6/12: Life in the Fast Lane... Eagleman 70.3 Race Report
Eagleman is a premier half iron distance event in our region. A lot of people were surprised to hear that in all my years of triathlon, I had never done it before. Finally this year it worked out for me to go! In my quest to qualify for the 70.3 World Champs in Las Vegas (September) I need to rack up enough points that I’m ranked among the top 25 or so pros in the WTC ranking system (for 70.3 races) by mid-July. The system allows 5 total scores, beginning with last year’s world championship and moving forward. Brendan does the calculations and planning for which races I should choose – we decided on Eagleman because of its convenience and high point value (different races have different point values for pro rankings), despite the fact that I prefer hilly courses. I didn’t have the race of my life but ended up with a podium finish and some good points. Still planning to do Syracuse 70.3 in 2 weeks (which will be my fourth score this year) and hope I can get in with 4 instead of 5 total scores.
The Columbia Triathlon Association always puts on a great race, so I knew I’d be in for a treat. After getting through some bad beltway and Rte 50E traffic (to be expected on a summer Saturday), I arrived in Cambridge to find a town completely different (and way better) than I expected. I am not quite sure what I had pictured in my mind, but it was not a quaint little waterfront town with beautiful old houses, sailboats, and finely manicured lawns. Karen, the ever so kind lady who hosted me (and 9 other athletes) shared a warm and friendly home with us, and she invited me to make myself at home even before she arrived. So I walked in and did just that, then bumped into several other triathletes from Mid-Maryland Tri Club who were also staying there (Mike, Mark, and Tim – did I get your names right?!) so we went for a short swim and ride together, the experienced ones giving me some info on the course. I was having trouble getting my power meter working (anyone with a Quarq and Garmin ANT+ setup, if you have tips for interference from a disc wheel, let me know!) but otherwise felt good. Often I don’t run the day before a race, and I’ve been nursing a sore foot, so avoided a run Saturday. After training, packet pickup, and the pro meeting, I checked out the town for a while and picked up some dinner, then headed back for a quiet evening in my home away from home. I like to eat a sizeable dinner before a long race, but early enough to get to sleep early as well. I read in bed starting about 8pm but by 9pm was feeling hunger pangs – uh oh, I can’t go to bed hungry and then race for 4.5 hours in the morning! So I got back up and hung out with all the MMTC folks in the kitchen while I ate more food… So much for my early bed time, but by 10pm I was ready to sleep, and I awoke at 4am feeling rested.
My normal pre race breakfast felt just right – 3 hard boiled eggs, a bowl of oatmeal, a banana with peanut butter, and a cup of coffee. I spent some time digesting, packing my bottles and gels, pumping my tires, applying sunscreen, and even reading a bit more of my book before riding down to the race site (a mere mile away) about 5:45am. I extended the ride for warm up, then had planned a bit of running after my ride, but killed a little too much time in line for the bathroom, so I curbed my warm up (not so nerve-racking for a long race, whereas in Olympic distance I need to get a very good warm up to go fast out of the gate). Apparently the WTC changed its wetsuit rule for pros recently – I’m used to wearing a wetsuit only in fairly cool water, so I was hesitant to put it on for a 76 degree river, but everyone else was wearing theirs, so I followed and put on my brand new blueseventy. I thought last year’s felt good, but this one (after getting over the initial claustrophobic shock of putting it on while sweaty in 80-degree heat and humidity) felt even better. The sleeves are thinner so I can feel the water with my forearm, and I was glad to have opted to wear it. They allowed us several minutes in the water to warm up before start time, and when the horn went off, I felt calm but ready to put in a good effort.
I got a decent start and was sitting in 3rd place for most of the swim, but after the first buoy turn (about 600m away), I could no longer see the leaders clearly and found myself settling into a more relaxed rhythm. From swim training with Coach Pete Morgan, I know my speed drops dramatically when I allow my armspeed (stroke rate) to slow, so I kept reminding myself to keep the rhythm fast but relaxed, fast but relaxed, fast but relaxed. I was sighting every 4-6 strokes at first, then every 8 for a while, and then again more frequently as my goggles began to fog. Once I reached the end, I was surprised to see another swimmer right near me (as I had not seen her at all during the swim!) but had a decent transition and was out on the race course back in third place within a minute of riding.
What happened on the bike, I do not know. I had planned to focus on keeping a high cadence (to avoid quad cramping which has been plaguing me lately) and push a steady effort from start to finish. I was prepared for the possibility of my power meter cutting out, and it did. My timer still worked, so taking splits every 10 miles helped me to see what kind of speed I was holding, and I thought it looked ok, but usually I gain pretty quickly on the leaders, and in this case I wasn’t making much progress until about 20 miles in when I could see #2 and who I thought was #1 further up the road. I had heard Eagleman was flat – truly it was – but no one told me how pretty it was and how the roads wind and twist in ways that keep it interesting and allow the winds to change direction frequently. I did not find it very windy at all – we probably had perfect conditions! – but I was having a hard time going faster, despite my efforts. At one point a couple of guys came past me and bridged the gap between me and the woman riding second. I tried to go with them, but within several minutes they’d separated and moved ahead. Still I was maintaining enough visual contact to see that the closest I got to her was 10 seconds, the furthest (until last 10 miles when they were out of sight) was 45. And all this time I thought she was only 20-30 seconds behind the leader, so I thought I may be able to make up the time on the run.
I was shocked to come into transition and hear I was in second (WHAT?! I could swear it was Dede I was chasing!!... turned out she had to drop out) and by nearly 7 minutes behind the leader (WHAT the #$*%*#??? … I thought I saw #1 less than a minute up the road!!!) I was very confused (and disappointed too) that someone could gap me by that much on the bike. I found out later it was Meredith Kessler (the eventual winner) having a brilliant race. But for my purposes I figured “ok, it’s a long and hot race, you never know what may happen” so I started out controlled but hard, hoping to take back the time. I had planned to focus on everything possible other than my foot (which started hurting last week), but right away it was the first thing I noticed. I was happy that it wasn’t forcing a limp, but wishful that I didn’t feel it at all. Truthfully I have raced through far worse pain, so I buckled down and concentrated more on the other cues. The first few miles I was close to goal pace and hopeful that I could pick it up as I settled in. Unfortunately as the race went on, my side stitch reared its ugly head, and I slowed a bit to control my breathing. The miles crawled by, with me seeking the next aid station all the while. Once I started to approach the halfway point (and turnaround), I saw the leader for the first time and was able to calculate that I had not taken back any time. A few minutes later I saw third place behind me and could tell that I had a comfortable lead. I think knowing my exceedingly stationary position may have been too much of a mental crutch, as I knew going faster wouldn’t do me any good… I opted for cruise control (maybe better named cramp control) and tried to enjoy the second half of the race. It was great interacting with all sorts of other racers in the out-and-back course. What a motivation to see so many people I knew, to hear my name so frequently, and to feel the support of everyone around me. I savored the privilege of being a “local” of sorts. Running by my homestay at mile 12 made me want to go inside and lie down, but I willed myself to get to the finish without stopping… And finally it came.
Crossing the line in second was probably less exciting to me than it should have been, but to date it’s my highest 70.3 finish, so I have to be happy about that. And it was quite a relief to get cup after cup of Gatorade and walk around a little as I hyperventilated and tried to avoid sitting down. After quite a while I felt much more composed and had a great time chatting with lots of friendly faces from near and far. I can say with certainty that I’ll return to Eagleman in the future! Thank you to all of you who cheered while racing (amazing that you mustered up the energy to yell my name so loud while working hard yourselves!) or while spectating (David and Teresa – what a treat to have you around!, and of course Brendan and Mom2, thank you all for a long day in the heat supporting me)…