Ironman Los Cabos Race Report
Ironman Los Cabos, 17th March 2013
My 3rd attempt at Kona qualification, this time nothing went wrong!
Total time 9:42
2nd in M35-39 AG, 5th amateur, 26th overall
Swim 1:09 (9 mins slower than planned)
Bike 5:07 243 watts normalized power, avg HR 140 bpm link to TP file http://tpks.ws/Lfmg
Run 3:19, avg HR 147 bpm
I swam easy/relaxed, biked like an animal and ran comfortably. I was super happy to qualify for Kona. Although obviously the highest achievement was receiving IMTalk’s Age Grouper of the Week award 😉 see http://bit.ly/AGOW2013
I nailed my nutrition in this race. Here is a link to my nutrition report.
On November 25th 2012, when I pulled into T2 after 112 miles of biking without being able to keep down food or liquid, I quit Ironman Cozumel without even attempting the run, and returning to Mexico was the very last thing on my mind. I’d had a very long season, with pretty much no break since my first Ironman (Switzerland in July 2011). I had planned on qualifying for Kona at IMCdA in 2012, but was hit by a car 5 weeks before, breaking 2 ribs. I still gave it a shot but I was just not in good enough shape to make the cut, missing a slot by 15 mins. Ironman Cozumel was meant to be my redemption race. I flew to Mexico in the best shape of my life, but I got slammed by a virus the night before. I still gave the race a go, but the GI bug resulted in 5 porta potty stops during the bike and my subsequent withdrawal from that race. I never wanted to return to Mexico, but within a few days, I found myself online, booking my spot at the inaugural Ironman Los Cabos. I vowed to return fitter than ever and christened this race my “Mexican Revenge”…
I decided that this time, I would spend as little time in Mexico as possible, to reduce the chances of contracting a bug before the race. I took all my own food, drank only bottled water, and lived like a hermit in our condo, briefly venturing out only to collect my bike and my race packet, and to buy more bottled water. In retrospect this was all overkill. San Jose del Cabo is much more “first world” than Cozumel – it’s basically just an extension of California including the familiar comforts of starbucks and McDonalds, not to mention a large grocery store called “Mega” which is larger and better stocked than most US supermarkets.
Leading up to the race, there was much speculation on the unofficial Facebook page, a fantastic resource that brought more than 400 of us together in anticipation of this “never-done-before” race that nobody knew much about. There were debates about the bike course elevation – some said it was 3900ft, some said it was 7400ft… and boy am I glad that I trained for 7400 😉
People wanted to know if it would be windy, if there would be sharks, whether wetsuits were allowed, were disc wheels allowed? What cassette size to use etc.
First of all let me say this was the toughest IM course I’ve ever done (this was my 6th). It’s very similar to Ironman Coeur d’Alene, except the swim is warmer, with less contact and better visibility (and only one loop). The bike is a bit tougher and slower. The run is about the same. The weather is a lot hotter and there was more wind in Cabo this year.
We stayed in a condo in a complex called “Alegranza” which is just above the golf course, on a hill. It’s about ½ mile from the finish, and about 1 mile from the Grand Faro hotel, which is where the expo / registration happens. I slept pretty well on Thursday night. Friday night was different. I was nervous. I’ve never been nervous before an Ironman, not even on race day. I was definitely feeling the pressure to perform here. I had invested so much time and effort in my past 2 Ironman races, made so many sacrifices and put so much on the line to achieve my goal, that I couldn’t face a 3rd “unlucky day”. That night I dreamed that someone stole my running shoes from T2 and that I had to run the marathon barefoot. I duly instructed Michelle to take my extra pair of running shoes and leave them in the stroller on race day in case that happened!
After setting 4 alarms for 3:30am, I went to sleep at about 9pm Saturday night. I slept ok, woke up 30 mins early at 3am and ate my signature rice pudding breakfast, consisting of white rice mixed with 1 x EFS Liquid shot (Kona Mocha flavor). I got dressed, picked up my bags, made a double espresso and headed out the door. I was feeling really good, and calm yet excited. I walked down the road to the Best Western (one of the host hotels) and just missed the bus. I waited in the lobby for about 30 mins with some fellow athletes for the next one to arrive. After a 15 min journey we were dropped at the top of the road, and walked about 10 mins in the dark down to the swim start. I quickly put my nutrition on the bike, then took it over to the mechanics to get my tires pumped. They inflated them higher than normal (115 PSI) which I’d be grateful for later. Time flies when you’re having fun, and before I knew it was already 6:15. I put on my wetsuit then headed down to the warm up area, a small bay adjacent to the starting bay, the same area where we would finish. I only had time for about a 5 min warm up then walked over to the start. We watched the pros go off and then 15-20 mins later we lined up and the siren sounded! Our long day had finally begun!
