I began my triathlon adventures a bit over 2 years ago when I signed up for a long sprint before I even bought a bike or joined a pool. I had been running for a year and a half, completed 2 marathons and felt I was ready for the next “thing”. Over the course of the last two years my triathlon goals have been not to drown, learn the sport, and learn to get through the various distances up to and including the daunting half-ironman distance. To that end, I completed the Eagleman Half-Ironman in 2012 much to my surprise.
So with two years of triathlons under my belt, I decided to dedicate 2013 and the foreseeable future to getting faster at triathlon. I had great success as a runner moving up through my age group very quickly, running some fairly fast times, and even finding the podium now and again. I felt if I focused on triathlon I could pick up my finish times a bit. With that in mind, I bought a new bike, hired a swim coach, and set to work.
A winter of much swimming ensued and the smell of chlorine was ever present. I worked equally hard on the bike riding the trainer when I couldn’t ride outside. All the while I kept at my run. I didn’t want to lose my strong suit. Training was going well when I ran into somewhat of a major setback. After a severe cold I suffered what turned out to be an asthma attack that wouldn’t go away, as well as an on-going battle with tendonitis. All these things were battled through and training continued.
The first triathlon of the year involved a duck pond that has turned out to be my nemesis and it remained so this year. But I hoped to battle back and recapture the fun, great swim I had at Eagleman last year.
That brings us back to Eagleman 2013. We were travelling North and East toward Cambridge, Maryland, from an engagement in North Carolina the weekend before. During the drive I wished I had had more bike time. I wished the asthma situation hadn’t occurred. I wished I had had a good swim at Devilman. I wished it would stop raining.
We arrived at Sailwinds Park in Cambridge in the middle of torrential rains from Tropical Storm Andrea. The parking area at Sailwinds nearly required a kayak.
Negative thoughts vanished for a while as I entered the excitement of the event. Warm, and friendly volunteers welcomed me and directed me through the line. There was barely anyone at packet pickup and I breezed through lickety-split collecting my packet with bike & helmet stickers, bib, swim cap, wrist band, timing chip, event shirt, and a REALLY spiffy new transition back pack.
I shopped the expo a bit with no intent to buy anything and didn’t. I struck up a conversation with the guy from ComputerTrainer who was doing his best to explain why ComputerTrainer doesn’t need to work on a Mac when I suddenly realized there was a beautiful young triathlete dying to ask me questions about race strategy. Turns out her name was Mirinda. Very nice person. I hope she does well in the sport. I thought it would be nice for her to have our picture taken together.
With schwag in hand, we left Sailwinds for the high school parking lot which would be our home for the next couple days. When the choice is $300.00/night for the Hyatt or $30.00 for the weekend in our comfy motorhome, it isn’t a difficult decision. Saturday morning dawned a bit cloudy but my coach had prescribed a short bike, run, and an optional swim. I got out early and got the bike & run done and then hopped back on the bike to head to Great Marsh park and the swim start. I was bound and determined to get a good practice swim in. It worked last year. There is something about the Choptank River that relaxes me. It is green salty water that adds flotation, is shallow, and I have fond memories of the Chesapeake as a youth from boating and fishing here. My practice swim was just that . . relaxing. I spent the rest of Saturday lounging about, getting my bike & transition stuff ready. In the afternoon it was off to transition to rack Betty for the morning
and then going and listening to the pro forum. I was thankful I did packet pick-up on Friday as it was downright crazy on Saturday. I did check out the Ironman Merchandise tent and after glancing at a couple price stickers began looking around for the financing desk and wondering if I would need to perhaps put up the deed to my house to purchase a pair of socks or a water bottle. Janice & I were back at the parking lot for an early dinner and early bed time.
The day started at 4:00am. Turns out it could have started at about 4:45 and we still would have had plenty of time but I was awake anyway. I had slept well. A quick breakfast of cereal, a peanut butter bagel, and some coffee and off to the races so to speak. After a quick T setup, I got a text message from Susanne whom I met in transition, and then found Wendy & Joe Mastripolito who I was meeting for the first time in person. Very fun! I double checked transition, turned on my Garmin and than wandered around with Susanne for a while. I spent the rest of pre-race time in the Endurance Multisport tent getting some last minute advice from coaches Craig & Erica Sheckler, and warming up a bit with a brief swim. The National Anthem was sung, the pros long since gone and it was time to head to the swim start. I’ll admit . . I was nervous. The asthma I dealt with all spring had stolen my swim confidence. The training was there, I could breath okay, but . . . well. Sometimes I am a mental case when it comes to swimming. I told myself I just had to get through that first few minutes.
