Sunday, January 1, 2017

Race Report: Ironman Cozumel 2016

Chock full of mental, emotional, and physical challenges, Ironman Cozumel was truly an unforgettable experience!  This race exceeded my expectations and I would recommend it to anyone!

Pretty much the moment I finished IM Chattanooga 2015, I started planning for IM Cozumel 2016.  My goal was to qualify for Kona (spoiler alert - that did not even come close to happening).  For various reasons I didn't put in nearly enough training hours or intensity to fully prepare for this race.  Note that his had nothing to do with my coach Sharon, who is awesome - if I had done half of what she prescribed for me I'd probably have a ticket booked to Hawaii right now.  Regardless, Sharon, her husband Matt, my parents, and myself all booked flights and a sick VRBO right on the beach in a gated community on the island.  The race happened to coincide with my dad's birthday and Thanksgiving weekend so the whole trip was going to be one big celebration of triathlon and life.

Unfortunately, as the race got closer, my grandma fell ill.  I spent a lot of time with her and my grandpa growing up and have so many amazing memories of us together.  She was literally the best grandma I could have ever wanted or asked for.  We were close.  About a week prior to the trip her health continued to deteriorate and my parents cancelled their trip.  I rerouted mine and flew up to VA to see her before the race.  She was very frail and unable to eat or drink much at all.  Though she didn't look at all like the grandma of my childhood she still had the same spirit.  As soon as she saw me she said, "Tara!  What are you doing here?  What about your race???"  I hated it for her that she felt so terrible.  I wished there was something I could do to help her feel better.  I felt conflicted about going to Cozumel, but my mom and grandma both wanted me to go, and I did.

I was so thankful to be staying with Sharon and Matt in Mexico - thank you both for being amazing friends to me and the perfect company in a time when I had such an odd combination of feelings and thoughts in my mind.  I was a mixture of guilty for going on the trip (especially since my parents were not), sad about my grandma, happy to be there with friends I haven't seen in a long time, a part of me was excited to race, and then I also felt guilty about being excited about racing.  It was confusing sometimes.   And then the day before the race I got news that my grandma had passed away.  I felt some relief for her that she wasn't suffering any more and I also felt a lot more sadness. I decided I would dedicate this race to her.

The Swim (2.4 miles) - 1:09:44 (1:39/100 yds)
One of the reasons I picked IM Coz is because the swim is supposed to have a current the entire way. Plus, I figured I'd be more buoyant in the salt water.  And, as an added bonus, visibility is 100% so you can see coral, fish, and avoid swimming into other swimmers.  The start was a self-seeded rolling start.  I'm a huge fan of these because it brings the chaos level of mass starts down a bunch of notches.  I didn't feel the current like I thought I would.  In fact, I almost felt like I was being pushed in towards the shore from incoming waves.  From speaking with people after the race, it seems like the general consensus was that there wasn't much of a current the first half and then it picked up for the second half of the swim.  Hard to say for sure, but overall the swim was enjoyable.  It did feel long and I was disappointed to see that I had been swimming for over 1 hour when I got out of the water.
T1 - 5:14
I wore a full piece Zoot trisuit so didn't have to waste time changing in T1.  The suit was very comfortable (and aero) on the swim and on the bike!  In fact, I'm super excited to be racing for the Southeast Zoot Team in 2017!

