Ironman Cozumel – The Bike

17 12 2014

As I ran out of T1 I spotted my SOAS teammate Amanda cheering for me. It was so awesome to have some SOAS support out there! I mounted my bike and headed out of Chakanaab Park.

Heading out of T1 I spotted Felipe, and the first thing I yelled was, “How far ahead is she?” Yes, my competitive nature was talking for me.

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Felipe was standing just before our first right turn, and Chris, Charity and Bill were are stationed at the turn. They were screaming and yelling for me (apparently), but I was completely oblivious.

10806445_10203556898743215_3303876756623587962_nSorry guys. But thanks for the cool pic!

The bike course is three loops around the island. Laps 1 and 2 are 63km and then the last lap is 54km. You turn right out of the park, heading south for about 19km. At Punta Sur (the south point), you head back up the east side of the island for about 15km. Then, you make a left at Mezcalitos, and that road takes you all the way back in to town, where you’ll make a few turns before getting back on the road heading south.

ciclismoAs I headed south out of Chakanaab, I kept reminding myself of Maria’s advice: Just stay in the present. Soak it all in- you only get your first once. This part of my day was about the bike. Sure, I need to make sure I don’t kill myself on the bike so I have legs to run, but I need to enjoy this ride.

And so I did. I looked down at my computer and saw speeds I was happy with for the most part, but they were dipping a little lower than I would have liked this early in the race. (Reason number 1 I wish I had a power meter.) I chalked it up to just getting my legs warmed up. And then I got to Punta Sur.

Wind. Wind. Wind. Directly in my face. And, a slight incline that I wasn’t expecting. (For those folks who have done this race, don’t laugh. This was a small hill for this Florida girl!) The combination of the wind and the incline made me stand up to get to the top. Sheesh. How pathetic is this?

I stayed positive as I kept moving back up the island. Ok, I can do this. The wind was a cross head (more head than cross though) and I tried to keep implementing Jess/Felipe’s advice for riding in cross winds- keep the gear heavy, relax, and don’t forget to eat. (Btw, that was probably the best and most useful advice I received all training cycle!). I was a little disappointed because all the men from the wave behind me were already passing me. I didn’t seem to be gaining on anyone! At least I was surrounded by such beauty?

I passed the time by trying to remember which bar/landmark would be next, and I was certainly relieved when I made that left turn at Mezcalitos.

It was great to finally get out of the wind, but as I looked down at my speed, I was still not super happy with my numbers. (Reason number 2 I want a power meter. Oh wait, this is the same as reason 1.) And then I realized that yes, I was out of the head wind, but now I was back in a cross wind, this time a cross-tail. Well, let’s try to make the best of this! This road actually was where we started to see locals out in the street cheering for us. There was one part of the road where there were streetlights in the median- that was my signal that we were getting closer to town and the crowds would get even better.

The first time I rode through town I got a little teary eyed again. The crowds were amazing! Locals were blaring music. Kids were yelling “Si se puede” and shaking water bottles full of rocks. This was incredible!

Right as I got downtown, I spotted Courtney! I had finally caught up! I said hi, and I think I congratulated her on her swim, and then kept going. In retrospect, I wish I had chatted a little more, but I was feeling so energized by the crowds, I kept going.

Turn, turn, turn, right past T2 (gah!) and back on to the road heading south. At this turn, there was a band playing and SO MANY people. I had a huge smile on my face. I spotted Felipe (not sure if I yelled anything to him) and waved to the crowd. This is what it’s all about!

However, things get lonely on this ride pretty quickly. On the ride south, you have pockets of fans as you pass the different resorts, but they’re nothing compared to the vibe you get downtown. As I headed south, I realized that I had a bit more of a tailwind than I did on the first loop. This meant that the wind was going to be worse on the other side of the island too. Great.

At this point, I was just about out of Osmo. I had gone through my 16 oz bladder and almost all of my two 24 oz bottles. AND I had been grabbing water at each of the aid stations to stay hydrated- as it was getting warm. I just needed to make it to special needs, which was at 97km, where I had two frozen bottles of Osmo.

