Wow. I don't even know where to begin. That was by far the toughest day I've had on a race course. It ranks up there with the 2012 Rock n' Rock Marathon in Las Vegas and this race surely brought up A LOT of those memories from that race day in 2012! I walked most of the back half of race and still manage to end up in the med tent afterward from dehydration. It was cold and VERY WINDY in Las Vegas. I used Gener8 in my bottle and took on very little, if any, water. I think back on that now and wonder that the heck I was thinking!!! But I didn't know then what I know now, and that experience is just one of the reasons I am where I am today (in my profession and in my hobby). Luckily, I learned a lot at that race which I used here in Cozumel and kept myself moving forward (faster than a walk...barely at times) and kept myself out of the med tent!
We left the Sacramento area on Thanksgiving morning (Thursday) and had a full day of travel. Sacramento to Dallas. Dallas to Cancun. Cancun to Playa del Carmen. Playa del Carmen to Cozumel via the roughest ferry ride I've ever been on! When we arrived in Playa, the winds were fierce! When they docked the ferry to load us, the boat was rocking away from the dock and then crashing into the dock. Rising up, and then crashing down. I knew it was going to be a rough ride. The workers from the ferry company were taking our luggage and throwing the pieces from the dock onto the ship. They set all the race bikes off to the side (there were probably a good 20-30 bikes on that ferry) and afterward walked them up a ramp to the top of the ship. Unfortunately, while loading, they lost someones suitcase over the edge of the boat and it immediately sunk straight to the bottom of the ocean. It was your typical, black zippered suitcase and no one was there at that moment to claim it. So after a very rough 40 minute ferry ride (lets just say they handed out plastic bags about 20 minutes into the ride and lots of people were using them), when the boat docked in Cozumel, we would discover who's bag it was by the last man standing on the dock. Unfortunately, that man was our friend Jason. It was actually his girlfriend and fellow racers bag. Luckily, she is a smart athlete and carried ALL of here race gear on her back in a backpack. So, although she lost everything else (training clothes, casual clothes, cosmetics, etc), she had everything she needed for her race on Sunday (except her nutrition, which she was able to get at the expo).
Friday and Saturday were typical pre-race days for me. Rebuilding the bike, casual training, resting, studying the race plan (I kind of look at these days as the "final exam" and yes, I study), and general course scouting. Uneventful and enjoyable. My race day nutrition strategy was:
4:30am- Race Day Smoothie (coconut milk, raw cocoa, chia seeds, 1/2 banana, coffee, Great Lakes collagen, and ice) and 1 package of Beet Elite
6:30am- Vespa CV 25
7:15am- Vespa Junior and 3 salt stick caps
T1- Vespa Junior
Bike Course- Slow drip in 525 calories of Freedom Fuel (3T Brown Rice Syrup, 2x Skratch Hyper Hydration mix, 2x Skratch Hydration mix, squeeze of an orange and a handful of strawberries- blended), 1 Endurance Bite an hour (sprouted rice cereal, no corn syrup marshmellow, raisins, unsweetened coconut flakes, sprouted watermelon seeds and butter), 1 VESPA Junior at 56 miles, 1x The Right Stuff on lap 3, and 1 BCAA tablet per hour.
T2- Vespa Junior
Run Course- Slow drip 300 calories of Freedom Fuel, 1x Honey Stinger gummies, 9x salt stick caps (every 3rd mile or so), Vespa Junior at mile 13, and 6x BCAA caps.
