Amy Gluck, MS, RD, CPT

Registered Dietitian
Certified Personal Trainer
5 time USA Triathlon All-American
5 time Kona Qualifier
Boston Marathon Qualifier

Cozumel 2011

As if my concerns about recovering from Kona in time to actually race Cozumel weren't enough, I was suffering from a severe case of bronchitis along with "who knows what else" the entire two weeks prior to race day.  I was so ill that I was forced to take the last two weeks prior the race completely off from training.  This had me quite concerned about my ability to pull off a descent race, to say the least.  As we boarded our flight to Cozumel on Thanksgiving Day, I really hoped the warm weather and humidity would help me recover from the hacking cough and congestion that still had a powerful grip on my lungs.  I had full body fatigue and my lungs burned.  I wasn't sure if I would be spending my time in Mexico racing or napping.  Each morning I woke up, I assessed my bronchial status.  Do I feel better than yesterday?  Can I breathe through my nose?  How congested are my lungs today?

 

I thought maybe a short swim in the ocean would help.  Following that up with a 20 mile bike usually gets the “juices” flowing pretty well.  It did.  It was also the first time I had been on my bike in over 2 weeks.  It felt great to be riding the GC2 (Glux Capacitor 2) again.  I had forgotten what a stiff, smooth, and comfortable ride it was.  I averaged over 22 mph on my way out going easy and figured I'd have a headwind coming back.  I didn't.  It was just as easy coming back.  Maybe I was ready to race.  I hit a little storm 15 miles into my bike.  Little did I know that this would be good preparation for race day.  At the time, I was just dreading the fact that I would have to clean my bike once more before it was ready to be dropped off in transition.  For some reason, I had put my AeroBottle on my bike for my pre-ride, knowing full well I would not be using it on that ride.  Turns out, that worked out to my advantage.  I had lowered my seat in one of my last training rides on the GC2 due to some calf pain I had been having during my training rides since Kona.  As I rode, I found that the straw on my AeroBottle was constantly hitting my chin.  I was so glad I had the opportunity to trim that down instead of dealing with it for 112 miles. 

 

 

Race Day:

I woke up at 4 am race morning.  Bronchial status check?  Well, it was somewhat better.  I was definitely not 100%, but not enough to keep me from racing either.  I coughed up and blew out everything I could.  I knew I'd be facing a serious relapse in the days to come, but that was a price I was willing to pay.  I ate the breakfast I bring with me to IM’s in unfamiliar areas:  1.5 whole wheat bagels with chocolate peanut butter and a banana.  (Ok, I did get the banana in Mexico.)  I mixed 4 bottles of HEED: 2 for my frame, one for my AeroBottle, and one to sip on up until the swim start.  Then, I coated my pale skin with SPF 55 and donned my Soas kit.  I followed that up with sweat pants and a jacket because I remembered how cold I was after completing this race last year. 

 

I was dropped off at transition around 5:30am, just as it opened.  I put my nutrition on my bike, pumped up my tires, and dropped my pump off with James.  Next, was body marking and then, the line for the port-a-potty.  Instead of stocking the stalls with toilet paper, there was a volunteer passing out toilet paper at the front of the line.  I was happy to get my hands on some.  I used most of my allocation to blow my nose.  I wandered through transition, practicing my route.  Transition is a maze in Cozumel, so I practiced this several times.  I could see my hacking cough was irritating my fellow competitors.  I was getting looks that either said, "Are you really going to race like that?" OR "How dare you expose me to that on race day!"  Luckily most of them were speaking in foreign languages, so I never had to find out which was the case.

 

Swim:

It was finally time to head down the pier to the swim start.  This is the ONLY race I have ever done in which I actually LIKE the swim.  The water is Cozumel is crystal clear with tons of beautiful wildlife the entire length of the swim.  Cozumel is considered one of the best places in the world to snorkel and I can see why.  There are the jellyfish to contend with, but luckily there are usually plenty of swimmers in front of me to clear the way somewhat. 

 

As I headed down the pier, I REALLY needed to blow my nose again.  I was eager to jump in the water, just so I could remedy this situation.  After treading water for a few mintues, we were off.  It was the usual mass swim start and I was right on the buoy line.  We tosseled along, bumping off one another, kicking and flailing.  After a few hundred yards, I noticed something.  As I sighted for clear water, I could easily swim to the outside of the pack.  This NEVER happens in Kona.  In Kona, it's one big mass that moves like a pack and never thins out.  I swam to the outside.  I braced myself for the first turn buoy.  It was incredibly peaceful.  Everybody lifted their heads and did a breaststroke around the buoy.  There was very little contact.  I was really impressed.  It was orchestrated like a synchronized team.  Beautiful!  The next buoy was the same. 

