No Longer an Ironman Sherpa Virgin


For anyone who has not had the opportunity to cheer someone on during a 140.6 mile event; it is such an inspiring and great experience. But, let me tell you, it’s a long, drawn out day, requiring its own endurance. From dealing with your future Ironman’s stress for two weeks prior to the race, to the day of the race ungodly 4 am wake-up call to the 7am swim-start to the long bike, followed by a marathon, the Ironman Sherpa’s day is every bit as long and in many ways just as demanding as it is for the athletes. I can’t say I logged as many miles in running as my Ironman, but I at least got a good 10 miles in walking. Not to mention the fact that the real work doesn’t even begin until after your designated athlete crosses the finish line, when you must assist them in finding the bike transport – which took me nearly an hour, who knew the bike transport would be located in a dark alley with no lights or signage – while also providing a shoulder for the staggering, sometimes incoherent finisher to lean on. For the record, Brett was not incoherent; he was just sore and had the Ironman shuffle. Then figuring out how get your finisher back to the hotel with a lack of cab service in Cozumel – but, thanks to our new friend Toro we got a cab and my hubby got some very smooth tequila – the dispensing of Advil and feeding my hubby back at the hotel – and after 140.6 miles, this is important work indeed.

Ironman Brett in front of our Hotel

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, we went to Cozumel, Mexico with Team Z for my hubby’s Brett’s first Ironman, Ford Ironman Cozumel.  If you are uncertain what an Ironman is, it is an Endurance triathlon that consists of 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 run (full marathon) all to be completed in 17 hours.  Brett was the Ironman and my role as wife, best friend, training partner, and mommy was to be his Sherpa for the weekend.

For the past year, Brett has been preparing for the Ironman, but so did our entire family. Yes, he worked extremely hard, but in order for him to be successful, it required my full support as a wife, best friend and a mom to our son. I can’t say that there weren’t days that I didn’t complain; especially the long training weekends where he was biking 120 miles on Saturday and running 20 miles on Sunday.  Or that I was never envious of Brett. There were many days and weekends, I wished it was me training for the Ironman. But, as most parents of young children know, it is virtually impossible for both parents to train for an Ironman when both are working full-time as well.  So, I spent the weekends trying to fit my workout in while trying to maintain some assemblance of normalcy for my now 22 months old son.  But in the end it was worth it, when Brett crossed the finish line and both heard, “Brett Coffee, Listen up Brett, you are an Ironman!”

Playboy underwear ; who knew they existed? Only found at Mega in Cozumel, Mexico.

With that all being said, and that this was my first Full Ironman Sherpa duties, I was not totally prepared for my 17 hour work day.  Days before the race, I was having too much fun at stores like Mega (Mexican version of Costco). Check these out; these are going to make a great gift for one of my brother in-laws. Surprises, I love them. I know everyone wants these. 

I did not pack enough supplies nor did I fully get a grasp on the Team Z cheering stations; even though our coaches had several meeting with us days leading up to the race to prepare us.  Luckily, I had a backpack filled with water, Gatorade and sunscreen, but nowhere in the bag was anything edible. Good thing one of our Team Z cheer run stations was located at our hotel where I was able to grab couple of Cliff Bars. You know, I spent so much time worrying about my husband’s fuel/nutrition plan that I forgot mine as the Ironman Sherpa.

Team Z Ironman Sherpas

The day of the race the morning was going pretty smooth, got my hubby to the race start in ample time, parked Toro our scooter with minimal problems and managed to get to the Team Z swim photo spot without any problem. Until I realized that we parked Toro on the wrong side of the swim start and Jacqueline, another Team Z’er and Roy’s Sherpa for the day, would not be able to get to the Team Z bike cheer stations without some major kissing up to the Mexican police. Well low and behold, Jacqueline and I never made it two out of three bike cheer stations. The Mexican police were having none of it; we could not cross the street until all the bikers were out on the course, which meant we got to see most of Team Z’ers go through their first lap (including Brett and Roy) before the last triathlete was out on the bike course. So, we found a nice spot at the bike out and cheered on Team Z’ers as they started the bike. I also got some good photos.

