Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ironman Cozumel Race Report

Welcome to my Ironman Arizona Cozumel race report!

What happened in Arizona:
Wow... what a crazy couple of weeks it has been. For the past year, I had been planning on Ironman Arizona 2012 as my return to Ironman racing after taking two years off. I volunteered at IMAZ in 2011 in order to gain entry for the race. I knew the course well, I had previewed my competition (I wanted a Kona slot) and I knew what it would take to complete the race in 10hrs 15-20mins or so and I thought I was capable of that time, depending on conditions. I completed this race and won the AG with a time of 10:33 in 2008.

My husband and I were staying with his younger brother in Scottsdale and his parents (my in-laws) were also in town for the race. With the family gathered, they wanted to cook an early Thanksgiving dinner on the Friday night before the race. I figured two nights before the race, it would be fine. The following morning, my husband, Rich, and I headed to transition to rack our bikes and hand in the bike and run bags. I remember telling him that I felt *off* and that I thought it was just a little bit of nerves. Neither of us felt hungry so we headed to the movie theater and planned to eat a bigger meal immediately after watching Skyfall (new Bond movie). Unfortunately, we barely made it through the movie as we both got sick... projectile vomiting and diarrhea. We barely made it back to my brother-in-law's house as we were both feeling pretty nauseous. In the meantime, my brother in law had taken his 5 month pregnant wife to ER as she was experiencing the same nausea and diarrhea... the entire family was sick. Rich and I spent the rest of the evening barely moving from the couch and then to bed... the room was spinning around us :(

We set the alarm for 4am and decided we would reassess the situation at that time... if we could eat some food, we would try and race. However, we both continued to be sick throughout the night, and after one of my visits to the bathroom, I turned off the alarm. There was no way either of us was in a state to race... and certainly not race to our capabilities and goals.

The next morning, we gravitated from our bed to the couch but barely moved from the couch all day and we were not able to eat until later that night. Over 24 hours with no food. All day, I watched the race online/twitter updates but my personal disappointment in not being out there seemed to add to my nausea. I was psyched to see friends doing so well out there but I was intensely curious to know how my current fitness would have fared. It was much harder to deal with no race than a bad race... at least a result of some sort would have provided me some fitness data!

How I got into Cozumel:
Despite my weakened physical state, my A-type personality had already kicked into gear, problem-solving for another opportunity to race. I sent an email to Ken Glah's Endurance Sports Travel (EST) to see whether he had slots left for Ironman Cozumel the following weekend: two close friends - Beth Walsh ( and Brent Lorenzen - were planning to race. I also started looking into Ironman Los Cabos (but I didn't want to train through the winter) and Ironman Mont-Tremblant (it's too close to Kona) as possible alternatives for a race to qualify for Kona. I finally reached Ty at EST on Monday afternoon and he confirmed he had two slots remaining for Cozumel. I was still in a quandary... it would cost $2,000+ that I had not budgeted for, I had not planned time off from work and I knew little about the Cozumel course or conditions... I feared terrible heat and humidity... conditions that do not agree with me. Also, my husband had no interest in going to Cozumel... he wouldn't be able to get the extra time off work as easily as me and he seemed to have moved on from Arizona and was ready to get out on his cyclocross/mountain bikes for some winter fun. After a few texts with Beth and Brent, a call with Kim Schwabenbauer ( and word from my boss to "get my ass to Mexico", I took the plunge and signed up for Cozumel on Tuesday, flying out there solo two days later on Thanksgiving day.

I cannot say enough great things about EST... everything was taken care of. Normally, I would want to organize everything myself, pick my own place to stay/eat, but given the situation, I was more than happy to hand off all responsibility to Ken and his team. It was a perfect set up for my last-minute situation.

The water was choppy and the current looked as strong as the prior day's practice swim. These were by far the roughest conditions the race had ever experienced. However, Kim had given me great feedback on where to line up for the swim and that advice was reiterated by Ken Glah so I was not at all stressed. I lined up to jump off the dock but the line was moving incredibly slowly so I jumped in without any time to spare. However, when I jumped into the water (6ft drop), my goggles flew off and I lost them. Oh crap. I turned into a total drama queen, panicking and asking for assistance in locating my goggles. Thankfully, 3 guys sprung into action and within a minute or so, my goggles were retrieved (thank goodness for the clear blue waters of Chakanaab). It did mean that I was not where I wanted to be when the gun went off but I just had to go with it. The swim is effectively a rectangle where you swim into the current for 800m before swimming with the current for about 2km and then turning back into the current for another 1km or so. I never look at my watch during the swim but it felt like I reached the far buoy at the 2.8km mark fairly quickly. However, when we turned back into the current, I felt like I was making zero progress. I was horrified to see 1:18 on my watch as I exited the water. WTF? Okay, J, just move on and forget about your swim time.

