My right goggle only filled part way with warm, salty sea water after diving, which was an improvement over the other two beach starts I’ve done this year. I veered left, then right before finding a pair of feet to sit on. After the first turn buoy, about 300 meters out, I bullied someone out of the way so I could get the first pair of feet in the group, an unnecessary maneuver but I thought it was wise nonetheless. As the saying goes, “The best form of defense is to drown someone else.” Right?
About half way through the swim I began developing a painful chest cramp on my right side. “Shit, it’s way too early for this to start happening,” I thought. I focused on pulling in air with my stomach and only breathing on the right side, to let that half of my torso take a break from having to brace when I breathed to the left. The cramp subsided five or six minutes later, only to start up again on the left side. At this point I decided to say fuck it, and went around the guy leading at the last turn buoy. Maybe I just needed to blow it all out and it would go away once and for all.
I came onto land 11th out of the water after putting in half a minute to my previous group behind, with a time of 27:41. Slightly better than last year here, but still over three minutes down on the leaders, most of whom were strong cyclists. I had some serious work to do.
My legs were good early on but not terrific. My chest was in fine shape though, which was the most important thing. A mile or two in, hoping that I would see a large group up the road, I could see just one guy, and I realized that I was farther back in the swim than I’d hoped. No matter. I’d seen some pretty good gains on the bike and run in the past month and was ready to put them to good use.
Three or four miles in, I realized that my bars and steering felt strange. Suddenly I noticed, while looking down at the road through my bars, that my wheel was poking out to the right of my right aero bar. They were incredibly crooked. Fuck. I pulled up on them and found out that my headset was loose too. Double fuck. I’d failed to tighten the stem and the headset while building my bike, most likely in my haste to figure out how to come up with a solution to secure Adelaide’s seat post (we forget the seat post binder). Read her blog here.
I let out a few top of the lung profanities believing that my day was done. Two months of quality training down the drain. There’s no way I was going to be able to do the ride with my steering that loose. Images of myself flying over the front end flashed in my mind. Years ago at a training camp I’d sprinted out of the parking lot as a joke and hopped over a speed bump; my steer tube broke off and I’d spent a split second with my bars in my hands, thinking, “well shit this isn’t right,” before I was on the pavement. That was at 20 miles per hour. Crashing on one of these rolling descents would be at 40 miles per hour.
My coach, Chris Winn, has been giving me tips on mental fortitude lately, and the importance of mind over body. The previous day I’d written out a few paragraphs detailing my process goals and what to do if something went wrong. While “serious mechanical issue” wasn’t on my list, I was somewhat more prepared to deal with this fiasco than I would have been otherwise.
I stopped at the crest of a hill, pushed my bars back into place, and carried on, ready to wave down the next motorcyclist I saw who might have an allen wrench on him/her. I pushed conservatively hard for the next half hour and still hadn’t been able to get an allen wrench from anyone. I’d been passing guys along the way and was just about to come up on 6th place before I decided that I had to stop again. My bars were way out of alignment, and I had a fast, long descent coming up. I repeated the process from before, and jammed my bars into alignment before starting up again.
I was taking corners like a bulldozer, sitting up high so I could see bumps and cracks, and going slower than normal on any fast section, just in case my bars suddenly fell off or went sideways, but I was making progress regardless. I was back into 6th place and minutes ahead of anyone behind. Seeing how far off the top five I was, my new goal became to hold onto 6th.
By mile 40 my glutes began seizing up something fierce. I’d been refraining from standing out of the saddle, since standing made my bars go sideways even worse, and my glutes were feeling the affects of staying seated for so long.
With 20 or 30 minutes to go, disaster struck (sort of). The chest cramps came back full force. I attempted to push through, but that only made the stabbing pain even more severe, and my lungs started closing down. I have no idea what’s causing this, other than tight chest and rib muscles, and I don’t know how to fix it. It’s the single greatest thing holding me back currently, though it usually doesn’t strike on the bike, just the swim and run.
