After my first season doing triathlons in 2015 I finished with a 70.3 (HITS Lake Havasu). Upon finishing that race in a tired 6hrs45min I was already setting my sights on a full distance for 2016. Actually it was my 2016 New Year resolution to do a Marathon (did Mountains 2 Beach in Ventura ) a Century Ride (did Solvang Metric Century) and an Ironman. I signed up for IM Los Cabos in July almost exactly a year after my first ever triathlon (Ventura Olympic distance). I fully realised the course at Los Cabos was not really a “beginner” course…it has a high DNF rate due to the heat, humidity and the >6000ft elevation gain on the bike leg which all had me a little worried. However, United Airlines fly there, and there were plenty of Hilton Hotels and I had about 2 years of business travel airline miles and hotel loyalty points to burn. This offset the IM entry fee and helped me sell the package to my wife and 3 year old son! I don’t think they would have been so stoked about a family vacation to Ironman Arizona even if it would have been a better bet for me.
Let Training Commence!
I set about downloading a free 4 month basic IM training plan and augmenting it based on my own thoughts of what I should focus on and the number of training hours I could manage and still juggle work and family.
The first 2 months of training went pretty good, I didn’t have much business travel so I could get into a good routine. The third month when I was supposed to be doing my longest and most intense weeks unfortunately coincided with some work trips. My longest ride was just short of 100mile, my longest run 18mile. Not what was in the training plan but oh well. The Century ride gave me some confidence even though it was mainly flat. My short bike sessions were trying to focus a bit more on hills.
As the race date approached the weather was looking more and more certain to be >90F and the swim was deemed non wetsuit. This was not great news for me as almost every single training swim I did was in a wetsuit at Goleta beach! I was counting on the wetsuit to compensate for my lack of form and speed.
We arrived in Cabo 5 days before the race and to my relief my bike which I had packed in a suitably bubble wrapped cardboard box had arrived intact. I wanted to spend some time riding on the transpeninsular highway (which would form the bulk of the bike leg) before the race to get used to the rolling hills and hot humid conditions. But after assembling my bike and taking it out about 7 miles on the highway I decided it would be better to remain alive before the start of the race (bad traffic) and aborted the ride in favour of a stationary bike at the gym.
The good news was the ocean water temp was ~83F and swimming in the sea was lovely, visibility was high and there were lots of fish.
As an IM brand newbie the 4 days around the race were a bit overwhelming: when was the athlete meeting? When was the bike check in? do I need special needs bags? Where do I drop my morning clothes bag? How do I get to the race start with all the road closures? Should I go to the bike mechanical to check my bike? Etc… etc…but figured it out.
Finally race morning arrives and I’m up at 430am and dropped off at the swim start. It’s a beautiful morning and I actually feel pretty relaxed. I check my bike and then watch the start of the 70.3 men and women. Andy Potts out first for the men and none other than Lauren Capone was one of the first out of the water for the women. Finally it’s time to line up in the swim corral. The guy starting in front of me is from France and he has his name on the back of his trisuit – Fabian (FAB – IAN) I take it as a good omen. I position myself toward the back anticipating a 1hr30min swim sans wetsuit. The klaxon sounds and we’re off. It was remarkably spacious. The entrace to the water over the timing chip sensor only let through 4/5 abreast. Also it was a small field of about 350 starters. I was expecting a lot of flailing feet, hands and elbows but I had open water right to the first turn buoy at which point the field got pretty stretched pretty quickly. I’ve been kicked around more at Nitemoves so this was remarkably civil. I felt good all the way through the swim - relaxed, good rhythm, the only annoying thing was everytime I glanced at my Garmin my /100yds seem to be going in the wrong direction. I finally reached 2.4miles! only to look up and see the beach another 0.2miles away! WTF!
