Ironman Cozumel Race Report

- By Stefan Schreiber

Stefan before the BIG race

This was the best race I have ever had! But when looking back I was lucky that I could participate at all.

The year started definitely not according to the plan. I caught myself a nasty Achilles tendon injury, which was bugging me for 6 months (see previous post).  In the end I got it under control and was able to finish a short but crisp 14-week training program, which got me into peak shape. Then the day was finally there.

We went down to Mexico with a big group: Sanja, Simmon, Ben and Lindsay, Sarah (Ben’s sister) and Laura (Lindsay’s sister). We also met up with Carsten, a very good friend of mine from Germany. We all resided at Casa Birdie, a nice villa located at San Francisco Beach on Cozumel’s west coast. Ok, since it’s a race report I will spare you the touristic details.

Race morning:  If there is one thing I really dislike, then it’s being rushed in the morning. So, I thought 4:30 am is the perfect time to get up. I was actually sleeping very well that night and when the alarm went off, I immediately hopped out of the bed, went down into the kitchen and prepared breakfast. Simmon, who was sleeping in the living room, also got up (because of me) when I realized it was actually only 3:30 am. “You idiot forgot to adjust the time zone on the cell phone…”, was my first thought. Well, now I was definitely not in a rush but felt pretty bad about it and was hoping the other guys wouldn’t wake up. I switched the kitchen light off, Simmon fell back on his couch and an hour later I repeated the whole thing again. This time though it was all good.

Swim:  About an hour later we made our way to the swim start, where Mexican soldiers with machine guns were welcoming us in T1. That was so crazy! They were patrolling in the transition zone with machine guns ready to fire. Anyway, we couldn’t really pay attention to it since we had to get ready to be in the first row once people were allowed to enter the dock area. After the pros were off, we were allowed to slowly walk in file to the end of a corner from which we were supposed to jump off and tread water till the gun goes off. Luckily, everything went well. We made it quick into the water having thousands of people behind us.

I was right behind Ben and Lindsay. The water was clear and warm but Jellyfish were stinging us all over the place. It wasn’t really painful but rather an unusual feeling, and they were so small I could never really see one. Then we were off! The washing machine was switched on and I tried to keep it controlled and focused on exhaling (a tip I got from http://www.swimsmooth.com). The first hundred metres didn’t feel too bad, or maybe I finally got used to open water swim with 2000 people. No matter what, I told myself to do exactly what I did for so many miles in the pool: Maintaining a nice rhythm with a good body roll and keeping the elbows high. The swim course was a rectangle and easy to sight. On the back straight I had to countersteer a little bit since the surf was pushing us gently back to shore. Every now and then I had the chance to draft off someone but for the most part I was on my own. I exited the water and when I saw 54 minutes I was super happy!

Stefan exiting the water after a smokin' fast swim in the washing machine

While running along the dock towards T1 a fellow competitor helped me with my speed suit zipper, which I couldn’t zip down right away. I easily found my bag, changed and headed to my bike. I quickly unracked it and ran it out of T1. On my way out Sanja was yelling and cheering and told me “You are at 57 minutes right now”. That was pretty awesome and I was very happy that all my 6am swims at the Kinsmen Sports Centre paid off!

Bike:  The bike started well and my pace was good. Actually, I went out way too fast for the first couple kilometres (as I always do). Clearly I have to work on NOT doing this all the time. It was a 3-loop course with a total of 182km. The first part goes south, then the second part is going back north along Cozumel’s wild coast (with terrible cross winds) and finally it turns west to where T2 and the finish were located.

On my way south I could see a group riding together and I was hoping they would fall apart once the crosswinds hit them. Shortly before the turn I passed Lindsay, she and Ben had amazing swim times, and she looked fresh and was super excited. I was really happy for her to see that all works out so far. Finally, the group fell apart and I passed them eventually. This stretch back north was awful and needed full concentration and motivation. Then, after the next turn we had a tailwind and I was going over 40km/h. Shortly before I reached the city, the group I had passed was reunited and passed me again. I was really annoyed by that, but I either had to suck it up and let them pull away, or stick to their wheels and take advantage of the group. I picked the first option, put my head down and was waiting for them to be out of sight. Then on the second lap my glutes started to hurt really badly and I was slowing down significantly. My heart rate dropped accordingly and I was unable to push it. It was a weird feeling I never experienced before. I tried to keep up the speed, but my glutes were just burning… another thing I had to accept. On the other hand my quads felt amazing and I was looking forward to running – but there were still 2 laps to go and it became really hot now.

