Monday, December 07, 2009

Tommy's Race Report and Weekend Recap

I have never had a guest blogger before, but since I have been too lazy to finish my race report and Tommy wrote a fabulous one, here we go!

Below is Tommy's race report and recap of the few days prior. It's long, but I find it entertaining (and not just because I raced and because I love him), so I think you should read it too.


From the desk of TommyB:

First of all, I would like to warn everyone about the length of this race report. It was written for me (and Christy) as well as a number of different audiences who are interested in different details so please feel free to read through it all or skip to the “interesting” sections. Enjoy!

After over a year of anticipation, training, sacrifice, and hard work, it was finally time to get down to business and pack for Ironman Cozumel. Christy and I were fully tapered and ready to go. We were lucky that James and Francis lent us their bike boxes to get our bikes there. We have never packed our bikes before, but we downloaded some directions from the internet and were ready to give it a try. We zip-tied towels around every piece of carbon, threw a couple extra towels in there to protect the wheels and felt really good about our packing job of both bikes. Now the box itself weighs 30 lbs, the bike is close to 20, and keeping the total weight around 50 lbs is the goal for avoiding extra baggage charges. I put it on the scale and am shocked to see 67 pounds! We stuffed 17 pounds of towels into the bike box! After talking to a number of people, it turns out we should rely more on the box to protect the bike and bubble wrap turns out to be much lighter than towels – go figure. We get the boxes down around 54 lbs and decide to go with it, probably could have cut it back a little more but better safe than sorry.

Thanksgiving morning comes and we pack the car for the airport. My poor Honda Fit doesn't know what hit it. I lay the seats down and stuff in 2 bike boxes, a large suitcase, a normal-size carry-on, and 2 large backpacks and it is packed to the gills! This is our first time flying to a race (particularly an Ironman) and we want to be prepared though. That and we are spending a week in Cozumel afterward. Somehow we get all of our stuff to the airport and luckily they only charge us for the bike box and not the overweight fee. Oh and a tip for everyone else, you can't carry-on a pedal wrench per TSA regulations. Not wanting to leave it at the airport, Christy had to go back through the bag check and security lines to check in another bag. How frustrating!

Half of the people on the full flight to Cozumel are also headed down for the race and it took them an extra hour to load all of the bike boxes on the plane. Then the same ordeal when we arrive in Cozumel. Our bikes happened to be pretty much the last ones off of the plane, and we realized everyone had to run their bags through the one x-ray machine open in customs. Since we were last in line, we sat down and read books for about 45 minutes while everyone else stood in line.

Finally we get through customs and the next adventure is the shuttle to the hotel. They can fit 3 bike boxes in the back of a van and they were strapping one to the roof to try to fully load the vans. When given that option, we decided to take the next one since strapping it to the top didn't sound all that appealing. We take the next one and they end up kicking the door shut on my carry-on to try and get it all to fit in there. Which normally isn't that big of a deal but my helmet is in there! And who knows how easy it is to find a new bike helmet in Cozumel if you need one. Side note: Many people reading this will wonder why I am being so apprehensive and get so stressed out over all of these little things – if you know me, that's not my style. I can't explain it, I guess it's the first Ironman training and how much you prepare and sacrifice and put into it, wanting everything to be perfect. Plus our bikes aren't cheap and carbon can break (although as we would later find out a P2 without race wheels was probably one of the cheapest bikes used in the race!) Regardless, I owe Christy a big apology and a thank you for putting up with me lately...

We arrive at our all-inclusive hotel (the Wyndham – Sabor, the adults-only part of the resort) and settle in. The resort is amazing and the island is so beautiful! The beaches are white and beautiful and the water is clear with so many colors of blue! (Why can't Galveston look like this?!?!?) They certainly picked a great destination to have a new Ironman race. We take a cab with another Ironman couple into town for packet pick-up. As far as race expo's go, this one is not all that impressive – about the size of the Lonestar Half if I had to compare it to something. We get our numbers and these nice IMCOZ jackets and are done in about 5 minutes. We also each bought a hat/visor and a shirt...we were a little disappointed at the variety and amount of IMCOZ gear available as we were fully prepared to buy a whole wardrobe of gear, haha. But I can understand them going a little conservative for a first-year race. (On Monday after the race, a lady offered me $50 for a $25 shirt because they ran out...tempting but I didn't give in.) So yes, we did buy all of our stuff before the race which is bad luck, but the people who waited until Monday missed out. And none of it said “finisher” so I though it wasn't too risky. :) Somehow it still didn't feel “real” yet. It hadn't hit me...

