Friday, December 2, 2011

Cozumel: The Dust

As any of you who read my last post pre Ironman Cozumel could tell, I went into this race with high expectations of myself and looking to occupy one of the top steps on the podium when all was said and done. I was not expecting to record my first career DNF and certainly not in such grand fashion. Here is how it all shook out.

On Tuesday of race week I traveled to Cozumel with good friend and roommate for the past 7 weeks, Chris Mcdonald. All was going well including no bike fee on the way down and we settled into our accommodations, built bikes, shook out the legs and arms, and hit the grocery. The week was rather uneventful and probably the most restful week I have ever had leading into a race. If we were not training, or walking to the grocery, I was just sitting in bed surfing the temperamental internet. I was feeling fat, a bit sluggish in training, and a bit tired. So things appeared right on track ;-)

Race day came and we hit the warm waters with plenty of time for a descent warm up. I picked a spot dead in the middle of the lineup with a straight shot down the buoy line. My swimming had been going well, and I was determined not to get stuck behind a break or to get popped off the front group as I had in Hawaii. I hadn't worked as hard as I had in the pool to let that happen again. So I took my middle spot and hit it hard from the gun. A couple hundred yards into the swim two packs had formed side by side and separated by 20ft or so. Soon those packs came together and it got a bit rough for a minute. There were some strong swimmers in the field with Mathias Hecht, Brandon Marsh and some others. So I knew holding those guys was not going to happen. Eventually they broke away and I found myself on the feet of a solid swimmer, at the front of the first chase group. I made it around the first turn without issue and was feeling good heading into the second turn before the long back stretch. It was at this corner that I got what in hindsight would prove to be a little foreshadowing of how my day would unfold. A kayaker had chosen to park himself just on the other side of the 2nd buoy out of sight to approaching swimmers. I went around the buoy and was abruptly stopped dead in my tracks when my head met the bottom of the kayak. I was a little dazed but adrenaline and a seething desire to stay on those feet propelled me onward. Once back on, we put in a few surges and distanced ourselves from the remainder of the pack forming a three man chase pack. The remainder of the swim was uneventful, and the back stretch being so long, gave me the feeling that maybe we were not swimming all that well. Upon exit however, I was very happy to see a 47:25 on the clock and hear a split of only a little over a minute to the front group of 8 or so. Onto the bike and out of transition I saw a clock reading 49:XX and was fired up to be on the road in under 50mins. Yes, the Cozumel swim is fast!

Onto the road I was feeling good and immediately made a pass or two. Since Kona my coach, Paulo Sousa, had been drilling into my head the lessons that I learned in that race. In our pre race discussions he harped on those lessons and gave me strict instructions that I was to disobey at my peril. I rode steady, within the plan, and about 30mins in I was caught by a group of Chris Mcdonald and eventual winner on the day, Michael Lovato. I did my best to stay with the group and within my plan but doing both would soon prove impossible. The back side of the island is completely exposed and we had some fierce cross winds, the likes of which I've never encountered before. About halfway down the stretch, when Chris went to the front, I and a few others could no longer maintain contact. I rode the remainder of the 1st lap trying to close the gap to a few others up the road and started the second lap near Brandon Marsh and Zack Ruble.

Soon after hitting the windy section of the second lap I realized the wind had died a little bit and would allow me to focus in on my power meter and "ride numbers" all the way down the stretch. I did, and managed to get a break on the guys I had been trading passes with before. Shortly before the end of the long straight section back to town I bridged back up to Chris. We were heading back into town together and I was feeling great. We were just south of 3hrs and I felt a 3rd lap around 1:30 was well within reach. I knew that Michael couldn't have been that far up the road and that if we brought him back, and I could hold on for the third lap, that getting off the bike with the likes of Chris and Michael would put me in great position. In the first turn back in town however, that excitement and positive energy was instantly decimated and replaced by sorrow and disgust.  

