Wednesday, January 12, 2011

2010 Ford Ironman Cozumel Race Report: Nov. 28, 2010

Despite using a sleeping aid, I woke up twice in the night. Once at 1:30ish, and then again at 2:30ish. I beat my alarm by 15 minutes and was up by 3:30 (was set for 3:45). I believe the transition area opened at 5:30am so that gave me two hours to settle. I started with my ritualistic doses of Pepto Bismol. I would start at 3:30 and take a dose every hour and take the last dose at 6:30am. For those of you that don’t know, my nerves before a race leave my stomach a little “unsettled.”

But something was different about me this morning. I was calm, I felt God’s arm around me as I donned my armor. I put my Fellowship of Christian Athletes Team Endurance jersey on and I felt like God’s solider. I was calm…too calm. Where was my emotion, where was my excitement, where was my…fear?!

I had asked KP to pray for our communion before the race. It would give me a chance to focus and give this race to God… to accept whatever happens, good or bad, to be for His Glory. KP said the prayer for Communion and I lost it. All those days of drinking water leading up to this race to hydrate my body were being lost right there in front of my eyes (cheesy pun I know!). But it was there I felt my emotions, it was then I felt there was nothing that could stop me. I was going to make it to the hardest part of the race…the starting line! Thank you KP!

It takes a lot of courage and faith to get there. It might even take a shot in the buttocks, in a Mexican restroom to get there too! But whatever it takes, to get to the starting line of the Ironman, there is always a great story leading up to it. This is my story. This is God’s story. This was God’s race and the start of one of the greatest days of my life.

My hotel room had a great curtain I wanted to use as a back drop to take a “before” picture. Or, the picture they could use to identify my body if I didn’t make it out of the swim. I was feeling pretty settled and so I decided it was time to run into that burning building. I took the elevator downstairs with other triathletes and it was quiet…really quiet.

In the pre-race meeting they said families were not allowed to take the shuttle buses from the hotel to the swim start. At some point during the night, that all changed. Again, the flow of information for this venue needs to be addressed. Just backing up a bit; the athlete meeting had two different times posted. It was listed as 3pm on the website and 4pm in the official printed athlete book that was being handed out at the Expo and it wasn’t clear where it was actually being held! Things like that create unnecessary confusion!

Anyway, when I got on the bus I saw people that were clearly family members. They did eventually make the family members get off the bus to make room for athletes. It sounded as if they were letting them get on the next shuttle bus, though. It was a $20 cab fare for KP from Hotel Melia to the swim start. Cash it looks like we didn’t have to spend.

When I got to Chankannaab Park, the swim start, it was dark but the sun was starting to show its glow quickly. I was able to get everything ready fairly quickly because I knew I had to jump in line for the 1 of 9 Port-a-Johns they have for racers…9 Portas for 1500 plus people!. Hmmmm. I’m not a mathematician and don’t claim to be, but I am going to take an uneducated northerner’s guess and say that’s not enough!

Todd Crandell
 I started walking toward the longest line ever when I saw Todd Crandell! The video below is his story. He has a story I can relate to. I found out about him a few months ago and blogged about it. That was really cool to see him. When I saw the line and looked at my watch I knew I wasn’t going to see the dolphin show everyone talks about that precedes the start of the race.

As I’m waiting in line, some guys kindly suggested I put my goggles under my swim cap. I’ve tried that before, but didn’t like it. Then another guy offers me advice. I must have had a fear of death, newbie look on my face because everyone was offering me advice. I handled my affairs in the Porta and as I was leaving, some guy, a 5’10” white male, mid 40’s, of course he was one of those “fit” people, just jumps out in front of me:

“Hey!” And with the biggest smile says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

“Thanks!” I said as I walked away.

I didn’t make it two steps outside the tent before I started to cry and thank God for getting me here. As I suspected, I missed the dolphin show, but I felt mentally, and now physically, ready to go! (a little Porta-John humor there!). I started toward the swim start and tried to see the pro start but it was nearly impossible. There were just so many athletes. Then they played what I call the Ironman Triathlon theme song, “Beautiful Day,” by U2. I have seen a lot of Ironman videos and you can always seem to hear that song playing in the background. That was the spark I needed. This was real. This wasn’t a video I was watching on Youtube. This was the start of my “Beautiful day.”

The announcer, with a sense of urgency, started calling athletes to the water. I walked toward the swim dock and somehow found myself in the front of this huge pack. Absolutely NOT where I wanted to be. So I waited and watched in awe at more than 2000 athletes getting into the water. It was seriously unbelievable and a sight to see. The Ironman is the only time you see 2000 plus people in the water preparing for a swim start.

As I stood there watching the athletes getting into the water, I was preparing for what was about to come. When I go to the pool, I NEVER just jump in. I usually have to prepare for it mentally and that is what I was doing. I was praying and meditating and trying to catch my breath. When I entered the water, there was no turning back.

The flow of athletes turned into a trickle and, by design, I was one of the last people to get into the water. The further back you are in the in the swim start, the less likely you are to get struck during the swim. I read several books that suggested where to position yourself for less contact during the swim. If the first turn on the swim is a left turn you want to place yourself at the rear right of the pack. That is exactly where I was positioned. I did start to move forward a bit though, because I felt like I was too far at the rear.