In my Special Needs bags (just in case!):
Bike- Extra bottle of 300 calories of Freedom Fuel, 6x Endurance Bites, 1x Honey Stinger gummies and 1 The Right Stuff
Run- 1x Honey Stinger gummies, and 12x Salt Stick caps
Sunday morning came quickly. The alarm went off at 3:45am. I immediately made my pre-race smoothie and mixed/drank a package of Beet Elite with a few blueberries. We left the house we had rented 1 1/2 blocks from the finish line and walked to a host hotel to catch a bus to T1. Once in T1, we loaded our bikes with race day fuel, pumped tires, dropped our special needs bags and reloaded the buses to head to the swim start. Once we arrived, we had about 1 hour to warm up and then wait. At this race, no one is allowed in the water to warm up before hand. So I brought an old pair of running shoes to jog and a set of cables to help get some good blood flow to my arms. That seemed to do the trick. At 7:15am, the males pros went off. At 7:20am, the female pros. Then at 7:30am, the gun went off for the rolling age group start. They built a small, narrow pier that extended off the shore about 20 feet into the ocean. 2-3 athletes at a time were allowed onto the edge of the dock to jump in and start their swim. This was a VERY slow process. I self seeded fairly far up and it still took me about 6 minutes to get into the water. Apparently, it took them 1 hour to get all 3,000 athletes into the water. Once I got to the end of the pier, the water was all churned up and I couldn't see how deep it was. So I chose to jump in feet first, rather than dive in ( a suggestion made at the athlete briefing). Thank goodness, because I immediately hit my knee on the corral below. This is one thing I am slowly learning about international races. English is not always the primary spoken language (obviously) so I don't always understand everything they are announcing. I never heard them announce anything about a shallow entry, but I learned the hard way with a banged up knee from the very start. Afterward, talking to other athletes, many had cut toes and feet and no one heard any announcement about a shallow entry. Thank goodness for adrenaline as that immediately kicked in as soon as I hit the water and I was off and swimming.
My swim felt fantastic. I had open water nearly the entire swim. I was able to jump onto some feet here and there to get a little bit of drafting (and I could definitely feel that there were athletes doing the same with me), but in general, I felt like I had the ocean to myself. It was crystal clear and there were many moments when I was able to look around at all the amazing fish, coral, scuba divers, and even a few sting rays below. If only every swim could be like this. This swim is a long (2.4 miles, LOL), point to point swim along the shore from Marina Fonatur to Chankanaab Park. The are swirling tides, but it is mostly in our favor. There were a few moments in the swim when it felt like the turn bouy would never come, but it eventually did. I felt solid and steady with my swim. I never felt like I went anaerobic and I was excited to get out and see if I had beaten my swim goal of 1 hour and 10 minutes. Once I finally reached the swim exit, I got a glance at my watch which showed 1 hour and 5 minutes. I was elated. All the increased swim volume over the last year was definitely paying off (I went from about 4-5K per week to 12-15K per week and even managed a 6K swim 3 weeks before the race)! My coach, Kristian, (and Pete) from TriSpecific has mentioned multiple times the importance of getting out of a swim feeling fresh and that was exactly how I felt. Pumped up and ready to ride! My final swim time was 1 hour 4 minutes and 14 seconds and I was out of the water 5th in my age group. I saw my parents and Sean as I ran through transition and was all smiles.
T1 was smooth. I stopped at the wall where my family was standing to completely strip out of my speed suit. Said "hello", told them I felt great, and took off. First, the showers to rinse off the salt water. Then to my T1 bag and into the women's changing tent. There were about 4 other women in there, so I felt like I nearly had the place to myself. I didn't sit. I just starting grabbing things out of my bag (which I strategically placed into my bag in order of how I wanted to take it out and place onto my body) and throwing them on. Sun glasses (which immediately fogged), helmet, race number (which we were required to wear on the bike), cooling sleeves (which I had rolled down partially and got them on enough that I could adjust them later on the bike course) and Zealios sunscreen which I managed to partially get rubbed in on just my shoulders. Then I was out. As an All World Athlete, they racked our bikes on the very first rack. Easy to find in the transition area, but a long run out to the mount line with your bike. I didn't see many bikes missing, and that is always the best feeling when you get into T1! My shoes were attached to my bike and I didn't wear socks for this ride (which is normal for me). I saw Sean and my Mom on the run out and my Dad as soon as I got to the mount line. A smooth mount and quick entry into my shoes and I was off for the 112 miles.
