Ironman Cozumel Race Report by Jeff Bennett

I have been asking around to get some race reports onto the site and a friend of mine has obliged.  Jeff Bennett is an Ironman who also happens to be a friend of my wife and I.  We typically turn to him with questions and really at the end of the day for laughs.  He might be the funniest guy on the planet.  Jeff recently raced Ironman Cozumel and was happy to provide me with his race report so that I can post it on the Cook Train Eat Race site for you to read.  Thank you to Jeff and I hope you enjoy his report.

If you want your race report included on the Cook Train Eat Race site please contact me.

 

 
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Ironman Cozumel Race Report

 

 

by Jeff Bennett

I’m flying on my bike. Averaging over 23 mph with ease during the first lap of three around the island, I'm about 13 miles into the 112 mile bike leg. I'm passing cyclists every few seconds. Ahead of me are two cyclists riding side by side. Another cyclist is slowly passing me on my left. I make the decision to be conservative and wait for the faster cyclist to pass me and then pass the two riding abreast. I come up out of my aero bars, catch some wind to slow down, I'm waiting for the faster cyclist to pass these guys when a referee rides up beside and gives me a 4 minute penalty for drafting. My heart sank. A four minute penalty didn't mean as much to me being accused of cheating. I felt that my integrity had been unjustly compromised. This was the worst moment of the race.   But the rest of the experience was fantastic for me! I just had to get that part out of the way. For me, Ironman Cozumel was a shot at redemption. I had trained all last winter and spring in the cold wet, prolonged winter of 2009-2010. But when I finished Ironman St George on May 1st, my time of 11:04 was a disappointing 30 minutes slower than my goal. I had no Ironman planned for the rest of 2010 or 2011, but I saw that Ironman Cozumel was still open for this year. I felt burned out on triathlon training, but the need to have a good race had me signing up for Cozumel still six months away.  I raced the Cap Tex Olympic and the Buffalo Springs half, but decided that I needed a break before starting Ironman training again. I completed the 262 mile Texas Water Safari canoe race and the 21 mile Leadville Burro race before getting back into triathlon training in Aug. By early November I felt tired, but knew that I had a chance for a good race. My taper was 4 weeks long so that I could get my legs back.  We arrived in Mexico on Tuesday the week of Thanksgiving. The race was on the following Sunday. We stayed at the all-inclusive Park Royal. I highly recommend it. I put my bike together and went out for a ride that evening. Riding south the sun was setting and the rain clouds were passing through the area. Big raindrops fell as the sun was setting. Maybe because I was excited and riding in a beautiful place, but the raindrops tasted strangely delicious. They had such a rich, robust rain flavor as they hit my face that I thought it must be the best tasting rain I've ever had. I was a singular instant of excitement, happiness, and being truly present in the moment. On Wednesday morning, I swam in the calm, clear water of the Caribbean with tropical fish and a few other people who would be racing on Sunday. Apparently the little stings I felt were jelly fish that were too small to see when you're just swimming along.  Wednesday afternoon, I rode the course with Scott Williams. We went easy and noticed that the pavement was smooth, the wind on the East side was gusty, but that the course was flat and fast. You could feel the sea spray as you rode on the East side of the island. It was a beautiful course. The windward side of the island had lots of buzzards eating what washed up on shore. They served as a reminder for me to be conservative on the bike when I’m riding in the wind. Each meal I feasted like a king. Meats, fish, pasta, breads, salads, fruits, and desserts. It is a flat course so an extra pound of two on my 180 lb frame would not be an issue. By Saturday, I was rested, well-fed, and itching to race. My prolonged taper has renewed my strength and motivation. I had swam each day for a short time, but little else. Mostly I ate, lay around the beach, and rode around town on my moped. 

 Race Day

  Scott Williams came by in his cab and gave me a ride to the swim start south of town. The pro's bikes were at exit of the transition area. My bike was two rights and a left in the wild maze of Transition 1. Only in Mexico would T1 be a rat maze. 

Swim:

