Better Late Than Never: Ironman Cozumel Race Report

It is probably good that I haven’t written about Ironman Cozumel yet. I am sparing you all from reading a novel. Instead, my memories of the highlights and lowlights of this race can be condensed into one ridiculously long blog post.

Kevin and I arrived to the Mexican island of Cozumel one week before race day. It was bucketing rain. The kind of rain I had been warned about. The streets were flooded, locals were wading through calf-high water, and I kept thinking that I was thankful that this crazy storm was happening now and not on race day.

I went running in the rain ... oh wait, no I didn't.

The next day and days leading up to the race were beautiful, but humid! You could almosteat the air. I went on one bike ride where it rained and can back from a few runs that I sweated so much it looked like it had rained. I felt prepared though. I had done my best to simulate the hot, humid conditions as best as I could coming from rainy, cold, gloomy Seattle.

I’m glad I gave myself a week to get acclimate to the conditions. It was nice to leave the crazy of my everyday life behind and focus on my big A race. After separating my shoulder 10 days before Ironman Coeur d’Alene that kept me away from my original “A” race, I was so eager to see what I could do and how much I’d improved since IM CDA 2010. I was a little nervous though since I had caught the flu 3-4 days before leaving and didn’t know how that would affect my race. The week allowed me to continue to recover from illness, come to terms with the humidity, experience the very obnoxious sea lice stings I’d encounter during the swim, practice in my new swimskin (no wetsuits allowed!), and get a sense of what the wind conditions are like on the island.
Unfortunately, a couple of days before the race, I went on a swim with Sam, a friend and fellow 25-29 AG competitor, at the swim location. Instead of being smart and swimming to the exit stairs, we swam over some reef to get to shore. In the process, I sliced my hand in a few places. It hurt so badly, but I did my best to clean it out and get on with my preparations for race day.

Ow, reefs cut deep.

Well rested and with the flu mostly behind me, I was excited to get racing. Kevin, being the amazing husband he is, helped me with my last minute preparations from getting my bike dialed in to packing my transition bags—all while calming me down as little problems arose. I slept pretty well the night before the race all things considering.

Race morning! Kevin helped me get some coffee going with an electric water heater and French press we purchased and I threw down a bagel with nutella and some bananas. I turned on my race mix, with many a song provided by the awesome duo of Cathleen and Sydnie who had graciously invited me to dinner and given me a great CD before I left Seattle. Like a typical girl, I brought many options for race day outfits and ended up falling back on the tried-and-true combo of my Cycle U jersey paired with 2XU Endurance triathlon shorts, the only shorts worthy of a 112-mile bike ride. I also pulled on my white 2XU calf guards to provide the support I needed to get through 140.6 of swim, bike, run.

Let's get this party started! Headed to my bike to get her ready for the day ahead.

Kevin and I shared a taxi van to the swim start with the other athletes staying in our little boutique hotel, including new friends Damon and Lynette who are also from Seattle and professional triathlete Sara Gross (who had just raced Ironman Arizona a week earlier!)

It was a calm morning and I had a good vibe about the day. The sun was bright in the sky and I was so full of hope. No matter what, I wanted to leave it all out on the course. After struggling with some pretty major injuries this year, I wanted to end the season on a high note.

My pre-race ritual was going pretty smoothly until I got in line to use the restroom one last time. 10 PORT-A-POTTIES IS NOT ENOUGH FOR 2,800 ATHLETES! The line took forever and I was so worried that I wasn’t going to make it to the start line! I finally made it through and quickly zipped up my swim skin, shoved on my swim cap and goggles and started to move with the mass of other athletes toward the swim start. During this shuffle, I was pulled aside by a Mexican triathlon official and was told I couldn’t wear my 2XU compression calf guards during the swim! I don’t think that is true, but I also didn’t want to risk disqualification, so I took them off and shoved them in my T1 bag. While they provide amazing support, they aren’t the easiest things to put on, so I had made the decision to race without them. In hindsight, I should have just taken the extra time to put them on anyway.

It is a deep-water start just north of the dolphin pens at Chankanaab Park. Just after the pros started their race, I climbed down into the dolphin pen, swam under the dock and about 2/3 of the way to the right. The swim is a really long rectangle in a counter-clockwise direction. I didn’t want to be right in the fray, but I didn’t want to be caught behind slower swimmers either. I put myself right up front. After a few warm-up strokes, the horn sounded! Ironman Cozumel 2011 was underway.