We have some drinks and then our own little Thanksgiving dinner and then attempt to put our bikes together. After 2 hours of cursing and frustration, mine gets assembled and appears to work, but we can't get the gears to shift on Christy's bike. So it looks like a trip back to town to get the bike fixed at the expo on Friday will be necessary. Ugh.

Friday morning, the weather is much like it was on Thursday, VERY windy! The swim practice at the race site is canceled for the second day in a row and people are getting concerned. Luckily the forecast for Saturday and Sunday is a lot better. We decide to swim some at the resort anyway with a bunch of other people amidst the huge waves and whitecaps. We swim out against the current for about 15 minutes and swallow tons of wasn't pretty. The best description I heard was “it was like swimming on a treadmill.” The good news it that it only took 5 minutes to swim back!

Next step was to get Christy's bike in order. There was a pretty good sized racing team staying at the hotel with all kinds of support for their athletes, one of which was bike inspection/tune-ups. Since cab fare to and from town was about 30 bucks, we decided to offer the guy the $30 to check out our bikes – and he took it! Turns out Christy's rear derailleur was bent a little in transit and he was able to fix it easily. He also showed us that the threads where it screws in are a little crooked which may explain some of the trouble she has had with shifting since we got the bike. Hopefully Cervelo/Bicycle World will help us get this fixed when we get back without costing us too much money. But the bikes are ready to go in just half an hour! Best money we spent so far on the island!

Then we decided to rent a car to drive the course since a 39 mile bike ride was a little long for a pre-race warmup in our opinion. Due to the number of people on the island, rental cars are scarce. The only car available is a “Mexican Ferrari” as affectionately described by the rental guys. Turns out this is a 30-year old red convertible bug, manual transmission and the gears barely shift. You have to see the pictures...we really tend to have some bad luck with rentals. We had to go back in and ask the guy how to get it in reverse. But it works and we are on our way.

We head towards the southern tip of the island and the roads are pretty good and there is protection from the winds until you get out of the hotel zone. Then the road gets really nice for a while until you get past the southern tip. We stop there at the Reggae Bar for a beer and some awesome shrimp quesadillas. The eastern side of the island is uninhabited but beautiful – but there is no protection from the strong winds. Great scenery, but we can already tell it will be the hardest part of the course.

As we head further up the coast, the road changes and gets rough for about a 10 mile stretch. It's not the chip-seal that we know from back home because the chips are much smaller, but it's comparable. There are great bars every couple of miles and I fully recommend taking a cab around the island one day if you ever come to Cozumel. A couple miles before you make the turn towards town, the road gets nice again and we stop at another bar for a beer. Couldn't resist!

The stretch of road heading west towards downtown is awesome and we were looking forward to this part of the ride on Sunday. The roads in town were also very smooth. We stopped in town at a huge store (like a Wal-Mart) to load up on water/gatorade/pre-race foods then headed south back to our hotel. The roads on the western side of the island (towards the swim start and our hotel) were also nice. There were a number of speed bumps but they were working on them and they promised everyone that they would all be gone by Sunday. All in all, it seemed like a good bike course with a very tough 10-12 mile stretch mixed in there – that we would have to do 3 times.

We then went for a little 20 minute run to keep the legs loose and feel what it was like to run in the heat again. We thought training in Houston would be great preparation for Cozumel, but the beautiful fall weather at home the month before the race may have de-acclimated us from the heat a little bit. Still, we felt good although my ankle was still bothering me. Long story short, I hurt it somehow by doing a faceplant over my aerobars a month before the race at a 100-mile ride NW of Fort Worth that Christy has affectionately renamed from the Springtown Spin to the Springtown Suck. Seriously the worst organized bike ride we have ever done. But my ankle has been hurting whenever I run ever since – strangely not while I run but only after. I ran the 25K in Houston a few weeks ago and it felt fine, but I couldn't walk right for 5 days afterward. So I'm thinking it will still be okay for the race...

