Warning - this is more of a short story than a race report.
This was my second Eagleman and my only “A” race scheduled for the year. Really, it was my only race scheduled for the year. After doing IM three years in a row I decided to take a year off IM and focus on Eagleman. The only other race I was hoping to do was whatever I qualified for at Eagleman – either Kona in October or the Clearwater 70.3 championship in November. I figured I had an outside shot at one of the two Kona slots and was pretty optimistic about a Clearwater slot. If I didn’t qualify for either, I’d pick one or two smaller halves later in the year that sounded like fun.
Last year I did a swim focus early in the year, then a bike focus in preparation for Eagleman and IM Arizona. This year my coach focused on the run, which was originally my strength but was becoming a weakness in my most recent races. The run focus really paid off, proven by a 7 minute PR at the Howard Life Festival Half Marathon in April.
Tuesday before the race I managed to really annoy my left hamstring. I don’t know what I did because I didn’t feel it till the next day, but Wednesday morning I felt like a 90-year-old man hobbling around. I didn’t run again till my customary 15 minute pre-race tune up on Saturday morning – it felt fine by then. Before the run I did a short swim on the course and got a feel for large landmarks to use for sighting. One jellyfish must have gotten me pretty good on the wrist – that spot sweat like crazy the rest of the day. Is that normal? It seemed kinda weird at the time. It didn’t really hurt, just annoyed me a little.
Race morning I got up around 5:15, ate, got my gear together, and got down to the transition area around 6:15. I figured I had plenty of time, but it went quick. For some reason I felt really disorganized in transition and couldn’t seem to get my act together. I almost forgot to put my bottles on my bike. Then before I knew it they were shouting at everyone to get out of transition and announcing “Navy caps are on deck!” That freaked me out cause I had a navy cap and wasn’t close to ready. My wave wasn’t supposed to go until 7:27; it’s not even 7:00 yet! Finally I got out of there and went over to the club tent, where I hurried to get my wetsuit on amid the ominous “navy caps” announcements. I made it over to the swim start, just across from the club tent, ready to go. Ok, time to relax. I looked down at my goggles and realized, “These are the leaky ones!” Oh no. Luckily my other ones were in the bag at the club tent and my fiancé Amy was standing just across the fence from me. Within about 30 seconds I had the non-leaky ones. Whew. Way to get the HR up before the big race. I’m usually pretty jacked up before a race, and this didn’t help. LESSON LEARNED – get to races early and give yourself time to relax. Yeah, I’ve learned this before, but I always seem to forget.
Swim – 31:14 (1:37/100m)
The swim was relatively uneventful. There was the normal bumping around with people but I never took or gave any hard blows. My target time was 32:00, considering I’ve been holding 8 minute 500’s in the pool in my wetsuit. Last year’s time was 32:59, so coming out of the water in 31:14 was great by me. It was a solid swim, a little better than what I expected. Most importantly, I managed to keep my calm the entire swim and keep my legs loose. I tend to get worked up during the swim and involuntarily tense my legs, eventually causing leg cramps and a terrible T1 and bike start. So coming out of the water loose was great.
T1 – 2:26
I’m still not very quick in transition. I’ve gotten better, but there are guys that did it a minute quicker. I’m not sure what takes me so long. Maybe it’s doing my hair. It was a 30-second improvement over last year though, so I’m not too disappointed.
Bike – 2:16:30 (24.7 mph)
After the run focus early this year my coach blended in a bike focus, keeping the run intensity up while really working the high-intensity biking. I trained almost exclusively on my Computrainer; before Saturday, my bike hadn’t been on the road since Ironman Arizona last November. I know, I’m nuts. But I’ve gotten used to it, and it’s actually the best training you can do because it’s the most race-like – no stoplights, cars, etc. And if you watch movies with your girlfriend while on the bike it counts as quality time, right? Yeah, I haven’t sold that one to her yet either.
Based on performance during training, my goal was to hold watts between 260 and 280 the whole race, with 2-minute breaks every 20 or 30 minutes. Last year I averaged 226 and did a 2:21:30, so I figured if I averaged 260 this year I should be around 2:15, maybe less. Of course, that assumed I could actually hold that kind of power the whole race, which I had never done before. The longest I’d held those kind of watts was during three 35-minute sets separated by 5 minutes easy. We’ll see.
It turned out to be a great bike day. HR was a little high at the outset, but holding watts in the zone wasn’t an undue struggle. A few miles into the bike a ran across another guy going about the same speed and we rode nearly the whole race in close proximity – never drafting but legally passing each other every so often. A few other guys tagged on every once in awhile but we eventually lost them. I took every advantage of “pass drafting” – legally catching the draft of people as you pass.
My nutrition plan was to drink one bottle every half hour, including two bottles of Inifinit (300 calories each) and two bottles of water from the aid stations along with one salt stick every 20 minutes. Based on past experience, I had to quit drinking Infinit and stick with water 20-30 minutes before the run or else I’d have upper GI issues at the start of the run. This plan seemed to work pretty well – no cramping, plenty of energy to finish the bike – but I still had problems burping with the thick energy drink mucus in the back of my throat. That’s the stuff that kills me on the run, not being able to get rid of swallowed air.
At the halfway mark I was at 1:06:00 and thought, wow, this is going to be an incredible bike! On the way back I realized why – tailwind going out, headwind coming back. But I managed to maintain my watts throughout, and probably gained quite a bit of time on most people during the headwind. (That’s the advantage of a power meter – even though you’re going slower, you hold the same power output and don’t overexert yourself trying to hold the same speed.) Average watts on the first half was 251, average on the second half was 252. It was a solid day on the bike, just slower than my goal but not by much.
