by Pro Triathlete Alex
Two spots had opened up on the start list for the Cozumel World Cup and guess who was number two on the waiting list… After changing around some tickets I had a fun race trip put together for myself. Twelve days, four flights, three airlines, one ferry trip, and two hot and humid races, oh yeah!
It all started early Thursday morning with a flight from Colorado Springs to Cancun via Houston. I knew I was in a little bit of trouble when I was feeling the humidity just walking down the jetway in Houston. I had gotten comfortable with Colorado’s 60 degree highs and low humidity. It’s always a great feeling when the temperature starts to drop and suddenly your run times get way faster. Now I was about to go and experience the opposite effect.
The trip on the bus and ferry to get from Cancun to Cozumel was pretty simple, thanks to the ITU for putting everything together. I decided to go out for a little jog to stretch the legs after traveling. Even though it was late in the evening it was still hot and steamy. I was quickly drenched with sweat and I started to wonder how people were surviving wearing jeans in this jungle.
Previewing the Cozumel World Cup course got me incredibly excited to rock this race. The bike was a simple out and back with half the road surface a decorative, polished (i.e., slick) concrete and the other half your typical beat up black asphalt. Getting out of my sweaty bike clothes, I was desperate to swim around and cool off. Turns out the water temp wasn’t much cooler than the air temp, but the water was crystal clear with lots of little fishies swimming around! It was never deeper than 15 feet or so and visibility was incredible. No wonder so many people come down here for scuba diving and snorkeling.
Outside of some course preview action and some shake out workouts, I spend most of the time just lying in the hotel room. Killing time by looking for english channels on the TV and trying to beat Jarred and the CSI detectives in solving the case first. We kept things simple and ate our meals at the hotel restaurant, trying to minimize time spent in the heat and maximize time spent in A/C.
Cozumel World Cup Race Day
Before I knew it, race morning was upon us. A lazy wake up around 7:30 a.m., a little shake out jog, and then breakfast. I got to the race site in time to see the women exiting the water. Coming out of T1 and off the blue carpet, I could see several girls slipping and sliding as they tried to maneuver on the polished concrete and mount their bicycle.
Something to watch out for during my own race.
After getting checked in, it was time to get a little warm up in. Worried about the extreme heat (air temp 29°C/84°F, water temp 27°C/81°F, and 90+% humidity) I made a makeshift ice vest by soaking my t-shirt in an ice bucket and heading out for a little jog. Being so hot out, it was more important to just get the muscles a little prepped while not raising the core temperature. Although that strategy failed the moment I had to use a port-a-potty. It was worse than a sauna in there and while doing my business I lost a lot of fluid quickly.
Soon it was time to line up for the swim start. This race was stacked with talent and depth: seventy-one starters on the list, with names like Gomez, Justus, Shoemaker, and Polyanskiy headlining. Having a lowly number of points I was number 61. Having a low rank has the perk of not having to worry about where to line up on the start. You just take the last spot available. It was a dive start and I was stoked to get into the beautiful water and smash this swim. Hearing the intense heartbeat music, I took my last breaths trying to blow off the nerves. “On your marks,” horn blast, and we were off!
The first turn buoy was 475 meters out which allowed for plenty of space for things to settle before squeezng everyone together. I was positioned well in the middle of the group swimming relatively in the clear. I had a smooth turn and was able to see that I was somewhere in the middle of the race. Although catching a draft from all sides was pretty great it was a constant battle. Elbows to the face, swimming over others, getting swum over, and swallowing tasty electrolyte salt water was just normal. With a couple hundred meters left to go, I was starting to really feel the heat and was sick of getting elbowed in the face. I could handle one or the other but not both. But I pushed on knowing that a good position into T1 would be key for my race.
It was such a sweet sight to see several other bikes in transition. Finally I was actually part of the race instead of just playing catch up! I lost a handful of seconds fumbling with my helmet but I would lose more time in a few moments. Leaving the transition area and the blue carpet I remembered what I saw earlier in the day with the women’s race. Unfortunately, the guy in front of me didn’t see any of that. I’m not sure what happened but one second he was up and running and the next second he was sliding around in front of me on top of his bike. I couldn’t tell you how I got around that guy and kept myself upright. But now I was alone, with a group of five about ten seconds ahead of me. Time to drop the hammer!
