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.
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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."
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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 HATE YOU, FER!"

I promptly put the shorts in a stray plastic bag and looked for something to clean my contaminated hand with.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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. 

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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.