Then Team Blain starts to arrive at the hotel! Christy's family (Chris, Candy, Cathy, and Brett) are the first ones to join the party and it's great to see them! While we are talking to them during the check-in process, somehow they score a free upgrade to the Aura section of the hotel where the high-rollers stay (premium liquor, no additional charges for steak and lobster, etc.) They come back to hang with us at the Sabor area and I guess the hotel staff felt bad for how that all worked out with them getting the two rooms upgraded right in front of us, so they come up to Christy and offer us the opportunity to move to Aura as well. Christy says “Only if you upgrade the 4 other rooms of our friends who are arriving this weekend.” And so it was done – as it turned out the place was almost a ghost town so we had the place pretty much to ourselves...which was probably best for everyone because of how loud (and fun) our group was the rest of the week!

While the upgrade sounds fun in theory, in reality it was a minor pain in the butt for us. We had already unpacked and laid out a lot of our race gear, bikes, a week of clothes, toiletries, dirty clothes, etc. in our current room. So we had to pack it all up and move to the next place – very intimidating but luckily it wasn't a far move. We crammed it all into bags, turned in our old hotel room keys, and walked our bikes and backpacks over to the other front desk (the bell boy was going to get the rest of it), only to find out our rooms were not ready. Now we don't have a room at all AND we have to leave to go back to town for a mandatory pre-race meeting. So we end up having to stuff our bikes and bags into an unlocked closet in the lobby area and leave.

Apparently this it too much for me to handle, haha. As we walk back to our hoopdee rental car, I am fuming about how frustrating traveling with our bikes has been, and if somebody takes them we can't race, and all the other little things that have happened, blah blah blah. This other triathlete asks us a question about the meeting and we offer him a ride and I continue to rant while he is there in the backseat. Christy thinks I have lost it at this point. Somehow she is able to calm me down and get my brain screwed back on straight...I really don't know how she does it but she is amazing.

The race director had a good way of making sure people came to the “mandatory” pre-race meeting. Pretty much all big races have a mandatory meeting to discuss the rules, the course, etc. that most people seem to skip. Well they decided to only give out race bags to people who showed up for the meeting...pretty tricky. The meeting itself was pretty useless – all they did was read the athlete guide to us and said the room was too difficult for any questions so we had to ask them in person afterward. There must be no fire codes in Mexico because we sat in this huge room with chairs for 1500 people, one aisle on the left side, and one door located in the back that opens into a small little crowded hallway. Luckily there were no issues, we picked up our race bags and headed back to the hotel. It still didn't feel like an Ironman yet...although Christy did see Bree Wee (one of her favorite pros) while we were there but she was too chicken to talk to her!

We had a nice dinner at the Italian restaurant with the family that night and went out for a little 40 minute bike ride the next morning. Both of us felt awesome, the taper must have really worked! We felt rested, strong and ready to do it! The only race-prep agenda items for Saturday were packing and labeling our race bags and dropping them off at the transition area with our bikes. A quick explanation for some – most Ironman races (and some other races) don't let you set up a “transition area” with all of your gear next to your bike as you may normally be familiar with. So after each leg, you pick up your bag of gear for the next sport, go into a changing tent and take care of whatever you need to do, then put everything else back into the bag so you can get it again after the race. There are also “special needs” bags that you can optionally pick up around the halfway point on the bike and on the run. Basically you can fill these with any food/drinks/lube/other items you may want later in the race. And there is a pre-race bag where you give them any clothes you wore to the race site that you don't plan to swim in or want to wear after the race.

We spent a couple hours packing and labeling our race bags – it seemed to take forever to check and double-check the lists but better safe than sorry. Following some great advice from our HRTC friends who had previously raced Ironmans, we put some tape on our bags to make them stand out. (I picked up some green masking tape from the paint section at Lowe's.) Talking to Christy later, she said the only way she ever found her bag was because of the tape. I was luckier, as it seemed #702 was at the front of a row of bags whenever I needed one...still the tape was nice. (Another tip for those considering doing this race – learn how to describe your bag in Spanish!) The whole time, I am hobbling across the room on my sore ankle, wondering what this will mean for me tomorrow for race day. I just keep telling myself everything will be ok.

Once our bags are packed, we head to the beach for a couple of hours to kill some time before we have to check everything in. (Seriously you need to consider IMCOZ, if you like beaches the place is awesome, especially if you are bringing friends and family – a great vacation destination.) We run into most of the Houston contingent of Team Blain at the restaurant – Thomas, Janelle, Francis, and Matt had just arrived! It is great to see them and hang out for a while...go team. We leave to go over to Chakanaab and they let us know everyone will be hanging out at the rooftop bar when we get back.