I was told that the bike course was beautiful, hot, flat and windy. And it was all of those things. What I didn't realize was just how beautiful the back side of the course really was, and how freakin' windy it was too. OMG. 12 miles of relentless head winds, x3. For the first lap, you hit this area fairly early in the ride. I managed to stay in aero and keep my head down. I literally stared at the white line for most of this section. Only occasionally glancing up to see other athletes, maneuver my way through aid stations and view the crashing ocean when I needed a break from staring at the road. I chose to wear my Rudy Project training helmet for this race so I could have better ventilation and get water on my head, and I'm glad I did. They had aid stations set up every 6-7 miles and at most aid stations I managed to get a bottle of ice water onto my head and arms. My goal for this race was to get through my aero bottle (with pure water) between each aid station. I managed to do that and I never felt like I was running out of water. Just when I started to get low, there was another aid station to replenish. The water and ice were both filtered, so there was no fear of getting sick from it. At the aid stations where I took 2 bottle, the first bottle went into my teeth (I know, Sean's not going to be happy to hear this) and a second bottle that I squeezed into my aero bottle. Once that was all into my bottle, I tossed it and used the first bottle that was into my teeth to dump over my body. It was the only way I could get 2 bottles at the aid stations. The wind managed to get stronger and stronger and the day progressed. Laps 2 and 3 were each more progressively tough. Every so often I would check in with my pace and ask myself how I was feeling. Most of the time, I was border line moderate to moderate/hard (which I knew was risky, but was why I was here...to find my limits). Anytime I would think, "UGHHHHH, this feels terrible," I would glance down at my cadence (I only use cadence, no power or heart rate) and it would be way to low (around 65). I would gear down to get my cadence back between 70-80 and would start to feel better again.
Nutritionally, I had my watch set to vibrate every 20 minutes as a reminder to sip my Freedom Fuel. I did that for the first 2 hours and started to notice 2 things. 1- I was starting to feel full, and 2- I was running out of my Freedom Fuel faster than I expected. So, I decided for laps 2 and 3 to take 2 large sips of the Freedom Fuel every hour (instead of 3), which I think now was a mistake. I ran out of Freedom Fuel around mile 65 and shortly afterward started to feel hungry. By mile 80, my stomach was growling and I was hungry. About that point, I stopped at an aid station and put my feet on the ground. I opened my packet of The Right Stuff and added it to my empty down tube bottle with ice cold water. At mile 100, I hit my special needs bag and stopped again to get more food. The Freedom Fuel was hot and sounded terrible at that point, so I grabbed 4 Endurance Bites and immediately threw all 4 of them down. I knew it would be a lot to digest all at once, but I also knew I needed the calories and I needed that food to be somewhat digested in 12 miles as I had to start the marathon.
Looking back, I feel glad that I was able to push hard on the bike for most of it. However, I highly underestimated how much energy would be needed to push through all that wind. I expected to eat less because of the heat, but ended up needing more because of this wind. Next time, I would pack more on my bike. Despite Kristian's advice to use my rear bottle cage, I took it off for this ride because I didn't want the added weight of the cage and the full bottle. Next time, I would add a single bottle cage (I only have a double...but will be purchasing a single as soon as I get home) on the rear of my seat and add an extra bottle of Freedom Fuel back there (or Skratch, or something).
In the end, I hit "a wall" at mile 90 on the bike and just watched my pace drop for the last 22 miles of the ride. Despite that, I managed to finish the bike in 6 hours, 6 minutes and 41 seconds, placing me in 7th off the bike.
I saw my family standing in front of our house on every loop of the ride and on the last and final loop, as I passed Sean, he yelled, "5th, 5th, 5th." So I knew I was doing well, despite feeling like total crap at that point, hearing I was in the top 10 gave me a boost of energy I so desperately needed to get motivate to start my marathon.
T2 was slower than normal for me, but I gave myself some grace to sit for a minute and gather myself again. I was in there all alone, so there wasn't a lot of pressure. I had a handful of different young Mexican girls walk up to me, "water?" No thank you. "Gatorade?" No thank you. "Sunscreen?" No thank you. "Pretzels?" No thank you. And every time, they would set whatever they would offer me on the floor in front of me. I guess they though I might change my mind. Just like in T1, I had organized my T2 bag to pull things out in the order I wanted to put them on my body. First, a towel to remove any sand from my feet, then Vaseline for my toes, then socks, then shoes. I grabbed my visor and my fuel belt which was pre-loaded with my nutrition. I had frozen my bottle of Freedom Fuel in a small icechest in the bottom of my T2 bag, so I quickly grabbed that out (it had completely melted and was room temperature), threw it into my fuel belt and jogged out of the changing tent.
In the end, my transitions weren't horrible. I had a goal to get out of T1 in less than 5 minutes (which I did) and out of T2 in less than 3 minutes (which I did not). If I had something to change, I would change T2. I might consider not fussing with a fuel belt next time around. Instead, use dry nutrition (likely, Honey Stinger gummies), Salt Stick caps and water. It's less fussing in T2 and less to carry. It sounds easier, and it 7+ hours into a race, simple is better. Way better.
