Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Ironman Los Cabos Race Report

Surf, Sand, and the Sufferfest

I stood in the soft white sand as the early rays of sunlight rose on a cloudless morning and took a deep breath of the dry, salty, Mexican air. The anticipation of racing again was creating butterflies in my stomach and my mind was already racing as I mentally went through my race checklist.

As I stood on the beach in my TYR Freak of Nature to watch the Pro men start, I realized that I should pay close attention to how they do this because the last time I swam in the ocean with a beach start was back in 2008 at the 70.3 Worlds when it was still in Clearwater, Fl. I inadvertently neglected to run through this technique during previous swim practices and living and training in Idaho doesn’t provide many opportunities to simulate this. As the gun went off, I watched as the men raced towards the waves crashing on the beach. They certainly lacked the grace of synchronized swimmers as some jumped, others skipped while others dove head first into the frothy water. 3 minutes later and the gun had gone off to signal the start of the women’s Pro race. I was proud of myself because I had strategically positioned myself near other racers that would swim at my pace but not crunched in the middle where I could get punched or kicked as we all jumped in the water. Following the lead of the pack as we ran into the waves I was careful to mimic the movements of those around me. I needed a clean swim start so as not to lose the sprint pack. Out of the corner of my eye I saw what I interpreted to be bodies diving into the water. Instinctively I followed suit and went headfirst into the crashing wave.

My timing was apparently off. I was supposed to jump the wave or run through it because diving when I did was as effective as Dennis Rodman as a US diplomat to communist countries. I crashed into the wave like a linebacker on a 4th and inches blitz and convincingly lost the battle as the wave ripped my green and black Special Ops goggles down my face and into my mouth. My teeth were now embedded with the fine Mexican sand and I gagged on the salty, sandy, seawater mixture as it burned my throat when I inadvertently swallowed some. Keeping my eyes closed I tried to sprint blind for the first hundred yards. I didn’t want to stop and readjust my goggles for fear I would lose the lead pack but I couldn’t even tell if I was going in the right direction.

I bobbed in the clear 70 degree waters and I quickly readjusted my goggles. Like brushing too far back on your tongue, I involuntarily dry heaved a little from swallowing the salt water and felt my skin get flush from the acid burning the back of my throat. I fought back the nauseating feeling that I may taste my breakfast for a second time if I didn’t keep things in check. Small technical issues like this are a great way to start off the season…set the bar low enough anything positive would be an improvement. I had to remind myself that I still had all day to make up for it. I don’t have to win it in the swim, keep it close and work back through the pack during the next 5 hours.

For the first open-water swim of the season, I wasn’t turning any heads. Posting a finish time like that you’d have thought I found a floating bar and kicked back a couple of margaritas part way through the swim. I probably would have been pretty close to my goal time had I not stopped at the first buoy to share my breakfast with the fish. The swim also seemed longer than usual but then that could have just been my inability to swim a straight line. My husband says I swim like Dennis the Menace. As I ran up the beach and through the changing tent, my fears were confirmed as I reached the bike racks. Almost all of the Pro women’s bikes were gone. Once again, I played clean-up and managed to get a bunch of rabbits in front of me to chase. I get so frustrated at races when I get to T1 to see most of the bikes are gone. In hindsight, I have to remind myself that I’ve come a long way from teaching myself how to swim and being the last one out of the water when I raced my first Tri 11 years ago. Eventually I’ll stop fighting the water, stop trying to muscle my way through it and get the timing down. It better be sooner than later.

The start of the bike is similar to Vegas where you have a climb up to the highway before riding towards Cabo. The equator sun felt warm on my sun-starved, northern climate skin and I warmed up quickly as I began the 112 mile slog. I turned towards Cabo for the ~15 miles out and back, unsure where the turnaround was since the course description didn’t provide turn-by-turn instructions. I was concerned about the whole race organization because of the lack of details in the Athlete Guide that came out only days before race day plus most of the course questions were not able to be clarified during the “mandatory” pre-race meeting that you didn’t have to sign-in for.

The one thing I didn’t understand was why the traffic cops would stand in groups along the course and then say something in Spanish to me as I rode by and do some hip pump action like they were mimicking Will Ferrell on Wedding Crashers. What the hell? That must be their universal sign for “go faster”? I swear a heard a couple of them ask me in English to marry them. The only time I get cat-calling like that is when my husband is motor-pacing me.

