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.