2010 Ironman Cozumel Race Report
I can attest from past experience that looking towards an approaching off-season is much more comforting following a great final race of the season, rather than a disappointing one. Last year, at Ironman Cozumel, I finished the race, but walked 15 miles of the marathon. This year, I came back to Cozumel intent on ending my 2010 season with a high note. I couldn't be happier with how the race and the trip played out to finish off this year.
I had a great race, finishing in 6th place, while achieving a new personal record of 8:35 at the Ironman distance. This was done with a 53:58 swim (a new personal best), a 4:36 bike (2nd personal best), and a 3:01 run. I've known I've had the strength and fitness for a finish time in this ballpark for the last two years, but have always fallen a short, more often than not due to my race execution or environmental conditions. I cannot tell you how good it feels to look at the off-season and towards 2011 after putting together a solid performance to finish out the year.
My buildup to this race had been pretty good and I knew I was fit. I had suffered a minor hamstring pull about three weeks out from the race which forced me to back off of my running more than I had wanted. Advanced Rehabilitation helped to get my hamstring back in order leading up to the race and it proved to not be any kind of an issue on race day. Sometimes I think those little pains that force you to back off more in your taper can be for the better. It wasn't until one week before the race that I had my confidence back in my hammy.
The trip to Cozumel and days before the race were pretty seamless. My parents and Aunt and Uncle came to the race so it was very fun and relaxing to be around family in those last few days before the race. I'm very much at ease around my family, so it helps keep some of the nerves down before the race. The beauty and easy-going island attitude in Cozumel also helps to ease the pre-race tension. It's such a nice place, I found it hard to be stressed and consequently had less pre-race jitters than any race this year. I think the challenging professional field also helped me to relax because I took all pressure off of myself to acheive some specific result. I was focused on executing a solid day all round and not get wrapped up in what was going on around me.
Race morning was nothing out of the ordinary. Alarm clock comes on at some insanely early time with a “3” as the first number. Then it's a whirl of coffee, oatmeal, sports drink, dressing, transition, several port-o-john lines, equipment preparation, and finally feeling the butterflies in your stomach as the swim start draws closer. The pros are not allowed in the water early for a swimming warm-up for this race, so I made sure to get in a good jogging warm-up so I my body wouldn't have to go from 0-60 when the horn blew. I also did some short sets of stretch-cords in my hotel earlier that morning, so my swimming muscles would be a little warmed up.
After having increasingly better swims in my races for the season, my swimming confidence had been improving as of late. In the final few weeks before the race, I had put in a large swim block which I think really helped on race day. I've also been getting more comfortable getting into the washing machine at the start of races. I think this has been another key to improving my swim starts. At this race I was determined to really get in there from the gun and make it happen at the swim start.
During the swim, it's very challenging to know how well you're swimming and if the people around you are swimming fast or slow. You really only have your perceived exertion as your guide. Every once in a while you may recognize someone you know and be able to gauge your swim off of what you know about his or her usual swimming ability. Early in the swim, I found myself in a rather large group. It was fast, but I really felt like I could stay where I was. About fifteen minutes in we were rounding a buoy, I got bumped around a bit and crawled over by a couple guys, I lost my rhythm and feel for my stroke. The exertion around the buoys also got me a bit too anaerobic, so I lost the group. After I lost contact with the group, over the next 10 minutes, despite trying to surge, they slowly opened the gap to about 50 meters. Around the half-way point, someone came around me swimming much faster and I hopped on his feet, by the last turn, he had almost pulled us all the way back up the the group. When we were just about 10 meters short of the back of the pack, he put in a sprint to hitch on and I couldn't respond. He made the group and once again I was solo. Over the last 10 minutes or so, that group put a little over a minute into me. I came out of the water alone in 53:58. I was really happy with the time and position. Even better is knowing that I was so very close to staying with that group which would have been another minute off my time. I know with some hard winter work, I'll be able to make that jump. Just as satisfying was looking at the swim gap to several guys in this race whom I raced earlier this year. In Ironman Coeur d'Alene, Andy Potts outswam me by almost 15 minutes; here it was under 9 minutes. Another buddy of mine in the pro field at Coeur d'Alene beat me out of the water by 10 minutes; here it was a little over 4 minutes. The reduction in these time gaps are much more important to me than the actual time. The smaller the gap, the more I'm in the thick of the race from the beginning.
My family was standing about 200 yards into the bike. They stand there to count the number of people in front of me so I can have an idea of where I stand at that point in the race. As I biked by, they yelled that I was in 24th position. Considering the talent in the field, I was happy with this positioning. I started the bike at a comfortable pace. I didn't want to make the mistake I had made last year in Cozumel by blasting the first bike loop and paying for it later. I was biking alone but was reeling in people in slowly but steadily. By the time I saw my parents at the start of the 2nd loop, I had moved into 16th or 17th position. About 10 miles later, heading into the headwind section, I struggled a bit mentally. I think I went into more of a mental funk you can can sometimes fall into watching your speed slow way down as you fight a stiff wind. About that time I glanced back and saw two guys coming pretty hard from behind. As they caught me, setting the pace was Joseph Major, who I know from past races. His biking has come on really strong this year. As they came by, it was decision time: do I stay or do I go? They were biking noticeably harder than my current pace. It was definitely achievable, but it was a risk to go in terms of how it could impact me later in the race. I decided to go with them.
