race day magic: eagleman 70.3
i signed up for eagleman about 11 months ago, not knowing what to expect or whether it was the "right time" in my life to test out the 70.3 distance. this past sunday, i toed the line and all expectations were exceeded a 100 times over. people talk about those special days where everything seamlessly falls into place—i want to say that was the case, but then i think about all the little obstacles i ran into and how hard i fought to keep myself from crumbling. to be honest, i'm sure my eagleman PR might stand for a few more attempts at the HIM distance (since eagleman is as flat as a pancake) but i couldn't be happier to have broken the 5-hour mark on my very first attempt. to say i was "shocked" would be an understatement.
the best thing about eagleman (and why i may do it again next year) is its close proximity to DC. on saturday morning i made the easy 2-hour trek to the maryland shore. my car, however, did not appreciate the heat and was having trouble completing the journey. i had a few emergency pull-over-to-the-side-of-the-road experiences but thanks to a little trial-and-error with RPMs and quick shifts into a lower gear, i was finally able to keep my 24-year old german driving machine (yeah, my car and i have a lot in common) from stalling while going 55mph (seriously, WTF?) and get to the expo. this troubleshooting-on-the-fly would only be the theme of the weekend....
once to cambridge and checked into transition, etc, i donned my speedsuit thinking the race would not be wetsuit legal and took a quick preview of the swim course. the water felt amazing, despite the occasional cold pocket, and there were even a few places up to a quarter-mile out where you could still stand on the shallow sandbars. the highlight, however, had to be when i popped up to survey the scene quite a ways out and happened to be a few feet from another swimmer testing out the course, who proceeded to let out a huuuuuuuge burp. of course i put my hands above my head and gave him a bravo and a round of applause. how weird, but hilarious.
up at 4:15 only to get to the race site at 5:45, tires pumped and transition laid out by 6:15 and then almost two-hours of laying in the grass trying to find the calm before the storm. i kept visualizing each segment and everything i had to do in transition as i attempted to zen out in the middle all of the hoopla around me. in the last thirty minutes or so, i tried to hide in the slowly-disappearing shade and ending up chatting with one of the zoot eliters in my age group who had the cutest race kit but an unfortunate rip in her wetsuit. they called our wave and i barely got my ah-mah-zing blueseventy helix on in time to hop in (with the help from some much too nice bystanders!!!), before we ended up treading water for the next five or six minutes....
since i was the very last one in our younger woman wave to get in the water, i started out on the far far right of the group - which ended up being the perfect starting spot, with almost a straight shot to the buoy. i recognized michelle right by me and gave a little wave before we went off—we would come out of the water at almost the exact same time and it was so nice/reassuring to see a friendly face out on the course (she's still in the 20-24).
when the horn went off, i charged--and then, after the first 300 yards or so when i realized i was holding onto second in the pack, i realized i had to ease off the pace. had i been good about hitting all of my target times and distances at swim sessions lately, this would not be as surprising; however, this was not the case... and once i realized how hard i was pushing the pace, i decided to pull it in and let myself find some feet to relax. i did just that and was able to follow along until just about the first turn, when i ended up losing my bubble trail. from then until 200yds or so from the start, it was hopeless. apparently when i slow down, i zig zag like CRAZY. my garmin read my swim distance at 1.6 miles, which means i swam nearly .4 miles additional thanks to my awful sighting abilities. seriously need to get that under control: on several occasions i had to pop up and tread water to locate the next buoy.
as i rounded the final turn buoy to head back to the beach, i was in a terrible mood as i mentally braced myself to see a 38 or 40 on my watch. i just kept telling myself that i was going to have to hammer it on the bike to make up for my awful swimming... but then i touched bottom, did a few dolphin dives into shallower water, found ground and ran out... only to see a 31 on my watch. ECSTATIC!
