Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Delicious Finish: The 2011 Cozumel Ironman (27 November 2011)

My movements were pretty mechanical, due to the grogginess. I ate, brushed my teeth, packed the last couple of items I might need and was off.

What the hell am I doing up at 4 o'clock in the morning?

At the bus station, I was able to catch the 6 a.m. to Playa del Carmen and was seated near two guys from England who had obviously been partying all night.

I saw the 7 a.m. ferry starting out as I raced down to the ferry landing from the bus station and had to wait for the 8 a.m. to Cozumel.

And my day hadn't even started yet.
About four years ago, I bought my first bike: a mountain bike. I found a biking group and my second ride was in a place called Punta Venado. I remember I sat eating the buffet's beef fajitas with a guy from Veracruz.

This was where I first met Carlos, who is now known by everyone as Tekilo. 

He didn't come to that many rides but I remembered there was a ride we did all along the coast of the Hotel Zone. I didn't have my Camelbak so I used a bag that I got on a work trip. It had printed on it the words, "¡Que rico es Irapuato!" (How Delicious is Irapuato!). As I biked down the path, he suddenly zipped past me and shouted those words as he dusted me.

On the beach, I saw him up ahead of me and with quite a bit of momentum, I was able to speed past him on the sand and I shouted back those same words.

And just like in the movies, I laughed arrogantly as I zipped past, turning my head, only to open my eyes wide in fear.

What I neglected to notice was the wooden pier in front of me. I swerved and like a lonely little cockroach, I fell over.

We both laughed so hard, the name stuck. He may be "Tekilo" for everyone else but between the two of us, we were always "Irapuato."
And then one day, I run into Irapuato on the Hotel Zone. He explained with a bit of admiration to a friend that I had done a 70.3. He had never done a triathlon but had read my chronicles.

He wanted to do one.

Since then, I've become his "triathlon godmother" as he progressed through a number of triathlons as well as running a half marathon everyday for a whole month.

And today, he was going to do his first full Ironman.
Sensei, Lola and Alma at the
Cozumel Ironman 2011
Lola, Sensei, Alma and I all took the ferry over, our bikes stowed safely away. We arrived just when the pros were finishing their first bike lap. Cheering everyone on in the shade of the palms, we decided to move out and get to one of the aid stations.

At the aid station, we ran into Susana, who was refereeing in the penalty box. After an hour of collecting bottles out of the bushes and trees in the blazing sun, more just kept getting thrown in. At one point, a triathlete who had just finished the water in his bottle proceeded to throw it in the bushes.

It hit me square in the thigh.

Another triathlete who was right behind him shook his head.

"That was pretty messed up," he said.

It only made me laugh.

There were a slew of triathletes yelling for gels, water, Gatorade. A female triathlete with a distinctly lilting Argentinean accent complained loudly, "A banana! Che, I need a banana!"

So do we all, darling. So do we all.

I fielded a couple of bottles out of the middle of the street so that the competitors won't have unnecessary accidents. As I came back, I saw a woman bike by.

My jaw dropped.

She only had one leg. That wasn't, as extraordinary as it was, the most extraordinary thing. The thing that most shocked me was that she did not have a prosthetic leg.

She had pedaled 111.85 miles with only one leg.

I am a lazy bastard.
We decided to go back so we said goodbye to Susana. Towards the beginning the aid station area, we met Grace from Texas. Her boyfriend has lent her a tubular tire and she went through the spare. She was waiting to hear if someone had a spare but she knew she was out.

We rode off and wished her luck. She grinned back and accepted that sometimes, that's how things are.

About two miles down, however, we stopped. Lola was still thinking about Grace.

She asked aloud if she should go back and lend her the mountain bike so that she could finish.

I turned my bike around because I knew Lola wouldn't stop thinking about it. And as I followed her back, watching her sprint off, I knew that what Lola wanted was what everyone who has ever competed in the race wants: to finish. Her honest and innocent desire to give that woman every single chance to finish a monumental feat as the likes of an Ironman had me sprinting on her heels.

Because I wanted her to finish too.

We found out that because every single competitor is photographed with their bike upon racking, a bike replacement was not allowed. 

"I really appreciate the thought," said Grace as we shook hands.

I do too, Grace. I do too.
Fer Maraton at the Cozumel Ironman 2011
Back in town, the run for the pros was well underway. We decided to park our bikes and get something to eat before everyone else came back. And from the large windows of the supermarket cafe, we watched the torrential downpour force everyone to take cover as we ate.

After the rain, the thunderous roar of biplanes flying had everyone looking to the sky. The planes flew so close to the ground that had this been the States, the FAA would have been going absolutely bonkers. 

We walked a little further up the street to wait and staked out a spot on the center island. I turned just in time as Fer Maraton came running up. I was shouting at him like a mad woman, excited to see him. He motioned urgently at his hand as he passed a bundle of cloth he had in his hand to me.

"I LOVE YOU, FER!" I shouted as he ran off. I was giddy with excitement.

That was, until I looked at what I was holding in my hand.

That sort of looks like a ... chamois from a pair of ... BIKE SHORTS?!

I was holding Fer's sweaty bike shorts, inside out, with my hand right on the chamois.


I promptly put the shorts in a stray plastic bag and looked for something to clean my contaminated hand with.
Ruben Grande at the
Cozumel Ironman 2011
Ruben Grande, a well-known local triathlete, ran by and I ran with him. My respect and admiration for the man is something that I hold near and dear to my heart. He was smiling when he commented to me, "You've lost quite a bit of weight."

I marveled. He was doing an Ironman, running the marathon portion where others were careening into barriers because they were so depleted of energy and here he was, smiling and talking to me as if it were a chat over two lattes.

I turned back with a smile on my face.
Hanging out with Team Tekilo, I found out that he had gotten a flat on the bike and was only just finishing his first lap. When he appeared, I ran down with him to the bend and we ran back with Heriberto, the two of us urging him on.

I ran with him until he could run no more. The silence between us was filled with his determination to finish and my words.

"You ran a half marathon every single day for a whole month. Don't tell me you can't do this. I won't accept this of you," I said. He walked and his gaze found something interesting on the ground before him.

"You're my hero," I said softly.

"No," he replied. "You're my hero."

Heriberto and Irapuato at the
Cozumel Ironman 2011
I bit my lip. I didn't know what to say. There was a gratitude so great that filled all those empty spaces in the air between us. How do you thank someone who has read your words, heard your stories and wanted to feel what you felt and make it his own? How do you thank someone who wants to emulate the passion you feel for something and has far exceeded all expectations? It was the greatest compliment paid in the humblest of all terms and shown with all the noblest intentions.

Irapuato started talking about how he now works on Cozumel and has been living there for a bit.

I was trying to not speak so that he wouldn't notice how thick my voice had gotten.

He sent me back with his half-finished bottle of electrolites.

"I'll see you at the finish," he said and kept walking. I didn't have the heart to tell him I had to go. That I couldn't stay on the island. That the last ferry left at 9 p.m. and it was 8 p.m. And I had to work the next day. I felt like a traitor and tried to explain it to Joice. She said that he'd understand and that he appreciates everyone being there for him.

And I thought about the last two years, how Irapuato was there with me in the final 500 meter stretch of the Cancun 70.3 Ironman. And I wasn't going to be there for him.

I felt like a douche.
Triathlete, who pedaled 180km on a regular bike
without a prosthetic leg, on the run
He was completely gaunt and looked like he lost a couple of pounds that day but at 12:04, Fer Maraton finished his first Ironman.

And as we drank a mojito, I thought about all the people who have ever read my chronicles and how they start to believe that maybe, just maybe, the sky is the limit. How they will never fall again because believing is contagious. And how powerful they realize that they always have been.
Maybe you've never done more than just walk at work from your seat to the bathroom.  Or maybe you're just starting to run. Or maybe you're not willing to stop eating pizza to lose weight. Maybe there're a lot of things that are stopping you.

But that didn't stop Ruben Grande. That didn't stop the triathlete who pushed the one pedal of her bike for 180 km. And as much as they wanted to throw in the towel and stop the madness, it didn't stop Fer nor Irapuato either. Because even though it started being just about you, it has become about everyone. About all those people who told you you were crazy. All those who tried to convince you to drink well on into the night when you had get in a cold swim early the next morning. All those who told you to get your ass on the bike when you couldn't even get out of bed. All those who stood through rain and broiling sun, waiting for you to pass by just so that you knew that someone was waiting for you.

All those people who wanted to remind you that it became about them as well.

All those people who only want you to finish because they know how much it means to you.

All those people.

Like you.

Like me. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

On Losing: Chronicle of the 70.3 Ironman Cancun 2011 (18 September 2011)

In April, Joseph asked me, “When are you going to start training?”

“Eventually,” I had replied. He was referring to the 70.3 Ironman Cancun in September.

My knee still felt a little weird and I couldn’t run 30 minutes without this strange pain in my left patella.

I hit the gym. I worked on my quads. I started to run.

But I felt heavy.

I started calorie counting one day. And I didn’t realize that working out gives an extra bit of calories you can use, past your recommended daily amount. I knew that I was hitting the limit for the day when I went swimming. I ended up doing a two-hour session that particular day, including a half hour warm up (which didn’t count because I got out of the pool to chat with someone; training has to be continuous to count) and did a 1,000 meter warm-up to replace the warm up that didn’t count.

That night, I didn’t eat dinner. That next morning, I was so completely depleted, I couldn’t think straight.

I need help. Professional help.


The nutritionist, Lorena, pulled out the tape measure and the calipers and started measuring my quads, my calves, my arms, pulling at my skin and took down the measurements. She typed everything into the computer.

I was diagnosed with class 1 obesity. A healthy woman carries between 18.5% to 24% of body fat.

I had 33%.

I was 33 lbs overweight.


Even after I had gone for my run and well on into the night, I was still thinking about it.

And I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

How did I let myself go? How did I stop caring about myself?

I felt ugly. I felt like I couldn’t be attractive. I hated this shell I was living in.

I asked myself how could a man ever want to touch me ever again?

I felt fat.

In my mind, I saw the door. That door that would let in all the hate that I could ever want to own. I would let it consume me and I could feel hidden and safe in the pain of humiliation. I stretched my hand towards the knob and gripped.

Then, a stronger and more lucid version of me appeared in front of me. Lucid-Fumiko took me by the shoulders, shook me and let a back-hand slap fly.

She bitch-slapped me. Hard.

You’re better than that.

Just give the diet two weeks.


The first week was pure torture.

I ate exactly what Lorena told me to eat and when. I would eye the food on my desk and turn away quickly, patiently waiting out the rumblings in my stomach.

I would hold myself at my desk, totally not concentrated on work, willing away the hunger pangs, filling myself with tea to hold me over.


Two weeks later, I was on the scale again with Lorena.

“Oops…” she said a little nervously. “I think I overdid it.”

In two weeks, I had lost nearly nine pounds.

She proceeded immediately to adjust my diet.


Two months later, three days before the 70.3, my diet changed into what Lorena called “the dream diet of all my weight-loss patients”. I was eating mashed potatoes, white bread and tons of pasta. I needed to build up my energy reserve so that I can go the distance without completely crashing.

I felt pretty ill afterwards. I can't believe I used to eat like that.

When I started with Lorena, I was clocking in at 169 lbs. Before my three-day carb-loading session, I had gotten down to 145.


On the morning of the competition, Clau, Fer and I arrived to find a very good parking spot at 4:30 in the morning.

At 5:30, the transition area was opened and I set up camp. Soon, the area was buzzing with people.

"You've got ten minutes to get to the swim start before we close the transition area!" said the woman on the sound system.

Someone had lent my pump to another person and Claudia went to get it. I was on my way to the car to leave my backpack and when I turned around, there was no one behind me.

Come on, people! WE need to get out of here now!

I run into Damian by the entrance, stretching calmly.

"Hey, do you have some Vaseline you could lend me?"

We have eight minutes before transition closes and you are asking me this now?

We hurried to the car, back to transition and down to the beach.

At the beach, I hydrate and get a swim in. The sun rose and I stood waiting for my heat to be called. As each group went forward, I started getting more and more nervous. This wasn't the first time I was doing this but with the weight loss and the training, I felt like a different person.

I stood there with Ana and an overwhelming sense of emotion filled me.

I was here again, doing this which most think they cannot do. And I felt lucky.

My eyes got watery and I rested my head on Ana's shoulder. Another athlete patted me on the shoulder and he looked me straight in the eye, as if he were saying to me, "You can do this."

Call my group forward already. I'm about ready to lose it.

"Pink caps please come forward!" I hugged Ana quickly and went with my group.

I watched the previous heat swim past the first buoy.

The horn.

Hop, skip and a jump, I dove into the water and started.

Someone swam past me and when she lifted her arm out of the water, she elbowed my goggles off. There was water in the goggle sockets and I couldn't see. I rearranged them and continued on.

I passed up one buoy. And then, another.

By the time I got to buoy 5, I thought to myself, where the hell is the turn?

At the turn, someone else elbowed me in the eye, causing my goggles to stick right on my face.

Since when did swimming become a contact sport?

As I came back in the home stretch, for the first time in the water during a swim, my bladder just opened up.

I mentally said sorry to the person who was behind me.

As I neared the timing mat at T1, I ran out of the water, pulled off my cap and goggles and smiled for the camera as I ran past.

I got to my bike, slapped my race belt on, threw my glasses on my face, snapped my helmet onto my head and ran out of Transition with my bike. I got on and sped out of the park.

For some reason, however, my stomach wouldn't settle and for the rest of the ride, I burped. Water poured out of my nose (a side effect from swimming) and I was a leaking, gassy mess for the whole ride.

On the highway to Merida, I was racing another girl, as we had a cat-and-mouse chase. I would pass her up for a bit and then she'd pass me up.

She dusted me in the last 18 miles.

And even as I was coming back from my last bike lap, I was amazed that there were still a good number of people behind me.

I ran into T2 and felt how the asphalt burned the balls of my feet. Julio Cesar was taking photos of me with my nose dripping (I still had water from the swim in my system) and wincing in pain as I ran to my rack.

I was definitely NOT in my most fashion-forward moment.

Someone had removed my bright orange scarf, marking where my station was, and it took me a minute to find my stuff.

I took off the bike stuff and put on my cap and flew.

On the run, I felt the ease of running off the bike after weeks of brick training. But the burping started up again. And the balls of my feet felt burnt.

Ice and cold water. I threw ice into my suit and sprayed my face with cold water, remembering that I still hadn't erected a monument to these two amazing creations of nature. There are few things in life better than the sensation of cold water on your face and ice in your lady garden on a very hot day.

Ruben Grande in his own swim start
I saw Ruben Grande. A very loved and respected triathlete of our community, his prosthetic leg was causing him problems. His face winced as he moved to the side of the road.

"Let's go Ruben!" I cried. "I love you!"

On my way down the last three miles, a heavier set man ran towards the turn I had just left behind.

And I remembered: that was me last year.


Up ahead, there was a guy in a yellow bike jersey with the DHL logo on the back who was walking.

"Come on, DHL! Let's go!" I shouted at him.

He started running but would resume walking after 20 yards.

"How much further is it to the finish line?" he asked.

"I think it's another two miles," I replied.

He was silent. The heat was beating him up.

With a mile left, I shouted at him, "Come on, DHL! Express delivery's for today! Not tomorrow!"

At 500 meters from the finish, Irapuato was still there, like he was the year before.

A familiar face. Oh God, a familiar face.

I started to lose it.

I grabbed his hand as we sprinted to the finish.

"Two years in a row," he had said. All his other words were getting lost in my sobs.

I forgot about everything I just did and ran as hard as I could.


At the finish, I wandered through the maze of hydration booths, pizza tables and the massage area, picked up my medal and t-shirt and walked out to the Elite Cyclery booth where my friends congratulated me.

But I was dazed; something was missing.

Just then, Fer Luna (who finished in 6:01) spotted me and I started to lose it.

A familiar face, oh God. A familiar face.

Even as he hugged me, he joked "Are you going to start bawling again?"

And there, in the midst of bike shoes and saddles, I wore every single emotion I had, on my sleeve and on his. I sobbed silently into his shoulder.

I had poured my heart and all of my soul into this competition. Perhaps, at times, I suffered. Perhaps, at times, I wondered what the hell I was doing. And perhaps, at times, I felt rejected, unloved and ugly. But I knew in that moment that regardless of how badly I could be beaten, this emotion within me, this strength that lead me to the finish line and this belief that I will not be broken are all things I must be faithful to. That I am a triathlete. That I'm sick in the head, a bit twisted and my idea of fun in my spare time is torturous for most.

But this is what reminds me that I am alive. That I have something worth fighting for. That this heart that beats in my chest cannot love anything less worthy.


In 1918, American labor leader Eugene V. Deb was sentenced to ten years in prison for making unpatriotic speeches against the Wilson administration. Having had to defend himself, the most memorable statement he made during the trial was as follows:

"Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."

I am a triathlete and I remember that I have lost. That I have lost weight I don't need. That I have lost minutes off last year's time. And I recognize my kinship with, and am humbled by, people like Ruben Grande and the 300-pound man who crossed the finish line and who, despite the odds, finished because they had the one thing that united all of us who have ever finished no small feat like that which is a 70.3: the simple yet powerful belief that we can.
70.3 Ironman Cancun 2009

70.3 Ironman Cancun 2011
(Photo: Adrian Malaguti a.k.a. Bardem-Downey Jr)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Undaunted and Ironclad: Chronicle of the VI Open Water 5 km Swim Bacalar 2011 (26 June 2011)

It’s funny when indecision strikes. I wasn’t planning on doing this swim but now that I’ve done it, I don’t really remember why I didn’t want to. I suppose I felt I wasn’t ready. I suppose the Isla Mujeres-Cancun swim put me off.

I suppose a lot of things.

The Friday afternoon before the event, I paid for the competition and Saturday after work, I hopped on the first bus down to the swim. I cringed when I realized that once again, I got on the same bus that I had gotten on last year: the one that had stopped and picked up every single person on the highway for the 190 miles that was the length of the trip.

With resolve, I got on the bus, opened my power meter book and buckled myself in for a very long trip.

It was nighttime when the bus rolled into Bacalar. I had gotten myself a cabana about two blocks away from the event and against the suggestion of the lady giving me directions, I went walking the eight blocks by myself through the dark, lonely streets of town.

“You’d better take a taxi,” she had said.

She was talking to the person who used to go running at 11 o’clock at night through the streets of the Historic Center of Mexico City only because it was easier to run without all the people and the traffic of the streets. The person who used to go to an area called Neza, outside of Mexico City, where even the residents of the area would be scared to wander by themselves. The person who would walk home late at night, all the while thinking of easiest ways the Wüsthof kitchen knife in her bag could be wielded to cut and disarm quickly.

There were very few people in the streets, everyone glued to the tv and watching the US-Mexico game. And as I listened to the excited cries of “goooool”, I looked up and saw a sky full of stars and the distant clouds, marking a long broad stroke across the horizon.

I felt very small before the grandeur of nature.

I passed a dog that growled and barked at me. But I kept my pace steady and didn’t even turn.

I’m the Alfa. Back off and step down.


Early that next morning, I was at the event, getting ready. I strapped on my chip, got marked and basted myself with sun block, waiting for the start. Aline lead a small group of swimmers in a stretching session.

When I put my hands on my neck and pulled my head gently forward, I made a startling discovery:

I forgot to shave.

How inconvenient.


It was Janine’s first competition and as we stood on the pier, waiting for our heat, fear darted through her eyes as she asked several times what the route was.

The men started first and were out the gate. The women jumped in next and I gripped Janine’s hand and told her this was just the pool and all she had to do was swim.

I held her hand until the horn sounded.

“Go!” I cried.

I kept at an easy pace and sighted the buoy.

Relax your hand. Hit the water at mid-length. Once in the water, extend your stroke. Chin on your chest. Look straight down into the water.

I went through all the corrections in my head as I swam, when I realized that my stroke was the product of all the different people who have helped me become a better swimmer.

I am the product of all the different people who have made me a better athlete.

And I thought about people like Michael Phelps, Alberto Contador and Samuel Bolt and know that I will probably never swim, bike or run like these athletes. I can't butterfly to save my life. I bike okay. My run is progressively getting better after a knee injury. But perhaps that is what makes one extraordinary. That simple notion that we do it because we can. Because we do not fear the task at hand. Maybe we are not the fastest but we do not just sit on our laurels, talking about it.

And we are all extraordinary, not because we are the fastest but because we try to be faster than we presently are.

And I am a better athlete because I have had people who cared enough to tell me what I was doing wrong.


Four laps. Why do they put us through this torture?

Montblanc Etoile
 On Lap 2, I started thinking about crocodiles and what I would do if one came out of the deep to bite me. I thought about how I would wrestle it, get behind it and keep its snout shut.

Montblanc Meisterstück Carbon and Steel
 On Lap 3, I thought about how to calculate the percentage of wattage drop between fatigue profiling test results, data which you can get using a power meter on a bike, and about coefficient drag. And then I proceeded to think about what would look better in my hand: the Montblanc Etoile or the Meisterstück Carbon and Steel.

DSquared Women's Fall-Winter 2011 Show
 On Lap 4, I thought about Emmanuel Kant (German idealist), Immanuel Wallerstein (world systems social scientist) and Henry Kissinger (ex-US Secretary of State) and wondered why oh why do I have to read them? My thoughts then wandered onto what Elie Saab dress would I pair with what Cesare Paciotti shoe. I imagined myself wearing something from DSquared's new collection (their Lauren Bacall/urban cowgirl look) walking down the street of a gritty cosmopolitan city as the smell of gasoline from the boats that were watching over us on the swim wove in and out of my thoughts.

The last buoy.

I was in the home stretch. And in a moment of clarity (tinted with what most would call masochism), I thought to myself that had I my Cannondale, I would have the strength to bike 100 km immediately after this.

I knew that I was a decent swim sprinter but that once I hit the 35 meter mark, I start to cave. I waited till I got close enough to let it rip when I saw the two red buoys: the ones I had to swim between and that I totally overshot.


I had to swim back and in between the buoys. And then on to the finish line.


Sometimes when people ask what I did during the weekend and I answer that I had a competition, they ask, "Did you win?"

Did I "win."

I won another day to swim when I used to be frightened out of my wits of the deep. I won another day on my bike, when I didn't have one before. I won another day to run because I didn't always take care of my knees.

I won another day to be healthy and in one piece. And that's what it all boils down to.

And so when I got out of the shower, foregoing the awards ceremony, and looked at the text from Esteban saying that I had won third place in my category, I didn't know what to think.

Even when I held the plaque in my hands, I wondered to whom I should quietly return it to because it wasn't mine.

Was it?
Undaunted and Ironclad. Those are the words on my Road ID. I've given up on being scared of life a long time ago.

I want to live it.

Maybe my times were crap. Maybe I'm not the Crawl Queen but I know that with every stroke during that swim, I carried the words that defined me. I wear the skin of an Ironman and our weapons are our mental and physical strength and our desire to better ourselves, all the while, having enough energy to get to the finish line with our heads held sky-high.

"I've got to be strong
To climb the next hill
I've got to be strong
My fate to fulfill
And from a strength
Stronger than my will
With imagination
I'll get there."

From the song, "With Imagination (I'll Get There)" by Harry Connick Jr.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

On Drugs and Rollercoasters: The “Por La Libre” Isla Mujeres-Cancun 10 Km Swim 2011 (4 June 2011)

There is a delicate nature to human emotion. There is something beautiful and mean and powerful all at once that makes it a wonder to behold.
It can make you or break you.
I once had someone tell me that it is tough to live life but it is even tougher to take it. This was coming from someone who, with a loaded gun in his hand, stuck the barrel in his mouth, with every intention of pulling the trigger.
He did not.
And it is that choice that you carry with you, knowing you have beaten off the demons, if only for a little while. But when you find that something, that spark that casts off shadows and reveals your given path, you start to understand that the answer is always there, deep inside of you.
My own demons also wandered freely. A rollercoaster ride of heartbreak, sadness, fear, frustration and a bit of anger had haunted me over the past few weeks. It also did not help that one week before, I went for a swim at a local beach and could only do three laps of our circuit; I was planning on doing 15. I was so nauseous I had to sit out for a while, something that had never happened to me. When I felt better, I got back into the water and when I was only up to my hips in water, just the rocking of the ocean made me feel queasy all over again.
I was a tight ball of emotion on the evening before the competition. And given the previous week’s mishap, I took some Dramamine. Just in case.
I kept waking up that evening. My mouth felt salty and I woke thinking I was going to be in the water five hours with that same sensation. I drank water but to no avail. I was between my bed, the fridge and the bathroom for the next couple of hours. When it was time, I got dressed, ate and hopped on my bike.
At 5:00 a.m., a group of us from the Red Cross met up and went to the ferry landing. As soon as we got there, we stripped down, put on sunblock, lubricant, packed our bags and got in line for the ferry.
On board, we grabbed an area downstairs and enjoyed the trip to Isla.
But I was not calm. Things stirred within me. I thought of all the things that happened to me in the last couple of weeks. All the feelings that consumed me. All the things I could not confront with happiness. I looked out at the dawning horizon and at the sun peering through the clouds.
Something happened. Shifted ever so slightly within me.
I invited those feelings in. I let the heartbreak, the sadness, the fear, the frustration, and the anger fill me.
Take me, goddammit. If you want me, take me. Fuck you and the horse you rode in on.
I felt all those feelings fill me and I willed every cell in my body to tighten, until all that was left was a thin thread, as thin as a hair.
I will not be broken.
On Isla, we waited for the start. And we waited. And waited.
At nearly 8 in the morning, nearly half an hour after we were supposed to have started, my heat was suddenly called to the pier landing to get into the water. My nerves were all over the place but if I was going to do it, I was going out with style.
We were out the gate.
I got into my sweet spot from the get-go, wanting to keep at my pace, knowing that I had the possibility of getting nauseous again and the current was strong. I had to control my body and be very kind to it so I let people pass me by and swam. The ocean rolled and bucked but I concentrated on the sand on the ocean floor and observed how, even with the current moving, it always formed the same pattern.
Underwater Sculpture Museum
Isla Mujeres, Mexico
It was in this observation that I let that thread of unwanted feelings go. I bid it goodbye.
Then I passed the underwater sculpture museum, an exhibit consisting of 400 life-size figures, anchored 9 meters underwater. It was eerie to see them there and that made me swim a little faster. I felt that one would swim up and grab me by the leg.   
I concentrated on the sand and the ocean floor below me, while sighting the buoys above. It was then that I began to think about an interview I had seen of the actor Willem Dafoe on his experience in the movie “The Last Temptation of Christ.” He had said in jest that he would like to one day have a property on a hill with a beautiful view and set up a large cross there. When people would feel like their problems were too much, he would charge them to be tied to the cross. This was said because when he filmed that iconic scene where he was on the cross, he remarked that he was so uncomfortable, cold and naked to the elements (literally) but was privy to the most amazing view of the valley before him, it made him realize how insignificant his problems really are.
And just like that, I realized that all my problems and hang ups and frustrations were really oh-so menial. What has been done was done. There is no way back.
I knew that I had a sore on my inner arm from the contact with my skinsuit. I knew that my nostrils burned from the salt water. I knew that the cord from my earplugs rubbed my neck raw. I knew my gums felt sore from the constant contact with the salt water. I knew I was going slower than I ever have. I knew all this. But it seemed so unimportant all of a sudden.
All that was important in that moment was that I was extremely gassy. I could feel the bubbles form and lift the suit off my ass. When I would turn and breathe, I wondered what the fuck did I eat that made me smell so rank?
I was not tired and so I thought about culprit foods and kept on my merry way.
How long had I been swimming? I was using my Garmin to guide me back to the finish line and didn’t want to see my time.
I came upon a second orange buoy and had by this time, accepted the fact that I was the last one swimming. When I came closer, I actually saw more swimmers heading towards that buoy and one person already there, hanging on: it was Rodrigo from the pool. I grabbed onto a knot of the rope-clad buoy and ate a gel quickly. The current was stronger than I thought and I realized that unless I wanted to feel really nauseous really quickly, I had to stay in motion. I ate and left.
About 15 minutes later, I was approached by a boat.
“We’re pulling you out! This race is over!” I could have kept going but was a little curious and climbed up the ladder. Rodrigo was already on board.
I found out that I wasn’t even at the 3 km relay mark yet and I had been in the water for about 2 hours and 20 minutes. The race cut-off time was 4:30.
I was in shock. That is a horrible swim time.
It sucks being the last one.
But I looked around and saw that there were quite a few people still in the water and in the area where I was picked up. That’s strange. Everyone can’t be that slow.
There was a man in my boat who had done other local swim competitions. He prepared for this one by swimming in the pool six days a week, doing five kilometers every single day.
He was picked up before I was.
More and more people were being picked up in the area. An older lady who was already on board another boat, vomited viciously into the sea. Another woman that was picked up after I was had thrown up several times during the course of the swim and looked as green as her suit.
I love you Dramamine.
We were all taken to a bigger boat where everyone on board looked like a damn sorry mess. More than one looked like yesterday’s dinner was going to be front page news.
I inadvertently overheard others who do swim races on a regular basis, saying that this was the first time they were pulled out of one.
Then the shocker: I saw Fer Maraton, a fabulous swimmer and triathlete, on the back of a jet ski, looking a bit miserable. 
What is going on?
Back on land, the whole boatful of people I came with crossed to one side of the finish line so as not to activate our chips. Claudia, Mari, Andres and Roberto were waiting for me. Even as they cheered, I glumly told them that I hadn’t finished. It didn’t matter: they hugged me anyway. And then, the shocker of them all: most of the strongest swimmers from the Red Cross weren’t back yet.
It was past the four-hour mark.
At 4:25:29, Dami came back in. His eyes were deeply marked by his goggles. They had started to press onto his face so tightly that they started to suction his eyeballs off his face. He had finished out of sheer pride and swore that he would never do this race again.
He was sixth in his category. 55th overall. This is the same person who did the same race last year (but from Cancun to Isla) in 2:11.
Joaquin came in a bit later.
They were the only two that I knew who had finished this race. No one else that I knew of did.
Getting off the boats, I watched my friends arrive, one by one, dead on their feet, a little dejected and more than a little disappointed.

Salt Water and Ear Plug Cord Burns
 And then I saw a swimmer, one of a very few who actually finished and who was carried in and placed on the timing mat: he was a double amputee with only 6 inches of each leg. As we all applauded this phenomenal man, I knew that if I didn’t appreciate what I have, I’d be a damn cynic.
And it all comes back to the choices we make. What we decide to do with our time. Who and what we care about. What is important.
I could have stayed on that rollercoaster of emotions and have let myself be governed by the sadness. I could have anchored myself to the bottom of my emotional abyss. My friend could have pulled the trigger. That double amputee could have stayed in a wheelchair. I could have opted to not do this race, bail out and choose what was comfortable.
But I did not. And they did not.
I am a triathlete. But I am a human being and a woman before that. And I remember the essence that makes us whole. Those elements that remind us of our failings and our strengths. That happiness cannot exist if there is no sadness. That these elements are important to have but they serve their purpose in the moment they present themselves.
That we have the power of choice. And I choose to get off this rollercoaster.
Thank God for Dramamine.

DNF (Did Not Finish): Chronicle of the Cancun State Triathlon at Punta Nizuc (3 April 2011)

It was 2002. I remember because I was watching the World Cup in Japan and South Korea. Pride had taken the helm then and instead of calling my parents to help me because money was very short, I decided to suffer through it. I remember eating a bar of cooking chocolate because it was the only food I had and lying on my stomach to watch soccer because otherwise, I would be spending too much energy and I didn't have the food to keep me going.

They were hard years. So hard that I dipped into depression and I had asked God that if there wasn't a further purpose for my life, to take me. I had scarcely enough of the work I hated to make ends meet. I couldn't pay rent. I didn't have gas for the stove and hot water nor money for toilet paper and toothpaste. My credit card was maxed. My phone line was cut. The rent collectors banged on the door as I cowered in the corner. This existence was painful. I did not want to go on.

And nothing happened. It was as if there was an unspoken word that was said.

One word makes all the difference. It doesn't take much.

I took that as a sign to go on and continue.


DNF. Did Not Finish. That's what happens when a triathlete, for one reason or another, cannot finish. I've never had one before but this time, I was thinking I may have to.

Tuesday evening was the last time I ran before Sunday's triathlon. My knee has been off and on since the time trial in January and after therapy and two weeks of rest, had started to feel strange after a 30 minute run. The evolution during the week had gone from not doing the tri, to doing the swim and the bike to "let's see what happens".

"Just see how your knee feels after the swim and bike," Joseph had said.

Like I said, it only takes a couple of words.


Sunday morning rolls around and as we walked down to the swim start, I enjoyed the sun and the smooth feel of the water against my skin.

This is going to be a fast swim.

Minutes before the swim started, the event organizer announced that due to a conference on drug trafficking in Cancun, the bike leg will only have one lane open. Five meters of space for two-way bike traffic. Please let there not be stupid bikers today.....

The men started out the gate first as the women lined up on the beach. When I got in the water, a pelican flew low over us. It was one of those unique kinds of moments to which only you feel privy to, a kind of private salute from Mother Nature herself. I raised my hand, as if to say hi.

Waist deep in water, I got ready to start.

The horn.

I attacked the water and felt strong. My hands kept diving in between other swimmers who were in front of me as we raced to the first buoy. The water was calm and save for the occasional wave caused by the jet skis, it was smooth sailing.

Out of the water, I ran to T1. Running through a path marked by beach loungers, I made it to my bike and took the necessary time to remember everything I had to get on my person: bib number, sunglasses, helmet, bike.

I was out the gate.

I sped on and felt as if a bird of prey stood inside of me. It was slowly opening its wings and extending them as far outwards as it could. Enormous wings flapped downwards and pushed on the air.

My feet shoved themselves forward into my shoes as I passed someone. And then another. And then another.

But I wasn't sure if I could hold out. I haven't trained for this. The run. That blasted run. My knee had protested on Tuesday. Will it hold out?

I opted to slow my pace a bit as I slid into T2.

Hang bike. Take off helmet. Put on cap. Wash off feet. Slip on shoes.

I was out of the gate.

Before I realized it, I was running down the path. Wasn't I thinking to not do the run? No tweaks. No twinges. My knee feels okay. I can stop further along, if I need to.

After running across the dirt path, however, my knee started to feel a bit funny. I slowed to a walk and decided maybe I should just take it easy.

Lau from 3BT ran alongside.

"Come on, Fumiko! Let's run!"

"My knee..." I protested.

"Then we'll run together," she had said.

We'll run together.

It only takes a couple of words and I didn't stop running till I got to the finish line.


At the run turn, there were a group of teenagers who were passing out bottles of water. They held out their untopped bottles of waters when one of the girls said something that I wasn't expecting:

"Wasabi!" she said.

I looked at her hard.

It only takes a word. I could have blown up and did something regrettable.

But I didn't.

Instead, I took a bottle of water from a young man standing in front of the girl.

"Thank you," I had said.

The sudden cacophony of hoots and hollers surprised me. As I turned the corner, I realized what had happened: I was the first competitor to come through and say those two words to them.

It wasn't my intention to be malicious and I would never knowingly do so unless I was provoked. But my pride found control of my voice and said to the girl,

"We foreigners are just better that way."

She wasn't phased at all. Someone had said "thank you" and where I was from didn't matter at all.

It only takes a couple of words.


I started out the day expecting a DNF. Instead, I found a series of words that each in their own way lifted me up, as if they were that bird of prey that I have inside of me. And when I think back to those days when I had to choose between paying my bus fare and eating, and asking God what the purpose of my being alive was, I remember.

I remember that you are only as strong as the words you use. The words you feel. The words you know to be true.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

On Turtles and A Pair of Wings: Chronicle Fumikense of the 2nd 43.190 Km. Time Trial Competition on the Route of the Cenotes, Quintana Roo (January 30, 2011)

When I was a kid, my dad always used to criticize me for being indecisive. I couldn't make a decision without taking a good 10 or 15 minutes. He yelled at me all the time for taking so much time at everything.

He used to call me "turtle" for being so slow. Always.
Saturday night, 10 hours before the 2nd 43 Km Time Trial, I've just arrived from Playa del Carmen with a bit of uncertainty of how to arrive to the competition and whether I was going to do it or not. I was already feeling a little put out: I can't find a ride there, I haven't trained, I haven't slept much.

9:50 p.m.: my cell phone starts ringing.

9:51 p.m.: a text has just chimed in.

9:52 p.m.: my cell phone is ringing again.

9:53 p.m.: another text chimes in.

I checked my cell phone: all of the above was from Genaro.

9:56 p.m.: I called Mr. Tortero (aka Genaro) who answered with a pleasant word or two (why the fuck aren't you picking up your phone?).

By 10 p.m., I had a ride.

But I was still plagued by uncertainty. I thought that if I didn't get up in time, I wouldn't go. That's it. Destiny, however, had a different plan in mind and at 3:45 a.m., I woke to someone singing "La Historia Entre Tus Dedos" (The Story Between Your Fingers) by Gianluca Grignani. Around the corner, the neighbors decided to have a concert at full blast and the party had woken me up.

The meeting time was at 5:00 a.m. at the Oxxo Convenience Store and while we waited for Erica, we watched people leaving a party. There was even a couple with a man (who got out of the car to buy some beer) scarcely dressed in some precariously clinging jeans and a pair of flip flops, who had clearly come (quite literally) from a party of sorts with the driver of the car. By 5:30 a.m., I had my bike taken apart and loaded in Erica's truck, on the road to the competition. 

Getting out of the car at the Route of the Cenotes, however, felt like a very bad idea. The cold air wrapped windy arms around us, leaving us to hate the unprotective lycra that we all wore.

Tents were put together. Bikes were adjusted. Competitors were checking each other out with a critical eye.

One by one, the competitors started off. According to the list, I was going to start first in my category.

At 7:30, I was called. The six women in my category lined up, one after the other, waiting the five minutes between our category and the men’s road tire-mountain bike category.

On the minute, Memo kept announcing the time left for my start. The countdown was making me nervous. I promised Martha and the others that I would try my best not to crap a purple Twinkie in the road.

‘I am so lying,’ I thought. ‘I’m going to leave a cake THIS BIG, I am so frickin’ nervous.’

“You’ve got 30 seconds,” Memo said. I took a sip of water. My throat became dry all of a sudden.

And then, his voice again:

“Ten.” Concentrate.

“Nine.” This is just a bike ride.

“Eight.” Clipped in.

“Seven.” Clipped foot up for more force.

“Six.” Where are you?

“Five.” Here.

“Four.” What time is it?

“Three.” Now.

“Two.” What are you?

“One.” This moment.

With a rebel cry, I was out the gate. 

The first half, I’ll do at a comfortable pace. The third fourth, I’m going to kick it up a notch. The last bit, I’m going to give it all I’ve got.

Let’s see if I can last.

I heard Marilupe’s voice in my head:

“Don’t get frustrated,” sang her voice in her Pueblan accent, “but when I did this ride in the car, it seemed to take forever.”

Today, forever is 43.190 kilometers long.

A few clicks from Leona Vicario, I saw the first mountain bikers returning. I saw how they fought against the wind and I mentally prepared myself to not tire myself out too soon. I have to distribute my energy intelligently.

I was passing a massive hole dug out of the ground, the perfect place to find a dead body in full state of decomposition, when I went past the curve. Up ahead, I saw the bridge into Leona.

I observed the bridge and saw how it rose above the green of the jungle and I could only think of four-letter words, in particular, one that started with “f” and ended horizontally. I rode up and arrived to Leona, the people doing a very good job of indicating where we should go.

Time to head back.

On top of the bridge again, a tremendously beautiful panoramic view opened up before me and the road curved like in those landscapes where a long road disappears between hills, going towards some unknown destination. Call it home, the finish line or the place where you want to be and towards which each action of every day takes you one step closer.

I have a destination and there isn’t a force strong enough to throw me off.

It begins now.
Martha was the second to leave behind me and I didn’t want to turn around to see if she was coming. I have to focus on me and continue. I felt my legs push me forward.

Some five kilometers from the finish line, I felt the wind push back, especially in the curves before the finish. I hit the first curve, thinking that I was close.

No. There is a straight leg and another curve. I got to the end of the leg and turned, thinking this has to be the one.

That wasn’t it either. Shit. Where is the finish line?

After the fourth curve, I saw the tent and the finish line.

My chain clicked into gear as I gunned it.

Time to bring it home.
And even when Alberto, who never took his eyes off his laptop, smiled when he announced that I, the poster girl of the competition, was now the winner of her category, something even more profound happened minutes later.

Someone tapped my shoulder: it was local pro triathlete Alejandra Gutierrez, the overall winner of the competition, first place in women’s tri bikes.

She hugged me and congratulated me. 

We’ve never been introduced. I don’t really know her but I confess that I have been following her progress for a long time. I’ve seen her in the triathlons I’ve done and I’ve always admired her speed. And I had always wanted to congratulate her for the fantastic job she’s done and for setting an example for the rest of us.

And I’d have to say that her congratulation was nicest part of winning.

First place in my category. Second place overall.

This turtle can fly.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A New Hat: Chronicle of the 5th (and Last) Edition of the Cancun Ironman 70.3, 2010

The Thursday before the competition: I had just finished two laps swimming in the ocean and a 4x1000 meter run, when I was biking back home.

It had rained and the streets were filled with puddles. By Las Americas Mall, there was a section that had gotten so much rain, it had covered an entire lane. A bus had just zipped up right before me and drove on the part where there was no water. I was right in front of the puddle and decided that instead of coming that close to the bus, I'd ride right through the puddle.

I never saw the pothole.

Needless to say, my bike made an interesting hat.

I sat in the puddle and the bus driver didn't even think of stopping. Another rushed on by, right after him and didn't care to stop.

Total damage: several bruises that started from below the left knee all the way up to the pelvis; bruise and scratch on the right knee; bruise in the crotch; left arm and hand scratched up and a lump on my right temple, from when the bike handle turned in and hit me on the side.


"Look, this is your muscle," Dr. Wajid pointed out. The cursor of my leg's ultrasound rested on the half of the section of the screen where black cords ran horizontally across. "And this," moving the cursor over what looked to be grey scratches, above the cords, "is fat."

"Here is the bruise." The cursor floated above a black splotch that was surrounded by the grey scratches.

The bruise wasn't muscular, meaning it wouldn't affect the possibility of doing the Ironman.

For the first time in my life, I wasn't at all annoyed that a man should call me fat.

The morning of the Ironman, however, I had a shiner that was lit brighter than anything this side of Christmas: the colors went from vibrant purples to cornflour yellow. In the middle of it all, there was a section as big as my hand that rose up like a small hill, clearly marking where I had been hit the hardest.

