Sunday, December 28, 2014

Ironman Cozumel Race Recap

[Full disclosure: I realize this is almost a month after the race. Between finishing grad school, teaching, and planning Ryan’s surprise 30th birthday, time just flew by and I never got around to finishing this. But, I’d like to think it’s still worthy of a read as it was probably my best executed Ironman to date.]

As I started writing this race report, I realized this is my third Ironman recap in one year. Me, the girl who repeatedly got stress fractures in college off of running 40-50 miles per week…three Ironmans in a year? I posted a little pre-race blog with everything that I’m thankful for, and I guess something that should be added to that list is the fact that I made it to the start line of all three Ironmans healthy. My belief is that if you are to have a good Ironman, you not only need to come to the start line healthy, but also prepared: mentally, physically and emotionally.

For Cabo, I was beyond prepared. I had just finished arguably the best running season of my life while triathlon training and was feeling like I was queen of the world.

For Kona, I was absolutely physically prepared (trust me, those 100+ mile bike ride Saturdays followed by 18+ mile runs on Sundays were no joke), but both mentally and emotionally I was a hot mess. My professional life was really causing a lot of stress and I just didn’t know how to handle things. I let all of my thoughts pile up in my head until I had my mental and emotional breakdown on the bike in Kona when things got “too tough.”

For Cozumel, my goal was to get mentally and emotionally prepared. My training had already prepared me physically and all of my workouts were going well. I had a slight snafu in which my shoulder caused me to not swim for about a week, but otherwise I felt like I was ready to take on anyone who might show up to Cozumel.

Both Coach Jen and Ryan helped me prepare mentally since we knew this would be my key to a Kona slot. Jen had me take 10 minutes out of each day for the two weeks leading up to Cozumel to visualize my race plan (and the potential flaws and how I’d fix those). Ryan had me look up my competition to see what I would need to do come race day. I knew which girls I had to watch out for, and also knew I would have to win my age group if I wanted a guaranteed slot to Kona.

When researching the competition, we noticed I had one of the smaller age groups. This is pretty common for Females 25-29, which is unfortunate because lots of these girls are pretty darn good (check Kona 2014 and 2013 results if you want verification). In Cabo, I was lucky that there were two slots for my age group because it was a smaller race; Cozumel, on the other hand, had sold out so we had to go in with the assumption that my age group would only have one slot.

We decided on my race plan based on my competition. My swim would need to be under 1:10, my bike would need to be under 5:40, and my run would need to again be sub-3:05. All of these were figured to be doable for a few reasons. The girls who were close to my Ironman times were faster swimmers and bikers than me, but if I could hit the times above, I’d be able to run them down. There was one girl that we knew would be impossible for me to beat. She won the inaugural Ironman Maryland in September and was a former professional triathlete. She went 9:29 in Maryland (my best until now was 10:08) with a 60ish swim, 5ish bike and mid-3hour run. I simply would not be fast enough on the bike to make up ground. We figured since she won Maryland that she likely took her Kona slot then, so having that thought in my mind really helped me mentally during the race.

With Thursday and Friday off of school because of Thanksgiving, Ironman Cozumel meant minimal time away from teaching. Unfortunately this would also mean no Aubert family Oglesby Turkey Trot tradition, but luckily dad kept that going for us after being out last year due to foot surgery. Ryan, his dad and I took off on a 5:50am flight Thanksgiving morning.

Our flight was a direct flight from Chicago to Cancun, which was really nice since we always take a connecting flight when traveling to Kona. When we arrived in Cancun, we hopped on a bus to take us to Playa del Carmen and then took a ferry to take us over to Cozumel (thanks to Pro triathlete Jackie A. for paving the way for us!). What a way to travel: air, land and water!

