Welcome to the blog of Jennifer Hutchison, sports dietitian, multisport coach and endurance athlete.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ironman Los Cabos 2014: Personal Thoughts & Course Review

When I signed up for Los Cabos last September I did so frustrated and disappointed with the major curve ball thrown at me last summer. I planned to ramp up training for Ironman Arizona after the junior triathlon summer camp I run. Unfortunately  during the latter part of the camp I was involved in a cycling accident in which I sustained a fractured sacrum aka a broken ass. I was unable to run for 10 weeks and cycling was limited. I had high hopes on chasing a PR at IM Az and with that setback I knew that was most likely not going to happen.

With that disappointment I felt the need to “find” something else to fill the void. Ironman Los Cabos looked to fit the bill as it offered a tough hilly bike course (which I love) and a destination location that was perfect to get me away from my normal routine at a time of year I thought would be ideal.  I had convinced two athletes I coach to sign up for the Ironman Los Cabos journey. One it was to be her first Ironman and the other his 4th after a 10-year break. I was committed to helping them both get the most of the day and as well as sell the  “it’s going to be an awesome vacation!” 

As the New Year started and my coaching commitments picked up, my coaching schedule took priority over my own training. As each week past, I grew more excited with the training progress of my athletes and less interested in making the time to get the training in let alone push myself the way I know I must if I wanted to be in competitive Ironman race shape. The final 6 weeks leading up to the race I lost my enthusiasm for Ironman and started to dread the coming race. Considering I paid for the airfare and all-inclusive lodging , I hoped to snap out of  the funk and find joy and the motivation to train for myself and not just do my training with others.

Every week as the race got closer, the more stressed I got. I did not want put myself through that kind of course without the proper preparation. I struggled with the thought of not starting or just doing the swim and bike (because all I really wanted to do was ride my bike) but that did not become an option because it would mean a DNF and damnit I do not do DNF. 

After long talks with my most understanding husband I decided, we will travel out there and on Saturday I will make the call if I race of not.  My requirement was I had to have some joy and excitement for the race instead the impending doom I was feeling doing a tough course, with inconsistent training and personal slow time that would stick with me…FOREVER. 
I know that statement sounds quite silly but the fact of the matter, some people you know (and don’t know) tend to judge you based on your race times especially when you are a coach and usually a competitive athlete. I know most people don’t give a crap about times and truthfully I don’t really give a crap what other people think but for some reason this race made me question my own abilities.

As Saturday arrives, I checked in my bike and bags and had the following internal dialogue:

Quit being a baby!! 
You have nothing to prove to ANYONE by doing this race.   
Suck it up and do this race for YOU and your love and joy for the sport. 
Accept what your body has been trained to do. 
Feel gratitude that your body is healthy.
Do not dwell on what you wished you did or any past results.   
Be patient and embrace whatever the day gives you.  
It’s okay to not race and be a participant. 
It’s okay to not be chained to any concept of time, let the finish time be what it will be. 
Just swim then bike and run and take as much time in T1 and T2 as you need to insure you don’t get fried by the sun. 
Make sure your ego does not push you beyond your current ability because you DO NOT want wind up in a Mexican medical tent!  
Have fun and have a margarita when you finish!

So for those interested, this is how my day played out.

Race morning arrives and it was going to be a gorgeous day.  I had a calm mindset. I was doing this race on my terms. 

My goal was a no drama swim, a steady, power focused bike and a run/walk that would get me to the finish line. For the swim start, I opted to not push my way into the mass and actually waited for at least 75% of the field to get in the water. This allowed me to navigate my way to clean water and forgo the beating I am used to with mass Ironman starts.  This approached served me well. Other than stopping on the second half of the swim and literally yelling at a man to get the hell away from me and pointing he to all the open clean water he could choose to swim in instead of repeatedly swim over me, the swim was without drama ;-)

Overall the swim was a very nice venue. It was a wetsuit swim however you could have comfortably done this race without a wetsuit. The sighting was good with all the landmarks you could see during the out and back segments. This year the swim course may have been a tad short and I suspect there was a nice current bump that aided swim times. T1 was a sandy mess but the volunteers and crowd were fantastic.

Coming out of T1, there is a nice steady climb up through Pamilla to the main highway which lead to a 3 loop course where you were either climbing or descending. The course reminded me of a bit of Kona, a spectacular view of the ocean on one side and a dry landscape on the other. Cross winds and headwinds on this course were expected however I did not think it was too bad on this given day. My approach for the bike was pretty laid back. Knowing I was not in a race mind set, I sent a heavy older TT bike with a set of eggbeater Powertap training wheels.