 

I continued to swim to the outside of the of the pack every time I started to get a lot of contact.  I was pretty sure we were swimming with the current while heading south, but every once in a while, I felt a wave break against my forehead or I'd see a buoy drifting to the north.  Hmmmm...I hoped, somehow, we were still swimming with the current.  I saw a live starfish at the bottom of the ocean - COOL!  I'd never seen a live one in the ocean before.  Heading back towards the pier, there is a section of the swim that goes through cool spring water that is fed into the ocean.  It felt refreshing.  Now, it was time for my usual routine of assessing the stroke of the swimmers around me to prepare myself for what I might see on the swim clock when I hit the stairs.  As I looked around, I knew I didn't do anything spectacular, but if we were swimming with the current while heading south, I may not have my usual sizable chunk of time to make up.

 

As I hit the stairs, I saw 1:06 - yay!!  That was my time from last year.  The seconds would determine whether it was a PR, or not, but seeing as a PR was even possible had me cheering out loud. 

 

T1:

I passed a few people on my way into T1.  I've learned that this is not the place for an easy jog and those seconds can really add up in the end.  There were so few volunteers in the women's changing tent, that I had to do everything myself.  I’m REALLY spoiled.  I think that's the first time that's happened to me.  I was able to get someone to spray me down with SPF 80, but I actually had to pack my stuff back into my bag and take it out of the tent with me.  WHOA!  Wait, I had never done this before.  What do I do with my bag?  I tried to ask several people.  I need to learn Spanish.  I was running back and forth.  Who can I ask?  Where does this freakin' bag go??  Arghh!  Finally, a woman yelled at me "BIKE!"  "I leave it next to me bike??" I asked (or maybe yelled).  "YES, BIKE!" she replied.  Weird. REALLY?  Ok, whatever, at that point I was going to leave this bag next to my bike rack whether that was the correct thing to do, or not. 

 

Now, I know I was in Mexico, but I have NEVER seen shorter bike racks in my LIFE.  I couldn't rack by bike by the bars because 1) I don't like to; and 2) There wasn't enough room between my brake levers and my AeroBottle to rack it by the bars.  Therefore, I had to lay my bike to the side, push it under the rack and lean the seat on the rack.  With my late entry, I wasn't racked in my age group.  There were guys racked on either side of me.  I figured this, along with my lack of swimming skills, would allow me some space to work with, assuming their bikes would be gone when I got to T1.  They were both still there.  I finally got my bike out of there, and I didn't even see any nutrition fall off either of the bikes next to me.  Success!  I had great spot in transition.  I ran a few yards out to the mount line and hopped on the Glux Capacitor II.  We were off!

 

Bike:

Ahhhh, my favorite part of the race.  Time to make up some time on all the "swimmers" as I head out on the bike.  I was passing quite a few people and very quickly.  I averaged about 24 mph for the first southbound stretch of the course.  Tailwind heading south: OH YEA!  I was really excited.  If this part of the course was going to be this fast, there were huge possibilities for the day.  However, first, I would have to see what kind of headwind this translated into on the other side of the island.  Rounding the south end of the island wasn't nearly as bad as I had remembered.  The headwinds really hit heading north on the opposite side of the island.  No worries 18 mph on this side of the island and 24 mph on the other side of the island had a PR written all over it.  The section that cuts across the middle of the island had the usual fierce tailwind.  I was getting really excited.  I sped through town, completing my first loop, and heading south again to begin my second loop. 

 

I was looking forward to that southbound tailwind.  How long before I was back up to 24mph?  When am I going to hit that again?  Never.  There was now a headwind while heading south on the island.  Ouch.  I was struggling.  It was now a 20 mile stretch before I would change direction.  It was tough.  I was beginning to regret signing up for this race.  I was sick.  I still hadn't recovered from Kona.  Why didn't I learn my lesson last year?  We all go through low points in an Ironman.  This was mine.  I had seen a few girls in my age group pass me already.  I was able to hang with some of them.  Others, I figured I see again on the third loop.  If the wind kept blowing like this, I knew I would for sure. 

