Usted es un Ironman!

We traveled to IM Cozumel as a family, and my sister, Dana, also joined us from Chicago, which was really fun.  Normally, we like to travel to an IM venue on Wed or Thur of race week, but because this race was right after Thanksgiving, and I wanted to have Thanksgiving at home, we decided to leave on Friday.  This made for a hectic two days before the race, but it was totally do-able and I don’t think it negatively affected things much.  I admit there was a bit of stress as I sat by the window on the plane counting them load the bike boxes at DIA.  If the bike didn’t make it on Fri, things would have been screwed up for bike check-in the following day and it would have been stressful, to say the least, but none of those things happened and all was smooth.

Cozumel is a really fun IM venue.  It is an island, so that was fun, and the people were super-friendly to us.  The whole town seemed to really get into the spirit of the race.  This is particularly noticeable on the bike course, when you ride through some smaller villages and people are sitting in lawn chairs outside cheering on all of the racers.  Just a very welcoming feeling.

Also in Cozumel was Kree, a friend of mine from Denver who was doing her first IM.  The first order of business on Saturday was leaving Mark in the hotel room to build my bike and watch the kids while Kree and I went down to check out the water and have a swim.  Cozumel is a little unusual in that T1 and T2 are in separate locations.  The swim was about 1.5 miles from our hotel in some type of aquatic park.  The water is warm in the Gulf of Mexico, so the swim is not wetsuit legal.  This caused me no small amount of anxiety before the race.  Although I had planned to really work on my swim for this race, I did much of the same stuff I did for IMCdA, which mostly consisted of getting in the pool 3, maybe 4 days per week and swimming something very easy to remember, like 500s.  I am counting-challenged in the pool, so when I first started to swim, I had to swim intervals that were easy for me to count, and I can count to 10 and 20 pretty well, so I mostly swam 500s and 1000s.  Counting laps took all of my mental energy, and I couldn’t possibly also figure out how to use the pace clock too, so I mostly just swam using my running watch to time intervals.  I made up the workouts when I got to the pool, sometimes (usually) mid-swim.  I tried to go long at least once a week, and I may have also tried to go fast one day per week, but looking back on it now, I think it’s fair to characterize most of my swims as “flops” (which is swim lingo for an easy swim).

A few words about my love affair with the pull buoy.  Not too long after I started swimming, Mark introduced me to the miraculous device known as the pull buoy.  Its a big piece of foam that you wedge between your legs while swimming and, viola! you can swim faster and easier.  This device seemed like genius to me and while I knew, of course, that I couldn’t use something like that in the race, it sure didn’t stop me from using it when I was swimming.  Like all the time.  As in, I really couldn’t swim without it very well.  Once you become reliant on some type of swim aid like fins or a pull buoy, rather than helping you learn to swim better (like you try to tell yourself), the device actually hurts you and impedes your progress because you are not really learning to swim better.  You are just floating around in the water pretending to swim better.  So that’s what I did in the fall 0f 2010.  I got in the water a fair amount, but it was almost always with a pull buoy.  Or fins.

Around this time, my friend Kelly hooked me up with Cameron Widoff up in Boulder to give me a few swim lessons.  Cameron is a former pro, and before that, he was a really good swimmer, so he seemed like a good person to get some tips from.  Kelly was renting a house in Boulder that had an Endless Pool in the backyard, so Cam would come over and film each of us in the Endless Pool, and then we would watch the videos and chat with him.  We did a lot of chatting, more than swimming.  But it was pretty fun and it seemed productive, so I kept it up.  Cameron told me I was swimming with one arm basically, because my left arm was pulling so far to the side, so much of our work focused on me trying to get that arm to pull straight back and then pull right down my mid-line.  He gave me some drills and with a little form work, I improved to about a 2:00/100 time, but my times from last fall are a little unreliable because I didn’t always indicate if they were with the pull buoy or not (but they probably were).  Nonetheless, I was improving.  A little.

I also remember swimming 4000 leading up to Cozumel.  It was Mark’s idea, and I think he suggested that I do it at least twice.  So I did, but most of it was with pull buoy.

Back to the race.  Kree and I practiced swimming the course, and the water was really great, about as great as open water can be.  Very calm, smooth, warm and tons of pretty fish to look at.  The only issue is that there were tiny jellyfish that would sting you as you were swimming.  The stings were quick and the pain didn’t last long, but it was a little jarring to get stung while you were swimming.  It seemed like a small price to pay for the calm, warm water though.

