Ironman Cozumel 2009, Sally Dyer
Ironman Cozumel is a journey for me that has no starting point and no ending point. It is a marked moment in the timeline of my life. I will attempt to document here some details and some personal anecdotes to convey my experience.
I will always remember the e-mail Heidi sent in May of 2007 asking if any of us wanted to join her and Jeremy at the Marine Corps Marathon. It was an e-mail that I would have typically just deleted with a chuckle but something about that e-mail on that day at that moment caused me to reply with a ‘sure’. That was crazy but it was also the spark that lit something that I am in the middle of living. Six months after that e-mail I finished what I thought was an impossible event (for me) the marathon. I had incurred an injury during my training that rendered me to the pool for the final month of training rekindling a love for swimming that I have had my entire life.
After we moved back to Colorado, I re-entered the triathlon world I had only dabbled in one summer about 8 years prior. The foundation was forming that would one day culminate 2 years later. I made it through a terrific triathlon season of sprints, Olympic and the epic ½ Ironman distance in 2008 only to be itching for more. My colleague Jay then became the second catalyst with his encouragement to enter the first Ironman event in Cozumel México to be held about 65 weeks later. I thought well that is a long time away and I loved the ½ so why not. We both registered. Once you register for an event it marks a point in the calendar that is immoveable by anything else. It is the center around which your life will rotate no matter the complexities of your existence.
From that point on I was already considered by many to be an Ironman. I said well I have not even started training yet so please wait for me to cross the finish line to get that title. A lot can happen in 65 weeks after all. So the training began. I registered for a May marathon with my friend Gretchen as a training race to remember the rigors of the 26.2 mile run that would take place after a 2.4 mile swim and a 112 mile bike ride at Ironman Cozumel. It seemed like a good idea to keep me moving over the cold Colorado winter to make sure I was ready for the Ironman training.
The Eugene marathon was great and resulted in a new Marathon PR without any sign of injury. What a great boost to launch the next several months of training. I signed up with D3 multi-sport for some additional swim coaching in the months leading up to the marathon. This too would prove to be one of those ‘turning point’ moments that mark a journey such as this. I had a summer of PR’s. In fact every race I have completed has been a PR, so far, which keeps me motivated to see where I catch up with myself. Now, for some perspective, I am a very conservative, slow age group athlete so I have a more opportunities to make PRs. But I will enjoy it while it lasts.
August arrived and I had completed the last of my big events before the big push to ironman. I completed the 5430 sports long course for the second time. This was the race that launched my Ironman dreams so it was now time to get serious. Coach Mike Ricci and D3 multi-sport runs a fall training group that I decided to join. Up until this point I was my own coach (so to speak) and used books and advice to train. I felt like I needed some more experience on my team to make sure that I was going to be prepared to get the start line. So we worked and we worked. Tuesday night track workouts, Wednesday swims, Saturday rides and Sunday Runs with extra mixed in to the tune of about 20 hours per week at the peak.
It was tough but life altering training. I have a great support system at home, great friends all over the globe that encouraged me along the way and a job with flexibility so I am exceedingly fortunate to have the training time rather easily accommodated. For that I will always be grateful. Over the course of the training, I met a lot of great people, discovered more of Colorado’s back roads by bike than I ever knew existed and reached depths of my own fitness that I never knew where possible. The training alone is a journey that has you looking ever more inward with each stroke, pedal or step forward. Finally, with the backing of so many people that I can’t list for fear of omitting a critical person but, I trust you know who you are… I was ready.
We arrived to Cozumel on Thanksgiving Thursday after spending a week packing for the event. The airport was abuzz with athletes wearing various t-shirts highlighting a race accomplishment. The chatter was all triathlon. We were in it. Hana and Patrick were my personal support and cheering section along with Jay and Leena. It was really essential for me to have had someone along with me who has some experience with all of this and Jay served as my guide and mentor. I thank him for this support and will forever be grateful for having such a great partner in triathlon.
The weather was great but windy. I loved the return to the tropics and the softness of the air. It was not nearly as hot as I was expecting so that was a relief. The most important task we had ahead of us was to get the bike reassembled. Once at the hotel it was evident that there was a delay with the race provided bike mechanics so Jay and Patrick worked together to get my bike back together such that it would only need a cursory look over by the mechanic on Friday.
Jay and I woke early to get to the Friday morning swim practice only to have it be cancelled because the winds were still too strong so the sea was too choppy for us to practice safely. That turned out to be ok since I had neglected to bring my goggles and swim cap to the practice. Once I realized that I had traveled all the way the swim workout without these essential items I had a talk with myself that I needed to get focused. You can’t let the nerves result in serious mistakes. We ended the day getting the bikes ready and out on a little ride, we registered for the event and got all of our stuff ready. Patrick labeled, poured and mixed nutrition dutifully while tolerating some of my nervous excitement. Hana photographed and played along with the getting ready never complaining that she was missing pool and beach time. That evening there was a pre-race meeting to go over the logistics etc. and many folks raised their hands as first timers.
Saturday came with calm winds and nice seas to start the day with a spectacular swim. The course was great and I did not have any of the open ocean fear that I was worried about. I was ready for the swim. We headed back to the hotel and finished getting things ready. We headed back to set our bikes up in the early afternoon. That’s when I realized that I was about to do an Ironman race. As we entered the transition area each of the athletes was photographed with their bikes. I am not sure why this was but I think it was for security purposes. We set –up our stuff and had our bodies marked with our numbers and division. It would now be really evident who was competing. The way they treated the athletes made me feel that this was really something extraordinary. It was exciting. The rest of the day we spent trying to relax. We went to the pool and rested then headed to an early dinner… yes pasta of course. We turned the lights off to ‘sleep’ at about 8:30 and the alarm was set for a 3:30 am wake up.
Sleep was not really going to happen but I did rest and got up to make coffee and eat at 3:30 am not feeling too nervous. I just felt so happy that the day had come for me to test myself in a way that I never have. How would I do? I kept thinking. So I drank my coffee (so it could work its magic) and ate my bagels with peanut butter and honey, a banana and a little yogurt. I rested for another 45 minutes. At 4:15 I got back up to get finally ready. Patrick covered me in sunscreen and I suited up in my D3 gear, grabbed my bottle of pre-race nutrition and was out to meet Jay and get on the bus to the start.
At the start area we pumped our bike tires and checked everything to make sure it was ready to go. They paraded the athletes out onto the pier so that we could wave to all the spectators who were about to spend a really long day watching all of us. I felt like we needed to be applauding all of them. It was exhilarating to feel what I was feeling. It was hard to not cry but I said I needed to save my energy and I could cry all I wanted when I finished….so many hours from now. It is daunting to feel how long of day you have ahead of you at this point in the race.