I kept eating and drinking, but I started to get a headache, so I downed an electrolyte tab. I took 2 or 3 more over the course of the ride. Nutrition is SO important in Ironman, and I repeated to myself “Sip, sip. Nibble, nibble,” something I took away from a talk with Stacy Sims. Don’t stop eating and drinking!

When I made that dreaded turn at Punta Sur, BAM. WIND. It was worse. I watched my speed drop drastically, (Powermeter, anyone?) and tried so hard not to get discouraged. I did some mental math in my head to figure out if I would still make my goal of 6:00, and I thought it might still be possible, but I wasn’t entirely sure if my computer was reading properly- by the time I got to special needs, I think my computer read 100km. Hmmm…

I arrived in special needs, and was SO happy to have Osmo again (am I addicted??). As I unwrapped it from the bag and paper towels, I head on the radio “197”. Courtney was right behind me! She asked how I was doing, and I remember telling her that this was a hard bike ride. I’m a terrible friend, because I don’t think that I asked her about how she was feeling!

Apparently I’m a slow poke because we pulled out of there together. I wish I had ridden with her for a little- I think we both could have used the mental boost, but I just wanted to be done with the bike, so the faster I went, the faster I would be done.

Mezcalitos couldn’t come soon enough. I made that left turn and breathed a sigh of relief yet again. However, the relief was minimal, and as I looked at my computer again, I let my 6:00 goal go. At this point, it was probably not going to happen, and you know what, that was OK. Again, be in the moment. Enjoy the ride. This is my first, and my only first, Ironman.

I got another boost from the crowd downtown, and enjoyed the only slight tail of the day as I passed the folks lining the water’s edge, before hunkering down for my final lap. Just. Get. Through. This.

I saw Bill for the first time all day on my third lap (even though he had been there on the other two), and I yelled “I’m so glad I’m on my last lap!”  I SO did not want to ride on that side of the island again.

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The last lap was rough. My rice cakes were not appealing at all, though I forced most of them down. I thought I was on my last salty ball (I actually wasn’t- the other bag was deep in my pocket, not easy to reach, and I didn’t realize it was there until after the race!) so I stuffed it in my cleavage to save for when I really needed it. Unfortunately, sweat makes you slippery, and it slipped out on the road. NOOOOOO! Then, one of my water bottles popped out. Both of my bottles were still frozen when I picked them up, so I was slowly making my way through them as they melted. When it popped out, there was definitely still some frozen Osmo in there. Dah!! Ok, let’s just hunker down and get through this thing.

Another racer made this nifty visual of how the winds were blowing in on race day. By the third lap, winds were quite strong- I don’t know if they were 25mph, but they were probably at least 20mph sustained.

strava_cozumel_bikeThanks Carolyn!

The east side of the third lap was pretty miserable. Both of my feet were hurting, which was weird- that hadn’t ever happened before on my long rides. I stood up a few times, just because I wanted a change of position. The wind was brutal, and though I did pass one or two people, everyone was looking pretty beat down by the wind. I tried to stay positive by thinking at least the pavement was better on this side of the island. (The pavement all around the island was great. The “worst” side was the west side in front of all the hotels, but it was by no means “bad”).

Mezcalitos, again, was the site I looked forward to on every lap. I almost let out a yelp when I made that turn. Yes! The worst part of the ride is done. Now, let’s make it to those street lamps, and then the last blocks into T2!

The cheers of the crowd carried me for those last few kms. Everyone always says they’re so happy to be off the bike. I assumed that it was because of crotch pain, but for me, I just wanted to be out of the wind!! It’s hard to explain, but I was a teensy tiny bit sad that – just like that- the ride was over. It’s not that the ride went by quickly- no, it was definitely long- but that all of the sudden, it was time to switch gears and go run a marathon. I don’t know why it felt “all of the sudden”- perhaps because I was actually trying to take it all in as much as possible? But for a split second I mourned the end of the ride and the fantastic cheering locals- the ones living outside of town- who came out to support these crazy athletes from all over the world, on their island!

