Ironman Cozumel 2017 Race Report

Back in the fall of 2016, a number of friends from the Seattle Green Lake Triathlon Group had the hair-brained idea to choose Ironman Cozumel on November 26th, 2017 for their first Ironman. Personally, at the time I thought it was a foolish idea: it is difficult to train for a hot/humid race after September in Seattle, flying to a race is always more difficult logistically (ie – expensive and stressful), and there might be limited support from friends/family at such a faraway race. Spoiler alert – I was wrong! The idea caught on and many people registered and many people committed to visiting to cheer/vacation – there are definitely worse places to visit. Anticipating a huge case of FOMO (fear of missing out), I thought “sure, why not” and decided to throw my hat into the ring. I was fairly unmotivated for the race for most of the year, thinking it would be a “for fun” race and not concern myself with the performance.  However, after Ironman Coeur d’Alene in August where I had a bad taste in my mouth after my lackluster performance in the heat that I became very motivated and excited for the race. Leading up to Cozumel I had a good block of training performing many of my rides indoors trying to try to adapt to riding in heat (vs riding in 40/50 degree weather in Seattle). My electrolyte plan was significantly adjusted in order to deal with the heat, a big part of the plan was to heavily utilize BASE Salt, which proved to be excellent. I was also finally seemingly injury free - having dealt with hip / glute issues off and on over the past year.

Packing the bike. A necessary evil.

First ride on the Island Friday morning

Cozumel is "not ugly"

Mandatory Guacamole

I arrived to Isla Cozumel (“isla” is “island” in Spanish – I’m learning!) on Wednesday, November 22 after a Redeye flight through Miami. Redeyes are never ideal, but it went by surprisingly quickly. Right from going through customs, it was a little more of an adventure than I expected. Unfortunately, my spouse and translator (Alicia) had been sick the week leading up so we changed her on the flight to the next day so I was on my own. I had assumed since it was such a tourist town that everyone would speak English and it would be easy to get around. Addresses in Mexico are a bit different and it didn’t help that my Airbnb didn’t have a specific number but more of a general location, plus my driver didn’t really speak English. Through using Google Maps on my phone plus some other passengers in my van who could translate, it ended up being just fine. In an era where we have answers to just about anything within seconds away (ie we’ve become very intellectually lazy), it was kind of nice to let go a bit and try to figure some things out. It all worked out. 

Wednesday night dinner at Jeannies

I put together my bike on Wednesday night (kudos to the Ruster Sports Hen House for avoiding airline bike fees!). Breakfast for the next three days was three scrambled eggs mixed with an Avocado (from Mexico obv). I did my first ride on Thursday morning with Alex – it was quite gorgeous but Cozumel traffic is a little crazy at times. You’re sharing the road with cars, buses, motorbikes, horse-drawn carriages and other bikes - It was kind of exhilarating! After collecting Alicia from the airport, we went back into town and had some Mexican food for lunch while watching the NFL football … oh yeah it’s Thanksgiving. Weird! In the evening, our group enjoyed an American-style Thanksgiving dinner at a Mexican restaurant and they did a decent job actually.

Thanksgiving lunch

Friday, I tried to go to the swim finish for an official practice swim but they canceled it due to rough chop and wind, so went for a run instead – it wasn’t super-hot but I surely sweat up a storm. Humidity, blech. Regardless, I was feeling pretty good, felt quite ready. After the athlete briefing on Friday afternoon, Alicia and I joined Scott and Tracy to a beach outside of town and it was much quieter there – was great to get away. I swam for a few minutes and could really appreciate the extra flotation from the salt water, it was a luxury to have the water help my hips stay higher (ie better body position = faster swimming) – though like a jackass I swam with my wallet in my pocket. Wet Pesos, ugh. Friday night was this ridiculous underpants run – apparently a tradition here at Cozumel (along with Kona) – however it was really fun. We played follow-the-leader to one of the locals leading in stretching and dancing to some up-beat music and then a simple 1K footrace. I took it pretty easy, but the amount of energy was really contagious and a good time was had by all.

A Beach!

Cozumel Underpants Run

Is this still considered a "Mexican Coke"

On Saturday, I slept in and skipped the practice swim, but did a 45-minute ride ending at transition 1 around 1pm to drop off my bike and transition 1 bag. One thing I noticed was that it felt rather warm. My bike computer was registering 87 degrees on the road – which is about the same road temperature where I was getting lightheaded and dizzy and Ironman CDA three months ago. I’m thinking this is a potential danger sign, I need to make sure I keep up on the electrolytes. After getting back into town I take a bit of downtime to review my race plan, of which I am trying something new after listening to some Kona-based podcasts.