(bus not pictured)


We arrived to Cozumel around noon and a bike/cart guy took our luggage to our Airbnb house rental that Ryan had reserved. Rather than stay in one of the (expensive) host hotels, we opted for another Airbnb rental and it again did not disappoint. It was pretty awesome to actually stay in the town where the locals lived and really get a taste of their culture. The house had a kitchen, living room, two bedrooms and two bathrooms and was just perfect for the three of us. Turns out, the house was actually really close to everything race related as well, which was an added bonus.

How did our rental owner know we'd want some chips and guac upon arrival?!

The manager of the rental was actually arriving to our house the same time that we did, so chatted with us for a bit after providing us with some chips and pico de gallo and Coronas. By this time, we were a little hungry so decided to head to town and scope out a place for lunch. With the Bears game being on, we ended up at Margaritaville and had a Thanksgiving Turkey burger. I am willing to bet a good amount of money that no Thanksgiving turkey will ever top the poor quality of turkey we had this year. But, we had food in our bellies and were all happy again.
Happy Thanksgiving!

We then headed to the Mega (grocery store) and check out the bread (and other food). Sure enough, just like in Cabo, they had my bread tray ready to be piled with carbs!

 Yummy bread from the MEGA!

After dropping off our groceries at our place, we walked about a half-mile to the Convention Center to pick up our packets. Per my mental race plan, I wrote down the bib numbers of my main competitors. I knew all three girls would be ahead of me after the swim and bike, but the multi-loop run would allow me to see where I was in comparison to each girl. The expo was pretty small so we were able to head back to our place and relax (or do some fun grad school stuff in my case). Ryan researched restaurants and we landed at Kondesa’s, which was only a few blocks from our place. Amazing does not even describe the food that we ate. We decided to try their In Guak We Trust, which was a guacamole trio consisting of the basic guac, fruit and bacon guac, and pumpkin seed and cactus guac and totally had our minds blown. All three were out of this world delicious! 


We also had some chicken tortilla soup and I ordered a spinach salad (gotta get that iron!). Ryan’s dad made friends with the pet cat that we mistook for the cat that used to live in our place (we learned a lot from the owner when we met him earlier in the afternoon!), and we promised the servers that we would be back.

Packet pickup
 Wave start
Course map

Despite having no time change, Ryan and I slept for almost ten hours, which was something that we did not have going for us during our trip to Kona. We also woke up to the news that we would not be able to do a practice swim at Chankanaab Beach. This was okay for me as my weird shoulder issue had come back (likely from carrying our luggage all over the place). Ryan and I rode our bikes on part of the course and ran 5 miles since swimming was not an option. We decided to go to Paradise Beach for the day and just hang out under beach umbrellas. I was able to be productive with grad school and real school work as Paradise Beach had free wi-fi and before I knew it, we were getting ready to head back to attend the Athlete Meeting….after our 35-minute massages. BOY, did those feel good, especially since my usual guy had left 10 days prior and my body was craving a massage.

 Hanging at the beach, pre-massage
 Best coffee on the island!
(probably not surprising to anyone who knows Ryan)

At the Athlete Meeting, the hosts (Michael Lovato and Steve…same guys as in Cabo!!) really emphasized the “No Drafting” rule, which was awesome since that had been quite the talk on Slowtwitch and other sites regarding IMCozumel. We stopped for some afternoon coffee at El Coffee Cozumel (where we became known as regulars) before heading back to our place to get ready for dinner. Another great Trip Advisor restaurant, Guido’s, provided us with phenomenal food once again. 

 Best food ever.
Love these guys :)

We stumbled upon a museum/restaurant that I had recognized from Trip Advisor and stopped in and got more than we bargained for:

Some dancers!

Another day of sleeping in felt great, and Saturday again provided us with that opportunity. So many athletes do not get near the amount of sleep that they should when training, so this really increased my confidence that Sunday would be a good day. Ironman Cozumel is a double transition race, so Ryan and I rode our bikes down to Chankanaab to drop them off in Transition 1. We also were able to grab a pair of flip-flops that would prove useful in the morning due to the double transition. After making sure our bikes were situated and our helmets/sunglasses dropped off, we went for an easy four-mile run.
 Bike and stuff all ready to go!

