Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Chankanaab Park

Friday, November 25th

Day 144 -- Practice swim at Chankanaab Park, Bike Mechanical Services, Pre-race meeting and welcome dinner.

The original room we were given at Iberostar was a bottom floor unit with no windows. So, if you wanted any daylight you had to sacrifice privacy and leave the curtains to the sliding doors wide open.

Luckily, we were able to move to the room above ours and acquire one small window in exchange for a non-working alarm clock and a thermostat that could not be adjusted beyond its two settings: off and freezing cold. Sigh.

In the absence of a working alarm clock, we requested a 7 AM wake up call, ate our usual breakfast foods (that we brought with us from home) and took a 10-minute taxi ride to Chankanaab Park for the Ironman practice swim.

It was a gorgeous morning; blue sky; bright, warm sunshine; calm, turquoise water; and tons of athletes from all over the world.

Since getting pummeled and churned up among the thrashing masses at my open water debut swim across the Chesapeake Bay nearly 15 years ago, I’ve had some anxiety about open water swimming. In the five years since returning to triathlons, I’ve had to work to overcome this anxiety and the mild panic attacks I sometimes experience at the start of open water events.

In Cozumel, I walked to the end of the pier and looked down at the water ten feet below as a steady steam of swimmers plunged in one after the other. Will my goggles stay on my eyes? Will the water be cold? Will the other swimmers crash into me?

“Come on!” My husband, who is part fish and has flippers for feet, hollered from the water. “Is it cold?” I asked him, feeling slightly anxious. “No. It’s great!” he replied, a huge grin on his face. So, I took the leap and it was pure joy! My goggles stayed put. The water was warm and crystal clear. I stuck my face into the salty sea and saw vividly hued fish swimming around the coral. It was breathtaking. I started swimming, the salinity keeping me at least as buoyant as if I were wearing a wetsuit (but without the dreaded choking sensation around my neck) and I reached the turnaround point with what felt like very little effort. I had to remind myself that I was there to swim--to race!--not snorkel.

After completing the practice swim, we lingered in the water, admiring the colorful reefs and aquatic life, reluctant to leave the warm embrace of the sea. Eventually, we climbed back onto the dock and took a walk around the park until it was time to catch a cab back to our hotel and move on to bike preparations.

The host hotels offered bike mechanical services on site so we changed into cycling gear and walked our bikes over to the support tent and met a great guy named Beto, who did a very thorough job of detailing our rides—inflating the tires, cleaning and lubing the cables and gears, adjusting and tightening the brakes and pedals and discovering, in the process, that my tube had a leak next to the stem. (Thankfully, I did not have to learn this the hard way or race day!) When the bikes were good to go, we took them for a short spin and delighted in the extremely flat terrain on Cozumel Island!

Next it was showers, lunch, and another cab ride to town for the mandatory pre-race meeting and welcome dinner, plus another stop at the expo to buy an extra tube.

The meeting was more “pep rally” than necessity, but it was nonetheless inspiring to be in a room with so many athletes—so many who were Ironman veterans and probably more still who were newbies like us.

We had two hours to kill before dinner and spent it walking around the town and feeling happy that we weren't on one of the massive cruise ships docked off shore.

Like the meeting, the dinner served to get everyone excited about the race, though the motivational video they’d intended to show was a no-go due to technical difficulties. But, it was fun getting to meet more of our fellow racers and learning some interesting races stats. For instance, of the 2300 competitors, 900 were from the USA and 500 were from Mexico but the rest hailed from countless other countries, including Portugal, Brazil, Paraguay, Guatemala, Canada, Chile, Argentina, Belgium, Spain, UK, Haiti, France, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Japan, Costa Rica, Singapore, Australia, Colombia, Germany, Denmark, Slovakia, Sweden, India and Sudan. Only 500 participants were female. It was an amazing feeling to be part of such a big, international athletic event. No matter what, this was an experience of a lifetime and it was going to be a lot of fun!

Ironman in two days . . .

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