2013 Ironman Cabo Race Report Professional Triathlete

Ironman Cabo... the first race of the season, an Ironman, and in a foreign country. What could possibly go wrong with this setup? It turns out a lot, however despite life's best attempt to throw me lemons, the result was some fantastic tasting lemonade that I couldn't be prouder of. Here is a recap of the race sans almost all of the adversity:

Race Strategy: During the off-season I made some nice gains in the swim and the run, however, I was also trying to cram all the early season training into too short of a time period. It left me pretty flat in the weeks leading up to the race. Although still confident, I knew I had to be smart with the way I spent energy on race day. Knowing that this was an early season race, I expected that many individuals wouldn't know their fitness, and that, in combination with a tough course, would lead to more than a few people blowing up. As a result I planned a conservative race.

Ironman Cabo Swim Start Pro Men
Pro men race in to the balmy 70 degree water
Swim (58:30 / 19th): The water was 70 degrees, but given my conservative strategy, I opted to go with a sleeveless wetsuit as I didn't want to risk overheating. I did the swim research prior to race day and I knew it would be a quick "make or break" situation with regards to hanging off the front group. The gun went off and it was definitely the later. It wasn't a super tough swim effort-wise, but when gaps opened, I didn't bother wasting energy to close them. By the end of the swim I was on feet that had clearly died too early. I exited the water and I was a little disappointed with the time, but it was a long day, and I was confident my conservative strategy would pay dividends later.

Bike (4:41:51 / 8th): Heading out on the bike I knew I was in for a challenging bike. The course had a little bit of everything including heat, wind, sustainable climbs, rollers, and plenty of sun.

I immediately got going and something was clearly wrong with my power meter. I'll let you look at the powerfile and maybe you can figure it out, but I opted to forget about power and ride by feel. Since it is easy to get carried away early on the bike, I paid close attention to keeping the effort effort-less in the first 15-20 minutes despite reeling in a group of 3. Maybe I was just really fresh and rested, or maybe it had something to do with the fact that this was the first race I was racing with "Free Speed" from Atomic Speed. Their specially coated chainrings, cassettes, and chains, in combination with upgraded wheel bearings and derailleur pulleys meant that I could go a little faster on the same effort.

Ironman Cabo Bike Thomas Gerlach
Salt rinsed off front but back completely white
As I approached the first turnaround at Cabo San Lucas, I was disappointed to see that I was already about 10 minutes down from the leaders only 15 miles into the bike. It wasn't ideal, but Ironman is a long day.

I continued on biking and I didn't feel good. I was starting to cramp early on in the bike, and in places I am not used to cramping like in my quads. My new 2XU "Dark Shield" long distance trisuit worked perfectly in reminding me that I was losing lots of salt and so I increased my salt intake. Although the suit is black, the special "Dark Shield" fabric resists heat and kept me cool despite the quickly rising temperatures.

At mile 30 I took the right turn to head towards the Los Cabos Airport on a private toll road. The toll road included a substantial climb and it took us out into the desert where temps increased into the mid 90s.

As I approached the turnaround near the airport at mile 45 I was relieved to see that I wasn't losing any time to the leaders. In addition I was starting to feel better. Maybe it was the fact that I was back in my home environment of the desert, and my body knew what to do in those conditions. Out of the Airport loop and back on to the main road to start lap 2.

Lap 2 was uneventful, and when I hit Cabo San Lucas for the second time I could see the time gap to the leaders was actually coming down. It was nice to see but I still wanted to be off the saddle. I continued on and by the second time up the climb I had already gone through the 2000 calories I had brought for the ride. I grabbed a couple of sport drinks at the aid station and went thru the 48oz immediately in route to finishing the bike.

Ironman Cabo Finish Thomas Gerlach Christine Anderson
At finish with long time friend Christine Anderson
Run (3:03:02 / 7th): The run was a continuation of the theme of the day: conservation. I knew if my competitors were going to blow that it would be on the hot and cloudless run. The course had many vantage points to see the competition and I needed to see how everyone looked in order to figure out how I was going to run myself up into 8th place and a paycheck. On a side note, I don't have an unlimited bank account like it seems so many "pro" triathletes have and thus I need to race for the paycheck to pay the bills.

I started out running a nice pace, but early on I got passed by eventual 2nd and 3rd place finishers Trevor Delsaut and Jozsef Major. They were not running much faster than myself, but it was too early to get too aggressive. At the turnarounds I got my glimpse of where everyone was at. I learned that multiple Ironman winner Luke Mckenzie had dropped out, and 7-time Ironman Switzerland winner Ronnie Schildknecht didn't look good. Everyone else looked good, and I had a nice buffer to the only real runner behind me who was Matt Russell. I sat in 10th place running 6:45s.

Towards the end of the loop an official on a bike came up to me, and from my best translation, told me that I was either disqualified or would be disqualified. Apparently he was concerned that a biker on the sidewalk, on the opposite side of the road, was "clearly" a friend who was supporting me. As pros we were warned about this in the pro meeting, and I tried to instruct the official that I came to Mexico by myself and that the man couldn't possibly be my friend. However it was futile and clearly taking French instead of Spanish was doing me no favors with this one.

