Well, it’s been an interesting (tri) year. Ironman 70.3 Eagleman was not on my list at all, with 70.3 St. George and 70.3 Honu being my prep races for Roth. To be honest Eagleman was something I was not interested in because I prefer to travel to fun locations and, let’s be honest, Cambridge, MD is not really on anyone’s “fun” list.
Regardless, thanks to recent events (more on that later) I ended up dropping out of both St. George and Honu and was in need of a prep race before July. Luckily, Eagleman turned out to be a team race, and I was able to join a number of my teammates and coaches.
Prior to signing up, I had heard some not-so-fun things about the race, particularly in that it’s usually not wetsuit legal. This caused me a great deal of concern with my fear of open water swimming, and the fact that my last OWS was during 70.3 Worlds where I freaked the fuck out in the water three times, completely forgetting how to swim. That race actually lead me to some very dark places, and I questioned my ability to overcome my fear and my desire to continue doing triathlons. The race actually left me very demoralized, crushed, and unmotivated.
So, after finding out about the strong possibility that the water temperature may be too high on race day, I started to check the NOAA buoy website multiple times a day for a month. Normally this is very unlike me since weather is something I usually don’t care about. My personal philosophy is that weather isn’t something I can control, and everyone faces the same conditions (for the most part, unless you’re a pro), so why bother wasting mental energy and time worrying about it? This behavior just adds more to the irrationality of my fear, but I’m hoping it’s now something I don’t have to worry about anymore.
Anyway, the day before the race a few of my teammates and I went out for a ride on the run course. It was a good way to see the run course, and to note that it was indeed as flat as everyone said it would be. Also, there is absolutely zero cover from the sun. This meant preloading some electrolytes (thanks BASE Performance!) later in the day, to alleviate any potential heat-related issues.
After the short ride, Greg and I went out for a quick run. He took off at sub-6:00/mi pace while I plodded along at my 7:40/mi pace. It was only a 2 mile run but, man, my legs felt great and it started to get me excited for the following day. I started to feel like I would actually have a great day, and that some of the hard work that I did prior to the crash had stayed with me during my recovery period. I actually started to think about trying to PR and to race my balls off (not literally, I like my balls) since the course was very conducive to a fast race.
But first, I had to get through a practice swim. I didn’t want to but I know I had to, particularly since I have not tried to swim in my ROKA Maverick Pro Swimskin yet. In fact, I actually just received it two days prior, so I had not even taken the tags off! So, with a little bit of prodding from Abby I hopped off of our house’s dock and jumped into the water. OK, not really. I helped Abby get her kayak into the water (there was no way in hell I was going to be out there with no support) and then I waded into the water. And kept wading. All the way past our dock, which was about 200 meters into Choptank River.
Side Note: I had NO idea the river we were going to be swimming in was called Choptank. WTF! I suppose I should have looked at the course prior to actually racing it, but oh well, that’s part of the fun in my eyes.😉
Anyway, I swam between our dock and the dock next to us while Abby kayaked and Greg swam circles around me. My swimskin felt great, and I actually felt pretty comfortable in the water. It also helped that I had Greg and Abby talking me through the swim and kept me calm on focused on the fact that I actually can swim.
All in all, this plus a fun bike and a great easy run all reinforced my idea that race day was going to be a great day. Oh, and did I mention that Cody Beals was actually staying two houses down and stopped to wish me luck and also say that he loved my new Ventum? The man won the race last year, and he turned out to win it again this year also!
OK, enough about the pre-race activities and on to racing!
My wave was not going to start until 7:40 AM, approx. 55 minutes after the Pro Men kicked off the day, and transition did not close until 6:45. So, I arrived in transition at about 6:35 to pump my tires and set up my area. Since it was not a clean transition, it was fairly easy to set everything up and I was ready to get body marked about 5 minutes later. After marking, we walked over to the practice swim area where a few friends from NYC were also getting ready for their respective waves. A few splashes in the river later, I decided to go for my fourth poop of the morning and then sit in the shade and wait for my wave to start. The most important aspect of the morning I noticed afterwards, was that I was stayed calm and was not nervous at all.
