Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ironman Cozumel Sherpa Report - part one

This weekend I went down to Cozumel in a whirlwind trip (down Saturday - Back Monday) to watch my friends compete in Ironman Cozumel.

I have read somewhere a suggestion to see / volunteer at an Ironman race before you do your own. I think that's a good suggestion. I learned a lot that I hope will help me prepare for my first race by watching my friends do this race.

The weather was the big story of the weekend with high winds and currents making the swim a big mess and the bike a beast. But to start I'm going to share some general tips.

First, if anybody finds this post and is considering going to Ironman Cozumel I want to share this travel tip.

Traveling to Cozumel
Spend the extra cash on the flight into Cozumel - not Cancun. Yes, yes it is more expensive and yes yes you can take a taxi to the ferry and it is a nice ride over to the Island. But I found flying into Cancun to get to Cozumel was a huge pain and here's why.

The shuttle to Playa de Carmen (where the ferry to Cozumel leaves from) is at least an hour and a half maybe more with traffic. Then you manhandle your luggage (Bike box ... perhaps) down to the pier and onto the Ferry which is 45 minutes and then you manhandle your luggage to your hotel. It takes forever and you have to repeat it on the way back when you're exhausted after the race.

If you ignore my advice then I suggest using Best Day Travel for transport to and from the airport. They were reliable, easy to find and everyone spoke perfect English.

Next ... General tips for spectating an Ironman race.

Spectating / Sherpa Tips 
  • Be prepared for a long day ... a really long day. I was up before 4 and finally made it back to the hotel around midnight. I really think the thing to do is bring a folding chair to be comfy. I was super jealous of the people with chairs.
  • Pick your spot and park it!Scope out the race course the day before and make a plan for where you will be watching for your racers. I was moving all around and that made it harder to figure out where people were and where they would be.
  • Spectating gives you a headache.Pack Tylenol or advil - your medicine of choice because scanning endless participants for your racers will maybe give you a headache. My headache could have been from the endless ringing of the cowbell.
  • Kids or no kids at the race?Kids ... this is a tough one. It is a really hard race for kids to watch because it's sooooooooooooooo long. I did see young kids up at the start and also at the finish late into the night. But I can't imagine that it was much fun for them really. On the other hand what can you do if you the spouse want to be at the finish and you brought your kids with you? It's really a challenge - everybody just has to have their own plan.
  • Know how to connect or choose to disconnect. Tracking your athletes. In Cozumel we were really challenged for access to online tracking. It was really hard to figure out where people were during the bike. Have a plan. My plan was a bad plan.
  • Finding people on the bike course = impossible. Know that during the bike it's like a big vacuum of informationlessness. I saw my swimmers go out onto the course and I saw one on the bike course. But then the next time I found them was heading out onto the run. 
  • Where is Meli? Randy? Janeth? Communicating with those who aren't with you is also a challenge. Bring a way to recharge your phone. If you are at an International race try to figure out what this means for how you will keep in contact with those who aren't there. I was getting texts and facebook messages all day but I couldn't even see them until hours later when I was back in the hotel with wi-fi. 
  • They hand out IVs at these races like candy. You should have an idea where the medical tent is and have a plan for how long you will wait after you think your racer should pass a certain point to check the medical tent. For example on this course we estimated around 2 hours for each bike split. When one racer was over an hour past that we really started to worry. This was the biggest challenge of my day when people were ending up there and I just was informationless about where they might be.
  • Where's my husband? Make a plan for meeting up at the finish line. In Cozumel it was crowded but not overly so and family members were able to get through to see their athletes if they knew where they were going. But it was really confusing. The finish line is a big area and the athletes cross the line and then stay in there a while (food, t-shirt, photo, ice bath, massage). Once you leave you can't get back into the finish chute so many athletes stay there to meet up with others who are racing. Since I had a media pass I was able to go back and forth between my friends and their families to help them find each other. 
  • Expect the best but plan for the worst. Last but not least as an athlete / spectator / sherpa team make a plan for what you will do if you are pulled from the race. It's not anything you want to plan for but it's a good idea to have a plan. For example if you miss the swim cutoff how will you get back to your hotel? Athletes won't have phones or money or anything and they might need help or just a hug. This day didn't turn out at all like they thought it would for about 1/3 of the people I knew who were racing. From not making the swim cutoff to broken toes, endless vomiting on the bike course, and the most unexpected - sea lice in the eyes. Things can go wrong so make a plan. I had no plan.
Lots more later ...


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  2. Good post and advises. Cozumel is great place for vacations, and has a lot of great acitivities, just as much as CancĂșn. On top of that, snorkeling and scuba diving tours in cozumel are not expensive and let you to experience an unique moment underwater.