PART BEAR. PART MAN. ALL AMERICAN
Sunday, November 28, 2010
After being on the island for one hour, Amanda and I knew we wanted to return to this race next year. We knew it would be beautiful here, and we knew it was going to be a great way to spend our Thanksgiving, but we had no idea just how much we were going to enjoy being here. And now that the race is in the books, we can definitely confirm that we would like to be back on Cozumel Island in 2011.
We arrived on Tuesday morning, after a short and stress-free travel. Getting here from Austin is quite easy, and remaining in the Central Time Zone was a nice perk that helped with a quick adaptation to Mexican Time. We had a lot going on prior to traveling south of the border, including good, bad, happy, tough, stressful, tiring, and even trying events. We checked into our hotel – Fiesta Americana (yes, that’s right) - relieved it was time to buckle down and take a serious siesta. The siesta lasted for most of the first two days.
In addition to napping away the first part of our week, we acquainted ourselves with the hotel’s three delicious restaurants, we did a touch of training to get the body moving, and we settled into the slower rhythm we both craved. Amanda was instumental in wrangling me in, slowing me down, and setting me into a great pattern of resting and refreshing. She also managed to help me refrain from overdoing it at every trip to the buffet. (BIG gracias there!)
By Thursday I was ready to do some Ironman fine tuning. I got my first true taste of the Cozumel humidity on a morning run, and followed it up with a gorgeous ocean swim, while Amanda guided me in her kayak past snorkel-fed diver-types and their transport boats. The bright blue Caribbean waters were absolutely perfect. To cap off the day, I rode one loop of the bike course with Amanda escorting me on our rented scooter. Love the moto! (Not the mota.) With a full day of training in the books, I was feeling very ready to race, and we treated ourselves to one of many scrumptious fish taco feasts.
By race morning, I was starting to reap the rewards of my five-day decompress from the outside world. The stresses of the prior week were a distant memory, my siestas had rejeuvenated me properly, and I was anxious to get out on course and race against a top-class field (the men’s field alone boasted 14 Ironman titles).
We scooted our way down to the swim start to arrive at a typically relaxed – but organized – transition area. Setting up the Kestrel 4000 was a painless and smooth task. We pros each had our own transition “tower” to hold our individual rigs. There was no jostling for position, that is, until we got into the water.
We were graciously afforded about 7 minutes of warm-up time prior to the start of the race. Normally it takes me 15-20 mintes to get my arms fully swinging, so I was a bit anxious to find a great spot with the quicker swimmers. Andy Potts and Amanda Stevens both fit the bill, so I did my best to wedge myself between them and the lifeguard who was there to contain us. When the gun sounded, I got a great jump with the others. Over the last four weeks, I put a lot of time into the water, as I felt it would give me a nice advantage to exit the swim a bit fresher – and closer to Andy – than I had in Kona.
Rounding the first turn buoy, I let a gap open up between me and the feet belonging to Steve Bayliss or Amanda. Either way, I was pleased to be dragged away from the likes of Sturla, Beke, and Galindez (and the others!). I swam completely solo for a long 2800 meters or so, before linking up with Dede as we came around the final buoy. Exiting the water in 49 minutes meant I couldn’t be too far down, but that perhaps the swim was a tad short as well!
Onto the bike I felt comfortable and strong immediately. Having not felt in control of my ride in the last two races, I was very happy to final have the opportunity to let loose on those pedals and move my sleek 4000 down the road. Beofre long I had caught Amanda – thanks for dropping me in the water – and continued to roll through the field. By the end of lap 1, I moved into what I assumed was second place to Andy.
At approximately 60 or 65 miles, I found company from behind in the form of my good friend Eduardo Sturla. He had and I have a strange habit of exchanging the lead with one another each time we face each other in Kona. He’s a great guy, and is one strong athlete. Rather than watch him ride away into the distance as he normally does in Kona, I chose rather to apply a bit more pressure to the pedals, with little regard to the power numbers flashing on my Power Tap. (From the outset of this bike ride, I knew I wanted to compete rather than pace myself; I had nothing to lose, and I watned to get as much out of myself as I could on that ride.)
