Race Reports

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.

Having some fun with the kids in the pool after swim practice.

On Thursday, I went downtown to pickup my packet and my bike from Tri Bike Transport.

At the Ironman convention center for packet pickup

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.

After a full week without my bike, I gave it a kiss when picking it up at TriBikeTransport.

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.

Nutrition Plan:

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.

Race Morning:

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.

At the Chankanaab beach

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.

Putting my new ankle timing chip before heading to swim start

Giving thumbs up to my wife while chewing on my Bonk Breaker

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.

Dolphin show before swim start

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.

Ironman Cozumel Swim Underwater Shot

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.

Heading out of T1 to start the bike

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.

Fighting the headwind

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.

Bike Splits:

1st lap:
Goal power: 180-190 watts  Actual: 186 watts Avg Speed: 20.6mph

2nd lap:
Goal: 200 watts Actual: 157 watts NP: 165 Avg speed: 19mph

3rd lap:
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.

 

Run Start

Running through downtown Cozumel

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.

All done!

After the finish. Didn’t want to move.

Ouch… do I really need to get up???

All done!

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.

 

Last day on the island. Great vacation and an amazing experience.

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!

 

Race Reports

It has been over a week since the race and was debating if I really wanted to write this “race” report. However, I think it will be good to put it down in writing so I know next year when I am there again what to do or as a motivational report.

The short version of this is I crashed on the bike and couldn’t run nor even walk and the race ended too early for me.

The long version:

I was in no way in shape or ready to give it my 100% for this race. The month of Ramadan ended in mid August and I had only 3-weeks to get me back in shape. However, I did plan for the month off and I was in best shape before then so I used that month as a break from training, recover, and be ready to go back at it to prep me for Ironman Cozumel.

I wanted to use Rev3 Half as a tune up race and measure my fitness. I logged over 14 hours/week training the past three weeks and didn’t really taper for this except cutting my workout short on Friday and long swim on Saturday with some sprints at the end and a short easy run with some strides at the end.

Saturday:

My bike usually fit in the trunk of my car and I feel a lot more comfortable putting my bike there. However, I was taking the kids with me to the athlete check in and had no choice but to use the roof rack. I was thinking of putting the bike inside the car and the kids on the roof rack instead but wasn’t sure if that would fly. I am sure the kids would’ve had a blast though!

First time putting my new bike on the roof rack and was very nervious. Went to Home Depot and got pipe insulation and wrapped my bike with that to protect it from road debris

Arrived at Cedar Point and picked up my race number and all the goodies and checked in my bike and headed back home to get some rest and have dinner. For what ever reason, I always feel like I am coming down with something the day before a race and just feel run down.  I really feel like I need to incorporate a lot more sleep few days before a race.

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to attend the “mandatory” age group athlete meeting. Been to too many races so how important that can be, right? Rev3 decided to change some plans and keep the transition area open on race day until 7:30am and that was announced during that meeting that I decided not to attend. They had 6:30am in the athlete guide, that is a full hour of sleep that I lost.

Saying good bye to my bike and praying that it won’t rain over night.

Sunday:

I got up around 3:30 am, thinking transition will close at 6:30am that would give me enough time to shower, eat and make the 1-hour drive to Cedar Point. I didn’t want to be rushed in transition and wanted to give myself 45-min there. Not really sure I need that much time but for whatever reason time seems to fly when I am there.

Made some changes to my race morning breakfast and this time I decided to only eat a sesame bagel with almond butter and honey, a banana, and 1 piece of Giraffe Banana Coconut. I made coffee and decided to drink it on my way to Cedar Point.

Made a final check before leaving the house and got in my car and started the drive. Right before getting onto the Ohio Turnpike, I realized I left one important thing in the house. That was my coffee. Now I had to make a decision to either turn back or just keep driving. I decided to keep going and hopefully I will find coffee on the way.

Starbucks doesn’t open until 6am so that wasn’t an option unfortunately. They really need to get with the program and realize on Sundays triathletes are up at some crazy hours in the morning and they need their coffee. The only thing I found open was McDonald. Haven’t been there for ages.  I drove through the drive through and ordered their premium coffee. For some reason, the woman at the cashier gave me the coffee and closed the window right away without taking money. I tried to wave and get her attention but she didn’t even look back so I kept on driving.

Arrived at Cedar Point and transition area was fairly empty. Only the Full Rev athletes were there. Not until 45min the half rev athlete started showing up.

Got my area all setup and headed to the beach. Got my wetsuit on and about 15 min from my wave start about 8:25am, I took 1x Clif Espresso shot and went for a quick warm up swim. The lake looked calm and perfect.

Lake was calm and perfect for the day

Full Rev3 Pros dolphin diving.

I was feeling good and just ready to get going with the race.

