October 23, 2017

Archives for December 2011

International Ironman – IM Cozumel

After nearly four months of Ironman-specific training, I headed off to Cozumel, Mexico for the 2011 Ford Ironman Cozumel.  Traveling with my wife and our two small children (3-years-old and 15-months, respectively … and their first time flying), we made the 3 1/2 hour flight from Denver on Thanksgiving Day (no turkey and gravy for us this year).  We were accompanied by two other athletes, Paul Hardcastle and Michelle Grubb as well as their families.  Additionally, both my father (who, by the way, has never seen me do anything athletic since I was a boy) and my sister from California also joined us for the event.  Note: As there were only a couple of flights out of Denver for Cozumel during the week leading up to the race event, we also shared our flight with our good friend Sonja Wieck and her family… same flight, very different race result … Sonja is a rockstar (see her excellent blog posts here).  The concept was fairly straightforward, pick a Ironman race in a tropical climate, bring the families, and combine a Ironman with a vacation.  All told the 16 of us made it to Cozumel and, after navigating the normal Mexican “logistics” (i.e. cab rides) settled in to Villa Yak Alil (the house we had collectively rented) for our “race vacation.”

A couple more notes about my  personal “logistics.”  I used TriBike Transport to move my bike to and from the race venue.  While the service was a bit pricey (approaching $375), the service was relatively flawless.  Although the pre-race pickup was not actually at the transition area (I ended up picking my bike up and transporting my bike in the car that Paul had rented … thanks Paul!), the post-race drop off was just a few feet beyond the finishing line.  I couldn’t have been happier to drop my bike off with the TriBike folks after the race and say “adios.”  My bike arrived ready to ride in Cozumel and once again when it arrived back in Denver.  I also packed all of my own race nutrition to the venue and, fortunately, I had absolutely no issues with transporting gluten-free oatmeal, gluten-free tortillas, almond butter, and an assortment of Hammer and Honey Stinger nutritional products in my checked luggage.

Pre-Race

As this was my second IM “rodeo” I knew precisely what was in store for me and spent the Friday and Saturday preparing accordingly.  I concentrated on hydration, appropriate calories, and supplemented with a bit of Heed and Endurolytes to top off my electrolyte stores.  I also tormented the chef who prepared our meals at the Villa to keep my food relatively bland and gluten-free (Edgar so graciously accommodated my “special needs” … thank you).

One thing I had learned from Ironman St. George was that I was unlikely to need much in the way of “special needs” out on the racecourse and I prepared accordingly.  I passed on the run “needs bag” and stashed only a frozen bottle of Perpetuem in the bike bag which I ultimately did not end up needing.  My only “special” preparation was the solid food that I prepared for the bike.  I have trained and raced repeatedly using a special meal that consists of a gluten-free brown rice tortilla, almond butter, brown rice, a small amount of honey, as well as a smattering of rice protein and salt (The following represents the recipe to make 4 individual servings: 2 “Food For Life” gluten free tortillas, 2 T organic smooth almond butter, 1/2 cup organic short grain brown rice, 2 T vanilla Nutribiotic rice protein, 1 T honey, and salt; the approximate total nutritional values: 790 calories, 115 grams of carbohydrates, 38 grams of protein, 23 grams of fat, and 12 grams of fiber.)  On Saturday afternoon I prepared several single-serve portions of this concoction and prepared my pre-made bottles of Perpetuem and Heed (I slowly froze a couple of my bottles so that they would be more palatable on the bike … as in training, this strategy worked well).  The solid food was to play an important part in my race day nutrition strategy; however, this was not to be … more on that in a moment.

Dropping my bike off at T!

On Saturday, I accompanied Michelle for a survey of the swim course as well as brief “practice” swim.  As I frequently tell my clients, “water is water, it is the same around the world” and this venue proved the truth of this statement; however, the water in Cozumel was especially clear, warm, and, well, beautiful.  After locating some geographical reference points (e.g. the buoy for the outbound leg was in line with a water tower on a beachfront hotel), Michelle and I jumped of the pier at the swim start and smoothly completed about 600 yards—just enough to get a feel for the water and gather some sighting “looks.”  Later in the day I returned to T1 (the swim start) and delivered my bike to transition (Paul and Michelle met me there after a 45-minute bike ride).

