Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Ironman Los Cabos

Drawing on Endurance Corner's collective years of experience and access to an extended network of some of the most knowledgeable racers, we wanted to provide our best recommendations for approaching some of the biggest races around the world.

Here, we profile Ironman Los Cabos in Los Cabos, Mexico.

Travel and Accommodations
Los Cabos is located on the far southerly side of the Baja peninsula. After flying into Los Cabos International Airport (SJD), there’s a short 15-minute drive on the local toll road (which accepts USD for the toll) to get to San Jose del Cabo, where the race host hotels and expo are located. You’ll need an up to date passport if traveling internationally. Many U.S. flights route through Dallas Fort Worth on American Airlines. On the return trip, allow plenty of extra time at the SJD airport when traveling with a bike.

Los Cabos is a resort destination accommodating travelers and tourists year-around, so there are many options when planning your lodging. The race website lists many hotel options that offer discounted room rates if booked far enough in advance. The Hola Grand Faro all-inclusive resort was the main host hotel for the inaugural race in 2013, hosting all the expo and registration activities. However, there are endless options of other places to stay depending on your budget and size requirements. The Westin resort, approximately three miles from the center of Los Cabos, is oceanfront and offers excellent service and an awesome dinner buffet that has a different “theme” each night. If you prefer to hang at your lodging for meals, this is the place to stay.

Pre-Race Workouts
The practice swims held at Palmilla Beach (the swim start) are perfect for swimming the days prior to race day. The water temperature of the Pacific is cool (about 70 degrees F) and perfect for full wetsuit swimming. The water is fairly calm of surf, and the only “fiends” you may run into during the swims are the small glowing jellyfish (harmless) that speckle the waters below with a blue glow. Gray whales do migrate north through the Sea of Cortez, but they swim about 300 yards off shore and are quite a sight to watch as they play and show off for those watching from the beach.

Cycling is best done on the section of the course that runs along the coast on Highway 1 towards Cabo San Lucas – so long as you are mindful and cautious of the normal everyday traffic. The shoulder is wide and the only real obstacles you may find in the road are a few sections of cattle guards that you’ll want to ride slowly through to avoid pre-race bike problems. Practice getting through the cattle crossing guards so that on race day, you have it down to a science and can blast right through without a single bump! (Note: If you launch bottles during training rides, you’ll launch everything if you don’t get through these crossings smoothly, so have your bottles tight and secure and test this in the days prior to race day.)

If you’re staying in the center of Los Cabos, running is best done through the city streets and around the resorts, as there’s less highway traffic. For the resorts that are a few miles from town (Westin, Palmilla, Sheraton), its best to just run on the same roads you bike where the shoulder is wide. Be prepared though as this section of road has some good humps and does not offer much flat terrain for running.

Weather is largely the same every day at this time of year. The days start mild and the sun quickly rises and heats things up to about 85 degrees F. Pack your sunscreen for this venue because the close proximity to the equator makes this a strong sun for burns; just 45 minutes of unprotected exposure will leave fair skin pink and something you want to avoid going into the race.

Race Morning
Shuttles are offered from most hotels that will get both athletes and support to T1 and the swim start at Palmilla Beach. Parking is really not an option around T1 and the swim start, so taking a shuttle or having someone drop you off is the best plan. Also note that you will be dropped off at the entry to the Palmilla community and have a 10-minute (downhill) walk to get to T1. If you arrive before sunrise, a headlamp or flashlight is handy to have with you.

The swim is a single loop with beach start out of Palmilla cove. Water temperature is about 70 degrees F and very comfortable for wetsuit swimming. There may be a little surf to contend with right from shore, but once you’re at the first left turn buoy, the water is spacious and clear. The current seems to run north and with you for the “out” section of the swim loop. The beach exit is a few hundred yards down the beach from the swim start and there’s about a ~100 yard jaunt along the beach and up some steep steps to get into T1.

The consistently “rolls” as you head south for approximately 15 miles along the coast using the Transpeninsular Highway that goes from San Jose del Cabo to the turnaround in Cabo San Lucas, before the return trip back to Palmilla Beach. While there’s plenty of rollers and grade to fatigue the legs, there’s also good “recovery” time when you hit the other side of the rollers and can allow the legs to rest for a short time -- maintaining good speed without the need to pedal. One of the greatest perks of this race for the bike course is the management of road closures to vehicle traffic. For the entire ride to Cabo San Lucas, the four-lane median-divided highway has an entire two-lane side dedicated to the athletes and support for the race. The road surface is smooth and clean -- aside from the few sections of cattle crossing guards just as you arrive in Los Cabos (the “center” of the race).

Wind seems to blow progressively throughout the day; sometimes swirling, sometimes in the face, sometimes a tail wind. I found the wind required the “grind” the most on the second loop as we got close to the turn in Cabo San Lucas. Riding smart, early, is key to having the gas left to grind through the heat and wind in the later part of the day.

The safest wheel choice would be a 404 or similar front wheel, with a deeper dish rear wheel. Plenty of people will ride the low profile front and a rear disc; I don’t think the weight of a disc would present an issue on this course and would not be a problem handling with the winds.

T2 is separate from T1 and centrally located in town, approximately three miles miles north of T1. Be sure to check the route for the third lap return to arrive in T2.

Bike aid stations are plentiful and stocked with water, Gatorade, bananas, gels and some granola bars. Start the bike with a good dose of sunscreen to avoid some serious burn from the cloudless sky and hot sun.

The run course for the inaugural race in 2013 was modified the days leading up to race day. It was three loops, with each loop having five out and backs. It’s difficult to guage where other athletes are in the race, but nice to never be too far away the entire run. The close proximity of everything also makes it nice for spectators, most of whom line the streets in town close to the loop finish and often shouting, “Vamos! Vamos!” (“Let’s go! Let’s go!”). It’s a slightly rolling course, but no humps to really slow you down. The biggest challenge over the course of the run is not necessarily the terrain, but the heat and sun shining at it’s peak for the day. Fortunately, there are aid stations every kilometer on the run course and plenty of opportunity to grab some water to keep the body cool.

Post Race
Be sure to have a plan for getting back to your lodging (with your bike) after the race. It’s mandatory to have your bike checked out of T2 before 1 a.m., and with T2 being in town and separate from T1, there are not a lot of transportation options or shuttles that were used to bring athletes to the race start in the morning. Getting up to the main road where you may be able to flag down a taxi is a 15-minute walk from where you’ll grab your bike.

The following day’s activities are not held in the host hotel, but rather, 20 minutes south in Cabo San Lucas at Puerto Paraíso Mall. If you’re heading down to claim a slot to Kona for the World Championships, be prepared to pay for the entry with cash (USD or pesos). This is important because if you need to make a big withdrawal from your account from an ATM, you will likely be charged a heavy fee on the transaction. This is a really nice marina area and offers lots of great outside dining and drinking. Baja Brewing Company is a great place to grab an outside table and enjoy the sun… and make sure you get the guacamole!

There are plenty of local attractions often visited by tourists. Land’s End, one of Cabo San Lucas’s natural landmarks, is known for its exceptional views and great photo opportunities, and certainly worth a visit when you’re not on your bike.

Brady is a repeat Kona-qualifier who raced the inaugural Ironman Los Cabos in 2012.

He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and two sons where he works as an IT software systems consultant and coaches as part of the Endurance Corner coaching network. His biggest success is finding the ability to train and race at the top of the age group while balancing family, work, and everything else in life.

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