SWIM

Helicopter view of the swim start. (I'm in there somewhere.)

Apparently, as the race starts, the spectators are treated to a dolphin show, but the racers are treated to churning water and seemingly never-ending encounters with others’ appendages. A few men swam over me, but I settled into a pretty good rhythm and did the best job of drafting I’ve ever achieved. Half way through the swim, the crowds cleared and I started to get concerned that I was off-course. I sighted and kept seeing the far-end buoy straight ahead so I kept swimming toward it even though almost everyone was swimming far to my left. Later, I found that there was a buoy that was miscolored that the other swimmers were mistakenly swimming to. A lot of athletes had to turn back around to make sure they went around the correct buoy. I think this worked to my advantage because as these swimmers got back on course, I was swimming with people a bit faster than me and I was able to get back into a drafting groove as we headed back to the swim exit. I knew I was having a good swim and as I climbed the stairs out of the water and on to the boardwalk that led to the T1 tents, I got really excited. I had swum a big PR and was 15thin my age group. My time of 1:06:44 was almost 10 minutes faster that my IM CDA 2010 time and was such a testament to the hard work I’d put in after separating my shoulder 5 months earlier.

Done! Get me on my bike!

T1

I am a dawdler, so my transitions are traditionally slow. I had worked on a few things to speed things up and I was ready to put them to the test. I ran to the tent, sat down and realized there were only a handful of volunteers. My Spanish is terrible, but I kept saying ‘¡Ayudame! ¡Ayudame!’ (Help Me! Help Me!) But no help came. I slathered sunscreen on my face and shoulders, threw on my helmet and race belt, shoved my swimskin into my bag, closed my bag and started to leave. Then I heard, ‘no, no, no!’ I guess, unlike at IM CDA, my bag was supposed to go somewhere, but I was given no direction on where. I was frantic. ‘Dondé? Dondé?’ (Where? Where?) I just got a lot of shrugs. I ran out of the tent, still asking, and finally, was told to leave it by my bike. I bolted down the labyrinth of racks to my bike, threw my bag on the ground, grabbed my Felt B2 and ran out of transition. I wanted T1 to take less than 5 minutes, but without any help and then all the confusion, I am satisfied with the 5:36.

BIKE

This is normally where I shine and it definitely my favorite part of any triathlon. I successfully put my shoes on while riding and headed out at a really good clip. One by one, I passed the other riders. It was a bit chaotic, as this race seemed to have a few more aggressive men than most. They would ride all the way to the left, making it extremely hard to pass legally. This is a flat 3-loop course, so the traffic was constant. My new friend Damon, a super talented swimmer and cyclist, startled me when he passed by me on the first loop. I couldn’t figure out how I had come out of the swim before him and he tried to tell me what happened, but it is hard to hear when you have an aero helmet on, so I never got the story until the run. A barracuda attacked him during the first 5 minutes of the swim!

The sun beat down, reaching a high of 93 degrees, but I felt good, staying on top of my nutrition and salt intake. At the end of the first lap, I knew I was on track for an amazing bike split. Through town, I could hear Kevin yell with an excited fervor that I had picked up some serious time on swimming phenom Sam and that I should pass her fairly soon. I was psyched, but I knew something wasn’t quite right.

On my bike, in a world of pain, surrounded by tropical beauty.

While my legs were pretty much ready for anything, my stomach was clearly wasn’t. Every sip of my sports drink made my tummy turn. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I had rehearsed my nutrition plan so many times and never had any issues. It got worse with every drink and each bite of my tried-and-true Shot Bloks. All I wanted was water, so I kept picking up bottles on course. I never do that, but I was in emergency mode and was looking to anything to get back on track. My power plummeted. A couple of women in my AG caught me and I was powerless to answer back. At the end of lap two, I saw someone vomiting on the side of the road and I was so envious. I wanted to throw up and start over, but I just couldn’t. It was such a decisive downward spiral, the next time I saw Kevin in town, he knew I was in trouble. Instead of calling out how far I was down from the leaders, he just told me that he loved me. He knew that my race was over and I was just trying to survive.

Not far into lap 3, the rain started. It was a short sharp shower that came as a surprise, but coming from Seattle, was no big deal. It took about 15 minutes to ride out of it and it was sunny again. However, the wind had been building all day and was now a pretty strong force on the far side of the island. My stomach had completely shut down and wouldn’t accept anything except water. I was so miserable. At this point, the cuts on my hands I had suffered earlier in the week, starting to come into play. They stung so bad it made it hard to hold my aero bars and I began shifting my hands all over the place trying to avoid the terrible sting that had ensued. And to add insult to injury, one of the men riding near me didn’t pull left as he ‘relieved’ himself and I was caught in the line of fire.

