So, sometime in early 2016 I signed up for Ironman Los Cabos (San Jose Del Cabo/Cabo San Lucas. Mexico). I didn’t know much about the race, but my training buddy wanted to do it and the location seemed really nice from the pictures.Unfortunately, my training buddy never signed up for the race and/because she did not have time to train for it, so it was just me training for IMLC. When you are a social butterfly such as I am, training by yourself sucks.
Also, it dawned on me that perhaps I should have looked into the course a bit more before I signed up: A warm salt water 2.4 mile swim (so no wetsuit); a 112 mile bike ride with over 6000 ft of climbing*; a flat 26.2 mile three loop run course; average temperature = 89 degrees.
*the only ride I could find that had a similar elevation ratio is that disaster that was the bike of the 106 West Triathlon in Colorado, and we know how that turned out.
As I started my training, my run was not at all coming a long as I had hoped. I had to bail on several long runs during the summer heat and humidity. I was much slower than I had been in years past, and running felt like torture. I am not a very good swimmer but I am usually consistently slow. Now, however, even my swim time was off by about 10 seconds per 100 meters, which is a lot. While the bike is my strength, 6000 feet of climbing is a lot of climbing. To do even moderately well, I would have to have a really strong bike ride. At past Ironmans I averaged between 5:45 and 6:15 hours on the bike.
As the days ticked passed and race day got closer, I determined that I really, really was not ready for this race. Five weeks before the race, while I was out on a bike ride, I made the executive decision that I would change my race to the Half Iron. Suddenly it was like a giant weight was lifted off my chest. I was confident I could do well in a half iron. As soon as I got home, I logged onto my computer only to find that I had missed the transfer cut off date by one week. So I was “stuck.” At this point I reluctantly began to accept my fate (note: this is NOT a good way to go into a big race). I had two not-awful runs (which was a big improvement over my previous runs), and was able to finish the Kerrville Triathlon 70.3 in just under 6 hours -I determined that if I could not finish Kerrville in 6 hours I would drop out of he Ironman race since my PR for that race was a 5:33.
After updating my passport, I had lined up a nice condo just off the run course and across the street from the host hotel, a rental car at quite a good price, and the airline tickets were bought for both my husband and I. Phil was prepared for a week of fishing off the coast. After all this, I would not cancel the whole trip.
I began to accept my fate, much like a sacrificial virgin to a volcano. Ok, not much like a sacrificial vir– ok, nothing like a sacrificial virgin. Hmm, a better analogy… like a prisoner of war– but maybe one who paid money to become a prisoner of war and could actually leave if they really wanted to? Whatever. I was gonna do this thing and it was probably gonna hurt a lot.
On Tuesday morning we set off for Mexico, and arrived in town at noon. We had to walk across the tarmac at the San Jose airport. It felt like 115 degrees getting off that plane into the blazing sun.
I am going to die.
We got to the Enterprise rental car counter and while the car was quoted very, very very cheap at $25 for the entire week, I figured we would get hit with a bunch of add on costs, so I was prepared for paying a couple of hundred bucks. What!?! Oh, hell no! I was not prepared for $700 ($12,500 pesos) for a car for the week. My husband recommended that we take the car and see if we really needed it and if not, we could just return the next day (we ultimately did return the rental car).
We drove into town and got to the condo. Upon entering, I looked for the thermostat since it was warm and no one had turned the A/C on. Hmm. I went upstairs and checked the walls. Hmm. Phil said, “I don’t see any vents. Seriously, I don’t think there is A/C.”
Aw, hell, no! I am not staying in an un-air-conditioned condo in 93 degree heat for the week of my Ironman. Since it was the day the rental was supposed to start, I knew I wasn’t getting my money back, but there was no freakin’ way this was going to work. Phil went and rented a room in the hotel resort across the street. I sent a nice email to my Air BnB owner explaining my issue (“Why would you expect everywhere to have air-conditioning!? My ad says there are fans in every room!” I dunno. Because Mexico is hotter than hell and not a third world country? You also said there was bottled water, but I assumed there was also running water (I didn’t say this, but it is what I was thinking)). She agreed to give me a small portion of my money back.