I tried not to worry about it and told myself that I would deal with it at the finish, but little things like this tug on your heart and your mind. When you are already tired and irrational, it is little things like this that can quickly cause your race to tail spin. For me this situation was especially touchy since two years prior I had a similar incident during my last Ironman as an amateur. Despite traveling alone to that race (an 8+ hour drive) I had received 18 minutes of penalties for outside assistance. It turns out that the race the official had fat-fingered my race number when transcribing the penalties on to the computer. It was only after hours of research and trying to track down the official, that the Rev3 organization discovered the original hand-written penalty sheet and the error was discovered. In both situations it was frustrating to see real outside assistance going on with coaches or partners aiding their racers, and yet the innocent one goes punished. But I promised not to talk about adversity so I'll move on.

Lap 2 of the run was more of the same as I moved from aid station to aid station. As usual I was going through tons of Powerbar gels, coke, sports drink, and since the aid stations were every kilometer instead of every mile, I was trying to do the math of exactly how much I was taking in and that kept me occupied. I continued on at a steady pace and noticed that Ronnie Schildknecht was no longer in the race so that moved me up to 9th. I was also gaining on former Olympian Axel Zeebroek but at the same time Matt Russell was closing in. A few more miles went by and I could sense Axel was faltering and just before lap 3 he started walking as I made the pass and moved up into 8th place.

On to lap 3 I went and the course was starting to get more crowded. After passing, getting repassed, repassing myself, only to be repassed, I decided I would sit behind this particular age grouper who was all over the place. The 7:15s we were running was a little slower than the 7:05s I had just been running, but I figured it would give my brain a chance to think about how I wanted to run the remaining miles. It was either let Matt Russell run me down and grab 8th or get in gear.  I choose the later.

So with 6 miles it was time to Vamos as I only had 2 minutes on Russell. Then I passed a walking Paul Amey and I moved into 7th, but I didn't let up. I continued on running hard and was fighting for 7th and first american. It wasn't easy, but thankfully I had paced the marathon correctly and I was able to run the last few miles at the slightly increased pace as I finished 7th and numero uno americano.  Here is that finish video:

Overall (8:47:46 / 7th): I went in with a solid conservative game plan, executed it to the T (minus a few SNAFUs), and came away with a great result against some of the World's best Ironman athletes. I couldn't be happier with the result.

For me this journey has been all about the long road of slow but stable growth. Although, truthfully, sometimes I wonder about all the flashy athletes with their world renown coaches, training squads, and fancy speedos, I continue to remind myself not to try to "keep up with the Joneses", and I am thrilled with the growth that I have had. It is both an honor and privilege to be both a self-coached and a solo athlete, and this result gives me the confidence to keep the status quo as I look to keep the momentum rolling in 2013.

As always, I wanted to thank some of the great companies and people that help support me in my quest for an Ironman win including:

Trisports - for all the great tri gear you carry and for providing it in the most earth sustainable way. You can always help support me as an athlete by using my 20% off coupon code for Trisports that is tied to my name. Each code is unique for you so please contact me thru the above "Contact" tab and I will email you back the 20% off code. Codes can be used at anytime - no waiting for a special sale. They expire 12/31/14. Please remember to fill in your email address so I can reply back to you. If you don't provide an email there is no way for me to contact you. You can also tweet at me or message me on Facebook if you prefer.

Atomic - for your endless pursuit of all the "free speed" I can get on the bike. Your specially coated chainrings, cassettes, and chain, along with wheel bearings upgrade and special derailleur pulleys give me that extra special advantage over my competitors. You to can get some "free speed" and save 10% in the process by using coupon code "TG-10" at Atomic.

2XU - for your wetsuits, compression gear, and everyday training gear that rocks!!  Despite the blazing temperatures and sun, your special "Dark Shield" fabric kept me cool.

Powerbar - for getting me to and thru races with your fantastic nutrition products!!

Steve Schwartz - for your continued support of my training, racing, and overall well-being. If you need a great Realtor in Madison, WI please consider Steve.

Nick Morals / Trijuice.com - for taking great photographs at Ironman Los Cabos

and lastly...

My competitors, for challenging me and giving me the drive to get out of bed every morning and work towards being the best athlete I can be. Without you I would never be the athlete I am today.


  1. Congrats TJ! So happy for you!

    It kinda makes me laugh (although it's not cool at all) that they would accuse someone on a bike of helping you. Unless you were riding that bike while everyone else was running, not sure what he could have been doing. I always thought that was kinda trivial really.

    1. Actually that does make sense now, I guess I am way more vocal on the run course than 99% of pros, maybe he just didn't understand what I was saying when I was asking for Powerbar Gels and Water from the aid station. Will you be a lead biker again at Louisville this year?

  2. Did you really have 2000ft+ of elevation on the run? I didn't wear my GPS as this was my 1st IM and all I cared about was finishing.

    1. It was a rolling course, but I am not sure if it adds up to 2000 feet though, I would find that tough to believe.

  3. Congrats. Great job man! So whatever happened with the official and the DQ threat? Did you ever hear anything else about it?

    1. I checked with the officials post race and itwa s all good. However, it didn't sit well for the remaining 20 miles at the time it took place.

    2. I can understand that. That would have been a tough mental hurdle for me to deal with...out there suffering and wondering if it was all for nothing.

  4. You are so touch!! Amazing!! Jan and Don

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