As previously mentioned, the swim is in Choptank River. The swim is somewhat an in-water start (you’re in the water, but you can stand unless you’re under 4’6″) off of Great Marsh Point (where T1 and T2 are), and it follows an approximate rectangle. There are buoys every hundred meters with yellow buoys on the outbound leg, red buoys on the two right turns, and orange buoys on the inbound. I believe there may be one red buoy marking the end of the course, but I can’t be 100% certain. The buoys are numbered, so you know exactly where you are at any given point. The course is very well marked, and there were a great number of kayakers, SUPs, jet skis, and boats on the course. It’s a very safe swim course, which was perfect for me.
After getting into the water I stayed towards the back of my wave, closer to the buoy side. We were supposed to keep our buoys to our right, and since I tend to swim left, I figured it would be the best area for me to start. I was wrong. I should have actually started swimming with the buoys on my left, because I could not keep the outbound buoys to my right! Besides the first three buoys and the turn buoy, I ended up swimming past each one with them on my left. I’m not sure why I kept veering right when I typically veer left, but I did. It wasn’t a sighting issue, because sighting the buoys was pretty easy, thanks in part to my ROKA R1 Cobalt goggles. Seriously, those goggles were amazing. I didn’t have to lift my head as high to sight, and the cobalt color heightened the visibility of the yellow and orange buoys. It also wasn’t a drunkenness issue, because I wasn’t drunk. I did not feel crowded in the race, so I really don’t know why this happened. Regardless, besides having to stop and lower my heart rate a few times within the first three buoys, I had no swimming issues. It was amazing. I haven’t felt this good about the swim since IM 70.3 Mont-Tremblant last year.
I was actually quite pleasantly surprised with this, because I hadn’t swam as much as in previous years (primarily due to my own issues) and because my last OWS was so bad. I do have to give a lot of credit to my wetsuit, the ROKA Maverick X, because that thing is amazing. It’s the best wetsuit I’ve used, and is so comfortable, flexible, and buoyant that it gave me a lot of confidence in the water.
Regardless of the reasons why, I finished the swim with no issues and then focused next on what was really important to me: beating Greg’s pro-style transition times.
Swim Result: 49:30 / AG Rank: 141/152 (NOT LAST!!) / Overall: 1645 / 1801
Once you exit the water there are wetsuit strippers available, followed by a short (50-ish meter) run into transition. I was decently placed, two rows in and one column over from Swim Finish. As I ran towards my bike, I started to take my wetsuit off. My thought was that wetsuit strippers would take more time than me doing it myself. Once I arrived at my bike, I threw on my T-Rex helmet and sunglasses and fumbled a bit with my shoes (no socks!). I grabbed my bike and started to run all the way down to Bike Out.
T1 Time: 2:08 / Greg’s T1 Time: 1:55 (Curses! Lost by 13 seconds!)
The bike course is incredibly flat, but can be very windy. It’s on mostly shared roads with traffic, but since there’s very little traffic in the area on race day it’s not really an issue. As soon as you exit transition, you ride straight for maybe half a mile, and make a couple more turns as you head out of town and onto a highway. Once on the highway, you turn off of it onto a road you’ll run on later, get back on the highway you left previously, and then follow a road that meanders its way to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. There, you do a big loop that kind of looks like a sideways Brazil, before you head back into town the way you came out.
According to my Garmin 735XT, which uses a GPS altimeter, I gained 30 ft over the entire 56 miles. I’ve asked a few other teammates and they said they measured a little over 100 feet, so either way it was FLAT. In fact, I actually changed gears just to alter my pedal stroke a bit at times. I also never left aero, with the exception of getting two water bottles at the last two aid stations (mad respect to the volunteer who handed me a water bottle while I was moving at 22 mph – impressive skills, sir!), and making certain turns due to traffic.
