Friday, November 30, 2012

Cozumel Daily Diary, Race Day

The day before the race was a fury of activity. We opted to get up early to attend the practice swim since we missed the previous practice swim in order to participate in the panties run. The ocean was getting calmer as the week progressed but arriving to the swim start it was quite easy to see the rollers and chop were going to be problematic. In fact several race officials warned us the swim course would be shortened if conditions remained the same race day. While part of me dreaded to hear this, part of me recognized how difficult it would be to swim 2.4 miles in those conditions and ultimately I decided I would be ok with a shorten swim, not a canceled swim, but a shortened swim. 

The Dream Team: (left to right) Causebrook, me, Story, Johnson 
Bikes triple checked and gear bags packed and repacked, we made our way down to the swim start to drop off our gear. The swim start and T1 at Chankanaab National Park were about 4 miles south of T2 and the finish. When I signed up for this race I was unaware it is a point-to-point race which isn't exactly my favorite. The anxiety of forgetting something can be a bit overwhelming so I have to lay out everything I am going to need/bring so I can see it. I have to see it so I can make the memory that I packed it. Your mind loves to plays tricks on you, especially race morning. There was a detailed timeline allowing us to drop off our bikes and gear according to race number. Since the initial four signed up at the same time our race numbers were sequential: Causebrook 655, me 654, Story 653, Johnson 651 (a Costa Rican chap was apparently quick on the draw stealing 652). The four of us got pretty lucky with our transition placement as we were right around the corner from the exit and the pro stands (yes they had individual stands instead of racks). 

When we got back I met my mom for a little lunch and then spent the rest of the afternoon off my feet. The rest of the Charlotte spectators arrived filling out our crew of over 20 people and we gathered for an informal pizza party on the shores of the "largest pool in Cozumel" at the Cozumel Hotel and Resort. Delivered Pizza Hut pizza was a far cry from the traditional pre-race Mellow Mushroom pizza dinner but not bad for Mexcio. We closed it up quickly "to get to bed early" but the truth of the matter is no one got a full nights sleep. I woke up often with a building amount of anxiety and eventually quit trying to go back to sleep around 3 AM. At 4 I got up and started my race morning tradition of coffee and oatmeal before we left to catch the shuttles.

Setting up my transition was rather uneventful until I realized I had dilly-dallied for too long and all the athletes were a getting into the water and completely clogging the pier. Afraid I would be at the back at the swim start I unsuccessfully bullied my way through the crowd. Luckily Story took over and we were at the edge of the pier in no time. I quickly zipped my Blueseventy PZ3TX and jumped into significantly calmer waters so I could make my way towards the frontline. It got really interesting waiting for the start. There was no real start line so the crowd keep pushing forward. Every so often some dude (specifically some dude in white goggles) would start swimming all out. Thinking the gun went off a crowd of people would start swimming forward, officials would yell, jet skis hauled ass over bringing the chaos to a stop but then the same dude would do it again. And again. And again. 4 times, 4 TIMES! Freakin' dudes . . .

Swim (57:37):
Predicable photo by a swimming sign.
The swim was tough. I think everyone will agree with that. Luckily the ocean was much calmer than it has been all week. The first 0.6 miles against the current did not seem that bad. Maybe it was a the adrenaline of the race start or the cohesiveness of the athletes but I did not notice anything significant other than some rollers making it a bit difficult to sight. The start of my swim was tough and I got bopped around by a bunch of dudes but eventually I broke away and swam up to a dude swimming at a good pace (Mr Pearl Izumi). I fixed myself at his hip and another guy fixed himself on his feet (Mr Swedes). We set a good pace and I could tell people were dropping off our pod. I was feeling good but I wanted to stay with these guys so I hung tight. We hit the first turn buoys and the 1.2 mile straightaway was all with the current. Eventually on the straight away Mr. Pearl Izumi stopped completely probably annoyed from dragging me and Mr Swedes around. Fair enough, so Mr Swedes and I took the lead. This is where I realized Mr Swedes was a Mr. and not a Mrs. He had petite features so I could not quite tell but then I saw it . . . . When Mr Swedes and I made the last turn towards the finish we were against a full current for the final 0.6 miles. It was quite difficult and this is not an understatement. When we made the final turn the pod broke up a bit and Mr. Pearl Izumi took off. I knew I was in good company but this tactic on Mr. Pearl Izumi's part made me realize he was a very experienced open water swimmer so I hauled ass to stay with him.  I was thankful I decided to stay on the draft of the guys going out. I was still feeling frisky and you could practically see the fatigue in the single swimmers ahead of us as we reeled them in one by one.  I spotted very few swimmers in front of us for the majority of the swim but as we approached the final stretch there seemed to be a group of swimmers ahead of us. Of course there was a little bit of WTF!?! going on in my head so I was super surprised when we pulled up to them and they turned out to be a group of female pros. I got pretty stoked and picked up the pace leaving my male companions. Despite the current I felt stronger and stronger and I ran to T1 feeling fresh. The only person I spotted in the crowd lining the swim exit? My mom. 

