*Ironman 70.3 Eagleman was held on June 14th, 2015 in Cambridge, Maryland. It is a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and a 13.1 mile run out Great Lake Marsh Park and on to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.
First, a huge thank you to the ladies of Just Keep Racing! Hi I’m Jenna. I am an age group triathlete training and racing with the Asphalt Green Triathlon Club on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I’ve been racing since 2013 and I recently completed my first half ironman distance triathlon. I love Just Keep Racing and have trained with the kick-ass writers behind it. So when they asked me to share my race report from my first long course experience I was super psyched! Thanks for letting me share and here you go…Eagleman 70.3..a trial by fire…
I had the second to last wave start, set to go off around 8:12am. We knew it was going to be freakishly hot. The storm system that was supposed to hit blew back out to sea. I just tried to remind myself today, despite my competitiveness, I needed to be smart. At that point the late wave was going to put me out on the exposed course right at the hottest point of the day.
As I got in the water to swim out to the starting line someone kicked me in the wrist and my old, beat up garmin, just broke off and was treated to a viking funeral/burial at sea. It was somewhere on the riverbed floor, but there was no way to find it at that point. The thing is this is not the first watch I have broken during a race swim (during my first triathlon and luckily not an expensive one), so I actually had my basic Timex sports watch ready in transition to be swapped should something happen to my Garmin. I actually prefer to race with a more basic watch because it’s smaller, lighter, and forces me even late in the race to do some basic simple math in my head to calculate my splits. It kind of helps to keep firing the “draining” race brain cells. The only reason I had planned to wear (and had practiced swimming with) the Garmin at Eagleman was because given the race’s reputation for heat, this being my first half, and (knowing from my training data this year) my tendency to go out a little too hard and too fast, I wanted more concrete data available to make sure I was pacing myself well. But it happened and I was prepared.
So when we got in for the in-water start I just tried to pick the best position to give me some open water and a good line down the first straight-away of the swim course. The swim course was a rectangle out and back. I figured if I moved a little to the outside and held a solid line I might take a wider turn. It was a mass start and being a stronger swimmer I’d rather have my own water to pace myself than trying to swim in and around other athletes. The thing with Eagleman, as I found out on the practice swim, is that the Choptank river at low tide is very shallow. At 5’2” I could stand at most parts of the course. I figured swimming in the middle of the pack might also get me caught behind scared swimmers who might just stop and stand up in panic. I just hedged my bet that I would make up the difference on a more outside but open line down the first straight away. Luckily just to the outside of center no one seemed to want to step up to the front of the start line. I just decided to get a little cocky and move up right to the front. This actually paid off because I took off and was not bombarded from behind and actually on my second sight saw the middle had been left wide open. So instead of wasting energy to move to the outside I just stayed towards the middle. I felt real good on the first straightaway. I just focused on having a good rhythm, a good pace, and slowly started adding gas to the burners as I made my way down the buoy line. I took a good angle into the first buoy and came around it in a good position. Once I made the turn though I noticed the side/head current. I was pushed out a little. I decided not to fight it, at the risk of zigzagging in the water. I spotted the furthest buoy on the line and just angled in so that I would cut one straight diagonal line towards the next turn. Not ideal, but I was hoping to avoid wasting energy on the current. When I was able to see the second turn buoy I then sighted off that to try to get a decent turn around onto the second straight away back to the beach. The diagonal line/angle I was swimming did help get me in closer for a better turn than I thought but with my next sight I saw the current had just pushed me out towards the shore. The last section was going to be the hardest. So I again just angled my head and body in and tried to keep a straight, diagonal line swimming towards the furthest buoy I could sight off of. Essentially since the current was preventing me from a 90 degree/straight line, I tried to split the difference and swim a 45 degree line versus weaving. It felt like the best way to conserve energy while sacrificing the least amount of time. So I proceeded with this strategy all the way into shore.
As much as swimming against a current sucks, what was more frustrating was the shallow water. A lot of athletes just stopped and started walking into shore quite far out. I kept swimming until my arms and legs hit ground and I physically could not continue. But when I popped up I too was much further than I would have ever imagined (or liked) from the shore. I would say I lost a good three minutes just getting out of the water without blowing my legs up trudging up to shore. As much as the current sucked it was out of my control. This pissed me off a little bit. I was not a fan of losing that much time just to get out of weirdly shallow water. However, I did not want to dwell on it. I also had no way of knowing how much time I lost because I was minus a watch at this point. As soon as I could pick it up to a jog out of the water I just focused on getting into T1 and on to my bike.
I got into T1 with the Coach Mike [Galvan] mantra “slow is smooth and smooth is fast” running through my head. First thing’s first- helmet on and buckled! I then proceeded through my normal routine. I did take a little extra time to run a towel over my non-wetsuited self and properly apply sunscreen. I had made the decision prior to the race, knowing how exposed the course was, that I could not afford to skimp on the sunblock. I also had a travel sized bottle of it that I threw in my jersey pocket should I need to reapply on the course. I grabbed my starter, “child-sized” 44cm white and green road bike, which I affectionately call “The Hulk” and made my way out to the mount line among an entire field of (crazy) expensive tri bikes. We had joked during bike drop off the day before about my little road bike in the sea of its “big brother” time trial bikes. I admit it is easy to get intimidated by things like that, but I just didn’t. Instead I reminded myself that at the end of the day I am the engine of this vehicle. Money adds time on top of that, not instead. With that thought I settled into my road bike aero positioning that we practiced during the Kiku [time-trial] repeats, eased my way up to pace, and set my cadence as I followed the route onto the marsh.
Once I got on to the marshland it became quickly apparent that this course’s reputation for being flat was no exaggeration. There were a few slight inclines, if you could even call them inclines, as you crossed over foot bridges, but this course was absolutely flat and at the start of my bike there was relatively little wind. I knew only a few miles in on the course that my bike strategy was going to be real simple: spin at 90 rpm and stay relaxed. That was it. My cable tension, despite riding my bike Saturday, was weirdly off, but I was barely having to change gears. I was thankful this was essentially a non-issue. I just made a note in the back of my head that in the future if my bike has made a long car trip to take it up to the mechanic at bike drop and have them check the derailleur/tension. What I needed to think about was the biggest issue at hand: the heat and humidity.
It was really hot, and the temperature was only going up. There were a few sections of road that had some shade, but they were sporadic and not much reprieve. Instead of swim, bike, run, nutrition today was going to be nutrition, swim, bike, run. I made sure to time my salt pills, and go through my bottles. I was good to skip the first bottle swap station. I still had plenty of fluids in my two bottles, but it was a reminder none the less to keep drinking. I swapped at the 3 others, if only to get cold water. I went through a lot of fluids. I also strictly adhered to my gel schedule. I had an instinctual feeling that in this heat I might not be able to stomach food on the run. I wanted to make sure I stuck to my plan on the bike since the gels were going down fine. I had my bars, but I didn’t want to risk anything heavier than a gel unless I felt my stomach would handle it in the heat. I could always switch to liquid calories as a back up later, if need, but wanted to get food in as long as I could because that was nutrition Plan A. I made myself take a gel every 40-45 minutes. That timing had worked well in training. Thanks to Coach Mike’s race weekend nutrition plan I came into the race well fueled and hydrated. I felt good. My goal on the bike was to keep feeling good and set myself up as best I could for the run. The bike turned out to be my best leg of the day. A strong head wind had picked up during the second half of the ride. I just tried to stay relaxed and keep churning the legs. I dropped roughly a mile per hour in that wind but I essentially keep a 90 cadence that entire ride. That felt good. With that I maneuvered the course, passing a whole lot of those big time trial bikes and getting a lot of double takes, a few asshole comments from men who did not appreciated getting “chicked with a road bike”, and then a few nice compliments from riders who appreciated how much I was getting out of my machine. That was cool. I won’t lie though…being in a low, aero position most of that ride and fighting a headwind comprised of air so hot it was like dragon’s breath I was very ready to get off my bike at T2.
Run transition was gut check time. It was hotter and more humid than anything I had played, trained, or race through probably ever. You could see the out and back run course from the bike. There was zero shade. I wanted nothing more than to cross the finish line and I decided I was going to. With that I ran out of transition and down the chute onto the course knowing that this was going to be one of my toughest mental battles. I was not going to like the heat. I was not going to like the sun. Most importantly I was not going to like my pace or splits. I am so competitive I will run straight into a brick wall. I only have a “go switch” and once that’s on I have the ability to disregard my well being. I could not do that today and expect to finish. I knew that even only a half mile into the 13.1 I needed to run. I decided then and there that I was going to stop and walk every aid station and I would try and run in between. This plan was working well up until mile 3 or 4 when my heart felt like it was going to explode through my chest. I had to walk and get my heart rate down, which was very tough because with all the humidity it was hard to breathe. Once I re-grouped a bit I started back in with a run/walk routine until I hit the next aid station or felt better – 5 minutes run, 2 minutes walk (or more if heart rate is too high). With this scrappy plan I dragged my way through the most disgusting, brutal 10k of my life.
Then just before the 10K turnaround there was an aid station. I had by then honed a routine- ice dump (any and all areas- NO SHAME!), water (drink), water (dump on head), gatorade (finish the whole thing because as predicted the thought of food makes me want to vomit), sponges, and two cups of water at the last table (drink one and a half and dump the half on head). Simply put the formula was: aid station = open buffet. And despite the “all you can eat vegas buffet-style” approach I took to hydration at each station I was dying by the time I got to the next one. They were a standard mile apart but they still could not come fast enough in those conditions. But right at that 10K mark, where I had to dig the deepest, I turned around at the timing pads and realized we get this aid station twice! This was the re-group point for me. I pulled it together (with the exception of a few quick spots with some late race cramps) and was able to execute my plan of running in between the aid stations. How I ever negatively split a run like that I do not know. I just kept repeating another Coach Mike-ism to myself “your legs and lungs are pissed, tell them to shut the fuck up!” I wanted the victory so bad. And I was so pissed at how miserable this half marathon time was going to be for me. But I was full fist pump in the air when I finally came down the finish line chute and crossed that line. I was psyched to cross the finish line of my first half ironman, psyched to get my medal, and even more psyched to have volunteers dump water on me.
I crossed the finish line in 6:26:43. Prior to the race I was shooting for an even 6:00:00. I am who I am, and in one sense my finish time will never sit right with me, regardless of the conditions. I always believe I can do more and push harder. But with that said I am proud of what I did accomplish. It did not come easy. I had to earn every inch of that course. I had to be smart. I had to be patient. I had to respect the uncontrollable. Above all I had to decide to finish. They were going to have to drag me off this course bleeding, unconscious, trailing bone parts before I was giving up anything. I am proud of that.
Afterwards we found out the heat was extreme/record breaking even for Eagleman:
97 degrees, with a heat index of 108 degrees (plus), and 99% humidity….just wow!
A huge thank you my coach, Mike Galvan, my Asphalt Green Tri Club teammates, all my training friends/partners, and the race volunteers, who were positively awesome! I could not have done it without everyone’s support.