The run was a 3 loop course. About 4.3 miles out and 4.3 miles back. The entire course was lined with aid stations (1 every kilometer, which means there were 41 aid stations on the course. Yes, 41.) It was also completely flat. And hot. I hit the run course around 2:45pm and it was blazing hot. Every aid station I was taking 1 cup of water to drink and 1 cup of water onto my head. Within the first 30 minutes, I was soaking wet from head to toe, but managing to keep myself somewhat cool. The first 4.3 miles of the run was solid. I felt ok. Not great, but like there was a small chance I could maintain my goal pace (which was a 9 minute mile pace) if everything went right. And I did manage to maintain a somewhat steady pace for the first 7-8 miles (mile 1- 8:42, mile 2- 8:56, mile 3- 8:48, mile 4, 9:01, mile 5- 8:54, mile 6- 9:06, mile 7- 9:04, mile 8- 9:08, mile 9- 9:34...and it only goes downhill from there). At mile 8, my legs felt done. Heavy and tired. I started walking aid stations and running between them. My pace continued to drop and never really picked back up (mile 10- 9:46, mile 11- 9:58, mile 12- 10:20, mile 13- 10:08, mile 14- 10:35, mile 15- 11:17, mile 16- 9:43, mile 17- 10:45, mile 18- 10:03, mile 19- 10:31, mile 20- 10:12, mile 21- 10:02, mile 22- 11:03, mile 23- 10:13, mile 24- 10:42, mile 25- 10:52 and finally, mile 26- 10:35). I managed to connect with another runner around mile 20 and we ran together for about 4 miles. He helped keep me running as we were having good conversation.
Nutritionally, I went fairly scarce on food. I was completely sick of my Freedom Fuel by mile 10 and stopped drinking it. I got about 150 calories of it down. I also managed to get down 1 1/2 packages of Honey Stinger gummies (I stopped and got a second package out of my special needs bag at mile 13.1), all 6 BCAA caps, about 8 salt caps and 1 VESPA junior at 13.1 miles. I had a headache and felt nauseous for most of the run. I knew it was dehydration, but I couldn't manage to get any more water down. I was taking cups of water every kilometer and I had done well at getting water down on the bike course. I still hadn't urinated all day. At mile 15 on the run, I finally stopped to use a port-a-potty. Not so much because I had to pee, but mostly because I just wanted to stop and sit. How sad is that. I was so tired that I chose to step into a steaming hot porta-a-potty to take a break. LOL! It's laughable now. But that was how bad I was feeling at the time. I did manage to pee a little. But it burned and was just another indication that I was well under hydrated.
I the end, the spectators and my family was what helped get from one point to the next on the run. Sean had rented a bike and in true supportive fashion, managed to show up all over the run course. Also, looking for all my friends out on the run course was helpful. There were a lot of us out there. Mike Marschik, John Rutherford, Ian Taylor, Christopher Stubbs, Karyn Hoffman, Scott Williams, Tami Ralston, Christine Avelar, Tammie Lopez (who I never managed to find until the recovery area) and Jason Curran (who I also never managed to find until the very end).
In the end, I managed to make up a spot on the run. Not because my run was fabulous, but because I chose not to give up. And I didn't have any major malfunctions. All over the run course, athletes were walking, or even just sitting on the side of the road. Their bodies (and/or mind) had had enough. I managed to finish the run in 4 hours 19 minutes and 50 seconds. One of my slowest marathon times ever, but the absolutely best I had for the day. And I am proud of that. It landed me in 6th place on the day. And in the top 10% of my age group.
There were a lot of wonderful lessons learned at this race (learned personally and from others). Always pack back up salt tabs. Always pack extra fuel. Never give up. Don't underestimate the power of wind. Listen to your coach when he tells you to use your rear water bottle cage (LOL!). But mostly this race helped me see that I can do this. As bad as I felt for majority of the second half of this race, I still managed to finish 6th. With more work, I see how close I really am to getting a slot to Kona. I feel like it is within reach, and that is VERY exciting!
Tiana Rockwell is a certified nutritional therapist, avid endurance athlete and dark chocolate lover. She believes that by eating REAL food, we can balance our body and reach optimal health and wellness!