As soon as I hopped onto my bike I realized that my power meter wasn’t registering to my Garmin, so all I focused on was riding hard and passing as many people as possible. I had told Abby the day before that I would be the happiest person on this Earth as soon as I got out of that water, and that I would ride like it afterwards so I did. I didn’t look at numbers, I simply focused on maintaining an even effort and taking in the 700 calories I had in my Ventum water bottle and just enjoyed the ride.
Speaking of my Ventum, can I say what an absolutely amazing bike the Ventum is? Honestly, it’s the best bike I’ve ridden. She is incredibly fast and so stable that I only had to get out of aero for the turns because of other athletes in front of me. She’s a beast of a bike, and the team behind Ventum is amazing as well. I’m very happy to be riding one!
Anyway, I digress. For most of the bike course I rode to the left since I was making up a ton of time and ground on people. I was hoping there wouldn’t be a race marshal who would penalize me for blocking because legally, they could. Luckily no race official passed me. I just didn’t want to ride behind people or inadvertently draft behind another athlete so I gave them as wide of a berth as I could. I ended up (according to rankings) passing 912 people (65 people in my AG!), and it certainly felt like it. Only two people passed me during the bike, and one of which was a 40+ year old woman who looked like a badass triathlete. I actually tried to stay with her (legally) but, man, she was fast. Talk about future #goals.
In terms of road quality, the roads were actually pretty well maintained. I didn’t have to worry about too many potholes, cracks or debris in the road. The only thing I had to be careful about were the rumble strips on the highway. I inadvertently rode over a few while trying get my water bottle out of my BTA cage, and let’s just say that neither my taint or balls were very happy after that.
Other than that small snafu, I also ended up losing my BASE salt capsule (which was tucked inside of my sleeve) at around mile 15, lost my Ventum bottle’s screw, and somehow lost my straw’s bite valve. The latter was a very weird situation because the bite valve fits pretty snugly into the straw so I’m not sure what happened there. Regardless, Diaa from Ventum is amazing and I now have replacements on hand. Seriously, he’s so awesome that he noticed I had threaded the screw in the opposite bracket in one of my photos and messaged me to let me know. Did I mention that I love the Ventum team?
Anyway, with the roads being as smooth and flat as they were, the only real challenge of the course was the incredible wind. The forecast called for 15-20 mph winds from the WNW (a direction which three of us spent quite a bit of time the day before Googling and discussing what the hell that meant) and those forecasts were accurate. There were times when the wind was blowing so fiercely that I was riding either at an angle or going nowhere fast. You can even see it in the picture below, where my bike looks like it’s an an angle from me. It was.
The wind really picked up around mile 10-ish. The next 15 miles after that were tough because the wind really picked up. It let up for 10 miles around 30-40, but the last 16 miles were insane with wind. You can see it in the 5 mile splits from my Garmin, where the wind was the worst.
Other than the wind, the bike course is really pretty easy and straightforward. Nothing to worry about, call attention to, or report. Coming back into town we rode by athletes already on the run (i.e. – FAST people). I saw a few friends out already running, and we cheered each other on. On my way back to transition, I just focused on staying in control and not becoming to caught up in excitement and unnecessarily hammer the last few miles.
Bike Result: 2:45:52 / AG Rank: 76 / Overall: 733
I still haven’t mastered the flying dismount, so I dismounted the usual way. I was briefly annoyed by another triathlete since he was walking into transition while I was running. I had Greg’s T2 time to beat! Luckily, he realized I was coming and moved out of the way. I ran around him, then made my way all the way to the back of transition to rack my bike. Once I racked my bike, I decided to wear socks, so I spent a few precious seconds fumbling around with them. I noticed that they were inside out, but since I didn’t want to waste time, I wore them as is. I usually don’t wear socks for the run, but figured I should because: a) I had not done so in these shoes, b) I knew I would pour a lot of water on me due to the heat. I then flipped off my helmet, put my hat and race belt on, and switched sunglasses. I ran out of transition sucking on a Gu (bet you didn’t think I would say Gu) gel, and got onto the run course.