Let mine be a cautionary tale: If you rent off Air BnB or VRBO make sure it specifically says their is A/C, because apparently not everyone in has A/C. Hell, might as well go ahead and check and make sure it has heat if you are traveling in the winter.
So the trip did not start off well for a race I really did not want to do.
On Wednesday, I went our for a bike ride on the Ironman course along the transpennisular highway.
I take back every bad thing I have ever said about Austin drivers.
Ho-ly crap! These people drive like lunatics! I had box trucks passing me with 3 inches clearance. There were very few opportunities to turn around on this divided highway, so I was committed at least for a while, until I could take an exit ramp. I was extremely relieved to get back to my room alive and determined that I would not be riding my bike again until race day.
Then, on Wednesday afternoon, I had a complete emotional break down. It was hotter than hell and humid as fark, and I wasn’t trained and I didn’t want to do this race, but I had flown to Mexico and spent a boatload of money, a lot more than I had even planned, so I couldn’t not do it. I just wanted to go home! I didn’t know what to do.
I phoned a friend who talked me off the ledge. Thereafter, I spent every free moment at the “Serenity Pool” listening to Yanni on a chaise lounge. There wasn’t much else I could do, so I tried to stay in my happy place.
The Adults-only “Serenity Pool”
Everyday it just seemed to get hotter. Where the weather was predicted to be a comfy 84 degrees a week before the race, that temperature just kept creeping up from 91 to 93 to 95…
The night before the race, Mexico turned it’s clocks back an hour, so I got to sleep in a bit (Mexico was then 2 hours earlier than Austin). I took a bus from the host hotel to the race start. While there were only 360 folks signed up for the full Ironman race, there were close to 800 for the half Ironman 70.3 race and some folks doing the Relay and Aquabike. The race was set up so that the Half Iron folks would start an hour early and be far off the swim course by the time the Full Iron folks headed out. However, I still needed to get out to the race site (inexplicably transition never closed, so arguably I could have gotten out there 5 minuted before my race start). Watching all the Half Distance racers just sent my anxiety through the roof. Breath, breath, breath… That was a very long hour.
Finally it was 7:30, time to start.
As my swim training has not gone great my swim strategy was to get on the feet of someone a bit stronger than me and draft* the whole way.
*Drafting involves swimming closely behind someone slightly faster than you, allowing you to coast on their wake and go along for the ride. This does not cause any determinant to the lead swimmer.
I almost immediately found some feet and stayed on them the entire swim. The water was so clear that it was very easy to keep an eye on the person in front of you, which is not often the case. There was a school of about 5-6 of us who swam the whole race together. I could tell that the gal ahead of me was stronger than me since I could not pass her – because drafting makes your swim easier, you will think that you can pass the person in front of you, but as soon as you come out of their wake and lose the drafting effect you’ll be unable to pass. I stayed behind and just to the left, while someone else was immediately to my right. Everyone was super cordial and no one was trying to steal anyone elses’ drafter (ok, there is always that one guy who thinks he faster, so he speeds up pushing me out of the way, but five minutes later he is back. For some unknown reason he felt the need to do this about 10 times during the swim, where most of us learn by the second attempt that, no, we are not actually able to swim faster than the group).
The water was warm, like 84 degrees, and so clear. You could see the bottom and the fishes, and the rocks… Really beautiful. And the surf was pretty calm. The biggest waves were those of the jet skis who were keeping an eye on us.
I was surprised to see that it took me 1:33:43 to complete the swim while drafting. I wonder if the current was strong, because I really felt like I was moving faster than that, but this was 15 minutes slower than I had predicted.
I ran up the sandy beach into transition and was able to change into my jersey, arm coolers (didn’t want to get a sun burn), shoes and socks (after removing as much sand as possible), then grabbed my bike and ran over the cobblestones to the bike mount line. I wasn’t in a huge rush since I wanted to be as comfortable as possible since I knew I was going to be on the bike for a long time.
T1 – 6:14.
