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 


  1. Once again, you have me in tears. You are AMAZING! Go Kate!

  2. EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! I just got all teary eyed!!!! Kate, congratulations!! Just so freaking awesome. WOO HOO!!!!!

  3. Goosebumps. I love my an Ironman finisher story !!