I raced Ironman Cozumel in 2011 with the team, and I thought I would write this report to give our future participants some info and perspective on the race.

Disclaimer:  the information I’m providing is to help you prepare for the race. Please don’t rely solely on this information. This is my perspective from when Team Z raced it in 2011, 3 years ago. Things may have changed including the course, weather, aid stations, and any other race logistics. Go to the official Ironman Cozumel site for specifics and review the athlete guides and any other documentation they provide.

Weather

Cozumel is hot and depending on the roll of the dice it can be really hot. This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. The problem is acclimation.

When you start off on your final 120 mile training ride, it will be October and it can be cold. When we set off at 7 a.m. for this ride, I was in full cold weather gear: balaclava, gloves, long cycling pants, etc. I shed most of this once it warmed up later that day, but the point is you won’t be riding your 120 in 75 degree weather.

What I would suggest is this: get to Cozumel as early as possible to acclimate to the heat. In general you should NOT arrive at any Sunday Ironman on Friday, as this is the last day for registration. The last thing you want to do is not toe the line because some travel delay made you miss race registration. I arrived on a Wednesday.

Once you get there, avoid hanging out in air conditioned spaces for long periods. If you can stand it, turn off the AC in your hotel and open the windows. But don’t let it affect your sleep. Consider turning the thermostat up to a temperature where you can sleep comfortably, but where it’s not a frigid 68 degrees.

Spend time outside. With the exception of training, avoid  the sun for extended periods. Sit by a pool under an umbrella, but keep applying sun screen. This might be a good plan for Saturday when you need to stay off your feet.

Regarding the weather forecast, be prepared for anything. In general Cozumel during this time of year is great. And the chances of bad weather are slim. But it can and has happened. The swim was especially rough in 2012.

In 2011, we had a beautiful Sunday, but come Monday it was windy and the water and waves were violent. Had the storm moved in a day earlier it would have been a different race. Bad weather isn’t likely, but be mentally prepared. If the weather changes for the worst, accept what you can’t change and try to continue to approach the day with positive energy and gratitude.

Drinking Water

If you haven’t traveled before the usual the advice is to avoid the local water. During our trip I noticed some people were confused about avoiding water, fruits, and vegetables. What you should avoid is the local unfiltered water. Any hotel that provides drinking water will provide filtered water and ice, and water at the table of any local restaurant is okay. They are catering to tourists so their water and ice is fine. You can always ask if you’re unsure.

But I noticed some people avoiding fruits and vegetables at our hotel buffet. There is nothing wrong with fruits and vegetables in general. What you should avoid are local fruits and vegetables that have been washed in local unfiltered water. In other words, don’t walk down the street and eat an apple or some spinach from a local street vendor. They have likely been washed in the local unfiltered water. But the fruit and cooked veggies at your hotel are fine.

Passport

You need a passport to get to Mexico. More importantly, your passport cannot expire within 6 months AFTER the start of your scheduled trip. If you passport expires any time before May 2015, get it renewed now. See http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/mexico.html

Swim

The swim is beautiful. The water is clear and you will gain advantage from the buoyancy of the ocean salt and the current. But it won’t be like you’re snorkeling. You won’t be looking at coral reef, colorful fish, and a vast array of sea life. Frankly it’s quite desolate and there isn’t much to look at. You’ll see small schools of fish here and there and larger ones on occasion. Having said that, though, this is an open water swim where you can see straight to the bottom and have clear visibility 100 meters or more ahead of you. In many cases you’ll be able to sight the next buoy by seeing the line it’s attached to under water.

Keep sighting. Although you have an advantage of the current, it’s not necessarily traveling in the exact same line as your swim. I wasn’t paying attention and followed a few people who were sighting wrong. The current had pointed us just slightly off course. I ended up in the middle of the swim course sighting off buoys on the opposite side of the course.

Wave  to the scuba divers! The course will be lined with them. I’m not good at judging depth but they were maybe 20 feet below you. And you can see them clear as day. Wave to them and most will cheer you on. Yes, scuba divers will be clapping and pumping fists at you from under water. It’s really cool and fun and helps pass the time.

Another thing I did to pass the time was count the scuba divers as I passed each one. Three years later I can’t remember the number, but it may have been around 13 or 14.

Don’t worry too much about the sea lice. These are small creatures you can’t see but will feel them sting. It’s not painful, just slightly annoying and the sting will go away after a few seconds. It’s like swimming with someone randomly pinching you on occasion. I wore a sun screen that was supposed to help deter them, but it didn’t help. Just be aware of them, and go to the practice swim to know what to expect.

At the last turn buoy there is some tourist submarine that you swim around. I expected to see something underwater with people peering through the port holes. Instead it was on the surface and I could taste the fuel in the water.

As you approach swim exit you’ll hit more shallow water. Here I was hit with sections of cold water. It was a little eye opening but nothing to be concerned about.

Swim exit

Swim exit was a set of stairs in the water. For me, I always feel a little dizzy when I stand up from a long swim. The last thing I wanted to do was hoist myself up on the stairs, get dizzy, then fall back in the water. Instead I made my way to the edge of the stairs out of peoples way. I held onto the stairs and went vertical in the water, then waited until my equilibrium stabilized. That’s when I pulled myself out of the water. Again, go the practice swim so you know what to expect. See shameless race pic below.

T1

It’s a long way from swim exit to the tents. It should be carpeted. There will be a lot of people along the way. Smile and wave and enjoy the day. Another shameless race pic below.

At the end of the pier will be a place to “shower.” It’s simply some pipes with holes from where a slight stream of water flows. It’s enough to get the job done, though. Focus on getting the salt water out of your hair and off your body, especially at your more sensitive bits. You don’t want to  leave any salt residue in certain places during your bike. From there you’ll pick up your T1 bag. You’ll have racked it the previous day so you’ll know where it is.

Then you’ll make your way to the change tent with your bag. When you’re done, you leave the tent into transition to get your bike from your rack and make your way to bike mount.

Some things to consider to put in your T1 bag:

  • A small water bottle to rinse out your mouth and rinse off any salt water and sand you might have missed.
  • A small towel to completely dry yourself off and remove any last salt and sand. It’s easier to put on bike shorts when you’re dry.
  • Mints to get the salt water taste out of your mouth. You can alternatively put a couple in your bento box on your bike. You’ll have access to your bike in the morning. Pop them in as you make your way to bike mount.

Bike

Contrary to what you have heard, the course is not pancake flat. Yes it’s flat in terms of a bike course, but that doesn’t mean a false flat doesn’t exists here and there.

As you come out of bike mount the first few miles is a false flat. Don’t worry about it too much. But if you’re like me and need some time for your heart rate to settle down, don’t be surprised if your speed is slower than usual. Just relax and give yourself time and don’t worry about your speed or effort too much.

Stay to the right and remember it’s three loops, which means at some point you’ll get passed by the pros. The pros  were coming around for their second loop just after I left  T1.

If you’re lucky enough, your bike bottles will be the same as they were in 2011: full of ice water. Not cold water – water with ice in it. Smart use of this can help avoid overheating.

Unless you have specific liquid nutrition, all you’ll need is two bottle cages. When you rack your bike, have one bottle you’re willing to lose on your bike. Your other bottle cage can be empty. This one bottle will get you to your first aid station. The aid stations are very close, so you won’t need to carry a lot of anything you can get on course. (According to the site, the first aid station is 20 km or 12 miles out. All subsequent stations are anywhere from 10 to 14 km away, or 6 to 8.5 miles.)

Once you hit the first aid station, toss your bottle, then grab two bottles from the aid station. Use one for drinking, and the other for dumping on your head. This is how I avoided overheating. Halfway through the bike my socks were soaked because I was dumping ice water on myself throughout. But I didn’t overheat.

Can you dump water on your head through your helmet? During training, practice being able to squeeze water through your bike helmet vents. Done improperly, you can end up squeezing water onto your helmet that then flows uselessly off. Or if you miss the vent and hit the bottle top, you’ll actually close the bottle valve. This is one of those things little things that can make a big difference with just a little practice. Also practice squeezing water on the back of your neck. If you have an aero helmet, this may be your only option.

Also consider arm coolers. They’ll help keep the sun at bay and when soaked with your ice water they’ll keep you cool. Don’t do this stuff race day. Get the gear and practice during your training rides! (Note there is a big difference between arm coolers and arm warmers.)