Jacqueline and I finally made it to cheer station 2, only for it to start pouring rain on us. It felt good and it was a bit of a relief. After we saw Brett and Roy starting their third lap on the bike, Jacqueline thought we venture back to the hotel for Team Z run cheer stations.

I dropped Jacqueline off at a hotel to catch a cab because her bag – really Roy’s bag – was so heavy that it was making Toro very off balance.  Toro and I began on venture through the back streets of Cozumel. I was really hoping that Toro wasn’t going to have any unexpected significant issues or break downs while I was traversing through uncharted territories of back city Cozumel. Toro was not in the best shape, the gas gauge did not work and we were lucky the speedometer worked. Our first Toro broke down with a flat and had to be replaced after our 2nd day in Cozumel.

I finally made it back to our hotel, only to find out that I could not cross the street and park Toro at the hotel because the runners had already started to come through.  Got over to our hotel to find C2 and Tomke cheering on the runner; C2 was having a blast and he kept turning my face towards him to tell me, “mama race”. He knew he was at a big race.  He cheered and clapped, which made being a Sherpa so much fun; he even helped me take some photos. According to Brett, this is what he said about seeing C2 on the run portion, “And after the turn, I got the greatest gift…the look on C2’s when I ran up and hugged him was something only a father could understand.”

Soon after Brett saw C2 on the run portion, it began to rain again very hard. So, C2 went back into the hotel why I, along with other supporters and Team Z’ers, stayed out and did our duties as Sherpa’s and cheered on the runners. It is so inspiring. I was so proud of all the Ironman, especially my teammates and my husband. The last time I saw Brett he told me not to take Toro back into town, to take a cab, because the roads were flooded.

Brett yelling, telling me not to ride Toro into town.

This posed a slight problem because no cabs were really coming out to our hotel. So Jacqueline and I decided to start walking back into town because I knew I needed to make it back in before Brett finished. Little problem, the walk into town was 4 miles, which normally would not be a problem, but it was dark and I saw Brett passing me and the way he was going he was going to beat me to the finish.  Bob, another Team Z’er, gave me a ride on his scooter back to the start of town, while Jacqueline was kind of enough to stay back.

Got back into town and I huffed – practically ran – with my heavy back pack to the finish. At one point, my backpack opened and I hear a Mexican man saying “lady, your bag opened”. So, I turn around and immediately begin looking for my wallet. In a moment of panic, I could not find it, so I start retracing my tracks. I get to Coach Ryan and sit down and start searching. All I could think of, “great Brett is going to cross the finish line and I am going to say, I am so proud of you; you’re an Ironman. But, babe we have to huff it back to the hotel and cancel all our credit cards because I lost my wallet.” Luckily, I repacked my bag when I returned to the hotel and put my wallet in another pocket. Holy cow!

I then ran back to the finish and settled in for 20 minutes before Brett came across the line. I am so glad I captured his finish on video, see below.  Yes, that is me yelling very loud. If you listen closely to the end, you can hear them announce Brett as an Ironman.

What an amazing day and experience! I am so proud of Brett and all my Team Z teammates. You are an inspiration. I someday, hopefully in 2013, join you as an Ironman. Brett and I have been through so much this year and without him, I would not have survived.  Brett you are an Ironman and mine and C2 Iron Dad.  I look forward to being your Ironman Sherpa again for Lake Placid in 2012.

Interested in reading what it is like to be an Ironman, read my hubby’s race report, Brett Coffee’s Ironman Cozumel Race Report.

Here is a short video that provides a view of the entire Ironman race experience. The video was filmed and produced by Maria Takahashi, the daughter of a Team Z Ironman.

Stay tune for Top 10 Things a  Ironman Sherpa Needs to Do or Not Do on Race Day.