Friday, December 13, 2013

IRONMAN Cozumel 2013 Race Report

By Ian Williams

In December of 2012, I made the decision to register for an Ironman triathlon to be held on the beautiful island of Cozumel on Sunday, December 1, 2013.  Most people would think that to be insane since I had only completed my first triathlon (Nations Triathlon) just three months prior.  However my coach, Lloyd Henry was very happy I decided to pull the trigger and locked myself into a race.  He then said we’d come up with a training plan starting late summer.  I remember saying to Lloyd, “Dude, that’s way too late.  I am going to need the entire year to train to cover 140.6 miles.”  I wanted to say to him, “You know 2.4 of those miles will be in the ocean with waves and changing currents right?”  But I trusted my coach to take me through the journey and from there began spending the winter months focusing only on my swim technique. 
During the late Spring and early Fall of 2013, I signed up for 2 additional Olympic distance triathlons to gain more experience with transitioning from one sport to the next and I formally started my training program in September.

Arrival in Cozumel
I left for Cozumel on Thanksgiving Day with the hope of getting there a few days early to relax and get my mind right for race day.  The journey seemed to take forever but I finally got to the resort and checked in.  There was a lot I needed to do like get tons of bottled water for hydration, pick up my bike from Tribike Transport and get my race packet at the expo.  Just before leaving for the expo, one of the guys from Endurance Sports Travel (EST) mentioned they may have already picked my bike up for me.  This would have been great news since it’d be one less thing to do in limited time, so he went to check and my baby was there in great condition from the two week journey.
The expo was great! There was Ironman merchandise all over the place but I refused to buy or wear any of it until I earned it, not even the “free” jacket I got at packet pickup.  Roxanne and Eboni, my Specathletes that came along were laughing at me but understood.
So on Friday I was sitting in an EST athlete’s meeting being held at the resort and saw a shuttle bus pull in just outside the doors.  I saw Lloyd, Marsha, Colin and Carla (my other Specathletes) get off the van so I left the meeting to go give them all a hug.  As I was greeting Lloyd, I saw a very familiar looking bike off to the side and was about to say, “Look Lloyd, someone else with a black and white Kuota bike”, then I noticed the OnPoint flag behind the seat.  So I looked at him in confusion and said, “You brought your bike???”  He then gave me this big grin and held up his wrist showing me his green Athlete’s band.  Needless to say how excited I was and gave him a few big hugs as we laughed about the surprise.

On Saturday Lloyd and I went to check our bikes in at T1, the energy was amazing.  We stopped to take some pictures, get body marked and then walk our way from the swim exit through the bike-bag pickup to the change tent on to where we’d get our bikes and finally exit T1 on race day.   We then left Transition to head back to the resort to eat, hydrate and rest up. 


Since arriving in Cozumel there had been strong winds and heavy downpours periodically that impacted every practice swim that was scheduled.  One of the locals said the storm had been lingering over Cozumel for the past four days but is expected to leave by the weekend.  I hadn’t realized the major impact to the race until the reports of the Mexican Port Authority not allowing boats to leave the dock, which means the race support team would not be able to set up the buoys for the swim portion.  This would mean a no swim Ironman.  Even though commonsense said, Ian this is about safety, my emotions were yelling, this is nuts!  You didn’t train all this time to fly to Cozumel and spend all that money to do a really long brick workout! 
Fortunately, Ironman and the Mexican Port Authority came to an agreement to move the swim start further north and make it a point to point instead.  Whew!
After hearing this news, we all went to eat our last meal for the evening at one of the fancier restaurants at the resort.  Colin and Carla were celebrating their wedding anniversary but decided to do so being Specathletes by supporting us for the race.
It was off to bed after dinner, but apparently not to sleep but to stare at the wall and ceiling until about 1:30AM. The alarm went off at 4:30AM, I leaped out of bed like it was on fire, put on my tri suit, placed my race morning clothes bag at the door and then proceeded to force feed myself breakfast.  Next we all met in the lobby, jumped on the shuttle and headed to the race.