Eduardo allowed me to take the lead for another 20 miles or so before he took charge again, and made the pass. He served as a brilliant carrot for me on the back side of the island, where crosswinds and bumby roads can try the patience of a rider 90 miles into a bike ride. Sturla kept me honest, and the appearance of another South American stud, Oscar Galindez, gave me ample cause to keep the cadence ticking over.
By the time we entered the final 12-km stretch of road – a long, strangely straight bit of highway with a tailwind – I was again ready to let drop the hammer. I came back around to the front to see if I could reel in that lone wolf up the road. As it turned out, I did reel him in, but he was no lone wolf! Another rider – Balzas Csoke – was accompanying Potts in his charge. At the front of my Argentine sandwich, I made the move to pass Potts. My only hope was that he had drained the tank a bit more than I had, and that we’d have an evenly matched marathon. Knowing that any one of the top five off the bike could take the win – or that any number of the fleet-footed runners behind could sweep through – I prepared myself for a hard run race.
(Does anyone need a breather from this race report?)
Entering transition with four others is exhilerating. And getting off the bike after 114 hard miles is satisfying. (Yes, we got the pleasure of doing 2.3 extra miles out there on the highways.)
Out on the three-loop run course, I told myself that the smartest runner would win the day. I told myself that 2:52 or 2:54 would take the top step of the podium. I told myself I’d be that guy, but only if I let the rabbits go early. My fastest marathons off the bike have come with the “out hard” technique, but only in cooler temps. The smoke-em-while-you-got-em tactics can come back to haunt you when it’s hot and humid; and my best marathons in the heat have been evenly split. Plan at the outset: let Potts and company burn out their engines early, and I’ll pick up the pieces with only k’s to go. Plan with k’s to go: pick up my own pieces and finish as strong as I can!
Midway through the run I started to feel the effects of the heat, the humidy, the efforts of the bike, and/ or the toll of a long sesaon. It all came, along with other tidy challenges, but it did not come unexpectedly. It’s Ironman, and tackling whatever crazy challenge comes your way on race day is exactly why we do this. At least it is for me.
Whether the challenge is mental, physical, external, internal, intestinal, or aesthetic(al), we all run into a hurdle that wants to crack us. Whether or not we crack is the only question; whether or not we push on is all that counts.
With each painful step in the final ten miles, Andy drew gradually further and further away. The short time where the splits were shrinking in my favor was long gone. I was going to finish second, as long as Edurado did not catch me!
To neglect to mention the unbelievable crowd support would be an absolute travesty. With pretty much every road closed to vehicles, I would estimate that 90% of the residents came out to cheer for every Ironman athlete on course. With three laps on both bike and run, we had ample opportunity to draw from that amazing energy.
In the closing miles of the marathon – after cruelly mistaking a 25K sign for the 25 MILE sign – I squeezed every bit of energy out of my body. I crossed the line five or six minutes after Andy, which told me that, in fact, the 2:52- 2:54 I had predicted would do, did take the win. Andy’s gamble to go out strong paid big dividends, and he was a deserving champion on the day. I finished second, and was very pleased to have done so. The effort I put out on the day could not have been much better, and to add to the 1-2 American sweep was a wonderful bonus. Not long after crossing the line – and plopping down on the floor – mi buen amigo, Eduardo finished third. (See you next year, my friend.)
As we knew we would from nearly the first moment we arrived in Mexico, Amanda and I had a wonderful time in Cozumel. The pre- and post- race relaxing was incredible, and the race was a first-class experience. And although we do not know our entire race schedule for next year, we know we want to cap off the season with una siesta, una carrera, y una margarita en Mexico!
And a special thanks to the incredible supporters of Team Lovato. We could not have done it without you all: Charlie at Trakkers, Steven at Kestrel, Robert at First Endurance, Jack at Jack & Adam’s, Saucony, Zipp, Oakley, Blueseventy, CycleOps Power, NormaTec, T3 Recovery Products, Headsweats, Justin’s and Monkey Brains!