Tuesday, December 8, 2009

IM Cozumel 2009 race report

What a fun way to finish the year! It was a tough day (details below), but I was able to finish the race and wrap up a year that included two full iron distance triathlons, two half-iron triathlons, and two full marathons... and then have a fantastic week of fun, rest, and relaxation on the beautiful island of Cozumel! :)

Getting through this year with no major mishaps, injuries, or issues was a huge victory; and I am very thankful and appreciative that I've been blessed with a life that includes such great memories. I'm very well aware that the majority of people in the world do not have these kinds of opportunities... and along those lines - don't forget about the Hope for Kidz link that is listed below ;)

This triathlon was a great example of expectations vs. reality; as well as the danger of comparing one race to another based purely on time. Just about all of the athletes that I talked to, including a couple of the pros, were at least cautiously optimistic that this would be a fast course; especially due to a very flat bike course. There were some concerns about the wind, heat, and humidity; which turned out to be well-founded... That combination (the wind in particular), ended up taking its toll on just about everyone, including myself. I had a very fast swim (1:02) and a good start to the bike, then hit the winds and quickly reset my expectations for finishing time. Finished the bike in just over 6:17, which was slower than I had hoped but not terrible; and then really hit the wall on the run, ending up with a finishing time of 12:29:03. Not quite what I hoped for, but nothing I'm complaining about either. At an Ironman, finishing is always the main goal, and never a guarantee.

Once the dust had settled, I learned the lesson (once again) that you can't really compare races purely by the finishing time. After an 11:23 at Redman just 10 weeks before, I have to be honest and say I was disappointed to be an hour slower for this race. This was even just a little slower than my first Ironman in 2007 (IM Florida). However, when I saw the final overall results, I noticed that even though my time was a few minutes slower than IM Florida, my placement was actually much, much better! At IM FL, a time of 12:20 put me right in the middle of the pack (finished around 48% both overall and within age group). At IM Cozumel, a time of 12:29 placed me in the top 25% overall and at 21% in my age group. That definitely improved my feeling about the race, since I knew going in that I was in better shape and better trained than I was back in 2007 for IM FL. This was just a tougher day on a tougher course (and maybe my old body had reached its limit this year). Anyway, enough rationalization and on to the full race report...

I arrived in Cozumel on Thursday afternoon (Thanksgiving day) and got unpacked and settled into the hotel. My wife Susie and daughter Kayli were flying in on Saturday, wisely choosing to stay clear of a stressed-out and no-fun JD for the two days before the event :) I met a fellow triathlete who was also there alone, his family arriving on Saturday as well, so we got together on Friday to check out the swim conditions, drive the bike course, register for the race, athlete meeting, etc. The Friday swim practice was actually canceled due to rough water, but we did get in for a short informal swim just to convince ourselves that we could handle the swim even if the water conditions did not improve. Saturday I got all packed up and checked in my bike and transition bags (see pre-race bike transition pic below). When I got back to the hotel, my wife and daughter had arrived; so I was able to spend Saturday evening relaxing and enjoying time with them.

Woke up and got to the race site without incident. The host hotels provided buses to shuttle us to the race start, and that worked out nicely. The first thing I noticed was that the water was much, much calmer, which helped my mental state of mind quite a bit. I then went about setting up my bike to make sure everything was ready, trying to keep myself busy and calm until it was time to head down to the water for the race start.

I took this picture of the swim start location on Friday , which shows the side of the dock that we all loaded up onto for the swim start. It took quite a while to get everybody into the water - I think some people were still getting on the dock when the race began. I jumped into the water and waited for the start closer to the beach myself, since that would give me a fairly straight line to the turn buoys without being right in the middle of the swarm.

As soon as the swim started, I was thrilled with the BEAUTIFUL clear water. It was amazing how much that helped, you could see everyone around you for quite a distance, which really helped you to swim your own race, avoid traffic jams, and find good feet to draft off of :) It was also pretty cool to be able to see everything, including the marine life and the scuba divers positioned at the bottom near each buoy. I was tempted to wave hello, but thought better of it as I realized they might think I was signaling for help and pull me out of the water!

