Cancun 70.3 2008: A Look Back on My Sunburned Achievement

Tomorrow I’m doing the Rev 3 Costa Rica half Ironman. It’s my first race of the season (I am so not used to doing a triathlon in March), but it’s also my first tropical destination half Ironman since I did the Cancun 70.3 back in 2008. That race was my second ever half Ironman and technically my first “proper distance” half Ironman since I had done the Victoria half earlier in the year, which adds up to just under 70.3 miles. Before I race tomorrow, I thought I’d finally publish my race report of the now-defunct Cancun 70.3 (they moved it to Cozumel, which now has a half and full Ironman distance race) that I raced during my first season of trying out this crazy sport.

My Cancun 70.3 Race Report

(or as I like to call it, the “Eff Jason for talking me into doing this” Half Ironman)

Arriving in Meh-hee-co

Como se dicen en México, survimos (as they say in Mexico, we survived). Jason and I got in Friday early evening for the race on Sunday. Some of my teammates were surprised we were arriving in Mexico so soon before the race, but honestly, after having done it both ways (I got to Costa Rica on a Tuesday and the race here is on Sunday), I prefer the “get in a couple days before the race” mentality. I kind of feel like I’m wasting part of my vacation by sitting around not doing much when I fly in early. I’d rather stay longer after the race and enjoy my time laying out on the beach, slurping tropical boozy drinks, and exploring/doing activities than staying out of the sun, constantly hydrating, and keeping off my feet.

I had made it roughly four feet from the airport before grumbling to Jason that we will never do another destination race again (three and a half years later, 2008 Rebecca is scowling at 2012 Rebecca for breaking her promise, as I have not one but two destination races on my schedule this season). Between the two of us we had a big suitcase for our clothes, another suitcase for our race clothes, two duffel bags full of fuel, helmets and accessories, and two giant bike cases containing our deconstructed bicycles. Lugging all of this crap required some serious muscles and patience. I was soaked with sweat from the combination of heat, humidity, and gear muling.

When we got to the official race hotel, we took a hooker’s bath and attempted to put together our bikes (Jason was still rockin’ his dad’s old Klein, which took him and Mark an eon to take apart since it probably hadn’t been disassembled since 1985, and I was riding my old coworker’s Giant road bike). After 90 minutes and repeated grease markings on the rug and floor, we were successful. Hooray! (I later spent a half hour trying to scrub the room clean of incriminating bike grease and realized that I would never, ever get away with murdering someone. Considering how much grease and grime I left all over the room just from assembling a crappy road bike, I’d have hair, fingerprints, sweat droplets, and probably my wallet because I’m that stupid all over a crime scene.)

The race hotel itself was kind of crappy. They overbooked so we didn’t get the room we requested. Instead of a king-sized bed we got two doubles. The hotel staff helpfully suggested that we push the beds together. Just like in the 1950s! There were also little ant-like bugs that enjoyed crawling around our bathroom sink. I made it a mission to squash all of the ones I could see, but the little effers would return in full force. To top it all off, our door’s lock kept breaking, which was annoying before the race and super annoying after the race because we kept having to trudge up and down stairs (the elevator took an eon to call) on tired legs to the lobby so I could crabbily yell at the front desk employee in Spanish that our llave no functiona porque la cerradura está rota.

Jason complaining about our 'Leave It to Beaver' bed setup

Pre-Race Shenanigans

On Saturday morning we went to the expo hall to get our race packets. To our amusement, they gave us each a fleece jacket that said “Ironman 70.3 Cancun.” Kind of a kick in the balls to give each entrant a fleece jacket for racing in 90+ degree, humid-as-shit weather, but whatever. I also bought a technical tee, but Jason, who was considerably bigger then than he is now, was unable to purchase one because he couldn’t fit in the XL size. (He tried. The Mexican lady selling the shirts laughed at him as he struggled to get it off.)

Later Jason and I swam in the sea for about 10 minutes to get acclimated to open ocean swimming. It was salty, but the water was really pretty and warm. That evening we went for a run to get acclimated to the heat and humidity. It sucked. The run lasted 11 minutes total, and every single second was chokingly hot. At this point I was getting a little concerned about how the race was going to go for us.

We took a shuttle bus to the transition area, which was the Wet ‘n Wild water park. The shuttle bus, by the way, was pretty much just a bus that you had to lug your bike onto and prop up on one wheel while awkwardly holding the bike upright. It was a big enough struggle to get my bike on the bus pre-race, so I was wondering how well the post-race transport would go after I’d be exhausted, sunburned, and sore from swimming, biking, and running all morning (the answer: not great).

