For most of the day Sunday, it looked as though the fourth-annual Ironman Cozumel was—despite Kona-sore legs—going to be chalked up as another win for American Mary Beth Ellis. With two minutes in the bank with three miles to go, it was as good as done for the TeamTBB ace who finished fifth this October in Kona.

But halfway up the 40-yard stretch of blue carpet leading to finish banner, a woman rounded the corner in the background. Ellis crossed to take the win at Ironman Cozumel in 9:15:38—and just seven seconds later, Belgian Sophie DeGroote crossed. Ellis, collapsed on the finish carpet and wheeled her head around, relieved. Her Ironman victory record outside Kona (Ironman Austria, Regensberg, Canada and  Texas) remains unblemished for yet another race at five.

“I knew she was coming,” Ellis said. “I was just trying to get to that finish line first.”

In the men’s race, it was former ITU World Champion  Ivan Raña of Spain who showed up a collection of veterans in winning his first Ironman on debut, taking the win in Mexico—10 years on from his ITU World title in Cancun— in 8:15:07.

Athletes queuing for the Ironman Cozumel swim start were sent off with a dolphin show before dropping into the Caribbean Sea.

After a few days of cool temps, athletes contended with exhaustive long-shore currents that taxed athletes in the Caribbean swim, and stiff winds during the bike.

But with variable clouds dotting the skies, air temps early on during the three-lap bike were considerably cooler than normal. With less sun beating down, several athletes opened the throttle a bit wider than normal in the men’s race, namely Dirk Bockel, who soloed away from the main contenders, amassing over four minutes of buffer. Germany’s Horst Reichel and American defending champ Michael Lovato each made efforts late in the bike as well, and Australian Luke McKenzie was the perennial leader of a group that included American Brandon Marsh, Bert Jammaer (BEL), Anton Blohkin (UKR), James Cuunama (RSA) and Jimmy Johnsen (DEN).

Luxembourg’s Dirk Bockel laid his cards down early powering to a big bike lead—but paid for the effort on the run.

Interestingly, it was the Ironman rookie— Raña —who handled the day like a veteran, and abided by the old adage: bike for show, run for dough. Happy to mix among the lead group of riders, he resisted the urge to flex his short-course power.

“I have a lot of friends that do Ironman and they told me, ‘be patient; you’ll have good feelings on the bike, but just be patient.’ So when Dirk and some of those guys went, I was just waiting.”

Sure enough, as the run began, names like defending race champ Lovato, McKenzie. Cuunama, too, was slowing considerably on the run. And Raña was looking like he was out for an easy 10k run. But he wasn’t showing the pain he was in. After all, this is his first run at distance in a race outside his victory a few weeks ago—again on debut—at 70.3 Lanzarote.

“I didn’t push hard in the last 20k of the bike, just saving my legs for the run. And the first two laps of the run felt really easy,” Raña said. “I thought I can fight for the win, but the last lap, I felt really bad.”

By the finish, he was happy to shut it down, celebrate with the fans as he went down the finish chute, and plot his next target: Kona.

“I want to go to Kona for sure next year,” Raña said. “I’ll probably do more 70.3s to start with, and maybe Ironman Frankfurt. And I’ll keep racing ITU, but I do want to go to Kona.”

Former ITU World Champion Ivan Rana ripped open the race on the run.

And for Raña, the win in Cozumel is doubly special; exactly a decade ago, Rana won the ITU World Championships, just a ferry boat ride away in Cancun. “It’s a nice, nice feeling for me.”

While the big names faded, Bas Diederen of Holland and Belgian Bert Jammaer assembled steady runs to claim the final two podium spots.

The women’s race saw Ellis exit the water first, but a slow transition put Dane Michelle Vesteby out front setting tempo. Vesteby would extend to a lead of nearly four minutes to Ellis, while Ellis was able to gap Canadian newcomer Tenille Hoogland by a minute by the time the bike was done. Former race champ Yvonne Van Vlerken of the Netherlands was contending with stomach issues and summarily pulled out on the run.

Michelle Vesteby did her best to build a buffer from Ellis during the windy bike.

On the run, Vesteby’s lead would be short lived; by mile seven of the run, the lead was ceded to Ellis, whose lead of over four minutes would slowly be whittled by DeGroote….  right down to just seven seconds at the finish line.

“At 35k I was behind at two minutes, but then my coach said I was getting closer… 1:40, 1:20, one minute, and I thought ‘hmm—maybe it’s possible,'” DeGroote said. “I gave everything and my coach said “sprint!” But I was sprinting for like five kilometers! I was giving all I had. I’m disappointed, but I come away knowing I can win one day.”

Germany’s Sonja Tajsich overhauled a suffering Vesterby to take third, as Vesterby gamely held on to take fourth.


Ellis powers past a Mayan temple replica along the Cozumel waterfront marathon course.

2012 Ironman Cozumel

Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico

2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run


Pro Men
1. Ivan Raña (ESP) 8:15:07
2. Bas Diederen (NED) 8:22:55
3. Bert Jammaer (BEL) 8:24:51
4. Anton Blokhin (UKR) 8:26:38
5. Jimmy Johnsen (DEN) 8:29:09
6. Brandon Marsh (USA) 8:30:17
7. Michael Lovato (USA) 8:37:14
8. James Cunnama (SAF) 8:37:46
9. Stefan Schmid (GER) 8:41:09
10. Andres Castillo (COL) 8:42:06

Pro Women
1. Mary Beth Ellis (USA) 9:15:38
2.- Sophie De Groote (BEL) 9:15:45
3. Sonja Tajsich (GER) 9:21:30
4. Michelle Vesterby (DEN) 9:23:49
5. Kathleen Calkins (USA) 9:25:58
6. Heidi Sessner (GER) 9:31:00
7. Mareen Hufe (GER) 9:32:19
8. Beth Walsh (USA) 9:39:25
9. Elizabeth Lyles (USA) 9:40:36
10. Jackie Arendt (USA) 9:44:05