Ironman Cozumel 2020-Race Recap and Tips

Did you race IM Cozumel 2020? Please share your experience in the COMMENTS below!

In a year where life has been anything but normal, Ironman Cozumel 2020 offered a sense of normalcy for triathletes. The long training hours and sacrifices to get to an Ironman starting line are mentally and physically draining enough. The emotional toll of cancelled races, often just days before the event, is almost impossible to describe. So, when Ironman Arizona 70.3 and IM Florida (half and full) were actually held, triathletes regained some hope.

Then Ironman Arizona 140.6 was abruptly cancelled about a week before the scheduled November race, leaving athletes scrambling for options.

Many athletes found hope in cobbling together a do-it-yourself full Ironman, sagged by friends and family- a story for another day! But it didn’t take long for social media chatter to turn to IM Cozumel, slated for the same day as IMAZ– with a large number of athletes packing up and heading to the balmy island. Some already had bikes in transit to Arizona with Tribike Transport and scrambled to borrow bikes for the trip or rent one in Cozumel.

So…. what was IM Cozumel 2020 like?

Keep reading for 2020 race highlights, Covid protocols, spectating, and travel tips!

Quick Race Stats* and Tips from 2020

StartingFinishersDNSDNFDQ
851775127735
*Unofficial

Overall: This was a fun race, with lots of spectators along the course. But the finish line food was very poor-partially due to Covid, but it still should have been much more substantial- both from the costs of IM entries and the fueling needs after such an event for the health and safety of athletes. The race would have benefitted from better spectator management to keep spectators off the race course (see below).

Swim: Racers were shuttled from T1 to the swim start in this point-to-point swim, exiting at Chankenaab Park. Due to water temperatures, it was not wetsuit legal. The remarkably visibility in these clear waters helped navigation. In 2020, the current was against swimmers for ~ 300-400 yards, then athletes swam with the current, although I heard other swimmers giving slightly different takes on the impact of the current on swims. Many racers reported jelly fish stings– these were likely jellyfish larvae, called Sea Lice. The stings left some with painful welts. 

Bike: The flat 3-loop course looped around the island. Roads were generally in very good repair. Aside from the occasional wild animal crossing (one athlete reported smashing into a vulture!), it was the unrelenting winds, leftover from a hurricaine Iota’s path of destruction much further south that was the big challenge. Some racers reported cycling 9 mph bike legs for substantial portions, especially on stretches unprotected by trees, causing more than one racer missed the bike cut-off. Downtown, the cycling route wound through café-lined streets, with spectators eating, drinking, cheering, and drinking some more. There were no barriers between the cyclists and the spectators and many spectators crept into the streets to cheer, creating a bit of an obstacle course, especially after several drinks. One cyclist reported colliding with a spectator because of this and I saw numerous other near misses. In the downtown area, there was a 90-degree turn onto Avenue Rafael E Melgar onto spectator-lined streets that created some technical challenges, and at least one crash. T2 was in the basement of the Mega store in the Punta Langosta Shopping Center (see picture below).

Run: The 3-loop course started at the Mega, turning north to the 4.2 mile turn-around. The lap turn-around was at the finish line (mentally challenging), with lots of great cheering along the café and spectator-lined streets. Again, with plenty of beer and margaritas flowing, spectators progressively moved into the streets, some walking in front of athletes. By lap 3, with tired runners and swerving pedestrians, there were several near misses. It looked reminiscent of the spectators along the Tour de France’s Alpe d’Huez or Challenge Roth, only drunk.  

The Finish!

In 2020, the finish chute was well-lined with very supportive spectators (held back by barriers, thankfully). Due to Covid, finisher food consisted of a paper bag containing a ham and cheese sandwich, a shortbread-like cookie, a tangerine, a bottle of water, and a bottle of sport drink- NOT much by post-race refueling needs. (Note- for other post-race nutrition options: local restaurants were closing down around 9 pm-ish, so ToGo foods became a problem. Some local roadside food vendors had set-up along the recovery area- with a variety of local treats. With Covid staffing and decreased clientele, some resort restaurants were also closed by the time we taxied back after the race.)