In the transition area, Danny and I went to set up our places. I was able to see lots of friends I didn't expect to see as well as my two favorite elites/heroes, Michellie Jones and Oscar Galindez, before I got into the water.

Then, the male swim heats began. I looked at my Garmin: my pulse was at 83.

Because so many women were competing this year, our start was in a single wave.

The horn.

I was always surrounded by people throughout the entire swim, something that is unusual for me since I was one of the last to leave the water last year. I ran to T1 and saw more bikes racked still than last year. A good sign.

I put on my jersey and all of my gels, Gatorade sacks and Gu electrolite chews fell out of my jersey pockets as if I had been caught shoplifting at the supermarket. I quickly stuffed my pockets again, not minding what went where. I lifted my pant leg to put on a bit of Body Glide FX Warming for the pain.

I heard someone gasp. I guess my bruise looks pretty bad.

I grabbed my bike and ran.

The first 15 miles were absolutely wonderful. I was pedaling at a good pace, passing up people and it wasn't that hot.

When I was coming back from the first of two 25-mile laps was when things went slightly array. I was riding against strong winds that made my speed drop from 19 mph to 11 mph. The sun was still shining when I saw up ahead black clouds roll over the road, where the trees and asphalt marked the way into rainy shadows.

I was able to maintain my buoyant attitude when all of a sudden, something that I didn't want happening, happened.


What was that?


Was that the road?


It's not the road.

I looked down and saw my back tire flattened under the rim.

I got off my bike and changed the tire. Some 20 minutes after I was on the road again, however, I felt my tire go flat again. And a hard fact slapped me in the face:

I have no more inner tubes.

I removed my tire, took out the inner tube and found the culprit: a metal wire. Why didn't I check my tires before I put in a new tube? I took out the tube and raised it high at the passing competitors.

Someone give me an inner tube. Please.


It was Fer Luna. He had come biking from the transition to collect stuff that people had dropped on the bike route. His haul was so good that he even had an inner tube someone had thrown out. An event mechanic came up in that moment and changed my tire. I knew someone was watching over me.

The rain fell in sheets but no one stopped.

On the second lap, with two flat tires and riding against the wind, I knew time was running out and there were hardly any competitors on the bike left. The road seemed so long and the return was weighing heavily upon me. I thought that if I could make it to KM 60, I would definitely be able to finish. And when I saw the last aid tent before T2, I knew I was close.

All the volunteers broke out into applause and cheers as I arrived and while I rode up the bridge back to the Hotel Zone, I almost started to cry.

In T2, Aline, event judge and friend, came up to me.

"Competitor 985, you have two minutes to leave transition. If not, you will not be allowed to run."

I threw on my shoes without washing off my feet: a fact I would well remember during the run; pieces of asphalt, dirt and rocks reminded me agilely at every step.

I took the first 10.5 kilometers with a slow and easy stride. I felt good and saw how many were walking their lap. It was when the sun was shining as if there was no tomorrow, with intense humidity. I knew I had to run light so that I could make it to the second lap. When that lap came, however, something changed within me. My body needed something else. Ice-cold water wasn't cooling me off anymore. The hydration I was consuming wasn't provoking anything within me. I didn't want to eat. I felt parts of me go numb.

But I kept repeating in my mind that the first 10 I had run easy while the next five I have to up the pace and the last two I have to give with everything that I've got.

The rocks in my shoes bounced around but I didn't want to stop and shake them out.

I can hold out.

I have to hold out.

I felt the smile that I wore a while ago melting and sliding off my face. Looking at my watch, I knew I wasn't going to make it within the seven-hour mark.

"Easy Fu," the voice in my head was saying. "Or you're going to fuck yourself over."

"Good job! Stay loose!" said a passing competitor, as he biked back to his hotel.

I have to finish.

And if I walk it? And if I don't finish? And if I stop and get the rocks out? Why am I doing this?

But my body continued on. Every time I was bathed in ice water, I felt my body cool for only a second only to feel as if it never happened. My head burned even with the ice in my cap. I needed to finish.

I don't remember this road having so many turns. When is this going to all end?

And then I saw the sign: 900 m to the finish line.

I kicked up my heels like I've done in all those training sessions these past three weeks and tried going as fast as I could. At the 500 meter mark, my friend, Irapuato, and the triathletes of TriBlueTeam were hanging out in their tent. When they saw me, they began to shout, rooting me to go on.

And that was when Irapuato shouted:


It was then that I knew who I was doing this for: I'm doing this for them.

I'm doing this for me.

I completely lost it. A hiccuping sob started to escape as I ran to the finish. Everyone on the way was applauding me and I couldn't stop crying. I don't know what they said. I don't know who they were. But I knew that they had never left me.

And like a bullfighter, I crossed into the plaza. The sun shone on gold embroidery that was my sweat. I stood in the middle of the plaza and took off my hat, the black "montera", and pivoted on one foot, turning slowly, with hat in hand. I saluted the plaza, which was filled with my people: everyone who gave me money for my birthday so that I could register for the Ironman; Willy, who was driving next to the run course when he happened to see me, reversed and shouted with emotion at this wonderful craziness I was participating in; the bikers from MTB Cancun, who came out to root us on; my friends from the Red Cross, who were there at the finish, waiting for me; the 3BT Triathletes with their drum and songs; the Go Cycle crew; my event official friends who were witnesses to my tears and all those who I carried with me and who could not be there. But there were those who I did not know: the volunteers at the aid stations; the man who doused me with cold water and offered to bathe my legs; the officials who rooted me on; my fellow competitor who said I was kick ass; the other who told me it was one mile to the turn; those who told me "good job!" to urge me on when my voice had, by then, turned into a soft whisper.

I throw the montera and it falls to the ground, the top of which points to the sky. A sign of good luck. I had conquered a pre-competition bike injury, two flat tires, torrential winds, blazing heat, humidity and my own demons. Counting this Ironman, it was the seventh time this year that I had done a long ride.

Thank you for being there for me. This one's for you.


About Me

My photo

I am a late bloomer and though I think I could have gotten a head start on everyone (had I had the ambition to do so), I believe that this path I have taken was more interesting, to say the least.

I write and create. There is nothing more I can think of doing.

There are movies to be made. Stories to be written. I can't promise to do them all but I sure as hell will do my best.