I signed up for this race as soon as it opened last year after getting locked out of Florida IM. I was actually happy that it turned out that way and was so looking forward to getting there.
I put in some serious training this year to prep me for my first Ironman. I have PRed all my races from sprint to HIM. Got a new bike, a powermeter. Leaned how to use it and trained with it all year and developed a very good bike speed. Ran injury free following BarryP‘s plan running 5-6 days per week except for a two weeks forced break from swimming and running after a bike crash during my Cedar Point race back in September. I was feeling great in my swim as well and my last 2.4 mile TT was just a little over 1hr. Multiple 6-hours ride and my goal of riding at 200 watts (IF .75) was very comfortable.
Everything was in place for a good showing at my first Ironman and was expecting sub 11-hours.
We arrived at Cozumel on Wednesday and stayed at the Iberostars. Great all inclusive resort situated in south west of the island and only about 5min from the swim start. The hotel was packed with triathletes and some of the pro women stayed there as well.
On Thursday, I went downtown to pickup my packet and my bike from Tri Bike Transport.
Friday morning, I went for a short 20-minute ride with some sprints. Holding back and keeping watts around 160 was not easy and the legs were all there for a strong bike on race day.
Saturday, I went for a short swim and a short run with 4x20seconds strides. Was feeling amazing and don’t think I ever felt this good before a race.
Race morning, the plan was to drink from EFS orange drink mixed with water (~100 calories). Eat a BonkBreaker about 45-min before start, 1 Clif double espresso shot about 15 minute before swim start.
On the bike and run:
- 4x EFS Mocha liquid shots (1,600 calories) on the bike. Mixed them in two different bottles with water each 800 calories.
- 1x honey stinger to eat around the 2nd hour on the bike (160 calories).
- 1x Clif shot chocolate to take first 20-min on bike.
- 6x saltsticks. Take as needed.
- 3x PreRace tablets to take mid way through the bike.
- 1x EFS vanilla liquid shot on the run (400 calories). Coke for the rest of the run.
I probably slept for about 5 hours that night. I got up around 3:45am and took a warm shower, applied sun screen and got out of the room to eat breakfast. The hotel had a special breakfast for us and opened their restaurant around 4am. However, I decided to eat what I have been eating for the past year every morning before my workout. Almond butter with honey and coffee. I even brought my own Starbucks Via.
Around 5:20am, the kids and wife were all ready and took the shuttle to T1. Went to my bike and got everything ready. The only thing I missed is leaving my cycling shoes in my bike gear bag so I wasn’t able to clip them on the bike. Not a big deal. I checked my timing chip and realized the strap was partially torn and there is no way it will stay on during the swim. So I ran around for 20-minutes looking for new ankle band and non of the volunteers knew where the timing guys are or where to get me a new one. Finally one of the guys at the front entrance had an extra one and gave it to me.
Headed back to my wife and kids to say final goodbys. About 45-min from start, I ate one Bonk Breaker and 15 minutes from start I had a Clif double espresso shot.
The swim (1:18:23)
“You can’t win an Ironman in the swim, but you can lose an Ironman in the swim”
The 2.4-mile swim starts at the Dolphin Discovery dock inside Chankanaab park and finishes in the same area.
I was looking forward to this swim. I felt very confident that I can get out in about an hour and told my wife to look for me after an hour or 1:05. And if the current was in our favour like in previous years, I might even record a sub 1hr swim.
The days leading to the Ironman, the wind was strong and water was choppy. Race morning, the sun was out but the wind was still there and water was not what I was hoping for.
My plan was to ligne up front to the right and stay wide and hope to avoid the Ironman swim chaos.
I said my goodbyes to my wife and the kids and I think I took too long to leave them. The line on the pier was already long and some athletes started jumping in the water. Slowly walked on the pier and tried not to jump in too early and kept walking to get myself as much to the front as possible. About 7 minutes before the start I jumped in to warm up and tried to swim to the front. However, swimmers were already advancing behind the start line and many started swimming already.
People were looking at each other wondering if we missed the start. I said screw it and let me go, everyone was already few hundred yards ahead of me. I started swimming and about a minute later, the jetskies formed a line to stop all the athletes. Now it is about 6:58am and I am exactly lined up where I didn’t want to be. In the middle and to the left. Fine with me, lets just get this day going.
