I fly in at around 2pm, get a car, shop for groceries at a local WalMart (lots of bread, strawberry jam and Jiffy Peanut Butter, along with Gatorade, beer and Pepsi) and head to the hotel. I am pretty beat from the travelling, but decide to go for a run at around 5pm. It is intensely hot and humid. I am sweating like crazy after 2 miles and cut my run way short. The rest of the night is spent eating PB&J sandwiches and drinking beer while watching the Thursday night NFL suckfest.
I show up for the pre-swim at 7am at Palmilla. The water is very calm and super warm with very little chop and no visible swells, but a bit of a current on the way back. Swim about 1000 yards and do not feel like swimming more would make any difference. In the afternoon I head into town to pick up my registration packet along with my bike from the TriBike Transport. The registration process is a bit chaotic, and then I find out that half of my numbers have the wrong name printed on them (I am not Nick). Without missing a beat, some industrious human working the “Problems?” window prints my name on a bunch of blank labels and just slaps them on top of my numbers. Along the way it turns out that the Mexican triathlon federation wants a onetime registration fee of $10, and even that is kind of comical – window 1 collects $10 without any receipt and sends you on the way to the next window that refuses to release your bib numbers without a receipt from window 1. Then window 1 and window 2 confer and decide that you are good to go.
Back at the hotel I put my bike together and go for a ride at around 1:30pm. It is on the Highway 1 with the shoulder randomly appearing and disappearing as construction trucks and buses zip by you at the speeds approaching 80 mphs. After 10 minutes I decide that my bike works fine and I do not feel like becoming roadkill, at least not just yet. I turn around dodging the traffic and go back. I have to cross the highway one more time to get back into my hotel which is a whole different level of scary (and stinky).
Then it is time to figure out how am I going to get to the race on Sunday. The host hotel (Hampton Inn) attempts to collect $15 USD for letting me use their race shuttle on Sunday, but then backs off. The concierge lady is nice but she is less than informed.
At around 4pm I go to the pre-race meeting and there is more chaos there. The 2 men wrecking crew running it consists of a super suave US expat along with an older Brit expat, but in a typical local fashion neither one is certain on the subjects of the course's vertical gain, the layout or the rules of what sort of gear will need bagged and dropped off on Saturday. At the same time both are insistent that no bikes will be allowed to be brought in on Sunday. And lastly, they flat out state that there will be no access to the bike gear bags in the morning. I leave slightly frustrated but not too worried.
Gear bags and bike drop off at the T1 at 11am – again more chaos. Some teenager manning the entrance decides to body mark and let people into the T1 at the same time, creating a sizeable line. Then everyone is let in in and the event team kids run around and randomly body mark only 1 spot on your body (i.e. the right shoulder in my case). The bag drop takes place in a completely unmarked tent and no one working it knows for sure if the bike gear bag must contain shoes and helmet or neither or both. Everything seems to be improvised on the spot. It is 11:30am and it is already hot hot hot. I leave the helmet, the shoes and the glasses in the gear bag and head to the T2 back in town (no address, just go by a drawing on the map!). I find it in a completely unmarked tent in downtown San Jose del Cabo situated in the middle of a busy road with just a couple of teenagers again manning the process. I leave my stuff there and hope that it works tomorrow. I am starting to get into the whole go with the flow thing that the locals use as an excuse for everything.
I get on the shuttle at 5am (for free, yippee!), and the first thing I see is a bunch of people from my hotel bringing their bikes on the shuttle. I ask no questions at this point. We get dropped off at the top of the hill at Palmilla where I hear and sort of see (it is dark) the kids who are there to collect our special needs bags. They they just kind of stand there and wait for you to give them the bags. Then naturally I see more people zipping down the hill on their bikes in total darkness along with a whole bunch of bike gear bags brought in. I get into the T1 and soon realize that I can access my bike gear bag and proceed to take the helmet, shoes, number belt and glasses out and set up a proper transition mat by my bike. No one says a word.
