As I was laying in bed the night before the race I was trying to count the number of full Ironman races I've done. I had to chuckle when I was having trouble counting up the total number. It turns out this would be my 13th attempt and worst result. After an unbelievable 2017, 2018 was amazing and frustrating. Amazing because it started with levels of fitness and training achievements I could not have imagined a short time ago. Amazing because I was on Team EMJ and made lifelong new friends. Amazing because I got to compete in the Ironman World Championships and fulfill a lifelong dream. Amazing because my personal life can not get any better. I have the best wife, daughter, family, friends, and teammates anyone could dream of. I live a life of great privilege I could not have imagined 10 years ago as I finished law school and started my adult life with my best friend.
On the flip side, frustrations came in the form of a nagging injury which derailed my whole summer training and racing schedule, a disastrous performance at Kona and and an even more disastrous performance at Cozumel which would turn out to be the worst result of my 13 full Ironman races (despite lifetime best overall fitness). At the end of the day, when things go south on course, I try to remember that I have a life full of love and privilege, and I am fortunate to the have the time, support, and resources such that in the span of 5 weeks I could chase dreams in two of the most beautiful places on earth. That is only possible because of the special people in my life (especially Brittany, mom and dad).
I should start with how I ended up in Cozumel 5 weeks after Kona....after Kona I felt unfulfilled and thought my race was not reflective of the work I put in despite my injury. I felt my unraveling on the Queen K was more a result of something going awry with my nutrition as opposed to race execution. During the post-race week of vacation on Oahu mom and dad kept dropping hints that I should do Arizona. At first I thought it was ridiculous and paid it no mind. After licking my wounds for a few days I began to get curious and checked if it was open. It wasn't, but Cozumel was on the same weekend, open and intriguing. Past results from Cozumel are all over the map. Some years it seems like a race where a Kona slot is reasonable to attain and other years it looks like a steep task. I recovered well from Kona mostly because I walked the majority of the marathon, and started giving it serious consideration.
I talked about it with my coach, wife, and friends and started leaning more and more toward racing. I have previously done two Ironmans within 6 and 8 weeks so I was confident I could turn it around....It was just a question of whether I wanted to. That question was answered on the weekend of Ironman Florida when two of my best buddies got first and second overall. The overall winner, Steve Jackson, is an EMJ teammate who crushed at Kona a mere 4 weeks earlier. I was also greatly inspired by teammate Jason Ream who had a fantastic day (after having a tough day at Kona) and nabbed a Kona slot. Knowing that the race was sure to be painful, I felt excited and ready to tackle the challenge. I was inspired by Jason, Graham, and Steve. If they can do it, so can I!!!! I thought a time in the low 9 hours was possible (and would give me a shot for Kona), and for the first time all season I felt my run was starting to feel more natural and a bit more snappy (I'm still only 85-90% healed). I nailed a 100 mile ride on the trainer which sealed in my mind that it was a good decision...plus I was already heat acclimated from the lava fields!
Mom and dad jumped at the chance to get out of the cold and came with me on the trip. The travel is not bad if you don't have kids in tow. We flew into Cancun and from there you take a 45 minute cab ride to Playa del Carmen and then a 35 minute ferry to the Island of Cozumel. As a Gringo you always hear stories about how dangerous Mexico is. My experience was that the people were warm, friendly and inviting and I never felt sketchy or in danger (especially on Cozumel). In fact the people living on Cozumel really get into the race. The entire Island is closed down on race day making for a totally car free bike and run course. It's truly awesome how much the people come out to support the racers. I loved hearing "Si se puede" all over the bike and run course (Yes you can!). The locals are out partying and dancing all day...it's just a really cool vibe.
