So, normally I'd have written a pre-race post, and then a race report, but as I did air BnB this time, my apartment was subject to the fickle power outages and issues that come with Mexican island living, and my internet crapped out the full day and evening before the race. What timing! Those reading this may also notice a dearth of posts since summer: this is because I broke my pinky and became depressed. I will, however, back date some posts I wrote by hand for the St. George marathon and Breath of Life (broke it the day after, and that race went well-- got 2nd!)
Blah blah blah. Back to the story of the day. I'm awake with that throbbing-body, post-Ironman insomnia, and I figured I'd put it to good use.
This wasn't my first rodeo... in fact, it was my fourth, to extend the metaphor, but as it is with any Ironman, all you know is that it's a looooong day and that essentially anything can happen. If you're a fatalist, that means anything can go wrong. I'd like to be all sunny and say anything is possible, but I can't help but feel anxious after that depressing flat that killed my Kona dreams at Los Cabos. I hadn't trained as consistently for this race, so I wasn't too crazy about times and stuff, but of course I would have liked to have maybe PRed or something... my swim I'd only been working on since after St. George (read: 2 months) and for the same amount of time I hadn't been running, hardly at all, since the epic marathoning had caused my plantar f to flare up. However, I'd put in some good efforts on the bike, and even though I was not at racing weight, I'd gained at least three pounds of muscle, which meant a good strong ride on the flats, which is definitely applicable for Cozumel. So I was thinking I might match my Arizona time (I hadn't been swimming much before that one either) or possibly better. On the whole, my plan was to enjoy the race, because I was on a tropical island, and this wasn't an "A" race anyway, so, why not? Me being me, I of course still wanted to do well in some way or another, but that was my hope at least.
The weather was super variable all week, and with crazy things going on with the current (both practice swims were cancelled), they changed the swim last minute to be slightly shorter and one way, so we wouldn't have to fight it. (I believe it shaved off .5 mile, so 1.9 swim.) I now was excited, since I thought, ooo, if I can pull off my other splits, I could totally PR, since the swim will now be super fast (even if that's cheating.) Plus with my race wheels, and my power, my bike split should be good. And the run was gonna be pancake flat. So then an 11 hour IM became my hope.
We were shuttled over to the new swim start from T1, where I incidentally realized I forgot my special needs bags, but they didn't have much special in them at all, so I figured eh, no biggie. There was quite a bit of bathroom drama, since the port-a-potties outside didn't have toilet paper, and everyone likes to, well, you know, take a move before a race, so there were epic lines indoors where there were only two stalls. I made it into the water 2 minutes before the start, not really sure where I was supposed to go actually-- people were kind of bobbing everywhere, though I suppose the buoy was supposed to be the starting place, iunno. Then an air horn went off and everyone started swimming, so I figured follow the pack. It was very pretty, for sure-- we wound up swimming over several reefs (a little too close-- I almost knocked into a few, that can't be good for an ecosystem, to have 2,000 athletes churning through? oh well). Of course maybe that was because we started at the wrong place, as we also wound up swimming across a couple rope divider things, but other than that it was a straight shot, and only got a little tough when the current reversed mid swim and added a bit of chop. It's the only Ironman swim I can say I did in under an hour, so that's still nice, and I didn't get kicked in the head, just swum into by aggro dudes a few times, per usual.
T1 was nicely set up with carpets and showers, and the volunteers were good about applying sunscreen (read: way better than Los Cabos). It was kind of a schlep, and since compression wear was illegal on the swim, getting my calf sleeves onto wet legs was not an easy feat. So transition times were generally long, but eventually I was out of there.
I'd previewed a loop of the bike course earlier in the week (yes, I rode too long-- it was 40 miles) so I knew what was coming: out of Chankanaab park, where T1 is, the ride is fairly shielded from those nasty island winds (all week it was straight up blustery) so you can really hammer it. I knew I didn't want to go too hard, but then my HR monitor wasn't working (ugh!) so I had to just try to guess, which totally doesn't work, 'cause you always feel excited and strong when you get on the bike.