As I am sitting there listening to the mumblings of the announcer, I ran across the gentleman who moments earlier said "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” He was right there in the back with me. I sat there talking to him briefly as we were treading water. Seeing him was a sign from God for me. It was a reminder of the verse he shared with me. And, as I sat there talking with him, he said, “Race your race…” Another reminder I needed to hear.

“Hey, where are you from?” I asked.

“Wichita Falls, Tx”

Before I could ask him his name, I heard an air horn!

I couldn’t hear what was going on because of the crowd or what the announcer was saying so I asked the gentleman I was talking to, “Was that the start?” I looked forward and saw people swimming. I was so proud of my intellect in that I was able to put it together so quickly in my head! J It was, in fact, the swim start! Ha!

I’m not sure if many people know this, but I swim with a nose plug. For those of you that don’t know, it pinches your nose closed to prevent water from getting in your nose. Most swimmers don’t need a plug because they exhale slowly through their nose to push water away from their nostrils. For me, that is waaay too much multitasking and I can’t seem to get it. I said all of that to say this: I can only swim about 50 meters without a nose plug so I had extras! I had one on my nose of course. One in the pouch of my swim shorts; one around my neck on an elastic lanyard; and one positioned between my fingers. That forced me to keep my fingers closed. I have a really bad habit of swimming with my fingers spread apart.

When the swim started I was bracing for impact. Surprisingly there was none! I didn’t get hit by another swimmer at all. Well not like elbowed or anything. I did get the occasional foot grab and pushed up against but that was it. Again, the water was crystal clear and it was EASY to draft off of people. It was honestly the only time I can say I ever drafted off of someone. The swim was similar to swimming in the pool in a lot of ways. It was flat; the water wasn’t moving. It was crystal clear and I could see the bottom. In fact I didn’t sight much. I didn’t have to. I just kept the swimmer in front of me and would occasionally sight to make sure I was still on course. Finally, the water was warm. It reminded me of swimming in the warm pool at the YMCA.


Draft: swimming in the wake of someone else. Their wake “pulls” you along and allows you to swim with less effort”

Sighting: in the open water the way swimmer determines if he is on course is to use a fixed point like a tree, building, or a large bright colored buoy to swim toward. Every so many strokes the swimmer will raise his head out of the water to “sight” the fixed point and swim toward.

I would occasionally check my watch for timing but I had no idea where I was in the swim as far as distance. I used my clock to kind of gauge where I thought I might be. The first time I looked at my watch it said 25 minutes. I couldn’t believe it! Time was flying! I was just hoping that I was, too!

At about the half way point in the swim, I started to feel burning sensations behind my neck and under my arms. I couldn’t understand why because I had lubricated those areas. Well the burning under my arms forced me to widen my stroke which is what I should have been doing in the first place. The chaffing behind my neck…yeah well there was no benefit in that. In a last ditched effort, I took the nose plug that was hanging on my neck off. I was hoping that it was the elastic band attached to the nose plug that was causing the discomfort. It wasn’t!
At around this same point in the swim, I started hitting cool pockets of water. Now that was awesome. Swimming in the ocean and being in the warm water did not protect me from the sun’s early morning rays. These cool pockets came at the perfect time! I was also getting a little burppy (I just invented that word). I was belching underwater every 5-10 minutes! I decided that every time I burped it was my inner whale coming out! =)

When I made the second to last turn, it put me directly in the sun. I was seriously blinded by it. I couldn’t see anything. For that brief moment I wished I was wearing my tinted goggles. I was wearing my clear goggles because I wanted to enjoy the ocean swim. After about 4 minutes, I made it to the last turn. Wow! I was about to finish an Ironman swim. I could see the swim exit. I was looking at my clock and it looked like I was going to be able to do it within my unofficial goal time. 1 hour 35 minutes.

But something was happening. As I was swimming it didn’t look like I was getting any closer to the swim exit. I guess my depth perception was a little off. So I was on the last stretch of the swim and my arms and neck are burning from chaffing that I thought I took measures to prevent. I felt like I was swimming but not going anywhere and that is when I saw it…a Regal Blue Tang! Aka; Dori from the movie “Finding Nemo”. In the moving she sings a little song… “Just Keep Swimming”. The song was an inside joke between me and KP. When I saw the fish, I couldn’t help but chuckle in my head and sing “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, SWImming, SWIMMing, SWIMMING!” Yes I was singing the Dori song in the Ironman… don’t judge me! J

The closer I got to the finish the better I was able determine my finish time. I realized I was going to be finishing the swim at about 1 hour 41 minutes. I thought this would be my time based on my half Ironman times but I had some fast swims leading into this race and was hoping for 1 hour 35 minutes. In the grand scheme of things 6 minutes is a non-issue. When I made it to the stairs to exit the water my right calf cramped a little! (notice in the picture I am saying ouch!) I said to myself, “Oh no you don’t calf! You have a long way to go today.” I exited the water running (because we know KP said jokingly at one of my earlier triathlons, “Boy, you better be running out of the water!” And I have been ever since!)