Weather: High winds and humidity ruled the day. The downtown cheering section along the cafés for the run was fairly sheltered from the wind.

Medical Events: 2 runners reported waking up in the hospital with little memory of racing (one had a finisher’s medal, but no memory of crossing that infamous line). Both reported having dangerously low sodium levels. One reported seizures. High humidity, temperatures, and winds wreaked havoc with electrolyte and nutrition plans for many. A few racers with medical emergencies were unable to get their bike/transition gear on race night ( I’m guessing they didn’t have a support crew along), but after contacting the race director via cozumel@ironman.com or  mzavala@asdeporte.com, were able to make arrangements to get the bikes onto Tribike Transport. Membership to the Mexican Tri Fed organization was required for the race (a single-day pass was available during registration).

Spectating

Getting Around Race Day:

Race-sherpas and cheer squads had to plan around significant road closures- the main road around the island IS the bike course and IS closed to traffic! The Ironman Tracker App was helpful, even though it’s just a guestimate of the athletes location, it made it easier to find good cheering vantage points.

Swim start No spectators were officially allowed at swim entry (although several did make it there!)

View of T1 from the roadside

T1 Taxis were able to drive along a road parallel to the closed road, taking spectators to T1. Since athletes were coming out of transition on their bikes there, the road was blocked to through traffic. Taxis basically stopped at the barriers at T1 and let spectators out to cheer. Spectators then got a ride to T2 and the Mega store (by Q Roo park) from the line of waiting taxis on the other side of the road block.

T2 in the basement of the Mega

Bike/Run- spectators could basically set up along Avenue Rafael E Melgar near Q Roo park and cheer for the rest of the race, from bike laps to the finish line. T2 cheering was accessed from the front of the Mega via the parking entrance, with an excellent vantage point to see athletes rack bikes and start the run. Local cafés lined the streets with outside seating, making eating while cheering easy. A full grocery store at the Mega makes snacks easy between laps of the athlete. Local vendors set up push carts with local treats, such as eloté (corn on the cob slathered in butter and an array of tasty toppings) and marquesitas (similar to rolled-up crepes stuffed with yummy fillings, like Nutella or chocolate). Port-o-potties were staged up along Q Roo park, but were roped off part way through the afternoon, leaving few places for spectators later in the day, except in restaurants as paying customers. (Note- the paper was outside the port-o-potties.-you had to remember to take it in with you!)

Toilet paper supply outside the Port-o-Potties

Covid Changes to Racing Format and Local Venue

  • Masks were required throughout T1 until entering the water, similar to IM Florida (140.6/70.3) and IM Arizona 70.3. Masks were then handed out in the finish chute and required to be worn while in the race venue. For spectators, face masks were required at all times throughout the town, unless eating or drinking at the café’s. Hotels required masks while on the premises, unless distanced from others in areas such as the beach, or while dining/drinking. All the shops in Cozumel (and Playa del Carmen) had sanitization mats at the store entrance for feet, with temperature checks and hand sanitizer required at the entrance. Physical distancing markers were often on floors, but not heavily enforced. (Interestingly enough, on a follow-up family vacation a couple of weeks after the race, the entrance mats and sanitizing spray were less enforced in the Cozumel shopping areas). No awards ceremony or post-race celebrations were held. Links to Kona slots were mailed to recipients.
  • Swim start- swimmers were lined up physically-distanced through T1. Racers entered the water individually, separated by a few seconds. Timing started at water entry.
  • Aid Stations- bike aid stations had individual water bottles handed out, in addition to foods. Run aid stations were supplied, but required athletes to grab off the table. Full sports drink and water bottles were available. (Caution: some runners felt the need to drink the entire aid drink bottle from run stations to not be wasteful, with subsequent stomach upset hampering their race.)

Traveling

Currency: American dollars are accepted, but you will get whatever conversion rate the café or shop is using. The street venders and taxis also accepted US dollars. The exchange rate in 2020 was 20 pesos to 1 US dollar.

