An Eagleman 70.3 Race Report
Many, many moons ago, much to my surprise, Dee Dee decided that she wanted to do a half Ironman. I admit to being a bit surprised. I mean, I was there when she finished her first Olympic distance triathlon. She was angry. At what, I have no idea. She just wanted to get into the car and get the heck outta there, which I was happy to oblige.
Yea, I encouraged Dee Dee to do a half Ironman. I'd like her to do an Ironman, but that is a fight for another day :-) When she told me she wanted to do Eagleman, I told her that it was closed. She just smiled. Imagine my surprise when she came back to me and told me that she had not one but two slots for Eagleman, one for me and one for her. I was excited. I had heard good things about Eagleman. After giving it some thought, I decided to release my charity slot to another racer and be there totally for Dee Dee, and I told the race director as much. I think the RD appreciated that.
When it came time to train, no sooner did Dee Dee get started than her mother fell seriously ill, and not at home either, visiting with family in Buffalo, NY. Dee Dee ended up having to go out of town for over a month to take care of her mom, and she could not train. After giving it some serious thought, Dee Dee decided to do the smart thing and save her first half Ironman for another time.
We agonized over what to do with Dee Dee's race entry. Finally, we decided to write the race director and ask if she could defer Dee Dee's entry until next year or transfer it to me. They didn't really want to transfer it to the next year, and she REALLY wasn't supposed to transfer it to me either, but given how things played out between the three of us, she did it anyways. I am very grateful to the Columbia Triathlon Club for this blessing. It's like I told her. I wasn't worried about the charity money. We always get back ten times what we give. It was the basic race entry that I hated to lose. I couldn't thank her enough.
Plans were made. Meals were picked and purchased for the kids. Matthew's sister was going to come stay with him for the weekend. Hotel reservations were called in. Two weeks before the race, Dee Dee was notified that she would be on jury duty that week. What next I wondered? I worried that this would screw up our departure, but it ended up being a blessing in diguise. Nobody wanted a 911 operator in training on their jury! Dee Dee was released from duty Thursday afternoon, which meant we could leave for Maryland one day early.
After sending Matthew off to his sister's, we packed the car and took off up I-85. We drove as far as we felt was necessary, and ended up spending the night in Gastonia NC, which is right outside of Charlotte. This saved us four hours on our Friday drive. On the way up to Cambridge MD, we decided that we would travel through Norfolk and cross the Bay Bridge north of Virginia Beach. The countryside was beautiful. Dee Dee and I were both surprised when the "bridge" across the bay actually dived under the water and became a tunnel, not once, but twice! That was cool, but a little intimidating... Since Dee Dee was driving, I let her enjoy the experience :-)
Once we cross over to the Eastern Shore (I didn't even KNOW that Virgina existed on the other side of the Chesapeake Bay), it took us about an hour and a half to reach Salisbury MD, where our hotel was. We decided that if we hurried, we could reach packet pick up before it closed Friday night. We got to the race site twenty minutes before it closed, which was nice. All we would need to do Saturday was drop off the bike in transition. After picking up the race packet, Dee Dee and I headed down to the park to see the race venue.
Besides a few peeps who were fishing at the race site, it looked like a typical Ironman 70.3 type site. I was encouraged that transition was so close to the swim exit. A few triathletes were there, swimming in the "river" (and I use that term loosely) in their wet suits. Off on the other side of the peninsula, Dee Dee and I saw some really big fish feeding in the fading light.
The nice full curtains in the room kept the light out, and we slept in and almost missed breakfast. I scooted downstairs and caught the tail end of breakfast, and when I got back upstairs, I caught hell from Dee Dee for eating without her. Oopsie!! I managed to smooth the situation over a bit by finding her some Dunkin Donuts. Not optimal, but good :-)
Once the princess was properly attired, we headed down to a sports pub on the river in Salisbury to get some lunch and watch USA play England on the big screens. It was tough for me to sit in a bar and drink tea and G2, but I managed. After the game, we headed back to Cambridge to rack the bike in transition.
I was pretty happy to score another end position in transition. That's two outta two for my recent 70.3 races.