The first 10 minutes, I wondered if I was making a mistake, but then I got in a rhythm and it became comfortably hard. I biked about 2/3 of a loop sitting behind letting Joseph set the pace. I didn't feel bad because I pulled him around in a race a couple years ago for a good 80 miles. It felt like he and I had a good rhythm between us. By the time I passed my family starting the third bike loop, we had moved into about 14th position, but my mom yelled that there was a big group 30 seconds up the road. It wasn't long before we caught and moved in front of that group. They sucked right onto the back. Joseph continued to set the pace and reeled in two more guys, each jumping onto the back of the line. At this point we had a train of about 8 guys sitting together. Joseph sat up, I think a bit annoyed that he was the only one doing work. For the next section I pulled the group, but was noticing that several of the guys were hanging on by a thread and were surviving only through a very liberal pushing of the drafting limits. The guy behind me would have to stand and sprint to get right behind me and then if I pushed, he'd almost lose contact. At the next aid station, I slowed to get all the water I needed to fill up. While I slowed to pick up water bottles, the guy in second position moved in front of me. After about five minutes I watched our pace slow, so I knew he was suffering. In another few minutes, we were going to be turning into the windy stretch. I sat there biding my time, letting him wear himself out. As soon as the wind picked up, I came around and put in a surge. This was a time to burn a match. I really didn't want to have eight of us come into transition together and start the run like a track meet. After a good several minute surge, I looked back and had put a couple hundred yards on the group. Once the elastic breaks, you know the group won't be able to come back. After another 5 minutes or so, I looked back and Joseph had broken from the back of the group and bridged up to me, so he and I were alone again without all of the baggage. For the rest of the bike, he and I switched traded off and on, working together.
I actually felt stronger and stronger throughout the bike. I think I was the strongest from mile 70 to the end. Going into transition, my confidence was pretty high because I felt pretty good. Joseph and I hit transition together and I came out about 10 seconds or so ahead. The first three miles were some of the worst of the whole race. I think the flat course really makes it harder for my legs to transition to running. The first 2 miles, I thought I had made a big mistake pushing the latter portions of the bike. Sure enough after 3 miles, my stride felt more natural and the run seemed more doable. Though those first few miles felt terrible, my running pace was spot on. My family was standing about a half mile into the run and yelled that I was in 9th place. Joseph was right behind me and we stayed about 10-20 seconds apart for most of the first 9 miles. At the first turn around at mile 4.5, I had my first chance to see the other guys behind. The group we had dropped late in the bike were only a few minutes back and they were all running close together. During the previous couple miles I was able to see the guys in front. Some looked strong, but a few were looking a little worse for the wear.
By the start of the second loop, my parents yelled that I had moved into 8th place and a few guys were really crumbling. Just as I was heading out on my second run loop, out of the transition area starting his first loop of the run was my close friend Stephan Schwarze. It was complete random luck. He was only 50 yards ahead. I wasn't feeling great, but if I caught Stephan and could get him to run together, we would both feel better. In Kona 2005, Stephan and I ran stride for stride together for 22 miles of the marathon, which resulted in both of our best Ironman runs to that time. We walked a long way together in Ironman China 2009 in the 113 degree heat. Now, once again, he and I had found each other. I came up beside him and he picked up his pace. I've trained with Stephan for years, so as soon as I was running with him, I felt as relaxed as if it had been a training run. Our pace got back to where I had wanted to run and we really started eating up time. In the six miles we ran together, we picked off one more pro for me and several guys in his agegroup for him. It was one of those great moments I love about this sport. There's something about the positive energy from running with a friend that really lessens the pain.
After about 6 miles together, he told me to go ahead. Rudger Beke was within striking distance and Stephan wanted to slow a bit. By the time I started the 3rd loop, I was in 6th place and Galindez was just up the road and hurting. After I caught him, I still felt pretty solid until mile 19. That's when the Ironman legs set in. No matter how much I train or race, those last 6-10 miles are nothing short of pure misery. I watched my pace slow by about 40 seconds per mile. Andry Yastrebov had been running about 200 yards behind me for the entire run. He wasn't slowing and he wasn't gaining. As soon as my pace started creeping in the wrong direction, it was pretty evident that unless he had the same thing going on, he'd be able to catch me. I was in 5th place and really wanted to hold there, but Yasterbov caught me about mile 21. I had nothing to go with him. I watched him slowly pull away over the next few miles. At the run turn around (4.5 miles to go), I set my watch so I'd know the time gap to Petr Vabrousek who was running behind me. One thing I know very well about Petr is that he's tough and will never give up. I have a lot of respect for him. I had 5 minutes at the turn, so it was a big enough cushion that I didn't stress, just focused on keeping my pace steady and my leg turnover as high as I could. From mile 22-24, I was actually able to drop about 15-20 seconds per mile off my pace, rather than slowing. The last mile into town, I knew my position was safe, so I enjoyed the run through the crowded streets.
I was really happy with this race. I think this is the best race venue in North America (that I've raced). The course is challenging, but fun and scenic. The roads are the safest I've ever experienced in a race. The crowds are bigger and the most enthusiastic I've ever experienced at a race. The way the Mexican spectators cheer like none-other. And finally, other than Kona, I don't think there's a race in a location where it's better to kick back and relax for a couple days after the race and enjoy a tropical drink on a beach.
So now I'm back in Austin, going into this winter the most satisfied I've been with my final race for the last four years. For now, it's time to put on the winter weight, so I have some cookies and ice cream to attend to.
I really want to thank Little Caesars Pizza for their support of me and my racing this year. Their belief in me is so important for me be able to do what I'm doing in this sport. Jack and Adam's Bicycles in Austin are always there to help support me and my racing. Champion System Clothing provide me with the best race and training clothing. Quintana Roo's CD 0.1 is one fast machine. Xterra Wetsuits are providing me with the best wetsuits and speedsuits in the sport and Advanced Rehabilitation in Ausin helps to keep me healthy for training and racing. PowerBar and SBR Sports Inc's products are also a great help for racing and training. Also I want to thank my family and friends for their unending support for me. Without these people and sponsors, I would not be able to pursue this dream.