I think Eagleman 2010 was the hardest half Ironman I’ve done.
The swim in 2006 may have been rougher, the heat in 2008 may have been worse. But this year we had it all: fighting the current in a non-wetsuit swim on what felt longer than 1.2 miles; a bike course where the winds always seemed to be headwinds; and a brutal run with a heat index over a 100 on hot black asphalt that was eerily similar to the descent into Kona’s Energy Lab.
The real highlights for me this year: hearing the MMTC shouts of encouragement during the run (I was in an early wave, so I didn’t see anyone on the bike), and seeing Teresa Byrne kick ass with a smile on her face! Unlike most of us, she’s faced real adversity and won. Eagleman 2010 was nothing to what she’s been through! She is truly awe inspiring.
So many MMTC’ers like Kim Sheridan were doing their first Half IM under those conditions: it won’t get much harder, unless you do Savageman in 100 degree heat and 40 knot winds. (And Loretta who volunteered for the abuse on the run by running with Kim and getting no medal but everyone's respect!) Thanks so much to everyone for the support at the race, particularly those who worked the tent.
I did a full one week taper for Eagleman, cutting the volume of my workouts and increasing the intensity. My runs dropped from nine miles in the mountains a week out to four flat miles on the Wednesday prior at 6:30 pace or below. Then three full rest days from running which usually leaves my legs totally fresh on race day. My last bike and swim workouts were on Friday: 90 minutes on the bike with pick-ups and 1000m in the pool, focusing on form. I was heavy on protein until Wednesday, then shifted to carbs, maximizing my sleep. Friday night, the important sleep night, I got 9 hours of sleep. Saturday was rest, travel and final preps.
I felt fully rested and ready for Eagleman 2010. It turns out that was a good thing because Eagleman took all I had, and I didn’t even come close to any of goal splits. It was 18 minutes slower than last year and 26 minutes off my PR. However, we all race on the same course with the same conditions. On Sunday, the run saved my race and I was able to sneak onto the podium with pass in the last mile.
Swim: 42:31 (18/100)
After seeing Michele Potter’s post about the warm Choptank the week before Eagleman, I was mentally prepared for the possibility of non-wetsuit swim. I packed and then used a TYR speedsuit at EM Sunday that was given to me after Kona (where I had ignored Linda Giampalmo’s advice and endured a rather leisurely swim as one of the few in a Speedo). The full length speedsuit, which will no longer be legal after October 1st, and following my coach’s advice, apparently made all the difference on Sunday.
But I didn’t appreciate any of this until much, much later.
I entered the water as early as possible to get a good warm up, positioned myself in the front middle and, as advised, focused on breathing, tempo and stroke. Sighting was easy – every third stroke; breathing every stroke or bilaterally to balance things out. Only a few yellow caps pulled away, and I kept a fairly straight course although I never found a good draft. (It seemed like people were drafting on me, which was different, but not a bad thing maybe). I focused on keeping my hips high, staying long and strong with a good catch and engaging my core. In the last half of the swim, I was passing yellow caps. That has never happened before.
I was stoked when I came out of the water, until I glanced at my watch. What? I thought I’d made a mistake, but I didn’t. What happened out there? I immediately started to fume and I smoldered about the swim for at least half of the bike. The swim has been driving me crazy and I’ve made it a focus area. I simply couldn’t believe, wetsuit or not, that I was over seven minutes slower than last year.
Lesson learned: I wasted loads of mental energy on the bike trying to figure out what happened on the swim. Things turned out fine, but I didn’t realize that until after the race. It put me behind my goal time and that’s all I thought about for a long time. But it’s really true though that we all do race on the same course. I placed higher in the age group than I ever have in the swim and, in comparison to others, was less slow than previous years at EM. The mental angst may have negatively affected my bike leg, which was about ten minutes slower than my goal.
Bottom line: once a tri leg is over, fuhgeddaboutit. There’s nothing you can do except focus on what you’re doing. Stay in the box. I strayed “out of the box” and didn’t get back in until at least mile 30 on the bike.
T1: 1:59 (12/100)
Transition went fine despite my funk. The speedsuit came off much easier than a wetsuit and a simplified transition made for a fairly quick escape. I saw George Olean in T1 – he beat me out of the water by about 15 seconds. My only mistake: one of my socks didn’t go on right and I didn’t stop to fix it. I ended up with a blister on my left foot. (Unlike Mike Barone, I will always be a sock guy).
