Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Ironman Cozumel - report part 2 - just get it done

Again - I didn't race this event just attended. But I learned a lot.

This is my friend Doug walking into transition the morning of the race. Even though it was one of the biggest transition areas I've been in what was most striking was the silence. Participants were quietly readying their bikes side by side with very little chatter and goofing off. The seriousness of what lay ahead was definitely in the air. 

If you follow the sport online you may have read / heard about how the swim was difficult. It was. According to the media office 180 people did not continue past the swim. Rumors put the number much higher. I can't see a reason why the race management would give an inaccurate number but at least one of my friends who was there thinks 180 is really low. Could be - but whatever.

This is a quick video I took at the start. At the very end you can see that the people are struggling to make forward progress against the current. This was the start of the swim and the swimmers also had to do the last half mile against the same current to get to the finish. Apparently for many swimmers it was like swimming in place.

What I learned as a spectator / aspiring Ironman is that when it comes to the Ironman race one of the challenges is taking what the day delivers. In the case of an ocean swim like Cozumel that can be a big time ocean swim with current and chop - be ready for whatever the course can deliver. I felt bad for all the people who didn't get to continue but the other way to look at this is that 2530 participants completed a tough swim and they get to say that they did it on a very tough year.

For me I'm signed up for a race with a swim in the Medeteranean Sea. I need to research what those conditions can be and prepare for that. Also my bike is in the mountains in the summer and my research has already told me that I need to be ready for a cool possibly wet day. Which to be honest doesn't sound like much fun. So hopefully I get a beautiful day.

This is me at the start of the race. It's a cool thing to see in person. I look forward to doing it myself next year.
Ready set go! This is three frames taken seconds apart at the start. Notice the difference in spray when the swimmers all start swimming at once.

Me walking the 5 miles back from the swim start. Not a huge fan of the 2 transition set up actually :-)

The bike - I didn't get much done during the bike except walking back to town and then checking on my friend who missed the swim cutoff.
they use a lot of water!

I don't know who this guy is but I wanted to take a pretty picture of the bike and so I did.
A suggestion for families traveling to Cozumel for the race. This hotel had the BEST set up for families watching the bike course. Just fyi.
If I do this race I'm putting my family here.

So, this blog is about triathlon and marathon and my life but before I got obsessed with that I was a photographer. It's my training. I had "taken a break" starting about 3 years ago. Really just did nothing - hung up my camera. But I have to admit - I enjoyed covering this event. I didn't do a spectacular job at it because I was half cheering my friends and half working but not getting paid or anything so really just cheering for my friends and taking pictures. Ahh but the switch is back on ... what does that mean. I dunno. But I did really enjoy it.

As I took a break for dinner runners made their way through the dark around the course.
This is what the finish line looks like as you run through it. The bleachers are full on both sides of screaming folks. It's cool.
The Finish Line
The mass start and the finish line are definitely the two main images I already had in my head before I went. But it was also good to see the condition that people were in when they finished.

I was at the finish line for about 3 - 4 hours.

I saw people finish smiling and hooting and hollering and dancing. I also saw people really uncomfortable and injured and even a few collapses.

Without a doubt I hope to be a finisher with a smile.

I think that more than anything being ready for this race comes from being honest about your training throughout the year and being mentally prepared.

Two of the most successful finishers that I know were actually woefully under trained. Interestingly both of them had crashes during training and came back to race. While you would expect that they would have had dismally hard slow races they mentally prepared to be uncomfortable during the race due to their lack of training. I think that their mental preparation made a big difference because they finished very strongly. They finished ahead of faster people with more training. It was amazing to watch. But I still don't want to crash :-)

Getting my head in the game
During November I've known a lot of people who competed in Ironman races between IM Florida, Arizona and Cozumel. Some had great experiences and finishes and others didn't.

I didn't train with all of them so I only know what I know but for some I really got to see the mental side of this race.

As a result my nickname should be WAFFLE. Yes I'm racing in Nice, nope I'm pulling out. Next day Okay - France is on. Later that day - nope no way not gonna happen. At this precise moment I'm proceding with going to France preparing the best that I can and knowing that there is a reasonable chance that something will happen and I won't finish.

So, I'm also signing up for Florida :-) Hedging my bets.

This part of the post is kind of rambly and may not make much sense. Lessons I took out of this that I hope to keep with me as I train for my own races include:
  • Be honest about my training. When you're doing group training you have to be careful to make sure you don't confuse your training with what others are doing. If I go out on group rides and draft the entire distance my solo ride will be much harder race day. If the schedule says 3000 yards and I only do 1600 I need to be honest with myself about that. If I skip a bike session I can't be expecting to get better.
  • Nobody can do my race for me. I train with others and they are all different levels and training for all difference races. But I have to keep in mind that on race day I have to be able to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and then run 26.2. So if somebody says hey the water looks rough I think I'll pass I need to keep in mind that that might be okay for them but I have to decide for myself to do my workouts. Swimming in rough water is something better to prepare for than to avoid. Riding in the wind is a skill to prepare for not to avoid. Nobody else is training for 10,000 feet of climbing. I have to do that myself. I have no idea how that's gonna happen.
  • Knowledge is power. Discomfort when it comes as a surprise is unpleasant but if you're ready for it you can perhaps work through it. I know people who stopped racing this year from leg cramps and migraine headaches and also those who continued racing on a broken bone and after collapsing and getting medical care. As I watched it unfold I honestly wasn't sure which way I would go if something like that happened to me on race day. I'm not sure if I can know until it happens what I would really do. But I think that the more prepared you are mentally for the race and the discomfort it brings the more likely you are to finish. So my woefully inadequate self analogy is with running at the end of a long race my legs tingle and go numb when I'm working really hard - not sprinting so my chest is fine. It's a mental decision for me that I know intellectually that my legs are actually fine and I can ignore the symptom. So, I need to prepare as much as I can. I know I get freaked out with contact in a swim so I need to practice for that. I don't yet know what will happen to me on 112 miles followed by a marathon so I need to try to figure that out :-)
  • Commit to finish. If the race doesn't go your way and you are slower volunteers will start to ask you" do you want to go on?", "Do you want to stop" the temptation is probably really big to stop but here's where I think if you are mentally prepared to finish no matter what you will find a way to continue. I'm not saying continue if you are at risk of injury. But for me if I have an 8 hour bike in France (ouch my butt hurts just thinking of it) then the marathon may be slow and I may be finishing in close to 16 hours. The volunteers are going to want to go home and that's okay but I want to finish. So I plan to prepare for that myself.  
  • My last lesson is embrace the pain. I am definitely one that when I feel the discomfort that goes with speeding up I can convince myself to back off. And then I run a mediocre race and kick myself for that. The more I can push myself to be on the threshold of discomfort the more I'll be ready for that feeling on race day.
And that's it - now off to do something else like shower and eat lunch and take my kids to the dentist. Oh right and buy holiday presents :-)

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