There were a ton of bikes in transition by that time, and the streets near the park were lined with cars. Dee Dee, being the excellent race photog that she is, managed to get a great pic of the transition area from the top of the kids slide in the park.
For the first time eva, I wanted to ride the bike course and see what I was in for. Dee Dee had written down the turns in the hotel room, and the route was painted on the road as well. We took off in the car down the bike route, and despite a few challenges, managed to make it 10-15 miles down the road before I noticed that we were running out of gas. We had driven quite a ways without seeing a gas station, and I was afraid that we would run out of gas in the middle of no where. The smart thing to do was turn around and head back to town to find gas. I pronounced the bike course fully acceptable and flat as pancake, and that was that.
With a tank full of gas, we drove the thirty minutes back to Salisbury to find someplace to eat dinner. We were staying near the mall and had plenty of choices. We settled on a little Italian restaurant with no waiting. There were quite a few triathletes already eating. You can just tell who they are!
The bruschetta was really good, and I tried not to over stuff myself. We made it back to the hotel by 9 PM, and the lights were out by 10. I decided that we needed to get to the race area by at least 5:30 AM, so we would need to be outta the hotel by 10 til 5 AM or so.
Unlike Knoxville, I didn't sleep so good here. I was up multiple times, and the air conditioning just wasn't making me happy. Still, the last three or four hours were good ones, and I felt rather well rested when the alarms went off at 4:15 AM. While Dee Dee was in the shower, I took my bag downstairs and toasted my bagel. After eating it in the room, Dee Dee and I carried the rest of our stuff downstairs and checked out of the hotel. We were on the road right on time.
The race had asked us to park at a school located a mile or two from the park and ride the bus to the race park, and that's just what we did. We arrived at the park around 6 AM. I wasted no time getting set up in transition.
The announcer guy was going over the race rules. I was a bit surprised when he said the water temperature was 79 degrees and NO wet suits would be allowed. What really pissed me off was that he said the race would not be tracking those who wore wet suits, even though USTA rules allowed age groupers to wear them up to 84 degrees. He said if you wore a wet suit you would be disqualified. Sorry, but that just ain't right. Either you run a race by the rules, or you don't. Dee Dee told me later that some people went home when they heard the news :-(
By 6:20, I was done, and Dee Dee and I were waiting in the port-a-potty line. Just when it was our turn to go, a race official stepped up and said these were reserved for the police, and we would have to go and use the port-a-potties for the athletes and spectators. That was real bummer! I promptly went for a "warm up" swim, in every sense of the word, while poor Dee Dee had to suffer until the waves got well under way.
Since I aged up this year, my old age group was third and consisted of over 350 people. My new age group went tenth and had something in the range of 220 individuals. When it was our turn to go, we gathered in front of the race start. This was an in water start. With four minutes to go, we entered the water and swam to the starting line. I wanted to be in the back towards the end, but I had only gotten half way before the announcer said one minute. I hauled it towards the end of the line, and had just reached my position when the announcer counted down from five to one, and we were off. That was quite the warm up, but at least I got to start up front, pretty much by myself!
My goal for this swim was to get comfortable first, then to race. The water didn't appear too choppy from the shore, but once you were in it, it was quite turbulent. I found myself way to the outside, but since I tend to drift right, I was gradually falling back into line with main group of swimmers. I thought that I might have been drifting off line, but there was a big boat at the first turn, and I was using that to site off of. Later, I would find that my line was actually pretty straight, and I need to trust myself more in the open water.
When I swim, I have these deja vu moments where I feel like I have been swimming for way to long. I made the first right turn and took off towards the shore and the second turn buoy. I thought that the first turn was quite a long ways, but the second turn seemed just as long. I began to work really hard and focused on long smooth strokes. I rounded the second buoy and began to pass through some of the swimmers from the proceeding waves. They seemed to be spread out really well, and it really wasn't that difficult to go through them. Some of the younger peeps from the wave behind me began to pass ME at this point as well.
Shortly after rounding the second turn and heading towards the swim exit, I felt the 310XT in my swim cap buzz, indicating I had reached the mile point. I popped my head up out of the water and thought, good Lord, this course has to be long if that's 0.2 miles left. I decided not to worry about it, put my head down, and continued swimming. Again, that feeling of being a LONG time in the water was very strong.
Finally, the swim exit got closer. As I neared the exit, I noticed people were walking through waist deep water to get to shore. It kind of pissed me off that I was swimming and they were walking just as fast as I was, but I took solace in the fact that they were expending way more energy than I was. When my fingers finally touched the bottom, I stopped, climbed to my feet and walked up onto shore.
I was taken aback when I looked down at my watch and saw 44 minutes. O.M.G! I have never swam 44 minutes, or over 40 for that matter, in a half Iron distance race before. What was going on? I decided not to dwell on this, but when 10 minutes is the difference between sub-6 and not sub-6, that's a pretty disturbing turn of events.
I trotted through the run exit and into transition and went right to my bike. I had set everything up perfectly this time. I put on my heart rate monitor, race belt, then my shoes. I slipped on my helmet, grabbed my bike, and took off for the bike exit. No putting on my make up this time in transition! I shaved more than two, almost three minutes from my T1 time!
It was a straight shot out of the transition area and onto the bike course. I kinda figured that Dee Dee would not be expecting me so soon. As I got clipped in, I saw her up ahead walking with her back facing in my direction. I hollered at her, and she managed to turn and snap a few shots as I flew by.
My strategy for the bike was pretty simple. Use the first 3 to 4 miles to get my heart rate in check, then hammer in Zone 3. I did not panic when my first mile came in at 3:30-ish. I reminded myself this was what I wanted, and it would pay dividends later. Shortly, my heart rate settled and I picked up the pace, reeling in some 3 and sub-3 minute miles. A few times, my HR climbed into Zone 4, and I was careful to back off. I am always very careful to pay attention to my thighs as well. When they start complaining, I know it is time to ease back a little.
In this race, the thighs started complaining about mile 12, LOL, and I worked hard to keep them comfortably uncomfortable. Once we got out past the trees at, oh, the fifteen mile mark or so, the headwinds began to pick up, and I began to struggle to hold my pace. The left hand turn on the back of the bike course was instant relief! It was almost like free speed. The flatness of the race course demanded that we do nothing but pedal pedal pedal. I could feel the heat from the sun on my skin and the sweat. I stuck to my nutrition plan really well on this ride, and I drank all three of my bottles! Chalk that one up to a big victory.
The most notable thing for me on this ride, besides the fields of corn, was the little country girl, holding her daddy's hand watching the riders go by. They both were stranding near a pick up truck on a bridge, holding onto a crab net. It was a Kodak moment.
At about mile 47 or so, the loop closed and we were back on the bike route, but this time heading back to transition. The headwind was really strong here, and I struggled, recording two of my slowest miles. With three miles left to go, the bike and run routes converged. I was amazed at all the runners on the way out, and even more amazed at the few runners on the way in. Oh, how I wished I was fast enough to be one of the runners on the way in! Fortunately, the wind was behind us now, and I found yet another source of strength to pick it back up and head to transition. At the left hand turn before transition, Dee Dee was there to snap a few more pics and yell some encouraging words. She was a real trooper, all freakin day...
At the dismount line, I unclipped and began the long walk to my spot. While I had managed to PR my bike split by around 4 minutes, given my crappy swim time, I did not feel like a PR was on for me this day. I racked Aerowyn, slipped into my socks and shoes, put on my hat, and sprayed on more sun screen. The sun was really really beating down now. I entered the chute to the run exit and paused to grab two cups of fluids from the volunteers. Despite drinking 96 oz of fluid on the bike, I was beginning to get dehydrated.
Much like Augusta, as I headed down the road, my thighs began to cramp. Visions of Augusta 70.3 danced in my head. I immediately settled into a fast walk and hoped that they would settle down. A few minutes later, when I started running again, I was pleasantly surprised. The cramps were gone and only the usual soreness remained. I was even more surprised when I turned in a 10:40 and a 10:17 for my first two splits. Visions of a sub-6 were still dancing in my head.