 

I finally rounded the south end of the island, hoping for the end of the headwind.  No such luck.  I rode straight into an even stronger headwind on the other side of the island.  What is this?  I had no idea the wind could play these kinds of games on a flat island like Cozumel.  Never underestimate Mother Nature.  I had a bad attitude which meant that it was time to assess the status of my nutrition plan.  I had to toss one bottle of HEED because the top of my water bottle wasn't working properly and I was only getting drops at a time out.  I substitutued with Gatorade and stayed on track.  I was also taking 2 Endurolytes/hour and dumping water over my head at each aid station.  I decided it was a good time to get my first Clif bar down even though I was only at mile 40.  Somehow, I managed to stay with it the second loop.  I was pretty tanked by the time I hit the tailwind stretch at the end of the second loop.  ONE MORE LOOP?  Crap.  Really?  "Get down that second Clif bar and gut it out one more time," I told myself.  Ugh. 

 

I fought and fought the wind heading south, rounding the south end of the island and heading north again.  I needed something to distract my brain.  I was soooooo close, but still soooo far away.  All of a sudden, I was distracted by something all right.  A peloton.  I couldn't believe my eyes.  I was struggling along and this huge peloton caught up to me.  I was furious!  I fought and fought to stay ahead of this pack.  When I looked back, I couldn't believe it.  There was a guy right on my wheel and the whole pack right behind him.  This really got my adrenaline going.  There were some slower riders on the side of the road that were clearly a lap behind.  Shortly after I passed them, I heard a scream and a few bikes go down.  I didn't look back.  I couldn't.  I was burning all my matches fighting to stay ahead of this mess. 

 

Finally, I heard a motorcycle behind me.  I heard his whistle going off like he was in the Thanksgiving Day parade.  I hoped this had broken up the pack behind me.  I looked back.  Nope.  Why did he ride ahead?  There was still a huge pack behind me.  Finally, we came by a penalty tent.  I guess he had ridden up there to make sure they all stopped.  As soon as I passed, his whistle was going off "parade-style" again.  I flew past the next aid station, hoping the pack would get jammed up there.  It seemed to have worked.  I was all alone again.  Relief.  Now, I had a new source of motivation and my adrenaline was pumping.  I crushed the last section of the course, across the middle of the island, which still had a serious tailwind.  I saw a shadow.  Are you kidding me?  I looked back and there was a guy right on my wheel.  And another guy right on his wheel.  I shook my head and blew some snot rockets.  I pulled ahead, but they kept hooking right back on.  It was really disappointing.  I would hate for this course to become known for this kind of sportsmanship.

I pulled into T2, happy to be away from that frustrating mess.  A volunteer grabbed my bike and I ran to get my T2 bag.  T2 is in a different location than T1.  You don’t get a chance to see T2 prior to race day.  The T bag racks were set up differently than they were in T1.  The rack where my bag was located in T1 was not in T2.  I scrambled looking for my bag.  There were 3 volunteers following me.  I was yelling “2295!  2295!”  Either they weren’t sure where my bag was located, or they didn’t speak English.  I’m guessing it was the former as my entire body was stamped with the number was attempting to locate.  Regardless, I still need to learn Spanish.  I eventually found my bag after what seemed like 5 full minutes and headed into the port-a-potty before grabbing a seat in the changing tent.

 

T2:

T2 was fairly empty.  I changed into my run shoes and grabbed my visor.  I was a little uneasy after my experience in T1.  I checked with my volunteer several times.  Was she going to put my bike items back in my T2 bag?  Was she going to take my T2 bag wherever it belonged?  I wasn’t sure, but I had already spent enough time in T2 as it was.  (According to the results, it was only 1:52, but it sure seemed like forever.)  I was smeared with sunscreen as I cruised out of T2 and onto the run course.

 

Run:

I headed out onto the run course, hoping the 2 full weeks completely off from training prior to race day would translate into fully recovered running legs.  Turns out, it just translated into 2 full weeks off from running.  This marathon wasn’t going to be any easier, post Kona, than it was last year.  Plus, I had just PR’ed my bike split.  About a mile into the run, I was passed by a former World Champion who was in my age group.  I knew it was more than likely that she was pacing herself correctly.  I knew there were some girls in my age group who had passed me on the bike, but I had no idea how many I had passed back, or how many were still ahead of me.    