Bike: 6:26.40, 15th AG

I gave my bike to a volunteer, grabbed my run bag and ran in to the changing tent.

Throughout the ride I kept wondering “Where is Jess?” She’s a super strong cyclist, so I was expecting her to pass me at any moment. I tried to remember when/where in our 70.3 she passed me to try to figure out where she might pass me on this ride, and it just never happened. I really hoped that she was okay…

I had just sat down and was tying my shoes when Jess entered the tent. She ran over and gave me a huge hug. It’s hard to put in to words the emotions in that moment, but thrilled, relieved, and grateful all come to mind. We both commiserated about how hard that ride was and wrapped up in the changing tent. I told Jess I needed to pee (I had tried so hard to go on the bike, but just couldn’t do it!) before starting the run, so we stopped at the port of potties before setting off. We started our watches, and started the marathon. Together.

T2: 4:43

 





Ironman Cozumel – The Swim

16 12 2014

So without further ado…

 

Race day was finally here! My alarm was set for 4:35, but I woke a few minutes before the alarm sounded. I walked out into the living room and saw Jess making coffee in the kitchen and started to get teary. I told myself I couldn’t cry yet, so I pulled myself together and started to make myself breakfast.

I made my standard breakfast- oatmeal with banana and peanut butter, and I sipped on some coffee to get things moving (TMI note: I did not need any help in that department. Nerves took care of that for me!) Bill came out of the room few minutes later and gave me a hug, and the tears just started rolling. I was scared. What was I about to do?  (As I look back, I’m surprised that fear was something I was feeling. I was very well prepared, I had nothing to be afraid of!)

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I pulled myself together, laughing as my friends made jokes to help shake the nerves. Jess was super positive, and her confidence and excitement for the day was contagious. We were doing this thing, ladies!

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We got the last of our special needs bags together and walked to T1 as dawn was breaking. We didn’t have a TON of time, as transition was only open for an hour before we all needed to catch a bus to the swim start. Bike shoes on bike, nutrition on bike, bladder and bottles filled, tires pumped (thanks Tommy!). Check, check, check check. I added the last bit of nutrition to my bike bag and then hit the port-o-potty. Courtney, Jess, and I did one final check of our bikes before dropping off our special needs bags and making our way to the buses.

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We made friends with a woman while waiting and met a Canadian guy on the bus that made us think of our friend Heather. (By the way, Heather is amazing and got us these spectacular margarita glasses! Thank you Heather!) On the drive over I finished up my Osmo preload and took the Immodium I had placed in my morning bag (so glad I had it!). We had decided to give our morning clothes bags to Felipe rather than drop them with everyone else’s things, so while we waited, we put on our swim skins (I had borrowed one from my SOAS teammate- THANK YOU Milette!!) and vaselined up.  Time was ticking, and it was getting closer and closer to our start time. I was starting to think of a back up plan for my bag, when there was the Brazilian in his red shirt and fedora. I think we all breathed a huge sigh of relief and then walked towards the start.

10811_10106082069395991_5532982306136817619_n So this picture wasn’t from race morning, but you get the picture

This was the first year Cozumel was a point to point race, and we started at the Intercontinental hotel. It was also a wave start, and my wave was scheduled to go off at 6:58am. I think one of the reasons it was a wave start was because the starting area was pretty narrow. We all filed down a ramp and then into the water for an in-water start. It would not have been possible to get all 2800 people down that ramp to start at the same time. Sure, it would have been an exhilarating experience to be a part of the “traditional” ironman mass start, but I actually didn’t mind starting with a smaller group. The only problem I had with this way of starting was that we were so spread out, so I couldn’t find any feet!

10690252_1026033430745312_5049473637903175874_nCan you find me?

Anyhow, we watched the pros take off and then Felipe took a few photos of us. Again, the waterworks started. Pull yourself together Steph!

