IRONMAN Cozumel 2023 Race Report

This Iron stuff sure doesn’t get any easier!  This one had a special meaning to me because it was an attempt at redemption for the only IRONMAN I dropped out of mid race.  In 2020 I needed to complete a full distance triathlon to maintain eligibility for Kona. Each race that I registered for kept getting canceled due to COVID so I signed up for this one in Mexico. COVID – SHMOVID ?!? They were open for bizness.

Last time here I started feeling unwell the day prior to the race but sucked it up and toed the start line. The 2.4 mile swim went off without a hitch other than me losing my timing chip which made the tracking app show that I never made it out of the water. A bit alarming for my family and friends tracking me, but that’s for another story. The weakness and body aches started on the first loop of the 3 loop 112 mile bike course. Even though the course is flat, the intense headwinds that day added insult to injury and by the end of the 2nd loop I was unable to continue and handed in my bib, calling it a day and taking a DNF (Did Not Finish). Test results showed that it wasn’t COVID but I’m not sure what else it could have been because I haven’t had a sense of smell since.

That has been lingering unfinished business in my mind and I needed to prove to myself that I can complete this course, so I signed up to try again. To get to Cozumel,  you fly into Cancun, take a taxi approximately 1 hour to Play de Carmen and then board a 45 minute ferry to the Island of Cozumel. You can fly there as well.  I used my favorite IRONMAN concierge serviced called Endurance Sports Travel by Ken Glah who I can’t speak highly enough about.  More on them here: If it’s your first time at a race venue and they service it or if you’re traveling alone to one I highly recommend them. Just show up and race, while most other logistics are handled for you.

Ken picked up my bike from TriBike Transport ( assembled triathlon bike shipping service, who I also swear by.   ) and had it in my room when I checked in at the SunScape resort on Thursday. Beautiful place and I give it mainly high reviews. It was getting dark for a practice swim in the ocean so I swam around all the guests in the main pool for about 10 minutes to get the blood flowing.

Friday I took the bike out for a 20 mile spin to ensure all was in working order and hit the windiest part of the course to better mentally prepare for Sunday’s rematch with the course and nature. Later it was off to race registration and the unavoidable IRONMAN Store. I exhibited great self control and acquired no new gear. Just nutrition, bars and gels for race day.

All the chatter was bout how choppy the ocean swim was going to be. It sure was for my last practice swim. Snacking on salt water from waves hitting you in the face as you breath is never pleasant. Of the 2,000 athletes there were about 45% first timers and I knew they would not be happy with these conditions.

Another customer of Ken’s was race pro Robert Wilkowiecki from Poland. It was an honor to meet and be in the company of someone who does this for a living and can complete a full IRONMAN in under 8 hours. Ken suggested that we ride to bike check-in on Saturday together, only a few miles away, and he would pick us up from there. I said there was no way I could keep up with him to which he replied, “You probably can’t when I’m working but now you’ll be fine”. I followed along. I did hang on his wheel (biker talk for drafting) for the short ride to T1. Ken later told me that there was a good chance he would win on Sunday.

T1 and T2 are in different locations for this race so Ken drove us to drop off our run bags there as well. Then it was back to the hotel to stay off my feet, hydrate and rest up for the main event.  Reading in a hammock by the ocean was really relaxing and I enjoyed it tremendously until the sun set.


What I didn’t enjoy was seeing the hotel crew start setting up for what looked like was going to be a wedding.  Right in front of my room!  I needed to be asleep by 8 PM and this was going to suck. I figured noise cancelling headphones and Advil PM would get me through it.

What I thought was going to be a loud party into the evening proved to be a lovely family reunion sunset dinner on the beach and was all over by the time I got back from my final pre-race carbo loading meal. Phew!

On race morning Ken picked us up at 5:30 and dropped us off in T1 and what I thought was going to be the swim start. I totally forgot that this race has many moving parts and the swim start is a bus ride away. The other thing I totally forgot is that this is never a wetsuit legal swim. Meaning, the water is too warm to wear one and they don’t allow it as athletes would overheat. I was so looking forward to racing in my shiny new one but I guess that will have to wait. I got a tiny bit nervous about having to swim 2.4 miles without the added buoyancy but then I remembered that I must have done the same last time here without any issues.

After a final check on the bike and bike bag it was off to the buses to be shuttled to the swim start. There was some chatter about the water conditions but mainly about how they have improved over the last few days. IRONMAN races almost always start on time so it was weird not to hear any announcements at 7 AM.  We all just stood and sat around waiting for the games to begin.  Then at around 7:10 the race organizer came on the horn and said we would be delayed by about half an hour as they were waiting for conditions to improve.

Safety first, no biggy I thought. Then at 7:30-ish it was announced that the swim would be canceled due to unsafe conditions. I felt bad for all the first timers that were really looking forward to the full Swim/Bike/Run experience. We all then started to walk back to where we were dropped off to await the return of the busses to take us back to T1 for a Time Trial bike start. It wasn’t just a casual walk but more like a mad rush as everyone knew these buses would need to make multiple trips. It was a bit of a shit show from this point until 10 AM.