I was able to manage my cough and congestion on the swim and the bike, but the run was going to be more of a challenge.  I won’t go into details, but it wasn’t pretty.  The first loop was fairly uneventful.  I was grateful to finally be out of the headwind.  The marathon course in Cozumel is very gently rolling hills.  Perfect place for a marathon PR, but I did the math.  I knew that wasn’t in the cards for me today.  However, an overall IM PR was a possibility with a moderately decent marathon.  Shortly after I made the turn around, it started sprinkling.  Then the rain came down a little harder, and then a little harder.  By the end of the first loop, it was a full on downpour.  We had a little rain on the bike, but nothing like this.  The wind was blowing in off the ocean.  As I finished the first loop and headed out on the second loop, I was fighting a headwind once again.  I was leaning my weight into the wind and pushed on against the wind and rain.  This storm should have been accompanied with fierce thunder and lightening.  Where was it?  I wanted nothing more than to be pulled off the course.  I still had 18 miles left to run.

Running with my head down, which allowed my visor to protect the rain from pelting my face, I peeked up and noticed somebody walking towards me on the run course.  He was body marked and wearing a bib, but he was going the wrong direction on the course.  He had clearly made the decision to end his day 1/3 of the way into the marathon.  Had he succumbed to the conditions, or was it more than that?  I tried to read his face as I ran by.  At that moment, I realized this was the individual that was sucking on my wheel on the stretch back into town.  All I could think was, “karma.”  There’s no shortcut to the finish line of an Ironman.

The uphill stretches were more of a challenge on the second loop.  The water was rushing downhill and up over the top of my shoes.  The run became a lot more fun, splashing through the rain….until I got to the middle section of the run course which presented the biggest challenge of all.  The sewers weren’t draining and there was a section of road in which the water was mid-shin deep.  It was too deep for the cars to get through.  This stretch extended about 50 yards, but it seemed much further.  Earlier in the run, I had felt my chip cutting into my ankle.  I knew it had been bleeding for a while now and the cut was becoming fairly deep.  I thought, “Great, I’m running through Mexican sewer water with an open wound.”  That thought was quite disconcerting to me.  I wanted out of there as quickly as possible and there was no way around it.  (Later, I would realize that the flooded road was probably due to the cups and wrappers covering the sewer grates and the water was most likely just rain water….I HOPE!)

I eventually found myself rounding the end of the second loop.  The rain was still really coming down.  I saw pros walking on the run course and wearing jackets.  The temperature was really starting to drop with the rain, cloud cover, and it was now approaching dusk as well.  Trying to look at the positive, I was grateful that I didn’t have to worry about getting sunburned anymore.  I couldn’t imagine running yet another loop.  When I got back to the middle section of the run course on the third loop, I couldn’t believe that, not only was the shin-deep pond still there, it was actually larger.  I fought through it and started pushing the pace on the way back in.  I was counting down the miles.  “Only a 5K to go,” I told myself.  At mile 25, I spotted a girl in my age group who had passed me on the bike.  I pulled up behind her to assess her pace.  I knew I could run faster.  As we passed the last aid station, I made my move.  I knew I had to give it everything I had and not let up for a second.  I felt like I was running a 6:30 pace.  (Turns out it was a little closer to an 8:00 pace.) 

I found out at mile 25.5 that I was 2nd in my age group. I had no idea.  I had figured I was much further down the list.  As I rounded the corner towards the finish line, I spotted the clock.  I was so happy to be done….for the rest of the year!  The finish line was bitter-sweet.  I had a PR on this course by 9 min, but I missed an overall IM PR by 2 min 10 sec.  So close, yet so far away.  I crossed the finish line and went straight for the pizza and then a massage.  We went to pick up my gear.  I was so happy to see that TBT was right next to the bike racks and that I had remembered to put warm clothes in my morning swim bag.  We piled everything in the Jeep and headed back to the hotel where I showered and finally took full advantage of the All-Inclusive package I had purchased.

The next morning was unbelievable!  I awoke to strong winds pounding the balcony doorwall.  The palm trees were bending sideways in the wind and the ocean was stirring.  As we walked down to the beach for breakfast, we decided that if this had been race day, the swim would have certainly been cancelled.  What a difference a day makes.  Overall, my trip to Cozumel was a success.  I had a swim PR, a bike PR, and a course PR.  I took 2nd in my age group and grabbed a slot to Kona.  As it turned out, it took me an additional 2 weeks to finally kick that bronchitis after I returned home from Mexico.   WORTH IT!  :o)

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