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Finally, it was our turn to get into the water. I wished Jess and Courtney luck, and then got in. I didn’t want to be close to Courtney because I knew my competitive nature would probably make me race her and exert too much energy (spoiler alert, Courtney had a killer swim, 2 minutes faster than me, with a time faster than the male pro who won the whole thing!) so I swam off by myself behind some girls I didn’t know.

Soon it was go time! The horn sounded and we were off! You’re probably tired of hearing this, but my goodness this was the most beautiful swim I’ve ever done. The water was crystal clear and there were fish everywhere. It was hard not to get distracted!

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10620460_886136701410795_7169393283992480178_oI really wish I had an underwater photo of me!

Some girls took off and I reminded myself that I have a long day ahead of me. Smooth stroke, just keep it steady. Right before we started some of the guards on paddle boards told us to swim closer to shore, not out by the buoys. So, I stayed pretty far to the left of all the buoys for most of the swim. I really wanted to find someone’s feet and just sit on them, but with the wave start, this just wasn’t happening for me. Soon, I caught up to the wave in front of me. As I was swimming, I was a little too close to the inside, and there were some smaller buoys that I think marked a hotel’s designated swimming area. I swam directly into them, and a few other swimmers from the wave in front of me. I don’t think they liked getting trampled, because one of them grabbed my ankle! I kicked hard and got out of there as quick as I could.

The swim was pretty peaceful actually, not the hectic swim I was expecting, but I was okay with that. I don’t have a watch for the swim, so I had no idea how long I had been swimming, but I remember looking up at one point thinking, man, this is a long swim. Where are those final buoys? Rumor has it that we were actually swimming against the current for the first part of the swim. I don’t really know, for sure, but it wasn’t strong enough to make a ton of difference for me, I don’t think.

I got stung a few times by tiny jelly fish, but the pain was fleeting. I passed more and more people from the waves in front of me, but saw few of my fellow purple caps. At one point, I saw a guy from a wave behind me, and my silly self thought, Ooh feet! These will be speedy! But they were definitely too speedy for me, and I got no help there. Finally, with about 300 meters to go, I caught site of a girl in a purple cap. Let’s get on her feet! I swam over to her and there was actually another girl on her feet. So, I swam up next to them both, and was stroke for stroke for the entire way home. That is, until the last 5 meters when I got stuck behind two people from the wave in front of me. Doh!

I got out of the water with a huge smile on my face! I was doing an Ironman! in Cozumel! How amazing is this??

I ran across the dock, rinsed with a hose briefly, grabbed my bag (after noticing that Courtney’s bag was already gone!) and ran in to the changing tent. I quickly looked for Courtney (didn’t see her-as I said before she had a killer swim!) and then focused on getting myself ready for the bike.

The changing tent was a little chaotic, but thankfully there weren’t a ton of people in there. I think I was a little overwhelmed by all the crap I had to shove in my pockets (a tube, 3 rice cakes, 2 bags of salty balls, and 1 Power bar gel bursts, extra Osmo powder, salt tabs, chapstick), put on (helmet, sunglasses, race number, sunscreen), and then put my swim stuff back into the bag. The volunteers were great (most of them were kids and teenagers!) but it took us both a second to coordinate the dance that is the athlete-volunteer changing room tango. A volunteer slathered on sunscreen while I put the last of my nutrition into my pockets and into my cleavage, and put on my helmet. I distinctly remember looking down at my feet and seeing several ants crawling on top of my feet and saying “OW!” when I felt their sting. Clearly I was not moving fast enough if ants were biting me! Finally, I stood up, a volunteer clipped my race belt and I was headed towards my bike. Let’s go!

Swim: 52:51, 5th AG

T1: 5:43 (This is why I got bit by ants)

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 8.20.46 PMCheck out this nifty visual of the swim/transition. I’m the green dot. The pink ones are the other females, while the orange dots are the other women in my age group. The orange dot in front of me was the girl who finished 5th in my AG. I heard her fans yelling “GO STEPH!” and was wondering how the heck people knew my name. Duh. The girl right  behind me actually finished 3rd in our age group! Speedsters!