About 7am, they sounded the horn and off we went. I got kicked, punched, swimmers were on top of me, below me, and just every where. Every time I looked up, I was like man this is crazy and amazing at the same time. I am in the middle of an Ironman swim. How awesome is that! You just see hands splashing and nothing but white water all around. Bodies all over the place everyone is trying to advance forward and find an empty spot. Kept telling myself to be patient and it will get better by the turn. At that point the current was ok. I didn’t think it was very strong.
Finally I started seeing the orange buoy for the turn around and I am exactly swimming toward it. Now, if you have done triathlons, you know it is always better to take a wider turn to avoid the chaos around the buoy. At this point, I’ve already swallowed more sea water than my stomach can handle.
So I made the turn, in the map, it was supposed to be a left turn, but we ended up doing a u-turn. I thought to myself, I better move to the right to avoid hitting incoming swimmers and BAM, head to head with another swimmer and my goggles came off. Ok, put them back on and let’s keep going. The day is long and I tried to stay in control and be patient. This is where I thought the current should help and it did but not really that much. I felt the waves were high and was getting hit from every place. This is where I started to feel a little sick.
Finally made it to the final turn and I was ready to get this done with. Sighted the first buoy about 200 yards away. Swam for about a minute then sighted back up and the buoy was still about 150 yards away… Shit, we are not moving. The current was insane and I knew this is going to be a long day to get back to shore. Finally I spotted a barracuda under me and that was cool. Got stung in that section by few jelly fish and one was really bad on my right calf.
Finally made it back to shore and got out and that was the first time I looked at my watch and was shocked to see 1:18.
The swim killed the race for so many athletes. Around 300 athletes didn’t make the swim cutoff time (2 hours and 20 minutes) and ended their race. Looking at the pro times, the men who started about 20 minutes earlier were not impacted much by the strong current. However, the pro women, only three made sub 1-hour and the rest of the field swam for more than 1-hour.
The Bike (5:47:16):
T1 was fast, grabbed my bike gear bag and got the bike and was out in 5:36.
The bike course starts at the CHANKANAAB parking lot. It is a 3 laps along the highway around the Island in a counter clockwise direction. Every lap will go by the City Hall which is located next to T2 and the finish line.
At this point I was just happy to be out of the water and ready to hammer the bike. Plan was to hit 190-200 watts for the bike. The first section I was moving and kept it at around 180 to let things settle. I was feeling ok and decided not to eat until my heart rate is down and calm down from the swim. I was flying and passing people and feeling amazing and was averaging around 24mph doing 180-185 watts. 20 min later I started feeling little discomfort with my stomach. I decided to keep going with my nutrition plan and see what happens. Things quickly got worst and felt like sharp stapping in my stomach . Decided to slow down and let my HR drop and hope for things to feel better. At that point I was in the 2nd loop and my watts dropped all the way down to 90-100. Not good. This is turning into a joy ride not a race. Really wanted to stop and was looking at the penalty tents and they looked inviting. Felt like I was going to throw up any minute. Tried to eat and take a salt stick but all came back up.
Finally half way through the 2nd loop, I started to feel a little better so slowly I started pushing a little more to see how I feel. Turned back into town and pushed the 3rd lap but couldn’t push beyond 170-180 watts.
Turned toward the east side of the island and started the fight against the head wind. The wind and heat in that section got worst as the day progressed. This is about 15 miles stretch where the cross wind can be very strong and disc wheels are not allowed because of it. However this year the wind was coming from the north at 20+mph head straight. According to my Garmin, the temperature reached 91.4 in that stretch. Three laps of that and that’s 45miles of head wind. Unfortunately, the other side of the island was more inland and covered mostly with trees so the tail wind didn’t help as much.
I saw bunch of drafters in that stretch in a Tour de France style and they were blocking the whole road.
As I was passing them, I was yelling passing to your left and then I looked at one of the guys and told him, “you guys are drafting and still slow”. Kind of made my day. Unfortunately no marshal was around to give them a penalty. Drafting is not allowed in Ironman.
