Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ironman Cozumel 2011 Race Report

I woke up race morning with a sore throat and tons of congestion, I did NOT feel good and I was NOT happy about it, definitely not the way I wanted to start my race morning. I told Jeff and Kristen that I felt sick and they both said "you'll be fine" so I tried to just go with it, but I was nervous. I mean, is it even safe to do an Ironman when you're sick??
My awesome Sherpa crew! Jeff, Linda, Kristen, Melissa, Katherine, and Ramona
Cindy cheering!
Kim, me, Ingrid and Del heading into transition

I aired up my tires, and put Infinit in all my bottles and went to find my crew. By the time I found them, I felt like I needed a nap, and of course that made me even more worried. If I was tired already how in the world could I do an Ironman?
still smiling for the camera, but really worried about my race. Check out Jeff's cool shirt!

I went back through transition and then handed Jeff my shoes and extra clothes over the fence. I started to cry, yeah I was that unhappy but I knew there wasn't really anything I could do (I had Jeff pretty scared at this point), I got a final hug and headed toward the swim.
They made the athletes stay back near T1 this year instead of letting us crowd around the pier. I walked up to the front of the area and sat down on a rock. I knew I needed to find a way to turn my attitude around. Even though I didn't feel good, I needed to find a way to race happy and enjoy the day even if it didn't turn out the way I wanted.

I started to think about THE BOOK. Emmie wrote:
"'in every sport there comes a moment when a spell of bitter weeping seems like a fair recess from whatever tough work is going on. It's only the steeliest among us who can fight the urge to turn it grace under pressure...' ...You are ready! The one unknown is what the race day is going to give you to contend with...when all is exhausted it will be your determination that puts your foot across the finish line. You are strong! If the environment overwhelms you or your physical strength fails you, cling to your determination..."

Wow Emmie! talk about giving me just what I needed! I thought about those words over and over all day long.

I also thought about what JoAnne wrote (it was really sweet and inspiring, but long so I won't put it all here). I told her a few months ago, "everyone has a bad race, it doesn't mean you're a bad triathlete, it just happens" I really didn't want my "bad race" to be Ironman Cozumel, but I also realized I didn't want to give up before I even started! I could feel my mental attitude shifting! I decided I was going to race happy and pay extra attention to my body, if I felt like I was truly hurting myself I'd stop, but otherwise I'd try my best and see how the day unfolded.
While I was having my mental pep talk the spectators were watching safety divers get in the water
Then we all listened to the Mexican national anthem
The pros started, and then they let the age groupers onto the pier. I walked along the pier hoping to find Jeff and my Sherpas, I really wanted to let them know I was feeling better mentally.
Hey! there you are! I know they were all SO happy to see me smiling and feeling better (mentally at least!)
Jeff told me to race safe and be careful out there, he's never told me that right before a race, so I know I really scared him when I was crying in transition.
I got a great big Mama Mudge hug! I could tell from the hug that she was also SO happy I had my smile back! I thought about that great big hug and Katherine's encouragement a lot through out the day too.
I found Del, he was easy to find in his new swimsuit! and we got in the water together again this year. We chose almost exactly the same start position, along the pier to the right. We kept wondering when the dolphin show would start, last year we watched it before getting in the water and while we waited in the water. This year they didn't start the dolphin show until after the age group swim start, probably to keep the athletes from gawking at the dolphins instead of getting in the water!
The gun went off and I started swimming, I felt like I was getting pushed and hit quite a bit, I think I swam closer to the buoys this year than last which is probably why I had more contact. I took advantage of open space whenever I could and tried to push through or get around people when I could, next thing I knew I was at the first turn buoy! wow that came faster than I thought! I checked my watch, 15 minutes in. My throat still hurt and my nose was stuffy and a little runny too, sometimes when I exhaled I could see snot floating through the water (disgusting, I know), but it didn't seem to be affecting my swimming! I made the first and second turns and it really seemed like I could feel the current pushing me along. I had more clear water at this point, but still quite a bit of contact. Whenever I had open space I watched for cool fish, and enjoyed the beautiful water! I saw a safety diver at one point and waved to him, he waved back and gave me a thumbs up! I kept trying to count people I passed, like Sandra told me, but I kept losing count. At one point I sighted and the submarine looked forever far away! but again I was there before a I knew it, checked my watch, under 1 hour! I knew I had a good chance at a swim PR. The stretch from the submarine to the swim exit seemed to take the longest. I saw a blue tang (Dory) during that time and sang to myself "Just Keep Swimming, Just Keep Swimming" all the way to the exit. I climbed up the steps and saw 1:20 on my watch, a swim PR by 1 minute! YAY!! I was SO happy! Official swim time is 1:20:20
High fiving my IronSherpas as I run down the pier to the changing tent.