I had to sit up and pedal at zone two on the last climb, then took a wrong turn on the descent where there was a serious lack of course markings. At the base of the descent I had to cut back over through an intersection and I duck under some tape that a volunteer held up for me, hoping that my bars wouldn’t come off going over a small lip in the pavement. They held on, but I’d lost another half minute or more. I came into T2 with around a 30 second lead on 7th place, which had been 2.5 minutes just 10 miles before.
Pain. 90 percent of doing well in triathlon, or any endurance sport for that matter, is pain tolerance. Plagued with my mysterious chest cramps from mile zero of the run, I kept the effort at just below intolerable for the entire 1:20:53 that it would take for me to finish the course.
I got passed at mile one by 7th place, Alan Carillo Avila. I picked up the pace a bit and tried to keep him within striking distance. A mile or so later he’d only pulled out nine seconds and I was holding him there. When I’d first started the run my chest cramp was so bad that I would have been happy with 8th, the last paying place. But my goal changed back to 6th at mile two when I saw that I might be able to beat him as long as I paced myself well and didn’t push the chest cramp so far that it caused my lungs to seize up. I passed him back at mile 3.5 and kept the pace on.
Half way into the run, soaking wet from sweat and buckets-worth of water that I’d poured on myself, I saw that Robbie Deckard, who’d been 8th, was making a pass on Avila and coming on strong. Both of them were around 50-40 seconds back at the time. (The Los Cabos run course has a ton of out and backs, so you can easily keep tabs on where people are). I calculated that in the past few miles Deckard was running at least five seconds per mile faster than me, if not more. If I could hold him off from passing me until two miles to go, I thought I’d have a good shot at staying on his feet and out sprinting him in the last quarter mile, if that’s what it came down to. At this point I was willing to come close to death in order to not get beaten. I increased my cadence and upped my pace as much as I could, which was probably just keeping the pace the same, but still an improvement over the slow decline that usually happens in the last half of the run.
By mile 9.5 I saw that I’d extended my lead to over a minute and knew that I had it. Only in the last 1.5 miles did I begin to feel the effort in my legs. Before that, the limiting factor had been the stabbing chest cramps, which were on both sides of my chest throughout the run. What the hell is wrong with me?!
I continued running scared and kept the pace high enough to eek out a few more seconds, just in case Robbie came out of nowhere in the last half mile. I crossed the line and the pain was finally over. I drank a gallon each of water and Gatorade in the next hour and lounged in the kiddie pool, waiting for Adelaide to finish her own slog through the heat and pain of Los Cabos.
Thank you to A-Squared Bikes, Vision Tech wheels and components, CUORE of Swiss clothing, and Hammer Nutrition. I’m incredibly fortunate to have such great support from these companies, and even more fortunate to be able to live this life. No thank you to my mechanics skills and my damn chest/rib muscles!
6th was not what I wanted out of this race, but given the talent in the field and the obstacles that I had to overcome (both mechanical and physical), I’m content. In order to break through to the next level I need to figure out what’s causing these lung cramps, as well as knock off another minute on my swim. If anyone has any idea why I’m getting these debilitating cramps, I’d like to hear your hypothesis. A little information on them:
- They’re not side stitches. They’re up in my rib cage, usually lower to mid rib cage.
- They’re not caused by too much food or too little salt. I’ve played around with both of those factors and they have nothing to do with it.
- I have regular old asthma and take an inhaler, though it doesn’t seem to do anything for these cramps. I feel like the failing body part in this case is the muscles within the ribs and the intercostals, not the lungs themselves.
- I never had these cramps as a cyclist. Not once. I believe that they’re caused from swimming and made worse during running.
- I already belly breath, though maybe I need to do more.
Adelaide and I stayed in Los Cabos until Wednesday, surfing, playing in the ocean, sitting on the beach, eating nachos, and drinking margaritas and piña coladas at Zippers. If you haven’t raced it, I highly suggest this one. It’s a tough course, but San Jose del Cabo is awesome.