Coach's instructions were for me to ride a pyramid of watts by lap (1@ 170w, 2@ 180w and 3@ 170w) so I set off focused solely on my SRM. For some reason my HRM was not picking up my heart rate but I didn't really care since I never focus much on heart rate early in an ironman race. The power targets felt comfortable and I was focused on staying aero, eating and picking off fellow competitors. I was also chuckling to myself that I must be so far out of the AG race, that this was now all about having some fun, enjoying the scenery and putting some *data* into race practice so that I could use it in training for Los Cabos (Blanco had just signed up for the race so I was thinking I'd be doing the Mexican double).

I had read Sonja's race report ( and for some reason 1hr 52 per larger lap (39mi) was stuck in my head as a reasonable target so when I hit 39 miles in 1hr 45mins, I figured I was doing okay. I had not been passed during the lap either... though my interpretation of that information was that my swim *had REALLY sucked* rather than the notion that I might be riding well! LOL. The winds were strong and therefore my speed varied quite a bit throughout the laps. From T1 to Punta Sur (about 13-14miles), I seemed to average 24-25mph (I may even have seen 27-28mph) but once you hit the coast, my speed seemed to be more like 19mph. I recalled from Sonja's report and from talking to Kim that once you hit the orange building and make a left-hand turn back towards town, there would be a strong tailwind and you'd be going 24mph+ again. This was not the case last Sunday. While, we no longer had the strong headwind, the wind didn't seem to give much of a benefit either and I was only able to ride in the 22-23mph range.

The second lap was my only experience with packs of drafters but I did hear from those that swam faster than I, that there was some major drafting going on throughout the race. In my case, a few miles after I hit the coast on lap two, a group of about 8 guys came by hanging on one another's wheel... and I mean right on the wheel... there was no attempt to maintain a gap. They passed me but then seemed to slow so then I had to hit the gas and ride ~260w for 30 seconds to get back in front. I settled back into my watts and I glanced back and then they were on my frickin' wheel. Luckily, bike special needs came up and they chose not to stop while I went in to pick up my bottles with Osmo nutrition and some more Clif Bloks. I was glad to be rid of them because I just didn't want to be inadvertently caught up in their cheating.

The wind seemed to pick up even more on the third lap and all I could think is that I had not seen or passed anyone I know... I had scoped out the ladies in my AG and knew that Susanne Davis, Becky Paige, Alexandra Mitschke, Sophie Whitworth (listed entrant but did not race) and Tanya Houghton would probably be my major competition. I also knew Anne Thilges from San Francisco was a strong athlete in an older AG so if I were to pass her, it could be a good feedback on how I was doing... but I recognized no one and had zero feedback. I did realize that I was going to complete the bike in 5hrs 20mins or so, and that would be considered a decent ride in past years, so maybe I was doing okay.

I entered T2 to an empty tent and soon had about 6 volunteers answering to my every need. I speak fairly fluent Spanish from spending time in Spain and Latin America as a student and in my pre-race mental prep, I had thought through how to say everything in Spanish. I think it helped that I was confident in saying exactly what I needed in their language. I was out of T2 in just over 2mins. My legs felt great and I was thinking to myself that the bike seemed to have been well paced and I had not pushed too much at all. I hit the first mile in 8:30 (into a slight headwind) and I thought all was fine... I was just beginning to get my legs under me. My goal was to run as many 8:30s as possible and try and keep ALL the miles under 9mins. That plan did not last long as I needed to pee during mile 2 and hit that mile in 9:21. Same thing on mile 3, had to pee again and the split was 9:39.

This was not going well and I am only 3 miles in... Miles 4,5, 6 were a little better at 8:55, 8:51 and 9:02 but I seemed to be dwelling a little too long at aid stations (it was warm and I was intent on getting cold water and ice each km). I saw Susanne Davis when I was at mile 4 or so, and I figured she was about a mile ahead of me, possibly less, so that gave me a boost that I might be doing okay, but I still had no clue where I was in my AG. I don't think I saw many other AG women but I couldn't really tell who was Pro or AG.