As I ran out of the water I saw Brian’s family. Brian is a guy with IAMTRI and I met him and his family at the athlete dinner. They were jumping and screaming my name! That was so awesome! They treated me like I was part of THEIR family! What a genuinely great bunch of people!

A few feet later as I was heading into the showers at transition I saw KP videoing and jumping and hollering. That was awesome because I didn’t expect to see her at the swim. While swimming, getting water in your mouth is inevitable, but when it reaches the back of your throat that salty ocean water BURNS! (notice my yucky face running out of the water!) I was so excited to run under the showers. I rinsed my mouth out several times and stood under the water to cool my chaffed areas! I could have stayed under there forever! No time! I had to go. I decided when I did the Ironman I was going to transition from one event to the next with as little time as possible. I was out of the water on and my bike in a little over 7 minutes.

During the swim, I prayed and tried to be in the moment. I was praying and just enjoying the swim. It would be the easiest part of the day. I never really felt like I pushed it. I just tried to stay steady. My goggles never leaked for once (thanks Heather B and Jeff) and I felt comfortable in the water the entire time. Oh one last thing, I never had to stop. Well, not including that one time I got tangled in the ropes at one of the buoys. I never did feel that fear I thought I was supposed to feel. I guess praying in the swim took care of that! This was, for me, the perfect swim!

112 mile bike (3 loops)

I ran through the bike exit barefoot while carrying my shoes. I hate running in cycling shoes but I haven’t mastered putting on my cycling shoes while they are clipped into the pedals. Just before I hit the bike mount line (the point where I need to be on my bike) I put on my cycling shoes and mounted my new best friend for the next 7 hours.

When I jumped on my bike, I realized my bike computer wasn’t working. That’s a problem! I checked the sensor that morning and it was working. I knew I would have issues with the sensor because the back part of it broke the night before. My cadence was working (shows me how many rotations per minute (rpm). I had my heart rate monitor, but I wasn’t sure how that translated into speed. So I broke the emergency glass and went to my solid plan B…WING IT!

In Augusta, my heart rate was about 140 beats per minute with an average of 16-17 mph. Today, I was feeling pretty good at 130 bpm. By my best judgment, I thought 130bpm would put my speed at 15 mph. That is about where I wanted to be because I had a huge second goal…second only to completing the Ironman! (for the record I was way off and cycling slower than I thought)

I would be running my first marathon after the 2.4 mile swim and 112 mile bike ride. I wanted to run the marathon in under 6 hours. The reason: if you run a straight up, local marathon you have 6 hours to complete. I wanted this marathon to count as my first completed marathon, too. So six hours was my goal.

I was cruising along and my heart rate was at 130 and it felt easy. I thought I would take the first two laps fairly easy and then push it a little more on the third lap. Then I hit the first demoralizing point of the day…my GPS device beeped at mile 1. Take that in for second. I just finished a 2.4 mile swim, but it didn’t matter because this was the Ironman and I still had a huge bike and a run to finish. And my GPS was telling me I had only completed mile 1…111 more miles to go! And Then… and THEN I would run my first marathon…

About that time some guy passes me on the bike and hits his bike horn! It cracked me up!!! So I put my head down and decided to start praying. Nothing bad happens when you pray. So I did. I prayed when things were going great and when things were going horribly wrong. Funny how things we do in a race should transfer over into to our lives.

I prayed and enjoyed the moment and took it easy on my first lap. There were pockets of people lined along the road. That was really cool. How many times have I ridden 80 plus miles without a single soul noticing? It was nice to hear the cheers.

It was time to focus on my nutrition. I use a product called Infinit Nutrition. It is a carbohydrate-protein blend in powder form that gets mixed into a 24 ounce water bottle. In all of my training rides, even on the hotter days, I was drinking one water bottle an hour. Today, I went through my bottle of Infinit in a little over 30 minutes. It wasn’t that I needed the calories; I was really craving the fluids.

At the next aid station I decided to pick up fluids…water specifically. I couldn’t drink another bottle of Infinit until my hour was up. I would, instead, drink water until it was time to start to introduce calories to my body again.

When I went to the aid stations I didn’t want to have to stop, get off my bike, grab the fluids, fill up my aero bottle, and then get back on my bike! It takes me about 2 minutes to do that. I was looking at an estimated 14 minutes to stop for fluids. Plus it is just all around unpleasant to stop cycling once your body is in a rhythm.

Besides, this is the Ironman! I needed to grab my fluids like an Ironman! On the go! So I took a leap of faith, I grabbed the water bottle on the go! I was so excited to finally be able to do it! An hour later, I felt confident enough to grab my water bottle from my rear cage and then put it back. If you have been reading my blog you would know that was a HUGE accomplishment for me. I previously was too unbalanced to do all of those things on the go.

The first part of the bike loop was pretty quiet…only pockets of people along the way. The aid stations helped to break up the monotony of the course. After completing the first half of the loop, I hit the east side of the island. This is the part of the island where the wind was supposed to really whip up and nail you. I noticed a bit of an increase in the wind, but nothing like I had heard.

Dailene (fellow triathlete that lives in Cozumel) said the winds would either distribute evenly throughout the course, or there would be virtually no wind and then it would nail you on the east side of the island. I believe I perceived the former to be my experience. I did notice one thing as I made the left turn toward the eastern stretch of the island. It became noticeably hotter! I noticed and immediate difference in temperature. I wonder if anyone else experienced this phenomenon.

