That which does not kill us, makes us stronger. - Nietzsche

Monday, December 31, 2012

Ironman Cozumel race report: part 5 - the moment you've all been waiting for!

I was RUNNING!!!

Oddest thing, ya'll. As soon as I was off the bike, I wasn't even thinking about my foot anymore. I just started running on it, no problems, no thoughts of the previous issues. It was a big reminder from my foot about my imperfections.

So I'd been thinking about the run and how fast I'd have to do it. I was, in my head, comparing the time that my friend Dana and I walked the Flying Pig Half, both injured. It took us nearly 4 hours. I was trying to figure out if I could still finish the race if my foot would only let me hobble. Anyway, I had about 6.5 hours to do the marathon, so I needed to do a 15 minute mile pace. That number was stuck in my head.

So I started running, realized running wasn't hard at all, and I was doing a 10:30 pace, EASY. OK. I think I can do this after all. The run course started right in the busy part of town, near the cruise ship dock, where all the touristy stuff is. There were people EVERYWHERE. Actually, I got confused at the beginning because they were walking right across the course - arrgh! So I saw runners and spectators and tourists and felt instantly energized. I saw the woman from our resort. She said her husband had just started the run, too. I looked for my own husband but had no idea where he might have ended up at this point. I realized I was still holding the sandwich and decided it was probably in my best interest to get some solid food in my system, now, because my stomach always shuts down at some point during the run.

I switched to a power walk and realized that I could power walk in the 13-14 minute/mile range, and that wasn't too hard either. YES. I think I may be able to do this thing! So I power walked, ate my sandwich, waved and chatted with other runners (a lot of whom were also walking, and a lot of whom I passed!)

My Garmin died after a mile. I knew it wouldn't last for the whole race, but I still had my stopwatch tracking my race time, and it was on long enough for me to get an idea of my running and walking pace. It was actually really freeing doing most of the run without it.

The run course was 4.something out and back, x3. This actually was really helpful, because I broke it up into six parts. I pretty much ignored the distance in my head and figured that if I did each part in about an hour, I'd be set.

The run had PLENTY of aid stations, and the bags of water were wonderful. I want to see them at local races instead of stupid little baby cups of water! They were about the size of those little squeezy novelty toys - the ones they sold at the mall about 10 years ago, that you would squeeze and they'd fly out of your hand - anyone???? They were big enough to get a few good gulps of water, they were easy to carry, and the cold ones were awesome for holding on the back of my neck or even sticking down my shirt for a cooldown. Or, I could bite a hole in the bag and squirt water all over myself as I ran, in a controlled stream rather than having to dump water everywhere.

People have asked me about the weather. Cozumel never got TOO hot and that day it wasn't humid at all. It wasn't nearly as bad as summer in the midwest. However, the high was about 80 and even though the sun was down, it was a little warm for the run.

So yes, mad praise for the bags of water. I had one in my hand pretty much at all times during the run. They also had gatorade (BLECH - I figure I went through at LEAST 5 bottles of gatorade during the bike) and pepsi (yay!) and pretzels, peanuts (that tasted like lime), zone bars, fruits, and gels. The volunteers yelled at us like salesmen calling out their wares. We never lacked for anything to eat or drink.

About two miles in, I started running alongside a guy from Mexico named Roberto. We ran about the same pace and he spoke very good English, so we got a good conversation going. We talked about our families, our cultures, our jobs, food, even Seinfeld and the Big Bang Theory. Some people were blaring Gangnam Style through a speaker. I grabbed my invisible reins and we broke into the dance and the crowd, as they say, went wild! I met an online friend during that leg, from the beginner triathlete forums, and gave him a hug.

I was KILLING my goal of getting through each sixth of the race in an hour. I barely felt like I was running. I felt like I was partying. By the end of the first full loop, though (8.something miles), I was feeling a little more drained than I wanted to be. By now, my goal was just to finish, and not finish feeling like I was dying, and not hit a wall halfway through and have to drag myself through 13 miserable miles. We were close to the finish line. I could see the video screen and hear shouts of "You are an Ironman!" and "Ya eres un Ironman!"

Just before the turnaround, I heard my name. IT WAS MY HUSBAND!!! AAAAAHHHH!!!! I ran toward him and hugged him. He asked if it was my first loop. I got a little pouty, said yes, and then added quickly, "but I'm going to make it!!" "Of course you are," he said. I ran to catch back up with Roberto, who was all smiles and happy and chatty and psyched. He was about to do his final lap and he felt great. And if I ran with him, I realized, he just might kill me. I really needed to slow down for a bit. He tried to get me to keep going, but I told him, "I know ME. I know what I need to do." He told me he'd stick around and watch me finish.