Bike (5:47:26):
Getting on the bike I felt good and my legs felt ready. We made a right turn from the park and the tailwind was nice and strong going out towards the tip of the island. 2 right turns later and we were in the headwind. It still wasn't too bad and I hit the center of the city spot on at 9:45 as predicted. Coming into the city and heading back towards the swim start, I again enjoyed the tailwind. Passing Chankanaab Park I felt great and was surprised to find the Charlotte spectators camped out waiting for us. So far my watts were right on target and I was already starting to pass back some people. Somewhere between the swim start and the first right turn my front wheel started making a dreadful noise; it sounded like it was made of tin foil. The pavement was a bit rougher here so I assumed it was just the rough pavement but I kept racking my brain, "Did it make this much noise thie first go around? Did I have trouble holding on to my aerobars when I first passed through here? Why is everyone riding away from me? Why are my watts so high? How much longer is this pavement going to last?" My hands were vibrating fiercely as I tried to hold on the aerobars. I looked down and everything about the wheels seemed fine so I continued to think it was just the pavement. Hoping smooth pavement would put me at ease I continued to ride. People began pulling away and passing me like I was standing still despite the fact I was putting out watts well above my target range. Finally, 20 minutes later, I pulled to the side just to check and sure enough the front tire was flat. Of course I kicked myself for not stopping sooner but I didn't dwell on it and broke out the flat kit James Haycraft made for me. I am not sure what I would have done if he had not handed me an extra tire with a valve extender wrapped in plasitc just before my departure. I am not used to riding with 808s and the concept of a valve extender was quite forgiegn to me. Equipped with the right tools I was ready to change my first race day flat tire but unfortunately I struggled with the tire itself. It was so tight on the wheel that every time I would get my tool in the there and move it the tire would just pop back in. I went back and forth with this until I was almost in tears. I am fairly certain I would not have been able to get the tire off on my own but luckily just when I thought my race was over a mechanics crew came over to help me. *I just have to add the mechanical crews here were great. This is probably the best supported race I have done.* So fortunate! It took two dudes another 10 minutes to take off the tire, replace the tube, and put back on the same ridiculously tight tire.  I got back on my bike relieved my legs did not feel tight and I fought the urge to "make up the lost time." Unfortunately I was going to have to stop at special needs to pick up my spare. I thought about foregoing it but then I thought if I flat again no one will have a tube with an extender. How much total time I lost is unknown; riding on the flat wheel, changing the tire and then stopping at special needs all took time out of my 2nd loop but I was still upright and still moving forward so the mishap did not ruin my race.

Run (4:15:29):
Coming into T2 my legs felt good and the energy coming into the city was electric. Taking off on the run I felt great and ready to make 26.2 happen. Unfortunately that enthusiasm did not last. I made it one lap before I started walking the aid stations. During the second lap alone I stopped to pee (first time peeing in an ironman mind you) and I stopped to walk 3 or 4 times to allieveate a side stitch. I started skipping every other aid station as they were every km instead of every mile and I was consuming pepsi on the course which seemed to help with my stitch, morale, and dwindling energy levels. For a good portion of this lap I contemplated taking a DNF. I wasn't having fun and I could barely bring myself to smile. I would have sat down on the curb but I did not want the humility of doing so and more importantly I did not want to endure the walk of shame back to the Charlotte specators eagerly waiting to cheer us on. The third lap was more of a mental struggle and I told myself if I was not half way in 2 hours or less I would call it quits.  I saw Story, Johnson, Causebrook, Jamie, Josh, Sarah, and Tanya all out on the course determined to finish and I decided to HTFU. So what if I wasn't going to be running my goal time, or qualifying for kona, or moving faster than a shuffle, I could still put one foot in front of the other. I was still running and running is the fastest way to the finishline. Realizing most of the athletes on the course would be absolutely ecstatic to run an 11+ hour ironman I stopped feeling sorry for myself. By the last loop a deep soreness was settling in my legs but finally at mile 25 I started chanting "let's finish this" and gave the last mile all leg speed I could muster. It felt like my old stride and I missed it. I have never appreciated crossing the finish line more than I did Sunday. I have never appreciated more the mental strength it takes to endure an event like this. Sunday's race was one that I fought for and I finished feeling like Galadriel when she passes the test in that scene from Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings.