As the bike course came to an end, my focus shifted to the marathon and thoughts on how I was going to survive in the massive calorie-deficit hole I had dug for myself. According to my Garmin, the bike course was 113.5 miles and I was happy to hand off my bike to a volunteer and clock in a split of 5:34:05. I was now in 8th place headed into T2 to prepare for the run.

T2

Because I had successfully left my bike shoes on my bike, I ran into the tent with only a few things to do: put on socks and running shoes, and grab my fuel belt, visor to put on while I was running. Because I am one of the faster female cyclists, the tent was empty and I was treated to friendly, eager volunteers who did an amazing job helping me get ready. I couldn’t say gracias enough as I trotted out of T2 in near record time for me; 1:35.

RUN

Out of the tent, I turned right onto the course and heard a roar of cheers. I don’t think there were a ton of women out on the run at that point because the crowd was excited to see another girl out there. I ran strong through town, which is about 1.25 miles. My legs were still on autopilot from a smooth quick cadence on the bike. However, when the crowds thinned and I was out of town, I fell. A. Part. Hands on knees, heaving, wanting to crawl into a ball and lay down on the side of the road. It was reminiscent of the Kona coverage of the pros right before they call it quits. But, I’m not a pro and race for the experience, so quitting was not an option. I tried to right myself as much as I could and jogged down the road. This course is a 3-loop out-and-back, so you have the opportunity to see the other racers a lot. But the next sight definitely made me look twice. It looked like my friend Sam, running possessed, with blood all over her face. And sure enough, it was. Apparently, she had crashed her bike with about 10 miles to go. My concern for her well-being made it easy for me to forget my own woes for a brief moment, but she disappeared faster than she appeared and I was again, left to deal with own body.

This is my friend, Sam. This is why I kind of freaked out.

At every aid station, I grabbed a bit of Pepsi, a pretzel or two, ice and water. I’d stick the ice down my bra and down my back and soldier on. And then, it happened. Just as I had made it back into town and was headed on lap 2, it started to rain. Then, it really, really started to rain. Then, the heavens opened up. It was just like the day we arrived on the island. I could barely see in front of me, but it was the best I felt during the run. It cooled my body and created really slick roads, I diversion that kept my mind off my stomach. As I approached Kevin, I took off my fuel belt and handed it to him. It was worthless to me and I thought its absence might make my tummy feel better.

Walk, run, grunt, cry, jog … for the next two laps, my body put these actions into a pattern akin to iPod shuffle mode. I was solely focused on the fact that the faster I go; the sooner I’d be done. The heaviness of the rain had let up, but the damage had been done. One of the intersections had calf-high water and all the racers tried their best to march or slosh through it. In total, it rained 5 inches on race day.

If I had only known what was waiting for me a couple miles down the road, this wouldn't have seemed so bad.

With 2.2 miles to go, I was in bad shape. I was on the edge of passing out. The sun had gone down and the wind had picked up and I made a decision to walk mile 24 so that I could try and run the last 2.2 to the finish. I couldn’t really even walk in a straight line and I was getting cold. But, when I reached that mile 25 sign, I let out a very primal yell and picked up my feet. I was going to run this thing in or pass out trying. It was excruciating but the knowledge that I’d be done so soon kept me putting one foot in front of the other. I came into the finish straightaway with a smile. I wasn’t going to pass out! I was going to finish! And although it wasn’t the goal time I had in mind, I was going to finish my second Ironman with a PR. And with a survival ‘run’ time of 4:47:07, I came across the finish line with a jump and my arms in the air in 11:35:07, 12thin my age group.

Done! I survived!

I immediately fell to my knees. A volunteer ran to my aide, helped me off the ground, and assisted me to the medical tent. I yelled out for Sam, but they had already taken her to the ER for stitches in her chin. Because the run had been so wet, my body temperature had plummeted to 96 degrees. The med tent volunteers stripped me of my wet clothes and put me in paper ones. They also brought me cup-a-noodle soup and wrapped me in space blanket, hoping my temp would come back up. I eventually felt well enough to get a massage and meet up with Kevin to pick up my bike and transition bags.

