IronMan Cozumel - TriathlonFull Ironman

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Cozumel, Quintana Roo
80F / 27C
Total Time = 11h 28m 20s
Overall Rank = 366/2500
Age Group = M 45-49
Age Group Rank = 42/163
Pre-race routine:

NOTE TO BTers: I'm cutting and pasting something I wrote for friends and family who are less familiar with triathlons than you all, so it is a little "explanatory" in nature, if that makes sense.

24 hours before the race - The plan was for me to take the ferry from our hotel in Playa del Carmel to Cozumel to spend the night given the early race start (7 am). Ash and the kids would then arrive by ferry in Cozumel the next day around noon or so. I didn’t think they needed to be there any sooner. The first leg of the race (the swim) doesn't lend itself well to watching your racer (“Mommy, which one of the 2,500 orange swim caps is Daddy?”) and the bike ride, while fun to watch, is really long (6 hours) with only a 4-5 second period each 35 mile loop when you actually pass by your family. So, they would be there for the marathon leg. This part would be very spectator friendly since it was three ‘out and back’ loops that comes back through town three times. So we could actually see each other on the race course and exchange pleasantries like “Ash, I really think I need medical attention” or “Daddy, can we go home? This is really boring”. :)

I checked in at the front desk of a small hotel in Cozumel and subtly dropped the hint that I was running in the Ironman (I think I said something like “Hey, I’m running in the Ironman tomorrow”). The hotel staff was actually pretty excited because they had never had an Ironman stay at the hotel. So I was feeling pretty studly. One of the staff then asked if I was a professional triathlete. “No” I whimper, and I stopped feeling so studly. I asked for a 4 am wake up call, had a quick bite at the hotel restaurant, watched a little TV and turned the lights out at 8.30 pm

I sleep well but am wide awake by 3 am, so I turn off my iPhone alarm, the hotel alarm clock, the alarm clock I brought with me (in case the hotel didn’t have an alarm clock), and the alarm on my digital watch. Then I check my to-do list, and cross off all the reminders to turn off all the alarm clocks. Then I walk down stairs to cancel the four wake-up calls I had arranged. Then I make a note to start taking OCD medication.
Downstairs, the only person awake (well, sound asleep, actually) is the security guard, sprawled out on the couch. He jumps suddenly when I appear, saying he thought I was getting up at 4. I apologize and ask if I can make some coffee. Smiling, he notes that he set it up last night so that he could brew it for me when I awoke. It is a touching gesture, the first of many which I am to receive from the Cozumeleans throughout the day. He wishes me good luck and I thank him, noting that all would go well for me today because I have had my coffee.

I go back to my room and make my pre-race breakfast: two Ensures, one peanut butter and jelly sandwich and banana. I then squeeze into my Lycra race outfit, which is the best reason I know NOT to do triathlons. There are probably 5 people on Earth who actually look good in tight Lycra and I was certain that none of them were participating in the Ironman. The suit is designed to be worn for the whole race so that you don’t have to make wardrobe changes after completing each sport. It is tight fitting to lessen the drag in the water and to cut down on the wind drag on the bike. And it’s in a tank top format….now, normally, I only wear tank tops when I’m held up at gunpoint and told to wear a tank top. But, the get-up does work well for triathlons, and, every time I put it on, I remind myself that the other 2,499 racers look equally as dorky as I do.
I double check all my gear bags which hold my bike shoes, running shoes and other items needed throughout the day. And then I wait in my room for what feels like eternity until it is time for the cab to arrive.

When I got downstairs, one of the other hotel staff members is waiting, and says he woke up early to drive me to the start (he didn’t want me to risk missing the race if the cab didn’t show up). When we get to the starting area, I reach for my wallet to tip him but he says “the only favor I ask of you is that you don’t tip me, because it is an honor for me to help you get to your Ironman.” At the start of a day that will surely be filled with many amazing memories, I say thank and good bye, pretty certain that the gestures from the staff this morning will be right at the top of my list.

Event warmup:

Not much...couple swims back and forth
  • 1h 00m 37s
  • 3800 meters
  • 01m 36s / 100 meters

At 6.45 am, the officials tell us to jump in the water. About half the swimmers jump in and immediately cling to the metal fencing on the side of the dock to conserve energy. The other half just wade, or swim back and forth to loosen up and minimize the ‘system shock’ that will hit in the first few hundred meters of the swim. The starting line is marked by 6-7 kayakers who paddlle in front of us in a straight line. As 7 am approaches, the swimmers start inching up on the kayakers, who start paddling back a bit to keep from getting swallowed up by this mass of humanity. There is music blasting from the shores but the swimmers are pretty quiet (and, yes, they did play Ozzy’s “I…AM…IRONMAN..”)

Now, most swimmers don’t blatantly cheat by getting in front of the kayakers prior to the start, but there is one guy - with the chiseled profile of Ivan Drago (think Rocky III) - who lines himself up a good 20 yards on the OTHER side of the kayakers. The race marshall, patrolling on a jet ski, motions to him to get back behind the kayaks. Apparently, Mr. Drago is not familiar with the universal signs for “Get Back” because he just coldly stares at the marshall (some will later claim they heard him muttering “I ville break you”). After a few minutes of this, the Marshall has had enough and yells, “What's your number?!?", I guess in attempt to scare him into moving. The swimmer just keeps staring, his cyborg brain apparently not designed to accept commands from a mere humanoid. FINALLY, the marshall pulls his jet ski right up next to the swimmer and he reluctantly moves back. We’re all cracking up at the absurdity of this situation…I mean, we’ve got 140.6 miles to go and this dude is blatantly cheating for what would be a 2 second advantage over the next 12 hours.

With Mr. Drago safely back in position, the gun goes off and away we go! The Ironman swim start is often referred to as “the human washing machine”. If you really want to understand what that’s like, take your kids (and 10-12 of their heavier friends) and have them all stand alongside a pool. As you swim past them, have each jump in, either on top of you or right next to you. Any jump is allowed: cannonball, belly flop, watermelon…preferably something that results in massive water displacement. If you are still breathing after a few minutes of this, have a couple of the smallest kids jump on your back and pretend you are a sea monster, with their only job being to stop you from reaching the pool wall alive. Actually, I jest, because it's not THAT bad, but it the first few hundred meters can be pretty crazy.

Luckily, the swim start at Cozumel is more swimmer friendly than most. The starting line is wide (so you can spread out quite a bit) and the water is crystal clear, so swimmers have much great visibility underwater. This reduces the amount of inadvertent contact which creates a lot less crowd anxieity. My strategy in the swim is pretty simple: swim at the pace slightly slower than that pace at which your form starts breaking down. Swimming is highly technique-based (much more so than running and biking). If I maintain good form in the water, I typically can swim very efficiently at relatively low energy use for a long time. As I speed up, at some point my form will break down due to excessive fatigue. At that tipping point where form breaks down, the energy use goes up much faster than incremental speed gains achieved. You may be going a little faster, but the energy cost for that little extra speed is just too great. So the key (for me at least) is to stay right under that tipping point. If you can do that, you will be going at the fastest speed you can maintain without burning through excessive energy resources, which are better preserved for the two longer events (bike and run).

After getting through the human washing machine without any permanent physical or psychological damage, I settle into a comfortable pace and work my way around the 2.4 mile course, which is in the shape of a big rectangle and is marked by buoys. About ½ mile into the race, I feel some hands on my feet, which is a good indication that someone is drafting off me. In drafting, a swimmer lines up right behind you, and essentially gets a bit of a free “pull” from the slight current created behind you. It sounds like hocus-pocus, but it’s actually highly effective, with many studies showing that you use about 10% less energy at same speed by drafting. It’s completely legal in swimming (frankly it would be impossible to monitor if it were illegal given how crowded the race is). I am fine with the guy drafting off me (I’ve done it many times but, in this race, I couldn’t find a set of feet to get behind for a long stretch) Every once in a while, I have to give a gentle kick to remind him not to touch my feet because that slows me down a bit, which means he slows down too. He gets the message and backs off a bit.

It’s a really beautiful swim and there are numerous scuba divers watching from below. Most of the fish have cleared out, not sure what to make of this new school of large but very slow fish with orange heads and four arms. After taking the last turn of the rectangle, my stroke speed increases a bit and I start hearing the people on the shore cheering us on. Finally, I reach the dock and groggily work my way up the steps to exit. This is the only sport of the three in which I competed growing up, so I am fortunate to get out of the water before the real mass invasion begins.

What would you do differently?:

Not much. Really enjoyed the swim.
Transition 1
  • 06m 53s

I grab my bike gear bag and head into the changing tent to put on my shoes, helmet, sun glasses, etc. This is also an ideal time to apply sunblock before battling the elements for the next 10 hours, so I grab my sunblock and decide to put it on while jogging to my bike. Bad idea. Somewhere between the changing tent and the bike rack, my hand – which only has one responsibility at this point! – lets go of the sunblock! After searching for a minute or so, I make what could be a spectacularly dumb decision to go without sunscreen. “Don’t worry”, I thought “you’ve been hanging out at the beach the past few days so you have a solid base.” Uhhhm, no. (More on this later, but suffice it to say that making it through an Ironman depends a lot on quickly addressing the minor mishaps because they have an annoying tendency to turn into MAJOR mishaps later in the day).
What would you do differently?:

Put sunblock on before the swim, and then let volunteers put on my in the changing tent
  • 6h 05m 51s
  • 112 miles
  • 18.37 mile/hr

I’m not a terribly strong cyclist (some would just say terrible cyclist) so I spend the first two hours watching good cyclists blow right past me. It can be a little demoralizing when someone flies by you like you are standing still, but I keep reminding myself that there is a marathon after this, and I don’t need to blow my reserves by chasing these the strong cyclists. I also wear a heart rate monitor and make sure I stay around 132 beats per minute (bpms). This is the rate I feel is well within my aerobic exercise zone so I can work this pace for a long time without depleting too many reserves before the run. At this heart rate and current weather conditions, my bike pace is about 18.5 miles so I know that, barring any crash, flats or other issues, I should be able to finish in around 6 hours which is my rough goal. After about 2 hours, I finally find a red cross represenative who has a bottle of sun block. Major disaster averted! Even in these morning hours (8-10 am), I get a sunburn but am really lucky that I’m covered for the height of the day.

The ride is three laps going counter clockwise around the bottom half of the island. The east coast is stunning. There are very few people who live on this side of the island (too windy!) and it is still very rugged and undeveloped. While it is more difficult riding (due to the winds coming off the ocean), the scenery keeps your mind off the work a bit, so it’s a pretty good trade as far as I’m concerned.

The western portion of the ride takes you through San Miguel, the major town in Cozumel. With each successive lap, the crowds get bigger and rowdier. By the third lap, music is blaring from every corner, people are waving banners and flags, and the many locals are screaming “Venga. venga!!!” (“Go!”) and “Se puede!!” (“You can do it!”). It is an awesome feeling! The only downside is we all naturally speed up because of the adrenaline rush and my heart rate spikes way above 132 bpms! But it is well worth the great rush you got from seeing so many people out there. Another good trade as far as I’m concerned.

Finally, after 6:06 hours of relentless pedaling, I approach the bike finish feeling pretty ragged. I make it to the transition area, gracelessly climb off my bike and hand it a “catcher” (a volunteer who racks the bike for you while you move to the changing tent). I tell the catcher that he can submerge my bike in the ocean because I never want to see it again. Seriously though, all things considered, it was a relatively comfortable ride because I kept my heart rate down and spent most of the ride stayed in aero position (see above), which distributes your weight across the bike while also helping you streamline against the wind. But, after 112 miles, I’ve had it with bike riding.

What would you do differently?:

Nothing really. I was very happy that I stayed patient.
Transition 2
  • 05m 31s

I jump into the changing tent which is sweltering at this point because of the lack of air flow. A volunteer gets my run gear bag and helps me dump out all the stuff. I am a little ‘punch drunk’ after 6 hours of motion, so he helps me through simple tasks that have, all of the sudden, become highly complex to me (“John, this is your running shoe,…it goes on your right foot…no, John, don’t try to force it over your bike shoe…first you must take off your bike shoe….yes, that’s good, John, you are really doing well…please remove the visor from your mouth, John. Yes, John, on your head…that’s right…” It went on like this for several minutes. Finally, with my shoes on the right feet and my teeth-marked “Team Tippit” visor on my head (kudos to Ash for making those for the whole family), I wolf down a banana, put on my sunglasses and head out for the run. Now, it really goes without saying that there few feelings quite comparable to starting a marathon after spending the prior 7 hours exercising. If you want to some sense of my body’s reaction to the idea of running a marathon, try placing your cat in a bathtub full of water. Go ahead, I’ll wait….ok, that’s how my body reacted.
  • 4h 09m 28s
  • 26.2 miles
  • 09m 31s  min/mile

As I reach the other end of the changing tent, a volunteer opens the tarp for me to run out. Right when he cracks the tarp, I hear a massive ROAR as the sound of 10,000 screaming Cozumeleans and tourists comes rushing through! While the bike ride had lots of spectators, they are behind the safety gates and you are riding by them pretty fast. In the marathon, the spectators are ALL over the place, playing drums and cheering loudly any time you raise your hand in acknowledgement. I spend the first few minutes just trying to deal with the sensory overload. A few minutes earlier I was having trouble putting on my shoes, and now I had apparently scored the winning goal for Mexico in the World Cup in soccer. “ Viva El Juan!!!” I want to scream.

After a mile of this Egofest, I shuffle out of town still trying to figure out who took my legs and replaced them with two large prosthetics made of gelatin. It takes about 3 miles for your legs to feel somewhat normal after a ride like that, so the key is not to panic AND also realize that you are running MUCH faster than you should be running (even though it feels like you are going just a little faster than walking pace). I check my watch and I’ve done the first mile in 7:30 minutes, which is really not a good idea for me..I need to cut waaaay back if I am going to make it through this marathon with my brain cells sufficiently intact. So, I slow down to about a 9:30 minute pace and tried to keep my heart rate around 135 beats per minute for the first of three laps.

There is another saying that “An Ironman race is really a 10k run…which just happens to be preceded by a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride and a 20 mile run”. In other words, the whole endeavor really comes down to how well you’ve managed to conserve resources prior to the final 10k push (or 6.2 miles). You can either save your energy and finish that 10k strong and happy…hands in the air, hugging your family and vowing to do a couple more Ironman races each year (just kidding Ash). OR you can blow all your energy in a fast swim, super impressive bike ride and blazing fast 20 miles of the run….only to implode and walk that last 6 miles with your head down, muttering obsceneties and watching hundreds of men and women pass you. I really wanted the first experience, so made sure to keep my a constant pace and watch my heart rate.

About half way through the first loop, the heavens open up and the rain starts coming down…HARD. Now, I am a major heat wimp. I’m taller and a little heavier than your average Ironman participant, so I seem to wilt more quickly than most with high heat and humidity. So when the rain hits, I am happy beyond belief! It’s about 3:00 pm which would normally be the hottest time in Cozumel, and I’ve just been handed a major meteorological kitchen pass! Because of this, I make it through the first loop feeling (dare I say it) GREAT! I’m sure that I will hit that marathon wall soon enough but at this point, all warning lights are off and my legs feel pretty good. I take down one gel every 30 minutes and again alternate between water and Gatorade at the aid stations. At the turnaround, I see, for the first time, my whole family lined up in their turquoise “Just Do It” shirts and “Team Tippit” visors, which totally pumps me up and has me leaving town in a great mood.

I start the second loop and decide to push it a little harder, letting my heart rate get up to around 138 bpm..not a huge increase but I’m only 9 miles in so far and don’t want to blow up on this lap. The dynamics of the race really start changing at this point because it feels like the field is slowing down and, shockingly, I’m starting to pass people (which hasn’t happened in 8 hours). I start running with a great guy from Canada who is finishing his 4th Ironman. He wants to push the pace more (we just got passed by a woman who looked like Eva Longoria, so that probably influenced his decision), but I’m not comfortable pushing more so soon, so wish him well. I then run for a while with a guy who was doing his 33rd Ironman (no typo…thirty third!). He said he had also done 7 double Ironmen and one triple Ironman (that’s right, three times the distance without stopping..says it took him 47hours). He was suffering from a calf pull, and I was suffering from an endurance Napolean complex just listening to his exploits, so I wished him good luck and pushed forward.

I finish the second lap feeling (here it comes again) GREAT! (OK, maybe not “GREAT” but certainly “OK!”). Sixteen miles down and I’m still running. I’m starting to channel my inner Forrest Gump as my legs just keep chugging and my brain went into “Life is like a box of chocolates” mode. I saw the family again and handed Gracie my sun glasses because the sun was starting to come down. (I haven’t seen those sunglasses since.) Just kidding Gracie..nice grab of the shades, mid-run, no less. Now I give myself a few more heart beats a minute to work with, increasing my run up to 142 bpm. As each mile rolls by, I keep telling myself “OK, man, you are going to hit the wall any time now..get ready for it..this is it, man…this is what you trained for…why are you talking to yourself? Are you losing your mind? For the love of God,snap out of it, man! “

I make it to mile 20 (passing a local woman who is pointing at each male runner and screaming “Hey, ju my sexy Ironman! Ju keep running, ju sexy boy!!!” I was really cracking up. The rain has created some pretty significant flooding in a couple sections of the run. At several points, we have to get up on the sidewalk (where the flooding was the least) and go through water shin deep to the other side of the street. So my shoes were sloshing for most of the run but it isn’t that big of a deal and kind of adds to the tropical island feel of this race. At mile 21, I see a guy dressed in full scuba gear shouting “if you guys want help over the water, I’m your man!”. Also pass a group of rowdy English guys who were forming a large Mayan pyramid out of empty beer cans as a shrine for the passing runners. By the size of the pyramid, these guys had been drinking beer since the swim started. At mile 21, I “break the glass” and switch to caffeinated products late in a race. I drink a couple gulps of Pepsi at each station, and, given the ‘bare cupboard’ nature of my body at this point, the caffeine surge is almost immediate. Amped with caffeine, I start passing quite a few people struggling late in the race, either walking (known as the “Ironman Death March”)…or barely running (known as the “Ironman Shuffle”). I feel bad for them because it’s a tough way to finish a long day. At this late stage in the race, you have developed a strange kinship with the other runners, and you feel a little like the last survivors of the Hindenburg. So there is quite a bit of encouragement between runners.

Now I’ve got my antennae up for the slightest sign of “the Wall”, that point at which running becomes really very unpleasant...where you just want to pack up all your toys and go home…but.mile 21 passes wall…22…still no wall…23…still no wall. 24….I start thinking about Eldin road near my house…it’s almost exactly a mile long…”if I run down Eldin and back, I’ve finished the Ironman!”…the crowds start getting bigger as I appraoch town for the last two miles…it’s about 6 pm and people are going NUTS!!! If you even raise a hand to wave, they go bezerk and high five you. At one point in the street, the crowd has literally taken over the street and left a small path to run through, high fiving you and slapping your back the whole way! It was like watching the Tour de France on Versus TV! The only problem was that…I still hadn’t passed Mile 25…now my alarm bells are going off “Red Alert! Red Alert! This mile is taking waaaay too long. You are in TROUBLE!”…I’m starting to panic a little and thinking of asking the guy next to me how much longer he thought we had…but then I see a sign up ahead that reads…Mile….26!!!! Are you KIDDING me?!?…I somehow passed 25 already and didn’t see the marker. Life rarely works like that!!!

