Eagleman Ironman 70.3 RACE REPORT   June 11 , 2006    

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There's a reason all the grass is pointing in one direction. The wind was blowing across the water and onto the flat landscape without so much as a twig to break its conviction. All the pre-race talk on Saturday was about how the wind was going to die down to nothing for race day and how we were going to have such perfect weather. I smiled with no confirmation. It sounded too easy to make it so, and there's no reason to temp your mind into an "easy" game plan. We'll get up in the morning and then see what happens.

We decided a while back that camping would be a good alternative to an out of town motel- much cheaper and closer to the race start. Plus there really isn't a check out prior to the race. "Camping," and I use this term loosely, was available at the local high school - out front with access to the gym locker room bathrooms and showers. Not bad. And we got lucky with the cool weather- about 60 degrees overnight with a steady breeze. The breeze would pick up from time to time and knowing the high school was on the bike route confirmed my suspicions that it was going to be just as windy on race day unless something drastic happened.

In any event, after an early group dinner with my parents included we set off for an early to bed plan. Low stress and good vibes. I was fueled and ready to get my good nights rest. And for the most part I did. An air mattress is just not as comfortable as your bed, especially when it looses a tad of air overnight. Then at what seemed like 2am someone starts packing their car. I can only imagine this goof ball with all their gear on ready to race in the middle of the night- what maniac needs to get ready this early? In reality it was closer to 4am but my plan was to get up at 5.30, get to the start at 6, and hang out for an hour after setting up, then start in my wave at 7:13am. Of course one maniac spurs a campsite panic attack among every other type A and before you knew it we were all up competing to see who could pack up first. I got up at 5 and half the camp was gone when I stepped out of my dome and the other half was close behind. Did they change the start time and no one told me? Was my watch wrong? More importantly my wave was one of the very first and there were waves starting as much as an hour after mine. So it was likely nobody needed to be at the start earlier than I did- unless you were a pro, and frankly they probably weren't camping!

Oh well, a couple peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a banana later we were off to the race. The breeze was picking up.

What should I expect? Last year I set my PR for this distance, but as I often say, it depends on the day. The conditions but also your performance. The heat was vicious last year and the wind was going to be a test today. Luckily the temps were in the low 70's - perfect for riding and running. So it really was a matter of getting through the bike without loosing too much time and then having a good run. My run shape this year should be better, but my experience with running is pretty shallow so it's hard for me to gauge how much I could improve. I was counting on my swim being better, but not setting my goals too high. The calculations of times and pacing kept running through my head trying to justify the rationale for a total time of about 5:10. If things went as planned I could get close, maybe even dip below that. But then I shift back to trying to release my mind of those pre-sets and deal with what the day gives you- race your race and you'll be happy regardless of time. Easier said than done. But I know that once the gun goes off and you hit your first stroke in the swim everything changes. At that point reality takes over your preconceived ideas.

The Race
A slight panic before race start only got my heart moving higher than I needed. The porta-potty lines were immense and I was waiting it out desperately while the countdown to shut down the transition area at 7am continued. I got in line at 6:35, and I got my turn at 6:57! I was out at 6:59 rushing in to transition to get my swim gear - wet suit, goggles, cap, etc. Just then they announced that everyone needed to get out. I went without putting sun screen on- a decision that if I had to do over, well, I would still have gone to the bathroom!

Swim - 1.2m
The pro's were already off in the distance when I got to the beach. I suit up and try to relax some, go over my plan in my head, take in a good view of the swim course as if I had an internal computer to help me navigate it when I'm in the water, and place myself with the rest of the red caps. The announcer mentions that there are 320 in my wave- officially the largest and argued the most competitive age group at this race. This is not news to me - this age group tends to be the largest in most races. But 320! That's huge.

We wade in. Get ready. The water was very comfortable and calm on the protected beach. We walk out farther and farther. The water is - well, black. And we continue to walk out to what seems like half way to the first buoy. I take full advantage by getting up front in the pack, no reason to swim what you can walk. Then we get a "You have 45 seconds, oh wait, you have 10 seconds, my math was never really that good! GO!"

That's when all the serenity of the morning disappeared. Flailing arms and kicks churning up the water. The pack was so wide that the biggest issue was getting people from the left and people from the right trying to squeeze in closer as they drew their lines out to the first buoy. Meanwhile I was just pushing ahead thinking we'll be more than spread apart by the time we have to turn around at what seemed like a pinpoint on the horizon. The swim out was with the wind - or rather with the waves, for the most part. It grew to be more from the side the farther we got out into the main body of water.

And then we turned into the chop. Head on. It got nasty. Taking in *some* water was inevitable but it got to a point that I wondered exactly how much could I take in without being seriously sick when I got out. It was just about every stroke some water would splash in. At times full mouths of water with no air. Switching sides didn't help any as the chop was mixed but relatively head on. And sighting was difficult to impossible. With a yellow marker on the horizon I did my best to shoot right at it. Unfortunately the buoys weren't the only yellow things out on the water- kayakers also had yellow vests (on the outside of the course) so I added some distance to an already tough course. But that wasn't all- the jelly fish (or sea nettles) were out in force. I don't know what the differences are between them but you don't need to know when you're getting stung. One thing is certain, getting one in the face would not be good. I got a few stings on my arms but was spared from the face plant.