The good feeling didn’t last very long. The sun, wind and lack of food started to take a toll on me after 90 miles. Also, my salt stick dispenser decided to malfunction and drop all my salt tablets and left with only two for the whole ride. If there is one thing I learned during these long training rides is that I need salt to keep my energy up otherwise I will feel like crap.
Now finally back into town and headed to T2. Gave the bike to one if the volunteers and the poor guy tripped and fell with my bike. Went back to check on him and he was ok.
Goal power: 180-190 watts Actual: 186 watts Avg Speed: 20.6mph
Goal: 200 watts Actual: 157 watts NP: 165 Avg speed: 19mph
Goal: 200 watts. Actual: 160 watts NP: 167 Avg speed: 19.3mph
T2: A volunteer immediately got my run gear bag and got me a chair and got my stuff out of the bag. He put sunscreen on my shoulders and I was out in about 2:58.
The Run (5:03:15):
The run is a 3 laps out and back course. Each lap is about 8.7 miles and goes through Cozumel’s signature sites, including it’s waterfront walk, downtown main plaza, and historic neighborhoods.
My goal was to run sub 4hours. I’ve never done a marathon before but was feeling very confident in my training that I can do that.
I was happy that I had a whole box of salt sticks and caffeine in my run gear bag. Immediately took one salt stick and wanted to wait a little to take the caffeine and see how I feel. However, somewhere in the run I dropped that box and now I am again without my salt and no caffeine for me.
Legs were feeling good at the start and was running around 8min/mile. I decided to slow down and not push anything and see how I feel. My original plan was to take 200 calories per hour and leave the coke for later.
However, the pain in my stomach came back and forced me to slow down until my run turn into a walk around mile 3. I decided to skip the first aid station and not eat anything. My body was refusing even water so I turned to Pepsi. They were serving them in 1-ounce cups and grabbed two at each aid station just to get some calories in. No way I can run a marathon without any nutrition and I already skipped eating on the bike. The goal at this point is just to finish and not worry about time anymore.
Now, it turned into a survival mode and wanted to throw up so bad. I tried to walk/run and made the first turn and now back into town. I thought about using the porta potty and see if things calm down a little. There was one by each aid station so I stopped and waited for my turn around mile 6. Got in there and man the smell was just brutal. Peed in there and left and hoped that I feel a little better. Started running again and headed to town. The crowed there was just amazing. Made the turn and now into my 2nd lap.
At this point, I really needed to make another stop and the porta potty again to avoid ending up like the Florida Ironman poop guy. Since I wasn’t going for a win or a Kona spot (not that I can) and now I am not making my time goal at least let me finish clean so I can hug my wife and kids. Made another stop and stayed there for a while and felt a little better.
I kept making forward progress and decided to run for 1min and walk 30seconds. Kept that going for a while and was passing many guys who were actually running. However, every time I stopped my stomach cramped and the 30 seconds walks turned into 1-minute, 2-minutes and so on. In the last lap I finally realized to just keep running and not stop because stopping seemed to cause more issues for me. Also, I told my wife once see she see my 13 mile split to leave the resort and head to town so I knew she was waiting for me with the kids at the finish line and didn’t want them to wait for long. So now I just ran to town and didn’t stop even at aid stations. I just screamed coke 10-20 feet from each aid station and they handed it to me.
Finally made it back into town and into the finish and heard my name “Tariq Ali from the USA, you are an Ironman”. I looked around for my wife and she wasn’t there. The guys and medical personal kept asking me if there is anything they can help with, I told the lad y I just need to sit down. She brought me a chair and it was sooo nice to just sit down after a 12-hours day.
The athlete area at the finish line was fenced and that’s the one thing that was annoying. I had no idea where my wife was and apparently she saw me crossing the finish line and was trying to reunite with me. After about 15-min of me wondering if I should just take a cab back to the resort or should wait and see if she can find me, I heard her screaming my name from behind the fence and we were finally reunited.
Overall, I am happy to finish my first Ironman. This is a tough course. The venue was amazing and the local support was awesome. I felt like a celebrity from the time I arrived at the island.
Thanks to my wife and kids who supported my training and endured these long training sessions. Swimming at night and running during lunch and hear me talk about training and racing all the time. THANK YOU!