We got to Cozumel a few days early and it was really nice enjoying a few beautiful days in the Caribbean with mom and dad. We got an awesome airbnb right in town across from the convention center. Our third story balcony overlooked the water. It was kind of like being a kid again when we would travel to swim meets every weekend. One of the nicest things about this year is that my mom has taken a step back, is taking care of herself and is really enjoying life. After dedicating her whole life to me and my sisters it is nice to see her sunning in a beach chair by the Caribbean Sea appearing totally at peace.
I also loved the chance to practice speaking Spanish. One of my biggest regrets is giving up on the language in college. I have been working this year with the Duolingo app and it was cool to see how my skills would adapt in the real world. I found that a week immersion got me speaking pretty well. I could get by and was able to navigate us through Playa Del Carmen when our cab didn't show up on the way back home. If I had a month there I think I could really improve, but was definitely inspired to keep studying and maybe one day I will have skills equivalent to a Spanish speaking third grader....lol!
Another highlight was getting to know teammate Tom Trauger well. I got to spend a lot of time with him before and after the race and he is a really inspirational human being. It was awesome to see him win his age group on race day and seal up a Kona slot for next year. I also got to know teammate Corey Robinson better and he is an equally great guy. His family is top notch and his dad's sherpa game is strong!
This report will be different from my usuals as I won't bog you down with a bunch of pesky details and data. I loved Mexico and despite having a bad day I would absolutely do this race again....definitely one of my favorites on the circuit.
The swim is awesome with crystal clear waters and sea life galore...dare I say even more beautiful than Kona. The swim is fast but hard. You have the tide at your back but the swells make it such that some of the sections are a grind. There were only a few spots where I felt the benefit of the strong current pushing me along. It wore me out more than I was anticipating.
The bike was equally beautiful and is a 3 loop course around the island. The far side of the Island is totally undeveloped and is nothing but pristine beaches and crystal waters. Not such a bad view on a 112 mile bike ride. The wind on that side of the island is tough because you are totally unprotected but helps break up the field. I did not find the drafting to be a big problem. Overall my bike split was okay. It was slower than I anticipated and the wind picked up through each loop of the course. Overall I felt I was having to work too hard for the end result. I will address the run and post race separately because that is where things got really sketchy!!!
What a Long Strange Trip its Been...
I knew immediately running out of T2 that I was in for a battle. I didn't feel great but I thought it was going to be a day where I had to fight some demons. As I didn't feel particularly good I just tried to hold steady. I was able to hold 8 minute pace for a good long while. That kept me on target for a 3:30 marathon which would have given me a fighting chance to place well in the heat. The course is an out and back you do 6 times. Each stretch is 4.8 miles. Great crowd support, but each stretch felt longer and longer. As I came into town before the third and final out and back things were starting to feel dire (about mile 16) and I told my dad as much. He asked how I was doing and I literally said "I am in hell". As I headed back out of town I noticed that I started to feel cold and my arms had goose bumps. Shortly thereafter I stopped sweating and felt like I needed to vomit. By mile 19 I was totally out of sorts and starting to have strange thoughts. I stopped a few times to try and gag myself to force puke thinking it would help me feel better, but I was simply unable. I started to focus on how cold I was and I could not stop thinking how nice it would feel to lay down in the sun on the warm asphalt to warm up. In fact, a few times I found a sunny spot in the grass and laid down in the direct sunlight...so weird. Um, hello, it's a race, why the hell was I sunning myself in the median?!?!?!
The entire last loop I could not take in any fluids or food. I tried at every station and the best I could do was gag down a couple sips of Coke. In hindsight, the last 90 minutes of the run was really scary. I have broken memories of those last few miles. I remember doing them but it was as though I was in a crappy dream and the edges are hazy. When my chip stopped registering normal times my mom got panicked and started walking out on the run course thinking I was in medical. We crossed paths with about a mile and a half to go. She could see I was in bad shape and she kept giving me small goals to achieve. Walk to the next light....walk to the intersection...walk to the store...and on and on. I remember having to stop a lot and I was totally unable to talk. Mom was trying to keep me engaged but it seemed the energy to form words was beyond my reach. Eventually we made it to the finish chute and I thought I could at least muster enough strength to cross the finish line in a jog. I tried, and within two steps knew it couldn't happen and for the first time in this sport I walked across an Ironman finish line in the dark.
