I vividly remember signing up for the Cozumel Ironman 2013, the Monday after Thanksgiving 2012. My friend and previous teammate John encouraged me to join him south of the border. He emailed me on a day when I was contemplating new goals and clear direction, at a time when I was not comfortable in my own skin.
I immediately began to read books and articles to help me lay down a plan. This included my need to build a solid endurance foundation and then find a 20-week plan that would prepare me for race day. I found a perfect fit on Beginnertriathlete.com. Now the training stage was set and writing my personal goals came next.
#1- Do the training without gadgets. No bike computer staring back at me. No watches telling my how fast I needed to go and no heart rate monitor to tell me I was being lazy or pushing too hard. I would do this organically; learn my body and my mind, by listening to both. I was happy to use the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), given my professional background in cardiac rehab.
#2- Soak it all in. No one can be an Ironman without the love and support from family and friends. Remember this and be grateful.
#3- Take one workout at a time. Using my mantra, “first step is always the hardest” got me in the pool at 5am and kept me faithful to my 2-3 hour Friday night runs at the end of a 40 hour work week.
On race day, I woke at 4:30am and immediately realized that I slept soundly through the night. This was not common practice the night before and important race. This particular morning, I felt calm, strong and rested versus restless. Perhaps this is what it means to be an Ironman.
I was relieved to learn that the swim had not been cancelled. Two to three days of rough waters and a passing “Norte” had been the cause of cancelled swim practices. This did not deter John and I, we simply jumped into our backyard waters, wide eyed and determined to practice daily while praying for calmer seas come race day. Amen.
Mother Nature continued to sing loud here in Cozumel, reminding us who was boss. This morning was no different, the wind howled in our ears, stung our eyes and the ocean slapped the shore with vigor. Without the distractions of my everyday life in Boston, I was able to hone in on my surroundings here and I loved it all. The transition area was beautiful, 2500 bike stations, all colors, shapes and sizes just like the athletes. Each bike was trimmed with food, salt tablets and water bottles set up specific to the riders’ likings. Enormous white clouds hung above, promising us reprieve from the sun during the race later in the day. The air temperature was 78-80 degrees with 90% humidity, the air felt thick and our skin moist before we would even “hit the road.”
I sat barefoot on the bus, surrounded by strangers in my tri-suit, with my swim cap nestled in my top and goggles hanging, like a necklace. The guy seated next to me began to offer advice to an inquisitive athlete behind me. I decided to ask, “What is your most important piece of advice to a rookie on race day?” The guy seated behind me perked up and my neighbor calmly replied, “You have a plan, just stick with it. Go steady on the swim and bike, breath and keep your effort in check. It’s a long day and people often go out too fast and this can change how you approach each event. Don’t let it. Around mile 80 on the bike you will still be strong and ready for the run. Make a small push; those whom started too fast will begin to fade - you will remain strong.” After exchanging my thanks, we stood and filed off the bus. Twenty minutes to go time!
The beach was covered with red and yellow swim caps, twenty-five hundred athletes waiting for the gun. Spectators lined the shores with smiles and cameras; one woman was in her bathrobe. As I looked out, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelming pride as I walked into the sea. I acknowledged words my brother shared just days before: "Thousands of miles behind me and only a few hundred more to go.” Just then the gun sounded. Face down...breath.
Minutes passed before I caught my breath and settled into a groove. My arms and legs propelled me forward as I took in the scenes below. It was like swimming in the tropical tank at the local aquarium. Colorful fish, crystal clear waters and the vast reef lining the shores. At times, the reef was so close that my fingers would graze the top. As I received the occasional slap, punch or kick from a neighbor, I focused to stay calm and enjoy it, because I knew this was the best I would feel all day. Fifty-seven minutes passed in a flash! I crawled up the stairs and jogged past the hundreds of screaming fans with a smile. This further energized me and I thought, “Yes! I am really doing this!”