Keith caught a glimpse of me in the following video at 1:33. I am not sure I could have picked me out so I am super impressed with the spot.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Cozumel Daily Diary, part dos

After a couple of days of venturing out on my own the rest of the Charlotte crew started arriving. Johnny Scoots arrived a day earlier than everyone else so we took the opportunity to rent a scooter and ride the entire bike course. Getting a working scooter was a calamity of errors but we completed the 39 mile loop . . . eventually. Cozumel is an amazing island. During our time on the scooter we may have been passed by 10 cars total AND there is a smooth recently paved separate bike path. It is a great place for a race and a phenomenal place to train! We rode from the center of the city to check out the swim start and then headed down towards the very tip of the island. The scenery just continued to intensify.
Jenny scoots 
Eventually we stopped to swim for a bit in a moderately protected bay. I swam out for 10 minutes and turned around. Unfortunately I had to swim back against the current and it took me somewhere between 15-20 minutes. This left me a little concerned with for the swim portion of the race but I tried not to dwell on it and continued exploring the island. The west side of the island has a significantly rockier coast than the east side. The east side consists of pristine beaches, protected and undeveloped. Every now and then a beach bar would pop up but it is mostly just coast line. The cross winds at this time were not too intense and we just experienced a tail wind on the west side and a head wind on the east side.

The coastline
Thursday, while most of America is running in turkey trots and/or stuffing their gut, we were out collecting our tribikes delivered by TriBike Transport and picking up our Race Packets. Luckily 10 of the Charlotte athletes and spectators were able to gather for a fine Italian meal at Sorrisi, Cozumel's premier Italian eatery. The real celebration did not begin until the next morning, however, when we showed up in our finest for the Ironman Cozumel Panties Run. Benefiting the local Humane Society we were all in on this one and we even made the local paper! We warmed up with a few stretches, did some yoga, ran a bit, and finished up with some zumba style dancing. It was great fun and we were a hit with the locals!

Making dreams a reality

Unfortunately proximity to race day and Cozumel adventures are inversely proportional so the hijinx has come to an end as we all spend less and less time on our feet and more time painting on our game faces. Tomorrow is the big dance and I am very much looking forward to hearing those words once again:
I have had a wonderful albeit long season but this has been a special year as I have been able to share it with some very special people. So here we go and good luck to all! Thank you all for your continued support and cheers. It is going to be a great day!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Cozumel Daily Diary, part uno

So I made it to Cozumel. What more can I say than that? I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the Mexican coast when my bus from the Cancun airport arrived in Playa del Carmen, an hour south. The sand reflecting all of the sun's rays just intensified the ocean's beautiful teal green color. Playa del Carmen was a mix of beach and bars. It looks like a blast as people splashed around in the clear water and then mingled amongst the seaside bars. Definitely looked like a fun place to spend a day . . .  after the race.
Playa del Carmen

From PDC I could see the Cozumel coast and in less than an hour I was in Cozumel. My flight to Cancun was about 3 hours but it took about 4 hours to get from Cancun to Cozumel when you include the time to go through customs, immigration, the bus ride, ferry ride, and various periods of waiting and baggage handling. Luckily my ferry ride was uneventful - apparently this was not the case for several other people. No one around me got sea sick and most importantly neither did I. A little girl played hide and seek with me. She would giggle and yell with delight everytime I spotted her. It took almost the entire boat ride before I realized she was yelling "HOLA!" Hahaha yeah I'm such a gringo. There was a sprinkling of triathletes on this boat and they could easily be discerned by the presence of a visor, race T-shirt, compression socks, bright colored clothing, and/or a pair of performance sunglasses. Whenever I travel to a race I become very cognisant of how triathlon is more than a hobby as it is both a lifestyle and a mindset.

The taxi trip to the Tamarindo Bungalow and Apartments was less than 5 minutes. In hindsight I could have walked but at least the trip gave me some bearings and the relationship of my casa to the rest of the race venue. To my delight, the apartment is perfect. It has a very authentic Mexican feel with colorful tile in the kitchen and bathroom, open air eaves, embroidered linens. It is also just one block from the major hub from the convention center where we will pick up our packet, attend meetings, etc. Luckily we are also sandwiched between both host hotels, Cozumel Palace and Hotel Cozumel which makes meeting up with the rest of the Charlotte crew pretty easy. A lot of people have asked me how I came across the Tamarindo Bungalow and Apartments and I have to give all the credit to The Hostel Life, a web based travel show created and starring a former swim teammate of mine, Mehdy Ghannad. I crossed checked the place on TripAdvisor  and the overwhelming positive reviews sealed the deal for me.

Cabana outside apartment
My room
I lucked into an excellent dinner my first meal in Mexico. I went to a place called Rock and Java my first night here and ordered a small margarita and veggie burger. The drinks here are all huge so I had to convince the server to make me just a small Margarita. There are plenty of large ones in my future! The veggie burger was topped with sauteed mushrooms, monterey jack cheese, and a thick slice of grilled pineapple. Muy bueno! I simply could not have asked for a better meal after a long day of travel.

Beet based veggie burger