 





Ironman Cozumel – I Get to Do This!

12 12 2014

It was a little weird to wake up in such a fantastical place for a vacation, only to know that the vacation didn’t really start until Monday, after a pretty serious race goes down. But, it was such a relief to finally BE here. Race week had arrived! Courtney, Jess and I said “I can’t believe we’re doing an Ironman on Sunday” so many times in the days leading up to the race. It was feeling real for sure, but my nerves weren’t as bad as I thought.

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On Friday, after a yummy breakfast of pancakes and eggs made by Felipe, we headed downtown to pick up our packets and our bikes. Packet pickup was a breeze. We signed a waiver, grabbed an “I don’t Draft” sticker, and headed into the expo/village. Numbers were assigned according to when you registered rather than age group, so because we had a registration party, me, Jess, and Courtney were 195, 196, and 197, respectively. We all went to the same line for our bags and bib, and then picked up our timing chips. Thankfully the chips were there- the day before, they had been caught up in customs, so anyone who had checked in on Thursday needed to come back to get their anklet.

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The expo was small, but if you needed anything that didn’t make it through customs or you left at home, you could have purchased it there. I was a little disappointed that the expo was so tiny and for a split second was sad that I wasn’t getting the “true” ironman experience. But, then I slapped myself back to reality- who CARES? This is YOUR Ironman experience- enjoy it! So, I pushed those thoughts aside, grabbed my self an M-dot tee with my name on the back, and then headed to Tri Bike Transport to pick up my bike! It was time to get back in the saddle and ride in MEXICO!!

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TriBike Transport was located just down the street from the expo, right behind T2. T2 was in the parking log of Mega, the big Walmart-esqe store on the island. Jess, Courtney, and I got our bikes, put our pedals on and then met up with Tommy to go for a ride. We rode for an hour and ten minutes, south, out of town and towards our place, turning around at La Punta Sur. The nice thing about Cozumel is that once you get out of town there’s a huge bike lane that goes around the west and east sides of the island. It is pretty much closed to traffic all the time, separated from the main road by thick brush. It was glorious to ride on this perfect pavement, seeing so many other triathletes on the path. I kept repeating, “I’m riding my bike in Mexico, how cool is that???”

On the trail, we could feel a little wind, but nothing worse than we had experienced at Alafia. We rode, shaking out the travel, reminding our bodies what it felt like to be in the saddle again.

We turned around at la Punta Sur, the southern point on the island. It was absolutely gorgeous there- the crystal blue waves crashing in the background. I remember looking at the trees and thinking that I was glad we were turning back here, as we would have had a nasty headwind if we continued on the east side of the island.

Punta Sur

 

I didn’t feel super on the bike, but I didn’t feel bad either. I was happy to be out there, and reminded myself that on Sunday I needed to just be in the moment and take it all in.

When we got back home, we changed into run gear and ran 5k. It was quite warm but this point, and I didn’t have any water with me, but it was nice to be out in the sun, on one of my last runs until the race. After the run, we fueled up and hydrated, and then some of us went snorkeling. I wanted to go out and float around to check out the current, so I joined in with Charity, Felipe, and Courtney.

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OMG was the water beautiful! Again, I kept saying “I can’t believe I get to race here.” Yes, I GET to do this. If you ever find yourself saying “I have to do this” in an Ironman, you’re doing it wrong.

The water was crystal clear and turquoise. The visibility was incredible- hundreds of feet in front of you could be seen. And so much sea life! We spotted plenty of different kinds of tropical fish- it was like swimming in an aquarium! I putzed around for a little while but it was getting close to sunset, so I headed back in and up to the rooftop for the real sunset.

Cozumel Sunset

Pinch me. This is my life.

I packed my bags on Friday night, which wasn’t as overwhelming as I initially thought it would be. Perhaps it was the multiple times I wrote and rewrote checklists of what went in each bag?