After a short distance to the turn buoys, we turned around and headed back past the docks for the long section, which was with the current. A final turnaround, and then we headed back to the other side of the dock where they had set up wooden stairs for us to get out. Due to the clear water, I actually was able to see my watch a couple of times and knew I was doing well, but still was very excited to see a swim time of 1:02 as I got out! Wow, that was fast for me, and ended up being a fast swim for most people I talked to later (most likely due to swimming with the current on the long section).

I stayed very calm and deliberate for T1. First we ran across the carpeted walkway you can see to the left, and then grabbed our T1 bags with our bike gear from the racks you can see being set up in the picture to the right. Including the run out of the park once we had our bikes, it was a fair amount of distance to cover, but I went through it smoothly and got on the road with no problems.

After that fast swim start, I was feeling very good about things; and that continued as I started on the bike course. The first 10 miles or so were nice smooth, flat roads; and we were well protected from the wind. Even being conservative and keeping my HR down, I was doing great. Then the road started turning towards the back side of the island and I started feeling the effect of the winds. Nothing too bad at that point, but a noticeable drop in speed. When we hit Punta Sur and turned along the coastline, though; that's when I really knew the day was going to get tougher. As you can see from the picture below, there is no protection from the wind, and it was really howling! Plus, the road itself turns into the chipseal pavement that Texans know and love. That combination lasts for a 12 mile stretch, and every mile of that I watched my avg speed drop further and further. And, by the way, this was only the first of 3 loops - so I'd be doing this two more times! Oh well, nothing to do but stick to the plan and try to keep the HR in the right range, keep hydrated, etc.

Things improved a little when I finally took the left turn that took us back towards the city, and especially as we got into the city and all the crowds were there cheering us on (the roads were closed to traffic, so there were very few spectators on the far side of the island). Going through the downtown area, we passed the second transition area for the first time and headed back towards the swim start at Chankanaab park. That was a very nice stretch of road... too bad we would only be on that section twice!

The second loop I tried to just maintain the same type of effort and speed as the first, not wanting to overcompensate and end up blowing up completely later in the day. I did try and get in as aerodynamic of a position as I could on that backside, but it didn't seem to make much of a difference. The winds were coming mostly as a crosswind, hitting on an angle on the right front side; so there really wasn't much I could do about it.

The final loop I just tried to enjoy the smoother, less windy part of the bike as much as I could; and then just get through the coastal section without driving up my HR too high. I had known since the first loop that any type of PR (personal record) was out of the question, so I was focused on keeping a reasonable bike pace and hopefully allowing for a decent run. I finally made it to the second transition area downtown with a 6:17:07 bike split, putting me at just under 7 1/2 hours total.

Looking back, I must have been a little disoriented and tired already, because I ended up leaving my Garmin on the bike when I handed it off to a volunteer. I thought about going back to find it, but decided that I could keep track of pace via the mile markers. I'd done that for plenty of races before the Garmin, and I always survived :) My goal at that point was to try for a marathon time of less than 4 1/2 hours; so I could keep my total under 12. Ah, the best laid plans...

The run was three out and back loops of about 8.7 miles each, similar to the three loop bike course. Three loops actually works well for me, as I go a little conservative on the first, gauge my condition on the second and pace accordingly, and then by the third loop I can tell how things are going for the push to the end. Here's a pic of me on the run coming through an aid station. Bananas anyone?

Susie and Kayli were at the back end of the loop right in front of our hotel, and it sure was a welcome sight to see them! I was running at a decent pace at that point, but I could also tell that I was fading, as I was having trouble eating and drinking due to nausea. I warned the family that things would likely start slowing down for the next couple of loops.

Whether the bike course had taken too much out of me, or the humidity was making me too hot and dehydrated (or the combination); by the second lap I could tell I was burning out. I had done some walking before I saw my wife and daughter again, and I told them that in order to finish I would likely have to do quite a bit more. It's very frustrating when your legs are capable of running, but the rest of your body is just too fatigued to allow it. Such is the Ironman... it is not just about the three events, it is about putting them all together in one day.