I’m now at the point in the course where the road splits in two…to the left, you run around a pylon and head back out on the the course for another loop (no, thank you…really, I’ve had enough)…but to the right, you enter the finisher’s chute with all the shiny, happy people cheering and dancing…Yes, I’ll choose Door Number 2, Monty. The next minute was pretty indescribable…you can finally let your guard down a little realizing that you are really going to finish this thing! The stands are packed with people cheering and the floodlights are pointing down the chute and towards the finishing ramp…it’s as close to being a rock star as you’re going to get. I hear the “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” and take my cap off, slinging it towards the finish line (don’t ask me why…at this point, I’m not responsible for my actions). Exactly 11 hours, 28 minutes and 23 seconds after I took my first swim stroke, I run across the finish ramp and this baby is OVER!

What would you do differently?:

Post race
Warm down:

As you hit the finish line, a volunteer places a medal around your neck and another one hands you a gatorade. You are then greeted by several ‘catchers’, which are volunteers who stand alongside you for several minutes. After the huge surge of emotion from crossing the line, the catchers are there to make sure you don’t ruin a perfectly good evening by collapsing and hitting your head on the ground. They ask you a few questions “How are you feeling ? Do you want to sit down for a moment? Do you want to see a doctor?, etc.” To their right, there is a open air medical tent with lots of beds and people getting IVs or just generally looking unhappy. I was still feeling much better than I had anticipated (although the quads were starting to really tighten up and give me payback for what I put them through). Before they release you into the finisher area, a doctor gives you a quick look over (I guess to make sure you haven’t faked out the catchers.) He gave me a once over, told me to never do this again (just kidding) and waved me through. I then walked through the next gate where they had pizza and other food lined up. They also offered free massages but there was a line, and the last thing I wanted to do after 11 ½ hours is stand in line for anything (Ash, on the other hand, was trying to sneak into the finisher’s area and take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity ). I got some food and found Ash and the kids standing by the gate. Even though I was still really sweaty and surely smelling like death, all of them hugged me and kept telling me how proud they were. This was easily the best part of the day because, up until this point, you are running with 2,500 people you don’t know…and all of the sudden, your whole family is there!

I then passed through the last gate and celebrated with a Modelo (followed by a Margarita…followed by a Dos Equis. Not necessarily a great move as, 30 minutes later, I had my head between my legs at a restaurant trying to hold it together. Apparently, my stomach had listened to my quads and had had enough“Let me get this straight? You just put me through 12 hours of misery, filled me with sports gels (fyi, the raspberry is particularly disgusting)…and NOW you douse me with tequila?!? And it ain’t even Patron, you punk” Luckily , the attempted coup by my body passed and we happily boarded the next ferry back to Playa del Carmen and back to our hotel. It was, by all accounts, a pretty great day.

Event comments:

I could not imagine a better experience for my first Ironman. I have always loved Mexico...and the locals in Cozumel are something special.

Profile Album

Last updated: 2011-01-02 12:00 AM
01:00:37 | 3800 meters | 01m 36s / 100meters
Age Group: 15/163
Overall: 0/2500
Performance: Good
Start type: Plus:
Water temp: 0F / 0C Current: Low
200M Perf. Remainder:
Breathing: Drafting:
Waves: Navigation:
Time: 06:53
Performance: Below average
Cap removal: Good Helmet on/
Suit off:
Wetsuit stuck? Run with bike: Yes
Jump on bike: No
Getting up to speed:
06:05:51 | 112 miles | 18.37 mile/hr
Age Group: 0/163
Overall: 0/2500
Performance: Good
Wind: Some
Course: Flat course around the bottom half of Cozumel three times.
Road: Smooth Dry Cadence:
Turns: Average Cornering: Average
Gear changes: Good Hills:
Race pace: Comfortable Drinks: Just right
Time: 05:31
Overall: Average
Riding w/ feet on shoes
Jumping off bike
Running with bike
Racking bike
Shoe and helmet removal
04:09:28 | 26.2 miles | 09m 31s  min/mile
Age Group: 0/163
Overall: 0/2500
Performance: Good
Keeping cool Drinking
Post race
Weight change: %
Mental exertion [1-5]
Physical exertion [1-5]
Good race?
Course challenge Just right
Organized? Yes
Events on-time? Yes
Lots of volunteers? Yes
Plenty of drinks? Yes
Post race activities: Good
Race evaluation [1-5] 5