We walk over to the main entrance for the Wyndham where they are shuttling people back and forth to the race site. The race assigned time slots to groups of bib numbers which told us when we could arrive. Luckily they weren't really enforcing this because ours were a couple hours apart...we just went in between our times and everything was ok. And surprise! They are bodymarking us as we walk in there. Now it feels real. Somehow I guess having your race number written all over your body, looking at all of the amazing bikes lined up around the sprawling transition area, and seeing the entire 2.4 mile swim course all laid out just makes a race feel “real”. We are finally here in Cozumel and are going to attempt to become Ironmen tomorrow! I get lucky as my bike is a long the shortest route from the changing tent to the exit, while Christy has to run a whole extra loop within the transition area. Sorry baby! We also checked out the awesome transition area that was set up for the pros with individual bike racks and saw one bike with a custom pink paint job that could even make Kathleen jealous! (We took a pic for you.) We say goodbye to our bikes, bike gear, and run gear and head back to the hotel.

Christy is getting a little emotional, so we decide to skip our dinner reservations at the Italian place, order room service, and only visit with Team Blain for as long as she can handle it. When we get up to the rooftop bar, it's like a private party for just our family and friends. Amanda and Jon made it in from Dallas and everyone is there (other than Ly and Chris who flew in during the race on Sunday). Everyone is offering support and encouragement and we have a drink with them before heading back to the room for dinner and to get some rest and to focus. I was so jealous we couldn't spend the evening with everyone! Anyway, that's what the rest of the week was for. So we ate a little pasta in our room, set every alarm and wake up call we could, then went to bed early.

The next morning we wake up at 4am (early but a time we had grown very familiar with over the past year) and eat some peanut butter and bread for pre-race breakfast. We usually toast it but with no toaster available, the nutritional value is all the same so it works. We take the first shuttle over there and get to transition before it opens at 5:30. After loading up all of our bike nutrition, borrowing bike pumps from other triathletes, and figuring out where to leave our pre-race and special needs bags, we head over to the swim start area.

The swim course is a long rectangle running parallel to the shore. The long edges of the rectangle are about 1.2 miles long and the short edges are about 25 yards each. The huge dock at Chakanaab Park is near the middle of this rectangle and you start from the northwest corner of it (swimming north against the current) and finish on the southern side of it close to the shore. The dock is probably over 150 yards long and you have to run across it from south to north as part of T1. Team Blain is already there in their awesome lime green shirts and they are easy to spot in the crowd. Thomas and Francis have picked out a great place for shooting pictures and video. It's great to be able to stand there right by our support team while we wait for the race to start. We also run into Bobbi once again and wish her good luck – we met Bobbi at a sprint tri this year in Gruene, and somehow she and Christy had consecutive race numbers. They assigned them in the order we registered so they must have signed up at the same time...what are the odds.

I would have to say that the weather we had for race day was “ideal” or as good as you can expect for a race in Cozumel. Yeah, it was humid but it was in the mid-upper 60's in the morning and I doubt it got over 80 all day. Wind forecast said 8 mph which we were excited about – but we found out later that that is the forecast for the airport/downtown and has nothing to do with what happens on the windy side of the island. We even got some cloud cover on the run and a little 10 min light mist of rain at some point later in the day during the run. But the water was relatively calm for the start with some slight rolling waves.

All of the nervous energy and excitement causes time to pass quickly and before we know it the pro race is about to begin. I take an Accel Gel when they start and then there are 15 minutes to walk the other 1700 or so of us down to the edge of the pier, get us down a ladder, into the water, and set up to start. It ended up being a little stressful. We made it to the end as they were announcing there were 4 minutes remaining until 7am and that everyone needed to hurry. Christy was very emotional (it happens to her at the beginning of all races – so I feel a little better leaving her but it was still so hard). I tell her she can do it and that I would see her in a little while on the run course.

I try to seed myself well in the last remaining minute before the start. About 5-10 people back a little outside of the center of the pack. I didn't hear any official countdown (it was hard to understand the people on the microphone once in the water) but a bunch of people started swimming and I decided to go with them. The race was on! I work hard to establish a good pace/position and find some people swimming the same pace. It works pretty well and overall the swim start turns out to be less painful than I had imagined over the past however-many months. Much less having to stop and breaststroke while getting caught in a crowd and not all that much carnage overall as compared to other races. Maybe it was because of the clarity of the water and you could see people coming at you and adjust...not sure. I did get jacked in the left goggle and it filled with water though. I decided it was better to just press on instead of trying to fix it and getting run over and losing my position.