One day, I want to feel well enough to go back to the finish line near midnight and cheer the last finishers home. This was not that time. In fact, as I got back to hotel and prepared for bed, I pulled up the Ironman Live coverage on my laptop and read about the increasing wind that was blowing the finish line over. Not long after I finished, the rain had stopped, but the wind, what they call a ‘Norte,’ had rolled in and the wind was sustained at 25 mph with strong gusts. I felt so blessed to be done as I heard the rustling and banging outside and my heart went out to those late-night warriors.

So, in summary, it was one of the craziest days of my life and proof that no matter how much you prepare, you should always expect the unexpected. Thank you to Tom, my coach, for preparing me for race day. Thank you to my friends, who trained with me, patiently listened to me talk about training, and were generally awesome at helping me get back on my feet after so many setbacks. Thank you the most to Kevin, who is truly my better half. I didn’t finish this race alone, rather ‘we’ finished.  A girl couldn’t wish for a more supportive husband and I thank God everyday for him.

Best, most supportive husband in the entire world.

Okay, the prodigal blogger has come home.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Better Late Than Never: Ironman Cozumel Race Report

  1. Thanks for the report, and congratulations on finishing – tough day, really pretty decent time considering! (Great picture of Kevin, too!)

    My boyfriend lives in Grand Cayman, which is similar climate to Cozumel, and a lot of what you’re describing here rings true to me. Great drafting on the swim – Caribbean waters are so clear, you can do a much better assessment of where you are in relation to other swimmers and who you want to hang on. Heat and humidity remain very difficult for me to manage – you might use a sauna for 3-weeks-out heat adaptation if you do another hot race. Also, the torrential rain that makes biking dangerous b/c you ccan’t see potholes!

    • carlsincharge says:

      Thank you so much! It was a tough day and that course deserves a lot of respect. I did a lot of indoor riding in full fleece to help with heat adaptation. One ride was 4 hours. It was brutal! I was soooo thankful that I was on the run when the rain really started. Slower athletes had to pedal through water up to their bottom brackets! It feels good to get this written, errors and all, to share with everyone!

  2. JulieVK says:

    Great report, and nice race! I think you’ve scared me away from ever wanting to try this one, though…

    • carlsincharge says:

      Just because its flat, don’t let anyone tell you it’s easy! And don’t swim too close to shore. The barracudas attacked 3 people that day, sending one guy straight to the E.R. Now, when I watch coverage of Kona and see an athlete laying on the ground, I think, ‘I would have drowned had I tried that!’ But every race has its challenges. The ocean on the far side of the island is so beautiful and the people of Cozumel adore the race and its participants. I think it is a nice change from the cruise ship crowds they see every day!

  3. Chris says:

    Nice race report, Carly! I guess that if they were easy, they wouldn’t be called Ironman.

  4. Cervelo Girl says:

    Well done and thank you for sharing your amazing story! I am training for my first 1/2 IM (Lake Stevens) so it is really interesting to read about what you experienced, and it gives me a lot of encouragement to keep working hard!

    Cheers!
    cervelo-girl.blogspot.com

    • carlsincharge says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words! Lake Stevens was my first half Ironman and it was such a great experience. Good luck with your training! You definitely have the right attitude!

    • carlsincharge says:

      How did Lake Stevens go??

  5. Dan O says:

    Yikes. What an epic. Great job…

  6. “Better Late Than Never: Ironman Cozumel Race Report |” in fact enables me think a little bit further.
    I actually cherished each and every individual component of this
    post. Thanks a lot -Caren

  7. josh says:

    Any last minute tips or advice for IM Cozumel? im heading out in one week for my first Full IM. Im a bit worried all my training up here in Portland will put me behind when it comes to racing in the heat/humidity. Great race report!!!

    • carlsincharge says:

      Have a fantastic race, Josh!! You’ll love it. It’s a great energy there. Be sure to do some shake out workouts to adjust to the humidity and get used to the sea lice in the water so there are no surprises for the race. Be sure to make it to the exposed side of the island to experience the crosswind there. The loop isn’t very long, so you can make a full loop in one of your shake-out rides. Also, don’t line up far right for the swim! That’s where the barracudas were hanging out. I was about 3/4 to the right and that seemed to be perfect. Just be very careful with the food/drink you consume before the race to avoid the stomach issues I had. And HAVE FUN!! It’s a beautiful course!! Say hi to the island for me and represent the PNW!! (oh, and if you meet Navin, who is a physically-challenged athlete from Seattle, wish him well!)

  8. Pingback: No turning back now… | Merry Trail to Cozumel

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s