The Swim (00:52:54)
I got to T1, checked on my bike to make sure all was working, filled up all four of my bottles, wiped off some of the night’s rain water from my bike and left to join the line for the swim-start shuttle.
After arriving at the new location, I did some last minute prepping and waited for what seemed like an eternity before it was time to get in the water.
Lloyd asked me if I was ready and we began making our way, slowly swimming out to what was literally a sea of humans dangling in the water.  The horn soon sounded indicating the start of the race and all I remember is Lloyd saying calmly, “That’s it, let’s go”. 
I began making my way through the crowd and very soon realized an Ironman mass swim start is really a warzone, there’s a lot of elbowing, punching, kicking and blocking.  I learned quickly after getting kicked in the right eye that I needed to be strategic in making my way through all the bodies.  I was able to get a rhythm going and trying to hold to my form and discovered the reason for all those multi-zippers during swim training. There were times during the swim when I felt as if I was slowing down, so I returned to the multi-zipper to reset my form and things felt right again immediately.
I looked at my watch a few times during the swim to make sure I was on track, I remembered seeing 38 minutes and thinking, well I still have quite a way to go.  The buoys were not marked or maybe I just couldn’t see any distance markers so I was basing my approximate speed on my watch time and my heart rate.  I soon was able to hear the sounds of people cheering and yelling indicating the swim exit was pretty close.  I saw the turn buoy not too far away, I darted in aggressively, fighting my way through all the arms and kicks to the steps out the water.  I was very excited to be out the water but I knew I still had a long day ahead.

The Bike (6:31:00)
I exited the change tent at T1 and hobbled in my bike shoes to my bike, quickly checked to make sure all my bottles were securely in place and then jogged with my bike to the bike mounting line.  I clipped my shoes in and began my way on loop one of three.  I found a gear that was comfortable, one that allowed me to have a high cadence then I got into my aero position and began cranking away.  After about 30 minutes, I figured even though I wasn’t hungry I should eat so I tried my best to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich I stuffed in the pocket of my tri top, sipped some hydration and began to enjoy the moment that I was actually racing in an Ironman triathlon.  It wasn’t too long into enjoying my moment that I was convinced I made a wrong turn into a wind tunnel.  All I can say is holy cow!  The winds on the beach side of the course are absolutely ridiculous and complete madness!  I cannot find the words to describe what it’s like riding through the winds that stretched that 13 mile part of the loop.  It just wears you out, the equivalent of climbing 13 miles of a steep incline without a break.  There is no aero position that can help you in that wind tunnel.  It could have been related to the storm what was passing through but it’s intense. 
I pushed and pushed and finally made it out.  I tried to quickly pick up the pace to make up the time lost during that part of the course but then I thought about the beating it’s going to put on me on the final loop.  I decided to put that out of my mind, remembering Lloyd’s advice during training to treat each workout independently and not base my current on what’s to come.  I followed my nutrition plan by making sure I was taking in fuel and hydration periodically.  I knew I had the potential to bonk based on my experiences during training so even when I didn’t feel hungry, I’d still take something in.
I soon started the second loop and made a friend; we rode together for quite some time and talked about everything.  After a while she picked up the pace from the 22mph we were already doing!  The good thing is it helped to push me, I’d pass her and she’d pass me (no, we weren’t drafting off each other), we did that for about 30 miles then I lost her somewhere.  I was truly enjoying the experience, our names and nationality were printed on our bibs so people would come by and say, “You’re doing a great job Ian, keep pushing buddy”, and I’d return the favor.  