The Swim: (35:10)

The swim was a beach start and the water was knee deep for about 300-400 yards. Lined myself at the start of the line as I usually like to do and went off. Few dolphin dives and started swimming. I wanted to keep my pace comfortable and try to draft off someone. Since I had no idea who is around me, for whatever reason I just have a hard time trusting the person in front of me and sometime drafting seems to slow me down since I have to look for their feet and sight to make sure they are going straight. However, after few hundred yards, I realized the person was actually sighting well so I stayed with him.  After the first turn, all of the sudden, I got one of these spring like sneeze attacks that I usually get. I did take my Nasonex the night before and also took Zyrtec. However, something in the lake triggered my sneeze. I didn’t want to slow down or stop so I was taking one breath and sneezing in the water, take another breath, and sneez. That lasted for few hundreds yards and then it stopped. This never happened to me. I usually don’t sneeze until I am out of the water but never ever while swimming.

Made the last turn and was happy to get out of the water. My swim was a LOT slower than I wanted to but I was kind of expecting a slow swim. I wasn’t feeling good about my swim the last few weeks and haven’t been in the pool much. However, apparently many athletes also complained about slow swims and possibly the swim was a little long.

T1: (1:46)
Nothing special there, ran out of  the water to my bike and was out of T1.

Bike: (2:38)

I was happy to get on the bike, first half iron distance with my new power meter and was eager to see how the ride will go. I was targeting 210-220 watts. The first section of the bike was to get out of Cedar Point on Cedar Point drive. That was a tight one lane road and open to traffic and bumpy. Kept my head down and kept pedaling. I didn’t want to drink or eat until I get into a comfortable pace and lower my HR. I got stuck behind a car that was going very slow and was trying to be careful passing another athlete. So to keep moving I decided to pass the car on the left and the other athlete. That was probably not the safest thing to do but the other option was to stay behind the car and go at a much slower speed than I wanted to. Not sure if it is legal either. Didn’t see anything about pacing cars in the athelte guide. The pass was completed successfully in less than 15 seconds 🙂 and kept on peddling until we made the turn on Rt 2. That road was busy with cars and fast moving cars. There was a bike lane but again when you are faced with the decision to pass other athletes it gets a little uncomfortable with cars going 50+ mph right by you. That was for couple of miles until we got out of harm way into the country roads. I got into my pace now and started sipping water every 10-minutes and EFS shots every 20-min. Kept that going throughout the ride targeting about 300 calories per hour.The bike route is basically a 56 miles loop, the full Rev will do most of it twice.

Passed a lot of the full Rev athletes until we got to one section where we got separated from the full Rev athletes. It got very lonely there and I just kept watching my watts and trying not to push too hard to set myself up for a good run.

At every aid station, I throw away my water bottle and grabbed another one. Kept that going whether my water bottle was empty or not and was working well for me.

There was an aid station about every 10 miles. As I got close to the last aid station around mile 47, I got rid of my old water bottle, pointed to one of the volunteers and said “water.. water”. The volunteer got the water ready for me to grab and he started running to hand me the bottle which was unusual but thought it was nice and made it easier to grab the water from him. I grab it, said “Thank you” and was ready to put it in my aero bottle cage, at that point and suddenly I hit a pot hole. With one hand holding the bottle and the other hand on the handle bar, I lost control of the bike and I was down and down hard. My right hip took most of the impact. I was probably down on the ground  on my back for few seconds when I decided to get off and walk to the side to avoid other cyclist from hitting me and cause a bigger crash. One volunteer grabbed my bike and as I got off the ground I realized I can barely walk. Sat on the side of the road and another helpful volunteer came over and started putting some ointment on my road rash. Couple of minutes later, I got up and checked the bike, made sure it was working ok and got back on it and continued my ride.

I was feeling the burns in my hip and arm but never for once thought I am not going to be able to run. I tried to calm myself down but I just didn’t feel comfortable with all the traffic and bumpy roads as I was getting closer to the park to get back in my aero position. Finally got into T2 and decided to play it safe and not try to jump off the bike, so I came to a complete stop and got off. At that moment, I realized something was just wrong with my hip, tried to run through transition but was barely able to walk. Got into my area in T2, and still put on my running shoes and decided to try and run and maybe the pain will go away. However, my right leg just refused to bend and I was trying to run on one leg. I stopped and tried to stretch but the pain was very obvious and din’t want to go away. My friend Bryan who was volunteering at the race stopped by and told me to stop and head to the medical tent and call it a day. Not for once I thought I wasn’t going to finish. However he kept reminding me it is not worth it and there is nothing for me to prove by finishing. My big race is coming up in November and there is no reason to aggravate the injury more just to finish.

I decided to listen to him and head to the medical tent. The volunteers there were amazing. They checked me in and dressed up my road rash and my day ended there. I handed out my timing ship and decided to watch the race instead.

In all honestly, I was very angry and frustrated that I didn’t get a chance to execute the race as I had planned. But also I realized this is the nature of our sport and there is no body to blame but myself. You have one good day and one bad day and you just have to get up and keep on moving. I am still not 100% and haven’t been able to run since the crash. My swim also has been impacted with the pain in my shoulder but that seem to be getting a lot better and hoping to resume my swim training this week.