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Ironman Cozumel Full Race Report November 2018

Updated: Nov 20, 2019

2.4 Mile Swim, 112 Mile Bike, 26.2 Mile Run

Race day average temp: 88, max temp: 96, and min temp: 78 (per Garmin) Mostly sunny, moderately humid, moderately windy

Wow! What an experience! This was my first full Ironman, and I totally understand why people call it “The Ironman Journey” now. Some may think it’s an individual sport, but I couldn’t have done this without an awesome support system of family and friends. My fiancé, George, was amazing in all this. From building my confidence enough to hit that “register” button, to regular massage therapy, and many late nights and early mornings helping with my training and races along the way; I couldn’t have done it without him.

I also have such an amazing group of triathlete and runner friends who encouraged, gave advice, and inspired me- Johnson City Run Club & State of Franklin Track Club to name a few. I also can’t begin to name all the wonderful friends who had complete confidence in me, despite my fears of a DNF. My newfound “tribe” of friends on the Catfish Athlete Team gave me a new perspective on reaching my goals and gave me tons of good advice in the weeks leading up to the big day.


We arrived on the island on Wednesday evening to allow enough time to acclimate to the heat and humidity. Everything was already in full swing! As soon as we stepped off the ferry, we were welcomed into the town center.

We began the half-mile walk to our AirBnB, which was amazing – definitely glad we chose to stay here!

We couldn’t wait to get dinner from a local taco shop around the corner. The food was amazing, and cheap!

The expo and packet pickup opened at noon on Thursday. We were some of the first people there picking up my packet. The whole process was super easy – fill out waiver, pick up packet, then get ankle timing chip. Since you can’t fly with CO2 cartridges, I had to get one at the expo. Those were going quickly! I heard they sold out of them by the end of Thursday. Before heading out from the expo, I bought the event visor (because it was awesome) and signed the wall!

The next step was to pick up my bike at the TriBike Transport spot just outside of the Convention Center. I’m SO glad I chose to use them. It was so easy! I just dropped off my bike fully assembled (minus the pedals) at their shop in Asheville, and my bike was ready for me when I picked up my packet. They put the pedals back on and aired up my tires. Then after the race, I walked about 50 steps to their tent to drop it off for transport back home. HASSLE-FREE!

We spent the rest of the day relaxing and met up with my local friend Joel for dinner.

We decided to do some exploring on Friday. We had planned on taking a snorkeling excursion with my friend Joel, but due to the storm system that came in on Thursday, there was too much wind and waves to safely snorkel. We ended up walking along the western coast of the island to check out some of the bike and swim course. This place is amazingly beautiful! We made it back to town center area by 6pm in time for the “Panties and Pajamas Fun Run” which benefitted a local children’s charity. It hadn’t even crossed my mind to do this until I talked to the ladies at the event booth during the expo. $15 for an awesome shirt and the money going to a great cause – who can say no?

Saturday – so much to do today! There was supposed to be a practice swim at 7:30am, but they cancelled it the night before due to strong winds and waves. I started getting nervous that the swim portion of the race might get cancelled, which would be a huge let down after all that swim training!

We had a nice breakfast then headed out for the day with my bike, bike transition bag, and run transition bag. We stopped by the run bag drop off around noon then jumped on the hotel shuttle to take us to the Swim finish/ Transition 1 at Chankanaab Park. Checking in the bike was pretty easy. T1 was so cool! I almost felt like I was in the jungle while finding my spot.

No loose items were allowed next to your bike, so that made setting up T1 a lot easier. I headed over to the bike bag drop off then did a quick walk through from swim exit to bike mount to mentally help me prepare. Since T1 was at Chankanaab, we decided to spend the rest of the day relaxing here.

Since there wasn’t a practice swim, I talked George into snorkeling with me! We spent about an hour floating around, then relaxed in the beach chairs until catching the last shuttle back to the town center. We had pizza for dinner and were in bed by 10pm.

Sunday morning – race day!!! The alarm went off at 4am. I was wide awake and ready to get the show on the road! I had all my pre-race stuff laid out. First, I pretty much covered my whole body in LUUB to avoid chafe, then did a pretty hefty layer of sunscreen anywhere the sun might touch. I fixed my hair in my trusty triathlon hairdo – a French braid. I ate my Milky Way and water breakfast, then headed out the door! The previous day we had met our AirBnB neighbor when she saw my bike and told us she was also doing the race. She took the stress out of race morning transportation and let us ride to the start with her.

There was so much energy walking into T1 on race morning! I checked my bike, filled up my Aerodrink bottle, then headed to the shuttle that took us to Marina Fonatur for the swim start!

THE SWIM (1:20:45)

Rolling start – awesome! This was my first ocean swim ever! I was so happy that this one wasn’t an age group wave start. The water was perfect! Temp was perfect, not too crowded, moving fast with the current… until the current changed about 500m in! When my watch buzzed at 500m, I was at around 7 mins.

*Photo taken the day before while snorkeling

Then I started feeling like I wasn’t moving – my next 500m took almost 14 mins. My inexperience was telling me that I probably needed to find the current again. I moved more towards the left – no better. Then moved all the way to the right – still no better. The amount of seaweed and jellyfish skyrocketed. I wasn’t sure how I would do with getting jellyfish stings since I’ve never touched one before - it really wasn’t too bad and by the end I barely noticed it. The swim took longer and used more energy than I expected, but I channeled Dori from Finding Nemo “Just keep swimming…”

Tropical fish
*Taken the day before the race while snorkeling

The slow swimming continued until about the last 500m, when the current was in our favor again. It really was a gorgeous swim. You could see tropical fish, aquatic plants, and the person in front of you. As nice as it was, I was super happy to see Chankanaab and T1. After rolling in the waves for 2.4 miles, my legs were a little wobbly, but I didn’t faceplant climbing out of the water.

