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Ironman Cozumel - TriathlonFull Ironman

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Cozumel, Quintana Roo
Ironman Mexico
26C / 79F
Total Time = 16h 47m
Overall Rank = /
Age Group =
Age Group Rank = 0/
Pre-race routine:

I arrived in Cozumel with all my gear and my bike intact - which I considered the first hurdle, hurdled. I had two days before the race and a lot of this was taken up by registration and setting up my bike and gear. 3000 athletes in one place (the vast majority of whom are in unbelievably good condition) leads to an almost tangibly competitive air. When I walked into the race briefing a few hundred eyes turned to size me up and this continued to happen throughout the weekend. It was usually only half a second of sizing up before eyes were averted and I was discarded as a threat, (which is slightly emasculating). One too many comfort burgers in my build up perhaps…

Everyone has their own way of mentally preparing. The majority seemed to like to congregate and talk tactics/hints/tips, or about previous races or future races. I couldn’t think of anything worse. My approach was to become a social hermit and hide from all the race chat. I barely spoke to a soul, other than the mates who came out to support me and even then I was probably not particularly good company. Sorry guys. Thankfully Cozumel is a paradise. Warm, sunny, beautiful beaches and crystal seas - the perfect place to allow my mind to clear and to try to relax before the big day.

Event warmup:

The race start was at 7am. I therefore had to wake up at 4am to force 800 calories down my throat, which would allow plenty of time for digestion before I hit the water. After two bowls of porridge with honey, a couple of cereal bars and a little battle with the gag reflex I was fuelled up. I had a couple of bottles of Gatorade with me which I slowly sipped at for the next 3 hours to ensure I was adequately hydrated before the start.

A short taxi ride later I was at the race start location – the beach at Chankanaab park. I had packed my gear bags the night before so there wasn’t much to do. I took my bike to one of the mechanic stations and asked them to pump the tyres up to 140psi. After that I looked at my bike in a half glazed way, prodded a few bits at random, gave the tyres a quick kick and that was it really.

By this point it was 5.30am and I still had to wait an hour and a half before the starting horn would sound. As is my way, I walked a distance from everyone else to a quiet stretch of beach, lay down and watched the sun slowly rise as I sipped Gatorade. I realise this is the second time I’ve name dropped Gatorade and the relevance will become apparent later in the story – let’s just say I had no idea what I was casually sipping at that point in time, I would soon come to think of as the toxic elixir from hell…
  • 1h 39m
  • 4156 yards
  • 02m 23s / 100 yards

We were all treading water and waiting for the starting horn to sound. I took this opportunity to sink down almost to the sea bed and I was rewarded by the bizarre and memorable sight of 3000 legs kicking at the water.

While I was arsing about the horn went and I snapped into action. I didn’t have a watch or any time/pace guide. After thousands of lengths in a pool I had learnt how the right pace feels and that was good enough. My goal was to keep relaxed and smooth through the water and to try to enjoy it.

The water in Cozumel is the best I have ever experienced. Coming from half man half shark that’s saying something; 40m visibility and a cool but not cold temperature. Sweet bliss. I saw a myriad of fish and it was actually hard to concentrate on the race.

Initially I decided to go for the inside/racing line which meant scrapping with the others. I love a good scrap and a few friendly elbows to the head/body didn’t put me off. I had put my swimming cap over my goggles which helped to prevent them from getting clawed off. The start was brutal – but I was loving it.
At the first turn around point I saw one guy try something called the ‘corkscrew’ turn, which is a fast way of turning 90deg in the water and involves some fancy flipping onto the back and then back onto the front. He made an absolute hash of it and much to my amusement he headbutted the marker buoy. As I was mid giggle, my old friend Karma made an appearance and someone kicked me right in the ribs driving all the air out my lungs. At this point I decided I would move to the outside and find some clear water to allow for a more mellow finish to the swim.

I continued my leisurely swim for a further 40 mins, waving to the underwater camera guys on the way, watching the fishes and occasionally muttering f*** as I got stung by the evil spawns of Satan, (more commonly know as jellyfish).

I passed the final turnaround point and I sighted a yellow buoy which was the final marker before the finish. It occurred to me that each time I sighted, the buoy wasn’t getting as close as I was expecting, but I just put this down to my mind playing tricks on me.

I exited the water feeling fresh and relaxed and dreading the rest of the race. As I passed the timing screen I noticed my time was 10-15 mins slower than I was expecting which came as a bit of a surprise. I learnt after the race that this year the water currents were stronger than they have ever been. Apparently 300 to 500 people didn’t finish the swim because they either ran out of time before the cut-off or they couldn’t beat the current and were pushed out to sea. So that’s why that final yellow buoy seemed to take an age to get to!

If I hadn’t had a strong background in swimming or improved my technique then there’s a good chance I would have been one of those. My heart really went out to them – I just hope they try again and nail it at some point in the future.

I came out the water feeling fresh and in high spirits. I enjoyed this feeling for about 1 minute, then I set my mind on the tasks ahead.