Now what? A random guy handed me a neon glow necklace. I walked for a bit, trying to figure it out. I walked for too long, really. Then I settled on intervals. Run 3, walk 3. Since it was out and back x3, I could see all the mile markers. Mile 19. Mile 20. WHY can't those be MY signs?? Run 2, walk 2. I liked that better. I did that for a while. I did it until I got close to the turnaround and the 13 mile mark. Then I decided to run - the timing mats were at the turnaround and I was thinking of my friends at home, waiting for an update. Plus, there was a porta potty there that I thought I needed. THEN there was the special needs station. Run for the mats, the potty, then run to special needs THEN walk. The timing mats made a satisfying computer doodly-oop sound when I ran over them. Stomach felt wonky. Tried to use the porta-potty, didn't work. Special needs, YAY!!! For a second I plopped down with my bag like I had for the bike. Ya dork, I told myself, you can keep moving forward with this stuff. I opened my other v8, downed the other three aleve - my foot still felt mostly ok but my left calf was tightening up. At least that's a pain that I experience on a regular basis, so I was cautious, but not worried. I still had the mystery pain cream in my pocket, so I rubbed some on it. Anti-chafe gel - the timing chip on my ankle was rubbing big time. No snickers bar in this one, either. Hmm, wtf ever happened to my snickers bar? (I'm still bitter about that.) I did have a bag of fritos and some starburst gummy candy. I walked, finished the v8, and opened the fritos. I walked until that whole bag was gone, enjoying every one. I took a drink from a bag of water, rinsed the salt off my fingers, and ran again. And didn't feel like running much at all.

After not too long, I passed an aid station with bananas. The guy next to me started singing "BA-NA-NA-NA!!" (to the tune of Beethoven's fifth) in an opera voice. I broke into Banana Phone, and he joined me. He was speed walking. I started walking with him and asked if he'd mind some company. I was starting to lose it a little on my own and a sense of humor will get one through anything. He was from Cali, on his last lap, walking because he was having some very similar stomach issues to my own. He blamed too much gatorade. We talked about jobs, significant others, and farts...'cuz we were both farting. A lot. Want to maintain a sense of dignity? Don't do triathlons. When we got into town, a friend of his joined us on the walk for a bit - she had been sick during training and had started the race undertrained. She didn't make it through the swim. I congratulated him, watched him run toward the finish line, and stopped to talk to the husband for a minute. I had it town to a science - 2 hours and 40 minutes to finish. One more loop. 8ish miles. I was SO going to make it. He had to remind me to stop talking and start running again.

This time, turning past the finish line was a bit more sad. TONS of people were cheering near the finish line, and then instead of going down the chute....a left turn. I was starting to hate left turns. My little pity party was super short lived, though, because the people lining the fence at that point were AWESOME. Tons of smiles, cheers, high-fives. Then my husband was running next to me! I filled him in on the race so far, my awful foot saga and the people I'd met. He let me go on my own after a few minutes so that we wouldn't get caught by a race official and promised to see me at the finish line.

That was the pick-me-up I needed. I ran all the way to the end of the touristy part of town, smiling and yelling back at spectators. There were three Mexican women on a corner who half-heartedly said, "Go, go," to me. I yelled back in English, "What's wrong, are YOU tired???" They stood in shock for a second and then we all started laughing.

I haven't said much about the spectators during the race. They were everywhere. The course ran down the main road along the ocean. About half of it was the touristy strip with all the restaurants, bars, expensive stores, and street vendors. Not only were there lots of spectators, there were lots of tourists-turned-spectators. There were people toasting with Coronas at outdoor tables, so close to me that it took a lot of willpower not to grab one from them. The other half was less populated, some parks (I think we were running through parks) and a couple of hotels. There were still some spectators, more local people on that part, and people on hotel balconies and leaning out of rooms.

So I ran until I was off the main drag. Then it got a little lonely, but every time I stopped to walk, it was only for a few seconds. I wanted to RUN. The last lap, like the bike, had a slightly different feel. Not as many people, but more camaraderie. There was an invisible vibe in the air of "WE'RE GOING TO MAKE IT!!" Everyone left on the course at that point was of the just-cover-the-distance goal-setting variety. I saw a guy with one leg (who beat me!) I saw people with arms in slings. I saw people wearing bunny ears. I remembered the gummies, tried them, decided I didn't like them, pitched them.

What surprised me was how good I felt. In my experience, the end of a race feels forever long. But 6 more miles didn't sound bad at all. 5 more miles sounded entirely doable. The macarena was playing. I learned that I remember how to do the macarena. I yelled, "Ganbate!" at a guy from Japan and then had to admit it was pretty much the only Japanese I knew, after he tried to start a conversation. People who had already finished were riding their bikes back to their hotels and cheering us on.

I met another guy from Mexico. He didn't speak much English and at that point, I didn't speak much Spanish. I walked with him for a minute. He told me that his entire family, pretty much, was up ahead watching. Mother, sister, mother-in-law, sister-in-law...he rattled off relations. As soon as we got in their line of vision, he ran. I ran with him. They cheered. Once we were away from them...he walked. I bid him adios and kept running.

The turnaround! Yay!! A race official had been keeping track of numbers on a sheet of paper. I saw him make a check mark. "La ultima!" he said. The last one! Yay!! Across the mat....doodly computer sounds...I wondered who at home was still awake and tracking me.

And then...that magical feeling left me pretty quickly. I tried to run. My legs wanted to walk. I saw a woman walking completely doubled over. Every so often, she'd stop and try to straighten up and double over again. I ran as fast as I could (not fast) to get past her because she was making me hurt. 3.2 miles to go. THREE POINT TWO WHOLE MILES???? Ahh, there it is. The "finish line is forever and ever away" feeling. Doh.

So, I walked, still a fast walk. A woman passed me. She was power walking like WHOA. She was FAST, staring at the ground, determined. I wanted a friend. I was lonely. I caught up to her. She was from Canada and she was PISSED about her swim, her bike, her total time. We chatted for a minute but I couldn't keep that walking speed. I kept walking and then...about 2 miles left. I think. I saw the flag! There was a giant Mexican flag along the shore that was visible for a long time before town. I loved seeing that flag.

