Cancun 70.3 (A Survivors Tale)

Posted: September 27, 2011 in Races
Tags: , ,
  • 2k swim, 90k bike, 21.1k run
  • Goal Time = 5:30:00
  • Chip Time = 5:22:19 (click to see official Stats)
  • Category Place = 43/176 (M 35-39)
  • Overall Place = 159/1078
  • Fuel: 1 carrot muffin, 1 Red Bull Energy Shot, 2 btls. Perpetuem (bike), 2 pkgs Chomps (bike), 2 btls. Gatorade (bike), 2 GU gels (run)…and lots of ice chips, Coke and water.

I initially started out in triathlon as a means of testing myself physically and, as plainly detailed in “My Story”, to loose some much needed weight and recapture back something resembling a healthy lifestyle; and so far, so good on that front.  In fact, each and every time I set out the front door, whether it’s a training run or a long ride, I am testing myself; not to mention the competitions themselves.  But there is another imminent challenge that’s significant within triathlon – I’m speaking, of course, about the mental challenge.  Call it ‘mental fortitude’, the ‘ultimate gut check’, ‘balls’, what have you, triathlon – specifically at the longer distance – will test your ability to suck it up, mentally focus and just get ‘er done, and more than any other event I have participated in thus far, the Cancun 70.3 would offer me this test.

It is well documented already within these blog articles, all my fears and apprehensions regarding having to compete in the extreme hot weather and near 100% humidity, as well as the Action Plan I put into place to be able to deal with those challenges.  So leading up to the event itself, I was growing more anxious about how the day was going to play out and how successful my overall strategy was going to be.  I did my best to just keep it cool (no pun intended) by compartmentalizing and focusing on the small things that I knew would be necessary to come out of this thing alive, like making sure Lucille was in good running order (check!), increase my daily salt intake (check!), consume lots of simple carbohydrates (check!), and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! (check, check and check!)  Hell, come Saturday night, I felt like an 80-year-old diabetic by the number of times I had to make a trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night.  But by Sunday morning I was as ready as I was ever going to be.

The days theme

The morning started off with a 4:00am  wake up call in order to catch the shuttle down to the Transition site at the Wet n’ Wild  park beginning at 5:00am.  I was already packed so I habitually started to run through my mental pre-race checklist while I consumed my breakfast muffin.  I also settled on my ‘mantra’ that I like to mark on my left forearm as a reminder to myself in the event that something goes wrong, or I need some sort of extra motivational drive; “Be scared. Keep pushing!” seemed appropriate at the time.

2 hours to go…

Lucille ready to go…

Even though I was among the first to arrive on site, the place was already absolute pandemonium with wide-eyed racers fussing about with their equipment, making last minute preparations and whatnot.  The race announcer was booming over the loud speakers in Spanish about God-knows-what, so I chose to plug into my prearranged playlist on my iPod instead and just block it all out and do some light yoga right there by my bike. I set up my pink transition towel (Old Faithful) and double-checked that everything was right where it was supposed to be – it was.

20 minutes to go…

Here we go again…

I checked all my gear into the holding area inside transition, gulped down my Red Bull Energy Shot and casually made my way down to the beach where the wave starts were to begin.  I felt unusually calm and relaxed and I didn’t even need to hit the portolet for that last minute bowel evacuation as per usual.  Yay for me!  In fact, I was excited to just get this thing under way.  I guess I had stressed enough about everything leading into this event so I was finally beginning to let it all pass and enjoy myself.  I had already practiced my sighting the day before during the morning practice swim and knew exactly how to approach the course, as well as having practiced blowing out through both my nose and mouth at the same time (new for me) in order to purge out all the salt water as much as possible (a tip I received from the Race Director the day before).  The water was very calm with no white caps (unlike the previous morning which was rough and wavy) and it was as warm as bathwater – perfect.  I managed a short little warm-up paddle but, really, I’m not a warm-up kind of guy so I really just got wet, fiddled with my goggles and took my place in the field awaiting my turn to start at 7:09am sharp!

2 minutes to go…

  • Swim: 2k (35:02)
  • Pace: 1:51 / 100m – given the long wade in and out of the water
  • Place: 34/178

The wave start for my age group (M35-39) was the largest and therefore the most chaotic and roughest.  To say there was a flurry of elbows, knees, and fists being thrown would be the understatement of the century.  It was a literal aquatic kumate going on for the first 100-150m or so and was akin to going twelve rounds with Evander Holyfield.  The water was nothing but pure silt with all the disturbed sand of the previous waves ahead of us giving us zero visibility making the going very tough in the beginning, not to mention all the splashing and those constant blows to the head and shoulders from the other swimmers.  I decided that this was not the way to go and decided to surge ahead early and get myself out of this middle cluster of combatants.  This unfortunately meant that I had to swim over a few other slower swimmers but, hey, what can you do?