When I got to the last loop, Susie and Kayli had re-positioned themselves to be downtown for the finish. Susie tried her best to encourage me, including telling me that I actually had moved up a little bit in my age group. Really?!? I don't know how that was happening, as I didn't see any bodies on the side of the road :) This picture kind of tells the story of how I felt:

So, now it was time for the last loop. The first part of that last out and back was some of the hardest 4+ miles I've ever done; alternating short runs with walks and praying for the last bit of reserves I had in my body. The good news was that somebody had finally told me where to find the Special Needs bags, which contained some chicken broth that I really wanted (many people had that same problem, they did not have any signs or indication where the SN bags were - which turned out to be the parking lot of my hotel!!!). Once I reached the turnaround, I could finally sense the end and made myself a deal that I would run as close to 2 miles as I could, then walk a little before making the final run to the finish line. But whether it was knowing how close I was, the chicken broth that I finally found, or just wanting it to be over - I was able to keep on running all the way to the end! That's one of the things that I love about doing endurance events, finding out how much you have inside even when you think there is nothing...

Hit the finish line at last, with a time of 12:29:03, happy that my final run kept me under 12 1/2 hours :)

Here's a little video that Susie shot of me crossing the finish line.

I knew that I was pretty well shot, and I had learned the wonders of the post-race IV at Redman earlier this year; so I didn't waste much time after turning in my timing chip and headed straight to the medical tent. After the IV and a nice hot cup of soup with noodles, I felt like a whole new person. How I wish that they'd allow me to do that at the beginning of the run! After leaving medical, I got my finisher's shirt and scarfed down some pizza; then left the athlete area and met Susie and Kayli. They helped me grab my bike and all my gear; and we went to find a taxi to take us back to our hotel. On the way, a very excited Mexican lady was grabbing every finisher that she could and having her husband take pictures of her with them; which brought a smile to my face as I pictured her photo album with all these worn-out looking strangers in their sweaty race garb. The local Cozumel folks in general were very excited about having the race there, and treated us all really well.

Once at the hotel, I ate some food and then crashed for some much needed sleep. Woke up the next day feeling pretty good, so we started on the *real* vacation at that point, and ended up having a fantastic week on the island with sun, beach, snorkeling, scuba - and even a visit to the San Gervasio Mayan ruins. As I said at the beginning of this post, it was a great way to end the year!

Please see this website to read more about the HFK program and to make donations:
RMI Hope For Kidz Website Link

Race Schedule:

January 11: RunTex 20 Miler (20 mile run) -> COMPLETED

January 25: Frost Yer Fanny Duathlon (27.2 miles run/bike/run) -> COMPLETED

February 15: Austin Marathon (26.2 mile run)-> COMPLETED

April 5: Lonestar 1/2 Ironman Triathlon (70.3 miles swim/bike/run) -> COMPLETED

April 20: Boston Marathon (26.2 mile run) -> COMPLETED

July 19: Marble Falls Triathlon (28 miles s/b/r) -> COMPLETED

Sep 07: Austin Triathlon (32 miles s/b/r) -> COMPLETED

September 19: Redman ironman distance Triathlon (140.6 miles s/b/r)-> COMPLETED

October 25: Longhorn 1/2 Ironman Triathlon (70.3 miles s/b/r)-> COMPLETED

November 29: Ironman Cozumel Triathlon (140.6 miles s/b/r) -> COMPLETED

*** GRAND TOTAL: 581.4 miles of racing! ***


  1. As always, very impressive!!! Congrats. Enjoy some down time and recover from a very, very impressive and rewarding season. Happy Holidays!!

  2. Thanks for following, and I'm definitely enjoying the down time. BTW - weight gain was 5 lbs :)

  3. WOW... you logged all the miles you raced, that is so cooooool, love the idea. IM SO HAPPY to have met you... and thanks for finding my blog, now I can follow you! I HOPE your family and you enjoy a wonderful holiday and A FANTASTIC New Year. Lots of love and God bless you all!

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