Editor’s Note: It’s always good to know that the people testing products for sites such as RoadBikeReview can actually walk the walk, and not just spew marketing terms. Twain Mein is one of those people. Below is his first person account from this year’s ITU World Championships, in Cozumel, Mexico. Nice work, Twain — and happy belated 50th!
In U.S. triathlon, there is a hierarchy of competition. If you place in the top 20% of a local race, you qualify for the National Championships. At Nationals, the top 18 places are eligible to compete in the World Championships.
I did Nationals two years ago but missed qualifying for World’s by three spots. But I got the bug. Last year, two weeks before Nationals, I discovered that World’s was in Cozumel the same week I’d turn 50. What a great way to celebrate that milestone! So I decided to do Nationals again and was fortunate enough to place 8th in the 50-54 age group. Needless to say, this race was a long time coming and we decided to make a big family vacation out of it, even taking our kids out of school for a week.
We were staying a fabulous, all-inclusive hotel. They had a private beach area with two infinity pools that had swim up bars. The beach had a shallow area that opened up for some great swimming. There were tons of fish including sting rays and even a barracuda. But the weather there is hot and humid. When the clouds are gone, the sun is remarkably bright – seemingly white hot. It’s fatiguing just walking around. It was fortunate that we arrived five days early to help acclimate.
A few days before the race, we did a parade walk, sort of like a mini-Olympics opening ceremony. It was cool to be walking with hundreds of Americans (we even had a uniform T-shirt and shorts) and to see other big contingents from Australia, Great Britain, and Mexico, plus smaller groups from Russia, Poland, and even the Cook Islands. The Cozumel locals were really supportive, cheering us on as we walked through the streets.
The race was to be held in a massive and newly constructed harbor. The transition area was huge. The swim was originally supposed to start with athletes jumping off a pier and swimming through the harbor and out in to the ocean and back. But, reportedly an alligator was spotted swimming in the harbor, so they pushed the swim out to start in the ocean. This made for a remarkably long transition. They threw in a steep ramp to go up and over the road back to the finish line for good measure.
On to race day. Race day check in was from 4:30 to 6:30 a.m. with the first wave going off at 6:45. Luckily there was a bus service down to the start line, saving me the 2-mile walk. It was dark and oppressively humid. My wave didn’t start until 8:07 so I had time to kill with my buddy Gary who was racing in the 45-49 year age group. As we milled about near the swim start, the announcer told us the swim would be shortened from 1500 meters to 1250 because of a very strong current going from north to south. This added some excitement and more nervous energy.
By now we could see the buoys and the swim start. Interestingly, there was no opening ceremony, the announcer just said “and they’re off!” And boy were they! The first group shot off in the current and hit the first turnaround in what seemed like no time. As they rounded the bend and started back, though, you could see the pace slacken as they battled the current.
Fast forward to my wave. I guess as you get older you get more polite. Folks were introducing each to one another and it took the edge off the stress. We were only allowed to quickly jump in to the water but then return to hanging on to the pier. Good thing, too, because the current was noticeably strong.
Once underway, the swim was spectacular. The water was a warm 83 degrees and beautifully clear. It was hard not to get distracted and look for fish on the bottom. The pack was tightly packed and I was getting hit in the goggles and sides repeatedly. Despite the ominous current, you really didn’t notice it. At the end of the swim, divers were filming us from the bottom with GoPros to make sure no one cut the corner. That’s something I’d never seen before. I came out in 20:58, 11th place.
After the long transition run back (3+ minutes), it was time for the bike. The park has cobblestones that make for a bumpy (and slow) ride out of the park, which extends several hundred yards. We finally got out on to the road and then turned on a glorious bike path with fantastic pavement. It was pancake flat, though fairly narrow. We had been advised about very strict anti-drafting rules so that was top of mind. Regardless, I looked down and found myself at 27 mph. I figured I should throttle it back, as a long day laid ahead. So I tried to keep my speed around 24-26 mph.
After the turnaround, I spotted one of my new age group friends just sitting on the wheel of the guy ahead of him. That pissed me off and I went around at full bore. My new buddy then got on my wheel, which pissed me off even more. I tried to wave him off and bolted away. Three miles from the finish, another guy in my age group did the same thing. I guess it’s good in a way because they both pushed me to drop them. I ended up going just under 1 hour and had the second fastest bike split of our age group.
On to the run. By now the sun was in full white-hot force. I’m pretty good about heat, but this was staggering. Fortunately, at the 1km mark they had an aid station with water to pour over your head and drink. I couldn’t believe how quickly I’d heated up. There was no way I could maintain 6:30 or faster pace so I just tried to stay in control, focusing on posture and form, and cooling off. I tried to just enjoy the experience. It was a trip to see so many people just suffering, but also happy.
I started cheering folks on, especially the older men and women. It was amazing how they were putting themselves through this. Finally, with 300 yards to go, Tim from USAT said there was another guy in my age group just ahead. Sure enough, right ahead was a German who I hadn’t seen before. I gave chase but couldn’t close the gap despite a final sprint. He nipped me by 2 seconds. Oh well. I ended up with the 7th fastest run split at 44:06. For comparison, the fastest run split was 40:40.
In the end, I finished in 2:09.32, good enough for 8th place out of the 80 racers in my age group. I was also fourth American. It was a great experience and a great vacation. Hoping to do it again in 2018 when the race will be held in Australia!
Finally, if you haven’t seen this already, here is the dramatic finish of the pro race which happened on the same day and course. Watch the video below to see Alistair Brownlee helping brother Jonny finish his race while sacrificing his chance of winning.