Race Day

As always, an early start … 4:30 a.m.  For me, the early morning came after a night where our 1-year-old son nearly had to be taken to a Mexican emergency room.  My wife and I awoke at 12:00 a.m. to our son experiencing a full-blown croup attack (we spent an anxious hour alternating in out of a hot steam shower, administering an oral steroid that we thankfully had the foresight to bring along, and planning our next moves should we need to seek emergency care).  And, if this weren’t enough, during this “excitement” I received a text message from our next door neighbor informing me that, although he wasn’t sure, he thought that our house had been broken in to?!  I am NOT making this up!  As our son’s condition improved, I tried to remember if I had set the house alarm prior to leaving … surely I had?!  Anyway, I made a quick international call to the Arapahoe County Sherrif’s office to learn that, while there had been activity in our area, our home was fortunately not involved! So much for a restful night.  Hey, but I did sleep well from 10 p.m. to midnight.

I slid into my race and pre-race clothes and headed out to join Michelle for my first breakfast: oatmeal, protein powder, a banana, some almond milk and almond butter … lots of water.  Paul joined us a bit later and decided to make a shake … we made him use the blender outside (it still likely woke everyone in the house up)!  I collected my bottles from the freezer, prepared my pre-race bottle, checked my nutrition … and, here is where I made a huge mistake, I decided to place my solid food in the freezer while I waited for everyone else to collect there things.  Well, as I realized immediately upon arriving the race start (Chankanaab Nat’l Park), my “real” food would be spending the day in the freezer where I left it!  No solid food (at least the solid food that I had planned on eating) for me.  After a few tense moments realizing that I would be short some calories, also perhaps short some electrolytes, I realized that I could adjust my nutrition as the day unfolded and still have the day I wanted.  Despite my experience and Type A personality, I had made a mistake … and, really, the mistake wasn’t leaving my supplemental nutrition in the freezer, it was not making a final checklist for the race morning.  This is something that I can’t stress enough, make a checklist for race morning a few days in advance … THEN USE IT (I always do this, I just didn’t this time)!

Paul, Michelle, and I took care of our pre-race preparations … Michelle generously recovered some unneeded Enduralytes from her T1 bag for me to use (thanks Michelle).  We played “pass the punp” and set our final tire pressures before heading to the body marking and the unbelievably long line to the Port-O-Johns.  I listened to other racers share their pre-race “jitters” and people watched before finally receiving my allotment of toilet paper and taking care of business … funny, the Port-O-John scene was a special sight, it was if our Mexican hosts had assembled the facilities from a mismatched collection of Port-O-John parts in the dead of night … they were really suspect and most definitely had been thrown together in the final minutes before the athletes had arrived.  As the start of the even drew closer athletes of all varieties were forced to abandon the “facilities” and headed off to take their chances in the surrounding jungle.  We made it through just before things really deteriorated (i.e., athletes heading out into the surrounding jungle) and headed off to the swim staging area.

The Swim

I love this shot ... I am somewhere in the midst of that!?

As we worked our way through the queue I continued sipping on a solution of diluted sports drink (Heed) and finally abandoned my Practical Coaching water bottle along with hundreds of others before heading out onto the pier and in to the starting field (free advertising … it was a new bottle).  There were options as to getting into the water: 1) jump of the pier, or 2) descend a series of stairs …, we selected the latter.  The three of us managed to stay together for a while, but soon each was lost in the mass of humanity that makes up an Ironman start.  Then we were off … for a the first few minutes I thought I was in for something a bit different to what I had experienced before … I was being kicked, pushed, and swamped in the vortex of the mass start a bit more than usual.  As the initial minutes passed, I started wondering if the pounding would ever let up or would this be a 2.4 mile wrestling match?  By the first turn buoy things did begin to improve and I managed to find my own space.  I kept myself in a type of bubble that allowed me to make clean strokes and I concentrated on covering the distance.  I was calm throughout and took time to enjoy the clarity of the water as well as the interesting features on the ocean floor.  The long southern leg of the swim allowed sighting on the coast and I swam straight; however, the current seemed to have worked to carry me farther from the turn buoy by the time I arrived there … I ended up swimming a couple of hundred yards more than I should have.  After the second short leg, I made the turn and sighted in on T1/Chankanaab.