Right out of the shoot, there was nice “warm-up” 1/3 mile climb to the highway. The ride was two loops: a long stretch southbound on the Tranpennisular Highway, then up the toll road to the San Lucas airport, back northbound on the Tranpennisular Highway to the San Jose airport. Then repeat.
The airports were both located up long climbs: the San Jose climb shorter but more steep than the Los Cobos climb (the peaks in the elevation map below).
The ride was rumored to have about 6000 ft of climbing even though the Ironman website said it was less than half that (the Ironman website was wrong!).
Luckily it was not very windy, but being on a highway when the high temperature was 96-97 degrees it was unbearably hot with the heat hitting you from above and below.
Now, the bike is my strength, and hills do not scare me, but 112 miles is a long way and 6000 ft of climbing is a lot of climbing.
There were 7 water stops on the each loop of the bike route, so one every 9 miles. I started with a 16 oz bottle of Gatorade, a 16 oz Bottle of water, and my Aerobottle with water (probably 10 oz). Because we started so late (9:30am Austin time) and I was in the water for 1 1/2 hours, I was not out on the bike until 11:00am Austin time, so it was already in the mid-80’s and very humid. I finished my first bottle of water before I hit the first water stop. Not a big deal since I had water and Gatorade with me, but still, wow. I took a bottle of water or Gatorade at each water stop, but after the first few water stops, I started taking 2 bottles at each stop.
But the time I got to the San Jose airport, I had to stop at the water stop to get ice and refill my bottles with ice and water/Gatorade (I usually ride through the water stop and grab bottles from the volunteers). Holy crap it was hot. I made a note to make sure that I had plenty of cold water before I had to head back out to the San Jose airport. At this point, the Half Iron was looking like a much better option than having to repeat the bike route.
My first 56 mile loop went ok. While not fast, I didn’t feel bad. I drank a lot more than I normally did on a ride, but never had to go to the bathroom. Every race I’ve done, I always have to pee somewhere between mile 26-30. But not this time. In fact, I never had to pee during the whole bike ride. I also ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, salt tablets, and several gels trying to keep on my nutrition plan.
I headed back out for my second loop. I felt alright, but was actually going much slower than my first loop, at least a mile per hour slower. Luckily, I am far sighted so I cannot read my Garmin very easily, and it would not have mattered anyway since pushing myself harder at this point would have resulted in a me blowing up that much sooner.
I passed a water stop and grabbed a bottle of water and put it in my water bottle cage on my bike, then another bottle of water which I dumped into my aerobottle, then used the rest to wet down my arm coolers and jersey. I quickly drank the water in my aerobottle. I grabbed my second water bottle and promptly…dropped it. SHIT! Now all I had was a half bottle of really warm Gatorade. I poured that into my aerobottle, and as nasty as it was I also drank that quickly. Now, I had nothing and was wondering how far away I was from the next water stop. I was even thinking of begging a water bottle off another athlete, before, finally, blessedly, I saw the next water stop. Once again, I had to stop to fill up all of my water bottles.
I was doing ok, until I had about 20 miles to go. At this point I started getting a headache, which for me means dehydration. How could I possibly be dehydrated with all that I was drinking!?! I tired to increase my intake, but that headache was here to stay.
I headed back toward the San Jose airport climb, but with the headache, I was really suffering. There had been about four or five cyclists that had been playing leap frog (usually me passing them on the uphills, them passing me on the down hills), but now they all left me behind. About half way to the top of the hill, I saw a fellow athlete walking with his bike. “Do you need anything?” I asked, since I was only moving at about 8 mph. “Yeah, if you’ve got a tube.” He replied.
Having had zero flats, I had two spare tubes. Since I could use the break and I was not going to win this thing, I stopped and pulled out a tube. He had shallow race wheels (looked like 45’s, for those in the know), but “Crap, the valve is too short.” The valve on my tube was not quite long enough to clear the depth of his wheels.