T1 went pretty smoothly, I rinsed off well in the showers, grabbed my gear bag, easy to find with Linda's red ribbon on it, and ran to the tent. I really really needed to blow my nose, I didn't have any kleenex so I used my towel and I kept thinking how gross that was going to be after the race, as if my wet swim stuff wasn't going to be gross anyway! I got some help getting my bike jersey on and getting sprayed with sunscreen by a Mexican volunteer. I grabbed the rest of my stuff and jogged out to my bike, put on my race bib/tracker and my helmet and took off for the mount line. There were people everywhere yelling "Animo" "GO, GO" "Si Se Puede" "Vamos" etc. I smiled and thought this is exactly why I wanted to come back for Ironman Cozumel again! I stopped just past the mount line and Jeff was right there! He yelled "I love you!" as I was pedaling away I yelled "I love you too!" T1 was 12:06.
I started pedaling and I didn't feel super fast and great but I didn't feel too bad either. There were lots of very animated spectators so I enjoyed them and hoped that my legs would warm up and feel great soon. I hit the first headwindy spot about 6 miles in and my legs felt tired and heavy, I knew that was not a good sign, but I didn't really get upset about it, just kept pedaling waiting to make the curve and see the waves crashing on the far side of the island. Ingrid came flying by me just before I made the curve, I knew that meant she had a good swim! I made the curve and felt the crosswind, but enjoyed the view, it's so beautiful out there! I wasn't going as fast as I had hoped in the cross wind, but I knew in 12 miles I'd make the turn to head back into town and get the awesome tailwind! I also saw a plane flying a banner, all I could really read of it was Vamos but I assumed it was a good luck to the racers banner. Later Martin from our hotel said there was a "really rich guy who paid someone to fly the banner with his name on it" Oh well, at least during the race I thought it was for everyone!
I made the turn to head toward town and I felt the tailwind, but I didn't feel like I was going fast with little effort, instead I felt like I had to work super hard even though I had a tailwind. But I knew there would be lots of spectators out cheering so I decided to work as hard as I could through that section and really feed off the awesome spectator support. It worked well, there were tons of people out chanting "Si se Puede!" and shaking their homemade noise makers. Even though I wasn't going as fast as I had hoped, it was really fun! By the time I passed by my Sherpas in town I was really happy! They thought I was still on pace for a bike PR and assumed everything was going great!
As I started lap 2, my legs felt really tired and I felt like I needed a nap. I was happy to stop and mix Infinit for the next 2 or 3 hours (my stomach never felt great on the ride, but it never felt too bad and I followed my nutrition plan pretty well). After stopping for a minute I felt a little better. I decided I needed to not worry too much about my pace and just concentrate on finishing, I was only 39 miles into a 112 mile ride and I was pretty worn out already. I loved passing the resorts and getting cheered for and I even loved being passed (and passing the few people I got to pass) because most racers were really encouraging and nice. I hit the headwindy section and felt exhausted, I wasn't sure I could finish the bike, let alone make the cutoff time! I decided I'd stop at the aid stations and rest for a minute (and blow my nose, which I was doing into the front of my bike jersey so I had a jersey full of snot by the end- disgusting!). I usually felt better when I started again, so that seemed to work. Kim G. had written "when you move those arms and legs in Cozumel, you're actually powering our smiles in Austin" for THE BOOK. At one point I thought "wow, I'm moving pretty slow, I bet they don't have very big smiles in Austin right now" and for some reason I thought that was hilarious, I may have even laughed out loud thinking about it.There were at least 4 or 5 big "seaweed signs" on the beach on the far side of the island, I loved seeing them!

