Cozumel Ironman 2021 – Race Report

(No race pics at moment as still sorting out an issue with FinisherPix, I didn’t want to wait anymore, so will add once its sorted)

So I did it !! Yep, despite the fact I didn’t update my blog for several months, rather than it being due to me flunking out and slinking back into bad habits, I was training hard and basically too doggone tired to write. So here is my long delayed race report.

Still can’t quite believe I went to Cozumel and raced after two years of cancellations … and what an adventure it was!

Cozumel Ironman
Enjoying a rare moment of sun with friends

My last race of any sorts was back in June 2019, my last full ironman September 2018, and with all that has been happening in the last couple of years, I had kinda given up hope of racing again until 2022 at the earliest. That was until a certain member of the Tokyo tri team, (formerly know as Uncle Ernesto, now promoted to the rank of Saint Ernesto – more on that later), insisted to call me up after I’d whinged about my main race of 2021 being cancelled. He came up with a crazy idea of me joining him to do Cozumel IM as “all of the Mexican races had gone ahead as planned previously, and that the water was beautiful and the tequila free flowing, and anyway, he’d arrange everything”. The fact that this call took place in May and the race was in November along with the fact he had already christened me with my new Mexican name, meant I blindly signed up, without really thinking it through. Which is probably the best way to sign up as who in their right minds want to race IM anyway.

As vaguely written about in previous posts, I got down to training quite well. I was starting off about 12kg over weight, with my running completely screwed as I had only just recovered from a two year Achilles injury. I also had a rather patchy fitness record since COVID hit, as the lockdown etc had tempted me back into the dark side of booze and smokes. But knowing that I had a group of likeminded TiTs (Triathletes in Tokyo) also signed up for Cozumel and watching me on Strava, was a good impetus to get myself straightened out, and the encouragement and/or banter via group chat was always a good pick-me-up. I also managed a couple of trips up to Hokkaido to train with the Niseko Division of the Cozumel Crew (Jeff, Lesa, Ernesto – mucho gracias amigos) and I think it was those trips that really kept me going.

So after about 5 months of (mostly) focused training, and about 10kg lighter than when I started, eventually the time came to leave to Mexico. We were all on different schedules, with me the only one leaving on the Thursday morning, flying directly to Mexico City, then changing to a domestic flight to Cozumel the same day … well apart from it wasn’t!

Without going into details, I somehow had missed the fact that the local airline had cancelled the domestic connecting flight and rebooked me for Friday. It soon became apparent that I wasn’t the only one who’d missed the memo, and the check in counter of Volaris in Mexico City was crazy, a queue snaking back all the way through the airport. To cut a long story short, I ended up staying at an overpriced airport hotel overnight, and then flying the final leg with Paul, another of our Cozumel Crew, the next day. This was the first of many little wobbles that occurred on the trip, which ensured we stayed on our toes and kept things interesting!

So good old sunny tropical Cozumel eh?! Well not quite, was basically pouring with rain the whole time, with flash floods, thunder, lightening and crazy seas. (Luckily the crazy seas subsided, but certainly had us worried for a while) . Oh did I mention me sending tiny glass splinters all over my bedroom floor when I dropped a glass on the tiles? Or getting a puncture in my room hours before bike check in? Or another member of our crew tripping on her Friday evening run and twisting her ankle so bad she had to DNS..

Ironman Cozumel swim
Cozumel Ironman early morning swim practise

Somehow the rest of us managed to make it to race morning, which saw our taxi navigating a bunch of dead ends and U-turns due to the main thoroughfares being closed. Luckily we’d left super early so got to T1 in plenty of time, where we set up the bikes in absolutely monsoon level rain. Everything was wet and flooded before we started, and by the time we had jumped on a coach for the 20 minute drive to swimstart, I was really beginning to feel the cold. I lined up in a pen with Jeff, both of us shivering in nothing but our budgie smugglers, this being a no wet suit swim. But there is always something special about the start of an Ironman, the pumping music, the crowds of athletes, meaning our nerves and adrenaline cut through the cold as the excitement rose.

Eventually came time to jump in the sea, and it was a relief to get in the warm water. It was point to point, swimming with the current and with everyone stretched out there was very little of the normal argy-bargy common in triathlon swims. Others mentioned the amazing sea life but to be honest I was so worried my leg was gonna cramp up I didn’t notice anything until suddenly I was at the point to turn to shore. It seemed way too short (which my Garmin confirmed later) but I was super stoked to finish the swim in 1:07 minutes, a full 22 minutes faster that my previous best (remember that number, it’s important)!