This was one of the most pleasant swims I’ve had in an Ironman start. I started in the front, 3 rows back to the right of the beach. I had zero contact over the first 500m to the first buoy, before we turned parallel to the beach for the long 1500m back straight. At some point in the middle of this it got a bit congested. A guy was coming from my right, pushing me to the left, where there was another guy. So I was making contact with both of them (unavoidable). The guy on my left then got fed up with me, stopped swimming, turned around and physically pushed my head under the water. Having played water polo in school, my first reaction was to pull his leg back and punch him in the face, but I calmly just let it go – you don’t want to get agro about some idiot so soon in the day! Secretly I do hope he had a really tough day… The rest of the swim was uneventful. I could feel a bit of current on the way back to shore, but it didn’t seem too bad. I was shocked when I got out of the water and saw the clock reading 1:09. I was expecting a swim time of an hour, maybe 1:05 if something went wrong. But 1:09 was ridiculous for me. To give you an idea, I do my slow “cool down” set in the pool, without a wetsuit, faster than that!
Fortunately for me, the swim is the shortest part of the day, and I had plenty of time to make it back. I took off my wetsuit as I got out of the water, making it easier to run up the hill to T1. I grabbed my bag, ran into the changing tent, put my wetsuit in the bag and ran to the bike. My shoes were already clipped in, and my helmet was waiting on my bike, so I put it on, grabbed my bike and headed out the transition area. I jumped on the bike, and then headed up a steep little hill with intermittent cobble sections until we hit the main highway. As I hit the highway I put my feet in my shoes and eased into the long part of the day.. In the past I’ve experienced severe glute cramps if I don’t ease into it, so I kept it steady / easy for about 5 mins before building up to my race effort. The good thing about a slower swim is you pass a lot of people on the bike! I came out of the swim in 223rd place so I had some catching up to do…
You start with an out and back section from Palmilla to San Lucas where you turn around. The road is continually rolling (with some short steep sections too), and there is no flat part at all. Before long the pros started coming back towards us, and I started counting. Kevin (my coach) had said that I should aim to be top 100 at the first turnaround, top 50 on the 2nd lap and then work my way up until the end of the bike. At the first turn I had worked my way up to place 103. I passed another 20 more people and then was alone for a long time, until we hit the long toll road hill going up to the airport close to the end of lap 1. When you look at the elevation map, this looks like it’s going to be the worst hill but it’s actually one of the mildest, even though it’s about 4 miles long. I passed a lot more people on this hill and on the exposed section in the desert out n back section. There is a very exposed bridge where I nearly got blown off my bike by the gusts of wind, but I managed to hold on for dear life. Then it’s back down the long hill and on to lap 2. I went through half way in around 2:34, so at that stage I thought I was on track for a sub 5 bike split. I had averaged 241 watts, and I was planning on riding lap 2 just above 250 watts, which I thought would get me back a fair amount of time. Onto lap 2 and I put down the gas. Again I was alone for about 20 mins, before I started hitting the small packs of female pros. I was now flying, tucked into a very aero position and cranking out 260-275 watts on most of the short hills. There was a headwind on the way to San Lucas but it didn’t really bother me. The turnaround came in no time, and then I was riding back to San Jose with a nice tailwind/ rear crosswind. The wind picked up quite a bit on the 2nd lap. The long toll road hill was tougher this time around, and I stayed out of aero on the exposed section, which cost me some time but prevented a possible crash! At the far turn around, I almost came to a complete stop because the wind was so strong. I had to get out of the saddle and really stomp just to get going. I saw a few backmarkers still on lap 1 drafting each other here. To be honest I don’t think it was malicious, just a case of survival! There was one short hill (10% grade) and then a long downhill between me and the final ride into town. At this stage I could see that a sub 5 was not going to happen, but it was clear that I had still had a decent ride.
When I arrived in T2 it was like a ghost town. There was nobody in the change tent and the run bag racks were full. So I knew that I must have made up some good time. Unfortunately, the volunteers couldn’t find my run gear bag. I thought my Friday night dream was coming true and that I’d have to run the marathon barefoot! I was grateful for that one day when I did a 15 miler in my Vibrams… at least that was some preparation. After about 1.5 mins, the “manager” came and eventually they found my bag. Into the change tent, I made up some of the lost time with 7 little mexican kids helping me put my shoes on, take my helmet, pass me sunblock, give me my water bottle. I still made it out in 2.5 mins which is not bad, but without the delay I would have had a super fast T2 time.