This is ridiculous. I'm so close. RUN, dang it, run! So I ran. I discovered something awesome - I was using different muscles than I was walking. So, everything that hurt while I was walking no longer hurt! Granted, other things hurt now, but my other leg muscles were getting a break! I relayed that as I passed fast walking woman. She looked at me like I'd grown another head out of my butt.

I MADE myself keep running. My Garmin, of course, was dead, but I'm guessing I was doing 14 minute miles or so. Maybe slower. But it was all I had. TONS of people on the street were cheering for me. In heavily accented English, a woman yelled, "You are going to be an IRONMAN!!" People yelled, "Keep going!" As if I had a choice. A man and a woman stopped and cheered gave me a blatant "Aww, bless your heart!" look at my ridiculous, stiff shuffle. I passed a few more walkers. Everyone at the five thousand aid stations between me and the finish line was offering me gatorade. The thought made me want to throw up. "No, no mas, gracias!" I kept yelling.

Toward the end, lots of previous finishers, wearing medals, were yelling and screaming and holding beer and high-fiving me. I passed one more walker. I wanted the finisher chute to myself! There was my husband, high-fiving me, yelling that I did it. There were the race officials, pointing me toward the chute. I took a step toward the turnaround instead. "Una vez mas?" I joked.

And then....

You know on sitcoms and cartoons, where the main character gets conked in the head or passes out for some other reason? He starts floating through the air, everything goes white, no sense of reality whatsoever....

THAT is an Ironman finish chute. Suddenly, I was no longer shuffling. I was running. I was sprinting, with perfect form. My feet weren't touching the ground. I felt no pain. No stiffness. I felt nothing. I was vaguely aware of the crowd, more aware of the finish line, the numbers, the announcer. "That is Kate E____ from the United States!!" He seemed to be taking his time because I was the only one in the chute. Everything moved in slow motion and hyperspeed at the same time.

I raised my arms triumphantly. Come on, I'm almost across the line, get on with it...

"Kate, the words you've been waiting to hear..."

My heart was pounding. I was vaguely aware of the glow necklace smacking me in the chin.


I started to say it along with him and then realized that I was in danger of making a weird face in my finisher picture if I did.


A volunteer, a middle aged guy who was I think American (or definitely not Hispanic, anyway), met me at the finish line. I looked down and I was magically wearing a medal (I swear!) Another guy put a towel around my shoulders and I yanked it off. Yuck, I was already hot! I let out an audible sigh of relief when someone else grabbed that awful timing chip off my ankle and I inspected the chafe marks from it. The volunteer asked me how I felt. All I could say was "I can't believe I just freaking did that!" He pointed me to all my options - cold kiddie pools, gatorade (OMG NO MORE GATORADE!!), water (yes PLEASE - they gave me two ice cold bottles), are you ok, doesn't look like you're limping, you look better than a lot of people I've seen tonight, do you want to sit? (NO, I'll never get back up!) do you want food?

Yuck. Food. I had heard from others that there would be noodle soup. I really should eat. "Um...are there noodles...or something?" He led me to a table and told me he could get me a cup o'noodles, and there's pizza.

OMG PIZZA. There was a table covered in pizza boxes and suddenly I wanted pizza like I hadn't eaten for a week.

I think I can maybe try some pizza....

I grabbed a piece and he grabbed me a piece and I didn't resist when he guided me to a chair. I shoveled in both pieces, taking maybe three bites before I swallowed. He returned with a cup o'noodles, seemed to be convinced that I wasn't going to lose consciousness, and moved on.

I got my finisher shirt and photo taken while I waited for the noodles to cool. They didn't cool. I got impatient and went to find my husband - he was right there, yay! - and to collect my things. He became the wrangler of my two bottles of water, shirt, towel, and noodles as I collected my gear bags and dropped my bike off with the bike transport company. I put stuff in bags, made the husband carry them (I had madly painful sunburn on my arms and looping the bags over them HURT), and ate my noodles on the cab ride to the hotel.

Ha. What an anticlimactic end. Sorry about that. But there ya go. There were no pictures of me DURING the run (probably 'cuz it was dark the whole time, ha) but I have some good finish chute pictures. Here, I'll end with those!

Didn't see that camera - this is a legit facial expression!

Putting my arms down too early. And the necklace is up around my face. Whoops!
Airborne! Proof I was really running!! Crossed the line and still running!!
And boom. There it is.

Ironman pics are insanely expensive, btw, but I may still buy some. Forgive the watermarks. :)

My goal was to finish this by the end of the year, and like the race itself, I cut it close but I got it done! More blogs to come...I'll list the contents of my gear bags, because others who did the same were immensely helpful to me. And of course, the year in review and my plans for 2013 and lots more.

Thank you, all of you, for your support this year. Every last one of you. You have no idea how much it meant or how many times I just wanted to give up on the whole idea of this thing. Chase your dreams, ya'll. Impossible is just a stupid concept that the world makes up.

Happy new year!!!

Run time: 6:05:21
Race time: 16:28:31 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Ironman Cozumel recap: Part 4, the rest of the bike (no pics, all my bike pics look the same...)

Been traveling. Been doing Christmasy stuff. Going to try to get this finished for ya'll....

