This was my first 70.3, and I learned a lot lessons that I won’t soon forget. One of the biggies is that even when you think you’re prepared for anything, the unexpected can really get you, in both good ways and bad.
At Columbia, I did zero mental prep, visualization, etc., and it cost me. I wasn’t about to let that happen for my first 70.3. I was comfortable with my race plan, nutrition, mental prep, and by the time my wave went off, I felt like I was ready.
Except for the swim, I’ve gone those distances and much farther pretty often. The trick is of course putting it all together. For the swim and the bike, my game plan was to conserve for what I figured would be a brutal run in a blast furnace. I just wanted to finish this one to learn some things for next year. I positioned myself on the left of the pack, not minding sacrificing a little distance (all right turns on the swim) if it meant less jostling to start so that I could settle into a rhythm faster. The swim went well enough, but I had to stop once to defog my goggles, and I did have trouble spotting the buoys for some reason. I wound up meandering a bit and took wide turns around the buoys. Good if you like space, bad if you want to cut your time. I also erred too much on the side of energy conservation. I was really taking my time. As a result, even for a relatively slow swimmer like me, I had a very slow swim. Because of it, physically, I felt great coming out of the water even if the time was disappointing. I can push harder the next time.
Again, not too worried about time in T1. Just wanted to make sure I had everything I needed. Just conserve and survive.
The bike leg lacked the usual Eagleman wind. Going out, it was moderate, but coming back, it wasn’t bad at all. Following my plan to conserve for the run, I had to keep telling myself to dial back my pace. The bike was pretty uneventful (lots of pelotons though). Most of it for me was about prepping for the run. I took a lot of nutrition and fluid, and tried to stretch often. During one of those stretching sessions, Chip, a guy who is waaaaay faster than me, came riding up past me and shot me a good-natured “C’mon bro.” Now, what Chip probably doesn’t know is that the best way to motivate me is to call me out, even in a friendly way ;) . Well, I simply couldn’t let that stand, even if I know there’s no way I can beat him over a long distance. So down the gas pedal went and I pulled ahead for a short time just before the turn onto Egypt Road. Chip of course ran me down shortly after that, but hey, we can’t all be a 49-year old Adonis. What can I say Chip? When you’re at the top, people gun for ya!
At about mile 25, my back, which I’ve had trouble with for a long time, started acting up. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a harbinger of things to come. Switching positions on the bike and stretching helped, but it was pretty achy at the end of the bike, even after dialing back my pace. I was a little concerned, but hoped I could work it out over the run. And did I mention “conserve” …
Avg. pace: 19.02
Despite all that conservation, the run was physically and mentally the most grueling thing I’ve ever done. My plan was to run between water stops, walk the stops, then get going again. Given the heat and the distance, I hoped to run it at about a 9:00-9:30 pace, but I also wasn’t sure if that was realistic because of the walking I planned to do.
Even in the first mile, I could feel my core temperature start edging up. I took on fluids at the first two stops, and gel in between (a nasty paste in a dry mouth!). Still, I was getting uncomfortably hot when I made a rookie mistake. The generous Cambridge residents set up hoses to spray down runners on the route, and as I approached one, I thought to myself how great this was going to be. It felt great, but this particular one also got my socks and shoes wet. No big deal in a shorter race, but at this distance, the wet socks softened my skin, and the rubbing started brewing up blisters. I had four by the time I finished. Lesson for me: avoid getting sprayed down on long runs.
At about mile 3, I started getting sharp pains in my back every time I took a deep breath. I expected some discomfort in my back – I’ve been having it all training season – but nothing like this. From then on, it was a constant struggle to turn off the stabbing pain whenever I needed a big breath of air. This is also where the heat really began to sink in. Between my back and the heat, I had to start walking more than I hoped. At the water stops, I took on fluids (a few sips of Gatorade and some water), but I had some sloshing in my stomach that didn’t help matters. I tried to shove down a few pretzels to help mitigate the sloshing, but it was impossible to get them down without taking a sip of water and defeating the whole point!
For the heat, I remembered a trick that Mark Yost wrote about last year and apparently did this year too. I would put a cup of ice in my hat and a cup of ice down my tri shorts. Let me tell you, I got some crazy sideways looks at that! Before the ice started to melt, I’m running down the road with what looked like a very serious case of elephantitis of the you-know-whats! But it helped manage my core temperature. By the time I got to the next stop, the ice was mostly melted, so in goes another cup. Great trick, and after reading Mark’s report, I’m thrilled I wasn’t the only one seemingly suffering from a malady so rare they make movies about it.
When I hit the turnaround, I was really looking forward to a snow cone. I got to the stop and the machine wasn’t working! Argh! At the next water stop, there was no ice, so my cooling system was shot and I can barely get a good breath because my back was getting progressively worse. At that point, I had to walk between stops, and that’s when two MMTC women came running up (and I’m so sorry ladies, I just can’t remember your names right now!) and gave me the ol’ “come with us,” pulling me through the next few water stops and even offering a nice shot of coconut water – electrolytes without the salt, how great!
The rest of the way back was a sufferfest. With maybe a little more than a mile to go, I crossed paths with Lance Jones. We had just met the day before, and seen each other a few times over the race. Lance, buddy, you came up huge for me. My back had shut down by that point, and I had stopped to walk for a minute and mentally prep to run the last mile. That’s when he ran up behind and said “Let’s pull each other in.” I know he’s got major achilles problems, so I’m sure the run was tough on him, but he supplied just the right amount of go for us to run out the last stretch and across the finish together. Great stuff, Lance. Thanks.
I finished about 45 minutes later than I had planned, but gained a lot of lessons, good and bad, from this race. Some of the more important ones: 1. Conserving doesn’t necessarily mean going really slow. I can push harder in the water and on the bike. 2. If at all possible, avoid getting your shoes wet when running that distance. 3. On the bright side, I learned just how much triathlon can be a team sport. Normally when I run, I shut my brain off and go into a cocoon, counting on my own resources to get me through. This time, if it weren’t for Chip on the bike, my enthusiastic, coconut water-bearing friends around mile seven on the run, and Lance around mile twelve of the run, my race would’ve been even slower and considerably more difficult.
The biggest lesson was to expect the unexpected. I did not expect to have blister problems. I did not expect that my back would drag me down the way it did. I did not expect that my fellow club members would pick me up the way they did. Those lessons learned, it’s now off to the doctor for treatment (no Jim and Heather, I can't treat myself, or anyone else for that matter! ;), and hopefully all will be well by Savageman.