Matt Hanson | Professional Triathlete
5x Ironman Champion/ 4x 70.3 Champion

Ironman Cozumel Race Report

This may be the longest that it has taken me to put together my race report. It is funny, when you have a great race you can’t wait to relive it. But when you leave a race really frustrated, you quickly want to forget it. However, the races that don’t go as planned are the ones you need to learn the most from. I’ve had a number of conversations with Coach David and Coach Tim about Ironman Cozumel. Needless to say, I was not in a good mental place leaving Cozumel…must be something with racing on an island. No race goes perfectly. However, ending 2015 on the coat tails of two miserable experiences was something I have never had to deal with. Everyone goes through highs and lows in training. Everyone will have euphoria at some point in a race, and hit a low point in the race where they struggle to push on. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the highs or many of the euphoria in the last few months of training. To have things go so poorly in Cozumel left me the lowest I’d been in a long time. In the words of Coach David, my emotional battery was dead. I had so ups and downs in 2014, but I won the last race of the season which brought me into the winter training on an all time high. Not the case this year. I have had a lot of time to reflect post race and am coming to grips with the situation that I am in. I’ve been able to shift my focus to HOW I am going to get the points I need to get back to Kona rather than the fact that in 2014 at this time I was sitting with 2700 points and this year I am sitting with less than 200. The need to stick to the process and focusing on executing every race I enter does not change.

20151127_190748_resized_1So…the Race…The lead up into Cozumel was not ideal. I was in a cast due to my broken wrist so I was forced to just kick in the water and do all bike and run training indoors. I was able to get in about 6 quality swims in the two weeks leading into the race, but was definitely not heading into race day with peak swim fitness. I was really happy with my bike fitness on the other hand. Between Kona and Cozumel, I had 13 miserably difficult bike sessions and had the highest bike training load weeks I’ve ever had. I really thought I would be in a great position if I could find a way to hold on to the pack in the water. 

I traveled to Cozumel alone. Unfortunately my wife wasn’t able to make the trip (hence the lack of pictures in this post!). Obviously, I like having my wife along with me at the race, but it would have been especially good to have her with me for my first international race. Cozumel has 2 locations for transition and a separate location for the swim start. Having someone with me would have made things a bit less stressful getting transitions set up the day before the race etc… It would also have been nice to have someone to talk with in the hotel room being as I neglected to bring movies and all TV channels were in Spanish!

Race Morning

I woke up at 4:00 and drank my 2 servings of First Endurance Ultragen as always for breakfast then got another 30 min of sleep. I woke up at 5, got my Kiwami Spider on, grabbed my Huub swim gear and got ready to go to the race. I grabbed a cab and was in transition as soon as it opened. I quickly got my bike set up and noticed my rear brake was slightly rubbing on the wheel. I took it to the ‘on course’ mechanic and asked him to help fix it while I went to check in my T1 bag and make sure everything was set. Came back and checked out my bike again and everything looked like it was functioning properly so racked bike and I jumped on the bus to swim start and got ready to go.

Swim – 49:49

IMG_20151202_063640For whatever reason, they did not allow us time to warm up for the swim. In the pre-race briefing, we were told we would have 7-10 minutes. In hindsight, I would have brought running shoes down with me to the swim start and used a run to warm up…but I didn’t. I was the first guy in the water and went to the spot where I wanted to start the race from. The gun went off without really any warning, but I was thankfully somewhat ready. I got off to a great start and was in the lead group for the first 200 meters. There was a lot of contact as it was a big group and I jammed the wrist that I had broken on another guys hand at this point and the pain was incredible. It brought me to an immediate stop for a few seconds, but I gathered myself together and got back swimming. Unfortunately, I had moved back in the pack far enough that when the gap opened up, I was in the second group. Despite losing the front pack, I kept my head focused and remained really positive. I was able to hold on to the pack with little strain, but for some reason my left foot started cramping. I have been wracking my brain to figure out why the cramps occurred and can’t come up with anything. Unfortunately, they would stick around the rest of the day. I got out of the water with a group of guys who could ride well. At this point, I still felt I could have a good day.

T1- 2:18

I had a flawless transition. I got my gear and was on the bike without any issue. 

Bike- 4:53:05

20151128_12044720151128_120447_resized_1First 10 minutes on the bike went pretty much as planned. Around this point, a few strong riders went by me…and the plan was to hold on to them and use them to help me bridge the gap. Unfortunately, as soon as I tried to push the power, I started cramping. The cramps started in my quads and eventually moved up through my quads, hamstrings, and hips. I was able to hold target power for about 40 minutes, but the cramps just kept on and eventually my will to fight through them had gone. The remainder of the ride was miserable. To make matters worse, as soon as I really stepped on the gas to hold on to the group of riders, my rear wheel started to rub on the brake again. My mental focus was not in a good place and there was a lot of negative self talk. The high wind, the brake rubbing, and the cramps were stronger than my mental fortitude could overcome on the day. I was definitely beat up by this course. My left foot was really bothering me on the second and third loop for some reason, so I was primarily using my right leg to pedal (L/R balance post race was 66%R/34%L). This definitely didn’t help the cramping issues on the right side. The final lap of the bike I just kept telling myself to get to the run and see what happens. I finally got into T2, nearly 30 minutes slower than I wanted to be. 

T2 – 1:35

I was limping pretty badly coming into T2. I was frustrated and in pain, but kept telling myself to get to the run course. I had no idea what place I was in at that point either, or if there was anyone close to me. Still, I tried to kick the negative thoughts and get to the portion of the race where I’ve performed the best throughout my career. 

Run – 3:17:09

The first ¼ mile of the run was pretty painful, but eventually my left foot settled down. The pain in the bottom of my foot went away and I was able to settle into a decent run pace. The first 5 miles of the run were fine. I didn’t feel great, but I was running strong. I moved into 9th and saw that there were a number of guys within striking distance. I could still salvage a decent result with a good run. BUT…this was not to be. The cramps returned with vengeance at the end of the first loop and for the first time in my professional career I was passed on the run. I was able to move up into 9th again and it was literally all I could do to hold on. I was systemically cramping, forced to walk and even stop and stretch a number of times. It was a miserable experience and took everything I had just to make it to the finish line. 

Overall – 9:03:56

Definitely not pleased with the way the last portion of the season went. I really struggled to take anything positive out of this experience, the race did not go as planned and was quite a miserable experience. After a great deal of reflection, I realized how much pain I went through to get to the finish line. There will be positive races on the horizon, and this experience will hopefully help me learn to dig deeper and push myself beyond just being uncomfortable even when the race is going exactly as planned. I really think that as the season progressed, my focus on sticking to the process and letting the results figure themselves out waned. I definitely felt a pressure to produce results that I did not experience leading into races up through IMTX. In reality, much of this pressure was self-inflicted. While I am not entering the winter training season on the high I did last year, I’m still starting it with high motivations. I am making an effort to approach every training session and race with just process in mind. That is what got me the the consistent race execution that I had come accustomed to. I’m sure I’ll struggle along the way, but I think this is a very valuable lesson to bring out of the tail end of this season. 


  1. Chuck Rosenbaum

    December 7, 2015 at 8:56 am

    Great write up Matt! Keep inspiring! I know 2016 has great things in store for you!

  2. Robert

    December 7, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    wow Matt getting all the bad voodoo mojo out of your system in the 2nd half of 2015. Odd to get cramps really early on the bike. Sounds like its one to just put in the circular file and look to better racing in 2016.

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