Entering into the hard left turn there was a age grouper on our right so I took a tighter line into the corner. Entering the turn I hit a bump that Chris, who had a front row seat for the debacle, said just unweighted my front wheel enough that when the weight came back down, while in a turn, simply snapped the front wheel to the left and I went over the bars. I comleted a half somersault and landed ever so gracefully on my head and left shoulder. I remember sliding across the street, coming to rest near the exit of the turn, and immediately being concerned about getting hit by other riders. It is with great gratitude that the first face I saw was Chris, unbuckling my helmet and holding me still. The fact that he had stopped, in the middle of what was setting up to be a good race for him, shows exactly what type of competitor, friend, and person he is.

Once I cleared my head, I realized that in a matter of seconds the medical team was on site. I must send a HUGE thank you to the Cozumel med team who provided top notch care in such rapid fashion. I quickly took inventory and realized there was no blood, my legs were working, and my shorts were still intact. I stood up and walked over to my bike and saw it had escaped rather unscathed as well. For a brief moment I thought "I'm still in this thing!" Fortunately Chris saw exactly what I was thinking. He also saw my shoulder which I had neglected until that point. He put his hand on my bike, looked at me and said "Ian, you're done." while making a cut throat motion with his other hand. It was then I realized my left shoulder had a rather large protrusion coming out the top of it. At that moment it set in that the great race I was having, was done. To say I was upset is an understatement. I was also concerned about recovery and what it would mean for next season. 

Long story made slightly less long. I was whisked off to the hospital, an X-ray was taken and fortunately the broken collarbone I had resigned myself to, was not to be. Rather, it is a separation of the clavicle and I am not in nearly as bad of sorts as I would have been had it broken.

Only adding to the disappointment of the weekend, the bad luck was not visited upon only one resident of room 204. Only 15mins later, Chris struck a volunteer who had run out into the road to pick of a stray bottle and ended his day when his face had an abrupt meeting with the street at 26mph resulting in some nice battle woulds and a soundly concussed melon.

I am back in the States and within the confines of home sweet home California getting some excellent care for the shoulder which looks a little like this at the moment.

I returned from the hospital, to find Chris nursing his wounds and we had a little post race debrief. It was then that I finally discovered the nice battle mark on the top of my head courtesy of the kayak from the swim. Injury to insult. Clearly this was not the end to my 2011 season that I was hoping for. But with this line of work comes the inherent risk that such fates will be met. The positive is that it could not have happened at a better time.

I am still in the early stages of diagnosis and treatment but things are shaping up well and all signs point to a fairly speedy return to 100%. For that I am very thankful.

I owe an extreme debt of gratitude to Chris for stopping to help me out, for playing nurse, packing my bike and lugging my gear around from Mexico all the way home. All the while, dealing with injuries of his own.

I also owe a big Thank You to my sponsors:

Zoot: I'm pretty bummed I didn't get to bust out the TT 4.0s on the Cozumel course as I am positive the drainage and light weight would have given me a one up on the competition in the wet conditions.

Specialized: Thanks for building some amazing bikes for me to wreck ;-) On a serious note, I did a number on my TT helmet and it did its job. It is much worse for it, but my noggin is not!

Reyonlds Wheels: The wheels were working in awesome fashion as usual until I decided to try and ride them upside down. I promise to remember "Rubber Side DOWN" in the future ;-) Thanks for another year enjoying your awesome support and service.  Nobody stocks more or get it to you faster. Use coupon code IMIKE-S for a nice discount

Powerbar: As usual, race day nutrition was dialed and working to perfection. I had the power to push for the first 3:50, unfortunately not the ability after that point.

SPY+: Training and racing with your shades has been great. And even when busted up I still got comments on the casual shades. Awesome stuff. 

PVBC: Even from afar, it is great to know you have my back and racing with your support adds a great deal of confidence.

1 comment:

  1. Chris McDonald sounds like a cool dude to train with. Good race, Ian. I hope you gave the kayaker a good kick!

    Matt S.