Heads up. This is going to be a lengthy post. Honestly, I've been wanting to write this post for a long long time. Thinking about writing about it makes me feel great. I'm flooded with sense of accomplishment. It immediately makes me smile to think - "I actually fucking did that" (sorry for the language, but it was called for).
BUT, for some reason I'm stuck in this constant mode of putting it off, putting it off, putting it off.
I think it is because I have so much to write about and honestly, in a somewhat unexpected twist, the actual race is but a small small component of what I want to talk about. It feels weird writing about the destination first, knowing that the journey remains undigested. I'll write about those experiences in due time, but for now I will stick solely to the race.
I think it is important to start this race by throwing a well deserved shout out to the city of Cozumel, its people, the organizers of the event, the volunteers and well anyone who had anything to do with event. At every stage of the event - swim, bike, run - there were random fans cheering, offering well wishes and support. It was the most incredible thing I've ever experienced and I wish I could thank each and every person that cheered for Team Unicorn Sparkle Adventure. It was an amazing place to compete. A perfect location for a first-timer like me.
This post starts with me waking up to a chorus of alarms, set simultaneously 2 minutes after each other in a frantic attempt to avoid sleeping in and having this blog post the shortest one of my young blogging career. Of course, I awoke much before the need of even the first alarm, but I'm certain if I wasn't over prepared I would have missed the entire race.
I woke up in a zone. I had a one thing on my mind - I'm doing this. NO MATTER WHAT. In fact, this race was about me in a zone. A constant state of preparedness. I was ready for what Cozumel had to throw at me. I was prepared and it paid off.
But back to the morning. How was I greeted when I awoke? Well .......... to bugs crawling all over my morning bread. Actually. Little black bugs, swarming over my morning carb-load of bread and peanut butter. Not a great start. Luckily, I had an extra energy bar so I quickly got some food in my body, drank my allotted gatorade and got myself collected.
As I was getting ready, it clued in that I wasn't alone and that Alex had some extra bread and peanut butter in here room. Of course she did. My morning race ritual was saved!
With everything back on track I grabbed my bags and went down to meet Trevor to get on the bus for transportation to Transition 1 and setting up our bikes. We narrowly missed the last bus that pulled away at 5:30 I believe. Alex, much to her behaviour of arriving at airports 4 hours before her flight, was already sitting on the second last bus, in here own little zone. Triathletes are weird, weird creatures.
I'm not going to lie. The morning left me a little flustered. Maybe even rushed. However, all that calmed down when standing there, for what looked like 2 hours, was my mom. All dressed up, waiting patiently to see me off.
Which highlights another trend of this event. Whenever a moment of doubt or panic tried to take over, one or all of my supporters were there. Yelling, screaming, cheering or, as in this particular moment, just there. Huge smile. Huge hug. A quiet, "good luck. I love you".
I was on the bus. Sitting in my zone. Silent. Ready.
There isn't really much to discuss about getting your bike ready before the race. I stocked my food and gels on my bike. Filled up the water bottles. Pumped up the tires. That's it. The scene is a mad fury of people running around, getting their last minute markings, rituals and preparation.
At about 6:30 we headed over on another bus to the swim start and dropped off our dry clothes bags. We then stood in line for the bathroom for 20 minutes and rendezvoused with Alex and Trevor for some last minute preparation before heading to the start chute.
It was at this point a weird sense of calm began to settle over. Standing in a triangle, applying body glide. Having some last minute discussions with Trevor about the crazy amount of crap that Alex has left with him, which he now had to carry awkwardly with him 4 km back to Transition 1 after the swim start - rainbow colored unicorn mask in hand.
There is a strong buzz in the air as people organize themselves into their anticipated swim times. As Alex is a far superior swimmer than me, she made her way further up start line. I settled into the 1:20-1:30 group and stood there.
As the pro men took off, I found myself just standing there, swaying silently back and forth, repeatedly telling myself that "I got this". I don't actually recall much as the pro women took off next. The announcer switching between Spanish and English getting everyone pumped up. A brief memory of the announcer saying the temperature was a balmy 28 degrees. Drones buzzing above the athletes heads.
I slowly made my way down to the water - one tiny speck in a mass of humanity, waddling mindlessly towards the ocean, all with a single purpose. I was amazed at the general calm of everyone. I had people ask me how they could become a part of Unicorn Sparkle Adventure. It was great.
The next thing I knew, I was telling myself - "the time has come Brandon. Jump in the water". I leaped into water. Here we go.
I never thought that I'd say this, but the swim was fantastic. Just fantastic.
The swim was a straight point-to-point swim through the reefs of Cozumel National Park at Chankanaab Park Beach. The water was warm. Crystal clear. You could see all the way to the bottom. Clearly visible fish would often make it into your line of sight.