The next next few miles did not improve but neither were they getting much worse with mile 7-9 at 9:02, 9:10, 9:03. I was now on lap two of the run and had started hitting the coke (actually it was Pepsi) pretty hard. I had to go to the bathroom somewhere between miles 10 and 11 and my split times slowed: 9:37, 10:05. However, I felt much better after the stop in the porta-pottie and mile 12 was back under 9mins at 8:54.

I was now in no-man's land... my longest training run was 12 miles (admittedly I ran/shuffled 13miles at Vegas 70.3) and I was really worried about my run endurance. My stomach also began to rebel big time and I visited the porta-pottie and the bushes at least 4x duing the next few miles. Miles 13-17 were 9:28, 9:51, 10:10, 11:16, 9:39. I even had to wait at one porta-pottie because the course was now getting quite crowded. Ugh!

Time for lap 3. Nutritionally, I went into damage control/problem-solving and stopped taking anything besides cold water for my head to cool down. No more coke, no more clif bloks, no more gatorade... NOTHING. I had seen Brent and Beth out on the course (both had lapped me) and I noted the gap to Susanne was also growing as she seemed to be running well but I still had no clue what position I might be in. It could be 2nd place... it could be 10th place?!? I was feeling tired but I knew I was on my final lap. I also took strength each time I stepped over a timing mat since it would send a little signal to Blanco that I was trucking along... it was nice to think about him tracking me from afar.

In town, I remember thinking how slick the concrete pavement had become as water from aid stations/runners was now making the roadway quite damp. Mile 18-20 was 9:56, 9:34, 10:01 (another porta-pottie stop!). By now there could not possibly have been anything in my stomach, so I was beginning to feel a bit more confident about running stronger... though I was barely able to pick up the pace: miles 21-22 were 9:40, 9:22. After rounding the far turnaround with just 4.5miles left to run back to town, I finally saw Alexandra Mitschke (I don't know her but I saw Alexandra as the name on her bib with the German flag) and realized that I was getting run down from behind. Again, I still didn't know what place I was in but I did not want to get passed in the final miles. Time to focus and not look back. I felt like I was moving quickly (faster than most others left on the course) but the mile splits were telling me otherwise: miles 23-26 were 9:31, 9:54, 9:44, 9:32. For those last four miles, I didn't take anything from aid stations, I didn't look back, I was just trying to inch myself closer and closer to the finish line without falling apart.

Post race:
I crossed the line in 10hrs 58mins and collapsed immediately onto a chair after the finish line. I saw Alex finish a minute or so after me and I was pleased that I had managed to hold her off... even if I was fighting for 10th place... I had no clue!

I won't bore you with too many details but I was shuttled off to medical with a temperature of 95f and blood pressure of 80/50 (very low for me). Nurses and red cross volunteers changed me into dry clothes then I was administered an IV and fed some cup-a-noodle soup to try and warm me up. I made it out of medical by around 7:30pm and collected my bike/belongings and met up with Ken Glah's group. I had my phone in my morning clothes' bag so that was my first chance to speak to Rich and confirm I was okay. He broke the news that I was 3rd in my AG behind Becky and Susanne. I was shocked and excited, knowing that last year there had been 3 slots in my AG (thanks again Sonja for the details!) and my AG was also the largest female AG in 2012. I was really hopeful there would be 3 slots.

Slot allocation:
The next day, I attended slot allocation/rolldown with Susanne (2nd W40-44) and Brent (won M40-44) and was mortified when I saw the actual slot allocation.

Only 2 slots for W40-44. However, I did notice that they had allocated a slot to W65-69 and I recalled from my review of results earlier that day that there were no finishers in that AG... so while I was nervous and on edge as they went through rolldown (no female slots rolled at all!), I had a sneaking suspicion that the slot would be awarded to my AG since there were no W65-69. Sure enough, after some confusion among the organizers, trying to figure out what to do with the slot, the British announcer said that it would be rolling to W40-44 and I leapt up and screamed that I wanted it before they even had the chance to call my name... that made everyone laugh!

I handed over $775, gave the organizers all the relevant details and was grinning from ear to ear that I had qualified for my 4th Ironman Hawaii... especially after the drama of the past week!   Time to head to awards with Brent and Susanne to celebrate our triple success!