I've decided to split my race report for Ironman Cozumel into three sections: the pre-race, the race itself, and the lessons I learned from the experience. The entire experience was so huge that I couldn't really capture it all in a single blog post that wouldn't require Ironman-style endurance just to read.
During the taper period, I took the last step to becoming Dr. George: I defended my dissertation. It was a successful defense, and one of my advisors took a picture of me just as I was informed that I am now indeed Dr. George.
Big, authentic smiles cause my eyes to disappear. There are only a few photos of me like this, and nearly all of them are from our wedding. We'll see whether the ones of me at the IM Cozumel finish line look like this . . .
Anyway, I fixed the typos and formatting issues that my committee members found, and I submitted the final copy of my dissertation to the UGA graduate school on Monday, 11/21. We left for Cozumel on Tuesday, 11/22. That was a good start to one hell of a week!
The trip to Cozumel was long. We drove to the parking lot, took a bus to the check-in, took a train to the terminal, took a plane to Cancun (which was delayed by THREE HOURS!), took a bus from Cancun to Playa del Carmen, then took a ferry to Cozumel. We hoofed it the last half-mile to the hotel.
On the plane, the fella next to me noticed that I was reading Iron War--it was way good, by the way, even if Mark Allen and Dave Scott say that it's fiction--and we started talking. It turns out that he, Paul, and his family were from Chattanooga, and they were heading to Cozumel for the race, too. Paul and his wife, Theresa, had a friend, Brian, who would also be competing. As the trip went on, we found out that we were in the same hotel as Paul and Theresa, and when we checked in, we found that we were next door to each other. Fun!
On the ferry to the island, we met Lesley and Adrian from Los Angeles. They were a super-cool couple of newlyweds who took a NINE-WEEK trip through Asia last year. Lesley is part-way through her quest to run a marathon on every continent, and she's already done Antarctica. We would see them several more times during the week, including immediately prior to the start. I even saw Lesley during the swim, when all hell was breaking loose, but more about that in Part Two.
On Wednesday and Thursday, we spent a lot of time hanging out both on and off the beach. The water was stunningly clear. We also saw people using these ridiculous contraptions.
They were like underwater segways, in that they were self-propelled AND super-dorky. We took a few practice swims in the water, and we could see the folks trolling around the bottom looking at the fish and rays from their little perches about forty feet below.
When we weren't on the beach, we spent a lot of time reading and watching TV. Undoubtedly, the most popular show on Cozumeleno television was Two and a Half Men. I had never watched the show before this trip, but we watched so many episodes during the trip that I was actually worried that the theme song might get stuck in my head during the Ironman and ruin my race!
It did not, but again, more about the race in Part Two.
We picked up our bikes from Tri Bike Transport on Thursday--no problems there at all--and we attended an official practice swim on Friday morning. On the way there, we shared a cab with Jordan and Shannon from Denver. They were great, too! Jordan is a Cat 2 cyclist like me who is transitioning to Ironman. He has his first event at Lake Placid this summer, and he's not a great swimmer yet. Shannon, like Kacie, was competing in her fourth Ironman. Her last event was Kona, where she struggled in the marathon but finished. After the swim, we ended up meeting back up with them and sharing the cab back to the hotel, too.
After Cedar Point, I will never miss another practice swim. Likewise, this one was very useful. It gave me a good sense of the course and showed me a couple of things that I would have to be mindful of during the race. It was also my first real swim in salt water. I felt capable of a really good swim, but I didn't want to get carried away. I had to remember how new I was to swimming, how far I've come since learning to swim in June, and how my goal of 1:30:00 was sound based on my training and experience in races up to this point. Still, I was hopeful for a breakthrough.
On Friday afternoon, we wandered around downtown looking for the site of the mandatory athletes' meeting before we realized that it was in our own hotel. Nice work there, Dardens. While there, we got to talk to Sonja, who Kacie has "known" online for the past several months. She won her age group last year at Arizona, and was gunning for another age group win at Cozumel. She would be very helpful to me post-race. More on that in Part Three. (Don't you love all these teasers!!??!!??)
We went to the athlete's dinner on Friday night, where for the first time, I was able to commune with athletes as one who was also doing the race. I had always felt a little left out at those events in the past, but this time, I was right in the thick of things. We sat with Jordan and Shannon, Adrian and Lesley, and our new friend Tonya from Raleigh that we met on the way to the dinner. At the dinner, we got to know Mark from southwest Florida, who was looking to do well in the 60-65 age group. It was loads of fun. The AV demonstration at the dinner was a bust, so after eating plenty of spaghetti, we headed back to the hotel for some more Two and a Half Men.
I hadn't really considered that Kacie and I would be meeting so many people during the lead-up to the race, and as it turns out, that was one of the best parts of the entire experience for me. In addition to all of the folks I already mentioned, we also met Matt from Atlanta, Percy/Perry from Australia--who was doing his 64th Ironman and has done virtually all of them!--and Scott/Steve from DC--who was doing his first Ironman like me. Percy/Perry was called "Percy/Perry" because we kinda missed his name. Scott/Steve was called "Scott/Steve" because we called him Steve--and his name was Scott--for the first few days we were there. Yee haw! The bond between folks about to do an Ironman is unique. Everyone has put in so much work, and they've had to endure the abuse of people who don't understand why they would want to do 140.6 self-propelled miles. I'm sure that we'll see a lot of these folks again; I'm looking forward to it already. I wonder if it will be the same, though, when we're not all gearing up for the same race.
On Saturday, we packed our bags, and we rode our bikes to T1. We met Mark on the way there, a former pro with over 30 Ironmans on his legs. He and I discussed the power numbers I had in mind for the bike, and he asked me about decoupling. I told him that I didn't know much about decoupling. (That would prove horribly prescient.) We had lunch with Perry/Percy, and then we headed up to watch a few more episodes of Two and a Half Men. We set the alarms for 4:40 a.m. and went to bed early . . .