 Checkin' in these beauts!
 Helmet shot
 "Blue is for Bike Bag"
Check out my Mexican-flag-supporting bike!
"Red bags for Run stuff" 
 Ryan and I have a differing opinions on "pre-race" meals :)

We ended Saturday with some relaxing at the beach and my usual red-meat and beer dinner (note to self: “burger” in Mexico isn’t quite what it is in the US).

Race Day:
Race morning wakeup was not nearly as rough as some triathlons felt earlier this year. I really attribute this to having SUCH good sleep going into this race. Not having school for a full eight days prior to the race allowed me to really make sure I was getting enough sleep and I strongly believe that helped me on race day.

Ryan, his dad and I walked about a half mile from our home to one of the host hotels. However, before we could get there, we saw one of the buses that would take us to T1 so hopped on it. Boy do they pack their buses in Cozumel! We stood the whole way but were just thankful that we were on the bus since our driver had to decline quite a few people on our way.

We were dropped off in Chankanaab where our bikes were. Ryan and I checked our bikes, pumped our tires, put our nutrition on our bikes, and headed back out to catch another bus after dropping off our Special Needs bags. I happened to glance at the girl on the other side of Ryan and noticed she was in my age group so made a mental note of her bib number.
 Bikes all set, and so are we!

Bus 2 took us to the swim start. Before we got to the swim start, we stopped at the porta potties. I was (pleasantly) surprised to see bathrooms for women only and for men only. Never have I waited in line for a shorter amount of time than Ryan, so this race was already making me happy!

We got to the swim start in time to see the pros take off and evaluate the water. There had been talk about this particular swim course offering swimmers a little push with aid from the current, but the water seemed pretty calm. There was also barely any wind, leading to the lack of aid from current, though that would change quickly within the hour.

The swim start went off in waves to prevent the drafting on the bike that IM Cozumel had become known for. For women, the waves were 35 and over and 34 and under. Men had a few more waves, but only one group of men would start before the women. Ryan and I did the math to figure out that he’d likely pass me right before the swim exit, so I secretly made it a goal to not let this happen.

I had a few goals going into this race. The obvious one was to qualify for Kona. The most important one was to not give up on the bike since we knew the winds would be very similar to those in Kona (“learn from my mistakes”). And the lofty one was to break 3-hours in the marathon at the end. Doing this would also ensure that I would break 10 hours, but both of those would just be icing on the cake if I could accomplish my obvious and important goals.

Pre-Race Nutrition: 1.5 PBJ PowerBars (360 calories) and water

1:09:49 (1:50/100m)
27th F25-29/148th female overall/738th overall

After the 50+ men and 35+ women went off, it was finally my group’s turn to begin swimming. I always read race recaps from fast girls that talk about hopping onto people’s feet, so I did attempt this during my swim. Unfortunately, the few people I chose were either way too fast or just a touch too slow, so I ended up swimming side by side with one girl for pretty much the entire race.  I wore my Torque speedsuit that we wore in Kona, but remembered body glide this time so had no chafing issues!

The swim was honestly the most beautiful swim I had ever had before, and I had to remind myself a few times that I was actually racing… well, actually, the baby jellyfish had no problem snapping my mind back into the race. Ryan hadn’t warned me about them, but I had read about them on my own on Slowtwitch while researching traveling plans into Cozumel. Post-race, we both told each other that we didn’t tell the other about the baby jellyfish since we didn’t want the other person to worry! Luckily, the stings didn’t cause any cuts or marks, though they were definitely uncomfortable during the race.

Ryan did end up passing me near the end. The end came quickly, which was a relief, though my time definitely does not reflect that.

I quickly hopped out of the water, weaving my way in and out of the other athletes in front of me who did not care to escape the water as quickly as me. I heard Ryan’s dad cheering for me, but he never told me my place which was a bit discouraging.

Transition 1—4:16 (yikes!)