So there I was, pedaling. My foot got really, really freaking hot. On fire hot. I figured the mystery Mexican foot rub cream must've had some Icy Hot-ish properties. I decided that hot foot felt much better than painful foot. However, I was still really, really not sure if I could finish the bike, and even less sure if I could finish it under the cutoff. I didn't even let myself think about running on that foot. Everything was taking longer than I thought that day. It was hot. I felt nauseated. My nutrition plan (solid every 45 - 60 minutes) had completely fallen apart. I tried to get it back on track. 45 minutes after the special needs stop, retrieve gel from cleavage. Try to hold self together.

There were the people, the crowds, the kids, again. This time I didn't have it in me to whoop and yell and pump my fist. I managed some weak waves and smiles instead. It kept me going, though. I mean, can you really ride past smiling people yelling, "SI SE PUEDE!" and say, nah, nah, really, no puedo, and get off your bike in front of them?

This time, there were plenty of people veering right into the transition area, and I had to veer left. Someone else made the left turn with me and tried to be encouraging as he passed me. I passed Chankanaab again. Loop 3, officially on.

The beginning of the third loop was lonely. For a while I saw nobody except the carnage....people stopped along the side of the road. A guy kicking the dirt next to his sad, fallen bike. He asked me in Spanish if I had a camera. A what? Yep, I heard him right. Tienes una camera?? No, no tengo. What the heck did he want a camera for? And why would I have one? I rode off wondering if camera meant something in Spanish besides, umm, camera.

A race official on a motorized scooter pulled up beside me and asked me if I was ok and if it was my last lap. I responded in the affirmative, both counts, and told him that I was t r y i n g! He smiled and sped off. I was dreading the windy part coming up ahead. I was soooo dreading it. The aid stations no longer had gels, and I was out. One of them gave me a warm, mushy half banana. I took one bite and threw the rest toward a dog that was scavenging along the side of the road. I was hungry, but not THAT hungry. Yuck.

About 89 miles in, I passed a guy standing next to his bike. I asked him if he was ok. He forced a too-big smile and made the "cut" hand gesture. "I'm out." I gave him a sympathetic "awww". Then it hit me. If I don't make the cutoff, I don't make the cutoff....


I did some quick calculating. All I had to do was average 14 mph for the entire time I was pedaling, accounting for the break. I still had my stopwatch counting the race time. I was over 14. I could do it, even with the wind. I swapped Gatorade bottles at the next aid station and they handed me a fresh bottle of watermelon, my favorite. It was ice-cold. I took a huge gulp and it tasted awesome. GAME ON.

I turned into the windy part and I didn't slow down NEARLY as much as I had on the other two loops. I couldn't pedal too hard without my foot getting twingey, but I could pedal pretty freaking fast in an easy gear and it was fine. I started passing people. I yelled encouragement at each one, updating them on how much time was left, telling them we were going to make it. I recalculated every 10 miles and every 30 minutes. Each time I did, the numbers were more and more in my favor. One hour, 12 miles to go. I relayed this to a downtrodden-looking American girl.

I passed the special needs station and wondered if the volunteers recognized me. I waved. Look, I'm still going!! I passed a girl from Argentina. "Si se puede!" I told her and she responded in kind. I turned out of the windy section and watched as my Garmin shot from 13 mph up to 17 mph with no increased effort. I had plenty of time to make it. PLENTY of time.

The only thing I was afraid of was a flat tire, but I put that out of my head as soon as I thought it. If I got a flat, I would grab my bike and run like hell.

The people I passed on that last stretch were much more optimistic. Everyone was smiling. We double-checked our calculations with each other. We're going to make it!! 30 minutes until the bike cutoff. I figured nobody would still be out there, but I was wrong! The cheering crowds had thinned, but people were still out yelling. People on scooters honked, arms shot out of taxi windows to wave at me. The sun was setting but trees blocked my view. Guess I wasn't going to get to see the Cozumel sunset today after all.

It was just getting to the point of being too dark for my sunglasses when I made the final turn. A little boy sprinted alongside me, yelling "SI SE PUEDE SI SE PUEDE SI SE PUEDE!!!!" It was almost a mile after my Garmin read 112, but there it was....the transition area. A crowd of people still cheering. According to my watch, I was 10:19 into the race....11 minutes before the bike cutoff.

You guys, you would've thought I had just won the entire race. I pumped a fist into the air and started screaming. "I MADE IT I MADE IT HELL YES I MADE IT!!!!!" I  almost didn't see the volunteer telling me to stop my bike and then I almost didn't get my foot unclipped in time. I got off my bike, and another volunteer whisked it away. And then.....hoooooly wobbly legs.

I did plenty of bike-to-run brick workouts during training, but mostly shorter ones. I did run after 50-60 mile rides a few times, but that was nothing compared to trying to move my legs after 112 miles. I felt like they were moving every which way but forward. A volunteer went to grab me, but just as quickly, my legs figured themselves out again. Someone shoved my bag into my hands. Into the T2 tent.

I sat down and yanked off my helmet, shoes and socks. A volunteer offered me a tube labelled "repellente." I asked if I needed it. "There are...mosquitoes," came the reply, so I rubbed it on. I had seen advice on the internet to change socks for the run. I cursed that advice as I fought with my fresh socks. I rubbed body glide over everything that could possibly chafe. Another volunteer helped me put my bike gear back in the bag. I popped the mystery blue pills, why not? There was another pb&j in my run bag. I grabbed it and a bag of water, hopped up, and took off running out of the tent without even thinking about it.

Bike time: 8:03:55
T2 time: 4:26

Conclusion, soon to come....