Kim E. passed me on the cross windy section and she was having a really tough ride too. I told her I had to average 12 mph to make the cutoff time and I wasn't sure if I could do it. Yikes! But I kept moving and finally hit the tailwind again, this time I didn't try to go fast, I just tried to regain a little energy and draw encouragement from all the spectators. I rode through town to tons of cheering and finally saw my IronSherpas! Smiling because everyone is cheering so loud for me!!
This time Jeff was worried, I was pretty far off pace and as I rode by he asked if I was ok.
This is me replying "yeah I'm ok...well mostly" with Katherine and Melissa cheering their hearts out in the background.

It had rained a little during my second lap, but it rained quite a bit during my third lap, there were hardly any turns on the course so I didn't feel like the rain slowed me down. I still wasn't sure I could make the cutoff and I have to admit there were a couple of times I thought it wouldn't be so bad to miss the cutoff and get to go take a nap instead of run a marathon! But as I kept going I felt more positive that I could make it. I didn't really get any headwind on the normal headwindy section, but then I turned onto the crosswindy section and got straight on headwind. It didn't even occur to me to be upset about the headwind, I just thought about Emmie's words- "cling to your determination" and "grace under pressure" and even though it was windy and rainy, it was still beautiful out there.
I watched for all the seaweed signs and really appreciated the spectators who came all the way out there. There was a big group of extra enthusiastic spectators from Team Z (a DC area tri team) and they must have all stayed out there until the cutoff, and they cheered like crazy for me (they cheered for me on every lap, but it was extra special on lap 3!). I also met and rode with a guy from Shreveport for a few miles, it really hurt my throat to talk to him, but I appreciated the company so much that I didn't care. When I made the turn toward town, I got no tailwind at all, but I knew I only had 9 miles to go and I was going to make the bike cutoff! I actually passed at least 4 or 5 people on that last section and I tried to be super encouraging and tell them they were easily going to make the cutoff!
Sherpas Jeff, Linda, Melissa, Katherine, and Ramona- with the Spirit Stick on the bike course
Super happy to have finished the bike in time! Bike time was 8:17:28 and I actually finished over 30 minutes before the cutoff time.

I got to transition and Jeff, Katherine, and Clara from the dive shop all cheered like crazy for me. I told Jeff I didn't know if I could finish the marathon, but I was going to try and it would be close. I really felt like I did NOT have a marathon in my legs, but at the same time I knew I didn't have 112 bike miles in my legs and I managed to do it anyway. I walked into the changing tent, sat down in a chair and took my time changing clothes, I was SO happy I had planned on a full clothing change, my bike shorts were soaked and already starting to chafe a little and my socks and shoes were also drenched. T2 was 9:45, which seems fast considering how long I felt like I was taking.
I got onto the run course and saw that it was a couple minutes before 5:00, I had 7 hours to complete the marathon, under normal circumstances that would be easy, but on this day, I didn't know if I could make it. I did some triathlon math and figured I needed to average 15:30 minutes per mile to finish. My legs felt completely trashed, but I hoped maybe I could keep a 13:30 pace for the first half and slow down if I needed to for the second half.
Starting the run. My plan to be super visible for my Sherpas in my yellow hat and orange trimmed shorts worked perfectly!

I was able to keep to my 13:30 pace for most of the first lap (8.8 miles), there were tons of spectators on the course, even way out at the north end where it was a little lonely last year. I saw our divemaster Mariano (the one who asked about my bike shirt), when he saw me he jumped out into the street and yelled "Go Heather!...Vamos!!"

It had been raining a lot and a one point on the course there was a huge puddle (more like a lake), it was at least 6 inches deep and I couldn't see any way to avoid it, so I sloshed through knowing I'd have to do it 5 more times and knowing that it was very likely to cause some major blisters.
It's hard to tell from the picture but this flag is HUGE, it's one of the fun things to see each lap, when you can see it coming into town, you know you're less than a mile from the turn around.

Toward the end of lap 1 I started to feel really awful, my stomach hurt, my legs hurt, my head hurt, my throat hurt and I was SO tired. I knew there was no way I could keep my 13:30 pace much longer and I wasn't at all sure I could keep a 16 minute pace to finish. As I passed by my Awesome IronSherpa crew they had this sign for me! It was the BEST sign of the day!
They asked how I was feeling and I don't remember what I said, but I know it wasn't good something like "not good" "terrible" or "like I'm going to die" They were pretty close to the turn around, so I saw them again just a few minutes later and Kristen came out to walk/jog with me for a little while. She listened to me whine for a few minutes, then I asked her to figure what pace I needed to keep to finish by midnight. I'm usually really good at triathlon math, but I was really tired and I just didn't feel like figuring it out right then. She didn't say anything after I asked her, so I looked over at her and I saw her fingers and lips moving :)- normally I would make fun of her for that, but I was too tired. I did make a mental note to remember it though :) She finally came up with 16 minutes per mile and right then we were doing 18 minute miles. That made me really nervous! I told Kristen I felt so sick I didn't know if I could run much more at all, but if I didn't run I couldn't finish!