Men 45-49 were to start at 7:55 and 8:00 depending on last name. I wondered if I would get to start before all those old men and then remembered I was one of them. The water temp race morning was 73.4 (wetsuit legal), the air temp was high 60s, and the water was calm. Ideal conditions except for the outgoing tide. It was time. I waved to my wife and told her I loved her and admit to feeling a bit naked heading into the water.
BEEP! And we were off. If I have one strong suit on the swim it is that I seem to track pretty well. I had lined up the buoys with a section of the bridge and a boat and was sighting every six stokes successfully holding my line. “Just keep swimming. Just get to the next buoy”. I would like to say I employed all the lessons Erica taught me over the winter. I’d like to say I swam with confidence and had shaken the mental demons that haunt me. I will say I swam . . . okay . . most of the way. I’m not 100% convinced I employed good form all the time but I think with the amount of repetition I did over the winter it had to be better than last year. But last year I didn’t stop and look around, and was not tentative and wasn’t looking for an excuse to stand up when the water got shallow. I am ashamed to admit this year I was relieved when I discovered in rounding the second turn buoy that I actually had to stand as there wasn’t enough water to swim. I am ashamed to admit there was a brief stint or two of backstroking. I am ashamed to admit that in the shallow water I stopped and walked a couple times for NO reason whatsoever. For some reason it has become very easy to mentally let myself give up.
My swim was 4 minutes slower than last year. Differences? Outgoing tide vs. incoming. You HAD to walk/dolphin the last 100 yards or more due to the shallow water from the lower tide. Everyone’s swim was slower. And when I read all these things they sound like excuses. Reality is, I was a worse swimmer last year but mentally tougher and not scared of the swim.
Coach Erica asked me how the swim was and I said “good”. Post-race that is all I could think of. Reality is, while it was definitely a better mental effort than Devilman there is still a lot of work to do there. I need to figure this out.
But I didn’t drown (always a plus) . . and I did finish the swim and made it to T1. I saw my beautiful bride in her big red hat who was looking into the water clearly waiting for someone to come along. I asked her who she was looking for and she fumbled with the camera as I passed by. No worries. I have told her always I have no expectations and I’m just happy she is there. Swim complete in 44:37.
Into T1. I ripped off the wet suit, put on bike shoes, glasses, and helmet and took a couple minutes to thoroughly spray down with Neutragena Wetskin sunblock. I was a crispy critter last year and didn’t want that to happen again. I also suddenly realized I hadn’t set my Garmin to auto-multisport. Knowing a Kona or Vegas slot wasn’t on the line, I took the time to do that then headed for bike out.
Did I mention Tropical Storm Andrea? Do you know what you get when you add 4″ of rain on a low-lying field at the edge of the Chesapeake? M-U-D! And lots of it! Bike out was a muddy mess. Rather than risk slippery tires and malfunctioning brakes, I picked up the light-weight Betty and tiptoed through the mud. This process did not speed up transition. I just hoped I’d be able to clip in with cleats full of mud. I arrived at bike mount, wiped my feet as best I could on the carpet, click, click, and I was off. T1: 3:58
I didn’t know what to expect on the bike. As mentioned I didn’t have nearly the bike miles I wanted this spring. I had invested in a power meter and had done an FTP test but in all honesty with a week’s vacation and some other events in life I hadn’t had a chance to review that data as much as I wanted and didn’t have a real power number to go after. I decided since the wind was light just to try to focus on maintaining around 18 mph which was slightly faster than last year. (BTW, this is exactly what you are not supposed to do when using power). I had also hoped to ride in the aero position for most of the day. I was real close on the 18 mph but not so close on the aero position. I had been able to ride aero in my training rides for 20-30 miles at a time but today my mile 7 my lower back was a bit sore. This went on and on and I rode less and less in aero and finally giving up. When I was riding aero I had more speed and less effort but it was uncomfortable at best. I’m afraid there is still either bike fitting or bike fitness to take on there.
Now I may not be the best biker or triathlete on the course but I do know my bike time came honestly that day. I can’t say the same for the 4-5 pace groups that passed me all travelling in neat, well-organized team-time trial pace lines. I’ll never in my life understand cheating. How you can put up a score in any sport knowing you didn’t do it honestly is beyond me. Twice I yelled to passing groups. The first time I was ignored the second time I got the finger. Very sportsmanlike. I’m suddenly a fan of requiring bib numbers on the back during the bike again just to be able to pick out one, remember him and publicly humiliate him.
Overall I had a good time on the bike. Despite not being in the aero tuck, I had much more fun then last year when my very poorly fitting road bike made life miserable on the flat course. The time went by surprisingly quick and to me it is a pretty ride through some of the most diverse and life-enriching habitat on the planet in Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. I felt it was a solid ride for me as I returned to the quagmire that was T2. And if I thought it was muddy during bike out . . was I in for a surprise. There were several of us wending our way in through the mud and laughing hard. You could barely walk and I nearly lost my shoes in the ankle deep muck. I think i saw a pig wallowing in there somewhere but the mud may have been too deep for that. Again, I carried Mistress Betty so as not to muddy here pretty little frame. Bike Time: 3:07:23.
I was pretty happy with this time thinking I had done significantly better than last year. Last year’s time was 3:10:13. Only 3 minutes worse. Hmmm. Not sure what went wrong here. Or did anything go wrong? I know last year I over-cooked the bike. The bike was also poorly fitting and between the two I sacrificed my run. Still, I had hoped to get my bike time down a bit more than this. I do know I did not have nearly enough training miles, and not enough practice in the aero position to have any real high expectation. In looking at the reality of facts . . I’m not unhappy with the bike. I over-performed last year given my ability and paid for it in the run. I have a lot of work to do on the bike and clearly need to figure out what can be done to ride in aero comfortably to stay out of the wind and take advantage of the comfort of different positions. More questions than answers on what to do going forward but still, the bike was okay. No excuses on this one. Just reality of current bike fitness. And I came by my 3:07:23 honestly.
Once back at the rack, off with the helmet & bike shoes, on with hat, race belt, Zoot Advantage shoes, and a fresh coat of Neutragena. Off I went on the run feeling MUCH better than last year. T2: 3:23
I would love to go crank out a 1:50 or so run in a half-ironman. I think I am capable of it. But maybe not at Eagleman. After last year where I walked nearly the entire 13.1 miles, I decided to play it a bit conservative and shoot for an 8:30-9:00 pace depending on conditions and how I felt. I started out the run out and after a 1/2 mile or so looked at my Garmin. 7:40. “Um. No. Slow down”. Around the bend near the 1 mile mark I saw Coach Craig who cheered me on. My pace? 7:52. “Still no”. My plan was to run to the aid stations and stay hydrated. The weather was pretty good for my first 3 miles. The sun seemed to be hiding behind the clouds. Then about mile 3.5 the sun started spending more time out than in. I don’t know what the temperature was but it felt hot. Still my paces were consistent and I was running. Better than last year.
Somewhere in the early miles, I saw Craig Durant and Ginny Cataldi from Team EnMu and later saw Susanne heading the other way and vociferously apologizing to someone that she was passing. I remember being a tad jealous thinking they were almost done and I still had a long way to go. That feeling would flip flop later as I reached the last mile marker and saw triathletes just heading out on the run. And they ARE triathletes. Each and every one. They were out there getting it done and persevering much like I was.
Life started getting tough around mile 6. I thought I had stayed well hydrated and that I had hydrated well prior but my hands began to get tingly and then numb, and the road got a little fuzzy looking. That didn’t seem right. I didn’t remember seeing anything about fuzz in the forecast. I decided I had better up the intake a bit and perhaps focus on electrolytes more. Again . . run to the aid stations. I walked enough through the aid stations to make sure I was getting what I needed. Typically, gatorade, water, and a cup of ice. Drink the gatorade, pour the ice in the water, drink half, pour the other half over my head and dump the ice down my back. Carry on. I don’t care what anyone says. It was freakin’ hot out there.