I quickly found my blue Bike Bag with my helmet and sunglasses inside, but almost bypassed the tent that the females had to go into. I still don’t really understand why we had to go in the tent since I wasn’t changing, nor did I have to go to the bathroom, but I went in, dumped my bag and put on my helmet, and headed right back out after quickly getting some sunscreen lathered on my arms. The girl whose bike was next to Ryan was already on the bike, so I told myself I really needed to get moving since the other girls I had looked up were no doubt already out there as well.

5:44:00 (31.4km/hr), each bike loop getting faster!!!
5th F25-29/34th female overall/232nd overall

The bike course was a three-loop course around most of the island. The roads were completely closed and there were very few turns. In the beginning, the roads were not smooth (though not bumpy if that makes any sense) but there were many trees that helped keep the wind out of our faces for awhile. And then we made our first gradual turn. While we had some incredible views to look at, the nasty headwinds really caused some frustration for many riders. Again my goal going into Cozumel was to NOT let the winds get to me like they had in Kona, so I put my head down and powered through the first loop. The nasty headwinds probably lasted for 15-20 miles and I absolutely made a mental note of this during my first loop. Just after the Special Needs area, there were three flags (green, yellow and pink I believe, though I am writing this nearly a month later so my recall might not be as accurate), and I knew these would be my favorite things to look forward to as I could tell the shift in wind direction was about to happen.

During the first loop when I got away from the headwind, I decided I needed to put on some chapstick. My lips were just killing me from the saltwater and the long ride into the wind hadn’t helped that cause. I fumbled with it and it fell onto the ground, leaving me frustrated (and wondering if I should stop to pick it up!). I also could feel my stomach starting to cause some discomfort, which is not a feeling I had ever experienced in an Ironman (or any triathlon).

I had been filling up my water at every aide station, but the mild heat (compared to Kona) hadn’t left me finishing my Aero water bottle by the time I’d reach each aide station, so I decided that the next aide station I saw, I would stop to go to the bathroom. Sure enough, my stomach pain vanished and my power began to creep back up to the usual goal range.

Ryan’s dad saw me near the finish (of the entire race) and told me I had some catching up to do, which I knew, so I left frustrated without knowing exactly HOW much catching up I had to do. All I knew is that my power was finally closer to where I wanted it to be and that my mind was still in this race. I began passing quite a few people on my second loop, which gave me a lot of confidence since I have not considered myself a strong rider by any means.

On my second loop, I could tell that the wind was picking up because the waves in the water were actually creating a mist that was spraying my face. I was a little worried at first because I was coming up to pass someone and was afraid I was in their, uh, streamline, but then realized it was just the waves!

I saw Ryan’s dad this time before he saw me, and he told me after the race that he was shocked at how fast I had come up based on my previous lap and the Ironman website tracker. Looking at my data, I really did a good job picking up the pace this lap and my watts were really close to goal watts.

The third loop felt amazing. I had passed a few more girls in my age group (and overall) and was feeling invincible. I knew I had at least three girls in my age group to run down, but also knew I was having the bike I had wanted since Cabo and that my legs would be able to run off of the bike since they did just that in Cabo. I kept on my nutrition and kept playing some positive tunes in my head to keep me rolling.

Transition 2—2:54

I stopped as usual for a bathroom break here as usual and left T2 hungry and ready to make up some ground. Ryan and I had done the math and knew we had a chance of running the run together for his last two loops and my first two loops. Now, this would only happen if he was running over 3-hour pace and I was running sub-3 hour pace, but both of these were possibilities so I was anxiously awaiting the moment that I would see Ryan.

3:03:53 (7:00 flat pace…so close to sub-7!)
2nd F25-29/12th overall female including pros, 3rd overall/60th overall finisher

My favorite part every time. I don’t know what it is, but my legs just have some weird thing going on with them that allow them to run well off of the bike. Whatever it is, I am beyond thankful for it since it allows me to actually be competitive in these races! The run course for IM Cozumel was again three loops. Three out-and-back loops to be exact, which sounded great pre-race but was actually awful during the race. Three out-and-backs meant triple the amount of water that would be splashed on the ground and soaked up into my shoes, something I had not thought about prior to the race.