The course then turns and hits the far side of the island, which is craaaaazy beautiful but also craaaaazy windy. I figured this was a good time to take it easy, since I wouldn't be going fast anyhow, to make sure I wasn't overdoing it, and enjoy the view. This was all well and good, but there were a lot of illegal peletons on the course, these swarms of cyclists who'd come up out of nowhere with really bad form, passing on the right and stuff, and it's like ugh, get away from me! So I had to try and escape those a few times. Sure enough, this kind of crap led to several accidents: I heard on two separate occasions of aggro men (what is with you aggro male triathletes!?) coming up on the right, hitting a female athlete's wheel and causing her to endo. Yup, full out flip over big time accidents in the same exact way, on the same day! Nuts. More on that later. There was also a lot of drafting (obviously), of which I do not approve, but man, a nice pull would have helped on that section, especially on the 2nd and 3rd loop. Loop 1 was an average headwind, endurable, which ceased after 12 miles. Loop 2 and 3, it turned into a vicious wall of wind. At first I thought that I had simply overdone my beginning efforts (where it wasn't windy, me and my beautiful race wheels had a grand old time) but then a woman who lives here and regularly bikes the course confirmed that this was the hardest it has ever been, and that all the locals had their worst times ever. So that sort of makes you feel better about the difficulty of it.
From what I can tell, that 12 mile sufferfest really took it out of a lot of people, myself included. Even with my happy sprints, they weren't long enough to get me in under 6. Staying aero for 6 hours had my traps in an iron grip, and I just wanted to start running, for the love of God. I was trying to stay steady, telling myself, remember the run, you'll catch that blatantly drafting girl from Belgium then, and was feeling grateful to soon be off the bike, when at mile 110.4 or so, at 6:10, I hear hisssssssssssssss
And I say, you've got to be fucking kidding me. A flat. Two miles from T2. What. The eff.
I saw a lot of flats on the course: one kid said he went through SIX TUBES. Not really sure why, but I assume since mine was in town that it was the usual culprit of broken glass. Sigh. I don't really know what the solution would be to avoid that.
Since it was my rear wheel, I knew it would take me a while to get it off and changed, and since I was so close to T2, I assumed no one would come by to help. The Felt B2, being all aero and amazing, also has a kind of confusing set up which makes getting the rear wheel on and off an involved process. Plus the race wheels have the valve extender, etc, and I had only one C02, and didn't want to fuck it up. So I thought, it would probably take longer to change this alone than to simply run it in. So I started running it in. Of course this is way slower than biking... I was probably at most 3 minutes away at the rate I'd been going, so I took off my shoes to go faster, only to realize, oh fuck, the asphalt is super hot... so hot that it burned my feet. And then I think, oh fuck, now the balls of my feet are two giant heat blisters. How am I going to run on them!!? I put my shoes back on and clumsily ran the rest of the way in, which, by the way, was actually 3 miles-- somewhere we added one, so I didn't get in until 6:34 or something, totally screwing up all the hard work I did on the bike. Yes, I should have just tried to fix it. I would have not burned my feet, and it would have been faster. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that. What I need to do is some Full Metal Jacket style rear wheel inner tube drills so I am super fast at it. That, and always use those slime inner tubes, because enough it enough, yo.
By the time I made it in, I'm all crying and stuff, because I feel like I'm walking on hot coals, and I've realized I've peed on my bike for no good reason, and now I will have to do a marathon on a heat blistered midfoot, which is of course, where all my hard work of running form has taught me to strike.Even more frustrating is the changing tent at T2. I don't want to go to the medical tent because of what happened to JJ at Cabo-- they just immediately took away his chip, even though after a brief rest he was ready to run. And they will have to pry my timing chip away from my cold dead hands. I figured I would lance the blisters and then tape my foot so they wouldn't rip and just hope for the best. Unfortunately, the girl they grabbed from medical seemed to have no idea about absolutely anything. She came and left like four times while time is tick tick ticking, doesn't bring any alcohol pads, and eventually ace bandages my foot, which does nothing but make my shoes not fit. Exasperated, I run about a mile and find a medical tent on the run course (if I had known I wouldn't have wasted so much time!!!) and those dudes immediately give me exactly what I need: alcohol, swabs, and medical tape, and I lance my blisters best as I can and tape them and hobble off. My first mile, therefore, took 22 minutes, and surely my T2 was similar. Very frustrating. Furthermore, I know that my mom and everyone at home is tracking me, and probably thinking, What the eff? Like I said, anything can happen on race day. And I know, at least my mom, would be assuming the worst. So I had to get moving to prove I was still okay, not mortally injured. (And for that I'm very grateful. Saw a lot of people on the run course with crazy gauze wrap.)