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ironman Cozumel: part 3, the craziest bike ride (part 1)

Apologies for the long delay. I got an eye infection, immediately followed by the head cold from hell after coming back. (I think an Ironman race plus a loooong travel day plus a climate change will utterly destroy one's immune system!) I tried to blog while couch bound this weekend, but it was too much thinking.

Sooo, I ran my bike out of the ridiculously long transition area. The people - holy cow, the crowd blew me away. As I approached the final turn out of transition (just the fact that I'm saying that pretty much tells you that t1 should have been considered an event on its own) I saw TONS of people. Yelling, cheering, cowbell-ringing, noise-making, people. They yelled out my name, they yelled out my number. I spotted my husband (it's nice when your cheerleader is over 6' tall) yelling and cheering and taking pictures. It was pretty freaking great.

The people were on the other side, promise!!

See, there are some of them...

Mounted my bike and took off down the road. I entered all-out "OMG I LOVE MY BIKE!" mode. The weather felt great, warm but not too hot. I had a strategy - the course was three loops. I planned to take loop one super easy and get a feel for the wind and the course. Loop two, I would take a little harder, and loop three would be a little harder if I had it in me. Our resort was 3-4 miles down the road from the park, and I wondered if anyone would be out in front. Sure enough, there was a small crowd! A guy enthusiastically yelled at me, "Good job, great tuck position!!" There was a couple with a huge American flag, and I spotted another guest I had met earlier - her husband and their friend were doing the race. (I had actually met them at the airport when I saw him rifling through his carry-on, which included a bike helmet, and then it turned out they were staying at our resort, too.) She recognized me and started cheering louder. There were speakers blasting music. It was pretty sweet.

There were a couple more hotels down the road with similar scenes. The Iberostar had a guy with a mic and a PA system and he yelled "HEEEEEYYYYYY!" at me. Grabbed a gatorade at the first water stop. The water stop volunteers, as a whole, were pretty great. I would yell out what I needed, they would point me to the right person, and I'd slow down enough that I could grab it from the volunteer, who would usually run with me for a few steps to make sure I got it. That's gotta be a pretty tiring job.

Aid stations every 10k. 18 total. One down, 17 to go. I would use them as landmarks. Stop and stretch every 4 or so if I needed it. I'd never done a long ride without a handful of breaks - kinda hard when you have to go into gas stations to buy food and drinks, plus riding solo, I felt like I needed the mental break for safety - and I didn't know how all my body parts would hold up with constant riding. Promising myself the opportunity to rest for a few minutes was a confidence booster. 

I will take this opportunity to give a completely unsolicited shout-out to my skirt sports multisport top. It has what's called a "cleavage alley pocket", which is exactly what it sounds like. It comfortably holds two gels and was a GREAT place to stash them.

The water bottle I'd put on my bike that morning was warm and gross. At the second aid station, I chucked it and grabbed a bottle from a volunteer. It was COLD!! It had ICE in it!!!! And best yet - it was a souvenir Ironman Cozumel water bottle!!! I was waaay too giddy about that water bottle.

Pretty pretty...(not me so much, I mean the ocean)

About 15ish miles in, instead of boring trees everywhere, I came face to face with the ocean. White sand beaches, deep deep turquoise water, and crashing waves - it was amazingly beautiful. The road turned and I knew we were rounding the southern tip of the island. And THAT is where the wind kicked in. No trees, nothing to shield from a pretty gnarly crosswind coming right off the ocean. I knew it would be windy and I kept pedaling fast but in an easy gear. I tried to focus on the beautiful scenery. That worked briefly. But then I dealt with what I always deal with when a ride starts getting tough - my negative brain kicked in. My hip is tiiiiiight. My heel hurts. WTF? Why does my heel hurt?? That's seriously random. To make things even more fun, the terrain changed and there was what seemed like a 2,000 mile stretch of bumpy, paved-over gravel. I seriously thought that crap only existed on country roads in Ohio (although I was momentarily thankful that some of my longer rides had included it.) Even better, there was a perfectly paved bike trail running alongside the main road. I kept staring at it longingly.

I wanna ride over thee-eere.....

I was later told by a random person that they were going to use that for the race, but decided against it because it was narrower than the main road, which meant more of a challenge for people to pass.

Speaking of passing, a lot of the pros were on their....second? third? loop. I got passed pretty frequently. I passed the special need station. I wanted my bag. I wanted my sandwich and my aleve. Stupid hip flexor. There were a couple of hills. NO WAY. They weren't big hills at all, but anything in that wind just didn't make it more fun. Siiiiigh. That part of the island was super pretty, though. There was the occasional bar or souvenir stand, usually with someone out front cheering and waving, but we were definitely away from civilization. Mostly just water and beaches and crashing waves.

After an eternity (ok, 24.5 miles), the road became smooth again. And I never did take a rest break. I cheered out loud as a woman passing me smiled and reassured me that we'd be out of the wind soon, too. And we were. I figured that sucktastic part wouldn't be too bad next time around, now that I knew what to expect.

As we got closer into town, there were more and more people. People were gathered in small groups, and lots of them had kids with them. They cheered for everyone passing like it was their best friend out there. I heard lots of "Anima! Adelante! Vamos, chica! Si se puede!!" and responded with thumbs up, waves, gracias, etc. And then there was an officer directing us to turn into town.....