Christie Beiker and I dropped off our special needs bags together. We met up with Scott again at the pier when the pros started. When we went to jump off the pier I no longer saw anyone I knew and I treaded water with strangers around me. I would take a breath and dip below the surface, resting. Underwater I saw bodies squirming and legs kicking with nervous energy all waiting for the cannon to fire signaling the start of the race. After several minutes, the cannon fired and the water churned with arms thrashing, legs kicking, and everywhere I reached or kicked was a person who was also thrashing. For several minutes I would be crashing up against someone, then someone would crawl over me and I would crawl over someone else. I saw a diver resting on the bottom watching us swim over. Once in a while I would see that I am in an open spot among the 2200 athletes on the swim course. The course was a counter clock-wise rectangle and at the first left was a massive log jam of bodies all trying to turn next to the buoy. I swung out right and took a wider turn on the next buoy which allowed me to keep my rhythm. On the long stretch going south I went wide to get away from the pack. I still ran into a few like-minded swimmers, but it was easier to keep a rhythm going now that we were more spread out. After the third buoy, we swam past the submarine. I didn’t notice if anyone was looking out the windows. Finally I got to where we climbed out of the water and ran down the wooden dock to T1. I looked up at the clock as I ran and saw 1:06. My first race goal had been accomplished. A sub 1:10 swim! I ran into the changing tent, put on shoes, helmet, sunglasses, and ran out into the maze of T1. I’m sometimes paranoid about my stuff being messed with but my Cliff Bars, gels, and Shark Salts were all in place on my bike. I ran out of the transition area feeling great about the race so far.

Bike:

Leaving the transition area I stay below what my real race-effort will be on the bike. I pass people about every 15 to 30 seconds. As I rounded the south end of the island to start heading northeast, I notice that I’m averaging 23 mph. I’m about 12 or 14 miles in when I come up on the guys riding side by side and get penalized. Being penalized made me reconsider my race strategy. The penalty tent was about 3 miles ahead of me so I sped up and passed a lot of people before rolling to the tent and reporting my number to the official. I had four minutes of penalty time to think. The first thing I did was tell myself to calm down. With 4 minutes added to my overall time, that puts my swim at 1:10 and that’s still in the window of where I wanted to be. I drank all of my water, got two fresh bottles of water, and ate two cliff bars while trying to calm down and telling myself to not go nuts on the bike when I left the tent. At four minutes, the ref let me go and I started riding at my race effort. There are three loops around the island to make it 112 miles. When heading from the east side into town on the west side, there are growing crowds of people as you get closer to town. By the time you get into town, the crowd on both sides of the street are thick with people yelling for you. There are drums pounding, horns blowing, and pot and pans banging. Once there was an old guy dancing in the street who was pulled off the road as I was heading his way. In Cozumel, all the businesses shut down to watch and celebrate the race. Everyone is partying. Everyone, that is, but the athletes who are racing. There are a few turns in town that you have to line up just right or you will be braking before going into them. Right before the last turn in town, you hit the hotels and tourists. They are just as crazy and loud as the locals who are all cheering in the center of town. Heading south out of town the crowds thin out and there are just pockets of supporters along the way. I took Gu packets every 40 minutes. I took Shark Salts (electrolytes) every hour. I drank a ton of water from the bottles that were handed to us by volunteers as we ride past them.  Twice I saw a large blue butterfly. It was on the Northeast side of the Island in a area sheltered from the wind. I saw it on my first two loops. I enjoyed watching the waves crash against the rocks as I rode on the east side of the island. One east side bar had a skeleton riding a bike out front. Another bar had a tall iguana wearing a hat and smoking a cigar. The toughest thing about a three loop course is knowing you still have 2 more laps, then one more lap. It seems like a long time. It’s a mental thing. By the end of the ride I was out of Gu packets and Shark Salts. My pace was beginning to slow. As I rolled into the transition area, I saw that I had averaged close to 22 mph. However, the 4 minute penalty seems to have put me at 21.7 mph. My bike time was under 5:15 so I was still on target for my race goal. A volunteer took my bike and I charged like an 88 year old bowlegged man into the changing tent on legs that had not stopped pedaling for nearly 5 hours. In the changing tent, I found the Shark Salts and Gu packets I had stuffed into my shoes. A volunteer slathered sun screen on me as I put on my visor, shoes, and turned my race belt to show the number in front. I ran out of the tent feeling great about how the race had gone so far. The crowd was great. They cheered and high fived me as I ran onto the street and started my game of passing whoever was in front of me.

Run:

As I loosened up my legs for the run, I felt like I might have started a little too fast. I was too excited about catching people in my age group who were in front of me.  Since I had run out of Gu packets on the bike, I took two at the beginning of the run. Then I grabbed several extras from volunteers just as insurance against running out. At this point, I knew fueling and hydration were the difference between a strong finish and a miserably slow finish. I had 3 Gu packets in one hand. In the other hand I had a Ziploc baggie with two Shark Salts and one Gu packet. Hording my nutrition, clutched in both hands, I ran down the brick street in Downtown Cozumel trying to catch the competition. When I ran by the clock in town on the side of the building, it was about 15 minutes until 2:00pm. I had been swimming, biking, and running hard since 7:00am so my math skills were more sub-par than usual, but I figured out that I had a good shot at finishing before 5:00pm, which would be a sub 10 hour race. I told myself to settle in and find a pace I could maintain. Of course I didn’t listen, but instead kept closing in on whoever was in front of me. At the first aid station, I asked for water as I ran close. The volunteer handed me a plastic baggie. It was long and narrow. It looked like something you would freeze to make a popsicle. I assumed it was something to help me cool down, but I wanted water. A took a cup of Gatorade and threw down the water thing. About a mile later, I saw volunteers handing them to athletes again. This time I took it and bit off the top corner. The water squirted up but I got the bad into my mouth and it tasted wonderful. I got another one and drank it the same way. This was a new way to drink water for me. Bite the bag then put it in your mouth. Water still goes everywhere like it does when you drink from a cup while you’re running, but you get more water in you this way. I ran around the turnaround realizing that I had taken 4 gels before the first 5 miles. Going back, I had the sun in my face and I had to slow down a little bit because my stomach was telling me I had overdone it on the gels. I had been under an 8 minute per mile pace and I slowed it down until my stomach felt better. After about 10 minutes, I found about an 8 minute pace and held it back into town. Approaching town, the crowds get bigger, louder, and crazier. Just as you are about ¼ mile from the turnaround (or the finish once you’ve completed 3 laps) the crowd is in the street going crazy. People are high fiving me with my hands full of gels. A drum line is so loud you can feel the percussion of the air. Music is blasting from somewhere else and the crowd is screaming like it’s the Super bowl. I’m racing well, I feel good, and it is moments like this that are the reason for doing these races. The energy and adrenaline rush mixed with the endorphins that are flowing make a feeling that compares to nothing else I’ve ever experienced. I complete the first lap and headed back through town for lap number two. At this point, I’ve been racing hard for over seven hours and I see the clock on the building in downtown Cozumel again. But I don’t remember what time it was on my second lap. I do remember trying to do math and thinking I was still on pace to break 10 hours. I concentrated on a steady turnover rate, drinking lots of water, and taking a gel about every 2 to 3 miles. I watched for the huge iguana (real, not a fake one smoking a cigar) that I had seen earlier in the week on the out-of-town part of the course. But I think the large numbers of runners kept him in the jungle instead of by the road where I had seen him a few days earlier. I could feel the muscles in my quadriceps seeming to separate like meat on an over-cooked brisket. It wasn’t an injury pain, but a pain of exertion beyond what my body was accustomed to handling. It occurs in every Ironman I race. I called out for my special needs bag to get more Shark Salts, but the volunteers were so busy that they couldn’t find it before I ran by. I made the decision to run the last 11 miles without my electrolytes, rather than wait for what could be several minutes while they find my bag. Approaching the town again, the crowds, the music, and overall excitement kept me going. I was reveling in the feeling of almost completing my second lap when I saw two mimes. They were just standing in the crowd, next to the road looking sad. I averted my eyes, but they had somehow sucked a precious little bit of energy from me. How could they be standing in all this loud craziness and look so sad? I high-fived several spectators and removed the mimes from my mind. Rounding the turnaround and heading out for my final lap I was feeling my pace begin to slow down. I conceded some speed in order to continue a little more than 8 more miles. My biceps were sore from the small additional weight of carrying the gels. When I looked at the town clock, I saw that I was still on track to beat 10 hours. I knew I was running slower than I had started out, but I was still keeping a pace that would get me to the finish before 5pm if I didn’t slow down. At the turnaround, I was starting to cramp. One spectator there told me he would see me next year as he knew this was my third lap. The spectators at this race were fantastic. The sun was finally below some of the hotels and the heat (about 80 degrees F) didn’t seem quite as bad in the shade. But each time I tried to pick up the pace to run a little harder, my hamstrings would cramp up. Several times I had to slow down. But after slowing, I was able to find a pace that I could hold without cramping. The third time back into town I must have given at least 999 high-fives going in. I made the left down the finisher’s chute and they called my name over the loudspeakers. Crossing the finish line while the clock was still on the 9th hour, made my finish even more satisfying for me. My official time was 9:55:43.

Lessons Learned: 

  1. Pay closer attention to nutrition on the bike. I ran out of gels and my ride suffered in the final miles.
  2. Never underestimate the power of the mind to fight through pain and find ways to keep you going.
  3. A long taper when you are close to burnout is a good thing.
  4. A fast/flat course is a lot of fun if all you’ve been racing have been hilly courses
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Jason Bahamundi

About the Author:

I grew up in New York and lived there for 34 years until I got divorced and moved 1600 miles to my new home in Texas.  I love New York and miss it but that does not mean that Texas hasn’t been great to me because it has.  It was here that I discovered endurance sports and specifically the sport of triathlon.  Triathlon has given me new life through all the challenges it presents.  I no longer look at life the same way and I can say that is in part due to my endeavor into this sport.

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