After the first turnaround, things were pretty spread out and I was able to get into a good rhythm, going with the current for over a mile also helped. :) I knew I was a stronger swimmer than the times I produced in previous half-iron races and was hoping for a good showing here. I just have trouble swimming in a straight line in open water. The visibility here was awesome, we could see starfish, stingrays, and basically everything down there at a depth of 50 feet if I had to guess. Between swimming straighter and a swim lesson from my dad's friend Kent that we had in July over in Ft. Morgan, AL, I felt pretty strong going into the race. Time flew by and before I knew it, we were turning around again to head back to the dock. I checked my watch and saw that a one-hour swim leg was possible depending on the current. What the heck?!?! I felt great but eased off the throttle a bit just in case I was going too hard. I found some feet that were moving a little slower and cruised in...apparently missing a good bit of scenery while concentrating on drafting (there was a huge crucifix statue and a big M-dot logo that were apparently on the bottom during that last stretch.) I check my watch as I climb the stairs and it shows 1:01:13 – much better than I had hoped for. From talking to everyone afterwards it sounded like most people had a really good swim out there.

I run down the long dock to the transition area and wave to team Blain – I think they were also surprised to see me. I pick up my bike gear bag which is conveniently the first one on the rack and head to the changing tent. What a madhouse! It was waaay too small and everyone was crowded at the front. Since I didn't plan on actually changing clothes, I go back outside and sit down on the ground to put on my bike shoes. Several other guys follow my lead. A couple minutes later I am on my bike and starting out the 112 mile journey.

The bike course is basically a 3 loop course although you stop downtown on the last loop and T2 is there instead of going all the way back down to Chakanaab Park. I settle into an easy but fast pace since we are headed south (with the wind). And the nutrition plan begins – I basically drink water the whole time and take in about 100-120 calories and an electrolyte pill (E-cap) every half hour. There is a lot of passing going on during the first loop and lots of race officials out there on motorbikes. The aid stations are about every 6 miles so there was not shortage of support or fluids. One issue we noticed beforehand was that all of the Gatorade bottles we saw on the island were too skinny to fit in a bike bottle holder – they promised us at the race meeting that the ones at the aid stations would such luck. It didn't matter all that much to me though since Gatorade isn't really a big part of my nutrition/hydration plan. I was worried for Christy though.

The other thing I noticed at the aid station was that they gave out water in those small water bottles that don't fill up your aero-bottle the whole way. Not a big deal, but they were the exact same ones that they gave us at registration. We tried them during the week and noticed that it's almost impossible to get water out of them. I ended up unscrewing the top and trying to pour it into my aero-bottle, which proved difficult through the windy sections. The next day, our friend Dave (who PR'd by an hour, won his age group, and qualified for Kona – way to go Dave!) told us he just bit off the stopper in the middle and was able to easily pour them in. I had no idea you could do that, but it's a great tip for future races!

I was glad we drove the course so we knew exactly what to I made the turn to the windy side of the island, I instantly knew we were facing on that side were much more than the 8mph winds per the forecast. I'd say maybe 12-15mph with gusts to 25. Much less wind than we had on Bike Around the Bay, but enough wind to catch some spray from the ocean when the waves crashed on the rocks – which were about 40-50 yards from the road. Seeing everyone get blown around on the gusts made me realize why the race officials did not allow disk wheels. On a really windy day it could be bad. Every time we made the turn toward town onto the smooth road and out of the wind it was a very welcome change.

Riding through downtown was just awesome. The roads were very smooth and people lined the roads for miles cheering on all of the riders. I would yell out “woo-hoo” or “gracias” as I passed was a lot of fun. Only thing I would say is to be careful on the turns because there are some bumps/manhole covers, etc. that could cause a fall.

This was also the first race where I noticed some pretty bad and intentional drafting. I read some reports about IMFL in the past where people complained about it but I was like – it's no big deal, some people will cheat. Well trust me, when you see it, the drafting really does piss you off! As I finished up my first loop, I passed a big guy tucked in behind this small woman letting her pull him around the course. I slowed down and gave the guy a hard time about it – I hope he was embarrassed. Then back on the windy side, I entered this guy's draft zone and as I made the move to pass, there was a freakin' paceline on my left. Are you kidding me? About 8 riders all in a line, and I am blocked in. It probably took me about a minute to break loose and I am sure I didn't make any friends with them when I later caught and passed them. Man it would have been nice to draft someone through the wind. Whatever...I think one of them may have gotten caught and regardless it helped break up some of the painful monotony of the bike ride and the evil wind.

