My First Official Triathlon -Ironman Cozumel 2020 Race Report
“If you have to prove something to someone, make that someone yourself”
If you haven't already, check out my posts on Why I needed to do an Ironman, and How I trained for an Ironman in under 6 months from zero endurance background.
Race Day Morning
I slept through the night until an undying urge to pee woke me up at 4:07AM. Truthfully, I was hoping for a good night of rest, but also expected the chance that I’d struggle to fall asleep. After finally dozing off a little after midnight and waking up at 4:00am, the latter turned out to be true. I quietly got myself out of bed and tip-toed across the freezing marble floors to the bathroom and back as to not wake my girlfriend. Once back in bed, it was like a game of heads-up-seven-up where I’d try to sleep, only to open my eyes and lift my head to check the clock 5-7 minutes to make sure I didn’t sleep through the 4:45AM alarm that I set for myself (I wanted to make sure there was enough time to eat and check my transition bags for the 11th time before leaving). After what felt like an eternity, I turned off the alarm at 4:44 and got up. Two pb&j’s, 16oz. Of water, and a gu gel in my pocket later, I left the room and was off to the hotel lobby to hire a taxi.
The hotel lobby was eerily quiet, with the exception of a couple staff members working at the front desk. This wasn’t the case as I left the lobby and walked through the dual sliding glass entrance/exit doors of the hotel. Outside, there were a dozen or so athletes and a line of taxi drivers standing outside of their cars/vans to attract the attention of the athletes.
I got into one of the taxi vans with one other guy who was staying at the same hotel. I forgot my wallet, but luckily enough, the taxi driver was able to jot down my room number and charge the fare to my reservation. The other guy and I chatted continuously during the dark drive to T1 and he mentioned this was his first full triathlon. We both talked about our training and other things during the short trip and were on our way after the 10 minute drive.
Stepping outside of the taxi van at T1 is something I will never forget. There was a long, paved entranceway into T1 and the sight was incredible. At this point, the sky was still pitch black with 100% visibility, so the stars were as vivid and beautiful as ever. The incredible thing though, was that the sun was just about to break the horizon, so there was an orange-ish-red-ish hue on the horizon and the sky itself remained extremely dark and the stars remained as visible as they were. It was incredible. I walked the ~250 yards up th entranceway to where my bike was held in T1, dropped my transition bag off, and returned to where the busses were located that were going to take the athletes to the starting point where we would enter into the swim corral based on our presumed finish time.
The swim at Ironman Cozumel was, without a doubt, the greatest part of the day.
The swimming stage of IRONMAN Cozumel is one of the most spectacular in the world. The great visibility of water and the huge amount of underwater life that accompanies the athletes throughout the course, turns this stage into one unforgettable experience. [Image and description from Ironman.com]
Based on my swimming times during training, I assumed my finish time would be between 1:30-1:40hr, so I entered into that corral. After what seemed felt like 45 minutes, our corral was near the entrance point into the water, a wide, tarp-covered dock that extended fairly far into the ocean, which designated the start of the swim. Upon reaching the end of the dock, and before being called into the water, I rapidly ate my last energy gel, pulled my goggles down over my eyes, started the multi-sport activity on my Garmin, and jumped off of the dock into the ocean. The timing chip on my ankle strap activated and the swim began.
The water was shockingly warm at 82 degrees and as clear as a pool with 100% visibility. Giant red buoys were anchored to the floor fo the ocean every 250 yards and marine life was prolific (Honestly, it incredible and seemed like I just started an overpriced 2.4mi snorkeling excursion). We were told to swim on the right of the buoys and that there were countless kayakers about 100 feet further to the right, which created somewhat of a channel for us to swim in. Aside from the four jellyfish stings, the swim was better than I expected, and from what I was told by countless others, the swim was the best part of Ironman Cozumel. I agree with them.