Within the first mile, not only was I feeling great, but I also saw Ryan, who looked great. I was actually afraid he was going to catch me, that’s how great he looked. I was also able to see the other girls ahead of me in my age group due to the out-and-back aspect of this course.

I knew three girls that I had memorized bib numbers for and saw them right away. One girl, Lauren, who not only was the overall amateur female in Cozumel, but also destroyed the field at the inaugural IM Maryland in September, was 34 minutes ahead of me during my first spotting on the out-and-back. The other two girls I was able to close the gap on during the first loop, and going into the second loop I knew I only had to catch one more girl to be in second place in my age group.

Each loop took us approximately 4.5 miles out and then we turned around and came back. I made it my goal to have the first loop’s miles all be sub-6:50. I came pretty close to that, with all but the last two miles of the first loop being at that pace.

Loop 1 splits – 6:36, 6:38, 6:42, 6:40, 6:38, 6:50, 6:52, (last two I am not sure as my Garmin’s ability to recall does not exist and apparently neither does my memory of miles 8 and 9)

My "Why aren't you telling me what place I am in?!?!?!" face to Ryan's dad

I had grabbed four chocolate PowerGels to take if I needed them, but there were so many aid stations on course that I wasn’t sure I’d even get “hungry” enough for one. The bad thing about so many aid stations on course was the mess that they created. I could tell just after mile 11 that my callouses on my big toes were starting to turn into blisters and that the rest of this run might not be as enjoyable as the first part had been. I decided to down a PowerGel after a string of 7:xx miles in a row. I had done this in Kona and went back to sub-7 pace quickly, but unfortunately did not experience the same results here in Cozumel.

Just after the turnaround of loop two (so approximately halfway through the run), I passed the girl who was in second place in my age group. Just after passing her, I began running with a guy who was pretty fun to work with. We were talking back and forth no problem, and having a good time until he dropped off and I was left to run solo again. It’s always much more enjoyable to run with someone than solo, so I picked my next “partner,” who just happened to be one of the top male professionals. He was not nearly as happy to have a girl running with him, which made me push myself even harder!

Loop 2 splits – 7:00, 7:02, 7:03, 7:04, 7:07, 7:09, 7:08 (again cannot recall the last two… those last two miles just were tough for me each loop!!)

The final loop was tough. I knew I would not be seeing Ryan this time for a little “pick-up” and even though I was closing the gap on Lauren, the race just simply wouldn’t be long enough for me to actually catch her. On loop one, she was 34 minutes ahead of me. On loop two, she was 22 minutes ahead of me. I knew that even if I cut off another 12 minutes, she’d still finish 10 minutes ahead of me. I had also put a significant gap on the girls behind me in my age group, so it was a tough mental battle for that last loop.

Physically, it was probably as challenging as it was mentally. My blisters felt as though they could burst at any second so knowing the lead I had, I stopped at my Special Needs bag to change socks. I knew this would only give me relief for a mile or two, but I was in a position where those two miles of pain free running weren’t going to cost me a Kona slot so I pulled myself off of the course to grab my spare pair of socks.

Loop 3 splits – 7:13, 7:18, 7:23, 8:01 (stopped for socks), 7:43, 7:21, 7:26, 6:45

My last mile split was so much faster since I knew I was closing in on sub-3:05 and sub-10:05. I figured I might as well give what I had left since my racing season would be over after this day.

I did it! BOTH arms up! Over my head!!!

Final finish time was 10:04:52, so that sprint was well worth it at the end!

