Ironman Cozumel Race Report (DNF)

This was 5th Ironman, and my first Ironman DNF. So what’s the point of a race report? Well, hopefully it’s helpful to others who may be considering this race, and it’s probably most useful for me to get this disappointing result off my chest!

 

Pre-swim on Friday morning

Going into the race I was in the best shape of my life. I was pretty much set to qualify for Kona without having to race too hard. By the numbers I would have been close to a time of 9 hours. I’ve spent a lot of time improving my swim, my power on the bike is at lifetime best, and my run has been consistent and good enough for an Ironman run of a little over 3 hours. This was my comeback after I got hit by a car a month before IMCdA, and I had drawn up a very detailed plan of my race which had me on track for a decent time…

Arrived in COZ feeling ready!

This was my race prediction based on the plan:

  • Swim: 59 mins based on my pool times (1:20/100y steady pace in the pool), and a 1:02 I swam in an easy open water training swim in Hawaii 3 weeks before the race
  • Bike: 240w average which would give me a bike split of around 4:40
  • Run: 07:00 – 07:10 per mile getting me through the marathon in around 3:10

So give and take 3-5 mins in each transition and some margin for error, I was projecting a time in the low 9’s (not as good as Coach Coady’s recent 8:56, but hopefully still decent!)

Kevin's amazing IMAZ time from one week before

The amount of prep I put into this race was significant. I put in 15-20k of swimming a week, 40 miles of running a week, and since Cozumel is a flat and hot bike course I did most of my bike training on an indoor trainer in the aero position.  Most weeks were 20+ hours of training, meaning I often had to get up at 4am. I had no social life. I did everything to prevent illness, including doing stuff like obsessively carrying around hand sanitizer! It was all worth it – with a week to go I was in the shape of my life, healthy, well rested and ready to race! I even arrived in Mexico early, to reduce travel stress, get familiar with the course and make sure all my gear was in working order, without any time pressure.  Given the potential for dodgy food and water in Mexico, I even brought all my own pre-race meals (oats and whey protein) and only drank bottled water. We even brushed our teeth with bottled water. I avoided public places and made as little contact as possible with other athletes.

I took an easy ride around the island on the Thursday, and felt great. I kept it easy, averaging under 210 watts. I took it up to race pace a few times and I struggled to hold myself under 260 watts. Hitting my target of 240 watts on race day would be pretty easy and would leave me plenty of juice for a great run.

The preparation was perfect. Then with 2 days to go everything changed. My 1 year old son was up all night vomiting. It lasted less than a day then he was ok again. My wife got violently ill on the Friday night, and she couldn’t move all of Saturday. I was still feeling fine, although at the back of my mind I had the sinking feeling that I would get this GI bug too, I just hoped that it would be on Monday and not Sunday! I was also a little concerned since I had lost my appetite and not eaten since 3pm, however I just put that down to being full from the tons of carbs I had eaten the day before…  I was still hydrating and getting in plenty of salt. I estimate I took in 12-13 Nuun tabs throughout the day and 4+ L of water.

I had finished my race prep by 5pm; bike was racked ‘n ready, bike and run gear bags dropped off at T1, power bars cut into quarters, dusted with whey powder to prevent “sticking”, 2 x EFS liquid shots mixed with water in a bottle, ready to transfer into the Shiv bladder in the morning. All race gear was ready to just pick up and leave. By 6pm I really didn’t feel well. I went straight to sleep without eating. I woke up at 11pm with a bloated gut, weird since I hadn’t eaten in over 8 hours. I started cramping and then it hit… I spent most of the remainder of the night on the toilet, interspersed with a few hours of sleep. It’s not unusual to sleep badly the night before an Ironman, so this didn’t bother me. Besides I had gotten plenty of sleep in the days before. When I woke up at 4am I couldn’t face solid food. I just drank 2 x starbucks pre-made frappucino drinks (200 cals each) which I knew would be enough to at least get me going. I also took 2 x immodiums in an attempt to stop the squits. Our condo was near to a host hotel, so I walked across and got on the bus. I was feeling much better now, and was determined to at least complete the swim and attempt the bike. I couldn’t let all this prep go to waste without even trying.

I arrived in transition around 5am, where we got body “re-marked”. They had already marked us the day before so it was just a case of touching up. I then went and set up my bike nutrition, took my bike to the mechanics to get the tyres pumped, and then set up my rack ready to go: I would be riding in socks since I had a bad blister on my heel, so I coated the inside of my socks in vaseline and put them on my towel, ready to slip on after the swim. I also set up my shoes attached to my pedals for a quick exit from T1. One quick mention on the organization – this was the best transition area I’ve seen to date: plenty of space – at least 2m each side of my bike and volunteers everywhere ready to help.

