Eagleman Half-Ironman

Through the thin latex membrane of my purple swim cap Iheard the announcer say “One minute to go”! Three seconds later the air horn sounded. “Go, go that’s you”! It was an inauspicious start to my first attempt at a rather intimidating Half-Ironman triathlon distance. That is a 1.2 mile swim, followed by a 56 mile bike ride, and then a half-marathon or 13.1 miles. A few years ago, I would likely have erupted in fits of laughter had anyone suggested I’d be trying to do this one day. Heck, I had been an over-weight couch potato IT professional spending most of my free time in front of a television with a bag of Combos.
But here I was, and frankly I was pretty excited. In past triathlons, the water was always scary. Twice in my first 4 races I’d dealt with severe bouts of panic in the water on much shorter swims. But experience and the sound advice of good friends had gotten me in the water the day before and removed the element of the unknown. Good providence played a role in keeping the water temperature low enough to allow the use of  a wetsuit and the confidence and speed it provides. USAT rules draw the line for wetsuit use at 76.1.
Off we went into the green sea. We were a group of age 45+ gentleman all with our purple caps hoping to get through the swim and take our shot at the bike and run in the searing heat of early summer in Maryland. As the announcer stated on an earlier swim wave, it is clear where the Choptank river gets its name.

The adventure had started months before with training, and planning and had culminated on Friday June 8th with a difficult,trafficy drive to Cambridge on Maryland’s eastern shore. While the drive was tough, it was clear that upon our arrival it had been worth it. The town of Cambridge, it’s people, Ironman, and Tricolumbia Sports welcomed us for the weekend with open arms. Everywhere we looked there were signs about Eagleman and special discounts for participants.

For accommodations, we had a choice between a $300.00/night hotel room or $30.00 for the weekend camping at the local High School. (Hint:See picture) Since we have a small RV with its own generator and electricity the choice was easy but there really was plenty of shade there to set up a tent. Friday night we did little more then have dinner and go to bed.
Saturday morning I met John and Paul who were also camped at the school also of similar “vintage” to me, and were also doing their first 70.3 distance Tri. After discussing how crazy it would be to do a full Ironman and how it isn’t crazy to do a half in 93 degree heat, we were on our bikes together and headed for the water for a swim. We swam  a few hundred yards and then checked out the swim exit. It turns out given the right tide you could probably almost walk the last half-mile if you were so inclined. Then we hopped back on the bikes and headed for the school. 
 
 
 
Later Saturday, Janice and I headed for the expo where I got my race packet including a nice gym bag and Eagleman shirt and then rubbed elbows with the pros for a bit. 
 
Left to Right: Craig “Crowie” Alexander, TJ Tollakson, Marinda “Rinny” Carfrae, Meredith Kessler

At the expo we met up with Facebook friend, Endurance Multisport teammate, and official Ironman Denise Reaman and her husband Mark. We traveled to the transition area at Great Marsh Park. Conversation with Denise and Mark flowed well and it felt like we were meetingup with old friends. Leaving Janice and Mark to talk Denise and I headed into transition to rack bikes and discuss “T” strategy and layout.

At one point, I surveyed the scene and wondered how many hundreds of thousands in dollars of bikes were there.
Left set of racks

After racking, we bid adieu to Denise and Mark for the night and headed back to camp to grab some dinner and turn in early. I went to bed that night wondering whatever made me think this was a good idea and if I could REALLY do it. Despite the excitment and nervousness, I slept pretty well dreaming of cool water and a wetsuit legal swim.

Right set of racks
After a breakfast of peanut butter and bagel I headed for transition via the parking shuttle with everything in my running bag except a running hat. I always have a hat in the RV. Always. Not today. I SWORE it had been in my bag. Not to be found. I was reconciled to running with a plain old cotton ball cap that would weigh about a pound before the day was over. However, I 
bumped into Denise and our good friend (and kick-ass triathlete) Susanne Vanzijl. Susanne had a visor to loan me. Not ideal with my baldhead but better then running in a regular ball cap.She handed me the visor and told me it was payback for the bug spray I loaned her at Devilman.   

I had my T area setup a couple hours beforemy start so there was much milling about until my start time came. Denise, Mark and I watched, mouth-agape as the pros blistered the swim course. There was also one gentleman pulling a disabled person in a rubber boat. Very inspirational. But I didn’t come here to watch others race, I was ready to go!

Back to the swim: After the abrupt gun to get our group started I resisted the urge to break into a water going sprint and kept my pace true and steady. Unlike Devilman, my breathing was regular and consistent. Myline was true and I covered the distance from each buoy one at a time without any weaving back and forth. I even drafted when given the opportunity. I thought about how hot it would be later that day and how enjoyable the cool water was. I decided I could swim 2.4 miles someday. But not today. My hope had been to clear the water in 50-55 minutes. I popped out, to my personal amazement, in 40:27.
Pete exiting the swim in 40:27.

Off to transition and on to the bike. Yes . . I sat down in transition to put my bike shoes on. I know its not the cool, professional triathlete way to do it . . but I’m a professional Scrum Master, not a professional triathlete. So there. T1 Time: 2:59.