i struggled some to get my bike off the rack and then to get my helmet buckled but eventually zoomed out of there. i had a hard limit from my coach about watts in the first 20-minutes and a warning that i'd face her wrath if i exceeded that threshold... so i tried to focus hard on staying within the prescribed zone. except no one else seemed to be riding consistently. this aquavelo guy and then a few girls keps passing me and then slowing down to park right in front. it was so hard to stick to my power numbers without blatantly drafting off of some of the more erratic bikers. eventually i said WHATEVS to the prescribed power number and let myself get a little aggressive with my watts to pass back those people and keep on trucking on my merry way.
i should have planned better for the bottle exchanges but was left high and dry between water stops at miles 30 and 40 as i was blowing through my hydration. let me tell you, taking gels on little to no water in 90-something-degree heat is not a pleasant experience. as a result, i felt barfy and felt my power fading some for the last twenty miles or so. i also dropped my salts at the 90-minute mark, which threw me for a loop but i was determined to just keep on going and see what happened.
other than the dehydration issues, the entire bike felt AWESOME. strangely enough I had a ton of fun and think I was smiling for most of it. for some reason i really attached to the sing-songy mantra “just keep biking, just keep biking” (a la dory from finding nemo) so i kept singing to myself to keep plugging along. that was enough to keep me in a good mood and i was able to keep pushing despite feeling like i was starting to wilt.
i don't remember much from the bike (thank you very much in-the-zone race blackout) but i do remember seeing 90 minutes on my watch and doing the mental math that I’d be right around 2:30 for the bike as long as i held the pace for another hour. and, surprisingly, i was not too worried about being able to hold it - an especially awesome feeling given that everyone around me seemed to be fading and/or sitting up out of their bars. the hardest part was coming back toward T2 and seeing the masses of runners/walkers from waves prior already struggling in the mid-day heat.
back to t2, i could not get enough water. i was already getting the tell-tale dehydration headache (pounding since about mile 40 of the bike) so i guzzled about half of the bike bottle i had left in transition. i was SO parched.
but i didn't feel that bad getting moving during the first three miles, which was completely the reverse of what i had been anticipating. it was a pleasant surprise but i tried to not get ahead of myself. instead, i focused on getting everything i needed at each and every aid station. i'm sure this is what saved me from imploding, but walking every aid station did a serious number to my run split. i was probably averaging 7:45-7:55 but each aid station was a total time suck since i'd end up walking 10-20 seconds through each, grabbing a gatorade, water (or two) and then ice down the bra/pants. i could not get enough.
heat management was the name of the game on sunday—and even though i'm normally a super-self-conscious person, i was a 100% no shame zone during the race: i had the tritop rolled up to expose my stomach, i was shoving stuff down my shorts/grabbing ice and powerbar gels from where they were stashed in my bra, i was rubbing ice on my face and arms, running with two big ice cubes in my mouth at almost all times, chipmunk style. seriously glad I didn’t know too many people out there… in fact, i think any success may be attributed to my anonymity/lack of shame :)
at mile 4, i hit my biggest speed bump of the day. i tried to swallow one of my salt pills but for some reason couldn’t get it down. i ended up throwing up both the pill and the contents of the last aid station all over the course and then spent the next few hundred meters hacking as my throat tried to clear itself. a girl in my age group passed me right around this point and i focused on trying to stay right behind her—which i did—only to lose all of the time gained back between aid stations as i walked through each. goal for next race is to figure out how to get all of the supplies i need without slowing down so much. i know i could have gone even faster had i not let myself walk up to 10-20 seconds at each aid station.
milest 5 and 6 i cursed the sport of triathlon and struggled with my inner demons to not let myself walk like most of the folks around me. got passed by the eventual second place winner during this stretch and tried to stay with her but she was trucking—though she did say something kind as she pushed on past: i love seeing a good sport out on the course. at one point i may or may not have declared to myself that i was NEVER EVER racing a half-ironman distance race again.