Overall the bike course was tough but fair. I got just under 6000 feet of climbing with most being steady long efforts done sitting up. There was only one hill I felt the need to climb standing. I used a 12-25 cassette and was able spin well up most hills. There are downhill sections that reward an aero set up and I quietly wished I had my BMC and race wheels.  The road conditions in most areas where very good but on the bridges you really need to stay alert as there were spots you could easily get a flat if you hit them. The shoulders had lots of debris.

Speaking of flats, there were A LOT of flats on this course. I felt bad for a number of folks who chose to race with tubular tires and after their third flat, their day was ended riding back on a race scooter.  The aid stations were well stocked with ice water and volunteers were especially wonderful pouring ice water on your back as you fried in the sun riding up hill. The loop back through town and part of the airport toll road was a nice recharge area at the end of each of the three loops. I liked this bike course but to do well you really need to work on sustained power for longer climbs, being comfortable with bombing downhill sections and really dial in the nutrition/ hydration. If were ever to race this course, I would go with a 404/808 clincher wheel choice and a light colored aero helmet with LOTS of ventilation.

I felt pretty good coming in on the bike. I rode strong but conservative. I held true to my not paying attention to time with exception of the lap timer every 5 miles. I normally never stop on Ironman bike courses but this day I opted to stop at an aid station for restroom break and again to see if I could help one of the poor guys who’s day was ended by too many tubular flats. I sat up a bit more than I would have anticipated and I think that caused my big toe to press one the front part of my bike shoe. What’s the big deal with that? Well the moment I tried to run, it felt like someone smashed my toe with a hammer. The pain stopped me in my tracks and I walked into T2. Perplexed because this was something I never experienced, my head space got a bit dark, as the thought of covering the 26.2 with this was questionable.
The  3 loop marathon course started out as a walk even though my legs felt good. I told my husband David I would keep walking and when/if the pain goes away I would go to my 4 min run/1 min IM AZ run plan. I eventually got going but the heat and fact I had a hard time drinking enough to match my sweat rate caused me to revert to mostly walking because of getting lightheaded and dizzy.

This run course was not flat and did have some gradual elevation changes. It was mostly in the sun but there are a few sections of shade that did offer some reprieve.  There were aid stations EVERY kilometer, which made it very nice to get ice water, cola or sports drink. The volunteers were awesome and the energy going through town and near the finish line were very uplifting. The only criticism of the run is they should have had a significant sodium source at the aid stations. No chick broth was offered and other than sports drink you had to look to pretzels if you wanted a non sweet salty option.

You see a lot out there on an Ironman run course when you are walking. So many athletes focused and having what appeared to be very strong days and others who were just suffering and hobbling their way through.  The mostly walk with intermittent periods of a run was uneventful. I was thrilled to see my girl Julie having a very good day conquering her first Ironman. As it turns out she did awesome and got 2nd in the 35-39 age group and earned the coveted Kona spot. My other friend and athlete Bryan had a rough go with the run. Too much plain water and not enough electrolytes on the bike impacted his ability to express the run fitness we achieved in training.  Bryan and I met up a few times during the run/walk and he would feel better and run ahead. Ultimately we met up again on the last lap with 5.2 miles to go and made the deal we would get to the finish line together. We saw my husband David and told him that was our plan and we requested two margaritas to be waiting for us before we entered the finishing shoot. It’s been a long hot day and an ice-cold margarita with extra salt was now driving us to the finish. 

Up until mile 25 I honestly had no concept of the overall clock time, I finally looked at my watch and recalled thinking…”Oh man, I’ve been out here a while. Looks like I will PR today after all……a  new record for my slowest Ironman to date!!! Boy I hope that margarita is there for us when we make the turn to the finish line”.  

And there it came, the final .2 miles. Bryan and I stopped, grabbed our drinks from Lanny, posed for a couple photos then sipped and ran our way through the finishing shoot with margaritas held high and huge smiles. As we got to the top of the finish ramp, we toasted each other and proceeded to get our medals with huge sighs of relief. THANK GOODNESS this is done.

With that, Ironman #13 was in the books.  I did have fun out there on the course although I did have thoughts of hurling myself over the bridge to the marina. I am glad I was able to free myself from the self-imposed pressure to perform. I am certain I would never want to put myself in this position again. So when and if the next Ironman gets put on my calendar, I will make certain it's at a time of year I can dedicate the time to do the work. On March 30th at Ironman Los Cabos I was a participant but next time I come back, the competitor cap will be back on :-)

If you want to get a better sense of the course check out these photos from Triathlete.com Ironman Los Cabos

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