I then did a final toilet stop. I brought my own TP since I’d read reports of them running out in previous years. I’m glad I did since the toilet I chose was sans TP and in my “current condition” that would have not been a very good thing! Unfortunately the Immodiums had not seemed to take effect, so I took another one after that. Our race started at 7am, so I took a gel at 06:15 then another at 06:45. I struggled to keep them down but I managed.

Swim
At 06:50 I made my way out onto the pier and jumped into the water. We had not been allowed to warm up so I did a few sprints. I started making my way over to the left had side, in order to line up a few rows back, but very near the front, on the inside line. We had about 800 yards to swim before the first turn, so plenty of time to settle in before the inevitable “first turn mayhem”. As I was making my way towards the front, everyone suddenly started swimming. I figured I must have missed the start siren so I quickly started my watch and launched into a sprint. After about 30 seconds, a pair of jet skis scooted in front to try and stop us.  False start! They pushed us back a bit, then patrolled up and down so keep us at bay. About a minute later the real siren went off and we were underway. I expected this swim to be non-violent because there is great visibility and lots of space. How wrong I was! I started a few rows back, on the inside line, and the contact was very rough. It was complete white water for at least the first 5 mins. Even though the visibility was close to 100ft, I could see nothing but white. I swam over a few slow people who had seeded themselves at the front. If that was you I’m sorry, but next time you’ll probably not make that mistake again – it’s happened to all of us. About half way to the first turn, I had swum past the slower people and was in clearer water. I was on feet almost 100% of the time, and I didn’t need to sight since you can see the long line of swimmers under the water, and you can see the buoy lines from at least 60ft away. We were swimming over the coral reefs so there were lots of fish to see, not to mention the submarines and divers along the way. I was feeling great – the water was rough but I was holding down the gel and it felt like I was swimming at a good pace. Effort wise it felt like I was swimming around 1:20 / 100y.  As we approached the first turn I could feel the current surging a bit, but it didn’t feel that bad. We then turned and headed down the long stretch (with the current). I couldn’t really feel any difference in the current. I found a good set of feet and just stuck there down the back straight. I went through half way in 28 mins, a little slower than expected but still on track for sub 60 mins (so I thought). We headed around the final turn, to head back towards the pier.  I immediately felt the the difference in speed due to the current. Progress was slow. The feet I was following got a bit erratic and was zig zaging a bit, so I swam across to find some more feet. I knew it was critical to draft here because of the current, so I swam extra hard to get to a group in front of me. I consciously worked my arms and shoulders hard. They were burning now, but I worked them even harder, telling myself that I wasn’t going to use my arms for the rest of the day. It felt like an eternity before I saw the pier approaching. I glanced at my Garmin and saw 1:06:xx – at first I thought this was some type of mistake – how could I be more than 10 mins off my pace? I swam even harder, got to the exit, and the clock confirmed my fears – 1:10:xx – one of my worst IM swim times ever, and I was in the best swimming shape of my life!

Swim time: 1:10
Pace to first turn (against the current): 800 yards, 1:52/100y
Pace along back straight (with the current): 2000 yards, 1:02/100y
Pace back to pier (against the current): 1400 yards, 2:20/100y

The exit into T1 was simple and clean. I unzipped the top half of my swim skin, grabbed my bag, headed directly to the bike, but was sent back to go through the change tent (you need to go through the tent even if you aren’t using it). You also need to leave your bike bag in the tent, so I ended up quickly putting my helmet and glasses on before chucking my bag down and heading to my bike. I put on my socks, stuffed an EFS liquid shot down the front of my top, stuck 2 gels in my pocket, then ran off with my bike for a swift T1 exit. I saw my coach Kevin Coady just before the exit. He shouted that it was a very slow swim and that I was at least in the top 10%. All was not lost! I jumped on the bike and then slowly started making my way through the field.

Bike
The plan was to ride easy for the first 10 mins (220 watts or so) until my legs and glutes ease up. This all went according to plan and I spun lightly at a low steady effort through the large groups of bikers. I decided to check that my gels were properly in my pocket, and that’s when I felt a weird piece of material fluttering around in the wind. I couldn’t make head or tail of it until I looked down, and realized that I had left my swim skin on! Frikking idiot!!! What the hell!? I guess the problem is that it’s so unobtrusive, you kind of just forget that it’s there. I tried to look on the bright side, that at least it was probably quite aero. I decided to put on the top half again, zip it up and then just go for it. Luckily for me it wasn’t too hot, and I was actually ok riding in it. It seemed to keep moisture on the surface and was actually pretty cool. Having said that, I would not recommend riding in a swim skin!

I took in half my EFS liquid shot in one go (200 cals) and settled into my pace. I was struggling to hit my power numbers. 240 watts usually feels quite easy for me, and I was putting in a lot of effort to get near to 230 watts. I then decided to ignore my watts and just ride by feel. The most important thing for me is to not overdo the watts in the beginning, and clearly this was not going to happen. My speed was good – I was averaging just under 26 mph while riding less than 220w. When I rounded the island to the windy east side, my speed dropped as expected, but by the end of the first lap I was just under 24 mph… so on track for around 4:50 or faster, and if I could ride the 2nd half closer to my target wattage I’d be on track for 4:40 or faster, getting me back on track after that terrible swim. Besides the swim skin issue I was still feeling ok, but as I started lap 2 all of that changed.

I couldn’t keep anything down. I started the first lap with a mixture of coke and BCAA in my bottle between the bars. I finished that after 25 miles and switched water. I had power bars cut into 1/3rds in my darkspeedworks bento, the plan ws to eat 1/3 every 20 mins. I just couldn’t stomach any of it.  Water: came back up. Bars: came back up. EFS: came back up. I then started bloating really badly. I wasn’t sure what was causing it since I wasn’t taking in any food. Maybe it was the 3 immodiums I had taken… I had no idea. I was just getting worse and worse. Hopefully I could ride it out till the end of the bike and then visit the porta potty in T2. Soon I could no longer remain in the aero position, my stomach was just too bloated and painful. 15 mins later desperation kicked in… I needed to find a port potty, and pronto! After what seemed like an eternity, the aid station arrived and I made a beeline for the toilet. The volunteers were great and rushed over to hold my bike while I visited the loo. Inside that portaloo, it was like armageddon taking place. I literally exploded as I sat down. This was diarrhea like nothing I’ve ever experienced – like an endless supply of water just gushing out. I have no idea where it all came from since I had already been on the toilet all night, and I hadn’t eaten in over 20 hours. I sat there for about 5 mins, and eventually the bloat had subsided. I got my bike back from the volunteers who had kindly restocked my drinks while I was “busy”, and started back on my quest again. Ok, 5 mins is not too bad, I can make this back quite easily, I thought. How wrong I was. I got back on the bike and started riding again, but couldn’t even manage 200w.  For me this is pretty poor, bearing in mind that my lower steady training rides average about 210w. I went through 56 miles in 2:25, which still put me in contention. However it was pretty much downhill from there… For the remainder of the ride, it was pretty much the same story, but progressively slower; take in water/food, some of it comes back up, stomach bloats, stop for toilet, repeat. On lap 3 I saw Michelle, so I stopped to give her my swim skin – at that stage an extra stop was not going to really matter, and at least I’d be a little more comfortable for the remainder of my suffering. About half way through my final lap I had decided that I would not start the run. Not only was I out of contention, but I was now severely dehydrated and pretty much on zero fuel. Running a marathon would not only be miserable but also dangerous.I “limped” my bike through the final half of the lap, very relieved to finally be at T2. The bike course measured a little long at 113.5 miles.

Bike Time: 5:38, 184w NP, 20 mph

Lap 1: 205w NP, 23 mph
Lap 2:  184w NP, 21 mph
Lap 3:  155w NP, 17.5 mph

I dismounted, gave them my bike, ran to the porta potty for my final stop of the race. I then tried to explain to the medics that I was dehydrated, but all they did was send me to an ice bath! I then tried to find coach Coady and his wife Caroline, but I was without my phone so had to just walk through the crowds in the hope of finding them. This quest was unsuccessful, so I just got my bike and headed back to the apartment, where I spent the rest of the day trying to get some fluids down (and keep them down).

 

Recovery time on the Mayan Riviera

The next day I still couldn’t keep anything down, but finally on Tuesday afternoon I managed to eat something and keep it down. I had been hit with a 48 hour stomach virus on the only 2 days this year that it really mattered! To say I was disappointed is an understatement, but I’m now over it, ready to move on, and I will be back to take Mexican Revenge on March 17th 2013 in Ironman Los Cabos. This time I will arrive as late as possible and will be bringing all my own food with me!

 

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16 thoughts on “Ironman Cozumel Race Report (DNF)

  1. Sorry to hear this story but hope to use it as a learning moment for myself and clients. I did this race in 2011 and managed to get through race healthy. After race I had the worse GI sickness of my life. Lost 10 pounds and was already the lightest I had been since high school. Judging by the times it looks like all the swim times were off. Sounds to me like you have the best attitude of just moving on and go crush that next race + grab your K slot. Best of luck and nice read even though it was disappointing. From other reports as you know there was a very bad flu going around down there. Well done on controlling what you could and nice work getting as far as you did with still very respectable times.