There was one more thing I noticed about the eastern side, the beauty of it all. I have never seen anything so beautiful in my life. It was amazing! To look at that ocean and think the same God that is rolling those waves is the same God that I am racing for; the same God that put me here. Now you tell me, what is impossible with God?!

Oh I was praying. Thanking God for this beauty. Thanking God for putting me here in an event I once thought was impossible for me. Yet there I was…wow! Talk about putting things in perspective. God created that ocean and is rolling those waves one by one. What is the Ironman in comparison? If God has the authority to bend waves He has the authority to heal; the authority to get me through this race. He has the authority to work in my life. Funny thing about authority though… you have to submit to it.

Words cannot describe the beauty and the roughness of the east side. Nor can it describe how lonely that part of the island can feel. There are bars and restaurants scattered along that side of the island but today they were all closed. The eastside did look like a really cool place to hang out and relax, though! There were red flags along the beaches on that side of the island indicating that it was unsafe to swim there. I don’t know that I would want to. The waves crash violently against the rocks and although beautiful, probably not the best place to swim.

Back to the wind, although not bad, the wind was a bit more noticeable on the eastside. I was riding with Zipp 404’s front and back. One time I rose up out of the aero position which takes my weight off the front tire and there was a wind gust. The wind wiggled my front tire back and forth and kind of scared me a little (and by a little I mean A LOT). I decided to stay as aero as I could, for as long as I could to keep weight on that front tire.

It wasn’t long before the loneliness of the eastside was shattered…by the sound of the pros whipping by me as they were on their way to completing their third lap…I was on my first! Those guys are wickedly fast and are the non-humans! I couldn’t tell who a lot of those guys were as they passed and I could only pick out two of the pro women…Yvonne van Vlerken, this year’s female winner, and Bree Wee! Bree Wee has a great story! I actually gave her a shout out as she passed by… “GO BREE WEE!” she, in-turn, threw up a Shaka sign aka “Hang loose.” Fitting since she lives and trains in Hawaii. Ahh, the tough life of a professional triathlete!

Finally, Finally, I made the left turn that takes me back into town. It felt like it took forever, Probably because it did! As I got closer and closer into town, more and more people were out on the side of the road. They were shaking empty plastic soda bottles partially filled with pebbles. They would scream, “¡Vámonos amigo/hombre!” I also heard several people yelling “¡Animo!” I had no idea what that meant. So I decided it sounds like “animal” which in turn, to me, translates to “GET IN BEAST MODE!” So that is what it meant to me!

The closer we got into town, the more crowded the streets became. A road designed for two lanes of travel could barely get two cyclists traveling side by side because the streets and sidewalks were over flowing with people; Mexican people. They were proud of us. We were THEIR Ironman triathletes. Or, we were just a bunch of gringo lunatics let loose to roam their city without wearing our straitjackets! In any case, they were excited and they had no problems showing their enthusiasm for this event. It was hard not to push it a little harder going through the city. The adrenaline just took over and I was feeding on it. Like an “Animo”

I crossed the mat for the 1st loop and I was glad it was over. It really did seem to take forever. The second loop was more of the same. Halfway on the second loop I stopped for my special needs bag. And finally got an idea of where I was as far as distance. I was going way too slow! On the flip side I was feeling really solid. My plan was to finish the second loop at my current pace and then turn it up on the third lap.

I grabbed my bag then went to use the restroom. GROSS!!! There was one Porta John for the males and one for females…all I can say is GROSS!!!!! I will be sending an email about that! Issues with special needs. Porta Johns were gross. The site is in a sandy area so I had sand in my shoes and sand on my feet. No bike stands so I got a little sand in my gears. I stopped and rinsed everything off before I got back on the road. I guess they had to work the best with what they had, but I would like to see that change for this year’s event .

I jumped back on my bike and I started with the calculations. I was still on track to finish between 15 to 15 hours 30 mins. This was well within my ability. I felt certain I was capable of finishing within that time even with my slower biking up to this point. I really was trying to save it all for the run. Again, I cannot stress the pure awesomeness of riding through town. I felt like a rock star every time!

I crossed the mat to start the 3rd lap and there was a sense of accomplishment! I had plenty of energy to burn. I had one more lap to go. I was fueling my body properly. I was in the zone! I crossed with these two females and we were pumping each other up… it was great!

One lady really kicked it up and took off! Good for her! Just as we got out of the city and the roads started to become quiet again, I slowed down and pulled to the right. The second lady that crossed the mat with me was still cycling next to me. I reached for a water bottle and started refilling my front aero bottle. The lady, who was behind me now, yells, “Are you ok?!”

I felt my bike go into a fishtail! I yelled “Did you just bump me?” I wasn’t sure if she hit me or if I was fishtailing because the road was wet at this particular point. The female immediately starts yelling, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” I nearly wrecked during the fishtail and all I could think was I am so glad I have insurance on these rental wheels. I was able to recover and I continued cycling but it didn’t feel right. I looked down and my rear tire was flat!!!