Transition 1
  • 18m

I took 18, yes 18, minutes to change from my swimming trunks into my bike gear. This was mainly due to the availability of a shower – anyone who has had the pleasure of living with me knows it’s my Achilles heel. According to my rationale I was going to be on the bike for upto 8 hours, so ensuring I was comfortable, clean and lubed up in the right places beforehand was worth the lost time. Please accept my humble apologies for the mental imagine you may now be trying to repress.
  • 8h 10m
  • 112 miles
  • 13.71 mile/hr

The bike started well. For the first two hours I was spinning comfortably, riding alongside a beautiful sea view and my heartrate was bang in the middle of… Zone 2. Then the proverbial hit the fan.

I started to get a familiar pain in my knee. The same pain I felt when I injured it before the race and had to rest it for 7 weeks. I immediately stopped and applied some anti-inflammatory cream and re-secured my knee support tape. I lost a fair bit of time due to this and my first lap time made for depressing reading. If I carried on at this pace I wouldn’t make the cutoff and I would be disqualified for the rest of the race. Even so, I had to ease back the pace as the pain in my knee was slowly building.

Then I had another setback. I had 4 hours of nutrient drink stored in my water bottles and backpack. It’s essential to have a drink which provides carbs as well as the right mix of water and electrolytes. I had a custom made drink which I had tweaked and perfected over the course of the year. After my initial 4 hour supply I was planning to refill all my bottles with the mixture, add water from the next aid station and I would be sorted for another 4 hours. Unfortunately I messed up and lost the remaining mixture. This meant I had to rely on the aid stations for drink for the next 4 hours. Which meant Gatorade….

Now Gatorade doesn’t supply enough calories which was issue one (as the bike aid stations are few and far between and they also ran out of gels/food). It’s also quite sickly. After 2 hours of drinking it I started to feel nauseous. Eventually I felt so bad I stopped and chucked up at the side of the road. It was one of those really guttural episodes, where you feel genuinely worried your stomach may suddenly pop out your mouth. Lovely. I didn’t dwell on it and jumped back on the bike to continue slogging away.
A lot of people have asked me what I thought about for all that time on the bike. Well I call it; ‘sadist mathematics’. For example, I knew my cadence (pedal rate) was approximately 90 revolutions per minute. So 2 hours in when my knee pain started, I figured out that at 90rpm, for another 6 hours I would do 32,400 pedal strokes with my left leg. I felt a pain with each pedal stroke. So I knew I could look forward to that pain another 32,400 times from that point onwards. I then elaborated on this by applying a pain value point system and figuring out what total pain I would be in (in terms of the newly established points system) by the end of the race, factoring in the gradient of increasing pain as the race went on. There are all sorts of various tangents I then went down. As I said; sadist mathematics. It’s not for everyone, but it passed the time…

Shortly after the puking I had a make or break moment. I was feeling better after getting the toxic elixir from hell out of my system, but a little dizzy, (dehydrated and low on carbs) and the pain in my knee had progressed from annoying to something more acute, to put it mildly. In fact it was all I could think about. I had 2 hours to go before disqualification and it was getting harder and harder to maintain the pace. More pain likely meant more injury. I knew I still had a marathon to run and I was worried about doing some serious damage. I thought hard for 20 mins of slow pedalling and I was very close to dropping out.

I could take the pain; however bad it got I knew I could push through it. What worried me was the thought of causing severe damage that might lead to issues in later life. Is it really worth risking permanent damage that I would regret years down the line? I’ve always strived to be, and prided myself for being a logical person. The decision I came to was illogical. I decided that however bad I felt I was going to push through. The only way I was stopping was if I was truly physically incapacitated. My knee would have to collapse or else I was going to continue to press on.

I want to make it clear that my ‘make or break’ decision was not necessarily the right one, I certainly don’t condone it. In fact, in hindsight I feel slightly ashamed of myself. I let my emotions and competitive instinct overrule my rational mind. Looking back I can say I got away with it and my knee will recover. However, I genuinely believe the ‘right’ thing to do, would have been to quit the race, heal up and try again at some point in the future.

Once I made the decision I was fully focused and became a man possessed. This race had stopped being fun a few hours ago and it was getting progressively worse. I blocked out everything and just focused on turning the wheels.

I made the cutoff with only 20 mins to spare in a time of 8 hours and 11 minutes.

Transition 2
  • 09m

When I made it to the second transition I felt relieved, for about 1 minute, and then I was despondent. My knee was in a lot of pain. I knew I was shortly going to introduce it to the joys of impact and I wasn’t looking forward to it. I quickly got changed, got up and got on with it.
  • 6h 29m
  • 26.2 miles
  • 14m 51s  min/mile

I knew from the first few steps that I was in for a long night. Each stride sent a wave of pain over me. Those who know me, know that I have a pretty good pain threshold and it’s not my style to be dramatic. It really was horrendous. Oh well it’s only a marathon. My first marathon as it happens.