Into the transition tent I realise a small towel would have been a great idea as I have suncream all over the place and half the beach in my cycling shoes. Out of transition up the hill from Palmilla and hang a left onto the transpeninsular where I’ll be spending the rest of the day. Its 930am and already in the high 80’sF. 15miles of rolling hills to Cabo San Lucas and then a 5 mile gentle incline heading inland. This gradual climb is ok on the legs but the sun just beats down on you. At every aid station I had taken to allowing the volunteers to drench me head to toe in ice water while I changed drinks bottles. I had to carefully manage drinking my water, gatorade and saving some water to dump over my head between aid stations. The best part of the bike course is the the decent from the highest point…5miles and 1000ft of feewheeling/ speeding back down toward Cabo San Lucas and sea level. Next a 20mile slog over the rolling hills back toward Los Cabos. Then a similar 5 mile stint heading inland and up again toward the airport.
56 miles down and now I know exactly what I have to do all over again! This is quite daunting. I’m 5hrs into the race, its 1pm now, up to the low 90’sF, my legs are feeling the first 3000ft elev gain and I have another 3.5hrs in the saddle at the crappy 14.5 mph I seem to be averaging. At this point I’m mentally willing myself on anyway possible, in my head I’m saying the mantra “one and done, one and done, one and done”. Othertimes it’s “just think of the the great Facebook profile pic I’m gong to have at the finish line!”.
As I go through 100 miles and I’m on the final hill climb toward the airport I see the rider in front of me stop by some volunteers and start throwing up. That’s similar to how I feel. After what seems like forever I reach the toll booth turnaround and then its “whoosh!” freewheeling all the way down to T2! I feel like I’ve already finished the race! That was my longest bike ride ever, I didn’t bonk, I didn’t suffer a puncture or worse. Now just a marathon to run.
I grabbed my run bag off the rack and dived into the T2 tent feeling slightly giddy. I was so stoked to be over the bike leg, my worst discipline. For the last two hours my neck hurt, my feet hurt, my butt was saddle sore and that all disappeared once I got off the bike. Also it was now 430pm and the sun had lost its strength. After taking a bathroom break and grabbing my cap and run belt I exited the T2 tent and set into my anticipated marathon run pace. This was my second marathon. The first one being 5 months ago where I comfortably held a sub 9min mile. I was aiming at a 10min mile pace. It was great to be on the streets of downtown Los Cabos with runners all around and loads of people cheering you on. The bike ride had been extremely lonely except the aid stations and tooting cars. After two miles I realized my legs were totally fried from the bike and so I slowed up a bit to 11min mile pace. Overall now I was in good spirits as I felt as long as I didn't pass out due to the heat or suddenly keel over from lack of nutrition I should be able to complete. At around the half marathon mark I started to feel the accumulation of the last 12hrs of effort. My aid station walks started getting longer and my pace drops another minute. My leg was cramping a bit so I was pounding down the pretzels every chance I could get as they seemed to be making me feel less and less hungry with their salty starchy goodness. It was dark now, around 7pm. The run course was three out n backs with one part of the course taking you out of downtown onto a dirt trail around a harbor and greenspace which was literally pitch black due to some faulty street lamps. I was being ultra careful not to re injure my left foot that I sprained three weeks prior. I tried to speed up or slow down and run those sections with the runners that were knowledgeable enough or had volunteers give them head or hand torches! All through the run course you could see the lights put out from the finish chute and every 5min or so "Rusty Robertson from Hesperia, CA....You Are An Ironman!" over the Tannoy system. I couldn't wait to get to the line and hear it for myself. I entered the final loop...8miles to go and actually saw Rusty Robertson ( not a made up name but a guy in my Strava group that I never met in person who killed the course, came in 29th overall and may have snagged a Kona spot ) - seeing him spurred me on. The last 8 miles flew by about as fast as the Hundred Year’s war but finally my Garmin said one mile to go and I had the excitement and energy to increase my pace again. Finish chute, blue carpet, noise, bright lights, my wife cheering and of course what I have been waiting for…" Ian Armstrong out of Santa Barbara but originally from Great Britain, You. Are. An. Ironman!!!!!!!!"