My focus was on six key areas of the race:

  • First 10 minutes of swim: long strokes, get a rhythm, breathe, get used to salt water coming into the mouth while swimming
  • Last 10 minutes of swim: focus on good catch, strong push back “rip and grip”, pass people who are slowing down, good kick to get prepped for biking
  • First hour of bike: fluids! Don’t get caught up in a pack or be pressured into passing more people than I need to early on, get a pee in within the first 90 minutes, don’t overdo it
  • Last hour of bike: keep the head down and in the aero position, pedal from the hips, engage the core with a stable upper body – gain energy by passing people who are slowing down and/or not aero
  • First “out” section of run (first 4.3 miles) – focus is to cool self, remove heat at the same rate of taking it on – use ice/water on self, cap the heart rate at bottom of zone 2 (135). HR can come up a few beats after this section
  • Last “return” section of run (last 4.3 miles) – go-time, bring run cadence up to 186, run like Patrick Lange (the winner from Ironman World Champs), these are the best miles of the day

Team mates and our taxi driver on the way to T1

I had my traditional white rice dinner as my primary dinner meal around 5pm, but then also met up with some team mates for a little bit of pasta dinner after that. Then to finalize my morning plans (ie – what nutrition/etc do I need to bring with me in the morning) which for some reason takes forever and then off to bed around 9pm.

Race morning my alarm was set for 4:15am so I could meet up with team mates at 5am to catch a taxi to transition 1. I arrived there with plenty of time to air up my tires, attach nutrition to the bike, and take care of bathroom needs. Catch another shuttle to go two and a half miles-ish up the road to the swim start and before you know it I’m lining up in the 1:10 – 1:20 starting corral. 


I find Shannon in the corral and we approach the start – once we get closer to the ocean we see a number of waves in the exact direction we are going to be swimming in … IE a huge tail wind – this is going to be a fast swim! We jump in and get swimming. It was a little bit of a shock how shallow the water was, once I got in my feet hit the sandy/hard ground – fortunately there was nothing sharp (like a coral reef) down there to hurt myself on. It actually wasn’t all that chaotic to start and immediately I start seeing some fish around me. It was amazing. I did have to watch my line as the wind was blowing us off course a bit. I pay attention to my focus points – establish my breathing and set up a good rhythm. There are so many fish swimming around! I even see a diver 50’ish feet below the surface, this is amazing! I must have a huge smile on my face during the swim. It’s pretty great. I do start to take in some salt water, but it’s actually somewhat tolerable.  I play leap frog with a couple of other swimmers and keep passing buoy after buoy. After 30’ish minutes I’m thinking to myself – “how much farther?” – if it wasn’t for all the fish and scenery I might be bored – swimming one direction for 2.4 miles is a long time – most races there will be turns or multiple loops to break up the swim. Also at this time I’m thinking that I’ve had enough salt water, I wouldn’t mind wrapping this up soon. Eventually I see the docks of the Chankanaab park indicating we’re getting close to the end. I think about my second focus area and start to really engage the core and push the water back. Round the one turn buoy and really pick it up – I pass a few more people and beat them to the swim finish. I look at my watch and can’t believe my eyes – 59 minutes and change!  What?! My previous best was 1:17 at Coeur d’Alene three months ago. This is amazing! 

It's actually really hard to get to the zipper on this swim skin!

Swim time: 59:48
Place in Race: 574


I use the showers for about 15 seconds to try to rinse some of the salt water off me, pick up my transition bag and head into the change tent. Literally the only thing I have in my T1 bag is my bike helmet (with visor) – so I take off my swimskin, goggles, and swim cap to put into the bag. Apparently we get our sunscreen applied within the change tent by a local Cozumel high school student – I had to instruct him where to apply sunscreen, and he put a LOT on, you’ll see from the pictures. Unfortunately I needed to be super explicit on where to put sunscreen, so the area behind my shoulder blades got a bit burnt (more pictures later). I head out to my bike, pick I up to head towards the mount line and I’m on my way.

T1 Time: 4:49
Place in Race: 400 


2025_037552Expertly-applied sunscreen. Though I'm sure the salt water didn't help.

The bike course is three times around the main road of the island. Traditionally there is a prevailing wind from the east which becomes a head/cross-wind on the east side of the island. However – today the winds were rather light and from the North to start, dying down as the day went on. My goal for the first hour of the bike was to keep power way low and focus on taking in liquids so that I would be hydrated enough to have to pee. The first two hours of an Ironman bike are usually pretty enjoyable – you’re going at a relatively easy pace and taking in the sights. You’re still (mostly) on loop 1 so everything is still new.

Thanks Dex for the photo

Thanks Tracie for the great photo!

After rounding the southern tip of the island, we hit the menacing Eastern side. There is a slight headwind, so I stay patient and maintain a good aero position. Plenty of people I am passing are already upright and not using their aero bars. This is really foolish – I was amazed at how many people I would see out of their aero bars – but to each their own. If they want to go slower that’s their prerogative. Towards the end of loop one we head into town and I’m rather surprised how many locals are out cheering. After a few more turns we are on the main “Quintana Roo Drive” and I see our team’s cheering section which is uplifting. Round the final turns in town and start heading back down the Western side of the island to complete loop one. Loop two is relatively uneventful but I do stop at special needs to get some more chamois cream and wow that is amazing – I think the salt water made the saddle a little more uncomfortable than normal. It is also starting to warm up a bit.  I see our cheering section again which is again fun. Starting loop three I try to take some of my clif shot blocks and then a big gag reflex starts up. Uh oh. I end up spitting out the blok and I’m trying to assess what to do. I figure I must be overheated. My bike computer is registering 88 degrees. Need to cool myself. Trying to pour some water on the back of my neck and head helps a little bit but it’s not enough. Whenever I try to drink, my stomach feels a bit upset. I make the decision to back off the power to try to digest, wait a few minutes and then pick it back up. The feelings of wanting to quit are slightly coming up (this is normal). This helps a little bit but I’m still not feeling too much better so I once the next aid station comes up, I stop and get off the bike and drink about a quarter of a Gatorade bottle. I then take a cold water bottle and stick it in my jersey on my upper back in between my shoulder blades. This may just do the trick. It feels pretty great. I still take it a bit conservative – so I alternate between slowing down a bit to eat/drink and then picking it back up once it digests. I exchange my cold water bottle once more before the end of the ride (I also open up the nozzle slightly so that cold water drips onto the back of my neck). I’m getting into the last 20 miles go back to my focus area – keep the head down, maintain aero position, pedal from the hips. It’s working – I’m passing people who are not in aero.  Feeling strong at the end of the bike ride and passing people who are fading is a HUGE emotional boost. I ride into T2 feeling good, despite having a few down sections of the bike.


Bike time: 5:57:21
Place in race: 474


Once in transition 2, the change tent is a bit warm – it is enclosed (via tent flaps) for privacy but it also has the effect of making it super hot in there. I decide to put on my calf sleeves in T2 since my calves were cramping badly in CDA three months ago, and I’m all set to go so I decide to take the gel I packed in my T2 bag. Chase with some water and whoa … um I don’t feel very good. I sit back down to help digest but after about 10 seconds I have to keel over and vomit on the ground. Repeat the vomit action three more times, it’s really pretty gross. I am thinking to myself … um, how am I supposed to run a marathon now – don’t I like “need” some of the nutrition I just evacuated? One of the volunteers (another local Cozumel high school student) is staring at me in kind of a shocked face and I ask him for something to wipe my face off. He gives me some pieces of the roll of toilet paper on a table and this helps. I take a few minutes to continue to clean myself up and compose myself, take some more water and try to clear my head. Move on out of the change tent and time to start a marathon in the heat.

T2 time: 8:51
Place in race: 495 (yikes, moving backwards in transition – that never happens to me!)