Jason and I got to the transition area and did a ½ mile test ride. I made some adjustments to my bike and we got our tires inflated. We set up our bikes, got marked, and went to check out the swim area, which was at the beach behind the Wet ‘n Wild park. The water was not as beautiful and turquoise-colored as the beach at our hotel; rather, it was seaweedy and mucky, evoking lovely memories of Greenlake.

I was wondering how we were supposed to get from the beach all the way to the transition area, which was pretty much the entire Wet ‘n Wild parking lot. It turned out that T1 went like this: swim, get out of the water, run down the beach and through the Wet ‘n Wild park, out the front entrance and over to the parking lot to your transition area. It was going to be a long T1. I half expected them to require us to shoot down the water slide and take a trip down the lazy river as part of transition. (That would have been kind of neat, actually.)

Jason and I got eaten by mosquitoes while setting up our bikes at the park, so we were a bit grumpy and itchy when we returned to the host hotel. We ate dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant and saw a huge fat crocodile in the inlet adjacent to the restaurant. This did not make Jason feel very good about the swim, although the croc was on the bay side of Cancun and we’d be swimming on the opposite sea side. I assured him that we’re more likely to get eaten by a shark in the sea than a crocodile, but I don’t think that made him feel any better.

Stay on your side of the peninsula, croc!

Race Day!

Jason and I awoke to howling winds, dancing palm trees, and frothy waves. I took one look at him and said, “There is no way I’m racing in this weather.” Not helping my stress levels was the fact that I had sweat a good chunk of my race number off while sleeping, so the sheets and pillows were covered with Sharpie ink. There’s a reason why you don’t get marked for a race the day before, folks (or at least why chronically sweaty people like me shouldn’t).

Flexing my race number the night before the race, before most of it ended up all over the sheets

I wasn’t very confident about racing since I was still a triathlon noob and the winds were pretty aggro. Ultimately I decided that I didn’t lug all this shit to Mexico just to puss out at the last minute, so we gathered our gear together, got to the park, and set up our transition areas (and got more bug bites). Worst case scenario I’d just drown or something, right? No big deal. Thankfully, the winds had calmed down by then so I felt a little bit better.

While we were at the transition area we met a guy named Daniel who was way too stoked to be up that early to race:

The only guy in the world who likes getting up at 4:00 am

After snapping a couple pics of Daniel (I sent them to him via email; we haven’t spoken since the race but we are Facebook friends, of course), he offered to take one of us. Here we are in our pre-race glory:

"Just smile and pretend you're not nervous as shit."

I’d like to once again point out how ridiculously long my torso is and how disproportionately short my legs are. I have the stumpiest legs ever. Thanks, Mom.

After some photos we headed to the swim area. The swim was two loops, and the furthest point from the beach was probably only a couple hundred meters, so it felt very manageable and safe. The deepest point was only about 10 feet and you could always see the bottom, so at least I’d see the shark should it decide to saunter up and chomp my leg off.

Jason’s wave started nearly 20 minutes before mine, so I wished him good luck and off he went. While I waited for my wave to start I saw an obese, hairy man who looked an awful lot like Borat’s manager Azamat, sporting band-aids over his (furry) nipples, waiting to begin the race. I thought, “Okay, if he can do this, surely I can…right?”

Swim Summary

Finally it was time for my wave to start. The water was warm so wetsuits weren’t allowed. I swam in a sports bathing suit top and tri shorts. The first straightaway was tough for me because the water was kind of choppy with a lot of waves, so since I suck at swimming (and I sucked even more in 2008 than I do now), I felt like I was in a washing machine. Since the swim course was two loops all of the fast assholes (meaning everyone but me) ended up lapping me, resulting in me getting manhandled by a lot of swimmers. I had to stop a lot. At one point I popped up and must have looked downright miserable because one of the Mexican volunteers shouted to me in Spanish if I was drowning. I sighed and said no, then proceeded on my not-at-all-merry way.

Swim time: 54:50. Slow, but at least I survived. When I first started the swim I contemplated saying “Eff this” and getting hauled out, but I kept trudging. (This would not be the first time I’d think about quitting throughout the course of the race.)


I finally wobbled out of the water and ran down the beach. As soon as I cut over to the park, they had a double row of showers set up so you could rinse off the salt water. I ghetto showered right quick and guiltily ran past the “NO CORRER!” (NO RUNNING!”) signs plastered all over the park. Finally I got to my transition area and ran out with my bike.

T1 time: 5:31, which was actually quite decent considering how far we had to travel. I think the pros took at least four minutes, so I didn’t feel too bad.

