By the time DJ Evans realised what he had done, it was too late.
Minutes away from embarking on a 70.3-mile half Ironman endurance race across Cozumel – a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run – the Caymanian triathlete discovered an already gruelling event under the scorching Mexican sun was about to get a lot harder.
“Morning of [the race], everything was going well,” Evans said. “I had my pre-race breakfast and there was a point during eating breakfast that I was thinking ‘I should take my [nutrition] bottles out of the fridge now.’ And then I kind of strayed away from that and I was like ‘no, I’m gonna be home for another 30 minutes so just leave them there.’
Those bottles contained thousands and thousands of precious calories with the sodium, magnesium, and carbohydrates necessary to keep the body fuelled while pushing it to the limit. Like most competitive triathletes, Evans strategically plans the precise locations and times consuming these drinks would best benefit his body. As the bus shuttled him and the other racers toward the start line, however, he soon realised this race would be different.
“Just logistically, man, it was just different,” he said. “So I waited in line, got on the shuttle, got over to the race venue and in total I left four bottles behind.”
Those bottles – the major fueling factor for his body over the next several hours – were still sitting in the fridge of the Airbnb he’d rented for the event.
“The initial thought was, ‘Man, I messed up big-time,’” Evans said. “But I also knew if I followed that train of thought down the rabbit hole, that would further impact my day. So I kind of stopped myself early and said, ‘hey, it’s gonna be a test. The race is going to be hard. It’s going to be a little bit harder but try and figure it out. And try your best to minimise whatever damage not having a nutrition would do.’”
Evans did have a handful of gels he planned to eat throughout the race. But without the nutritional drinks, he decided to take most of them much earlier than he normally would.
Evans finished the 1.2-mile swim in 34 minutes, 19 seconds. That was good enough for 44th in his age division and 317th overall out of more than 1,500 competitors. He continued to gain ground on the leaders on the bike, moving up to 13th in his age group.
While that was encouraging, he knew it was only a matter of time before he hit a wall.
“It’s an endurance event,” he said. “There’s going to be a dark spot.”
That came 40 miles into the bike ride.
“Got a flat tyre,” Evans said.
He tried to fix it himself. It didn’t work. So there he sat – alone on the side of a Cozumel highway waiting for a member of the event’s mechanical team to assist, left to wonder what might have been.
“So I said, ‘Alright, hey, you’re not racing [to win] anymore. Just finish the race,’” he said. “When you’re riding, you get the cooling factor from the wind. When you stop, you get the sun. It was pretty hot.”
An hour later, he was back on his bike. But those 60 minutes proved costly, not only for his race time but on his body.
“A few minutes in, I was like ‘I’m really hungry.’ Typically, if you have that in training or in a race, you’re way behind your fueling already,” he said.
“I was like, ‘This is going to be very rough.’”
The last few miles of the cycle portion of the event felt like forever. Evans was drained – he was dehydrated, hungry and was feeling the effects of the midday sun. By the time he finished the ride, he had dropped to 188th in his age group, 1,189th overall.
All that with a 13.1-mile run left to go.
“The run was very challenging, man, very challenging,” Evans said.
In the end, Evans finished the event in a time of 6:15. That was good for 115th in his age division and 740th overall.
“Way off the expected time,” he said. “But, like I said, it was more about not giving up on me and just working through those challenging moments.
“The experience of having to work through that and knowing how heat and dehydration and all that stuff impacts your calorie consumption and all those different things and how to potentially bring yourself back from that, you can only acquire those gems by way of experience.”
Evans, who continues to train with Generali as his main sponsor, says he’s as motivated as ever. He hasn’t decided exactly when his next half-Ironman event will be, but he says he’ll be better prepared than ever, both mentally and physically.
And next time, he said, he won’t forget those bottles in the fridge.