Ironman Cozumel – The Run

19 12 2014

Jess and I ran out and made our right turn onto the main road along the water. We would run out and back, out and back, out and back. 6 x 7k. We trained all summer out in Alafia, where we would often run a 7k loop (once or multiple times) after our long bike rides. This was just another day out in Alafia (again, and again, and again).

It was so nice (and unexpected) to get to run with Jess. I had mentally prepared to run solo, and after that ROUGH ride, having my friend and teammate right there by my side was such an incredible blessing. We chatted a little about the ride, and wondered at what point we would see Felipe and Bill. We cheered on other competitors and just made random small talk – that was about all our brains could process at this point in the day.

Just take it one 7 K at a time. I don’t know how many times I repeated that in my head. Breaking it down in to smaller chunks really helped. I didn’t think I would like the three-loop course, but I think it was absolutely fantastic for the marathon of an ironman. There was no point where you really felt out there, alone, in the middle of no where, because there were always other competitors nearby: either running in the same direction as you or running towards you on the other side of the road. The crowd support was great for almost the entire run too. The 2k closest to the in-town part of the run and the last 1k before the turn had the best crowd support, but there were spectators present pretty much throughout the run. This helped tremendously!

I had trained at 5:30/k as my Ironman pace, while Jess was targeting closer to 5:22. As we ran together, I was a little worried that I was holding Jess back, as we were consistently holding 5:33s, but Jess assured me that this pace was just fine. It was still late afternoon at this point, and it was hot. To be honest, I don’t remember thinking much about the heat- it definitely wasn’t anything worse that what we had trained in- but it was hot enough for me to consistently yell “Hielo” (Ice) and put it down my top or shorts at just about every aide station for at least the first half of the run. There were wet, cold sponges being handed out along the course and man, did that feel good on the back of my neck and on my head! Aide stations were pretty abundant (every k, and you could access them regardless of where you were on your loop), so this was fantastic.

At some point on this first 7k, Jess asked me when I planned to start drinking the Pepsi (yes, they had Pepsi on the course. It was TERRIBLE! #cokefan). I hadn’t really thought about it, but we decided to play a mental game and try to hold off until the last 7k. Once you make the switch to cola, you pretty much need to stick to it, so the longer you can hold off, the better.

Normally, right after a long, hot ride, I find myself craving that Coke-I don’t know what it is about an icy Coke, but man it hits the spot. I was surprised that I wasn’t ready to start drinking the Pepsi when we started the run. In fact, it didn’t sound appetizing at all. I had my hand-held water bottle of Osmo Preload/Active, and I sipped on that, and I started eating my first pack of PowerBar Chews 30 minutes in to the run. Unfortunately, my stomach was not super happy. I was forcing the chews down, but my stomach was in knots. It wasn’t bad enough to stop, and I didn’t feel like I needed to poop, so I just pushed the discomfort aside and kept going. I knew I needed to eat or I wouldn’t finish, so that was my motivation to force feed myself the chews.

The 14k wasn’t so bad. Sure, I had a knotty stomach, but my feet didn’t hurt like I had expected them to, and we were holding 5:33s on the nose. We were doing this thing! We spotted the gang right around 12k (the only reason I know that is because Felipe asked where we were!) and it was definitely a mental boost- so much so that Jess had to reel me in as I picked up the pace (see video below)! If I pushed this early, I’d blow up!


By our third 7km, our conversation had waned, and most of the words that came out of our mouth were either cheers for passing another km, or “Agua! Agua!” (Water! Water!) I remember picking out mile markers for the next lap and saying “that will be us next!”

At this point, I was starting to feel the day’s wear on me. We slowed slightly to 5:35, and I took some tums to see if that would help my stomach. Jess reminded me that Ironman is about who slows down the slowest- so this was exactly how our day should be going.

Right after we made the turn for the halfway mark, Jess grabbed her first Pepsi. I followed suit, and we walked and sipped our Pepsi. Blech. This was not Coke, but hopefully the sugar would give me a boost. From that point on we would walk the aid stations and sip our tiny cups of Pepsi.

It was sometime on this loop that we spotted Courtney on the other side of the road, a few kms behind. We gave her a holler, and it was nice to know we were all out there on the run safely.

As we made our way through our fourth 7k, my walk breaks became slower than Jess’s. We had tentatively said we’d run at least the first two loops (or did we say the first 5 x 7ks?) together and then split off at that point if we needed to, but when we were at about 26k (about 2k before the turn for our last loop), I told Jess to go ahead. I didn’t want to hold her back as I walked through the aide stations. Her walk was just faster than mine!

10407113_10106089057067641_7778127171229640729_nThis was just after the 28k mark, and you can see that Jess isn’t too far ahead of me!

I made the turn for my final lap, and I remember thinking, This is just like running the entire length of Bayshore. 14k, I got this.

This last lap was uncharted territory for me, as my longest run was 28k. However, I wasn’t afraid of not being prepared for those miles, as I knew at this point, it was all about the mental game. Just stay tough.

As the sun went down, the crowds continued to cheer. I passed my teammate Amanda, who was a rockstar cheerleader in the middle of the street. She made me laugh and I knew that the next time I’d see her would be on the other side of the finish line.

Somewhere around 30-32k, I was walking an aide station and Jess yelled my name! She was coming out of the port-0-potty, so we walked for a few seconds before splitting up again. She was looking really strong still!

My stomach still wasn’t feeling great, so at one of the next aide stations, I stopped at the port-o-potty. As I sat, I wondered if I would ever want to get up. Sitting in a stinky port-o-potty in the last 14k of the marathon was not quite the relief I wanted (the relief I wanted was to be DONE!), so I slowly stood up and got back out there on the run.

There was a lot of self-talk that last 14k: Be in the moment. This is just another 7k. You’re almost 5/6 of the way done!

I looked straight ahead and just put one foot in front of the other.

Agua. Pepsi. Hielo.

These were pretty much the only three words I muttered out loud for the rest of the run.

I made the turn for the final 7k, and knew that I was going to finish this marathon- and finish well (though not in the 4:00 I had a thought was a teeny tiny possibility). Regardless of the time, a 7k is very manageable. But this was the LONGEST 7k of my life. I was walking pretty slowly through the aide stations at this point, and the only nutrition that I was getting down was a few tiny sips of Pepsi at each aide station.

The last three miles were rough. I hurt all over, and all I wanted to do was NOTHING. No moving, no talking, no thinking. Just Nothing. You only have to do this for 3 more miles…This was playing on repeat in my head, and I might have even started chanting it out loud to myself. I don’t know why I switched to thinking about the run in terms of miles at this point – perhaps 5k just seemed too much? But then I switched back to thinking in kilometers as I approached town. 2K to go- here are the crowds. I am coming home! 10403224_10203556887782941_1615570374238139995_n

The crowds were bigger and louder. I picked up my pace (to a whopping 6:05/km haha!) and got a huge smile on my face. I get to stop moving so soon!!

I started to get choked up- I’m going to be an Ironman! I saw Chris and Charity standing right before the finisher chute and smiled even bigger.  I made that left turn into the chute – there were disco lights spinning, loud music, people cheering at the top of their lungs.  I raised my hands into the air and pumped them- yes! yes! yes! I had done it! That moment you run down the chute is a moment that will live in your mind forever.

I heard them say my name: “Stephanie Gibson, you are an Ironman!”

That statement was the validation of the many hours of training, all the sacrifices, and the conclusion of my very long day. I am an Ironman!



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.


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.


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!)


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!


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.


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!


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!


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!