I had a single goal. Get through the swim. I told myself I wasn't going to look at my watch. I didn't care about time. I was just going to put my head down and swim. And that's what I did.
I felt strong right from the get go. But the swim was challenging. First off, I greatly benefited by seating myself appropriately. I didn't feel overwhelmed with people like I have during shorter 70.3 events in Victoria or Calgary. In fact, for the first time ever I actually passed more people in the swim, then people passed me. A small but personally significant victory.
Swimming with the current presented both challenges and benefits. And I wasn't alone. Swimming instructions were very simple. Keep the buoys on your left. Simple, but not followed by a lot of people. The current was strong. I would often find myself head down, feeling like I was swimming fast only to sight and realize that I was swimming to shore. I'd quickly correct, unfortunately that meant swimming into the current. This made for a nice zig zag pattern on my Garmin and some periods of slow per min pace and then super fast per min pace as I got back to using the current. I eventually figured it out, but it took some trial and error.
I made damn sure that I corrected myself because I didn't want that on my mind for the rest of the race. I hit all buoys on my left. Not everyone did and that is my one and only negative comment about the race. I'm willing to bet, a large number of people ended up with less than 3.8km on their Garmins. Maybe I'm wrong, but there was a ton of people not following that rule.
So there I was, struggling with getting the current correct. Passing people occasionally. Passing the buoys one by one. Telling myself, one more down. One more down. One more down. Things were going good. Until I slowly started to learn that I didn't put body glide under my arm pits ....... and then I started to rash. In the salt water. FANTASTIC. This was also the result of swimming in my kit for only the second time and for a distance I'd never swam before, period. Breaking one of my rules.
I modified my swim stroke, to what I can only imagined looked like a small kid drowning, throwing his arms out more vertical than horizontal to avoid rubbing on the rash. It worked I guess. What it did do was distracted my attention from counting buoys (even though I had no idea how far apart they actually were) and in no time I could see the end of the swim! I made the left hand turn and could see, what I can only imagine the stairway to heaven looks like if you're into that sort of thing. I could hear the crowds. See the crowds. I was there. I put my head down and hammered it. I wanted out.
I was out. And fast. 20 minutes faster than I had planned. Get me on that bike.
A little dazed, I struggled to find my land legs. It took a moment, but when I found them I just instinctively started to run, without thinking I started sprinting down the lane to the transition, glancing around for my cheering section. Consciously telling myself, "smile, smile, smile". I found them immediately. All dressed in green, yelling encouraging things, it was a blur but it made me smile inside. Let's do this.
Transition is a mad house. People yelling, flinging clothing all over the place, hectically stripping down, putting on sunscreen, shoving food in their mouths. Pure mayhem.
I took a moment, collected myself and got ready to saddle up on my bike. It took a little longer than I had hoped, but I finished with a quick pee and started running to my bike. The good thing about taking a little but more time in transition was it allowed my adoring fans to make their way to the bike start. I hoped on my bike to more cheering, huge smile on my face. I started pedaling away, blew Trevor a kiss and was off down the road.
I started the bike feeling pretty damn good. I mean I had actually finished the swim, a distance I had never done before and in a time that I was more than pleased with.
First off, and you'll start to see a trend here, the bike course was gorgeous. Stunning actually. Three laps through town and down to the Southern tip of the island. I'm certainly not going to be one to complain about the stunning views of beaches, crystal clear skies, and blue waves crashing into the beach and rock cliffs. Like I said, stunning.
Back to the bike.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect on the bike. I was hoping for a sub-6 and with the help of BestBikeSplit, I felt that was achievable given my current state. There were a few things I didn't account for - the heat and the wind.
The first lap of the bike I was really good. I felt good. I was keeping my liquid consumption up, eating well and keeping low. After the first lap I was on pace for a 5:00 or 5:15 hour pace. Perfect! About 20 km into the 63 km 2nd loop I really started to feel the heat. I could feel the heat of the late morning sun - at this point getting to 33-36 degrees with the humidity. Scorching for this prairie boy.
It was at this point that made a few key decisions. I dropped the intensity and upped the liquid in-take. I backed off for a number of reasons but mostly because even if I backed off a bit I was still going to make the sub-6 target and hopefully save a little for what was shaping up to be a very very warm run. So that's what I did. It was brilliant, especially on the back end of the island when you get hit by a 15-20km head wind right off the ocean.
So I settled into my areo position and mechanistically made my laps one by one. How hot was it? Well try wrap your head around this - with some variability - I was taking in about 750ml of gatorade every 12km, including 500ml of ice water dumped on me. A HUGE amount of liquid. Throw in 2-3 gels and a powerbar, I was keeping busy and distracted just trying to keep myself fueled each hour.