It felt like I was flying. I was passing everyone and truthfully thought I was going to crush the swim with an unbelievable time. I was checking my watch every 500 yards due to the vibrating notifications I set up for myself and realized that my pace didn’t match the speed I felt that I was carrying and it was showing me a pace of 2:10min/100yrds. Seeing that after 1,500-2,000 yards was mentally challenging, but I accepted it and continued to swim at the pace and passing people,
Shortly after the 1hr mark of the swim, I lifted my head to ‘sight’ and saw a giant buoy, although this one was yellow. I looked to my right, saw a volunteer on a kayak, and asked her in my best attempt at Spanish: “Que es el buoy Amarillo”, which she responded with “Turn left, the end, gringo”. I’m only kidding, she didn’t call me a gringo.
I was shocked. My watch was misreading the distance the entire time and I was on pace to finish the swim in just over an hour.
I swam to the finish, climbed out of the water, and was ecstatic seeing my swim time of 1:08!
Running on a dopamine and adrenaline-fueled high, T1 was quick. I quickly put my socks and shoes on, slid the two PB&J’s I made for myself and the rest of my nutrition into my tri-suit/bento box and was off! Funnily enough, the Roka tri suit I was wearing didn’t have large storage; Actually, it hardly had any storage at all. The tri suit only had two small pockets that could fit 1-2 gels each. So, I tucked my two PB&J’s inside of my kit, between my stomach and the try suit itself.
I walked my bike to where the volunteers were eagerly waving their flags, which signaled the point where we could begin riding our bikes. Seeing my family and girlfriend cheering alongside the rest of the crowd at the beginning of the bike course was an incredibly motivating and fulfilling moment.
At that moment, I clipped into my pedals, hopped on to my bike, and took off for the longest portion of the race!
… Until I made it 800m away from everyone else, rounded the first corner onto the course, and realized I had a flat tire. Imagine that, being far enough away from everyone where I couldn’t be seen or heard, but no more than several hundred yards into the bike. (Tip: DO NOT inflate your tires to the maximum psi the night before. They will pop.)
I let out an involuntary “F*CK!”, hopped back off of the bike, and began working on the flat tire. Unluckily enough, the spare tube I brought with me was ordered (by myself) with a stem that was far too short to clear the deeper aero wheels I had on the bike for race day. That being said, I waited for assistance to arrive with a stem extension, and I was back on my bike within 20-25 minutes.
*since the timing chip I had around my ankle already passed the area that designated the start of the bike, those 20 min. were added to my bike time instead of T1.
The bike was a 3-lap, 112mi course around the island, starting at Chankanaab Park and ending at T2 in a parking garage in the center of downtown Cozumel.
Athletes will do 3 laps around the island to complete the 180 kms (112 miles) of the bike course. The route covers amazing Oceanside roads, the great hotel zone and a bit fo the city, This fast and beautiful route guarantees an exciting bike stage, ideal for those who want an IRONMAN PR. [Image and description from Ironman.com]
I took off like a bat out of hell and felt both stronger & fresher than ever after those 20-ish minutes of physical - but mentally straining - rest. It felt like I was flying, which comparatively speaking, I was. I was averaging 25.1mph for the first 10-15 miles and passing everyone with focus and assertion that I was going to kill it on the bike.
The first 15 miles were great - a slight tailwind, smooth pavement, and the thrill of being on the bike. That excitement quickly faded as the road slowly curved to the left, signifying our beginning of circling around the side of the island that is prone to strong winds. The headwinds were tough (10-15mph winds with 20mph gusts), but tolerable. I can’t remember how long the first lap took me, but I was averaging a solid clip (19mph) going into the second lap.
The second lap started phenomenally well and my legs were feeling good up to that point. That was, until we began curving left and entering the side of the island with the headwinds again. At that point, the headwinds had picked up another 5-10mph and it was beginning to really take a toll on my legs. By the third lap, the winds had picked up to nearly 30mph and it took more energy to maintain 12-14mph through the headwinds as it did to maintain 24-25mph on the other two sides of the island. Starting halfway through the second lap, I was taking [long] bathroom breaks to give my legs a rest and refill water at the aid stations.