My good Samaritan, rode off into the sunset! I yelled, “You flattened my tire!!!” and in the distance, “…SOOOoorry.” Notice the irony if you can call it that…the lady who was concerned if I was ok when I was ok…bumps my tire gives me a flat and then I am not ok… and then she rides off into the sunset…why did she ask if I was ok if she didn’t have any intent on helping me?

No worries! I started to think about Ben Wooten  whose tire I changed during a sprint triathlon…that is a great story… I would encourage you to read that blog entry. So I set out to change my tire and I am going through the motions…It was a little tough to get the tire off but I was able to do it! Took me about 5 minutes! BOOM! Baby! That is how I roll!

I took my CO2 canister out (which is compressed air) and all I had to do was inflate the tire. Air is going in perfect! When I pulled the canister off the tire, it took the head off of the inner tube. So all of the air that was inflated into my tire was now deflating out of the tire. As I am changing the tire a group of Mexican males came up to watch me and didn’t really do anything but did hold my bike for me and things like that.

I took another tube out and a passer-by throws me a CO2 canister. I put the second spare (and last spare) tube on and I start inflating the tire. Then I heard this POP!!!! Are you kidding me? I just seriously over-inflated my tire or something! So now I have no tubes and one CO2 canister. I was watching as all of these people pass and time is ticking. First it was 5 minutes then 15 then 30 minutes.

Now y’all I am praying for God to make this right the entire time, but I am livid at this woman for giving me a flat in the first place! Finally, someone throws me a tube! Thank you! Thank you! I put the tube in the tire and I go to inflate the tire…the valve stem was too short! There was no way to put air into the tire! Time starts ticking again…and then there weren’t any more cyclists passing me. My race was over.

I was filled with a sadness I cannot even begin to describe. It felt like proposing to a woman and having her say no! It was like going to graduation and them saying “Maybe next time kid.” I was filled with anger because I shouldn’t have been here in the first place because some lady flattened my tire. I felt like I had disappointed the City of Angels, my church…and even God. Where was God in all of this? In my anger I had forgotten about God. I had blotted God out with self-pity and all of the other emotions I was feeling.

And with the heaviest heart, I began to hear that song, “My Story” by Addison Road. The lyrics say “If this is my story…if this is my song…then I want to be a part of something beautiful. If this is my journey then show me your road. Where ever you lead me in this world I want to go.”

I had let go of my anger and my sadness and I started talking to God. I told God I accepted that if this was the end of my race then this was my journey and where He was leading me. I was at peace, but I wasn’t done! I intended to walk with my bike until 530pm (the cut off time for the bike). The race officials were going to have to pull me off the course.

“¡Es bien amigo! ¡Es bien!” (It’s good friend! It’s good!)


In the midst of the inner tubes scattered about on the ground where my mess was from changing my tire three times, one of the Mexican guys that was standing around me randomly picked up the inner tube we all heard pop. He started to inspect it and it was perfectly intact! And I had one last CO2 canister left!

I put the tube on carefully…I went to put in the air and in Mexican guys were holding up the universal sign for a little using their fingers and saying, in Spanish, “A little. A little.” Meaning only put in a little air. We all heard that tire burst! It was a unique sound and you know it when you hear it. Yet here I have a perfectly intact tube! So I filled the tire up only half way. I put the tire on (backwards at first so that the gears were to the left of the bike and not to the right…what? I was in the midst of a crisis) and I jumped up and down thank you Father! Thank you Father!!!!

“¡Gracias Amigos! ¡Gracias Amigos! ¡Muchos Gracias!” I said in my extremely limited Spanish as I rode off! Did those guys know that they just witnessed God’s miracle! That God had used them?

“Thank you Father!” I thought as I rode off. I looked at my watch. I was on the side of the road for nearly an hour! Wow! Time to make a game day decision! I was getting pretty close to the bike cut off and I still had most of the last loop to go. Do I maintain my heart rate to save it for the run…or do I go all out on the bike to make the cut off and then deal with the run later?

If I played it conservatively I may not make the bike cut off and there would be no run. I pushed it! HARD! I had my heart rate up to 160bpm! I started passing people and I was starting to get a little confident that I could make the cut off. Get this! My bike computer started working! Imagine that! Now I was able to use my speeds, the time, and my heart rate to gauge my progress on the bike. I pushed it, but I didn’t push it too hard. My goal at this point was to make it to the bike cut off.

The road was dead…I honestly believe I was the last cyclist on the road once I finally recovered from my flat. The aid stations were starting to clean up. People were leaving. I saw a familiar face at the next aid station I saw! Remember the mechanic that put my bike together? He was at the aid station! I was so happy to see him as I approached. I stopped and in a panic asked for air. He went Nascar on me and I was in an out of that aid station in a matter of seconds! I was thanking him again as I left the aid station.

For the last time I hit the east side of the island and I have to tell you it was like blah blah blah there was no beauty, there was nothing but the feeling of “I hate this side!” I only saw two cyclists ahead of me on the entire road! It was quiet. I saw something else this time on the eastside that I hadn’t seen earlier. Vultures! Yes death eaters like the rest of you non-vegetarian types (LOL! I joke, I joke, I kid, I kid! LOL!– inside joke. That is what I call people when they make jokes about me being vegetarian) The vultures were perched on some of the trees and honestly they were beautiful. But deep inside I wondered if they were trying to tell me something… “Boy, you’re almost dead and we are just waiting for it happen!”