This is the first time I’ve started the IM run quite high up the field (I was now top 30, although at the time I had no idea what place I was in my AG). It’s kind of a strange experience; the road is empty, and the crowd + volunteers have all this pent up excitement that gets unleashed on you. The crowd support really amped me and found it pretty difficult to hold back at first. I glanced down at my garmin to see my pace, and it was showing “00:00”. I use my avg pace view a lot in Ironman racing because my pace somehow feels different than it does in training. At the start of the run I often go out too fast, so I use the pace to hold myself back. And then from half way I use the pace to push myself harder (I often think I’m running faster than I am). This non-working Garmin was a distraction I didn’t need right now. I tried resetting it but that didn’t help. I still had heart rate and lap time, so I decided to just run according to feel, and manually hit the lap button at the odd mile marker to check my pace. I used heart rate as a very rough indicator of effort. I was at around 156 bmp which is 6 bpm higher than my target cap. But it was very hot so I gave myself the 6bpm “credit” since I was feeling very comfortable and relaxed.
My target pace was just over 07:00 per mile, so I was a bit surprised when I went through 3 miles averaging 6:40 / mile. I knew this would not be sustainable so I immediately slowed down, aiming to get my HR back down to around 150 which I knew would be closer to my intended pace. After 6 miles I passed a guy who I thought was in my AG who was now walking. Soon after a guy in 30-34 flew past me – he must have been doing close to 6 min/mile! Soon after I saw Michelle and she told me I came off the bike 2nd in my AG. Since I had just passed that other guy I thought I was now in the lead, but I wasn’t sure. Either way, I knew that I was 1st or 2nd, and since my goal was to get the Kona slot, I was assured of achieving my goal as long as I didn’t screw it up! My strategy changed immediately – I eased up to a steady pace and stopped “pushing”. The only thing now standing between me and my slot would be cramping, seizing quads, or something else that could result from running too hard. I focused on steady intake of fluids (I drank only Pepsi the whole run), a little salt, and keeping myself cool. The aid stations at this race were PHENOMENAL. By far the best Ironman aid stations I’ve ever seen (yes, even better than the super-organized IM Switzerland). They were placed every km, and were fully stocked with ice, ice-cold water, pepsi, gatorade, gels, bananas and lots more stuff. I took 2 waters at every station and drenched myself to keep cool. I must have thrown about 5 buckets of ice down my tri suit in total. And it was easy to keep my bike bottle topped up with fluids without having to stop once.
The run is 3 loops of over 8 miles, it’s flat and rolling with a few easy hills that break it up nicely. Some people said the run was boring but I thought it was great. On each lap, you run half way down the finisher chute, which is packed with spectators. It’s a huge boost to get the cheers of the crowd to keep you going, and is something to look forward to each lap. I was still feeling good as I went on to my 3rd lap. I just kept running, refilling my bottle with pepsi and keeping cool with water and ice. At this stage I still thought I was winning my age group, but nobody had passed me yet so I was still just running comfortably. About 1 mile from the end, a guy in my age group came past me. This woke me up out of my daze and I put my foot on the gas. I accelerated past him and did the last mile in about 6:40. He must have been on a different lap, because when I checked the results, 3rd place was more than 10 mins behind me, but at least I had a strong finish! I was elated to have finally nailed my Kona slot, and to have had my best race ever, with a PR on the toughest course I’ve done.
The finish area was great. I skipped the food, had a quick ice bath and then headed to the massage tent which was empty except for a few pro women and a lot of bored massage therapists. I offered to help them out with their boredom, and I had 2 of them working on me for about 40 minutes! They were really good and I’m sure that helped alot with my recovery.
There were some mexican kids who obviously mistook me for someone else because they all wanted my autograph, and to have their picture taken with me 🙂
Another possibility is that they had already heard the rumour that I would become Age Grouper of the Week on IMTalk, the world’s premier Ironman podcast!
All in all this was a great race, but a very tough race. It was very well organized and the crowd + volunteer support was amazing. The swim was really great although too long (many of us measured over 4.2km on our GPS watches). The bike is tough, which is fine as long as you expect that (there was no official guidance on the course prior to race day, just speculation). The run is awesome. Nice and rolling which breaks it up a bit compared to a pancake flat course. The only improvements that come to mind are to fix the speed bumps and potholes on those few sections of the bike course. Besides that, the road conditions were very good.
Lastly, the awards ceremony on the Monday evening was the best that I’ve ever been to. It’s in an outdoor waterfront area in Cabo San Lucas, with loads of restaurants, bars etc. around it. There was a great buzz with cool music and just generally a great atmosphere.
In closing, I’d highly recommend this event, as long as you don’t underestimate the difficulty of it. If you want an easy Ironman, this isn’t the right one for you. But if you want a challenging race in a great location with amazing support, do it!
See you in Kona!