the only redeeming factor and thing that kept me going was knowing that i had killed the swim and bike... and as long as i ran a 2-hour half-marathon, i could break the 5-hour barrier. i tried about 12 different times to figure out the exact math for the pace required for a 2-hour half... but was too incoherent to do the calculations and so instead just put my head down and kept trucking. at mile 6, right before the turn-around, i accidentally grabbed coke and just went ahead and drank it since it had ice. must have worked because i felt a second wind around mile 7 and started to up the pace. i don't think i was passed by anyone—guy or girl—for the last few miles after i started my final trek to the finish. i passed one other girl in my age group back for third (the one i had been following) and then never saw her again.
miles 3 and 9 were aid station dead zones, which was good for my time but bad because i had dropped my salts so early on and then had missed gatorade at 7 and 8 and i was starting to worry. so many people were walking and about two-miles out, one guy was out on his hands and knees as incoherent as 1982 julie moss (thankfully some local residents were by his side and there were some cops coming to help but randomly i threw him one of my powerbar gels? i must have been out of it too...). to avoid meeting a similar fate, i tried to play it safe and so stopped at the last two aid stations to grab gatorade and ice. with two miles to go, i started trucking, the dying animal noises and wheezing started up and then i was flying [ed note: i use that term loosely - it was ~7:30 pace] past people for the last few stretches.
finally, as i promised the coach: the mile-to-go marker is designated by a tall fence on the left of the course and i had written in my pre-race plan that i would "make the fence my bitch." and, yes, I MADE THAT FENCE MY BITCH. my final mile was a 7:20-something and i hauled ass into the finish like there was no tomorrow. my legs felt surprisingly decent—but i honestly know i couldn't have held that pace for a minute longer. did a few glances over the shoulder to make sure there was no one waiting to spring on me like the knoxville debacle but no female (or male) was near me so i trucked it into the finish with arms waving like a madwoman.
right after crossing the line, my incoherent and stumbly self made a bee-line for the water. since the first and last mile-and-a-half or so at eagleman runs you right past the choptank river, all i could think about was immersing myself in the water. at the beginning of the run i was SO tempted to take a quick detour and dip to cool off before the half-marathon ahead... so when i finished i was on a one-woman mission to get. in. the. water. i waded out to float on my back and chomp on ice until i started to feel slightly normal again.
all in all, i couldn't be happier at my first stab at the 70.3 distance. although encouraging, my coach wrote to me afterwards:
"i think we found your race distance"
and all i could think was,
"you mean i have to do that again?!? shit."
congrats to all who raced—it was a hot, hot, hot and hard day out there and anyone who survived it was a true warrior. it's amazing that we participate in a sport where the "same" distance can range from an ice bath like boise to a scorcher such as eagleman. to top it off, the awards ceremony was the most inspirational part of the day, where you get to learn about 82-year-old men finishing as brutal of a race as eagleman in a time worthy of the 25-29 year old bracket. i don't think i'll ever grow old of such an amazing sport and could not be more thankful to be surrounded by so many inspiring and colorful characters.
finally, a HUGE thank you to:
Rev3 for letting me be a part of their inspiring/hilarious/talented/goofy age group team (wish i had broken 5-hours at a Rev3 event but still happy i did it while representing the series in their sweet sweet race kit) and to: powerbar for fueling me with the 14-double latte-flavored gels consumed over the course of the day, blueseventy for the wetsuit that helped me swim a superb swim split despite my atrocious sighting abilities, SBR sports for slicking me up with enough trislide to shimmy out of that wetsuit and stay (mostly) blister free over the course of a very very sweaty day, pearl izumi for their sexy/flattering race kit, sleek bike shoes (hot damn i love these!) and super comfy run shoes and for swiftwick for all the pre-race compression a gal could ask for.
lastly, to my favorite sponsors: my mom, for FINALLY getting the order of a triathlon correct, my dad for checking out my training peaks race/power files no matter how much else he has going on and to my grandmother who innocently asked the question, "what do you do when you have to go to the bathroom?"—to which i bravely answered... honestly.