I made it through the first two loops averaging over 20 mph and thought it would be really cool to keep the 20 mph average all the way through. But I thought better of it and backed off for the third loop to save my legs for the run, it was probably best because the winds shifted and picked up, making the windy section even longer. But I was very pleased with my bike leg overall, nutrition went as planned, my legs were a little tired but there was plenty left in the tank for the run. As I made the final turn towards T2 (almost missed it, they set up some “finish chute” cones that were not there on the first couple laps), I saw Team Blain there getting loud and it was great to see them again! Final bike time (5:43:55 – 19.54 mph), very pleased and feeling good so far.

T2 was pretty painless. Our bags were lined up right there at the finish next to the changing tent which was about the same size as the one at T1 but people were much more spaced out. I changed socks and lubed up my feet for the run and was out onto the run course. One more wave to Team Blain and off I went! The run course starts downtown and heads north towards the airport along the coast for a little over 4.3 miles, then you double back towards downtown and do it 3 times. So basically you are doing 3 out and backs, crossing the same stretch of road 6 times.

My plan was to start out at around a 9 minute mile and see how long it lasted. I knew I usually come out running a little fast, so I checked a few minutes in, saw I was running about an 8:30 and backed off. My first couple miles were right around 9 minutes, right on track. But then I started to notice some sloshing in my stomach and burping whenever I swallowed anything – gel, Gatorade, water, nothing seemed to be digesting. Not good. I felt like puking could help but decided against it and tried to keep everything down. I slowed down and did a lot of walking to try to kick-start the system, but it didn't seem to work. As I made the first turnaround, I realized that I was about to find out what the Ironman was all about. It was going to be a long evening.

The good news was I thought I should be seeing Christy soon...I hoped she was having a great race! Sure enough, about halfway back I saw her coming down the other side of the road. We exchanged a few words and a big hug and a kiss! (The hug was a big deal – I think it was the first time she ever touched me while I was sweaty, no really.) Man I am so lucky to be able to do these races with her, it makes everything just that much more fun. From the months of early morning training to the final race-day payoff, my wife and best friend is the one person who helped me get through it all!! She looks great and the energy from seeing her helps me cruise through the next couple of miles (at my 12ish minute pace).

The crowd thickens as I get closer to downtown and the motivation really helps. Our names are on the front of our bibs so we get some personalized cheering which helps. I respond with a “gracias” or a fist pump and then more people respond. I guess there are too many people who just run by “in the zone” and they like the acknowledgment. It's how I have fun in races too, so I forget about the pain and the crowd carries me all the way to the end of the loop. The turnaround is like a Mardi Gras parade, people are stacked several rows deep and there is a very loud marching band. I take a glimpse of the finishing chute and head back to start loop 2. How disheartening...the only thing worse is when you start the 3rd loop, haha. Looped courses are great because you know exactly what you have in store for you, but bad because you see things like the marker for mile 6 next to the one for mile 24 and you realize how far away you really are.

It's a fleeting thought of depression though because then I see Team Blain in full force wearing their lime green shirts. I stop and give them all high-fives all around! What an amazing support crew. Later on I would check the tape and see how green I looked, but they didn't let me know it. I left completely motivated for another loop. Thanks everyone for coming down to support us! I can't even begin to tell you how much it helped!

It was over the next few miles that I realized my stomach would not recover. I was going to have to complete the marathon on no food or drink whatsoever. The support was great, a ton of kids passing out food, Gatorade, cold water, ice, and other stuff every kilometer, but I couldn't utilize it. My legs felt good but my body just rejected everything. I would jog until I felt queasy then back off and walk for a while. I realize that I haven't passed a single person on the run and that the people flying by me, especially the ones headed back toward town, are the pros and age group winners cashing in on their Kona dreams. Another woman passes me, empties her gut on the side of the road as I walk by, then passes me again. Man these people are so hardcore!

I see Christy again in a couple miles, looks like we are averaging the same pace – and she still looks great and seems to be having fun! How awesome! Over the next couple miles, I see a couple first aid stations with people laid out on cots getting fluids and realize how close I am to being in that place myself. I recall a race report from Melanie in HRTC who raced Ironman Florida a few weeks ago. She had a similar day to the one I was having and ended up going to the medical tent at mile 24 of the marathon. At this point, I told myself I would make sure not to push myself past that threshold – I have 17 hours to complete the race, which meant that I still had like 7 hours left. I could do 14 miles in 7 hours as long as I could still maintain my senses and put one foot in front of the other.