Ironman Bags

My bags were all lined up and ready to go for Saturday, with a checklist of what still needed to go in each one before dropping it off. Type A, perhaps?

We all hit the sack pretty early on Friday night (10pm perhaps?)- you know what they say, the night before the night before is the most important!

***

On Saturday, things got REAL. We all woke up pretty early, and after breakfast we went for another bike ride. Courtney and I rode together, nice and easy, chatting about life and race goals, and again, enjoying every minute of being in Cozumel. There was one unprotected part of the ride where we got hit head on with some nasty wind. Thankfully it didn’t last long, but this stirred my nerves about how the wind would affect my race.

We got home, grabbed our T1 bag, and then biked to T1 to drop our bikes. Our house was about half a kilometer from T1, so it was easy peasy to get to (especially for race morning!). We were scheduled to drop them between 11:30 and noon, but to be perfectly honest, they weren’t checking the time. They wrote our numbers on our arms, took our picture (in case we didn’t come out of the water?), and then we stopped in front of people at computers so they could take notes about our bikes. I’d be really interested to hear the stats they’ve collected about bikes!

We wandered around the huge transition area, and found our spots, right under a tree, pretty close to the entrance of T1 from the changing tent.

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We backtracked through transition to the changing tents, where body marking was finished. We had to stand up on folding chairs while the volunteers sat and marked the back of our calves with our age category. This didn’t seem the safest way to do it, but whatever! I was “Q” for 30-34 Females. I like that a single letter corresponded to an age group. Fewer things for my brain to process on race day;-)

We had been told that we’d get flip flops at T1, but we didn’t see anyone handing them out, so we dropped off our bags, steps from the crystal clear water.

T1 Bag

We were on the outside lane, very easy to spot!

Cozumel is a two-transition race, and T1 is at Chankanaab park, the home of Dolphin Discovery, a place where you can pay to “swim with the dolphins” under the close watch of a park staffer. I don’t mean to sound so cynical- I did this in Cayman and loved it! But, it’s basically a bunch of docks that create dolphin pens. This used to be the start and finish of the race, but due to strong currents, it was changed to a point to point swim, ending at the park. The long dock that runs the length of the pens would be the area we ran across to get to our bags. It was a little long, but on race day you don’t even notice the length because of all the cheering!

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After we dropped our bags, the plan was to run the short distance back home, but we opted to walk instead. We got home, lounged for a bit, ate lunch and then went for a short swim. There was a “No Wake” buoy about 200 meters or so off to the right and we decided to swim straight out and then turn 90 degrees to swim to the no-wake buoy. This was a casual swim, and I took that very seriously. I would swim about 20 strokes and then dive down to get a closer look at the fish below me. Then I’d come up and say “Jess, come look at this!!” like a 10 year old child. This happened pretty much for the entirety of the swim out to the buoy. When all three of us finally converged on the buoy we stopped to take it all in. What an incredible swim we were going to have! As we chatted, we looked at the shore. Whoa, we were almost back in front of our house! This current was moving! If it was half this fast tomorrow, we were going to have incredible swims!

Encouraged by our swim, we changed and made our way over to T2, back at the Mega store. There had been a note on the Cozumel Facebook group page that they were making people take their decorations off their bags before they could rack them. I thought this was silly and just a rumor, as my bike bag, with houndstooth duct tape on it, was safe and sound in T1. Unfortunately, when I got to T2, there were empty bags with ribbons and bows hanging outside the entrance to T2. Our bags were inspected, and sure enough, I got a big “No”. Carefully, the girl peeled away the tape as she told me it was against the rules. What rule? I grumbled angrily. I prayed that the integrity of my bag wasn’t compromised (especially because there was a frozen, heavy water bottle in there!) and that my things would be safely in a bag (and not splayed on the ground) when I arrived there tomorrow afternoon.

With all of our gear dropped, there was nothing else left to do but to enjoy dinner together and relax.

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As we ate our pasta dinner, we were all pretty quiet. It kinda felt like the Last Supper or like we were preparing for war. Tomorrow was the big day.

 

 








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