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Surviving Cozumel

Before every one of these races, I (along with every other athlete I am sure) peruse the course maps and elevation guides to get an idea of what we are about to face. I even toured the island by jeep 2 days before the race. Pancake flat, maybe a few inclines… gonna be a fast fast day, thats what I thought. I (again along with every other athlete here) underestimated the power of the wind.

The day began with a 2.4 mile point to point swim. Ironman has begun using their “swim smart” initiative which uses waves to start athletes by age group every couple of minutes. I was in the 7th wave, and starting in this manner helps reduce the immediate traffic. I always worry about catching other waves and running into a lot of traffic, but Sunday was not a problem. The swim is with the current, but their was a rip tide. As the waves arrived, you could feel yourself being pushed forward and then immediately pulled back. I tend to swim way wide to avoid other swimmers as much as possible – I like open water. Because of the rip tide, this seemed to make my desire to swim further out from the shore easier than usual. The water was very clear with perhaps the best visibility I have ever had in a race. You could see scuba divers below the entire way, and I came out of the water in 52:33. Very respectable.

The bike started ok. The roads were a little rough. I was hitting my goal power, and then I reached the eastern coast. This is a 13.2 mile segment which follows the shoreline. The road is reminiscent of the Pacific Coast highway in California, but with no shade and no protection from the wind. There are no developed business or hotels. Gorgeous to drive by car. Demoralizing to ride by bike. The winds were 30mph coming across your right shoulder for the first 2 laps, and then go figure, head-on for the final lap. I went from averaging 24+ mph to averaging 15-16 mph, and having to work for it. Even worse, I learned what the strong winds can do to your neck when wearing a tailed aero helmet (it constantly makes you have to fight from turning your head). Needless to say, many many people were holding ice packs on their necks after the race.

One of the few “businesses” on the eastern coast of Cozumel

Ande demonstrating the power of the wind

This was the wind I was riding into…

My power meter on my bike quit giving me accurate readings by about mile 40, so the remainder of the ride was totally by feel. However, by the time I finished my 3rd segment through the wind, I was cooked. The segment was so windy that you really could not take in fluids or other nutrition because simply taking your hand off the handlebars risked getting blown over, and with everything that’s been happening in the past few months, I simply was not ready for a tough and demanding bike. I was truly feeling it. When I rolled into T2, rather than running off the bike like usual, I walked. I was literally ready to call it a day. I sat in the transition tent for 5 minutes. The volunteers in the tent were all spanish speaking teenagers. I don’t really remember what they were saying to me, but with their tone and enthusiasm, it was clear they were trying to motivate me to continue on. I gave myself a pity party and tried to come with a few excuses, and then just said to hell with it, I’ll get in at least one lap on the run.

The run course starts in downtown San Miguel in Cozumel, heads North along the main road along the coast 4.5 miles, then turns around coming back on the same street. Now do that 3 times. The run course was amazingly flat. This side of the island is more sheltered from the wind, and there were people everywhere. I focused on my heart rate and just tried to run consistently without overdoing it. I ran the first segment right at 7:00 mile pace. The second segment was a little slower, but I was feeling okay. I continued on for my second lap, and noticed that suddenly I was getting passed by a lot of people that I otherwise should not be. I calculated my mile splits – I went from 7:00 to 7:15 to 8:00 to 8:30, then a 9:45. I wasn’t stopping, I just slowing way down. I hit mile 13, picked up my special needs bag which had a red bull in it. I drank it, then tried to start running again. About 5 minutes later, the only was to describe it was that I suddenly developed the overwhelming urge to go to the ground. I was lightheaded, vision blurry. I was cold and no longer sweating. I started walking for fear I was about to go down. As I finally made it back into town, I honestly questioned whether I could do a 3rd lap.

I saw Shannon and the kids just before the turn around. I was honestly scared. I told her I was afraid I was going to end up in the hospital if I kept going. Asher was looking right at me, so excited, “You can do it Dad, I know you can.” Shannon suggested I walk a little more and try to get in as much fluids and salt as I could. I walked around the turn around, another 100 meters, drinking Pepsi from the aid station. I was ready to call it a day. Then I saw our friends who were there with us as well. They were screaming for me because they thought I already finished the race. I had another woman whom I do not know yell out, “Go Dr. Feddock and Ironcology, you’re my inspiration!”

Coming through towards the end of the 2nd lap at mile 18 of the run

This pic reminds me of what I felt like at the end of lap 2

I knew I couldn’t quit, and after traveling all that way, I had to finish. I walked to the next table in the aid station, drank as much as I could get down, and just started running. It wasn’t fast, and it wasn’t very pretty, but I ran the entire last lap. Shannon had actually walked up to 2 miles from the finish as she anticipated I would be walking and she was going to walk it into the finish with me. She was shocked when I came around the turn running. She yelled for me to keep going (and then hitch-hiked on a scooter back to the finish line…awesome), so I pushed hard and actually ran the last mile in 7:16. I high-fived Asher and Ande as I passed by them and made the turn to finish the race. My final time was 10:19 when I crossed the finish line. I was 12th overall in my age group and 70th overall for the race. Not quite good enough for a Kona qualifying spot, but that’s okay, at least I finished.

Overall, Ironman Cozumel is a pretty amazing race. It was very well organized, the island is beautiful, and although it is a developing country with very significant poverty, the support from the locals was tremendous. The people of Cozumel really take a lot of pride in the race. If I go back, I will certainly be sure to spend more time in the saddle in preparation, because that is a course that I really feel like I could tear up the marathon and run fast if I could come off the bike with fresh legs. Not to mention it was a pretty nice vacation as well.

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