T2 – 2:08
T2 was a little slow primarily because I wore a brace on my left ankle. It’s an old injury that I recently re-injured, so I decided to protect it and lost a little time putting on the brace. I also decided to wear my Garmin 305 since I’d gotten so used to seeing my run pace during training. But I didn’t take off my Polar watch because I was using it for HR (the two devices don’t speak the same language and I wasn’t going to wear two HR straps). So I looked like a big doofus coming out of transition with two enormous watches covering most of my left arm. I gotta get a better system…
Run – 1:24:50 (6:29/mile)
I started the run right alongside another guy in my age group – one of the guys that tagged on toward the end of the bike. I remembered him from his red jersey. Very quickly I knew I couldn’t keep up with him so I figured, ok, he’s number 1, I can still be number 2 (unless he bonks – you never know). My target was to maintain a 6:20 pace or less, which I held for a couple miles. Then I started fading about 5 seconds/mile each mile and hovered around 6:35 – 6:45/mile. Somewhere around mile 3 a 38-year-old passed me like I was standing still, but he said “I already have a Kona slot so you’re ok,” as he passed. That’s good, I’ll never keep up with him. Just before the turnaround I saw numbers 1 and 2 running together and asked, “You 1 and 2?” They replied, “2 and 3”. Oh crap, there’s another one up there. And then at the turnaround I heard the dreaded footsteps behind me again. Another guy passed me like I wasn’t moving and I quickly asked, “How old are you?” “36, but they screwed up and I had a white cap. You should be ok.” So I guess he started 9 minutes ahead of me. Or so I hoped. Still number 4, with 1 not taking a slot; there’s still hope.
After the turnaround I expected to speed up, thinking I was running into a headwind on the way out, so a tailwind should help out. But that didn’t happen between miles 9 and 11. My pace slowed to 6:45/mile. But somewhere between the turnaround and mile 11 I passed two more guys in my age group – I guess there was another one that the other guys didn’t know about. Regardless, this hopefully put me in third, with the real possibility that I could get a slot. Then around mile 11 it happened again, the dreaded footsteps. This time I didn’t have to ask – 36 was plain as day on his calf. I watched as he increased the gap between us and gave my best shot to put on some speed every passing minute, but he didn’t seem to get any closer. At one point on Riverside Drive he was about 50-60 feet away and I had a mental battle. I seriously considered conceding the slot at that point – it hurt and I just didn’t think I could catch him.
Then I remembered what worked at Arizona when my legs wouldn’t do it – pumping the arms (“going to the elbows”). My buddy Barry reminded me of it the night before the race. I tried it and I don’t distinctly remember it working, but it must have because by the time he turned left onto Queen Anne with only about a quarter mile to go I realized the gap had narrowed to about 25 feet. I turned it on a little more down Queen Anne, then a little more down Bay Street, matching his pace but not really gaining – he must be turning it on too. Then we hit the final left turn into the finishing chute. Ok, this is it, Kona is 25 feet ahead of you, there’s no more time left, GO!! At that point it was all adrenaline. I got the arms moving full steam and gave it all I had, hoping that finishing chute wasn’t longer than I had steam. I passed him and didn’t let up all the way to the finish line, knowing that he could respond and overtake me at any moment. But he didn’t. If I had eaten lunch I would have left it right there at the finish line, but that was ok by me. I was done, and I might have just won a Kona slot.
[Note for myself – drank only water on run, no gatorade, no gels. Also took 6 salt sticks. Didn’t feel like stomach could handle anything else.]
Results were posted awhile later, showing me fourth, but third was listed as doing a 20:13 swim (faster than the pros by over 3 minutes). So I figured that was the guy who started 9 minutes ahead with the white caps, and I was actually third. I went to the championship slot allocation meeting/gathering with checkbook in hand. [Last year I came in sixth but I had left my checkbook at the homestay 1.3 miles away. Amy ran there and back as fast as she could while I was hopefully going to stall writing a check if I got a slot. But I didn’t get a slot so her efforts were wasted, but very appreciated.] The awarding of the slots began with several announcements, one of which was, “If you do not have cash or check AND A PHOTO ID, your slot will be FORFEITED!” Are you kidding me? I left my wallet at the homestay! How could I miss that part? I have a checkbook but no photo ID! I turn to Amy with panic in my eyes, and she is visibly and understandably incredulous. She and my dad take off for the car to drive back to the homestay and get my wallet, but after they left I realize there are a couple photo IDs in the car. If only I can stall things after they call my name. But she’s fast, and the process went a little slow, so my ID and checkbook were in hand by the time they got to my age group. Unbelievable, to nearly miss a Kona slot because I forgot my ID. That would have been the absolute worst.
They called the age group winner, and true to his word, he took a Clearwater slot because he already had a Kona slot. Then second place took a Kona slot. Then they called the third place guy. Wait a minute, he started 9 minutes ahead of me! Look at his swim time! I was right up there within about a half second. But he was there too, explaining the situation and telling the official that his time should be 9 minutes slower. Ok, all is well. “Todd McClellan!” “Yep, that’s me!” “Do you want a slot?” “Yes, I do.” “Kona or Clearwater?” “Kona.” “Ok, congratulations! Have a seat. [turning to the crowd] There are no more Kona slots for Male 35-39!” I can’t believe this is happening. I’ve enviously watched people sit at this table before. And now it’s me. I’m going to Kona.
Total Time – 4:17:06