Bike Summary

The bike was a super flat but kind of a boring course. There was nothing really scenic, though I did see the occasional stray dog (as well as an angry Mexican throwing stones at a couple of dogs so they would move out of his way), and at one point I saw an animal with a curiously long tail scamper across the street. I’m not sure if there are any monkeys in Mexico, but the tail was monkey-tail long, so who knows what the hell it was.

The bike was mostly two loops (you rode out for a short bit, then came to the start of the loop you’d have to repeat before heading back to transition), and there was an aid station at either end of the loop. The way out was really fast and awesome, but the way back was against a fairly strong wind, so I wasn’t able to get much speed. I don’t think I put my bike together exactly how it was before I traveled, because I was immediately uncomfortable while riding and my body never seemed to acclimate. I also started to feel pretty sick on the bike and thought (again) about quitting. My stomach just felt really sour and I was pretty nauseous. I took in a ton of water/Gu20 and ate a lot of shot blocks and gu, and I also took an endurolyte every 30 minutes, but nothing seemed to help that much.

At one point it started pouring for about five minutes before the rain stopped and the sun reemerged. Whenever the winds would briefly die down, I’d become aware of how searingly hot it was. I was pretty sure I could actually smell my back frying like sweet, savory bacon. At this point I stupidly started to wonder if my sun-friendly Asian skin would actually burn on this trip (spoiler alert: it did. Big time).

Towards the end of my ride I was in total “Fuck this, I want off this goddamn bike” mode. I was also wondering why I wasn’t going as fast as I felt I should be. Despite my efforts, I felt like I was hardly making any progress, and after the race I discovered the culprit: my front tire was almost completely flat. I think it must have punctured toward the end of my ride, which explained the lack of speed at the end. I didn’t notice it at the time though; otherwise I would have changed it since I was becoming quite the pro at changing flats that season (it was the 2nd flat I’d gotten during a race and the 5th flat of 2008).

Bike Time: 3:22:58. Not great at all for how flat the course was, but I was still a newbie, riding on a borrowed bike that was put together wrong, and had battled head winds, gut rot, and a flat tire, so oh well. It was still about 30 minutes faster than my Victoria half Ironman bike split. I was also stoked to have passed a fair amount of people (both men and women) who had fancy Cervelo and Felt time trial bikes, which made me feel pretty bad-ass on the ol’ Giant. “Choke on my aluminum frame and stumpy Asian legs, bitches!” Hell yeah. (Of course, I love my bike much, much more.)

The one impressive thing about the bike leg was the volunteer support. There were folks who rode on mopeds and motorcycles, looking out for people, and I saw countless volunteers actually helping people change bike tires, with one volunteer puttering around on a moped with a bunch of spare tubes and old punctures. That was pretty awesome–I wish more races did that.


Sweet sassy molassy, the pavement was freakin’ HOT at this point. I rode sans socks, so I was hopping from foot to foot trying not to burn my toes off while scrambling to put on my socks and running shoes. I dumped a water bottle over my head and headed out for the run.

T2 time: 2:15

Run (if that’s what you want to call it) Summary

The run absolutely destroyed me. I started running and made it to the first aid station before I had to stop. It was so hot outside. The run was along the hotel zone, so there was absolutely zero shade to hide under. It was like ninety degrees and we were running in direct sunlight with about 1,000% humidity. My saving grace (and Jason’s as well, I found out later) was the fact that there was an aid station every other kilometer. Each station had orange and banana slices, ice cold Gatorade, gu, ice cubes, and cold baggies of water. The water baggies were UH-MAZE-ING. Every hot race should have these. They were my saving grace.

At each aid station I would take one baggy of water and tear it open with my teeth, guzzle half of it, and squirt the rest on my head, face, and chest. Eventually I started taking two baggies and would rub one of them on my arms, face, and chest, then would later tear it open and drink/squirt it, then hobble/jog for a bit before busting into the second one. This was my rhythm for the entire run duration. Each cool down was short-lived, however, and almost immediately my body would dry up and get dangerously hot again, and I’d drag myself to the next aid station to start the process over again.

Everyone looked miserable on the run. Even the hardcore athletes looked pretty jaded, which made me feel marginally better. I ran into Jason a few times (the run was an out and back which we repeated) and cursed him each time I saw him. I begged the Aztec gods for it to rain. I mentally promised them my first-born child, or, if I decided not to have kids, all of our gaming consoles (I’m pretty sure that Quetzalcoatl would like an Xbox 360).

On my final lap I saw, to my horror, some athletes riding their bikes back to the hotel. This was demoralizing for two reasons:

  1. These assholes had already finished the race, and
  2. They had enough energy left to actually ride their bikes back to the stupid hotel.

Ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. Nonetheless, I trudged on, popping Endurolytes like Tic-Tacs. I saw a one-legged guy starting his final lap as I was finishing mine and publicly cheered for him but was internally happy that I at least beat the one-legged dude (though I imagine my gait didn’t look much different than his at this point). I did not, however, beat a one-armed guy. That guy kicked my ass.

With .1 miles to go, I looked down at my watch and saw that I could maybe, possibly squeak in at under 7 hours, just like I did in Victoria. I got as excited as one with possible heatstroke could get and started to pick up the pace. I ran hard, only to realize that the cruel bastards who organized this hellacious event decided to make the last .1 miles as switchbacky as freakin’ possible. I rounded each corner expecting a finish line, only to be met with another stupid turn. Eventually I staggered across the finish line and collapsed under the reprieve of a shaded tent.

Run time: 2:35:39. Not great by any means, but at least now I know I can walk-shuffle a half marathon in a little over 2 1/2 hours.

Total race time: 7:01:13. I was 17th out of 23 girls in my division. This race sucked. Hard. But hey, I finished because no matter how miserable I feel or how terribly the race is going for me, I refuse to quit. This medal doesn’t have a great time attached to it, but it was still pretty hard earned so screw it, I learned a lot and got a good vacation out of the experience.

Showing off my medal in pre-TN gear (back when we were team Herriott Sports Performance)

Jason’s time was pretty craptacular too—I think he finished in 6:42 or so. He had a great swim, about 45 minutes, and a solid-at-the-time bike (about 3:13 or so). The run, however, claimed him as a victim as well as me and several others (I think it took him about 2 ½ hours as well).

Surprisingly, we survived relatively unscathed aside from the usual soreness and chafe marks. I did, however, get some nasty cuts on my ankle from the chip strap that I wrote about so lovingly in my Triathlete Woe #2 post.

Not the best souvenir

Oh, and, as for a possible race sunburn? Well, I put on SPF 30 before the race started and will let you guess how well that held up:

Ah, the tri short tan. You know it, you loathe it, you can't avoid it.

My back got the worst of it. I mistakenly figured that racing in a sport swim top would help keep me cooler vs. a sleeveless tri kit top, but I obviously didn’t think about how my back would be completely exposed to the sun all day and how it would soak up the brunt of the rays during the bike and run. The aftermath of my sunburn wasn’t pretty:

My back after the race

One day after the race--swollen and red.

Three days after the race. Here come the blisters!

Four days after the race. My back is looking quite un-a-peel-ing.

My first day back in Seattle--I think this is about a week or so after the race

I have never gotten as bad a sunburn as I did from that race. Since I have a darker complexion, I don’t really burn that easily and when I do, it turns to brown rather quickly. The Mexico sun, however, is no joke, and even I was no match for its brutality. It took my skin about eight months to fully recover from the bad sunburn, but eventually the splotches evened out and I stopped convincing myself I was dying of skin cancer.

The burn put a damper on my vacation since I had to keep my back covered at all times, but other than that Jas and I still had a lot of fun. We changed hotels after the race and spent the remainder of our trip at the Sun Palace, a beautiful all-inclusive resort. He and I spent some time at Isla de Mujeres, went to Xcaret (an eco park), where I got to high-five a sea turtle, and enjoyed lazing about while slurping sugary blended drinks for the rest of the week before returning home.

Fast forward to early 2012, where I find myself in yet another extremely hot (although not nearly as humid) tropical environment on the verge of racing my second destination half Ironman to start off my fifth season as a triathlete. I’m stronger, in better shape, and more knowledgeable than I was back in 2008, but the conditions will still be hot and windy and the course is much tougher, so I really have no idea how well I’ll do. I’m confident I’ll do better than my seven hour Cancun suffer fest, but as far as an actual time estimate, your guess is as good as mine. I’ll let you know how it goes. One thing is for sure: I definitely plan to wear a tri top and drench myself in the strongest sunscreen known to man so I don’t turn my back into beef jerky again.

5 Responses to “ “Cancun 70.3 2008: A Look Back on My Sunburned Achievement”

  1. Suzanne Arango says:

    Good luck to both of you! You amaze us!
    Hugs, A. Sue & Tio 2

  2. teresa says:

    Go Rebecca go!!!!! You have come so far 🙂


  3. I completed the Cancun 70.3 last September and temperatures soared to 103-degrees by 9:30am. Fucking ree-dick-u-lous!

    It was fun to recount someone’s else’s pain and suffering, err, ‘experience’ of having done this particular race too. Good luck in Costa Rica!

  4. P.S.> your sunburn kicks my sunburns ass. But, did you have to suffer the indignity of having your mom aid you in getting off your tri-shorts and get you into a cold bath afterwards? No? I win.

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