The Bike (112 miles) - 5:50:42 (19.2 mph)
The bike is what I had been anxiously anticipating all summer.  Exactly how bad were the winds going to be???  Well, for the first two laps they weren't all that terrible.  Nothing worse than what I had trained in in Pensacola.  I was never afraid that I'd be pushed off the bike and was never out of control (FYI the depth of my rims was 50 mm).  I was still averaging around 18 mph during the 15-mile stretch of headwinds on the back side of the island.  I felt pretty good and at 4 hours into the ride I was at 80 miles - sweet 20 mph average!  Then things got significantly more difficult.  My neck started hurting really badly.  Holding my head up to look forward was SO painful but I knew looking down would negate the advantage of wearing an aero helmet and that it was also dangerous b/c of scattered water bottles on the course.  As soon as I made the turn into the wind on that 3rd loop it was the start of 15 miles of misery.  The wind had gotten a LOT stronger.  I tried not to look at my Garmin, but I did at one point I was going 12 mph!  Demoralizing!  I wanted to sit up and get out of the aero position so badly because it was so hard to pedal and because my neck was killing me.  However, this was the most important part of the course to stay aero.  I saw a lot of people sitting up and you could tell this part of the course was crushing people - mentally and physically.  What got me through that 15 miles was thinking about my grandma and talking to her and remembering all the times we had together.

T2 - 4:27
When I got off the bike my legs hurt so bad, I could barely walk into T2.  I wondered how in the world I was going to run.  I felt like this was a bad sign b/c last year at Chattanooga as soon as I got off the bike I felt better and had a spring in my step.  This year, my legs just felt HEAVY.  And I felt really nauseous.

The Run (26.2 miles) - 4:24:19 (10:05/mi)
As soon as I started running a woman in my age group passed me.  That usually doesn't happen on the run and was frustrating.  I tried to tell myself to just go at a comfortable pace and then hopefully my legs would warm into it and my stomach would come around.  Unfortunately the opposite of that happened, the more I ran the worse my stomach felt, the more my legs hurt, and the slower I was going.  I went to the porta potty twice, hoping it would alleviate my issues, but it was to no avail.  Nothing seemed appealing in terms of food or drink - I even tried drinking some Coke (a chemical sh*t storm) but it was not my friend.  I was debating in my head whether I could keep going and when my friend told me I was in 7th place in my AG, I gave into the my body's cries to walk.  This was my biggest mistake.  The greatest lesson I learned from this race was DO NOT WALK ON THE RUN.  Trust me, you will regret it.  I started walking and felt pretty dejected about it.  I also started thinking about everything else that was going on and in that state all my emotions came to the surface.  At that moment, Iron Bob caught up to me and started walking w/ me.  I was so thankful for his company and after 4 miles I felt my spirits and physical ailments lifted!  It was too late to race for a place on the podium, but it wasn't too late to enjoy the rest of the race and finish that b*tch!  I crossed the finish line w/ a smile on my face and really proud of myself for finishing the race despite all the challenges I had faced.  I know I would have made my grandma proud.

Total Time - 11:34:26 (9th AG)
I finished over an hour later than I was hoping to, but was elated to finish.  I was even more excited when they immediately handed me a fresh coconut with a straw in it - yum!  As I was recovering, a man and his young daughter came up to me and he said "My daughter and I live on the island but she has never seen the race before - can she get her picture taken with an Ironman?"  Seeing her smile after I said yes and gave her the rose they gave me when I crossed the finish line is one of my favorite memories from the race :)  

I know it was a really tough day out there for a lot of people and it was so good to see so many familiar faces out there on the course:  Sharon, Matt, Tricia, John, Charlie, Iron Bob, Misty, Erin, Sami, and Elizabeth - every time I saw you guys it helped me persevere!

The last thing I have to say about this race is that the organization was impeccable and the volunteers were AMAZING!  I really felt like the entire island supported the race and everyone came out to cheer the athletes on.  Basically Cozumel was totally devoted to Ironman that whole day!  The result was a first class race experience in a paradise destination location.  If you ever have a  chance to do this race, jump on it!

Sharon, Matt, and I spent a couple days after the race exploring the island and then I flew back to VA for my grandma's funeral.  It felt good to be around family and we celebrated her life and the amazing person that she was.  I still miss her and I know I always will.  However, my overwhelming feeling now is gratitude that she was in my life and unconditionally loved me for the last 34 years.

Looking forward to 2017, I have a really good and positive feeling about everything.  I feel physically, mentally, and emotionally strong.  I can just tell that it's going to be a great year and I know that nothing is going to stop me from getting to Kona.