By the first buoy (300m) I had made my way to the leading group of swimmers and I latched myself into the draft position on the heels of another fast swimmer and just fell into a nice, comfortable pace within our little niche in the field.  Finally, the water cleared up some and I was able to enjoy the gorgeous scenery passing underneath me: coral, starfish, conches and lots of multi-colored fish…in short, it was beautiful.  At times, I sensed our group of swimmers drifting wide as the waves began to pick up out in the open water and so I sighted my building on the far shore, just like I practiced, and adjusted myself when necessary so that I ended up right on the button at every buoy for the first 1k, being sure to surge again at all the turn around points to stay a few strokes ahead of the pack as we turned the sharp corners; each time I latched back onto another fast swimmer in the draft and settled back into my pace.

At the Expo pretending not to be nervous.

I was amazed at how great I felt so each time I sensed my draftee tiring I peeled out, picked up the pace and went around searching for another.  Shit, this was fun!  By the 1200m buoy I had caught the two waves ahead of me and began steering myself through them as best as possible.  Remember, by this time there was approximately 400 other athletes in the water ahead of us so getting through each scrum of swimmers was not so easy a task, but I was loving the experience and determined to not let up the pace – better get some time on me now while I’m still cool and comfortable.  By now, other swimmers had latched on behind me and I was pulling about half a dozen others in my wake.

Then near disaster occurred – I locked arms/wrists with another swimmer breast-stroking and my stop watch flicked off.  Fuck!  I didn’t want to be left without my time so I ducked my head and performed a near perfect (in my mind anyway) somersault and caught the watch about 4 feet under the surface as it was sinking down – thank Heavens for crystal clear water – and tucked it into my shorts just as three other swimmers swam over me.  I wonder what they thought at seeing another swimmer underneath them looking back up.  I planted my feet on the sandy bottom, pushed off and rejoined the same group that had just passed overhead and easily fell back into pace with them.  Pretty slick, eh?  All this occurred in approximately 3-4 seconds.  I was pretty proud of myself at this point so I decided to motor it the rest of the way into the beach with the main group of 20-25 swimmers.  I bet the spectators had a good laugh at my expense seeing one swimmer emerging from the surf with his arm shoved elbow-deep in his pants like he was rooting out truffles or something.  Oh well.

It was another 500m dash down the beach to the transition area at the Wet n’ Wild  park and where others chose to walk it in, I REALLY  didn’t want to lose my position in this main pack so I hauled ass stopping only to rinse my feet before making my way to Lucille.

  • Bike: 90k (2:39:11)
  • Pace: 33.92 km/h
  • Place: 29/178

Numero de Compeditor #107 ready for take off

Considering the 5:20 charge into transition from the beach, I was out of transition and on Lucille pretty quickly and ahead of the other members of the pack I came in with.  I charged off at a pretty fast pace of 40 km/h trying to build a bit of lead on the other riders for the first few kilometers knowing that the first effects of the heat would begin surfacing shortly making the going considerably more difficult…that was the plan anyway.

I finally settled back into a good pace with a small group of other riders from Argentina, China, Brazil and Papua New Guinea.  How cool is that? Despite being careful to maintain our 7 bike lengths distance (drafting zone) we paced one another very well over the first 20-30k with each person taking a turn riding out in front until they began to tire.  I briefly assessed my situation by running through my usual checklist: Thunder n’ Lightning felt great besides our riding into the infamous Trade Winds that had been building up along the Mayan Highway, I felt full and energized, I was remembering to hydrate as the temperature was rising steadily, my cadence felt good, my heart rate and breathing felt relaxed and normal…so, all in all, things were going according to plan.

At the first 35k turnaround, things got decidedly more difficult though.  It was my turn to lead out in our small group of five riders and as soon as I peeled out I was struck with an oncoming headwind that could have bowled over a locomotive.  Ho-lee-shit!  Another factor came into play as well, as other riders began to form into large pelotons of 20 or more riders in order to fight through the wind.  This is highly illegal, not to mention highly dangerous as large groups of cyclists in the aero-position riding fast is a rolling disaster waiting to happen.  Up until that point, our group of riders had been working very well together now but now we found ourselves swamped by these groups where we couldn’t speed up, slow down or even go around as they clustered together by tucking into the gaps around us.  Talk about frustrating!  The Brazilian rider behind me exchanged what seemed like some very heated words in Spanish with the riders around us but to no avail.  It was becoming very sticky (literally) indeed.  The groups were obviously looking to fight through the wind together, but that’s not Ironman racing in my book and I didn’t want any part of it…much less with these bozos.

