I guess sometimes it’s good to get your butt kicked.
It helps you keeps your head on straight.
I use Eagleman as a “B” race to test my readiness in the build-up to Lake Placid. The beauty of Eagleman is that it exposes your weaknesses. Despite a fairly strong race at Columbia three weeks earlier, in my judgment, I scored a C- on the Eagleman test.
In a mirror of my normal race results, I had a good swim, a bad bike and horrible run. But no excuses: the parasites are gone, I have no injuries to hide behind or mechanical failures to blame. It's all on me.
Eagleman offers transparency. I simply didn’t perform.
The highlights of the race for me this year had nothing to do with me. It was seeing friends and MMTC teammates like Jeff Berger, Loretta and Aleah on the course or finishing their first 70.3s with grace and style under brutal run conditions. It was seeing Kim Sheridan bravely doing the race injured. It was Lisa and Jim PR'ing by 28 and 45 minutes, respectively. (Lisa is headed to Kona. Soon.) It was Linda Giampalmo going the distance with a smile after using a long Shenandoah backpacking trip for her taper. It was hearing about Ben Winterroth conquering the bike course with a 2:09.
It was seeing Shawn Young fly past me on the run to clock a 4:25. It was watching Bob Villaneuva pulling of his shoes in the tent to display well deserved blisters from an almost PR day after crushing the duathlon course a week earlier.
And, it was the recovery I enjoyed in the oasis that most people call the MMTC Tent. Thanks Dawn, Heather and everyone who makes it happen.
Pre-race went like clockwork this year. Too smoothly. A bad omen. Princeton Sports in Columbia installed a set screw missing from my Felt’s headset on Saturday, I picked up Shawn Young and we had light traffic all the way to Cambridge. Dinner with Shawn, Linda Giampalmo and Amy Krupka at Zia’s in Salisbury, and then turned in early at the Hampton Inn in Salisbury. (I prefer a 30 minute drive to the chaos of Cambridge on the night before Eagleman).
Swim: 32:44 (28/140)
The swim this year went close to the plan. I had an early wave (always preferred at Eagleman). Water conditions were perfect: calm and seemingly no current. I’m agnostic about wetsuits: my time is better with a wetsuit, but I place higher in the AG swim when wetsuits aren’t legal.
Thanks to three good drafting partners who didn’t kick wildly and could navigate well, the swim felt easy. We went straight and, except for one right cross knocking my goggles askew early, the swim was polite and friendly.
This was the most pleasant swim I’ve ever had at Eagleman after enduring the high waves of 2006 and strong currents every other year. I guess it was another bad omen.
T1: 1:43 pace: 1:41/100m (AG: 2/140)
I felt good coming out of the water; the wetsuit came off without a hitch; a racebelt, sunglasses and a helmet later, the bike and I were out in the aisle with some other 50-54 guy. I have a very polite age group, at times. This guy in aisle with me said: “After you, please, you’re faster than I am.” How’s that for friendly? If he’d only known my legs were about to go AWOL, he might not have offered.
Bike: 2:40:49 avg speed: 20.89 mph (AG 42/140)
The bike started well. I took it easy, building with a high cadence to 22-23 mph. In the first 10 miles, I passed at least five guys in the age group. The bike conditions were perfect: no wind, low humidity and reasonable temps.
My split goal was, I thought, fairly realistic for the course and the conditions: 2:30 or about 22.5 mph average. I made my first 11 mile split easily (sub 30 minutes), but I started to feel warning signs in the quads even then. By mile 28, I was two minutes behind my goal pace and continuing to slide backwards, based partly on the number of guys in the Age Group who were now flying by.
I was alarmed, but not demoralized. I see the purpose of the bike as setting me up for the run; so I kept my head, pushed, and tried to keep my cadence high, even while my average speed was lumbering to 20 (and lower due to the Invisible Hand on Egypt Road that lives to push cyclists back).
The roads were clean and, with one exception, people were following the rules. (One 40-44 year old pair passed me with one guy happily sucking a wheel until they were out my sight.) I saw no flats, no crashes and only one mechanical. It was pleasant ride, despite legs that were complaining for much of the last 30 miles.