As I made the turn onto the toll road that leads up to the airport I was becoming aware that I had underestimated the difficulty of this course. I studied the bike profile ahead of time but didn’t realize until now that the scale on the left is not 50 feet increments but instead 50 meters…yah, big difference. I pre-rode and drove the course ahead of time but I think I was too distracted with the beach and the crazy local drivers to pay close enough attention. Different training routes will be selected if I ever race here again. Riding out to the airport was by far the hardest part of the bike course. Let the sufferfest begin. The climb was steady for 3 miles and this was the hottest part of the course. My body was not making the adjustment between the 50deg temps in Boise to the 90deg temps here very well. There was a strong headwind for most of it then there would be nothing and the air would be stagnant, heavy and hot. The sun was relentless with absolutely no shade on the course as my race kit started to look like the Bonneville Salt Flats the more I sweated. As I neared the airport turnaround I was estimating I was about 10 minutes back from the main group. Typically I ride really well on hilly courses but by mile 70 my legs were losing their snap and I was trying to tap into energy reserves that just weren’t there yet. It was becoming apparent that I didn’t have enough preseason training for this specific race. I rode past a couple of gals that were starting to look like they were starting to drop off the pace. Since an Ironman is often a race of attrition, I quickly modified my race plan to keep from becoming a statistic.

I pulled into T2 and as I ditched my bike and ran to the changing tents it felt like I was running barefoot on glass-tipped coral. This was one of the few sections of the course that didn’t have pavement in relatively good condition. I don’t like to walk outside without shoes so I’m sure onlookers thought I was running across hot coals. I exited T2 a couple of places better than I exited T1 but I could already tell this marathon was going to hurt. A hurt like being hobbled like the character Paul Sheldon in Stephen King’s novel Misery, not a typical ‘just ran a marathon’ type of hurt. Let the sufferfest continue. The run is a hilly 3-loop course fully exposed to wind and heat of the coastal community of San Jose del Cabo. By this point the temps were in the upper 80’s but the sun intensity made it feel much hotter. As I completed my first loop the lead women had extended their lead and I was not finding any gear other than “survival”. Feeling like a bulldog in a greyhound race I slowed my pace through the aide stations and began to block out all outside stimulus to get myself to the finish line. Halfway through the second lap I was finally able to settle my stomach by purging all the nutrition I had consumed on the bike. I felt much better now, at least that’s what I told myself, but then the dry heaves set in and shortly afterward cramps. Walk or run I was going to finish this race, I wasn’t going to spend all this money to race here then post a DNF.

I ultimately stumbled to the finish line with the last of any available energy. I typically roll the finish line in honor of John “Blazeman” Blaze but this time I was afraid I might roll and not be able to get back up. So many things didn’t go according to plan. I was so disappointed in how the race went and just wanted to leave but then my husband talked me into getting a massage before I left. 30 minutes later and I felt sooo much better. That was the best post-race massage I’ve ever had. I’m going to have to teach my “cabana boy” back home how to give a post workout massage like that.

I was amazed at how excited the volunteers were as we went through the aide stations. The volunteers really did a wonderful job all day. I was also amazed at how well they did in shutting down the roads for us to ride safely. They had someone at every intersection and at no point did I have to worry about vehicle traffic.

Lessons Learned:

Practice beach starts before race day.
Bring any specific foods with you that you may be accustomed to eating on or before race day; especially if you have food allergies.
If you don’t fully understand what was said, don’t always smile and nod because you may not be getting what you think at the aide stations.
Make sure others understand what you are saying by slowing down and enunciating.

Up Next:

The season is just now kicking off so lots of traveling…for my kids’ games and tournament with a little bit of racing mixed in. I’ve mapped out a schedule that kind of works with my family’s schedule except it won’t allow them to watch any of my races; I miss not having my cheer crew at the races. Right now I’m looking at racing Leadman Tempe then off to St. George for the Pro Championship. I may make additional adjustments based on timing and travel costs. I’m excited for this season.

I can't sign off on this report without a special shout-out to Nick Nicastro from The SAG Monkey...rock'n the sombraro....once again you bailed me out when I was a long way from home without any bike support.