World Championships Cozumel. Hell in Paradise.
First off. HUGE Thank you to my sponsors, CBT Nuggets for without their support this race of discovery wouldn't have been possible.
"It's all a terrible tragedy. And yet, in its details, it's great fun. And - apart from the tragedy - I've never felt happier or better in my life than in those days in Belgium. "
- Rupert Brooke. British Expeditionary Forces. 1914
First off, let me say that I know sports are not war. War is terrible. War is awful. War rips the civilized world apart. Sports brings all of us together which is the antithesis of war. I chose this quote as, perhaps, my result and finish at Worlds was a personal tragedy in its outcome, but in the details of the event, it was a good experience.
I raced this race like Prefontaine would have liked. I went hard from the get go and didn't let up until I blew up. Which of course I did: in spectacular fashion.
I arrived in Cozumel to a warm hug from Andrew Weinstein as I stepped off the ferry. It had been a long day of travel from Phoenix to Houston to Cancun then bus to Playa del Carmen and finally a ferry across the ocean to Cozumel. After arriving at out condo for the weekend and grabbing a quick bite to eat, I was ready to hit the hay. But... It was Mexican Independence Day! So instead, I wandered the local fair, betting on some games, checking out the crafts and eating fried plantains. The fireworks went off at 11 and the music continued until 4:30 am. However, by then I was long in bed.
The next two days would be prep for the race and a bit of relaxation as Andrew and I swam among the gorgeous tropical fishes in the afternoon and wandered into town later. I was nervous for the race, but not overly panicked. I felt ready. I wasn't.
When race morning came we woke at 4:30 to head out to the venue. I raced at 6:45 and Andrew, 10 minutes after. Transition was understandably busy and I looked at all the different countries in my race. It truly is an amazing event to see so many come together in such a friendly event. My wave was first and as we waited, I was my usual pre-race self. Cracking jokes like usual ("the sharks can't get us at least, too damn thin") and hassling some Brits who were from Birmingham for no reason other than they were willing to fling it back at me.
We went down the pier and hit the warm, crystal clear water. It was absolutely gorgeous, but of course the nerves were really the highest concern at this point. We were waiting with one hand on the pier and suddenly the gun went off! Not any prep at all!
The swim starts in these affairs are always brutal. Immediately I found myself in the thick of it. I was fighting like a madman to keep my head protected and moving forward. I did a good job of this for the first maybe 300 meters. Then the first turn came.
I got boxed out hard in the first turn. Then, as I dropped position, I found myself in a weird spot. I was faster than a lot of the swimmers in front of me and I wanted to pass them and get some space. I could see the lead group flying away from us.
Eventually I passed the mess in front of me and moved up a bit. The current was no longer in our faces and we had it at our back for the final stretch. I pushed hard and followed the feet of another American, but alas, it would seem I was relatively far back.
I sped through transition and headed out onto the bike, quickly catching some of the athletes dragging behind. However, this is where it all gets terribly interesting.
The bike saw me move up through the field quickly, but then, at about 5Km down, I noticed I wasn't alone. A relatively large pack of athletes was assembling behind me. Great. A bloody draft fest. In case you're not aware, drafting is illegal in the type of racing I compete in. Now. You can draft legally if you stay three bike lengths behind the person in front of you, so packs can form and work together. This started as a group of five athletes and was certainly legal in its beginning.
Well, I hate drafting. It's illegal, and whether or not this group was trying to act legally, it inevitably never works out that smoothly. I knew this was a downward spiral and I immediately moved my way toward the back. The group then became 15 by 10km in. The drafting was insane. I was disenfranchised beyond belief. The blatant cheating was astonishing. An ITU official was watching all of this happen too and issuing no penalties. When we neared the turn around, I saw the leader of the race come by... also in a draft pack of about seven. After the turn around, at 20km, I tried to drop the pack and it succeeded in breaking down the group from 15 to a mere five: this would remain for the rest of the rest. The drafting was less, but still there. I spent most of the time sitting off the back, staying out of the main bulk of the drafting issue.
Now. Here is where this story starts to slip. I am very used to only having one bottle of liquid, usually an extra salty Gatorade. The heat meant i should have drank more. I simply did not. I drank maybe 3/4 of my bottle. My stomach was upset; the heat was making it difficult to drink and I thought I was drinking all of it, but I really wasn't. In Oregon, I barely drink half a bottle of fluids on the bike and am totally fine. This is, of course, not Oregon.
As I came off the bike my quads already felt crampy. I got through transition and headed out on course, not feeling well, but with a ton of adrenaline, so it was hard to gauge really how I felt. I would make it through about 2 miles until the train completely crashed.
The feeling was horrid. I would demand my legs to run and they would, but only for a few strides, then my breath would run out. It was like I was jogging in mud up to my knees all the time. Every time I would pass an aid station, I drank as much water as possible and poured ice all over my body, but nothing happened. My core temperature was soaring and even walking was exhausting.
I spent the second lap of the run mostly walking. The best part was so many athletes from all over the world encouraging me just to finish and I was determined to at least do that. At mile four, roughly, an ITU official pulled me over and made me sit. He wanted me to stop and pull out. This would have been the logical thing to do. My race was over really. I had lost a billion positions and instead of risking injury and the like, the logical thing would have been to just pull out while I could. But this was World Championships. I needed to get across that line, at the very least. I pleaded with him to let me go on. He did, but he was gonna ride his bike right next to me and give me ice and water constantly. Under his guidance, I got through the last kilometers, even though it was almost a crawl.
Stumbling forward and half dazed, I finally crossed the line and collapsed into the arms of some poor Mexican doctor.
Suffice it to say, I spent a good long time in that medical tent. When I finally came out, Andrew and a Canadian chap helped me get back out and eventually, after the brutal cramps stopped in their intensity, I was back somewhat on my feet.
It has since taken days to fully recover from the race and the pain. It's Thursday today and my legs still ache everywhere, as well as just feel quite weak in general. I went for a blood test Tuesday to make sure my liver and kidneys were ok and passed out during that. It's still a slow process.
Despite all this, and how terrible the race really was, it was still worth it. I race to see how far I can push myself and to challenge myself. It may turn out a tragedy, but pushing the limits is the true fun of it all, even when you get burned. Besides, to compete in the event in and of itself is really a gift for which I am very thankful. The people, the atmosphere, the challenge, it makes it all worth while.