Check off bucket list item finishing an Ironman! I am grateful for all of those who have supported me, as what it takes to complete one of these epic races is a largely selfish undertaking.
The race took place on Cozumel Island and from what I gather it is one of the friendlier courses of all IM’s out there unless you are a foe to wind and heat/humidity. My significant other Kim and her two fabulous daughters traveled along and were awesome support.
The 2.4-mile swim took place in the clear blue ocean right next to a dolphin park. 1,800 of us marched onto the pier and jumped into the ocean and had to tread water, as it was a mass and very crowded start. I mentally prepared for the race very well. I made a promise to always make good of situations, think positive, and most importantly, have FUN. So while awaiting the start, I entertained myself by going underwater and looking up at the hundreds of legs and arms above me keeping them afloat.
However, I made the unfortunate mistake of positioning myself right towards the front. The horn sounded and I thought to myself, “time to go take care of business and get the first 1/3 rd of this Ironman over with”. It was crowded and I was overwhelmed with the kicking, bumping and grabbing. I was getting mauled and overtaken, as I am not the best swimmer and had zero experience swimming in a pack.
All of my training consisted of me swimming by myself, in a waveless pool just trying to get into a comfortable rhythm. Swimming in the ocean with a couple thousand people was the complete opposite and I paid the price with some bonus mouthfuls of seawater. Rounding the first buoy was even crazier as everyone converged on it, which was a fight. It wasn’t until the second half of the swim where things settled down and I could get into my rhythm.
Now and then I would feel a quick sting here and there on my body and remember reading a past racer’s blog about jellyfish and ultimately remember it not being a big deal so blew it off mentally. The clear water really helped me track myself and watch my arm stroke. I would occasionally see a safety diver or submarine underneath which was a pleasant distraction.
The last leg or quarter of the swim I felt nauseated I think from the seawater I took in, and it irritated me enough to put in a hard effort to get the hell out of the water. I was surprised but happy with my time of 1:20 considering the mistakes I made.
Out of the water I came and grinned that I was now 1/3 of an Ironman. I ran into transition and threw my bike gear on and stuffed a whole jar of Vaseline onto parts of my body that would thank me later. Outside of the tent were a couple guys with rubber gloves and buckets of sunscreen so I took the time there to get covered up. What I thought was a fast transition ended up taking over 11 minutes.
Off I went on my bike - My forte of all three disciplines and it was time for all those super swimmers to eat it! The bike course consisted of three laps around the island. Half the course went through town packed with energetic locals cheering you on and the other half with gorgeous beaches and lots of wind.
Part of successfully finishing a race like this is properly managing your fuel and expended energy and I did just that. I taped my nutrition plan to my aero bars and religiously followed it. I also committed to not let my heart rate exceed 145 beats per minute. It is a common mistake that I made in a half Ironman earlier in the year where I went too hard on the bike and blew up on the run. I stuck to it for the most part except for when I would see Kim or when I rode through a crowd cheering me on.
On the windy side of the island I was disciplined by staying in as much of an aerodynamic position as possible even though my lower back was starting to catch on fire. I hammered away picking off rider after rider and they came quicker towards the end of the ride as I think that’s where some started to bonk. That was a huge mental boost; along with knowing I was going to have a good time on the bike.
The second part of the ride was windy and it started getting pretty hot. The last two hours of the ride I was sucking down 48 oz of fluid, 5 electrolytes and 2 g of sodium chloride tablets per hour and I felt good. Towards the end I was elated seeing that I would be under a six-hour ride where I had originally planned on it being around six and a half hours, with transition.
I rode into transition and was greeted by a cheerful volunteer who took my bike, grabbed my run gear and headed into the hot and steamy body odor smelling changing tent – yuck! Sitting down was lovely, as I took a brief mental moment to celebrate that I was now 2/3 rd done with this race. At the same time the reality that I had to now run a marathon hit me. My brother (IM St. George) warned me during my training that an Ironman is not about the swim or bike but the run, and it really resonated with me at that moment.
The run course was flat, flat, flat consisting of three laps in and out of town. When I started off I realized I had a chance to reach my lofty goal of a sub 12-hour race. I was juiced by that, but still stuck to my plan of keeping my heart rate at 145 bpm.
Within the first mile of the run it rained hard and big time. It cooled off nicely but my feet were soaking wet and I thought oh no…! Over the past two months I had been dealing with hamstring tendonitis and now had to run with a gimp. When you mix that with long distances and wet feet, it is not a good combination.
After mile sixteen or so I was still on track to hit a 12-hour race and then that’s when my body started to disagree with my intentions. Besides my joints and toes being on fire it was a struggle to keep my heart rate up. I did the best I could till around mile 20 where I was running as fast as my body would allow me to push it. I could tell several of my toenails were bleeding and I was running on fumes.
The next five miles, two other guys and myself took turns passing each other back and forth, all the while pushing one another. They would walk for a while, while I chose to run consistently, or what you might call ‘woogle’ due to my limp and being completely spent. It was entertaining talking smack back and forth between each other, which helped to push us toward the finish.
Miles 23 to 25 seemed like an eternity. I somewhat lost it for a while swearing at the stupid mile markers and how there was no frigging way they could be so far apart. I finally got to mile 25 and lit up like a Christmas tree knowing that I was soon to be a first time Ironman.
I gave it full gas pumping my arms grunting and snorting and as I think back to it, it was my favorite part of the race. I’m sure I was only running at a 10 minute mile pace but it felt like I was flying at a 5 minute pace and the cheering crowd reacted to my effort. Right before the finish line I listened to the sweet sound of the announcer…”Christopher Barker, YOU are an IRONMAN!”
After crossing the line Kim greeted me with a big hug and a kiss and words cannot explain how yummy good that moment was. I hope that whoever reads this finds the motivation in their own life to make the decision to get busy living, or get busy dying. Saddle up and ride baby!
Special thanks to the Natural Athletes Clinic for the superior consulting and getting my nutrition and supplements dialed in!!
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