I kept pushing, fighting the clock, but trying to be smart about it. Finally, I hit that last stretch going through town. There weren’t as many people out at this time, but still plenty of people to feed off of! That is what I needed so badly. I needed to be around that energy. I needed to feel their hope that I could make it.

I have to be honest, that entire last lap I was praying for God to help me to forgive that woman. At about 5:10 pm I rolled into transition and I was able to finally forgive her. I had about 20 minutes to spare before the official bike cut off. That is a lot closer than I wanted to be…but I was there! And I felt fresh!!!

I entered the changing room and some guys were saying,, “man that was tough.” (my inner response…it’s supposed to be). I heard in the background… “My feet hurt” (my feet hurt too… I can’t wait to run!). I was in an out of the changing tent in about 2 and a half minutes.

I saw KP and I gave her the thumbs up! She was panicking y’all! I yelled, “Mechanical issues… I’m good! I’m ok!” I crossed the timing mat and then…It was time to run.

26.2 mile run

I wasn’t going to let all of those people’s griping get me down! Two hours beforehand I didn’t think I would even be able to get to the run so I certainly wasn’t going to complain about running now. I never would have thought in a million years I would have been so happy to run after swimming 2.4 miles and riding 112 miles on the bike. Actually the bike course was a little long by about a mile so it was closer to 113’ish miles.

As I exited the transition tent, I could hear the music. When I made the right to get on the course, I was literally overwhelmed with what I was seeing. This wasn’t a marathon in an Ironman. This was a party! And people just happen to have been running. It was amazing. There was music playing; a group was on a stage dancing; it was awesome!

And then it happened, the second most demoralizing point of the day. I hit mile marker 1…(breathe in…breathe out…) This wasn’t as bad as hitting mile 1 on the bike but it certainly made me think. There were some battered bodies out there. At that moment I wasn’t one of them. I had, what felt like, solid running legs. And yup, I was thanking God for allowing me to run. I was thanking my body for putting up with my craziness.

I saw a lot of people from the IAMTRI group. It was actually kind of sad because I had wished I was running with them. A lot of those guys were running the pace I should have been at. All of them were a full lap ahead of me because of my bike mechanical issues. No time to fret; at least I was running.

I hit the first aid station and ran through it. I decided just to run for a bit to get into a groove before I stopped. I finally stopped for nutrition around mile three. This was also where we were exiting the main strip and leaving downtown. It became quiet out there really quickly, but it felt like I was running with family. People that wanted to see me succeed as much as they wanted to succeed themselves. People who shared the same goal. Our goal? Keep putting One foot in front of the other!

I will tell you that the aid station volunteers were awesome. They were extremely supportive and encouraging. Some of the best volunteers I have seen! If you could just make it to the next aid station, the run didn’t feel so long. I just could not wait to hit the first turn around point. There was a timing mat there and in my head there was an entire church waiting for me, there was my brother, and everyone else that couldn’t be in Cozumel waiting for me at that timing mat. The miles seemed to drag on endlessly.

Finally, I hit the turnaround point! When I crossed the timing mat, I whispered in my head… “Everyone, I am ok. I am still in this fight!” The turnaround was also a bit of a smack in the face!!! It was at Hotel Melia! My hotel! All I thought about was how badly I wanted to be in bed. That quickly gave way to thinking about getting back into town to show KP I was ok. Once I got back to the main strip, I saw the party was still going on!

I also saw something I didn’t expect to see. I heard someone call my name. That wasn’t unusual because our names were on the front of our bibs. Lots of people were calling my name. I loved the way the Mexicans said my name (Ha-sahm) with an “M” and the end and not an “N” (Hassan) It always made me smile =) especially since they thought enough of me, a stranger, to even call my name!

When I heard my name called this time, it sounded as if it were coming from someone that knew me. It was Dennis Wilson and his ENTIRE family! Dennis, if you recall, is the onsite Administrator at the City of Angels (the children’s home I was helping to raise money for by doing the Ironman). Dennis and his family were at the perfect location! They were at the half way point! So I had KP at one point; down town. I had the church and everyone that was tracking me on the internet at the end point or turnaround point. Then Dennis and his family were in the middle of both points! I was so excited to see them!

I made it back to town and got my first look at the finish line. The road was just filled with people!! It was amazing! There was music and people were finishing and you could see their emotion…then I turned around to start my second loop. I saw KP there and told her I was feeling good but I needed to run this next loop without walking in order to have a chance. I was calculating, the best one can do when your brain doesn’t want to think, and I was getting close to the cut off.

She told me, “You can do it!”

This lap I starting thinking about KP. How she had stood outside all day. I was at least having “fun.” She had baked in the hot Caribbean sun all day for no other reason than to tell me I could do it… I needed to hear that because I was starting to forget. I was becoming afraid I might not make the cutoff. But KP told me I could. She had jump started my voice of reason…and with that I kept running. At this point it wasn’t really a run it was more like “not walking” or a shuffle. I was ok with my effort. I had just completed almost 9 miles.