I pass the halfway point and totally forget about the special needs bag, I was so out of it. I see a guy with a bag and I ask him where he got it, he points back in the other direction. No way I am doing MORE than 26.2 today, so I push forward. It's not like I could have eaten anything in the bag anyway. I see Christy again and forget to warn her about missing the bags. Then the mosquitoes hit! A warning to anyone doing this race or even visiting Cozumel around Thanksgiving. The mosquitoes are evil – but only for about 30 minutes right at sunset. So pack the bug spray into your Run or T2 will need it.

Next thing I remember, I am back in downtown riding the energy of the crowd. At the end of the second/start of the third loop, I see Team Blain again and I stop to talk to them. I made sure to tell Thomas and Francis - our head video/photo guys - that I am going to wait for Christy when I get back in town so that we can finish together. All along I wanted to finish the race as fast as I could but also wished that we could finish this amazing Ironman journey hand in hand. Since it seemed like I'd only have to wait about 30 minutes for her because she was having such a great race, I opted for Plan B. Anyway, I just wanted to make sure they weren't waiting too long at the finish line and could time it based on Christy's pace.

A couple miles down the road, I see Christy coming with her glow stick – great, she found the special needs bag. She tells me that the Red Bull we packed in there was magical so I start looking forward to it. I could have used some wings at that point. Pretty soon after that, I was d-o-n-e. I can walk a pretty mean 15 minute mile normally, but at the end of the race that day the pace made me dizzy and I started stumbling. So I backed it down to about an 18 minute pace which seemed to work. Another try at the fast walking with the same results and I decided to walk it in at whatever slow pace I could handle. The goal was to finish after all. (Thanks again Melanie if you are reading this – sharing your experiences really helped me put things in perspective and get through this!)

I found the special needs bag with the Red Bull and glow stick. I tried the Red Bull but it was not any good – I didn't know why I thought it would be my cure but whatever. The glow stick provided me with some amusement during the walk to the finish though! I saw Christy again and realized she was now only 2 miles behind me! I did a little math and wondered if she would catch me or beat would be close. Funny thing I didn't realize until the next day, my ankle that had been hurting me leading up to the race – didn't hurt all day or at all the week after the race.

The final walk through town was great, people cheering and me whooping them up even more. They wanted me to run to the finish (and I did too) but I knew that was not possible. I finally see Team Blain right before the finish chute. I thank everyone and when they see me they realize that I don't look too good. I stand by them and hold onto the railing to wait for Christy. Pretty soon a race official comes over to check on me but I tell him I am just waiting a few minutes for my wife so he lets me do it. I only waited for about 10 minutes before I see Christy heading towards the finishing chute. Man she looks like a million bucks! She is very happy to see me and grabs my hand and we run towards the finish line! (I'm thinking – why do we have to run baby, it's right there...) We hold our hands up together at the finish and we have finally done it – we are Ironmen! With a final time of 12:55:54! (My marathon time was 6:01:11 – so the Houston marathon would have given me a DNF – but who cares!)

Then Christy realizes I am not doing well so she immediately starts taking care of me (what a wonderful wife)! The guy at the medical tent asks me if I need to go in and what are my symptoms. I tell him that I am dizzy, nauseated, and dehydrated – and he refuses to let me in. Apparently there are a lot of people in there and they are saving beds for people who are worse off? Man I really could have used some fluids. A thought for anyone else in that position in the future – if you finish the race and need fluids that badly, don't answer their questions, just start to and then collapse on the ground. That would have worked better. :) Anyway, after a little sitting and trying to recover, Christy helps me through the finisher's area and we collect our bags, bikes, etc. Team Blain helps us get back to the hotel in one piece thankfully – still supporting us even after a whole day on their feet. Thanks again guys, you were awesome!

We try to sleep, but end up waking up every few hours. So weird. Christy logs on around 2AM and realizes that the official race site doesn't have her finishing yet. We check Facebook and email and realize that tons of people have been tracking us back home – and I have lots of congratulations messages and notes asking if Christy finished the last leg of the run (while Christy has no messages)! I am still pretty broken so Christy tries to let everyone know that she is still alive and finished the race. By the next morning I think we hadeventually gotten the word out...