Transition was a doddle without a wet suit, even if everything was soaked, and I was out in under 10 minutes. The bike part consisted of three laps around a very flat course, and with no sign of the strong head winds I heard about, I was feeling very confident. The countryside was spectacular although like the swim , I didn’t really see that much as I kept pretty aero, and was passing a bunch of people while maintaining an average of over 30kph.

Until it happened.

At 50k.

My first ever race puncture!!! Luckily due to the puncture the day before I was pretty calm and worked methodically so while not fast by any means, I got it all done in … 22 minutes! Which if you recall dear reader, was the exact time I’d gained by having a current assisted and shortened swim. What the tri gods giveth, the tri gods taketh away.

I did feel a little less focused when I got back on the bike, especially as the sky ahead had turned pitch black. Suddenly all hell let lose as lightening started flashing and the loudest longest thunderclaps heralded the return of the rains. From that point on it was all about finding the best line and trying to avoid the worst of the floods (some were so deep it was a struggle to pedal through), and although there was occasionally break in the clouds, the weather definitely impacted my time.

Eventually the end came in sight, and I started to count down the km.

And then it happened again.

Puncture number two!

This time as I was only 1km from home I tried to ride in, but the wet roads meant my wheel was sliding all over the place, so I jumped off and ran (walked?) the bike to the finish. Another 10 minutes or so lost but strangely enough I didn’t really get upset, just laughing at myself. I somehow knew I was going to get another puncture and it happened! Anyway, bike done and next was my specialty, the run! I was still on for sub 13 finish and an easy PB, so was feeling positive. Even more so when I got the first loop done at a comfortable sub 7 pace, feeling strong, loving the atmosphere and the crazy crowds of supporters, ready to ramp things up. This was going well and I happily answered my colleagues Paul “how’s it going?” With a “great” when we passed on the course.

Ha ha ha ha… yeah, I forgot one of the cardinal rules of IM. The race doesn’t start until the last half of the run. Apart from general tiredness from the bike, apart from the total lack of run fitness due to injury, apart from the reappearance of the tropical heat and strength sapping sun, apart from terrible nutrition on the course including running out of water, on top of all that, I’d broken another cardinal rule – don’t try anything new on race day. I’d stupidly not decided on shoes or socks until the day before the race and hadn’t run at all in the combination I eventually chose. I’m still not sure if it was purely a bad combo or the fact my feet had been soaked all day, but boy oh boy, did my feet suffer. I knew my toes would be black from the banging and I could feel blisters forming all over. Yes I was tired but more than anything, the pain in my feet meant I could do nothing more than walk my way around.

So I settled into the IM trudge. It was nice to see Jeff out there, he was also resigned to a walk and we stopped to exchange pleasantries several times. I also felt a slap on my back as Lesa serenely glided past me on lap number 3 , looking like she was just out for a fun 5k jog. She smiled sweetly and commented on how nice an evening it was for a stroll, before jogging on by.

All good things come to an end, and after over 6hrs of pounding the pavement, I eventually crossed the finishing line for a total of 14:56. While not terrible by itself (for me), on such a fast course it was a pretty shitty showing, both male and female pros had set IM records that day, however again, I really didn’t care. I was so happy to have been racing again, so happy to be back.

The finish area was a bit of a let down, Covid precautions meaning there was none of the normal razzmatazz, with everyone being shunted out ASAP. The trudge back to the hotel with a flat tyre and a billion bags wasn’t much fun, and I silently thanked Ernesto for finding us a hotel so close to the finish line. But I still felt good, I’d completed my 8th Iron distance race, and was still alive to tell the tale

Next day was beautifully sunny, and after consuming bucketfuls of breakfast at the little Cocina opposite our hotel that we had made our own, we went for our pre return COVID test and then shopping for the tequila party that afternoon. What happens in Cozumel stays in Cozumel but let’s just say we enjoyed our little soirée 

And the final part of the adventure. Coming down with both a cough/cold/temperature the morning of departure and then being hit my Montezumas revenge literally just as I got in the taxi to the airport. That stayed with me the whole flight, not fun at best of times, but set off panics in these times of Corona.

And finally, why is Uncle Ernesto now Saint Ernesto? Well apart from the fact he took care of all logistics and made sure we all enjoyed our stay in his home country, when Pauls flight delay meant he wasn’t able to collect his bike and make the connection to the international flight at Mexico City, Ernesto volunteered to pick it up and bring it back to Tokyo! Instant canonisation!

Ironman Cozumel. Fitting in with the locals
Hasta luego amigos!

That really was an adventure, lots of positives, a few not so positives, many new experiences and great time with friends. Absolutely loved the whole thing, now all I have to decide is .. am I going again next year??

6 thoughts on “Cozumel Ironman 2021 – Race Report

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