.....and holy cow. Everyone in Cozumel must've been watching the race. The streets were literally lined with people. Loud, freaking out people. Little stores were blasting out rock and techno music and I broke into a dance. (Yes. On my bike. This is possible.) A woman looked me in the eye and yelled in English, "You are BEAUTIFUL! You can DO IT!!" For a few miles I got this big old stupid grin on my face. I felt like a freaking rock star. This was probably the most fun I've had in a race, EVER. EVER.

A few miles of that, and then I had to pass t1 and turn left back out of town. There were still a lot of people on my way out as I passed by hotels and touristy shops. I double-checked the distance on my Garmin as well as the time. I was going a little slower than I planned, but nothing too concerning. A sign said "Chankanaab: 4". Four miles to the beginning of the loop? That would put me at around 41 miles, not 39 point something....aww crap. The bike course was gonna be long. I'd have to readjust. I tried to recalculate times and speeds until a few minutes later....."Four KILOMETERS. Durrr." I corrected myself out loud.

I was riding the high of the crowds for quite a while. Started the second loop and kept an eye out for my hotel again. There it was, and THERE WAS MY HUSBAND!!!!! I skidded to a stop, long enough for a kiss. I pointed out various parts of the course: "That part sucks. THAT part is AWESOME! I'm a little slower than I thought I would be." He told me I was doing fine.

Past the other hotels. Gee, I didn't realize how boring this part of the course is. My foot hurts again. What is going on??? Don't think about it and you'll forget it hurts. Think about something else. Think about anything else. I hit 50 miles. 6 miles to the halfway point, after that 4 miles to special needs, after that 4 miles until the turn out of the wind. Here comes the crappy part....

I tried to focus on the scenery again and found myself not caring about it. It seemed like it took HOURS to go six miles. My foot hurt. I couldn't ignore it. The pain started shooting from my heel, up the outside of my foot to the ball. I slowed waaay down. I caught myself going 10 mph. I started talking to my foot out loud, sometimes growling at it, sometimes yelling "ouch!", swearing, telling it to shut up.

53 miles in. I was gritting my teeth and moving forward oh-so-slowly, hunched over in aero position, when in slow motion I felt a huge jolt forward, heard horrific metal scraping noises, heard a male voice yelling "AAAAH!" and heard a female voice (oh wait, that was me) yelling out a string of every forbidden four-letter word known to man. Try to shift gears, is my chain still on, do I have a flat tire now, unclip my foot so I don't fall....I swerved but miraculously stayed upright. A woman passing me looked at me wide-eyed and asked if I was ok. "I'm ok," I said, and asked what happened, if I'd been hit, if the other guy was ok....but that part, I think, came out in a stream of words in random order. She looked confused and kept going. I looked back and saw a bike lying down and a guy with an aero helmet sitting up next to it. I kept moving forward.

I don't know whatever happened to that guy. I assume he was ok because he was conscious, but nobody ever passed me and said, "Hey, I ran into your bike, sorry about that!" I kept waiting for it, though.

That woke me up for about a minute. But then...back to the grind. I tried pedaling with mostly my left foot. I tried engaging my core more. I tried various positions. I tried moving my foot around. Everything would work for a minute and then I was in pain again. I started coasting. A lot. One can't coast much in a crosswind. I hit 56 miles in 3:45. Not bad. I was setting myself up for a 7:30 bike, maybe less. That would be ok. The special needs station was NOT at mile 60, it was somewhere around 61. It felt like a cruel joke, but then I saw the writing on the road: SPECIAL NEEDS AHEAD." YES. I wanted that Aleve sooooo badly.

I stopped at the special needs station and it took forever for someone to get my bag. FOREVER. The first thing I did was dug for the three little blue pills in a ziploc bag. Can of V8, sandwich....where was my snickers bar?? I must've put it in the wrong bag somehow. I was standing and shifted weight to the painful foot, and discovered that I could barely even stand on it. I walked forward a few steps and limped. CRAAAAP. I turned to a police officer. "Hay un medico cerca?" He said no. I must've gotten some kind of look on my face that elicited pity, because I heard a few people asking, and then another volunteer came  running up to me. "You need a medic? What's wrong?" I told him my foot. It was killing me. It really, really hurts. I have no idea why. This has never happened before.

Took off my sock and shoe and plopped down on the ground while someone else held my bike. At first he told me it was because my foot and ankle were scraped up and bloody. Yes, they were. That happened at some point during the swim and I noticed it when I came out of the water, and no, I don't know how it got there but that is NOT what hurts! I directed him to the bottom of my foot and he figured it out. He told me he thought I pulled a muscle and started massaging it. That hurt like HELL but I made him keep going. As long as I was sitting, I took nibbles of my pb&j, which tasted like cardboard, but I needed to eat. I thought to myself how calm I was being about the whole thing....and as soon as I had that thought, THEN the waterworks started. I have to ride 50+ more miles and then I HAVE TO RUN A MARATHON on a foot that I can barely stand on. This is it. It's over. No way am I going to make it. "!" I sobbed. "That's all. I just want to finish." "Of course, finish, is very important," said my new friend who was still rubbing my disgusting, sweaty foot with his bare hands. He left for a second and came back with some cream that he rubbed into it. I finished 2/3 of my sandwich and tossed the rest into the garbage pile. After a while, he asked if it felt better. A little. A very little bit. He gave me the cream and insisted that I keep it. It barely fit into my shorts pocket. Then he handed me two big blue pills in a blister pack. For pain. Take these. We ran into a minor language barrier. I was too stressed for Spanish. I told him I had just taken some pills that I had in my bag. He got confused and looked for my bag. No, I don't need my bag. I HAD pills in them. I took them. That's why I don't want more. Finally, I zipped them into my shirt pocket. "Mas tarde," I said, and that seemed to satisfy him.