At the aid station at mile 9 or so, there was a young woman clearly struggling mentally. I looked at my Garmin and said “Only about 4 miles left. You look like you could run 4 miles in your sleep. I’ll bet you’ve run that far dozens of times”. She turned to me, put her hand on my shoulder and said “Thank you” and took off.
My favorite section of the Eagleman run course is when you make the turn after mile 10 and head back into town. It has been kind of lonely for a few miles other than the great volunteers at the aid stations and few locals here and there. Suddenly, the streets are full of life. Some wonderful people have cooling sprinklers or hoses setup and there is always a group at mile 10.5 that is having a party. These people are just the most awesome pick-me-up you could want. They had a dance line going with great music playing, high-fiving everyone that went through. They give you no food, no beverage, and no aid other than wonderful energy to help get you those last couple miles.
A few more turns and one last aid station. Twice in these last couple miles I let myself down and walked. I didn’t need to. A couple years ago at both Rehoboth Beach & Shamrock marathons I willed myself to keep running when it hurt. I didn’t let myself quit especially when a poll of my body said there is no need to. It is like stopping for gas when you still have a half-tank. These two spells of walking were my only mental let-downs on the run.
At about mile 12 you can begin to hear the finish line. One turn later you can see the finish line. It sure does look far away though. With 3/4 of a mile I saw coaches Craig & Erica both shouting encouragement. Almost there. At each bend, spectators would say this is the last turn. Liars. There is always one more turn. But it was still appreciated. I felt a bit queasy from the heat and effort but kept going, I was aware of some cheers from the EnMu tent as I went by. I was aware of my wife calling out to me at the finish. I was also aware of the guy in my age group in front of me who slowed down to celebrate in the chute. Of course I ducked around him. Don’t stop in the finish chute dude.
I must not have looked fantastic because the volunteer looked concerned and asked if I was okay. I mumbled something and she put a wet towel & medal around my neck and gave me a bottle of water. She wanted me to sit down for a bit but I felt okay and headed toward the tanker trucks to get doused with water. Hmmm. They were busy dousing muddy bikes with water. Oh well. Back to the tent. There I plopped down in a chair, drank cold water and ate watermelon.
Run Time: 2:07:57
Overall, this was WAAAYYY better than last year. I think I have a better run in me but I wanted to be sure to at least run the whole way. As mentioned the only lack of discipline came twice within the last 2 miles which is really annoying and stupid. There was no reason to walk there. I just let “the voices” talk me into it. I felt a bit like Maverick in Top Gun. “It’s no good”. Grrrr. No excuses here. Just reality of being a bit too easy on myself.
Race Time: 6:07:18
So from last year this is a 21 minute PR at the Half-Iron distance. I should be ecstatic right? Yeah, I should be but the reality is, I put an awful lot of work in to only gain time by simply running slowly instead of walking for the run. Other then 3 minutes on the bike that is where all the time came from considering I gave up time in the swim and T1. Was my training aimless? I don’t think completely. Certainly not the swim training. I think Coach Erica did a great job with that. Was other training inadequate? Maybe. Mis-directed? Maybe. I didn’t start “official” tri coaching for all 3 sports in until the 11th hour and still haven’t fully ramped that up.
It is hard to look around and see so many people faster than you who got there through hard work and training. Many of the fast folks I know are younger but my age group is extremely competitive with top finishers coming out of it at all distances. I could say “But I just started this stuff 3 or 4 years ago”. That sounds a lot like an excuse. I should be excited about this race. There were definitely positives.
- I came out of the water not exhausted like last year (I credit this to much better swim technique).
- I didn’t overcook on the bike
- I ran 98% of the run course
Still, for some reason the result leaves me flat. I know patience is required. Improvement will come with time. Or will it? Will age steal away the improvement from hard work? I guess I’m just a little tired of lots of hard work without apparent results and am celebrating with a small pity party. Perhaps the long stuff isn’t for me? I have no excuse for feeling down about this race but the reality is I do.