I'm super sad, because, as anyone who's read about my previous marathons knows, I love the run. It's so nice to just take in everyone cheering, smile and be supportive of others, take in the scenery, and just let it flow. Usually I'm all zen and peaceful and happy, and then get a little beast for the last six miles to pull off a strong finish. But just like the flat in Los Cabos got me all surly for that painful bike course, my burned feet totally threw off my run game here. It hurt even more walking than running, and even now I can hardly stand on them, so it was really hard to ignore and be positive. And I hate being the crabby angry person. I love being the happy smiling runner. I WANTED to be the happy smiling runner. But instead I was the runner periodically bursting into tears. 26.2 miles where every footfall is searing pain is no cake walk. (I don't know what a cake walk is, but it sounds both fun and delicious, and this was neither.) I really didn't want to be a whiner, and I knew if I kept moving forward it would be over, but all the hurt and disappointment kept welling up. It was also kind of frustrating as a point of pride to have people cheering me on, thinking I was walking because I'm tired, and all I'm thinking is, "my last run split was sub-4! I'm in crazy pain!" But that's just stupid of course. I have to say though, God bless the other people on the run course. So many others were so wiped out from the bike that they had to walk too, and a lot of them were really sweet to me and made me feel better, at least for a few moments. One girl, Becky, was one of the women who'd been hit by a guy passing on the right. She flipped over her handlebars, cracked her helmet, couldn't breathe for several moments and somehow managed to get up. Having momentarily blacked out, she said she had no idea what had happened, and the idiot dude who was passing on the ride goes, "You swerved right." She'd been STAYING to the right to be out of the way of their aggro peleton, and he was totally the one in the wrong. At any rate, her biked was royally effed up, and they suggested she get it picked up and brought to special needs, but she said heck no, as they'd DQ her, and this was her first Ironman and she was not gonna let that happen. So with her busted bike and sore hip, she walked a mile to special needs, and the dude there yanked her ring with some pliers until the chain would stay, and she had to do the last loop entirely on her little ring, just making it in before the cut off. What a badass lady, right?! She was super sore from the crash and couldn't really run much, but had plenty of time to finish the marathon, even walking... which seriously, the majority of people were doing. I found her totally inspiring and it made me feel like a dick to feel sorry for myself, and instead decided to feel super proud of her. She's the kind of person I completely admire in these races. I told her that she was definitely gonna make the run cut off with time to spare, and now she had a really awesome story, and that the next Ironman she could do even faster.
Like I said, the feet sometimes hurt less when running, so I did my share of both running and a weird duck-like walk where I tried to roll on my heels and pronate and thereby avoid the worst parts of the burns. Cozumel being Cozumel, it started to pour rain midway through the run, completely flooding the streets so that the runners virtually had to ford minirivers to keep going. As a result, my heat blister tape started to cause new blisters on the top of my feet... oh joy. The special needs bag I had forgotten to drop in the morning had a spare pair of dry socks, as I'd anticipated rain, but honestly, the wetness was so pervasive that probably wouldn't have helped. (Though a spare pair of dry shoes and socks, for those of you wanting to do this race, might not be a bad call.)
I eventually just accepted that I was in hell, and had done something bad, and that I was supposed to suffer. I kept thinking. "This is hell. I am in hell. Here are all these cheering people, and I am in hell." Even though I knew it would end if I kept going, it just felt like it wouldn't, and my feet kept feeling worse. But thinking that I was in hell kind of made me resigned to it, and I kept me going, which seems kind of contradictory, but hey, whatever works. I wish I could have just said eff it, and taken tequila shots with the partying people by the hotel and waltzed in all jolly at 16 hours, but as the pain kept increasing, all I really wanted to do was to get to medical, so I really did have to try to move.