I got myself upright again. I was not at all feeling confident about biking, but I remembered what I had told pretty much everyone before I left. If my leg falls off during this race, I will duct tape it back on and drag it across the finish line. Now I was thinking of having to tell everyone I quit the race because MY FOOT HURT???? Not an option. The volunteer gave me a push back onto the road (yes, really!)

I looked at my watch, which was in stopwatch mode and keeping a running total of my race time. I had spent 15 minutes at special needs. This meant....I had about 4 hours to finish the bike. My foot still hurt, but I could pedal now. Still slow, though, and I was still very worried about holding myself together. And then...would I even be able to run?? be continued (but ya'll know I made it, so this isn't all that suspenseful....)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Ironman Cozumel: part 2, race morning and swim

Race morning. I felt surprisingly calm. Slathered myself head to toe with sunscreen before I put my swimsuit on. (I am about as ghostly white as they come!) I discovered that the sunscreen took off the sharpie on my arm. Arrgh. One more thing to get done that morning. Swimsuit on, sweatshirt and yoga pants on over it, and flip-flops. The resort buffet had opened extra early for us (LOTS of IM people staying there). I got pancakes, like just about everyone else, ha. I got a big helping of smoked salmon (but they didn't have the croissants I liked to put it on, boo!) for protein and got a cup of coffee and some juice. I grabbed a banana after all that and nibbled on it as I wandered back to my room. Contrary to the way that just sounds, food was NOT going down easily but I was trying to get as much to eat as I could.

Ran into huz walking out of the room. I did my pre-race bathroom thing - very important! - and made a fresh pb&j for my bike special needs bag. (I had swiped some bread and strawberry jam from breakfast the day before, and had brought my own pb from home.) Huz made sure I had everything - yup, I had carefully laid it all out the night before and checked it about 5 times - and we rode the shuttle to the swim start. I got into a conversation about US politics with a New Zealander next to me.

Can I just say something that was awesome about this race? There were people there from SO MANY COUNTRIES. I met lots of Americans, and of course some Mexicans, but I also met or saw people from Holland, Germany, France, Canada, Argentina, Columbia, Japan, and I don't even remember where else. It was pretty cool.

The ginormous, still overwhelming transition area was buzzing with excitement. I tried to find a tire pump floating around but didn't see one. After some debate, I decided to walk my bike to the other side of the transition area to the mechanic. I tried to leave my special needs bags where my bike was, but got told by a volunteer that I couldn't. He was one of the many kids volunteering, and he spoke no English. My nerves had just about killed my Spanish speaking ability, but with much frustration I finally understood that I had to drop off my bags first before I could do anything with my bike. He tried to take my morning clothes bag, but my pants and flip-flops needed to go in it and I managed to communicate that to him: "Ahora no. No toma. Mas tarde por favor!!"

Shown: about .00000001% of the transition area.

There were two buses parked of course, on the other side of transition for the special needs bags. Under each window was a range of bib numbers, and I handed each bag up to the window of the appropriate volunteer. Back to my bike; on the way I found someone with a sharpie to re-number my arm. Took the bike to get the tires inflated. Back to the rack. Clothes off, into my bag, hung on the bike for the volunteer to collect. I was walking around in my swimsuit feeling quite naked.

The elites started about 20 minutes before the age groupers, so we got to watch them take off. When they started, the dolphins started putting on a show. It was SWEET. There were tons of them, doing flips, upright and skidding backwards across the water. SO cool. We all had to line up around the dock. I waited for a long time to get in line, not wanting to end up in the front getting run over. I finally joined the line and we went to walk around the dock, but ended up having to turn around because there just wasn't enough room for all of us. So, I didn't get to see the dolphin show as close-up as I would've liked. Awww. :(

As we were walking, the woman next to me looked terrified and blurted out, "I really can't swim that well!" Eeek! I tried to give her a pep talk, told her just to move forward, she could hold onto the boats and paddlers and buoys if she needed a rest.


We had to jump off the dock, which, ok, was a little scary. A guy next to me jokingly pretended like he was going to push me. I held my nose, counted uno, dos, tres, and jumped in. I was surprised that my feet touched the bottom when I landed. I tried treading water but the waves kept pushing me back to the shore, and I ended up way off to the side but in a spot where I could stand up. The guy next to me, in heavily accented English, said, "I'm a bad swimmer!" Really?? I played therapist again. We discussed swim strategies, me in Spanish to him, him in English back. Despacio. Tranquilo. Relax. Easy.

No, I don't know where I am in this picture!!

I was chilling in the water (literally, it was COLD if you weren't moving) when I heard the horn. I had planned to wait a few seconds, but there weren't many people around me, so I started swimming. Eek. There were a LOT of people and I'd never done a mass start like that. People were everywhere. Nobody was really aggressive, but I got pushed around a lot unintentionally. Don't panic. Nobody's trying to hurt you. Just swim. After a few minutes, it cleared out enough that I could get into my normal rhythm. Three strokes, breathe. Three strokes, breathe. Nice and relaxed. Just like in the pool. I found my groove. The water was choppier than it had been the other day, but I was moving forward. I watched the coral. I watched someone's watch floating to the bottom - doh! I couldn't tell how deep the water was but the visibility was amazing. I saw a ray skimming along the bottom, a safe distance from 3,000 churning pairs of arms and legs.