T1

Moving up the stairs toward T1.

I clamored up the stairs suspended in the ocean and headed off the to the changing tent after noting my time and enjoying a cleansing, however brief, freshwater shower.  I elected to wear a “speed suit” during the ocean swim (thank goodness that I did, I can’t imagine how slow my swim would have been without it … ha) and stripped it in part while in the shower and had completely abandoned it by the time that I reached the T1 tent.  I focused on the essentials, a bit of hydration (H2O) and sunscreen—the sunscreen was copiously applied by race volunteers (see photo below).  I slid a pair of Craft “cycling” shorts over my minimalist tri shorts (note, this addition only takes a few seconds and adds a great deal of additional comfort to the bike leg), my fully stocked jersey, added my UV-resistant arm “warmers” and moved off to my bike.  Helmet buckled … check, sunglasses … check … 8 minutes, 19 seconds, while certainly not fast T1 IM Cozumel sure beat the 20+ minutes that I spent in a near-frozen stupor after emerging from the very cold water of IM St. George the year before!

The Bike

Early in the race, heading along the southerly section of the course along the ocean.

I ran the carpet and mounted my bike while spectators cheered … not for me personally, of course, but generally.  Paul and Michelle were already on the course as I started my first lap.  I immediately turned my focus to working out my “new” nutrition plan.  Aid stations were plentifully and well-stocked; however, I had difficulty getting what I really wanted: a couple of PowerBars (not, of course, my first choice … but I didn’t have any solid food)—it was not until the 60km mark that I scored two “Cookies and Creme” bars … ugh, but at least they would be fairly calorie-dense and something to chew (I also picked up a banana later in the day).  The west side of the island, especially toward the south, opened up to  some tremendous views of the ocean.  Although the course was relatively flat, the wind built throughout the day making each of the three passes through this exposed section increasingly challenging.  The cross winds that the athletes were warned about were definitely present along the south side of the island with relief only arriving once I headed north well beyond Punta Sur.  Once making the turn toward civilization (transecting the island westerly), the winds shifted.  On laps 1 and 2 there was a substantial tailwind that drove me on toward the Cozumel Centro; however, this same tailwind was noticeably absent on the final lap.  I focused on maintaining a steady cadence (avg. 87) and worked my preplanned nutrition strategy to the best of my ability (3 bottles of Perpetuem, with one mixed up on the course while riding … don’t try that at home!).  I made sure that I checked in on my self every 15-minutes and forced myself to do something at each 15-minute interval (e.g. drink, eat, pee, etc.).  Note that on every lap but the final one I was able to gain some additional momentum from the friendly cheers of family and friends that had gathered on the west side of the island near our vacation home—that was really special.  The bike was fairly uneventful with one major exception, as I pierced the outskirts of Cozumel Centro on the final lap the rain that had been threatening for the last hour or so finally arrived.  What started as a few drops here and there almost instantaneously turned into a full on monsoon.  The rain was blinding.  The rainwater formed large pools and streams as I moved closer and closer toward T2.  I recall commenting to a fellow competitor as we managed to navigate a couple of the turns along the route that “rain only matters in the turns” … ha!  I managed to negotiate the flooded and slick streets (other competitors were not so lucky … I saw some of the casualties as I completed the bike leg).  I had planned of a sub-6hr bike, but the day had conspired against me (specifically, uncertainty concerning my nutrition and the monsoon rain); however, I transitioned off my bike feeling fairly strong.

T2

No photo of T2 (trust me, you don’t want to see what was going on in the T2 changing tent).  The rain had turned what is normally a chaotic transition into a real mess.  The tent was filled with several inches of rain/sewer water and, to make matters worse, the Port-O-Johns that were situated inside the tent were on the high side and the changing area was on the low side … I am confident that my bare feet were exposed to some real nasty stuff.  I persevered and emerged from the tent ready to challenge the 3-loop, out-and-back run course.  As an aside, I am NOT a big fan of multiple lap courses … I prefer the see it once, see it again from a different angle experience that a singe out-and-back or, even better still, see it once experience of that a point to point course offers—I had however mentally prepared for this situation and set out to do my best.  T1: 5 minutes, 10 seconds … not bad under the circumstances.