I just want to thank all of our family, friends, and those who trained with us back home for following us and supporting us during the race and giving us advice throughout our journey! It really does make us feel loved to know that so many people were supporting us the whole time! We did it! And a special thanks to Jenn who watched Donny the whole time we were in Cozumel. We are sooo sorry about your curtains! I hate him. :)

We spent the rest of the week reminiscing and spending time with our friends and family on the beaches of Cozumel at the Wyndham. It sucked leaving the beaches and coming back to snow in Houston – pretty surreal. It really is an awesome place for a race and a vacation and I would recommend it to anyone. Let us know if you have any questions.

A week later, I am still a little sick and having trouble eating – probably from pushing my body too far (hopefully not the swine flu!). Another Ironman is not in my plans for the future, but I won't write it off for good. It really does take a lot out of you, but it is such a rewarding journey that I would recommend to anyone who considers it. You CAN do it!!!

Ironman Lessons Learned:

• There are so many training plans out there (seems like everyone we trained with was following a different one) that will all get you across the finish line. We somewhat followed ours but tailored it to what worked for us and what we felt like doing each week – organized bike rides, Houston Fit ATP workouts, HRTC group rides, etc.
• Make training fun! After all this is why we maintain this lifestyle and we are lucky enough to be able to do triathlons...if something sounds like fun, change your plan and go for it!
• We gave up a lot to do Ironman training, but not as much as we expected. For booze-lovers like us, you can still have drinks with dinner almost every night and go to happy hours, you just can't stay up late or get wasted to where it impacts your workouts. And somehow we made to to all of our friends' out of town weddings this year!
• We religiously went to bed early every night and worked out early in the mornings – this gave us complete control over our schedules. Rarely did we do a second workout in the afternoon. Most multi-sport workouts just included transition runs. We did a lot of these (most were just 2-3 miles). The longest we ever ran after a long bike ride was 6 miles after the Bike Around the Bay which was an awesome training ride (also helped to build confidence with the wind)..
• Swim as much as it takes so that you feel comfortable completing 2.4 miles without pushing too hard. Then focus on biking and running. It will help you more in the long run. I swam a lot more than Christy – mainly due to other injuries, but still only once or twice a week mostly focusing on technique. I did a LOT of biking.
• You can't carry-on a pedal wrench. You can't carry-on athletic tape or electrical tape (we had to leave these in Mexico, must have checked them on the way there). You can't fly at all with CO2 cartridges – buy them at the race expo and leave them there.
• I have no idea how you can balance the Ironman lifestyle when your spouse/partner doesn't race or when you have kids. I am so lucky that Christy does this with me and I am not sure how we could do it with little ones. The few times when we didn't work out together on the weekends were trying on our relationship. I really respect and admire everyone else who can somehow manage through these issues!
• I have no need to fly to a race with my bike again. Taking it apart, putting it together, hauling the huge box around, and the expense of traveling with it just isn't worth it. I think we will just pick races we can drive to or get one of those companies that transports your bike there in one piece to take it. The expense of the service is worth the hassle of what it would take to fly with your bike (and probably comparable on cost anyway). Continental charged us $100 per bike each way. Luckily they didn't hit us with another $50 each way for the boxes being over 50 lbs – I heard some people say they had to pay that too.
• What would I do different if I had to do it over again...not sure. Common logic would say that I went too hard on the bike so my body couldn't handle it on the run – not my legs, my stomach. But I felt great and did hold back some on the bike, and I feel like I earned how fast I went through training. And my average heart rate on the bike was 148. So I dunno, I think I will just chalk it up to being one of those things that can happen on an Ironman and it being my first attempt at the distance. You can't take anything for granted at an Ironman.


KCWoodhead said...

Congrats Tommy - what a great race and report! I read every word. You and Christy certainly have something special, but you both already know that (that is probably what makes it so special though!). It is time to enjoy a well-deserved break. I'm not doing a full next year and it is a bit of a relief.

Tommy said...

Thanks so much Kathleen! Can't believe you read the whole thing. You definitely deserve a break too after 2PR's this year!

Leslie said...

Tommy and Christy--you guys truly amaze me! Tommy, your race report was awesome. I can't wait to read Christy's. Ya'll are such a strong couple, and the fact that you finished the race hand in hand is so sweet and honestly, touching. Congrats to both of you on becoming ironmen!

Rebecca said...

I loved reading this! I, too, read every word...although in 2 sittings because of your dear nephews. :) You and Christy are amazing! What an experience to have been through together. I teared up while reading most of it...just so very, very proud of you. Mom is too.