That's when she said "you know you have nothing to prove Heather. I'm really proud of you and you know everyone at home is proud of you too, no matter what happens" I really needed that! Finally I started running again, Kristen ran with me for a minute, then decided I was good and she turned back. Less than a minute after she left, I got a horrible side stitch, and I was walking again- ugh! I ran for most of the first 9 or 10 miles, but after that my body rebelled every time I tried to run.

Then a guy from North Carolina passed me, he was walking too, but walking really fast, I talked with him for a minute, but I couldn't keep up. Then I decided that maybe if I could walk super fast like him, I might be able to finish. So I started walking faster and I caught up to that guy! I kept walking super fast (and passed that guy) and checked my Garmin after each mile, I was walking at about 15 minutes per mile- I just might make it! I definitely felt better walking, my stomach settled down, my legs felt a little better, even my throat felt better since I wasn't breathing as hard. I passed by my Sherpas again and told them "if I can keep this pace, I think I can finish!" It was obvious to them that I was feeling significantly better.

Kristen came out to walk with me again and she had to jog to keep up with me. I told her "I'm not slowing down!" she said "you shouldn't!" I made the turn around and started my third and final lap, it was really late, but there were still lots of athletes on the course and still tons of spectators out! All the volunteers were still super enthusiastic and encouraging, and the music and parties were still going strong at every resort on the run course! Team Z had groups of spectators dressed in costumes at some of the furthest out points on the run! It was also getting crazy windy (like 30 mph windy!)! I knew a Norte was blowing in, so I was impressed that everyone was still out there!

I knew as long as my stomach held up, I could finish, but my stomach kept feeling worse and worse. Every time I ate or drank anything I felt worse, Infinit, Coke, oranges, even water made me feel worse. I have a fairly sensitive stomach anyway and I think between not feeling well in general and being out there SO long, my stomach had just had enough! With about 6 miles to go I decided since everything made me feel worse, I just wasn't going to put anything else in my stomach, it was only 6 more miles- although 6 miles walking takes a LONG time! I got to the turn around and only had 4.4 miles to go! Then I realized that 4.4 miles was going to take me an hour and 15 minutes! Yikes! ok, don't think about that just Keep Moving Forward (it's a line from Meet the Robinsons, one of my favorite Disney movies) and "when your physical strength fails, cling to your determination" Thanks again Emmie!

About a mile after the turn around I started to feel a little dizzy, I knew it was from not getting any calories or water, but I knew if I put anything in my stomach I would get sick and have to stop, so I just kept moving. Every time the wind gusted I was afraid it would knock me over and I started noting the people and ambulances along the way. Thank goodness there were still so many people out cheering! I was getting more dizzy, I knew I was in bad shape, but I also knew that mentally I was fine (I could still do triathlon math), and if I did collapse it wouldn't take any time for someone to get to me and help me. I tried to decide if I should go straight to medical at the finish or go find Jeff and my Sherpas and let them decide if I needed to go to medical. I finally only had a mile to go and over 30 minutes to do it!

With a little over half a mile to go I saw JEFF walking toward me! I can't even describe how happy I was to see him! He said I had slowed down so he was worried. I told him I felt dizzy and if I fell he should catch me (I did say that right Jeff? um seriously, you handled that REALLY well, I'm pretty sure if YOU said that to ME, I'd totally freak out!). I told him I wasn't sure I could run across the finish line, but I was so happy I was going to finish! When the barricades started, Jeff went to the spectator area and I kept walking, high fiving every one along the way. I turned into the finish chute and was super impressed to see there were still tons of people there cheering like crazy! About halfway through the chute I passed my sherpas and I decided I'd try to jog to the finish line. Wow! When I started "running" the crowd went insane! It was one of the coolest things ever! I made it!! Just before I started "running" in the finish chute