The 70.3 race kicks off at 6:15 with the male pros and the female pros leaving at 6:20 and the rest of the field leaving at 6:30am. The announcers are completely focused on the 70.3 field until about 7:15 when they remember to give some terse instructions for the full. The buoys are still being towed, and then we line up in what supposed to be self seeded corrals and head into the ocean at 7:30. It is already hot. It takes me about a minute to get into the water, and the swim is nice. No fighting for space and the water is warmer then the hotel pool. The course is kind of rectangular with 3 left turns to make. My watch goes off at the half point mark and – I see that only 31 minutes elapsed which is good for me in a non-wetsuit swim. We make the second turn and then the current suddenly picks up along with a sizable swell. It is now a fight, and after the 3rd turning point the chop is bad enough that my goggles start to leak and I can’t really breathe to the left anymore. It takes me almost 50 minutes to complete the 2nd leg which also turns out to be about 300 yards longer than expected. I get out of the water and can barely see from all the salt water in my eyes. 1:21 is my swim time.
T1 gets done quickly and I head out. Cannot not quite get all the sand off my feet but that is expected in a beach transition where the carpet does not really work very well. We head up the Pamilla hill and I am sweating like a pig. Nutrition wise the plan is to eat half a Clif bar (macadamia white chocolate, yummy!) and 6 Margarita shot bloks per hour long with 2 salt stick tabs giving me me about 325 kcals total with 850 mg of sodium. For the liquids I plan to take water only with an occasional bottle of Gatorade to mix things up. The plan works very well as I have no issues with staying hydrated or fed.
The ride to Cabo San Lucas is unremarkable but the heat is unrelenting. I maintain about 170w of NP. The first big climb (there are 4 in total) is not bad and the ride down is definitely fun. I grab my first water bottle at a water station at the bottom of the hill and a little kid manning it holds on too it too tight and I almost get dropped. The ride back to San Jose is much harsher facing the wind and the fumes from the cars that are at a total standstill on the other side of the highway. I make it to the turn around and the guy manning it is so confused and has no idea who needs to go where. The screwy thing with the course that you come to this turnaround, go up the hill and then if you are doing the half or finishing your 2nd lap of the full you get to ride past the WalMart to the T2. But the airport hill needs to be done, and the amigo completely fails to communicate it. I head up the hill to the toll road and that 2nd climb does not disappoint. I drop a good number of of people on the climb (still lots of slower 70.3 riders on the road), and then head down to the roundabout for the 2nd loop and turn towards Cabo San Lucas. Pass the special needs and pick up the rest of my nutrition and a small Coke that really hits the spot at that point.
What the Mexican culture lacks in the areas like being organized or planning ahead, it more than makes up for that by displays of an enthusiastic attitude along with employing hordes of rules enforcement people. The Ironman is no exception to this modus operando. On the bike course there is no drafting at all because the officials on their scooters are out in force looking sufficiently menacing. On the other hand, things like setting up water stations equidistant from each other are not something that the organizers would put too much effort into. Also, the volunteers working the stations are out in huge numbers and are going bananas for every rider passing through but the timing mats are way too few and missing on one of the 2 major climbs.
The ride back to Cabo San Lucas feels a lot harder now – the heat is just unrelenting, even more cars are at a complete standstill on the other side of the highway stinking up the air and there is a stretch of about 10 miles with no aid stations. I now make sure to stop at every station and either exchange the water bottles or just grab one and dump it all over my body. I do the climb at San Lucas (the 3rd big one) and head down hurting a bit. The course is now pretty desolate with a rider seen maybe every minute or so. My second salt stick dispenser jams and I cannot get any salt tabs out of it. I am very glad I grabbed a spare baggie of Salt Stick tabs out of my special needs. The rollers are getting harder and harder even though they did not get any taller or steeper compared to the 1st lap. My NP slowly drifts towards 165w but my heart rate stays steady.
I catch myself starting to drift off a bit and now only concentrate on eating every 20 minutes and steadily riding the hills without spiking power. We get closer to San Jose and (it is roughly mile 91) I notice that my NP is now 192 and climbing and my TSS is nearing 287 with less than 20 miles to go. How did that happen? Then I notice that my 10 sec average power alternates between a cool zero even going up a hill and 800+. The P1 pedals are drifting and I am pretty sure that it is from the heat from the pavement that got to them. I can stop and try to recalibrate but with only 1 major climb to go I decide to ride by my heart rate which is still steady. The last or the 4th climb to the airport road is just frustrating but I power through it and drop a couple more people in the process. I still have no idea where I stand scoreboard wise but it feels like I might be in the top 20% of the field right now. The poor soul manning the turnaround suggests that are 3 laps to do but I know better and just bomb down the WalMart street to the T2. Its pavement is so rough that I am afraid to reach down and unbuckle my shoes before the t2 bike catchers do their thing. My ride takes 6:02 to complete.