T2 Time: 1:59 / Greg’s T2 Time: 1:06 Argh! I shouldn’t have put socks on!
Seeing as I was able to run into T2 at a pretty decent clip (for me), I thought the run would feel good. My plan was to run around an 8:20-8:30/mi pace, which is my usual long run pace if I do an easy, consistent long run. About 15 steps into the run, I quickly realized that was not going to happen. From my bike rack, I had to run back out of Swim Finish/Run Out, and loop around the transition area on grass. Once out of transition, you run on regular pavement. As soon as I made the turn out of Run Out, my legs basically said: “Nope.”
Out of transition, you run straight for a short bit and hang a right to get onto Bay Street. Then you make two more quick rights before starting to run on Hambrooks Boulevard which is right next to the water. From there, you run through a bunch of local streets before you head out of town and onto the highway you were on on the bike. Once on the highway, you do a big loop that’s about 3-ish miles and then run back the way you came. This part of the course kind of looks like a tampon with a string.
Running out of transition, I saw a woman in a red shirt crossing the street. I thought it looked like Abby, but I wasn’t sure because I thought she was wearing a pink shirt. I noticed that she was pulling out a phone to take a picture and I wondered if she was taking a picture of me, or the old dude next to me. My thought process went something like this:
“Is that Abby? Hmm, I thought she was wearing pink. Or was it red? Or is that shirt actually pink? I am wearing pink sunglasses with blue lenses. Oh look, she’s taking a picture. Is it of me or this tall old dude? Is he in my age group? I think he’s in his 50s or 60s. That’s not my age group right? Oh who cares, just RUN!”
It turned out it was Abby, and she did take a picture of me and not the old dude. We also had a brief conversation, and from what I recall, it went something like this:
Me: Man, that bike was SUPER windy.
Me: I’m hurting.
Me: Man, I’m tired. Can I take a nap?
Me: Do you have a donut?
I also asked her how Greg did, and when she said he came in 4th, I was elated. It was such an incredible result on a very hot and windy day. I was so happy for Greg and it helped buoy me down the run course throughout my time running.
After that conversation, I kept on running for about another 400 meters. At that point, I succumbed a bit to how I was feeling and walked a few steps. I told myself that I wouldn’t make my goal half marathon time, but I needed to make it respectable. I made a deal with myself that if I ran to every aid station, I can walk through the aid station and then get Dairy Queen after the race. I’ve never had Dairy Queen and I really wanted some ice cream, so this was motivation enough for me to keep on shuffling.
There’s really not much more to report on the run except that it was a tough day for me. I really struggled during it and it hurt. A lot. I know my time doesn’t reflect what I’m capable of, but I sort of expected it. This was my second brick of the season and having taken about 5 weeks off of training, I knew my fitness wasn’t quite there. All I focused on was ignoring how tired I was and how much it hurt, but to run to each aid station.
Once at each aid station, I grabbed 2 water cups, 1 ice cup, and if available 2 sponges. I would put the ice in my hat and let it melt, while I put the sponges down my shirt and down the hole near my crotch. I really just wanted to reach down my crotch. I didn’t take any Gatorade, because I didn’t want any added calories (I carried 2 Gus during the run, but did not use them). I also had another BASE Salt capsule stuck in my sleeve so I took that at every aid station for the first 4 aid stations, and then stopped because I started to feel a bit bloated from retaining too much water. This strategy actually helped me maintain a fairly low heart rate for me. Typically, an easy run would be in the 160s for me, so the fact that I maintained a sub-160 average means that the strategy worked.
One thing that was surprising to me was that I ended up passing a ton of people, no matter how slow I was running. Even during miles 10 and 11, where I really struggled, as long as I kept running I would pass people.
It actually helped me keep running because I would then start to see people ahead of me and I would work on reeling that person in. This just went to show me that no matter what, keep running. It also helped that it was a looped, out and back course, because I was able to see friends and teammates along the course. We cheered on each other, gave each other high fives, and generally made sure the other one was OK. I can’t emphasize how much it helps to see a friendly face when you’re suffering.
Anyway, during the last mile I somehow found another gear and kicked it as hard as I could. I knew I would pass our house and I wasn’t sure if Abby and other teammates would be there. Sure enough, as the house came into sight, I saw Greg come running out of the house. His onesie was down to his waist, so I wasn’t sure if he was pooping or not, but it was pretty awesome to see the 4th place finisher come running out to cheer me on. He said something like: “And you thought the swim was the hardest part!! Great job! Keep it going.”
I responded with something like: “BLERGHAdf’aoudjf aksfopis dafkla.”
After seeing Greg, I knew the house was only .7 miles away from transition so I kept pushing. At this point, I didn’t even care what I looked like or how much it hurt, I just wanted to finish (that’s what she said). Rounding one of the final turns, I saw all of my teammates cheering people on. They saw me and they all hopped up and I think I gave Tyler a high five. It was pretty amazing, and it really makes doing team races so much more fun. Unfortunately I was showing everyone what running ugly looked like:
Still, crossing that Finish Line felt amazing. The past 2 months have been rough. The bike crash I had about 7 weeks prior to the race lead to a series of serious injuries, most notably a rather severe concussion. It was so severe, that even though my neurologist is the neurologist of the NY Giants, she still said it was one of the worst ones she’d seen before. This made me miss about 5 weeks of training, and even when I got back into it, I still had to start slow. I still get headaches today, and I had two or three during the race, but I’m much better now than a few weeks ago.
I didn’t PR this race, but I know I gave it everything I had. I pushed myself as hard as I could that day, and I crossed the line knowing that I couldn’t have done any more. I can’t be unhappy about that, and all of the emotion came out of me as soon as I crossed the line. I saw my awesome coach, Darbi Roberts (who came in 11 Female OA!) and I had to fight back the tears. My other teammates came over, and I don’t really know what I said because I couldn’t keep my thoughts straight. I just tried not to cry with both happiness and admittedly, a little bit of disappointment with how poorly I ran. Still, my coach said it best when she said that no matter what happened over the past few weeks, I still finished and this will set me up for an awesome day in Challenge Roth in a few weeks.
Run Result: 2:13:42 / AG Rank: 55 / Overall Rank: 525 (I passed over 200 people and 21 in my AG!)
Total Time: 5:53:11
For the people who were around me immediately after the race, I know expressed disappointment about how poorly I ran. Now that I’ve had a few days to reflect and think about the race, I actually feel a lot better about it. While I’m still disappointed with my run and overall time, I know that I’m making steps towards getting better. I PR’d the bike by 12:01, and I didn’t have any panic attacks during the swim. Both are huge positives for me.
I actually think that after this swim, I am MUCH better off going into Roth. In fact, I actually won’t sign up for Tinman anymore, but rather just focus on getting more fitness between now and race day.
Speaking of which, I also think that my nutrition plan is pretty much set after this race. In total, I had about 800 calories for the race and I had planned on about 1,000. I took in 700 calories (7 scoops of CarboPro with water) on the bike, and I took 1 Gu in T2. I had planned to take 2 more during the run, but I really didn’t want or need it. I felt fine calorie-wise. What I’ll do now for Roth is to double it. I’ll have 1 prepped bottle with me during the first loop of the bike course, and I’ll have Abby give me a second bottle when I finish the first loop. For the run, I’ll take 1 Gu at T2 and run with 2 in my race belt in case I need extra calories. Perhaps later this season I’ll switch back to Ucan, but I’ll work on that after Roth.
For now, it’s onwards and upwards as my coach always says! Time to put in some more work and get ready for Roth!
Lastly, I do want to say thank you to all of my coaches and teammates for an amazing weekend. It was incredible having everyone out on the course as well as spending time together before the race. Also, a special thank you to Abby who did a lot of the driving to and from Maryland so I can rest and recover pre- and post-race. Thanks also for making sure I didn’t drown during the practice swim, and thanks for cheering me on out there! Next stop, Germany!