I have screw on valve extenders for my race wheels that just go over the original valves, as opposed to having to remove the core. I unscrewed one and gave it to him. If I got a flat during these last few miles of the ride (maybe 6 miles), I still had one spare tube and could take the extender off my other wheel (if necessary). So I was good. The guy who needed a tube had already had two flats during his race, which totally sucks and why he had no spare tubes. Looked like he was having a worse day than me.
The short break did me good and I rode up the rest of the hill, then got to coast down hill pretty much all the way to the bike finish, headache firmly in tact. On the way, I tried to stratagize my run. Do I walk to try to recover and hydrate, or slow run while I try to recover?
Bike: 7:06:58 at 15 mph (ouch!)
I got off the bike, grabbed my run gear bag, and pulled off my gloves and arm coolers as I headed into the transition tent. I sat down and the eager volunteers where trying to get me out of my bike gear and into my run gear, but I needed a minute. I had to repeat several times, “Please, just give me a minute.” before the volunteers finally left me alone. I used a bottle of water to wash my face, while sitting for a few minutes to catch my breath. Finally I was able to get into my run gear and head out of the tent.
T2- 7:09 (5 of which were just me sitting)
I got out on the run course and immediately took in some Pepsi, and filed my hand held water bottle with cool water. There were water stops at every kilometer (.6 miles). I was trying to figure out how to best rehydrate and stay on my nutrition in order to have a not horrible run.
One of my buddies had cautioned me that day before that coming off the bike, the run would be really hot. But ha-ha! I win! I learned that if you stay on the bike long enough, when you get to the run it it actually starting to cool off.
I walked about 1/4 mile then started a slow run, while taking in some coke and Gatorade at each water stop. I actually didn’t feel terrible and the shadows were already getting long. I did alright on the first loop at about an 11 minute mile (not breaking any world records, but only 1 minute per mile slower than most of my long training runs and more than a walk). Phil joined me at the beginning of my second loop and ran about a 1/2 mile with me, which was really nice.
So in Mexico, the race phrase of encouragement is “Vamos! Vamos!”
OMG, are you folks kidding me? Yes, I realize I am not moving very fast. I much prefer the American lies of “You look good!” and “You’re doing great!” Other than the unfortunate phrase of encouragement, the spectators were great, even the rowdy drinking Americans (eh-hem, Jamie, Michele, Sandy and Carolin).
Unfortunately, by the time I got to about a mile 12, my stomach was jacked. My rehydration/nutrition plan was not working. I had to start walking because every time I tried to run I would get super nauseated and feel like I was gonna start dry heaving. Good times! At this point I was aware that a LOT of folks had dropped out of the race. I knew that if I walked the entire rest of the race, while I might hate my life, I would still finish in time. For those of you who don’t know me well, I am not incline to quit, even when it may be in my best interest.
I hooked up with Luis. A 130+ time Ironman, native Mexican and local celebrity. He was encouraging, telling me that he was doing 5 IM’s in 5 weeks (Louisville, Kona, NC, Cabo, Florida then Cozemel), and that I had plenty of time and not to worry. We stayed together for about 1 1/2 miles before he left me behind (later, when I was able to run again we would play leap frog throughout the course).
Periodically, I would try to run and almost immediately get that pre-dry-heave lump in my throat.
Ok, so walk…
I met a guy who had done 27 IMs. We discussed how tough the race had been. He told me that he nearly bailed after the ride (so a 27 timer almost quit, but I was still out there). Twenty-seven, eh? “So, what do you do when your stomach gets jacked up on the run and you feel like you are going to puke every time you run?” He asked what I had been eating (bananas) and recommended sipping a little bit of Pepsi and water at each stop and not go too fast. I pointed out that “too fast” was relative, but that any time I tried to run I got sick. Yeah, he agreed, generally any running was likely to make me sick and it was hard to recover, so “Just enjoy the rest of your race.” [sad trombone]
Yeah, pretty much walked the second loop (mile 12 -17.5). I did have the privilege of walking through the Discovery park area, where there we’re friendly (I think) little Mexican cows, much smaller than our Texas cows. There we’re also some really cool sculptures that I had not even noticed on my first loop. So there was that.