I grab my run gear bag and head into the changing tent. I sit down to only realize that I am completely baked. It is a weird feeling – and I have to talk myself into going out of the tent. Running 26 miles just seems wrong at the moment, but I am that stupid sometimes. The first 2 miles along the hotel corridor are in same searing, tiring heat. It is literally punishing to the point that having a bucket full of water dumped over me only keeps me damp for 2-3 minutes. The upside to this is that worrying about having wet feet in this situation proves to be completely unfounded. I stop at every other station and drink a cup of Pepsi. Eventually I get jacked enough to find some running rhythm. It carries me through the first of 3 loops. I even start to notice things around me – like the totally enthusiastic kids manning the stations, and the strange practice of having race officials writing down bib numbers at turnarounds located literally a few yards after intermediate split timing mats. The heat is starting to subside and I run with a lot more ease.
I now notice how utterly boring the run course really is. It weaves around the hotel corridor and the marina and the city gardens replete with the cows, butterflies and barely covered ditches and then suddenly drops you into some backstreet behind the city hall only to make do a U-turn and make you back to the city hall passing the finish line within maybe 100 yards. I complete the second loop and it is now getting dark (the time just got rolled back 1 hour in the morning so what used to be 7pm is now 6pm). I push through the hotel corridor one more time and it is hard to ignore the fact that for every runner there are now 10-12 people walking or weaving. Not good. The run over the bridge to the marina is in total darkness and I try to not get hit by some kid on the bike or an official riding a scooter.
Yet all good things must come to an end and I finally cross the marina bridge for the last time and come back to the city hall. The Ironman does this funny thing to me where it takes things that I normally love to do (Cycling! Running!) and subtly pushes them to the point where they are just not fun anymore, forcing me into this sort of mental game where I have to maintain focus or else things start to go bad. I cross the finish line at 3:59 looking dazed enough to have some helpful volunteer escort me all the way to the feeding station which serves pizza by slice, cookies and ramen noodles (!!!) along with water and Gatorade. Then it is time for a good massage from 2 very enthusiastic students of the local massage school and to head back to the T2 which is about 3 blocks away from the finish line. The entrance is of course right at the furthest end of the T2, but I am totally stoked to find my bike and bags intact and grab one last Clif bar for the night.
But would this really be a race in Mexico without more fun and games? As soon as I find my bike a gentleman comes up to me and starts asking for my helmet. I explain to him that I am not planning to ride my bike but he insists and it does not look like my Spanish is working. I finally pull the helmet out of my T2 bag, he checks the number on it and leaves me alone. I get dressed and head out, and one of the dozen or so kids manning the exit takes my timing chip. I ask them where I can find a taxi and one of them tells that they are queuing up a block away on a fairly shabby looking street. This turns out to be totally true and I immediately secure a taxi van. As I am loading my bike and my bags into the van, one of the T2 kids runs up to me yelling “Chip! Chip!”. I tell him that it was just collected it and I don’t have it but he does not believe me and inquires if my heart rate monitor band, my 910xt and finally my cadence meter are all “Chip!”. I kind of get ready to fight him but the taxi driver gets in the middle and probably tells the chip collector to get away from his fare. $25 later I get back to my room… and then I realize that it is all over along with my 2016 season. I go downstairs, order a cheeseburger and nachos along with 3 Heinekens and get back to my room to sleep a very brief sleep of death.
I wake up at 3am still jacked on the Pepsis I drank on the course and check on my results. 6th out of 34 finishers in M40-44 (11 DNFs and 2 DQs for missing the airport hill) with the final time of 11:33. Time to head back home. I prep my bike for the TriBike Transport, drop it off, grab a few things from the Ironman store for the family and head to the airport. Bye Cabo – it was certainly an experience!