The Run

Heading out on the run course, conducting a nutrition inventory (right before I dropped a gel packet into a murky pool or rain/sewer water).

I felt strong as I headed out onto the run course.  The rain was beginning to lift, really, it had diminished to intermittent large drops (this was an ON/OFF type of rain event) and the sun was peaking out from underneath the heavy cloud that had moved by the runners and continued to torment those still out on the bike course.  The spectators reappeared as the standing rainwater fought to disappear into the flooded sewers (the were HUGE pools of water scattered along the route—one notable intersection remained flooded with knee- to calf-deep water throughout the race … there was no avoiding it, you had to wade through it each lap both going out and returning), needless to say, my feet stayed wet the entire run. Funny story, as I was heading out on the run I dropped one of my gel packets … it disappeared into one of the murky pools of standing rain/sewer water!  As I had very meticulously planned my run nutrition, I felt as though I could not spare this loss and quickly removed it from the water and placed it back on my run belt; however, I did place it as the final gel to be consumed (I figured some nasty bug managed to get me from the fecal-contaminated gel packet, it wouldn’t have time to affect me if I took it near the end of the race).  Once that “drama” was over, I focused on running my race.  I passed my friend Sonja (go Sonja!) early on and glanced at my watch and took note that she was likely finishing and would be at or very near her Kona-qualifying pace (she qualified again, congrats Sonja).  I also passed Paul on his way back as I headed out … I encouraged him on and noted that this was likely his first lap and that I wasn’t far behind him … I knew that if I held my current pace that I would see him again sooner rather than later.  I had already turned my focus to my hydration and nutrition strategy.  Aid stations were coming at me every other Km and I alternated each with Gatorade and H2o (the water was provided in the plastic bags and at each station I took 2, reserving one to go in either my jersey or shorts to 1) consume along the route (small amounts) or 2) cool my carotid, heart, or my femoral artery—bags of ice, or “hielo,” when available, were similarly retained and placed.  Looking back, I consumed a gel and water at  miles 3, 6, 9, 14, 18, and 22 (I also supplemented with Endurolytes at the top of each hour).   I continued to see Paul, on my second lap I finally caught a glimpse of my friend Michelle … she looked strong and I encouraged her on.  At the end of laps 1 and 2 I got another boost by seeing my sister, Sherry, and my friend, Bill Grubb (Michelle’s husband) at the turn.  Day turned to night and I continued on, running my race.  My Garmin 310 vibrated with each mile and I drew closer to the end.  I passed Paul  just after making the turn to head back to the finish, just a few more miles to go!  I made my final return to the waterfront “walk” (a scenic area and oceanfront shopping district of Cozumel centro) and the route lined with masses of spectators and focused on the finish.  Over the last mile the emotions built and by the time I made the final turn and headed toward the finish I was completely consumed by the experience.  My emotions were magnified as I saw my friends and family at the final turn before the finish line … it was amazing to have them there. I crossed the line to the words of “You are an Ironman!” 12:25:05 (official).  Much later, after I had emerged from the finishers’ tent and navigated through the mass of spectators to rejoin my family and friends, I was greeted by my father by words of “I am proud of you”—although he may have said it before, this time I heard it!

Finish, 2011 IM Cozumel.

Summary

IM Cozumel offers a spectacular race venue.  Warm weather, crystal clear water, smooth pavement, and fantastic fans are each part of the Cozumel experience.  Both Paul and Michelle were successful (congratulations Paul, congratulations Michelle) and they each have their own stories to tell.  The IM Cozumel post-race experience is ideally suited to post-race rest and recovery, e.g. great food and beaches to chill out on; however, note that in November the weather conditions are somewhat variable (we were treated to a post-race cold front that dashed our thoughts of recovering on warm, tropical beaches).