Overall it was a slow and tedious effort. The disappointment of a long swim wasn't what I wanted to think about as I got out to face the wind on the bike course. But getting out of the water, after finding the ramp, was a relief.
Swim - 42:44, avg HR 145, 1:58/100yds

No big deal here. In and out pretty smoothly. I felt like I could have gotten through faster taking too much time on socks/shoes but looking at my time I was happy with it.
T1 - 2:36

Bike - 56m
I was glad to be out on the bike course and kept a low smooth effort to start out. The wind was apparent right from the beginning and depending on the next turn your speed would change instantly. I decided to cruise into my zone slowly and not push too hard or spike my heart rate. I was passing more people than I had expected and kept focused on the road and on my nutrition. Salt tab on the :15 and :45 of each hour and gel every :30 and :60 of each hour. Water as needed. Plus my liquid calorie bottles.

The first third of the bike course was the easiest with a couple small section of tailwind to help change the pace. At times I was rolling at 27 mph without pushing super hard. But there were the sections that slowed to a crawl as we battled the head wind. Every now and then a speed demon would pass at mach 3 but for the most part I kept passing people.

The landscape was flat. Some say its beautiful. I tend to differ in opinion. I think it's better than, lets say, Iraq, but not by much. Ok, that's a stretch, but it is boring and monotonous. The physical aspect is only part of the challenge- the mental struggle against the wind and holding the same position for hours wears on you more. I actually stood up (on a perfectly flat course) for at least a minute just to change it up and stretch out.

By the end of the ride I wanted it to be over- I was ready to run. The second half of the course was predominately head wind with some really stiff sections. I started to feel bloated from what I thought was my liquid fuel so I upped my salt and water intake and eased off the liquid calories. Getting back into town for the last couple miles was a thrill and the closer I got to transition the faster I pushed.
Bike - 2.42:28, avg HR 134, 20.7 mph

In and out quickly - totally prepared for the run. Thinking plan, plan, plan.
T2 - 1:35

Run - 13.1m
I came out of the gate ready. Mile one was smooth and what I thought would be slow, but to my surprise it was 7:30mm and my HR was only at about 142. So I kept at it thinking my HR would increase in the next couple miles and I would settle in. Even though the wind blew right at us I felt good and kept up my pace. The next few miles got slower by about 5 seconds each. Not bad considering I was well below my target HR of 160. So I kept at it thinking that once I got to the turnaround point I would push a bit harder if my HR was still lower than expected. I alternated gatorade, gatorade, water with gel through all the aid stations not stopping as I ran through.

And before I knew it I was half way at about 52 minutes. So I dialed it up just a notch to keep this good rhythm and not burn out to early knowing that the last three miles or so I would dial it up again. I wanted these increases to happen smoothly - something I've been working on in my run. And sure enough I took my HR to about 149-151. At this point I was forgetting my mile calculations so I wasn't sure of my pace but comfortable with knowing that I was about even. And somehow I calculated that I would end up with 8mm which was my target. So I was right on pace and relatively comfortable- that was the weird thing.

At mile nine I was passed slowly by a tall runner and I decided I could increase my speed some now while drafting him into the wind (back into town). I kept right on his feet and by the time we hit the 10 mile mark we were on a 7mm pace. My HR was at 152 and I was getting excited at my ability to keep this up all the while getting closer to the finish line. I joked with my pacer and confirmed I wasn't annoying him, and he was happy in front just so long "you don't pass me in the sprint finish" - agreed. But he took off not too much after that. And the next thing I see is the 12 mile mark! What? Where is 11? I clearly missed the 11 mile mark- possibly from my focus on the feet in front of me. Who cares, pick it up, I kept my pacer in my sights about 50 yards up and slowly tried to gain ground but he was in overdrive.

The finish chute was there before I knew it. I sprinted through with ease, and passed a few on the way but didn't see my pacer. Absolutely no stops and a pretty consistent pace throughout. This was a huge breakthrough in my running.
Run - 1.41:32, avg HR 146, 7:45mm

Swim 1.2m 42:44
T1   2:36
Bike 56m 2.42:28
T2   1:35
Run 13.1m 1.41:32
Total   5.10:53

Overall I hit my mark. 5:10. A slower than expected swim and bike but a great run. Very happy to set a new PR. The awesome cheers and the DC Tri Clubbers out on the course was a great diversion. Huge thanks to everyone that was out there, especially my parents, Kelly and Stella!

Pizza and beer was the next stop. We hung out at the DC Tri Tent for a good while cheering everyone in and then recounting the stories of the day. We had at least 20 people out there representing and we all had our skewed perception of the day. For some it was their first half and for others it was a hangover cure. Soon after we all headed out to get some quality pizza and cold beers. Marios was the ticket and we started our recovery in style.


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