06 pm (or a 10:06 finish time). The last few miles I could see the sun slipping into the ocean. At this point though I was back in town with the huge crowds (They actually parted as you ran like the Tour De France!! It was second to none!) and knew that even though I was going to miss beating the sunset, it was only by a few minutes, so I was going to finish while it was still light out. As I came up to the jumbotron I could see Andy Potts standing on the podium while they played the National Anthem. Nice! I made that final left turn to the finish line and soaked it up. One thing was missing though, the announcer! I guess because they were doing the awards ceremony for the pros, they stopped calling out the finishers. Small bummer (Let’s face it. I’ve had MUCH worse finishes, let’s not relive the damn bum in Kona), but I was not going to think twice about it. As I finished I needed some medical help walking as the change in stride made my legs wobbly. A few minutes sitting down in the med tent and I was able to steady my legs. Run Time: 3:44.10

Kissed my family at the finish, got some pizza and a massage. Then headed for the hotel. Total Time: 10:12.55

So what most effected my performance? The cramping in my hips/butt/hamstrings were an absolute gamechanger, not only for the bike, but for the run. I did a 3:12 marathon as a training run one morning building up to this, so the 3:44 was way off target thanks to the bike.

All in all, I’ll take it. Ironman racing always seems to throw a few curve balls. For those thinking about doing this race I would highly recommend it. The best Ironman swim in the world, scenic ride and great crowds on the run. Just bring some sunblock. The forecast was for low 80’s. 94 was not part of my thinking. I have a feeling I will be back to do that one though anyway.

On a side note: I prepared this 1 week after the race and my hamstrings/hips are still sore. Hopefully I didn’t screw something up!

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