Getting to Cozumel (Consider this T1 of your ‘traveling race’):

Your choices include flying directly into Cozumel or flying into Cancun, then transportation to Cozumel from there. 

  1. Flights directly into Cozumel are your best, most hassle-free bet. It gets you to the island. Taxis are not allowed to pick up at the airport (but they can drop off). Plan to call a van service for pick up. For 4 people, the cost was $110 for a van-sized taxi. Unofficially, rumors are that you can walk 300 yards off the airport premises and get a taco or two at Diego’s, then have the wait staff order a taxi. This drops costs considerably.)
  2. Flights to CancunOnce in Cancun, take a taxi to Playa del Carmen (PDC) to get onto the water ferry to Cozumel. Larger van-like taxis are available to transport your bike. While this sounds straight forward-and many people recommended this as a reasonable option- see how many athletes almost missed racing IM Cozumel when winds cancelled the ferries here (also known as ‘2 Days in Hell).
    • PDC to Cozumel Water Ferry-
      1. These are not your typical small ferries. These massive ships have several decks, with drink and snack service along the way. Two competing companies operate at the dock: Winjet and Ultramar, with different operating schedules and prices. The trip can run between 30-40 minutes, not including loading and disembarking.
      2. Online schedules were not consistently updated. Weather can significantly impact the ferry scheduled. And during Covid, the already reduced schedules, reduced staffing, combined with some outlying winds from the hurricane further south, wreaked havoc on the ferry schedules. The Facebook pages for Ultramar and Winjet
      3. periodically posted cancellations (in Spanish), but didn’t consistently post re-openings.
      4. Tickets: I’d recommend getting tickets at the dock, not online ahead of time, due to potential cancellations. Arriving 45 minutes ahead we found ourselves in a long line with our bike to board what became a very full ferry, due to reduced schedules.
      5. Transporting Bikes: The bike was placed in a large luggage bin at the front of the ferry. (Some bikes were brought in without a case and owners were able to walk them to the upper or lower deck). Our suitcases were checked into a luggage compartment as we boarded. When disembarking, our bike was brought down the ramp for us by handlers. It is standard to pass a few pesos to the handler. A line formed outside the boat to reclaim luggage.

Where to Stay on Cozumel For the Race:

Race Hotels- We debated staying at hotels versus Airbnbs, etc. Ironman scheduled shuttles from host race hotels to T1 for bike check in on Saturday. They also scheduled busses to take athletes (only) to T1 on race morning from host hotels. We elected the ease of a race hotel and shuttle. This year, with covid, the prices were phenomenal. We got a better deal through Expedia than the race link, by the way. We stayed at Sunscape Sabor Cozumel, which offered a 3:30 am race morning breakfast and to-go sandwiches. We also came home at the end of a long race day to designer chocolate treats! (Note: the shuttles took racers even if they did not stay at the host hotel-as long as you could get to the bus).

The staff at the Sabor left this dark chocolate edible in our room for post-race!

Hotels closer to T1 or the finish line? Most athletes recommended staying at hotels near the finish line. Benefits include: 1) not having to taxi back to the hotel with your bike and gear after the race and 2) the party atmosphere of the finish and comraderie of other athletes is right there. The Facebook page Ironman Cozumel Class of 2021 (updated date after the 2020 race) has many tips about places to stay. We elected to stay at a hotel closer to T1 and we were not sorry. While we couldn’t go out to cheer folks to the finish late at night, we were also able to get back to a quiet room and crash. (Note- if you are a later finisher, many of the restaurants along the finish area had closed and resort restaurants may be also be closed. Some All-Inclusive resorts offer all-night snack bar options-worth considering when booking). Finish line food was sparse, at best, so making sure you have a meal plan would be a good idea.

I hope you find some nuggets to help your travels and racing in Cozumel. Let us know in the comments if you have additional tips or if something here helped you! And remember to forward the post to anyone you know planning to do IMCoz 2021!

Happy Racing!

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