My first out of country experience and my first half ironman distance. Here is my race report!
Saturday, the day before, I tried to go to the swim practice, but was unable to due to parking being off limits. So instead I spent the day planning my race out and wandering off to another beach area where swimming was allowed. It never occurred to me that it would be too dangerous to swim in any part of the ocean, but it was HIGHLY recommended (along with numerous beach signs with warnings on them) that I not swim where there were no swimming signs or lifeguards. I do not know if the undertow was too much in these areas or not, but I would like to compare it to the Atlantic waters since I never saw you couldn’t swim anywhere along the Atlantic, and I’ve been on beaches from Maine to Southern Florida and the Bahamas. Regardless, the waters WERE NOT like the Atlantic waters, they were clear and warm, and the sand always settled fast. No fish or seaweed to be found, no debris. I’ll never forget it.
Panic set in on Saturday as I realized I was missing my timing chip strap…no time, no race. Quickly realizing this, I went back and admitted I’d misplaced it and got another. I had already dropped my bike off at transition 1 (T1), which is the only place it may have been misplaced
It was super cool they had little signs with our names on them and our country flags. I let the air out of my tires before leaving. Onto Transition 2 (T2), a few miles away downtown in another village, I dropped off my run bag, just hoping I had everything I needed in there. Then it was back to the hotel to rest up. I managed a pretty good sleep considering daylight savings for Baja California Sur was that night!! Fall back ONE HOUR! I set my alarm for 1:58am, to make sure my cell phone turned back on its own. It did, and I went back to sleep.
The next morning, waking up at 4:45am, I got dressed and had a honey stinger waffle as planned and a bunch of water. We headed out with just my goggles and swim cap; I felt so unprepared since I’m used to carrying everything for my event with me the day of and setting up. We arrived off the bus for a 0.5 mile walk down the big hill to swim start and T1. It was dark but everyone around me was buzzing with excitment, bringing the darkness into a sort of light. I was wide awake and ready to go, unlike most races since they start so early. I got body marked and put on all the sunscreen I could, knowing I couldn’t put any on later. I set up at my bike T1 area and put air in my tires and went off to the swim corrals. I placed myself in the 45:00-50:00 finish time corral for the 1.2 mile swim. The waters were at 85°F — No wetsuits. Everyone in my corral (self seeding) was happy and very social. I met a woman from Germany, another from Mexico, and another from Canada. It was really a world wide sporting event! The guns went off for the rolling swim start, pros were in the water. Rolling start was pretty easy, although I don’t remember what happened. I entered the warm warm waters openingly, but forgot to start my garmin (I ended up starting it about 40 or so seconds after I crossed the first timing mat). I got into my rhythm super fast and was easing into the swim, my swim. It was so clear and the sun was rising as I reached the 400m mark, revealing deeper waters underneith. Everything was so calming. Rounding the first buoy of the retangle swim, I met with the ocean current. It wasn’t too strong, but it was enough to slow my swim a bit. I could tell when a wave of the current passed by as the waters cooled a few degrees. Along the longer leg of the swim, I was met with a few waves, but it was easy to go with the flow so to speak, and breathe when the wave would drop. Rounding the 2nd buoy, you couldn’t really see the 3rd! The sun was behind us, but there was no middle buoys to follow. I got a little off track, and by doing so was intercepted by a jellyfish. I have been stung before, so the pain was nothing new. It hurt for a good 30-45 minutes afterwards and on the bike, but I just went with it. There were also these tiny little jellyfish (they aren’t jellyfish but they felt like one) that are native to Mexican waters about half the size of a pea and bright blue! I encountered about 4 or 5 of these, one on my face, but the pain would only last about 30 seconds or so. Rounding the 3rd buoy (finally) and heading towards the swim exit, I felt my watch go off for the 3rd time, and I had a faster split, but I was behind in over all time for my finish goal. I sped up as much as I could. About 400m from the swim exit, I spotted the bottom of the ocean floor again. I saw corals and fish deep beneath me it was soooo lovely. It was really one of my favorite parts. If I could do this swim all over again, I would. I dislike swimming the most of the 3 sports but this made me love it that day. The salt water helped a lot too! I had to remember to kick, and I really felt where I was in the water. I started to stand when I thought I could touch the ocean floor, but NOPE. Sank. Swam again and tried at a more shallow depth haha. A few waves near the exit, but I lifted my legs to the side and ran on to T1.
T1 took forever and a day. I finished the swim JUST under 1 hour, the time cutoff for the swim is 1 hour and 10 minutes. I made it. At my bike, I took an extensive amount of time removing sand from my feet with baby powder. Worked like a charm. I knew if I took the time to remove this, my feet would be fine the rest of the day. This turned out to be very true. I didn’t have sand anywhere else, so that was cool. On the body glide went EVERYWHERE ELSE. Drank up some water after taking my first gel. Time to roll out. It was all uphill from there. There was an aid station every 13km, so about every 7-8 miles. Not too bad. The heat wasn’t bad yet, quite nice actually. About 10 miles onto the bike I realized quickly this was NOT the bike course featured on the event page. At mile 17, I realized this REALLY WASN’T THE BIKE COURSE, as it started going up and up, up for 4 miles with no repreve. I was expecting a slightly rolling course with a massive climb at mile 36.5 (which was about 3 miles) and then all downhill from there. So maybe this climb just came earlier? NOPE. I kept with my plan, and kept pedaling. The heat by this point in the day was getting brutal. There was no wind on course. I was thankful I didn’t have to fight anything, but a breeze would have been nice. I’d say the temperatures were well above 93°F at this point, and the humidity was above 70%.