Easily my favorite part of triathlon

Finally a race marshal rode up on his motorbike around us and began handing out penalties and I prayed I would not be among them as there was little I could do to improve my position.  Eventually, the pack spaced themselves out a bit but we had now slowed down to less than 30 km/h.  However, with about 5k before the next turnaround point the rider from Papua New Guinea rode up alongside me (clearly as frustrated as I was) and said in his broken Spanglish: “Canada…Amigo…Come!  We go…NOW!” and then sped off at mach 3 followed by the Chinese and Brazilian riders.  So I latched on behind them (careful to remain the 7 bike length distance), stood up and together we all powered out ahead of the peloton.  Shortly afterwards, the marshal rode past us giving us the thumbs up.  Nice!  I don’t know what happened to the Argentinean rider after the peloton swallowed us but now it was down to the four of us, all determined come Hell or high water to stay ahead of this big cluster of moolyaks.

By the 60k mark I was definitely beginning to feel the first signs of heat exhaustion as were the other riders with me.  We still took our turns up front but our pace had declined somewhat, which was to be expected I guess under the circumstances.  Furthermore, we were taking more time through the Aid Stations to take on extra water and dowse ourselves to lower our body temperatures before picking up the pace once again.  I could feel the energy literally leeching from my body but I did my best to stay with my riding ‘amigos’.  At the last turnaround I had another near disaster when my back wheel hit a carelessly discarded water bottle and suddenly slipped out from behind me but, somehow, Lucille miraculously righted herself again and we were off again.  The Chinese rider patted me on the back with a knowing grin as he passed by me on my left as if so say, “Wow, dude!  Close call!”

Finally we turned off the Mayan Highway and back towards transition and, thankfully, out of the oncoming Trade Winds, so the four of us sprinted the last 5k together passing other riders who were clearly suffering.  I, myself, felt on the verge of near collapse with the heat and I was wondering how in the Hell I was going to manage getting through the half marathon.  Fortunately, the crowds began cheering us through the finals meters up the ‘Bike In’ chute so I didn’t have much time to really dwell on it.

  • Run: 21.1k (2:01:37)
  • Pace: 5:46 km/h
  • Place: 43/178

The only thing I remember thinking coming off the bike was “Christ, is it HOT!”  In fact, the temperature (although I didn’t know it at the time) had risen to 94-degrees.  I doused myself again with the remnants of my water bottles and weeble-wobbled my ass out onto the run course – no sign of my biking amigos.  Immediately upon entering the course I heard a familiar voice urging me on and it took me a moment to register that it was my mother filming my progress.  I managed a weak wave as I went by, but it was just what I needed to start buckling down, collect my happy thoughts and refocus on what was going to become the most difficult 21.5k of my life.  ‘Embrace the Suck’ it was definitely going to be.

The first 10k went by as a total blur and the heat was just oppressive.  My vision wafted in and out and it felt like my skin was literally cooking off my body.  Now, I have run in the heat before, mind you, but nothing can even come close to this experience.  Even the Unilab Half Marathon I did in the Philippines last year was child’s play compared to this.  My legs felt okay, but I just couldn’t make them go any faster.  At the first 10k turnaround point, my buddy from Papua New Guinea passed me and offered me a gentle coaxing to stick with him, but I simply couldn’t manage to go any faster so I waved him on with a friendly smile and a ‘thumbs up’ as it was all I could manage.

How cool is that?

The good news was that there was an Aid Station at every kilometer along the run course, and thank God too!  I took the opportunity to shove a fist full of ice down my tri-top, three bags of ice water and a cup of Gatorade (or Coke) as I passed through.  Only one of those ice water bags ended up going down the hatch as the other two were destined to go directly over my head.  In essence, I was taking an ice bath ever kilometer for the whole 21.5k.  I checked my left forearm for my pre-established motivation quite often over that first 10k as every cell in my body was screaming to stop.  I was well past the ‘being scared’  part, but the ‘keep pushing’  was becoming more difficult.  Then, around the 12-13k mark, I found a new wind…from where, I have no clue.  Okay, time to really ‘Embrace the Suck’…

The last 7-8k were a literal war zone with participants cracking under the extreme conditions.  I passed by a number of runners who had either collapsed or were on the process of collapsing and/or passing out.  Runners were literally dropping like flies all around me, it was crazy!* There was major cramping, vomiting, and passing out going on all over the place and the medical teams were all over the course like ants.  It was like running though a graveyard of broken triathletes…not pretty!   I even passed a few runners who had quit altogether preferring instead to sit by the side of the road sobbing to themselves.  Yes, heat does strange things to the mind.  My heart went out to each of them but it just made me more determined to finish this thing.