The enormous crowd outside the bike transition re-energized me. My eyes darted around, trying to locate my brother and my friend. Needless to say, I heard my brother before I saw him. His voice bellowed from the crowd to my left and I was able to see his proud smile. I yelled back, “The swim was awesome!” followed by an even louder, “Shake and bake!” and signaled 'hang loose' with my left hand as I pedaled away.
I settled into the saddle and remembered the advice given to me back on the shuttle. “Don’t go out too fast...” Looking up I could see a slight continuous incline ahead, I felt the sun on my back and heat radiated up from the pavement below, reminding me to hydrate. As I neared the end of the tree lined highway, I could hear the ocean slapping the shore and the wind howling in the distance. Some clouds moved in and cooled me with a quick tropical rain, which temporarily made the roads slick. The course opened up to breathtaking views of teal blue waters dancing over a blanket of taupe sands. I was taken aback by the view and wind that threatened to make me work harder. For the first time today, I was nervous. Three bike loops meant three lashings by the headwind I was now fighting. My speed slowed and my effort increased, so I dropped as low as I could and pedaled on. The long 12 mile dance with the headwinds ended with a sharp left and I crossed the first timing mat on the course. I waved to my friends back home, sending prayers, love and cheers. I geared up, stayed low and motored towards the city. I began to pass people for the first time. With each person I passed, my smile grew like that of the Cheshire cat in Alice and Wonderland.
Outside the tiny homes, along the highway children screamed, “Vamos!” and shook the homemade noise makers constructed with plastic bottles, sand and rocks. Mothers held colorful signs written in English and Spanish that encouraged racers to go fast, smile and have fun.
From rural Cozumel to the city, the crowds grew thick and the cheers loud. I was filled to the brim with excitement! Before I knew it I was heading out of the crowd and into the tree lined straightaway that would lead me back to the headwinds. My excitement from the city crowds faded, the heat grew stronger and the air thicker. Cyclists passed and I passed them. I read names, cheered others on and acknowledged the flags that disclosed their home country. Small crowds popped up intermittently with encouraging cheers. Soon I heard my name, it was brother and friend. Familiar faces, enthusiastic screams and those two smiles were all I needed to get ready for the challenge just ahead. Having friends and family here...priceless (borrowed from Mastercard, of course).
As I started out for the third and final lap, my confidence and excitement grew. I was ready for a change in sport and scenery. Soon I was yards from the transition area #2. Uniformed school children were handing us our run bags as we entered transition to change. I shouted, “gracias!” grabbed my bag and headed into the tent. I was greeted by another young female volunteer and smothered with sunscreen. In a flash I was on my way and happy to see Manny, Katie and Chad outside the tent to cheer one last time before we met at the finish-line. The run was an 8.7 mile out and back course, which we repeated three times. Let the marathon begin!
The first eight miles were strong with a 2:15 half marathon pace. I was thrilled to see this! However, at mile 15 my body began to ache and my speed slowed. Tropical showers flooded the streets, causing my feet to move slip and slide in my Zoots. Throughout the marathon, I was bathed by the sun and then cooled by rain in an unpredictable fashion. Each mile marker seemed further away from the next, as the sun set. The puddles deepened and the support crowds and volunteers ran for cover.
Around 18 miles in, I wanted to cry. I was tired, wet and hadn’t seen a familiar face since I started out. It became clear that the three hour training runs on Friday nights after work prepared me for this moment. The details I had embraced all day were no longer a priority, finishing was. I settled into my “mental marathon” and focused on navigating the flooded streets to the finish line. Then I heard the music and the announcers’ voice declaring “Tinamarie Sanborn from the United States, you are an Ironman!” My eyes welled as I heard Manny’s voice rise above the cheers, “TINA!!!!!!!!!” I remember thinking, “this must be like child birth, it hurts but damn it was worth it.” I threw my right arm in the air to give the crowd a fist pump. This journey was everything I wanted and more. Thank you beginnertriathlete.com for being a part of this journey!
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