The crowd support on the island was fantastic. The people were amazing; chanting and shouting “Si Se Puede” (“yes you can”), all the way to midnight when the race ended. One overly aggressive and slightly drunk American jumped in front of me, pointed straight in my face and said “you will finish this”. Slightly scary, but his heart was in the right place. A few of my friends came out to offer support and one of them even walked 2 miles alongside me which was much appreciated. My parents had also made the trip out. For the second time I look back and I’m ashamed of myself. I had retreated into my shell and I barely acknowledged anyone; the crowd, my friends or my parents. I was in a world of pain and my way of dealing with it was to block all external stimuli and focus on putting one foot in front of the other.

With 4 miles to go I was running out of time. I had limped/jogged/walked for 22 miles and there was no way I was going to make the cutoff. The only way I would make it would be to run the last 4 miles. I had been doing the mental maths the whole time though so this didn’t come as a surprise. I spent almost 2 hours building myself up to the moment I would have to run. When it came I didn’t hesitate and I broke into a slow jog. By this point I had accumulated blisters which covered both feet and a few of these immediately burst. I could actually hear the squelching sound as I ran. In a twisted way the knee pain helped – it was so bad at this point that my foot blisters didn’t hurt.

I made up a lot of time by running the last 4 miles and I didn’t let up for a second. The pain in my knee was excruciating, but I was focused and I found out that under the right conditions I can be a really, really stubborn git.

I crossed the line with 13 minutes to spare. This may sound like a lot but to put it another way, I used up 98.5% of my available time. So really, I made the cutoff by the skin of my teeth. I finished with a time of 16 hours and 47 minutes.
Post race
Warm down:

Happiness is the natural reaction for the vast majority of people. You just have to look at the race photos to see the ubiquity of jubilation, punches in the air, high fives and smiles. Most athletes look forward to hearing the announcer read out their name and say “you, are, an, ironman!”

I wasn’t happy. I was in agony. I didn’t hear the announcer say my name or call me an ironman and when I think back I can’t remember any sounds – I was still in my shell. I crossed the line and headed straight for the exit. At this point I saw my parents. My Dad waved to me with a beaming smile. My mother, who is quite the maverick, ignored the crowd barrier and rushed around to give me a hug. I know a lot of people will cringe reading this. It isn’t in my nature to be emotional or soppy. But that hug was amazing. Finally after almost 17 hours, 13 of which were torment, there was something to be happy about. I felt great, for about 1 minute, then I went back to being miserable.

I thought I had nothing left in the tank but I was wrong. I had just enough left to give my Mother a look of utter disgust when she suggested I use one of the wheelchairs on offer for the athletes who finish and can no longer stand up. Instead, I made a much less dignified and painfully slow limp for the exit, with my perceived pride intact.

All this time and effort so that I could build up to a race which was probably not too dissimilar to what Dante wrote about when he described the 9 concentric and increasingly painful circles of hell, (ok so maybe on some rare occasions I can be a bit dramatic). I did get a great hug from my mum though, so overall; totally worth it.

Last updated: 2012-12-13 12:00 AM
01:39:00 | 4156 yards | 02m 23s / 100yards
Age Group: 0/
Overall: 0/
Start type: Plus:
Water temp: 0F / 0C Current:
200M Perf. Remainder:
Breathing: Drafting:
Waves: Navigation:
Time: 18:00
Cap removal: Helmet on/
Suit off:
Wetsuit stuck? Run with bike:
Jump on bike:
Getting up to speed:
08:10:00 | 112 miles | 13.71 mile/hr
Age Group: 0/
Overall: 0/
Road:   Cadence:
Turns: Cornering:
Gear changes: Hills:
Race pace: Drinks:
Time: 09:00
Riding w/ feet on shoes
Jumping off bike
Running with bike
Racking bike
Shoe and helmet removal
06:29:00 | 26.2 miles | 14m 51s  min/mile
Age Group: 0/
Overall: 0/
Keeping cool Drinking
Post race
Weight change: %
Mental exertion [1-5]
Physical exertion [1-5]
Good race?
Course challenge
Events on-time?
Lots of volunteers?
Plenty of drinks?
Post race activities:
Race evaluation [1-5]

2012-12-13 7:15 AM

New user

Subject: Ironman Cozumel

2012-12-13 10:21 AM
in reply to: #4533321

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, Minnesota
Gold member
Subject: RE: Ironman Cozumel
Oh man, sorry you had a tough day!  Congrats on gutting it out.  You're a very funny writer
2012-12-14 2:54 PM
in reply to: #4533321

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Lancaster, PA
Subject: RE: Ironman Cozumel

Congratulations on your first Ironman. Job well done and way to push through all of the race obstacles you encountered along the way.


2012-12-17 10:07 AM
in reply to: #4533321

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Williamston, Michigan
Subject: RE: Ironman Cozumel
Congrats on the finish I hope you are feeling better soon
2012-12-19 7:07 AM
in reply to: #4533321

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West Palm Beach
Subject: RE: Ironman Cozumel
Congratulations and hoping your knee is better! Great report :-)
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