As you slowly turn left you’ll hit the south part of the island. It’s the most beautiful part of the course. It’s also the most desolate and windiest. Be prepared for this. I would suggest setting your computer to NOT show your speed. It can be disappointing. Instead focus on staying in zone and pedaling with a constant, high cadence. Look around and enjoy the view. If you’re on a tri bike tuck into a comfortable aero position. Cross winds can be high here so if you have race wheels be prepared to be pushed around a little. You can be prepared for this by riding your race wheels on a couple of the Easton rides. Once you get used to the feeling of the wind on race wheels it won’t be a problem come race day. Lastly, being the most scenic portion of the bike, look out for the race photographer and pose for what could potentially be a beautiful race pic. Shameless race pic plugs follow.

Resist the urge to join a peloton. You will see them, and some of them can contain 30 bikers or more. They’ll fly by you at 20 mph while your pedaling in single digits. There is no reason to deny yourself the rewards of all your training by cheating.

It’s also at this stretch where bike special needs is. I don’t suggest stopping on your first loop unless you have to. But stop on your second loop. If you can afford the time, take a break, use the bathroom, put on more sunscreen, refuel, but especially stretch. Five minutes of stretching can help a lot, especially on flat courses. There should be a tent so you can get out of the sun for a few minutes.

If you decide to stop, keep track of the time. Even better, allot yourself a predetermined amount of time and don’t exceed it. Five minutes goes by fast if you have to put on more sunscreen and refuel. You can easily sit in the shade for 15 minutes if you’re not careful. I speak from experience on this one.

At the end of this stretch before you take another left towards town, you should come across another  Team Z cheer station. Take advantage of it. Smile and wave. You’re picture will be taken and you’ll want some to post onto Facebook   😛

Once you turn left to the next leg of the course, you will have a tail wind. This is the only place you’ll have it so enjoy it. It’ll go by quickly. You’ll start to see more civilization and the locals will be sitting on their lawns cheering you on in Spanish. Wave, smile, and say « ¡Gracias! » There will probably be young kids shouting for you to throw them your empty bottles. By the way, most Ironman races use disposable bottles. In 2011 we had actual water bottles with the M-dot logo and Cozumel on them. The bottles were the smaller 22 or 20 ounce version, not the larger  24 ounces. They were great free souvenirs. You can plan it so at the last aid station (you’ll know which one it is by the third loop) you can grab as many as you can to fill all your bottle cages and maybe a couple in your jersey. Once you pass the aid station, dump the water out of all but one bottle. You don’t need to carry an extra 5 pounds of water to T2. Leave the bottles on your bike, and put any bottles you stashed in your jersey into your T2 bag that you’ll get back after the race.

As you hit town feed off the energy. I still remember the feeling, and I felt like I was wearing a yellow jersey at the Tour de France. Yell, pump your fists, and acknowledge the crowd. They will give you 100 times back the energy you give them. You will hit the town three times during your three loops so enjoy every minute of it. Back of packers: when you hit the third loop it will get very sparse. I don’t think I had a rider within 1/4 mile in front or behind me most of the last loop. Such is the life of a BOPer. Don’t fret, enjoy the day, and keep on truckin’!

T2

When you dismount your bike, someone will be there to grab it and rack it for you. All you have to do is hand it to them. If you have a Garmin or similar on quick release, remember to take it off before you give them your bike!  Your run gear bag should be handed to you by a volunteer  at  the change tent.

Run

The run is a three loop out-and-back. Aid stations are at every kilometer; that’s every 0.6 miles. This means if you use the course for nutrition and liquids, you can run with very little on you. The aid stations serve runners going in both directions and earlier in the race they can get a little congested. Not a big deal, especially if you plan to walk most of the aid stations.

You will be passing a lot of your teammates on the run multiple times. Get to know everyone and their names while you train so you can cheer each other on! Hi fives and hugs are plentiful.

Water is handed out in sealed plastic bags. You bite the corner off and drink from the bag. Bags of ice were available too. I would put ice under my hat to cool off.

Unlike most Ironman run courses, there is a lot of energy throughout this run course. Don’t get me wrong, there are some dark and quite spots, but it’s not as many as some other courses. Further down the course you’ll pass some hotels and resorts and there might be pockets of people out cheering you on. Team Z should have a cheer spot somewhere up near the far turn around.