By the time I hit transition, I was concerned but not worried. I was ten minutes down, but picked up about two from a decent swim. I knew my T1 had been fast. With a fast T2 and a good run, I could be close to my overall goal of 4:40.
T2: 2:10 (AG 3/140)
If I hadn’t dropped my hat, I probably would have the 50-54 AG’s Walt Smith award. But this is Eagleman. It’s brutal to be out there without a hat. I went back to get it. I grabbed three cups of fluid on the way out, as my mind always flashes back to the Ironman DVD where Peter Reid takes whatever he can lay his hands on as he comes out of Kona’s T2 in 2004.
Run: 1:45:34 avg pace: 8:04 (AG 13/140)
My goal was 1:30 or about 6:50 pace. Given the conditions (the temps were beginning to soar), I told myself to accept 7:00 minute pace but to start slowly and build. Like Columbia, my legs needed a lot of encouragement. Unlike Columbia, they didn’t respond well.
The legs were sluggish, but the first two miles clicked by at about 7:10-7:15 pace. As I cleared the shady neighborhood, instead of loosening up like they normally do, they felt like lead. I grabbed a cup and ice at the 2.5 mile water stop, but soon realized my tank was near empty. Dehydration! I never saw it coming until it whacked me. My pace slowed to 8:00 or slower. Shawn sped by about mile 3. I was pleased to see him running strong, but knew I needed fluids fast.
Starting with the mile 4 water stop, where a friend (and 50-54 AG competitior) Kevin’DAmanda cruised past me, I walked through every water stop downing 3-4 cups of fluid. It was a lot, but I knew I needed it. Every 3 miles after that I took a salt tab and a gel. I was in the damage control mode, but knew I could recover although my goal time was out of reach.
By mile 9, despite increasing muscle twinges and a few minor cramps, I felt strong again and my pace slowly increased. I never really lost the mental picture, but I also never went into the zone (my happy place, even with the pain). A few guys started coming back to me, but not enough to make a difference in terms of the podium. If this were an Ironman with a full marathon, I still would have had a chance.
I caught one last guy at mile 12. He tried to respond, but only lasted about a few hundred yards. I finished feeling OK, not strong, but far better than I felt at miles 3 through 8. Catching the last guy was only good enough to put me in the top twenty. Ouch.
Lessons learned (and re-learned).
So, what happened to me in my Sixth Eagleman? Maybe I just had a bad day. But I think there were at least two other causes. The first was a stupid hydration mistake (because I’ve made it previously) and the second is a training error.
In retrospect, I think my hydration on the bike was inadequate. I carried concentrated Accelerade and mix it with water on the course, taking salt and eating Stinger Waffles. The mistake? I only went through 3 bottles of fluid over the course of 2.5 hours. I was drinking according to thirst, rather than on a schedule. I normally set my watch on a repeat interval time every ten minutes to remind me to drink more. Forgot to do it, just like I forgot to do it a year or two ago. (Re-read your race reports: those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.) If you don’t nail your hydration and nutrition on the bike, you’ll get nailed on the run.
Second, I gave up a lot of ground on the bike because I had no bike legs. Then because I continued to push (it’s a race, remember?), I had no legs for the run. I was hoping the warning signs at Columbia weren’t true, but I knew my bike volume was substantially less than previous years. I had to dig deep to find my legs at Columbia, but they came to life and I ignored the red flag. It’s been a busy year due to work and family matters: the bike, which takes the most training time if done right, got cut the most. (My bike hours are usually twice my run volume; this year, they’re about equal.)
Without adequate saddle time, your bike legs suffer. If you have weak legs for the bike, you’re going to be toast on the run.
The good news?
My swim continues to improve. (Thanks to advice from Karlyn Pipes Nielsen and MMTC members like Missie). My transitions were relatively fast. (Free speed, folks). Unlike a few races last year, the parasites are long gone. And, since I donated my appendix to science in 2010, I seem to have conquered the stomach pain and nausea that had plagued me for years on the run.
The best news?
I have time to fix the bike problem. Eagleman served its purpose by showing me my weakness. I have a full month for long mountain rides and hard tempo rides before my “A” race at Lake Placid. I have time for fine tuning by Stoney at Princeton. It’s time to work on my weaknesses in order to bring my strengths to a peak.