I put in a huge four minute effort to try and get into that group. At that moment, for me that was the race. Either get into that group or be off the back of another race. I bridged up and realized that our little group was number three on the road. With ten seconds to the next group of 15-ish, we got to work. No time for me to really recover, I did what I could to help the group close the gap. We even got a little help by chasing down a media motorbike that was between groups for some reason. He wanted a close up so we gave him one!
Right when we caught up to the 2nd group they came together with the front group. And then everyone decided it was hot and no one wanted to pedal. I was eager to get some recovery and finally rinse the salt out of my mouth from the swim. But staying at the back is not a good place to be.
Coming around the tight U-turn on the polished concrete, the guy in front of me locked up his back wheel mid turn and I T-boned him, causing my chain to fall off. Luckily I got it to catch back on quick, but I had to lay down another big effort to maintain contact with the group. I kept stomping the pedals until I got to the front of the group. We were going slow enough that I was happy to be on the front not in anyone’s draft if it meant I was safe and didn’t have to worry about sprinting out of the turnaround.
The heat was really getting to me, and my hot bottle of water was doing little to make me feel better. For the last two laps I just sat in the group towards the front and tried to relax. This was going to be a furious 5k run. Basically all 70 of us had come together into one big group. So all that work I did earlier on the bike was for no reason, but that’s racing. You just never know what’s going to happen.
Getting ready to come into T2 I got my shoes off early, wanting to be able to stay alert and move up as everyone else messed with theirs. I was sitting in the front third of the group towards the middle, watching as everyone kept moving up on the outsides. Boxed in, I kept looking for a way forward. Finally I found a hole to move to the outside and started moving up. Suddenly the guy in front of me darted left as the road narrowed. My only option was going up, I jumped up onto the sidewalk which was thankfully not packed with spectators yet. But my time was limited, and I frantically looked for a place to get back into the group. Unfortunately that place was at the back of the pack. So into T2 I went, at the very back of the group.
Coming off the bike my legs felt like complete Jell-o. Grabbing my sun-baked shoes, I again was fumbling around trying to squeeze my feet in. Starting the run I saw a long line of everyone stretched out ahead of me. A very demoralizing sight, but it may have actually helped me out. Lots of guys went out ridiculously fast considering the extreme conditions. So as some started to drop like flies and walk, I kept building my pace.
I was still too far behind though, and not running well. There were four aid stations on course and I would take two or three bottles from each station. The heat was destroying me and I felt less like I was running and more like I was just stumbling forward.
I crossed the line a few minutes behind the winner Gomez in 39th place. Everything had gone well except for my 17:57 5k split. That just won’t do at the World Cup level. Full Cozumel World Cup results and splits can be found on triathlon.org.
After a long ice bath session, I spent a long time just sitting on the curb trying to put things together. I probably had some kind of heat stroke going on, but I was just replaying things in my mind as I tried to understand what had just happened. Being outside of the top 30 means no WTS points for me. Major bummer because that was the main goal in doing this race. But not all is lost, I gained some more experience racing at a high level in a very large and deep field. There is much more work to be done.
Cozumel was a great race venue. The grandstand was packed, the streets were packed and every roof top bar was packed. It was great to have so many people around screaming and putting their energy into us. The locals were out strong and even a large number of tourists had stumbled upon our race to try and give us some encouragement. The Cozumel World Cup is definitely a race I want to come back to.
Maybe the coolest moment for me was walking away from the athlete lounge to go home. I was stopped by some volunteers and a local family who all wanted to get a picture with me. Not sure who they thought I was, but I was happy to oblige. Sometimes it’s the spectators that make the venue, and hopefully I will be coming back to Cozumel next year!
For now, I’m anticipating the second hot, humid race of this trip: San Juan ITU Triathlon Pan American Cup in Puerto Rico on October 13th.