As I got into town, the shouts of “Si se puede” and “Yes, you can do it” lined the course; kids put rocks in bottles and shook them hard.  I have never been to any race ever where folks were so happy to have athletes take over their space.
As I passed by the T2 area in town heading to start my third bike loop, I heard my name yelled out by Roxanne and Eboni. It didn’t sink in until I was about a half mile away that the voices sounded familiar.  I was in such a zone to attack the third loop and the wind tunnel.  I made my way around again and all I kept thinking is, “this is the third loop, give it all you have now so when you get slammed by the wind it averages out”. I rode and rode then started that section of the course again, I watched my speed drop and drop.  I tried everything from putting my chin on the handle bars and keeping my knees close to the top bar on my bike.  It was an effort to try in every way not to be a parachute.  This guy rode up next to me and said, “Good job Ian, it’s rough out here but we’re gonna do it”.  I asked him “how much further papa smurf?” he responded “no where close” we laughed together in our torture as he pulled away.  During that stretch of wind on the third loop, I passed two people about 5 miles apart laying on their backs, holding their chest.  The ambulances were heading in that direction.  I immediately began to closely monitor my heart rate and made sure I dropped it into HR zone 2.  I was soon done with that part of the course and pushing to make my way to the T2 area.  I soon heard the cheers of all my specathletes yelling and screaming as I pulled into the bike dismount area.  It makes such a difference when you have folks cheering for you out there, especially on a long day.  A volunteer took my bike to re-rack it, I grabbed my Run bag and I went into the change tent.  Another volunteer came over to lather me up with sunscreen and I shot out the tent with joy because I knew on that day I would be an Ironman. 

The Run (4:45:35)
The run is my complete joy. I absolutely love running and marathoning so as long as I didn’t do anything stupid that would risk a twisted ankle or pulled muscle, I’d be OK.  I started the run way too fast but quickly put that in check.  I have never ran a marathon that late in the day, especially after swimming and riding my legs off but I knew how to mentally and physically survive a long, hard run.  It was insanely hot.  I kept stuffing cold sponges in my tri top, putting ice under my hat and kept asking at the aid stations for “agua fria”.  Not too long after the skies opened up and there was a heavy downpour of rain that flooded the streets.  One guy running next to me shouted “Thank you God!”  I told him “I know the feeling”.  The run course was also three loops but these were out and back so you can see the other runners going in the opposite direction.  I tried to keep the pace nice and easy and tried my best to enjoy my first Ironman experience.  I slapped high fives, I stopped to sing and dance at one of the tents on the side of the road.  The singer jumped in front of me with his microphone and started to sing so I joined in and danced around.  He soon sent me on my way shouting, “You can do it Ian!!  USA, USA, USA”.
It was dark by now and the course seemed to be very quiet.  I think everyone was just worn out and wanted it to just be over.  Our socks and shoes were soaked from the flooded streets, I just kept dreaming about the long hot shower I’d take back in the room.  My specathletes were stationed at the loop turnaround point and each time as I approached them they’d start shouting and screaming, it’s such an amazing feeling.  They were battling the horrible weather to be out there, making sure I had enough fuel in the mental tank to make it back to them. 
Soon it was the final loop and it was 3 miles between me and the finish line.  I was spent close to mile 25.  Lloyd was on the opposite side and saw me, I shouted out to him “I ran out of gas!”  He started cheering me on, ran over to me and said with big smiles, “I want you to run past all of them, run past them all and go get your medal!”  I don’t know where the energy came from but I started running hard, it went from 8:23 min/mile to 7:45.  Someone on the side said to me, you’re only half a mile away.  All I kept thinking is I am only 800m, two laps on the track from being an Ironman.  At that point I just opened up what was left in the tank and ran hard, I could hear the loud cheers, then the bright lights and the carpet leading you in.  Then I heard the most amazing words over the loud speakers, “Ian Williams, You Are an IRONMAN!!!”

Post Race
I was making my way through the finisher’s chute when someone said to me, “Your medal sir”, another great feeling as he placed it around my neck.  The moment seemed so surreal.  This was the culmination of all the hard work and sacrifices. All my long days out there in the cold riding and running, early mornings and late nights at the pool, this makes it all worth it.

As I was walking by the massage tent, Roxanne strongly and firmly suggested I get the massage so I gave in and got in line.  The line moved rather quickly and was soon on the table getting all day’s buildup of lactic acid or whatever pushed out of my muscles.

I am an IRONMAN!