“Si, se puede!” [Cozumel, Mexico]

A tale of endurance and bathing in hand sanitizer

If we’d played ‘never have I ever’ on November 21, here are a few things I could have said..

Never had I ever been stung by a jellyfish.
Or swam more than 1.5 miles.

Never had I ever ridden this bike.
Or ridden any bike for more than 56 miles.

Never had I ever run a race outside of the US.
Or run more than 16 miles anywhere.

And never did I ever think I’d be able to call myself an Ironman at age 30 (or maybe at all). 

If you know us, you know that 2020 was supposed to be the year we got to live out our vagabonding dream. When coronavirus stopped that in its tracks, we were both at a loss for what to do. It was like we just sighted the finish line and someone said, “Aaaaactually you just have to keep running until we tell you that you can stop.”

Part of accepting that the virus was here to stay came with realizing that we needed something big to work towards to get through this weird version of life. About a year after finishing a half Ironman I decided that going all the way (140.6 miles to be exact) was it, and Cozumel’s late-season, November 22nd race date gave me about five months to get ready. Aggressive? Perhaps. But that’s what I needed. 

Fast forward to November 19th – my first of a few pre-race anxiety attacks hit upon finding out that the ferries from Playa Del Carmen to Cozumel were cancelled and likely would be the next day. We needed to pick up our race packets on the 20th (a requirement to race) and get our bike rentals (also kind of necessary). We hadn’t made it this far to get thwarted by stupid wind so we started exploring other options. Before this, Chris would have been able to say, ‘Never have I ever chartered a plane,’ but the already limited commercial flights forced our hand. Though calling this a plane was perhaps generous (humans for scale).

The next 48 hours leading up to the race were filled with enough hand sanitizer to kill a horse, temp checks galore, and pre-race jitters. If you’ve ever raced before, you know how addicting that mix of anticipation and nervousness is, but trying to sleep with my heart beating out of my chest was a bit of a challenge. And even though the usual buzz of a host city wasn’t quite the same while athletes remained distanced and spectators even further so, I was just happy we were going to be able to toe the line at all. 

Nobody should look this excited before 5am!

At 7am on Sunday, the rolling start began with two swimmers unmasking & hitting the water every five seconds. While Cozumel is famous for having a fast swim when the current is favorable, we seeded ourselves with our normal swim pace in the 1:30-1:40 corral. 

Everyone else was apparently way more optimistic which put us towards the back of the pack, but my outlook brightened early on in that first leg. First, at about ten minutes in, when a sea turtle moseying along happened to cross my path – they’re my favorite marine animal so I took it as a sign of good things to come. About 35 minutes later that was confirmed when my 500 yard split suddenly dropped by 3-4 minutes, meaning that I was riding that not-quite-East-Australian current like Squirt himself! With about 1000 yards (one quarter) left I could have swam in circles and still made the 2:20 cutoff, so I just stopped bothering to kick to save my legs as much as possible for the next.. 138 miles.

I was doubly jazzed to clock a 1:17 swim because it was ~20 minutes faster than I’d estimated and that meant 20 less minutes that I’d have to dodge the small jellyfish that were probably as annoyed by all of the humans as much as I was by their stings.

I love biking the most out of the three disciplines, but 7+ hours in any one position, like even sleeping sometimes, isn’t lovely. Comfort is why smart triathletes ship their own bikes to destination races – they’ve spent a lot of money adapting it to their desire & are used to it from training. But Chris & I are frugal (cheap) so we A. don’t have very nice bikes in the first place thus B. thought that renting newer tri bikes for less than the cost to ship ours was a good move. 

It was not. My lady parts will never let me forget that.

It took me two hours of shifting around to figure out how to tolerate the seat & the discomfort in my shoulders while in aero. I theoretically could have foregone that position, but it became literally painfully necessary to cut through the terrible headwind present on about 30% of the bike loop. The ocean view was only a slight consolation prize for being slowed an average 5-6 miles per hour riding along the unprotected coastline. 

I muscled my way through what I knew was going to be a mentally tough second loop – the excitement of the start had worn off coupled with the dread of yet another bout of headwind was weighing heavy. The only good things were getting off my bike for a few minutes to wolf the cheddar Pringles I’d stashed in my special needs bag and the generosity of a fellow athlete saving my skin from being roasted worse than it already was. Pro tip: BYOB’Sunscreen.

Getting a late start on the swim meant the course was even thinner by lap three, which contributed to my boredom after hour five. IM doesn’t allow athletes to wear headphones on the course so I entertained myself by singing. Aloud.. Hold On by the Alabama Shakes, No Air by Jordan Sparks. If it weren’t for the electrolyte salts I’d been devouring all day, I may have thought I was losing it, but I’m sure the people who passed me while belting those out were slightly concerned and certainly confused.

After 7 hours and 20 minutes, I was so so happy to get out of the saddle. I was equally not excited about the marathon, my first, that lay ahead. Questioning my ability to run/walk/drag myself 26.2 miles is what had previously stopped me from attempting it.

I stuck this post-race photo from the half Ironman in my transition bag with a quote from my high school running coach written on the back to remind myself what its felt like smashing through previous ceilings. Though my equilibrium was still off & I couldn’t see or walk straight, I wasn’t letting that stop me from smashing this one.

The first five miles were filled with stomach cramps, despite putting down three Tums, and all I could really tolerate eating was pretzels (I hate pretzels). I couldn’t seem to cool down despite constantly dousing myself with water / shoving ice in every imaginable part of my kit. My knees hurt. My shoes were soaked. And the run was another three loop mind-game.

But just like my lucky sea turtle’s land cousin, the name of the game was ‘slow and steady finishes the race.’ So I kept on shufflin‘.

Most of the run feels like a blur now except for snippets like cracking jokes with my buddies each time I passed, them running/dancing in flip flops and singing alongside me, and all of the little kids yelling, “Si, se puede,”’ (Yes, you can!). A blur that is, up until the last half mile when the realization of what I was about to accomplish hit me.

My heart started pounding (harder) to the point where I actually checked my heart rate monitor to make sure I wasn’t dying. A giant grin spread across my entire face. When I rounded the corner into the chute, my arms rose into the air in celebration. I made some of the ugliest faces of my life holding back tears those last few steps until I finally heard, “Krista Batenhorst, YOU are an IRONMAN!”

The sunburn has since faded, heat rash subsided; it only took a couple days to be able to sit down normally and my toenails will grow back. But that triumphant moment will forever be burned into my memory. If I come away from 2020 with nothing else, this year will still have been worth it.

2.4 miles swam. 112 miles peddled. 26.2 miles ran. Thousands of miles left to travel.

To everyone who hyped me up, sent good vibes & tracked my progress over 14+ hours – Your support was the best thing I carried with me on the 140.6 mile journey (okay maybe second best to nutrition). Thank you ❤

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