I had some mishaps. About 90+ km in, my front hydration system spill protection went missing after getting stuck while I was refilling. Shitty. I also had to wait a few minutes at one rest stop to use the bathroom. Minor inconveniences but the hydration one was a serious bummer. It will lead to changes next year.
On my last lap I knew I had maybe held back a little and once I made the turn down the final stretch, I hammered on it. I wanted to see that dismount line. I wanted to get off my bike and start the run. If you can believe it, I was actually looking forward to the run. I met my time, only a few minutes under what I had predicted, but ultimately the right decision in the context of what I had coming up. The run ....
Transition two was exactly the same as transition 1 ... hectic as shit. Having made some smart choices on the bike leg, I was feeling good. After a strong ride, I was still pretty gosh darn happy to see that dismount line. As I could feel my smile grow, I got rid of my bike to one of the amazing volunteers and ran into the change tent.
The first thing I did was sit down. I removed my helmet and just took a moment. It was one of those moments where everything seems to slow down. I closed my eyes for what seemed like 10 minutes and took a few deep breaths. When I opened them, two volunteers were standing in front of me with water and ice. Without hesitation I slammed the water, took the ice and put it in my kit, politely said thank you and changed out of the rest of my bike gear. It all happened in a flash. All I could think of was how close I was.
You know, just a marathon, no big deal.
The moment I left the tent I was greeted to the best cheers I could have imagined. The entire group was waiting there. I took this opportunity to stop and have a chat. Gave some much deserved hugs a couple kisses and thank yous. A "heyyyyyyy buuuuuudddddyyyyy" and off I was. The last leg.
I didn't know what to expect on the run. I've had some issues running all year - at Victoria 70.3 and Calgary 70.3 - but had put a lot of work into getting things better. To be honest, very early on I told myself it didn't matter. I was finishing this thing.
The run consisted of three, 7km out and back laps through the streets of Cozumel. With 1km rest stops and the streets lined with people dancing, singing, cheering and generally being merry the run actually seemed to fly by.
The first 7km went by exactly how I would have liked them too, I was under my targeted 6:00min/km pace and felt amazing. The second 7km was by far the most difficult. The first turn around brought me running back directly into the afternoon sun. It was intense, but I was able to continue the second 7km at the targeted pace. The great news ... no issues that had plagued my other races. It was at the 14km mark that for the first time I realized, I was going to do this. Actually do this.
The great thing about the run course was I was able to see my supporters. Each time more needed than the last. I'd stop and have quick little chats. Take some photos. It was great, I was trying to really soak up the moment and have a good time. It was after the first 14km that I slowed my pace, I started taking little walking breaks and consciously trying to stop each time with my fans. I stopped giving a shit about my time and just focused on getting through each KM, while trying to enjoy myself.
The course layout was also great as I was able to run into my teammate once each lap. It is great to be able to high-five, give each other some quick encouraging words and we were off. It seems subtle but it personally is a great kick in the ass to keep going.
So again there I go. Running km after km. Walking every now and then. Once I crossed the 30km barrier and entered into running territory I had never ventured into I kept expecting things to happen. Waiting for a cramp, muscles soreness, or joint pain that would become unbearable. But it never came in a significant way. At about 38km, my feet began to hurt a lot. I hadn't factored in all the water and ice I was using to cool myself down running into my shoes and soaking my socks. Needless to say I started to get blisters and rubbing that wasn't too pleasant. It led to some more walking than I would have liked, wasn't able to finish as strong as I would have liked, but I got through it and kept going.
Then I saw it, a thing of beauty the 41km sign. The rows and rows of people. The sound of the announcer. My time had finally come.
There is no way to accurately describe the finish.
Seriously, though it really was everything I had hoped and expected it to be. Running down the finishers shoot. Trevor racing with you, holding his phone - "YOU FUCKING DID IT. YOU'RE AN IRONMAN". I actually laughed. He sounded so excited. So there I was running to the line. Waiting patiently for those words I had worked for so damn hard. Longed for. Earned.
Brandon. Holterman. You. Are. An. Ironman.
GRIND TO 140 ACCOMPLISHED!!
It really was a blur. I was immediately greeted by an wonderfully nice volunteer. Asking me if I needed anything. Taking step-by-step to get stuff. My medal. A rose. A coconut. Some Pizza. MMMMM Pizza.
All I really wanted was my friends and family. I anxiously looked around until I found them.
Now my body could go into shock and that it did. Exhaustion set in. 27 degrees out side and I needed a heat blanket to try and keep warm. I'm not sure the timeline of events but somehow I was given and beer and gosh darn did it taste good! Took some pictures, quick rest and we were back over to the finish line just in time to see Alex cross the line.
We had a done it. The entire Team Unicorn Sparkle Adventure had done it. It was time to party!
And no party can start without a coconut first!
If you're a numbers person, here is how my efforts stacked up: