EagleMan is my first venture into long distance triathlons. Not only do I want to finish, but I want to finish in good condition. At the moment I cross the finish line, I want to believe that I could continue. I want to imagine it plausible to get right back into the Choptank and repeat the entire course. The reason, of course, is that EagleMan is only a half Ironman. I want to finish strong because I someday hope to complete a full Ironman.
`Only a half Ironman' is dangerous thinking. A half Ironman is plenty long to make multiple mistakes and pay for each one. One of the interesting aspects of endurance events is the decoupling between mistakes and consequences. Early mistakes are punished with late penalties. For this back of the pack triathlete, the real competitors in EagleMan are the elements and the condition of my body. If I manage these, I will count the day a victory, even through the real winner will have had time for a shower, lunch, and a nap before I finish. The hard part is maintaining sufficient awareness to make the right decision at the right time.
The goal of finishing in good condition drives my race planning. The key is to go easy, a surprisingly difficult thing to do in a race. I expect hundreds of other triathletes - stronger triathletes, faster triathletes, smarter triathletes - to swim, bike, and run on past. Each time one passes, my mind must tell my body:
Don't swim hard; just stay balanced. Don't hammer on the bike; just relax. Don't push on the run; just get there. Don't hurry transitions; just change clothes. Don't panic when something goes wrong; just fix it.In theory, this plan should handle most of the problems I can anticipate. As an added bonus, the plan, if successful, should give me the chance to trot past scores of bonked out triathletes on the back half of the run. The alternative is being one of those bonked out triathletes.
Not surprisingly, my preparation for the swim and bike pales next to that for the run. My running has progressed to the point where I can run marathons on a whim with reasonable results. In fact, I do run the Pittsburgh Marathon on a whim. Two weeks before the race, I learn that Bert has decided to run Pittsburgh. The next day, I sign up. It is too late to train, although I have been working in 18 mile runs every few weeks. I don't bother to taper. I board a Greyhound for Pittsburgh, meet Bert, and run the race.
We both turn in PRs, even though the weather is hot by marathon standards. We walk for 15 or 20 seconds each mile for the first 20 miles. We stay focused. Our reward is excellent pacing of 8:28 miles on the first 10 miles and 8:33 on the next 10 miles, which include an elevation increase of 200 vertical feet. On the last 10 km, we agree to run individually, depending on our respective conditions. I manage 8:24 over this stretch, helped in large part by the corresponding elevation decrease. In fact, running faster downhill saves my quadriceps from excess pounding, and I recover quickly. I finally bag the elusive goal of a marathon at an 8:30 pace. Let's see, to qualify for Boston as a 40 year old male, I need to get that down to ... a 7:38 pace. Don't hold your breath; it will be a while.
Hyponatremia strikes both of us. At mile 18 our stomachs begin to bloat. Our bodies are not absorbing water, and each additional sip is a hindrance, not a help. The dilute vegetable broth I have been drinking in hopes of maintaining my sodium levels is not enough. The problem is heat; our bodies are not used to hot weather running. We are simply sweating out too much salt. Finally, on the drive home, our kidneys remove the extra water we ingested. Consequently, we stop at each and every rest area on the turnpike, a state of affairs that Becky finds highly amusing.
After careful consideration of the unusual heat in the weather forecast, Becky and I decide that Matt would have a better day with his grandparents in Lancaster than he would in Cambridge. Consequently, I drive to the Eastern shore by myself. It turns out that Matt would have had a great time. Camping is possible right by the transition area, not to mention boat rides on the Cheasapeake and such like.
I have a hotel room in Easton, but after sussing out the camping, I decide to save the hundred bucks. Although the clerk says that I will be charged if another customer cannot be found, I know that hotel rooms are very tight. Sure enough, my room is resold within an hour.
I pick up my packet, which includes a cool day-glo orange wrist bracelet. At the prerace pasta bash, I strike up a conversation with a doctor named Jeff who is doing an internship in Bethesda. Jeff explains that Eagleman was a last minute decision, and that finding a room was quite difficult. He was ultimately successful in Easton. Amazingly enough, his room turns out to be my room.
Jeff studied medicine in Chicago, and then rode his bike to Bethesda when he finished. Eagleman is only Jeff's second triathlon; his first was an Ironman. If this sounds backwards to you, you're right; it is. After the race I check the results on the web; I am happy to report that Jeff made it to the finish line.
Since I wasn't planning to camp, I have neither tent nor sleeping bag. I sleep in the car next to a family of nesting ospreys. As the night progresses, I move the bike around to vacate different potential sleeping positions. None prove to be either comfortable or warm. Dawn is most welcome. Race day has arrived.
As it turns out, I join the parade of bonked out triathletes on the back half of the run. The middle of the run course features an out and back dog leg totaling a mere three miles. But here time slows to a crawl; I seem to spend the entire day running just this small length. That, and the astonishing rate at which my head melts ice, are clear signals that the sun and heat are winning. I pass almost no one; but lots of runners pass me. I am grateful to the point of tears just to cross the finish line. I wade into the Choptank to cool off. I could not repeat the course again this day. In fact, it is hard work simply to walk back to the car.
On my way I stop by the finish line to applaud the efforts of a few of the late finishers. There isn't any shade, so I don't last very long, but it feels good to repay this small debt.
Eagleman teaches the importance of avoiding sun the day before the race and that sport sunblock won't last through a half Ironman. Eagleman teaches that theory and practice diverge when it comes to the timing, magnitude, and direction of currents in the Cheasapeake. Eagleman teaches how hard it is to stay hydrated when the temperature breaks 90. Eagleman teaches that eating too late on the bike yields nausea on the run. Other races have taught me similar lessons. Perhaps this time I will learn them.
Eagleman also teaches the siren call of endurance. For the entire weekend I feel it resonate in the serene beauty of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. This lesson I know by heart. Stronger or not, faster or not, smarter or not: I'll be back.
Swim (1.2 miles): 56:04 (780/860)
Bike (56 miles): 2:42:17 (519/860)
Run (13.1 miles): 2:07:56 (641/860)
T1: 5:47; T2: 3:58
Age Group: 107/130
You may wish to visit the home page for EagleMan.