Right after I crossed the finish line, I saw Ryan’s dad. I finally had my “glory” in the finishing chute and was able to hold my arms up in the air like I always mean to. I went over to Ryan’s dad to ask him how Ryan did and he told me that I was second to Lauren (which I already knew). I told him she was flying…and she said thanks. Yep, she happened to be standing RIGHT next to Ryan’s dad (that could have been really awkward). She continued to tell me that she already claimed her Kona slot from IM Maryland so I knew that I had a slot with my name on it at the awards ceremony the next day. That was SUCH a huge relief since I was left not knowing until the awards ceremony at IM Cabo earlier this year if I would qualify for Kona or not. I excused myself and went to look for Ryan.

Turns out, Ryan had an even better day than I did, which was great to hear. He ran a 3:01 (dang), went 9:02, and was the second overall male amateur. Ryan had the second fastest bike (by a mere 30 seconds) and had the fastest amateur run of the day. He and I actually took 1-2 on the run splits, which was pretty crazy to see!

YAY finishers!!!

The rest of the night consisted of eating a celebratory dinner at Pancho’s (per Ryan’s mom’s recommendation), watching some of the later Ironman finishers, and eating some celebratory candy. We were beyond excited to close out our 2014 season with a Kona qualification, but also ready to head to the beach and just relax and pig out for the next few days.

 Such a cute set up!

The awards for Ironman races are the day after the race since technically all finishers have until midnight to finish the race. Awards and Kona slot allocation would take place at 4pm on Monday, December 1st. Ryan, his dad and I decided to hang out at a beach and then mosey our way down to the beach where the awards and slot allocation would be.

 Fish pedicure!
Father/son fish pedicure
 Husband/wife post-fish pedicure
 Yep, we're cool
 Celebrating!! Nachos and chips & guac!!!
 Mr. Sancho's Beach
Hanging out on the swings.

The slot allocation ceremony seemed to take forever. There was actually only one slot in the Female 25-29 age group, so I was very lucky that Lauren had already claimed hers. The way “rolldown” works is that all finishers who qualified “by right” (as in winning the age group or placing second or third for a few select age groups) have an hour to claim their slots. At 5pm, the rolldown would begin. Ryan was able to claim his slot right away since he won his age group, but the 35 minutes we had to then wait until the rolldown began seemed to just drag on. Despite knowing I would be claiming the female 25-29 slot, I just wanted that piece of paper in my hand! After we finally signed up for Kona, we were able to enjoy the awards and the dancers for the rest of the night.

 Male 30-34 Podium
 Female 25-29 Podium
 Ryan claiming his slot!
Signing up for Kona 2015!
 Finally got my slot!
 Kona Round 3!
Dancers at the awards!

Our last celebratory stop in Cozumel was at the Chocolate Shop and our favorite Coffee shop where we became friends with the employees at each place. It is amazing how impressed the employees were and I was able to really realize what an accomplishment it is to simply complete an Ironman.  

 Coffee "on the house" for our performances!!
 DELICIOUS chocolate place!

As I reflect on the past three Ironmans I was able to complete this year, I know that there is no way I was able to complete these on my own. Huge thanks go to:

  • Sammy’s Bikes: for the fastest (and coolest looking) ride on the island.
  • Saucony: for the best shoes to help me to the 2nd fastest female run split (one pro ran a 2:57)
  • PowerBar: for nutrition that produces results
  • Coach Jen Harrison: thank you for the training that helped me bounce back from Kona to claim my 2015 slot at Cozumel
  • Coach Bill: IM Cabo was, in my opinion, the best Ironman I’ve raced and you made that happen for me. Thanks for kicking my butt last winter!
  • Ryan’s dad: for providing us with the support and encouragement we needed on the course, not to mention the fab photos we were able to use for our blogs
  • Ryan: for putting up with me day in and day out and pushing me to stay tough and finish the year out on a high note. I’d say we definitely did that.

My next blog will recap what a crazy year 2014 was and won’t require a month’s worth of wait time! Thanks for all of the support and encouragement throughout this crazy Ironman year J

1 comment:

Luis Arriola said...

Congrats on the trip and on the competition. Hope you had any time to do some underwater exploration, it´s a great exercise and there are many tours on the Cozumel dedicated to it.