My husband says there are two kinds of Ironman finishers. Those who say “Wow, that was an awesome achievement, I’m done…Let’s move on to the next big thing.” and those who say “Hmm…. I wonder if I can do that faster or in a more difficult setting.” I fall into the second category. But my “A” race this year was not just about this goal. It was about completing a race with my dad and raising funds/awareness for a cause, which I am very passionate about.
Travel to Cozumel
Getting to Cozumel from the San Francisco Bay is a bit tricky and can make for quite a long travel day. There are direct flights available from SFO to Cancun (and then a short flight to Cozumel), but they are usually more expensive than connecting flights. Even once you get there, you must take a shuttle or taxi to a ferry, which takes you to another taxi, which then takes you to your accommodations on the island.
You can prepare a lot for races, but the day does not always go to plan (as my coach gently reminded me at our team holiday party the following weekend). I found this out on the ferry. We boarded a 10pm ferry to Cozumel after leaving our house that day at 4:40am. It was a long day and it was going to be a lot longer, as I soon found out.
I am not prone to getting sea sick. I’ve been on many boats on somewhat choppy water. That night proved differently. As we waited to board the ferry, it was completely dark, but I could see the waves crashing along the dimly lit pier. When it was time to board, I could see bike boxes being shimmied onto the narrow bridge from the pier to the ferry. As the boat swayed (hitting 10 foot swells), it took at least 3 people to push the bike boxes on board in a very shaky pattern. I had decided to ship my bike from my nearby sports store and was extra thankful for that decision at this point.
We took our seats and felt a light rain. The ferry rocked. Typically, the ferry ride is 35 minutes from Playa Del Carmen to Cozumel. Because of the strong winds and choppy waters, it would be closer to an hour.
Taking my seat in the back of the ferry, Ironman competitors surrounded me on the top deck, sporting shirts and jackets from various races. I was with my people again. Leaning back, I felt the jolt of the ferry and we were off.
Less than five minutes into the ride, I felt queasy. Six minutes into the ride, I was sick. For almost the whole time, my stomach emptied out into the contents of 8 sea sick bags.
Trying not to panic that I was losing electrolytes and fluids, I was focused on one thing – making it to the other side. I contemplated grabbing my speed suit, jumping in the water and swimming to shore (Okay, maybe not..) Within a few seconds, the boat swayed and I could see the sky, and then the water. This pattern played on repeat.
When we finally arrived in Cozumel, I felt so weak it was hard to step off the boat. Exhausted from my day of travel and dehydrated was not how I expected my race experience to begin. Eleven months of intense Ironman training and I was taken out by a turbulent ferry ride.
After six hours of sleep in our condo, I stepped outside onto the balcony. The winds had lessened and the sea looked calm. A beautiful ocean appeared in front of me. Usually, I have pre-race anxiety about picking up my packet, getting my bike settled, etc, etc. Not today. I picked up my packet and had some fun with my family, but overall did not feel well. I could only eat oatmeal and bananas and even then, was still feeling the effects of the ferry ride from the previous night.
I would not let this ruin my experience. After all, I still had two more days to feel better. I did not once think about not doing the race. I came here to race. After one false start line at Ironman Lake Tahoe, I would not miss the opportunity be at this start line.
Over the next few days, I repeated the same foods: oatmeal, banana, herbal teas, water and electrolytes. By race morning, I could tolerate eating a muffin and some margarita Clif shot Bloks. Okay, it’s go time. No matter what, I would be at the starting line.
IM Cozumel has the most relaxed vibe. I noticed this during our race packet pickup and even more so, on race morning, when lively island music played in the background and the competitors and their families enjoyed the warm air and beautiful blue & green water.