Bike: 2:37:30 (17/100, avg 21.3 mph)
I like this course, because my Zipp wheels like it. It is a course made to go aero. But the bike simply didn’t go as planned for me. I was shooting for sub 2:30, after barely missing it the past two years. The legs just weren’t there on Sunday. Maybe it was the mental thing from the swim, maybe it’s the training. (I didn’t start doing much on the bike until after the Boston Marathon in April – my coach has altered my bike training, but it hasn’t kicked in yet apparently. More intervals, more long hard rides.)
The winds were a nuisance out there, but I was in the second AG wave and they were never more than 10-15 mph. It is uncanny how the headwind on the westward leg out to about mile 21 always seems to be a headwind from the north by the time you get to Egypt Road. And the tailwind was ever so short-lived on the two east legs.
Nutrition and hydration went as planned: 3 bottles of accelerade and 1 bottle of amino vital, salt every 30 minutes and an Odwalla bar. I carried all my own refreshments this year, deciding to avoid warm Gatorade in bottles that may or may not have the foil removed.
The major danger out there? Fast cyclists in ferocious age groups screaming by without a word of warning. I had a near miss and saw the debris of a two-bike accident on Smithville Road. The greatest danger is our fellow triathlete, the ones who leave common sense behind.
As for me, I’m going to hit the bike hard in the next four weeks to get ready for Lake Placid. I’m good with the climbing; but I need more intervals and hard lactate threshold rides.
T2: 1:52 (2/100)
EM is a great venue for taking your feet out of your shoes while coming down Somerset to the dismount area. This really makes T2 simple and speedy. There’s nothing to do but take off your helmet, put on your running shoes and grab your hat and gels. I’m not sure why it took 1:52.
Run: 1:36:26 (2/100, avg 7:22 min/mi)
The run was where all of us wrestled with the demons on Sunday. At least I did.
It started out fine for me. I saw Chuck Potter on his bike about a mile into the run, leading Terrenzo Bozzone home. Thanks for the good words, Chuck! I kept my 6:50 goal pace until about mile four, then things started to boil and the times started to slide to about 7:15 to 7:30. I took some salt and a gel, and started dumping Gatorade into an ice cup, nursing it until it was gone. Then, as I did in Kona’s heat last year, every other mile or so I would dump the ice into my jockstrap: it totally cools the core (and other things).
At about mile six I started watching for 50-54 year olds coming the wrong way after the turnaround, meaning they were ahead of me. The first two guys were running well and looked too relaxed. Not a good sign. Number three looked good too. Or bad, depending on your viewpoint. I counted at least six more before I stopped. Maybe there were more, but it put me in at least 9th and maybe 10th. I’d already passed several older dudes. For about a mile, I lost focus again.
It’s like there were two voices talking to me. One was saying, “it’s outrageously hot, you’ve blown your goal time, there’s no way you’re going to place near the top, forget the Clearwater slot, just take it easy.” And the other voice, sounding liking a combined Karen Smyers/Michael Wardian, said: “you are so lucky to be here, quit feeling sorry for yourself, keep moving forward, and run like there’s no tomorrow because you never know what’s happening in front of you.”
It took me until after the turnaround to get my head straight. Mike Matney’s voice woke me up and then the MMTC encouragement just kept on coming: Tom Kish, Erik Cohen, Chip, Hector, Mike Barone, Mike Ogden, Bill Wheeler and many, many others. Thanks to everyone. You can’t tell I hear you because I go in the zone, but I do hear you. The 50-54 year old guys started coming back to me and I started feeling stronger again. I lost count, but at mile 12 I came upon the last one I could reach before running out of real estate. I hesitated behind him for a few seconds to relax and catch my breath, then blew by and held a strong pace for at least a half mile. I didn’t want him to think he had a chance. It was enough to put me in 5th and sneak on the podium.
This was a character building day for us all. Races like this force you to confront yourself, and I find they help me to identify the flaws in my training and racing: both mental and physical. Physically, I need serious bike work but, as I experienced Sunday, so much of this sport is mental. Thanks to everyone at MMTC for the support and encouragement at EM and throughout the year.
A final suggestion for anyone who is looking for a qualifying slot for Clearwater or even Kona. It is simply not true that you have to make the podium to get a slot. Hang around at and after the Awards Ceremony. There are so many slots per age group and if someone finishing ahead of you passes, it rolls down to the next person. On Sunday, a Kona slot rolled down to 11th place in one age group; and Clearwater slots were rolling down even further.