After starting my second lap, I started asking runners as I passed what lap they were on. Most people were saying they were on their 3rd lap. I knew then that my third lap was going to be quiet. I was trying to find someone to run with; someone to feed of off; someone that was running stronger than I was. I ran with a lady named Emer McCarron. She was on her last lap but running strong. I ran with her for a bit. At some point, we separated, but I don’t recall exactly when.

asking Dennis and his famiy to pray for me
Now, I had to make it to the next point; I wondered if Dennis and his family would still be there. I was hoping so! There they were! Still there! That was so awesome of them! Seeing them once was good enough! Seeing them twice was just awesome! As I passed them I told them to pray for me because it was getting close and I was starting to feel beat up. I had to keep my pace for the next lap to have a fighting chance.

When I passed them, I started focusing on the turn around and then getting my special needs bag. I had my bible verses in there and a piece of gum and man I was I looking forward to them! I took a minute to read the verses and God’s word never comes at a bad time. It seems to always come right when you need it. I felt pretty strong going back into town! Thankfully and amazingly, Dennis and his family were still there!

I was hurting at this point but I was still moving steadily. There was one time I thought about walking and then I started to. I had to question myself! Am I walking because I physically cannot run for God anymore? Or, am I taking the easy way out? I walked for two steps and then started running again. I had won this battle! (The body is willing to do what the mind will not allow).

I made it back to the finish line to start my third lap. The people that were finishing around 15 to 15:30 hours were making their final stretch. They were going in for the finish. I still had one more lap to go! I so wanted that to be me. I turned around and saw KP. I stopped for a moment. I told her it was going to be close but that I ran the entire second lap. She quoted something; a gift she had recently given me. It was a refrigerator magnet that quoted Winston Churchill, “Never, never, never give up!”

I didn’t have the energy to tell her, but in my thoughts I said, “I won’t!”
About 18 miles down…8 to go. I ran away from her feeling emotional. Time was working against me. My time on the side of the road during the bike portion was making a difference now. I wasn’t going to finish at 15:30. I wasn’t even sure if I was going to finish at all! As I ran out for my last loop, the amount of runners starting their third loop was starting to get thin.

going infor a hug
I always said your race never starts until it starts to hurt…until that point where finishing is the only thing that drives you. At about mile 20…I was racing. I was earning my title to become an Ironman. I was praying too and reciting those bible verses the best I could in my head! At about this point I saw Dennis and his family! STILL THERE! Sitting on the same bench they had been every other time I had seen them. I lost it! I wasn’t crying in front of them, but I went and gave Dennis the biggest hug! I was so grateful for them! Three days ago Dennis couldn’t tell you what I looked like. But today he and his family had adopted me! They were supporting me as if I were their family!

Keep moving forward! I was almost to the turn around when I saw my bike mechanic (the one who put my bike together and gave me air at the aid station) on a bike and cycling past me. He saw me, gave me a smile, and said, “¡Vámonos amigo!” That really lifted my spirits!

I had to fight to get to the turn around. To tell everyone, my brother who had tried to stay up all night tracking me, my family, my church, the people who had donated, the people who heard about my story on the news, the people who said I have inspired them and in turn have inspired me, the people who gave me looks when I told them I was going from non-swimmer, non-cyclist, and barely even a runner to Ironman, and to everyone else that was tracking me! I AM STILL HERE!!! I AM STILL FIGHTING! And I was STILL PRAYING!

I hit the turnaround for the last time. Up until this point, things were going fairly well. I was starting to get some cramping between mile 18 and 20 but it wasn’t anything big. (using a poor British accent here) After I hit mile 22, I decided it was everyday flatulence, and I needed to rid my body of this nuisance. Therefore, like a gentleman, I waited until there was no one near me so that I could expel! (/end) Uhh, YEAH! Well unfortunately, it WASN’T GAS! Let’s just say, the Ironman potentially almost became the MOST, and I mean THE MOST EMBARRASSING day of my life! Thankfully nothing happened! I was able to batten down the hatches and keep going!!!

Needless to say, this is where my walk-run began and my hopes of completing the marathon within 6 hours ran down the toilet (Sorry! Couldn’t resist! =) . I was in desperate need of using the restroom! It was dark, I didn’t have a light and the only thing I could think about was the last Porta-John I saw at the bike special needs area. YUCK! The Porta was not an option!

I was hurting the last 4 miles! At this point I had been suffering from wicked hunger pains. It felt like my stomach was eating itself… like the lining in my stomach had exploded… like I had been eviscerated. It felt like a zombie had ripped open my stomach and started eating it!!! I was trying to eat whatever I could to make it feel better, but there was no relief.

I remember telling myself this is what the Ironman is about. I could train for the swim, the bike, and the run, but I couldn’t train for this; the mental battle that was occurring. I was trying to pray, but my mind was going blank. I was trying to calculate my times, but I would lose focus. The only thing present was the feeling of trying desperately to get my legs to move. I could see the finish line lights in the distance. There seemed to only be a handful of us still out there. I felt as if there was a sense of unspoken bonding that was occurring. No one said a word…it was quiet. In the distance you would hear the laughing of the Mexican teenagers volunteering at the aid stations; and then there was nothing but the sound of “souls” shuffling across the pavement.