    • thanks for the encouragement @saltyrunr… the weight loss is definitely a silver lining 😉
      It’s somewhat reassuring that I wasn’t alone in the GI sickness – it seems to be a recurring theme with this race – I’m hoping Los Cabos is different

  2. Rob,
    I’m really sorry you DNF’d at Coz. It certainly sounds like your prep was impeccable. I did IM Coz this year as my first IM and was fortunate to have had an amazing experience. I’m sure you will crush it at Cabo. But a piece of advice. Don’t obsess too much about the food. You’ll just stress yourself out. The GI bug going around Coz this year had NOTHING to do with food/water. It was a stomach flu virus, plain and simple that was being passed from person to person and NOT by ingestion. As someone who has spent her entire life going to Mexican beach resorts dozens of times I can tell you the food/water in Mexico’s resort towns is no different that anywhere in the U.S. as long as you stay away from street vendors or stuff you’ve never tried before. If you’re still nervous, you can go to the MEGA supermarket in Cabo and buy your food there and prep it yourself. It’s just like any Walmart. Good luck!!!!

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  6. Rob,

    Thanks for the info (maybe not the TMI)!

    I’m thinking IM Coz may be my first IM Dec 1 2013. I’ve done 5 – 70.3’s and finally got below 5 hours. I think it’s my time.

    Do you have recommendations on bike transport? Nutrition? Wetsuit? I’m used to 75-90 degrees races, 70 degree water, just using Gu gels (8 total for the race) and G2 for nutrition.

    Thanks so much for your input in advance!

    Sean

    • Hey Sean

      Congrats on going sub 5 in your HIM!

      Bike transport: 2 options – either take your bike on the plane with you, or ship it there and back with Tribike transport ($425 from new york area). Personally I like the convenience of Tribike transport – you just arrive and your bike is ready. However if you are really watching the budget then take it on the plane with you, but then you need a bike box etc. and you need to pay fees, probably at least $150. So it’s really only costing you $200 extra or so with tribike, plus you don’t need to get a bike box.

      Nutrition: they key part of an Ironman, but very individual. For me, I like to get down 400-500 calories per hour. Check out my Ironman Los Cabos nutrition report for a full breakdown of what I finally got to work http://robgray.org/?p=872
      But I cannot emphasize enough, practice practice practice your nutrition plan.
      8 GUs is not enough for an ironman, I’m assuming that’s what you had in your half?

      Wetsuit: it’s a non-wetsuit swim, nice warm water (high 70s I’m guessing). It’s the most beautiful open water swim I’ve ever done, but the current was brutal. It was one of my best swims, although one of my worst times. There was one lady who was pulled out the water after 30 mins, and she had progressed no more than 100 yards from the start.

      The bike course is flat, and this actually makes it quite hard. There is zero chance to rest/coast. It’s like riding a trainer for 112 miles (which I did a few times in training).

      Feel free to ask me anything else, and good luck with the training!

      • Hi Rob,

        I will be doing IM Cozumel this year. I was actually at los Cabos in March (saw that you did super well.. congrats… good luck in Hawaii).

        Unfortunately for me, I experienced the same issue but in LOS CABOS… couldn’t hold anything down on the bike (spent the next 48 hours super sick in the hotel)…. so.. like you, I will give it another shot in Mexico again (this time in Cozumel)… hopefully/Godwilling, I will also be blessed and all will go as planned.

        Question.. did you fly directly to Cozumel? or did you fly to CUN and took the ferry over…. I’m debating if I should Ferry or take a local charter plane.

        thanks and best of luck again!

      • Hi Cristian

        I flew via Cancun, but the main reason was because we wanted to go there for a bit first. To get the ferry you need to drive over an hour then take the ferry. If I did it again I would choose a flight that got me straight to cozumel if possible. Are you sending your bike with TBT?

  7. Thanks Rob.

    I am also flying to Cancun directly; however, I was planning on taking the bus to the ferry (and then the ferry over). I was debating if I should take the Local/charter flight to the island (which is a 20min flight)…

    but to answer your question, YES, I will be flying with my bike… too much of a trip to carry it on a bus?

    • ok – I think it will be fine on a bus as long as you don’t have too much other stuff. The bus will drop you a short walk from the ferry, and you can then either take your own stuff or pay a porter to carry your stuff to the ferry. So the main difference between the flight and the ferry is the time it takes (and cost). Oh, also the Ferry drops you right in the town. If you land at the airport you’ll need to get a taxi.

  8. Great race report though a bit detailed. 🙂 Good thing you found redemption in Cabos. I did IMCoz in 2013 and they changed the swim. But it was the most beautiful swim I’d ever had the pleasure of participating in. The bike was relentless. The winds and the flats. And the run was fun. It was a great experience. And I”m doing it again in 2015. Be blessed. 🙂

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