I forced myself to make up time on the downhill, and returned back to the massive rolling hills I came from at the start. I kept checking my watch from mile 28 on, and I wasn’t on pace. I was struggling, even though I was putting my heart into it. I just wasn’t prepared for all the hills. I hit mile 40 and the next massive climb started. Little did I know it was a 5 mile climb with no repreve. It almost looked like one 4 miles into the climb, but it was just less steep there, and we kept on climbing. I passed many bikers with mechanical issues, a few who didn’t know how to change a tire, and many who just gave up. I reached the top and turned around. I sped as fast as I could going down, maintaining 28+ mph the whole way. Mile 52 came, and I was cutting the time cut off super close I was crying that I wasn’t going to make it. I busted my butt from mile 28 on, basically telling myself “I don’t care how trashed my legs are going to be for the run, if I don’t make the bike cutoff, I won’t be running at all!” I put everything I had into the last half of the bike, leaving nothing behind. A few more rolling hills before T2, and a slight downhill the last 2 miles I took full advantage of. My heart was racing as fast as I was racing the bike hoping I hadn’t missed the time cut off. I didn’t feel like I had wasted any time on the bike, nowhere did I think I could have made up lost time…
I saw Rich, and yelled, “I don’t think I made it!”, and he told me they hadn’t been cutting people yet. I sparked my hope back and headed into T2, where they took my bike from me and I gathered my run items. A quick restroom break and I was back out there. IT WAS HOT. All pavement except for one trail section for about a mile on loose dirt/sand, NO SHADE whatsoever. One aid station at a time I told myself, one aid station every 1 km. I looked down at my watch. I’d gone 1.5 miles. I was tired and dreaded the run. Whatever. I reached mile 2.5 and went to a dark place in my mind and started questioning where I was as I saw a sign that said “Mile 4”. Did I miss a turn? Did I cut the course, will I be DQed now? After all this work?! The next aid station I got someone who knew english and asked about what distance I was really at, they did no good in helping me. I asked someone I passed on the course on the run too who knew english and they said it was really mile 7 or “something”. This discouraged me more. I kept running, and EVERY aid station was taking an ice shower as the volunteers said “shower?”. If I had not done this, I would have overheated I’m sure. The temperatures on the run were now peaking at 97°F (or 37°C) with 65% humidity, making that a heat index over 115°F!! It was bad enough the temperature without humidity was as high as my own body temperature…meaning I could not cool myself down. My legs kept going, I never cramped up, but my body was saying NO NO NO. Controlling my heart rate was number one priority as my pace on my run ran up to 12:00 min/miles. On the bright side, this was still not as slow as my first marathon average time (14:00 min/mi), but I was also facing death during that race and it was literally one foot in front of the other to move forward mentality. This race was different…My legs were perfectly fine other than normal fatigue from the distance I’d done. I reached “Mile 6” sign, and my watch read 4.5 miles…still in a dark place in my mind. I finally made it to the turn around point for lap two of the course. I looked back down at my garmin, I was around 6.4 miles. I was on track and the signs along the course WERE wrong.
I was feeling better now physically which was weird in my opinion because I was at mile 7 on the run and that usually doesn’t happen even on just run practice days. I looked at my overall time again. I knew I had to put everything I had into the race now…it was do or DNF. I lost one of my gels I had brought somewhere along the way, the last one I was supposed to take. The next aid station I took one of theirs…never tried the brand and never heard of it. It was molten banana flavored, probably the worst thing I’ve had, but I knew I had to take it or risk slowing down or hitting the wall. The ice showers were becoming less effective and I was drying out faster from them. My shoes sloshed about in water pools. I reached mile 11.5 and I stopped sweating. I took a bunch of drink at the next aid station. I reached mile 12. ONE MORE MILE, I asked myself, when can I NOT do ONE mile?? My last mile ended up being my fastest by almost 90 seconds, at 10:30 pace. All the Vamos vamos from the crowd really helped towards the end. Even though a lot of what was being yelled was in spanish, I somehow knew what it all meant, and it meant a lot people were out in the heat supporting us athletes.
I turned the corner and heard my name and city and state, I saw the giant arch, I almost cried. I beat the time cut off by finishing at 7 hours, 52 minutes, and 57 seconds, just shy of the 8 hour cut off finish. I did not come this far and train so hard to fail here, that was my mantra. Nothing had ever pushed me so hard, nothing had every tested my endurance and mentality than this race. I was prepared, yet unprepared all at the same time. As coach put it, you’ve set yourself up for a great PR in your next race!
My worst injury was my back sunburn, which wasn’t nearly as severe as I’ve had in the past anyway, but still pretty bad. I had minor chaffing in the back and under the arms, but no blisters on the feet (and I was wearing new shoes that hadn’t been broken in yet, don’t tell anyone!). I was greeted with a nice free massage. The hospitality of the locals was amazing. The food was also amazing. The water was not so amazing but I think I managed to avoid most of it. I’m pretty sure towards the end of the race I saw more ambulances than aid stations. Many dropped out or passed out, and some even cheated by cutting the course I heard. Overall it was amazing experience and I will never forget it. If there’s one thing I’m good at, I’m good at making a good first race story. My first marathon I was without nutrition or gels, my first half is still my fastest and one of my coldest/hilliest race, my first 5k I got 3rd in my age group, my first triathlon I cut my foot right after the swim and didn’t notice until I was finished. I can’t wait to push on and train to be better. My goals do not stop here. Bonus points if you made it this far. I left out a lot, but if you want to know more I can elaborate below