We had been told this is the “fastest swim” on the Ironman circuit. This was not the complete truth, I found out, as I could see the buoys and rope sway both ways in the deep blue sea. Even so, I rallied and took off at the horn for the purple caps. Being tossed around the waves made me a bit nervous. Would I get sick in the middle of the swim? Would I get pulled out? I let those thoughts occupy my mind for less than 10 seconds and pushed on. Finding my rhythm in the water, I sighted one buoy at a time. I was in the zone when “Ouch!” Jellyfish stung me on my right shoulder. It hurt, but stunned me even more. I didn’t see that coming. I pushed out the thought of getting stung more. I was able to complete the swim, a little bit slower than usual, but happy to make it out of the water. Later, I found out I was lucky, for others had been stung more than a dozen times.
Exiting the water and trotting over to my bike bag, I opened it immediately and none of my bike nutrition was in there. None. Did I forget to pack it? I always double-check. Not sure what happened, but there wasn’t time to be annoyed. It was go time.
Before I left for IM Coz, a teammate said “I’d take a lot of climbing over wind any day, on the bike.” I soon found out what he meant. Ten miles into the course, I hit a long windy stretch that seemed longer with every loop. There were three loops in total that alternated cheering locals yelling “Si, se puede!” which translates to: “YES, you can!”, with long stretches with a slight tailwind and the windy stretch that got windier as the day progressed. I saw a guy just pull over and put his hands and head on his bike. I think he was praying for the winds to stop. Unfortunately, the prayers were not answered.
I had a goal time in mind for the bike and after the second lap, I knew it was not in the cards. As many cyclists know, the wind can be disheartening on the mind. I started to focus on the beautiful, empty beaches with the crashing blue waves, making plans with myself to revisit them the next day, under much different, more comfortable circumstances. Looking over to my left, I caught a woman’s eye who is was coming up to pass me. “How much longer are these winds?” “I don’t know, maybe one mile?” I replied. I was wrong – it was closer to 3. As we caught each other again, we just laughed. We had completed the last round of the windy coastal winds.
Lacing up my Hoka One Ones post bike, a slight twinge in my right calf made an appearance. I felt it during a short dismount for bike special needs, however, as I began my run, it loosened up.
Running through downtown Cozumel, with the ocean air blowing and the crowds cheering was a-mazing. Despite the tenderness in my right calf, I enjoyed the energy of the crowds. Hearing the party-goers from Senor Frogs and blasting Mexican music from the local stores was invigorating and it gave me more pep in my step.
However, by the time I reached Mile 13 of the run, I could no longer hold a running pace. I began to let go of my time goalsand focus on not hurting my calf and enjoying what was left of the race. I was getting hard on myself and wishing I just felt better so I could be faster. But this wasn’t about “being faster”. This was about completing an Ironman. I reminded myself of that. Like many things in life, if they are easy, everyone would do them. Not an Ironman. It is supposed to be difficult (as my friend, Ian Hersey would say!) Not easy-breezy. There will be days that things will feel that way. But that day, for me, today was not that day.
By Mile 23, I passed my family for the last time (until I would see the mat the finish line). I was walking, more than running, and they said how proud of me they were. I had just a few miles until the finish line. Once I got to Mile 25, I turned off my Garmin and ran the last 1.2 miles sans watch, amongst the dark sky and blue oceanfront. I enjoyed the finish line, taking my time down the chute. This was a line meant to be savored, not charged through, like I usually do. I earned every mile of the race.
If people asked me if I’d recommend this race, I would say, without hesitating: yes. The community, competitors and beautiful scenery make for a spectacular race setting. For me, it may not have been a personal record time, but it was time spent with my family, seeing my dad on the race course and being appreciative of the abilities I have. It meant completing my second Ironman, with the support of my friends, family, teammates and coaches. It means adding another rung to my ever-expanding ladder.
I would also highly, highly, highly recommend taking a flight to Cozumel, versus the ferry. :-) [We switched to flight transportation on our way back home!]
I will be heading back in 2024 for my 10th year "Cozu-versary"… and will soak up the entire course - no time goal in mind - but for pure flow and enjoyment. (Except that windy section in the middle section of the bike course… ouch! No getting around that - pure grit will have to show up.)