At some point it dawned on me that if I could get my stomach straight, I was going to bonk since I hadn’t eaten anything or the past 9 miles. I took out a gel and opened it, then sipped on it for about a 1/2 mile and still only got half of it down before I tossed the rest.
So, yeah, not eating a lot.
But it was something, I figured it I kept sipping on gels as much as I could tolerate, I wouldn’t bonk. Periodically, I would jog a bit and see what my stomach would do.
Finally at mile 18ish, when I started to jog I did NOT feel like I was going to yak!
I was so happy that I was not going to have to walk the final 8 miles! At this point, if I was finished with the race, I would still have the worst time of all my Ironmans, but again, at least I wasn’t walking– not breaking any land-speed records, but not walking. I hooked up with a gal who was doing her first IM and ran with her for a while. She told me that she was “One and done.” I told her that this was not a normal race and that she should try NC or Florida or Lake Placid before throwing in the towel.
I stopped at my special needs bag* (finally on my third loop) which contained just one can of HighBrew coffee, which I did not feel I could safely drink until now. I drank the coffee with no ill effects!
*”special needs bags” are bags that athletes can put whatever they want in and that are available on the course -usually at the half way point, but since the run was three loops, three times on the run course.
I slowly ran most of the final loop and ran into another “one and done” gal with two miles left. I told her that she might want to give it a few weeks, then consider a race not in Cabo, or not with 6000 feet of climbing, or not in 97 degrees. We ran the last of the race together. As we approached the finish shoot, I told her that I would hold back so she could get a good picture (that extra 10 seconds isn’t going to make any difference n my life).
Run: 6:03:21 (err…)
My finish time was 14:57:52, so a sub-15! Yay! Only 2 1/2 hours longer than my last longest IM. But…
Post Script: The Finish Line experience at Ironman is usually something to behold. Throngs of people cheering until midnight. Volunteers helping athletes through the finish area:medal -> picture -> food/drink -> finishers swag -> massage/ice bath and of course an available med tent.
Unfortunately, the finish line experience in Cabo was very disappointing. I crossed the finish line, there were 6 people in the stands waiting for there athlete – that’s it. I crossed the finish line and was given my medal. That’s it. I had no one direct me where to go next. Phil has been down at the finish line for some time, but no one could tell him if I had finished. After awhile, he headed back to the hotel to see if perhaps I had finished earlier and was there, so we ended up missing each other.
I wandered around until the photographer found me and took my finish picture. Then I wandered past the old pizza, bananas and oranges. There were two vats of dirty water. Perhaps formerly ice baths? It was impossible to tell and there was no one there anyway.
I could see the massage tent, but couldn’t figure out how to get in. I meandered around some landscaping planters and found the side of the tent where I could enter. A nixe young man took me in, but when I asked him to not rub on my sunburn so hard, he told me he couldn’t massage me. I was too tired and miserable to argue. I really, really needed to get into some dry shoes. I asked where the morning clothes bags* were. Oh, they are 1/2 mile away at T2 with my bike. Argh!
*Morning clothes bags are bags that you can leave anything you wore to or needed at the race site (sneakers, flip flops, pants, sunscreen, et c…) or anything you may want to have immediately after a ace (clean T-shirt or sweatshirt, protein drink, dry socks).
I limped over to T2 on empty streets, where I was given my bike, and morning, T1 and T2 bags. There was nowhere to change and nowhere to sit, so I sat in the street and changed my shoes. I then rode (coasted) to the hotel on my bike. Everything downtown was closed.
In an extreme rookie mistake, I did not have any real food at the hotel. If we had stayed in a condo with a kitchen, I know I would have gone shopping and loaded the fridge with easy to prepare food, but without a oven/stove or microwave, I didn’t think to get real food. I had used the last of a loaf of bread early that morning for my race PB&J sandwiches, so I didn’t even have bread (while I did have PB and J). Luckily (?), I had some graham crackers. :-(. I have never so missed the Waffle House in my life.
Not the same.
The lack of food is on me, but I really did expect a lot more from an Ironman finish line.