You learn more from races that don’t go well than you do when a race goes according to plan. I am far from happy with my performance and 9th place finish at Eagleman 2011, but I learned (and re-learned) some important lessons.
The first lesson? Details matter in Ironman racing. When you fail to pay attention to the details, there is a cascading negative effect upon your performance. I think I was sloppy with my hydration on the bike and it came back to bite me on the run.
The second lesson? Don’t screw with your bike seat the week before a race. I changed my seat, didn’t like it, and went back to the old one. In the process, I ruined my fit. My bike leg was plagued with 46 miles of back cramps in the aero position, forcing me up every couple of miles to stretch in an attempt to stem the cramping.
The third lesson? Keep reading.
I like to say that I love Eagleman because of the sheer brutality of the exposed run. I do love the run course, but the high point this year was the MMTC Tent, meeting team members I only knew by email, seeing old friends, and recovering in those wonderful chairs with a feast, courtesy of Heather and many others. I had dinner with Laura Parsons, Lance Jones, Tom Kish and others at Zia’s, an Italian place in Salisbury Saturday night. It’s worth the drive, even though they suffered through my navigational experimentation to get there.
Swim: 39:56 (Div place 24/188, rate 2:06 min/100m).
Except for the 83 degree water, the swim conditions were good. My swim was slower than I expected by about 3-5 minutes, but I placed higher in the Division than I normally do even with a glacial pace. Everyone must have been slower and maybe I profited from the Torque Pro speedsuit. (I was expecting Hector to grab my leg at any moment, but I must have eluded him somehow).
The initial swim leg was upstream into the sun, so I think we were fighting a slight current, which didn’t do much for us heading home because of the topography of the bay. The buoys didn’t move this year and the water was calm, making sighting easy if you had tinted goggles.
Our early wave (#4) age group start was generally polite with very little physical contact. It was the least violent start I’ve had in years at Eagleman where I usually end up in a wrestling match or two. There was even limited violence when we caught the wave in front of us. I did get pinched between a turn buoy and a raft with a disabled athlete being towed, but it was momentary.
Once again the last few hundred yards were shallow and people were, for some reason, walking. I find it faster to dolphin dive when it gets waist deep and caught some guys 30 yards ahead of me, including my friend and rival from Dallas, Joe Champ. (I caught Joe in the last mile at 2010 USAT Nationals, but he beat me at 2010 Clearwater). We emerged with the exact same swim time.
T1 was quick. Off with the speedsuit, on with the number belt, glasses and helmet. Shoes were already on the bike and I went sockless. Speedsuits come off much easier than wetsuits.
Bike: 2:36:05 (32/188 Div Place, 21.5 avg)
Bike conditions were superb and the roads were spectacular. My performance was neither.
The bike started well, but it didn’t last. After doing the first ten miles in about 25 minutes and catching a number of guys in the age group, my lower back went into spasms and stayed cramped for the next 46 miles. That has never happened before, but I’d never messed with the seat the week before a race either. I thought it would work itself out, but it never did. My 23 mph goal speed slowly slid to 21.5 mph, much of it lost on Egypt Road.
The second bike-related mistake I made was not setting my watch to beep every five minutes to remind me to sip regularly out of the aerobottle. The weather conditions were deceptive in that it was hotter than it felt due to the wind. You don’t realize how much fluid you are losing because the sweat dries so quickly. A beeping reminder to sip keeps me hydrated. I was drinking accelerade, carrying a bottle of concentrate that I mix with water on the course, and I estimate I only drank a bottle an hour (2.5 bottles total). That’s not enough for a hard 56 miles in upper 70/ low 80 degree temps. I started the run thirsty, leading to mediocrity.
A huge disappointment this year on the bike course was the drafting that I observed. After jockeying with two guys in my age group for about six miles, I watched them latch onto a peloton of 40-44 year olds (the wave behind us) and take off. You’d expect 50 year olds to have more integrity, but I guess you’d also expect a congressional representative not to send lewd pictures on Twitter. In both cases, you would be wrong. Fortunately, I think both situations are few and far between. The good news: one of the drafters got nailed (he lost a few minutes in the penalty tent at the end of the bike), and I caught the second drafter on the run as he imploded (I guess all that wheel-sucking can wear a guy out).
I thought T2 should have been faster. There wasn’t much to do except put on my socks and shoes, and take off my helmet. The back felt great, once I got off the bike, but it was a bit of a jaunt to the timing map for the run course.
Run: 1:39:39 (Div Pl 6/188, pace 7:36).
The run was my greatest disappointment this year. I love that run and it started off in ecstasy. It just felt so good to run. My run goal was sub 1:30 and the first four miles felt very easy even at sub 7 pace. My legs held up all morning, but unfortunately, that wonderful feeling of ecstasy didn’t last.
At the outset of the run, I was very thirsty. Normally, I grab a cup of fluid, pinch it and sip while I run. I make the 4 oz last about 300 yards. For some reason, I was gulping this year. Several cups at each stop. What was I thinking? Partly, I think it was due to thirst from inadequate hydration on the bike. Partly, it was mental: I’d tested my sweat rate in high heat that week and noticed I lose a pound every fifteen minutes at 7 min pace. Four lost pounds will undermine my performance and I was attempting to stem the weight loss and at least minimize dehydration.
I maintained 7 min pace through mile 5, passing age group rivals frequently, but then started to feel a muscle cramp develop in the left side of my stomach (or, Coach Karen, tells me it was probably my psoas cramping, affecting my diaphragm).
The cramp increased in intensity through mile 6, when it became full blown, slowing me to 8:30 pace or so. The next three miles, miles 6 to 9, were the dark ones. I’ve had these side/stomach cramps before and can get through them by altering my breathing and stride. My coach always says just keeping pushing forward and you’ll get through it, but I wasn’t sure I believed it Sunday.
I also had counted the 50-54 guys ahead of me at the turnaround and knew I was losing valuable time to catch them and reach the podium. I was going negative mentally, but, Coach Karen was right, again. By mile 8, the stomach pain was decreasing and my pace was slowly increasing. By mile 9, the pain was almost gone completely and I passed Joe Champ (who had turned in a 2:25 bike split). I never regained my sub-7 pace, however, and I let four guys get away who would have been reachable with just a 1:35 half marathon.
The third lesson of the day? I like to run in the heat and I’ve had success keeping my core body temperature cool by dumping ice into my jock strap.
Apparently less is more. For some reason, perhaps related to the gulping at the water stops, at each stop I also dumped ice in the jock, which is more frequently than I have done in the past. It kept me cool, I guess, but five minutes after I finished the race, I felt sharp pains coming from that region of the body. That’s when I figured out it was the type of pain you feel when a frozen finger, toe (or other body part) starts to thaw.
So, while most of you were out there dying from the heat, I was freezing my genitals off! Who knew? Next time, I’ll dump ice every second or third water stop.
Bottom line: this race not only told me I have a lot of work to do before Lake Placid but it’s important for me to rethink the details before every race. Simplify while racing, but in preparation and planning, details matter. It also reminded me that I cannot rely on the run that has saved me from slow swims and poor bike legs in the past. If my run goes south, I’m screwed. The swim is important, but the bike is critical. It sets me up nutritionally and positionally to catch people during the run. I need to focus on my weaknesses as a way to make my strengths more effective.
Finally, thanks to Heather and the tent crew. And congrats to all those who raced so well, like Steve, Chip and Wade, and those who raced so courageously, like Lance with an injured Achilles.