Current weather: not cold


When I started the run I was at about 7:10 race time, so I knew I that I would need to run around a 3:50 marathon in order to break 11 hours, but given my stomach issues from the bike and my glorious T2, I can’t really think about that – I just need to get moving and find a way to get into a rhythm and a groove. The Cozumel run course is three out-and-backs of approximately 4.35 miles out and 4.35 miles back. I think about my goal on first “out” section: cap my heart rate around 135 and try to cool my body as much as possible – ice in the jersey (and shorts) and water on the head. With the many out-and-backs, it’s also a time to see my teammates and where people are. While running I’m actually not feeling all that bad.  I also decided that I would NOT look at pace on my watch, just primarily heart rate. I do, however, get a vibration after each mile so I have an idea of how fast I’m running, which is very high 8’s.  After about three quarters of a mile I see our cheer section, Alicia and the others. After about two miles I decide to try another gel, and fortunately it goes down OK. About 2/3 of the way through I hear my name “Hey Eric!” – it’s Amanda coming from the other way! Wait, she’s in front of me? Oh, that’s cool. Good for her. I make it to the turnaround and let my HR come up a few beats to 137/138. Things are feeling good, as I get closer to the turnaround I start to see some more teammates – Wismar, Amy, Ben, and eventually Joseph (on lap 2). So I assume I must be in third place from our group. I complete loop two in about 1:16 and am thinking – OK if I can maintain this pace I’d run a 3:48 marathon, I’m in very good shape.  Take a second gel and it goes down the hatch OK and I pass our cheering section again.  After a little bit I notice my HR seems to be dropping and I start to feel a little bit tired. Well, that’s not surprising. I trudge on – I know that I have some home made BASE “rocket fuel” (carbo pro and Nuun) that I had frozen overnight – I just need to make it to that and I’ll get a boost of energy. I catch up to pass Amanda and give a few words of encouragement. Near the turnaround there is a live band playing some Metallica which give me some energy (not entirely sure why – I’m not a huge Metallica fan…) and then I hit the turnaround.

Another great picture by Tracie, I think the best picture of the day for me

Shortly after is the special needs where I eagerly pick up my Rocket fuel … but it wasn’t frozen anymore in fact it was quite hot and not very refreshing. I had to slow to a walk to digest it – I kept hitting my chest to try to burp and digest. Unfortunately I ended up walking off-and-on about one minute and then eventually started running steadily again. Loop 2 had significantly more people on it and it seems the only people running faster than me were people on loop 3 about to be done … ugh that would be nice. I finish up loop 2 and start to see more team mates. I look down and see my total run time is now 2:38, which puts me closer to a four-hour marathon. Hm, I can’t continue this trend – if I don’t break four I’m going to be disappointed in myself. The sun is getting lower and it is just slightly starting to cool and I think the Rocket Fuel is kicking in.  I know that I’m going to be catching up to Joseph soon.  For loop 3 I start taking in Pepsi as my drink of choice and that also seems to be helping. The sun has gone below the horizon and I recall passing the mile 19 sign and thinking “this is the best I’ve felt all day!” – I’m feeling energized, my running form is improving and my HR is climbing to where it should be (high 130s/low 140s). Shortly after this I see Joseph and make the pass after providing some more words of encouragement. At this point I’m finally having the run I wanted – I go from having creeped up in the mid-high 9 minute miles to back into the mid-8’s (though I wasn’t really looking at pace). I make the final turnaround and I’m thinking OK now is the final piece of my race plan – high cadence, “upright” running like Patrick Lange, and now is the time to press. My cadence goes from 182 to 184 and then eventually 186. I focus on leaning forward with the hips and driving the arms back. It’s very difficult but it’s feeling good. The Pepsi at each aid station seems to give me a mini boost each time and I’m quite literally passing people left and right.  I pass the mile 23 sign and pick it up again. The last several miles are a bit of a blur, I recall seeing Scott Gayler on the side of the road with a GoPro getting ready to run with me – I wave/nod at the camera and then I believe I start running faster making it harder for him to stay with me – kind of a dick move but what can I say, I was totally in the zone! My last three full miles are the fastest of the day – 8:23, 8:08, 7:33. Just before the turnaround I see Amy finishing up her second loop and say hi, then I get to the turnaround and gladly flash the number three to the volunteer and he points me towards the finish chute. In my head I’m saying “YES, I’m fucking done!!!!” This moment, honestly, is one of the absolute best feelings of the world – you’ve put in all the time, and now is the ceremony of finishing. It reminds me of waking up on Christmas morning as a kid. You finally made it to the day and are shortly going to be opening presents. I could almost argue this moment is better than the finish. After a few hundred feet I enter the finish chute, pump one arm then lift both arms above my head and cross the line with a four minute run PR (in arguably much hotter/harder conditions). My lap times were 1:15:44 / 1:22:49 / 1:15:41 – so my last loop was actually the fastest! My goal is to always get faster throughout the day, but never have I actually finished a run faster than I started. It was also really cool to see that the one Ironman race I did not have my running pace displayed on my watch was also the fastest I’ve ever run.

Current weather: not as hot. Less than a mile to go - fastest mile of the day.