On the bus is when I had my first thought of dropping out. I was here for a full redemption race and not swimming wasn’t going to be the same. I let those thoughts fester as I participated in commiserating with the rest about not being allowed to swim.  Wahhh.  Wahhh.

When we arrived back to where we started the morning, the organizers couldn’t just let everyone back into T1 because the free for all to get into bike gear and get on to the course would have been insane. Instead they corralled us all onto a U-shaped pier that was the perimeter for a tourist dolphin experience. By now  it was 9 AM, the Caribbean sun was out in full force, everyone has been up for about 5 hours, no one has had any hydration nor nutrition for at least 2 hours and no one has sunscreen on and we’re all only in swim gear. At least the dolphins were cute!

After they let the pro’s start their race they started letting 3 of us age groupers go every 5 seconds to get our T1 bike gear bag and get to our bikes.  Our official race time would start when we crossed the bike mount line. That was 9:50 for me. I felt fine and was happy that I decided to compete even without the swim. I was encouraged that the forecasts for the winds was favorable but I knew the heat and humidity would be a factor.

The bike course of 112 miles is divided into 3 loops around the island. I was thrilled to be able to average 20 MPH for the first 12 of those miles but I knew that that would be the highlight of this leg as it was getting hotter, windier and the dehydration started settling in. I don’t know why but I just couldn’t get enough fluids in. The aid stations were approximately 10 miles apart and I kept drinking but apparently not enough. Starting off in a calorie and liquid deficit contributed to what was turning into a rough day.

My first leg cramps usually starts between mile 60 and 70. This time it was at mile 45 but I breathed right through it and they went away as quickly as they came. But then they came back again, and again, harder and harder. By the 3rd lap I was out of the nutrition that I brought with me as my plan was to use course nutrition. Unfortunately, unlike many other races, there was little to non available. No gels, no bars, only bananas. I was really losing steam and hurting from the cramps but was comforted in knowing I would easily make the bike cutoff time with time to spare.

The final 12 miles or so were the polar opposite of the the joyous first 12. The left leg would cramp up so I would extend it as much as possible at the bottom of the pedal stroke to try and stretch it which would contract the right leg causing it to cramp up so I would stretch the right causing the left to camp up again.  Yeah, rinse and repeat that for a while. Not fun, but I was oh so close.

After completing the bike course in 7:15:05, kind of average for me, the next decision was about whether or not I wanted to run a marathon. The bike course is what did me in last time, I got that done today, I didn’t get to swim, so do I really want to run 26.2 miles in the heat ?!? I said I would let the changing tent make the decision for me.  Often, getting off the bike, out of bike shoes,  and into sneakers is pretty cramp inducing and painful. If those cramps would rear their ugly head I was going to call it a day. I must have scared them away as changing was uneventful so it was off to the 3 loop flat run course.

The 1st and last mile of each loop had cheering crowds which was great. The rest of it, not so much. Aid stations were less than a mile apart and had plenty of ice for this hot and humid day.

At 5:15 PM I finally got some calories in at the first aid station. 2 gels, a nut bar, a mandarin and some Pepsi never tasted so good. It was all I needed for a 2nd wind and to keep going. After the sun set I was looking forward to an evening breeze and some relief from the humidity but neither came. Some relief did come in the form of encouragement and great convo with a random chance encounter with Zach Rance. Formerly a Big Brother reality TV star and now life coach and host of the Live Better Now Podcast.  You meet some very interesting people at these races. Thanks to his motivation the next 5k went by in only 30 minutes. Thanks man!

Hitting the 13 mile mark in about 3 hours gave me some encouragement that I could finish the marathon in just under 6 hours. Thinking ahead to my wife and daughters arriving and not wanting to hobble in pain during our family Thanksgiving vacation in Tulum starting in 2 days changed those thoughts quickly. Besides, I still had about 5 hours left to claim my redemption medal so I took it really easy.

Even though the morning drama resulted in the cutoff time being extended to 1 AM, I came across the finish line just before midnight at 11:58 PM draped in an Israeli flag. I was surprised to see that there was a table of flags for anyone to grab. I’ve never seen this at a race before. Really nice touch. But I brought my own just for the occasion. Am Yisrael Chai.

A highlight of this race for me was spending time and sharing several meals with a pro triathlete. And one meal with 3 of them!  2nd, 3rd and 5th place finishers Chris Leiferman from the US, Robert Wilkowiecki from Poland and Henrik Goesch from Finland. Check out their finishing times. Just insane. Add less than 1 hour to include a swim, had we had one.  The running pace in the pic is per kilometer not mile. These guys are fast!

If you want to see/hear a super dramatic finish that Robert had at IRONMAN Texas earlier this year you should check out the sprint finish here: 2023 Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Texas, part of the VinFast IRONMAN North America Series Live Race. Fast forward to the 7:49 mark to see Robert’s incredible run finish and a 3 way battle for 1st followed by their collapse (temporary) at the finish.

As mentioned, it’s off to Tulum to recuperate and celebrate Thanksgiving with those I am most grateful for, my family. Only question in my mind is was this really full redemption from my prior DNF because we didn’t get to swim or not?!? Come back and race here again ?!? Decisions, decisions. What do you think??