After the race I knew I was in bad shape. I could barely stand and kept falling toward the barriers. The volunteers not realizing how bad of shape I was in shepherded me toward the post-race food area. I was able to ask one for a space blanket as I was totally freezing (mind you it was still 80 degrees). My mom being her typical paranoid self (thanks Mom!) pushed herself back into the restricted athlete area to keep an eye on me. I kept telling her I would be fine if I could just take a nap. Setting aside how bizarre that is, I laid in the grass for what felt like an eternity trying to clear my head and summon the strength to stand but it just wasn't getting better. I could still not eat or drink. After about 45 minutes mom had enough and got the EMTs. Before I knew it there were 6 guys putting me on a backboard and carrying me to the medical tent. In hindsight a funny moment was when they tried to lift the backboard and almost dropped me (not funny at the time). I don't think they realized quite how big I am. The people of Cozumel were definitely on the short/little side so I must have looked like some kind of giganteur freak at 6'5 and 180 lbs.
Once in medical they took amazing care of me. There were two doctors and 6 nurses working on me (they took better care then the American medical tents I've been in). They took my vitals and hooked me to an IV. After laying under blankets with an IV for about an hour I started to feel like I was regaining my wits and physical faculties. There was a language barrier but my broken Spanish picked up from the doctor that I had hypothermia....HYPOTHERMIA!!! How the hell do you get Hypothermia in the Caribbean?!?!? WTF?!?!? Once I got home I started reading about Hypothermia and sure enough the signs and symptoms matched perfectly. I don't really know how I put myself in that hole as I drank a lot of fluids on the bike and early stages of the run so the best I can surmise is that my electrolytes were way out of whack.
In any event, I need to go back to the drawing board and re-evaluate some things. My last two Ironman results were my two slowest ever!!!! I am moving in the wrong direction in a bad way. My nutrition plan (which has worked for years in hot races) suddenly failed me in Kona and then failed even more spectacularly in Mexico. One of the amazing benefits of being on Team EMJ is having Gu Energy as a sponsor. Gu Rep to the stars Celia Santi immediately reached out after the race and put me in touch with the Gu Nutrition Scientist. After the holidays I plan on connecting and using Gu's resources to try and isolate what the problem has been and how to fix it.
I have come to the conclusion that I need to get back to basics and build a better foundation early in the year. I have resigned myself to the conclusion that Kona is not in the cards for 2019 and will instead focus the early season on strength and getting faster by focusing on 70.3 races. I am thinking about either Ironman Louisville or Chattanooga in the fall followed by Ironman Florida about 8 weeks later. That is a double I have done before successfully. I believe I am capable of consistently doing races in the low 9 hours, and one day I would like to be sub 9. Kona will always be on my mind, but realistically it most likely will not happen every year. I am beginning to feel more and more okay with that. In some ways it is freeing as the pressure and difficulty of the chase can be so physically and emotionally taxing (especially on my wife, daughter, family, job, and personal relationships).
So there you have it....this season was both amazing and not so amazing all at the same time. I continue to love what this sport gives to me and I hope that I am giving back to it equally. I would like to thank Ritch Viola and Team Everyman Jack for an amazing season and the opportunity to continue on the squad in 2019. I would also like to thank our amazing sponsors: Every Man Jack, Gu Energy, Felt Bicycles, Garneau, Roka, Normatec, Garmin, Boco Gear, Sock Guy and Enve Wheels. My success would not be nearly as possible without such amazing industry support.
Until next year....
As always thank you for reading and I welcome any feedback or criticisms. I hope everyone enjoys the Holidays. See you back on the grind in 2019.