The turn around near finish is half way down the finisher chute. For BOPers, you will be hitting the turn around of your first loop when the majority of MOPers are running in for the finish. You will hear a lot of cheers like, “You did it!” or “You’re almost there!” when you still have two loops to go. Once you turn around, the crowd will realize you have more loops and it will get uncomfortably silent. This can be a bit embarrassing, but don’t let it get to you! I suggest you do this: be prepared for it and after you turn around and the crowd quiets down, smile, get pumped, throw your fists in the air, yell, etc. Once the crown sees your energy, they will think, “Wow what a badass!” (or « ¡Dios mio que fuerte es! » for the locals) and then they will start returning the energy. The alternative is to turn around, hang your head, and run in silence. This will only add to the crowd’s silence and awkwardness!

Finish and post-race

If you’re not running for time or a cutoff, I suggest you relish the finish. Take your time. If possible, slow down and let larger groups through so your finisher photo is less congested. Walk if you want. High five everyone! Listen for <your name>, “You are an Ironman!”

If your run takes you later into the night, Team Z will hand you a glow necklace. If you don’t want this in your finisher photo hand it off to someone as you come down the finisher chute. There are usually kids that will take it. (Believe it or not, these minor details matter to a lot of people.)

Think about where you’re staying and what your finish time will be, and try to plan ahead of how you will manage post-race festivities. It is highly suggested you stick around the finish at midnight. The energy of watching the last few people make cutoff is off the charts and can get very emotional!

Depending on when you finish, you may have time to go to your hotel and clean up, then come back to the finish.  I suggest you find a friend or family member to get your bike while you’re on the run. It helps to have one less thing to worry about post finish. Ironman usually has a way for you to have a friend/family member collect you bike and gear. At IM Mont-Tremblant, they gave 2 paper tickets that had your race number. One was for the bike and the other was for you gear bags. You filled in the name of the person who was going to collect your gear and you signed the tickets. The sherpa then brings these along with their ID to get your stuff while you’re out on your run. It may not be exactly like this, but it will work similarly such that there is some level of security of who is allowed to get your stuff. If you used Tri Bike Transport, your sherpa may be able to hand your bike off to them, and you won’t even see your bike until you get back to DC Metro. The sherpa will keep your transition bags with them.

Here’s an example of a post finish plan. In this scenario, assume someone got your bike and transition gear bags so you don’t have to worry about it:

  • Cross the finish
  • Get your medal and T-shirt
  • Get a few finisher photos
  • Hug and congratulate all the Zers at the finish
  • Leave the finisher tent and find your family and friends
  • Celebrate and cry with your family and friends
  • Go back to the finisher tent and get something to eat
  • Get your morning bag and freshen up
  • Get a massage
  • Go back out to the finish and stay until the midnight cutoff

This is just an example. If you finished earlier you might have time to get to your hotel and back. If you don’t have a sherpa you might have to make time to get your bike and gear and bring it back to your hotel. If you finish really late, you might decide to skip everything entirely and just eat and get a massage. Or you can skip the massage and go out and watch the midnight finishers.  According to the web site, showers may be available at finish. If you pack your morning bag carefully you may be able to leave the finish area showered with a fresh change of clothes.

About the morning clothes bag: this is a bag you will carry with you to start. You can put things in here you will bring to start, such as flip flops, sunscreen, etc., but will give it  to volunteers  before race start. You will also put items in here that you want AFTER the race, such as a fresh pair of socks and shirt, and YOR HOTEL KEY. You can pick up your morning bag at finish.

Don’t stress about all the bags. You’ll get them at packet pickup. It will make a lot more sense when you get them and lay them all out. You’ll have at least an entire day to prep all the bags and figure out the logistics.

When you go to packet pickup, they will give you a wrist band. Do not take this off until you leave the island. It designates you as an athlete and gives you access to the transition area. I also gives you access to things pre and post race, such as any events or meals they might provide. (This varies from race to race.) It is also how you can leave the finish area, then later come back in to get more food or a massage.

Conclusion

I hope this helps you  prepare for your race. I unfortunately will not be there with you, and it will be the first Team Z iron distance race I will miss since 2011. (I’ve either raced or cheered at all of them since then.) But I will be there in spirit and look forward to reading everyone’s race reports.

Good luck, enjoy the day, celebrate your accomplishment, and spread positive energy and good karma!

Euge