Wow, holy cow, oh my god, *add your own exclamation here*, was that hard! But I’m pleased to report I am officially an Ironman, 140.3 miles in 14 hours, 44 minutes and 38 seconds…the hardest 14 hours, 44 minutes and 38 seconds of my life.
What started 10 months ago reached fruition this Sunday with completion of race # 11, Ironman Cozumel. That’s a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run, back-to-back.
It’s hard to describe how intense it was. It’s obviously been quite a build up to this point and spending the 5 days prior to the race acclimatizing in Cozumel all added to the experience. Come Saturday night I went to bed at 9:00pm, alarm set for 4:30am. Unfortunately, I was wide awake at 1:00am, sleeping fitfully through to 4:30am…not unusual for race day, but a little more sleep would have been nice.
After a quick bowl of cereal and cup of tea off we headed on the shuttle bus to the race start at Chankanaab Park. And what a crazy start it was.
I’d setup for the swim/bike transition the day before, so prior to the start all that had to be done was check the bike, walk the transition and then watch the pros head off at 6:40am. As soon as they left 2,500 competitors jumped into the sea ready for the mass in-water start. I now know what it feels like to be a fish in a shoal as we bobbed around waiting for the start…and then all hell broke loose and it was every man/women for themselves. That’s the largest mass start I’ve ever done and to be trying to swim in a sea of bodies was challenging to say the least.
The upside was the beautiful, crystal clear, aquamarine sea and 80+ fahrenheit temperature. Looking back now the swim seemed to pass quickly, if an hour and 27 minutes can be called quick, that is. Actually, I’m very pleased with the swim, I was hoping to complete the 2.4 miles in an hour and a half, but thought that might be too optimistic, so I did well. Along the way you get to thump and be thumped by your fellow competitors, watch the divers below blow “air rings” up at you and do your final turn as you reach the submarine…yep, a little different from your average triathlon.
After the swim it’s a short run to pick up your bike transition bag and into the changing tent to get dried off and into your bike gear, the pros are all done in under 2 minutes, me, more like 13…but, hey, what’s the rush. With the swim done, 112 miles on the bike beckoned. This consisted of 3 laps of the island (yep Cozumel ain’t that big).
I started out feeling good, my first lap averaged over 17 mph, but for about two-thirds of each lap you’re peddling into wind (head or side wind). To give you an idea, normally, when training on level terrain, I’d be in the large cog on the front, here I was having to pedal in the small one (I only have two). It was as if you were constantly going uphill and the best part was, with each lap, the wind picked up, so by lap two I only averaged 16.5 mph and by lap 3 I was down to 16 mph. I’d hoped the bike might take between six and six and a half hours, it took me 6 hours 46 minutes (that did include a pee stop and rest stop to restock my nutrition) and I’d definitely used more energy than I’d figured into the process, which didn’t bode well for the run.
Once you finish the ride you hand your bike off to be racked and grab your run transition bag and head to the changing tent, by way of the porta-potty, of course. The run transition is usually the quicker of the two, but for some reason it took me longer than my bike transition, nearly 15 minutes…must have been one long pee! Anyway, after changing and putting on more vaseline (don’t ask) and sun block off I went for the run, full of vim and vigor…and that, ladies and gentleman, is where a tough race turned really tough.
The run also consisted of 3 laps, the first 8 and a bit miles weren’t too bad, I ran for nine minutes and walked for one, probably averaging around a 10:30 / mile pace. Approaching the halfway point of 13.1 miles I’d slowed to a 12 minute / mile pace, running 4 minutes and walking one. I managed to drag myself around to complete the second lap, but, knew I was toast as I came around the turn point for the last lap. I saw Kerry, who’d be out supporting me the entire day, and told her I was well and truly pooped!
As I approached the 18 mile mark I hit the proverbial wall. In all my races to date I’d never reached the point were I felt I just couldn’t keep moving. For the next 8 miles even walking was hard, my pace slowed to 18+ minutes / mile, time dragged on and only sheer will power and determination kept me moving forward. I knew if I stopped I likely wouldn’t start again, I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other and let the finish line come to me.
I can tell you waves of emotion wash over you at that point, you’ve been going 14+ hours, your legs ache, your back aches, your feet ache, heck even your aches ache. The sun had set several hours ago, the winners crossed the finish line just as you were starting your run, the field has thinned out so it’s just you out there, maybe occasionally someone who can walk faster than you passes you by…that is why they call it an Ironman.
You just keep moving forward.
And so it was that after just over 6 hours since starting the run I reached the finish line, not pretty, but then again Ironman is not about being pretty, it’s about grit and determination, perseverance and will power, conquer or be conquered. To all those that have trained for and completed an Ironman I salute you, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done…but I am IRONMAN!
You can view more pictures of my race on Facebook
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