I was so looking forward to the turn and it seemed to take a while to get there. I sneaked a look at my watch, which I had put into stopwatch mode and started at  the swim start. It was past 20 minutes, and I hadn't even gone 800 m yet? But wait, I'm swimming against the current right now. I'll make up for it when we turn around...if I ever get there....but I saw people starting to go the opposite direction and realized we were close.

The buoy was a bit crowded when I turned. I tried to follow a guy through the next turn, but apparently his aim was off, because he plowed headfirst into the next buoy. Crap. I tried to get around him, but the buoy floated after me. I tried to get around it and it stayed on me like we were magnetic. Finally I stopped, treaded water, and yelled (more in amusement than terror) "The stupid thing's attacking me!!" An official motioned to me to pass it on the inside. Sweet.

I was swimming with the current now. YES. I didn't even have to do much work and I felt the waves pushing me forward anyway. I was back in the groove. There weren't many fish to see; I suspect we scared them all away. I did see little tiny fish? bugs? Something with glowing blue dots on them, like they were lit up by led. A few jellyfish decided they loved my feet and ankles but I mostly ignored them. I waved to a scuba diver taking pictures, and then *I* was the one who plowed into a buoy. PAY ATTENTION. I could hear music and the announcer when we passed by the dock. I managed to grin and give a thumbs up to a serious-faced volunteer sitting on a raft, who nodded at me seriously.

In very little time, I was at the last turn. And then......ridiculousness. The current seemed much stronger than it had in the beginning. I watched the coral. I was passing it, but slooooowly. I resisted the temptation to look at my watch for a while, but finally I gave in. 1:30. That was my goal time. Dangit. But I could still shoot for 1:45 - my high estimate - and I didn't have too far to go. But I was moving soooo slowly. I watched a yellow buoy over my left shoulder. Stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe....still there. Repeat....STILL THERE. In the same stupid spot. WHAT THE HECK?? This part of the course was getting more and more crowded. I was getting more frustrated and instead of backing off, like I had done earlier on, I stayed in the same position, plowing into people right back and asserting my place. People were moving in every direction. I got clobbered across the back of my head by what felt like a 400-lb dude's arm. My left calf seized up. Awwww crap. OK, do what you do in the pool, keep going. I kicked with one foot and pulled harder with my arms until it loosened back up. My nose was BURNING from the salt water. I breathed with every stroke just to get my nose out of the water for a second of sweet relief. I kept getting smacked in the face with a wave when I tried to look up. I accidentally got a mouthful of water and my throat burned. The smell of fuel from boats and jetskis permeated the air. My armpits were killing me. What the...they NEVER chafe when I'm swimming in the pool. Probably the salt water. WHY had I ignored the table full of body glide? But I'm so close, it'll be over soon. Checked my watch....1:43. I'm not getting out in 1:45. But I'll make the 2:20 cutoff. No matter what, I'll make the cutoff. I swam harder just so I could get out of the water. I could see neon-shirted volunteers on the dock. I was getting closer to them, just sooooo slooooowly. Are my armpits going to hurt like this all day?? Don't even think about all day, just get out of the water....

Whyyyyyyy aren't we moving???

FINALLY I made it to a staircase...a very slippery one. I tried to stand and I was wobbly, still rocking back and forth. I made it to my feet, walked a few steps, then broke into a jog. I saw a sea of faces, heard cheers, couldn't make sense of anything. I looked down. My watch said 2:03. Whew. I wasn't happy about that, but I'd made the cutoff.

Kate vs. Staircase + seasickness
Victorious over the stairs! I think I look pretty badass in this picture. Also, very pale.

There were showers at the end of the dock and I rinsed off the salt water as best as I could. I pointed my raw armpits up at the nozzle, but it didn't do much. Grabbed my bag off the rack and ran for the changing tents....and nearly ran into the wrong one. I wondered why a dude was guarding the women's tent, ha. Someone turned me in the right direction.

All of the things...

I sat down in one of the chairs and dumped my bag onto the ground. I had made out a list of instructions, but I ignored it and just started doing my thing. Suit off. Top on. While I was putting an ample supply of chamois cream in my nether regions, I had a thought and rubbed some onto my armpits to see if that would help. It did, for about two seconds, then....AAAAAHBURNBURNBURNBURNBURN! I frantically wiped it off with a towel, then a volunteer came up to me with vaseline. I grabbed a glob and finally found sweet relief. A woman outside the tent was throwing up loudly, over and over. "Bless her heart," someone else said. Used the porta potty, finished getting all my gear on, sucked down a tangerine gel. It tasted horrible combined with the salt taste already in my mouth. A volunteer offered me what looked like an IV bag. I was confused until I realized it was water. I bit a hole in the bag and ran out of the tent, trying to rinse out my salty, dry mouth.

Bikes everywhere. But where was mine??? 2327, where's 2327?? I started yelling. Another woman yelled back. "Right here, you ran past it!" Doh. Yes, I did. I reoriented myself, grabbed my bike and started the crazy long jog out of transition.

Swim time: 2:01:34
T1 time: 13:15 (longest. transition. ever.)

(Side note: I've heard from a lot of people that the swim was especially awful and LOTS of people didn't even make it past the swim. I've heard anywhere from 35-300 DNF'd, and most everyone reported swim times much slower than they anticipated, including the pros.)

Next up: the bike....