Looking cool and fast on the bike

During the second lap, especially the part along the east coast of Cozumel, I reached my low point, as for the bike part of the race, and I was absolutely not looking forward to the last lap. I approached the city again and the pain in my glutes started to fade slowly. I was very pleased about it and my attitude turned positive again. On my way south I caught up to Ben. He told me he crashed because someone cut him off in a corner… damn triathletes ;) We chatted a bit and then I went on since I didn’t want to risk a drafting penalty. The last lap was ok but I was really looking forward to start running now. After 5 hours I finished the bike and started to run.

Run:  On the first 2 km my quads were complaining a bit but then they felt good. The heat however, really gave me a hard time. I grabbed ice bags at all aid stations and was pressing them on my forehead, neck and wherever else cooling was needed. In retrospect, I guess that saved me of not developing a heat stroke. Again we had to do 3 laps and after the turnaround there was a slight tailwind so no air movement at all. IT WAS TERRIBLE! I felt like a boiled potato ready to get peeled.

Back in town I just wanted to quit but Sanja made sure I kept on going. She was cheering, screaming and feeding me with motivation. This was just enough to not pull the ‘chute and quit the race and my triathlon altogether. I didn’t quit but I swore myself that I will never do an Ironman again in my life and I don’t understand why I put myself through this – and why on earth am I, a middle European, doing a race in the tropics?? NEVER again – this was my mental state starting the second lap. Ben, Lindsay, Simmon and Carsten were all suffering. We were giving high fives whenever we saw each other. I was really happy having them on the course as well. During the second half of my second lap it started to rain like crazy. The streets were flooded and there were stretches when the water was knee deep and running wasn’t possible – but I was so happy it started raining.

During the last lap I never felt so much pain in my life before. My legs were hurting badly. The real pain had arrived! Every step was painful but I just kept on running. I told myself “You ran for 30km now, so don’t stop now. As soon as you start walking you will lose everything you were training for so hard for all these months. Don’t break in now”. On the last few kilometres then, I knew I will finish this damn race and was able to speed up a little bit. And then, finally, I crossed the line and it was all over. Thank god!

Somewhere along these last kilometres I must have also passed Laurent Jalabert! He is right below me in the result list. When I heard the commentator saying that Laurent Jalabert is coming in, I headed straight back to the finish line to congratulate him. I shook his hand but he was also pretty beaten up and not really in the mood of talking. Anyway, it was super cool. I would have never thought in my life that I would be able to be so close to someone who rode the Tour de France 10 times and even compete with this very person in the same competition AND beat him. I walked over to the massage tables but before I got the deserved massage I had to sit for the next 15 minutes because I really didn’t feel well. That’s when I also saw Sanja again. She found me right away and after the massage we waited for other guys to come. First in was Ben, followed by Lindsay, Simmon and Carsten. I was really happy that everyone was in the finish and everyone was well!

Final thoughts and what comes next:  First of all, yes I made it! I qualified again for Kona, but this race was by far the hardest and most painful race I ever did. My legs and my glutes were hurting for 2 days so badly that I was not able to walk normally. During the third day it got better and the soreness faded. Neither at IM Canada nor at IM Hawaii I felt like this after the race. I definitely went up one level of pain resistance and I am sure my next races will be even better.

I clearly have to improve my biking!! 5 hours is not acceptable for me. For my next race I want to be at 4 hours 50 minutes, and also cut down my running time another 10 min. I will continue swimming the way I did and not really change a lot, except refining my technique. Taken all together I will hopefully get into top shape in order to finish in Kona among the Top 5 in my age group.

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