Miles 3 and 4 proved this to be a pipe dream. My pace dwindled, first to 11 minute miles, then 12, then 13. At first, I was sticking to a run 4 minutes walk 1 minute cycle, and I was determined to keep at it. The problem was that I needed to take in two cups of fluids, in their entirety, at every aid station. That meant walking though the aid station and continuing to walk until I was done. I think I walked out of turn maybe two times the entire run, but eventually, I did shorten the run periods, first to three minutes, then to two.
At the first bike penalty tent, there was a young person, clad in an all black 2XU outfit collapsed on the ground. Emergency crew members were tending to him/her. I should mention at this point that the volunteers and aid stations were wonderful. They were most helpful and well stocked. I began to click off the miles, one foot in front of the other. I am getting to be old hat at this now. I cross the mat at the turn around and headed back. I knew my day was almost finished. I ran when I was supposed to, walked when I supposed to, and hit up every sprinkler and kid with a hose on the way back.
At mile 12, this sweet old lady was telling everybody, only one more mile to go, and its shady now! LOL... The athletes make a right turn along the bay. Off in the distance, I could see the park with all the tents and people. The loud speaker carried across the bay, and I could hear the athlete's names being called as they finished. The race finish never looked so far away.
Despite the encouragement from the spectators, I chose to walk a little bit more before breaking into a slow trot for the finish line. Once I hit the park, I wanted to run all the way to the finish. I was relieved when the finish line appeared in my vision. No crazy turns or circles for this boy. I was done for.
I heard Dee Dee yelling from the stands, and I managed a half hearted attempt to raise my arms as I crossed the line. The announcer did say my name and home town. I thought that was a nice touch!
Dear Lord was I ever happy to be done. A volunteer put a medal on my neck, and another took my timing chip. I grabbed a bottle of water and stopped long enough to have my picture taken, even though I didn't want to. Dee Dee found me quickly, and I handed her my water bottle to drink. She said she was dying of thirst, and all I wanted to do was go get in the river. I soaked myself for five minutes or so before climbing back out and heading to transition to gather my things.
When I paused at the check point, I noticed that my wrist band had come off during the race. As near as I could tell, it slipped off my wrist in the water. Security was kind enough to let me gather my things anyways, without much problem.
Dee Dee prodded me to go get something to eat, but truth be told, I wasn't hungry yet. The heat had surpressed my appetite. I told her that I would rather eat with her, and we could stop and get something on the way out. We strategized on what to do to get back to our car. I ended up riding the bus back to the school while Dee Dee walked with my bike towards a meeting place. When I got to the car, I changed my clothes and munched on some of Dee Dee's left over steak in the cooler. I had no trouble finding her. We loaded up Aerowyn, rearranged the luggage/junk, and headed out onto the road.
In Easton MD, which is north of Salisbury, we stopped at Popeye's for some fried chicken, which hit the spot nicely. We then continued north on 50 towards the bay bridge. We had no idea that we would run into so much traffic. Evidently, weekend traffic in Maryland sucks big time. It cost us several hours getting across the bridge, but once we did, traffic opened back up nicely. I couldn't see any reason for the back up, but we'll just chalk that one up to the herd mentality.
Highway 50 took us west to Washington DC. I opted to follow the GPS instead of the interstate signs and went into downtown. I thought it was pretty cool that I caught a fleeting glimpse of the capital building and the Washington monument. I'd never seen that part of the capital before.
We made it to Richmond VA by 8:30 PM or so. We started calling Holiday Inn to see if we could change our reservations to another hotel closer along our route. Both the original hotel and the corporate office refused to change our reservations for us. Needless to say, we were not happy with that, and we won't ever sleep in a Holiday Inn Express again.
It was 1 AM when I finally pulled into the hotel parking lot outside of Charlotte. I drove the whole way, as Dee Dee wasn't feeling well. Somehow, I managed to stay awake, but it was a monumental effort. We woke up at a decent time the next morning and finished our ride into Atlanta and Woodstock. After being on the road for so long, there's nothing quite like taking a shower in one's own home.
This is probably one of my longer race reports, but it was an epic adventure, and worthy of being recorded in detail. If you made it this long, thanks for coming along. I'll follow this one up with a reflective post on both the race and where I am going from here.
Thanks for listening :-)