I've never felt a longer 3 miles than the last of that run. I decided to try and run the whole way back, but could hardly do that, and kept having to drink nauseatingly sweet Gatorade to make sure I could actually move (sports drink and anything sweet by that point are just so gross.) I walked past aid stations and trotted my crappy trot, and then tried to give it a good run all the way to the end at 25. At the very least I was hoping to come in under 14 hours, and it was about quarter to. In keeping with the bike, I somehow added some distance somewhere, so my 26 chime went off well before the end, which was like the last ditch effort of the run to prove that I was in hell: "you're not done yet, but you SHOULD be according to your Garmin! <evil laugh>" I kept it up and got to the chute, and was an Ironman again, within the 13th hour.
Then I cried some more and was shuffled straight to medical, where they mummified my feet, which frankly looked grotesque. The tape had preserved the bottom, which I bet would have ripped from the sogginess, but unfortunately also caused a bunch of blisters and completely tore off the top of some of my left foot. EEEEK. I finally had foot problems equal to my trail running friends! Haha. Sad.
Andy found me and was sweet and helpful, and due to my gel-Gatorade induced hatred of all sweet things, gave me the most perfect recovery combo ever: pizza and beer. In the Mexican tradition: a can of Dos Equis. And THAT was absolutely perfect.
So what is the moral of the story? Never take off your bike shoes on asphalt? Anywhere that's not wintery, yes, even if you're faster barefoot, don't risk it. Always bring toilet paper during races in case? Absolutely, especially if it's Cozumel. Never do another Mexican Ironman? For me? Probably. I'm Mexicursed. Even with the positive attitude of everyone and the happy crowds, I feel too traumatized by my last two races to consider it.
I know that I can struggle through tough things, I've done it several times. It would be extra swell if the next race actually weren't a total snafu to see what I could do. A race where my time reflects my own fuck ups in neglecting training and not some total disaster. But that's just luck-- someone is always on the course fixing a tire, and some ambulance is always rushing by to help someone, and that someone might be you. We're entitled to nothing, and a race in which nothing bad happens, even if you're slow, is the best race possible. I generally am very aware of my luck when these things don't happen to me-- every time I finish a leg of a tri, no matter the distance, I feel gratitude, and I think that's why I always get so zen and happy on the run. I just do very poorly when the bad stuff does go down, and I don't know what to do about that. It makes me feel like I'm a crappy person. Maybe I need to do less worrying that bad things will happen and instead assume they will, and then I will be so very happy when they don't, and when they do, I'll think, oh I knew this would happen. Maybe? Though... a flat so close to T2... you have to admit, that's a total fake out. I was already saying my prayers of thanksgiving and visualizing that run!
While I'm now Mexican Ironmaned out, I will say this much, this race was gorgeous. And if you're choosing between this or Cabo, there is NO comparison, this one wins. It's way better organized, for one. Plus, Los Cabos is butt ugly. they used pictures from Cozumel to sell it last year! You hardly see the ocean from the highway you bike on, and the run is through yucky town streets with zero views. (Scratch that: you might see a cow. That was my favorite part.) Cozumel has great views, and even with the swim issues and the wind, it's definitely the better race. Also, while the run is kind of torturously boring as an out and back (the same thing six times), you can at the very least zone out staring at the ocean, which is visible for a lot of it. Even in my sufferzone, I appreciated how pretty the sunset was over the docked cruiseships, and that's saying a lot. Plus there are bands and happy people partying in front of the hotels where you can't see the ocean, so that mixes the run up pretty nicely. If I hadn't had my fluke flat and foot burn, I think I would have really enjoyed it. So I don't condemn the race in general, I just had a really rough time.
Currently I'm a big old ball of sore muscles and feet I can't stand on, but there's nothing left to do now but get home, recover and then get back to base training. I'm actually pretty excited for next season: JJ and I are gonna do Coeur d'Alene, reuniting Team Awesome! Hopefully we'll both get retribution for Los Cabos, and maybe, just maybe, I'll get lucky and have a good race. In the meantime, I hope I can figure out how to make injury and accidents less mentally ruinous. Exercises in perspective, I guess: when I focused on the horror stories of other people, it made me forget about myself. That's a good start, I think.
PS: Gosh I'm hard on myself. I just did an Ironman. Chill out, woman! :-)