I made it back into town on the main strip and the streets were quiet this time. There was virtually no one on the sidewalks to cheer us on. There was this one elderly Mexican woman who sat in a wooden chair. She was in that same spot for all three of my laps including the last one! The aid stations were cleaning up. Time was against me and my body was starting to shut down.

I looked for Dennis and his family but they were gone too. It’s nearly midnight and they have been out there for over 5 hours. I can understand why they left, it was getting too late for them. I passed a Latina who was speaking English. I asked her what the word “animo” means. She said it means to animate; to come alive. It is said to a person in order to lift that person’s spirits. Finally, I knew what the people of Cozumel were yelling at me all day. Closure!

The lights were less than a mile away but it felt like it would take a marathon run to get there! I saw some guys who had finished already and I was explaining this was my first Ironman. One guy told me when you hit the finish slow down and take it all in. Slowly, with every step I was getting closer. Then, just before the finish, I rounded a slight bend in the road and there were people everywhere! Just like all the other times I had passed this corner. Except this time, they were yelling for me! I don’t know what happened, but it was like my body came alive! It was magical I looked behind me because I wanted to be able to enjoy this moment without someone running in right behind me; the coast was clear.

Just before I rounded the bend for the final finish I saw DENNIS AND HIS FAMILY! You have got to be kidding me! They were out there for more than six hours! I had to go over and thank them! I start slapping hands of random people and then I rounded the corner for the final stretch!

I just get chills thinking about it! I don’t even remember looking at the clock because I didn’t care what my time was! (Wow I am getting emotional even thinking about it) I started raising my hand pointing up to the sky “THANK YOU FATHER! THANK YOU! THIS IS YOUR GLORY!”

I crossed the finish line with my hands raised to the sky…and I was praying! “Thank you Father for this moment…thank you Father!

NoW GiVe Me mY mEdAl!

I leaned forward and one guy put a plastic flower pendant around my neck. Another volunteer placed the finisher’s medal on me. It REALLY felt heavy! Because of my chaffing issues earlier in the day the medal and flower pendant necklace were causing this BURNING sensation around my neck! OMG!!!! I wanted to take it off so badly! Dennis and his family came over and I know I was glowing! As soon as they walked away I heard KP coming! When she saw me she became emotional and then I started…well I mean I wasn’t crying there was like salt or something in my eyes.

After about 30 seconds the burning on my neck became intense! I told her and we laughed! I walked through the Finisher’s area and there were massage therapists and pizza was being served. The Finisher shirts were being given out. There were athletes everywhere. I saw a group of my IAMTRI group members lounging at the finish. I wanted to hangout and stick around but there was that “issue” I had. So I just kinda said hi and bye! I was starving so I grabbed 2 slices of Pizza on the go.

KP was waiting for me at the exit to the Finisher’s area and we walked over to the winner’s podium. I wanted to take a picture on it because it will likely be the only time I am ever on a winner’s podium! The adrenaline wore off and it hit me! That potentially embarrassing moment had returned. I told KP we have to go now. “But honey don you want to…”

Holding on tightly, “I don’t think you understand we need to go!”

I grabbed my bike and we took the first taxi we could find back to the hotel. Finally I was able to deal with my issue!

When I first started this blog, I thought I would be facing my demons of the past, my addiction, my weight issues etc while racing in the Ironman…It wasn't until it was over that I realized God had already dealt with my demons when, through Him, I had the courage and faith to sign up a year ago to race. While racing, there were no voices telling me I can’t! I couldn’t hear the voice of lies because the Voice of Truth was screaming at me and telling me I could!
I stayed up pretty late talking to KP about everything that happened. It still didn’t seem real that I had done the Ironman. I never became overly excited or proud. I don’t think I ever really realized just exactly what had occurred in Cozumel until I wrote this blog…


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  1. Freakin' awesome and soooo worth the wait!!! Really happy for you Hassan and although some things didn't go as planned I think you will (and probably have already) come to realize that it is how you deal with an Ironman mentally that is the real test of your abilities. The fact that you kept going after the bike difficulties and didn't spend too much time or energy being pissed off at that tire biter that flatted you is the very reason you finished that race and why you will be successful at anything you do - "The trials we endure can and should introduce us to our strengths" - Epictetus. Actually, a book you might really enjoy - The Art of Living, Epictetus/Lebell. Another one that helped me out immensely this year was, "The Pursuit of Excellence" by Terry Orlick. You mentioned above that you can't really prepare mentally for the tough parts, but I think you can. Plans for next year?

  2. What an awesome first Ironman! I love the detail in your report! I can't believe your bike issues! Multiple flats and then to have a tube end up ok, wow! and to see Dennis and his family near the finish- wow! CONGRATULATIONS IRONMAN!!

  3. Hassan! You ARE an IRONMAN!!! Congratulations on finishing this grueling race and writing a fantastic race report. Despite your bike issues, you made it through. So many did not. I remember that Mexican lady who was still there after most of the others had left. But that would be because I was "la última" :-). Thank you so much for your kind words. Felicidades, hombre de acero!

  4. cool fav part is "i got emotional....but i wasnt crying...i think it was the salt in my eyes or something." CLASSIC. told u that you were gonna have "issues"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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