The bike was fun, flat, and fast. At mile 15 we passed a produce stand with a sign that said “Triathlete Specials” and “Fresh Strawberries”. They could have left the word “fresh” off as the wind was wafting across the strawberry bushes carrying a delightful aroma of fresh fruit. By mile 30 I was wishing for a hill. I was having some lower back discomfort and trying to stretch every so often. The issues weren’t as severe as devilman but definitely there. Somewhere I caught up with Denise and we traded spots and talked and laughed for a good bit of the ride, being careful not to get caught drafting at our blistering 18mph pace. We rode over half the ride within sight of each other. In the middle of the Black Water National Wildlife Refuge, there was a black ropy thing in the road. It was a small blacksnake. I think Denise told her kids it was a dragon. Apparently she isn’t a snake fan.
After 50 miles I was ready to be done on the bike. While thewind was not as severe as other years (so I’m told) it was definitely a head-wind for most of the last 20 miles gusting at some points and killing speed. The last 6 miles drug on but finally we were within sight and sound of cheering and transition. I reached the dismount point, hopped off the bike and the gentleman with the flag said “Now run into transition”. I remember thinking “You run into transition. I’m walking”. My goal for the bike was 3:00. Actualtime, 3:10:13. Okay. I’m happy with that.
Bike done. Now for a simple half-marathon in 93 degrees.
As I walked into T2 I realized something was not good. Much like Devilman my back was cramping and spasming really bad. “No problem” I thought. “It’s not like I have to do a full marathon . . just a half”. In T2 I did remember to slather more sunscreen on my bald pate but should have taken the time to re-apply elsewhere too. T2: 3:31. Amazing how slow walking makes a transition.
I started out on the run with good intentions leaving the transition at a trot. I cleared the alley away from the cordoned off transition area and my back seized up REALLY hard slowing me to a walk. Ouch! At Devilman my back hurt whether I walked or ran so I ran anyway. Now, at least when Iwalked it didn’t hurt as much. The run is normally my strong suit but today I knew that would not be the case. I didn’t have high ambitions and even as I walked away from transition I knew I would finish the day at the finish line. But what to do in the mean time? Okay . . mile by mile. Take it slow, run as much as you can, get lots of fluids, stay cool . . oh . . and hey, why not try those salt tabs you bought at the expo? Everyone including the pros raves about them. Heck Craig Alexander said he wouldn’t have cramped up at the end of Kona last year if he hadn’t dropped a bunch of his. So salt tabs it is. Pop one every couple of aid stations.
I could run a couple hundred yards then walk a bit. It was going slowly but miles were ticking by. Somewhere during a walk at about mile 3or 4 I bumped into Dave Henkel from Endurance Multisport. Dave is a super-nice guy who always has a smile and a kind word. He saw me walking and said “Pete, it’s a long run. Enjoy it”. He was running well on his return leg and I high-fived him and smiled back.
Each time I ran I could run a little farther but not much. I was dealing with the heat well but it wasn’t like I was running hard. I talked to a couple folks along the way. I met a young man near the turn whose name escapes me but he was coming off his third go-round with ACL surgery and was happy to be competing. He had calculated out how fast he had to go to finishand was doing fine. We both enjoyed a snow cone along with water and Gatorade. While talking I walked more then I had been and suddenly my back felt somewhat better. I wished him luck and set off. Now I could run farther. I started using telephone poles. Run 4 walk 1. Run 5 walk one. The runs got longer. Now I was getting hot but nothing that couldn’t be combated with water, Gatorade and ice stuffed in places I never would have dreamed of stuffing ice before. You’d be surprised how a few ice cubes down your shorts can keep you running a little longer.
On a funny note, I was worried about my Garmin before the race. I knew my 305 would not have the battery life to make it through a Half-Ironman. Denise gave the best advice here. I had donned the Garmin before the bike but hadn’t turned it on until a couple miles from the end. In this way I felt I could track my pace. As it turns out I could probably have used a sundial or perhaps carbon dating for that purpose.
Somewhere near mile 10 we turned a little Northwest and were met with a beautiful breeze. A couple hours ago on the bike I had been cursing that breeze. Now it felt delightful. My pace quickened. Around mile 11 there was a rather drunk party high fiving every runner on the way by. One of them tossed me something. It turned out to be a bean bag. He pointed to a bean bag baseball board and said “take a shot”. Okay. I did my best LeBron James and heaved the beanie missing terribly but still getting a loud, drunken cheer from the crowd.
For the last two miles I took advantage of every good Samaritan with a garden hose or sprinkler. It felt great and really did keep me going. I was happy to be running with my Zoot shoes with no socks. I heard a lot of squishing from those with socks on. My Zoots kept my feet comfortable all day despite splashing through puddles so I could get maximum water time from sprinklers and hoses.
After the mile 12 aid station we rounded a bend and you could see the finish. My back had finally calmed down and I was able to continue running. My pace picked up the closer we got. Finally, I made the turndown the chute. People were cheering, yelling, high fiving. Craig Sheckler from Endurance Multisport yelled to me. Suddenly I was hit with a very unexpected wave of emotion. Unlike my marathon where I knew I’d finish I realized that until now I had never really been sure of this. But there was the finish and the announcer called my name. I crossed the line. After 70.3 miles I crossed the line. Total time: 6:28:14. I was not the fastest guy out there but I wasn’ttrying to be.
Yes. I walked the last couple steps. Not because I was tired but because of a flood of emotion.
On a side note, the finishers medal, shirt, bag, and memories aren’t the only thing I have to remember my inaugural experience at the Half-Ironman distance.
It turns out no matter what the bottle says, the sunscreen is probably not waterproof and not capable of lasting 8 hours.
Oh . . and one other lesson from the weekend. When you meet new friends Saturday morning and are excited to grab some gear and ride to the start for a practice swim, be sure to put anything you take out of your bag back in. Like your running hat that spent the entire race resting comfortably on the passengers seat of our motorhome.
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