Transition 1

I grabbed my bag, rinsed off in the sprinkler, and headed for the changing tent. Those volunteers were amazing!!! I drank a full bottle of water to fix the dehydrated mouth/lips from the salt water swim (another surprise) and ate a GU. I wanted to play it very conservatively through here since I knew the bike was my weakest.

THE BIKE (8:06:39) – 3 laps around the island

Whew, where to start! I am not a strong biker, particularly with long distance biking. My major goal on this portion of the race was to finish within the time cutoffs. My longest training ride was 5 hours on the trainer indoors, so I knew this race would push beyond where my legs have ever been on a bike. I started out feeling great but told myself to be conservative.

The first 12 miles out of Chankanaab were amazing - slightly downhill, tailwind, fresh legs! I knew there were 12 tough miles along the eastern coast of the island, and as expected, my pace was cut in half as soon as we made that turn. It was unbelievably beautiful though! Yea the wind was strong and I was going slowly, but I loved it! Making sure to stay hydrated, I downed 32oz of water in those first 24 miles and stayed on schedule with my nutrition plan.

We finally made the turn to head back to town. It was nice to be moving along a little faster and I was looking forward to the excitement! While in town, I totally forgot that my legs were starting to get tired and was hoping I’d see George standing on the sidelines. I heard my name and got a big surprise to see the parents of my local friend, Samantha, cheering me on! After another 30 seconds, I saw George! Now to head down the main strip towards where we started.

I was feeling good after passing Chankanaab and starting lap 2 – 40 miles down! The slow and steady approach seemed to be working! I was enjoying the south-bound ride towards Punta Sur, but I knew what was to come once I made the left turn. The wind and heat had definitely picked up since the first lap. I realized I hadn’t reapplied sunscreen since swimming – better do that soon! To my surprise, none of the aid stations had sunscreen. Luckily I had tucked away a Blue Lizard sample pack in my top tube box.

When I hopped off my bike to apply sunscreen, I noticed that my weird inflammatory rash was starting to develop on my upper legs. I still haven’t figured out how to get rid of this, other than stopping. The only times it has happened have been on long bike trainer rides (over 3 hours). It’s never happened during ultramarathons or long swims. It started out with a few welts, then gradually progressed until it covered the entire front of my upper legs. It seems to mirror my level of muscle fatigue. I think it’s how my body says that I’m hurting it and not listening when it says to stop.

This is an example of how it starts – this was after riding my trainer for 4 hours

This is how my legs looked around noon the day after race day

The rest of lap 2 was pretty tough both mentally and physically. I made sure to keep up with my nutrition plan – GU, SaltStick tablets, BASE salt, water and Gatorade – even though I didn’t feel thirsty. Around mile 70, I was back in town! I couldn’t wait to see George! When I heard “You’ve got this! I love you!” my energy surged!

He was right – I had this! I knew that I was riding into unknown territory with this distance, but that I’d comfortably make the time cutoffs as long as I kept moving steadily. Fellow Catfish Athlete Renee Kiley told me to bring along a Snickers bar. At mile 90, that was the best treat ever (thanks)! I then started channeling the words of a triathlete friend from home Aaron Whitley and mentally divided the race into small segments – just 5 miles until the next aid station, just 2 miles until heading back to town, etc. I hit the 100 mile mark and had a little celebration for myself for riding that far. The mental game at that stage in the race is almost funny to reminisce about after the fact.

Finally, the bike dismount!!!! I did a quick stretching routine in the half mile leading up to it so that I didn’t faceplant when I tried to stand on tired legs. No wipeouts and a nice volunteer quickly took my bike away.

Transition 2

I walked into the run tent feeling incredibly thankful to be finished with the bike. I sat down, and the awesome volunteers started taking off my bike shoes and socks and put on all my run gear. Before I knew it, they had me dressed and ready to head out for the final leg of the race! While I was riding, George saw the volunteers walking by with everyone's bike bag - those people really are incredible. There would be no way we could do this without them!

THE RUN (6:10:24) 3 laps from town center to Punta Norte and back

My legs felt strange initially, but running actually felt so much better than biking! I really had no idea how I’d be able to run with the massive inflammation affecting my quads, but I found a way to run that minimized quad use. Even though I felt great, I told myself a 4 min run/ 2 min walk combo would be the smarter way to ensure finishing. After running for a few minutes, my friend Joel popped out from the crowd! Another boost of motivation! There was so much energy from the crowd during the run!

There were aid stations every kilometer, so I never had to worry about getting dehydrated or unbalanced. My hands started to get warm after about 8 miles, which made me realize I was still wearing my bike gloves (hahahahaha!). I couldn’t believe it took me that long to realize it. Luckily, there was room in my waist pouch to hold them. The sun started going down after I finished my first lap. Less sun means cooler air, so I was happy!

As I continued my run/walk, I thought of all the reasons I wanted to do this race and to become an Ironman. As the finish line got closer, I became increasingly grateful for everything that helped me along my journey. With 3 miles to go, I felt strong, so I wanted to finish strong. “Just a 5k left, I’ve done this tons of times,” I told myself.

Nearing that red carpet, I knew what was about to happen! I enjoyed every step, every high five, the flashing from the photos, and hearing them announce, “Carissa Chambers, you are an Ironman!”

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Kristen Pumphrey
Kristen Pumphrey
Nov 28, 2018

Is it bad that I teared up at the end of this post?! I am just so proud of you and all your hard work - what an amazing accomplishment! I just can't imagine all the feelings that day - way to GO!!

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