Celebrating with a cold beer and cold bath.

Another quick mental check revealed that with all the water going over my head that my feet were now swamped with all the pooled water in my shoes and my soles were beginning to ache with friction burn; the makings of some pretty nice blisters I expect.  My shoulders felt like bacon that had been left in the frying pan.  Prior to the race, I remembered something a friend and colleague had mentioned to me the day before in an email: “Dare to be great”. Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I what I doing was necessary ‘great’, or that I am ‘great’, or anything self-serving and pompous as that, but it did become my new mantra over and over again in my head just to get through the last 5k without stopping or quitting altogether.

By this time, the Aid Stations had turned absolutely desperate with all the runners stopping and clamoring for precious water and orange slices, so getting through them while still collecting my vital water was nearly impossible.  Things were getting grim out on the course so I chose to blow through the last three Aid Stations to just get to the finish.  Now, I would like to take a brief moment here to publicly apologize to the drunken tourist on the course who was demanding high fives from all the runners.  I understand you’re caught up in the moment and ultimately wish us all well but, dude, get in my way again and I will dropkick you in the throat you prick.  You’re standing between me, the Finish Line and precious fluids.  Okay, I feel better now.

With only 600m left – and believe me, that’s a long enough distance when you’re suffering – I locked onto the small group of runners ahead of me and picked up the pace for the last time.  I was running on my own now between packs and as I passed into the start of the Finisher’s chute I pumped my arms skyward for a reaction and the crowd absolutely exploded.  It had to be one of the proudest moments of my life.  Urged on with this last bit of motivation, I caught the group ahead just as we got to the entrance of the final stretch together and I raced ahead into the Finishing Area.

The final results. Yup, I survived!

Wow.  I hadn’t expected anything of this magnitude and I had somehow missed this entire area in the darkness of early morning.  There had to be about 1000 people in grandstands on either side of the Finish Line and hearing my name being called out over the loud speaker was an incredible experience.  I had no idea what they were saying exactly, but hearing the words “Terry Nash” and “Canada” was all I needed to finish the final sprint to the line.  Awesome!

Now, I’d like to say that I felt great and everything was just hunky dory from here on in but, in actuality, all was not well in Terry-land.  My legs buckled underneath me as soon as I stopped but fortunately I was caught by 2-3 of the “catchers” and immediately escorted into the Recovery Area and plopped under a cold shower head where my Papua New Guinea buddy was already waiting…all smiles.  He hobbled over to bring me a Gatorade Recover drink but it tasted like shit (sorry Gatorade but, really?  I’d rather drink panther piss) and I spit it out.  We both laughed hysterically and shook hands…still all smiles.

The next words out of his mouth before he disappeared into the crowd of exhausted and broken triathletes I will never forget as long as I live:  “Not bad for a gringo, Eh Canada!”

Not bad indeed.

* It should be noted that I learned afterwards that nearly 400 athletes either dropped out of the race or were unable to continue the run altogether giving this event one of the highest drop out rates of the year.

  1. Colette says:

    Best blog post ever. Thank you!

  2. Janet Dodd says:

    That was an awesome read Terry!!! Sounds like it was quite the day! So happy you did it!

  3. john Hoadley says:

    Congrats Terry. Enjoying your experiences . Thanks

  4. Lori Pajtasz says:

    Awesome Terry! Thanks for sharing the journey.

  5. Jeff C says:

    Terry I am so f**king happy for you. Thanks for sharing your epic adventure in such wonderful detail. I swear I could hear almost the crowd myself at the finish!!! Well done!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Robin says:

    WAY TO GO, TERRY! Incredible story. I absolutely love your focus on the camaraderie of the other contestants sharing the course with you – that kind of shared suffering and triumph is my favourite part of racing. Keep up the great work, my friend!

  7. Rebecca Main says:

    Such an amazing experience!!! What you did really was “great” and you deserve to be as pompous as you want to be!!!

  8. Doreen says:

    Congrats again Terry -a great account of your successful adventure.

  9. mom says:

    Best blog to date Ter! and I was there! Just to see your face when we met after the race—-it was
    worth the scorching sun and the sweat!

  10. Roberto says:

    Very well done Amigo, I truly enjoyed your story, congrats. I envy the part that you were able to share that moment with your Mother beeing there.

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