Run time: 3:54:13
Place in race: 258 

Total Time: 11:05:02



After the race I’m certainly pretty tired and my stomach is a little uneasy. They had cooling poolings (ie ice baths) available which was pretty “cool” (terrible joke). I really take my time as I don’t feel like puking again like I did after CDA so I mainly just drink some Gatorade and get some ramen noodles (which I only drank the soup). The Gatorade doesn’t actually taste that great but what does is Pepsi. Joseph finished up shortly after me at 11:31 and I chatted with him for a bit. I picked up my finishers shirt and got my finishers picture then met up with Alicia to head back to the Airbnb (fortunately only a few blocks away) to clean up and go out and get some Mexican food. I check in on my team mates as many are finishing, but there was one finish I didn’t want to miss – Mikayla’s … as her boyfriend Dexter was planning to propose after she finished. I slowly walk back to the finish line area and chat with my teammates and then see Mikayla finish and the proposal worked great. The announcer (Michael Lovato) came down and let Dex speak into the microphone along with her answer – kudos to Ironman for letting this experience happen.  Shortly after Mikayla was Melody who finished her first Ironman after having two previous DNFs in 2015, it was pretty awesome to see both of those finishes.


Ironman Numero Cinco 

IMG_1354Congrats to Dex and Mikayla!

As for how I evaluate my execution – I would probably rate it at about and 8 (maybe 8.5?) out of 10… ie I’m pretty happy with it! I had a plan of hyper-focus on six areas of the race and I nailed them all. Nutrition was solid and I only had a few minor cramping issues which went away quickly - total opposite of CDA. For maybe only 30-45 minutes of the race I was really hating life which has to be a new personal best. I feel like it's usually more like 90 minutes.

I would have loved to have broken 11 hours on the day, and with that amazing swim I was well-positioned to do so, I’m just still learning how to tune my body to race in the heat. It was significantly better than CDA three months ago, but I still didn’t quite have the bike I wanted to due to the stomach issues. Throwing up in T2 didn’t help either … hell that was probably five minutes on that alone that could have been the difference in going sub-11.  Oh well. But seriously, whenever you can finish strong on the three sports it’s usually a good (if not great) day.  It was also a pretty great experience seeing so many teammates and friends out on the course – both from gaining energy from seeing friends as well as it’s nice to have a bit of friendly competition to take your mind off slogging away for hours on end. 

Post-race tacos 
The areas where my Cozumel high school student missed the sunscreen. At least not as bad as Joseph!?

The next few days were relaxing and sightseeing around Cozumel. We rented a moped and drove around a good portion of the island. Tuesday was spent at all-inclusive beach on Tuesday called Mr Sancho’s with about 30 of us. The funny thing about this resort was that it was about 90% people from cruise ships. Without sounding too much like an ass, let's just say it was a culture shock after having been primarily around Ironman athletes for the past four days. After about 2pm the place started to clear out a bit and it was pretty great. I definitely pigged out and enjoyed my first significant drinking in months - like four whole drinks!

Post race ceremony

Well we didn't win the team award, but we took a picture on stage anyways

Meeting the great Sebastien Kienle!/p>

Southern tip of the island

Mr Sanchos with friends and team mates

Having a "cold coconut" at Playa Del Carmen before heading to the airport. Well worth the 40 pesos.

As for what’s next … winter sports time! I picked up cross country skate skiing last winter and loved it. I plan to enter a few XC ski races this winter (and likely get my ass kicked) to see if I can improve. Once the spring/summer hits I plan on racing Ironman 70.3 St Polten Austria in late May and then Ironman Canada (full) again in Whistler in late July, with some local sprint and Olympic distance triathlons sprinkled in.  I really enjoyed traveling to a new part of the world to compete in triathlon, and I really wanted to experience a triathlon in Europe. From what I hear, there are some super fast people there and I am likely to get my ass kicked, but I'm sure the experience will be awesome. I had originally considered doing a full Ironman in Europe but the thing is a full Ironman triathlon requires several days of downtime before the race, then you race all day, and then the next day is mostly shot – so roughly a four-day commitment.  A Half Ironman is really “only” a two-day commitment, which allows more time for vacationing and sightseeing. I’m also looking forward to seeing how much of my 200-level college German I can use! After that I’m looking at a fall marathon, ideally, I’ll make it into the Chicago Marathon lottery in October.

Six days after Ironman, playing in the mountains outside of Seattle. 

With that, thanks for reading, catch you on the flip side. Bonus picture - my five Ironman finish pictures in one:


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