Race day dawned and we headed down to the start early.  It was a water start and it took a while to get everyone down the dock and into the water, so we started that process early with the trade-off of having to tread water for a bit before the start.  I hung onto a boat and tried to remain calm.  I had a lot more confidence than I had at IMCdA, but I was still a pretty weak swimmer by anyone’s standards and was looking forward to getting that part of the day over with.

The start at IMCoz was nice and I think there may have been a dolphin show or something before the gun went off, but I was bobbing around in the water, trying not to waste too much energy, so I didn’t see it, or if I did, I don’t remember.  The gun went off and we started swimming, and it really wasn’t too bad.  The swim course is one loop instead of two, so by the time we go to the first turn, the field had already spread out a lot and it wasn’t too scary.  The swim down to the south end of the course seemed to take forever, as usual, and so did the time from the final turn back to the pier, but I eventually made it out of the water in 1:33!  I was pretty excited since it was about 10 minutes faster than my IMCdA time and 1:30 seemed like a good goal.  After a bit of confusion in locating my bike bag, I changed into my bike gear, found my bike and headed out.  I saw Mark in transition, and I yelled, “I swam 1:33!”  I was proud.

The bike course at Cozumel is unremarkable and a little monotonous as it is three (3!) loops of the island.  There is a short part with a little uphill, a longer flat part on the windier side of the island, a fun, fast part along the top part of the island, and a longer part back through town and back past all of the hotels on the other side (where the swim was).  It was hot, but not especially windy.  I had made it a point to train on the flats east of Denver to prepare for the flat, windy course at Cozumel, but honestly, I think our training rides were windier.  Plus, because of the lay-out of the course, it was only windy on certain sections.  So if it was windy, you knew you would be turning in a while and would have a tail-wind.  A lot of people would be bored silly, but I thought it was pretty and went by fairly quickly.

I cringe a little looking at my set-up on the bike for this race. Not even sure why I have aerobars?

I wasn’t sure what I was going to bike at Coz, but I came into T2 at 6:08, which was super-exciting as that was about 30 minutes faster than my CdA time.  I grabbed my bag, threw on a running skirt, and headed out on the run course.  The run at IMCoz was like magic.  I was running along at a sub-8:00 pace, my family was all over the course cheering me on, and the hardest part of my day was done.  I always feel like that once I ditch my bike – I am home and this is the part I can do.  So I was chugging along, grabbing the little freezy pop-like things of water at aid stations and just doing my thing.  The run is also three loops, but that didn’t bother me one bit.  I liked running through town every 8 or so miles and soaking up all of the energy from the crowds there.  There were also good crowds at other parts of the course.  It was never very deserted.  So I just kept plugging away at it and picking people off.  By the third lap, I knew I was having a really good run, and Mark started yelling at me to go get all of the girls in my age group.  I yelled back that I couldn’t tell who was in what age group, and he responded that it didn’t matter.  I should pretend like they were all in my age group and hunt every single one of them.  So that’s what I did, and it worked pretty well.  I don’t know how many people I passed on the run, but it felt like hundreds, and I ended up running 3:37, which was one of the best run splits in my AG.

Approaching the finish was surreal.  I was breaking 11:30, which had been my stretch, dream goal for the day.  I don’t usually buy finish pics from races because they usually aren’t that great, but I bought this one because I wanted to remind myself of that moment.  There were quite a few international athletes, so they were announcing names in English and Spanish

“Usted es un Ironman!”

The time would have been good enough for a Kona slot the year before (the first year of the race), but the second year is never as easy, and I was 14th, which we decided was not close enough to bother with going to roll-down.

After Cozumel, we enjoyed the island, came home, and plunged right into holiday craziness and the ski season.  I had no race plans after Cozumel.  I don’t like to plan too far ahead because I am never sure how I am going to feel after a race or what I am going to want to do.  That was probably a bad idea after this race because I had the winter blues and started feeling unmoored in life.  I had been training for Ironman for a year, and without that goal, I had nothing to structure my time around and no goals to aim for.  There was only one thing to do to cheer myself up.  So on a cold, snowy day in March, I hopped on the computer and figured out how to get a slot for IM Canada in August.  I was already planning to go to this race since Mark was already registered, and one of my good friends and training partners was signed up, too.  I hadn’t been that interested in the venue, but I knew how I would feel if I went to the race, but only as a spectator.  So with that in mind, I bought a spot through and started thinking about how I would train.


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