Towards the halfway point of the third lap, there was an unexpected torrential down pouring for ~20 minutes, which aside from the water that pooled in my shoes, felt really great. As I entered into town on my third lap, I was so beyond over riding my bike, excited as hell to get off, and was even contemplating selling it after the event because of how “over it” I was.
The second transition was smooth and didn’t take long. I rode into the parking garage where hundreds of other bikes were already hanging on the racks, and I racked my bike. After that, I hurriedly took off my cycling shoes and socks, put on my hat, fresh socks & shoes, lathered my underarms & nether regions with anti-chaffing cream, and took off running. I was in and out of T2 in ~5 minutes.
"Only a marathon left."
I ran out of the sheltered parking garage of T2 and joined the rest of the runners on the course. The sun was beating down through clear blue skies, and countless spectators lines the streets to watch the event and cheer for the athletes. The feeling I had of being in that atmosphere, surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of spectators cheering us on, was one of the greatest feelings I've felt. It reminded me of playing collegiate summer baseball during my sophomore year summer in an elite league filled with countless high-level draft picks. Every game we played in front of hundreds, if not 1,000+ spectators watching. The feeling was surreal, and the feeling of running a the last leg of an Ironman on the island of Cozumel trumped it.
The run course is flat and passes through many of Cozumel’s signature sites, including it’s waterfront walk, downtown main plaza and historic neighborhoods. Hundreds of spectators cover the sidewalks to watch and cheer for the athletes to give their best until they reach the finish line, which is located at the City Hall plaza in downtown Cozumel. [Image and description from Ironman.com]
The course was setup to be three 8.5mi loops along the waterfront walkway and finish in the heart of Cozumel's downtown main plaza. Aid stations lined the course every mile and were stocked with fresh bananas, gatorade, water, pretzels, energy gels, and coca cola.
My plan for the run was to run from to the first aid station, walk for 60 seconds, run to the next aid station, repeat. let's just say... that plan did not last long. I kept that plan going until the 4th aid station, which by then, my legs were really starting to feel the painful beatdown I put on them throughout the day. Throughout the first lap, I saw a good amount of professional triathletes (or who I'd assume were the pros, since there wasn't a designated "Pro" class at this race due to COVID-19.) sitting in the restaurants lining the course, enjoying their meals since they had already finished the race.
The first lap was a solid experience. The second, and a majority of the third, laps were more of a blur for me. They were filled with a lot of run-walking and cracking jokes with other athletes on the course to boost morale. I figured that if I was able to make others laugh, I would make them forget the pain for a few seconds and I would also be able to boost my own spirit for a short period of time.
One thing to note - There was one women sitting on the course outside of her hotel (around mile 14 on the map above) who was drinking out of a bottle of tequila the entire time. I mean, she was drunk when I started the run. Looking back, she was involved in her own type of marathon, which was to drink straight tequila the entire time we were out there running.
Like I said, she was drunkenly cheering us on throughout my first lap. By my third lap, she was essentially cheering in her own version of 'spanglish', which translated to not much english or spanish. At any rate, she was a phenomenal spectator who made me laugh every time I passed her and - If she's reading this - I will definitely fly back and take you up on that offer for tequila!
Now, she wasn't the only person drinking while we were out there running.
My girlfriend was with my parents the entire day. Her and my dad were apparently taking occasional trips to the bars lining the run course for shots of tequila as well. Because they were able to see my location on the Ironman Tracker app, my girlfriend found me on the course around mile 25. She began running with me for .5-.75mi and peeled off as I approached the downtown main plaza where the finish line was setup.
That was when it started to hit me.
The day I had trained 6 months for,
foregoing weekend plans to wake up early to run and bike for hours on saturdays and sundays,
spending thousands of dollars on gear, nutrition, my bike, travel expenses,
and the day that I spent 14 hours of ups, downs, highs and lows,
was coming to an end.
I took a left and rounded the last corner towards the highly illuminated finish line runway - the legendary runway lined with the iconic black/red IRONMAN carpet.
"All the way from Avon, Ohio, Chris Tomshack, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!"
I did it.