Run time was 6:47:35 and total time was 16:47:14, almost 13 minutes to spare. Obviously it wasn't the day I had hoped for, but I'm 100% happy that I was able to finish! I said all along that I'd love a PR, but if the day turned tough, I'd be completely happy just to finish no matter the time. I'm still not sure if it's safe to do an Ironman when you're sick, but I know it's possible- not pretty, but possible. This was easily the hardest thing I've ever done physically and I really feel like I pushed myself to my absolute limits to finish. Obviously I had some pretty low moments, but I feel like I mostly did "race happy" and enjoy the day, and I feel like under the circumstances that's a huge success! I'm proud that even on a tough day I was able to appreciate all the great things about this race, amazing spectator support, having my awesome Sherpa crew there for me, the beautiful bike course, the gorgeous swim, the support of so my other athletes, etc.Post-race, not looking so good. I think I'm either saying "Oh my god that was hard!" or "Oh wow my legs don't work anymore!"

I thanked my IronSherpa crew for being there. It was pure determination that got me to the finish and without my awesome IronSherpa friends and husband there encouraging me and believing in me and without the words of my friends in my head from THE BOOK I would not have finished. So THANK YOU to ALL of you!

I'd also really like to find that guy from North Carolina, I don't know his name or number so I'll probably never find him, but I don't think I would have realized I could walk super fast if I hadn't seen him doing it and I'm pretty sure if I had continued to try running I wouldn't have made it. I never saw him again after I passed him, so I don't even know if he finished.

As soon as I stopped moving I felt my legs cramp like crazy! I shuffled through the finisher area, got my shirt and found my Sherpas. I congratulated Mohamed (he had a great first Ironman!) and Ingrid. Ingrid went with me to get my bike, then Kristen, Linda, Ingrid, Katherine, and Melissa pretty much carried me home while Jeff dropped my bike off at Tri Bike Transport. Ingrid, Kristen, and Linda carrying me home.

My legs were completely giving out when I tried to walk, and my feet felt like they were going to explode (I had nasty half dollar sized blisters on both feet). I was sure I wouldn't be able to walk at all the next day. After about an hour I was able to drink my recovery drink and eat a little. I woke up at 6 am (why does that happen?) and surprisingly didn't feel all that bad. My legs were sore, but I could definitely walk. I was still super congested, but my throat didn't hurt much anymore. The blisters hurt more than anything else.

My Sherpas took extra good care of me post-race too. Kristen and Linda went to the finisher store for me (and sweet talked the guy into letting them buy stuff for me) and got me a post Ironman care package. The Mudges set me up with the best blister band-aids in the whole world!My Post Ironman Care Package included, a cute fishy swim cap to make me happy, little bananas for potassium, chocolate milk for recovery, orange juice for my cold, soft cushy socks and band aids for my blistered feet, and Oreos cause they're yummy. Jeff also got a clown marshmallow pop and chocolate milk.


Richard said...

I am definitely sorry that you did not have the race experience you wanted and planned for, I hope you can take a lot of pride in knowing that you finished under circumstances where most people would have quit and walked away. You have truly shown that you are made of sterner stuff than most! Congratulations on completing your second Ironman!!

Alili said...

I can't begin to describe how emotional I was reading this report. I tracked you most of the day and before I went to bed that night said a quick prayer that you would finish safely - SO happy to wake up the next morning to see that you had!

There is so much inspiration in this race report - loved every word. Congratulations on a determined race!

Brennan said...

Cozumel was my first IM and I recall seeing you on the run. The headlamp was what caught my attention. I remember thinking to myself what a great idea that was. Though the day didn't go as you had planned, congrats on a gutsy race and a strong finish!

shubbe said...

Hey, look, it's that tab I had your race report open in, so I'd remember to comment! (Finally!)

Great race report, and great race. Sure, it wasn't the one you would have chosen. But one of my favorite platitudes of racing is that it's not what's thrown at you on race day, it's how you react to it. You could have quit. Maybe you SHOULD have quit. But you didn't. And I hope you're super proud of yourself, because you know that we all are. You're a badass, Heather. Congratulations on Ironman 2, and I can't wait to see what you do next!

Monica said...

Heather, YOU ROCK!! I'm so proud of you for achieving this, especially with a COLD! I can't wait to see what you'll do next.:)